We recently came back from skiing in Andorra and one thing I really enjoyed, was to witness the very special, close relationship Lily (11 years old) and Mila (10 years old) have developed since they were little and how they’ve grown into self-confident, caring and funny little human beings since we first took them skiing at the age of 4 and 5.
In my recent interview with Motherland, I said that the most challenging about motherhood is letting your child becoming the person they are meant to be and not a version of yourself or your tastes and to instil self-confidence in them. As I see the amount of bullying going on in school or online, more than ever, I feel it is important to help our children to be self-confident and have a healthy sense of who they are regardless of how they look so here are my two cents…
1/Tell them you love them…every single day and that they are worth it
My parents love all three of us but I also remember that each time I wanted to kiss my mum, she was joking, asking what I wanted from her or how much money I needed. Part of our parents’ reactions and parenting skills or the lack of it, is down to their own experience as children and also the fact that it was a different generation. My parents were in their twenties when they had me (my mum was 21) and it was 1969…A generation that didn’t think twice about slapping a kid if they were naughty, leaving the kids in the car while having diner with friends in the restaurant or smoking right next to them. We all laugh now how much social services would be on their case nowadays but back then, it was normal and we all survived growing up in the 70s :-) As a mother now, I want to make sure that Mila doesn’t ever question if I love her. So I tell her, every single day…and I also tell her that I’m proud of her and why I’m proud so she can grow into a self-assured, wonderful human being. Raising a child to be confident, doesn’t mean they will end up being narcissistic or arrogant. On the contrary, it means that they have a healthy understanding of their strengths and weaknesses. Throughout life your child will be exposed to positive influences (builders) and negative influences (breakers). As parents, it is our task to expose them to more builders and help them work through the breakers.
2/ Teach them not to take any shit from anyone
Talking of breakers…Mila went through a challenging time when she started school in France this year with a bit of bullying going on. It was heart-breaking to hear. Each time I was arriving in France, I was hearing stories about what the girls had told her, how they behaved. Despite all, Mila was very adamant she didn’t want to go back to London. She loved France, she loved the school and her new friends and leaving wasn’t an option for her. When the mother I am, wasn’t feeling anger and huge pain in the deepest of my being, I was very proud of her. I don’t think I would have that amount of self-confidence at her age. At first, we told her to ignore the girls and get on with it. However, five months down the line, I was still hearing stories so one day, I lost my cool and told the girls off after school….having two ten-years old in tears was definitively not my proudest/finest moment and to this day, I still regret the way I handled things but it was now in the open and all the kids and mothers got together. Nothing was really resolved that day as it was the girls’ words against Mila’s word but this incident, now in the past, showed Mila two things:
1) Her dad and I trusted her and while her cool-headed dad would have handled things differently, her fiery mum was there for her and would raise hell to protect her (my mum did the same when I was a teen with an English teacher who was consistently picking on me and all I can remember is hearing my mum shouting in the Director’s office from the entrance of the building and the Teacher leaving me in peace for the rest of the year).
2) She should not take shit from anyone and yes in this instance, I used the bad word but I wanted her to understand that if someone was trying to push her, she needed to push back to stand on her two feet and no-one, absolutely no-one had the right to have a negative impact on her life or well-being. This week, I witnessed her standing on her two feet and pushing back verbally without any aggressivity the same girl and I felt incredibly proud but most importantly, she told me, she was proud of herself afterwards so I think she will be alright :-)
3/ Let them fall so they can get up again by themselves
Steve and I never ran to Mila each time she fell as a toddler. We encouraged her to think it wasn’t a big deal. If it was a small fall, we would tell her to get up again without making a big fuss out of it. If it was a big fall with a lot of tears, I would kneel down and open my arms for her to come for a cuddle, lots of kisses in her neck to make her laugh and then we would carry on playing. I don’t know if it’s why she is such a fearless, independent child now. There is always a part of what you bring as parents and your child’s own personality to take into account but to these days, she will climb, run, jump everywhere without thinking about it twice. It’s part of her.
4/ Encourage them to have an opinion on anything
Since the age of 5, each time I went shopping with Mila, I asked her what outfit/bag/shoes she preferred in a shop window. Sometimes, she would describe the colours, the shapes, things she liked and didn’t like. Sometimes what we saw was pretty ugly but it didn’t matter. It wasn’t about getting right, it was about having an opinion. Style is very subjective anyway…After the last Summer holidays, she came back with a very strong opinion of what she wanted to wear (aurevoir Liberty prints, pretty dresses & lovely blouses, bonjour skinny jeans, shorts, t-shirts & trainers). It took us a few months to adjust and as I was in London, a few things I would never have bought because of the cut, fabrics or colours, ended up in her wardrobe but now we have an understanding and we only get things that we both love from Elias & Grace, Mango, Zara or Gap in London and H&M in France. In Andorra, I took both Lily and Mila shopping to Zara and they both fell in love with this Isabel Marant style off-white jacket (just stunning!) which they both wear on these photos.
