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Dear Daughter

August 14, 2019

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This morning I dropped my heart off at middle school.  Our youngest is entering sixth grade and that minefield of years when her sense of self will be tested on a daily basis.  She was nervous but excited as we talked about what this year will hold and the new freedoms and challenges she will likely experience.  Many of her closest friends are attending a different school which added a level of anxiety to her preparations, but she has some good buddies who will be at school with her and I assured her that middle school is a time for making new friendships and meeting new people.

As she begins this new chapter in her childhood, I shared with her some advice that I pray she’ll take to heart.  I realize there will be times she forgets what we’ve talked about, whether by accident or choice.  I know she won’t always do what her heart tells her is the right thing, but I hope those times are few and far between and that she learns from them.  My advice to her isn’t complicated, but it’s also not easy.

  • Be YOU.  It may be trite, but I can think of nothing more important.  When you want to fit in and make friends, it can be all too easy to become what you think others want you to be.  That’s especially true at this young age when you aren’t always sure exactly who you are!  When you say or do something and it makes you feel good about yourself, when you behave in a way that you would be proud for those who love you to observe, and when you listen to that still, small voice inside and it approves of what you’re saying or doing, that’s being true to who you are.  Conversely, if you say or do something that makes you feel uncomfortable or embarrassed or worried, that probably wasn’t behavior that aligned with your true self.  Don’t hide the parts of yourself that you’re afraid others won’t like; those may be the very things that attract people you have the most in common with.  Fitting in with the crowd might feel good for awhile, but finding real friends who truly accept you feels a whole lot better. 
  • Be KIND.  If you see someone who looks lonely or unhappy, reach out to them, even if it’s just a smile or a “hello” in the hallway.  That simple interaction may make that person feel less alone.  Middle school is a time when groups tend to form; that’s not always a bad thing as long as it doesn’t mean exclusion of others.  Be a connector; introduce people to each other whenever you have the opportunity.  Stay open to new friendships and never waste a chance to greet a familiar face or smile at an unfamiliar one.  If there was a time when you felt unsure or isolated, remember that feeling and recall it when you see someone else in that situation.  If others go low, you go high.  Speak out if you see someone being treated poorly; silence is acceptance.  Being kind isn’t always the easy choice, but it’s always the right one.
  • Make learning a priority.  It’s easy to focus on the social aspects of middle school and let academics take a backseat.  Don’t let that happen!  The study habits you develop now will carry into high school and college; make sure they’re good ones.  Homework comes before extracurricular activities and socializing.  Classrooms are for learning and your teachers are there because they have valuable information to share with you; take advantage of it.  Explore different subjects with your mind open and your curiosity engaged.  You never know what might spark an interest if you’re paying attention.  
  • Approach social media and texting with caution.  Assume that whatever you type or post will be saved and shared with everyone you’ve ever met, and with perfect strangers as well.  Never send or post anything when emotions are running high; wait until you’ve had time to process and think through what you want to say or share.  Only say things online or in texts that you would say to the person’s face.  Before you post or message, think to yourself, “How would I feel if my parents saw this?”  Spend more time experiencing the world than photographing it.  Spend less time taking photos and videos of yourself and more time focusing on and nurturing what’s inside you that makes you special.
  • Try your best not to compare yourself to others.  Whether it’s that skinny bikini model on Instagram or the girl in your homeroom who seems to ooze confidence and make friends effortlessly, remember that you’re only seeing one side of them.  Social media is filled with strategically posed, airbrushed, filtered people showing their best side to the world.  That girl who gets straight A’s without seeming to try may be filled with anxiety about not measuring up.  The friend who constantly gets attention for her appearance may be jealous of what an amazing dancer you are or how close your family is.  Embrace your own special gifts and blessings.  Accept yourself and treat yourself with care just as you would a close friend.  Focus on fueling your body with healthy food and moving it in ways that make you feel strong and capable.  You are unique and awesomely made! 
  • Be patient with your parents.  We may embarrass you.  We may want more hugs than you’re willing to give.  We may seem hopelessly out of touch, our attempts to connect with you may seem awkward, our rules unfair and unwarranted.  All that may be true, but never for a moment doubt our reasons.  Everything we do and have done and will do is because we love you in ways that you can’t yet begin to understand.  Our desire to protect you and keep you safe in a world that’s changing so fast we can hardly keep up makes us a little crazy sometimes.  It’s because nothing is more important to us than you.  So go ahead, roll your eyes.  Slam your door.  Yell at us about how clueless we are, how no one else’s parents are so strict or so lame.  But deep down, please remember that no one can ever love you the way we do.  Nothing can change that, despite what will likely be your best efforts. 

We’ve survived the first day, all of us.  The coming days (and years) may sometimes be challenging, but they will also be filled with opportunity.  May there be more good days than bad days, more smart decisions than questionable ones, more leading than following, more becoming than pretending, more connecting than excluding.  May our children never forget where they came from and who they have cheering them on from the wings.  And may we parents travel this new road with grace and understanding, with patience, and most definitely with love.  


One Comment leave one →
  1. Heather Fergurson permalink
    August 14, 2019 11:36 pm

    Love this Ash!

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