Minnesota Mamaleh: About Raising Girls
She’s lovely and gentle and adores all things pink, sparkly and girly. She’s also earthy. And fiercely competitive. Fiercely. Competitive. For those of you who know me well, there’s absolutely NO need to chime in on where she got that from. Nope. No reason at all. Thanks-a-million.
Now back to Kayli. She’s smart. Loves worms. And is only six years old and I’m already contemplating the mishmash of traits that define her, explain her, are her. If “contemplate” means worry about, stress over and analyze much, then I’m also “contemplating” how some of these characteristics contradict each other.
Contradictions are innate. And natural. To everyone. But they’re absolutely pervasive in messages that girls receive both in our culture and gulp from us, their parents and role models. Gentle but tough. Friendly but private. Caring but independent. Kind but assertive. Join-the-group but stand-out-from-the-crowd. Healthy but eat. Take care of yourself but don’t be too into yourself. Oh. My. God. How could anyone possibly define themselves within these fuzzy parameters? Especially a young girl.
I also contemplate how I’m supposed to support my girls as they maneuver through these messages, ideals, wants and attempts, stabs-in-the-dark really, of figuring out who they are. I could definitely take the approach of whatever will be will be. I’m open to the kids defining their own selves and images. But in reality just living my life with them, as me, I’m sending messages. Of my own beliefs, biases, rights, and wrongs.
The other reality is that as the parents we are role models for our children. We’ve lived a chunk of our lives already and are obligated to share some of our hard-earned knowledge with them. Not in a dictatorial way, for sure. But in an authentic way. Because as much as I can learn from my kids, they can, and should, learn from me.
I’m conscious of the messages that I send to my kids. How I react to their choices, words, friends, activities and outfits. And how I respond to my own self in all of these areas. I don’t always change what I think and do, but I am conscious of it. I do contemplate it all.
Awhile ago I read an article about what to do when your daughter doesn’t like her jeans. Even though the response is innate and ingrained, the writer said to absolutely not exclaim, “You’re fine! Gorgeous! Beautiful! What are you talking about?” Why? Because it’s not helpful. Or listening. Or a conversation opener. Or a dialogue-continuer. Even if it is true. And, yes. I do know that it’s true. About your girl. And mine.
The article suggested standing in front of a mirror with your daughter and having her show you what she doesn’t like, what’s making her uncomfortable. And to then help her find the words to describe the jeans and the fit rather than the words that might first pop into her mind about her own body.
Believe it or not, this Fall Kayli and I had the jeans-in-the-mirror-talk. And, indeed, on the first cool day of the season, after a summer of growing like a weed, last year’s jeans didn’t fit right or feel right. That time it was easy to focus on the fit, the new jeans and her tall, tall self. But afterwards, I looked at my sweet girl and wondered about the day that she does doubt or question her looks. Her smarts. Her athleticism. Her talents. Or her worth. In any way.
And I contemplated how I would help her find her own validity, value, confidence because me just saying it’s so, isn’t enough. Sigh. I have to show my girls what I want them to see. What I want them to learn. Sometimes, perhaps usually, these “lessons” aren’t direct or purposeful. They’re silent. And natural. And just as powerful. Sometimes in a good way, and sometimes not.
For example, I love it when my girls sit next to me in the morning and tickle their own cheeks with my blush brush. Or put on some of my lip gloss. Or brush their hair while I straighten mine. Most of the time I revel in the sweetness and the fun of the moment. The innocence and the connection that we’re building. But every once in awhile I get a twinge of what message am I sending here? If I’m make-up-ing, straightening, plucking, shaving? Am I sending a not-good-enough-just-the-way-we-are message?
There has to be a balance between taking care of yourself and feeling like you can’t leave the house without all of those -ings. Pampered versus boxed in, I guess. Can-do versus have-to-do.
Contradictions work when you own them. And live them. And accept each part of you for what is it is. If you want to be a girly-girl whose all nature-y and sport-y and bookish-y all at the same time. You can. One of our completely fabulous babysitters exemplifies the “you can” mantra perfectly. We saw her off to her senior prom last weekend and she was gorgeous. And glitzy. And sparkly. She was absolutely perfect. And she was also running around with the kids. Throwing them up in the air. Tickling them and chasing them. All in her golden heels. Because she can.
And that’s what I want to infuse in my girls. By just…letting them be. Answering their questions. Showing them what I do. But also exposing them to other completely fabulous women who do things that I can’t even fathom doing. Like run marathons. Coordinate events. Carry tables. Coach soccer. Use the grill. Build a fire. Not to be over-the-top cheesy here, but teaching girls that they can be whatever they want to be? Priceless.
When I think of Israeli women I think of bad-ass girls who serve in the army. And carry guns. And know their politics. And mouth off. A lot. But really, I just can’t seem to get beyond the serve-in-the-army bit. Can you?
My Israeli Mama friends feel like American women are further ahead than Israelis in views about women and what they can and should do. When it comes to raising families, playing sports, dressing feminine. All of it. More traditional values prevail. The groupthink mentality is big as tends to happen in small places. Individuality. Differences. Paths. Choices. They aren’t always supported. And let’s just face it, an Israeli isn’t just going to quietly admonish from afar. Not at all. My stereotypes had me at the guns. But women, their choices, their sparks are available in the States. And that’s the rub. Wear pink on the soccer field. Have sparkles in your hair while hiking. Carry a table (or two) while wearing high heels. If you want. Because you can.
In terms of parenting our girls, it’s all about our words. Our reactions. Our modeling, for sure. Although I’m not going to stop shaving my legs just to show my girls that they can have that choice. I don’t have to do that. What I do have to do is check my own reactions to their individuality and forms of expression. At this age it might be when Kayli chooses to wear stripes and polka dots. At the same time. (Been there.) Or when Chloe wants five ponytails. At the same time. (Done that.) It’s about teaching our girls to own who they are. Be aware of their choices. And quite simply, to make them.