Raising girls without social baggage: Possible?

June 9th, 2013  |  by Veralyn Williams |  Published in Blog, Personal Essays

I am officially obsessed by the concept of raising a girl! (Read any of my blogs and you’d know I don’t mean one of my own… but your little girl… I’d be there for her.) My obsession is more than just a mentor/mentee arrangement, as those usually happen during teen years, when the baggage from our adolescence is already ingrained in us. Instead, what I’m talking about is attempting to avoid the baggage all together.

And by baggage… what it means to be a girl in the first place. ie: All the normal stereotypes of what girls would rather play with or talk about. Plus what Sheryl Sandberg described in her book, Lean In: Women, Work, and the Will to Lead, an expectation to be liked by others, over getting what we want.

In my quest to “raise girls” I had to look no further than my immediate family. There are 6 kids under 6, and 4 of them are girls. So I got my 2-year-old niece, Cyan and my 3-year-old cousin, Loran together, and took them to a Planetarium and Aviation Museum. I remember going to the planetarium in elementary school, and wanting to run amuck, but not being able to because it was a class trip, and I needed to behave. So when I got the Travel Zoo offer… I jumped on it and immediately wanted to take these girls! I wanted to give them a chance to bond, and yes- to experience what I never got to. And so a carefully coordinated date, that worked for my sister (with my niece’s schedule), my aunty (with my cousin’s schedule), and me (and my schedule), was booked.

[Side note: These toddlers are way more booked than I am. I guess gone are the days when Saturday morning cartoons was the only thing you had to look forward to over the weekend.]

Overall, the love between these two little ladies is beyond amazing, and I had to keep checking myself to stop with all the “Say cheese girls” moments. Now, as far as my attempt at not having this be the expected girls outing… I felt a little schizo.

Here’s an example of what I mean:

In one of the play areas there were a bunch of space-inspired activities, including a life sized model ship, complete with controls for the pilot and a kitchen for the astronauts to prepare their meals. When we arrived, there was a birthday party group in this area, and most of the kids (who were mostly boys) were all trying to be in the pilot’s seat. But that didn’t stop Cyan or Loran from trying to get their turn too.

Abandoning my instinct to navigate them away from the boys, I let them go for it! And soon my niece was behind the wheel. The problem however, even after (what I deemed) an appropriate amount of time, she didn’t want to give it up… even to her cousin.

So I asked, “Can Loran get a turn?”

“Nooooo!!!!” –I got back.

Resisting the urge to just pick her up and move her, I said something like, “Ok. But the longer we stay here, the less time we’ll have to see all the other cool stuff.”

Well… she decided to stay put, and I took Loran, not to the pretend kitchen, but to the solar system section, to reinforce the “planet-talk” I was giving her on our way into the room. And when I looked back over at Cyan, one of the boys had befriended her, and was giving her “a lesson of sorts” on how to play on the ship. Admittedly this did annoy me a little… I mean there is no right way to PRETEND… but I was grateful she was actually playing nice on her own terms– with her still in the driver’s seat of course.

Here’s my fear: By encouraging and giving these girls the freedom to be anything they want to be- am I also giving them the freedom to not be nice people? I am struggling with what is normal, and what is MY socialized-baggage on how I expect “good girls” to behave? A part of me wants to believe I would expect my 2 male cousins, age 2 and 5, to give up the wheel too, especially to each other, but would I have even been paying such close attention in the first place, if they were all boys?

Am I thinking too much about this?

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