I Offer A Different Perspective

There’s a post going around that seems popular, a letter from a mother to a daughter telling the little girl that the world hates her because of her sex, and to just, and I quote – “fuck ’em”.

I’d like to offer a different perspective.

I don’t know the person who wrote this post, neither as a blogger nor as a mom. I’m sure she’s very good at both. I’m not going to judge her words, but I’d like to offer my own.

I’m not going to teach my daughter that the world hates her. I’m going to teach her that she will face challenges and obstacles and unfairness and she will encounter people with different, often stubborn, opinions and she will need to rise above them. She will need to rise. The world doesn’t hate its girls, the world is still trying to figure out what to do with the power that lies inside of its daughters. A different perspective.

The post talks about the world hating its girls, from the moment they are born. I remember the very moment my daughter was born, after hours and hours and hours of an agonizing labor and pushing, the child was laid on my chest. My first touch to my newborn was on her back, and she felt like warm, wet, velvet. She was covered in my blood and I stared into her face and I loved her. Fiercely and instantly. Her father loved her, and wiped away tears as he leaned down to kiss his newborn daughter as she took in her first breaths. Her father cut the cord, separating her body from mine, and never left her side as the nurses measured and weighed and bathed her. He wept the entire time, because the man knew no other way to express the amount of love he felt for this tiny creature. My husband, this brand new girl’s father, called our extended family and friends, who rejoiced over the announcement of her healthy birth. Her father and little brother and grandfather and uncles and male cousins all love and cherish her.  A different perspective.

Yes, she cried when she took her first breaths. Not because the world is a cold, uncaring, and frustrating place that hates her. She cried because she was announcing she was here, and the world would never be the same. She cried out because newborn babies do not yet know how to holler “Hey! I am full of awesome!”.  A different perspective. 

I’m not going to teach my daughter that “there is nothing worse than being a girl”. I am going to teach my daughter to Redefine Girly. There are people in the world who do not value girls, especially as much as they value boys. But how much power and attention do those folks really deserve? There are also thousands and thousands of people in the world who do value and cherish girls, and I choose to focus on them. I will teach my daughter not to give her energy or attention to people who don’t deserve it. I believe the author of the post was trying to say the same thing, but where you put your energy in life is important. I will teach my daughter to see and give importance to the people who, by the thousands and millions, do value girls. A different perspective. 

I also am a former-girl, and I have never felt hated. I have felt challenged. I have been teased for throwing like a girl, and I have picked up the ball and thrown harder and straighter. I have been told I couldn’t do something or other because I was a girl, and I have set about and done it.  I have faced barriers, and I have climbed right over the top of them. I have face ignorance, and I have relied on my beliefs and education to maneuver around it. I have faced sexism, and I have proven myself time and again. I haven’t felt the need to “f*ck ’em”. I have felt the need to exceed people’s expectations of me, all the while acting with respect, compassion, and class. This is what I will teach my daughter so that when she does face the unjust way the world can sometimes treat its girls, she will have  treasure trove of stories and skills to draw from. I’m not going to raise my daughter as a victim of the world. I’m going to raise her as a force to be reckoned with. A different perspective.

Our daughters cannot cancel out nor hide from the world. They cannot go through life with a “eff you” attitude and be angry at the world. It is wrong to assume all men and boys hate and disrespect women and girls. It is hard to teach people and change perspective when they, or you, have been backed into a corner. I will teach my daughter to meet people in the middle. She’ll have a smart mind and a firm handshake and a chin held high. She’ll practice the art of sisterhood. She’ll have class, and be grounded in the idea of who she is. I will teach my daughter that instead of approaching people with a “f*ck ’em” attitude, I will ask her to learn from them and guide her actions from the knowledge gained from the very people who would keep her down. The rest of the world cannot be damned, because my daughter is just one in a cast of millions. All people have worth. I will teach her people can sometimes be very wrong, and I will teach her to rise. A different perspective.

The world can be a very difficult place to be a girl. The world can be a difficult place to be anybody. The world can also be an amazing, bright, loving, vibrant place to be alive. The world doesn’t hate my daughter. That’s what my daughter and I will focus on. I do agree with the other mother on several points, the most important of which, our daughters absolutely can fly. In fact, they can soar. We just need to teach them how.

My six year old daughter conquering the challenge of the day: flight.

Remember This: 8 Things I want to tell my 8 Year Old Daughter

Cross-posted with permission from our friend and colleague Dr. Jennifer Shewmaker.

My youngest daughter turned 8 years old this week. This means that she has moved into the world of tweens. Tween marketing is commonly focused on kids between the ages of 8-12 years, and it has become a stage in life when a mini version of adulthood is being promoted as fun and appropriate.

