Things I Need My Daughter to Know

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My Dearest Daughter,

One day you will be old enough to find a computer and Google me or yourself and maybe you’ll find this list of things that I want you to know.

I guess I could write them on a real piece of paper and put it in the top of my closet with your brother’s baby teeth and the shard of glass that I pulled from your other brother’s butt cheek, but I think we both know that it would get forgotten up there. Or lost.

I’m sorry I’m not the normal kind of mother who makes baby books and writes things down on paper, and I hope that when you read this, if ever, you choose to apply it to your life instead of freaking out because OMG MY MOTHER IS SO WEIRD. Please don’t rebel and post half-naked selfies on the Internet. That is not advisable.

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Just … don’t.

Things I Want My Daughter To Know:

It’s important to act like a lady, but some situations warrant unladylike behavior. If you’re going to act like a crazy bitch, make it count. When the deed is done, fix your hair, reapply your lipstick, and carry on.

You’re beautiful. Make the most of what you’ve got. But also? Your behavior and your words will make or break you. Spend just enough time on your appearance to make you feel confident, and spend the rest of your time being the kind of person that others want to be around.

Be real. I want so much for you to be comfortable enough with who you are to actually be yourself all of the time. That person rocks. Don’t try to hide her.

Other women will try to tear you apart. I want you to carefully select girlfriends who will lift you up and support you. Pick friends who GET YOU. Band together with people who make you laugh so hard you cry happy tears, and who cry sad tears with you when appropriate. If you have friends like that, it won’t hurt as much when the haters hate.

Haters are gonna hate. One day you’ll stop caring. Until that day comes, it hurts.

You don’t owe anyone anything. If anyone touches you in a way that you don’t like, don’t just sit there and allow it to happen to you.

You’re going to be underestimated. I hope that you focus more on the high that comes from surprising people with your intelligence, than the temporary attention you’ll get from being a pretty girl. Anyone can be a pretty girl. No one can be YOU.

Your father and brothers are going to make it very hard for you to date. I’m sorry about that, but hopefully the boy who manages to impress those three will be worthy of your time and affection.

If you find a boy you like, then date him. You don’t have to marry him. Even if he asks you to.

You come from a long line of strong women. I expect you to uphold your heritage by finding yourself, settling in, and being true to yourself no matter what life throws at you. When in doubt, see #3.

Please, don’t have sex until you’re ready to have babies. Don’t have babies until you’re with the man you want to father them. And for the love of all that is holy, don’t stop educating yourself until you’re employable. Yes, I wrote all of that in bold. Take heed.

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Even if you’re terrible at it, do something. Eventually you will find the right thing, the thing that makes you happy. The thing you’re not terrible at.

If you don’t like your situation, CHANGE IT.

And finally, go get a proper bra fitting. It’s well worth the extra time and money. It’s amazing what proper undergarments can do.

Related post: The Multiple Personalities of a Tween Girl

Teaching Our Girls About Friendship

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My daughter is in 7th grade in a small private school. She’s known most of the kids in her class since kindergarten and even one or two since preschool. While they’re not all close friends, there isn’t much overt bullying going on. The teasing and undermining is much more subtle than that.

At the beginning of the school year I began hearing from my daughter about some of the comments zinging around the class, most often among the girls. They go something like this:

“Why are you wearing those leggings?”

“What did you do with your hair? Just, no.”

“What is that smell? Don’t you use deodorant? Gross.”

These comments are made in a derisive tone, well within earshot of others – in the classroom before everyone’s settled, in the hallways while switching classes, in a small group at lunchtime. It’s bad enough being called out publicly about bodily functions and personal fashion choices, but what breaks my heart is that my daughter, who occasionally has been the target of these careless words, considers some of the commenters her friends.

Which makes me wonder: do our girls really know what it means to be a friend?

I think back to when my daughter was young and I supervised her little girl play dates. When there was bickering over who got to play with what toy first, I helped the girls take turns. If someone used unkind words, we talked about hurt feelings and how we could say what we needed to say in a nicer way. We practiced sharing. There was no screen time. Two hours and a bowl of Goldfish later, the little ones would smile and hug each other goodbye. Easy. Simple.

Now my daughter and her friends don’t have play dates; they hang out. They ask to be dropped off at Starbucks. They squirrel themselves away in her bedroom, whispering and giggling. They share their lives through Instagram, Snapchat and grammatically incorrect texts full of emoticons and acronyms. As a parent, I’m mostly on the sidelines — available but rarely called on. The opportunity to help her navigate relationships in real time is so limited, yet it feels like this is when she needs the most guidance.

