on raising my daughter

(This post is a bit rambly, but it’s been in my drafts for ages and I just need to get it out there. these are the things that keep me up at night.)

I remember the days leading up to my anatomy scan with Kate vividly. Multiple nights I laid in bed thinking of all the times as a young woman that I’d been taken advantage of.

That “friend” in college – a man I’d been friends with since freshman year of high school –  who felt me up when he was drunk and I was asleep – I woke to his hand up my shirt. I obviously freaked and ran away. Or the other time in high school, when a friend from high school took advantage of me on a camping trip. I shudder to think of those days, those times. I thought for a long time that they were my fault. They – most obviously – were not.

I want to shield her from these experiences and feelings. They happen far more often than they should and it’s not acceptable. I want her to know that it is not her fault and that she will come to me or the authorities to be sure that the perpetrator is brought to some kind of justice, even though I did not have the strength to do it myself.

It took me a long time to become a woman who felt that she didn’t need to impress anyone. That I was good enough and worth something, intelligent all on my own. I didn’t need to be completed. I was happy with me and I didn’t need someone else (anyone else) to tell me my worth or value. 

I feel my work is cut out for me in raising a daughter. {of course I have great hopes and ideas about raising Leopold to be an empathetic, kind, caring, smart, respectful, self-motivated man, but I don’t feel that I will have to fight against society as much in my hopes for him}.

My daughter is beautiful just as she is. She doesn’t need pink frilly frocks or a fancy hair bow to show her beauty to the world. I want to tell her she’s pretty every minute of every day, but I don’t want her to think that her appearance is all that matters. I want her to wear things because she likes them, not because she wants others to view her a certain way.

I don’t want her to exercise or diet to look good in a bikini. I want her to do it because it makes her feel good, powerful, and healthy. Because it makes her happy on the inside not because she feels attractive to other people. My hope is that she embraces her body as I finally have. I hope that if she’s tall she never hunches over to be shorter than her male peers. I hope she wears heels and stands up tall and strong. I hope she is proud of who she is always, and doesn’t try to bend herself to fit into some sort of unobtainable societal ideal of who a girl or a woman should be. I hope is she never has an eating disorder like my college roommate who struggled with bulimia.

I want her to know that she can be anything she sets her mind to. She can be a teacher, a scientist, engineer, software developer. I hope that the glass ceiling disintegrates even more before she’s deciding her career path. I look around the world today, I see so many more challenges to confront for my daughter. I see so many mindsets, stereotypes, and body image issues that I need to protect her from.

First and foremost to touch her, as I saw at Christmas, the toys marketed to girls:

Ugh. Kate's first toy, a Christmas present from an aunt.

Ugh. Kate’s first toy, a Christmas present from an aunt. Seriously, a toddler vanity.

That’s a toddler vanity that says “mwah! You’re so cute!” after you put the plastic lipstick on. UGH. I have to get a handle on these gifts. I hate to be all grinchy, but this is teaching my daughter that her appearance is most important and not only that, she needs lipstick and blush and bracelets to be “pretty enough.” NOT OKAY in my book. This will be leaving my house before Kate gets what it says.

I think we have to have a rule no toys on all gift giving occasions for BOTH kids. We have too many already, and I only want ones that will promote learning to come through our front door.

I know there are so many other things I am not even aware of that come into play here. Princess culture. Movies, TV, music. Clothes. Ads. It is overwhelming to think about as a parent.

I don’t have any answers to how I can ensure my hopes are realized with Kate. But I have so many questions: How can I protect your children (or how do you plan to) from messages that you don’t want them to be exposed to? How can I teach my daughter all of these lessons I took so long to learn myself? How do I support and guide her as she gains confidence through trials growing up?

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15 thoughts on “on raising my daughter

  1. Look I agree with most of these things – like telling her that looks don’t come into it, she can be whatever she wants to be so on and so forth BUT being a girl (WOMAN) we are different and I want to celebrate that as well. Molly and I do our makeup in the morning – ok she holds my bronzer brush and puts it on, she loves bracelets and brushing her hair and she loves shoes. She also loves hanging out with her dad on the building site and playing with his nail punches. I guess what I am trying to say is that it is ok to be female and to like glittery pretty things but to balance it with reality. With the princess culture, meh I think I am alone on these blogs but I don’t let it phase me too much. I try not to look too far into it and just see it for a phase that it is (and hell who hasn’t wanted to marry a prince at some point!) I try to teach her that she is strong, beautiful and clever and amazing. I make sure when I look at myself in the mirror I never say I am fat or I hate my body to give her the confidence to love hers. Most of all I try to be happy and in the moment with her and enjoy life right now.

    Gemini momma wrote a great post a month or so back about it that is a great read. Good luck!

