A Girl’s Guide to Growing Up

Mother and daughter by Pascal Campion

Image by Pascal Campion

Today is my daughter’s 4th birthday. It’s an unabashedly happy day, but for me, deep down, there’s also a little edge of melancholy to it… or, if not melancholy, contemplation.

When I look at her now, I see only a shadow of the moon-faced baby I had four years ago. She’s left that phase and has enthusiastically assumed the role of little girl. Of course, the irrational part of me wants to fill my arms with her while I can, because I know it’s only a matter of time before I look at her and see only a shadow of the little girl she is now. And I’ll tell you right now, I’m indulging that irrational impulse. I’m kissing and swinging her and holding her hand like it’s the most natural thing in the world because, right now, it is.

That irrational part of me wants to keep her a girl forever. But the rest of me knows that, for all that I love and protect her, the best thing I can do is to teach her how to love and protect herself. Right now, I’m reveling in the fact that she’s mine, but that’s temporary. My claim on her will last only as long as it takes her to grow up and claim herself. My most bittersweet job is to her develop the skills and self-possession she’ll need to navigate the world on her own.

That means being open to things that are, quite frankly, frightening and complicated from a parental perspective. The irrational part of me would love to keep her sheltered and unquestioning, but that would do her a massive disservice. I grew up in a family that never talked about sex (or mental health or anything unpleasant or difficult). I know how damaging that can be, even in the most loving household.

So now, while she’s little, I’m making a list of things I want to talk to her about as she grows up. It’s not comprehensive, nor do I think it ever could be. If nothing else, it’s a blueprint, one that I know will get altered by improvisation depending on what’s relevant to her at any given time. In my head, I think of it as a sort of guide to growing up, but one that will grow with her.

Right now, the list is full of things I wish I could have talked through with my mom; things to do with sex, identity, body image and shame; things that I figured out on my own, sometimes at great cost. If I do it right though, the list will stop reflecting my own experiences and become entirely defined by hers. In the end, it is not about me. It’s about her and what she needs at any given time. That said, the list as it exists is massive. It has bullet points covering everything to sex to science – way too much to reproduce here. So instead of trying to get it all in, I’ll leave you with…

A Very Partial List of Things I Want to Tell My Daughter in Completely Random Order

  1.  Masturbation is good, healthy and wonderful. It is nothing to be ashamed of. If and when you want your first vibrator, I’ll be thrilled to take you to buy one. But one word of advice – vibrators are awesome, but it’s easy to get dependent on them. Try to learn your body without one first.
  2. Learn to how to please yourself. Even more importantly, communicate what you like to your partners so they can please you too. Try not to fake your orgasms. Try to voice your needs instead.
  3. Virginity is important, but not in the traditional way. As a symbol of goodness, it’s useless – goodness is better measured by what you do and how you treat people, not by the state of your hymen. That said, your first time (whether it’s oral, penetrative or anything else) is important. It sets a tone. Inexperience isn’t a hindrance to be thrown away.
  4. Sex can be complicated. It can be so complicated that even adults struggle and get tangled up. You don’t need to fear sex. In fact, you shouldn’t. Just choose when to have it and respect the complications it could bring.
  5. Sex isn’t love. It’s sex. While sex is a great way to communicate love, never conflate the two. You can’t barter one for the other.
  6. Porn is not a how-to manual. Neither is erotica or tumblr. They are entertainment and, as entertainment, they’re a great way to explore your fantasies. But if you want to know how to do something, nonfiction is more reliable than fiction.
  7. Take the opinions / advice of your peers with a grain of salt. They’re still figuring it out too.
  8. Sexuality is neither simple nor static. Same with gender identity. Labels are useful but, ultimately, you are you – not a straight person, a bi person, a gay person, a trans person, a slut, a good girl, a feminist or anything else. Labels can define you in ways that miss the whole person. Be the whole of you.
  9. Know your boundaries. They may change over time but always know them. Advocate for yourself. Never, ever be afraid to say no.
  10. I know you’re going to have sex. You’re going to love, hate, be heart-broken and break hearts. Do these things. Live your life. Live it on terms that you choose and do so without shame.
  11. I love you. I love you. I love you. I will always love you. Not matter what happens, no matter who or what you do, I will always, always, always be madly in love with you.
  12. If you get pregnant or get an STI, please tell us. We’ll figure it out. See #11.

NB: This post is far from comprehensive. It’s really more of a meditation than anything else. I am writing several articles that address this subject in a far more directed and detailed way, but for now, this post communicates my general state of mind.

16 comments

  1. Funny, that sounds just like the things I discussed with my son…much to his utter mortification. Treasure these days, and the prickly rebellious times in her teens, because they are gone all too soon, leaving a competent adult who no longer needs your guidance.

    1. Thank you Sessha. I’m trying to treasure as much of this time as I can. I was thinking about how I’ll miss her dependence in a way. I know that sounds awful, especially as I actively want to cultivate independence in her. But there’s something primal about being *needed* in the way she needs me now. It’s comforting in a very baseline emotional way. Hm..I need to think about that..

    1. Thank you, lovely! I just want her to be as happy and whole as she can possibly be. I won’t lie though – sometimes I wish I could slow down time. It’s going awfully fast. xxx

  2. What a wonderful list to start with. I know that it feels hard letting them grow but it is the most wonderful experience. I would add from my own parenting experience to talk, talk, talk. Nothing is out of bounds to talk about. Everything can be discussed openly and without judgement. Also, make sating yes something that you do rather than just an absence of saying no. Be fully engaged and invested in your choices and know that you can say yes, no, not this time or any other choice. Be vocal and trust yourself. My children know that I love them unconditionally and that I will always support them.

    Xxx

    1. “make saying yes something that you do rather than just an absence of saying no. Be fully engaged and invested in your choices and know that you can say yes, no, not this time or any other choice. Be vocal and trust yourself.”

      Thank you, Honey. I actually struggle with this a bit. I second guess myself a lot. You pretty much summed up everything I want to be more conscious of. Your kids are lucky to have you for a mom (and I feel very lucky to have the benefit of your perspective!) Xxx

  3. When my daughter comes home from her holiday with her Dad I am going to sit down and read this post with her…and my son too. I think I have covered it quite well with them but i just want to make sure they are clear on all of these. Sometimes gaps in the information occur without one realising. This post will ensure i have not spaced on any of these points. I will of course report back how it goes. Thank you for writing the best reminder list ever.

    1. Thank you, Molly. Talking to you about all of this crystallized a lot of things for me. I’ve got a lot to learn, but you gave me a sort of framework to work with, which means that it should be me thanking you 🙂
      xxx

  4. “Respect the complications it could bring.”

    I need this spraypainted on my bedroom walls.

    Beautiful list. If only this was the prevailing “blueprint,” we’d have a much healthier culture.

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