This summer, I took my daughter to a birthday party for one of her friends who was turning 6. She was shy, as she only knew the birthday boy and his family — in a crowd of strangers.
She stayed as close to me as she could and would anxiously scan the room if I stepped away for just a moment. She even asked to go outside for a minute to have a break.
Then it was time for cake — her favorite part of all birthday celebrations! She sat back down at the long party table and couldn’t contain her excitement. A smile broke out across her face, revealing her beautifully crooked two front teeth. She was in her element now and a wave of relief washed over me as I saw her anxiety fade away.
The birthday candles were lit, and the countdown to singing began.
“1, 2, 3 … ”
When my quiet little girl opened her mouth, she was transformed into a confident singer. She belted out the familiar tune at the top of her lungs. The off-key melody flowed loudly from her little body. But her rendition seemed to startle some of the children around her, as a few turned to watch.
For a brief moment I had the instinct to “shush” her, to quiet down her enthusiasm to a more socially acceptable level so she didn’t stand out.
My own insecurities had caused me to jump to the conclusion that the other children were judging her because she was different. I wanted to protect her from that scrutiny and help her blend in with the group.
For a split second.
Then I realized this was my fear, not hers.
That first instinct was replaced with pride. I put my hand on my daughter’s back and stood with her in solidarity as she continued to sing her heart out. The little eyes continued to watch for a minute, and then went back to gazing at the glowing candles atop the Star Wars cake in front of them. Nothing to see here — just a joyful little girl passionately serenading one of her best buddies on his special day. Just like those birthday candles, she was glowing.
How proud I was of my girl! She was doing what felt right to her and not worrying about what others thought. She was leading with her heart and not her head — something I have often struggled with in my life.
It is normal that we receive subtle messages as we grow up about what we should and shouldn’t say or do in different situations. It’s what shapes us into the adults that we will become. However, somewhere along the way, instead of just learning “the ways of the world,” most of us pick up insecurities and learn to censor our true selves. We learn to conform to how we think we should act, instead of following our hearts. What a shame that is, really.
We have so much to learn from our children if we only listen. My daughter taught me something so important at that party and, by writing this, I share the lesson with all of you. I hope that it strikes a chord with you, too.
May we all have the courage to sing loud and proud, and not worry one bit if we’re a little off-key.