On Self Compassion, A Letter to My Daughter

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I was midway through a single parenting week, we were both a little tired, both trying hard to remain cheerful with an empty chair at the table. We were sitting in silence more, my daughter wandering into spaces of her heart that more crowded moments silence.

She says with calm openness, "Mommy....I don't really like the way I look very much."

I pause, stomach tight, not sure what to say...

She continues, "I think my face is ...just big...and I don't ...I don't like looking at myself in the mirror" she continues.

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Oh freaking cripes almighty. I count backwards, toss through a thousand responses in a light second then reply

"Ohhh...." [gently, lightly, trying TRYING to not communicate my distress] "wow, I guess I'm surprised to hear you say that....I think you're so beautiful."

She stares at me, resigned to speaking her truth and being unimpacted by another mother telling another daughter she's beautiful. We drive home in silence, her comfortably humming to herself, me racing. Racing through my own decades of questioning, of staring harshly in the mirror, of fat pants and hair dye and so much dissatisfaction.

I halter through an explanation about kindness, to yourself, to others. I am grasping for a whisper of a memory, something about greeting with love your image in the mirror.

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So I lay awake after the house stills. Running over and over that moment, the way your tongue nudges a painful tooth, 'ouch, yep, still painful.' Worrying it and fraying the edges as though there was a way to redo my pause, my falter.

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My darling, here's what I wanted to say. 

I happen to think you are beautiful. And what I think doesn't matter. What your future lover thinks matters only a little.

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Don't get too attached to what you look like, the only certainty is that everything you see will change. it will gray and wrinkle and fall out and loosen up. And finally, dissolve away into dust.

But if you can offer love to that energy behind your eyes, the you, ah. That is the sweet berry. Because the love we offer ourselves rings out, it can unfold in waves of love to friends and colleagues and strangers and enemies. For what do we push against more than our own true selves? 

Love After Love by Derek Walcott

 The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

 

By Kerry Makin-Byrd, PhD