Raising A Princess

This blog was originally written for and posted on my friend Kate’s site. As I am currently drafting a handful of other posts and guest blogs, I thought I’d use it as a cover for my otherwise disappointing lack of new content…

Enjoy!

http://kateelizabethconner.com/raising-a-princess-guest-post-abby-wilson/

I’m a self-identified feminist in that I believe women are equal to men, but each gender—and more importantly, each individual person regardless of gender—has innate value and distinct identifying characteristics.

That said, I am also a girly-girl and so is my daughter.

Eva loves lip-gloss, dresses, jewelry, and having her hair done. Thankfully, she also loves to run around outside, play with sticks, and dig in the dirt so I’m not too worried about her becoming too prissy, but there was a time when I was concerned about her love of princesses.

Eva started picking out princess toys, wanting to play dress up, and asking for my make-up almost as soon as she could speak. Maybe she was born loving princesses or maybe I let her watch Disney’s Sleeping Beauty too many times. (It has a GREAT soundtrack, ok!) As the Cinderella, Snow White, and Tiana toys began to accumulate, I stared at our toy box and wondered,

“Do I really want my daughter growing up believing that marriage is the answer to her problems?”

Uh, no.

Isn’t that what most modern women think of fairytales: just a beautiful woman waiting on a man to save her from a life of misery? I certainly thought so, especially after growing up in a very Protestant, very Southern community. I was taught marriage and eventual motherhood are a woman’s highest calling, so as an adult I viewed fairytales and princesses as prime enablers of that stereotype.

But in fairness to my daughter’s preferences, I gave the animated ladies a second look.  I found that when you step past their unrealistic body dimensions, pretty faces, and the inevitable crown in the final sequence, you find women who share one rare and precious character trait: integrity.

Cinderella and Snow White both remained sweet, loving, and caring despite years of abuse and enforced servitude.
Ariel knew that humans and their culture were her passion, not just a passing fancy.
Mulan may not technically be a princess, but she cared for her family and her country over her own life.
Jasmine probably had the most overt stance in that she wasn’t going to marry a pompous narcissist, her voice and opinion mattered.
Tiana proved that hardwork mixed with commitment and love goes a really long way.
Rapunzel trusted her own intuition before she trusted Flynn Rider and found her way home.

Each princess had to show enormous amounts of integrity and commitment to their values to overcome their respective obstacles.

When you look at it that way, they really are beautiful.

The stories our daughters hear from our lips, from books, and from movies are the stories and the memories that will guide them when experience hasn’t yet led the way.  I hope Eva learns from these stories and from my example that compassion, strong self-esteem, and resilience in the face of danger and disaster help a woman hold her head high.  Especially considering when you ask her what she wants to be when she grows up, she answers,

 “A Princess!”

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I’m Not Daddy Too

How many times has a single mom somewhere said, “I have to be Mommy AND Daddy,” as a means of explanation?

Probably hundreds of times of day. I have definitely had those moments. I could list all the things I’ve never gotten from Eva’s father…but the list of what I did get is much shorter:

1. Sperm
2. A Headache

He doesn’t pay child support. He lives hundreds of miles away. He doesn’t send Eva presents. He doesn’t call. He does text, but they are all about the same as the one discussed here. He is virtually nonexistent.

To some degree, I have allowed that. I don’t wonder when he’s going to step up. His name is not on her birth certificate. I have never asked for money. I do not fight or rebel against his lack of interest. In fact, on some level, I prefer it this way. It’s simpler, not necessarily easier, just less complicated. (Which is specific to my situation and should not be misconstrued as a recommendation for other single mothers.)

I do everything I possibly can for Eva. My parents help. My sister helps. My friends help. All things considered, I am raising Eva well. We make it work even though sometimes that is a gigantic, nearly insurmountable challenge. Even though sometimes I feel like I am failing miserably. I’m not a superhero, I’m just a mom.

But I am also only that; just her mom. I am not Daddy too.

