A Little Princess

I’m in the process of reading Peggy Orenstein’s most recent book, Cinderella Ate My Daughter: Dispatches from the Front Lines of the New Girlie-Girl Culture. It was, perhaps, an interesting choice to pick up a few days before delivering what multiple sonograms have shown will be a baby girl. I sympathize with Orenstein’s opening paragraph, that she was “terrified at the thought of having a daughter,” in part because “I was supposed to be an expert on girls’ behavior. I had spouted off about it everywhere from The New York Times to the Los Angeles Times… And that was the problem: what if, after all that, I was not up to the challenge myself? What if I couldn’t raise the ideal daughter?”

Of course, no one can raise the ideal child, and even if the parenting was somehow, miraculously ideal, children bring their own natures to the game. I think it is quite possible to parent within a range of norms and have a child who’s a disaster, as an essay from Dylan Klebold’s mother in O magazine showed so well. Other children thrive despite horrible circumstances. And overall, as the march of twin studies chronicled in economist Bryan Caplan’s latest book showed, children aren’t nearly as malleable as we think — especially by such insignificant things as whether they’ve watched 30 minutes of TV per day, or an hour.

But, like Orenstein, I’ve spent a lot of time writing about gender relations and the sociological changes that have taken place among mothers and fathers over the past few decades. Part of the problem with writing about these things is that you think about these things, and consequently, I worry that I’m going to be second-guessing way too much. When my sons get blue trucks and trains for birthdays, that’s not a cause for an overwrought essay. Would my daughter getting, say, a toy pink vacuum cleaner inspire the same nonchalance? I find the Cars and Toy Story boys’ Pull-ups a little weird, but not nearly as fraught as the Cinderella Pull-ups. Can’t a child learn to pee in the potty without it being a whole pink-or-blue experience? (Yes, I know the equipment is different, but they all sit for a long time anyway). Someone asked me recently when my “little princess” was due and my thoughts flashed back to a USA Today column I wrote about “The Princess Problem” — namely, the widespread belief among women that we have an external locus of control. Someone else chooses us. A new boss’s salary offer is what she thinks we are worth, and so we are worth that — a different mindset from the majority of men, who believe they are worth a certain amount, and need to get that out of their employers and clients. Nothing personal. It’s business. And the number tends to be higher, since men grow up learning to see themselves as providers. Women tend not to grow up believing that earning money is part of mothering.

So there’s all that. But you don’t want to give a child a complex about these things — worrying that a bad grade on a math test is going to make her think that girls can’t do math, that a jerk in her physics lab group is some symbol of the patriarchal powers that keep women out of the hard sciences, as opposed to just your garden-variety jerk. I think the best one can do is to relax, continue to run as egalitarian a home as possible, and nurture a broad range of interests. And celebrate the good stuff. I am dearly hoping that adding more estrogen to this household will lower the number of poop jokes. You would hope…

(Photo courtesy flickr user Wolfgang Lonien)

8 thoughts on “A Little Princess

  1. My mom is a single parent, and I am grateful in a way for the view of the woman as provider that gave me — as well as I think an unbiased or unromanticized view of men. My friends whose parents were happily married have sometimes made more poor choices in men thinking that all men were as good as their fathers whereas in my case I think I chose my husband for the good man that he is with a more worldly view of what a bad man looks like! Nothing like watching your mother date for that. That said we as women still do have a lot less of a locus of control than men and we are still tied to our bodies in ways that men are not and will never be and it would be nice if this society recognized that a bit more and supported things such as breast feeding and maternity leave.
    I think it has helped to define me in a way that lets me work guilt-free as a mom. I think it is harder for women whose moms were stay-at-home moms b/c it is so different to have to work for a living and be a provider than it is to be a stay-at-home mom though both are so much work.

    1. Awesome post. We *are* tied to our bodies in ways men never will be. If I had been a dad expecting twins, instead of a mom, my employment choices during pregnancy would have been different. People who think gender doesn’t matter in employment should interview as a third trimester twin mom!

      1. @Twin Mom- that is true, though maybe, hopefully, in the future, there will be some element of the great leveling that virtual work provides. I have several editors I write for regularly who have no idea that I’m having a baby like this week. It’s not that I’m keeping it quiet, it’s just that it doesn’t come up because we always do phone calls/emails (and I guess they don’t read the blog!)

  2. Also I think it is clear that Dylan K was mentally ill as was that poor boy who shot Congresswoman in Arizona… You can be a great mother but if your child is mentally ill or has that predisposition or is autistic… let’s call out those women for what they are — complete saints.
    We live in a society that will medicate that kid in Arizona so he can stand trial as mentally fit (when it is clear he was not mentally fit when he committed his crime) that is we will slaughter him and call out his mother for buying a case of beer in the grocery store (there were several articles from reputable news sources talking about how is mom picked up a case of beer — as character references on her after he committed that crime… if your son were loosing his mind and you were beside yourself and no one would forceably medicate him and he refused to take medication and was over 18, ask yourself what would you do.. we should stop judging and start being a little more united as a society and stop blaming moms for things that are much bigger than one mother– the ability to breast feed is not just about one woman it is about her support system… the ability tohelp our mentally ill is DEFINITELY not about their mothers but about a society that refuses to treat its mentally ill — We definitely have a mother complex right now in this country where we blame mothers for everything — I mean you are right now crazy is it that we can be called bad mothers for letting our kids have 60 minutes of tv so we can workout or something or have mac and cheese rather than organic.. when we all know all of our parents if they were middle class did “worse”.

  3. Great post. Love, love, love Peggy Orenstein. She indirectly gets credit for me marrying my husband. Long story that involved focus groups (for her book, not for me!). And let me know how the poop jokes go . . .

    1. Ha- I’m liking the idea of a focus group about one’s husband… It’s a fun read so far. The part about the pageants was fascinating — I do suspect that most TV shows about it are done in a way to make the rest of us feel superior, as opposed to being remotely objective.

  4. Wow, I had never read that essay by Susan Klebold, and it makes me want to throw up. I thought losing a child would be the worst thing that could ever happen to me. I can’t imagine the horror she must go through every day.

    1. @CM – Exactly. If you are facing a child’s death or severe illness, usually your community will rally around you. If you lose a child in a way that the child also caused intense suffering for other people? Not so much rallying. And you’ll always be asking what you could have done differently, even if the answer is probably not much.

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