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Beware, Raising an "Only Child" May Cause Embarrassment

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I wore my tomboyish-ness as a badge of pride. I still wear it as such. So nothing stirs more emotion in me than the fact that I have a girly girl. Sure, like any woman stroking her inner child, I dreamed of a little girl that I could dress up in pretty clothes and colorful barrettes and beads to showcase her dainty flair. So when my ex-husband and I found out we were bringing female life onto this Earth, I rejoiced, and like most men wishing for a boy, he pouted. Even though, I had spent a great deal of my childhood being a tomboy- and punching bag to my four older brothers- I envisioned what I rarely ever did growing up. I never requested Barbie dolls as Christmas gifts, so naturally in my minds eye, she would. I annoyed my friends by taking their dolls and popping the legs in and out of place, my daughter on the other hand would actually play with them as they were.

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Basically, me wanting a daughter was akin to me wanting the opportunity to embrace that side of me I never fully nurtured as a child. Well, the universe truly delivered and oh what a delivery Haviland is turning out to be. Her dad and I go to great lengths to make sure we are rearing her properly. She is polite, sweet, extremely sarcastic, and intelligent and, because of the latter, spoiled (I will always argue that characteristic goes to her father and his side of the family). The problem is, lately there has been an influx of spotlights being placed on women empowerment and it’s reminded me of my own. Not that I’ve forgotten or lost my “if-he-can-do-it-I-can-too” moxie it’s just that it hasn’t been as present in raising my daughter. I remember how much pride I felt reading over difficult instructions and building remote control cars on Christmas day, by myself. How the men and boys who impacted my life answered to, and respected the strength of the women in their lives. How I ran faster in races, and climbed more branches on trees than the neighborhood boys. Sure, those bragging rights came with plenty of sprains, a few broken bones and tons of scrapes, cuts and bruises but I earned them. When they knocked on my door for rematches the following day because our game had been interrupted by either dinnertime, or streetlights I felt proud; accomplished. And, with the exception of someone’s visiting cousin, no one could take that away from me.

But with the birth of a little girl, you want to protect her from the world. You watch as her dad opens every door, scoffs when he doesn’t. You see scarlet red when she is with him for a weekend and comes back to you with the tiniest scratch or discoloration of skin. You buy mounds of books about princesses and clothes in hues of pinks and purples, and give in to the ideas she has developed, from your permitted examples, that girls should and should not do certain things. Haviland is my only child, and she needs work.

Sometimes it is hard for us as parents to say the relationship we are building with our children is anything less than perfect. But I’ve come to realize that the ideals her father and I have set before her are whacky. Unrealistic, at best. As I mentioned earlier, her father opens every door for her. And that is great. I want her to understand that, outside of dad, any gentlemen vying for her time and affection should be kind and respectful enough to get her doors. But at six years old my daughter currently has difficulty opening a door. That’s right. One day I asked her to put away her folded laundry. Four minutes later, she was still outside of her bedroom door twisting the doorknob in a full-fledged attempt to gain access. I could not believe my eyes. I mean I knew that she knew how to open a door, but we never really required her to do so. This, to me, was unacceptable. I cannot allow her to go around expecting doors to be opened for her. She needs to open her own doors because no one will treat her as well as her dad or I and get every door.

As I walked past, I told her to stop messing around and to put her laundry away. She stopped me mid-step to say, “Mommy, I can’t. I’m weak.” She then laughed, and although those last two words sent a deep cringe to my core, I shook it off as well while giving her a brief spiel on why eating too much sugar is not good for muscles (although to be fair, she doesn’t eat much candy with the exception of chocolate…but I had to say something). Two weeks later, she was trying to open a closed bathroom door at my friend’s house and could not, this time I was embarrassed. Again, I told her to quit fooling around before she had an accident. And again, she told me that she could not open the door and that she was weak. This time I had had enough. Maybe it was the way my friend looked at me and laughed, or maybe it was the silenced tomboy inside dying to be heard. I did not move towards the door, nor did I allow my friend’s older girls to do so. Instead I instructed her on how to get the job done. She has small hands, so to make up for it I told her to use both of her hands in twisting the knob. After a few lefts and rights she was in. Embarrassment melted into joy.

See, as a child that has come from a large family (five brothers, two sisters) my mother and father showed me very little. And as a first-time parent, sometimes you fail to think of the small things your child may need to know. You just step in and do it for them. With an only child, you are always there, paranoid and ready to prevent the fall. But those “falls” matter. They build character, and strength. I had plenty of siblings to either compete with or mimic, and they were the first ones laughing as I fell on my face when I couldn’t do it; whatever the “it” was. And when I went crying to mom about their teasing, she sent me right back out to those wolves (hey guys, love ya!). Sure, it made me mad but it also made me better. My daughter doesn’t have any wolves in her corner. So, I have to be it; I have to be the herder that keeps her from going over a cliff, and the wolf that exposes her weaknesses. Sometimes she will be able to grab hold of those suckers to avoid danger, other times she will be best at acknowledging the weakness and working on it until it is stronger. I get that.

With resources like the Shriver Report and songs detailing the true mission of feminism it is hard not to be influenced by the power of women.

Recently the findings of a study, conducted by Feifei Bu, a PhD student, revealed that first born girls are much more successful than their counterparts, in part to the parent involvement they receive. And although, I had come to terms with my empowerment mission as parent before reading this article, this solidified things for me. I have to step my parenting game up. I cannot have my daughter living outside of an admirable study. Livings outside of demeaning and controversial studies are fine but one that is admirable? I can’t deal. So, while I love buying her pink clothing items and holding onto the sadness I felt when she gave up the color purple, I am going to have to curb the "girly-ness" that makes her believe she is incapable. Yes, she should still cross her legs when wearing a skirt, but if she wants to do cartwheels in that skirt, then toss a pair of shorts on under it. After all, she is a firstborn girl to a really cool, tomboy mom (shameless plug).

And for those wondering, no I am not having any more kids. Haviland is more than enough. Now that doors are checked off our confidence building list, her dad and I are tackling training wheel removal. For the life of me I cannot deal with scars or tears on my baby. And neither can she. But we will all do it, together.

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