child-1431616_1920In a fit of empty-nesting/surviving another Minnesota winter, my mother has been cleaning and organizing old pictures.  To say she has come across some humdingers would be an understatement.  We have been enjoying looking back at hysterical pictures of my younger brother and I dressed in matching, homemade ensembles, as well as 80’s fashions.  Nothing like perms, neon leggings, and zubaz!  A few pictures from the middle school era have been especially entertaining, particularly my sixth grade school picture.  In it, I have large, round, teal glasses, bangs, and braces.  I am wearing brightly colored, flower patterned overall shorts over a white t-shirt, complete with large, star-shaped, hand-painted clay ornament pin with my name written in sparkly glitter, created by yours truly.  It is perhaps my all-time favorite photo, mostly because it is the epitome of my lack of fashion know-how, but also because it shows how completely comfortable I was in my own skin.  I had no idea how ridiculous I looked, and even found my ensemble quite stylish.
This picture reminded me of a conversation I had with my mom a few years ago in another reminiscing/cleaning episode.  We came across another doosie, and I commented, “Gosh, I was such a nerd.  It was amazing I had any friends!”  Without missing a beat, my mom replied, “Well, there were other nerds!”  Not knowing my mom, I realize that may sound harsh, but I assure you we were laughing hysterically.  I was not offended at all because it was the truth!  I was a nerd with a capital N.  I loved reading to the point that my parents had to limit it and enforce “eye exercises” in second grade because the optometrist said I would do serious damage to my eyes if I kept reading at the rate I was.  I had friends, and I would eat lunch with them, but I preferred to read a book while doing so.  Nerd indeed!
As my husband and I were laughing over all of these pictures, the discussion turned serious, and I wondered out loud how my parents were able to instill such a sense of real self-worth in me while growing up.  As a former teacher, I am well aware of what a focus many schools have on instilling self-esteem in children, and yet the CDC reports that suicide is the third leading cause of death for 15 to 24 year olds and the fourth leading cause of death for 10 to 14 year olds.  And while I of course went through my own times of “teenage angst,” I truly never remember not being comfortable in my own skin.  I always marched to the beat of a different drum and was completely fine not being in the “in crowd.”  I had a small group of close friends and was “friendly” with kids from all different cliques.  I never remember feeling like I had to dress a certain way or be a certain way to be accepted.  I always knew my parents loved me, and that was more than enough.  I really didn’t come out of my shell until college, and being a true introvert, I’ve always been more comfortable in small groups or with a book than at large parties.
None of this is extraordinary or unusual, of course, as the world is full of content introverts.  But what my husband and I mused on was how to create that contentedness in our children, especially our girls.  This is not to say, of course, that we would encourage vices in our children in the name of “being yourself,” but rather that we hope they never feel like they have to conform to the world’s idea of who they should be.  I think girls especially are targeted from such a young age by our culture, being told they must act and be a certain way to be happy.
I was recently at an indoor playground with my kids, and there was a six-year-old girl who, to be frank, was pestering and annoying my two oldest children to the point that they politely told her they would rather not play at that time.  The little girl immediately yelled, “It’s because I’m not pretty, isn’t it?!  You don’t like me because I’m not pretty!”  I literally cringed upon hearing that, as I don’t know that my five year old even has a vague idea of what “pretty” means.  We tell our girls all of the time how beautiful they are, but we always talk about how they’re beautiful because of the way God made them in His image, how there’s only one of them in the whole wide world, etc.  I was instantly saddened by the way this young girl associated her “likeability” with “being pretty.”
While we are definitely not very far into this crazy journey of being parents and have only just begun to ponder how to concretely instill that sense of self-worth in our kids, it is heartening to know that some of our little chats are beginning to resonate with our oldest, who recently was playing dress-up with her little sister.  As she removed the gaudy glittery dress from our 16 month old, Mary told me, “She still looks beautiful. Do you know why? Because even if you’re naked or don’t have any clothes on, you’re still beautiful because that’s the way God made you. He gets to make us however He wants, and we’re beautiful no matter what we’re wearing.”  While the naked part of course cracked me up, I was delighted to see that at least a little bit of what we’re trying to instill is sticking.
What are some ways you instill real self-worth in your kids?  I’d love to hear your suggestions!

Amanda Wagner

Amanda Wagner

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