It’s Not About Me

(originally published at Two Women Blogging)

Never assume. First rule of life. If you meet me, don’t assume that just beacuse I have a daughter, I think I’m entitled to control her body. Don’t assume that I abandoned my opposition to parental notification laws. Don’t assume that I think I will know about everything she does as a teenager. Don’t assume that my knowing is more important than her safety.

Know this instead: I want her to have what she needs. I want her to be safe, and supported, and to feel every option is open to her. Sure, I hope she comes to me if she decides to have sex; I hope to God it’s her decision, and not something that happens against her will. If asks me, I will help her find a birth control method and talk to her about protection from STIs. But if she doesn’t come to me, she still deserves to have birth control, and condoms. And if all that fails and she finds herself pregnant, she deserves to have all her choices available.

If you are an adult in my daughter’s life, know this: it’s not about me. It’s about her. If she comes to you about birth control, help her. Take her to Planned Parenthood. Give her condoms. If it means you have to take her to another state to help her get an abortion, because it’s what she needs and we live in a state with parental notification laws, then take her. Go with her, and hold her hand, and hug her afterwards, and make sure she has someone to talk to. Sure, you can tell her that she can talk to me – you can offer to help her do it. But if she doesn’t want to, if she’s scared or ashamed or just too overwhelmed, that’s OK. It’s more important that she gets what she needs than that I know about it.

I am trying to be the kind of mother she can come to, but that’s not entirely under my control. And if she can’t come to me, let her come to you, and give her what she needs. If you’re her aunt, or her teacher, or her doctor, or just a good friend, know this: it’s about her.

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55 Responses to It’s Not About Me

  1. Again Jay (see below posting), you are an awesome mom. I wish all the best for you and your daughter, and hope that she will always feel comfortable coming to talk to you.

  2. Dawn. says:

    That was absolutely beautiful. You are an amazing mother, Jay.

    Reading this actually makes me kinda sad now, because my mother feels the exact opposite about my reproductive health. When she found out I was on birth control (I had been on it for a couple months at that point, thanks to my university’s medical center) she said only whores took the Pill. I just laughed about it because by then, I was used to her expressing those kinds of opinions.

  3. Nainy Sahani says:

    Wow, if only all mothers thought like it. I’ve often felt that because of my mother’s interference and over curiosity I find myself further and further away from her. If only she gave me time, if only she thought like it.

    Wow.

  4. Lyndsay says:

    That sounds like a hard attitude to have but a good one. I haven’t been a parent but I’ve been a teenager. I could tell my parents’ most of my thoughts and life happenings but if I had had sex in high school, I cannot imagine telling them.

  5. Tabitha says:

    I want to see this on posters at my local bus shelter, maybe a little condensed in order to fit the medium, with maybe a generic silhouette of a mother and daughter in blue.

  6. Dr. Confused says:

    Applause!

    This is exactly how I feel about my own daughter, and about parental notification etc. I hope she can come to me, but more important than my own ego are her safety, her health, and her bodily autonomy. (She has little of the latter right now, not being two yet, but we’re trying to give her as much as we can).

  7. Helen says:

    Fan – f*kn – tastic.
    I am going to make this into one of these things that people send around in emails, much as I hate that, but I want it to reach friends and such that don’t frequent feminist blogs. (Funny if it came back to you one day! )

  8. Bakka says:

    Great post! My own mom and dad used to say to me, “There are some things a parent does not have the right to know.” By which they meant, they were happy to talk about sex and so on, but I did not *have* to tell them if I did not want to. For me, this actually made it easier to come to them. I knew they would not be judgmental. It also allowed me to seek out birth control on my own without feeling guilty.

    As Bob Dylan sang so wonderfully “Your sons and your daughters are beyond your command…”

  9. Jay says:

    Bakka, love the Dylan quote. Never thought about it as a parent before, but it’s so true.

    And Helen, I’m tickled to have a piece of Interwebs immortality :-)

    My mother did a great job talking to me about sex. She knew I wasn’t going to marry at 19, as she did, and that I’d most likely have sex before I was married, and she also knew – or hoped – that I would really like it (which I do!). And with all that, I was still ashamed to go to her when I had questions.

