Thursday, July 25, 2013

Other People's Opinions

"I'm just going to delete it," I said, walking down the hallway toward the stairs leading to my laptop.

"No!  Don't delete it, Mama!" Katie called out from bed.

I was having trouble falling asleep even though it was late.  I had pimples and parenting on the brain.  I laid in bed with my eyes closed, trying to force my body to toggle into subconscious mode, but my brain would not cooperate.  I kept thinking, "Maybe they're right?  Maybe I've gone too far this time.  Oversharing your personal stories and photos of yourself in a bikini is one thing.  Oversharing potentially embarrassing stories and photos of your kid is another."

I'm super-sensitive about everything, but there are few things that stir my inner anxiety worse than criticizing my parenting style.  Yesterday I shared a photo and blog post about Katie's first pimple.  I thought the point of the piece was to explore how society does more harm than good by teaching young people to cover their pimples and other so-called flaws.  I thought sharing a photo of my daughter proudly showing off her first pimple and an essay about how I'm trying to eliminate negative self-talk about my own skin issues around my daughter so she learns to feel confident about herself and the skin issues she might inherit from me was a positive, uplifting thing.

I was surprised when the first reaction to my post was so negative:

She'll kill you later for sharing this with the world.

"What?" I thought after reading that comment.  "Did she not even read the post?"

It seems to me that insisting my daughter will kill me some day for sharing this photo implies that it's something she should feel embarrassed about.  That's completely counter to what the blog post is about.  My point is that pimples are nothing to hide.  I spent thirty years covering my skin in an attempt to hide my pimples.  A few years ago I quit wearing makeup because my husband doesn't like the taste of it.  I discovered that my skin is less irritated and more vibrant looking without foundation caked on it.  And guess what?  Pimples are nothing to be ashamed of.

But apparently not everyone agrees with me.  Another friend chimed in that she agrees that some day Katie will hate me for posting this photo.

I don't get it.  I think they're jumping to conclusions.

I don't know what kinds of things Katie will find embarrassing when she's older, and I'm her mother.  Katie and I have a special bond.  How could others who know her less well than I do know for sure how she'll react some day to this post when even I'm not privy to that information?  We'll just have to see.

I want to encourage my daughter to not feel ashamed of her so-called flaws. Communicating honestly about things we think are gross or embarrassing helps us to become more confident. I don't think she'll want to kill me for trying to teach her that pimples are nothing to hide.

But in a fit of second-guessing myself, when I was having trouble falling asleep, I got up and announced, "I'm just going to delete it."  Maybe they're right, I thought.  It's better to err on the side of caution when it comes to my daughter's wellness, I told myself.

But Katie wouldn't let me.

"No!  Don't delete it, Mama!" Katie called out from bed.

"Why?  What if some day the picture embarrasses you?" I asked.

"What's embarrassed mean?" Katie asked in a sleepy voice.

"When you get older, you might feel shy that the whole world is looking at a picture of you with a pimple on your face," I explained.

"No, Mama!  When I grow up I'm going to show my pimples to the whole world!!!"

I laughed.  I turned around.  I crawled into bed next to Katie and she snuggled with me until I fell asleep.

When I woke up in the morning, a good friend had sent me a private message telling me he understands my perspective and gave words of encouragement about how Will and I are raising Katie to be "an amazing woman."  And then I saw that my favorite psychologist, Dr. Harriet Lerner, author of so many books that have changed my life, "liked" my post.  I felt like floating to the moon.  The approval of important mentors is intoxicating.  

Just as I wish other's negative comments about my parenting didn't affect me, I wish I didn't crave the validation of people such as my good friend who messaged me, and Dr. Lerner, but I totally do.  I feed off of other people's opinions of me.  When criticized I become filled with self-doubt.  When praised I become filled with self-confidence.  I'd like to learn a way to internalize my confidence more, so it's not so dependent on the attitudes of those around me.  But what can I say?  We're social creatures.  What other people think of me matters, no matter how much I wish it didn't.

Remember the old saying sticks and stones will break my bones but words can never hurt me?  Yeah, fuck that.  Words and communication are what give meaning to life as human beings.  Words are important.  They should be used cautiously and thoughtfully.  

I feel good about the way I've communicated the story of Katie's first pimple.  Thanks for allowing me to share it with you.