Why is society and/or culture today (particularly in America in my opinion) insisting that our girls grow up so quickly? What is it that makes us push them towards the grown up world at breakneck speed? I really don't know. I don't have answers here but I think more of us should be asking the question.
If you're a regular reader of this blog, you know that our family lives and works in the Middle East. Now there are a lot of things about Arab culture in general that can be challenging. Mainly things that are just DIFFERENT and therefore hard. For example: lines and the idea of waiting in them in an orderly fashion.... Not gonna happen! And just give up on getting frustrated about it and pitching your own little mini-fit in the grocery store when the 84th person breaks in front of you. They are not going to notice your mini-fit and if they do notice, they will probably have no idea what you're upset about (unless they've spent time in the West). Another example would be the concept of saving face and truth telling. In many situations in this culture it is vastly more important for someone to "save face" so to speak and tell you what they know you want to hear as opposed to actually telling you the truth. Not necessarily about large issues, but in day to day functioning this particular nuance of the culture can be highly irritating!
So yeah, anyone who has spent time in a culture other than their own, can attest to the fact that there are things that take getting used to. And, although it may take more time, as I think we just naturally are more prone to notice the things that bug us, the more time you spend in another culture, the more certain things about that culture become endearing to you, even part of who you are.
So while there may be many things that our Arab neighbors don't get quite right, especially in the opinion of Westerners, I feel like they are doing a pretty good job with daughters. Now to clarify, I am NOT talking here about M'slim views on women, various practices related to young girls that are horrifying, or any aspect of society that says women are lesser creatures. I am simply talking about the face that from our interaction with other Arab families, from my daughters interactions with friends at school and my relationships with mothers of those friends, I feel like, in general, the girls in this part of the world are free to be, well just girls (as opposed to women) for longer than girls in the states. And maybe I'm completely off base in that synopsis, I don't know. But that's really not the point so please don't get stuck on it. The point is, WHY do we want them to grow up so quickly?!
WHY do I see pictures of girls Abbey's age on facebook or various blogs dressed to go to school functions with, well, TEENAGE BOYS, and the girls are wearing shorter skirts and lower cut blouses than I ever remember even thinking about wearing. I'm talking about 12 and 13 year old GIRLS here. And it's usually the moms that post the albums with cute little comments like "she's growing up so fast" or "13 going on 30". Help me understand why. I don't live in America anymore. Maybe I'm missing something? What are moms thinking when their little girls are dressed up well beyond their years? Or maybe the better question is, "what are the dad's thinking?" !?!?! Dad's who were once teenage boys themselves and know good and well that that the boys out there interacting with their daughters cannot help but thinking more than how cute she looks...
What's the rush?! I guess that's what I'm saying. SAVOR the innocence! Cling to it.
I'm kind of talking in circles here. I know that. My baby will be 14 tomorrow and I'm in denial. Life happens just way to fast. Of course, I'm not saying that we should fight against the natural progression into maturity. Whether I think it's too fast or not, it IS the way God created it to be for a reason. So certain things that are inevitable I must embrace. We take hold of the teaching moments that are naturally brought into our paths as parents of daughters. But isn't it possible to do that while at the same time allowing them to maintain their innocence for just a bit longer? Do we have to allow them to bear so much of their outer beauty that their inner beauty becomes scarred beyond repair? Can't we do something to turn around the trends of what "everyone else" is doing? Can we somehow redefine that? Don't we have a responsibility as reasonable parents and adults who can think a bit more clearly to redefine what is normal?
Yes, I want to prepare my girls for the things that they will likely be bombarded with out there in the "real world". I strive for them to be well spoken and educated, able to carry on intelligent conversations with both a 7 year old, a 77 year old and all ages in between. We don't hide them from the realities both tragic and lovely that make up todays world. You know what I want to hide them from quite honestly? The American teenage culture! From what I read and hear lately, it is a very scary place!! The average age of exposure to porn is 10. TEN!! That's not even teenage. And that's just the tip of the iceberg of the issues being dealt with. So HOW do we cling to those last bits of innocence as our little princesses grow into women? How when "because everyone else dresses this way" is the least of our worries with the internet at their fingertips... May seem overly simplified, but last time I checked, we ARE still the parents. We do have a bit of control even if it may be easier in certain circumstances to say that we don't. There are filters and parental protection programs. If they want to get to it, they will, you may say. Maybe. But don't you also think that they want to know that you care enough to try and prevent it?
When people over here say that a certain country or city is becoming more "western" do you know what they mean? Essentially they mean that the women are beginning to dress more provocatively. Yep, that's what they equate with "western". Women who show skin. Are we ok with that? I'm not! Now, I'm not saying that they stereotype is correct, but it should at least cause us to pause and consider....
So help me here, fellow parents of teens. How are you fighting this fight? How can we convince our kids that it's ok to be 13 going on 14, 14 going on 15, 15 going on 16 etc. Are we asking the right questions? Are we inserting ourselves appropriately into the lives of our teens in a way that says, "I love you enough to guide you in knowing that this or this is not ok and this or this is?" Are we accepting cultural norms just because they have become cultural norms and not because they are God's best for our kids? I'm asking myself too!
Maybe I'm way off on this, I don't know. I am after all processing against the backdrop of being emotional about the passing of time. And by definition, processing means that I have not come to any logical conclusions (as if that weren't already completely obvious by the rambling nature of this post...).
For now, I'm mourning the fact that I'm old enough to have a daughter who'll be 14 tomorrow, and I'm celebrating the beautiful young women she is becoming.
I'm mourning the fact that she is beginning to notice that their are other members of the opposite sex in her life besides her father, grandfathers, uncles and cousins who might be worthy of her attention, and I'm celebrating that I still have to occasionally remind her to brush her hair before she leaves the house.
I'm mourning the fact that in 4 short years I won't be putting her on the bus and across the city to high school but on a plane and across the ocean to college, and I'm celebrating that for now, for today, she still loves to play capture the flag with the neighborhood kids and hide-n-seek with her baby sister.
I'm mourning the fact that the sin in our world has brought issues to her attention that I would much rather she didn't know existed, and I"m celebrating her love for reading and new information.
Mostly I think I'm mourning the fact that all of my girls are going to be dealing with this culture that pushes them to be 13 going on 30. I can't help but think that things aren't going to slow down much. So as I mourn that reality and think about how if affects each of my girls, I celebrate the fact that as parents we have the choice to say that we do not accept this as the norm for our girls. I will stand against this trend and fight hard for the innocence of my daughters, and I will do everything within my power to help them take life one year, one day, one moment at a time.
Yes, tomorrow my Abbey will no longer be "13, going on 14". She will actually BE 14. And the year after that, 15, and then 16. That is, after all, how it works. And I accept that. I do. Let's just agree to help our daughters, our sons, be the age that they are, and be all there. God, in His infinite knowledge, did not design 30 to come after 13 for a reason. Let's help keep it that way.
" He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end. I know that there is nothing better for men than to be happy and do good while they live. "