Raising a Confident Girl (When I Wasn’t a Confident Girl)

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confident girlConfidence has never been my strong suit.

When I was little, I stood back watching others try new activities until I was sure I could complete them correctly. In adolescence, I refused to raise my hand unless I knew I had the correct answer. As a teen and young adult, I handled the pressures of perfection by eating too little and exercising too much. 

Even into adulthood, at what should have been shining moments of self-worth, I could always hear a nagging voice in the back of my head saying, “you are not enough.”

I never seemed to be happy with myself. A confident girl I was not.

Having children was a profound wake-up call to my own personal nonsense. 

This month, I sent my firstborn, my daughter, off to her first day of Kindergarten. She marched onto the school bus, eminently secure in herself, wearing a pink sparkle tutu and rainbow sneakers, declaring her excitement to read books and learn math. She is me reincarnated (I also have an affinity for sparkles, rainbows, books, and math), minus the insecurity. As a result, I have spent the last five years checking my lack of self-worth at the door to set a positive example to her (and, of course, my son) and to (hopefully) not pass down my nonsense to my children. 

My daughter is smart, kind, curious, creative, funny, strong-willed, and the list goes on. My wish for her is to share these qualities with the world and make her mark. But when I catch her admiring herself in her bedroom mirror, I am reminded of too many years spent valuing myself based upon the size of my nose and thighs instead of the size of my brain and heart. 

And so, I take a deep breath, collect my mommy self, and ask my daughter, “How does that outfit make you feel?” She always responds with a resounding “GOOD!” and I tell her I’m happy she feels good. 

Some days I slip back into my old ways and feel bad about myself. My body is not what it used to be, and it likely never will be. I am okay with that. With age comes acceptance and wisdom. And so, I remind myself to do the following things daily, in a constant effort to keep any and all self-loathing at the door (and outside, down the block, then around the corner and on a bus to Timbuktu).

  • I wear my bathing suit with pride. A bathing suit is just that, and my daughter will remember if I was too embarrassed by my body to wear one.
  • I exercise for my health and my strength and never talk negatively about my body. My daughter will remember my self-loathing and learn to self loathe too.
  • I never comment negatively on anyone else’s appearance. If we adults are judgmental of others, then our children will be critical of others, including themselves.
  • I compliment my daughter and everyone else for the things that matter. If I teach my daughter that her kind actions, intelligent questions, and creative endeavors are what I notice about her, then she will grow up believing these are the qualities that are most important to cultivate.
  • I put myself first and share my interests and hobbies with my family. If my daughter sees me making time for my interests and hobbies, then she will learn to respect her free time and how she fills it.
  • I assert myself and speak up for others. If my daughter sees me raise my voice for issues that matter, she will learn respect for herself and others and feel empowered to make this world a better place.
  • I eat my vegetables and a piece of cake. If I eat food for both health and enjoyment in a balanced way, my daughter will learn to have a healthier relationship with food than I ever did.
  • I wear whatever I want and let my daughter do the same. Clothing is an expression of how we feel on the inside, and my daughter should feel free to wear what makes her feel comfortable.
  • I tell my daughter to try again when she says she can’t do something. If I help too soon, how can I expect her to learn perseverance and gain competence as she grows older?
  • I lose gracefully and shake off disappointment. Life isn’t fair or perfect, and if I can deal with that, then my daughter will take risks and learn to deal with it too.
  • I don’t compare myself to others or show jealousy for those who have more than we do. Nothing positive comes from coveting what others have. We are a happy and healthy family with a beautiful roof over our heads, and if I’m content, then my daughter will hopefully be content too.

I am not perfect. No one is. Perhaps I faked perfection well. But, I wasted over 30 years second-guessing every decision and nitpicking every slight imperfection. When I had children, I realized that all of those things I thought were important are irrelevant.

In motherhood, I have found peace within myself.

Will my daughter have complete inner peace growing up? Probably not. Self-doubt is, in many ways, a right of passage in adolescence and beyond. But I hope that the inner peace I have finally found in myself will spread like wildfire to her so that she will grow up loving herself (a lot) more than I ever loved myself because she deserves that. We all do.

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Hilary was born and raised in New York City. She moved to Connecticut after college to go to graduate school, where she met her husband Dan on their very first day. She now lives in Ridgefield with her husband and their two rugrats, a daughter C (born 2013) and a son L (born 2015). She works from home as an attorney, which would be completely impossible without coffee (for mom) and television (for the rugrats). She spends most of her free time (when there is any!) reading, drawing, and listening to lots of music. You can find her over at https://www.instagram.com/apinchofsaltus/, where she documents the humor of life through all things colorful.

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