The picture above is of me when I was a bridesmaid aged nearly three years old. Also in this picture are my mum and my nan. Both of them raised little girls and did a pretty good job of it. My mum is a loving, warm and nurturing character who has dedicated her life to raising children, not just my sister and I but others through childminding, nurseries, schools, hospitals and more. She is a credit to my grandparents who share all of these qualities with her.
Obviously I am the product of my parents, so it would be conceited of me to list all the things that are great about me and congratulate them on their efforts. However I am going to do it anyway because actually to be able to do it is the greatest gift they gave me. I am strong-willed, opinionated, assertative, smart, a natural leader, loving, kind and gracious. You may disagree but I’ve been told I am these things before and believe them to be true, at least to an extent. Of course, like all people, I have some negative character traits but I have chosen to ignore those for the purpose of this post.
What both my grandparents did for my mum and my parents did for me though was teach me self-respect and to love who I am. My parents nurtured my natural talents and interests. They taught me that people might be smarter than me, prettier than me, richer than me but there’s no one better than me. They taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be if I tried hard enough. They taught me not to be defined by how others perceived me. They taught me that regardless of my choices they would love me unconditionally. And that’s a wonderful environment to grow up in. My parents made me feel perfect but gave me the room to prove it to myself.
Now I’m not saying anything is different for raising boys but I have no experience of that. What I do know is that being a girl has a unique set of challenges that some people struggle to embrace.
I feel fortunate to have attended the secondary school I did. I went to an all-girls grammar school. With all honesty, it was probably not the easiest place to face puberty at times. The bitchiness could reach extreme levels, where no one was safe not even your best friends. You lived in fear of non-uniform days because then you would have to pick an outfit sufficiently bland enough to go unnoticed. This was not a time to exercise your creativity. However I did come out of it with some very strong opinions about what it meant to be a woman in today’s society. For example, I have the right to vote and if I don’t like the way things are then voting is now I make myself heard. And that I can do any job a man can do and probably better if I wanted to. Ultimately I learnt that the fact that I was a girl meant nothing. I am a person with hopes, dreams and ambitions; gender is irrelevant.
Now that the ‘mother of a daughter’ baton has been passed on to me, it seems like quite a task. How do I nurture Emily’s natural interests? How do I teach Emily that she is the perfect version of herself? How do I help her to have a healthy body image? How can I foster her self esteem? And how will I balance this against showing how to be kind and considerate to others and the environment? It seems like an impossible task.
Dan and I made a bit of a pact before we knew Emily was a she. We agreed that if the baby was a girl I’d do ‘the talk’, and if it was a boy Dan would step up. I’m fine with this. I am more than comfortable to talk about my own body and what it is capable of, but I’m realising that maybe I shouldn’t have let Dan off so lightly. He has a role in this too. It is up to him to show Emily how men should behave towards women and their bodies. I’d like to think that when the day comes that Emily would be comfortable to ask her dad to buy her some sanitary towels from the supermarket or not feel embarrassed by him sorting out her underwear. It is Dan’s responsibility to show her that it is normal and that’s how men should behave.
Body image is a big one too. I don’t think that there is a woman on the planet that doesn’t feel under pressure in some way to change the way they look. Everyday I look in the mirror and fret about some part of me that I’d like to change. It’s sad really, but I’m not alone. Much of the blame for this is directed at the media but personally I think it begins at home. How many young girls watch their mums put make up on or hear them talk about going on a diet or worse, are encouraged to do these things by their parents? I, half-jokingly, said to Dan not long after Emily was born that I was never going on a diet again because I didn’t want Emily to have a negative body image. Chances are I will diet but I am certain now that I will not use that word to describe it. Nor will I say that it is due to my own insecurities about how I look. It will be ‘an opportunity to try new foods’ or a ‘cooking project.’
You are probably thinking “when you say it like that, it is an impossible task!” I know that I’m not perfect and I may mess up on some of these things but I’d like to give Emily the chance to grow up in a world where she can just be herself and we, as her parents, encourage that entirely.