“Back in my day, talk of sex was in the closet where it belonged!”
Those words were spoken by my mom, who is in her 80s. Luckily, our family closet held a copy of the book “Our Bodies, Ourselves.” My mom bought the book for my oldest sister, and then she instructed each sister to hand down the book to the next.
I vowed to handle the discussion of sexual health differently with my own kids. I divorced from the father of my two sons when they were preschoolers, and quite frankly, I wasn’t sure my ex would hold honest, thorough conversations. Thus, I approached my oldest son when he was 11, with a book in my hand. Thank goodness for books!
My daughter was born to the union of my second marriage. I bought an updated copy of “Our Bodies, Ourselves” when she turned 10. We covered the basics; I wanted her to know what her forthcoming menses would mean. As the years have gone by, our mother-daughter conversations have covered not just the physical aspects of womanhood but the emotional as well.
When I dwell on my experience of motherhood, I look back on a very tough journey. I went through a divorce, became a single mother, and dropped into the lower-income bracket. I ran a constant race of trying to keep up with life.
When I think about my teenage daughter’s future, I am acutely aware of the many pressures she faces. At each turn of the calendar page, I’ve tried to counteract the cultural messages that bombard her.
Several years ago, while reading a book by Madelyn Cain, I was struck by the words of a woman who found she was infertile: “I thought if I couldn’t have a child, life wasn’t worth living.”
Those words stopped me in my tracks. I began asking myself, “What if..?” What if my daughter finds herself in that situation and utters those words? What if she never finds the right partner or situation? I wondered if there were any actions I could take to broaden her thoughts about her future.
Sitting in a sociology class, I listened to a discussion about the assumptions that society holds for women’s lives, and the history of those assumptions. Let’s face it: It’s really tough to insulate females from the subliminal message that motherhood is integral to the female experience. In that classroom, I connected the dots on what I say to my daughter and how she thinks about her future.
Immediately, I began choosing different words. I replaced, “When you become a mom someday,” with “If you become a mom…” I also began talking with her about women who live their lives quite happily without becoming mothers, debunking the vision of these women as lonely spinsters, devoid of happiness or meaning in their lives.
Parents love their kids, and visions of their children’s future selves dance in their heads. A parent’s own happiness fluctuates with the well-being and happiness of their offspring. But here’s the thing: Parents cannot know what “happiness” will mean to their kids once they are grown. There is no guarantee children will grow up to embrace what their parents hold dear.
My husband and I are raising our daughter to believe that happiness looks different to different people. She knows how much we love being her parents. And she also knows that we don’t hold expectations for her life beyond being kind and becoming independent.
Parenthood has been my journey. So far, one of my two sons has followed that path. It remains to be seen whether the other two children will journey the parenthood path. What I know for sure is that whatever they choose, they’ll feel supported and hear encouragement from me.
I’ve made my choices. My kids will make theirs.
Melanie Holmes is the author of “The Female Assumption: A Mother’s Story: Freeing Women from the View that Motherhood is a Mandate,” based on interviews and surveys of 200 women. Visit her Facebook page for updates.