Why I Want to Be My Daughter When I Grow Up

Posted by on Jan 25, 2014 in Breathe, Kids'-Eye View, Parent, Recent Posts | 63 comments

Why I Want to Be My Daughter When I Grow Up

Every time I read this post from almost two years ago and your comments of encouragement to our little girl, I want the whole world to read it.

I want individuality and creativity to rule and kids like Ella to keep on with their original outfits and ways that don’t make sense to others. It’s the willingness to do things a bit differently that keeps this whole darn experience interesting. I am grateful to my husband, Karl, for being the daddy he is, and for my dear Ella, who is one of my greatest teachers, and for all the students I’ve had in the classroom who share their struggles with me–I wish you a life of creative freedom!

April 29, 2012

Last week, I got a text from Karl with a picture of Ella dressed in one of her amazing fashion creations. “Best one yet,” the text read. I was already at school (work) and wondered if he actually put her on the bus in that outfit. I knew he most likely did, as he has been great at encouraging Ella to be herself and not worry about what other people think. I tell her that too, but my actions say otherwise. Maybe because I know what happens at school. I don’t think I would have let her wear that outfit to school. I guess it’s a good thing I am not home for the morning routine right now. But, I got the aftermath.

She got off the bus crying. A second grader on the bus called her a hippie. She got weird looks all day. She told me she wasn’t so sure she should have worn the outfit in the first place, and I asked her why she did. “Because Daddy was so proud of me. He even took a picture of me. I wanted to change at school, but I thought I couldn’t change in the middle of the day, that would just show them I care. People who do big things with their lives don’t care what other people think.” WOW! I knew I had to tread carefully, because this was a big moment for her.

It’s the first time I’ve seen her devastated by peer pressure. She’s in third grade. She’s kind, smart, creative and full of personality. I cringe at the thought of her having to endure the level of peer pressure at the middle school where I teach. It concerns me that the clever, creative children in our society are often forced into conformity. We live in a tiny house, people know that. We pack healthy lunches and the other kids at lunch ask “What is that?” As Ella eats a homemade burrito. I want my kids to keep their individuality, but not at the expense of their confidence and sense of belonging.

When I think about what has been the biggest concern in our drastic downsizing and debt-free lifestyle, it has been that the kids know why we are doing this and that they feel happy and secure knowing we are living a great life. I don’t want them to feel poor because our house is so small. I want them to feel rich, because all of our needs are met and we have each other. I know they know these things, but when they are criticized because they are different from others, I worry that they may equate different with wrong.

So, I said “Ella, you have two choices. You can either not wear those types of outfits to school, or you can continue wearing them and pay no attention to what other people say or think.” If it were me, I would never wear that outfit or anything like it again, I know it. Somehow, I have a feeling Ella will make it more dramatic next time.

I want to be her when I grow up!


A note to teachers,

Please be inflexible on this rule: Be kind. Enforce it not only within the four walls of your classroom, but on the entire campus.

It can be hard to notice when the kids slip in their mean words/name calling. It happens when we’re not looking–in the hallways, and the bathrooms and at recess. If you hear these words on your way to the teacher’s lounge, please stop and use this most important moment to teach kindness. The kids who do the name calling need kindness modeled, and they need to know they are wonderful, too. As teachers, these moments are when we do our most important work. It means stopping and listening to both kids and asking questions like,

    • How does it make you feel to say mean thing/call name?
    • What are you needing when you do this?
    • Can you imagine how the other child might feel when you say these mean things?
    • What is something else you could say to acknowledge the other child without hurting her feelings?
    • Ask the other child to share how it felt to hear the mean words.
    • Ask her what would make her feel better.
    • Leave her with words of encouraging kindness, but don’t shame the student who said the mean words.

Our important work happens in the hallways two students at a time.

Thank you for showing up everyday to be a role model for our children. Thank you, thank you, thank you!

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  1. Ella is my hero too…

    • Yay!

  2. I LOVE her creative free spirit and sense of Self!!! … my kids went through the same process. They entered public school during 7th grade and received the same comments. Clay had dreadlocks and that was a big deal. THey were older, but during that stage of development, being accepted is huge! I realized that the peer pressure was actually the energy behind the transformation of solidifying who they are and what they care about. It strengthened them. We got the same comments on our house too! My kids value Nature, living outdoors, travel, family and friends and the material world weighs them down. Yahoo to you miss Ella and tinyhouse family!

