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Read all about the adventures of the Tsao Family during the summer of 2012

Wednesday, May 03, 2006


Book Review: It's a Girl edited by Andrea Buchanan

The companion book to It's a Boy (Read what I wrote about It's a Boy here), Andrea Buchanan's It's a Girl: Women Writers on Raising Daughters is a wonderful anthology of well-written essays. If you have a daughter, you'll be struck at how important and satisfying it feels to read what other women think and feel is important about raising daughters.

When I was pregnant with my first child, my husband and I wanted to find out the gender. We both wanted a girl so when the ultrasound technician told us he saw female parts, we were not surprised. At the end of the nine month gestation period, our daughter Emily was born. I didn't approach having a daughter with the trepidation some women do. But I definitely expect different things from my daughter than I do from my son, born 17 months later.

In the Introduction to the book, Andrea writes:

"Working on It's a girl after completing It's a Boy was an interesting project. I began these anthologies in much the same way I approached parenting my daughter and son: with the notion that the two would be quite similar, and that any differences that might emerge could most likely be ascribed to stereotypical gender bias. Instead, just as my children have revealed themselves to be distinctly different from one another in multitudinous ways--some, undeniably, accounted for by gender, but some not--so have these books proven to have distinct themes that I didn't necessarily expect."

What I expect from my daughter--what I strive to teach her--is that she be independent and a free thinker. I don't mind if she likes princesses or Barbie Dolls or wants to be a cheerleader. What I would mind is if she is led to believe by marketing or her peers that she is part of a "weaker" sex. I also hope that she keeps the same positive body image she has now; I love her complete unawareness of how she looks or what she is wearing. What I expect or strive to teach my son are those traits my daughter has--I assume--simply because she is female: tenderness, compassion, empathy.

This book taught me that other mothers have similar sets of ideals for their female offspring. It also taught me that it doesn't matter what you want from your daughter, what you think your daughter will learn from you, or what you try and teach your daughter from the minute she is born into the world. Your daughter is her own person. If you are a hardcore feminist who banned all pink from the house, don't be surprised if that's her favorite color. If you were a cheerleader and you imagine a daughter who follows in your footsteps, don't be surprised if she scorns the pom poms in favor of the football.

In her essay "The Food Rules," Ann Douglas writes honestly and eloquently about how surrendering control was the only thing she could do as she watched her teenage daughter suffer through a eating disorder. Ann writes,

"And ultimately you have to relearn the lesson that you learned back in your child's baby days: that your child's food choices are entirely her own. Whether a bite of food goes in at all or stays down for longer than a minute or two is entirely out of your control. It's only once you surrender that control--and realize that you never had that control in the first place--that you can regain anything that even remotely resembles peace of mind."

I was going to recommend this book as a perfect baby shower gift, but after thinking more about it, I'm not sure if that's true. I believe the time before a mother has a child is one for wondering and dreaming. It's when you can imagine chests of dress up clothes, a girl unaffected by peer pressure, a life lived better than your own. This book is more appropriate as a Mother's Day gift for a close friend who has a daughter, whether that daughter is three or thirty. Maybe even for your own mom, who--I'm guessing--surely suffered as you became your own person and squashed whatever spoken or unspoken dreams she had for you, her daughter. (Dreams, of course, she was more than glad to re-think after you finally gave her that grandchild she always wanted.)

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