10.5 things I’ve learned about girls as a dad to daughters
Friday, December 19th, 2014
Our oldest daughter turned five this month. Five. That’s crazy because she was born like seven hours ago as far as I can remember.
I grew up in a house with one woman and that one woman was my mother. My mother barely counted as a woman though because she was more of a superhero than a woman as far as I was concerned. So I could argue that growing up, I spent the majority of my time around o.4 women and 0.6 superhero women. That’s not a lot of experience being around women outside of the people I met in school.
Well now I must be an expert because I’m a dad to daughters. Now I know ALL THE THINGS about girls and women! Well, at least now I have a better idea because my daughters are constantly showing me how amazing women are from the time they’re one day old right up until this morning.
1. They are wonderfully, completely different
It would seem there is no one thing that makes a girl a girl. One of ours likes running around, the other likes sitting. One could draw and colour for hours, the other proclaims she’s done as soon as she’s put a pencil to the paper. One likes blue, the other doesn’t care even one bit about what colour things are.
They fight because they’re sisters and they hug because they love one another. What I realize about these girls is that there is no one moment where they become “the person they were meant to be.” They’re always changing, always finding new interests, even if those changes make them more and more different from one another. We don’t know if one is going to be a doctor and the other a professional football player. We do know that what they want to be is bound to change every six weeks and that as parents, we need to be versatile in order to support those changes as they come.
2. They know about math and science and computer programming and engineering. And sports.
Play is funny. It’s funny in that kids, the boy kind and the girl kind, just like to do it. I do not study the science behind play so I can’t speak to the differences between how girls and boys learn differently by playing differently. I can tell you that my oldest daughter has more interest in science and math than I ever had as a child and she loves to explore those areas. She wanted a telescope to see the stars for her birthday, she loves her new set of “just bricks” for LEGO time and she loves modifying the train tracks we have at home to see what routes a train can take to get to the same destination. She loves looking for patterns and learning what a billion plus a billion is.
Our youngest just runs. She runs races, she kicks balloons as though they’re soccer balls and she wears her running race medal like it was the thing that made her heart pump blood.
I’m sure they play different from boys but that doesn’t mean they don’t have the same interests. Girls do love science and they do love math. And more than that, they’re exceptionally good at it.
3. They’re impressionable
Sitting in front of a television show for 30 minutes is enough to realize just how much our little women are taking away from the images put in front of them. They memorize hamburger commercials and want slippers with kittens on them because an older girl in the commercial is wearing them.
They’re listening to their friends too. So it isn’t just our messages that get through to them. My five-year-old takes everything their five-year-old friends say to them as fact. And that can be a scary thing because they spend more of their day around other five-year-old’s than they spend around us.
Those friends might think girls have pre-determined futures. That they can’t be as good a police officer or hockey player. That they can’t be a superhero or a robot. Of course, they can be though.
We need to always be talking to our girls. We need to play the gentle balancing game that happens between the things they think they like at such an early age and the things we’d like them to continue to explore.
4. They’re inherently caring people
I’d have to take an active role in making them care less about people. They care for dolls, they care for rock collections, they care for another woman who falls down at the finish line after running a race. They even care for one another from time to time. They don’t set out to be mean people, that comes from us making subtle, and to us probably unnoticeable, comments about “that terrible driver,” or that “awful woman budding in front of everyone in the grocery store.”
Our oldest will try to kiss her sister’s hand when she gets hurt. Our youngest will conjure up a “soothing voice” to tell her older sister that things will be ok when she’s crying. It’s adorable, but more importantly it shows that they’re there for one another. It’s helpful to have a companion to travel the bumpy roads of life in your childhood years. I’m glad they each have a co-pilot.
5. They leave hair clips everywhere
I thought this was something specific to my partner. I did not know my daughters would pick up the habit of dropping (both intentionally and unintentionally) hair clips, bobby pins, hair bands, hair elastics, actual hair, My Little Pony hair all over the place. I can go into any room in our house and walk out of it with a hair clip stuck in my foot.
We’re regularly explaining to our kids that girls don’t all have long hair and that boys can have long hair if that’s what they like. I’m very passive aggressively angling for both of them to go the short hair route just so that we can eliminate some of the thousands of hair clips I find everywhere.
