Before you compliment a stranger's (or your own) little girl on her appearance, pause for a second to think about what you're really trying to tell her. These are my thoughts on how we talk to girls.
It happens every single time I take my baby out in public. Whether I'm pushing her in a cart through the grocery store, bouncing her while sitting in a waiting room, or carrying her inside somewhere to run a quick errand. It's inevitable. Someone will take our presence as an invitation to say just how cute my daughter is.
"Look at those eyes!"
"You have such a beautiful baby!"
"Oh, she's the cutest thing!"
Yes, my baby is cute. She's my baby. I'd think she was the most adorable thing in the world even if she was born with three eyes. And I know these strangers mean well. I try to be polite, nod, smile, and quickly carry on. But what these people don't know is how frustrated I feel. Because they're making my job as a mom that much harder from this very tender, early age.
You see, what these people don't understand when they make these comments about my child's looks, is that they are reinforcing the message that I'm trying to be so careful not to instill in her - that her appearance is what matters most.
When strangers coo and fuss over my daughters looks, they are telling her that appearance is the thing they value. That because she is beautiful, she is worthy of attention and praise, and she should continue to strive to be beautiful. And that's exactly what I'm trying to prevent.
I want my daughter to grow up knowing that I, and the rest of the world, value her thoughts, her character, and who she is as a human. Not something as trivial as her outward appearance that she can't even control. (Sorry, honey, you're stuck with what mommy gave you there.) I want her to feel confident in her abilities to do and be anything. Not because she is pretty, but because she is smart and hardworking and a decent human being.
Of course, I think she will always be beautiful. We all have our own kind of beauty. But looks are fleeting, and so is society's opinion of what is beautiful. Looks can be changed in an instant. And if that's where a person's only self-worth lies, a physical change can be detrimental to their perception of their value to the world.
That's why I am trying my best to raise a strong, resilient young lady who can hold a conversation, think for herself, and is caring and genuine. Things that don't easily fade and can carry her through life.
I so badly wish that when strangers stop to comment, they would say how smart or well-behaved my child is. I sure try to say those things to other little girls instead of how cute they are. I know that as my child starts to understand words, I'm going to have to follow up every stranger's comments about her looks with "…and she's so smart, too" or "she has the most loving heart." And it will be exhausting. But it will also be worth it.
So next time you pass a baby girl in the grocery store or talk to a young girl at a friend's house, try to pause before you immediately tell her how adorable she is, and instead think of something you can compliment her on, or a question to ask her, that has nothing to do with looks. I promise, she gets enough of that from everyone else.