I wasn’t raised to believe in myself. I grew up in an environment where my thoughts and feelings were seldom validated. The phrase “you’re too sensitive” was a response I grew accustomed to hearing.

I wasn’t raised to have self-confidence. I was often told I didn’t think things through, that I should be like the other, faster kids on the soccer field, or that my hair looked messy with its natural curl. 

I wasn’t raised to understand my self-worth.

Criticism prevailed over compassion and praise was rarely heard over pessimism. I was like a hamster on a wheel, endlessly chasing something I wouldn’t put a name to until much later in lifeacceptance. 

The irony is I was expected to showcase these qualities to the outside world. As a tween, I should believe in myself and not let the class mean girl get the best of me. As a teenager, I should be more self-confident and outgoing. As a young adult, I should know my self-worth and confidently forge my path in the world. 

But none of these shoulds applied. It was more a matter of could . . . and I couldn’t be that self-confident, outgoing person who believed in herself because I didn’t know how.

It felt forced. I was never encouraged or even taught how to embrace myself just as I was made to be. I wasn’t even sure where to start. Put simply, I was terrified to walk in my own shoes.

RELATED: Dear Mothers of Tween Girls, There’s So Much at Stake

The beautiful, silver lining is God has blessed me with a fearless daughter. Her confidence knows no bounds. She’s only seven, but she’s already established herself as a leader. She’s bold, driven, and completely self-assured. She refuses to go with the flow, and never hesitates to rock the boat if something doesn’t feel right to her. And I love it.

I marvel every day that this little firecracker is mine, that I’ve been gifted with the opportunity to raise her. My daughter already knows what it took me nearly three decades to understandthat I can be whomever or whatever I want to be. That I am the only one in charge of me. That I don’t need external validation. That while praise is nice, I am not reliant on it to foster my sense of self-worth. That it’s 100 percent OK to walk confidently in my own shoes. 

I’ve been told by a few well-meaning family members that I should reign in my daughter’s behavior, that her strong-willed nature needs to be tamed. “We didn’t allow children to speak that way in my day” or “she needs to learn some respect” have been said about my little girl.

But I refuse to quash her spirit. 

I don’t ascribe to the my children are perfect motto. Far from it. I am aware that with all of my daughter’s bravado comes an iron will that sometimes lends itself to unsavory behavior. She challenges and questions my husband and me often. She engages in debates and arguments with her two older brothers and doesn’t hesitate to assert her feelings or opinions to anyone. 

But it’s not respect my daughter needs to learn. Instead, it’s incumbent upon me to teach her how to understand the power of her own voice, how to use it in an appropriate way, and to understand the inherent weight of spoken words. Kindness is always expected, but it needn’t be cloaked in acquiescence. 

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Words matter. How we use them to speak to others and especially how we use them to relate to and teach our children matters a great deal. The biting power of words shaped a large part of my childhood, unknowingly conditioning me to second guess every thought, feeling, and action.

Living in an environment where words were used to control, made me shy, timid, and afraidfeelings I’ve worked very hard to overcome as an adult. 

My daughter will have enough dragons to slay in her lifetime. I won’t create more by using my words to dull her light. Moreover, I will ensure she understands the magnitude of her voice in speaking with and relating to others. 

My daughter’s continued belief in herself, her innate and growing self-confidence, and her sense of self-worth rest largely in my hands. It’s a responsibility I do not take lightly. I know she’ll need to rely not only on her faith but on her bright light of self-confidence as she makes her way in this world. And as her mother, I will only seek to fan its flames.

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Courtney Eastman

Courtney is a 40-something-year-old mom of three from Michigan. Coffee keeps her fueled, writing keeps her sane, and her children continually challenge and teach her to be the best possible version of herself. She is the co-owner and founder of Mid-Michigan Moms, a local, online parenting resource. You can find her on Instagram @merrymommusings

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