Eva doesn’t have a Daddy. I don’t know how to explain that to her. I don’t know how to make it bearable or understandable. She hasn’t asked about it, but I know it will happen soon. She is old enough to make the correlation that the other kids have pictures with their daddies and she has a picture with her grandfather when they make Father’s Day cards at daycare.

What can I tell her? That he’s far away and can’t see her? In my mind, that only explains why she doesn’t have her father around, not why she doesn’t have a Daddy.

I would give her that if I could. I would be another parent to unite with her against Mommy when she’s tough. I would give her extra kisses after Mommy’s kisses when she falls down. I would tell her yes when Mommy says no. I would scare away the ambitious 3 year olds trying to flirt with her when Mommy only laughs. I would show her how a man is supposed to treat a woman, instead of just telling her. I would be the rational one when Mommy gets too emotional.

But I am just Mommy.

I carry a responsibility that two people typically share; that does not make me equal to two people. Am I a great mother? Yes. Do I struggle with this burden? Yes. But I don’t see the point of placing an additional weight on my shoulders by attempting to fill a role I was never meant to have.

I certainly don’t fault any single parent for saying they act as both parents; it’s certainly the most succinct way to describe something that no married parent understands. No, that weekend that your husband spent away for a friend’s bachelor party does not even begin to compare. But I don’t exactly understand how you make your marriage a priority when you’ve got little ones to watch either; I’ve never had to do that. I’ve never lived your life and you’ve never lived mine. Single parents provide on one income with one pair of hands, one pair of eyes, and emotional support from a network of loved ones instead of the one you love most.

I’m sure my choice mom friends may see this issue a little differently. I definitely see (ahem, hope for) adoption in my future regardless of whether or not I ever marry. But no matter how many children I have, be it just Eva or a handful more, I will always choose to just be Mommy.

Five Parenting Tips… from a Single Parent’s Child

So I have been wasting away thanks to a vicious, irrepressible head cold and trying my hardest to write something funny (and/or ironic) instead of subjecting all you lovely people to more tear-jerkers. But a dear friend has come to my rescue and we have here our very first, bright and shiny, GUEST POST!

Get excited. She is a wonderful writer and this list is highly relevant for EVERYONE. Not just single parents, not just all parents, I mean FOR EVERYONE. Because at the heart of these parenting tips is a single, poignant message:

Words have power; be careful how you wield them.

Enjoy!

–Hi, I’m Abby’s friend. We met back when we were both still living in Nashville. While I’m an avid blogger myself, there are some subjects I’m not in a position to write about on my own blog, under my own name. My upbringing is one of those subjects. I usually don’t feel the need to talk about it, but Abby’s recent posts here (as well as others she’s linked to on Twitter and Facebook) have gotten me thinking and inspired me to write out my own thoughts on the subject– but from a backwards perspective:

I’m twenty-seven years old and I am the child of a single mother.

Sort of. It’s always more complicated than just one sentence.

My mother was only nineteen when she got pregnant with me. My dad was twenty-four. It probably goes without saying that they weren’t married at the time. Based on the information I’ve pieced together over the years from them and an assortment of family members, I was definitely an accident and I’m about 75% certain my parents weren’t even really dating (who knew that hookup culture existed back in the eighties?). Since it was the 1980’s and out-of-wedlock childbirth was way less socially acceptable than it is now, they got married.

It was a terrible idea. The older I get, the more I realize just how fundamentally incompatible my parents are, both in terms of their personalities as well as their values and outlooks on life.  The only good thing that came out of them getting married is my little sister. Much like Abby and Emily, I would be completely lost without her. I honestly don’t know how I would make my way through life without her beside me. Otherwise, though, the marriage was a total failure. I was four and my sister was three when our parents split up, and we therefore spent most of our childhood dealing with Single Parent Issues.

Having lived through that, here are five things I wish I could have said to my single mother as a child that, had she implemented, would have made things a lot easier:

1. Kids aren’t stupid and they pick up on way more than you realize. I’ve read at least half a dozen articles and books over the course of the past few years that have detailed the multitude of ways in which small children (we’re talking five years old and younger) absorb information about the world around them. Not only do they see more than we previously thought, they are also highly attuned to interpersonal behavior and don’t miss much. So while they may not be able to communicate that they know what’s going on because they don’t have the maturity to process what’s happening around them or the vocabulary to describe it, they definitely know what’s up in ways you probably don’t realize.

