Choosing Authenticity over Popularity
“How is your daughter making it away from home?” the mother of one of my daughter’s high school friends asked me the other day.
“Well, she’s been staying with us,” I confessed, sheepishly at first, until I remembered that this was a decision my daughter and I had agreed on, along with my husband, after discovering the anxiety she was experiencing from staying in the dorms.
My daughter hadn’t been ready to leave home. The two years before graduation had been full of twists and turns, starting with my return to full-time employment and ending with her brother leaving home for a school nearly five hours away.
Between these life-changing bookends, Covid, deaths, suicide, and job loss had ravaged our family’s sense of stability. We’ve truly struggled the last couple of years, as have many families like ours.
Already an anxious child, what’s occurred made my daughter uncomfortable leaving home. And though we spent a small fortune on a dorm and decorations, we’re okay with her returning to her bedroom. (Our college is a mere five minutes down the road.)
Our daughter built up a lot of expectations for freshman year of college, and they all failed.
She’d scrolled through her college friends’ social media posts and had believed that she was supposed to want the very same things they did.
This was a theme that had played out over most of her life, and mine, too: wanting something because you think it’s what you’re supposed to want.
The truth is, nothing about college life has appealed to her so far. She thought she had to live the “college experience,” but for a girl who would rather be curled up on the couch watching a Hallmark movie with her family than she would be out dancing with a bunch of kids her age, the “college experience” left her nervous, anxious and confused about her wants.
“Am I just not normal?” she’s asked me before, with tears in her eyes.
It’s a struggle to feel different in this world.
“You are totally normal,” I told her, “because there is no such thing.”
The mom from the beginning of my story, the one who was discussing our girls’ time at college, moved here because in her previous other town, she’d looked around and found that, in her words, “My children were going to be the have-nots.”
A town where most children go to the prestigious private prep school and live in multi-million dollar houses, this mother believed that their family would not achieve the status needed for her daughter to fit-in.
I knew this wasn’t true. Her daughter was beautiful inside and out, well-liked, very kind and funny, and a tremendous athlete.
Once they moved here, the family immediately became “well-known” in town, and the daughter was the epitome of queen-bee at our local high school–with the exception of the stereotypical meanness.
What I came to understand was that, in the other town, the one where you needed more to be more, it wasn’t that her daughter wouldn’t be liked, it was that she wouldn’t be liked to the standard her mother wanted.
Simply put, some mothers want their children to be worshiped.
You might think worship is a strong word, and maybe it is.
But I’ve thought a lot about this through the years, seeing as how I was a teenager myself, have had four kids, teach high school and have witnessed everything you can imagine when it comes to teenagers, parents and school.
Why do we push the sort of activities on our children that we do? The select sports, the competitive cheer, etc.
Why do we make sure they have the right backpack, shoes, clothing, and even water bottle?
Why are we teaching our children to climb the popularity mountain when we should be teaching them to climb the authenticity mountain, or the integrity mountain, the kindness mountain, or whatever mountain they choose?
What about you?
What mountain are you climbing?
My parents always teetered just outside the edge of normal. They weren’t raised to go, be and do, and as a result, they didn’t raise my brother and me that way, either.
When I was young, it was obvious we were different, and I spent my entire time in public school just trying to fit in.
I tried different social groups, and I sought to blend in. I finally found that being as fake as possible–hiding all my wants and wishes, scars and stories–would help me fit in.
I went to college and completely broke loose, but being judged left me feeling even worse than before.
When I met my husband, I found that his lifestyle gave me a sense of superiority, as if I’d finally found someone who could not only fix me, but make me look good, too.
Forget the nagging sense I had inside me that nothing about his desires lined up with mine.
He was a golf course guy; I liked the country. He was a firm Southern Baptist; I’d always told myself I’d return to my Catholic roots. His bent was towards popularity; I’d tried that, found it lacking, and just wanted to stick my kids in a bubble on a farm somewhere and raise some chickens and cows.
You can imagine what won out, but I have to say, my husband hasn’t been nearly as hard up for the popularity as I thought he would be.
He’s very supportive of our children just being who they are, and I love him for that.
If I’m being honest, it’s me who’s had the harder time letting them be who they are.
I’ve lived my whole life judging myself on the short twelve-sixteen years I was liked or not liked by others.
And as parents, we want to rescue our children from other people’s opinions, don’t we?
But we can’t. That’s a sad fact.
I forced my olders to be people they weren’t. I pushed them into all the bes, and dos and goes.
I moved inside their friends’ parents’ circles. I was going to be and do and go, too. Fake worked when I was young, and fake would work again.
But it didn’t work, not anymore. Because I knew who I was, and I finally knew what I wanted.
Exhausted at being someone I wasn’t, I climbed down that mountain, and I took my children with me.
And I’ve tried really hard not to push my littles up the Go, Be, Do Mountain.
Instead, we’re walking the mountain of Audacious Authenticity.
It’s not an easy mountain. There are lonely trails and rocky paths.
There are high peaks and deep valleys.
But I believe when they reach the top, they’ll feel the greatest sense of peace.
Because authenticity leads to the peace that only comes from knowing exactly who you are.
In what ways are you trying to be more authentic? How are you teaching your kids to navigate the road of popularity? I’d love to hear from you.