When I found out I was having a little girl, I was thrilled, but quickly tried to hold back some of that excitement. When I thought about many of things I was excited about — cute dresses, dance class, playing with dolls — I reminded myself of the mantra I'd given myself when my son was born:
Let them tell you who they are. Yes, I was a "girly girl" (and remain a girly woman), but maybe this little one wouldn't be. Who knows how she'd surprise me. I asked other moms to share the most surprising things about having a daughter, and their answers ran the gamut from ways their daughters have surprised them, to ways their daughters made them surprise themselves. What has surprised me most about my daughter, who is 3 now, is just how thoroughly herself she is. Because I feel as though part of me always thought she was going to go to one extreme of the gender spectrum or the other — "girly girl" or "tomboy." I thought, surely, society would sink its hooks into her at a young age and she'd either buy into it or rebel against it. But the truth is she's just... herself. She's interested in the kind of things you'd "expect" of a girl — baby dolls, unicorns, dresses — but at the same time neither her personality nor interests are all that profoundly different from those of my son.
I put gender on her in some ways —I tend to dress her "like a girl" (though she does have "boy" and "gender neutral" clothing), for example — but I try really hard to keep that kind of influence as minimal as possible and just encourage her to discover what she likes to do, wear, play, and be, all on her own. I never want her to feel she has to be any particular way just because everyone else decided she was a girl in a world that undervalues girls.
I also found it interesting how other mothers tended to think of their daughters in the grand scheme of what it means to be a girl or woman in our society. So with that in mind, here's what they had to say:
Both my daughters are rambunctious. [They] always have been climbers and adventurers. I wasn’t prepared for the judgment I would receive in not forcing them into gender normative roles, especially my youngest daughter. I didn’t expect strangers to tell me how I had my hands full because she was playing 'like a boy.' I didn’t expect strangers to tell her to smile or only ever comment on her appearance. It’s opened my eyes." Marissa
"Everything. She is so complex and she surprises me daily. It is her nature to love pink and sparkles and unicorns and fishing and digging in the dirt and running 5Ks and
doing science experiments. That is not shocking. What surprised me has been the reaction from others when she engages in 'boy' activities. People get such a kick out of it and comment. No negative comments, but they are surprised and think it is funny." Renée
"Her compassion is surprisingly wonderful."
"The amount of assertiveness that she was born with is astounding. She’s only 2 and a half, but she’s on her game. I think she’s got it together more than I do at 32. She’s also the perfect mix of salty and sweet. She’s so challenging but so loving."
"She never. stops. moving. Like, ever. And I wasn’t about to have that princess life all up in my house, but I also wasn’t going to full-on
Cinderella Ate My Daughter and ban it, either. The coolest thing is how she likes to pretend to be dinosaur princess or snake princess or Jedi princess. Her princesses are as bad-ass as she is. Basically, I’m in constant awe of her and her creativity, bravado, and the way she destroyed each and every one of my expectations. I couldn’t be prouder." Emily
I want the world to accept her for who she is. When I see the expectations on women and girls, they should be all the things. They need to be smart, kind, assertive, brave, silly, and hard working. They need to be Ginger Rogers. We learn each day that for women to be successful they have to appear as close to society's view of perfection as possible or they will be nitpicked to death. I want her to live a happy life with her version of success and never ever feel like she has to bend herself to those societal pressures. And that fear that she will ever feel like she can't just be herself and find a place in the world, that fear is a very surprising feeling." Brandi
My oldest daughter is your typical girly girl. She loves wearing dresses and playing dress up. She doesn’t like to get dirty. But boy does she have attitude. She is strong willed, stubborn as all get out, and will argue with you about anything and everything. At 6-years-old she believes she knows everything. My youngest, on the other hand, is a great mix of my son and daughter. She listens and does what you ask, she loves to play outside and get dirty. She is a climber but also a cuddle-er. She is the complete opposite of my oldest daughter. It’s amazing to see how different their personalities are when they were both born into the same environment." Heidi
"I never expected how much she’d look like me. It’s sort of insane to compare old school photos of myself to how she looks now. Aside from hair color she looks
just like me." Rachel
"So, I've been a girl mom for a whopping six weeks, but what's most surprising (so far) is
my own internalized misogyny. There is nothing inherently wrong with pink or princesses, but I have a strong negative reaction to them, whereas I happily buy and play with knights and castles with my boys. I am practicing reminding myself that pink is just a color and there are positive and negative attributes to both princesses and knights. And that when something is considered feminine that does not make it less than." Shannon
"I'm surprised by
other moms who seem to judge that my daughter does like to have her hair done, wear big bows, and dress in dresses. I do not press these things on her ... the fact she likes to look nice does not make her prissy." Lisa
"How much she picks up from me. My son certainly behaves like I do, but my daughter knowingly mimics (not in a bad way) my every move. She stands behind me while I put on my makeup and pantomimes what I’m doing. She dresses like I do. She buys two necklaces whenever she has money so we can match. It is adorable, sometimes annoying, and totally overwhelming, because
her behavior is so dependent on mine." Wendy
"How quickly people — even kids her own age — put her in a box."
"How her very presence
motivated me to confront some gender issues I’d had with my husband. I was motivated to find the words and compassion to address these things because I want her to live in a better, more honoring reality. It was as if I hadn’t seen as clearly what it was that needed to be addressed until she was born. It was truly surprising as I’ve also felt my marriage and relationship with hubby was pretty egalitarian. But her presence only has made it better as I (we) grow." Carey
"I think the most surprising thing about having a daughter is how important it is to
watch every word I say to myself because my daughter will think the same thing about herself. I don’t talk about my weight, whether I look fat or skinny or anything like that." Jamie
"How 'motherly' she is at 2-years-old. Always so concerned about babies when they cry, and always very interested in them. She wraps her baby dolls in blankets and feeds them bottles. And as sweet and nurturing she is, she’s that rough and tough. Her favorite thing to do is jump on top of you while yelling 'Cowabunga!' She has no fear, and she’s a fighter. Strong willed and sassy."
"I didn’t think anything would surprise me about having a daughter because I am female, but boy was I wrong.
I have become so much stronger as a result of having her. I stand up for myself more because I want her to see and know that it is OK for girls and women to demand respect and equality. I am also more aware of all the bullshit that we as women go through and I am trying my hardest to let her see me power through it all and come out a better person." Francie
"How hard she is on herself. Makes me so sad. I must be oozing this old and bad habit even when I think I’m not?"
"I was surprised at how different she is from myself. After having three boys I guess I assumed that a daughter would be just like me and give me that peaceful calming bond that I had longed for, but not so much. My husband has affectionately dubbed her 'our little Titan' and she is the mightiest of all the children."
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