Moms Don’t Owe It to Their Children to Be Pretty

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Some moms feel pressure to look beautiful for their children. Why they shouldn’t give in.

Heidi Stevens . Contact Reporter

There I was, sweating on the treadmill at the Tribune gym, not wondering what my kids would think of my running pants, when a more-obnoxious-than-usual makeover segment appeared on TV.

A daytime talk show found a bunch of ill-dressed moms, outfitted them in stylish clothing, gave them flattering haircuts and marched them on stage to be judged by their children.

Their tweenish-looking, no-fashion-degree-holding children.

Presumably the approving eye of their offspring would boost the self-esteem of these formerly mom-jeans wearing moms. Or maybe the kids were there to convince the women (and the audience) that the “after” looks weren’t too racy for a mom to pull off.
Or maybe women are getting the message that they need to be pretty for their children.

“There is this phenomenon in which mothers are trying to please their daughters, with the misguided theory that if they please their daughters and make them happy, their daughters will be close to them,” Roni Cohen-Sandler, clinical psychologist and author of “Trust Me, Mom — Everyone Else Is Going! The New Rules for Mothering Adolescent Girls” (Penguin), told me.

There were sons on stage during the makeover show, too, but I think Cohen-Sandler’s point is about more than a child’s gender.

The pressure on women to look eternally young and hot is at an all-time high. We’ve turned judging people’s appearance into a national sport — people we’ve never even met, in some cases. And we’re out for blood.

Women are free to dodge the pressure, of course. No one is holding them down and forcefully applying waterproof mascara and a light bronzer.

But in an era when the beauty industry can fix any and every perceived flaw, placing your appearance a few ticks down on your priority list is to invite judgment and scorn from acquaintances and strangers alike.
The New York Times ran a story recently about new mothers scheduling professional stylists to give them blowouts just minutes or hours after their babies are born.

You know, for the newborn photos.

Very few, if any, spaces exist where women trust they can look their tired-est, messiest, fattest, sweatiest without raising eyebrows.

So, sure. I can see why some moms court the approval of their own children.

But it’s a lousy idea.

“The kids are getting a lot of undesirable messages,” Cohen-Sandler said. “First, that they’re in the position to judge other people’s looks and that judging people’s looks is something that is, in fact, encouraged. That goes against the message you want to give your kids, which is to judge people on their character and how they treat others.”

I agree.

“Second, in what universe are kids in a position to judge their mothers?” she continued. “The mother is better positioned, because of her life experience and judgment, to be the arbiter of what’s appropriate and not appropriate. It’s reversing the power in the relationship.”


“Then there’s the emotional part of it,” she said. ” ‘I exist to please you, so it’s important that I look like the mother you want.'”

Agreed. And eww.

I realize kids have plenty of opinions about their parents’ looks. My 9-year-old daughter suggests outfits for me, weighs in on my shoes and tells me I dry my face wrong. (“Blot, Mom. Don’t rub.”)

I realize it’s likely to increase during the teen years.

“Criticizing your parents is in the teenage job description,” Cohen-Sandler said.

But I think it’s on us to challenge those opinions, rather than court them.

Sometimes I agree with my daughter’s suggestions and I take them. Sometimes her suggestions would get me fired.

Above and beyond that, though, I don’t believe I owe her (or my son) my beauty. I believe I owe them healthy meals and unconditional love and homework help and my best, honest effort at raising them well.

But none of those things is dependent on my appearance.

When the cameras stopped rolling and those talk show families headed home, I hope the moms explained something similar to their kids.

“Thanks for your input, you guys,” they could say. “But remember that I can love you just the same in my mom jeans.”

Copyright © 2015, Chicago Tribune

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