I have a daughter who is 6 and a little boy who is 2. When my wife first became pregnant, I secretly wished it was a boy because I was terrified of how to raise a little girl. How would I feel about her growing up? How would I cope when she first started going out with boys/girls? How do I protect her from the evils of the world? Would I be able to find the right words when she did get hurt? Would I be able to stay quiet when silence is needed? I was genuinely worried about all of these things and even more trivial stuff like how do you clean a noony? (my wife’s word for lady parts) I had been cleaning a penis for about 27 years, but had no idea what to do with a noony. All this angst on top of the traditional fears of being a brand new parent and whether you would be any good, what if you fail, what if you’re unprepared etc etc.
When my wife was pregnant with our son, I had none of these fears. Not one. He was our second child, so I didn’t have any trepidations about his birth or whether we would cope, I had no fear of him growing up or how he would cope and I felt like I would be able to handle any issue he could throw at me because I’ve been dealing with guy problems all my life. But it wasn’t until reading Jeff Bogle’s excellent piece on why raising a daughter is going to be ok, it just gets better, that I started asking myself why? Why am I so scared that I will get things wrong with my daughter, but not with my son?
Jeff says that there is nothing in your daughter’s life that you need to fear except for not being there to share in her experiences; to be a steady knee to hold onto as she props herself up learning to walk, to be an example of calm in the face of adversity as she tests her limits as a toddler, to defuse the tension with funny eyes in response to her eye rolling, to teach her how to be a good digital citizen on social media with her new phone, to hold her tight while saying nothing when she goes through her first breakup, to know that even though you are a ‘fixer’ by nature that there are moments in her life when she’ll need to cry into your shoulder or scream her lungs out and to know that all that’s required of you in those moments is to be present, to not live life through her but alongside her as daddy, mentor, confidant, counselor, consoling presence, friend, and dad again. But this in itself fills me with fear. My daughter has already started asking where I was when she was growing up, I wasn’t there when she first started walking and I wasn’t there for many other things I should have been. The eye rolling bit and the social media thing I’ve done brilliantly, but my main fear is that as she gets older, at what point do I take the reigns off and let her start becoming her own person?
I wrote a piece some time ago about a little boy, Dano, who went missing near to us. We watched the police helicopters circling above, we saw the posters being placed everywhere and any time we went out, we saw his relatives canvassing the streets in the hope someone had seen him. Sadly Dano was killed and like so many other children before him, it was by someone he knew and his family trusted. and possibly should have been stopped years earlier. This made me pose the question, at what age do you let your child play unsupervised outside? Even though statistically fewer children go missing now than 20 years ago, the thought of letting Olivia go outside alone makes me shivver deeply. But when I think of my son playing outside when he’s older, I feel more at ease.
It’s not that I trust my daughter less, or feel that she couldn’t cope by herself, but I’m plagued by thought of Dano’s parents saying to themselves “If only…” If I’m entirely honest, I would rather my daughter complain, shout and tantrum about me smothering her and being over protective than for me to stand by her grave and say “If only…” But this makes me feel incredibly sad. I need to find the courage to be able to let go and be the person that Jeff describes, but I don’t know if I can be. With my son, I imagine it more like a scene from 300. When he comes of age, I will release him into the wilderness and let him come back a man and I have no fear of this, so why do I have such strong feelings about my daughter. Is it natural to be this over protective of one child over another. Is it natural to want to protect my daughter with every inch of my being to the point where she might end up hating me for it. I think so, but the greater battle is in fighting that instinct to let her make her own mistakes and learn from them. But I’m scared that it’s a fight I’ll lose.
Whenever I look into her eyes, I just melt and I want to wrap her in my arms and never let go and I get an overwhelming sense of love. When I look into the eyes of my son, I get the same feeling of love, but there’s excitement too. I am eager to show him the world and what it has to offer, to let him go on adventures and be a better wiser man for it, but in the same breath I want to protect my daughter from it. Olivia asked me once why would a King trap his daughter, the Princess, in a tower with no one to speak to. The only answer I could think of at the time was that the King loved his daughter so much and he had learned how evil the world could be. He had decided to lock the princess away in order to shield her from the madness and wickedness of the world, but the king had forgotten about all the beauty the world had to offer and that, one day, would be the Prince’s job. To come and rescue the princess, not from an evil King, but a misguided King who had become so blinded by all the wrong in the world that he could no longer see the good. The prince would rescue the Princess and show her all of the goodness in the world and they would live happily ever after.
I’m hoping that I’m not alone in feeling this fear and as Olivia gets older I need to start fighting my instincts to protect her all the time. I just hope that when she does get hurt, I can find the right words to console her and when she doesn’t need words, I hope that I can just be there for her.