Tuesday, June 10, 2008

Girls to Women

Lately I've been doing a fair bit of reading on mothering. Not the kind of reading that is instructional, I can barely follow a bloody recipe, so I can't imagine the pressure of trying to follow rules on how to be a better mother. Plus I am reasonably lazy and I think, having had three children, all of whom have survived so far, I must be doing something right. They may need years of therapy, but hey, no one's perfect.

The reading I have been doing is mostly on how women view motherhood, relationships with their children, and how women are viewed from the general public, once they become mothers. I have been focusing in on mother/child relationships, probably because I no longer have a relationship with my own mother. I am, to say the least, worried, worried about how my relationship, or lack there of with my own mother, will affect my relationship with my children, my daughters in particular. I know, I know, there is always so much of a focus placed on mother/daughter relationships and mother/son relationships tend to seem as though they are overlooked.

This is definitely not the case. I have spend equal amounts of time dissecting my mothering and my relationship with both my son and daughters...it's just that I find it curious that most women who have daughters have the same fears I do. Will we have a good, decent relationship when they are grown? How will our later relationship play out? With my son, I don't seem to have these concerns, at least not yet. We are close, he seems strong, confident and sure of who he is and where he belongs in the world, although he is just a mere twelve years old.

My eldest daughter is the opposite unfortunately, and for this I am concerned. She seems to be much less self-assured, afraid to be who she wants to be. I am not sure whether this is simply a product of culture, home environment or in born personality. I have always thought we have given the two older kids anyway, a chance to be who they are, regardless of what anyone else thinks. I have as strong a relationship with her as well. I guess my biggest fear is that somehow along the way it is going to become frayed, tarnished somehow. I understand that of course I am a much different parent than my own mother was able to be, but the fear still draws me in.

As women raising daughters we are often made to feel like we have to force some kind of separation, push them to be strong, at the same time we push them away from us. Why is it that we want strong , confident young women to emerge, but the only way we seem to know how to do this is by severing the attachment to mother somehow? I shouldn't generalize I guess. It's just in asking a number of other moms who are raising girls if they have ever felt this way, the answer is often yes. This has caused much confusion for me, where I am not sure how or why I need my daughter to feel this kind of separation. I read this passage recently and it sums things up quite nicely.

Separation and autonomy are not equivalent: a person need not separate from mothers emotionally to be autonomous. Under the dominion of experts, mothers are urged to create a separation and disconnection from daughters that their daughters do not want. Early childhood and adolescence are the two stages of life where separation has been decreed as imperative to the independence and autonomy of children. To mother "right", women disconnect from their daughters and begin to see them as society will. Rather than strengthen girls this breach of trust leaves girls weakened and adrift.

-Elizabeth Debold, Marie Wilson, and Idelisse Malave

I guess what I want most for her, for all of them really, is to be able to know and understand who they are, and why they make the choices they do. I have been a good mother, a good female role model to all of them, I think. Probably what stumps me the most is that I have not been shown how to do it, how to let my children follow my lead, and feel confident about what I offer them. It is enough, will it prepare them for what they will need as they become adults? And in this will our relationships stay strong, or will I continue to try to separate in the name of independence? I hope I do not. Though I do hope more than anything, that they will want for themselves all that I want for them. To know that they are worthy of the kind of happiness that fills their lives up.

I want to be able to balance these lessons as their mother, to stay connected and not feel this pull do force them away from me. Sometimes I wish I could be guided, that there were clear rights and wrongs. That when mistakes are made they don't come back to haunt you years later, which of course they do.

All I hope for is that my girls, and my boy, will know I did the best I could, and that I was always interested in doing better. I wanted to learn more about how to make things different for them than they were for me. And that above all, I've loved them, every agonizing step of the way.

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