I was 20 weeks pregnant when I found out I was having a girl. It came as a shock; I was sure the baby was a boy.
It wasn’t until later, after my daughter Sawyer was born, that I started to think about what it really meant to raise a girl. What did I wish for her? What was I afraid of? What were the challenges she would face simply because she was a girl?
And the biggest question of all: What was my part in it?
A lot of my thoughts went to my own upbringing. I was lucky, I think. I was surrounded by love and support in a way that, looking back, enabled me to flourish into the person I am today. My parents divorced when I was four, but their love, given apart, taught me about kindness, humility, strength, and confidence. I was secure in the knowledge that I had a foundation, people I could count on, and a home within their hearts.
Last week I was up at an ungodly hour, tossing and turning in bed. You know that feeling? When you are subconsciously working something out, just at the edges of your mind, and you can’t quite get a hold of it? It was like that, all nervous energy and thumping heart. Eventually it solidified.
Sawyer, my little baby, was a girl. And that she was going to grow into a woman.
The ramifications momentarily blindsided me. What does it mean to be a girl in today’s world?
Growing up girl means insane pressure to be beautiful, thin, and endlessly “cool” on social media. It means that she will be met with inequality in the workplace, face the risk of sexual and physical assault, and have to work harder than men for recognition in academia.
It’s not all bad. She may also be a mother herself one day, if she chooses. She may be an engineer or a poet or a doctor or a dancer. So much opportunity if only she can gain the confidence to reach out and grab it. If only I, as a mother, ensure she’s given the opportunities she deserves. That all girls deserve.
What a gift. What a beautiful responsibility I, along with my husband, had been given.
Since then, I’ve made a conscious effort to meditate on how I want to raise this girl, this reflection of her father and myself.
In that time I’ve realized three things that I want for her—
1. I want her to have the spirit of an explorer
Confidence is built one day, one moment at a time.
I want my girl to have the self-assurance to explore if she wants to, to have adventures if the mood takes her, but also to relax. To me, having a spirit of exploration is about listening to your inner voice. It’s about honoring your curiosity, and seeing things through to the end. But it’s also about kicking back after hard work, and letting yourself unwind, guilt-free.
What does this mean day-to-day? It means taking risks. As a parent, this is hard. It’s an instinct to cover our babies in bubble wrap next to a warm heater so they never get hurt or feel the slightest touch of cold. It’s hard to let our kids feel uncomfortable. But it’s essential.
Teaching our kids to feel comfortable with being uncomfortable will help them tap into their own sense of adventure. It won’t limit them experiences they might have had if only they’d had the pluck to say, “Yes!”. It’ll mold them into people who try new things, talk to new people, and persist when the going gets tough.
Having the spirit of an explorer will serve her when being a girl means getting creative and making the life you dream of, no matter what obstacles this world may place in her way.
Adventure has been at the core of who I am, and who I’ve tried to continue to be as a mother. So, for me, passing this sense of adventure on is akin to passing happiness on.
2. Have courage, and be kind
This one I stole from the live-action Cinderella movie.
Being courageous doesn’t mean that you’re not afraid. Quite the opposite. Having courage means being afraid, but facing your fears anyways. It takes thought and effort, and will challenge you.
I wish for my daughter to face her fears head on, and conquer them.
In practice, this is comforting her after she takes a fall, then encouraging her to try again. This practice will build self-assurance, and a willingness to take risks, even in a world where everyone is watching on social media.
Note to self, start doing things that scare me more often. Isn’t that the greatest thing about having kids? As we ponder how to be the best parents we can be, and how to foster the attributes we deem positive in our children’s lives, it reminds us to work on those same attributes in our own lives. Who knew little humans could teach us so much?
Of equal, or perhaps even greater value, is kindness. This world teaches us a “me-first” attitude. It rewards those who take for themselves, those who lie and those who draw outside the lines of ethics. Not always, but a LOT.
I wish for my daughter to make the kind decision. The decision that spares hearts, or encourages the downtrodden. I want her to think of others before herself. I still want her to think of herself – there’s no doormat training happening here – but I want it to be in the context of the people and the world around her.
Have courage, and be kind.
3. Above all, LOVE.
Through it all, I want my daughter to remember LOVE. I want her to feel surrounded by it, embraced by it, buoyed up by it. I want to make her feel like she can take on the world. This scary world with its bullies and bashers and beasts: I want it to fade into the background. I want her to see the beauty in it, in the small things, in the big things, and in the quiet things no one else notices.
I want the love she feels to move her to love also. Not just those immediate to her, not just us, her family and friends. I want her overflowing cup of love to give her the energy to love others, to love the planet, to love art and literature and science.
I want her to remember feeling loved. I want it to be familiar, like the beating of her own heart. That want is so strong in me as a mother; it drives every decision I make.
Many of these things would be equally important had I had a boy, instead of the sweet girl that sits in front of me.
But somehow these three, these small pieces of how I want her to see the world, loom big and important in my heart these days for this baby who is growing up girl.
Haley Campbell is the founder of Beluga Baby and creator of the ultimate bamboo baby carrier. She is a regular contributor to Motherly and is an avid advocate for entrepreneurs, and for the new generation of mothers making the world their own.