I’m going to be a bit candid here, I mean – a bit more candid than normal – and let you in on a secret. I am terrified of raising a daughter. I am scared of what it means to be the exact human person she will look to when she wonders what it means to be a woman. How will I measure up? Will I be enough? Will I even be relevant when she begins to care about things like lipstick and boys or will the years of sleepless nights and countless laundry loads have taken their toll, rendering me useless to anyone of the fashion mindset below the age of 40?
These are things I worry about.
These things and also, I worry that I won’t have what it takes. I’m curious if men happen to worry about these things when it comes to raising sons, or if this is a woman specific fear/obsession. My husband says not so much. But for me, as I ponder what it means to really raise up a daughter, I find the task terribly daunting. Given my natural propensity to be a bit disengaged with the girly-girls, I find myself drowning in a daily sea of pink tutus and dress-up dolls and approximately 500 pairs of size 5 toddler shoes. (side note: where do these shoes come from? Surely I do not purchase them for her. Grandparents – I hold you responsible.) At any rate, suddenly I am flung into the deep end of a very, very girly sort of girl.
I am aware of how she is always watching me. She is watching the way I look at my body. She sees how I get dressed in the morning. She sees my whole self. My imperfect self. My woman self. She sees how I interact with this. She is absorbing all of this information. She watches as I apply lip gloss and frown at the increasing severity of the wrinkles dipping along my mouth and forehead. She is watching me and waiting for my signal. This! This, baby girl, this is what it means to be a woman! Notice how I am carrying myself now. Pay attention to how often I say the words, “I’m sorry.” and “My mistake!” throughout the day. Oh baby, don’t take up too much space. Be small, be easy, be beautiful and pleasant.
The feminist in me rages against this sort of talk, but I know these messages exist within me, as they do for most women. It is a nearly impossible message to escape and most of us carry some sort of it with us through this life. I want to pass on a heritage of worthiness to my daughter. I want her to take up her space, I want to her rock her whole wild imperfect self with bold confidence. I don’t want her to make herself small, or quiet, or diminished as a method for approval in society. And yet, how on earth do we prevent this? Yes, yes – certainly by living out a more compelling and beautiful way. Yes, of course. I work hard to listen to my own voice, to hear the still small truth within and to honor it by making choices to live bravely right out in front of her.
But also, mostly because my own understanding of what it means to mother a daughter is a bit skewed, given a childhood divorce which resulted in a resettling during those formative preteen years, I struggle with knowing how to lead without a map. I don’t really know what I’m doing. For years I’ve purchased the same mascara from the drugstore because I bought it once in eight grade and it seemed to do the trick. I don’t know if I’m doing it right – I was the oldest child and in many ways without a compass during those in between years where you figure out what you’re going to be all about. I don’t easily identify with women. I always – always – feel like an outsider.
And now I am raising one. Lord help us.
Except that… I’m noticing this tiny miracle happening. My Mercy is healing me. From the inside out, she is allowing me to find that long lost part of myself. The one who never really played with dolls or wanted to wear dresses. To this day, my husband owns more shoes than I do, but slowly, so ever loving slowly, I am discovering the joy of living into my own sense of femininity. My daughter is to thank for that.
I imagine the two of us will figure it out together. I imagine as she grows she will insist we go on outings to the mall where we try on clothes and get our make-up done by those women at the beauty counters. I will get my bravest self on for those days, I will suck in air and I will lift my shoulders and I will remember that I do not have to pretend to have it all together. I do not have to act like I have the map. I can smile, and I can step gently into the healing that is being orchestrated every step of the way with my wild and precious girly girl. She and I, we are figuring it out together.