Shortly after I gave birth to my daughter, I remember sitting in our tiny living room, sun streaming through the window on a hot summer day, gazing down at this sweet little innocent bundle asleep in my arms, and thinking about all of my hopes and dreams for her future. I dreamed she would be fearless, determined, brave, outgoing, and confident – all things I’ve never been. I hoped that she would be different from me, better than me.
Now at just barely five years old, I already see so clearly the little person she is. She’s amazing in so many ways, I can’t even describe, but looking at her is like looking at myself 25 years ago. My heart is already breaking a little bit, seeing her struggle in ways that I also struggled at her age and knowing that she is going to face a lot of the same internal battles that I myself have faced.
The night before Halloween was Leila’s very first school dance – a Monster Mash costume party. The days leading up to it were full of bursting-at-the-seams anticipation. She couldn’t wait to get all dressed up in her leopard costume and see all of her little friends in theirs. The night of, we couldn’t get there fast enough.
Her school gym was packed full of families in costume, lots of decorations, and loud music blasting from the speakers. As we walked in I could already sense the social anxiety building inside her. I myself wasn’t looking forward to the social event, but I was looking forward to watching my kids have fun. I figured once we found some of her friends, she’d loosen up and have a blast. Wrong. My heart hurt as Leila’s little friends held hands and danced around, but nothing I (or they) did or said encouraged her to join in the fun. I finally got down on her level and in the middle of a million people with music burning our ears, demanded that she tell me what’s wrong. After asking several times and telling her to speak up, I finally made out what she was saying to me through sad eyes: “I don’t look like everyone else.”
My heart seriously shattered in that moment. How is my five year old daughter already worrying so much about what other people think of her? A few weeks prior when she told me she wanted to be a leopard for Halloween, I had a strange feeling she would regret not wanting to be Elsa or Anna or some other princess like every other little girl. I even asked her several times if she was sure that’s what she wanted to be. She was excited to be a leopard. But as soon as she saw all her little friends in their pretty costumes, she lost all confidence in her choice. It killed me.
We ended up leaving the Monster Mash after only about 20 minutes. Leila was just frozen in a state of sadness (and the loud music and crazy costumes were freaking Landon out). As soon as we got in the car, Leila lost it in a sea of tears. We ended the night with a deep heart-to-heart talk about being confident and not worrying what other people around us do as long as we’re happy with ourselves. A difficult conversation to have with a little girl.
I couldn’t sleep that night. I flashed back on all the moments in my life when I had confidence and happiness stolen away from me as soon as I compared myself to others. How do I teach my daughter, who is so much like me it isn’t even funny, to not let the same thing happen to her? How can I help her have fun and embrace life instead of worrying so much about what other people think? How do I teach her these things when I don’t even know how to do it myself?
On Halloween the next day, after our deep talk and a mini life lesson learned, Leila once again embraced being a leopard and ended up having an awesome time trick-or-treating with her brothers and cousins. I just love this little girl so much and I wish she would realize how awesome she is.