My 5-year-old was spinning his Spiderman figurine in the air and excitedly declared, “Spiderman is getting ready to help in an emergency!”
Not to be outdone, my 8-year-old-daughter gripping Ariel, her princess doll, chimed in, “Ariel is getting ready for a party!”
Ok, let’s review. The action hero is surging forth to do good and the princess doll is planning to go get a pedicure.
Grrrr. I was getting a brain freeze just thinking about it. “Why isn’t my daughter called to give Ariel an important save-the-world assignment too?” I wondered to myself.
It reminded me of when I was a child and I was playing with my own dolls on the kitchen floor. My mother was cooking while I put the finishing touches on dressing up Barbie and Ken for the ball.
In an irritated voice, my mother grumped, “Why can’t Barbie do something else? … Maybe she can play sports?”
Although my mother was a stay-at-home mom, there was no question that she wanted me and my sister to be independent – and in her view, sports, I suppose, afforded some wholesome ruggedness and at least offered something more constructive – beyond partying.
Shades of that scenario flashed before me. Here I am, the mom, having a version of that same conversation with my own daughter.
As a child, it was the mixed messages that flummoxed me. It was expected that I’d go to college, yet every woman in my neighborhood was a full-time mother.
It seemed that being a wife and mom was the destiny of every woman even though I never showed much interest in those roles. I was told I could be what I wanted when I grew up, but I didn’t actually know anyone who lived that way.
I did go to college, got married and went on to grad school.
Not long after, I became a mother, and I’ve been struggling with the guilt that so many working mothers in my generation face. Many of us strive for the intersection where successful mother meets successful professional, but I’ve learned no matter how much we want it, we can’t do it all.
Yet I want my daughter to not only see that she can have a meaningful, purposeful life in any way that she chooses, I also want her to have a front row seat in seeing me and other women in her life actually do it.
I don’t want to give off mixed messages.
With her chirp about getting her doll ready for a party, I read it as me failing to show her that women can help others in strong and powerful ways.
I don’t believe I’ve ever communicated that going to parties is better than helping people.
But I started to doubt myself.
Maybe I wasn’t communicating the message that I longed for her to hear and understand. I don’t know exactly what that is but I do know I want her to understand that it’s about more than getting gussied up for a night on the town.
Like many of my issues, my anger at the choice my daughter made for her doll boils down to my fear of not being good enough.
I take on a lot of responsibility as a role model to both my children – so much responsibility, in fact, that I often set myself up for failure.
My hope is to raise a well-rounded woman who finds fulfillment and satisfaction within herself. But, if I don’t, I need to convince myself that I’m still successful at mothering.
And in this instance, we continued talking – and eventually got to the point where her doll, Ariel, was doing something altruistic. In asking her about other ways that her doll could help, she told me that Ariel could give food to homeless people or call the police when someone was hurt.
Whew, worked through that one!
Thankfully, my daughter is only 8, so I have 10 more years to become more self-accepting.