Buying Time: A feminist mom gets humbled

April 4 | Guest post by Dani Burlison

This article was originally printed in Rad Dad Zine number 18: The Sex Issue, August 2010.

indie rock girl
Ah…teen-agers. Photo by Ron Howard Photography, used with Creative Commons license.

It all started, much like most parents' fears, at the onset of my oldest daughter's puberty. Her hormones raged, mildly at first, and then swelled into tsunami-like waves — ebbing and flowing like a madwoman, charging forward and then crawling away; ranting and then crying. Demanding milkshakes and turning away from my hugs. Her half-ass attempts at dressing for school turned into hours in the bathroom. Weekend mornings pleading for pancakes and cartoons were replaced with groggy breakfasts at noon… which were followed by extended naps behind closed doors. Then, came talk of boys — and then girls — and then boys again.

Throughout those oh-so-magical first years of puberty, a deep and desperate panic crept up from somewhere inside of me. As I caught our reflections passing by a window one morning, I realized that my sweet little girl, who once nestled herself to sleep in my arms and came running and sobbing with skinned knees and gravel-embedded palms is not a little girl anymore. At all.

Instead of climbing on my shoulders to see through the crowds we sometimes find ourselves in, she stands nearly eye-to-eye with me, wearing my clothes and make-up. As a parent, I have accepted and even come to cherish the constant changes in my kids and the stages of development they weave in and out of. But I also more-recently realized, with much less confidence, that someday in the not-so-distant future, this little girl who is quickly becoming a woman is going to fall in love, have sex and quite likely have her heart broken.

My worst nightmare was for her to let the Twilight series inform her world and have her get all wrapped up in a co-dependent relationship with a whiny, starving emo vampire guy or some aggressive, angry werewolf guy (no matter how sweet his abs are).

Now, upon this realization, all of my self-righteous ideas of raising strong, ass-kicking, take-no-shit, tough-as-nails, sexually-liberated feminist daughters immediately switched to fear. I managed to keep my anxiety under wraps for the most part and expressed it casually at first, with my sweaty palms shoved firmly into my pockets. I'd hint, nonchalantly, that "Eh, boys, shmoyz: you've got the rest of your life to deal with them. They actually take a lot of time and patience to deal with. You should focus on your art and get your math grades up first. Spend more time with your friends instead of worrying about them." Eventually, however, I found myself desperate with a sense of control that I had never imagined and began, with much neurosis and embarrassment, to offer my sweet teenage daughter, cold hard cash to avoid relationships all together.

First, I dished out an offer of $100 to not kiss a boy until she turned 16. Easy enough, I thought. I could buy her obedience, right? Super easy with teens, right? Next, I stepped it up a notch and offered her $300 if she waited until she was 18 and suggested an increase in funds if she could hold it together through the following years of college. My worst nightmare was for her to let the Twilight series inform her world and have her get all wrapped up in a co-dependent relationship with a whiny, starving emo vampire guy or some aggressive, angry werewolf guy (no matter how sweet his abs are). So I pushed the money her way. Her response, complete with the stereo-typical "Are you fucking kidding me?" teenager facial expression only fueled my inner madness as she began making counter-offers, "Well, if I do get a boyfriend and start kissing and stuff, then, like, I guess I'll just give you some money, ok Mom?"

Finally, after much obsessing, I understood that I had to let it go.

I was screwed. I talked to friends and listened to advice, which made me feel mostly better. Then, I rehashed my own behavior during my teenage years, which really did nothing other than motivate me to find chastity belts and chains to lock her up with. Finally, after much obsessing, I understood that I had to let it go. More importantly, I realized that I couldn't afford or justify forking out cash for something so ridiculous when what she really needs are braces and a new pair of shoes. But I did arrive at a place of really understanding my motives around this issue. Becoming this dreadful, overprotective mother would essentially rob my daughter from experiences she needs to have to become the amazing woman that I know she is. I'd be robbing her of all of the fun and magic and awkwardness of first kisses, late-night phone calls, giggly girl-talk over rug burns, and tear-jerking, soul-shaking passion.

As I began to loosen my death grip on her, I also faced my own issues. What I was trying to do, mostly on a subconscious level but also because I am mildly nuts, was to buy my own way out of the hurt and abuse and soul-crushing heartache I had fallen victim to. As parents, we will quite often go to ridiculous lengths to protect our kids, and I found that I was a willing and eager warrior set out to battle against some mythical future that I hadn't even caught a glimpse of. I never want her to worry about whether or not she is good enough for some guy. I don't want her second-guessing herself or believing that she should change to accommodate someone else's media-influenced beauty standards. What I lost sight of in focusing in on the troubles I've seen, are the kisses that cause knees to shake and go limp, late night whispers, the adventurous thrills of vacation sex, Sunday afternoon rendezvous with secret lovers, and the empowerment that comes along with allowing pleasure and connection with people in our lives.

I know I can't protect my girls from everything, despite a natural mama bear instinct that wells up inside at just the thought of them shedding even a single tear. What I can do — and should do, is continue to encourage and empower them by example. The best I can do is to be honest and available and show them that I am worthy of the love and passion that sometimes comes my way. This will hopefully pave the roads with confidence, regardless of which direction they take. I also know that I need to let them live their own lives while I balance between stepping back and opening my arms to them when they need to come crying, with cracked hearts and bruised egos. And, just as a back-up plan, I have stashed that $100 bill away in a Swiss bank account in case my new-found humility ever takes a back seat.