When I just had my three sons, I saw myself as their blueprint of Woman and I wanted them to think that women are good, but when I had my daughter I learned pretty early on that ‘women are good’ was the most important thing I could teach her. Mothers are role models for their daughters in a profound way. I saw that my daughter’s greatest need was to respect me; that in me she saw her future self and she wanted it to be something worth growing up for. In her case, I knew I was the most important role-model in her life.
We have rather different hopes for our girls and boys don’t we? We hope our girls will grow up unafraid of men, confident and able to hold their own, and we hope our boys will grow up respecting women. Which just shows clearly what kind of society we live in.
At the risk of giving myself a pat on the back (something women shouldn’t do and I’m now obviously scared everyone will think me arrogant) I think that my boys have grown up with a great female influence throughout their childhoods. They have grown up sandwiched between two females, the oldest and youngest members of the family, so thank goodness me and my daughter are both such cool fab examples of the species.
Looking at my nearly grown-up sons and daughter now it’s very clear that they all automatically assume that women are good, in the sense that my daughter has no insecurities about being one, and my sons view women as human beings, not as a lesser species. And looking back over their childhoods, I think they have reached this view through all the things I did that I wasn’t meant to do; exhibiting the attitudes that you are not meant to have if you want to live up to the accepted mother role in our society.
When my children were little, they were the most interesting thing in my life for a while (so far, so good), and then little by little, (sometimes guiltily) I reverted back to being more interested in my own life than anyone else’s. But I am glad now that I resisted the pressure to focus exclusively on their needs, and stood up for my own. I’m glad I invested my energy in my own journey and let them manage theirs. I’m glad I never lectured them with my own values, but let them discover their own.
I’m glad I showed them a lot of trust and let them get on with it, not because I genuinely trusted them, but because I only have the energy to manage one life, not four extra ones. I am glad that my worries and insecurities along the way have mostly been about my own life, and I haven’t had much worry and anxiety left over for theirs. I am glad that my instinctive urge has always been to grow and develop as a person, and that takes up so much energy I haven’t had much left over to grow them too.
I am glad that my daughter has a role model who is imperfect and doesn’t care. I am glad that she sees me fail, get down and then pick myself up again. And I am glad she sees a model of someone who does not sacrifice her own life in the service of others.
I have resolutely remained my imperfect self throughout my kids’ childhoods, and have managed to resist twisting myself into all the contortions it would have taken to turn myself into society’s idea of what a mother should be. Sometimes I read about the ways we mothers are expected to have so much cloying involvement in our children’s lives and wonder how we can expect boys to grow up respecting women as people, rather than as lesser beings put on this earth to serve them, if we are supposed to invest that much energy in our children?
It’s not through the level of our involvement in our children’s lives that they learn, so much as in watching us manage our own. We mothers should be boldly, confidently, irreverently, imperfectly ourselves. Mothers are role models and both our daughters and our sons are watching.