    • Thanks for the perspective, Lora. Your friendship is very special to me. Thinking of you and your boys. ox

  3. She is going to be famous when she grows up anyway. I TOLD you that. This is the price you pay for greatness. Sometimes it’s lonely. But one day….people will dress like her just because she wore it. She is perfect. Tell her I am her biggest fan. Loves

    • I remember the picture you looked at when you said that. I need to post that one. Ella in her tutu with her famous cat, Donna. We miss you. Come see us!

  4. Hey Hari! What a great post- isn’t it amazing what our children can teach us if we truly listen to them? Quite humbling. My Amy recently has decided that she will only eat meat if it is hormone/antibiotic free, cage free if it’s chicken, grass fed beef, etc.- or not meat at all. We try to pack her a healthy lunch as well and she’s also been asked or had comments made about her food at the 3rd grade lunch table, and one that she had awhile ago- ewwhhh, what are you eating, that looks disgusting! If that were said to me when I was in 3rd grade, I definitely would not have answered how she did: well, how do you know it’s disgusting if you’ve never tried it? I was so proud of her…I did ask her if it bothered her and she said it did, but she didn’t dwell on it- like I would have, even as an adult! I am grateful to be able to read your posts- they are inspiring and moving. 🙂

    • Thank you, Rachael! Yes, I am humbled on a daily basis. Thanks for sharing Amy’s courageous response. I love it! Maybe our kids will move this whole humanity thing along. Let’s hope so. Hope you are well. 🙂

  5. All of the brilliant and creative people throughout history had had to endure criticism. Albert Einstein, Thomas Edison and many other famous people were kicked out of school or punished for their creativity and sense of individuality. I agree wholeheartedly That while one of our great slogans is “Be all you can be” but the hidden implication is Be all you can be as long as you do it our way. What insight she has at such a young age. I loved her outfit and see it as age appropriate and stylish! You rock Ella and I too want to be like you when I grow up 🙂

    • Thanks for your comment, Liesl! She does rock!

      I hope we humans will celebrate individuality more and more as we progress.

  6. That’s Ella all the way… She is now and will always be an inovator, creator, and individual. Love you all.

    • Yes, sir! I am glad she is appreciated by her Pappy. We love you!!

  7. She is a great role model for us all. And i’d rather be called a hippie than…umm…whatever it is you call those other people that aren’t hippies, lol. Love you, Blue!!!

    • 🙂 Love you, Amanda.

  8. This is a beautiful outfit! I am so proud of her….go for it, Ella!

    My son still enjoys playing with Legos, he has friends over ranging in ages 12 to 18, and on a one on one basis they love to create and ‘play’ legos. But put them together as a ‘pack’…..it is hard to not step in and say something. Our children have to learn how to deal with the noise, I guess. But bummer that the other kids do not have the nerve or gumption of ours.

    Please wear your outfit again, Ella!

    • Thanks for your comment, Debra! I am glad to know there are other kids with gumption out there. Thanks for encouraging her. Best to you!! 🙂

  9. What a lovely post, Hari-thank you for sharing this story! My jaw dropped when I read Ella’s brilliant comment that people who do big things in life don’t care what others think. Amazing insight! I so appreciate Ella’s wisdom and confidence in herself. I have been thinking about this topic a lot lately (conforming to what women are “supposed” to look like, beauty, etc.) as one of my professors told me that wearing some makeup to a job interview helps you look “more professional” and that I’m too young to let my hair begin to go gray. She then brought in her makeup bag to show me what I could do to myself! I know that her heart was in the right place, but it made me think hard about how I want to present myself to the world OUTSIDE of our little town. And, ultimately, I want to be as congruent as possible in all aspects of my life (which means not wearing makeup to try and get a job or dying my hair because I’m 28 and have some gray). It sounds like Ella has already decided this and will continue to express her own individuality and creativity. Beautiful. I am so grateful for role models and wise women who are YOUNGER than me! Thank you, Ella!

