Your Children Are Listening

I am fat, ugly, and short. I wish I was beautiful, or even just acceptable like everyone else, but I know that it will never be.

At varying times in my life, I was told that it was a pity that I was so short, that it was unfortunate that I inherited my dad’s bulging eyes or my mother’s radish-shaped legs. I was told that if only my hips were a little narrower, then maybe my clothes would fit better; if my nose weren’t so wide, then I’d have a prettier face. My recessed jaw was blamed on the fact that my teeth were originally too large for my mouth, causing me to have four teeth pulled and get braces, which in turn pushed my chin and jaw inward. While these things were never meant to be mean, were never said all at once, and were usually uttered as passing comments in response to something in particular, anyone who thinks that children forget old comments by the time new comments are uttered is fooling themselves. As a child when I put it all of these facts together, I felt like I was the imperfect child with absolutely no redeeming physical qualities.

Well, that’s not true – I’ve been told that I have nice hands, slender wrists and pretty, long fingers.

My physical self-esteem has been completely destroyed and the support to help rebuild it has never been there. Asian cultures believe in humility; compliments are rarely given out, and flaws are frequently communicated (because we should all strive to fix our flaws in order to better ourselves). I’m not asking anyone to stroke my ego in order to build my self-esteem; far from it, actually, because I find ego stroking to be insincere and shallow. However, when I hear others around me being complimented on the way they look by those who are important to them, only to be greeted by silence by those who are important to me, it reinforces that I am not worthy of a simple comment that tells me that “you are just as beautiful as they are.” Apparently, I’m not.

At this point, I know it’s mostly in my head but my problem is that I have a tough time delineating between what is fact and what is fiction. Even though I should know better than to take those comments to heart, or to interpret the dead silence wherever I seek acknowledgement, I still believe that I am the grown up version of that imperfect child. Because I’ve never been able to fix these flaws, I’ve failed myself in reaching my potential to be healthy and beautiful, and I’m disgusted with myself.

“You’re a fat slob,” I tell myself because it is my truth.

I’m not writing this because I want sympathy or compliments from friends and readers who say, “But, no, Viv…you are beautiful and amazing and a great mom.” I mean, I won’t stop anyone from saying it because who doesn’t love to hear that stuff? I’m writing it because I want everyone to be aware – aware of how one thing you say today will stay with your children forever; aware of how a look or comment of disapproval or disappointment today will turn into insecurities tomorrow.

Even if you don’t think they are, your children ARE listening.

I want my children to always know that they are appreciated for who they are, and I will never dwell on who they could have been. I want my daughter to know that her spirit and her laughter make others happy.  I want my son to know that his compassionate, kind heart makes us proud. I want them to always believe in themselves. Perhaps outsiders will criticize me for doting on my children a bit too much, but there is a difference between telling a child what they WANT to hear, and what they NEED to hear. No one can criticize me for never wanting their spirit to be crushed under the veil of implied disapproval. I’ve been there and I know how it feels.

And so, I will always tell them, “You are beautiful.” I will always tell them, “You are smart.” And I will never stop telling them, “You are perfect just the way you are.”

Your children are always listening. Tell them what they need to hear.

9 thoughts on “Your Children Are Listening

  1. This is a great message – especially for dads with daughters. I think daughters (women) internalize things more than boys (men). I need to be especially careful with my sensitive daughters. Thanks for the reminder.

  2. I am very sad, reading this, but I totally understand and relate. While it is scary to realize our words, as Moms, carry so much weight, it is VERY important to be mindful of what we say, even in jest. I came from a “quipping” family, where being hurt by their words meant you were “too sensitive.” But I still remember proudly coming home with a B in gym, and hearing my aunt say, “Imagine that! A klutz like you!” My mother would say, “You would trip over the flowers in the carpet!” Not funny, even 50 years later. I’m glad you are so tuned into this and can turn it around for your kids.

  3. This made me stop in my tracks, “I still believe that I am the grown up version of that imperfect child.” There are definitely times that I identify so much more strongly with the kid me, the imperfect, flawed, insecure, needy me. It’s a part of me, but not all of me. Yet something about being brought face to face with my flaws brings me right back to that place. Perhaps if we can help our kids feel more secure in who they are, strengths and shortcomings, it won’t trigger the same shame for them.

  4. This has me a little choked up. Beautifully written by a beautiful mama! And I know this from experience! 🙂 Such an important message too. I love how you distinguish between what children want to hear and what they need to hear. I think it is definitely an important part of our job to help our kids have healthy self esteem, but without praising their every insignificant move, of course.

  5. So true! I want to hug you and let you know you are one SEXY, GORGEOUS, BEAUTIFUL, SMART woman and the fact that you are changing the cycle is even more incredible. It is tough enough in life with supportive people to feel “pretty” let alone no support. So cheers to you and making a different scenario for your children!

  6. What a phenomenal post. I love your vulnerability with this piece – you are so right, kids don’t forget the negative comments. Your children are so lucky to have you as their mama who will always look out for their best interests and never put them down. And for what it’s worth – I’ve always thought you’re beautiful! Beautiful hair, skin and a great smile (just to name a few!)

  7. Thank you for this reminder. I compliment my boys often, however, I find myself talking in front of my 3 year old like he’s not there and you’re SO right – they’re always listening. (Please add the following to the list of your good physical traits: gorgeous skin color/complexion, beautiful hair)

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