Raising Daughters

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The parenting of little girls is a job that is so special. Boys are boys and boys are awesome, but compared to our daughters they really are as different as slugs, snails and puppy dog tails.

Yesterday I did something that doesn’t happen enough in our house; I took Elfie on a little day out, just the two of us. We had an appointment with her new consultant at Great Ormond Street Hospital – and as an aside, what a wonderful place this is. I thank heavens every day that we have the NHS and such open access to brilliant doctors (ours is a Professor, oooh fancy). I’d promised her a lovely meal out afterwards and as she can’t get enough of public transport I made sure we went on both a tube, a bus, and then in a black cab for good measure.

We had a brilliant time together, and for me the day brought home how precious and important this time with my little girl is. Elfie is such a deep thinker, a deep feeler and her mind is more than inquisitive, as her mother it’s up to me to shape this into the person she will one day become and spending one-on-one time with each other brings that fact home to me.

I like to think I bring my children up pretty equally. There’s not a lot of gender stereotyping that goes on in our house: Hux has pink chinos, Elfie has blue ones. They both play with cars (E’s very much into Hot Wheels right now) and they both play with handbags. Elfie asked for her nails to be painted pink this week and so did Hux (I did him one fingernail and one toenail: he is awesome). I try to buy them gender neutral toys that they are both able to enjoy together or apart.

But in their thoughts, feelings and emotions they are poles apart. Hux barrels into everything, probably picking his nose and giving himself a black eye in the process. Elfie stands back, she observes a situation before deciding what she’s going to do. With school looming on the horizon I’ve been trying to teach her how to hold her own a little more with her peers, so she’s able to tell them if she isn’t happy. But she is so precious and I guess eager to be liked and kind to her friends she’s finding it hard. We are making progress – I heard her say the magic phrase “don’t do that, I don’t like it” to Hux without being prompted last week – and she’s getting more confident at holding her own with the older boys at softplay.

As her mother I want my little girl to grow up knowing she has me always on her side, ready to protect her at any minute. But I also need her to know how important it is that she is capable and able to be strong of her own accord, that she can do anything she puts her mind to. I’m lucky that I grew up thinking this (thanks mum and dad!), only doubting myself very rarely, so I hope to pass on some of my strength and bloody mindedness to her.

These times, when I’m feeling all introspective about raising daughters, this is when I reach for the poem B, by Sarah Key.  It makes me weep, makes me smile, but most importantly it makes me think: yeah… we’re doing OK here.

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Point B – Sarah Key

If I should have a daughter, instead of “Mom,” she’s going to call me, “Point B.”

Because that way she knows that no matter what happens, at least she can always find her way to me.

And I’m going to paint the solar systems on the backs of her hands, so she has to learn the entire universe before she can say, “Oh, I know that like the back of my hand.”

And she’s going to learn that this life will hit you, hard, in the face, wait for you to get back up just so it can kick you in the stomach. But getting the wind knocked out of you is the only way to remind your lungs how much they like the taste of air.

There is hurt, here, that cannot be fixed by band-aids or poetry, so the first time she realizes that Wonder Woman isn’t coming, I’ll make sure she knows she doesn’t have to wear the cape all by herself. Because no matter how wide you stretch your fingers, your hands will always be too small to catch all the pain you want to heal. Believe me, I’ve tried.

“And baby,” I’ll tell her, “Don’t keep your nose up in the air like that. I know that trick. I’ve done it a million times. You’re just smelling for smoke so you can follow the trail back to a burning house, so you can find the boy who lost everything in the fire to see if you can save him. Or else, find the boy who lit the fire in the first place, to see if you can change him.”

But I know she will anyway, so instead, I’ll always keep an extra supply of chocolate and rainboots nearby. Because there’s no heartbreak that chocolate can’t fix.

Okay, there’s a few heartbreaks that chocolate can’t fix. But that’s what the rainboots are for. Because rain will wash away everything if you let it.

I want her to look at the world through the underside of a glass bottom boat. To look through a microscope at the galaxies that exist on the pinpoint of a human mind. Because that’s the way my mom taught me. That there’ll be days like this, “There’ll be days like this,” my mama said. When you open your hands to catch and wind up with only blisters and bruises. When you step out of the phone booth and try to fly, and the very people you want to save are the ones standing on your cape. When your boots will fill with rain, and you’ll be up to your knees in disappointment, and those are the very days you have all the more reason to say, “Thank you.” Because there’s nothing more beautiful than the way the ocean refuses to stop kissing the shore line, no matter how many times it’s sent away.

You will put the “wind” in “winsome… lose some.” You will put the “star” in “starting over… and over…” And no matter how many land mines erupt in a minute, be sure your mind lands on the beauty of this funny place called life.

And yes, on a scale from one to over-trusting, I am pretty damn naive. But I want her to know that this world is made out of sugar. It can crumble so easily, but don’t be afraid to stick your tongue out and taste it.