    • Thank you for sharing your story, Kari. It is such an important topic for further discussion. You are beautiful just the way your are! Love you. 🙂

  10. What a brave little girl, and I admire her adventurous fashion sense! Hey, there’s tons of fashion bloggers out there just trying on different, unique outfits every day, just like Ella. Great way to explore creativity and personal style – I applaud Ella! I was picked on frequently in elementary school and it was always hard, but I’m stronger now as a result. It’s awesome that she is learning to find her own voice and self-expression at such a young age. Go Ella!

    • Hi Clara,
      Thanks for reading and commenting! I will have to show Ella some fashion blogs, so she can get some perspective on this. She certainly has a real sense of her own style.
      Best to you,

  11. Hari, You could publish your posts. I love reading them. I had a few ‘outfits’ growing up, but unfortunately I conformed. Although tie dyed jerseys have always been a part of my wardrobe. Ella, I LOVE your outfit. You are soooo special!

    • Thank you, Linda! Thanks for taking the time to read my posts! I feel happy writing and sharing. 🙂

      I don’t think you conformed all the way 😉 You got your thing goin’ on! Love to you.

  12. When I was a child my parents were nonconformists, and encouraged nonconformity in me. I ate weird food at school like Ella, I wore weird outfits, and I got to a point when all I wanted was to be “normal” and watch TV and eat Frosted Flakes, but my parents didn’t let us do that at home (it was vegetables and board games instead). I was, quite honestly, completely mortified by my family through middle school and high school. It did affect my social life and development, but I’m not sure if that was a bad thing, because…

    When I got to college, my horizons expanded and I realized two things: a) there were even weirder people, who had more difficult lives, because they were Muslim or spoke different languages, or whatever, and b) the most conformist people generally weren’t very nice.

    If I had a child I don’t know how I would navigate those choices, but as an adult I have a much better understanding of why they did it and how it benefited me, which I didn’t see at the time but I’m glad for now. Most of my peers are deeply consumerist and many of them are closeminded, but I’m able to see through much of it, and I think my that’s what my parents gave me when they sent me to school with tofu in my lunch.

    • Hi Eva,
      Thanks for sharing your story! I appreciate your realizations. It is interesting that you notice in b) that most conformist people weren’t very nice. I am thinking that if none of us worried about conformity and just did what made us feel good, then we’d all be happier and thereby nicer. Maybe folks working so hard to conform aren’t nice because they are exhausted.

      I am glad you understand your parents choices now that you are an adult. This parenting thing is the most tricky job I’ve ever had.

      Best to you!

  13. Hi there! I follow your blog and absolutely love this post about your beautiful daughter. How awesome that she maintained her creativity and independence! She will be so much stronger and more confident of a woman by having these experiences. I envy your “tiny living” and hope to join you someday!

    • Hi Jen,
      Thanks so much for reading and commenting! I sure hope she is a strong and confident woman when she grows up.

      Are you planning on building a tiny house?

  14. Despite what the children are saying verbally and nonverbally to your daughter, someday all of those children will remember the courage of your daughter. They will admire her for her freedom and self-confidence. They are afraid, that is why they acted in hostility to your daughter. Their own insecurities manifest themselves in lashing out to protect their comfort zones. I grew up seeing this over and over. Where I live, her style is all the rage.

    Being true to yourself has rewards no one can understand until they do it themselves. Happiness, freedom, a sense of self-worth, self-esteem, and confidence to achieve and overcome life’s obstacles. I applaud your daughter and hope she can keep her chin up. Styles come and go, but our integrity is the rock that anchors us.

    • I love this, Court! Thanks for taking the time to read and comment. I love the idea of these children looking back and remembering her courage and freedom.
      Best to you!

  15. i was raised in a remote power camp, rode a school bus 3 hours a day to the nearest town. my siblings and i learned early on to be our own best company and champions. the pressure to conform exists all over and within all generations. learning to be an individual when the group disapproves and punishes you for being of one rather than of many is an important skill. that ella is learning this early on is a blessing to her future self. but as you say- it’s not easy.


    • Hi Sherry,
      Thanks so much for reading. Your childhood sounds adventurous! I bet you and your siblings formed close relationships. It will be interesting to see our kids as adults. Ah life. . .

