raising girls pt2

January 24, 2011 |  Category:   life parenting

It gets harder you know. When they’re babies, their needs are basic: food, sleep, human contact, love, a change of diapers. I know I’m totally oversimplifying it and for some people the baby phase is the hardest, but I loved the baby phase, though admittedly our girls were relatively easy babies. But raising little girls, not babies, is so much harder as they get older. It’s the fine line between giving them enough freedom to discover and explore who they are while instilling enough discipline and guidance (yeah, yeah, the whole Tiger mom thing…lemme get to that in a different post) and shielding them from stuff you never want them to experience (impossible).

I cringe when people gush over how cute Claudine is in front of Mia. What’s worse is when they turn to me or her and say “oh, she’s cute too”, like an afterthought. I know they’re not being intentionally insensitive and a lot of times it goes unnoticed by Mia, but if it does I’ll just quickly brush it off by saying it’s only because Claudine is the baby. Even though my brother and I are 6 years apart, I’m not totally unfamiliar with sibling comparisons and competitiveness, but I can’t imagine what it’s like to have a sibling of the same sex so close in age, where the potential for constant comparison in looks, talent, smarts, whatever, is always there. You can do all you can to raise 2 girls with 2 totally different personalities into 2 confident young women, but it’s near impossible to protect them from the rest of the world.

I grew up in a culture where family members didn’t hold back on their opinions about appearance, weight, manner of dress, or pretty much anything else. I grew up in a culture where looks meant almost everything if you were a girl and if they thought you were looking like crap, they’d let you know. Any time we’d go to a family gathering, you were pretty much guaranteed some kind of comment and in my case it was things like, “oh, you’re looking much prettier than last time”, “you look better, not so skinny anymore”. The unsolicited comments weren’t necessarily bad things, but an uncle did once say to me that my clothes could be so much better, that he didn’t understand why my mom couldn’t buy me nicer clothes when she made all that money (I was 22 at the time). I never cared for conforming to whatever was deemed “pretty and acceptable” by my family (and by family, I mean extended family). I didn’t want to look “normal” and I usually wore whatever I wanted and none of those comments did much harm as I pretty much brushed them off (rolling my eyes, of course). But I did see it take a role in shaking the self esteem of my brother. I saw what seemingly innocent comments can do.

Some of my twitter friends and I laughed over piercings and tattoos the other day. We joked that we should have listened to our moms – not that we necessarily regretted it, but you really don’t think about how you might feel about these tattoos and empty pierced holes when you’re older. I never got any tattoos, but I do have some old piercings and wish somebody would have showed me a picture of a pregnant woman with a belly ring because yeah, if I had seen that shit I would have thought twice about it. I think I got addicted to poking holes in my late teens/ early twenties and as a result, have a million holes in each ear. I was still living in NY when I got my first nose ring (I’ve had 2). I’d take the nose ring out whenever I’d go see my parents because I knew they’d freak out. There was one summer when my extended family all took a vacation together and rented a few hotel rooms for all of us to cram into. Well, that was a dilemma, and I sort of went into a mild panic because I didn’t know what to do with the nose ring. It was still new enough that I knew it would close if I took it out all weekend. I think I even had to share a bed with my mom! But I snuck that stud in after I was sure everyone in the room was asleep and then woke up early enough to take it out before anybody got up. Ha! By the end of the weekend, I felt triumphant that I fooled everyone. I think it was a few years later in the car when we were driving somewhere that at a stoplight, my mom turned to me and said “you have a nose ring, don’t you?”. I said yes. There was a pause and she said “I can’t believe you did that”. The light turned green and she started driving again.

I know that eventually my girls will come home wanting to wear or do something that I don’t approve of or like. It’s hard to imagine what my reaction will be. Maybe the fact that I still pick out clothes everyday for Mia, who is almost 7, is just a form of control to avoid any confrontations, I don’t know! There are definitely some items of clothing that Mia has wanted to wear that I just flat out said no to because I didn’t like them. (Edit: I should add that Mia is fine with me picking out her clothes in the morning. She is not so focused on clothes yet and doesn’t usually care what she wears). Maybe this is acceptable now because they’re still young, but what about when they’re older? I don’t look forward to the day we’ll battle it out over some article of clothing. We’re already dealing with lots of attitude that’s starting to emerge ever since she started first grade. Now that I’m older, I can’t say for certain that I won’t react like my mom, even though I swore when I was 18 I would be totally cool and let my kids do whatever they wanted. It’s hard sometimes not to get totally exasperated by your kids and let your words be ruled by your emotions. I think this is where you get in trouble. I think like so many other aspects of parenting, we’ll just wing it as we go. I’ll just have to remember that I was a teenager once too, dying my hair all sorts of colors, getting things pierced, wearing ripped fishnets and Doc Martins. It only seems like yesterday. Can’t believe I’m already on the flip side.