 In other words: you are being watched by someone who will likely emulate your every move when they’re older. Make your choices wisely.

 This brings me to my next point.

 2. Everything you do sends a message, and the message that your actions send may be a lot louder than the message that comes out of your mouth. We all know the old saying that actions speak louder than words, and that goes double for kids. They’re like tiny information sponges just itching to expose your every hypocrisy to the entire world.

 Example: I was going to describe something that happened when I was younger, but instead I feel like I should take this moment to apologize to Abby for (unintentionally) teaching Eva how to make my Judgmental Face and undermining any and all talks, past, present, and future, on the subject of respecting other people and their choices. (I will not, however, take responsibility for the epic eye-rolling skills. She definitely learned that from you).

Moving right along…

 3. Kids become teenagers. Teenagers become adults. Then they wish you’d saved for therapy instead of college. Even if kids were stupid, they pretty much all eventually develop into teenagers and adults later on, and then there will be A Reckoning. Remember all that stuff that your kids picked up on when they were younger? Well, now they have the maturity and vocabulary to process and describe it, respectively, and your words and actions from then will come back to haunt you.

 Case in point: when my parents split up, my mother moved back home, an hour and a half away from my dad’s place, because she had nowhere else to go. Rather than moving and taking a job near us, my dad decided that his family, having a job in that area, and acquiring a new wife (who, by the way, detests my sister and me) outweighed seeing us on a regular basis and playing a more active role in our lives. While I was willing to swallow his excuses at the time (because I didn’t know any better), the older I get and the more life experience I require, the more I realize how incredibly selfish his choices were– and just how low my sister and I ranked on his priority list.

 Remember, folks, your kids choose your nursing home.  Even if you don’t care about scarring them for life with your narcissistic decision-making processes when they‘re little, you should at least consider the ramifications of them figuring out that you’re a giant douche when they get older and wise up.

 Therefore…

 4. Don’t lie or cover for the other parent when they screw up and do something assholish, and don’t sugarcoat their actions to your kids. You know the old saying, “The truth will set you free, but first it’ll piss you off?” Well, here, it’s “The truth will set you free, but first it’ll hurt like hell.” No matter what happens where deadbeat parents are concerned, the pain’s gonna come, and shielding your kids from it now will only guarantee additional hurt and confusion on down the line. Remember, they’re not stupid and they‘re going to have to deal with the repercussions of these events as adults– and sending them mixed messages now isn’t doing them any favors.

 So when their other parent bails on visitation for the third time in a row and they ask you why, an honest, “I don’t know” is a lot better than, “Other parent loves you and will come next time.” One is truthful and allows the kid to have his or her own feelings on the subject, the other is downright crazy-making, even to adults. Rather than putting the onus of the skipped visitation where it belongs (on the deadbeat parent), the evasive non-answer puts it all on the kid. Not only is that totally unfair, it’s a surefire way of ensuring that they start internalizing the blame for the other parent’s screwed up behavior, and that doesn’t lead anywhere good.

 Bottom line: “But they love you, so it’s okay if they treat you like crap,” is not a lesson you want to be teaching your kids, especially if they’re girls.

 That being said…

 5. Please keep the dirty details to yourselves, even when the kids are adults. For the most part, my parents did a good job of keeping their spats out of my and my sister’s line of sight when we were kids. However, as soon as we were both eighteen, the gloves came off and I learned waaaaaaaaaaay more than I ever needed to on the following topics: my mom’s relative hotness when she was 19, each parent’s drug of choice back in the eighties, how batshit crazy my grandmother is, my dad’s penis size and relative prowess in bed (there is not enough tequila in this world to obliterate that conversation), and many more that I’ve successfully repressed. Thanks be to Cuervo.

