I had a session with a female client and toward the end of our session she asked me the following question: “do you think that a girl’s relationship with her father has a greater impact on how she views herself and her relationships than her relationship with her mother?” The question took me by surprise, as this was not the initial main topic of our session. I thought about it for a moment and we processed how her relationship with her father has impacted her in her life. She spoke about the strength of her father and the fact that her mother was never there for her. She always tried to choose a man who had the same values as her father because she had come to have great respect for her father for raising her when her mother left them.
The session ended and it made me think about my past conversations with clients regarding their family dynamics. Both male and female clients who have had candid discussions with me about their relationships with their fathers, whether they were present in their lives, provided compliments and encouragement, or were abusive and critical, and how this impacted them physically, sexually, and emotionally.
It led me to one conclusion: I will always accept compliments from my husband in front of my children.
There’s not much debate that a child’s relationship with their parents impacts their self-esteem. However, the bond that a child has with their father teaches many important lessons for a daughter and for a son. One of those lessons being:
- A father teaches their daughter what it means to be a man. A father teaches their daughter how a man should treat them and shapes how they view themselves.
- A father teaches their son what it means to be a man. A father teaches their son how to treat women and shapes how they view themselves.
But what about mothers? How can they play a role in self-esteem? I thought about this and realized that in order for my daughter to learn self-esteem, it has to start with me and my relationship.
Lets face it, being a mom is tough and sometimes we don’t always feel our best - insert mom guilt here. Days where the house is a mess, the smell of sour baby spit-up is crusted to our shirt, there’s dried apple puree in our hair, and the day old mascara has migrated down our face. Days where we feel the words “sexy”, “hot”, or “pretty” are furthest from anyone’s vocabulary to describe us. I’ve had many of these days since my daughter was born. Days where I should be using the times where she’s napping to take a shower or clean the dishes but all I want to do is turn on the TV and relax for a minute before she wakes up and the routine starts again. Days where I’ve just accepted that this is the best I’m going to look for the day and I don’t really care!
Sometimes, during days like these where I feel less than my best, my husband will hold our daughter, point to me, and say, “look how pretty mom is! Isn’t she gorgeous?” In the past, I would laugh it off and even scoff at him for potentially being sarcastic. Maybe even say something like, “ugh no I don’t. I look awful, I need to put makeup on and my hair’s a mess!”
I have realized in making comments like this, that I am teaching my daughter that I am turning away my husband’s love and affection. That I am potentially showing her that I don’t believe that I should be accepting of a compliment just because I don’t look the way I feel I should look in that moment. I want my daughter to learn that she is beautiful and worthy of compliments no matter how she feels about herself. I want her to see that mommy is pretty without makeup and that she is too and that a man should always see her as beautiful. I want her to know that her dad loves her mother without fail, even in the “messy times”. I want her to see that compliments should be accepted and that a man should give a woman loving compliments. I want her to build her self-esteem based on what she sees at home. It starts with me. Therefore, I will always accept my husband’s compliments in front of my children.
Kids are sponges and we as parents are their first teachers of trust, self-esteem, love, autonomy, confidence, and how to treat others. If I model insecure, ungrateful, and unloving behavior that my husband gives to me, she will begin to see faults in herself as mommy does. Mothers teach their daughters to accept the type of love they think they deserve. Eventually, my daughter will grow up and choose a man (or woman) to love. I want her to pick someone who values her, who sees her beauty in the difficult times, and to know that she is worthy of love and respect and should settle for nothing less.
I also want to mention that this concept of accepting the type of love we think we deserve is applied to abusive and toxic relationships. If we are being talked down to, verbally abused, humiliated, and treated less than we deserve, our daughters will learn that this is how a woman should be treated. If sons see their fathers degrading their mothers, they may believe this is how men should speak to women. We are not teaching the child that is in front of us, we are teaching them to become the type of people we want them to be in the future.
The world is cruel enough. Teach your children love, acceptance, and self-esteem by starting with the acceptance of love in your relationship. So from now on, instead of blowing off the compliment from your husband, say thank you and accept it. You never know what little set of ears is listening!