A little self-love goes a long way.
If you were to ask me what I feared before becoming a parent, I would have told you girls between the ages of 10 and 12. Now that I am a parent, I would say the same thing. My oldest daughter, Addie, is a month away from entering double digits and, as a mom, I am bearing down and breathing deeply. The changes have been subtle over the last several years, but recently they've become undeniable. She's filling out, narrowing in, rolling her eyes and catching on to more and more things. She has a greater interest in boys, loves pop music, and worries constantly about friends and school.
But the most most noticeable difference in Addie is her posture.
If you've never spent much time around kids, then you probably wouldn't know that they're born with the most blissfully perfect posture and maintain that posture until something changes it. Often times it's environmental, like too much time in front of a screen or as the case often is with girls, they physically shrink when their self-confidence takes its first real blow. My daughter is beautiful, and I'm not just talking about her long limbs, dusting of freckles, curly hair and perfect blue eyes; she has a beautiful heart. After parent teacher conferences two years ago I panicked because her teacher said she wasn't participating enough. How can a child succeed if they don't participate? But then I remembered everything good about her that could never be taught in a classroom and I realized if I could somehow preserve all the best parts of her personality, she would easily grow up to become a woman people want to know, work with, and be close to.
Scarily, it's all those best parts that are under attack right now and I'm so scared of screwing it all up or not being able to put the pieces back together. Heavy stuff, motherhood.
Last week, Addie was spending time with my best friend when she confided in my friend that she really needed to "work on" being skinny.
I didn't bring up the conversation with Addie. I want her to be able to see my friend as a safe person she can talk to about feelings and issues like this, but I took serious note about the conversation and decided to bring it up in my own time when appropriate.
I can only imagine that what Addie said was coming from that insecure place we all have inside of us; the place where we say things out loud that scare us to people we trust to see how they'll react. I've been practicing for this moment for a long time. I grew up with a mother who cared very much about how she looked. I never felt her disappointment more heavily than when I gained weight in my early 20s. I grew up watching her look at (and critique) herself and other women around her. I used to watch as she sat at her computer to photoshop my face to fit what she considered ideal. I never said anything, but it has always hurt me to this day to know someone changed something about me in a photograph because it didn't fit their idea of beauty. I am also not a large person, but compared to my mom and my sister, I'm a giant.
I try so hard not to speak ill of my physical appearance and I never let my daughter see or hear any dissatisfaction with my body. When she tells me my butt jiggles, I do a little dance. When she says my stomach is soft I tell her it's because it happily housed her and her baby sister. When I get dressed, I tell her what I like about myself and when she sees me put on makeup I remind her it's for fun, not because I need it — and then I remind myself of the same thing. When she gives me a compliment, I say "thank you" and when she puts in the effort I give her genuine compliments in return. I don't know if I'm doing the right thing, but having grown up with a mom who I considered the most beautiful woman in the world, only to see her dissatisfied with herself really skewed my idea of beauty. I don't want to lay the same foundation for my own daughters.
When Addie says she wants a boyfriend, I tell her to be friends with all the boys and not limit her options. When she says kids make fun of her for being smart, we tell her that's the same as them making fun of her because she has ice cream. "You're the one with the ice cream, so who cares what anyone else thinks?"
It's so easy to see the changes she's going through physically, but what I'm trying to keep my eye on are the changes going on emotionally. I certainly don't want to tell her how to feel or think, but if her personality or self-confidence begins to take serious dip, I want to be her first line of defense over the next few years of growing up and growing into her adolescent body. Just as she's never been a 10-year-old before, I've never been the mother to a 10-year-old, so we're both going to make some mistakes along the way. I know I can't completely protect her, but I love her so much and I will never stop trying.