5/Have boundaries and be the boss
When Mila was in kinder garden, a lot of mums was telling me how much they would love their daughters to wear pretty dresses like Mila’s instead of Barbie pink outfits and this always puzzled me. So I’m sorry I’m going to be a bit blunt there but at the age of 5, it is not the child that is buying the bright pink outfit…I never bought things that I would hate Mila to wear and like any other little girls, at some point, all she wanted was bright pink things and Princess dresses to wear all day but the same way I would love wearing hot pants and sequins to brighten up my day, there is a time for everything and Princess outfit is for playtime, not to wear at school, at the supermarket or everywhere you go because your gorgeous child threw a tantrum.
6/ The 1.2.3 sign (my favourite!)
Talking of boundaries, once thing that saved me many times from looking like a screaming, erratic mother in the supermarket was the silent countdown to 3. At home, you practice verbally so if your child does something wrong, you count until 3 with your voice and cold stare matching your fingers. At 3, if the child hasn’t stopped, it’s naughty step, naughty corner, time off in another room, whatever works for you but the point is, you mean business after 3. This is brilliant because once you’re in a public space, you only have to look at your child and countdown to 3 with your fingers for them to know that it’s time to stop. I don’t know if it’s a French thing but it’s one of my favourite method of enforcement while keeping it cool :-)
7/ Address your child by name
Addressing your child by name, especially when accompanied by eye contact and touch, exudes a “you’re special” message. Beginning an interaction by using the other person’s name opens doors, breaks barriers and even softens corrective discipline. We had once someone staying with us for three months to look after Mila and each time, she was talking about Mila to me, she would say “la petite“…“What shall I feed la petite tonight?”, “Can I take la petite to the park?”. It used to drive me nuts and it was showing the lack of connection this person had with Mila. On the contrary, Mandy who was Mila’s first nanny and is now her Godmother and a dear friend was amazing. I remember being very impressed that as soon as she saw Mila, she kneeled down to connect with Mila and was able to interact with her while answering our questions. I almost refused to hire her because she was beautiful and clever too and I looked like a whale at the time (thanks God I got over that bit quickly!)
8/ Teach them to deal with failure
Both Lily and Mila are driven in different ways. Lily is very creative and will throw 30 good drawings in the bin if she thinks they are not up to her standards. Mila is very competitive when it comes to sports and she likes to be the best and the first. On one hand, it’s great for both of them to be driven by what they think is good, on the other hand, failures/2nd place will happen in life and the great thing we can teach them is not to win everything at any costs but rather not to give up, to get up each time they fall the same way they did when they were toddlers and to acknowledge their weaknesses to work on them. As I keep saying on Instagram…“only those who never try, never fail”
9/Make time for their school activities
Attending school things where everything takes ages to happen and you waste a whole morning or full day to see your child doing something for 10 min only while you have thousands of things to do at work can be frustrating but it is important for them. So while you’re there, you may as well be the loudest mum on the pitch to encourage them and maybe they’ll beg you not to return :-) Seriously, it’s just a day in your working life but it’s one they will remember if you attend or didn’t.
10/ Drop the labels
I’m not talking about fashion labels but the labels parents give to their children because of something they did or said, an illness or their personality. I grew up as the “one that resonates like a drum”, the one that supposedly talks b$%%%cks because my dreams and goals seem unachievable (yeah right!). My sister Elodie grew up as “the Academic” so I think we both grew for a few years stuck in the boxes that our parents had labelled for us, and I think what helped us in some ways, was the close relationship and mutual admiration we both have for each other. My sister doesn’t think of me like someone who daydreams because she knows that I make things happen. The same way, she is not just a smart face, she is incredibly driven, strong, has an amazing fashion sense and is a wonderful mother. Her tenacity to achieve healthy & fitness goals is way higher than mine and she inspires me. If I have doubts, she will spin a positive thought on things because she believes in me and with Lily and Mila, there is no label other than they can achieve anything they put their hearts into because they are smart, creative, kind and caring and that’s what we keep telling them.
11/ Teach them to think positive
Life is full of ups and downs, successes and failures, moments of pure happiness and incredible sadness. Sometimes, life is hard…really hard but training the mind to look at things in a positive way, is probably one of the best things we can do for our children and for ourselves, the mothers.
12/Encourage them to be healthy & active
We haven’t managed to convert Mila into green smoothies and yoga (yet). She will have some because having her 5 day is not a choice but over the next few years, I’m hoping that she will have them out of choice so for the time being, I’m changing the inside of kitchen cupboards one pack at the time. Gone are the breakfast cereals packed with sugar, milk chocolate has been replaced by 80% dark chocolate, homemade pancakes are gluten-free…It’s an ongoing process and one that will take a few years to become a lifestyle but our overall nutrition as a family, has changed a lot over the past few years.