I get why my mother did what she did. When you're overworked and way underpaid, and you're of a generation that thinks kids are to be controlled, rather than reasoned with; and you're afraid of having to deal with the cascade of hormone-driven adolescent problems that come with being the mom of a girl child, you search for silence. Demand it, even. Talking about tween stuff like periods and first kisses and confidence and beauty wasn't an option for her, because speaking about it somehow condoned and encouraged a flurry of inappropriate behavior invited her daughter to be difficult.

Let's just say difficult wasn't an option for my mom.

Of course, her no-nonsense parenting style had its plusses: I stayed out of trouble and it kept me focused. But her be-quiet-and-do-only-as-I-say approach gave me a wicked case of low self-esteem made me uncomfortable with my body, with the opposite sex, with the accolades that came with my successes.

Coping with these things is still a struggle, but I promised that it would be much less so for my girls. From the moment I found out Mari is a girl, I made the conscious decision to help her square her shoulders, walk with her chin held high, be comfortable in her skin, and appreciate who she is, no matter what.

And I work hard at this every single day.

For instance, every morning, I lean in and kiss my girls Mari, 11, and Lila, 8 and triple dog dare them to be brilliant. Who are you not to be? I ask. They are, after all, smart girls. And their dad and I invest a massive amount of time and cash on art and music classes, academic enrichment programs, science camps, even Mandarin lessons, to show our girls that our world is huge, and that they don't have to be average when culture, class, and yes, brilliance can take them places their parents and grands have never gone.

It is these constant reminders those high expectations that not only keep the A's coming, but make my girls proud of their smarts. They are trying to please their parents, sure. But they're also impressing themselves planning to be great. Something I was too afraid to do when I was their age.

I was also profoundly uncomfortable with my looks; my kinky hair and my dark skin and my curvaceous body seemed always to be a study in what was wrong with, rather than what was beautiful about, me. And so, ashamed and terribly shy, I hid always tucked myself into the shadows of my prettier friends, avoided talking to boys at all costs.

I don't want this for my girls, so I tell them they're beautiful every inch of them everyday. I also make it clear that there is true beauty in being different kinky hair and plump physiques are just as amazing as any other characteristic pop culture serves up as an ideal. Knowing this not only makes my girls comfortable with their loveliness, but encourages them to forgo judging others because they don't fit whatever ideal others serve up. Do I run the risk of creating conceited monsters? Maybe. But there is honor in loving oneself in appreciating you, even others don't.

The most important thing I teach my girls every day, though, is…

To find out  the most important lesson I give my girls, CLICK HERE to see in its entirety this post, written exclusively for Unilever’s Don’t Fret the Sweat campaign. For tips, confidence-building tools and stories about how moms are helping their tweens navigate those sweat-inducing “moments,” check out www.DontFrettheSweat.com.

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  1. Melody Charles

    The armor that we parents put around our children everyday is what they will wear in a world that tries to take chunks out of their individuality and their sense of confidence and security. Bravo, Ms. Denene, this is the same set of values I have for my 1 yrd old and my 4 yr old, they know they are loved, smart, capable and beautiful simply because they exist! Great article!

  2. I know what you mean, Denene! Our mother's did what they thought was right, and moving on from the damaging elements of that can leave room for us to appreciate the pluses and make DAMN sure we remind our daughters just how wonderful they are.

    The hard conversations will be even harder if they are faced with being sheltered, being reprimanded when asking questions, and not being reminded about their right to be confident and FLY!

    I also think it's important to surround ourselves (as mothers) with other parents who share that philosophy. It lightens the load a bit when my daughters get to see another Brown mommy in action, reminding her girls to embrace their fullest selves. There are few things more uncomfortable for me than seeing a mother smash her child for asking a doggone question!!

  3. Right on! Having been raised by my great-grandmother, I had the same kind of upbringing and am still struggling with the same aftermath. I am always amazed at my daughter's confidence because I still sometimes find myself in a shell. I look at her at times like, whose child is that? LOL. But, as you pointed out with your girls, being able to see that she is not afraid of who she is in that entirety, and not afraid of being herself, I know that I am guiding her in the right direction.

    Thanks for speaking on this Denene.

  4. Wow, I thought i was the only one. My mom treated me the same, but with violent tendencies. I still struggle with low self esteem. I have 2 girls now, and i'm very open and honest when dealing with them, and my husband spends lots of time with them also. Girls need their daddy too! My little ladies are strong and very intelligent, and i let them know every day how proud they make me. I encourage them in everything they want to do, and i always tell them don't be like me,, be better. Don't be afraid of life, conquer it!

  5. Such an honest and relatable post. I was raised by a mother with whose philosophy was that anything i needed to know could be found in the Bible. If it wasn't in the Bible then it would surely lead me straight to Hell. I felt guilty and insecure about myself and my self-worth was low. Her rigidity kept me focused and out of trouble for awhile, but left me vulnerable and curious once I was out of her sight. I have two daughters now, 4 yrs. and newborn, and I'm passionate about raising them to be self-aware and to love evertything about themselves. Young girls and even us grown women need to be constantly reminded that what makes us different, makes us beautiful!

  6. This is a gorgeous post – it is full of sentiment, I can relate to it and it is beautiful. It has inspired me! : ) x I agree 100%!

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