Identity is everything. It’s the essence of who we are, how we want to present what we’re all about to others, and what we contribute to the rest of the world.
Every one of us has been on a first date or mingled with strangers at a cocktail party. The compulsory “getting to know you” questions always include: Where do you work/What do you do? Where are you from? What do you like to do? What about your family (do you have siblings, and so on)?
All of us seek the answer to that important question and establish our identity through our childhood and early adult life. Some of us have agonizing teen years in the quest of a sense of self, and many of us still journey through life seeking fulfillment and peace in this area.
For most of us, the foundation of identity begins to be set in the cradle, or even at the first glimpse of gender on a blurry ultrasound image.
It’s a boy! Surround him with blue, dinosaurs, superheroes, and trucks! We imagine rugged athletes, strength, and careers in such fields as science, construction, or as first responders.
It’s a girl! Dress her up in pink and lace, she’ll be a princess, have tea parties, dance ballet, and make a life in a beautiful home with babies of her own!
I’ll confess that my vision of having a daughter was somewhat skewed by my own perception of what it means to be female, and I attempted to impose what I loved about my experiences as a girl onto my own child. I loved pretty dresses, being a Girl Scout, going to dances, sewing, cooking, and being “girly.” Surely my daughter would feel the same!
I meant no harm in buying her everything pink, signing her up for dance classes, and giving her Barbie dolls. I’m sure my own mother meant no harm when she told me girls aren’t good at math and shouldn’t do sports because it’s not “ladylike.” She did what any mother tries to do: prepare their child for the world with the wisdom they feel they have to impart on their child. My mother and I both thought we knew what was good for our daughters based on what we experienced and had been told. It worked for us, so why wouldn’t it work for our children?
You know what they say about assumptions? They make an ass out of you and of me! Assuming every little girl wants to be a princess and every boy will like trucks is a time bomb waiting to go off. Many children will enjoy the colors, toys, and traits we impose on them because of gender, possibly because they truly like them. Many others will fall in line because that’s the only option they have available to them.
It took me a regrettably long time to snap out of my Barbie Dream House haze and realize that living in a pink palace and being Susie Homemaker wasn’t my personal destiny or definition of self or satisfaction. The message I was taught in childhood was to be pretty, be proper, and be a good caregiver. I discovered that I wasn’t truly being myself as long as I was living as a clone of my own mother. I didn’t begrudge her of whatever made her happy or necessarily blame her for just trying to pass along all that she embraced; but it wasn’t entirely me!
What about my own daughter, then? Everyone has always remarked about how she is my “mini me”, yet, she is her own unique person! She may look like a smaller, younger version of myself, but she is herself! She rejected pink and frills not long out of preschool. She always preferred sugar skulls to china dolls, and t-shirts to dresses. We do have many things in common, but so much of her is who she naturally is or chose to become.
There are days I look at her and chuckle to myself thinking that my mother would lose it if she could see her granddaughter wearing black combat boots, sketching tattoo designs in her notebook, and laughing so hard that she snorts! She does not fit her grandmother’s definition of femininity, yet she is every bit female, and a true delight! She is being her true self and living her best life. That’s what I want for her so much more than fitting into anyone else’s box!
Half the world’s population is female simply because of anatomy, yet the concept of what it means to be feminine or a girl is something specific to each woman and how she chooses to express it.
I am reminded of an episode of Queer Eye (season 3, episode 1) when the “Fab Five” met a gorgeous blonde correctional officer whose wardrobe consisted of mostly camouflage, and whose passion was shooting guns and being a “tomboy.” Jody never felt completely comfortable in her own skin as a female because she thought every woman was supposed to wear skirts and heels and prefer dainty things. The problem was, that wasn’t her! The Fab Five helped her strike a balance so that she could comfortably express her more soft and rugged sides in a way that made her own light shine.
How about rockstar US Women’s soccer player Megan Rapione? Megan is the outspoken, purple-haired, proud lesbian, badass FIFA athlete that many girls will want to look up to, and she’s all woman!
How about legal icon Ruth Bader Ginsberg? She defied the norms of many women of her generation by becoming a highly educated female in a male-dominated profession. She has never let her age or tiny stature prevent her from acting as a titan in the face of great challenges. Lace collar and gavel in hand, she’s one heck of a woman!
How about my own 16-year-old stepdaughter, Kathryn? She is both beauty and beast on the football field. She didn’t let the fact that she was the only girl stop her from lining up against boys who tried to intimidate her with their size and insecurities about a girl literally running circles around them! Kathryn not only kicks butt on the football field, basketball court, and classroom, but can also work a formal like a pageant queen!
“Feminine” is simply whatever each woman is or does just by being her true self!
There are many facets to identity that our kids will have to explore and establish for themselves including the expression of their gender identity, sexuality, spirituality, career choices, personality, and so much more! We can either lovingly guide and encourage them along this difficult voyage or cause them more pain and difficulty by rejecting them. It is not always easy to watch our children travel a path we disagree with or fear will be especially challenging for them, but there are six things we can do to be supportive and loving versus harsh and judgmental:
I had to seriously consider that question several months ago when one of my children came out to me as pansexual. I won’t name names because this is their story and information to share. I found myself questioning if someone so young could truly know or understand what this choice means. In the instant that I had to react to this news, I decided that the only thing that matters is my love for my child. Time will tell if the label they have chosen now will still fit years from now. What I will do is be there and provide a safe and loving home to always be available to return to.
The most beautiful message I held onto from my child’s revelation is that they identified as pansexual because this means they have the ability to see beauty in all and love anyone. What is not to love about a little soul whose heart is big and blessed enough to love anyone?
My identity is Audrey. I am a mom, stepmom, wife, writer, social worker, friend, and woman. My kind of woman! I didn’t become the woman I am today without many experiences and trials along the way including two failed marriages, trying very different career paths, and falling down many times before pulling myself back up.
My journey to identity (and yours) didn’t come fast or easy, and neither will our children’s! Love them, listen to them, and be a safe landing place for them as they discover their own path. There are as many ways to be a woman as there are women, and whatever she chooses will be amazing!
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