My daughter is 2 years old. Actually, she is a few days shy of 27 months, but I think you stop counting months after their second birthday—clothing companies sure do. She is young and blissfully ignorant of the world around her; her entire world consists of Elmo, Mickey, and goldfish, but I already worry about the conversation I have to have with her. The conversation that keeps me from sleeping at night and keeps me paralyzed during the day.
It is not a conversation about body image. It is not a conversation about alcoholism or abuse. It is not a conversation about bullying, mental illness, death, or suicide. It is a conversation about being a woman, which is, in essence, a conversation about all of these things and more.
The world is a fucked up place. I remember it in its pre-9/11, pre-Columbine state when you could leave your shoes on while walking through airport security and movie theaters were places where people were entertained or where teen girls gave hand jobs to their underage boyfriends, but not where people went to die. It was a world where our privacy was intruded by Peeping Toms and nosy neighbors but not by our government.
It was a world that, through rose-colored glasses, was somehow easier, somehow better.
But it wasn’t.
You see, women still struggled, and more so back then. Women fought for the right to vote, the right to work jobs outside their homes (and outside the standard roles of teacher, nurse, and secretary), and women fought the glass ceiling—the same ceiling we fight today. Women also fought battles, albeit more private battles, with their weight, self-esteem, sexual identity, mental illness, addiction, abuse, and hundreds of other issues which haven’t changed. Sure, the landscape has changed, what with our on-demand world and social media society, but transitioning from girl to woman is still the same. And I don’t know how to help her through it. I don’t know how to help her do it.
I look at my daughter, my curly haired kid, and wonder if she will struggle with depression, like her mother, or alcoholism, like her father. Will I find her cutting her wrists at 15, sneaking beers at 16, and giving blowjobs in the back seat of a BMW at 17? Will she struggle with her body image? Will she struggle with suicidal thoughts?
Every day I worry what she has inherited. Every day I worry what she will learn. And every day the talk—that talk I have to have with her—becomes ever more pressing and ever more important. Because I, like most mothers, want the world for my child. I want my daughter to become a powerful woman—independent, smart, and strong but someone who is also sensitive and empathetic and not afraid to ask for help. I want my daughter to pursue what she wants without fear and to dream big but live in the moment.
So with each day that passes I wonder what I should say when “the talks” come. I wonder what I will say, and more importantly, I worry what I won’t say but will show through my own actions. I worry how those words, spoken and unspoken, will shape the woman my daughter is destined to become.
But there is one thing that doesn’t worry me, and it is the truth. The truth is difficult. The truth is awkward, uncomfortable, and sometimes painful, but the truth is where learning begins. Sure, I may squirm at the thought of having to tell there were days I wanted to die—days I tried to die—and the idea of admitting my relationship choices haven’t always been the best terrifies me. But the difficult conversations, the ones we instinctively shy away from and don’t want to have, are the ones that matter most.
So instead of worrying what I will do when the talk comes, I think I will focus on what I can say. I will show her not a perfect parent but a flawed one—a flawed one who struggles with mental illness but continues to fight and survive; a woman who embraces her small tits and imperfect assets; a woman who “stayed” but turned tragedy into triumph; and a girl who was scared of herself, and her voice, only to use it more now than ever.
And I hope that inspires her, not to become who I want her to be—or who society deems she should be— but I hope it inspires her to love herself, to believe in herself, and to be herself.
Copyright 2015, Kimberly Zapata as first published on Sammiches & Psych Meds.