But my girl is still so young. Having gone through this stage with my two older daughters, I want so much for her to hold on to and enjoy her childhood. There’s no reason to rush into being a teenager at the age of 8! And yet, that is a vision that I see in so many programs and products marketed to her.

As she turns eight, these are eight things that I want her to know:

  1. Your uniqueness is what makes you amazing: As you enter the tween years, you’re going to feel pressure to be like everyone else, to follow the crowd, to not stand out. But the things that make you different are what make you original, uniquely you. Love those things about yourself; from your freckles to your love for animals to the way you feel things so strongly.
  2. Enjoy being a kid: You will be a teenager soon enough, and then an adult. Don’t stifle your exuberance, your love to laugh and run and play because it makes you look like a kid. You are a kid! Chase butterflies, play pretend, wear clothes that don’t match, run as fast as you can and play in the mud!
  3. Believe in your dreams: As I got older, I realized that everyone didn’t believe that I could do things I thought I could. I know that you’re going to feel that too, and that it will hurt your heart. But the voices of those who don’t believe are no stronger than your own. If you believe deep in your heart that you should pursue something then let’s do it!
  4. If you don’t risk, you’ll never know: It’s easy to play it safe and avoid taking risks in life, both big and small. But if you don’t risk, you’ll never know what might have happened. Whether it’s learning a new sport, trying a new food, or making a new friend, go out there and live your life fully.
  5.   You are more than your looks: My precious daughter, you may notice that people suddenly want to tell you that you should be plucking, shaving, coloring, glossing, making-up and whatever else to make you look better. You may suddenly worry about the hair on your legs or the freckles on your nose or the cowlick in your hair. If you’re not careful, it’s so easy to begin to believe that what really matters about you is how you look. But you are so much more than that! You are brilliant, strong, passionate, curious, kind, and more! Know that these are the things that are most important about you, not the way you look.
  6. Know that I am here: For the past years, I have always been here for you whether it’s been to give a hug, wipe a tear, share a laugh, or have an adventure. As you get older, it may get harder to talk to me. You may have feelings that you don’t understand. You may struggle with friendships and romantic relationships. You may struggle with feelings about yourself. Please know that I am still here for you, whenever and however you need me. Whether you need to talk out a disagreement with a teacher or make a big decision, my arms, ears, and heart are always open to you.
  7.  You were born to shine: I believe with all my heart that you were born with a purpose, that you can make this world a better place using your unique gifts and talents. Never forget that you were born to shine the beauty of your unique individuality on this old world and make it brighter.
  8.   Love other people: Even when they don’t deserve it, even when they hurt you, even when they make you mad. Let love for others fill your heart so that it flows out of you to touch the lives of those around you. It’s easy to share hate, bitterness, and rudeness. It’s so much harder to turn to hate with love, to look at the person who is being mean to you and see someone who needs mercy. But the world would be a better place if we all learned to do that. You can’t make other people love, but you can choose to love.

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About Jennifer Shewmaker: I’m a professor of psychology at Abilene Christian University and have been working with families and children for the past 15 years. I’m deeply concerned about the way that sexualized media messages are impacting children and adolescents. It’s my goal to provide families and children with resources to become voices of transformation in the world around them. 

A Family of Wild Hearted Girls

Ninety years ago an infant girl lay wrapped in blankets to keep out the chill from early winter in Connecticut. A girl born in 1920 would have seen a much different world than we do today. There would have been different expectations and allowances made to a girl of that time. But not this girl, with her deep blue eyes and rich brown hair, born to Scottish-Sweedish parents who had made their way from New York City to Connecticut to raise their new family. This girl was allowed to live from the wild heart that beat inside her chest. This girl would be sent to school to learn reading, writing, art, and history. She always listened to classical music and show tunes. She would fall in love with art, but prided herself on being a tomboy, climbing trees and balancing across logs. Her sense of adventure was great and lasted the length of her life. In high school she made the local paper for her strong swimming skills….when she and her girlfriends were caught skinny dipping in the river. She was beautiful and intelligent, and it was those shining deep blue eyes that let you see right through to her heart.

It is hard to tame a girl with a wild heart, not even the Great Depression nor the World War she sent her husband to could settle her. As I type I look at her wedding picture, sometime around 1942 or so, and she is beaming as she stands next to her love in his Navy uniform. She raised babies and lost babies and saw six grandchildren and five great grandchildren come into the world. Over time she had hurts, and she wasn’t as nice to everyone as she was to me.

