Dear Daughter: 8 Lessons in Love and Life

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Photo: Courtesy of @Vanessa.Gori

My dearest love,

As I braid your hair for school, I marvel at how fast you’re growing. One day, you won’t be a little girl anymore, and the thought is bittersweet. As you move further away from my protective arms, I worry about how the world will change you. Right now, you dance with abandon, you are quick to forgive and quick to love. You mispronounce “spaghetti” as “skabetti” and, to my chagrin, have started using the ubiquitous ‘like’ as a filler in conversations (thanks YouTube). You gasp in delight whenever you see anything glittery, sparkly, or sequinned and think it’s perfectly acceptable to wear a shiny kaleidoscope-patterned dress for breakfast. And I’m thankful for that in a way I can’t put into words.

But I can’t help but wonder; what happens when you are no longer a child? Will you still offer me tight hugs of affection and say “I love you” several times a day? Will you still want to snuggle with me in bed and find comfort in my arms? Will you continue to tell me your stories without hesitation or alteration? As for yourself, will you still stand in front of the mirror and not have any thoughts – positive or negative – about your body? Will you continue to love your curly hair and see yourself as beautiful?

I brace myself for the day that you may feel like you’re not enough, or unlovable.

Because the truth is, I don’t know any woman who hasn’t questioned her worth, criticized herself louder than anyone else ever has, and compared herself to a beauty ideal that is so unrealistic that she inevitably falls short.

I brace myself for the day that you may feel like you’re not enough, or unlovable. Along the rocky journey that is life, I worry that you might lose your way.

To me, you are the light my jaded heart never knew it needed. The embrace that I always craved. You taught me unconditional love and your life gave breath to mine. Because of you, I have learnt to be a better person and a better partner. You forced me to look deep inside and love what I see, because the way I see myself will affect the way you see yourself. Because of you, I am a teacher, and just like I’ve taught you about sharing, about using “please” and “thank you”, I realize that it’s also my job to teach you about love. Because while you are the love of my life, I want you to be the love of yours.

When I was young, I wasn’t taught to love myself. Such a concept just didn’t exist. Growing up, if we cried we were shushed lovingly; we were told to “cheer up” whenever we were sad. No one told us that the only way to get through uncomfortable feelings was to allow yourself to feel them. We didn’t know that all human beings hurt, and sometimes they pass along that baton of hurt from one relationship to the next. I didn’t know that rejection wasn’t about me not being enough. No one showed me that I didn’t have to wait for someone to make me feel complete – because I was already whole.

And so I collected hurt like giveaways, overanalyzing every bad behavior before internalizing it and making it about me. Never once in all these years did I figure out that only I had control over how I felt. But having you and then your sister has weighed heavily on every decision I make. After all, I now have two beautiful, strong rebel girls to raise. If I can’t show you how I’ve fallen, crumbled, risen, soared, that I’ve lived and breathed and been flailingly human – if I can’t show you how I’ve accepted the dents and bumps of my past, that I’ve embraced who I am, mistakes, wounds and all, then I’m not raising you to be the women you deserve to be.

So here it goes.

1

Love yourself above all else.

When we love ourselves, we are mentally and emotionally strong enough to love others. But loving yourself isn’t easy. It requires patience. It requires understanding that we won’t always be as strong as we would like to be. But when you get to the point where you really feel good about the person you are, amazing things happen. Your relationships with your partners, friends, and family thrive because you are centered, you know that you are enough, and you are comfortable in your own skin. The bottom line is that self-love is the foundation for any healthy relationship. It is the most important love of all.

2

You are enough.

You don’t have to be prettier, smarter, faster, cooler, quieter, smaller, bigger, or stronger than you are. Your worth is not determined by your looks, your weight, or by some guy. You are enough – just as you are.

3

Don’t lose yourself in a relationship.

Sometimes we want a relationship to work so badly that we abandon ourselves to make it work. We convince ourselves that we are okay with a scenario that we are not really okay with. Essentially, we let go of what we truly want simply because we want to be in a relationship. But when you can’t be yourself, when you don’t honor your truth because you want to maintain a connection, your relationship is built on  lies. Think about that.

4

Heartbreak won’t kill you.

I know it seems like it’s the end of the world, that you will never love again. Oh how I wish I could speed up time and show you that, while some people will mark you, they don’t control your future. You will be happy again. You will fall in love again. It may also not work out, again. But every failed relationship is a lesson learnt about what you will and will not accept, what you need out of a relationship, and how to let it go with dignity and self-respect. Take the lessons, my love.

5

Those who run don’t want to be caught.

You shouldn’t ever have to chase anyone or try to catch them. If a person doesn’t want to be with you, it doesn’t mean something is wrong with you. This is not a failure on your part. But also know that no one is owed to you. The right relationship will come along when it’s meant to.

6

Don’t change who you are to fit in.

There will be a time when you value your friends’ opinions more than your parents’. I get it. Having friends you can talk to and who support you is a beautiful thing. But beware of changing who you are to fit in with a certain group of people. Don’t do something that deep down doesn’t feel right or doesn’t make you happy because it makes you more like that girl – the one who is good at everything or the one with the perfect hair, cool style, and lots of friends.

7

Trust your instincts

Sometimes, it’s hard to hear through all the noise and distracting thoughts in your head, but when you quiet your mind, you can tell if something doesn’t feel right. You feel it in your gut. You must always trust yourself, even when you aren’t sure you’re making the right decision.

8

Fairytales don’t always have happy endings.

Sometimes, Prince Charming takes too long to show up. Sometimes, it doesn’t work out. The hard truth is that you may be alone for longer than you would like. I’ll tell you what my mother told me when I was in this very position. She said, “You have to live your life for yourself. You have to find happiness in other things. If you don’t ever get married, it doesn’t matter. Marriage is not everything.” I’m here to tell you the same thing. It does not matter if you never get married. But don’t ever let that stop you from living a full life. Now that would crush me.