I wish I were the perfect mother. I wish I could say all the right things and make all the right decisions to teach my daughter how to grow into the intelligent, strong, independent woman I know she'll be. In trying, though, comes failing. I know there are times I don't realize I'm shaming my daughter, and while I have no ill intent and would never shame her on purpose (after all, what parent would?) it's still a difficult pill to swallow. Mistakes are normal, but that undeniable fact doesn't make me feel any more triumphant when faced with her scarred feelings over something I've said or done.
It should be known, my daughter and I didn't get off to the best start. After a difficult pregnancy, she came out a quiet little thing with a smashed nose and small wail. Soon though, as I battled severe postpartum depression (PPD) that prevented me from bonding with her. Her quiet wails would grow in strength and her can-do attitude (read: super independent) would become my greatest antagonist. I loved my firstborn with a natural fierceness, ready to protect on a whim. Still, I knew from the moment I held her we'd be so very alike in all the ways that may prove challenging.
Despite the rocky beginning, my girl is growing into such a smart, thoughtful young lady with just the right amount of gusto to get wherever she wants to go in life. As the days go by, and she makes more and more plans for who she wants to be, and what she wants to do and how she wants to do it. So, I can't help but sit back and reflect on all the places I went wrong and all the ways I failed her. I find this sometimes painful reflection to be necessary in figuring out how to move forward and do right by her — mother to daughter and, someday, woman to woman. So, with that in mind, here are all the times I may have shamed my daughter without realizing, that you may have done, too. With each one, I offer my sweet girl my sincerest apology.
You're Focused On Her, Not Her Behavior
It's really easy for the two ideas to mingle interchangeably. For example, my daughter has been caught in a few lies — some whoppers, actually — and in learning how to deal with the best approach, I may have confused her lying on occasion (as some kids do) with being a pathological liar. While some kids are prone to excessive lying, there's a difference and it's an important one. I know my daughter, not her behavior, and yet I've let the behavior dictate the kind of person she is and this is so, so wrong.
At just 10-years-old, I've realized she's merely navigating her boundaries and while there are still consequences for her actions, I can't fault her.
You Result To Name-Calling
I have never been one to name-call. At least, not purposefully. There have been times I may have said something like, "Stop acting like a brat," or, "Why are you so difficult?" Neither of these ever help a situation and, in turn, make her feel like crap.
Of course my daughter's not a brat and while she can be, uh, "challenging," I shouldn't say that to her. All this does is shame her and make her believe she is the sum of those aforementioned words. If she believes it, and thinks I do, too, there'll be no reason to stop the behavior.
You Point Out Her Imperfections
The pre-teen years are an awkward phase. I remember them all too well and now my daughter has entered the territory. Once a small, sprite dynamo, her body is changing and her hormones are running rampant. I hadn't realized my subtle nitpicking until I saw her face one day very recently. I'd said something about her hair needing washed, then two seconds later about how her hairline had begun breaking out (because of the oily hair).
I didn't mean any harm, of course, and it's my job to teach her how to care for her body and how to navigate puberty, but she had this look of betrayal in her eyes, as if to say, "I know already. Please stop pointing it out." Ever since that day, I've tried to either bite my tongue or think twice before making any comment like the above. Now I know her dignity is at stake.
You Talk About Her, In Front Of Her
I'm very guilty of this, unfortunately. If she's done well in school or excelled at crafting something beyond her ability, it's great to have her overhear my brags to other adults. However, if she's done something that isn't necessarily worthy of celebration — like hide something from me, push her brother, or anything less than top-notch behavior — all I'm doing is shaming her.
While I do want her to have a sense of guilt for something she may have done wrong, I do not want her to pick up on disapproval of her, as a person, or a mocking type of feeling. I don't want to humiliate my daughter, I want to lift her up. I want to inspire her, not degrade her, and often times, it's a fine line we don't even realize we're crossing.
You Compare Her To Others
We live next to a neighbor with children. One of her girls is my daughter's best friend. She's one of the smartest, gentlest, most thoughtful children I've ever encountered and actually, every kid in that family exemplifies compassion and kindness. They are what most strive to be. I know there have been times — like when the girl debated between buying a toy for herself with her money vs. buying a pack of pens to share with her sisters — I may have compared my daughter to her.
Of course I love my daughter and she's unique in her own wonderful ways, so making comparisons between her and a completely different girl is unfair. How is my daughter supposed to live up to my praise for another? In her head, she probably can't and therefore will always have a longing for my approval. For this, I am so, so sorry.
You've Made Weight A Topic
I was raised surrounded by women obsessed with weight. Someone was always on a diet, buying a new scale, going to Weight Watchers, or taking before and after photos. At the time it seemed normal to be but I know, now, that it's not. Having battled eating disorders my entire life, I sometimes forget my children are always watching. We have a scale, yes, but I never let my daughter see me use it. I try to emphasize health over weight and strength over "skinny" or "fat."
With my daughter's changing body, I've noticed her discomfort in the clothes that once fit so well and, at times, may have commented on buying something bigger. I wouldn't ever say it to shame her and do want to make sure she loves herself and her body regardless, but my words often get tangled and it can come out wrong. When you're continually trying to figure out how to appreciate your own body, it's easy to accidentally make your daughter super aware of her own. This is one we are learning, together.
You're Dismissive With Her Feelings
My daughter is emotional and empathetic. This sometimes translates to hormonally imbalanced (I'm the same way, trust me), dramatic, and overreactive. The thing is, while sometimes it truly is just theatrics, I shouldn't be so dismissive and actually open my ears to what she's saying. In retrospect, I think about all the times throughout any particular day where I've waved her off or told her, "It's not worth crying over," instead of empathizing and offering compassion. I never want her to feel ashamed for feeling "too much." Besides, it's her big, open heart that will change the world someday.
Raising daughters in this era isn't easy. We want them to be strong, independent, and empowered and, if they feel shamed, we don't want it to be because of anything we've done. At the end of the day, we're all doing the best we can and aside from learning from our mistakes, it's all we can do.