{If you’re returning after reading Beauty Marks when it was first published, please scroll down to the bottom for an important revision.}

Mama was sick my entire memory of her but I can still see that time she was draped in an amethyst gown, and through the mystery and magic of a fall, her hair was transformed into that of a Greek goddess.  She was the most exquisite creature I’d ever seen.  I remember petting her side and her caution not to get her dress dirty.

When beauty is that close you can’t help but want to touch it.

It was ritual to sit next on the floor next to her bed, spellbound and legs outstretched, listening to Mama’s future predictions:   In 1982 you’ll be crowned Miss America ….  My sister would earn the title a year or two before me.  It was easy to believe because all little girls want to be a princess and I had seen Mama dressed like one that time.

Sometimes I wonder if it was Mama who seeded my belief that every girl needs a Princess Dress.  More than anything though, her insistence that beauty grew from the inside out shaped my perspective.  When I was six or seven years old, Mama was already beginning to wire how one day I would parent my own children.

I doubt Mama realized how far her words and actions would reach into my future.  Did she have any idea that sometimes what you say or do sticks forever and can even seep into generations not yet born?

No matter how many people try to prepare you, what you really don’t understand before having children – simply c.a.n.n.o.t. understand – is how hard motherhood is

I glance in my rear view mirror and see the Things I Wish I Had Done right next to the Things I Wish I Hadn’t Done.  If I’m not careful, I’ll melt quickly into a puddle of regret and doubt.

Then I consider my children – now 20, 18 and 16.  They’re becoming who we prayed they’d become before they were born.   Lovies, when you’re bone-weary and wondering, I promise your intention, diligence and training in the way they should go is worth it. 

Every once in a while I’ll receive a paycheck from one of my kids, compensation that doesn’t translate to dollars in my checking account.  Instead, b e t t e r, a treasure of incalculable value.  It usually starts like this:

“Mom, I’m so glad you…”

and they’ll tell me something about they way we parent or a decision we made or something different from the parenting style of their friends’ parents.  It doesn’t mean we’re better parents, but in whatever the particular case, what we did made a difference for our child.

One of these things I got right for my daughter but I missed for my son:  the redemption of a perceived physical imperfection.

Like my own mother, I’ve taught my children “pretty is as pretty does” and beauty goes deeper than skin and though people may judge others by what they look like,  [the Lord] judges people by what is in their hearts (a paraphrase of 1 Samuel 16:7).  That’s all well and good - it’s even true! – but we’re bound by our skin suits and we can be awfully harsh critics of ourselves or self conscious about the ways we’re different from others.

When I was little, a mole developed on the side of my nose and I thought it was a pimple.  I squished and poked that thing until it was a bloody mess, doing my best to get rid of it.  Eventually, I realized it wasn’t going anywhere but I always felt like it was a flashing neon sign.  (Decades later it’s still right where it was, but thankfully I rarely notice anymore.)

When my daughter was barely in grade school, I noticed a small freckle on the side of her nose.  Haunted by the memory of my own experience, I was concerned one day she would notice her freckle and feel ugly.  Like mine, it was right in the middle of her face.

I took a different approach, telling her from a young age how much I loved her beauty mark.  Less conspicuous was a birthmark on her thigh, and I would often touch it and reiterate how much I liked her special marks.  As she got older, I told her she would know her husband was “the one” when a special fella declared her nose freckle was one of his favorite things about her.

I often told her how pretty she was but praised her more so when she behaved beautifully–when she defended someone being picked on, befriended the friendless, babysat for friends with younger children so we could have adult time when they came over.

She gave me a paycheck recently when she told me she was so glad I had framed the way she looked at her beauty mark–that we called it a beauty mark in the first place!–and that she thought she would have seen it differently (negatively) had I never mentioned it.

It’s equally crucial to call out and affirm things about our boys, too.  They want to be viewed as handsome and strong — think about how little boys ask you to feel their (non-existent) muscles! — and if they don’t receive that kind of encouragement at home, like our daughters, they’ll seek it elsewhere.

But even though I got this right with my daughter, I missed “redeeming” a perceived imperfection of my son.  Out of respect for his privacy, I won’t go into the details; there are simply some things he doesn’t like about his physical appearance.  Because to me it doesn’t detract from him, it never occurred to me to frame how he viewed those physical characteristics.

