This has always been an interesting topic for me. I am a mom of twin girls who are now nine and a half years old and just had another baby girl three months ago. So yes, I am officially a girl mom to the max! I am so proud to be raising girls. But this comes with a lot of responsibility, in my opinion. Sure, I want to teach them to love themselves, respect others, be kind, help those in need, and ultimately be good people. But one responsibility is constantly in the back of my mind. And that is to speak up.
Social norms tend to change every generation. While many changes are for the better, we still have a ways to go. We have older generations that don’t understand the younger generations’ ways because that’s not how they were raised. Believe me, I know the complexity of that. However, it is my responsibility to instill the changes that I feel are important for my girls.
Old Habits are Hard to Break
I ran into this issue a few days ago with my dad. He and I don’t have the best relationship. He’s not very emotionally in tune, and growing up, he demanded I be a certain way. I was to say hi politely to everyone, speak about my day during dinner, and always ask others about theirs. I had to make sure I said “bless you” with every sneeze (so much so that now I can’t walk past a stranger without saying it) and always sit straight and kindly listen when others speak.
Now, this may seem like a good foundation for a child to learn, and I think it is. But it was extreme. Unfortunately, I see many of his mannerisms bubbling up in me with how I’m raising my girls. It’s been a struggle for me to break out of this. Of course, I want them to be polite, engage with others, and listen and not always talk. But there is a fine line between being your own person and being afraid to cross the imaginary line of cultural etiquette.
I was raised in Mexico City, where “hellos” and “goodbyes” are much different from those in the States. People there say hello and goodbye with a kiss on the cheek. It’s a cultural thing, and honestly, I love it. But not everyone gets it. I’m used to it, but not everyone in my family is, including my girls.
One day my dad came over for a visit. My twins had just gotten out of the shower and came downstairs after he had already sat down to see the baby. As they approached the couch and sat down, my dad immediately said to them, “Why don’t you say hi to Mimi and me?” Somewhat reluctantly, they went up to him and gave him a kiss.
Teaching My Girls Boundaries
It may seem like a small, inconsequential thing, but that event stuck with me. It brought me back to my childhood, and resentment came up that I wasn’t expecting to feel. When I asked my girls if they were upset about what had happened, they said no. Honestly, they probably didn’t think twice about it. Maybe it’s because it’s not an everyday thing for them since clearly, I haven’t taught them to greet people in this way. But I still felt like we needed to talk about it.
I reminded them that no one needs to tell them to say hello, especially with a kiss. I said it’s okay if you don’t want to kiss your father or me, your grandfather, or anyone else for that matter. You can say hello, but you don’t need to do something if it makes you uncomfortable. I think they got it. But I needed to say more.
We talked about boundaries and our bodies. We pulled out the books we have on saying “no.” I reminded them they have every right to speak what’s on their mind. If something makes them feel uncomfortable or they don’t want to do something, it’s okay to say no. I also reminded them that they have every right to talk about and bring up whatever they’re thinking and feeling.
Our conversation went on for a few minutes, and I think they understood. But my job wasn’t done. Afterward, I reached out to my dad and told him how uncomfortable that made me. I explained that it’s my job to raise my children however I see fit. And I don’t think it’s okay to “make them” say hi to anyone a certain way. I know he didn’t understand, and he probably disagrees. But I had to say it, and I’m glad I did.
Be Respectful But Use Your Voice
This is my responsibility. To raise my girls and remind them that they have a voice. To remind them that they have every right to be who they want to be. And while I want them to be kind and compassionate, I also want them to feel comfortable expressing themselves. I don’t want them to feel like they have to conform to anything society or culture places on them. This means I have to exemplify that at home. If they feel uncomfortable in their own home, they definitely won’t feel comfortable being themselves out in the world. And it is my job as their mama to make sure they’re capable of speaking up for themselves in all that life throws at them.