The power of a rite of passage derives from a number of elements: developing relationships with older women and being counselled by them, succeeding in a challenge, being witnessed, and some ritual way of marking the event. You may wish to team up with other mothers and their daughters for some steps of this journey.
A circle of women(large or small) to participate and be witness to the girl’s journey. We grow up within a community of family and friends and partially gain our sense of our selves from them. Involving key women in your daughter’s life gives her a sense of being supported on the challenging journey of growing up. Being witnessed by those that love and care about her validates her experience of stepping through a gateway towards womanhood and demonstrates that she is not alone.
You cannot welcome a girl into the world of women without having a group of women with whom to welcome her. Think about the significant women in your daughter’s life – grandmother, aunt, godmother, older sister, older cousin, neighbour, friend’s mother, teacher, coach, youth worker, boss, tutor… If there is an absence of women to call upon then this initial stage may take a year or so, while you seek out and invite one or two key women to involve themselves in your daughter’s life.
Elders – older women to offer themselves as allies along the journey, sharing stories, wisdom, and above all, their time.
Ideal if there is a favourite granny or godparent, but actually any willing wise woman will do! Who can your child turn to in times of need? Who do they trust? Who do they feel is available to them in this way? Foster this relationship, even if it means driving some distance to drop your daughter off to spend time, ordinary time, with someone she can talk to. The talking need not be forced, just create the space for it to happen naturally – over a cup of tea, or the clothes rack at the shopping centre, or during the ad break, or whilst helping put smaller children to bed.
Family history – who comes before us, what do we know about our ancestors, what are the common threads that we share with the women who lived before us and what are the differences now?
How much does your daughter know of your life? And your mother’s? And grandmothers’? Have you any photos that you can show her and that might spark off your memories? Is there anything she ought to know – anything that might help her to make sense of how things are in your family? Tell her about the women who have come before her – tell her like you are giving her a gift. Take care not to use the stories as moral tales or as evidence of how easy she has it (she doesn’t feel that way). Let her know about some of the teenage struggles you had. Share the high times and the low times. Give her a sense of where she comes from.
Segregation – time with other girls at a similar stage, together with older woman to guide them in considering the changes and challenges that adulthood brings.
To organise this in a way that feels natural may prove challenging. Consider what the girls may enjoy and then use it as a vehicle for bringing up the questions:- perhaps an afternoon of nail-painting and chat, or the treat of an afternoon at a spa, or an evenings ‘clothes swap’, a country walk and bonfire, or after watching a dvd together…
Seclusion – time alone for reflection. No books, mobile phones, or similar distractions.
Many young people have very little time alone for reflection any longer, so rarely are they parted from their peers or their technology, that they can be quite fearful of the prospect of time spent quietly alone. This fear can lead to huge resistance. “What’s the point?” “I’ll just be bored.” You may need to build up to it by starting small – half an hour alone in the garden pondering her favourite childhood memories, or an hour in the bath to think about what women she admires. Once acclimatised she learns that she is able to spend time alone and may even discover that she enjoys her solitude.
Defining self-purpose. Taking some time to consider what kind of woman your daughter wishes to become helps to orientate her towards her purpose.
This is not about career choice, although this may be a part of it for some, but is more about clarifying what is important to her in life. What does she aspire to? Who does she admire? Who could become a mentor? What kind of woman would she like to be? It can help if someone other than a parent asks her the questions that facilitate her to search for her self-purpose. It will involve dreaming and envisioning her future; it may also entail writing or speaking an intention or vow for herself. She may find it useful to ask others about their purpose. Often it is worth giving this time to mull over; and then re-visit; and visit again throughout life.
Challenge. Some event/task/challenge that takes the girl to some sort of edge, something that on achieving it she can rightfully feel that she has tested herself and succeeded in proving that she has moved forward on her journey towards womanhood.
Your daughter has to earn her right to her rite of passage, and this gives the rite meaning. The challenge needs to be chosen with your daughter in mind – what matters to her, what would feel like an achievement for her? With boys this traditionally involves a physical feat and this may be true for some girls too. Alternatively, her challenge could be to travel somewhere alone, take sole care of an elderly relative, perform, walk to the coast, give a week of her life to supporting a new-mother, organise an event, climb a mountain, write and record a song, or sail single-handed round the world!
Preparation. This is as important as the event itself – and will often throw into light the issues that need to be resolved in order to move forward. It serves the daughter to be given solo responsibility for some aspects of the preparation and to be encouraged to draw on the support and resources of those around her if required. It serves the mother to hand over some of the responsibility to her daughter and to be supported in letting go by those around her.
There’s nothing like a bit of joint decision making to highlight the areas where you and your daughter have differences. This is your work, both of you. Transitions are rarely smooth and the glitches indicate the areas requiring growth. See if you can experiment with new ways of resolving things between you – and there are no prizes for coping – get help. Each of you, pull in the support of trusted others. It is supposed to require effort, ingenuity, and behaviour changing – this gives the whole process meaning.
Dress – a sense of occasion can be created by dressing in a celebratory manner.
Wardrobe decisions may be of great importance if your daughter is someone to whom appearance has a great deal of meaning. What she chooses to wear may carry considerable symbolism for her so allow her as much free choice as you are able. Incidentally the same may be true of you and guests, so include this element in your planning. Special clothes and taking time to dress are common ways of lifting an event out of the ordinary everyday.
Death – some way of symbolising that childish things are being left behind and new adult responsibilities are being taken up.
With death comes grief. Expect to feel sad about your little girl growing up. Expect some ambivalence from your daughter too. This is where symbols can help to carry the meaning of what is both painful as well as exciting. Once the loss is felt and honoured, the possibility of celebrating the new stage is opened up.
Symbols – anything that is employed or exchanged within the ritual context becomes imbued with special meaning.
Like using Grandma’s fancy tea service for special occasions you may want to use your finest. It is also a good time to give your daughter a special gift, something lasting to remind her. You may also want to include in the ceremony representations of things that have significance to this time in her life – objects to represent growth, nourishment, water of life, air we breathe, fire of change, passage of time, ancestors…
The ceremony – once all the above elements have been covered, which may take a year or more, then you can consider a suitable ritual or celebration to mark your daughter’s arrival at this point. You may like to design this together with your daughter.
A rite of passage signifies a gateway, some significant step forward towards adulthood. It must be witnessed in some way. Growing up is not a single event but there can be significant markers along the way and a rite of passage can provide a very empowering and poignant one.
If you would like support or further guidance in creating a rite of passage with your daughter I offer private telephone coaching sessions. For information email me at firstname.lastname@example.org