“You should reconsider how you greet your daughter.”

I was recently taken aback at my daughter’s daycare when another mother decided to instruct me on how I should, and should not, address my five-year-old. Since Sophia was tiny I often nicknamed her beautiful or gorgeous. Mind you I also tell her how smart and funny she is, that she’s ingenious in her art creations and a wizard with horticulture. But until someone intervened and told me to stop using those terms, I had never considered for good or bad what their contexts or effects might be. And after doing so, I came to a rather immediate conclusion.

Pretty is perfectly fine.

A recent trend on Facebook and other social media and internet venues has put the word pretty and the like under heinous attack. Parents are warned that using the term is unacceptable, and that we are limiting and defining our children with it. Considering physical beauty as part and parcel of a person is being demonized and particularly in the area of parenting – where let’s be honest, we are constantly being flooded with advice on how we are messing up – this discussion is getting heated. Essayists and bloggers are telling us to throw those words out the window.

I disagree.

Rather I would argue that society’s definition of what is considered pretty must expand, so that instead of adhering to a Barbie standard we should allow for many types of pretty to exist. Girls with a cascade of freckles on their cheeks, or someone with wild and wooly hair, are beautiful. Pretty could be a tomboy drenched in mud but gleeful. Pretty might include a toddler in a tiara or a girl who has taken a roll of red tissue paper and draped herself in it to create a makeshift gown.

My daughter, I suppose, was doomed from the start. She was an avid dress-up queen before she could speak or walk. Her first fashion triumph involved dragging one of my dresses around her like a boa or serpent and blowing raspberries as if to announce that she had arrived on the junior red carpet. Could I partially be at fault for this by bouncing her on my lap while I watched The Devil Wears Prada and fashioning my shoe addiction after Carrie Bradshaw? Absolutely. Do I regret sharing with her my love of fashion, of the independence and glamour that folks like Audrey Hepburn and Coco Chanel championed? Never.

Throughout history women have employed fashion to express themselves and fight the norms of society, furthering the perception of what the female gender is. My grandmother, decades before I was born or knew her as anything other than a matriarch in our family, attended fashion school and would stitch gorgeous outfits for myself and my dolls. After her passing I found comfort in the garments and handiwork. And I was elated when the day came that I could pass a few dresses down to my daughter. In a weird way I visualized our DNA as intricately linked as the stitches of the dresses.

And I told her she looked beautiful, and it was OK.

The bottom line is that women (and men) are far more than their appearances. However shaming someone for enjoying her beauty is as toxic as defining someone by it alone. Instead of taking the easy way out and vilifying a word, it might be better to work towards the idea of letting people and their parents define their own values and points of pride rather than explaining what they should be.

Days later, I caught the same mother racing around picking up her daughter, and I pointed at a glossy pair of navy stilettos. “Pretty shoes,” I said without thinking, and she thanked me and smiled.

I resisted the urge to say Gotcha.

So God Made a Mother book by Leslie Means

If you liked this, you'll love our book, SO GOD MADE A MOTHER available now!

Order Now

Check out our new Keepsake Companion Journal that pairs with our So God Made a Mother book!

Order Now
So God Made a Mother's Story Keepsake Journal

Sarah Clayville

Sarah Clayville is a high school teacher and freelance editor. Her poetry and fiction can be found in journals such as The Threepenny Review, StoryChord, Literary Orphans, Mixtape Methodology, and other places. She is also a poetry and nonfiction editor for the online journal Mothers Always Write and at work on a young adult novel and chapbook. You can find her thoughts on writing and other publications at http://www.sarahsayswrite.com/ or follow her on Twitter https://twitter.com/sarahsayswrite

I Had to Learn to Say “I’m Sorry” to My Kids

In: Kids, Motherhood, Teen, Tween
Mom hugs tween daughter

My two oldest kiddos are at the front end of their teen years. I remember that time in my own life. I was loud, somewhat dramatic, I let my hormones control me, and I never—ever—apologized. This last part was because no one ever really taught me the value of apology or relationship repair. Now, I could do some parent blaming here but let’s be real, if you were a kid whose formative years were scattered between the late ’80s and early ’90s, did you get apologies from your parents? If so, count that blessing! Most parents were still living with...

Keep Reading

5 Things Your Child’s Kindergarten Teacher Wants You To Know

In: Kids, Motherhood
Child raising hand in kindergarten class

I am a teacher. I have committed my life to teaching children. Of course, before I began this career, I had visions of standing in front of a group of eager-eyed children and elaborating on history, science, and math lessons. I couldn’t wait to see the “lightbulb” moments when students finally understood a reading passage or wrote their first paper. And then I had my first day. Children are not cut out of a textbook (shocking, I know) but as a young 23-year-old, it knocked me right off my feet. I was thrown into the lion’s den, better known as...

