I have daughters now. Two of them. The reality is just starting to set in. With my first daughter, I've basically spent the last two years wondering how in the heck am I going to raise a girl in this world? At first, I didn't feel like I had many answers and more than anything I was feeling intense responsibility mixed with confusion and a healthy dose of anxiety. I've come a long way and since Beth's birth a couple of weeks ago, I've had some breakthroughs. I feel more prepared, grounded and capable of raising daughters than I have before.
The reason for the breakthrough is probably brought on by my recent reflections on the phases of womanhood and how to honor and celebrate not just pregnancy and birth but womanhood in general. I had planned a blessingway/mother's blessing and prayer circle with a friend to honor and celebrate becoming a mother to my third baby, but that baby had a different plan and she was born before we could have the party. It was going to be a fun party so I didn't want to cancel it all together so I figured it was a special opportunity to adapt the blessingway into a welcoming celebration for a new girl into her matriarchal community. Since I had already thought of two different times to honor a woman (both during pregnancy and at birth), I starting thinking of times in between those times when a woman could be honored in a rite of passage ceremony and blessed by the women in her life.
I came up with a list of a number of times when a girl could be initiated into various stages of development. They are adapted for girls who belong to the LDS community and culture. You can read about them here if you are interested.
Its interesting that the one that I've been thinking about most lately is menarche, or the transition to menstruation which has symbolically been linked to the beginning of womanhood and is literally linked to the beginning of fertility. I know a number of friends who have asked about how to honor menarche for their daughters. It even came up at Beth's welcoming party. Another friend told me about these books: Becoming Peers: Mentoring Girls into Womanhood and The Diva's Guide to Getting Your Period both written by Deanna Lam. Since I'm babymooning and in need of reading material, I got both of them to add to my library in preparation for a few years from now when my daughters will be experiencing menarche.
Now I'm thinking about how I will want to teach my children, not just my daughters but my son also, about sexuality and the biology of their bodies. One of the first questions I had to settle for myself was to define when I believed womanhood began and when a girl becomes a maiden.
In the Maiden Mother Crone model used by Deanna L'am, a girl is a maiden until menarche when she becomes a woman. Another traditional view is that maidenhood ended when a girl lost her virginity which I just find troubling, especially in a world with a history of arranged and forced marriages and a rape culture. However, I seem to have a slightly different take on maidenhood. In my mind, maidenhood is a distinct stage after childhood and it starts at puberty. Then it ends at taking on adult responsibility either through choosing marriage, setting out on one's own or becoming a mother (and hopefully for my children, becoming a parent will come after marriage).
I see the span of time between menarche to motherhood as a preparatory period, like an initiation to fertility. This time offers the opportunity for a young woman to understand her cycle and her sexuality before she can be burned by participating in sex not knowing the implications or being ill-prepared to handle the consequences of such participation. With mentoring and education, she can know the risks she is taking with her life (thinking STIs, unplanned pregnancy) and she will be prepared to deal with whatever consequences she experiences if she makes that that choice can bring. Hindsight being so reliable, I like to think if I had known to think of it that way when I got my period, I would not have had sex for the first time at 14.
My theory for my own daughters is that I will teach my daughters about fertility signs soon before or soon after menarche and gift a book like Cycle Savvy (written by the author of Taking Charge of Your Fertility.
Preferably, my daughters can experience a phase between maidenhood and motherhood which I like to call priestesshood. This is a period of time when a young woman can dedicate her life to an important work, apprenticeship or service. Many young women serve missions for their churches, but many also study, go into military, or the Peace Corps. I consider this a time for young women to gain experience, skills and knowledge that will give her life experience that will serve her in each phase of the rest of her life. I also hope that in this phase, my daughters will learn their responsibility to serve and protect others throughout their community and world. In my teaching to my children, you bet I will be talking up all the things that can be enjoyed by putting off potential childbearing.
Hopefully my daughters will experience a good long while between the time of menarche and their first experience of sex. During this time, I will try to teach them about their fertility or encourage them to learn about it on their own. In borrowing from pagan traditions, I can imagine conducting a series of full moon mysteries mother/daughter circles through the teenage years where each full moon, we will explore a different aspect of becoming a woman and maturing into the women they hope to become.
During this time I also plan to encourage them not to repress their sexuality but to deal with it in healthy ways, and encourage them to understand their physiology and what feels good to them. I greatly appreciate that some marriage and family therapists (including the author of And They Were Not Ashamed)recognize that solitary sexual exploration is good preparation for marriage. I will however include the encouragement to remember balance and not over do it since it can be quite easy for that activity to turn into an obsession. If its a short-lived phased, great, and I anticipate in most cases, that will be the case for most young people. This is one area where strict prohibitions do not serve well and moderation and balance is key.
If a daughter of mine were to choose to have sex before marriage, I do not plan to shame or condemn her. I would hope that it was her choice and that she did not experience rape. If it were her choice, I would expect that she is prepared to accept whatever consequences come out of it and embrace their new phase, whether it is priestesshood or motherhood. If she were to become a mother as a result, awesome. I do not personally believe that teenagers are ill equipped to be parents and that with community and parental love and support, they can be empowered to become excellent parents. So if I faced teen parenthood with one of my children, I plan to support and love them and teach them everything I can about parenthood (there are analogous phases to manhood as well and you bet my son will get similarly appropriate education). If my teens are sexually active and they are lucky like I was, then I teach them repentance and moving into priestesshood/priesthood.
I sound so prepared and like I have so many answers, don't I? We shall see about that. I hope that this preparation will prove helpful to me when the time comes to begin teaching these things to my children. If anything, I'll have this post to remind me of my conceptions!