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  • Jess (Where My Heart Is) January 24, 2011 at 7:23 am

    Having two daughters of my own (2 years apart) I totally get the comparison thing. It is very hard – particularly when one child is better at some things. My youngest was a very talented ballet dancer and it was always so hard for my older daughter as she also did ballet and loved it but was not as naturally talented. Being older and not as good at something hurts, particularly when everyone else constantly reinforces this.

  • may January 24, 2011 at 7:59 am

    it gets harder? man, i’m pretty much struggling with the baby phase right now, even though my kid is also a reasonably easy baby. reading this post made me remember all the tough parts about being in middle school, and how it must have been hard for my mom to go through it with me. and now, like you said, the flip side: going through it all over again with my daughter.

  • Laura January 24, 2011 at 9:45 am

    Funny you should mention piercings, because that is what my mom always said to me, “Are you going to want that when you’re eighty?” “Tattoos get wrinkles, too, you know.” Yesterday, I was walking in the mall with my girls, and I saw a young man who had stretched his earlobe with a piercing, and then taken out the hoop. It looked like a huge worm dangling from his ear.

    My husband had more panic about the potential clothes and fashion issue with the girls than I did. We just solved the issue by shopping with them. (It helps that he has really good taste!)

  • Liz January 24, 2011 at 10:09 am

    I think there will always be someone who will be compared to someone else, be it a class mate, someone else’s child or in your case, a sister. I know it’s hard, but I (sadly) think it is something we need to learn as it is done all the time today, there is no way around it. In my opinion, all you can do is hope every child will nurture it’s talents and be happy with who he/ she is. Who compares always loses. Having said that, i totally agree with you, it IS hard and I have been in the same situation as a child so I can totally relate with you.

  • Lakshmi January 24, 2011 at 11:33 am

    Have to share this one… So I grew up in the 80s in Bombay. I remember that Mummy never stopped me or my younger sis (she is 2.5 years younger) from getting any clothes we wanted. Now that I look at some of the older pics, I cringe – God, how did you let us wear THAT?!!! But she did… 🙂 and I love her for that. Ear piercing is very common (often the norm) among Indians. So that wasn’t a big deal.

    Growing up, I always thought that all mothers were like mine. Now that I am 30+, I realize that my sister and I are incredibly lucky because we have a Mom who was cool enough to let us make our own decisions – be it about clothes, hair, careers or husbands. The confidence that comes from making (and living with) our individual choices, I think, has served us both well.

    Too long a comment? So sorry.

  • Lakshmi January 24, 2011 at 11:37 am

    Oh, I wanted to talk about sibling comparisons too. I got a lot of that – G is so cute/Oh, she sings so well and so on.

    As an older sibling, it pricked a little but not too much. I think it was because I loved G too much (in my own older sister way) to feel too bad. Plus I just made up my mind that I had some real special qualities that set me apart from many other girls in my class! So that made me feel better too… 🙂 I guess I just verbalized some of the stuff that went on in my 8-year old head!

  • Mackenzi January 24, 2011 at 12:52 pm

    People growing up always thought my skinny sister was “so pretty!” and then they’d say to me, “oh, and you’re just so smart.” I constantly felt like I was in last place in some weird beauty pageant I didn’t enroll in. But hey, I was smart!

    My parents were so very conservative; I was forced to get all my tattoos in places where they couldn’t see them. That has saved me from having to show the world my less than stellar teen choices. That being said, I don’t regret for one second the piercings, the weird purple hair phase or the, let’s just be honest here, tramp stamp. I was young and adventurous and I loved those rebellious years.

  • Laura January 24, 2011 at 12:55 pm

    I too am wondering how I will deal with the upcoming years with my daughter. Girls do seem harder to raise then boys at certain ages. My daughter is in 1st grade too and we have been dealing with lots of attitude this year. Lucky for you that Mia still lets you pick out her clothes at 7! My daughter started picking out her clothes at 2yrs old! It was a battle I chose to let go of. And now she is going through a stage where she doesn’t want to look “too pretty” It is sad to me that girls are aware of that so early on. A product of our society.

  • Jennifer January 24, 2011 at 1:10 pm

    I have a sister who is 3 years younger and I was always the socially awkward one growing up, and she had tons of friends and it seemed like everything was easy for her, so I was very jealous of that and it hurt that my younger sister didn’t look up to me. One thing that drove me crazy growing up was how much my parents valued sports over everything else. My younger sister and brother are both amazing athletes, and I was the introverted artsy kid who preferred sitting on the bench. They recognized my artistic talent, but our family invested so much more time in sports, so I always figured that must be more important and there was something wrong with me for not being a good athlete. Even at 25, I’m having to plan my wedding around my brother’s college baseball schedule! Story of my life. I know my parents love us all equally, but I don’t think they realized the effect that had on me as a kid.

