by Gemma Woodhouse
Humans are weird creatures. Investing years of a child’s life teaching them how to talk, write and draw. Sending them to drama or dance classes, paying too much for those horrible flat black dance shoes and sitting through their mind-numbing performances while the teachers are either dying with embarrassment or performing more than the kids; applauding their art efforts whilst subtly trying to decipher what on earth it’s supposed to be, and suppressing genuine tears of pride when the child actually does something heart-warming – reacting lovingly to another person without judging them, trying to stop another child crying, or standing up for another person.
We spend so much time teaching children to express themselves so they can communicate what they are thinking and feeling, to show genuine emotion, affection and kindness. We spend so much time teaching them they are wonderful and valuable human beings.
Then one day, they are told to stop. Stop.
Stop being expressive because “you’re a boy”, “that’s not how I want you to express yourself”, “I don’t understand your ways of expression” or “society doesn’t agree with your way of expression”.
When my friends have children, these are my words to them: “please, just listen to your daughter”.
I have no doubt they will raise strong women with kind hearts and fighting spirits. I have no doubt they will love their daughters unconditionally and be willing to give their own lives for their daughters in a heartbeat.
On behalf of every ‘difficult daughter’ out there, I plead to every single mother.
We don’t turn out as expected. We may not be the healthiest child, we might be disabled, we might be neuro-diverse, or maybe it’s just the odd characteristic or quirk here or there. We might be gay, bisexual, genderfluid, gender neutral, or one of the countless other identifications that you are not yet familiar with. We may be a Goth, a punk, or one of the many alternative cultures and subcultures. We may decide atheism is the way for us despite religious upbringing, or you may raise us secular and later catch us praying. We may marry the first person we meet, or never marry at all. We may be with one person for many years, or change partners as regularly as we change our underwear. We may think sex is the most amazing experience of our lives and want to share every detail, or we may think it’s the most boring thing since maths on a Monday afternoon (some prefer maths to sex; that’s okay too). We may want to wear bright colours or we may want to wear all black. We may want to go to university or we may want to leave school as soon as possible.
The lesson it took my own mother many years to come to learn is that I’M NOT HER. What seems like an incredibly simple statement is something which is far more common than I realised. My mother knew what made her happy and naturally, she wanted me to feel that same happiness. Happiness is relative and this is the dilemma every mother faces. They only know one point of happiness – their own.
How simple would it be if your daughter was exactly like you? But is that what you would want? My mother raised me to be much gutsier than she was when she was young. Why? Because she recognised it was needed. She is uncomfortable with some of my choices but admires my courage for following my own path. It has taken her years to come to terms with my fashion sense and she is proud that I have the courage to do what makes me happy. She rolls her eyes and harrumphs loudly when talking about me and how I am at university, how much I love science, how I just ‘do what I do’ and ‘she doesn’t understand it’, but she cannot hide the gush in her voice. She is learning to appreciate the vast differences between us. My quirks and choices; my likes and dislikes; my general ‘wiring’.
Please, whatever your daughter comes to you with – just listen to her. There will be times when she will horrify you with things she has done or said. Her latest life choice – you don’t have to like it. I’m asking that you listen – without losing your temper or making her regret telling you. Because you only have to make her regret telling you once, and that tight bond between mother and daughter is gone. She’ll still love you but she won’t be able to wholly trust you again, for fear of whatever she thinks or feels being magnified negatively.
In this big, scary world where everyone judges us anyway, we really just need one person who never does.