Despite the fact that I find parenting stressful more often than not, on balance becoming stepmum to my partner’s two daughters has mostly added something positive to my life. It has given me new insight and made me look at the world differently. I enjoy sharing things with my stepdaughters and I like making them laugh but one of the things that troubles me about the role is the way that even though they are not yet teenagers they often – if not usually – challenge everything they are told to do (eg, Go to bed, Clean your teeth, Turn the television off now etc) and when the boundaries are confirmed will sometimes say, “But you’re allowed to do it…” or “You’re not going to bed”, as if children should be allowed to do exactly what adults do and not to allow them to do so is somehow mean and unfair.
The effect their attitude has on me is to make me feel I have to be a textbook perfect human who never does anything ‘wrong’ or ‘naughty’ and who always maintains ‘standards’ – because if I relax in their presence and do something that they are told not to do they will seize on it and use it against me in the future.
The question is, does doing things we tell our children not to do make us hypocrites? Or are we just bringing them up to be well-rounded decently behaved people with good manners – like ourselves – knowing that once they reach maturity they’ll understand why it isn’t ok to let the kids do everything they want?
I believe the latter. While I’m not a Victorian Parent, and I also appreciate that my stepdaughters are growing up in a different world to the one I was a child in, I think they have to learn about rules and the consequences of not sticking to them and also that there’s a lot to be said for being polite and respectful – not blindly – but that being able to express oneself properly will take you a long way in life. While screaming and shouting, refusing to do what you’re told and not bothering to do the things you know you have to do will, in adult life, lose you friends, jobs and many of the things that make life worth living.
I think I need to remind myself of that next time I worry about being a hypocrite. There are different rules for adults and children with good reason. Successful parenting is as much about saying no as it is about making sure no harm comes to your kids.
On another note, I wonder if having daughters – or stepdaughters – strengthens us as feminists or even creates feminists out of hitherto unengaged women.
I’ve been a feminist since I was around 18, or at least that’s when I discovered what feminism actually meant, but I feel an even stronger drive to do something to achieve equality for women now that I am a part of the lives’ of two girls who I desperately want to grow up as confident, capable, happy individuals who won’t be cowed or held back by the sexist attitudes still prevalent in society today.
I was lucky enough to be brought up to be incredibly confident and to believe there wasn’t much I couldn’t do if I wanted to. As a little girl, Wonder Woman was my hero. She inspired me and added to my growing confidence as a girl. I feel sad that my stepdaughters don’t have such a powerful, feminist role model today.
There is so much more in their childhood world than there was in mine (computers, internet, 24 hour television) but that seems to have diminished childhood and threatened to shorten it rather than enriched it. They are exposed to so many representations of womanhood and adulthood that it is virtually impossible to keep an eye on them all – but we owe it to our daughters to try and while it’s not a good idea to ban them from engaging in the modern world it doesn’t do any harm to switch off the adverts between TV shows and steer them away from things like pornified pop music videos.
The sexism in society today, in the early 21st Century, seems to me as bad, and sometimes worse than, examples from 30 or 40 years ago albeit not as prevalent as it was then. It hasn’t arisen out of a vacuum. Whether it’s the product of our culture, or our culture gives it the oxygen of life, there IS something we can do about it and wanting to do something about it doesn’t mean you’re an hysterical, ugly, man-hating harridan.
It means you’re a confident woman, who respects herself and knows she has a right to be treated with respect by others and/or you’re a mother, stepmum, carer, auntie, nan, grandma, teacher or godmother to one or more girls who you want to grow up believing in themselves no matter what popular culture tells them.
If you want to read more about other women working to protect and inspire our daughters and all girls, here are a few links for you to follow.
Now, where are my Wonder Woman DVDs…? I’ve got a date with my stepdaughters.