 Even though my sister and I are old and mature enough to handle these discussions, it’s still pretty uncool for our parents to bag on each other like that. It makes having a functional relationship with both of them really difficult– not just because I’m hearing things I could have gone my entire life without needing to know, but because that kind of behavior is incredibly juvenile and it’s hard to respect people to engage in it. Even–no, make that especially– when it’s your parents.  Resist the temptation and don’t go there.

 I don’t know that I can say that these suggestions are foolproof, much less guaranteed to ensure that your kids aren’t going to be royally screwed up when they finally reach adulthood. Hell, my parents made a number of huge mistakes (see above, plus many more that I didn’t mention), and my sister and I turned out to be more or less functional adults (her more, me less). At the same time, though, I maintain that my life would have been a lot easier– and I would have needed waaaaaaay less therapy in my early twenties– if my parents had given these ideas some consideration.

Of Heartache and Shame

I’ve been sitting on this post for a few days, even emailed a draft to a friend yesterday, but I think I finally got my head around it this morning.

When I returned to blogging, I promised myself I would stay positive, that I would not have any sad, whiny, “my life is so hard” posts. But I’ve certainly drafted enough of them. Actually, 75% of my posts started as a rant and then as I proofed and rewrote, I’d find myself in a more peaceful state and could end the post on an encouraging note.

But how genuine is that? (I ask that knowing this one might take the same turn…writing is my free therapy.)

All public writing has its narcissistic influences; we wouldn’t write if we didn’t believe we had something to say worth sharing. And I’d basically decided to share the good stuff…or the bad stuff that I can deal with easily. But what value does my perspective have if I only give you the “easy to digest” side?

I recently read a post by another single mom here comparing single mothers to widows and it stirred a lot of emotions I usually suppress.

You would think that after four years, I wouldn’t care much what people think about single moms or the stigma that is associated. I appear to be pretty tough and I’m a good mother.

No, actually. I care a lot. And I would guess that there isn’t a single mom out there that hasn’t felt the same way at some point.

It hurts to say, “No, I’m not married” when they already know I have a daughter. The surprised, reappraising looks. The obvious searching for the polite response. The inevitable, “But you are with someone, right?” or “Were you married?” follow up.

Sometimes, I’ll get a really sweet, encouraging atta-girl pat on the back but most of the time people just stay confused.

It’s ok; I still wonder how I ended up here too…

I unconsciously hide my left hand in public.

I cry in the shower at least once a week.

I get nervous when I walk into a new place with Eva.

I die a little bit inside when I hear Eva playing “Mommy and Daddy” with her toys.

To be honest, I don’t even know how to pray about this one. I try to sit by the lake with Jesus with it and I can’t. There are too many other emotions/experiences attached to it. I get overwhelmed.

(The pity party does not start here.)

I’ve also just returned to Twitter (@blueeyesburn–name to be explained in an upcoming post) and have been privileged to connect with some really strong, independent, single moms. It’s helped so much to see them in action and not see any trace of shame or apology for their decisions.

So the more I think about it, the more I wonder where the shame is coming from.

But I don’t have those answers yet.

I can’t hide from my mistakes, but that doesn’t make the shame healthy. Shame doesn’t help, it hurts. Shame doesn’t motivate, it paralyzes. Shame doesn’t show other people what redemption looks like.

Shame doesn’t teach Eva to be proud of herself.

So I don’t know how to set this guilt aside; I don’t know how to shed the shame. But this morning, I got a little pride and a little motivation back. I know one day, my heart will be whole and it’s ok that today is not that day.

Just call me a sparrow, I have enough for now.

False Happiness

What then can God do in our interests but make our own life less agreeable to us and take away the plausible source of false happiness?

–C.S. Lewis

Read it a couple times and think about it before you continue.

What else can He do to draw us closer to him?

I’ll be honest, I don’t really like the way this convicts me. I don’t really want to have my sources of “happiness” and “comfort” and “relief” taken from me for my own good. That just seems downright silly.

But the more I sit and consider it, the more I see that this is the light at the end of my tunnel, not whatever I’m using at the moment to distract/comfort myself.

