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No, I Won't Teach My Daughter to Be Humble

Standing in line to see Princesses Anna and Elsa, I asked my 4-year-old daughter if she was happy to see them. She nodded and then asked, "But are they excited to see me? I am a real princess."

"Of course," I told her. "They are here so they can have a picture with you!"

The mom behind us in line laughed. "Gotta work on that humility," she said. And I know she was joking, but I am never teaching my daughter humility.

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Last year, writer Sarah Hagi coined the phrase, "Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white man." She wrote it as a joke for women who are often caught up in self-doubt and criticism, but the joke has some bite.

She has the entire world making her feel like less, I don't want her to feel that way at home.

As Cosmopolitan reported, men globally report higher self-esteem and greater levels of confidence than women and it's not because they are so much better. This "confidence gap" is related to many factors including the wage gap, the greater expectations of women than men, and the fact that women are more likely to be victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. But I see it too in my own children.

Whenever my daughter declares herself to be the "most beautiful in the land" other parents scrunch up their faces and look at me, expecting me to contradict her. But when my son declares himself "da most powerful" people just laugh. Once a mother, who heard my daughter make such a declaration about her beauty, assured me that her daughter was the same. "She is also too confident, we are working a lot on making her more humble."

"We aren't," I said. "She has the entire world making her feel like less, I don't want her to feel that way at home."

And it's true. I want my daughter thinking she is beautiful and kind and smart, because she is. We do sometimes talk about how we need to make our friends feel good by telling them nice things about themselves too, but it's rarely an issue, because she is kind and smart. And even at her young age that belief bolsters her and has helped us through some hard times of transition and anxiety.

As parents we often talk about humility in our children, but what we really mean is deference. When we teach humility what we are really doing is telling our children to have a lower view of themselves in reference to others or to defer to someone else's superior sense of self. "Sure, you may be smart" I heard one friend tell her daughter, "but we just don't talk about it." Why? I want to know. Why can't a girl proclaim her smartness? Why can't she proclaim her superiority? And let's not pretend that we don't weld this standard in an unbiased way.

As a woman, I have spent my whole life, battling voices in my head that tell me I am not qualified.

I have never once heard a parent lament about their son's self-esteem. My son spent an entire week declaring himself a super genius and no one did anything but laugh. My daughter on the other hand, has told adults she was the most kind person in her class and they've tried to argue with her. "Are you sure?" One person asked. "That doesn't seem like a nice thing to say."

Nice has nothing to do with it. My daughter is smart. She is kind. And she also knows that she's not the best at everything, nor does she want to be. "Basketball," she said once after playing with some friends, "is just not for me. Let someone else be good at it." That to me is real humility—an honest assessments of one's talents and skills, rather than a complete denial of self. And that is what I want to teach my daughter.

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As a woman, I have spent my whole life, battling voices in my head that tell me I am not qualified to write about the things I want to or that no one will care what I have to say. I often repeat Hagi's phrase to make myself laugh and to bolster my own confidence. "People only question you if you question yourself," a friend once told me. Those are also words I cling to. And in the past year, I've seen them working. I've had the courage to reach out to places with ideas and stories that I otherwise would have put aside.

And it's also made a difference in the words I use with both of my children. I'm not interested in forcing them to perform some act of fake deference about their skills, nor am I assuring them that they are practically perfect in every way. Instead, I want them both to live lives of confidence that build themselves and other people up. After all, it's true confidence that allows a person to see themselves as they are.

Photograph by: Twenty20

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