Middle school is a time of tremendous change and increased demands for our daughters: breakouts, boobs, periods, crushes, school dances, fear of missing out, fear of being left out, constant connectivity through technology, more rigorous homework, more challenging classwork, plus an array of after school activities. It’s a lot to handle.

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At home, my daughter gets a lot of love and support and a fair amount of structure, but I know she’s relying more and more on her peers for direction as she begins to piece together who she is and what she’s all about. When I hear about this lack of compassion among the girls in her class, it makes me think it’s time for us to step back in to their social lives – even if they don’t like it, even if it’s awkward.

Teaching our girls not to bully and to speak up when they see or hear one person being unkind to another is the first step, but we have to do more than that. We have to teach our girls to build each other up everyday. A true friend will offer support instead of giving in to jealousy. She will say yes instead of no, awesome instead of lame. She will pull you aside in private to let you know something that might be embarrassing, not call you out in front of the class. She will listen to you with an open heart. You might be competitive with each other, but that competition is inspiring instead of mean-spirited. You instill confidence in each other. You accept each other’s differences and champion each other’s creativity. In a true friendship, you choose compassion over judgment. Our girls should not settle for less.

I don’t think this kind of behavior is atypical for the age, but that doesn’t make it okay. I don’t think my daughter’s never said a careless or inconsiderate word to a peer or a friend. I don’t expect her to like or get along with everyone she meets and vice versa. To those people I tell her, at the very least, do not be unkind. If that means saying nothing at all, then say nothing. What I want her to understand is how to be a good friend, how to recognize friendship in others and how to disengage with girls who undercut her confidence.

Girls don’t need to tear each other down – there are plenty of other people in this world who will do that for them.

Instead, I want to encourage my daughter and her friends to be each other’s biggest fans, to believe in the power and beauty of friendship and to start with compassion. 

This post is part of the 1000 Voices for Compassion Campaign.

Who Will Tell Her She’s Not Beautiful

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“Mommy, come quick!” my daughter shouts at me from the upstairs bathroom. I fly into the room expecting to find a child half-drowned in the bathtub. Instead I find my five and a half year old standing on the stepping stool and staring at her underwear-clad body in the mirror.

“I tilted it down and now I can see my whole body,” she exclaims as she twists side to side and smiles at her reflection. She flexes her arm and comments on her growing muscle. “I’m super strong.”

To my eyes she is perfect. She is perfect in her own eyes as well.

Someday though, someone will tell her that she is not perfect. As this thought crosses my mind, I feel the anger of a thousand voices welling up inside me. Someone, some asshole is going to come and tell my perfect child that her feet are too big and she has her father’s nose. They will look at her skinny torso and suggest that she should eat more or they’ll look at her little thighs and suggest she eat less. Someone is going to come in one day and change the way my daughter sees herself forever.

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As she sashays in front of the mirror, my mind is racing as I try and think though who it might be.

She has a gaggle of girlfriends at school and some of them have older sisters. Will it be one of them? It’s so hard to imagine. She’s at the age now that the worst insult possible is “I won’t be your best friend ever again”, a situation generally resolved within twenty four hours. Telling one another “I don’t like the way that you look” is not even in their lexicon.

It won’t be the TV…Dora dresses like a third grade boy, Caillou practically is a third grade boy and even Minnie Mouse manages to keep her assets covered. No, I don’t think that the nefarious confidence-sucking body image vampire is going to come in on the television cable.

I step over to my gorgeous child and give her a hug. “Look at us, mommy,” she says, pointing up towards the mirror. I stare up and absentmindedly begin fingering the grays in my hair. As she primps and poses, I frown and poke at the bags under my eyes and reach to try and smooth my forehead. I hear a giggle and turn to see my daughter copying my crazy faces. Then she looks over at me and says, “Mommy, you’re beautiful.”

It turns out that I’m the asshole. I’m the jerk that is teaching her about what society thinks. I’m the one introducing the ugly thoughts. She tells me to flex and I start moaning about arm fat. She tells me to wear my black pants and I tell her that my butt is too big. She says, “You’re beautiful, mommy!” and I say no and start pointing out my faults. I will be the one to tell her that her definition of beauty is wrong. I’ll start her second-guessing. I’ll be the one to bring the magazine definition of attractive into the house and tell her every single way I don’t measure up.

“I want to grow up and look just like you, mommy.”