6. When they’re young, they’re just kids
Nobody has answers to life from the time they’re born but kids seem to have a better grasp on living life to its fullest. Not that I think they have life figured out or that there’s any reason for them to, but these two little girls who are rapidly becoming bigger girls like playing with friends, making things for people and playing with stuff they like because they like it. We’re already to the point in our oldest’s life where she’s beginning to think there are things she’s supposed to like “because she’s a girl.”
But just being a kid doesn’t mean they aren’t ready to learn basic concepts of acceptance. We have an older girl who knows she can marry a boy or a girl or that she can choose to not get married at all. She knows that boys can like whatever colour they want and she knows that if there’s a friend crying in the corner because they’re sad, it’s ok to go sit down beside them just to be there.
7. They are not naturally good at cleaning
Oh, the stereotypes from decades ago that women should clean and men should wear suits and ties to work and then come home and read the newspaper while smoking a pipe are very wonderful for sitcoms made in the 50s, 60s and 70s. They’re also, thank god, complete bullshit.
I’m outing myself right now as the big cleaner in our house. I’m pretty compulsive about it, but also look forward to the day when my girls will be able to help out because I hate vacuuming, changing cat litter and mowing the lawn.
That time seems destined to never arrive.
This is every day at our house. I get a broom out and start sweeping up the remnants of that night’s meal. I sweep everything into one tidy pile and then am asked by one or both of my daughters if they can “help.” I get them a broom to “help” me with the tidying up and then proceed to watch them drag their feet through my one tidy pile until all the dirt was spread out exactly as it had been before I had started.
So I’ll continue to let them play along even as they double the cleaning work. But I’ll be vigilant in teaching them the ways of the broom.
8. Their voices reach a tone I wasn’t familiar with in my youth
My brothers and I yelled at each other a lot. We fought with one another and we fought with people on sports teams that weren’t ours. We screamed just like my girls do. But our screams always held a tone that could be heard by all. My daughters seem to have a different level. A not-quite-dog-whistle-but-still-not-at-all-pleasurable tone that echoes off our walls every time the two of them get into an argument.
I don’t even want to write about this tone any longer because it hurts my head just thinking about it.
9. They are beautiful. And smart. And there’s no order in which those things are ranked
No child is one dimensional. When our girls were months old, the common compliment everyone directed their way was “she’s beautiful.” And my goodness weren’t they. Like most parents though, we wanted to reinforce that they were more than just beautiful. I’m still not sure what it means to call a four-day-old baby “smart,” but it still feels like it was the right thing to do. They did lie down pretty well and maybe that was the skill I was praising them for.
Well years later, they continue to amaze me with their intelligence. One already sees patterns in things I don’t see patterns in. The other makes logical connections that I didn’t know a two-year-old could see.
Their beauty doesn’t end with the colour of their eyes or how light their hair is. It’s in the way they bring their hands to their mouth when they smile, it’s in how they scrunch their noses up to make people laugh. It’s a funny walk or a backwards walk. It’s the spin of a “ballerina dress,” or a tongue sticking out the corner of their mouth as they try to write their name. They’re beautiful when they make a silly face to each other and when they put on a play that consists of clapping.
My girls are beautiful and amazingly smart in different ways and we remind them of this every day.
10. They aren’t that different from me
Oh my god, my daughters laugh at the same stuff I do. We call every third thing in our house a poopyhead. We watch Pittsburgh Penguins games, we draw pictures of snowmen. We write stories about dinosaurs and we get angry really easy. We go to each other when we’re in need of a hug and we always find time for the upside down game. We like to watch Frozen and we like to watch it in a place where we can sing the words to all the songs really loudly.
I swear to god though, it wasn’t me who taught them it was funny to “toot on mommy.”
10.5. They’re also really different from me
A lot of why they’re different is because they are expected to be different from me. People around them make assumptions about their likes and dislikes because they’re girls. They must like princesses (ours do), their favourite colour must be pink (ours isn’t), they must prefer playing house to playing superheroes (not ours) and on and on. At a young age, we’re able to convince our girls they dictate what they do and don’t want to like. But who knows how long that lasts. I don’t know how long one can go hearing something before believing it to be true.
Which is why parents are so important. A young girl cannot hear enough that they can be whatever they want to be and that there are people around them who will support every decision they make. A young girl cannot be hugged too much or told how special they are enough.
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