I have a friend, a brilliant writer (and a brilliant friend for that matter), who has developed a way to compliment people on their, let’s face it, ugly babies. Because even though all parents think their babies are beautiful, all babies, well, aren't. So my friend, shown a not so attractive wee one says, “Oh, isn’t he/she so precious!” Which is not a lie: all babies are precious, to be held dear, miraculous. But precious, conveniently, can also be translated in the parent’s minds as various derivations of pretty. Unless it makes you think of Gollum
But please, I beg you, stop.
Here’s why: she is starting to think, at the tender age of four, even born into a long line of feminists, that being pretty is what matters most. We try to explain to her that even if you're the prettiest person ever, if you're mean and obnoxious you will have no friends. And in general, you won't be happy with yourself as a human being.
I was at a wedding this weekend and my daughter sat through the whole thing without making a peep, running around, or generally distracting those around her. I was beaming. The lady behind us leaned down to whisper, you guessed it, how pretty my daughter looked. Come now, four and sitting still for forty-five minutes and pretty is what you come up with? We get the same thing on planes. My kids are better flyers than I am. After one transatlantic flight, we got so many comments about — wait for it —how cute the kids were.
Look, I get it. Kids can be really cute and people want to say something pleasant about/to them. Remarking on their appearance is easy and polite. And ultimately, there is nothing wrong with looking good and feeling good about it. But, especially for my daughter, I am trying as hard as I can to help her understand that looks are not all that matter. That looks are not paramount. And I am failing. And she’s only four.
If my kid was great at Target, quite at the library, said please and thank you at Starbucks, tell her that. “What a helper,” or “you were so well behaved, I bet your Mommy is proud,” or “you followed directions so well.” I know that can be a lot to ask and really you're just trying to be nice, so if you just need a quick one, steal a page from my “precious” friend: call my daughter sweet. Because she's that too. In spades. And I'm hoping I can keep her that way.