“Baby,” I’ll tell her, “Remember, your mama is a worrier, and your papa is a warrior, and you are the girl with small hands and big eyes who never stops asking for more. Remember that good things come in threes, and so do bad things, and always apologize when you’ve done something wrong. But don’t you EVER apologize for the way your eyes refuse to stop shining.

Your voice is small, but don’t ever stop singing. And when they finally hand you heartache, when they slip war and hatred under your door and offer you handouts on street corners of cynicism and defeat, you tell them that they really ought to meet your mother.

35 thoughts on “Raising Daughters

  1. What a lovely post! I am always amazed in the differences between all 3 of my children – you think if you raise them all the same way they will turn out kind of the same! But mine have very distinct roles. And I certainly find girls more complex and, to be honest, much harder work….but maybe that’s just mine?! I love the idea of a world made of sugar though….gorgeous!

  2. Oh Alice, this has made me smile (and I’ve sent that poem straight to my daughter!) I have one teen girl in the midst of my boys – all of them are unique and all of them are special but there is a particular bond twixt her and me. She hates me in a way the others haven’t got the energy to and she loves me just as madly and I adore her.

    • Your relationship with your teen sounds lovely… and so familiar! I look forward to the relationship I’ll have with Elfie if it’s anything like the one I have with my own mum :)

  3. awwww your daughter is beautiful and looks like you :) and that poem is just an amazing peice of writing and made me smile thinking of my own mum
    my boys have been raised pretty much the same and it amazes me the differences in them .x

  4. Ahhh – Kitty is a deep thinker too and I really do need to make more time for us to spend time together without the boys as she always talks about our trip to the Cavendish together :)

  5. that poem is lovely! I have three girls, and they’re all really different, we don’t do gender stereotypes… they love dolls as much as they love digging in the dirt, painting their nails as much as climbing trees.

  6. I have no experience of mothering a girl but as a women this really resonated with me! I also notice the huge difference between my boy sibling and girl siblings (I have two of each) which is massive. Funny enough I get on with the boys a lot more! That poem is lovely and it’s so great you got to have a special day together, having lots of siblings I hold a special place in my heart for any mother daughter days I got with my own mum :) xx

  7. She is so gorgeous and that poem is beautiful, it gave me goosepimples. Cherry is three and J one but I can already notice huge differences between them. I don’t get on well with my mum and would never got to her with a problem, big or small so it’s the most important thing to me for it to be different with Cherry. I think spending time doing things together is so nice for them, now J is a bit older and I’m able to leave him I’m going to start taking her to the cinema so she gets me all to herself for a bit x

  8. Such a wonderful post, I must admit I have often wondered whether I would be different with a daughter but I don’t know any different. Recently I have been quite short tempered and not as patient as I’d like to be so this has made me realise I need to take a step back once in a while to appreciate my gorgeous boy. x

  9. This is such a beautiful post and that poem is so lovely it really made me smile. I love having a little boy although I do hope to have a girl next time round – would be lovely to have one of each but what will be will be. Beautiful post, thanks for sharing

    Laura x

  10. What a lovely post, and that passage is just beautiful.

    My boy and girl sound like the opposite of yours, my son is the one to stand back and consider, while my daughter will dive in without thinking. I love having a boy and girls, but mine are are so different personality wise it can be quite challenging.

  11. However much fun having a boy is, I still long to have a girl just to experience that fierce relationship of mother and daughter. But that poem still speaks volumes to me, it’s beautiful!

  12. This cracked me up! “as she can’t get enough of public transport I made sure we went on both a tube, a bus, and then in a black cab for good measure.” What a good mum!

    :)

  13. Love this post and the poems, love the Sarah Kay poem absolutely inspired me to try spoken work but said so much to me about raising my two girls x

  14. Lovely, lovely post! We don’t bring E up with any gender stereotyping either (if anything I’d say I steer her more towards traditionally ‘boyish’ type things). I was thinking about this actually – as it would be interesting comparison if I was having a boy next – but who knows :-)

  15. A beautiful post, I only have boys but they are both totally different from one another, Oliver is so mature, a real thinker, careful in his approach to everything and super sensitive, Alexander is fearless and cheeky and both talk non-stop (how could they not with me as their mother). I love seeing them both growing into unique little people and now they’re starting to bond more with one another, it’s lovely to witness x

  16. Love the poem and the post! As a foreigner, I can honestly and more or less objectively say, we are living in a tough place for raising girls. You are doing a fantastic job, Alice, I am sure that Elfie will be growing up just as strong, creative and beautiful (inside and out) mummy. xxx

  17. Wow what a powerful and moving post. I can so relate having one of each. I don’t love them more or treat them different and like you we have toys for both and they switch back and forth all the time each one liking something different on a different day. I don’t mind all that. Your words are stunning here. I feel so emotional when I start to read poems like that or think about what I want my daughter to grow up and be like. That strong independent woman yet loving and nurturing and welcoming all the same. It’s such a fine line for females. I love this and she is ever so beautiful!!!

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