There’s no way of knowing if I could have altered his negative perception but I sure wish I had tried.

No matter how much we downplay physical beauty, there’s something in us that longs to be seen as beautiful, as handsome.

If you’re a mother, do you understand your power?

Mama, her frail body withered by cancer, dared to dream out loud with her little girls, imagining Princess Tales so we would feel beautiful.  She told stories about our future that we could cling to long after she was gone and as long as we needed to.

She framed the way we viewed ourselves, outside and in.  She made sure we knew which one counted the most while not insulting us by claiming the other one didn’t exist or matter.

A mother’s influence survives her own life and touches the future through her impact in her children’s lives.

The way a mother sees her children can change the way they see themselves.

A mother heals with her touch, a boo-boo kiss, her soothing voice.

Heroic superpowers worthy of a cape and a tiara…but a mom is thrilled with – even prefers – a potted marigold decorated in thumbprint art and a hand-made card.

True beauty is unmistakable.

* * * * *

To the precious many who grew up never hearing this message–I’ve written a special addendum just for you but in response to a personal reader email.  I hope you’ll take time to read Beauty Marks, An Addendum: When You DON’T Hear The Words Your Heart Longs For and that it encourages you.

:::::::

By Robin Dance who might need a hug–her second baby and first-born son is graduating next week!

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  1. 1

    Robin,
    Your words are SO true. What we say to our children and how we frame our remarks will forever shape them. My children are 24 and 20 and I still affirm the qualities ( bother inner and outer) that I did when they were little. We never outgrow our need for affirmation. Thank you for sharing as only the heart of a mom can share.
    Blessings,
    Bev

    • 2

      Bev, you and I, because of the ages of our babies, KNOW what I speak is true. It’s been TRIED, hasn’t it? I don’t want to think about all the times I missed those opportunities, so I’m THANKFUL for those I know I got right.

      Mothers NEED to know they’re their kids’ parents because no one else is better suited to fill that gap. We need to celebrate and acknowledge our special role in the lives of our babies. Never perfect but perfect for our children. :)

      xo

  2. 3
    Andrea says:

    Thank you thank you! I wonderful reminder! It is funny my boys will already tell me how they liked the time I told them they were my superhero! And their heart muscle was my favorite part. They still laugh at it and think its funny. But one day I hope they get it!

    Thank you!

  3. 5

    Thank you for this, Robin. As a mother to a three year old boy I so want to raise him to be confident, gentle, strong… all those traits I already see forming in him. What a grace-filled and instructive post.

    • 6

      Mary,

      Sometimes all it takes is a tiny seed to sprout big ideas that have lasting impact; I’m praying over these words to ripple through the relationships of mamas and their babies….and beyond???

  4. 7

    Thank you for sharing that perspective as it pertains to boys. Right now I have two sons, ages 3 and 1. Often women don’t think men deal with the same body image issues we do. They may not be exactly the same but they still happen. Through my three brothers and my husband, I know this. And I hope I do a good job with my sons in this area.

    • 8

      Melissa,

      You’re SO right; in our case, some things were more obvious than others (hence, me missing our thing…). How wise for you to understand this with your boys so young now.

  5. 9
    Sheena Erace says:

    As a mother I never considered my role as powerful. I see doubt and regret all around me. It is hard. I read this post three times in a row. It touched my heart and encouraged me. Thank you Robin

    • 10

      {{Sheena}}

      Honey, you’re doin’ the best with what you’ve got…I’m SO thankful you saw this post so YOU could begin processing your POWERFUL role and how it will (already is!) manifest itself in your family. You’ve blessed me by letting me know this has encouraged you, and I’m filled with hope for what that means for you (and others like you. I promise, you aren’t the only one who feels this way).

  6. 11

    Thank you so much for this today! As the mother of an 8 year old girl, and once a self-conscious little girl myself, I struggle with how to instill confidence in my daughter.
    I don’t want her to feel the same hurts that I did and live the same disrespectful way in reference to how she feels about herself.
    I want to teach her what beautiful really means and really is.
    Thanks for the pointers!
    Amazing words that I will use to share with her!
    ~Leslie~

    • 12

      Leslie,

      We all have our secret hurts, those things from our past we might not have ever told a soul. I figure their redemption is in how we respond in our futures, ya know? For you to recognize the things you’ve spoken of here is indicator you’re redeeming your personal pain into something lovely for your daughter.

