I have a confession: I didn’t want to have daughters.
It feels terrible to admit. I believe differently now, but just the same, it’s still a hard part of my past to face. I feel awkward, searching for a proper response, when people inquire whether my children are “all girls?” Yes, people do this. Right in front of them. Putting me on the spot in the raw, thrown off guard, don’t know what to say moment. I usually smile and get something slightly dignified and even a bit defiant out, but I worry that something in my answer will come out wrong, and my girls will hear me.
The truth is, I’d love to have a son. But I don’t have one. And I don’t need one to be happy. How do I even talk about it, though, without possibly making my children feel bad for being girls? And in a world which can be cruel toward children – especially girls – I don’t want my meaning to be misconstrued for sexism.
I remember I was pregnant with my first daughter when a close friend confronted me about the disappointment I expressed to her after my 18 week ultrasound. She was worried I wouldn’t love my daughter enough. I love having friends who are willing to confront me about stuff, and I know it must have been hard for her to do. Her real life story not only made her feel empathy and fear for my unborn child, but it also compelled her to act.
After un-tying my tongue, I managed to explain that it wasn’t disappointment in my child’s sex that I was feeling. It was fear. I wanted sons because I didn’t feel cut out for the task of raising a girl; particularly, a teenager. She was witnessing a control freak (me), processing the disillusionment that things weren’t going according to “plan.”
Back track with me a bit and you might see more clearly. I have a history of getting along best with boys. My family moved a lot; too often for any long-term fit with a “girl clique”, so I tended to make friendships with boys more easily than with girls. That carried on through high school, college, and beyond. When I became a teacher – for eight years in a row – just about every class consisted of about 60-70% boys. That’s when I started to wonder what was going on.
I figured it must be God. He was preparing me to raise sons. Good. That sounded a lot simpler, anyway. I liked hanging out with boys pretty well. I could enjoy a whole classroom of boys for six hours a day, 5 days a week, so I knew I could handle having sons. See how I had God all figured out?!
Then I got married, and we had three girls. We even talked (twice) about “trying for a boy,” and just when we thought we were coming up with a plan, I’d end up already pregnant with, you guessed it…a girl!
Of course, I DO love my girls. And it goes beyond primal mother attachment. I like them, even. I am happy with the fact that they ARE girls. Each one has a fabulous spirit, is truly unique, and I’m blessed to be her mom. Here’s how things turned around for me:
1. Each child – no matter what – is still providence; still God.
When it comes to being a parent to anyone, I’ve discovered I’m not cut out for the job. I don’t have it all under control, and I don’t know how to handle every situation. I desperately need friends, support, resources, and wisdom. I am on my knees (metaphysically speaking – who has time for all that formal business?!) a lot. Now that I’ve let go of my willful plans and partnered up with God’s plan for my motherhood experience, I see that raising girls is giving me the opportunity to mature in ways that I (maybe) wouldn’t have with sons. In order to prepare for their future, I feel motivated to confront things that are difficult about being a girl. Like mean-girl drama. Periods. Identity. Beauty. Gender Roles. Relationships. How I treated my own mother; the times that I made her cry.
2. I’m still scared to raise a teenage girl.
I remember cussing a lot when I was 16 and 17. Learning to drive a stick shift was hard, and every time I stalled the engine, I just let ‘em fly. At the time, I felt so justified in speaking that way. I wasn’t very teachable. Mom just sat there, head in hands, and cried. It’s hard to hear your baby girl talk like a pirate.
A few months ago I was sifting through some old stuff and came across a scrap of paper with my mom’s handwriting on it. She passed away nine years ago, so practically everything that was hers is precious. Even worn out old sweatshirts.
Usually, coming across treasures like this is wonderful, like getting to touch her again. But this time, it was a journal entry. A record of the snarky comments that I’d spit at her that day. Rebellious, ugly heart words with that terrible teenage tone – It was always the tone – interrupting her, condescending her, criticizing. When she sent me to my room for being rude, I yelled: “You gonna tell Dad how evil I am?!”
When I read it to my husband he cringed. No one wants to imagine being on the receiving end of words like that. To make matters worse, I recently spoke with a mom at the library who said she once had a terrible fight with her teenage daughter which actually damaged her vocal chords! It terrified me, but I’m not mad that she told me. Stories like that are REAL. Hence all the fear of parenting a teenage girl. I know that anyone has the capacity to tear down another person with their words, but mothers and daughters seem to have a special knack for it. They can do a thorough job; cutting straight to the heart.
3. But I can’t deny the connection, the empathy, the JOY of having girls.
Lately, though, I have been noticing mothers who just glory in their daughters. They talk about how impressed they are by them. How much fun they have together, and how much they miss them when they are gone.
I know that my mom experienced this side of the coin as well. We shared so much. She stayed at home with me for many years. Even when she went back to work, she coordinated her schedule to beat my bus ride home. She stayed up late with me, just listening; empathizing as I struggled through those identity-forming years. We went on long horseback rides together down lazy country roads. We laughed till we couldn’t breathe.
She prayed with me, and for me…particularly for good friendships, for my future marriage, for the babies I would have one day. She was exceedingly proud of me. Actually, the night before she passed away – I’ll never forget it – she said, “I am so glad I don’t have to worry about you anymore. You are grown. You have a job. You are doing great.”
She never got to know my husband (though she knew I loved him) or hold her grandchildren. I feel the agony of that loss a little bit whenever I hold my girls. But her words give me strength every day. I know I’ll see her again. I know God has a plan.
By God’s grace and providence, my girls are helping me become me more fully through all this self-exploration. They are softening my edges. They are helping me choose my words more carefully. I want to be approachable for them, like my mother was for me. Especially in their teen years and beyond. I pray that one day, I will be able to speak the same words of confidence to them that my mother told me just before I lost her.
I am thankful that I get to love and even hurt over my girls. I would not have it any other way.