Raising My Daughter Not to Make the Same Dumb Mistake I Made


My daughter Franny, who turns ten this month, has just started working as a Mother’s Helper one afternoon a week after school. She works for a SAHM who needs a couple hours of sanity. She folds laundry and sweeps. She plays with two-year-old Juniper, pushing her on the swing, dressing doll babies, having tea parties.

“I helped Juniper go to the bathroom,” Franny told me proudly. “I wiped her butt. Don’t worry, I washed my hands afterward.”

She must have noticed I was staring at her incredulously. But I wasn’t staring because of the butt-wiping admission. I was agog at the realization that my baby is now old enough to wipe someone else’s baby’s butt.

Franny makes $5 an hour. She works two hours a week, so by the end of one month, she’s earned forty bucks. Not bad for a girl who’s just turning ten.

Franny is a responsible, capable kid. She wakes herself up every  morning for school, putting on the outfit she laid on her chair the night before. She does her homework, usually without reminders, and asks me to sign off on her assignment book. She feeds the cats, and if they need medicine, she dispenses it. If you send her a letter, she will send you a reply right back, on a handmade card with flowers and hearts and multiple exclamation marks.

So I knew, as she was approaching the double digits, that she could handle a Mother’s Helper job. I asked around the neighborhood until I found someone willing to take a shot on a not-quite-ten-year-old.

I want Franny to learn the importance of being financially independent now, while she’s still a kid. I’ve used the occasion of her new job to talk to her about how women need to learn to make their own money so they won’t have to rely on anyone else. I tell her that she will feel good about herself this way.

What I’m saying, between the lines, is: don’t make the same dumb mistake I did.

Don’t expect Prince Charming to swoop you up in his gleaming Lexus and whoosh you off to a life that unrolls like a red carpet before you, a life where you get to stay at home and care for your children in your beautiful house in a grand neighborhood, picking up some freelance work and catching some mid-morning yoga classes in your leisure time. Maybe that life will work out. Maybe it won’t. And if it doesn’t, where will you be?

I don’t know why my mother didn’t instill self-reliance in me. She was a child of the Depression and worked full-time her entire adult life as a music teacher. When she wasn’t working, she cleaned the house, made the meals, and paid the bills. My dad was out of work for a few years, and had it not been for my mom, we would have been sleeping in our station wagon.

Mom didn’t ask me to do much of anything. Again, I don’t know why. Maybe it was because I was adopted and she didn’t feel entitled to make a mother’s demands. Maybe it was because she was exhausted, and a bit of a control freak, and it was easier to do everything herself instead of insist that others pitch in. Maybe it was because I was an anxious child, so she didn’t think I was capable of taking care of myself.

Whatever the reason, I grew up to believe I needed someone else to take care of me. So I married a man whom I expected to soar to great heights in his chosen career. A man whom I expected to provide emotional and financial security, the way my brother-in-law did for my sister, the way many of my friends’ husbands did for them.

But that rosy-hued fantasy didn’t work out so well.

Had I been used to taking care of myself, I would have landed on my feet much faster than I did post-divorce. I would have experienced less stress that I undoubtedly passed on to my children as I went back to graduate school and started over in a new career.

I don’t want Franny to depend on a man to take care of her. I especially don’t want her to depend on her dad. Prince’s money comes with strings, and if she gets used to the dole-outs, she will find herself cinched so tightly that she won’t be able to breathe. She will be told where to live, who to marry, where to vacation, how to decorate her house. She will be denied the opportunity to grow up and feel a sense of accomplishment for what she can do on her own.

Franny can already do a lot on her own, besides babysitting. She is flying cross-country by herself this summer to visit my sister. When I asked her if she wanted me to come with her, she gave me a resounding “NO!”

I am profoundly grateful to watch her emerging self-agency, but sad to experience the gradual pulling-away that she needs to do in order to grow up.

Twice in the past month she has declined the bedtime story-reading and snuggle, our nightly ritual since she was an infant sitting on my lap in the rocking chair, then in her bed when she got old enough to sleep in one.

So it came as a luscious surprise last weekend, when Atticus was out of town on a business trip, and she put her hands on my waist, gazed up at me with big mooey eyes and a grin and asked: “Mom, can I sleep in your bed tonight?”

We crawled under the white duvet, just us girls. We settled our backs into the pillows, and watched Harry Potter on TV until Franny decided she’d had enough, then turned off the light and fell instantly asleep.

I stayed awake for awhile, listening to her soft breathing, gently stroking her long auburn hair. I didn’t want to go to sleep, because I knew this might be the last time we ever slept in the same bed together. So I drank in the moment as long as I could, a blanket of serenity wrapping around me as I imagined my girl growing up and away from me, into a woman who won’t make the same dumb mistake her mother did.

