Approval Ratings

One of the common ways that mothers fail their daughters is to load them down with criticism.  Here are a few samples:

“You really should lose some weight and you would look a whole lot better.

“Why can’t you keep your room clean like your sister? You are a slob.”

“Your brother got the brains in this family.”

“Your legs are too fat at the ankles to wear a skirt like that.”

“That color brings out your bad complexion. You should go change.”

I know these sound like awful examples, but believe it or not, mothers say rude things to their daughters. And these impolite, ungracious remarks do not bounce off. They are like the arrows that wound, and the cut goes deep. Mothers may feel like “she never listens to a thing I say,” but the truth is that daughters not only listen, but they also repeat it back to themselves over and over again until they become resentful and bitter toward their mothers. And then the mothers wonder why their daughters act alienated, hurt, and unhappy. “She doesn’t talk to me any more, and I don’t know why.”

Sometimes daughters slip into eating disorders because family members have told them they are fat. In fact, if we could take a survey, it may be that most eating disorders began as the result of family criticism. Losing weight can be a way to gain approval and affection.

Sometimes daughters feel so beat up on the inside that they eagerly look for a ticket out, even if it means marrying some guy who shows her all the wrong kind of attention. But by this time, she thinks any attention is better than none.

What daughters want most from their mothers (and fathers) is love and approval. Now I don’t think parents should approve of sin. Of course not. But love and approval can be shown in many positive or even neutral areas. Daughters want to please their parents, and they want to be appreciated for who they are, how they look, and what they are doing. Sometimes, if their approval rating is in the tank, they may do something stupid just to prove they don’t care what their parents think. But the opposite is actually the case: they care very much, so much, in fact, that this act of rebellion is a desperate cry for attention. And if they can’t get attention any other way, then maybe this will work.

Disapproval and criticism are crippling, paralyzing, and deadly. They drive a wedge between mother and daughter that can only be fixed one way, and that is by repentance.

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21 thoughts on “Approval Ratings

  1. Mrs. Wilson, I very much agree with you, but I was wondering if you could give some examples of how a mother would lovingly give her daughter some guidance in those areas? For example, if she came out of her room dressed to go somewhere in a color that was truly very bad on her? Instead of ““That color brings out your bad complexion. You should go change.”” what could she say?

  2. Been on the receiving end of that for most of my life, I try SO hard not to do this to my daughters. Unfortunately, I have on occasion slipped, it’s rare, but it has happened a few times and I feel like kicking myself afterward because I should know better. I do apologize, however, and ask for forgiveness, yet it would have been better if it had not slipped out in the first place.

    Thank you for your grace in correction. Always.

  3. Natalie, maybe talking about the problem with the clothes rather than the problem with the girl? Maybe promoting a color that brings out her good features rather than drawing attention to her bad ones? Clothes were made for the girl — to bless and beautify her, not the girl for the clothes.

  4. Or the mother could just let it go. When I look back at pictures of myself as a teen, I marvel at my mother’s verbal restraint. I gave myself plenty of bad haircuts and experimented with some fairly unattractive clothing combinations (the legwarmers with cowboy boots come to mind). I guess she figured she’d choose her battles, and that I’d outgrow some of that. I like to think I have. 🙂 It would have been a different story, of course, if I’d started to leave the house dressed as a woman of ill-repute.

    The mother may be perfectly right that a particular color makes her daughter’s skin look blotchy, but she may be doing her daughter a bigger favor not to mention it. The daughter will probably figure that out on her own sooner or later.

  5. It also helps to talk about these things at non-problem times. You could discuss good/bad colors before the young lady is dressed to go out. My daughter and I are very different and sometimes it is so hard for me to understand her. However, when I approach the issue with love she seems to flourish and when I am critical she seems to wilt. There are times that I fail and I am asking for forgiveness. I try to remember that our vision for her is a cornerstone. When dealing with daily issues I keep in mind those longterm goals.
    Mrs. Wilson thanks so much for the reminders and bits of wisdom. Over the years your words have been a great encouragement to me and my family!

  6. I completely agree Angie! My mom was the same way…with all three of her girls…In fact, we joke that her favorite line when we would come out of the dressing room and ask, “Do you like this?” was …”Well, I like it for you!”

    This has been so beneficial to me raising my girls, (now 7 and 10.) Their favorite fashion statement currently is layering…fine, in and of itself but they cover up the cutest, smocked, long-sleeve shirts w/ regular T’s…Not what I’d do, but, “I like it for them” (and yes, they go to church like that!!:)

  7. Again, such wise counsel. Oh, the hurt of critical words. I know it all too well, but the older I get the more I realize that so many of us were/are on the receiving end of this from our mothers. I just want to stop the cycle and not pass this one down to my own daughters.

    I also wanted to let you know that I linked to one (of the many) of your articles on my blog tonight:

    Thanks so very much for writing and being a mentor for so many.

  8. I echo Natalie’s question. To ignore a weight problem, for example, can have health implications. How can one encourage without being critical? I also have a single girlfriend who wears a LOT of heavy makeup. I think it might be intimidating for men that would otherwise be interested in her. There really is no way to say that ~without~ sounding critical. I do agree with the heart issue though — a critical spirit and a demeaning tone. I definitely do NOT condone that! But I also am not sure everything should be ignored. It’s like not telling someone they have food in their teeth. But just like everything in life, there’s a fine line between gracious helpfulness & nagging.