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She isn’t seeing the same person I see – a haggard, middle-aged mom who constantly belittles herself. She wants to look like the wild-haired goddess she sees – who scares away the bad men, holds her close and showers her with love and affection.

I extend my mental fingers and claw the negative thoughts right out of my head. I will not be the one that sucks away her self-confidence. I will not subject her to a death by a thousand cuts…the never-ending stream of judgement and doubt that runs through my brain.

I will wake up tomorrow and tell her that we are beautiful. And I will do it again day after day after day until I believe it as firmly as she does. Someday, someone may tell her that she isn’t perfect. But dammit, I swear that this person will not be me.

Related post: Sometimes I Cry

15 Things I Want My Daughter To Know

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Nine years ago, a doctor handed me a pink bundle and said, “She’s yours”.

And while it may not have been said out loud, I’m pretty sure the “Don’t screw her up” was implied. I swear I heard it through my morphine haze.

Since the day that pink bundle was resting on my C-section scar, the weight and enormity of raising a confident, plucky, strong girl has never been far from my mind.

These days, with social media, celebrities who weigh approximately 46 pounds, mean girls, and Kim Kardashian breaking the interwebs with her derriere, parents of girls have their work cut out for them. I have my work cut out for me when the pages of magazines hold pictures of practically naked women, their oiled hineys and sky high coifs (Seriously, Kim? Seriously?).

Lately, I have found myself quietly watching the little girl we used to have transform into a young lady and if I’m being honest, that transformation has me running scared. She just turned nine this week which means, I only have nine more years to get her ready to fight for herself in the real world.

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Nine more years to make sure she knows how to braise a roast, manage her iCloud storage and distinguish between a douchebag and Prince Charming.

That’s not a lot of time.

And it makes me twitchy.

What if I forget to tell her something? What if I miss an opportunity to impress upon her the importance of never buying sheets with less than a 200 thread count? What if she leaves my house without ever having learned how to make the Thanksgiving stuffing her father’s side of the family eats (it’s DISGUSTING but, dammit, she needs to know….).

There are just so many things I want my daughter to know. Like…

1. Girls should never apologize for saying NO. Say it to boyfriends, bosses, scary PTA moms, and the pushy lady at Bath and Body Works. And own it. Because you are allowed.

2. Every girl should own one couch that they picked out with no one else’s opinion except their own.

3. You may love him now, but his mother loved him first. Respect that.

4. Knowing how to cook will save you hundreds of dollars in your first apartment.

5. Tampons suck.

6. When money is tight, peanut butter has protein, oranges prevent scurvy and $10 bottles of wine are necessary.

7. The girl is always entitled to an orgasm. Every time. It’s not just about him. And if he says otherwise, put your clothes back on and go home.

8. Life is too short for cheap haircuts and flimsy pink razors. Pay extra for both.

9. Every girl needs a good pair of tweezers. Because chin hairs.

10. Jackie Onassis never wore Daisy Dukes. You shouldn’t either.

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11. The man to marry is the one who will stand next to you, not in front of you.

12. Shoes and handbags ALWAYS fit. So buy the good ones.

13. Nothing makes a woman look more in control than a well cut dress, spike heels and red lipstick. Work it. Even if you think your hips are too big.

14. There will be women who will judge you, challenge you and try to break your spirit. Ignore them. Smile at them. Pity them.

15. If you are going through it, your mother probably did, too. Ask for her advice.

And this list is just the tip of the iceberg. I didn’t even get into the merits of binge watching Netflix after a stressful work week, the necessity of milk chocolate or the fact that her thighs won’t always look like they do when she’s sixteen.

I have so very much that I want to tell her, that I don’t want to forget to mention or expound on. To somehow make it easier for her to grow into the woman I know she’ll become.

As I look at her now, sitting next to me, quietly doing homework, I am in awe of her.  Speechless, really, as I watch this beautiful creature grow right before my eyes.

Fortunately, I still have nine years to remember what I want to say.

Related post: 5 Tips For Raising a Tweenaged Daughter

To My (Maybe) Daughter

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My dearest daughter,

I’m writing this to you at age 27, at which point I still don’t know how to change a diaper.

And I have to tell you right away, I live in a world where planes crash unexpectedly, and love doesn’t always win, and I eat pesticides for breakfast. My neighbors fight when they’re drunk and my friends have cancer and twelve-year-old students sell pot out of their lockers at school. I’m sorry darling, but this world is no place for a child.

