Susan Smit, mother to a son and a daughter, wrote a letter to mothers and fathers of girls.
Have you ever experienced the magical moment when all of a sudden, your daughter seems to be years younger, and asks for a cuddle or shares something with you? It usually happens at night, after the last story or the last kiss, when the curtains are closed and the night lamp is turned on. When the day is over, it’s just the two of you and she doesn’t want you to go. Even if you’re exhausted after a day of working and caring, even if your mind is already with the me-time on the couch you’ll finally enjoy in a minute, don’t let this moment of vulnerability and openness just pass you by.
It was one of those times when I just lay down next to my daughter in her bed – me on the duvet, she under it. I stroked her hair. She started telling me about that one girl that never wants to play with her in the schoolyard. ‘She doesn’t like me,’ she said with a broken voice.
My heart hurt, and I thought for a minute. Of course, I could reassure her and tell her the girl probably didn’t mean it – and that they would play together sometime. But I didn’t. Instead, I said: ‘It happens. Did you think all the people in the world liked mommy? No, they don’t, and that’s fine.’ I whispered: ‘And guess what? I don’t like everyone, either. Do you?’ Her face changed and she shook her head. ‘You see? There’s nothing wrong with that. As long as we are nice to the people we don’t really like, too.’ She nodded, her face all serious.
We agreed it was a good idea for her and the girl to just let each other be for a while. And that, if all the people in the world liked each other, it wouldn’t be special to like someone anymore.
Ah, our girls. They’re so sensitive, and yet they can be so tough on each other. They form cliques, exclude each other, bully, gossip. When I was a child, I did all I could to be liked by the girls I didn’t trust, unconsciously following the principle of ‘keep your enemies close’. It didn’t bring me happiness. Only when I was a student, I started focusing on the people I felt attracted to, who suited me, were like me or inspired me. It would be great if we could teach our daughters that being liked by everyone only limits us.
Our girls look at us. More than they listen to us. It’s not so much what we say, but what we do, that impresses them. If we’re real, stop trying to please and just shrug now and then, they will find the courage to do the same. Even if, later on, there’ll be heart breakers and lovers in their lives, and their desire to be loved will be tested, our parental behaviour can function as an example of ‘being true to yourself.’
Perhaps, raising children means raising yourself.
With surprise, I noticed at what a young age my girl started thinking about what she looked like. Her friends did to, all of them, except a great tomboy. When my daughter was four years old, she already whirled around her new dress in front of the mirror, asked for nail polish and knew exactly how she wanted to wear her hair. I noticed myself telling her ‘you look beautiful today’ far more often than I did my son. Besides, of course, she noticed me putting on make up and being ridiculously happy with a pair of new shoes. What kind of signals did I give her?
For a moment, I considered to put away all my lipstick. After all, raising kids means giving them the right example. I considered it for five minutes, until I understood that the advantage of being a girl is being allowed to decorate yourself and wearing tulle skirts when you feel like it. Just for fun, to express yourself, to push away the grey. But I promised myself one thing: never would I complain about my lumps and bumps or talk about calories. The female body is, in all its shapes, sizes and ages, glorious and worth accessorising. Or not, if you don’t feel like it.
And there’s something else. Being kind. That’s something we expect and encourage with girls. Being kind, of course, is a good thing – the world needs more kind people – but it isn’t if you can’t make your point out loud, or ask for your share. Fighting is funny and natural when boys do it, but girls have to play nicely. That’s how we discourage them to feel and express anger, a completely natural emotion. Perhaps that’s the reason why women can burst to tears with anger – this expression is more accepted than putting your fist on the table.
Let’s not make anger into a forbidden emotion, but let’s encourage our girls to express it in a constructive way –and, if we have to, in a not so constructive way. It will help them to take up space, express their opinion clearly, revolt when necessary, to negotiate at the table and protect their boundaries. If anger is allowed to exist in a girl and a woman, and not labelled ‘hysterical’, she doesn’t have to feel shame about it and she can put it to use as a fierce energy that’s bigger than her shyness, fear and modesty together.
It’s our daughters who will let women’s voices be heard, who will see through appearances and show what’s not beneficial for the bigger picture, standing on our shoulders, a little more gracious and more vigorously than we did, standing on the shoulders of our mothers.
With love and respect for you and everything you do for your daughter,
Photo: Caroline Hernandez
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