By Lisa Wagner
During these 16 days of Activism, I am thinking about our daughters.
I have a strange relationship with children. I love them, but I have never really wanted any of my own. I have never seen myself in the role of “mother,” but feel a better fit as “aunt,” “teacher,” “sister,” or “friend.” I would never assume to say that any of these roles could take the place of “mother,” but I don’t think this absolves me of parenthood in terms of raising a generation of strong young women (and men). Every woman has the opportunity to be a strong role-model for girls, no matter the title of the relationship. To me, parenting is a collective effort. It isn’t only for those who, biologically, are parents.
When I did work with an Aboriginal agency in Vancouver, we often talked about the importance of “our children,” and the fact that the centre of our work was “our children.” It was always “our.” Not “your,” not “my,” not “the,” but “our” children. I love this concept of collective responsibility for raising children present in Aboriginal culture, which is something I really relate to in my own life. In so many ways, our children and successive generations are the legacy we leave. In Western culture today, there is so much focus on individual identity as opposed to the collective. For many of us, it is difficult to think about the future since we will no longer exist, in the flesh, to experience it.
My good friend is a full-time single mom, who also goes to school. She and her 4-year-old daughter are some of my favourite people in the world, so it’s been a wonderful learning experience for me to have them in my life. I see first-hand some of the struggles faced by mothers raising strong, resilient daughters in a world that is throwing specific messages at girls; telling them that their value lies in their beauty, sexuality, and being “the perfect woman” at home, work, and play. With eating disorders, mental health issues, rape, and suicide rampant in the emerging generations of young people, it is so hard to protect our daughters from these tough realities.
I’m not claiming to have the answers to any of these issues. But I have been thinking about the role that we all play in the raising of our children to become thriving adults. With my new 4-year-old friend, maybe that just means being willing to take the time to play silly make-believe games while we are waiting for our movie to start, or giving her mom a break by babysitting for an evening. Or even just listening to her and letting her know that what she has to say is important. I do know that even though I have no children of my own, it doesn’t mean I can’t leave a legacy in the form of being a role model for our children, whether by teaching, listening to, or learning from them. I like to reclaim the role of “parent” in this way, because it is really powerful to consider myself as one of many collective parents raising our children in this world – and I can have a positive impact if I choose to.