This one here. The super-cute one that of course got her looks from her father, I mean her mother is 22-years old and a force of nature. She’s inquisitive, crazy smart, always learning and off-the-charts opinionated, but in the most wonderful ways possible. She’s helped me become a better man like no one ever has in my life. And lucky me, she’s my daughter.
How did such a wonderful,
well-adjusted young lady like Kaylee
come to be? It wasn’t easy. Aside
from the obvious challenges in raising
children, throw in the internet and social media, sprinkle in expectations for girls that are clearly different than boys and you’ve
got a recipe for struggles and heartache. Thankfully, we don’t follow recipes in our house.
I’m Gary, married 27 years to an amazing woman, (but there’s not enough room here for me to get into all her greatness) a father of four – 3 boys and a girl; 26, 24, 22 and 15. The 22-year old is Kaylee, a gift.
When Kathy and I were having children I never thought much about
the challenges of raising a daughter versus a boy. I mean it’s all the same, right? Easy peasy. This one will just pee sitting down and wear makeup. We got this. Paaaalease! Once she came into our world
on June 6, 1997 it was different. Big time. I was no longer a dad, I became the protector, nervous and not wanting to let go. Immediately
I was struck with what if’s because well... I’m a man. I know how men are, how they think and sadly how I used to think. How can she grow up with all of this? How will they look at her? The thoughts they will
be having, the things they will say. Can she handle it? Can I? How
can she still shine as her true self while being judged? Sexualized?
Put in a box?
Then there’s all of this other stuff she will have to deal with: How other women perceive her, how society judges her. What she wears, what she says, getting the same opportunities as everyone else. Oh and this thing called the World Wide Web just hit a few years ago –– and what that’s going to do to women isn’t even a germ in my brain yet. It is 1997 after all.
As parents it’s hard not to worry about the world our kids are growing up in and how it will shape the adults they’ll become. Will our boys always treat women with respect and will our girl feel she can speak and more importantly, be heard? I’ve tried to be a frequent role model to our kids, encouraging them to be who they are and to share their feelings. Now I haven’t always been a perfect role model, but I’ve been pretty good. I’ve made mistakes and grown. One of the best lessons for our children has been them witnessing how we handle our own pressures. Stress. Anxiety. Failures. I think this has played an integral part in Kaylee being a ready-to-rock-the-world woman.
The thing is, this 22-year old is the most life-ready child I have. Maybe I should simply chalk that up to dominant and recessive genes? She’s got a lot of her dad in there, mom, too. Kaylee speaks her mind and stakes her claim. She’s never needed a shove to do the right thing.
As part of this amazing exercise, I called Kaylee and asked her way-too-many questions about growing up as a young woman. How did she handle all of these pressures? Were there struggles I wasn’t aware of? And to my surprise, she didn’t have a lot to say here. She did talk about how uncomfortable men can make her feel especially if she is at the gym –– being stared at all the time. Obviously, I wasn’t enjoying this part of the conversation –– I don’t like thinking about men looking at my daughter that way –– what I liked about it was how centered she was on the subject. We went through many of the hot buttons of being a feminist and my daughter doesn’t
want to be identified as a feminist.
She doesn’t like labels put on things,
especially her. She wants equality
for everything and everyone and
wants more smiles in the world.
My daughter’s biggest complaint
about growing up a woman is how
long it takes to get ready. “Men can
just get up and go, we can’t.”
Actually she qualified that saying, “I guess I could just get up and go but, I need to look better than that”. Here was my one opportunity to dig deeper with Kaylee, finally I’ve got her! I said “you’re such a pretty girl, you don’t have to do much, why do you feel the need to do all of that?” And then we started getting into more of people have expectations for how we look, but she never dwelled on it. She never thought about it as I’m not equal to men, etc. She also doesn’t feel that men are smarter than women. Of course, she’s right.
She doesn’t believe there is a bias against women versus men but she does believe that sometimes women have to work harder to be taken seriously. It was fun to have this conversation with her and even though she didn’t get very deep into any issues growing up as a woman, it was clear that it was different than how my boys grew up. You know what I loved? She told me it was great. She grew up feeling safe, secure and having a voice in her world and she continues to live this way.
We raised our 4 eggs to be themselves and stake their claim. Kaylee took that to heart. Having said that, I can’t stop questioning how it’s turned out so well with Kaylee. Did I control what our kids consumed online? On tv? You betcha. If we don’t, we’re not raising
our kids, the world is. These screens play a huge role in
how they see the world. Media reinforces gender roles
and stereotypes. Do video games and violence have an
affect on them? I never thought that games would
influence them to be bad or have evil thoughts, I just
felt they were sometimes inappropriate and shouldn’t be
absorbed until they were older. Once they did, we
controlled the amount of usage.
We always talked to our kids. We told them why we
wanted to control what they were seeing. But no matter
what we have done to prevent exposure to gendered,
sex or violent content, it still happens. There’s just too
much to cut it all off. But it’s not all bad. Our kids need to have a good relationship with themselves and their bodies so that they are mentally and sexually healthy when they are older. Hard to think of your kids that way, but it’s true. It all starts with us as parents. We must teach them to respect their bodies. About boundaries. Teach my boys not to treat women as objects. Encourage them to talk about these subjects. Even though it’s hard, if you start being open from the start, the conversations will be easier. And it was. Kaylee is the product of growing up in that environment. Will she have struggles as she gets older? Of course, we all do. Is she a bit naive about the way the world sees men and women? Perhaps, but because of her strength, security, never being close minded and yes, us –– she'll thrive.