Emma is seven months old! It is amazing to look back on her newborn pictures and see how much she has grown! I heard once that if people continued to grow at the rate they do in the first year, then we would all be the size of ocean cruisers by the age of five. As I look at my daughter army-crawling her way around, it isn’t hard to believe.
One of the most intimidating things to think about as a new parent is the fact that we haven’t even broached the challenges of raising a child. Sleepless nights, sickness, grumpiness. It’s all a pain to be sure, but the frustrations and helplessness we occasionally feel doesn’t come close to the anxiety I associate with teaching Emma about morality, drugs, alcohol, violence, hypocrisy and the rampant evils of the world.
It seems little girls especially are faced with additional obstacles in relation to societal cues and expectations, many of which find root in prevalent sex culture and manipulative media. It is a rare thing to find confident, collected, self-respecting young women. Instead, we find throngs of self-conscious, self-depreciating girls whose only source of perceived value is from sexually aggressive and persuasive men and boys.
While the remedies for these problems are not all-encompassing and in many ways fail to address all of the root causes, I believe there are important ways parents, especially mothers, teach their children of their true worth and value. Here are three specific actions we can do to in order to teach our children what they are worth.
Action #1: Learn to graciously accept compliments. There is a stigma that believing yourself to be beautiful, powerful, kind, smart, good, etc. is purely prideful. As a result, we push away any compliment or comment that we may receive regarding any number of positive traits we possess. We fear that not doing so would automatically result in that pride which we so desperately want to avoid.
The irony is that when we fail to accept the kind words of others, we are simply exhibiting a more subtle form of pride. When someone says to us, “You look so good!” And we reply with, “Oh, no, I haven’t slept well in days and I gained five pounds”, we are in effect saying “My opinion matters more than yours; I will not accept your compliments and thoughts as true or even possible.”
When we learn to graciously accept compliments from others, we teach our children that we respect ourselves enough to believe there is good in us, even if it is shrouded in imperfections. Even if we don’t believe the other person to be true in their view of us, allowing them to successfully praise us exhibits the humility that we try to develop by vehementally disagreeing with any favorable report of ourselves. Furthermore, we teach our children that while they have worth, other people do as well, and that deserves equal acknowledgment.
Action #2: Take time for yourself. As parents, we are nearly always focused outward. That is part of the grand design. When we have to focus on another human being we develop selflessness, compassion, charity and a host of other indispensable traits. But we sometimes take it too far. In consequence, we see parents who are sleep-deprived, malnourished, lacking energy, and in many ways failing to exhibit the self-love qualities that they are seeking to inspire in their children.
Heavenly Father would never want to see so many of his daughters as haggard and discouraged as they sometimes are. It is not wrong to indulge in the occasional, meaningful retreats that we so need in order to function physically, emotionally, spiritually and mentally. Of course, as soon as you do something for yourself “Mom guilt” begins to creep up on you; that is until we remember that caring for ourselves teaches our children to do likewise, and in many ways makes us more capable of caring for them.
Action #3: Demonstrate love for our spouses. I grew up in a country music-loving home. I remember hearing Shania Twain’s song Any Man of Mine and commenting to my dad that her lyrics seemed a little demanding. Would she really make the guy devour her burnt dinner? Isn’t it rude to expect him to always be timely when you give yourself leeway to be late? My father’s response stuck with me. He said, “I would do each and every one of those things for your mom.”
It’s a simple lesson, but one that is increasingly going untaught. How we treat our spouse teaches our children how the opposite sex should treat them. I never struggled with dating boys who disrespected me, because my dad taught me that they weren’t worth my time. Likewise, strong mothers who honor their husbands teach sons to look for similarly independent yet supporting partners.
These three meaningful acts have a common basis – they start with our own actions. If we want our children to love themselves, to respect themselves, and to accept no lesser treatment from others, then we have to begin doing the same thing for ourselves. There needs to be a self-love movement among parents if we can dream of there being the same among our kids.
Marianne Williamson sums up well with her inspired words:
“Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, ‘Who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous?’ Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won’t feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It’s not just in some of us; it’s in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others.”
Together, we embark on the embattled journey of defying gravity, establishing a new norm, and liberating our children from the same chains that have at times held us bound. As children of the Almighty God, this mission is sanctioned by His love for us, and enabled by our divine worth to Him. Learning to see ourselves as He sees us – as precious sons and daughters – is our first step.