I was sitting across the lunch table from an adorable young mom of two daughters. She was describing the sticky situation she frequently finds herself in when out in public with her girls. Strangers often approach her and comment on how beautiful her two year old is, with well-intentioned exclamations about “Her eyes! . . . Her skin! . . . She’s stunning!”. Sounds like a dream come true, yes? Isn’t this the fantasy of every young mom when she sees that ultrasound and begins imagining proudly strolling the mall with her baby princess?
But she is a perceptive mom. I can see the empathy and concern in her eyes as she retells how she attempts to graciously accept the compliments, and at the same time, point out that she has another little girl sitting in the double stroller, too. A four year old, who is lovely in her own right, and absorbing every word of flattery directed at her little sister. Ouch.
We’ve all been here before. We’ve either been the concerned parent, the golden child, the passed over sister, or the complimentary passerby. At different times in my own history, I have played all four roles! Is there an escape route from this situation, or will Mom have to dress her youngest in sunglasses and a hoodie to even the playing field? Do people even think before they talk? How is it possible to simultaneously want to thank someone AND punch them in the face?
In reality, this scenario is fairly unavoidable. People mean well. When they see an adorable little girl, they are delighted, and they want to share that with you as her parent. Many of them will not have the wisdom and forethought to include both children equally in their accolades. Sometimes this mom will just have to say, “Thank you, and may I introduce my other beautiful daughter . . .” She cannot control whether others perceive her girls equally, but she can send a clear message to her precious four-year-old that her mommy sees and admires her too.
Beauty is a tricky thing. In part, it is godly. God created women to be beautiful. He intended for her beauty to be appreciated and admired and, someday, for an honorable man to be be so enthralled with it that he would leave his family and cleave to her for the rest of his life. But in our culture, beauty has also been reduced to a shallow combination of physical characteristics, and it has been perverted as a tool of power and manipulation. It’s a bit of a minefield for any female!
I only had a few minutes with this mom, and I wanted to encourage her. There are ways we help maintain balance in our homes when it comes to how we affirm our daughters. Is it appropriate to marvel at the beauty and radiance of your preschooler when she comes out of her room dressed in full princess regalia, in two different shoes and twelve coats of lip gloss? Absolutely! Should it be the focus of your affirmation? Definitely not. What we want to affirm most is character.
Character is the way we express our personality to the world, and it is something within our control. What are the attributes of your child that you want to see more of? Does she love to help? Does she share well? Does she freely forgive? Does she wait patiently? As a parent, it is your job to GO NUTS for this kind of stuff. Her beauty should get a reaction from you, but not the biggest, and certainly not most often.
All of us have been, and will be, in this situation. You will see a beautiful little girl prancing down the Target aisle. Your friend will stop by with her ridiculously adorable daughter, and she will smile and bound into your living room. You will be struck by the magical powers of her cuteness, and before you know it, it will come bubbling out of your mouth. It’s hard-wired in us to respond to beauty, to marvel at creation.
However, there is a war waging in the hearts of girls today; they are trying to discern, in their own way, what it means to be beautiful, and whether they fall into our society’s narrow definition of it. We don’t have to feed the beast of our culture. Let’s help parents out instead! Rather than commenting on her appearance, try one of these out:
“It is so nice to meet you!”
“Are you enjoying your day so far?”
“Read any good books lately?”
“What do you want to do when you grow up?”
“Would you tell me about that toy your holding?”
It seems silly and awkward that we should have to be so deliberate about responding to girls as individuals rather than reacting to them as objects to be critiqued and admired, but the truth is, we are a little bit brainwashed. I speak from experience. Anyone who knows me will tell you I love babies and little kids. I am that woman who will notice a set of antennae piggy tails from across the room and feel compelled to go over and gush. I almost can’t help it. Almost. I am a work in progress. But as a mother of two daughters, I have to be aware. Sometimes I need to ogle from afar and not call attention to another little girl’s appearance, because I know of a wonderful mom of a two- and four-year-old who would really appreciate it.