Flawless hair. Big colorful bows. Smocked dresses from Etsy for each holiday.
For the first several years of life, my sweet Ella-girl always looked perfectly put together. Every hair on her cute little head in place. Outfits coordinated for each event and ribbons to match.
Because what would other mommas think?
Hair messed up from the playground? Let me fix that before you slide again. Dress stained from the jelly dripping down her chin? Oops. We need to change before we go into Target. Shoes brown and scuffed? Only wear those in the backyard.
I had it wrong. Dangerously wrong.
Don’t misunderstand. Teaching our children to take care of themselves and to dress appropriate for a given occasion is important. But teaching our children they must look perfect wherever and whenever they go begins to instill a self-worth steeped in appearance.
Just a few years ago Ella and I were with another young girl and her mom. We were headed to an event, but before we left the mom primped and fixed her daughter repeatedly.
In that moment, I was faced with my failings as a mother. I was looking into my own cracked mirror as I watched the face of my friend’s daughter. Defeat and shame spread thick over her young shoulders.
I wondered. How often had I done the same to my own beautiful girl?
How frequently had I “fixed” what she might have already deemed perfect? How many times did I teach her to care about her looks instead of her heart? How habitual were my lessons in looking pretty when she never needed to notice pretty in the first place?
That night I gulped shame so dense it wouldn’t stay down.
I had asked my girl to hold my self-esteem in her tiny hands. I cared more about how she reflected my parenting than I cared about her emotional security.
How dare I?
When our own self-esteem is rooted in the perfect appearance of our children, we heep soul-crushing pressure on their backs.
Mommas. Can I talk the difficult with you? Can I just be real?
We have to stop.
We have to stop forcing our children to carry the weight of our self-esteem—their own esteem is already fragile, splitting under our power. We have to stop forcing our daughters to shoulder the burden of our identity—they have their own to discover. We have to stop our incessant worry over what society might think of our sons—they worry enough about their own peers’ assessment.
Perfectly dressed children do not make perfect children.
No. This isn’t a rant on smocked dresses and beautiful hair bows. I still love them, and if I could get my tween Ella-girl to go for them, I would. No. This is about protecting our daughters and our sons from the burden of carrying our adult self-esteems in their childhood hands.
It’s about telling society – Yes. That’s my son crawling onto the Target shelves in his Kool-aide (gasp) stained shirt and clay-marked shoes. You should see his heart. You should see the way he picks up dropped items for strangers and helps me unload the groceries.
I don’t have the answers. I’m not perfect.
I am one flawed momma doing her best to raise flawed children.
I once bought into the mistake of displaying my daughter for the world to see so I would appear the put-together momma. But no more. Because if my two joy-carriers can’t see me be real and flawed, how can they ever understand authentic living?
Our children do reflect us as parents. That’s a reality. But what image do I want my children to bear?
In me, I am clinging to the hope they will see a reflection of my Jesus’ grace and acceptance of them. Because that’s what I see when I look at Him. He opens His arms of love to my dirt-smudged soul.
The heart of our children. This should be our most expensive investment. This should be what we fight for, sacrifice for. Their hearts should be the beautiful we take pictures of. Their hearts should be the beautiful we display.
Not because it makes us good parents. But because their hearts will be what lead our world before we can blink. Dresses and bows and suits and ties never fed a hungry soul. But hearts? They take care of humanity.
These days? My Ella-girl walks out the door with wet hair.
And I smile big.