Things That Provide False Happiness:

-Relationships that are driven by lust, not love
-“Love” that is without commitment or trust
-Comparing one’s self to others in order to feel superior / Gossip
-Retail Therapy (so guilty here)
-Conforming to society’s standards (ie. Keeping up with the Joneses syndrome)
-Food / Drugs / Alcohol
-Escapism
The list goes on…

It’s so easy to take advantage of these avenues to “happiness.” and in the moment, they work really well. Sex feels good. Wearing new clothes feels like a self-esteem booster. Getting shiny, new, brag-worthy things is exciting. Being drunk is fun.

Those feelings don’t last. They each have their own particular brand of hangover that leaves you going back for more to make reality go away again.

Doesn’t it make sense for God to take those opportunities away from us when we can’t stop ourselves? Don’t I hide the scissors from Eva when she cuts her finger even though she loves shredding paper?

Eva had a fever yesterday and I had to miss going out with friends for dinner. Things have been rocky all around for me (job, relationships, parenting, emotions) this week and I was so looking forward to the chance to unwind and socialize. I “needed” it. And even this afternoon, I’m still a little resentful I couldn’t go.

Is it really that a big a deal to never go out on the weekends anymore? No. Would I rather be out than at home being a responsible mother? Heck no. But basically since I wrote the “When No Means Yes” post, I have been scraping the bottom of my hope barrel. And I’ve spent more time today getting cranky at God about it than I have all week.

He took away my stress relief so I took my stress to Him.

Yeah… Shoulda seen that coming, right?

This is by far the hardest thing about following Christ for me. I really like God and I really like Jesus…but I also really like being in control. I try to operate under a “let’s see what I can handle and then you can help me with the rest” approach. Yeah, that sounds more like a group project strategy than how I want God working in my life.

I know I am being challenged to hand over that control, to take a bigger leap of faith than I ever have before. I hear it in my heart; I feel it in my gut. Even becoming a mother, there was so much I could do to prepare: read books, save money, stock up on diapers, plan… I don’t know what I am preparing for right now. That makes me nervous, people! I don’t like not knowing! (You can visualize me stomping my foot on the ground here. Yes, Eva does get her sassiness honestly.)

When it’s all said and done, no matter what God asks of me, whatever sacrifices are required, however painful it is to get past all my willfulness (and it will be painful), the result will inevitably be joy.

Look what he gave me in Eva. Look how wonderful my friends are. Look at the great church we just found. Look back on all those times of provision and blessing. And look at the burden I still make Jesus carry for me.

That’s my real happines; God loves me anyway. Most days, I forget or muddle through passably. Too many days, I do everything my way. Some days, I even blatantly rebel. But that happiness is available every moment of every day.

What does it take to choose it every day?

Not faith, something much more difficult (and scary):

Discipline.

But I didn’t get enough sleep to deal with that too, so I’ll stop here. We’ll save that for a sunny day…

Thanks for walking with me today.

A Different Kind of Bucket LIst

I’ve been seeing a lot of “bucket list” posts on Pinterest and Facebook…memes, right? And they are typically centered around travel, kissing celebrities or other unlikely events. Now, this is not judgmental or holier-than-thou (single moms are not allowed on the moral high ground and I want to kiss Brad Pitt as much as you do), but my bucket list doesn’t include any of those things. In fact, there are only three things I absolutely want to do before I die.

1. Adopt a Child
I love being a mother more than anything else in the world and any time I think about having more children, adoption seems more likely than carrying another baby. Had I been a slightly different person, Eva could have been adopted and…(sorry, I have to take a moment and thank God He gave me the courage to keep her)…I would love to honor a woman who couldn’t decide to parent her child.

2. Serve in Africa
As much as I know it wasn’t my time to go in 2007, there will come a time when it is. Something in my heart calls me there. (No, it is notto meet a man and produce more genetically-blessed biracial children.) Maybe I’ll adopt from there, maybe I’ll have the chance to rejoin the Peace Corps, maybe I will get to work there, MAYBE I’ll start my own non-profit there–I don’t know yet–but I will serve.

