Raising Daughters

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Today my third  daughter turns 31. She missed being born on my mother’s birthday by one day (yes, my mother was an April Fool’s baby–which fit her perfectly), which disappointed Mom greatly. She was further put off by our name choice of Kelli. She kept saying, “What if she marries a man whose last name is Kelly?” Well, it turns out that wasn’t an issue. Not only is Kelli’s husband’s last name not Kelly, but she didn’t even take it.

My fourth daughter is turning 30 in May and getting married in November. The last I heard, she too is keeping her name. I’ve written before that I’m not sure my daughters would identify as feminists, at least not the way that their mother does. But then I didn’t identify strongly as a feminist–at least not in the sense that I was an activist–when I was raising them. But I did raise them to be their own women, and that is a basic component in feminism.

Being a negative role model

The fact that they are their own women probably has more to do with the fact that they perceived me as not being my own woman: they didn’t want to turn out like me. They may have seen my four marriages as a sign that I always needed a man in my life. And, in a way, I did. After my first marriage ended in divorce, I was left with four children to raise on my own and the prospect terrified me. I didn’t have the self-confidence, nor the financial resources, to go it alone.

And yet my daughters also saw me take on a full-time job outside the home (before that I’d been a SAHM–a stay-at-home-mom) and lived through periods where I did raise them single-handedly, when I was between marriages. I think they actually preferred it when I was single (they have said that they preferred their dad when he was), which may have contributed to their reluctance to give up singlehood themselves.  (None of my daughters will be married before the age of 29, which is actually a relief to me, since I was 20 when I married and I now think that was way too young.)

Free to be female

I may not have been specifically thinking that I wanted my daughters to be feminists, but I did want them to value being female. The fact that they didn’t have any brothers enabled them to create an almost matriarchal society among themselves. They say that girls who attend all-girl schools have more self-confidence than girls who go to school with boys. In a way, my daughters were raised in a similar environment.

The upshot was that I raised my daughters free of constant comparisons to males. And because I had all girls, I was constantly emphasizing how special females are. I couldn’t have done that if I’d had sons, too. I was able to champion my daughters’ cause without worrying that I might be making a son feel less valued.

As for other male influences, they didn’t see their real father all that often (and to his credit, he has always been proud of his girls and has never made them feel that he would rather have had sons). After my disastrous second marriage (which ended largely because of step-parenting conflicts), I wouldn’t allow my third husband to play much of a parenting role. So they basically saw me calling the shots.

An ass-backwards example

I think they also benefited from having a selfish mother. Yes, that’s what I wrote. I didn’t live my life around my kids. I couldn’t afford to, with a full-time job where I worked nights and a lot of over-time. And when I did have time at home, it was important to me to spend a lot of it reading and writing. I also took college courses periodically in my attempt to earn my bachelor’s degree (which I eventually did when I was 53). I can’t help but think that this taught them that their goals and dreams were just as valid as any man’s.

On top of that I was a lousy housekeeper. I realize that this isn’t a positive, but it did have the unintended affect of teaching them that housework didn’t have to be a woman’s lot in life!

Their affect on me

But the irony is, having all girls made me a better feminist. Like any mother, I wanted my children to feel good about themselves and find fulfillment in life. Being their champion reinforced my own views that women are just as important and valuable as men. (And maybe more so!) I probably learned as much about feminism from raising them as they did from being raised by me. Through experiencing their struggles and their triumphs, I’ve developed a keener sense of what it takes to become a strong woman. I can see more clearly why it’s important to identify as a feminist through looking back on my own failures and successes in raising my daughters.

I’ve always been glad that I had all girls. I don’t think I would have known what to do with boys. And I don’t know if sons would have taught me as much as my daughters have. But then again, maybe I would have grown even more from the challenge of making my son a feminist as well.

Suggested Reading: Mother Daughter Revolution: From Good Girls to Great Women.

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Ellen Keim

Ellen is a freelance writer, essayist and copy editor, living with three cats and a husband in Columbus, OH.

2 thoughts on “Raising Daughters”

  1. It’s my daughter’s birthday today too. :-)

    I loved what you said here about raising daughters and how even if you don’t ‘teach’ them feminism in an overt way, just providing a strong female role model for them can be just as big an influence.

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