It is not generally considered professional to start crying during a celebrity interview, but it’s been a long day (year). My daughter has just this morning started her last year of high school from her bedroom, and I’m especially raw — kindergarten photos have been looked at. Tabitha Brown and her own teenage daughter, Choyce, are on my laptop screen through the magic of Zoom, interviewing each other for our cover story, and within the first 45 seconds, Tabitha manages to sum up some of my most fundamental, profound experiences as a mother. “As a baby, we were one,” she tells Choyce, 19. “I carried you, and you taught me what it was to love something more than I love myself. ... I always wanted to be your best friend but I knew I had to be your mom. ... And now, you are a young lady. I feel that we are back at that moment. Not being one, but we are so connected, and we are best friends now. I used to overthink everything. And now I look at you and be like, ‘Oh, I guess I did all right!’”
This question of being a friend versus being “Mom” is one I’ve grappled with these past 17 years. How do we raise our daughters to be strong, independent, bold, while keeping them safe and protected? How far should we let them stretch the boundaries we are always redrawing around them, as they go from helpless, hefty creatures putting our arms to sleep, to toddlers determined to eat paint, to gangly colts fresh out of braces and directly into a driver’s ed car... BEHIND THE WHEEL? College postcards spring from the mailbox daily and a thick SAT book lives on on my dining room table, incessant reminders that soon, in just one more blink, pandemic notwithstanding, my girl will be Out In The World. What if I did it all wrong?
In this moment in time, the stakes feel particularly high. Our daughters, whether newborn or high school age, are coming up into a world that they didn’t make but that they are going to need to help fix. And the older they are, the more they understand this. Nearly three-quarters of Gen Z (a cohort that is more progressive and more diverse than any previous generation) believes that being politically and socially engaged is “very important” to their identity, while approximately one out of every five generation Alpha kids has taken part in a march or protest. A recent survey found that despite their youth (these are our babies born after 2010), Alpha kids’ opinions are already as strongly formed as those of millennials and Baby Boomers.
Our daughters are rising to the challenge.
As the Romper team worked to put together this special issue on daughters, we started calling it Raising Daring Daughters because above all we want our girls to dream boldly. We want them to do so from a place of empowerment and optimism, making smart decisions while still finding the joy they deserve every step of the way. This special issue was made possible by Athleta Girl, a brand dedicated to empowering active, healthy, confident women and girls. We’re thrilled to partner with them on this initiative, as we couldn’t believe more strongly in the mission of inspiring girls to reach their potential, so they can go out into their neighborhoods and communities and use their strength for good.
Our daughters are rising to the challenge. Contributing editor Kelly Glass spoke with five young women, from Little Miss Flint, whose letter to President Obama at age 8 started her career in advocacy, to Jamie Margolin, who founded Zero Hour at 15 and is now in film school at NYU, studying with the goal of increasing LGBTQ+ representation on screen while working to get out the vote. We wanted to know what it was that their own moms did to raise them to be such forces in the world, and we found out. (Don’t worry, we bet you’re already doing it, too.)
All mothers are also daughters; our parenting choices are intrinsically shaped by our childhoods. Lizzie Skurnick, the author of Shelf Discovery (a revelation, if you haven’t read it) took a look back at some of the heroines who kept us company as children. They were found in books “for girls,” but, as she writes, you might be surprised at the powerful, subversive, feminist lessons we were absorbing all along.
Another beloved voice from our own childhoods, American Girl book author Valerie Tripp, took a break from her work on her new series, Izzy Newton and the S.M.A.R.T. Squad, to inspire us to help our daughters own their stories through documentation. “The affirming message of ‘Voice your view. Tell your story. It matters. YOU matter.’ is crucial because too often throughout history and still today, so many of the things that girls like to do are denigrated by our culture,” she writes.
We hear from a 15-year-old Asian-American girl in Connecticut who has a message for every parent in America. Madeline Donovan has been sitting next to our kids in class since pre-school, and, as she writes, “The truth is that many children are not always the same people you see sitting at your kitchen counter eating breakfast.” Progress demands we remove our blinders when it comes to learned biases and be willing to look at our own children in the clear light of day.
Finally, three sets of BFFs, aged 4 to 12, take us inside their friendships, a delightful and poignant reminder that those intimate worlds are some of the most important spaces in our lives and our daughters’ lives.
I know I’ll never stop worrying about my daughter. That’s just part of being a mom. But as Tabitha reminded me, for every moment of worry, there is a breath of peace, of delight, of joy.