Turns out that once your child ventures down the path of self-doubt, there is no going back. Once they start to see themselves through the eyes of others, sometimes those who are also feeling insecure, their confidence begins to chip away. No longer do they see themselves as awesome, but instead they feel awkward. It is our job as parents to remind them that even when they feel unsure, we believe in them.
Shortly after the school year began last fall, I found Emma, my normally carefree, self-confident, whimsical child, experiencing her first bouts of true self-doubt. I saw it as the peeling away of childhood innocence and the beginnings of real-life, permanent inward female judgment. She seemed far too young and it seemed far too soon to see her feeling this critical, this unsure of her place in the world. And yet, she had been dealt some pretty tough blows in the months prior, so I couldn't help but think there could a connection.
She had her first experience with death. She watched her grandfather fall in love with another woman and saw her place in his life change so dramatically. Her other grandfather became deathly ill right before the start of school. These were some very grown-up things to have to sort through, and brought with them feelings that she had never had to experience before.
So, while I got it, it didn't make me any less sad to see it happening to her.
And then I began talking to girlfriends about their children (turns out it wasn't just the girls who were changing), and we all seemed to be seeing a common thread. The pure innocence was fading and in its place was reality, and sometimes that reality was harsh.
I wanted Emma to know that I was on her side. I wanted her to know that I was in her corner. I wanted her to know that even when she didn't know it, I knew that she was amazing. I found a book called I Believe In You, and I bought it for her. I wrote on the inside and left it on her pillow. We read it together that night before bed and have read it many nights since, and I hoped that the message in the pages was sinking in.
In her lunchbox each day I included a note. I always ended it with the same sentence...
Remember that I believe in you.
I had no idea whether it made a difference, whether the words that I wrote mattered to her, whether she truly took them in and found herself imprinting them on her heart.
Until I showed up at her 2nd grade Author's Reception on Thursday, and she proudly opened the book she had spent all of the year working on to the dedication page and showed it to me.
And then I knew for sure. Those six little words mattered. The routine of the notes in the lunchbox, the reading of the book at bedtime, the reminding of her of her importance, it all meant something. She heard me.