My four-year-old daughter, Kiki, and I read The Paper Bag Princess before bed last night. At the end of the story, after Prince Ronald has told Princess Elizabeth she didn’t look nice enough and wasn’t good enough (even after she’d gone through ALL that trouble to save him!), and Princess Elizabeth tells him he may look nice but he is really a bum, Kiki exclaimed with ferocious passion: “Oh! I will NEVER marry a bum!”
I was so proud of her, so pleased by her conviction, the distaste she exhibited, and the strength of her declaration. I loved it and it felt like a forceful jolt from my perspective as a schmirty-year-old woman to the baggage-free worldview of a four-year-old girl.
Mother’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on what it means to be a caregiver, a steward to these precious little lives we usher through the world. This year, on Mother’s Day, I also want to take some time to think about what I can learn from my warrior-hearted daughter.
Additional ways we should be more like our four-year-old daughters:
(…because a girl’s confidence peaks at the age of 9–yes, NINE!–and because Kiki is indeed four, I am using this number as a metaphorical stand-in. Hang with me, k?)
1) Throw fits and tantrums when things aren’t fair.
Can you imagine. Can. You. Imagine?! If we truly got pissed and spoke up, got loud and wouldn’t take it each time we experienced an injustice? Instead of our learned behavior of acceptance, internalization, and questioning our worth rather than the stilted, tilted system?
>Time use surveys indicating the residual discrepancy between the work men and women do in the home.
>People who only make eye contact with the men in a room during a meeting
Let me tell you something–something every parent knows. There is no way in hellllll Kiks is tolerating getting even one M&M less than someone else. And she certainly has no patience for someone telling her what she just said. But sure, go ahead. Try one of those things. And may the lord have mercy on your soul.
2) Refuse to settle for or tolerate people who don’t value you.
If anyone tells my daughter they don’t want to be her friend, as, I’m discovering, preschoolers are wont to do, she will promptly turn on her heel and walk away. No skin off her nose and their loss, as far as she is concerned. In fact, she’s adopted a very strange expression in response to just this situation. A-hem. Ready?
“So long, pig-town!”
What?! Where did she get that? Oddly enough, it is very fitting.
And if only. If only I could say the same to the guy who’s told me he doesn’t want to be the adult equivalent of my playground “friend.”
3) Feel the confidence course through your veins.
Kiki and I played with a Frisbee the other day. I was teaching her how to catch it and throw and was in awe of the gusto with which she literally dove for the flying disc. Each heroic and completely unnecessary fully-splayed catch attempt also involved a series of log rolls or somersaults. It was amazing. And inevitably resulted in a botched pass.
It’s the same for singing. Or dancing. Complete, unabashed absorption in the task at hand. She pours her heart into it and gives it all she has. No learned, self-conscious behavior. No uncertainty about how to perform her femininity. Simply a raw, unfettered belief in herself.
I am not sure if I know what that is like anymore, although I can feel it deep down in me sometimes. I have become so accustomed to watching myself as I know I am watched. Accustomed to participating in my own surveillance a la John Berger’s Ways of Seeing, and self-policing the joy right out of an activity.
This Mother’s Day, I am thinking. . . . I don’t want her to turn into me. How, instead, can I be more like her? How can I return to a version of myself pre-social tampering? And perhaps, most importantly, how can I protect her and keep social seep out of her bloodstream? I want those veins and the stuff running through them thick with the self-confidence, joy, and sense of self she’s always known.
Can we do this, mamas? It may be one of the greatest challenges we face–to de-program ourselves. But I’ll do anything for Kiks. And that starts this Mother’s Day weekend -with a Frisbee, skinned knees, and plenty of botched passes.
Virginia Santy McCarver, Ph.D., is founder and CEO of Gavia Strategies, a strategic communication firm, co-founder of Women in Kind (WinK), a women’s co-working space in Denver, CO, and founder and editor in chief of The Broadview Denver, an online publication for women and community. Her work on women, work, and leadership is published in a range of academic and popular outlets. Follow Virginia on Twitter @ginnamccarver.
This post was originally published on The Broadview Denver.