I think the number was seven. I believe that was the total count of different ballet classes I had dragged my girls to try before they even turned 4 years old.
Each time we went, they cried, tried to leave the room, or looked just plain miserable. I tormented myself about what I was doing “wrong.”
Why would all these other little princesses happily line up in their tutus and tights and do pliés? What was wrong with me? What was wrong with my kids? Wasn’t this one of the things all little girls are supposed to love?
I envied the moms of these happily dancing, perfect little girls.
How I Finally Changed My Approach to Parenting
Dance class had been high on my list of expectations of the things girls just do — you know, like loving gymnastics, wearing bows in their hair, and adoring all things mother-daughter.
I’ve since thrown out that list.
This mindset shift didn’t come easily. It was a process of seeing my daughters as future women — instead of as my possessions. As babies, my girls exclusively followed my lead (well, besides the bouts of crying and wakeful nights). It was like I was some sort of maternal dictator. Then, I finally had the realization that my children should have a say in who they become.
I know now that I will not raise "perfect" daughters. Before you slap me with the Bad Mommy badge, this is neither a dig at my kids nor a free pass for me to sit back and let my kids run wild.
I’ve just decided that my 7-year-old daughters deserve better than to be shaped, molded, or broken into “perfect” girls.
Instead, I will raise girls who make choices based on what they love. I choose to help my girls remain blissfully unaware of gender roles as long as possible. I choose to raise girls who know their opinion matters, and I want who they are on the inside to always shine brightly. And that has nothing to do with wearing a tutu.
These days, we now toggle between tea parties and Star Wars battles. Our activities range from tennis to karate to fashion design.
Here's how else I've decided to raise my daughters, as part of my imperfect parenting position:
1. I'm raising girls who get messy.
Girls learn too young to keep their pretty clothing clean and their hair perfectly plaited.
I want my girls to know that all clothes are play clothes (with the exception of those worn for special occasions, of course!). I don’t want them to feel limited in their exploration and fun because of concerns about their appearance.
2. I'm raising girls who get hurt.
Of course, no one wants his or her kids to get hurt. And while every single cell in my body screams STOP as I watch my girls do flips on their swing-set rather than sit in the seat and swing, I let them. And yes, sometimes they get do hurt.
But the boo-boos from falling heal much faster than the damage of all the no's, don'ts, and shouldn'ts that I would put in their heads for a lifetime if I put restrictions on them for my own comfort.
So instead, I consider those small scrapes and bruises a badge of discovery.
3. I'm raising girls who aren't always polite.
I want my kids to be well-mannered — but not to a fault. Often, girls are conditioned to say what they think people want to hear. Or they're scared to hurt someone’s feelings.
Young boys much more readily say what's on their minds without fear. I want my girls to learn to tactfully say what they mean. I want them to know that you can’t always please everyone.
At times, this is challenging. Recently I caught myself telling my daughter not to “talk back." (How admittedly old-school is that?) She looked at me with the most sincere look and asked what I meant. Her response was, “I was just telling you what I was thinking!” When I took stock, she was right.
You can’t have your cake and eat it, too — so I backed down. I have raised her to communicate her feelings and to stand up for herself. I want her to take this same forthrightness into the world and speak with confidence and conviction.
4. I'm raising girls who play to win.
I want my daughters to get out there and play hard. In our current “everyone wins” culture, girls are becoming increasingly sensitive. To me, that only results in winners’ guilt and the devaluing of a victory earned. And girls often hold back on the field so as not to draw too much attention.
Instead, I want my girls to always approach situations ready to give it all they have. Ready to win. And when my daughters know defeat — which they will — I hope they have solid enough self-esteem to manage.
But the most important part of my imperfect parenting goals is that my daughters — and all of our daughters — know that there is not one idea of "perfect."
It's not always easy to take your own path — but it is always more fulfilling.
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