I recently took my daughter to deliver Meals on Wheels to elderly people in our Baltimore community. We arrived at the kosher kitchen and packed a cooler with a brown bag lunch, a soup, and a hot entrée for each recipient on our route. I was excited to offer my daughter face-to-face interactions with aging people; I wanted her to see that they have wisdom to share and to reflect on the reality of life as an older person. Most of the bubbes and zaides on our list needed the conversation as much as the meal, and it was a great opportunity for my little do-gooder to collect mitzvahs. As the faces of those we visited lit up, I heard a refrain from my lips with each introduction.
“This is my daughter,” I would say. After we told them our names, they asked her age, what grade she is in, what school she attends, what her favorite book is right now. I glowed proudly as they chatted, feeling accomplished for what I have cultivated.
My child is a gem: a pure specimen of what we want our children to be. She is sweet, thoughtful, respectful, helpful, caring, honest and dynamic. She has this special quality about her that simply shines. She has a pure heart and really cares deeply about fairness and justice. It is not an exaggeration to say that I am honored to know her. More than honored to be her mother.
My introductions allowed me to admit my pride. “I made her. I raised this girl.” Just as an artist wants credit for their masterpiece, I don’t want to be anonymous in my efforts. I want the world to know that I had a hand in her creation. Not so much for birthing her, but for all my hard work as her parent. I want the residual effect of the good she puts into the world.
It occurs to me that this desire for “credit” is rooted in a sense of ownership for my daughter. For the smart, talented, beautiful girl she is. For the poised young lady she is becoming. For the joy she brought to the meal recipients. For her very being.
But she is more than someone’s daughter. She is more than the sum of her parts. More than the 10 years of effort, time, money, sweat, and parenting I have poured into her. She is her own person first. She possesses her dreams and all else that defines her. While she is my daughter, she is so much more. She is my daughter second.
As she ages, I’m aware that she may see herself as my daughter third. Or fourth. Or 10th. When I think of my many identities, I often prioritize and order them: Mom, Jew, Feminist. And these are just the top three right now. There are aspects to my identity that were once dominant but have since fallen farther down the list.
Though we are quite close, this will happen with my daughter as she clarifies what identity means to her. No doubt, she will think of herself differently from how I think of her. I’m aware that this fluid process is likely to change countless times as she learns new things about herself. Being my daughter may soon pale in comparison to chasing the other things that matter to her, as the world continues to expand before her eyes. Her identity is not dependent on being my daughter. I commit to love her unconditionally throughout the process, though she may differentiate from me along the way. As she tries on identities, our very closeness will be what frees her to create herself.
Does it matter that I say “my daughter” with a sense of ownership? After all, it is merely expressing my pride and happiness. Actually, pride is only part of it. As a single, homeschooling mom, I feel the external pressure to prove that responsive parenting makes great kids. And I see the evidence for myself every day. While it is OK to take some credit for this fabulous person that I am helping to mold, it should not be my ultimate goal. Because I would still feel that sense of pride if she weren’t so spectacular. And though her identity as my daughter is everything to me, it may be less significant to her and I owe her the space to work out who she is. Sharing facial features and quirky mannerisms, the fact that she is my daughter is undeniable, but I can learn to suppress my urge to redundantly proclaim it.
There’s simply no need. She can introduce herself.