My mothering began with the birth of a daughter. Five years later, I was blessed with another. Now, nearly four years on from welcoming my second daughter (and with two boys stirred into the mix), I’m eagerly awaiting the birth of my third little girl. So, it probably goes without saying that, over the last nine years, I’ve spent a good deal of time pondering what it means to be a mother of daughters.
What is it that my girls need from me uniquely?
What speaks to their feminine souls?
How can I best steward and shepherd these precious gifts from God?
In the end, I know that it is my actions and not my words that will have the most profound impact on my daughters. They look to me to learn what a woman is. For better or worse, they will model their womanhood on mine.
So, when I ask myself what I want them to know about being women, I need to take a hard look at myself. Am I the kind of woman I want my daughters to become? Am I showing them through my words, my attitudes, my actions how to be a woman of God–a strong, humble, capable, courageous, gentle daughter of the King?
There are so many things I want my girls to know–about themselves, the world, their Creator. There are lies I want to dispel, truths I want to teach. I don’t have space in this blog post for them all, but here are 7 that I consider among the most important.
7 Things My Daughters Need to See Me Do:
1. Love my body.
Our daughters are beautiful, aren’t they? And we’re not just talking on the inside (although we know that’s what matters most). When I look at my girls, I see utter beauty. I do not see the flaws that will haunt them in their teenage years and beyond. Unfortunately, on the day those flaws begin to reveal themselves, it won’t matter much what I have to say about them. After all, what do I know? I’m just Mom. Of course I think they’re beautiful! So what can I do to give my girls a positive body image? I can choose to model one.
How I respond to my own body will impact my daughters’ self image. I choose to pursue strength and health so that they will choose to treat their bodies like the temples they are. I choose to speak words of kindness to the woman in the mirror, because my girls are listening. I choose modesty because I want my daughters to know that their bodies are treasures. The way I love my body will shape the way my girls will one day treat theirs. I want my beautiful girls treated with kindness.
2. Do dirty work.
I’ll admit, I don’t like being dirty. I loathe the feeling of grit, slime, and stickiness sets my teeth on edge. Unfortunately, I live in the world, not an ultra hygienic bubble. (And, hello! I have four kids!) Grossness is sort of a way of life for me at this stage. Which, in the broader scheme of things, is actually good.
My girls need to see me doing the dirty work. They need to know that weeding the yard, scouring the toilet, and cleaning diapers is not beneath them. They need to know that it’s not just daddies who take out the garbage or scrub out the litter box. There’s nothing inherently wrong with hiring some of this work out–or asking your husband to pitch in. But I want my girls to see that I am capable, that I’m adaptable, and that I’m not afraid of a challenge. Because there are times they need to get their hands dirty, too.
In our house, we have an Apology formula. When someone has sinned against another person, they need to address the person respectfully (and by name). They need to say “I’m sorry for…” (and accurately name the offense). Then they ask for forgiveness.
I know it might sound a little nit-picky, but you’d be amazed how hard it was to implement each of these parts with each of my kids. They’d be fine saying sorry, but they couldn’t remember (or didn’t want to admit) what for. They were sorry for what they’d done, but didn’t want to look the offended party in the eye or call them by name. They might finally choke out an apology but not want to humble themselves enough to ask forgiveness–(“Well, she did such-and-such first!”). Once they’ve embraced all parts of the formula, however, I find it all flows smoothly.
And the most important factor in encouraging them to embrace it? Me. (And their father, of course.)
My children need to see me contrite in my sin. They need to hear me ask them for forgiveness when I am harsh. They need to see my husband and I apologize to each other when we’ve been unkind. They need to know that sin is not the end. It’s a hiccup, a stumble, a stone in the road. I need to show them what repentance looks like, what it means not only to be sorry but to seek reconciliation. Because it is this pattern of sin/repent/forgive that will shape their souls and their relationships for eternity.
4. Stand my ground.
As important as it is for my children to see me apologize when I’ve been wrong, it’s equally important for them to see me stand up for what is right. Even when it’s unpopular. Even when it’s hard. Women in our culture are often taught to back down publicly from their convictions–not because there’s some widespread conspiracy to demean women, but because so many women saw their mothers back down first.
