A few days ago my 11-year-old daughter and her liberal tongue said to me, “mom let out your inner old.” I honestly didn’t know how to respond to that. I wanted to laugh, but she was so serious. So I marinated on it for a minute or so then asked her, “well what do you mean by that?” She replied, “well you’re old and you act young, it’s ok to act old.” I then asked her, “how do people act old?” And she said, “well, you don’t have to dress up and look hip, you can wear dusters/nightgowns like grannie’s sometimes.” Talk about an earful. And to that, I replied, “Zoe, that’s not who I am, at least not at this point in my life, and I like the clothing and the way I am right now.” And the conversation went on with me explaining to her how I was as a little girl.

And so I reflected on her words the next day, because I needed to figure out if perphaps there was any truth in what she said. Am I withholding pieces of me? Am I holding on to yesteryear? Is getting old a problem for me? Is the way I dress indicative of an unconscious struggle with aging? I had to ask myself those questions.

After pondering those questions for quite some time, I came up with NADA. I’ve been this way since I can remember me. I am absolutely fine with aging. I’m fine with my youthful persona. I am fine with getting older. I dress the way I do and I look the way I do because I’m being authentically me. However, what I did realize was that my daughter has adopted and internalized stereotypes of what older women should look like and how they should behave.

I had to go back to about a year ago, when I had a parent-teacher conference at her school, and before we left the house she said to me, ” mom, you’re not coming dressed in your hat and looking chic, right?” And I asked, “well what should I wear?” and she responded, “wear a sweatshirt and jeans like all the other mothers.” To which I responded, “seriously?’ But left it at that, and went to the meeting with my hat and looking chic. You see, this has been taking root in her for some time now.

This has opened up the door for some much-needed conversations with my daughter about healthy aging, authenticity, and stereotypes.

I’m currently figuring out where to begin, in what order and how to address this issue. And as I do so I realize how much children’s perceptions are shaped by the outside world. They may be privy to one thing within the household and family, but another in school and elsewhere. And unfortunately, at times, the outside information can trump and disrupt the information they learn at home, thus seriously altering their perception.

So this conversation taught me two things. One, be true to yourself even if you kids don’t approve. Rather than conforming to their wants, explain to them your need for authenticity. Your child will eventually learn valuable lessons from you. And two, keep the lines of communication open with your children. I didn’t always keep the lines of communication open with my older daughter. A lot of the times it was, “because I said so.” Because that’s what I learned. No. Really listen to them when they speak. Don’t let their words go into one ear and out the other. Respond to their questions. Ponder their questions and statements. And ask questions of your own.

How your children perceive situations will hugely impact their outcomes.

I’d love to hear from you. How do you handle your children’s difficult questions or statements?

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