feminist parenting daughter lessons

Being a woman is crazy tiring. I know, right? Tell you something you don’t know. But if being a woman is tiring, then being a woman who’s raising a woman is downright exhausting, if not totally emotionally depleting. Stop me if you’ve said any of these:

“What if she hates the way she looks?”

“What if every girl in middle school hates her?”

“What if every boy in middle school likes her?”

And there are a million more where that comes from. There’s literally no end to the questions and the doubts and the worries.

Savvy late-night Internet user that I am, I’m well aware that sole responsibility for ensuring the success—or disastrous failure—of all these questions falls squarely on me. It’s on me to ensure that my daughter is not one of the 5-10 million women who develops an eating disorder. It’s on me to ensure that my daughter is one of the only girls who is actually happy in middle school, not one of the millions of girls who are miserable. It’s on me to ensure that she doesn’t care whether or not any boy likes her, and that every boy knows it. It’s on me to ensure that her life is one filled not with questions and self-doubt, but with honesty and self-worth.

At the same time, the Internet has also taught me that there’s absolutely nothing I—nor any other parent—can do. Our children’s collective self-esteem is at the mercy of advertisers and “the media,” a delightful catch-all term that refers to everything and nothing simultaneously. So I began to live where most mothers of girls live: wrapped in a warm Google blanket of self-doubt, loathing and helplessness. Super cozy and not stressful at all.

But a certain freedom came with throwing my metaphorical hands in the air. And it also came with a realization that I can’t talk my daughter into loving her body or ignoring gaggles of mean girls or shutting out the voices of self-doubt. All I can do is show her what true self-confidence looks like. But slow, subliminal messaging to a four-year-old is not easy, especially when the voice that already lives in your own parenting head is not exactly one of self-love and reassurance. Or, quite frankly, when your inner voice is just plain bitchy. But for the sake of my daughter, I slowly started to change my voice for the sake of hers.

From “What if she hates the way she looks?” to “I look amazing!”

My daughter and I start each day talking about how much we love our bodies. Fun fact: We both have gorgeous faces, super happy tummies and crazy strong legs. When my daughter caught me stepping on the bathroom scale (something I once swore she’d never see), she asked me how strong I am. So I told her. And I was honest. Now she asks every day if she’s growing as strong as Mommy.

As we repeatedly recite our mantra of self-love, I’m starting to believe the narrative myself, even on days when I’m less than pleased with my plain face, lumpy tummy or larger-than-I-feel-is-necessary legs. When strangers tell us how alike we look, we both respond with honest gratitude.

From “What if every girl in middle school hates her?” to “How can I be a good friend?”

Instead of worrying about whether other kids would like her, I started to show my daughter what it means to be a good friend. I make time for the friendships that nurture my soul, and I tell her how grateful I am for all the amazing women in my life.

Now when she comes home from a busy day of preschool, she proudly proclaims how she was a “super friend” to the other kids in her class. With the confidence of being a good friend comes the realization that not every relationship is a healthy one. She talks about distancing herself from people who put her down with words or actions that are untrue or unsafe. She tells heroic tales of standing firm in her convictions, innovations and ideas, regardless of what others may say.

From “What if every boy in middle school likes her?” to “Let’s not even make boys part of our narrative.”

So we don’t.

Photo caption: She says wearing my shoes makes her stronger.

Rachel is a freelance writer based in Minneapolis. She is a recovering political writer and most recently taught high school English in Baltimore. She is thrilled to now be a full-time mama and writer,...