A few months ago I attended an interesting session at C’s preschool about raising confident girls. The talk started with terrifying stories about how horrible girls can be to each other – the sorts of things they do and say that destroy self esteem and self confidence. And then, just as we were all about to despair of ever being able to keep our little girls safe and happy, the speaker, Simone Marean of the Girl’s Leadership Institute, threw us a bone.
We had begged her for a solution, an answer, a hint as to what we could do to prevent the destruction that was awaiting us. We had asked how we could make our princesses tough enough to withstand the verbal and emotional attacks they would be facing. She answered, (forgive me for summarizing) it’s simple, teach them not to care what others think.
Be silly around your kids. Be odd and different in public. Show them again and again and again that it doesn’t matter what people think about you, that what matters is to be true to yourself. Once you realize that people’s thoughts and words have no power over you, you can do anything, be anyone, and no one can make you feel bad about yourself.
The catch? The only way to teach that is by example.
My girls are lucky. I was already carefree before the talk. I shrug off spills that cover my shirt in coffee. I sing to the muzak in the grocery store. I chase them around looking for hugs, kisses, and tickles. I engage strangers in conversations. I never stop to worry about looking silly.
On Sunday I stood in a rainy plaza with C, Little L, and two little friends, waiting for the other grown-ups in our party. A nearby band was warming up and strains of Led Zeppelin curled around us. I started to bop my head in tune with the music, and, as the sound grew, I turned to my half-pint crowd and asked them to show me their best moves.
The girls looked at me quizzically, but I let my body start to move and one of the little boys joined me, busting into a totally cute and really groovy dance. His eyes were closed and he was just feeling the music. With a twitch of his head and a shake of his arm his older brother joined in, followed by Little L who can never resist a good song, and then, a little reluctantly C started to dance. We must have looked insane, grooving in the rain like that, but I didn’t stop to wonder. I let the music move me and let the rain wash over me, and thoroughly enjoyed the moment. Five carefree souls doing what feels good.
“Cool! Teaching her kids to dancing to Led Zeppelin! Now that’s a cool mom!”
I looked over to smile at the two guys watching us dance. They nodded appreciatively as we kept right on dancing. They thought I was cool because of my taste in music. They don’t know the half of it. I know I’m cool because one moment after another I’m teaching my girls to be fearless and I’m leading them by example.