The First Day of School for Girls

I recently sat/talked with a mother of a 17 your old girl.  On the first day of school, the daughter got up 2 1/2 hours early to “get ready” but was late (for school). The girl came downstairs three different times in three different outfits and apparently redid her makeup and hair four times.  On the way to school, while the mother told her she was beautiful (and didn’t yell at her for being late), the girl commented that she was not beautiful and in fact was ugly.

The previous year, the mother described how she would remind, cajole, and yell at her daughter to be at school on time.  This year, however, she decided to let her decide when to be to school and let her experience the consequences if she was late.  The mother said, when she reminded the girl what time it was getting to be that first morning, the girl said to her, “Do you think I don’t know what time it is?”.

The mother was beside herself as to what to do with her daughter.

I made a number of suggestions:

1. Recognize this year (and probably last year…and the next 3-4 years!) are transitions years for her daughter.  She is increasingly bumping up against a VERY personal reality of life: Life expects to be at school on time regardless of the state of your beauty…ready or not.  Our society/media tells her she can be more beautiful with this or that new product, new makeup, etc. but she can be only as beautiful as she is (within the limits of her knowledge of applying make-up, styling her hair, etc..).  THIS IS AN INCREDIBLY HARD LESSON TO LEARN.  This is learning that takes place over time.  This is why she gets up repeatedly early every morning and trying to make herself more beautiful or perfect. It may take her years to learn this lesson. People learn this lesson over and over as they live life and encounter different expectations of life and the state of their abilities for meeting these expectations.

2. The mother’s idea to sit back and not cajole her daughter was a good idea.  This leaves this battle between the daughter and society’s expectation.  That doesn’t mean however, it will be easy to witness her daughter struggle.  Hopefully, later, the daughter will realize what she is truly fighting (The voice in her head telling her she can be more.  Some of the voice is coming from herself – her own self talk.  Some of it is coming from our society/media.) will accept herself more and l turn a deaf ear to those advertisers who are telling her she can be more beautiful.

3. Tell her daughter that she understands that the daughter is struggling with accepting herself as she is and that this is really difficult, that she recalls struggling with the same dilemma herself when she was her age, that she still sees ways in her life today that she struggles with the same dilemma…accepting herself as she is despite how the world tells her how she is supposed to be…and that in time, she has faith that the daughter will figure out this battle.

4. Don’t offer suggestions.  If you have an idea for the daughter, tell her so but then wait until the daughter asks for your idea.  This is a personal battle between life and the daughter.  Mom can’t fight it for daughter and daughter will resent and resist mother if mother tries to step in and fight it for her.

5. Think of the different ways you have fought this battle so that if she asks for examples of how you have dealt with this, you can readily list them off.

For example, in my own life…I can only expect myself to be as good a therapist as I am today, not as I will be in 10 years or as good as some of my colleagues. And… I can only be as good a therapist as I have decided to be in the present.  I chose years ago to not spend my free-time reading a lot of dry books on therapy.  When I tried to read therapy books all the time, I felt miserable.  This limited my knowledge about therapy but  honestly, I have learned more about being a therapist from being in therapy for my own problems that reading books. The standard for me as a therapist is myself.  I compare my skills as a therapist today to my skills 10 years ago, not to the skills of my colleagues.  I also compare my skills today as a therapist to the amount of time I want to put into being a good therapist.  I tried to be the “best therapist ever”. I never became that person and was miserable.  So, I gave that dream up and found that I am satisfied with the therapist I am.

6. Have faith that she can figure out what to do with this battle/dilemma.  Why wouldn’t you…after all, you figured it out.  If you don’t have faith that she can figure this out, call me for an appointment for yourself.  By the way, this is not a repeat of #4.  In #4., I suggested you tell her you have faith in her.  In this one, I am tell you to have faith!


More later


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