A List for Living and Loving

Earlier this year, my little girl turned 10.

It scarcely seems any time at all since I first met her and she illuminated my world, leading me on a journey that has taught me more about life and loving than I could have ever imagined.

And so, as well as the gifts wrapped in paper and the cards, I wanted to give her something lasting, something from the heart.

I wrote a letter which included 10 pieces of advice as she enters her second decade and called it a list for living and loving.

In my letter, I explained that I knew that she wouldn’t always appreciate or accept my guidance, and that there would be some wobbles along the way. But I told her that as her mother, I wanted to help her find her wings and learn to fly, so she can determine her dreams, carve her path and enjoy her own journey wherever it takes her.

Because wherever she ends up and however she gets there, I will love her. Whenever she needs me, I will do my very best to be there. Even if she can’t see me, I will be watching out for her and even when she grows too old to hold my hand, I will forever hold her in my heart.

I’m republishing it now, as 2016 draws to a close — as we sit at the junction of two years, looking ahead in hope and expectation to a new dawn and back at a year that has tested so many of us in ways we could never have anticipated.

1. Dream big and don’t be afraid to fall. It’s only by making mistakes that we really learn. Sometimes those mistakes hurt, but believe me, there’s no shame in picking yourself up and brushing yourself down and trying again.

2. Don’t let others define you, because if you let them, they always will. Don’t let people tell you that you should look a certain way, or do a specific job or that you can’t do something because you’re a girl. Believe in yourself and in your ability to do great things and, if that means you’re different, if it means you need to break the mould and even if it means it scares you sometimes, don’t stop believing in yourself.

3. Academic success is important, but it’s not everything. It is important to do well at school, but far more important is the effort you put in. You won’t always win or come first, but if you always do your best, then it will be recognised and the rewards will be even sweeter because you’ve tried. Likewise, when you’re older, make sure you get the balance right. Yes, it’s important to work and to try hard, but make sure you work to live rather than live to work.
4. I don’t agree with the saying that sticks and stones may break your bones but words will never hurt you. Words can pierce your heart and make you ache for a long time after the bruises and scars of a physical injury have faded and a long time after the person who said them has forgotten they even uttered those words. Anyone who thinks it’s okay to hurt people — through words or actions — is a coward who probably thinks that, by controlling others, they will feel better about themselves. Ignore them if you can. If you can’t, then make sure you don’t suffer in silence. And remember that, as hard as it is, it’s only by letting go of the hurt that you can really live.

5. Appearances are important, but they’re not everything and often they’re not true reflections any way. They’re like those crazy mirrors at the funfair — distortions of the truth. Facebook and Instagram aren’t really real. Yes, many people use them, but the photos on there often make people look nothing like they do in real life. They’re only part of the picture. It’s the same with magazines. They make their money by making us feel rubbish about ourselves. I know that won’t be easy to accept as you get older and you feel more and more pressure to fit in, but I hope that you will realise that beauty comes from within and not from trying to fit someone else’s definition.

6. It’s good to have role models, but those role models don’t need to be famous and beautiful, they don’t need to be people who wear the latest clothes and have the most up-to-date phones or electronics. Values are more important than valuables. It’s better to follow in the footsteps of people who want to change the world than people who want to change what they wearing all the time.

7. Manners and respect cost nothing, nor does a smile. A please and thank you is also free. Open doors for people, be polite and you’ll find that doors will open for you too.

8. Spread your wings, broaden your horizons, make friends. Never lose your sense of wonder or your will to wander. The more you do, the more you will realise how amazing this world is and how much you can learn from the extraordinary places and inspiring people you meet on your journey.

9. We’ve watched a lot of Disney the last few years and it doesn’t always have the answers. It might try to convince us that love lasts forever and that it’s always the guy who saves the girl. But that’s why these movies are fantasy. You don’t need to be rescued by anyone. Yes, it may take you time to find the right person, and you may have to kiss a lot of frogs in the process. But hopefully one day you will find someone who loves you for who you are, someone who doesn’t want to shape you or change you, someone who will cherish you and someone with whom you do find your happy, even if it doesn’t last for ever after.

10. The past 10 years have taught me many lessons, but there’s one last piece of advice I’d like to share with you from John Lennon. He was so right when he said ‘Life is what happens to you while you’re busy making other plans’. Those were his words to his son in his song ‘Beautiful Boy’. Remember us listening to that song when your baby brother was born? We listened to it over and over again as we each marvelled at the miracle of life. Well, these are words I’m borrowing for you today, my Beautiful Girl. We only have one life and we need to live it and live it well. Because one thing is for sure, time doesn’t stand still and one day you’ll wake up and you’ll wonder where the days, weeks and years have gone, just as I am now.

Originally published at medium.com on October 10, 2016.

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