      Being aware is the first step. You’re well on your way to the second or third :) .

  7. 13

    applauding a lovely post … and a lovely lady

  8. 14
    Jessa's Meetup says:

    Hugs, Robin!! Such a beautiful post on (in)courage. I am forwarding to all my peeps! Thank you for sharing! Have a Blessed Mother’s Day!!

  9. 15

    Oh, Robin, I feel your words. My kids are 21, 20 and 15. I look back and see things I’ve done right and things I’ve missed out on. It happens to all of us…Lovely words today.

  10. 16

    Well done and well said, Robin. *Hugs* as you graduate your second. Mine are in that stage of fledging too.

  11. 17

    The instant I read your words, I thought, “well done!” So I had to stop over here and say so. Wise words. Thank you. And blessings on your family for generations to come!

  12. 18

    Well said. As I mother of six, I know exactly what you’re talking about. Thanks for sharing your heart and the wisdom you’ve earned. Congratulations on another milestone as a parent. Graduation. Make some more memories. Blessings.

  13. 19

    Thanks so much for sharing this lovely post with us! Precious!

  14. 20
    monica e. says:

    I was so touched by your post! My husband and I shared your views on parenting and pray that our children realize throughout their lives that they were fearfully and wonderfuly made… we make sure to let them know constantly! God knew and loved them before they were even born. Thats how special they are/we are!

  15. 21

    As an empty-nester, I want to add my voice to yours, Robin, and to those who’ve already commented: the seeds we plant in our children take a very long time to grow. It’s easy to lose heart and think we’re not accomplishing much. Posts such as yours offer hope and encouragement that the things we say and do (day after day after day) MATTER.

    One day I asked our youngest (out of three) to rate his childhood–1 for absolutely awful to 10 for fantastic. He was a young adult by this time. I was feeling guilty because when he was in second grade, I had returned to teaching full time. My hope was that he’d at least say “seven.” Imagine the relief and joy to hear, “Eleven!” Our kids forgive us for being imperfect parents; perhaps it happens when they realize they weren’t perfect kids!

  16. 22
    Beth Williams says:

    Robin,

    Congratulations on your son graduating! WOOT WOOT!!! :)

    Everyone wants to hear they are beautiful, pretty, etc. It doesn’t matter how old you are–you still like hearing it. It is especially true with young children & teenagers these days. With all the hoopla and crap in magazines and on TV about size, and looking like famous people–these kids get the wrong image. The image that beauty is outside only–wrong wrong wrong. It is inside–true beauty lies within your heart and how you treat people!!

  17. 23

    Oh, Robin, how this zinged me. I affirm to my son all the time how handsome and kind he is. And I sometimes forget my daughter! I tell her she’s strong and capable and cute as a button, but I sometimes forget to feed that need to know she’s beautiful to others. We all have it – and reading your words here reminded me of how important it is to shepherd our children’s hearts in ALL of the ways they need it. As best as we can.

  18. 24

    Thank you for such a wonderful post. It reminds me of how I’ve told my middle daughter that her scar on her neck (from removing a rogue lymph node – which was benign) is the most beautiful scar in the world. The first time I told her that she looked at me funny and I went on to explain…”It’s beautiful because it reminds me of the fact that you are healthy!”. I believe she too, looks at it this way now at the age of 19.

  19. 25

    Sending {{hugs}}! My first born is graduating in two weeks! I KNOW! How did we get here already??

  20. 26
    muchalone says:

    What a great gift you have and are giving your children! And what a wonderful reminder to look for ways to build our children up!

    My Mother always told me I was ugly…and I remember when a teacher told me I had nice eyes, and I thought that was the only thing nice about me because it was the only time I had heard any positive words about my looks. I am thankful for that teacher, because I began working to look up…above my shame…to make eye contact…act like a person instead of an embarrassment…I wonder how it might have felt for my Mother to admire my eyes…

    Keep telling the children…your own nearly grown…others you see who crave to be seen lovely…and thank you for sharing with us the importance of such a blessing!