(Some Confronting Content Ahead)
The day I found out my first baby was a girl, I cried. Until that moment I hadn’t thought much about gender. So, the heaviness that settled on my shoulders when the ultrasound revealed it, was unexpected. The weight of believing I had to be the perfect female role model for a daughter momentarily choked the joy of having one out of me.
I could have saved myself my perfectionist’s tears. We started out in a fire, my girl and I. And all my irrelevant worries were incinerated, in the ferocious blaze.
She was wrenched out of me with such force the operating table shook. Then I became sicker than I had ever been in my life. (For an account of that you can go to My First Time )
It was four months before I was well enough to start forging a relationship with her. I realised then that just being alive to love her fiercely and unconditionally was most of the race won.
Twelve years later I held a dinner party. The guests around the candle lit table were (coincidentally) almost all mothers of nearly high school age daughters. At one point the conversation converged on all that these precious girls may be exposed to. Cyber-bullying. Sexting. Anorexia. Suicide. Technology enabling images of our innocents to spread like viruses. Their thoughtlessly tapped out words turning into a tidal wave, impossible to rip up like our paper versions were.
We fear the poor judgement their mix of hormones and still developing brain tissue could result in. But without this stage there is no path to adulthood. That ultimate parenting goal. Happy. Healthy. Safe. Polite. Independent. Adults.
The waters from adolescence into adulthood run deep and treacherous. Our girls must swim them. There is no carrying them on our shoulders. And they can’t enter adulthood with floaties wrapped around their arms. They’ll need some luck to get to the other side. But mostly they’ll have to rely on the qualities we’ve aimed to saturate their childhoods with:
Kindness. Emotional intelligence. Resilience. Independence. Confidence. And most importantly, the ability to yell for help if they’re going under.
As we stand on that metaphorical riverbank cheering our girls on, we must block out the noise of others. We must focus, on our girl and what she needs. Whether it’s to step back and let her fight her way through, or whether we need to swim out with a power bar to keep her going. And if we find like-minded mothers, we must also support each other. Sometimes, it’s the mother who needs the power bar.
When the thought of bringing my daughter safely through adolescence becomes overwhelming I remember I survived that time and emerged relatively unscathed as a functional, independent adult. Not because my mother was a perfect mother. Nor because I was a teenager who didn’t make mistakes. It was because I was given enough room to make my mistakes, but never so much room that I felt emotionally homeless.
I came across a quote on Facebook recently echoing a mother/daughter sentiment I strongly disagree with:
‘Having a daughter is God’s way of saying: ‘Here, thought you could use a lifelong friend.’
Even putting my agnosticism aside I felt a tickle of irritation grow until I couldn’t resist the urge to comment:
‘If you don’t have the emotional maturity and independence to make your own friends, don’t attempt parenting.’
Being our daughters’ friends at a time when we are meant to be their parents paves the way for dysfunction. It might be fun for a while. But it’s the easy way out. As their mothers it is our responsibility to establish boundaries for them, some of which they will hate. This doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy each other’s company and have fun together, but it’s in the context of a parent/child relationship.
When my daughter is an adult then we can decide – as equals – whether, in addition to loving each other as a mother and a daughter, we also want to be friends. Now and through her teenage years she needs friends her own age, whom she will confide in, in a way she may never do with me.
I wouldn’t want to rob her of the thrill of being in the driving seat of her life for the first time, nor some of the subterfuge that goes with this life stage. Even if that means she takes some wrong turns.
As long as she knows she can call on me if she finds herself cornered in a bad situation, I’ll have done what I set out to do as the mother of my daughter.