But I was her raven-haired, dark eyed grandchild who inherited her wild heart. Not many people saw my grandmother the way I did, but to me, she was a queen. I was her untamed girl, and I hold not a single doubt that she favored me and spoiled me. I would tear into her house, chest heaving from burning across the front yard as my brothers and I raced home from the park, breathless with leaves in my hair, holding my hand out for a cup of water. Maybe it was that she sympathsized with me as being the eldest child, but I cannot recall a single time when she told me to ‘act like a lady’ or became angry with me for behaving like a hooligan with my younger brothers. Not the time we let the dog, covered with mud, into her house and onto the cream-colored Oriental rug. Not the time we melted Lego men all over her marble fireplace, or tromped through the house covered in wet sand from the river bank. Not the time I got gum stuck in my hair, or knocked a framed picture from the wall while wrestling with my brothers. Not the time we got marbles stuck in the track of her sliding glass door, or lost a golf club in the neighbor’s yard while hitting balls into the trees that led down to the river. And certainly not the time she was babysitting while my parents were on a trip and my brothers and I dug up the backyard as we constructed an 18 hole miniature golf course.  

She taught me life is a time to see and feel beauty. She taught me to see the beauty in things, and that the most beautiful parts of life are not things. She taught me when you hug a person, really squeeze them so they can feel your love. Oh my word could that woman squeeze you. Perhaps it was all those years of rose gardening, but her arms were freakishly strong, even as an old woman. She taught me when you laugh, to toss your head back and really let it out. And if the moment was a really good one, to clasp your hands and truly bring in that joy. She taught us to travel the world. She taught me that when family comes over for a meal, fill the table with as much food as it can hold, and feed them until they wave their napkins in surrender.

My grandmother honored my imagination, that most precious gift children have. As a girl, I was obsessed with unicorns. I truly believed if I wished hard enough, one would appear and it would be mine. I would tell my grandma my daydreams when I visited her, usually when we were in the kitchen while she cooked, or curled on the sofa by the fire. I would write down my stories and mail them to her. When we would stay at her house during the holidays, I would sleep in the far back bedroom, the Princess Bedroom. She would lay on the bed to tuck me in, telling me only true princesses can see unicorns. She and I would tell stories together, and then she would hum Brahm’s lullaby and I would drift off to sleep. One year for Christmas she gave me a book she had written and illustrated about a unicorn who saves a village from a horrible serpent. When my grandmother would travel to Europe, she would often bring me a doll from whatever country she had been visiting. But my favorite gift was a little blue tin that had the most majestic unicorn painted on the lid. What I loved most about the tin was that it allowed me to store my little childhood secrets – a ring, a sea shell, a locket…all those things little girls pick up and turn into treasure. I think my grandma knew this, as she always fed my imagination.

Most importantly, my grandmother taught me that I was beautiful. I’m not sure whether or not I was a beautiful child, but because of my grandmother, I felt like I was. I suppose I really never gave it much thought until I was about ten years old or so. I know that was the year I finally, voluntarily, brushed my hair. My wavy black hair my grandmother used to braid so tightly my eyelids would peel back and I could feel my forehead stretch when I chewed. She would comment on my widow’s peak and high cheek bones, saying that I was her Black Irish girl and reminded her of family in Northern Ireland. I’m not even sure if that is true, or if she was just allowing me to feel mysterious. She would grab my face and let out an “Oh!” that almost sounded like the beginning of a prayer, and she would tell me how gorgeous I was. She never told me what to do with my beauty, like “Oh! You’ll be a heartbreaker” or those kind of useless things, she would just simply comment on the beauty she saw and we would sit in that moment. That is what I treasure most about my memory of her, is giving me that knowledge that I was beautiful and could be beautiful for myself. I didn’t have to do anything with it or do anything for anybody, I could be my own beautiful creature. In the presense of my grandmother, I felt exquisite. That is a rare thing for a girl to feel, and feel it so assuredly. The legacy she left for me: that my beauty is mine and I am my own.

I now have my own raven-haired, wild hearted girl. Like her great-grandmother, my child loves art and reading and the water. She loves to be a hooligan with her own little brother. This child’s imagination is so rich you can see it in the air, dancing out of her head when she thinks and speaks. And oh, is this child gorgeous! Her great-grandmother would be so proud of her. My grandmother, my beloved Grandma Jean, allowed me to be a girl in the fullness that a girl should be allowed. This is a truth I fiercely protect for my own girl.

My grandmother, Jean Russel McAuley Marriott, passed away last night, holding my mother’s hand. She was 90 years old, our final grandparent, the last of her amazing generation.

Her last word spoken was, “Wonderful”. And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.

Jean McAuley, 1920-2010. Our wild hearted girl.

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It would mean a lot to me if you would share something beautiful your grandmother taught you, or left as a legacy for your family.