What I’ve Learned About Being a Woman From My “Tom Boy” Daughter

emma and momMy daughter turns 9 today.

For 9 years, she has been challenging my understanding of what it means to be a woman. Here is what I’ve learned from her so far.

1. There is more than one way to be a woman, and none of them are wrong.

She was about 5 when she thanked me for loving her even though we were different kinds of girls.

“What do you mean we’re different kinds of girls?” I asked.

“Well, you know,” she said. “I like pants and sports and you like…” she flapped her arms about, making what I’m certain is the universal sign for froufrou.

She wasn’t wrong. We are different kinds of girls, and I can be a bit *flapping arms about* sometimes. Truth be told, it wasn’t always easy for me to gracefully accept those differences.

When I found out I was having a girl, I imagined a mini-me in pink cupcake dresses and golden ringlets. I pictured us getting manicures together and maybe wearing matching Easter dresses someday.

Emma made it very clear from an early age that she would have no part of those fantasies. Before she could talk in complete sentences she was letting me know that she hated wearing dresses or anything ruffled. She hasn’t allowed me to put so much as a barrette in her hair since she was two.

But she has also never mocked my own love of up-dos and ruffles, or anyone else’s.

We were waiting to see Santa at Disney World one Christmas, and I spotted a little girl in line wearing a full-on Cinderella costume – complete with the top knot and sparkle hairspray. “Oh, Emma, doesn’t she look pretty?” I gushed.

“She does look very pretty,” Emma said with the utmost sincerity. “And that is so very nice… for her.”

She showed me what it looks like to accept who you are and accept people who are different from you.

2. Labels are containers we use to help us keep things neat, but people do not fit into fabric-lined baskets.

A couple years ago she started calling herself a tom boy. It made me uncomfortable, and I couldn’t figure out exactly why.

I realized that I hated what the term seemed to imply: that she wasn’t really a girl. That she needed another name to describe her because the label Girl didn’t fit.

But this is 2014, and we no longer have to sort ourselves into two opposing categories of real girl or tom boy.

And Emma is so much more than either one of those labels anyway. She insists on playing baseball – not softball – and she begged to have her ears pierced when she was six. She loves Pablo Picasso and Katy Perry. She’s seen every episode of Bones and thinks Dirty Dancing is “totally inappropriate”.

When she started calling herself a tom boy, I asked if she wanted to look like mom or dad when she grew up. I didn’t want to push her into a gender box or ignore any signs that she felt misplaced in her own body. She’s assured me that she feels like a girl on the outside and inside.

“I’m just not what you think of when you think of a girl,” she says.

“There is nothing about who you are or what you like that isn’t part of being a girl,” I remind her.

I want her to know labels are limited, but she doesn’t have to be.

Wanting her to know that helps me remember it for myself.

3. Be who you are, and don’t be afraid to let who you are change.

In nine short years, my beautiful daughter has already grown and evolved so much. She’s been through her Taylor Swift phase and her do-everything-herself phase. She’s been obsessed with Lightning McQueen, Andrew McCutchen, Hannah Montana, and cats.

When I see these changes in her, I’m grateful for the opportunity to witness her growing up.

When I’ve seen similar changes in myself, I’ve dismissed my evolution as a sign of flakiness or “being wrong”.

Being Emma’s mother has shown me that our identity is less about who we are and more about where we are right now. I have compassion and even love for her constant progression, and that’s helped me be more patient with my own never-ending journey.

I always knew my job as Emma’s mom would be to teach her how to be a responsible, resourceful, happy adult. I never expected she’d teach me so much about what it means to be a strong, confident, loving woman.

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  1. Nanna says:

    For so many reasons, this made tears well up.
    Nanna’s most recent post: Accept Yourself Where You Are Today

  2. This is, perhaps, my favorite post you’ve ever written. Thank you for sharing these lessons and tidbits of wisdom from your experiences with your daughter.

    Feisty Harriet’s most recent post: Macro Photography: my new obsession

  3. Marsha J says:

    Happy Birthday to Emma!
    I LOVE this sentence: “Being Emma’s mother has shown me that our identity is less about who we are and more about where we are right now.”

  4. Megan says:

    She is an old soul, that one. A beautiful old soul.
    Megan’s most recent post: This Is A Personal Blog Post

    • Britt Reints says:

      In so many ways, she really is. And then in others, she is so light and airy and easy.

  5. daniel says:

    Very cool. Our kids can help us learn so much about identity and ourselves if we are open to it.
    daniel’s most recent post: Phamily Foto Phriday 2-28-14

    • Britt Reints says:

      So true! Sometimes we can get stuck in teaching/molding mode and forget to see the stuff we can be learning along the way.

  6. Carly says:

    Emma’s free spirit is, like, palpable, in her presence. I think she’s awesome, and I also think it’s awesome that you are so supportive and encouraging and open to her nonconformity.
    Carly’s most recent post: Vloggin’

    • Britt Reints says:

      It’s funny how nonconforming both of my kids already are. It took me YEARS to be comfortable with that!!

      • Carly says:

        I read somewhere recently that it’s basically their job and our human nature to resist doing what we’re told. And then all of our lives we’re relentlessly beaten into submission with shame and fear. But as parents we have the special power (for a short time) to instill a sense of “okayness” that’s like a natural repellent for the constant barrage of edicts and judgments. Hopefully I can also find my zen when it counts. ;) I’m pretty rebellious myself, so hopefully they can hear my open-mindedness coming thru over the yelling. ;b
        Carly’s most recent post: Vloggin’

  7. Glori Surban says:

    I saw my younger self in Emma while I was reading this post! :)

    Goodness, but my mom still insisted on the froufrou and I just learned to bear with it. It’s funny when I look back at my childhood and I realize my mom did try so desperately to make me love girly things. Haha! I guess I just let her dress me up and didn’t care as long as I gt to run around the neighborhood with my friends.

    Anyway, lovely article. Brings back a lot of memories! :)
    Glori Surban’s most recent post: (Kindle) S.M.A.R.T. Goals Made Simple – 10 Steps to Master Your Personal and Career Goals

    • Britt Reints says:

      My mom had a similar relationship with her mother, and I saw how much it bothered her for so long feeling like her mom was judging her or that she was disappointment. I never wanted Emma to feel that way about me.

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