When my daughter Ansley was in kindergarten she misbehaved so I sent her to her room. She came out a few minutes later and asked with some serious attitude and a flip of her hair, “May I get a pencil and paper?”, to which I replied “yes” because it had been a slow day and this sounded like it could be good. About 10 minutes later she sent a paper airplane soaring down to the den where I was sitting and headed back to her room. The airplane read “I’m sorry to have to tell you this, but I HAT you.” I’m pretty sure she meant HATE but spelling has never been her strong suit.
If Ansley had been my first child I would have been up in her room in seconds reminding her that we were Christians, and we don’t hate, and this type of language was not acceptable. BUT this was my 4th child and that meant a whole different ball game. (Sorry Savannah. I will pay for your future therapy sessions.) Back to Ansley. I kind of loved her honesty. I kind of loved that she felt free enough and safe enough with me to HAT me and let me know. I didn’t say a word about it that night and let her finish out her sentence in her room. But I was right, this was good.
Authenticity, speaking and living honestly so that our internal world lines up with our external world, is something I value highly. I want to be authentic and I want to model authenticity for my children so that they can live in truth and enjoy all it’s many benefits. Now I should tell you that I don’t let my kiddos speak disrespectfully to me on a regular basis. Authenticity is NOT saying whatever is on your mind at any cost. True authenticity respects others in an honest way. But since Ansley followed the appropriate steps for handling a hard conversation #1: affirm the relationship (“I’m sorry to have to tell you this”) and #2: use “I” statements to own your feelings (“I HAT you) I saw this moment as a victory.
Ansley did something really brave. She told the truth even though it wasn’t pretty. She expressed herself under pressure, something most of us girls and women avoid. And like learning how to fire a rubber band, sometimes we overshoot. Ansley overshot a bit but she didn’t let the fear of not doing it perfectly stop her. A victory indeed.
Learning to speak to me, their mom, honestly about hard things is the only way that my daughters will learn to speak to others with authenticity. Girls don’t get near enough practice in being honest because they fear hurting other people’s feelings or appearing mean. But that usually speaks more to our desire for the approval of others than it does to our desire to be authentic. Our homes must be safe and secure places for our girls to be real and authentic about their thoughts and emotions because this here is the training ground for their lives.
Authenticity makes us feel secure in our relationships. Ansley’s ability to be honest with me about her true feelings allowed both of us to feel safe. She learned that she could be known in her anger and still be loved. She was free to be herself and still be accepted. I think Ben Franklin was being a little harsh when he said, “Those who surrender freedom for security will not have, nor do they deserve, either one.” But I do agree that security is nothing without freedom.
Ansley’s authentic airplane message made me feel secure too because I didn’t have to wonder what she was thinking, if she might be experiencing some dark feeling toward me that would later fester and hurt our relationship. Authenticity allows us to live out our relationships with a sense of peace and rest because when a problem arises honest people are courageous enough to reveal their inside world to their outside people.
Honesty is also the foundation of our relationship with God. Scripture tells us that it is “impossible for God to lie” (Hebrews 6:18), so when He says that He “loves you with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3), AND He wants you to “pour out your heart before Him” (Psalm 62:8), we don’t need to wonder if He says those things but He really doesn’t mean them. He means them. God is our refuge, our safe place because He values both freedom and security. He loves us and our honesty even if there are times when we HAT Him.
The next day at breakfast I leaned over to Ansley and whispered in her ear, “I’m sorry to have to tell you this…. (as her eyes grew to the size of saucers I could tell she didn’t know what was coming next. I guess I still have some work to do on that feeling of home security.) …but I LOVE you.” Her eyes softened, her body relaxed and she crawled into my lap and hugged me tightly. Her apology tumbled out as if she had been waiting to release it. I told her that I understood and accepted her apology. And I told her that I would continue to help her with the delivery of her emotions because I would like her to have friends as she gets older. That was a good day. And it helped me to stay calm when two weeks later I told her that I loved her and she cried, “I hate loving.” A mother’s work is never done.
Do you find it challenging to help your daughter be authentic?