  16. “People who do big things with their lives don’t care what other people think.”. Ella is brilliant and strong. I hope her tears didn’t last long. Kudos for a beautiful post.

    • Thanks, Jnet! She is brilliant and strong, and her tears didn’t last long 🙂 Thanks for reading and commenting! Best to you!

  17. What a great story. I wanted her Dad to stop her, but maybe it was okay that she went through with it. **sigh** My son is in junior high and I helped him pick out a graduation suit, shirt tie. He picked out a pink, white candy-striped shirt to wear with a black shirt (skinny pans). My husband was like… “whoa”. My son said, “I like it.” Inside I wondered, “How will that go?” We shall see.

    • Inside, many others wish they had his sense of style and courage. Yay for him!

  18. I admire your daughter for her courage, and hope that she doesn’t succumb to peer pressure. When we moved from Florida to Wilkesboro, NC in 98 (similar circumstances) we experienced a lot of the “you’re not from a round here” attitude. My children were taught to think for themselves and to be their own people. In this day and age it is very difficult, especially in a closed community like the mountains of NC. Ultimately, being who you are, being true to yourself, and standing up for your convictions are some of the most admirable traits a person can have. You and your husband have done a wonderful job raising your children if you daughter can hold her head up and be herself in front of her classmates!

    [side note: I just found your site today, wonderful! (thanks Tinyhouseblog.com)]

    • Hi Denis!
      I am glad you found us. Thanks for sharing your story. It is hard, no matter what age, to stand up and be your own person amidst peer pressure. I am glad your kids were taught to think for themselves and be their own people. Yay!

  19. Marching to the beat of your own drummer is never a bad thing. I wish I had the confidence to not care what other people think… and I’m almost 40…

    • Me too, Jen! I learn a lot from my sweet girl!
      Thanks for reading and leaving a comment.
      Best to you!

  20. Hi Hari!! My name is Christene and I found this link to your blog site through an article in the news. First, congrats on your tiny home. I love it. It is amazing. My Hubby and I are Long Haul Truck Drivers and just bought 10 acres in Oakwood Texas, a little town with a population of 429. We are going off-grid with it… solar, garden, grass-fed moos, range-fed clucks, the whole shebang. Our home will be built out of shipping containers, but, until we get one set in the ground, we will use a little camper trailer to get by. Our kiddos are grown and have lives of their own now, so, it’s just us… and the horses, and the dawg. You tell your little lady that being unique & original is a most wonderful thing because it takes that bit of originality to make the world go round. If everyone was the same, life would just be utterly boring. Keep up the great work!!

    • Hi Christene! Thanks for reading and commenting. Karl thinks long haul truck driving may be fun for us after the kids grow up. 🙂 Your plan sounds perfect. Off-grid will be lovely, and shipping container houses are a great example of upcycling. There are some beautiful designs for shipping container houses out there. I really appreciate your kind comment and applaud your life style choices! Be well.

  21. I also found your website through the Yahoo article, and I am in love! A small bit of background on why I love what you are doing: We live in Portland, Or, which has at least one tiny house manufacturer, and have long coveted a Tumbleweed Tiny house.
    Your daughter is my hero, too! It is hard to be an individual, but she has now gone through the worst of it…now she will find it easier to be who she is. The most interesting people I know are those who aren’t afraid to do something different, to see things in a way that others don’t. She is fortunate to be like that.

    • Hi Dena!
      Thanks so much for reading and sharing your ideas here. Portland seems like a great place to live. Lots of tiny housers out your way. I am glad Ella is making her own difference in the world. Just wait ’til she gets a blog of her own 😉 She is fortunate to be who she is. I watch her and wonder what will unfold. Such joy and challenge all at once! Warm wishes, Dena!

  22. I love this post – I have a beautiful, personality filled five year old. I can only hope that she asserts her personality in the following years like your daughter! (who is absolutely adorable, btw…)

    What a wonderful blog…we don’t have a huge house, but it is packed with stuff (I’m an artist and it’s hard to get rid of anything that I might be able to “use”) and your blog makes me realize that I REALLY need to de-clutter my life!

