It’s 9 o’clock on Thursday night, and I’m busy taking inventory of all the things I still need to get done before tucking myself in for the night. There are toys on the living room floor, school bags in the middle of the entry area, there’s a pile of clean clothes waiting to be folded, and there are dirty dishes in the sink. The familiar sound of rustling papers breaks my concentration, and I look over into the dining room to find “Desibelle” (12) sitting at the dining room table.
Me: It’s 9 o’clock honey, it’s time you wrap that up and head to bed.
Desibelle: Aaaww…I still have so much work to do! This writing assignment is due tomorrow and I still have to finish writing the rough draft and then I have to type it…
Me: That seems like a lot of work to do in one night, when did the teacher give you the assignment?
Desibelle: Well she gave it to us on Monday, but I had a soccer game that night so we got home late, remember? Then on Tuesday and Wednesday we were at dad’s and there was so much going on, and their computer wasn’t working…and I couldn’t concentrate…and on top of that I was really tired. I figured I would have time to do it today; it’s just taken me longer than I expected.
I felt myself losing my cool, did I hear her right…did she say, in not so many words, that she left the assignment for the last minute? How could she do that? I spend sooo much time talking to her about prioritizing, and organizing, and how managing her time is so important with all the after school activities and the fact she has to bounce from our home to her dad’s and back again every week. How could she do this? I expect so much more from her.
Me: Why would you leave something so important for the last minute? After all the times that I’ve sat here and talked to you about keeping up with your work, and about making sure you are doing your assignments as soon as you get them, and about the importance of managing your time and prioritizing the things you need to get done! I am so DISAPPOINTED! I expect better…ESPECIALLY FROM YOU!
As soon as the words escaped my mouth I wanted to take them back! Oh my god…did I just do that? Did I just tell her that I expect more from her than I do from her other siblings? As I reflected on our conversation later that night, I had the sudden realization that I do have different standards for my daughter than for her two older brothers. As much as I wanted to fool myself into thinking that I treat them equally, there was no denying that I have the bar set just a bit higher for my daughter. Why is that? Is that really fair to her? Is that fair to my boys?
“Desibelle” was my only daughter up until “Lilly” was born just two years ago. For 10 years Desibelle was the princess of our castle. She was smart, funny, and witty. From the day she was born, she has exuded this aura of femininity, loving everything cuddly, pink, or pretty. She has a heart of gold, going out of her way to help anyone, or any living creature in need; easily willing to sacrifice herself for the sake of someone else. She has such a deep level of empathy for people, that often I find her taking on the responsibility of solving other people’s problems, including my own. In fact, when she can’t help someone, she often feels responsible, as if she could have done more to help. From the minute my little girl was born, I saw in her, glimpses of a younger me. A more innocent me, before all the pain and baggage I currently carry became so ingrained into my soul.
About 5 years ago I remember talking to a friend about how wonderful my little girl was. My girl friend was commending me on what a great job I was doing in raising this sweet, loving little girl. I remember we were both going on and on about all those qualities that were such a part of her personality, all the things that made her so incredibly special. Out of nowhere it suddenly dawned on me that all those wonderful qualities could someday backfire and cause her pain. I started seeing all these horrible images of my baby girl taking on bad relationships, and surrounding herself with selfish, negative people as she tries so desperately to right the wrongs of the world. I started picturing my sweet girl hurt as those around her, try as she might, let her down or take advantage of her. I could feel her pain and see her sorrows, I could feel her disappointment so real and so raw, and that’s when I realized that the person I was seeing was not my little girl…it was me.
Looking back, that was the first time I realized just how much my little girl is like me. As her mom, watching her show such love and compassion for others was so rewarding, yet at the same time terrifying. As she got older, she would continue to amaze me and others with her random acts of kindness. As wonderful as those moments were, I could feel the tightness in my chest, as the ball of dread my subconscious had been building, got bigger and bigger. There’s no other way to put it…I’m terrified of what will become of my baby girl’s heart and soul once the “real” world gets a hold of her. I’m so afraid that the pain I have felt because of my mistakes and my sheer inability to judge people’s intentions correctly will show up in her. I’m afraid that the terrible things that have happened to me will happen to her as well. All those moments which left me shocked, hurt, and battered. The incapacitating sadness and debilitating depression that would soon follow because once again, someone I trusted, someone I was trying to help, broke my heart. As her mother my biggest fear is having to stand idly by watching as each heartbreak chisels away another layer of her beautiful soul.
I know that I cannot change her, and let’s be real, I DON’T WANT TO CHANGE HER. As a matter of fact, I wish there were more people in the world like her, like us. She will grow up and do great things in her life, likely making a positive difference in the lives of the people she encounters. To help her, I want to equip her with the tools to help her become a confident, responsible young woman. I’m trying to teach her to be independent and self sufficient. I’m trying to teach her that setting goals, and working hard to achieve them is the key to success. I’m trying to teach her that no matter what, she CAN DO ANYTHING she puts her mind to. My goal here is to empower my daughter, I want her to know that because she is the one ultimately in charge of her life, no matter what happens, she will be okay. I want her to be confident in her ability to make decisions and to rise above her mistakes. I myself learned these lessons all too late, after enduring years of pain and heartache. What hurt me weren’t the people who wronged me, but my insecurities. It wasn’t until I hit my 30’s that I realized how strong and capable I was. I’m making certain that my daughter knows the power within herself, and that she is confident in her abilities to overcome ALL obstacles she will be confronted with in her life.
In that regard I know that I am right. It makes sense for me to equip my daughter with such knowledge. However, after the conversation I had with her over her homework being left to the last minute, I had an epiphany. Why do I feel so strongly about teaching her these things but not her older brothers. Shouldn’t I also be preparing my boys for the big world and the harsh reality that it is not such a friendly place? Of course I’m already preparing them to be responsible, confident men. I teach all my kids those values which I hope will someday make them into successful, self sufficient adults. But why do I push my daughter a bit harder than the boys? The answer is quite simple, although still I’m left feeling quite conflicted, I’m trying to prepare her for what may come.
Simply put, life for a woman in today’s society is hard. We live in a world where so many of us start our families with a partner and through circumstance end up raising kids on our own. A lot of us have to balance a spouse, kids, home, and work responsibilities seamlessly. We allow very little room for error in our own minds, and often live through a constant sense of guilt. The reason I’m pushing my daughter so much harder than my boys is because I want her to know that she can overcome the struggle that comes with being a woman in today’s society. I want her to know that her value should not be measured by the way that other’s see her. I want her to know that those that hurt her or take advantage of her are not worthy of her. I want her to know how to dig deep within herself to find the strength to move on past disappointment and sadness, past her own mistakes. I want her to be confident in the fact that with hard work, there is hope and opportunity beyond the hurt and struggle. I want her to never give up on herself or on life.
I would love to hear your thoughts. Do you find that your expectations of your children are different depending on their needs or personality? Are there certain things that you may enforce more strongly with one child than with another? For those of you with both daughters and sons, do you find yourself parenting them differently?