    • There is a lot of truth to this. We ARE different and we need to accept, and celebrate, that. I think one of the biggest injustices you can do a daughter is NOT teach her how to take care of herself and her complete image. That complete image includes how to fix her hair, how to apply makeup, how to not get pregnant, how to dress, how to display her strengths, how to speak up, how to feel and look strong, etc. The princess stuff drives me nuts, but so does “gender neutralizing” our kids, because let’s face it – “gender neutral” means dress, look, and act like boys. Pants are NOT gender neutral – they are masculine. The skirt would be more gender neutral when you look at history with loin cloths, kilts, etc.

      Good for you for teaching molly how to be a well-rounded girl! And for what it’s worth, matthew is obsessed with my eyebrow pencil and has me put some on him every day (I fake it!). I find it charming!

    • i agree with a lot of this too. women certainly are different than men and I am sure to have a much different relationship with my daughter than my son. just as my mom has different relationship with me and my sister than my brothers. I want to teach her about makeup and how to have fun and celebrate being a woman I just don’t want a fixation on appearance to overshadow other things of value – intelligence, hobbies, other interests, and most of all I don’t want her to ever feel like she isn’t pretty/thin / perfect/small/dainty enough. I just am having a hard time visualizing how to do both. I don’t want to say “no princess stuff! no barbies” but I also don’t want her to have things that make her feel bad about herself.

      • my sister sent me the most hilarious photo the other day of her two boys playing with the dolls in the cradle and her daughter playing with their star wars light sabres……I think with your reply above you’ve got it covered! At some stage we all have issues with our appearances but I am hoping that I can guide and support her through it and make her love herself for her. That’s why now I am really careful about criticising myself and my looks and appearance. I walk around naked and I let her be comfortable with her body as well! By giving her a rounded education on everything and by being happy within yourself you are passing that onto her.

  2. Everything you talk about here is why I don’t want daughters. I know that sounds dramatic, but I just don’t want to deal with any of this. That vanity would have upset me beyond belief. There is no place for that in any toddlers life. My neighbor has boy/girl twins and the girl is the stereotypical toddler girl… I’m so pretty, princesses everywhere, aren’t I cute? Drives me crazy, and her parents encourage it. If something has a princess on it, my neighbor buys it. When we were at Disneyworld last year, I shuddered at all the little girls dressed up as princesses. I found it disgusting.

    I do worry about my boys, but in different ways. I worry about classrooms being setup in the teaching style that favors girls, I worry about their delayed speech (“he’s a boy – this is normal”), and I worry that they may disrespect women some day. But those are all things I can work on. With girls, you’re fighting against society… Which is hard.

    Toss out that vanity!

  3. I think it’s the whole, exposing them to a large range of gender-specific ideas/roles and letting them do so without judgement.

    Yes I buy boy clothes for my girls. They like Thomas…ok, not really available in girls clothes, so into the boys section I go. They LOVE legos. Do I get the pink ones? No. The Jake & the Neverland Pirates…yes! Does she dress up as Sophia the First…yep.

    We remind our daughters, that yeah while they’re pretty and it’s OK to have sparkly things…we remind them that they’re smart & nice and kind. In fact, I enrolled V in a boys & girls team soccer b/c whatever those guys can do, girls (you) can too.

    Re: the whole gift giving…if your Aunt is old school, then she probably thinks that that gift IS teaching her something, somewhat. Weird I know. We often ask for books or gift cards and we’ll decide on what toys to buy. For Christmas, I bought them a tool bench. Why not?!

    I sort of wonder though, if your husband feels the same about raising a boy. I mean, what does he think about L playing with trucks, super heroes…to barbies or dolls. In my opinion, you have to have this across the board, in today’s generation, not just pointed to one child in the house. Yes it’s harder for girls but why not tell your son – it’s ok to play with hair or paint nails.

    I think you’re worries are right on point. You’re a smart girl and you’ll know how to point her in the direction.

  4. Ugh! I hate that vanity gift! I am secretly glad my daughter gravitates towards cars and unisex things, though I’ve given her many options. If she picks girly things, that’s fine, but I just don’t want her to be pigeonholed either. So much to think about and so much of it relates to how we feel about ourselves, what we say about our own weight, other women, etc.. Great post!

  5. I used to think I “dodged a bullet” because having boys meant I wouldn’t have to deal with these sorts of things, but like you pointed out above, boys have these issues too (which are either “easier” or just not talked about as much – I don’t know). For example, Brad confessed that he is so worried about HGB’s weight because he has always hated how skinny he is and how he remembers being teased in locker rooms growing up. Who knew?

    One thing I DO know, is that I am grateful to have thoughtful, feminist, vocal friends with daughters that I can learn from, and think about things I would otherwise ignore. If I want to raise feminist sons, I had better be thoughtful of what it is was (and is) like to grow up a girl to add to their experience. From what I can tell, you got your finger on the pulse, girl. 🙂

    But yeah… The vanity leaves me at a loss for words.

