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A Letter To My Teenage Daughter: The Pressure To Be Perfect

“I love you. You are perfect.” Being the mother of a teenage daughter, I say these words all the time. They are a clumsily expressed sentiment intended to tell her that I love her exactly how she is, that I do not see flaws, that in my eyes, she is a da Vinci, a Mozart…quite simply, a masterpiece. But recently I witnessed her in a moment of genuine self-loathing and realized that my expression of love had become a burden.

She came to me in tears, and said, “I’m not who you think I am. You think I’m perfect, but I’m not. I’m not perfect. You don’t know the things in my head or the things I sometimes do.” Of course I was alarmed—what monstrous things was she doing?—but it turned out the “things in her head” were simple moments of pettiness that we are all guilty of. The “things she sometimes does” were minor interactions with other children when she was probably not her best version of herself. But in her mind, these moments of humanity had become bigger than they were.

What really worried me though was that she thought my love was contingent on her perfection. That she had to be perfect to be perfect to me. But that’s not the point of raising a perfectly imperfect child. So I wrote a letter.

this is my letter, to all daughters:

I  love you. You are not perfect.

You will hurt people. You will make mistakes. You will make them again. You will hurt someone you love badly. You will walk past a person in need and pretend you didn’t see them.  You will neglect loved ones. You will refuse to say sorry even though you are in the wrong. You will say something spiteful. You will neglect a pet. You will be rude to someone serving you. You will lie. You will lose your temper with those who do not deserve it. You will fail. You will fail badly. You will place blame on someone else for something you did. You will choose to do something fun over something responsible. You will fall for the wrong guy. You will break the heart of a good guy. You will resent your own child. You will hate me, your mother, when I am just trying to help you.

But …

You will help a stranger. You will make someone belly laugh right at a time when they really need it. You will help a friend heal from the ache of a broken heart. You will smile at a stranger whose life is in tatters. You will offer your seat to someone who looks weary. You will hold the hand of a small child who is lost. You will win. You will win gracefully. You will listen. You will take the blame for someone who needs you to. You will weep tears for a stranger. You will fight an injustice. You will choose to be responsible when the choice is not easy. You will tell someone that everything is going to be okay when you know it isn’t, and hold them when it’s not. You will catch someone when they fall. You will pretend you did not see them stumble. You will make heartbreaking choices for pets. You will hold them as they die. You will say sorry even when you were not wrong. You will let someone you love go free. You will accept them back when they are ready. You will forgive. You will love your child in a way that leaves you breathless. You will love me—your  mother—even when I behave badly because I too, am not perfect.

Your life will be full of moments of imperfection; moments of humanity. Moments where you do not do the right thing, say the right thing, think the right thing. But you will bring joy to those around you in much more abundance than you will bring them hurt. Because perfection and imperfection are melded together to make you just exactly what you are supposed to be: perfectly imperfect.

Love, Mom

Jeanette Durante

Jeanette Durante is a slightly bewildered, frequently amused and always terrified mother of a teenage daughter. Her second (and paid!) job is as a social researcher.