I want my daughters to know that conflict is not the end of the world. I want them to know that their relationship to God and to their own conscience is more important than any earthly friendship could be. I want them to be strong even as they speak with humility and act with grace. But if I want them to learn these things, they will first have to witness the truth of them in me.
I’m an introvert, and that’s a fact. I prefer one-on-one conversation. I don’t relish a lot of busyness or noise; frankly, even a little chaos makes it hard for me to concentrate. Those facts impact my faith life. I enjoy waking up before the kids to spend some time in solitary prayer and scripture study. But, I also know that if my daughters are to learn how to pray, they need to see (and hear) me do it.
In addition to my private prayer, I need to spend time praying with and in front of my children. We attend Mass together with our family. I pray for them throughout the day. During family devotions, they are invited to add their own intentions aloud.
Sometimes, though, I think the most important prayers they need to hear from me are the simplest: those small, sporadic aspirations I utter throughout the day. A quick “Jesus, I trust in You.” When I’ve slipped up, “O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or when the daily grind is starting to overwhelm: “God, come to my assistance. Lord, make haste to help me.” It’s good for my girls to know that God is right there, in every moment, the small as well as the big. And, hey, it’s good for me to remember, too.
All parents are passionate about their children’s education. But I want my daughters to know that learning is not something that happens only inside school hours. In fact, some of the most important things they will learn will have nothing to do with school. They won’t fit neatly into a curriculum, and there will be no worksheets to fill out, no written exam. I want my daughters to embrace a mentality that says, “No, I don’t know that now–but I can learn.”
I’m not a fix-it kinda girl. I can whip up a delicious dinner from scratch without a recipe, but I’m not much in the drills-and-glue department. My husband on the other hand? Yeah, definitely a Mr. Fix-It. So, when my children were younger and one of them would bring me a busted toy or tell me that some part of the house had been damaged, my pat response was, “Daddy will take care of it when he gets home.” After awhile, I started to wake up to the message that was sending to my daughters: Daddies fix things that mommies don’t know how to fix. It wasn’t the message I wanted to send.
These days, I’m more apt to fix a broken toy myself. Let me tell you, I’ve learned a lot about different kinds of adhesives. What I still don’t know, I can discover. I’m not shy anymore about asking for help or admitting I don’t have a certain set of skills in my (proverbial) toolbox. I’d rather admit my shortcomings and then do something about it than send my daughters the message that a skill unlearned is a lost cause.
This concept stretches beyond the material, however. I want my daughters to see me learn from my mistakes. I want them to see me grow in becoming a better wife, friend, Christian. My girls need to see me learn to take better care of myself, to seek help when I need it, to live healthier–physically and mentally–than I did yesterday. They need to see me read and question and seek.
I can’t possibly teach my daughters everything they’ll need to know in the sparse 18 years they’re under my roof (*tears!*). That means, they need to be lifelong learners. Which means, I need to be a lifelong learner, too.
7. Be a blessing.
If there’s one complaint I’ve heard lobbed at my generation more than any other, it’s that we (the Millenials) are entitled. We’re self-centered and unrealistic in our expectations of “our due.” Being an only child didn’t do me any favors in this department, either. Maybe because being an only made me hyper-aware of the criticism at a young age, but I learned early on that the best way to combat entitlement is to nurture a servant’s heart.
I want my children to be servants. Does that sound weird? If you skim your bible, it shouldn’t. How many ways from Sunday does Jesus spell it out? The last shall be first. I want my daughters to be blessings in this world, because that is how they will know true happiness. As Mother Teresa once eloquently put it:
At the end of life we will not be judged by how many diplomas we have received, how much money we have made, how many great things we have done. We will be judged by “I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was naked and you clothed me. I was homeless, and you took me in.”
If they are to know what it means to bless others, they must see me do it first. They need to experience blessing from me in our home. They need to see me be a blessing to them, to their brothers, to my husband, to everyone who steps inside our door. They need to see me reach out beyond our walls to bless new mothers with meals, our parish with volunteer hours, our larger community with my time, money, and other resources. They need to see me treat the homeless man with the cardboard sign with the same dignity and courtesy I’d grant Bill Gates.
In big and small things, they need to see me willingly go out (or keep at home, if that’s the order of the day) to be the hands and feet of God.
photography courtesy of Brea Bursch.