Skin Deep

Dear 4 Moms,

We are very close to another family that has 11 and 13 year old girls like we do. We are compatible in most ways and enjoy each other's company several times a week. However, I have a problem with the way the mother is constantly commenting on her daughters' appearance. She is forever fawning over them, saying how gorgeous they are, how beautiful they look in these pants, that shirt, their skin, their blond hair, their blue seems to be getting more excessive as they get older.

Frankly, it makes me squirm and I don't what, if anything, I should say to her. I love her girls and we would miss them greatly if we had a falling out, but I don't think her behavior is healthy for them (or for my kids for that matter). Is there a way I can confront her without alienating this family? Should I say something privately to my own girls?

Rachel’s take:

How big an issue is this for you? Are you willing to lose a friendship over it? The fact is, we all have different parenting styles and it is important to give people slack in the way they raise their kids. Unless their behavior poses some kind of danger, it is really not our business how they handle their own kids. I think it IS appropriate to talk to your own children about it, especially if they bring it up in a way that compares your family to their friends. “Why can’t I get as many new clothes as Janey does?” can invite a conversation about how different families have different values and rules. I would caution you not to condemn the other mom, however. Just explain that her choices are different from yours.

And honestly, I used to have a friend that thought she knew everything about parenting and was always trying to tell me the ‘right’ way to do things. It was really irritating.

Audrey's response:

You don't say how long you've known this couple or how close you are with the mom. If she is really focused on fashion and appearance, I would say that your chances of changing her behavior are pretty slim. That being said, I would counter every remark of "Oh Alexa, you are so beautiful in that spangled tube top!" with "Yup, and I bet you can do a mean cartwheel."or "And I know you can spell like nobody's business, spell MIssissippi!" If she remarks on your remarks, I would sit down with her and say frankly but gently that you are not comfortable that she praises her children's appearance so often in front of you and your children. I might say something like, "I'm a little uncomfortable that you praise Alexa and Natasha's looks so often. Your kids are gorgeous but they're also really funny and smart. Can we maybe tone down the physical compliments a bit?And if your own children bring up the issue, you can use it as moment to talk to them about what's important in your family compared to what the society thinks. This is an important issue for every child, especially girls.

Sharon adds:

Sadly, my mother was guilty of this kind of praise with me and my two sisters. Unfortunately, it came from her mother always telling her she wasn't pretty enough! I agree with Audrey to make sure that all the children involved realize you can be great at many different things in addition to being physically attractive. This is not something to keep quiet about as it can be quite harmful.

So, dear readers, what do you think? Feel free to comment!

2 Responses to "Skin Deep"

Michelle responded on May 22, 2008 at 2:46 PM #

I am one of Sharon's two beautiful sisters(you did mention we were beautiful right?) and wanted to share my feelings on the subject. I can't speak for anyone else, but I feel that I have great self esteem because my mother was always telling us that we were beautiful. I am a very confident person and I thank her for that. As a mother of two adorable boys, I'd have to say I am guilty of the same thing. They are so stinkin' cute, I can't help but comment on their looks. But I have to add, they are also smart, well behaved, and very funny and I don't forget to tell them that either.

Rachel Nguyen responded on May 23, 2008 at 8:27 PM #

Hi Michelle,

Thanks for your comments! I, too, have two gorgeous boys and I admit, I tell them all the time, too.

So, maybe the consensus is that we balance our comments about beauty with remarks about intelligence, agility, good manners, etc.