Raising three daughters has taught me that each experience in parenting multiple children is extremely diverse, at every level. Raising one daughter does not necessarily prepare you for the trials and tribulations of the next. My three girls have each taught me a variety of skills; from coping with different bedtime routines, to a range of food preparation skills; several different sports rules, how to navigate medical insurance claims, how to care for a beta fish and a healthy range of lessons about communication skills and discipline tactics.
Raising daughters is not for the weak, but is also incredibly rewarding.
My latest challenge is juggling the vast differences between girls who are fourteen, eleven and four years old.
At fourteen, we’re dipping our toes into the high school social networks. We are comparing and sampling makeup subscriptions, attending football games where I’m trying to not be seen spying, talking about college and career paths, navigating irrational mood swings, sharing dinner-making responsibilities, educating (and learning) about social media and online security, and discussing the benefits of different work or volunteer opportunities. I’m stepping into the season of letting go, struggling with wanting to still hold her close while all she wants is to pull away, and I’m left standing, watching as all of the efforts of my longest stint of parenting are put to the test.
At eleven, we’re navigating the middle child syndrome, realizing that there are some big feelings that want to be expressed combined with the inability to communicate them effectively, along with the challenges of girl cliques where every girl is struggling with finding herself while also trying to mark their place on the middle school social ladder. My middle daughter is by far the moodiest of my bunch, and her anger has, at times, been an almost tangible thing. It was something that we joked about when she was young, that she took after my father in her gruffness. It seems less funny as she sneers along in her pre-teen years, during the times when connecting with her is like trying to charm a snake. I see so much of me in her, and consequently, she’s the one that I’m most terrified will follow in my rebellious footsteps.
At four, we’re working through bouts of fierce dependence and independence, learning our ABCs, numbers and how to write our name, reining in frustrations at having to ask thirty times during a meal for her to sit still and eat, unabashed exuberance, talking through big emotions and meeting sometimes insurmountably stubborn behavior. At times, it feels as though she is more active and harder to contain than her sisters ever were, combined. I’m forced to choose, more times in a day than I can count, between keeping her safe and letting her explore boundaries.
Wrap those stages and ages up with me trying to raise respectful, strong, independent women who are comfortable in their skin, confident, who have a positive body image, who can communicate openly and effectively and don’t spend too much time lost in their phones and laptops, all the while trying to remove the influence of my less favored parts of myself: my expectations and my Type A, tendency-to-lean-toward-perfectionist ways.
There are days, in this stage of raising daughters, where I question how we’re allowed to procreate without a Masters degree in psychology.
We haven’t reached the crescendos of shouting and slammed doors, or school-related issues, as thankfully the older two are willing students and voracious readers, but we have had a few brushes with secrecy and certainly dishonesty; there was an incident with social media that made me question my parenting at its core. And, although I haven’t seen any warning signs, I am nonetheless constantly concerned about the darker things, of eating disorders, self-harm, sexual precocity and consent. I cling to hope that sometimes could be misinterpreted for naivety, as I believe and know they are inherently good kids; I, however, know through my own experience that anyone can stray off course regardless of parental influence, so my balance between being permissive and overprotective is always a constant struggle.
In the moments of motherhood when life slows a little, and I am thinking about raising daughters on a grander scale, I realize that I am also the role model for my girls. That my relationships, my self-value, my character, and my actions are what ultimately will be their guiding light. That my example, my rules, and my love build the unwavering foundation for each of them, regardless of their differences.
I am a far cry from a leading expert in parenting; I only know what has been successful for me, and I thought I would share a few of those things. Regardless of the season of parenthood you are in, each of these points has been the baseline for my approach, time and again.
Give Your Ear and Not Your Ego
You may not be at all interested in made up princess stories and afternoon tea parties, what Julie said to Jimmy on the playground at recess, or weighing in on what shade of lipstick best compliments the shirt she’s wearing to the movies, but actively listening to the minutiae lays the groundwork for the bigger conversations. And, when those bigger conversations happen, I work on responding, not reacting. My ego likes to dictate my reaction, and that has never led to any sort of useful dialogue. Laying my pride aside, and listening versus reacting has more often than not influenced, for the positive, our engagement.
Give Them Time
Some of the best days I have spent with my daughters are the days where I have spent time with them each individually. One-on-one time creates a higher sense of open communication, regardless of the topics. Each of the girls blossoms under my undivided attention. I cater to their preferences for dining, take them out for shared activities and mutual interests; they shine when their thoughts are held in priority and aren’t subject to veto by their sisters.
Get On Their Level
My oldest daughter loves to cook; I give her opportunities for me to play the sous chef to her chef. My middle daughter loves to paint; I enrolled us in a mother/daughter private acrylics lesson. My four-year-old generally demands time and attention regardless of what’s going on around her, so carving out the time to read a book with her, or watch her with undivided attention as she bikes is enough, for now. And, in the moments where you can give your children the ability to be the teacher, you offer them something more – empowerment.
Be the Example
I’m a bit hard-headed and stubborn; I don’t wonder which tree my proverbial apples fell from. I’m working on showing my girls the side of me that isn’t Mom. I’m working on communicating my goals, on apologizing when I’m wrong, on prioritizing my marriage so that they understand connecting with your spouse is extremely important. I’m not perfect, and I don’t expect my children to be, but I do expect – from them and from myself – ownership of our flaws and growth from our mistakes. I am a work in progress, as are they. We are all learning as we go, but we’re not afraid of having high expectations for ourselves.
Raising daughters is, in and of itself, a life-long course. While we are parenting, they are teaching us; lessons about patience, kindness, acceptance, and love. There is no school better than that found in the role of parent.