Becoming a parent is nothing short of an education, wouldn’t you agree? It’s an experience like no other, and one that causes us to view ourselves and the world around us in a completely new light. A few months ago I wrote about the things I’d learned about myself since having children. More recently, I’ve been dwelling on the unique experience of raising girls and what it’s taught me.
Sometimes it feels as though our house is overrun by girls. In addition to my 4 year old and one year old daughters, I also have two step-daughters (aged 11 and 14) who regularly stay with us. My husband is quite often the recipient of sympathetic looks and commentary while we’re out and about (as if it’s somehow a bad thing to be surrounded by females!).
It’s funny really. There was nothing at all ‘girly’ about my own childhood. I grew up with two brothers and was a complete tomboy. Likewise, my husband grew up as one of four boys. So with all these girls, we’re sometimes left scratching our heads.
These last few years have certainly taught me a bit about what it’s like to raise daughters. At its simplest, it’s been a joyful experience. I love having my mini-mes around and feel lucky every day.
And while there are some things that I probably could have predicted, there are others that have taken me somewhat by surprise.
I realize that these may not apply to every parent of girls. These are my own personal observations, but perhaps you’ll be able to relate to some!
#1 Issues of female empowerment take on even greater significance
This is obviously something I’d care about anyway because, well duh, I’m a woman and it impacts me! But ever since my girls came along, I’ve found that it bothers me so much more.
Let me tell you about a poignant moment for me. It was during the election night of 2016 that I suddenly found myself in floods of tears as the results came in. It was so bad that I woke my husband up with all my sobbing! Yes, the fact that I was 8 months pregnant at the time and a hormonal wreck may well have had something to do with it. But I also shouldn’t downplay the fact that I felt legitimately scared.
I was terrified about what it might mean to raise my daughters in a country that would be presided over by this person that had shown such an unquestionable disregard and disrespect for women. How would my girls even stand a chance when such overt misogyny was not only tolerated, but seemingly rewarded?
Little did I know then that those events would be followed by the gender equality movements and uprisings against sexual misconduct that we’re seeing now. It’s been a fascinating time. The momentum of causes like #metoo give me renewed hope about the culture in which my girls will grow up.
This isn’t intended to be a political blog, so I won’t bang on about it (although I certainly could). The main point is that I spend a lot of time thinking about the opportunities my daughters will have, and the obstacles they might face just because they are girls.
#2 As a mum, you’re probably their greatest role model
Regardless of whether or not we’re acting intentionally, as mothers we have more impact on our daughters’ understanding of what it means to a women than anyone else.
No pressure then!
As parents we know that kids pick up on absolutely everything, and as a result I try very hard to set a healthy example. I’ve become acutely aware of the things I might say about other people and even about myself.
Although it’s probably impossible to prevent body consciousness and insecurities altogether, I can try to teach them that their self-worth needn’t be linked to their appearance. And if I don’t complain about my own body/figure/clothes then perhaps they won’t grow up believing that we all have to worry constantly about our looks.
Whenever I can, I aim to model compassion above all else. I know that my daughters are watching how I react to the rude shop assistant or the aggressive driver. They’re listening to how I respond to stories in the news.
There are certainly moments when I’m not the best role model. There are days on which I flat out fail, haha! And I’m definitely learning as I go. But when it comes to helping my girls grow into kind and confident young women, I’ll be doing my very best to lead by example.
#3 Avoiding gender stereotypes isn’t all that easy
A recent study found that most kids around the world buy into gender stereotypes by the time they’re 10.
I’m certainly not worried if our girls want to wear pink or watch Disney princess movies (and I’ve bought them my fair share of hair bows and frilly dresses!), but it does seem that consistent reinforcement of some gender-specific traits or ideals can be damaging.
The study suggests that too much focus on the vulnerability of girls (as opposed to the independence and strength of boys) can create something akin to a victim mentality that immediately puts them at a disadvantage.
Right now, our four year old daughter is into pretty much everything. She loves dinosaurs as much as she loves unicorns. She’ll watch Frozen and she knows all the words to “Let It Go”, but she likes Star Wars even more. Some days she chooses to wear pink and on others she’ll wear blue (she even went through a recent “monochrome” phase, haha!).
She doesn’t see anything as off-limits as a result of her gender. I love that so much!
However, I’ve already found that it can be difficult to counter the messages that permeate our day to day lives. The clothes, the toys, the TV shows… all tend to perpetuate the stereotypes.
My plan is to help them follow their own paths as best I can, while not reinforcing any unhelpful stereotypes myself. And I’ll definitely be pointing out any ridiculous, old-fashioned notions we might be faced with.
#4 Watching your husband with your girls will probably melt your heart
I can’t really explain it, but there’s something completely adorable about seeing your other half in such a tender and nurturing role. It hit me the first time I saw my husband holding our oldest as a teeny tiny newborn.
I love watching my husband walk down the hallway towards me, having scooped up a daughter in each arm. I love the rough and tumble time they have before bed – even if it does rile them up terribly – nobody else can bring on those fits of giggles.
And I especially love it when he doesn’t know that I’m watching or listening (which I am most of the time since it’s pretty much my job to know EVERYTHING that goes on in our house, haha!).
#5 There is glitter everywhere. All of the time.
Hmmm, is this yet another gender stereotype? Possibly. But in our case it just happens to be true.
I honestly have no idea where it all comes from. I mean, we have some arts and craft stuff at home, but nowhere near enough to warrant the amount of glitter I find EVERYWHERE.
It’s in the car. It’s on my clothes. We find it in our luggage whenever we travel. Any time I empty out the contents of our vacuum, it’s half dust and half glitter.
Is it just us, or do any of you find that your homes are besieged by glitter?!
My husband likes to joke that the girls must sweat glitter and that’s the best explanation we’ve come up with yet!
I don’t, and most likely never will (!) know what it’s like to raise boys. But raising girls has been an amazing experience so far.
There are times that I look at my daughters playing together, and my heart feels so full that it might burst.
I know that we’re not into the dreaded adolescent years yet, and things are likely to get a lot more “complicated”, but still, I wouldn’t have it any other way 🙂
What’s surprised you about raising girls? To parents with sons and daughters, what are the differences (if any)? I’d love to hear from you… let me know in the comments!