Labels are sticky notes that stay with a person, almost forever, in most of the cases. In this blog, I am not talking about ugly labels like loser, freak, idiot, stupid, thin, black and shy. I am talking about “perceived positive or good” labels.
My six-year young daughter, Chia, asked me recently “Ma, am I not a good girl?” I was surprised at this question and asked her why she wants to know this. Chia said that her friend, Shanvi, told her “I am a good girl. My mom says this to me, daily.” Chia then asked Shanvi if Shanvi feels the same about Chia. Shanvi said “No, my mom never told me that Chia is a good girl. Only I am.” My little one was hurt, I guess, not because her friend or her friend’s mother never said Chia is a good girl, but because her own mother never said, “Chia, you are a good girl.” I felt her sadness and to help her I asked “What do you feel baby, you are a good girl or not?” I thought she would happily say that she thinks she is a good girl, but to my surprise she innocently said “I don’t know. Neither you nor papa ever told me that I am a good girl. You two always say that I love you Chia.” I resisted my emotional avatar who wanted to say, immediately, that you are a good girl, my baby. I hugged her and kissed her. I delayed my further talks on the topic as we were on a railway station platform and we had to board a train. Once we boarded the train, I started talking about other things to distract her from her topic. Then she slept after two stories. I could not sleep primarily because it was the first time I was travelling alone with my kid and I was anxious about her safety. Secondly, because her question and her sadness stayed with me.
I thought to myself, “you are a good girl”, it’s been something I’ve consciously avoided saying to her. I always told her that “you did this good (acceptable)” or “you did this bad (not acceptable)”, but I never labelled her as a good girl. I always evaluated and guided her behaviour and actions, but I resisted evaluating her. I don’t like this idea of praising and motivating kids by assigning labels to them. I want my daughter to know that she is a powerful girl, capable of doing good as well as bad things in life. I want her to work for herself not for others’ approvals. I want her to have personal commitments and not commitments to seek praises. I want her to be impressive, effortlessly. I want my daughter to know that she is not judged and evaluated rather supported. I want her to have her own definition of ‘good’. With all these things in mind, I never said to my daughter that “You are a good girl” in past six years. I know, how difficult it had been to resist, few times, when she really surprised me with her inner beauty and endurance. In my heart, I said this daily but never had been vocal about it. I appreciate and respect her individuality openly.
I was apprehensive that she would suffer in the similar ways like I did. I was a good girl and that meant: I would never raise my voice against anything, I would always obey my elders, I would not listen to my heart and would care more about other’s perception about me, and I would have more respect for others than for myself. Once, in 9th grade my science teacher said, “We have future Einstein here with us.” I know how happy I felt and also how much pressure I felt to always act smart, be successful and be influential. It made me feel that my intelligence level has reached its ceiling, and now there is no possibility of growth. Though I have to maintain it. I lost a part of my individuality, in my heart. I was scared to fail and that made me let go so many opportunities of fun, growth and experiment as failing in new arena would make me look like less intelligent and less deserving. For a long time, I suffered with these good labels attached to me. I kept on growing but these labels neither grew nor they left me. They were constant adjectives attached to my existence. I started feeling unhappy within. Many times, I wanted to revolt and I wanted to be bad, but these labels never let me do that. I so internalized these labels that subconsciously I was making decisions, I was not happy with. I had lost myself in good labels. It took a lot of effort and courage to detach myself from those labels. I wasn’t at peace with myself earlier and now, I love myself without those good labels. For these reasons, I avoided labelling my daughter.
Her sadness made me question myself, am I doing the right thing? If her mother doesn’t tell her that she is a good girl then who else in this world would tell her this? Is this affecting her self-confidence? She, with a tender heart, is dealing with so many diverse kids and manipulative adults, do I have to be this logical with her? I struggled for a while and then reached to a decision, ‘Yes’ I have to be. I would make my daughter understand what is good and what is not good. I would make her realize that she has a choice (a power) either to be a good girl or a bad girl. This choice is necessary in so many contexts. I would make her understand that nothing is absolute, none can be a good girl always for everyone. And something good for me cannot be good for someone else. So, good and bad have different meaning for different persons. Being good or bad has to be evaluated by Chia every time, in every situation and in every relationship. Whatever choice she would make, that must be sensible, meaningful and acceptable to herself. She should never care about others’ approval. Life is beautiful and is much more than these labels.
Regardless of your choice my baby, your parents will always support you, believe in you and love you. Your papa and your mom say daily “you are doing great”. We always wish you a happy and healthy (mentally, emotionally and physically healthy) life. Next thing in my bucket list is to discuss: What is good? Who is a good girl? Who should decide that you are good or not? Do you want to be a good girl? Is it good to be a good girl or it is good to be you? And I will share my life experiences with her for more insights. I hope I will be able to seize this opportunity to make my kid more confident, powerful and happy all over again. The discussion will give her a positive sense of self–esteem, and help her learn how to decide on her own who she is.
Happy Parenting. 🙂