    There’s nothing I can do to guarantee that Eve will be able to come to me. I really hope she can, but I can’t make it happen, so I hope the other adults in her life will be there for her. And yes, I have said this to my friends and to my sisters-in-law and to Eve’s doctor.

  10. Kaethe says:

    Excellent work, Jay, both the writing and the parenting. Unlike my own parents, I’m actively talking about reproductive health issues with my daughters, and I’ve made it clear to both my eldest (ten) and her doctor, that I am happy to be chauffeur and check-writer with no questions asked. Of course, I’ve also mentioned to her that if she doesn’t have to have periods if she doesn’t want them, because I love my hormone-stabilizing birth control.

  11. Thomas says:

    As a parent, I deal constantly with other parents (especially fathers) projecting their anxieties about their daughters’ (never their sons’) developing sexualities on me. They often seem stunned when I refuse to rubber-stamp their anxiety jokes.

    I’m fairly abrasive about it, too. When fathers say to me (and they have several times) “if you have a son you only have to worry about one penis, but if you have a daughre, you have to worrry about all of them,” I invariably respond, “It’s not the penises I worry about, it’s the ears.” Always a puzzled silence. “If they hear her if she says no, I don’t have much problem with what they do with their penises.” That’s, of course, the one-liner answer — I have fuller thoughts about it.

  12. Crystal says:

    Coming from an 18-year-old girl: you are the kind of mother I would both want and need, and certainly the kind I am going to strive to be.

  13. Mandy says:

    That made me cry. Beautiful. Thank you for that.

  14. Sarra says:

    Great to read and fully understand that I am not alone when thinking this way! If and when I am blessed with my own daughter or son they will be aware that I’m not the only mother who is educated enough to think that their body is not my control.

  15. Laurette Elsberry says:

    Would you feel this way if your daughter was 12?

    • Cara says:

      Excellent point, Laurette! I’m not Jay, nor am I a parent, but I do have to imagine that like any logical person, she’d think that in the case of a 12-year-old, getting pregnant, contracting an STI and/or trying to self-induce an abortion suddenly becomes a good idea!

  16. Gembird says:

    Jay,

    That was wonderful. I’ve been lucky enough to have a mother and grandmother who share your views, but not everyone grows up with that level of trust and openness. I’m thinking about sending some of my friends a link to this post.

    I really hope that I can be like you if I ever have a daughter.

  17. Jay says:

    Cara, I love you. Snark in the battle against liberty is no vice.

    Laurette, for the record, as my daughter (now 9) approaches puberty, I find myself feeling even more strongly that she needs and deserves independence and privacy. So yes, I will feel this way when she is 12.

  18. Melissa says:

    That was lovely! I got a little misty-eyed. Thankfully, I had a mother who thought just like you and thanks to her I’ve always been secure and happy with my sexuality. I’m sure your daughter will feel comfortable coming to you just as I was with my mom.

    You’ve also inspired me to be more vocal with my 9-year-old goddaughter. She really looks up to me and as she approaches those formative teen years I’d like to really be there for her because I know, sadly, her mother won’t. I already see her having some shame about her body and some misguided ideas about relationships and sex. She sees me as the only adult who truly listens to her and takes her seriously so I feel it’s my responsibility with or without her mother’s explicit consent.

  19. Thomas says:

    My daughter is younger than Jay’s, by a lot. People have been telling me that I won’t see the world the way I do when X happens my entire life — almost always, people older than me have smugly asserted that I’ll be more conservative when I’m older, when I pay taxes, when I own a home, when I am the boss, when I have kids. Now I’m in my late thirties, pay taxes, own a home, am raising a bunch of young kids, and these predictions have consistently failed.

    My daughter will grow up. She will be a sexual person. She will have sexual experiences, some like the ones I had and some different. She will need medical care, and she will have to decide what to tell me and what not to tell me. I have always believed that if she tells me what is going on in her life it has to be because she feels safe telling me; because she sees me as a source of support and guidance rather than a risk. It’s my job to make that happen. If my daughter does not feel comfortable telling me what is going on in her life, I don’t want laws that just make her position tougher. I want her to get the advice and care she needs. If she cuts me out of the loop to do that, I don’t want her punished. If she does, then I need to do some soul-searching about where I have gone wrong and be a better parent.

