Monday, August 5, 2013

On Raising Daughters

So before I actually started my blog I had ideas of posts floating around my head, by the time I wrote my first post I had at least 5 posts I knew I was going to do. This was one of them.

When I envisioned it I didn't know it would grow to what it is about to be. I've had some very personal talks with some of my closest friends, none of which are mothers and I polled other mothers of daughters, most the same age as my daughter. Now I'm both intimidated and scared to write this post...I got too much material to use and I'm afraid to disappoint. I hope this post lives up to the women who offered their opinions to help me and I hope it does my friends some justice. Here goes...

When I found out I was pregnant I knew she was a girl. I know all mothers say that but I absolutely knew it, her first move just solidified my thoughts...she seemed like my little girl in there. Sometime in October of 2011, it was confirmed when I saw her little labias in a full on potty shot during the anatomy ultrasound. I was both relieved and overjoyed. Relieved because I was afraid, actually terrified of raising a black man in America (but that's a whole 'nother post)....I was also overjoyed because everyone wants a mini me right? Then I realized perhaps my relief was a tad bit early and misplaced. Does a mini me mean she'll have to make the same mistakes I did? Will she have to face all the growing pains becoming a woman I did? Would she be pregnant in college like I was?? I began an all new fear for raising my daughter...I've formed them into questions that I asked other mothers of girls.

  1. What's the hardest (or what do you think) the hardest part about raising girls is (or will be)? The answers were pretty much split in the middle between two responses. The first was teaching her self worth outside of boys especially during teenage years. Most mommies mentioned mistakes they had made during that time or how it would be difficult to teach her something they didn't learn until later in life...some still haven't learned it. The other most popular response was teaching her that she can do anything in this "man's world". The difference between how society views boys and girls is instantly noticable from birth. Infant boy clothes have "Mommie's Little Man" or "Daddy's Little Football Player" or other adjectives like "strong" or "bold" on them while infant girl clothes say things like "Mommie's Little Diva" or "Pretty Girl" or "sweet" and "precious"...things that imply fragility. Why can't our daughters be bold or strong? The answers didn't surprise me at all because they are some of the things I think will be difficult too. I think finding that healthy balance of guidance and freedom to express herself will be the most difficult part of raising my daughter. How do I guide her in the direction of being self assertive but understand the gender roles society will want her to fit into? How do I teach her self worth when the only reason I acknowledge I'm worthy is because of her? She taught me self worth, her arrival made me realize that God thinks I'm worthy of such an extraordinary gift...a lesson I didn't learn until I was 22 so how will I teach her now or at 13? 
  2. What's your worst fear for your daughter? (Besides the obvious...death) People mentioned the other "obvious" ones like rape/molestation and abduction...I think those are the same no matter what sex child. The resounding common answer was in some form or another that their daughters will follow in their footsteps either in drug use, looking for love in all the wrong places or eating disorders and self loathing. While I was glad a lot of people were honest I was also taken aback. It's natural to want your children to be better and do better than you, what shocked me the most is that these women are daughters also. Where did their parents go "wrong" with them? What were/are they lacking that they plan on making sure their daughters have? I think the scary answer is not many people (especially without professional help) can pinpoint exactly what led them down a self loathing path...I hope the cycle doesn't repeat. My worst fear (besides the obvious) is that my daughter will one day feel like I failed her. It may sound self absorbed but that's not my intent. From the first two lines on the home pregnancy test, I decided to dedicate my life to making sure my daughter had a good one so if she thinks I failed at the ONLY thing I've ever set out to do with so much vigor I will have failed her. Right now my little 17 month old thinks the light shines out my ass, I'm afraid of the day she realizes it doesn't. 
  3. What could your daughter do that would make you feel like you failed her as a parent? Unsurprisingly the responses I got were sex related. People would feel like they failed if their daughter became a porn star, stripper, low self esteem sex slave or drug using whore. These answers didn't surprise me because that's how society is, sex is not for women. Women who have sex are bad, especially women who have sex and people know it (i.e. porn star). If you're a woman you must only have sex with your husband to make babies, don't enjoy it, don't talk about it, don't even imply it happened...the stork brought the baby. Now, I am oversimplifying because there's also the notion (which I believe to be true) that for girls, especially teen girls sexual activity is almost indirectly proportional to self esteem. [Keep in mind here, my scientific background will not allow me to use "directly" in this case because by definition it is an inverse relationship, when one goes up the other goes down (i.e. y = 1/x). Most people would use "directly" to show that they are "directly" read it that way but know that a direct relationship they either both increase or decrease together (i.e. y = x). I digress...] Girls tend to use sex as a way to feel better, or prettier, or loved more than guys I ASSume. The answers (or lack thereof) that did surprise me is that only 2 people mentioned they'd feel like a failure if their daughter didn't go to college. It struck me as odd because this is the same group of women that didn't want their daughter to be bounded in this "man's world"...I wonder if more people would have mentioned college for their sons? The last type of response I got on this question was that these mothers would feel like a failure if their daughters thought they couldn't express themselves or come to them with their thoughts/fears/problems for whatever reason. I completely agree with the last. Though I would be disappointed (ok, slightly more than disappointed more like livid, embarrassed, grossed out)  if my Park became a porn star, I wouldn't feel like a parental failure, I would be disappointed (read: PISSED) if my daughter didn't go to college but then I won't feel like I failed her...if my baby couldn't bring her problems or thoughts or fears to me, I would absolutely feel like a failure. I don't want her to think I could ever judge her, or stop loving her for any reason.
  4. What challenges in growing up do you think girls face that boys don't? Self esteem/body image issues. I've pretty much belabored the point this late in the post so I won't go into more detail, you get it. The only one I'd add is the super obvious...periods. That's a beast to deal with especially if your body matures faster than your mind, which is the case for a lot of girls. I feel bad for the 4th graders on their periods because they have a lot of responsibility to deal with when they just want to swing on the monkey bars...
Now the other side of the coin. My friends and I had a very open talk, which is quite normal for us. We've discussed everything but this time the conversation hit me very differently. In this particular group I'm the only mother. We talked about motherhood and fears and our mothers. I cried. Even recalling the convo in my mind, I'm getting teary. Some things said literally hurt my heart and some things said made my heart leap for joy. There are all different types of mother-daughter relationships in this group and each has its different complications. One friend was estranged from her mother for about a year...she realized through an experience in her own life she had some unresolved "mommie issues". She related her love to her mother as one experienced by an abused wife...a "love by default". I cried for her mother because I could only imagine how hurt I would feel if Parker said that about me. [They are working on their relationship and they both want better, so I'm hopeful.] 

One of the most powerful quotes that came from the conversation was: "I think with moms there comes a point where you realize that they are just people...people who put their own emotional struggles on their daughters in an attempt to do good but not quite realizing that you have a different road to walk." *cues tears* I cried for two reasons on this one...I have lost the ability to think of myself as a daughter, I am a mother. When I became a mother I finally realized this, my mom is a person, a person raising another person (well people) and she did what she thought was best. This comment also gave me hope, that one day my daughter will understand that I am a person too. That my mistakes don't have to be hers, that my imperfections are just that and not any lack of love I feel for her. One day she'll forgive me for something I didn't mean to do to her...when she finally does realize the sun doesn't shine out my butt she'll be okay because I am a person! 

Parker, my first born, I am your mama, I have fears but I won't let my fears define you, I have imperfections but they are not your fault, you are worthy of everything this life has to offer and I hope to make sure you only get the good stuff. Daughters...we are worthy too.

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