Keep Reading

To the Extended Family That Shows Up: We Couldn’t Do This Without You

In: Kids, Living, Motherhood
Family visiting new baby in a hospital room

This picture—my heart all but bursts every time I see it.  It was taken five years ago on the day our daughter was born. In it, my husband is giving her her very first bath while our proud extended family looks on. It was a sweet moment on a hugely special day, but gosh–what was captured in this photo is so much more than that. This photo represents everything I could have ever hoped for my kids: That they would have an extended family who shows up in their lives and loves them so deeply.  That they would have grandparents,...

Keep Reading

You’re Almost Grown, But You’re Always Welcome Back Home

In: Kids, Motherhood
Teen in room studying with computer and smartphone

Dear child, In the days before you could walk or talk, there were times when you would wail—when my rocking and shushing and bouncing were seemingly futile—but it didn’t matter. Each day and night, multiple times, I always picked you up and welcomed you back into my arms. As a toddler and a preschooler, you had some pretty epic meltdowns. There were times when you would thrash and scream, and all I could do was stand by and wait for the storm to blow over. Eventually, you would run to me, and I would welcome you back with a warm embrace....

Keep Reading

No One Warned Me About the Last Baby

In: Baby, Kids, Motherhood
Mother holding newborn baby, black-and-white photo

No one warned me about the last baby. When I had my first, my second, and my third, those first years were blurry from sleep deprivation and chaos from juggling multiple itty-bitties. But the last baby? There’s a desperation in that newborn fog to soak it up because there won’t be another. No one warned me about the last baby. Selling the baby swing and donating old toys because we wouldn’t need them crushed me. I cried selling our double jogger and thought my heart would split in two when I dropped off newborn clothes. Throwing out pacifiers and bottles...

Keep Reading

Parents Are Terrible Salespeople for Parenting

In: Kids, Motherhood
Tired mother with coffee cup on table, child sitting next to her

As the years of fertility start to wane, many of my childless peers are confronted with the question, “Should I have kids?” With hesitation, they turn to us parents who, frankly, seem overwhelmingly unhappy. They ask sheepishly, “Is it worth it?” We lift our heads up, bedraggled, bags under our eyes, covered in boogers and sweat and spit up, we mutter, “Of course! It’s so fulfilling!” It’s like asking a hostage if they like their captor. Sure, it’s great. We love them. But our eyes are begging for liberation. Save me, please. I haven’t slept through the night in years....

Keep Reading

Soak in the Moments because Babies Don’t Keep

In: Kids, Motherhood, Tween
Roller coaster photo, color photo

I love marking the moments, the ones that count—making a note and storing them for memory. But I often miss out on them when it comes to our oldest. ⁣ ⁣The day he wanted to be baptized, I was at home with another kiddo who was sick. He called me from church excitedly, emphasizing he was ready and didn’t want to wait. I couldn’t argue with that, so I watched him go underwater through videos my husband and sweet friends in the congregation took. ⁣ ⁣On the day of his fifth-grade graduation, we found ourselves at the pediatrician’s office. Instead...

Keep Reading

Sometimes a Kid Just Needs a Sick Day

In: Kids, Motherhood
Little boy outside, color photo

My middle son stayed home from school today. He said he was sick. I’m not sure that is the truth. I was lucky enough to have a mom who was an amazing caretaker, especially when you were sick. She pulled out all the stops. A cozy clean space to be, a thermos with ice cold juice by your side, Mrs. Grass’s soup, and Days of Our Lives on the screen while she tidied up the house. It was the best feeling in the world to be home and cozy with my mom when I was sick. It felt cozy and...

Keep Reading

Sometimes We Need Someone to Just Sit With Us in Our Struggle

In: Kids, Motherhood
Sad woman sits on floor, black and white image

Early this morning, I told (yelled is more accurate) my sons to get up with the same furious ferocity I use every morning when I realize they should be ready to go, but are still unconsciously snoozing away. One son lazily said, “I’m up, Mom” (even though he was very much not up). The other son, who typically has no problems getting up, had overslept and immediately freaked out, thinking he would be late to school. He proceeded to have a mini-meltdown from the dark recesses of his bedroom. That overflowed into the hallway where I found him lying face-down,...

Keep Reading

Daughter of Mine, Do Not Let the World Extinguish Your Fire

In: Kids, Motherhood
Mother and young daughter, color photo

Daughter of mine, I see the fire behind your eyes. Do not let it die. Daughter of mine who runs wildly and loves freely and whose anger is always whipping silently just under the surface like a pilot light, ready to ignite with one tiny spark. Do not let it die. RELATED: There is Wild Beauty in This Spirited Child of Mine Daughter of mine, one day you will become a woman, and the world will try to steal you and mold you and tell you who to become. Do not let it. It will try to fit you in...

Keep Reading