When I was a little girl, somewhere between the ages of 8 and 13, people often remarked to my mother that I looked like Margaret O’Brien, a child actress of the ‘40s who began her prolific career in films at the age of 4.
I didn’t understand why hearing that made my mother so happy but it obviously did because she always smiled. I smiled, too.
Although I wasn’t old enough to analyze it then, I now know that somewhere deep in my heart, lay disturbing questions: What’s wrong with me? Why is just being me not good enough? Why must I resemble someone else to put that smile on my mother’s face?
Those questions were never answered. But, as I grew older, I didn’t think about them anymore. That is, until, much later in my life, after marriage and a family.
One day, Mr. H. and I were having an ordinary conversation about our children, when I commented that our youngest daughter looked like a certain relative. The daughter overheard. Her reaction was unexpected. In a rather loud, tearful voice, she shrieked, “You mean I’m not pretty?”
Instant flashback: The Margaret O’Brien comments that made my mother so happy.
Suddenly panicked, I thought, “What have I done?” Putting my arms around this child, I quickly assured her that she was very pretty and so was the relative I’d mentioned. Stroking her soft, shiny hair, I reminded her that her dark, curly hair and olive skin were beautiful and that her flashing brown eyes sang a song that should be accompanied by a 12-string guitar. She giggled as I mimicked a guitar player.
“I made a mistake,” I said. “I shouldn’t have compared you to someone else. There is no comparison. You are ‘you.’ God made only one ‘you.’ Please forgive me.” Her sobbing stopped and she seemed okay. I pray she hasn’t carried scars through life because of my careless remark.
We must be very careful what we say to children. They’re like little sponges, soaking up everything they see and hear.
The best compliment a child can get is one he or she hears when the person giving it doesn’t know the child is listening. It would seem, then, that parents should be saying good things about their children all the time, just in case little ears are tuned into the conversation.
Psalm 127:3-5 tells us that children are a heritage from the Lord.
Building strong self-esteem is one of the best things we can do for them and no matter how many gifts we give them, the number one best gift is our love.
But sometimes I wonder — is too much importance placed on looks?
A little girl from my early childhood comes to mind.
Her name was Jenny Lee Smith.
I recently ran across her obituary online and was surprised to learn that she never left our hometown. She spent her whole life there, married a boy we’d gone to school with and stayed there — in the same house where she was raised until they died.
Jenny and I go all the way back to first grade. She was a cute little girl. The first thing I remember about her is her hair. It was a shiny, chestnut brown and hung in long, shoulder-length curls. She reminded me of one of those big-eyed, porcelain-faced dolls I’ve always secretly feared.
The second thing I remember when Jenny’s name is mentioned is the way her mother doted on her. She brought her to school each morning, walked to her classroom and all the way to her desk.
Nobody else’s mother did that.
I watched curiously as Mrs. Smith preened her daughter, touching her hair lightly, inspecting every curl and adjusting the bow attached to the top of her head. Finally, she’d kiss Jenny on the cheek, smile and take her leave, waving as she exited.
I shuddered, imagining how embarrassed I’d be if my mother did that.
We were schoolmates throughout elementary and middle school. Jenny was seldom allowed to engage in rowdy games with other children but when she did, her mother was always nearby in case she got hurt.
God doesn’t want us to be overprotective parents. If we do everything for our children and protect them from all of life’s hurts, they’ll never make mistakes and if they never make mistakes, they’ll never learn. If they never learn, then they’ll build no sense of worth. Without self-esteem, they will not grow into God’s full potential for their lives.
Thinking about Jenny’s narrow life brought sadness to my heart. Yet, human emotion can be baffling.
I couldn’t help smiling as I started to wonder if Jenny had found her mother in Heaven waiting to fix her hair.