  • Ana January 24, 2011 at 1:31 pm

    I loved reading this post. I have a daughter and when I was pregnant even though I didn’t mind I kind of shamefully hoped for a boy. Having Emma showed me how wrong I was there’s nothing sweeter than raising a girl. She has changed my life in the best possible way.

    I just laughed about tattoos and piercings, definitely not coll after all. I have both and I regret them just a little.


  • mau January 24, 2011 at 2:10 pm

    I agree with all you said, especially the last part. And Mia is beautiful. They both are and I’m sure they will know it so don’t worry.

  • Twiggs January 24, 2011 at 2:55 pm

    hello jenna! oh my, you made me laugh!!! i even shared your family adventure with mr twiggs! 🙂 you know, i am not a mother yet, and do not know if i will ever be. but i am 30 now… and actually think that sometimes i already sound like my mother… exactly like her. and we never had that excellent relationship… so now i kind of understand what was going on her mind. though i want to believe that i am a better version of that wild and very temperamental spirit! i love reading your stories!!! have them on reader now, so it will be much easier to follow! 🙂 have a great week! twiggs

  • catherine January 24, 2011 at 3:18 pm

    i have a young son, and even though this post is mostly about girls and being a girl, i have similar concerns for my son. he is shy, a little guy, and half asian/half italian. i wonder how the world will see him and treat him. and will i give him the freedom to make his own decisions (from crazy hair to late night partying) more so, than i would a girl? who knows. i just want him to be the happy.

  • Annie From Seattle January 24, 2011 at 4:16 pm

    I say it gently and affectionately….but perhaps you want to rethink the choosing the clothes thing for Mia? She *is* the daughter of two exceptionally creative people and clothes are a natural extension of self expression and, sometimes, creativity. It’s only natural that she’s following in your footsteps. Or maybe have one or two days a week where she wears whatever she wants? After trying so hard to make M look like I thought she should look, I’ve fallen back to the “nothing permanent/nothing distracting at school/nothing too revealing” policy & I just have to grit my teeth through some of the outfits. In Seattle, it’s the hippie Tom’s shoes in the pouring rain that send me over the freaking edge. I want to scream GO PUT ON YOUR RAIN BOOTS but then I think about the summer that I wore a Soviet flag as a skirt..the entire summer…and my Mom kept her mouth shut. HA!

  • Jenna January 24, 2011 at 4:27 pm

    Annie, I’ll let Mia wear what she wants eventually, but she’s only in first grade. There is time for that yet and I don’t want clothes to be such a big deal. It’s already bad enough when she has some classmate saying that her “outfit is ugly” on some particular day. 95% of the time Mia doesn’t care what she wears. In the morning we’re so rushed that we’re just putting on any clothes. It’s that 5% of the time that maybe we’ll be at the store and we’re shopping for a bathing suit or something. Usually I don’t shop with the kids, not because I don’t want to shop with them, it just doesn’t work out that we’re shopping together. Bu once in a while she’ll pick out something at the store and want it. If it’s appropriate then it’s fine, but if it’s like some neon leopard print 2 piece bathing suit like she wanted last year? No, I don’t think so!

  • Justine January 24, 2011 at 4:51 pm

    Oddly enough, an old picture of Mia when she was about Claudine’s age just popped up on my facebook page! Serendipitous timing. She too was (is!) adorable. It’s just so hard to compete with the little ones. I even find myself defending Olie’s cutness when Solvi gets all the attention, and he’s a boy. I have no doubt that Mia will be a singular beauty one day, more importantly with tons of individual style and flare!

    But you are wise to protect them from being typecast. I have two aunts who are both exceptionally pretty and smart, but one gets labelled “the smart one” and the other “the pretty one.” Someone actually said this to their faces a couple years ago! At 70 years old it still haunts them!

    Did you hear the NPR series on siblings? Fascinating. If not, you should get the podcast. Just more parental info to chew on…

  • PJ January 24, 2011 at 4:56 pm

    I’m sure it would be hard to imagine, but do you think it would be just as challenging to raise two boys? I’m sure that boys are girls are equally difficult but at different ages.

