A friend of mine turned 40 a few months ago. Wanting to know what I have to look forward to, I joked and asked whether she felt any different. Of course she said no. You don’t go to bed 39 and wake up 40 feeling joint pain with a gray streak and crow’s feet. You’re still you. But she said something that stuck with me: “I don’t care as much about what people think of me.”
Those few little words sounded so liberating to me, not caring what other people think. It’s always been the one thing I could never get over. My whole life I’ve worried about looking stupid or incompetent in others’ eyes. I still worry sometimes about not being good enough or offending others. When she said that to me, I literally thought for a moment, “That’s an option? I can just not care?”
Though my tastes may change like a three-year-old switches best friends, my beliefs have mostly held strong. I just haven’t always backed them with confidence. Why wait till 40? For much of my life I was so swept up in what little Susie thought of my new shoes or what my college roommates thought of my music choices that it took me ages to figure out what I liked and to not just follow the crowd.
In fourth grade I picked out a bright green purse I wanted for Christmas. Everyone else liked pink and purple. My sister told me green meant I was horny. I didn’t even know what that meant until my aunt explained it. Ew. But I never carried that purse because I was too afraid people would make fun of me.
As a mom you want your kids to be proud of who they are. It’s important that you get out there and glow in your own sense of self. I struggled for a long time and finally started to figure it out. I bought vintage things because I liked them. But then motherhood came along and I realized I was being judged for more than my identity. I was being judged on virtue, competence, and so much more: not being able to nurse, having a child who is a picky eater, letting my kids read Harry Potter and listen to rock music. The list goes on.
So now I find myself teaching two kids that it’s OK to be yourself while I’m still trying to navigate the waters. Remarkably, it’s my kids who have taught me the most. Seeing them on the court despite their ability, watching them flaunt a Punky Brewster outfit, it gives me courage.
On a recent shopping trip, my daughter picked out a floor-sweeping dress covered with psychedelic flowers. I would never have the guts now—or thirty years ago—to wear something so eye-popping. My daughter jumped, squealed, and begged for it. I saw it as a waste of money, too long to wear to school, and feared she’d never have the courage to wear it. My husband told her if she wanted it, she could help pay for it. She did. She wears that dress every chance she gets.
My parenting will never please everyone. There will always be a mom who disagrees with my tactics, my conduct, my values, my shoes. But I’m learning to care less what she thinks. There are more important opinions to consider.