  6. I have so much to say on this. My comment ended up being WAY too long so I’m just going to say this. I want my daughter to flourish in ways I never did. I still struggle with self esteem and body image issues. But I want more than anything for my daughter to be a strong confident smart and beautiful woman. I will do my best to encourage her personal growth and lead by example. I’ve recently discovered how strong I can be and hope to build on that to be that example for my daughter, as well as my son. Great post….and I’m a BIG fan of rambly posts…I’m notorious for them 😉

  7. When I was pregnant with my daughter, I specifically asked for a mix of colors at my shower. I didn’t want all pink…her nursery, and now bedroom, was painted beige with white trim. I was hoping for a girl who liked trucks and getting dirty…and I got her. But I also got the girl who loves princesses…and playing dress up…and playing “mommy”. And that’s ok with me. When we go to the store and she wants to peruse the toy section…she spends equal amounts of time in the boy aisles as the girl aisles (don’t get me started on the segregation there). All we can do is provide a diverse group of options and let them decide what they like best.

    For this mom, who grew up a tomboy and HATED wearing dresses (still do), alot of this fancy dress up stuff is new to me. But it’s fun as well.

  8. Ugh, this is something I think about from time to time and then try and put it aside for now because it’s such a big thing – teaching your daughter that she’s perfect just the way she is. That being said, Chloe knows what a princess is from watching movies (and a hooded towel she received as a gift with a crown on it). She likes watching me put on make up and I think it’s adorable when she grabs a brush and tries herself. But…we wouldn’t go out and buy her her own toy make up set at this point. She wears pink a lot, but…there are a LOT of pink clothes for little girls and it’s sometimes hard to avoid. She likes turtles, and snakes, and rocks, and sticks, she likes to brush her hair but hates bows. I guess what I’m trying to say is I think she’s got a good mix going on. Pressures from society are things I think all parents have to worry about, and even as others have mentioned, there are different worries for moms of boys too.

  9. Heavy, heavy stuff. It is interesting that you feel this way (though understandable) because I had the opposite (or maybe complementary) experience before Leila’s ultrasound–the thought of having a boy terrified me. In some ways, I think that thoughtfulness is the best we can do as parents to kids of either gender. Lots to think about.

  10. I have thought a lot about this stuff, especially living in a country where the only toys kids get (usually just one toy a year) is a toy gun for a boy or a tea set for a girl. Lids, however, is a pretty big tomboy so far. She’s all about trains, cars, helicopters.. but she also loves her baby dolls. I have thought about this BUT I haven’t actually done anything. Lids chooses what she likes and we have never questioned it, not once. She hasn’t chosen to get into anything princessy yet and we do say how we hope she doesn’t, but we won’t stop her if she does. It was the same for me as a kid. I was a pretty big tomboy and I think most of that was just from having a big brother I looked up to and shared toys with. No one bought me girly things because I never asked for them or wanted them. I am hoping Lids is just able to make these choices on her own without feeling pressured from anyone else, whoever it may be. We are lucky that we get almost zero gifts/toys from other people and when we do, we have only ever gotten things that are very gender neutral. That vanity would have annoyed me big time. That is just… too much. No. But at the same time, I do tell Lids everyday how beautiful she is… because she is.. and I am not going to stop that because I need to teach her that looks aren’t important. I just kind of go with what feels right to us and so far, it seems to be going okay. Speak to me again at the teenage stage ahhhh!!!

  11. I think about this a lot as I know the odds I’m raising a not so straight child are medium, and given that, I want to be sure I’m supportive of the kid and Little Monster in whatever ways they grow up, no matter what gender they identify with or don’t, no matter whom they love. Before school it was a lot easier for us to let and trust the kid with toy choices and things she liked. Now that she’s in school, her interests have shifted some (used to love red, now her favorite color is purple and she shouts if I suggest a red thing) and I don’t think it’s because her interests have actually shifted but because she feels pressure to conform and be a normal kid. That’s what really drags on me. Peer pressure is already squashing her. I don’t do make up so I will need to recruit help to teach my girls that much and it’s hard for me to consider who might be the right person even. We have critical discussions of movies or TV shows (and no live TV so this is always possible) where we pause the movie, talk about what is happening, and why it is or isn’t OK. Today I chatted with the 5 year old about the way women get drawn in comic books and how they get depicted in ways men like and that don’t make them look like real, strong women. Then we measured the comic book woman’s neck and waist, then our necks and waists, and noticed that her body was drawn missing some of her waist! I try to balance “you’re pretty, you’re cute, awww!” with “you worked hard to solve that problem” and “you figured it out.” I think that it’s important to keep considering it, keep your rules consistent across children (you can mow the lawn at 10, help with dishes at 4, whatever) so there’s no perceived/actual different treatment between them, and be on the same page as parents. We have been talking about when the girls can have a cell phone since before the kid could walk and we keep having those discussions because maybe our answers change over time. I am also trying to talk more about when I was a kid and how I figured out what to do so the processes are transparent.

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