As a sort of preface, I’m a single and, once upon a time, teenaged mother (back when I could run without crying and study all night without wanting to throw myself into oncoming traffic the next morning). My experiences may not be your experiences and vice versa. I’ve written this based off eight years of parenthood, through a divorce and several failed relationships as well as an assortment of jobs, homes and financial struggles. None of that means that I know what I’m talking about, but the points below are my parental conclusions thus far.
1. Have sex, don’t have sex, your virginity doesn’t define you.
There are, obviously, consequences to having sex. Ranging from pregnancy to STDs, who you chose to sleep with can alter the course of your life and should be something everyone does with intelligence, thought, and personal meaning. I do not want my daughter, however, to grow up feeling that her virginity is like a chess piece only to be played at the right or wrong moment. A woman’s sexual activities should not define her worth as a human being or as a potential wife and mother. I want to encourage my daughter to make decisions about her sexuality based on herself individually and not burry her under a mound of mouth fed religious abstinence, like I was. And for the record, it didn’t stop me; it just made me less aware and unprepared for above mentioned consequences. I wouldn’t trade my daughter for anything in the world, but that doesn’t mean having a baby at 17 was easy, or something I would want for her in turn.
2. You don’t need a cell phone till you drive (and a data plan is not mandatory or necessary).
My daughter is eight years old and I’ve literally had six mother’s from her class ask me why she doesn’t have a cell phone yet. What if she was kidnapped? What if she missed her bus? What if… what if. I won’t say I haven’t had nightmares of my daughter being snatched up or lost or something, and that some of these questions didn’t make me think deeply about those things. But then I remember that I didn’t have a cell phone till I was 19 and believe it or not, I managed to survive just fine right along with the rest of my generation. I also consider the sort of sickening dependency people slap on the ability to have constant communication with one another and I find I’m totally okay with my daughter living in the ‘world’ and not across the air/internet waves outside of reality. She’ll have plenty of time for that later in life.
3. Question everything.
I want my daughter to question what her teachers say, what her friends say, what I say (even though it will probably drive me nuts), what her father says. I don’t want her to take anything at face value because someone else told her that that’s the way something has to be. I still, to this day, harbor guilt based upon the religion I was raised in as a child and it’s something I have to battle with on a regular basis. I don’t want my daughter to have that same self doubt and blind acceptance. I don’t want the opinions and values of the people around her to debase her sense of self or confidence.
4. No one is going to do everything for you, especially not me.
My dad did my laundry, cooked my meals, and fixed every minor to major house issue that arose in our family. My mother has been seriously ill since I was little kid and my father stepped up to fill both roles with me and my two younger sisters, and, much to my everlasting shame, I never was very helpful. Not only do I feel guilty about this but I also realize, especially now, that it did not prepare me for the reality of adulthood. My daughter does her laundry, she cleans and loads the dishwasher and I will never do something for her that she can do for herself. This might sound logical but believe me when I say that I’ve had friends and outsiders accuse this thought process as lazy and detached. Personally, I believe I am teaching her, with love and understanding, how to be a productive and self sufficient human being. It doesn’t mean I don’t hug, kiss her, tell her I love her, or make sure she has her favorite snacks in her lunch box.
5. Social Media is not necessary. Period.
She doesn’t need a Facebook, a Twitter, a MySapce (does anyone use that place anymore?) or whatever else to be a person. Especially a young, high school aged person. This desire to be constantly connected to the rest of the world, especially by teenagers, is quite honestly scary. It, to me, encourages a level of self absorption that can’t be good for anyone. I want her to understand that you can be a person without having a ‘web presence’.
6. Just because you are special to me, doesn’t mean you are ‘special’.
I think so many of us grew up with the words ‘you can be whatever you want to be!’ engrained in our brains like a cheesy motivational poster, only to find that that’s not entirely true. We then spend the rest of our lives berating ourselves for never becoming an astronaut or a lawyer or a doctor. The truth is, there is nothing wrong with being average. There is nothing wrong with having a 9-5 job or with having average grades, an average boyfriend, or an average house. So many youths today are filled with a sort of self entitlement that I find baffling. They don’t seem to understand that just because you really want something doesn’t mean you’ll get it. They aren’t special, none of us are, we are just people, and we are important to maybe a handful of other equally non-special people, and that’s totally okay.
7. You’re going to mess up, a lot.
Everyone screws up. I don’t mean failing a test or bombing an important interview (which does suck, by the way), I mean the sort of screw up that hurts others, that takes you outside of the sort of person you want to be. I believe that all of us dabble at being the type of person we never wanted to become, and that’s okay. Part of what makes us a person is how we handle our mistakes; how we come to terms with the wrongs we’ve laid on others and the wrongs that have been laid on us. You’ll have regrets and that’s alright, just try not to kill yourself over them your entire life. Process, learn, and move on.
8. I don’t care what you do with your life as long as you do it with meaning and kindness.
Like any mother I want my daughter to find a measure of success and happines. But, who am I, even as her mother, to measure what that success or happiness is for her? I care far more about how she treats people then how much money she makes or if she has the right job. Or, for that matter, if she decides that rather than perusing a career, she wants to be a wife and a mother. It can be a brutal world of harsh judgment and cruelty for any woman, in any forum, but she should never feel that she has to gauge her success by anyone’s standards, not even the mighty rod of feminism. I believe, strongly, that it’s our treatment of others that define who we are, not the amount of money we make or how far we’ve managed to climb up the social/business chain.
9. Being a woman is great, but you’re a person first.
I told a rather sexist co-worker of mine that I wished that rather than thinking of me as a woman first, and judging all my actions based on that, that he thought of me as a person above all else. Being a woman is a beautiful, challenging, awesome thing, and it’s something I want my daughter to embrace and be proud of, but I’d rather she considered herself, in the grand scheme of things, a human being first and a female second. I don’t want her to treat men as ‘men’, I want her to treat them as people who have all the same feelings, doubts and wishes that she does. It is so easy to discriminate people based on gender but the measure of equality should see past that, along with skin color and religious affiliation.
10. It’s okay if you hate me.
I’m not my daughter’s best friend and I don’t want to be. I don’t want her to always like me or hell, even love me, oh it would hurt to hear it, but that’s one of the many sacrifices I have to make. I’m not in her life to be her friend, I’m in her life to develop her into a worthwhile, productive person. If that means grounding her, reprimanding her, embarrassing her or otherwise upsetting her, then so be it. I think we live in a society that has tried to convince mothers and parents that rather than raising our kids we should be their buddies, that we should never punish or command them for fear of ‘suppressing’ them creatively or something. But I believe someday, after all the teenage tears, the drama, the shouting down hallways and the silent treatments, she will grow to understand and appreciate that those moments hurt me, too, and that I did every single one of them because I love her.