I’m looking at a beautiful bouquet of flowers on the kitchen table that your potential daddy bought me three days ago and they’re wilted because I forgot to change the water. The sink is dirty and the recycling bin smells like sour milk and Coca-Cola. My home is no place for a child to grow.

But goodness, it would be so gorgeous to meet you. See, I know what your room colors will be, and I know your middle name. I know what font I’ll use on your birth announcement and I know you’ll be loved by more people than you’ll have time to meet. I just don’t know if we should, darling…

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Because I don’t know how to change a diaper and planes are crashing down all around us and I just don’t know if I’ll remember to change the water in the flowers and sleep enough and pick you up from soccer practice and that’s so terrifying. I just don’t know if we should meet like this.

But darling, I think I would compliment you every day. Maybe 67 times in a row one morning. Maybe just once before you drift off to sleep.

I think I would let you give me manicures and always let you pick the color. Chartreuse and old lady pink and electric blue. Anything you want. I think I would put you in tap shoes before you could walk, but then I would fear that you would love it and that you would end up like me.

And you see darling, that’s really why I know we shouldn’t meet. Because I’ve made such a mess. Such a mess that I don’t want you to see or feel or crawl inside. Little girls shouldn’t grow up in their mommies’ messes. I have years of cleaning and sorting and scrubbing to do before my life will ever be good enough for you to walk around inside it.

See, I was told I was too chunky to play Kathy in Singin’ In The Rain (which is a movie you and I would watch over and over and over until Gene Kelly would be the only man you’d ever think was good enough for you) and because I had tap shoes on at age three, I always thought I’d be in Singin’ In The Rain. I didn’t know that someone could tell me no just because of what I looked like.

And my beautiful young daughter, that’s why I stopped eating.

I stopped eating so often that I would get really hungry. And when my mommy and daddy weren’t around, I would eat everything I could find to make sure I wasn’t hungry anymore. Hours of candy and toast with jelly and marshmallow fluff. Oreos and peanut butter and cheese on Ritz crackers. Things that I would be scared to bring in the house now. Things that I would be scared to introduce you to.

I’m sure that I would let you eat whatever you want, when you want to eat it because I would never want you to end up like me. Yes, I’m sure of it. We would eat when you want, what you want, how you want, so that you feel that food is abundant and available and never forbidden. You can eat anything at all and I will never say no. Unless it’s McDonald’s. Or non-organic lettuce. Or Jimmy Dean breakfast sandwiches.

I think I wouldn’t make dessert too often so you don’t get hooked like I did even though the recipe for chocolate cake from your great-grandmother will blow your mind on every birthday that you have. I think I would teach you how fun it is to walk, to play, to swim, to shoot hoops. I think I will always buy you clothes that will fit you and make you feel comfortable. I think I won’t keep any fashion magazines in the house. I think I will never insult myself in front of you so that you don’t think that it is something women do.

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I think I would make a vow to never talk badly about myself in front of you. To never insult my body or my hair or my choices in front of you. But surely I’ll slip one day and you’ll learn that women are supposed to insult themselves and you’ll be unhappy for the rest of your life because of my bad decisions.

That’s when I would start to fail.

I would start failing and never stop. Just like I start eating and never stop. I just would never stop failing and how could you ever forgive me for failing you?

Oh it’s true, I know we would have such fun shopping for mascara when you’re 40 and I finally let you put makeup on those beautiful long eyelashes you inherited from your grandmother. And I know we would tease your daddy about how little hair he has and we would re-decorate your room all leopard print and we would, of course, watch crime shows together right before bed.

But what if we didn’t? What if I was so bad at being your mother that you forgot all about me?

And what if we never got to know each other, and you ate soggy cereal and thought that I didn’t care, and you started to hate what you see in the mirror because I can’t get through to you in time to convince you that you’re perfect?

This is why we can’t meet, darling. Because the world is a terrible place and there will be drugs in the locker next to yours and your science teacher might like kiddy porn and the school lunches are made with terrible preservatives and you might not get the lead in the school play and a football player might break your heart or worse and why would I want to put you through that?

Your twenties will consist of credit card debt and student loans and dead end jobs and terrible men and multiple roach-infested apartments and you’ll push me away even though I want to help you and I won’t know where you are in the middle of the night or if you’re driving drunk or if you’re sleeping in a ditch on the side of the highway. I won’t know and then I can’t keep you safe and that’s my job and so many times in my life I didn’t get a job because of circumstances out of my control and this time I got a job that I really really wanted but it turns out I’m simply not cut out for it because I’m a terrible mother and I don’t know where you are and you’re 28 years old and I can’t protect you and I’ve failed.

