I told my daughter she should smile more.

I told my daughter to smile more the other day.

Some people are going to read that and cringe and be angry and feel terrible for my daughter. Other people are going to be like, So? What’s the big deal? 

If you’re of the second group, don’t worry, I obviously don’t have the modern messaging about this permanently ingrained into my psyche either, since I did it to my daughter. Actually, I did it several times in ONE NIGHT. I kept berating her about it. And then it didn’t even hit me until several days later when this article crossed my feed. This is not the first thing I’ve ever read about this particular issue. I’ve actually probably read 100s of these types of commentaries, and god forbid anyone tell ME to smile! In my own experience I understand how shitty that is, but I guess my instincts still need programming when it comes to my daughter because it wasn’t until the 101st one crossed my path that I remembered Oh yeah, this relates to her too.

It’s not her job to please other people by smiling. She doesn’t owe them that; not as a child, as a teenager, or as a grown woman.

Don’t Ask My Daughter To Smile

I mean, the truth of the matter is, I’ve never asked my sons to smile more when we are in a social situation and I want them to make friends. NEVER. And it’s not like either one of them were walking around grinning all the time. Either one of them could sit with a resting frown and NO PART OF MY BRAIN ever said, Oh no. The kids may think he’s a jerk because he’s not smiling. He may struggle making friends here. 

(I mean, E is 23 now. I don’t give him any instructions about making friends anymore obviously. I mean this in references to when he was younger obviously.)

The decades of unchecked misogyny in our society did this to all of us. It distorted reality in my brain to look at my children’s benign faces differently. It created expectations in all of us for girls to be jovial and friendly and birthed generations of men who call women bitches who don’t fit that expectation. It created Pavlovian responses in women of all ages when told, “Smile!” – even from strangers on street. It created men with no understanding of enthusiastic consent. It created the term “Resting Bitch Face”  – which many are reclaiming now – but was first used as an insult and something we all wanted to avoid. 

ME: THIS IS JUST MY FACE. I am always concentrating on something which means I don’t actively smile all the time…LEAVE ME ALONE. 

ALSO ME: DEAR DAUGHTER YOU SHOULD BE SMILING MORE.

And I know how terrible that second “ME” is in the woke part of my brain, but evidently the programming is still so deep that when we’re fighting in social trenches I felt compelled to insist my daughter smile in case any potential friends were looking.

UGGG. 

When it hit me a few days later what I had done, I made sure to talk to her about it. Funnily she responded by saying something like, “Yeah, it seemed really weird after all the conversations we have about that stuff and then that night you kept telling me to smile more.” *punch* Yes, daughter. I’m imperfect. I can talk the talk but evidently struggle in walking the walk.

Our kids have to correct us a lot, I’ll be honest. And my pride and my ego struggle because I AM THE GROWNUP, DO NOT TELL ME WHAT TO DO. But it is important that their generation do things differently and so I apologized and told her she didn’t ever have to smile again if she didn’t want to and I wouldn’t say another world. 

But, of course, we all know I’m old and the programming is deep and I keep finding parts of me that need to be retrained and THAT IS OKAY. As long as I keep learning and take time to sit in the discomfort of those moments where I’m like Oh, shit. I did that thing I shouldn’t have done. Our instincts in those moments are to dig deeper but I fought those off, swallowed my pride, and made it right again.

And that’s just as important of a lesson for my daughter to see in the end.

One Comment

  • Fraulein N

    Bwah! Kids are brutally honest. But I agree that it’s important for them to see you struggle with things too. At least they know that you understand how difficult changing a deeply ingrained mindset can be.

    I think the next time a man tells me to smile I’m going to hiss at him.

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