There might be lots of lessons to consider. These lessons might have holes, for I’m not a wise sage, and I’m not really even a mother. As I am a couple of years from 40, I think about what lessons I would teach my daughter if I had one, lessons to honor her physicality, lessons to create space for her soul. What do you think of these lessons? Would I be a bad mother?
- Be self-sufficient, and work hard and do it early.
I think there is much to say about a woman making her own money so that she can be in relationships that honor her tendencies and desires and contribute in those relationships financially. I’m not sure why it is, but I still feel that we are in a time where most men are more given the idea they should be self-sufficient and work hard and early to do it and many women, although perhaps a hint of this, would not have this as the core of who they are. A woman should have her own money so that she can be free.
- Find a spirituality and a community that allows you to be confident in your internal wisdom and body and support learning about life skills.
It is difficult to navigate life with spiritual hypochondria and insecurity, always second-guessing and doubting. There are many voices that tell us what we should do, how we should direct our lives and bodies, even down to the idea how we should manage our health with doctors and medicines. To be able to listen to our bodies about eating and cravings and well-being, to be able to make choices that might not even be the best but to know we have the author-ity to author them into life. We have to be active about forming boundaries early and collecting people who are comfortable with letting us live our own lives. Because many men tend to be encouraged to be independent and roam in the public sphere earlier then some females (because it might not be as safe out there alone, because of what happens to girls out there, because some girls aren’t taught how to change a flat tire), some of us need to be encouraged to be advocates for ourselves, to find the belief systems and community that are healthy.
- Be honest and firm with your voice, but always do what you need to be safe. Treat yourself like your most beloved friend.
It is hard to hear the stories of women who don’t want to speak up because they are afraid of retaliation from men. How many of us soften our truths, what we want to say because of the idea that male egos are fragile and some men throw acid on women’s faces or retaliate with anger or sending out private photos they have. I think we need to get louder in general when it comes to demanding respect for what we want or don’t want. Women shouldn’t be afraid of pissing men off. We should not feel guilty or afraid for not loving or not wanting. But neither should we feel bad to remove ourselves without further explanation is someone is not getting the picture or is being persistent or bullying. I would tell my daughter that, if she gets in a situation where someone is being too forward or demanding, and she is hesitant to make a scene or cause discomfort, she should imagine a beloved friend or sibling in that same situation. What would you want for her to do? We have to care about ourselves as much as we care about our most beloved friends when they are out in the world.
Maybe there are other lessons or these don’t hit the mark. These are focused on a particular culture that still exists in the U.S. where the messages to many girls are not sufficient. Those girls are taught to be kind and polite and be Jesus to others, but the kind of Jesus who sacrifices and puts others before herself, not a Jesus who turns tables or rebels against authority. Especially in this culture are girls expected to grow up and marry men and not women.
But whatever lessons you feel are important, sometimes we get to be adults and realize we didn’t learn everything from a young age we need to. In my class, I sometimes offer an assignment called “Letter to my Younger Self” where students get to imagine themselves as a voice of wisdom and nurturing. Then I have them write a “Letter from my Future Self.” Sometimes when we don’t hear the words we need to from others, we can imagine a caring, nurturing, reasonable voice cheerleading us on, helping us forgive ourselves, and motivating us to move forward and be productive and restorative in ways that will really benefit us and not be directed by other agendas that actual people around us might have, even if they don’t realize it. Sometimes we can’t trust others and we can’t trust ourselves. But we have to navigate these worlds and change them so that we can do both.
What would you write in a Letter to your Younger Self?
What would Your Future Self say to you?
I think it really works when these voices are compassionate and non-judgmental, just wanting us to heal.
Elisabeth S., Ph.D., graduated in 2014 from the Women and Religion program at Claremont Graduate University. She has an MA in creative writing and teaches college composition from a contemplative pedagogical approach at Oklahoma State University. She also writes poetry about food, self-exile, the balance between love + freedom, and navigating the world while female. She has a micro-chapbook on food coming out 7/9/19 from Ghost City Press.