  • amy January 24, 2011 at 4:58 pm

    hi jenna
    loved this post. i completely understand the sister thing. mine is 2 years older, has always had more attention then me, always had way more friends and confidence. i was always much more socially awkward and still am. she now runs a charity for aids orphans in south africa and i am a stay at home mum to twin sisters. i’m not sure how to cope with the comparisons thing as its something i struggled with growing up, it can effect kids.
    I agree the baby stage was a breeze compared to now, after turning 3 two months ago the girls snapped in to different people. they turned from babies to little girls over night. They are constantly being compared, the main comment i get is “oh m is much rounder than p, isn’t she” even though they are identical and not many can tell them apart, I hope these kind of comments stop before they know whats being said.

  • benson January 24, 2011 at 8:35 pm

    best advice someone gave me “if it’s not illegal or immoral…don’t worry about it.” And as the mom to 3 kids (all over 20) I have to tell you that THIS is the easy stuff–enjoy it!

  • Kaci January 24, 2011 at 8:51 pm

    Don’t you hate it when people compare amongst siblings? Especially on appearances?! As if that truly is the most important quality of that person. I grew up with 3 older sisters so I’m very used to being compared to them. Especially the one nearest my age who is 3 years older. Except people mistook us as twins cause I was really tall for my age. And let me tell you, every time when someone commented on how pretty I was (and totally ignored my sister) it hurt us both. I could see that my sister was hurt, and that made me feel uncomfortable. My mom wasn’t quick in responding, so she would always do this awkward laugh (so I’m really glad you do have something to say). Even now that I’m older (I’m almost 23) we all still get compared, just differently. But as adults, we don’t get (as) hurt anymore cause we understand it’s just nature for people to compare, sadly.

    Also, in my opinion, it is okay to over parent and hellicopter over kids when it comes to the internet. I’m grateful that my parents always had a rule to never let technology go into our rooms. TVs and computers always stayed in the living room or dining room. Even when laptops started getting popular, we weren’t allowed to use them outside those rooms. I wish every parent followed that rule, even though it’s a hard one to implement and follow. I recently went on a disgusting website that shall remain nameless. It was so gross that I thought my friend who told me about it was crazy (I was like, “What were you thinking?!”). The saddest thing about that site was that there were so many young kids on it. Sooo many.

  • lilcg January 24, 2011 at 9:29 pm

    I am an only child and my 20 month old daughter is quite likely to remain an only child, so the sibling thing I can’t relate to, but the daughter/girl part already makes me nervous.

    I was never a girly girl and from middle school through high school (and a little into college) I didn’t feel like I fit in. I teach high school and sometimes I look at my students and I wonder what my daughter is going to be like. I try to picture her in 13 years sitting in her high school english class and I just can’t. I want her to be happier and more confident than I was, but I also want her to be someone I would have liked myself when I was younger. girls are scary.

  • rebeccanyc January 25, 2011 at 12:21 am

    a friend of mine told me a great story the other day about her and her sister…they had an aunt who would always tell one how pretty she was, the other one how smart she was…when the younger one asked her big sister why the aunt always said that, her sister told her “that’s easy, I’m stupid and you’re ugly”. They laugh about it now..

    Claudine still has her cute babyness about her but you can begin to see the beautiful woman that Mia will someday become. Both of them are keepers!

  • Sid January 25, 2011 at 10:30 am

    Thank you for writing these posts. Reading this is a good reminder of the things I hope to be able to do when raising my kids. My younger brothers are identical twins and although they got a ton more attention/interest from people when we were little (back when twins were rare) I never envied them. Being identical means being constantly compared, by others and yourselves. I think it’s had a hugely negative impact on their sense of identity and self-esteem. Although it’s impossible to control what other people say, as a parent I intend to do my best to limit the comparisions I make between siblings but also to try not to make much of the comments of others. Sometimes when you try to “make up” or compensate for things people say/don’t say you just draw more attention to the comparison (i.e., you’re smart and pretty too!). Kids notice these things.

  • marlene January 25, 2011 at 11:09 am

    great post, jenna. i also have two girls and am worried about the same things. oh and i seriously wish someone back in the day showed me a belly piercing hole during and after pregnancy. 🙂

  • stephanie January 25, 2011 at 5:14 pm

    hi, jenna! just wanted to let you know that i generally skip over blogs with wordy posts, and typically prefer to look at picture-heavy ones. but i always read your stories because they’re so well written and interesting. your humor and candor are awesome … doesn’t hurt that you also have great pictures.

  • Jasmine January 26, 2011 at 2:14 am

    This is my favourite post of yours. Truly evocative.

    Sometimes a little tug of war goes on in my mother’s head when I want to do something crazy, like go on an impromptu trip with my bf across the country. At first, she’s all, “What? You’re crazy. So dangerous! Who’s driving? SO FAR!” And then she pauses, says something like, “Sigh, you’re just like me when I was your age.” I don’t know what it is about those moments, but I really, really love them.

  • Jen January 29, 2011 at 12:52 am

    Your family is beautiful!