I want to tell you darling, that if I’ve learned anything in my 27 years on this earth, it’s that no one else can make you happy unless you’re already happy inside. Isn’t that the funniest thing? I never would have thought it to be true until I got older and started thinking about the first time you and I would meet. See, where ever you are, there you are, yes, and if you’re not happy inside your own sweet body, how can you be happy if the circumstances around you continue to change? You must find the inner peace, the inner strength, the inner love within yourself before you can go around giving away all your peace and love to anybody else. You cannot rely on someone else to complete you, or make you happy, or heal your sadness. And goodness darling, I guess that means I can’t rely on you to complete me, or make me happy, or heal my sadness. That would be quite a job for you in all your tinyness and I’m smart enough to know that it just wouldn’t be fair.

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And of course, of course, I know that I could bring you into this world and love the shit out of you, love you and do everything I can to make you happy, but when you leave me at 18, at 28, at 40, I’ll revert right back to my 27-year-old self who wasn’t quite happy inside before you came along. And without you I’ll fail miserably at managing my own life, facing my own fears, loving my own body that once housed you. And I can’t come to you for help because you’ll be raising your own tiny thing, and although I’ll want to give you advice and say, “No! Don’t have her, don’t do it, spend your life alone, tap dancing, avoiding food, figuring out how to be happy”, you’ll hate me for my advice and of course I’ll glue my lips shut and stay in the car while you register for strollers and bouncy chairs.

No, I simply cannot have you, because I know how happy you would make me and I think that I might smother you with compliments and hair barrettes. I think that I might brag about my professional manicurist who paints my nails chartreuse and old lady pink and electric blue and I think it would bring me great joy to brag. I think that I would teach you to tap dance in a little studio I’d have your daddy build for you with mirrors and lavender paint. I think that you would make the best Mother’s Day gifts. I think you would be able to change the world if you wanted to.

But we simply can’t darling, because I still haven’t changed the water in the flowers and I still haven’t quite figured out how to stop eating all the chocolate chips.

You know, your potential father always tells me to make my decisions based in love, never fear. Easier said than done, am I right? Yes, you’ll find he’s wise. Unfortunately, he makes so much sense sometimes that it drives me bonkers. But I mean seriously, I’m writing you this letter because I love you, and I’m pretty sure that we shouldn’t meet because I love you so much that I cannot bear to let you experience any pain or heartbreak or disappointment.

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Which I suppose your potential father would say is actually a letter based in fear.

Which I suppose means I’ve made a mess in my head again and I won’t have time to sort it out until I get home from work on Friday and finish doing all the dishes I left from the week of stale sandwiches and bowls of sickening ice cream.

I suppose at the bottom of the sink I’ll find a blurry reflection of myself, huddled over the dirty sponge in a mess of fear and sadness that I am choosing not to meet you because I love you too much.

I suppose in my reflection I’ll see a face that would very much look like yours and cheeks that once got pinched by a loving aunt and eyelashes that I inherited from your grandmother.

I suppose I would want you to experience that loving pinch from your aunt and your grandmother in every sense of who she is and I suppose I would want all those people that I talked about to meet you and love you and join me in telling you how fucking amazing you are.

And I suppose that your potential daddy is right. There are a million and one reasons to avoid meeting you, based in fear.

The only reason, and I mean the ONLY reason I would say it’s acceptable for us to even consider meeting, is love.

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So, we’ll see darling. I’m not saying it’s a yes. I’m saying that it’s a maybe. Don’t argue with me young lady, I said I’ll think about it. I have some cleaning up to do and some soul sorting and some flower water to change and the list goes on but I’m overwhelmed so I’ll stick with my maybe. And until I am in the right mind to make a decision, I ask your forgiveness for what happens between now and that potential meeting.

Because I love you and I already love my chartreuse manicure and your tiny feet and your laugh and it hurts my heart like crazy to think this world is too messy to keep me from ever hearing your laugh but out of fear, I must protect you from it and thus the cycle starts all over again and I’m so confused about what I want and what you might want and what sort of relationship we can even have in such a place where the planes are always crashing down.

But I would love the fucking shit out of you. So I’ll keep thinking on it.

You room colors would be baby turquoise and rich plum and your middle name would be my grandmother’s – Janet.

Holy shit darling, I love you more than you will ever comprehend,

Mom (maybe)