As a mom to a new baby girl and 2-year-old boy, you might think I feel prepared for motherhood, know what to expect. But the second time around, I anticipate something different. Holding my daughter, I expect an entirely new set of challenges. It's hard to explain. But since my first child will grow up to be a black man and my second child will grow up to be a black woman, I can't help but feel that they require different life lessons.
It's an interesting feeling, knowing that you have given birth to marginalized individuals. You would think it would be comforting, knowing that you yourself have experienced a marginalized life. One would hope your experiences with marginalization would prepare you to provide your children with the tools to navigate their own experiences. Unfortunately, it doesn't work that way. Where we live — in the rural west — policies, beauty ideas, and simply the lack of diversity will impact the realities that my children face as black individuals.
For example, my daughter will grow up in the post #MeToo era. She will be aware of and read about other women's experiences with sexual harassment. But it is also likely that she will experience racialized sexism herself.
It's important that I teach my son to be a good ally. However, it's not necessary to prepare him for a world where he should expect to be on the receiving end of sexual harassment.
I will have to teach my daughter that no relationship is worth losing herself. With time, I'll have to remind her this is particularly important when stepping into the role of motherhood. The emotional labor that my daughter is expected to put forth as a woman and as a black woman is different than what my son will experience. Sure, he may be a parent one day, but he will not have to walk through life with the expectation that he sacrifice his career and identity for his children.
One area of particular concern is teaching my daughter the lifelong importance in knowing when to say no. In a variety of areas, women's "no's" are not well received. Saying no can get you labeled all kinds of negative things and it can make people interact with you in passive-aggressive ways. But that doesn't make the lesson any less important. She will have to learn, as I am still learning, that saying no to others can mean saying yes to yourself.
And teaching her to affirm herself is a big part of what she will have to learn. As a black girl, the world around her will expect her to prove that she deserves a seat at the table.
Her qualifications will often be questioned, and her authority will be challenged regularly. In the caste system of the United States, she is one of the last to experience a trickle-down of power. But she can't back down. And she has to understand that no individual regardless of gender has the right to make her feel like she does not belong in a position of leadership.
One of the last yet most impactful areas that I will have to teach my daughter a different lesson then I will my son is in the lesson of beauty. Black women are not automatically perceived as beautiful. Her brother will likely be fetishized and commodified as a challenge for young girls hoping to defy their fathers. This is still a form of oppression, but his attractiveness will feel validated.
In her case, she will not see many reflections of herself in national beauty conversations. With time, I hope she will understand that if anything that does not negate her beauty it just makes her beauty more rare.
Of course, this list isn't all inclusive, but for me, it serves as a reminder that my experience is raising a daughter will in some ways contrast my experiences of raising a son.
I take the role in loving and educating each of them very seriously. The differences they will have in life affirm that it is OK, and often necessary, to raise your daughter's different from the way you raise your sons.
I look forward to the lessons that I will teach each of them. But more importantly, I look forward to the lessons they will teach me.
After a very frustrating first birth experience, this Deaf mother wanted a change. Will the help of two Deaf doulas give the quality communication and birth experience this mom wants and deserves? Watch Episode Four of Romper's Doula Diaries, Season Two, below, and visit Bustle Digital Group's YouTube page for more episodes.