  9. WL and Natalie,
    Actually, I don’t think a fine line separates gracious helpfulness and criticism, but rather a huge chasm. If a mom has a healthy relationship with her daughter, characterized by approval and love, then she is in a position to correct without criticism. Mothers are to teach, train, and guide their daughters; they are not to sit back and watch like spectators. As the kids grow up, moms move from being coaches to cheerleaders, but the kids should always know that mom is on their side, and not on the opposing team.

  10. Nancy, thanks for your reply to the “thin line” comment. It is a lifelong relationship built on trust, love and even obedience that defines how mom and daughter get through the teen years and what can and cannot be said to your child. How a daughter dresses or wears makeup is the result of your training or lack thereof. How she accepts your word of exhortation to perhaps redo what she goes out in will tell how well you have taught her to trust and believe that you always and only are seeking the very best for her. A mom grows her daughter into her best friend!

  11. This is so very true. I was on the receiving end of a lot of that kind of talk so naturally I started trying to withdraw and hide myself from my mom. Of course then I got accused of everything from ingratitude to rebellion, and it really hurt because I wanted to be a grateful, caring, obedient daughter. I felt like I had to choose between being rebellious and opening my heart to a meat grinder. What should daughters do in those circumstances? Is there anything they can do?

  12. That’s my question too, Natalie. Both me and my younger sister have withdrawn because of criticism and we too have been accused of ingratitude and rebellion. It’s not that we don’t like them, it’s just that they cause us a whole lot of pain. Is there a way to stop hurting? And is there a safe way to love a meat grinder?

  13. For daughters who are feeling squashed by this kind of thing, whether in the area of clothes or not, there’s one very easy bit of advice: Tell your dad. My mother was never harsh, but she could be keenly critical and even belittling. One night not too long ago at the dinner table we were arguing about the outfit I planned to wear out that evening when my father unexpectedly turned and said to my mother, “She can wear exactly what she wants to wear.”

    They were, and I do not exaggerate, life-changing words, even though the next words out of my mother’s mouth were, in the heat of the argument, “No, she can’t!” I ceased to fear her opinion altogether. And because I no longer fear it, I now have no qualms about asking her advice and even taking it, which means that she’s no longer so high-handed about said advice and is even resigned to me ignoring it. Incredible, and a much better relationship all round–just because of something my dad said.

  14. I’m a certainly no expert in this, and I have much to learn. In matters that I think are helpful, though (dirty hair that needs to be washed, bad breath, etc.), I find that if I cast the problem on myself first, it is well-received.

    For instance, one of my young daughters has dark hair above her lip. Others were mentioning it to me (I know, it isn’t their business, either) and I didn’t want her to hear it from them even though I knew she was aware of it (she’d said something to me about it). So one night when I had to remove my own, I said, “Hey sweetie, I have to use some stuff to get the hair off my face- you want to do it with me?” She loved the idea and ever since she has asked to do it herself.

    A mother might say, “Oh, I don’t like this color on me!” Instead of “That color brings out your bad complexion. You should go change.” A friend might say, “I want to go get a makeover at the mall. Want to come with me?” instead of pointing out the heavy make-up job on her friend.

    What do you all think?

  15. Growing up I definitely went through many stages of “that’s not very attractive”. Usually when I was stuck in a rut, my mother or grandmother would take me on a girls day out to go shopping and help pick out the clothes. While deciding what to purchase they would always say something along the lines of “Well it all looks nice, but I particularly like *enter clothing item here*. It brought out your eyes.”, or “That color was just beautiful on you!” Things like that made me truly value my mother/grandmothers opinion, so when I would ask them about future clothes, I cherished their advice. If I was shopping on my own which I hardly did, I would constantly ask myself “What would mom/grandma say?” and kept their past comments and advice with me.

  16. SJR, I’m so glad you had that experience. It must have been very redeeming. Unfortunately that’s about as likely for me as seeing a double rainbow in Death Valley.

  17. Wise words to think about from everyone. I guess I worded my comment wrong because I do agree! 🙂 I guess I don’t know how to BE gracious without WORRYING it will be perceived as nagging. I’m not a mom yet so these are good things to think about for when the time comes… and I think it applies to other relationships as well.

  18. One thing my mom and I have done together is to go through books on how to dress well. We have a few that discuss outfits appropriate for particular occasions, others that discuss how one should dress for their particular figure (my favorite is “Does This Make Me Look Fat?” by Leah Feldon), etc. Even if you don’t like the particular style put forward (I’m particularly thinking of the girls behind “What Not to Wear”), it can help you think about what you wear and why. It really bugs when my peers wear things because they’re “cute” without thinking about how it will actually look on them.
    So you could try looking at some of those books or resources with a friend before your next shopping trip. Leave them around the house for your daughter.

    A further note on makeup: Mary Kay reps will help you learn how to put makeup on. However, I’ve noticed that many MK reps wear a lot of makeup, as do the models. So take the advice and edit it. (Blue, green, purple, and sparkley eyeshadow–keep it far away, please!)

  19. and if I were a guy…throw on some jeans, shirt, run my hand over my jaw, (nah, not too prickly yet…), teeth, no, Home Depot won’t care, a quick hand over the hair, and out the door. Whoops, slippers on. Too bad, I’m already in the car! Though I do have to add back on the this side, to remember to work on our femininity. For our children, but mostly for our husbands.

  20. Kendra, I love how you handled that sensitive issue with your daughter!

    And Heather, I LOVE that book! Really a great resource for how to tie a scarf, or evaluate whether something will look slimming.

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