I was recently asked, “What age do you think your daughter will want to decorate her own room?” I was stumped by the question. I never considered that my 7-year-old daughter would one day replace the unicorn head hanging from her wall or the pink color scheme weaved throughout her furniture pieces. Of course, I knew her room wouldn’t stay that way forever. Still, I had never considered the magnitude of emotions I may experience when that day comes.
The first years of parenting a little girl are filled with externally swayed ideas of how they should dress and what toys interest them. While most of these are influenced by marketing tactics and societal norms, I realized that some of my parenting instincts stemmed from projection. This forced me to think about the narrow line between guiding and controlling.
On school picture day, I was blindsided by another one of motherhood’s harsh realities. My daughter’s resistance to the dress I picked and her hairstyle was a simple phrase, “This doesn’t show me.”
So simple, yet profound. The dress was a tunic covered in bright flowers, and her hair was straightened. Not a fan of the dress and typically wearing her hair in braids, she respectfully showed her dislike by saying, “Mom, I don’t like this dress or hair. This doesn’t show me.”
As adults, if we heard the phrase “this doesn’t show me” from another adult, we would assume the outfit was showing too little skin or the one-piece would look better as a bikini. You know, something superficial. But I realized quickly that’s not what my daughter meant.
Throughout the years of being accustomed to designing her room, picking out her clothes, and doing her hair, I cultivated a controlling relationship with her. And yes, I get it, she’s only seven or I’m the parent. While I understand that boundaries are important in parent-child relationships, the level of respect and conviction in her voice showed me, at that moment, that she knew herself. She knew her style. She knew her level of comfort with clothing. But perhaps, it was me who didn’t know her at all.
It was eye-opening to witness her self-awareness and reject something because it did not align with her personality and made her uncomfortable. Adults can often view what is essentially a child establishing autonomy over their bodies as disobedience or disrespect. The need to control comes from our projections, insecurities, and fear. So I decided to let her lead the way.
She picked out a yellow, white, and blue dress with a design of the solar system and asked me to add one braid on the side—I went with it. It was her best school picture. The smile screamed, “I’m confident and comfortable.” That day, I felt like I nailed parenting. And as much as I like the idea of my daughter becoming a mini-me, that’s unfair to her. If she decides to pursue the things I’m interested in, then I want that to be her own decision, not mine.
When the day comes for her to decorate her room, it likely won’t be with unicorns or pink (her favorite color is teal). Parenting is a balancing act, but it also requires a level of restraint as an adult who has experienced the world not to allow my journey to stifle my child’s ability to develop her own person. Ironically, her journey ahead will be full of gaining experiences as she grows while mine will be unlearning some of the lessons from my experiences.
I’ll even take it a step further and constantly ask myself, “Does this show me?” Many adults, including myself, should lead many decisions with that question, especially in a world filled with external influences and endless ways to distract ourselves from ourselves. Harnessing control over who we are and finding comfort begins with knowing what shows us. In full transparency, I struggle with that question; admittedly, motherhood makes it harder.
I have always felt that our most authentic selves are who we are as children, and then life does a number on us. Becoming a parent confirmed that for me. Cultivating my daughter’s interests rather than dictating them has taught me more about myself than any other lesson in life. As I embrace the process of her blossoming into a creative and brave girl, that line between guidance and control isn’t so thin. Her stepping boldly into extracurricular activities, making new friends, and pursuing new interests inspired me to dedicate time to my passions that I lost along the way (like writing this essay). In doing so, I’ve gained clarity on how I can best guide her, and I’m excited to support her in everything that “shows her.”