As my kindergartner came bounding through the door back from the park, she seemed ecstatic to tell me all about her adventure, but what came from her sweet mouth was not the usual tale of making friends or playing make-believe. Instead, she stared up at me and said, “A little boy called me ugly.”
As I tried to assess her thoughts on the matter, her big brother was quickly confirming the story and acknowledging to me that it was not a very nice thing to say. As I looked at my husband coming in the door behind them, I could tell from his face that their story was indeed true and it was my turn as a mother to spill out my ultimate wisdom to my only daughter.
I would love to say my initial thoughts were smart, calm, and intelligent, but in actuality, my 6-month hormonal pregnancy instinct was to go full momma bear mode, whip out the talons, and track that little stinker down and tell him what I thought about his mean comment.
However, after a deep breath and pause, I knew my reaction could serve a far greater purpose. That in fact, I needed to tell this wide-eyed little girl her value was far greater than any mean comment said at the bottom of a playground slide.
I always knew that someday the “ugly” bomb would hit our household, and as her mother, I would have the opportunity to speak worth and truth into my little girl’s heart. So as I got down on my knees to be at eye level, I grabbed her small hands.
I told her that little boy—and any other human, for that matter—never gets to define who she is or belittle the smart, kind, intelligent, funny, and beautiful little girl she is. I told her to look toward the men in her life like her father, uncles, and grandpas who know her on a deeper level and can tell her each of the wonderful little things about her. That she is not defined by who someone says she is but by Whose she is, which in our household is a daughter to the most heavenly God who finds her priceless, perfect, and precious.
At the end of my talk, she bounded away smiling because if there is one thing that little girl has learned from having two big brothers, it is to have tough skin. But for me, the conversation didn’t end. I realized I won’t always get to be there when the world is mean and tries to bring her down. That the “ugly” bomb will be the first of many unkind things said both to her face and behind her back in the years to come. I started thinking about how in 13 short years she would be graduating and leaving the protective, loving roof her father and I have created for her. So in that moment, I knew I had 13 years to speak power and confidence into my little girl and it all started with my own words.
Now don’t worry, I have never called my little girl ugly and never intend to, but it made me think about the words I do use to describe her and what impact they are making. For example, our little girl is LOUD, and we make sarcastic comments, laugh about it, and tell her to her face. She literally doesn’t have a quiet voice, and we cannot have a conversation if she is anywhere within three rooms of us.
Now, it is never meant to be mean or harsh, and we often use it as a teaching tool. But today I wondered how it might come out in a 5-year-old’s mind. Are we inadvertently making her question: If her voice is valuable? If she deserves to be heard? If she should ever speak up?
Of course, we would never want that. In fact, I want her to grow up as a strong independent woman who will speak out against kids in her class calling others ugly, mean, or stupid. I want her to know that her opinion matters and that she can speak freely and openly and even loudly if things need to be addressed. That loud is not bad or wrong or useless, but instead, she needs to use her loudness to instigate change, speak a point, and make a difference.
At the end of the day, what I want to teach my daughter, and what I usually have to remind myself about as well, is that our words can punch with an incredible impact on those around us. That we won’t be perfect in everything that comes out of our own mouths and we certainly won’t always be treated nicely by those around us. However, we can use our words to empower and teach our children and others that their quirks can be their greatest strengths.
So baby girl, be loud, wear your own unique style, ask a million questions, and most importantly keep helping this mom of yours grow. Most days you teach me far more than I teach you.