Raising a Feminist // The Importance of Identity
Elisha returns with her second instalment of Raising a Feminist.
We are all searching for the reason why we’re here. In some way or another, we’re all embarking on a journey that comes in the form of self-expression, personal development, accomplishment, fulfillment; success and purpose, whatever it may mean to you. The ways in which we try to fill the blanks between “I was born,” and “I was born, because…” are innumerable. Our journeys are all personal and vary greatly based on the individual, but something that I think gets lost is the divide between us as individuals and our children as individuals because being a parent is such an all-consuming job. We live and breathe for them which is, in so many ways, the most beautiful gift we give to them every day. With that said, something that we must remember is that our children each have their own identity and personage. If this is nurtured and encouraged, the product is Independent Children: children who are more inclined to be confident, self-sufficient, self-motivated, make better decisions, and collaborate better with peers.
As the mother of an almost “threenager”, (this is a mommy term for the sass that so many three-year-old’s seem to have.), I see my child demanding her independence and asserting her developing identity every day, whether it’s by requesting privacy while using the toilet, choosing to pair her Ninja Turtle slippers with her MLP “Ponies Purse”, or picking out clothes from the “boys” section because they have her favourite animals on them. Children want to be recognized as their own people. They need us to see their identity and accept this. While it’s our job to make sure that their bodies and brains stay safe, sheltered, educated, and nurtured, those bodies and brains belong to them only. It’s up to our children to choose what they do with them and what they want to be done to them. We as parents, though it may be difficult at times, can provide so much benefit to our children by remembering this. It is through this practice of recognizing their identity and individual personage that we can give them the security that they need to be a successful and confident adult. Everything we do is for our children, but while this is true, it is also true that living for your children in an all-encompassing way can be disadvantageous to their development, as well as to your personal wellbeing and identity.
This is a concept known as “The Feminine Mystique,” the namesake of Betty Friedan’s revolutionary Feminist novel. It happens when a mother gets so intrinsically interwoven into the identity and life of her child that she loses her motivation and identity as her own person, losing sight of the fact that she is ultimately responsible for her own personal fulfillment and success. Instead, she lives so vicariously through her child that her child, also, loses their identity, or rather never had one to begin with. Every decision is already planned for this child. Every aspect of their life, right down to appearance, is speciously micromanaged by the mother who only wants the best for her child, but has forgotten herself in doing so. Commonly suburban stay-at-home moms, these women are prone to “empty nest” syndrome once they realize they’ve poured everything into their children and forgotten to also be a person while doing that. Meanwhile, their children grow into adults, with complete apathy towards the world. Because without the opportunity to be involved in decisions and freely explore their personal identity, they are less inclined to form goals or aspirations. This ultimately leaves them unmotivated and lacking direction. These children are the antithesis to the Independent Child: Contingent children. They rely on others to provide for them, decide for them, think for them, and tell them how to feel while relying on outside factors and other people for motivation to achieve. Recent history gave us a firsthand look at this dubious, symbiotic relationship with the Baby-Boomer generation who grew up to be parents to Gen-Xers: a generation who emerged into adulthood with complete apathy towards the world. Together, these generations basically sabotaged everything for we millennials who are presently working assiduously to pick up the ball that they dropped…
Which brings us here, to the perplexing feat that is being a millennial parent. It is made especially difficult, by the unprecedented time in which we live. I live for my child, yes, I absolutely do. She means everything to me. She is an irrevocable force in my life, but she is not my life. She is not my life because though our lives are intertwined, I know that we will each have our own respective experiences in this world; we each are possessed of our individual lives. I play a part in hers, and she in mine. I consider her in every decision I make, but I don’t make every decision for her. My life doesn’t stop because I’m a mom. I am not just a mother, I am still Elisha. Balancing giving Ryenne the world in as many ways as I can, while still maintaining a self-care routine to keep me sane and advance in my academic and professional life is…challenging, to say the least, but it’s necessary. Because, the beautiful and heartbreaking truth about children is: they grow up, and they leave and that’s what we spend their entire childhood preparing them to do. Until that point, it is up to us, to give them the tools they need to be a confident and self-reliant person while still maintaining their identity and independence and providing them with a loving, safe, environment. It is incredibly intimidating, largely instinctual, and takes a great amount of empathy. There’s no way to get everything right and “right” is relative. For myself and my partner, it starts with making sure that our daughter is comfortable and free to be herself, that she knows she is free of judgment, and knows she is surrounded by people who are always team Ryenne. She deserves to have at least one place where her identity is sacred and accepted; where she is respected simply for being the wonderful little person she is no matter what her interests are, or on which side of a gender binary she falls, if she even subscribes to it at all.
We can’t guarantee that the world outside of our home will honour this. We can’t ensure that she won’t face adversity, but we can ensure that our home supports her identity as well as the identities of her peers. Ensuring that her identity is accepted, while others will undoubtedly be facing the same or greater adversities, is only half the battle. We can’t change viewpoints of the world we live in overnight, but we can try to change hearts by being an example of acceptance. We can give our children and their peers a home-base where they are free to be who they are whether they are cis-gendered, gender-fluid, non-binary, or Trans.
Identity is hard-won and non-negotiable. I intend to foster independence and acceptance in my child, in the hope she may be a beacon to others in need of acceptance and love. One of the biggest ways we can contribute real action is by raising independent children who will stand up for themselves and everyone else around them while living life with love and inclusivity. We cannot continue to allow a life of pain, and a high susceptibility to suicide, to be inflicted upon children who don’t fall in the realm of conventional gender binary, or white patriarchal values. We need to stand up for people of colour, people of Islam, Gay, Bi, Lesbian, Queer people, and now more than ever, Trans kids. Our children are our biggest life-line. Let’s raise them to protect each other.