From dad to daughter, you talk about self-confidence with me

Friday, May 6th, 2016

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Playing the loose tooth game was never something I looked forward to dealing with as a parent.

Just the idea of all those teeth hiding inside my child’s face waiting to push the ones beneath it out has given me what my kids call “the disgustings.” But alas, losing teeth is part of the parenting process and it is a part of the kid process. So I watch the game my oldest daughter plays with her loose teeth. I watch her wiggle and flick and pull that thing even as my stomach churns.

Losing your two front teeth, as she somehow managed to pull off in one day, also serves as one of those springboards from small child to big child. The impact of first having no teeth, then having bigger teeth suddenly appear is large. It’s a “where did the time go?” kind of moment for parents where we flash back to those times we first held our kids or listened to them talk to us for the first time.

Strangely enough, watching my daughter smile at herself in the mirror after losing her first upper front tooth brought back memories of my own childhood. Then, after picking her up at school later that day and seeing the tooth beside it gone too, what was a trickle of memories became a waterfall.

She smiled wide from the moment we picked her up, proud to show us what she had accomplished through nothing more than eating solid food. In fact, I bet she’s smiling right now, trying to pronounce the letter s in all the ways she can and running her tongue over the now vacant space.

It got me remembering that smiling was never my thing as a kid. At least not the open mouthed, full-on smile that adults ask for when they’re taking your picture at a birthday party or after a hockey win.

Getting my gap teeth

I was a kid who had perfected the smile with your eyes pose where you can still keep your mouth relatively closed and still have people believe you’re happy as a hog (or some similar saying). I worked on it endlessly until people stopped asking to see my teeth when I smiled. This was not because I didn’t like to laugh and it was not because I didn’t like to see other people happy.

A smile without teeth

It was more a conscious response that many kids perfect as they go through their developmental years and find flaws in themselves that others may not see—the things they are convinced other kids in their class went home and made fun of them about.

This giant flaw, for me, was the gap between my teeth that I still have now. More times that I can count, I spent nights trying to group my teeth closer by pressing them with my fingers for minutes on end. Often I’d do this in the quietness of my bedroom, holding my teeth with one hand and covering my eyes with the other as I imagined all the things people would be saying about my gappy smile.

As anyone familiar with a mouth will know, this method never worked. And as many people who imagine themselves being made fun of, what I came up with in my head was much worse than what I ever heard from classmates. I beat myself up over my physical appearance so I’d be hardened when it happened from others.

I spent many hours telling myself I was lucky to have this space between my teeth because it meant I could brush more efficiently, that I would have room for my wisdom teeth to grow in. I looked at the kids with braces and actually envied them. Braces were rarely discussed because as I mentioned, the space between my teeth was actually a GOOD thing for my mouth. Making changes would have been for vanity purposes only and even then, given the room in my mouth there was the likelihood they could move right back. 

I’m 37 now and am aware that my teeth are still spaced out and that I have all the teeth in the back of my mouth that I’ll get. That gap will be there forever. I care less now than I did 30 years ago but I’d be lying if I said I didn’t still think about how wide I should smile when taking a picture. At this point in my life I feel bad that I put so much focus on a physical trait but I don’t blame myself or think I’m a bad person for having done it.

Mike holding a Rey cake

Now I look at pictures of my daughter smiling wide, proudly showing that huge space off as she should. I remember looking at her not forever teeth before she lost them and seeing the space between her own teeth. I remember badly hoping she’d be able to deal with a gap between her teeth than I did or that somehow she’ll miraculously never feel self-conscious about any part of her body.

My own battle with self-confidence is a reminder to me that my kids won’t likely always love their bodies or that they’ll fixate on a feature that the rest of us spend time convincing them is unique and wonderful and very them. And that when we tell them that, they still might not believe us. When my daughters do come to me to talk about something they are self-conscious of I don’t just tell them that they are beautiful the way they are and send them on their way to deal with that on their own. I don’t want them to simultaneously dislike something about themselves and dislike that they hate something about themselves. I want them to know they aren’t alone and that I have struggles too.

As a parent to my daughters I want to take time to regularly let them know:

  1. You aren’t a bad person for obsessing over a physical characteristic.
  2. You aren’t vain for obsessing over a physical characteristic.
  3. That one thing you focus on really is a beautiful part of you, I’m not just saying that because I’m your dad.
  4. I have things about me I don’t always love and that’s okay too.
  5. I’m here if you ever want to talk about that one thing you focus on.

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