  20. Embee says:

    Jay,

    Your crystalline expression of love brought tears to my eyes. What a lucky, lucky girl is Eve!

    I experience so many parents whose relationship to thier child is dominated by their own ego and it breaks my heart for all parties.

    I’m pregnant now and I am tucking your post into my “mommy” file to remind me of the mother I want to be.

    Thank you.

  21. Nikita says:

    I have an ultrasound this afternoon to determine the sex of my baby. My baby will be so blessed if I am half the mom you are.

    Well said. I’m going to save this post to remind myself of it if times are tough in the future (a.k.a. teen) years! :)

  22. S says:

    My mother put me on a birth control pill as soon as she met my first serious boyfriend at 15. I have so much respect for her for being a realist and introducing me to sex- which can be so warped by society, as a positive concept rather than something to be ashamed of.

  23. Alyssa says:

    This post made me cry a little bit. This is the type of mother I aspire to be. I just hope when my daughter is old enough, I’m strong enough to put her needs ahead of what I want.

  24. Hannah says:

    Oh my. I am an 18 year old girl. Care to adopt me?

  25. kristinc says:

    My daughter is 5 and I feel this way about her.

  26. Alexia Rose Lopez says:

    Wow. Thank you so much for posting this.

    My name is Alexia, and I am seventeen years old. My mother has always been very open and encouraging me to talk with her about everything, which I do. When I had sex for the first time, I went to her, and we went to the doctor to find a suitable birth control and she told me to ask her for condoms if I decided to have sex again.

    Having someone to go to is such a blessing and privilege that I seem to take for granted so many times. I always have friends who feel like they can’t tell anyone about things they do or want to do, and my mom is always saddened by it.

    The ones who don’t have people to go to are the ones who end up pregnant at fifteen. I am glad I didn’t turn out to be one.

  27. Mama Dawn says:

    I can’t agree more! If I could send her off to college with only one parent note it would be this.

  28. Alexa says:

    I think that is literally one of the most powerful pieces I’ve ever read; very moving. Your approach is the embodiment of perfection when it comes to this particular subject. I hope I have a daughter one day, and I know I’ll take the same, exact approach you do. <3

  29. Nyara says:

    This was beautiful, and your daughter is lucky to have you as a parent.

    @ Laurette-

    Would you feel this way if your daughter was 12?

    God, I hope so. “My child is more important than my ego” should be the defining sentiment no matter what age the child is.

  30. Jarrod says:

    Its this kind of selfless devotion to kids I see in others that makes me strive to be the best possible father to my kids.

    Beautifully written!

  31. Zebster says:

    I’m not a parent, (and may or may not become one) but I really think that this is the only attitude for a good parent *to* have. I really wish my own parents were that cool.

  32. Andrea says:

    Wow. I want to be like you when I’m older. I’m still a teen, and I want so badly to send this to my mother. Unfortunately, my mother does not agree with these thoughts on parenting. Sexual experiences and my wants/needs apparently have to wait until I leave her house. It really puts a damper on my life when I want to be able to have control and maybe even talk to her about some of this, but she won’t listen to me. She doesn’t respect that it’s my body and my life. I hate it.

  33. Elizabeth says:

    This is the right kind of attitude for not only a parent but any decent human being to have. Kudos to you for being more concerned about your daughter’s well being than having control in her life.

  34. Emily says:

    Stumbled!
    Thank you so much for this. This is how I want to be when I am a parent, and the opposite of the way my mom is now. I wish that all parents could respect their children like you do.
    Again, thank you.

  35. Colleen says:

    As a mom, this made me well up… beautifully put. Thank you.

