A few months ago, I took my then two-and-a-half year old daughter to Target to pick out underwear. This is a big deal in the world of toddlers. When I started potty training my son, part of the enticement for going “pee-pee on the potty” was wearing Thomas the Tank Engine underwear. When my daughter and I reached the underwear section, I asked her which pack she’d like—Dora the Explorer or the Disney Princesses. She surprised me by reaching passed both and demanding a pack of boys’ Spiderman.
I tossed Dora in the cart. The next aisle over, we were picking out a potty seat. I held up Elmo and the omnipresent Disney Princesses. I was banking on Elmo, but she again reached over my shoulder and pointed at Cars. I swear she would have staged a sit-in had I pushed for Elmo.
Here’s the thing: I’m a proud feminist. I am a staunch defender of LGBT rights, and I believe gender is as much a social construct as it is essential. And here I am secretly hoping my daughter would pick those stupid princesses over superheroes and cars.
It’s horrible, right?
My daughter, now 3, is sandwiched between two boys. She’s not a fan of dresses, and each morning she asks if she can wear her Batman or Superman shirt (hand-me-downs from her older brother). She likes to pretend she’s a pirate, and she absolutely refuses to wear barrettes or bows in her hair. She makes Shiloh Jolie-Pitt seem like Suri Cruise.
After the Target incident, I gave a lot of thought to why it bothered me that my daughter was more dude than damsel. Truth be told, I worried it was a rejection of me. Would my daughter, as she aged, prefer hanging out with dad watching the Giants/Eagles game instead of The Sound of Music with me? Would we never have those mother-daughter bonding moments, never relate?
On almost every level, I knew I was being silly, forecasting our future relationship based on her preschooler desire to be like her older brother. My daughter is who she is in part because of me. I try to foster individuality in my kids and let them figure out who they are on their own. I’m cool with her leaving the house in her rain boots, Batman shirt, shorts, and winter hat in the middle of summer. I believe in unstructured playtime, value imagination, and think kids should be left alone to be kids. Pushing her to be like other girls was the exact opposite of the parenting philosophy I try to embrace.
And if I’m really being honest with myself, I’ve got to recognize that my daughter is learning to become a woman by watching me. I can’t tell you the last time I wore makeup. If I have my druthers, I wear workout clothes even when I’m not working out. And while I’m a devotee of all the Real Housewives shows, I’m just as likely to get entranced by a marathon of Survivorman. My sisters often tell me I’m a bit of a dude myself.
Ugh, am I already projecting my insecurities about what kind of woman I am on to my daughter? (Don’t answer that.)
So now, when I see my little girl running with the neighborhood boys, happily digging in the mud or joyfully flitting around in her Superman cape, I smile. I guess I’m doing something right if I’m raising a happy, strong-willed, spunky child.