Over the last year and a half or so, the same conversation has come up time and again between myself and my assorted mom friends. It basically amounts to these other moms having difficulties (all minor – nothing serious here) with their tween-aged daughters. Not having any female offspring myself, my only point of reference is my own upbringing; and thinking back on what worked with me at my many difficult developmental stages is where I’ve turned to for answers for my mom friends on this subject.
They have been troubled as their daughters begin to change from contentedly playing with the other younger kids and now suddenly start to grow a little awkward and need different care and certainly a new and different kind of communication between mother and daughter as they are starting to become young ladies.
In every instance, I’ve described my Grandma’s old kitchen and how, as I was growing up, she and my aunts and my mom would so kindly welcome me into the kitchen and put me to work peeling apples or helping in some way as all these wonderful women bustled around me, talking and working, socializing and doing.
I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was soaking in everything these women were teaching me about what it is to be an adult woman; the structure and form and intricacy of the relationships they share, and I learned to emulate the behaviors I saw. At that time, my mother was working on her doctoral degree, my aunts were accomplished young professional women, and my grandmother is truly priceless. I had phenomenal examples to look up to.
I was incredibly fortunate to have that strong example set for me of what a woman should be and what I should look up to and what I should strive to become. So when I went into junior high and high school I never once looked around at the other girls my age seeking that guidance and that example, because I’d already received the lessons from the women in my family. I never once had to search amongst my peers to learn what kind of young lady I should be, because the ladies in my family had already shown me.
Young women so often don’t have that kind of nurturing in their lives, and the moms I talk with, they see their daughter’s classmates searching for that leadership and casting about for direction in their lives; coming to school in whorish makeup because they’re seeking attention or dabbling in dangerous behaviors simply because they didn’t have that kind of loving inclusive example set for them.
When I was a teenager I didn’t realize why my peers were doing those things, because of course I saw it too, and it didn’t register or click in my mind why I knew to pass those things by and make better choices – but I certainly see it now that I am an adult. It’s because the wonderful women in my family guided me, taught me, led me, and inspired me. Of course I made some bad choices growing up just like everybody else; some questionable, some highly dubious; but compared to my female peers I came through surprisingly well, and I am relatively more successful now.
So recently I’ve spent a considerable amount of time sitting around my own kitchen table with my mom friends and their young daughters, explaining what I’ve just typed out here, and they get it too! The moms see how all they need to do is bring their daughter to the table when they’re sitting around talking to their female friends, because their daughters will just suck up the knowledge like a little sponge. And all the while I sit there looking at my own kitchen, wishing it was more like my Grandma’s old kitchen with the tiny table jammed in the middle and not enough room for all the great ladies in my family to bustle about and chatter. Because it was always so full of love.
I’ve thought about this a lot over the last year and a half as the conversation kept coming up with mom after mom after mom. After much reminiscence I came up with an idea. I went searching and found three posters that are prints of World War 2 victory garden posters – I ordered them, and bought cheap poster frames, and I’ve just hung them up in my kitchen.
Turns out this isn’t just a nod to my grandparent’s era, or my Grandfather’s WWII service in Europe, or my memories of my Grandma canning and storing everything that grew. Turns out the new decor has a modern implication as well, as more and more families turn to backyard gardening to help stretch thin grocery budgets and find healthier food choices amongst the sea of GMOs. And coincidentally, our family has backyard garden beds bursting with veggies and a coop with six fat hens who provide our eggs, but I just can’t seem to identify with the hippie backyard farmers. I prefer the victory garden esthetic; but then maybe I’m just old fashioned.
So; the unsolicited advice I’ve given to all my mom friends is simply that as soon as their daughters start to show those signs of changes in mental and emotional development, include them more and more in what the adult women in the house are doing. Because as they grow young girls will spend less and less time playing with the younger siblings in the family and will gradually transition to being a part of the social group of adult women; and by welcoming tween and teen girls into the adult female group, the adults teach the tween both with their words and conversations and socializing, and also in the smallest ways with their casual mannerisms, the way they dress and do their hair and makeup, the way they cook family dinners or balance work and family; all of these things will sink in and stick creating stronger young women as they grow.
It also turns out that my wonderful Grandma doesn’t remember us spending all that much time in her kitchen. Yet, for me, those times are some of the most vivid and meaningful memories I have. And I can look back and see how those afternoons spent in a crowded noisy kitchen did more to shape my character than all my years in public school.
Lots of research shows that memory is selective, and especially for children it is impossible to know which moments will turn out to be the pivotal milestones that shape the person they will become as adults. So, parents, maximize quality time and conversation with your kids. Talk together, work together, do together. Because you never know which moments are going to stand out in their memory when they grow up, and surely it’s better to stack the deck for the positive than to have an adult child who blames you for bad childhood experiences that sit at the forefront of their memory.
Now please let me say here that yes, of course girls need dad time too. By all means, take your daughter fishing. Teach her to change the oil in the family car. Crank up the Zeppelin and rock out together! Hell yeah! Most of all, dads, take your daughters to self defense classes – teach them to protect themselves in the world. Be kind, consistent, gentle and firm. Girls are delicate, but way tougher than the boys give us credit for.
Got a great story about how your family shaped your character for the better, or helped cure your youthful dumbassery? Share your story with ThaliaBrandon.com and you might see it posted on the site!