  36. sophiefair says:

    Would you feel this way if your daughter was 12?

    i have a 12 year-old daughter and a 13 year-old daughter. and i am about to print out this post for them both to read, with a note from me saying that i would love to talk about it some more, if they want to. i am lucky to live in british columbia (canada), where a needed abortion would not only be legal, but covered by our health care system, and they would not need to notify me.

    i hope that my girls will come to me. i am putting condoms in their bathroom, along with the tampons and pads — so they don’t have to ask. but if they don’t feel comfortable talking to me, then i want them to talk to someone who will put THEM first.

  37. Jono says:

    As a father of 8 year old and a 5 year old daughters, you have articulated for me exactly how I feel. I want them to be safe and secure and I want to be someone they can rely on if they have a tough decision, but I know that I they are their own people and will make discoveries about sex and life themselves. It is so wonderful to discover other sane people in this world. Thank you.

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  39. Isabel says:

    This is so beautiful. Your daughter is incredibly lucky to have you for a mother.

  40. Jay says:

    Thomas, can I borrow that line about the ears and the penises? It’s brilliant. I’m off to read the fuller thoughts you mention.

    I’m grateful for the “yes means yes” approach. That’s precisely what I want to communicate to Eve (and have explicitly discussed with her): that you will want to have someone touch your body, and you will want to touch theirs, and it will be wonderful, and it must be your choice – not something you give into or accept, but something you actually want. Such a radical notion, this wanting.

  41. manda says:

    i don’t know what to say. that was a thing of beauty and i wish all the daughters out there had mothers like you.

    god bless all the mothers out there in the world that act this way, and think this way. awesome.

  42. anniehall says:

    I stumbled upon this and I think this is wonderful motherhood. I hope to be like you if I become a mother.

  43. kerry says:

    Wow. That is exactly who I want to be as a mother to my daughter. THAT is what unconditional love looks like. Thank you for this.

  44. Julie says:

    I love this Jay. It really emphasizes everything I would want to say to the people in my daughter’s life. She’s only 5 now but I know that she’ll be a teenager before she knows it and while I hope that she will always come to me if she needs me, I know she may not feel comfortable with it. I just want her to have a trusted adult she can turn to.

  45. Jill says:

    Beautiful, jay. My mother was like this: open to discussing sex and sexuality, emphasizing making responsible decisions, and noting that she was not entitled to know anything I didn’t want her to know. She told me that she would take me to planned parenthood or our own doctor, but that I could also go myself and she didn’t have to know. I ended up being pretty private about sex with her, for whatever reason. When I did become sexually active, in college, I didn’t tell her. But I did go on birth control, and of course now we talk about it. If I had been sexually active in high school and had gotten pregnant, I wouldn’t have wanted to tell her. Not because she was a bad parent or judgmental,but because I was a perfectionist and a Good Kid who would have been devastated by the prospect of disappointing my parents. Sometimes, no matter how open you are with your kids, their personalities or insecurities are going to keep them from being totally open with you. The best thing for kids like that – for a kid like I was – is the knowledge that they are loved and supported regardless, and that the decision to keep some things private is not in itself a disappointment.

    This piece really is lovely. Thank you for it.

  46. JayJay says:

    You sound just like my Mum. =] Mums like you are amazing. I wish every girl had someone like you and my mum in their lives, It makes growing up alot more fun.
    Good luck =] .xxx

  47. Amanda says:

    I think I speak for all daughters when I thank mothers like you!
    Knowledge is power!

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  50. Melissa says:

    This has apparently been said many times but again- you seem to be a truly great parent who understands the reality of teenage sexuality. Namely that it exists and should be treated in a healthy and open-minded way.
    My parents never talked about sex with me in any way. Fortunately I was smart enough to seek birth control on my own and at 21 I still pay for it out of pocket to avoid using their health insurance because anything to do with sex is so taboo in my household. It still saddens me that even though I am very close to my family I feel I have to hide so much from them.
    I understand it is difficult for parents to acknowledge these issues but the necessity of it is immeasurable.

  51. Aoede says:

    I believe that, like liberterianism, this is one of those things that can only work if all parties involved are suitably educated.

  52. JMegan says:

    Beautiful post. Thanks so much for articulating all this – I too am putting it in my “parenting file” for when my daughter is old enough to need it!

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