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G I R L S A&A Y O U N GA W O M E N

Excerpt from "Your Daughter's Bedroom"
by Joyce T. McFadden

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From the book Your Daughter's Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women by Joyce T. McFadden.

We might realize our daughters need our support as they discover their sexuality, but how do we give it to them? Many mothers are unsure of how to proceed and nervous about saying the wrong thing, but the only way we can make conversations about sex more comfortable is to try to keep having them consistently and over time. Creating that comfort zone will involve several things. It will require setting a tone that respects both the individuality and privacy of both parties; relaxing in the knowledge that, as long as we stay aware, we’ll have opportunities to nurture these conversations as they pop up again and again in the routine of our lives; and appreciating how these conversations will facilitate the growth of our sexual selves, not only as mothers and daughters but as women in the world together. While this growing ease we share won’t always be able to prevent the potential upheaval of our daughters’ sexual complications or pain—from things like endometriosis, infertility, or sexual betrayal, for instance—it will have the power to reduce the extent of the suffering, because it’s harder to suffer alone. The proven reliability of the safe, ongoing dialogue between ourselves and our daughters will be something our daughters can always count on to help them feel as centered as possible, even in difficult times. From the naming of their body parts when they’re little, to concerns of infidelity whether they come in high school or in their forties, to helping with hot flashes, the closeness this open-ended dialogue can inspire is emotionally incomparable.

There will be times our daughters won’t want to include us in their pursuit of information, but there will be other times they’ll bring us their questions. Sometimes they’ll blurt them out and we won’t even see them coming. In most areas of our lives we tend to fear the unexpected, but I think one of the most exciting aspects of parenting is never knowing when, where, or whom your kid is going to ask something that will take you by complete surprise and perhaps cause blushing or stammering on your part.

Witnessing this time in your daughter’s life also gives you a chance to look over your own sexual rites of passage and be respectful of them. Even if you have regrets or wish you’d done something differently, you have to respect the fact that, at that time, you were doing your best in beginning to learn how to live within your sexuality and within the mind-boggling world of relationships. Even if you remained a virgin throughout high school, you were still absorbing and learning. Remember that we learn through observation, and by making mistakes as well as by doing something well. One of my favorite quotes is from U.S. astronaut Edwin “Buzz” aldrin, who said in an Esquire interview, “The final frontier may be human relationships, one person to another.” For him, walking on the moon was easier to navigate than understanding human relationships. If nonsexual relationships are complex to navigate, sexual ones are that much more mysterious—maybe even more mysterious than astrophysics.

Now it’s time to afford your daughter the same opportunity to explore these mysteries of desire. The difference for her will hopefully be that, unlike generations before her, she won’t have to learn in a lonely vacuum. Because you have always spoken to her about female sexuality, she will have choices. When she chooses to learn on her own without you, she’ll be choosing to protect her privacy. When she wants to have you with her, she’ll be choosing you because she knows you’ll be there and you’ve proven she can rely on you.

Don’t let your fears get in the way of seeing what she might need. If she wants your counsel on handling more mature relationships, you should be proud that you’ve raised her to feel comfortable approaching you. If you lost your virginity in high school and you believe you want her to wait, be prepared for her to ask you when you had your first experience, and give it some thought. Respect the fact that however you arrived at it, when you were her age you did make the decision to have sex. Now she could be at that decision-making point. This is where a lot of mothers would bail and never face the issue, and still others would try to scare their daughters out of it. If it makes you feel any better, I know from the loss of virginity questionnaire that respondents completed that many of the women in my study didn’t attach that much emotional memory to how and when they lost their virginity. In fact, a lot of women reported just being glad it was over, and saw it more as the beginning of a sex life than a huge pivotal moment.

The most important thing is to have a conversation so you can teach your daughter how to weigh her options and her feelings at all important junctures. Don't lecture. Listen and talk.

***

From the book Your Daughter's Bedroom: Insights for Raising Confident Women by Joyce T. McFadden.

your daughter's bedroom

Joyce T. McFadden is a psychoanalyst in private practice in New York and East Hampton. Learn more at www.womensrealities.com


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