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About perilsofdivorcedpauline

I am a survivor of a world-class gnarly divorce. My dastardly ex-husband is suing me for full custody of my son, and more time with my daughter. He’s super-rich and I’m super-not. You get the picture.
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19 Responses to Raising My Daughter Not to Make the Same Dumb Mistake I Made

  1. NPRMommy says:

    my husband asks me why i still let our 11-year-old in the bed on the rare occasion she asks…i tell him “because every time i wonder if it’s the last time she’s going to ask, and i don’t want to miss it!”
    franny sounds like a cool kid who has a bright future :0)

  2. Amy says:

    I can’t believe how exactly like my life this sounds – well, aside from the Prince (I have yet to meet one of those). My mother did everything for me, and I floundered when I left home. I find myself doing that for my 9 year old and have to remind myself to let her do things. Unfortunately, she is definitely not as mature as your daughter. But I am trying and hoping to get her there and instill the independence my mother didn’t instill in me. Thank you for sharing your life. You are strong and capable and an inspiration to many!

  3. Fiona says:

    That is so sweet. My daughter is only four, and sometimes, I think how little time I have before she starts pulling away (as she should and as she needs to).

    Sounds like you have done very well so far!

  4. elsophie says:

    Sweet, sweet post. And you know what? I imagine your daughter will “leave” you but also circle back round to you, again and again. The relationship that you’ve nurtured and hoped for will unfold —

  5. CeCe says:

    My expensive waterproof mascara is coming in handy right now. This post struck a chord that left me misty. My 11-year-old daughter sitting next to me asked why it made me sad… My response surprised me as I heard my voice echo the words I had heard from my own mom hundreds of times: “When you grow up and have a baby you will understand.”

  6. kategeiselman.com says:

    Those last couple of sentences made me cry. But she’s only 9. There will be more nights like that. You are doing her a great service in teaching her self-reliance. Loved this.

  7. Such important life lessons for your daughter. I think we all want to share life lessons with our kids, especially daughters. Mine are a bit different for my daughter, based on my own life experience. Basically, in a subtle way, I’m teaching her that she could survive without me. My mom died when I was 19, after a very long illness. I barely made it, but I did. If something happened to my daughter, I want her to have an easier time than I did (if that is even possible). I’m teaching her to cook, do laundry, shop, think through problems and rely on friends for good advice.

  8. These are critical lessons about changing times, self-reliance, and of course – making money.

    We all make those dumb mistakes. Hopefully, with each generation, fewer of us will make them.

  9. endurovet says:

    I treasure every moment that my boy still climbs onto the couch w/me for a snuggle 😉

  10. Missy says:

    You are so wise to instill these ideals in your daughter. Thank goodness you are able to own your mistakes and teach your daughter how to make better choices. My mom married an unkind control-freak of a guy (my dad) and all the kids had to suffer through it. She never taught me how to take care of myself though. She never pointed out what I should look for in a guy. Luckily, I figured it out on my own and ended up with a wonderful, kind, generous man. It wasn’t too difficult for me – I just chose someone who was the opposite of my dad! Good for you and good for your daughter.

  11. Melanie says:

    First off, love your blog, long time reader. Franny sounds awesome (and far more responsible than most adults!)

    I know it’s rude, but I’m curious, how old were you when you married? Based on your age and the age of your son I sort of figured you were a bit older (over 30) when you married, and that you’d had the experience of being on your own for awhile.

  12. madfoot says:

    i wish I could hire your daughter! I totally agree about this self-reliance financial thing. I think my mom was under the impression that she was teaching me this lesson by saying “we are feminists,” but somehow undercut it by expecting me to find men to take care of me. I remember her horror when I paid half the rent while living with a guy, and when I questioned my sisters about this I found that 2 out of 4 of us lived for free when they moved in with a guy. Would not even OCCUR to me. Yet it still took me many years to figure out how to budget/pay bills on time/plan for the future, and even then I learned from a boyfriend.

    My hackles raise whenever I hear someone, almost always a woman, musing about what she’ll do when she wins the lottery. It really, really makes me want to scream, because MOST things that we really want are things we can get if we just plan carefully and aren’t helpless dolts. To me, “when I win lotto” is as idiotic as “when my ship comes in” or “someday my prince will come,” and I get surprisingly angry about it.

  13. StrongerMe says:

    My parents were married 40 years before my father’s affair. It probably shouldn’t have lasted that long. I say that because I remember that my mother felt stuck. We had relocated to Texas away from all friends and family, and she had not worked since they were first married and her returned from the service. She couldn’t leave. She had no where to go and no way to make it. She would tell me, “You are going to college. You will not be stuck like me.”
    I did what she said. I worked hard and graduated and earned an offer to work for a prestigious company. i thought I found a man that was fun and complimentary and warm and everything opposite of my father.
    I didn’t. Being narcissistic, that was his hook. And my marriage did not survive 40 years. I wasn’t stuck. I’m making it on my own despite his inconsistency as a parent and lack of child support.
    And yet…I failed. I couldn’t change that one fact. He had an affair and my marriage failed.
    I often think about what I should be telling my boys so that they grow into a man that can be faithful and stick it out. They have certainly seen the example of what not to do. They have gone through their fair share of pain from it. But will they know how to choose a mate and when it’s right and what to do to make it work and be happy?

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