3. Give Abundantly
I was constantly showered with blessings from complete strangers during my pregnancy all the way up to providing a place for me to live rent-free. In my one-day home, there is a bedroom for someone who needs it. What a joy it would be to honor Larry and Linda by giving the way they gave to me.

So, that’s it. The sum total of my life goals. I don’t actually care about how much money I make as long as Eva is provided for. I would love to travel the world but I haven’t been out of the States since 2004 and can still breathe normally. I would like to get married but…yeah, I don’t see that happening at this point and that’s ok. There are plenty of things that would be fun to have in the future–a big house with a big family and a big dog, a big bank account thanks to a big fancy job–but what if none of that happens? Will I consider myself a failure? Nope, I sure won’t. What if for some reason life doesn’t go as I planned (oh, wait…that has never happened anyway) and I don’t even accomplish those three things? Fail then? No way, Jose.

The life you live is greater than the plans you set aside. Trust me.

It’s so easy to get caught up in what’s popular and trending, I am so guilty of thinking about things that are less than productive: industrial-grade kitchen appliances, hopping on a plane to Vienna at any given moment, how the heck I am going to survive Eva’s teen years (because if I haven’t already mentioned, she started those 9 years early) and so on… But when I stop for a moment and re-center my thoughts on the things that are present and important–Eva is only four, we have immediate needs to fill, I am blessed and already able to give to others–I can take a deep breath, say thank you, and keep on going. Things will happen in their own time.

Today I will focus on today.

At least…that’s my plan…

Happy Saturday!

Open

In classic Wilson decision-making style, we decided to visit the beach over the weekend Saturday morning. We packed haphazardly, hopped in the car, and headed straight for the ocean.

Side Note: My little corner of heaven will be filled with the sounds of crashing waves, rolling winds, Bach’s Suite for Cello in D, and Eva’s baby laughter. I love the ocean.

This morning we got up at 7:00 AM, had breakfast at our favorite spot with our favorite waitress, and got back on the beach by 9:00 AM.

First, we built an epic sand castle.

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The only thing that could have made building this better would be my sister’s help. She should have totally been here instead of plowing through her last month of college.

And then, Eva made a friend.

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This sweet little girl is about a year younger than Eva, had the cutest little Charlotte drawl, and was a doll. They took a couple minutes to warm up to each other but, without even saying hi, they were best friends.

They ran and screamed and dug holes and fetched water back and forth in pails.

They laughed and shared and talked and splashed and played in the mud.

Looked like they had a marvelous time.

It was beautiful watching them. They’d never met before. They kept forgetting each others’ name. But they didn’t disagree, they shared their toys, they compromised. They played well.

Halfway into their playtime, I started to wonder why adults can’t always do that. I hadn’t talked to the little girl’s mom and she hadn’t spoken to me; her mom was sitting in her chair reading while the girls played near our chairs. Eventually, we talked and got to know each other a bit. Their beach house is just around the corner from ours so I hope we run into them again over the summer.

But if it hadn’t been for Eva and her daughter playing together, it would not have even occurred to me to introduce myself or speak to her.

Now, to be fair to myself, I introduce myself to strangers constantly for work (sales) so it’s not like I’m some crazy snob or anything.

Ok, maybe I have some innate snobbery but I am trying to work on it, thanks.

But what I am curious about is how many meaningful interactions we miss out on as adults. Our little girls were so open to each other, so uncomplicated, so ready to be great friends. Granted, their interests are much simpler: play and play and…yeah, that’s it. Just play. Where as adults have a huge range of interests and belief systems. But that doesn’t mean we can’t look at people (at least initially) with the hope that there could be a friendship waiting.

I want to be more open. We’ve been back in North Carolina for over two years now and I am just starting to feel some roots taking hold. I blame myself for not getting us out there and finding/making more meaningful connections. But a new church home and some really solid friendships that have grown beautifully in the past year give me a basket of hope that more roots will settle soon.

What kinds of friendship and love can we add to our lives by just being a little bit more open? I am eager I find out.