I pose this question to the girls who come to my Girls Journeying Together groups and I am always fascinated by their responses.
It starts with a clamour of voices, all proclaiming the wonderful freedoms they perceive us women to have. From the girls’ perspective it seems that we can go to bed when we want, eat what we want, do what we want, stay out as late as we wish, with whosoever we want. We can travel, and earn money, and spend that money however we please. We can live where we want, and wear what we want, and don’t have exams or school. It all sounds terribly appealing – and tells us a lot about their experience of the restrictions of childhood.
Then comes talk of family, children, careers. Still good – still positive.
Eventually someone will say the word ‘responsibility’ and conversation turns to bill paying, job worries, family concerns, marriage difficulties, feeding children, looking after pets. Girls often perceive women’s lives to be limited, burdened, and boring. They fear that becoming a woman will mean having to give up on her dreams.
Next I ask the girls whether their own mothers are a good advert for womanhood. Would she want to have a life like hers? and things become pensive.
This question gives some girls the opportunity to imagine themselves into their mother’s shoes – something a self-focussed teen perhaps has not done recently. It is heart-warming to observe her switching her focus:
“It feels like she’s ruining my life but she’s just trying to look after me.”
“I hope I’m never like her, she worries about every little thing, but then, I guess someone has to.”
“She’s forever nagging. I’m not going to do that to my kids. I mean, we could help more, but she could say it nicer.”
“She’s got lots on her plate – I hope I don’t when I’m her age. My life’s going to be, well it’s not going to have so much to worry about. She’s got a lot to worry about.”
On the other hand, when I work with mothers of teens, and I ask them a similar question: “Are you a good advert for womanhood?” It can be a sobering:
“I don’t think I do make it look good at all. I’m always complaining about how much I’ve got to do and how little help I get. I hope she can also see how wonderful it is to have a family… and a job I mostly like.”
“I’ve stopped looking after myself enough – so to her it must seem like my life is all about caring for other people. The other day she even said that I never did anything for myself. It was said like a criticism, but now I wonder if it seems frightening to her – my life. That hers might become that way too.”
“Yes, I think she sees that I’m happy. Mostly. I may not be doing all the things I thought I wanted to… but really, I’m very content with my life. I’m married, children, house, job, friends, and we’re managing financially; I mean who doesn’t want a bit more, but you know, I’ve got everything really.”
We do not choose every aspect of our lives, and we cannot control it all either, but we have a lot more choice and influence than we often allow ourselves.
If you could think of one thing to stop doing and one thing to start doing that would make your life better, what would they be?
Make your life better – and give your daughter an idea of an adult life to look forward to.
A small change can make a big difference…