Mothers and daughters

I have been reading a lot of thought provoking posts recently on how we raise and treat sons and daughters, boys and girls. Expectations about gender have been discussed, from the pinkness of girl’s toys to allowing boys to wear dresses if they wish to. Whether we, as parents, should actively encourage gender neutral play or just let our kids do what they want and go with the flow.

I did not dress my daughter in pink when she was little, and she had few dresses. With two brothers growing up behind her I was always aware of the cost of clothes and how short a time they were worn for. I dressed my daughter in outfits that could be passed on and bought her toys that all three could play with. I took hand me downs from anyone generous enough to offer them, and most of these came from boys.

She did have a few dolls, but I only remember her playing with one just after her younger brother was born. She asked for real nappies and discarded the play bottles, hitching up her t shirt to feed her ‘baby’ from her toddler chest while I nursed her brother. She soon tired of this game and returned to her soft toys, trucks and Lego. At three years old she had more interesting games to play.

When they were little I remember one of her brothers kicking out at her; and their grandmother, appalled, telling my son that he must never, ever kick or hit a girl. Had she not added the girl bit I would not have objected to the reprimand. It was the kick that was naughty, not the fact that she was a girl. I would have been just as cross had my daughter kicked her brother. I did my best to raise them to follow the same rules, with no special treatment based on gender.

All three of my children played football and hockey, trained in judo and joined Scouts. My daughter did try Brownies and Guides, but never felt that she fitted in so well. Boys were more straightforward, less moody, more willing to build rockets, play outside in foul weather, get muddy without fuss. At least some of them were, the ones that she wished to play with.

It suited our family to have a daughter who showed little interest in her looks or her clothes, although I didn’t give this much thought until last year. She surprised me by deciding that she wished to attend her school Prom, so we needed to consider dress, shoes, hair and make up. I began to see a pattern amongst her peers that, perhaps naively, surprised me.

From the small sample that I observed, the daughters of mothers who dyed their hair blond and their skin tan, did the same. Mothers who liked impractical shoes and would not leave the house without make up, had daughters who chose to wear high heels and make up. Mothers with a more relaxed attitude to their looks had daughters who were happy to allow their natural beauty to take centre stage.

Given that most sixteen year old girls look fabulous whatever they wear, all the girls at the event looked amazing. I did not enquire but suspect that each mother thought that their daughter looked at her best. I certainly perceived my daughter as beautiful, although I often do even in the most ordinary of situations.

My surprise was, I guess, more that the daughters reflected their mothers choices so clearly. I wonder which of them would be most appalled at this thought.

Much as I love my mother I have never aspired to be like her. I see little similarity between us in either looks or outlook. So many of the young girls I observed seemed to be clear reflections of their mother’s tastes.

I can see both my husband and me in our daughter and I like that. She is also an individual in her own right. Perhaps sixteen was just too young and these young ladies will find their own way in the years to come. I am aware that my choices for myself are now influenced by my daughter, so perhaps it should not surprise me that some of my influences may rub off on her.

My sons seem so much less like me than my daughter, although my elder son is his father in just about every way except looks. I know that many of my views and habits now irritate him so perhaps he is reacting against that, or perhaps our influence as parents is not so great and my daughter merely tries harder to please.

The nature versus nurture debate is an interesting one.  There is no doubt that, as they grow older, parental influence diminishes, as it should if the world is to progress.

My children give me hope for the future because they do not dwell on gender, race or creed as so many adults did when I was growing up. They expect equal treatment as a right. Perhaps it is time for we adults to listen more to our young people and less to conventions that have caused the problems we are now trying to avoid.

The generations move on and so must we, guiding lovingly and mindfully until our young people are ready to lead us into the future.

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