I know a woman whose daughter came into her womanhood at too young an age. The girl’s body—so confused by its extreme malnutrition, lack of stability and absence of a father for much of her life’s early years—kicked into high gear and developed itself without regard for the rest of the girl; her emotional or mental ability to process a complete metamorphosis, not to mention her physical age, leaving the girl to navigate between girl and woman without much of a road map or compass.
The mother, completely unprepared for her child to be facing such extreme change and all that comes with it, who was secretly still mourning years she missed parenting the daughter—years that were never hers to begin with but believed she held firm until they slipped through her fingers, years gone in a matter of months—kept her sorrow hidden from the daughter and instead went about the matter with feigned positive practicality; walking her daughter through each step of her cycle, teaching her to mark the days, keep prepared, be discreet, and work through the discomforts without giving in to them. She even celebrated the daughter’s early onset (though she felt more like adorning sackcloth and throwing dirt in her hair) with a mother-daughter shopping trip—again, with practicality at the wheel—buying the daughter new undergarments, a purse just the right size, and pocket calendar for marking days.
Months passed and as expected, the girl’s body became confused; operating its womanhood in fits and starts. The girl happily shared every detail with her mother as a young girl naive to her own body would. The mother continued in her positive pragmatism, treating every shared moment as an educational opportunity, as it was the only way she could keep from collapsing under the injustice of it all. The child herself, however, seemed to breeze through this new dimension in her living; except for the physical pain associated with her not-quite-normal cycle. Still unfamiliar with all her womanly anatomy (despite the mother’s continuous and heavily illustrated lessons) and lacking also in the proper vocabulary, the girl would complain of a “stomachache only lower.” The mother, who was adamantly opposed to swooning over monthly cramping, coached her daughter in overcoming her pain—especially the fears associated with it.
“Cramps hurt. But they are not hurting you,” the mother would command over and over, as if she were charging the girl with a motivational speech before her next athletic competition. She would give the daughter Motrin and send her out to play, repeating the mantra and reminding her that activity helps lessen the discomforts, if for no other reason than keeping the mind from focusing on it. “You can’t let your cycle control your life. Get outside and play through it.”
The girl worked hard to remember all her mother had taught her. But it was hard; after all, she had only the mind and attention span of a child. So, it came as no surprise to the mother when—in the middle of a long mountain bike ride with her husband—the cellphone rang with the voice of a concerned summer camp coach speaking from the other side.
“Your daughter isn’t feeling well. She says her stomach hurts and she wants to go home.”
The mother grew instantly frustrated—mad at herself for using the wait-and-see approach with administering of Motrin that morning, mad at her daughter for being so fearful of the pain, and mad at herself—again–for being mad at her daughter! The two turned their bikes around, suddenly heavy with the pressure to get back, the mother voicing her frustrations with each pedal stroke, trying to temper her words, but not really succeeding.
In the end, the parents devised a plan they hoped would gently but firmly nudge the daughter toward facing her fears of her pain and overcome its strong pull to curl her into inactivity. They offered her some clear choices, explaining the consequence of each. They took her home to eat lunch, give her some pain medicine as well as an opportunity to make her decision while removed from the situation. The mother, though she had an entire afternoon of writing and reading planned, also offered to stay at the camp with her daughter for the rest of the day as an encouragement in case the daughter’s “low stomachache” should rear its ugly head again, but really as a quiet bribe, knowing the girl would do anything if she knew her mother was there to support her through it.
Their plan worked. The daughter overcame her pain (it helped that the Motrin kicked in) and felt like a hero for “sucking it up and getting back in the game.” The mother, of course, remained true to her word and sat the rest of the day in the blistering summer sun, continually telling God that she trusted in His Sovereignty over her daughter’s life, and at the same time confessing her utter lack of faith. After camp that day the mother celebrated her daughter’s bravery with a cold treat at their new favorite smoothie shop. The daughter felt like a hero and the mother felt content to have survived yet another new dimension of parenting this child turned woman at too young an age.
I share the above story with intimate understanding. I hope it opens a discussion into the larger ideas of relationships between mothers and daughters, the lessons we impart, and how societal expectations shape those lessons. I’d love to hear your joys, concerns, frustrations and fears in raising daughters into women. Maybe your thoughts will find their way into my next post.
In the meantime… have you read The Red Tent by Anita Diamant? Don’t be surprised if it is the spring-board to a near-future discussion!