Do Not Tell My Daughter To Smile

Elise Free Girls

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I’m a smiley person. I smile at strangers, at babies, at teachers, at grocery store clerks. It’s a completely selflish (a word I just made up that is a combination of selfish with selfless) effort on my part to be liked by complete strangers and everyone I come in contact with. Like me, please! I’m likable and I will prove it by stifling all of my feelings and smiling instead!

Even when I’m feeling crappy, when my day has been meh, I smile at people because essentially, I’m a phony. My need to please trumps my true feelings. Growing up in the midwest, this is learned behavior. Even when we seethe, we smile.

My daughter however is quite the contrary. Please do not tell her to smile.

Throughout my life, on those occasional days when life wasn’t peaches and cream or a bowl of cherries or every other euphemism for happiness that involves dessert, I have been told by men to smile. They are usually older, grandpa types, sometimes a little pervy, sometimes not. Their requested demand usually goes something like this, “Smile honey!,” or “Turn that frown upside down!,” or “Haven’t you got a smile for me?”

I’m going to preface my next statements by saying that I believe these grandpa-ish characters have good intentions. They feel better when they see a dame smile at them. When I do not fulfill that obligation, they are reminding me that it is my job to make them feel better by faking my own happiness.

Why aren’t men or boys told to smile? Why is it okay for a man to have a bad day without him being required to fake it, so people around him feel smooshy pooshy poopy inside?

The other day, my daughter and I walked into the bank and apparently not jovial about running errands with her mother, my kiddo had an upside down you know what! A complete stranger, a man, told my daughter to smile. My daughter did not smile. In fact, her bored expression morphed into a snarl, and since I’m her mother and can read her mind, this is exactly what she was thinking: “Who the hell do you think you are? I’m not allowed to talk to strangers, let alone do what they tell me. What, do you have a puppy in a van you want to show me too? Some candy in the bushes? Why don’t you take this snarl and shove it where the sun don’t shine!” The man immediately realized my daughter is not of the “princess variety” and retreated back in the line. I smiled at him to make up for my daughter’s lack of compliance, and immediately regretted it.

I wasn’t smiling on the inside, so why was I smiling on the outside? Why did I feel the need to fulfill an unwritten obligation to a man who has no right to tell me or my daughter to enjoy a boring trip to the bank. The bank is not fun, and my brain and mouth are not fooled into thinking it’s Disneyland.

Men do not tell little boys to smile. They do not tell other men to smile. I have never heard another woman tell anyone to smile. When I walk in the room feeling down, not once have my female friends said to me, “Awww girl, I’m feeling very insecure with my womanhood, so if you could please ignore your present state and fake a smile to compensate for my lack of emotional maturity, I would really appreciate it. Thanks hon.”

I am so proud of my daughter for not being a pushover like her mother. An 11-year-old girl is under no obligation to make a grown man feel smooshy pooshy poopy inside. I want my daughter to be happy, but on her terms. She is allowed to be bored or grumpy and her expression can match her mood.


About the Author

Elise Free

Elise is a contributor on Felicity Huffman’s website What the Flicka?, Scary Mommy and The Mighty, with essays featured in LA. Parent Magazine, Literary Mama Magazine and on KPFK’s radio program, Motherhood Unplugged. She currently lives is Iowa with her 11-year-old daughter, Adelaide, who’s thriving and living life to its fullest and funniest, despite having Cystic Fibrosis.

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