by Leslie Morgan Steiner
On vacation recently, I caught up with an old friend who lives several states away. We raised our toddlers together, long ago.
“So how old is Jessica now?” I asked.
Sixteen…” my friend cooed. Long pause. “And her BOYFRIEND comes to visit us tomorrow for the rest of vacation.”
Her tone was almost… gloating.
I get it – her mixture of pride, trepidation, and wonder that her baby now has a boyfriend.
But I tell you, I wondered whether she’d feel the same strange mix of emotions if her son’s girlfriend was coming to visit. Would she even emphasize the word so possessively? Why do our daughters’ beauty, dress styles, and boyfriends (or lack thereof) trigger so many passions in moms – the same moms who don’t seem to worry about a son’s bathing suit style or when he starts wearing cologne?
Last week, the Wall Street Journal stirred the pot with an article about moms’ permissiveness when it comes to girls’ dress codes, in Why Do We Let Them Dress Like That?  The article drew over 600 feisty comments, from dads as well as moms. We’ve all seen young girls dressing “too” provocatively. But when it comes to our own daughters, it’s a puzzling topic. To what degree should moms regulate our daughters’ clothing? At what age do we “let” them wear makeup and perfume? How much thigh or belly or bust should the clothing we buy them reveal?
Does our daughters’ prettiness make us feel like better, somehow like more successful mothers, superior to mothers with less attractive, less stylish girls? Is this the latest round of the mommy wars – not whose four-year-old is reading first, but whose teenage daughter is hotter? Or uprising about our own fading magnetism…do our daughters’ lithe bodies and ardent boyfriends rekindle our younger, sexier selves?
Are we happy for our daughters as they discover their own seductiveness? Or do we feel sorry, remembering our own missteps and insecurities? Are we rejoicing in being more sympathetic, communicative mothers than our own mothers were to us? Is the goal for our daughters to experience a confidence we once felt, or an elusive freedom we never enjoyed? Does the fact that we do not control either our daughters’ sexual attractiveness or their innocence scare us like nothing else on earth?
Are our daughters’ bodies even any of our business?
Yes. No. I have no idea! This sure is a thorny topic.
All I can discern amid the brambles is the following.
No one should blame the girls for their trashy mistakes. My eight year old recently stumped me by asking how old one has to be to wear thong underwear. How can girls possibly know what the “rules” are? Within the range of normal errors: a too-short skirt, a see-through top, lipstick, blush and eyeshadow applied in experimental colors. I once stepped out in a skintight white polyester strapless gown – to my high school soccer team awards dinner. Just because I dressed like a 16-year-old call girl didn’t mean I was one. Part of growing up is learning from our own stupidity. Let the girls learn. Always give them the benefit of the doubt. Never shame them.
Second, we moms need to keep ourselves – our issues – out of the way of our daughters’ normal adolescent experimentation. Whether our reactions to their wardrobe choices are based in fear or feminism, our hard-earned opinions should be relegated to our own wardrobe choices. We cannot pack 40+ years of wisdom into 13-year-old bodies. Our daughters live in their own world – as they should.
Lastly, it is appropriate to set reasonable, rationale guidelines. My 12-year-old daughter is allowed to wear makeup – just not to school. One of her dresses is a mini but most of them are not. I know a mom who has promised her daughter a cell phone – but not until ninth grade. Another took her daughter to a department store consultant so she could learn how to dress and apply makeup in appropriate ways.
In other words, react to our daughters’ boyfriends, ripped t-shirts, excesses and growing pains like the older, mature, wise women we are.