    • Hi Hanni,
      I hope your daughter asserts her personality for her whole life! We need our girls to stand up strong. Thanks for reading and leaving such a thoughtful comment. What art do you make? I totally understand the difficulty in getting rid of things you can use for art. I still have stuff like that. It is a process. Start small and give it time! We’ve gone through many cycles of letting go. It’s still happening. Good luck! It is totally worth it. Best!!

  23. Ella – Just found this story. Reminds me of a very similar thing that happened to my daughter, Emma, in the third grade. You look AWESOME in that outfit, Ella. Some of those kids at school must not know what beauty looks like.


    • Ella says thanks!

  24. That outfit looks comfy and fabulous. In fact, that’s pretty much what I’ve been wearing for the past two months, and I’m a grownup with lots of friends who I love very much and who love me back–the best kind of friends. Those kinds of friends know true style when they see it! I love your style, Ella!

    • I love this encouragement! Thanks, Jacqui. Friends like that keep us supported through all of life’s challenges. So glad you have that love. Best!!

  25. I love Ella’s outfit!
    Most importantly, Ella loved her outfit!
    Go with what YOU love, it’s part of the wisdom of enjoying happiness… 🙂

    • Thanks for reading and leaving Ella such great advice! I wish you much happiness.

  26. Thank you! 😀
    The same to you! 😀
    Be well & enjoy your blessings!<3

  27. I know this is almost a year late, but I just found this post and had to say that I was certainly like Ella, except it took me longer! I wore the craziest things in middle/high school (some resembling exactly what she has on in the picture) and I got funny looks and people thought I was weird, but I also really came into my own, gained confidence, and figured out a lot of bigger issues because I had that one under control. I’m glad Ella is figuring it out about five years ahead of where I was :). Being yourself is the best, and I know that’s super cliche, but it is lovely and really the least stress. But still hard. I think I would like to be friends with Ella:).

    • Aww, thanks, Ellen! This is still one of my favorite posts. Good for you for being yourself! I bet Ella would like to be friends with you too. Keep living out loud!

  28. That’s wonderful style. Bless*

  29. I wore “different” clothes to school when I was younger and got looks as well. However, it was the most I’d ever liked my clothes! Sounds like you are raising a strong, confident daughter. I think there are too many people who are exactly the same and I am glad your daughter is different, in the most wonderful ways!

  30. I have just found your site and although have not read everything on the site…..want to. I sure hope Ella is still wearing her fashions and is having an easier time with people’s comments…..she sounds like an amazing girl as well as well as lucky to have such great encouraging parents!

  31. Thanks everyone these comments make me feel great! I am definitely going to do it again!

  32. I just want to say, I have quoted Ella more than once from this post. She is a wise brave girl. What a blessing she is to your family!!

    • My heart is full of gratitude for your comment and our dear daughter. She is truly a blessing to our family. Thank you for acknowledging her wisdom and bravery! 🙂

  33. I’m seeing this for the first time, and really enjoyed the read. My own daughter was “fashion forward” in her youth, I’m proud to say she stuck to her guns, did her own thing, and has grown into a beautiful, confident young woman. My message to her (and to my sons) throughout their school days, “stay true to you”. It seems to have worked, I’m the proud mama of 3 beautiful young adults. I wish Ella the best, she’s a cutie.

  34. What a touching story and what a great little girl! I wish her all the very best; hope that she will stay herself and authentic…Love to her and your whole family 🙂

  35. Thank you for writing this blog. I found you while google-ing “tiny house family”. My husband and I are looking to downsize to 500 sqft with two kids. Nearly everyone thinks we are crazy and I just need some support! So thanks for being here! (:
    I have the same issue with my daughter. She dresses however she wants and I wonder when she leaves for school if she will come home crying. Same with the lunches as well. I hope to keep inspiring her to not care what people think, but I know how hard it is in school! so sad. thank you for your inspiring stories and vulnerability. Really encouraging to me as we take on this life.

    • Hi Gwen,
      I’m glad to be an encouragement to you as you take on a new lifestyle. Ultimately what matters is your happiness. Go with that! And I’m so glad to know there is another mother sending her daughter out into the world to be who she is, even if it’s scary. 🙂