When I found out I was pregnant, I immediately wanted a girl. Every time I said "I just want a healthy baby" I was lying. I wanted to have a daughter I could raise to be badass, strong, brave, and to shatter any glass ceiling or other manifestation of the patriarchy that got in her way. Then she was born, and I realized that almost everything I thought I knew about raising a girl was wrong. Looking back, there are definitely more than a few things I wish I knew then that I know now.
I thought I knew what I was doing, to be sure. After all, I am a woman, and I was once a girl myself. So I was committed to making sure that she didn't hate her body, like I did, or grow up thinking that she was less-than because she didn't look a certain way, wear the right clothes, or go along with the crowd, like I did. But when I had a daughter I realized that she and I are totally different. While I should be OK with that, I can honestly say that I sometimes have a hard time with it. I mean, how can I teach her that brains are more important than beauty, when it seems like everyone else on the planet sends her a different message?
Then there's the fact that raising a girl is scary. I am constantly questioning whether or not I can keep her safe. As a mom, and as a survivor, I view statistics about things like sexual violence and bullying through a new, more nauseating lens. This world is terrifying, and I'm not entirely sure I can adequately prepare her to face that terror. For example, I had no idea that I would be afraid to send my daughter to school or let her play with her friends, but I am. So, yes, raising a daughter is so much harder than simply passing along my feminist values, and there are so many things I wish I had known before I had held my girl in my arms, including the following:
They Don't Always Conform To Stereotypes...
Anytime someone tells me how loud and rowdy boys are, I want to invite them over to meet my daughter. She is not the stereotypical quiet, compliant girl. And, in so many other ways, she surprises me every day. I can't rely on other peoples' experiences of raising girls, or even my experience as a woman, to guide me.
...But, Sometimes, They Totally Do
I have no idea how I ended up with a daughter who loves pink, cheerleading, Disney, Barbie, and having beauty pageants with her friends on the playground. It was totally unexpected that she would be guided by interests and pressures that I don't share.
People Will Objectify Her...
I am so tired of people commenting about my daughter's looks, as if that's the most important thing about her. It's so infuriating. You would think that I would like having people tell my daughter she's pretty, but it's problematic that "pretty" seems is a value of worth in this culture. I don't want my daughter to think that girls are on the planet to be seen, and not heard.
...Or Sexualize Her When She's Still A Toddler
I remember the first time I let my daughter run around in our back yard in a bathing suit. Our neighbor asked, "What if someone sees her?" and commented about her swimsuit being "provocative." She was 3. If someone sees my daughter as a sexual object or dressed too provocatively at 3 years old, they have a serious problem. Sadly, that's far from the only time I've heard comments like that about my little girl. It's beyond upsetting, and I had no idea that this would be something I had to worry about.
It Is Terrifying
I am so afraid of my daughter growing up in a world where she's afraid to go to school, but that's the world we live in. Systemic gun violence feels like just the tip of the iceberg, too. I also worry about things like sexual violence, harassment, and bullying. Honestly, it's all so overwhelming.
I Would Buy Her Pink Clothes
I swore I would never dress my daughter in ruffles or pink. I fully intended to raise all my kids in as gender-neutral an environment as possible. Then I realized that my daughter loved all things ruffled and pink, and I had to go back on that promise I made myself. In the end, I support her in making her own choices, and having her own preferences, even the ones that are so different than mine.
It's Not That Much Different From Raising A Boy
Now that I have two daughters and three sons, I can tell you that, ultimately, raising girls and boys isn't all that different. Well, at least not in my experience. My kids are unique and have their own personalities, and for the most part they teach me something new about gender constructs and reasons why we should get over pre-conceived notions about gender.
I Will Think She's Beautiful
I think my daughter is beautiful. While I try not to focus on her looks and, instead, on things that are way more important and make her special and unique, I tell her she's beautiful all the time. And you know what? I think that's OK.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.