"Daddy, I'm not pretty."I'm not going to lie: A little portion of my soul died right then. And it wasn't just the words, it was the sad way she said them. I was cut a thousand different ways.
One of my focuses in parenting is trying not to just tell my kids something is "good" but explain why. Maybe its their use of several colors, or how they linked the colors, or how they stayed within the lines. I try to have a "why" for when something is "good." This is doubly true for my daughter. I try not to emphasize the fact that she is truly beautiful too much and instead emphasize her other qualities. I figure society and even her educators will spend enough time convincing her that looks are important and that she can't do math and science. I can spend my time convincing her that other aspects of her are important.
"Daddy, I'm not pretty."It isn't like I never tell her she is pretty. I'm well aware I do it; maybe more than I realize. We sometimes call her Pretty Little Lady Bug for heaven's sake. But there it was, her telling me she wasn't pretty. Had I spent so much time on other tasks that I neglected to show her she is beautiful?
I bit down hard, trying not to make my discomfort evident; trying not to let her see the fear, angst, worry and failure ricocheting around my head. Self-esteem, and especially girls and beauty, is a touchy subject. Then again, you never know how much a 4-year old means what they are saying; or even if what they are saying is what they are trying to say. I could be overreacting to a simple statement and in the process plant some seed of doubt in her head. All because...
"Daddy, I'm not pretty."I wanted so badly to... Do what exactly? Fill her with light. That is probably the best way to explain it. But what the hell does that even mean? Hulk out and SMASH that self doubt? Without super powers or a light gun, I have to hope what I did was the right thing.
What exactly did I do, you ask? I told her that of course she was pretty. To which she reiterated that she isn't pretty. Then she wanted to know how would I even know if she was pretty, when she isn't.
So I picked her up, hugged her, and took her off by herself. Just Daddy and her. And I explained all the things that make her pretty. Not just her superficial beauty like like her button nose and bright eyes, but her inner beauty, like the fact that she is so caring and empathetic.
Which immediately elicited questions about how her insides can be pretty. Had I convinced her? Had I totally confused her? Was that response a win, or a fail? I guess you can check back in 10-to-20 years and find out.
Because as with so much in parenting; I'm not even sure I did the right thing. All I know is one thing is banging around in my head:
"Daddy, I'm not pretty."