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Mirror, Mirror On the Wall

July 23, 2020
Image result for ornate mirror

And, of course, you know the rest of the phrase. “Who’s the fairest of them all?”

In the Disney movie, the mirror normally lies appropriately and assures the evil queen that she is. He (Disney made the voice male) was a mirror, but he wasn’t stupid. When the evil queen asks you who’s the most beautiful in the land, you tell her she is. And you try to sound like you believe it to be true. Except for the time he had to break the bad news to her that there was one even fairer than her. You know the rest of the story.

In real life, though, when a mirror gets asked this question there’s no answer from the mirror. But there is almost always an answer from the psyche of the one asking. A profoundly convincing answer. Unfortunately, it’s often an answer that breaks the heart of the asker.

You might think only girls ask this question. I think most any honest male will tell you they ask it, too. They might use different words. “Who’s the biggest stud at school?” or something like that. Most guys aren’t too much into “fair.” Well, not in the looks category, anyway.

I’ll even go so far as to conjecture that it’s not just adolescent girls and boys who ask this question. Even grown people sometimes still ask it. Sometimes, even people who know better ask it. I think this is why the phrase we heard in Disney’s Snow White connected instantly.

It’s not a great question, really. The older you get, the more you should know this. Even the ultra-rich and ultra-vain have to some day realize that they’re no longer the fair one they once were, and that it’s not going to get any better. The shelf life of physical beauty is short. Even when you factor cosmetic surgery into the equation. Just ask Goldie Hawn.

It’s the answer that most people hear that’s the worst, though. Because what most people hear back from the mirror is, “Well, it ain’t you. Not by a long shot!” It couldn’t have been more powerful if it had actually come from a voice in the mirror.

Many a young woman and young man has stepped away from the mirror believing that they’re damaged goods, imperfect and ugly. Not wondering if this might be so, but fully convinced that this is the truth about them. Anybody else remember that? I’m thinking if you had a mirror in your house when you grew up, you probably played this little drama out. You’re quite an exception if you didn’t.

One of the most unfortunate things about this is that until and unless we learned to hear another message – the truth about who we are – this broken message wrote a very powerful scrip for our lives. A very powerful and very broken script.

We behave out of our beliefs. If we believe we’re sub-standard, we’ll act in sub-standard ways. Or else we’ll spend our resources proving to everybody around us that we’re NOT sub-standard. I’m not sure which is worse. Neither of these has much of an upside.

OK, in a world where appearance and image trumps everything, what’s a parent supposed to do to help their kid(s) not be sucked in and devoured by a brutal, beauty-obsessed culture? I don’t have all the answers to this, but I’ll offer a few tips that I hope God will use to spark your own creativity and thought.

First, talk about character every chance you get. At the end of the day, only character will count. In God’s economy, character trumps pretty much everything else. So look for it and talk about it. When you see an admirable character quality being displayed, point it out. When you see honesty, talk about it. When you see integrity, talk about it. When you see positive character, say so.

You need to be able to identify character qualities that matter to you. So take a couple of minutes and make a grocery list of 10 or 12 character qualities you want your kids to have firmly in their lives and expressed in their behaviors. It may take more than a couple of minutes. Here are a few Bible references that could give you some help:
– Galatians 5:22-23
– 2 Peter 1:5-8
– Philippians 4:8

Then when you see anything on your list being acted out by your kid(s), TELL THEM! You don’t have to throw a party for them. But if you don’t tell them when they do something good, they’re not likely to sustain motivation to keep up the good work.

Second, help them figure out how to make the most of what they’ve got. This is tricky. You’ve got to figure out how to do this without making their physical appearance the most significant thing about them. This is delicate work. Add to the delicate balance the fact that kids are all different from each other, and you have a really big challenge on your hands. How you do this with each of your kids may (probably will) need to be custom tailored to how they’re individually wired. Your approach has to account for these differences. Unfortunately, this isn’t one-size-fits-all.

I’ll give you a simple example. If you’ve ever had a pubescent boy, you know that one of these physical things that can be addressed is body odor. Could we, please! How is it that they went to bed a little boy one night and came to breakfast the next morning smelling like a locker room? Ah, the wonders of physiology. And, by the way, how can he not smell himself?! You’ll need to help him do something about it.

Acne and skin issues are another common thing. They can’t always be instantly fixed, but they can cause such grief for young ladies and young men. Spend some money that you might not think you can afford and see a dermatologist to get advice and help. Buy over-the-counter products to help them keep their skin clear and clean. Help them take care of themselves.

In case you haven’t been there yet, they’ll probably fight you on this. Be consistent with your urging. Adolescents have amazingly short memories, and they often just don’t want to do things they know they should do. Imagine that? How’d that thing get transferred to them from their other parent? Factor this in. This is another time lots of wisdom and fineness is needed. Nagging them is counter-productive. But if you don’t sort of stay on their case, they may just not do the 3.5 minutes of work it takes to tend to their skin every night. So.

Styles change quickly, and as an adult, you understand the shallow nature of style. But be sensitive to your kids and their sense of style. I feel strongly that the number one rule for style is about modesty. You get to decide what is appropriately modest. You’re the parent. You can invite the input of your kid(s), but you’re the one who bears the responsibility for deciding, and then enforcing you decision.

The second rule for style involves money. When our three girls were growing up, we had the fantastic blessing of mature friends who taught us how to give our kids a budget for clothing at the end of summer, to be used for school clothes, and then let them decide how they would spend it. When it was gone, it was gone. If they overspent for style, well, that’s gonna be a bad deal soon. We didn’t bail them out when we knew it wasn’t going work out well. They learned better when they figured this out for themselves. If the style they want fits in their budget, and it meets the appropriate modesty test, I say let them buy it and wear it. But you’ve got to make it clear to them, and then let them learn for themselves that they can only spend money once.

If you try to control all these variables in your kids’ lives, you’ll end up alienating them, and you’ll hate yourself before it’s all said and done. James Dobson, the Godfather of Christian family psychologists, used to say, “Choose your battles wisely.” I doubt that it applies anywhere as much as it does here.

The last bit of advice is what I give at the end of almost every post I write: ask God to make you wise. You’ll never be able to manage this whole delicate thing with only your wisdom and background. Count on James 1:5. Ask God for wisdom. And ask Him to guide you to others who are wise so you can benefit from their wisdom and experience. Most of these people are the ones who’ve already been down all these roads. Harvesting wisdom from them is smart. It probably goes without saying, but you’re not looking for people who have lots to say about raising kids. You’re looking for people with great kids. Sometimes they’re not the same people.

The waters of self-image are choppy and deep. That’s why I’ll be writing a lot about them. But no more this time. I’ve exceeded my word limit.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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