I have a 12 year old daughter, and sometimes she’s kind of a tom-boy. She loves to be outside in the creek, and she’s not afraid to mix it up with her brothers. However, when she dresses up nice, from time to time people tell her that she is very pretty. She never really knows what to say to that, and it never occurred to me to help her figure it out until one night last year, when the complementing went over the top.
Our whole family was dressed up for some occasion, and a friend of my wife approached us – she hadn’t seen my daughter in a while – and practically exploded with gushing complements at her appearance. It was “WOW!! She is so BEAUTIFUL oh my GOODNESS!” this and “SO GORGEOUS YOU COULD BE A SUPERMODEL!” that. Never mind that she’s tiny-petite like her mom, and she had no idea what a supermodel was. Then, throughout the evening, whenever we would see our friend, she would return to her praise like the night was a song and that was the chorus. Eventually, I felt awkward for my daughter.
Don’t get me wrong, every healthy parent likes for their child to be praised. And my wife’s friend was being sincere and kindhearted, if effusive. But because of our warped culture where bulimia, botox and breast implants are as normal as braces, something inside me went on alert.
I tell my daughter she’s beautiful, but I also tell her she has great musical instincts and artistic taste. I tell her how smart she is and how thoughtful. I complement her on her banana bread, her problem solving skills and her industriousness, because that’s my job as her dad.
Of course, my wife’s friend did nothing wrong. On the contrary, I’m sure it was very encouraging (even if a little embarrassing) to my daughter. But I’m dad, and that evening I had one more job to do.
Before our prayers, we were talking, and I asked her if she remembered the gushing complements. I told her that when someone complements her like that, it’s OK to wait till they are done and say a simple “thank you” in return. Then I told her “You know, you are very pretty, but I just want to make sure you know, you’re really much, much more than that.” And praise the King of Heaven she said, “Thanks. I think I know what you mean.”