My Daughter, Not My Self

Sunday, May 12, 2013

By Jessica York 
Jessica with her daughter

In January 1990, after giving birth to my one and only child, I asked myself, “What have you done, bringing a child into this imperfect, troubled world?” I had seen Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” video and I was thinking about how I could possibly make the world a better place for my daughter. Already for nine months, I had carried her with me everywhere and we were as one,. Moments after her birth, however, the realization that she was someone separate from me hit home. I knew how to answer my own question: My daughter would have different experiences from mine, her struggles and triumphs would be different, and she would live in a world of the future I could not even envision.

Some mothers hold onto the belief that their daughters will grow up just like them—that looking at their daughters will be like looking in a mirror. Thankfully, I never held that belief or even that desire. Sure, being true to oneself is not always easy, especially while raising an independent daughter. Still, I think it beats the alternative, and owning my own mirror has allowed me to give my daughter the same option.

In 1977, Nancy Friday wrote her landmark book, My Mother, My Self, about daughters separating and distinguishing their identities from the identities of their mothers. In her book, Friday talks about a mother’s greatest gift being an unquestionable love that is so firmly rooted that daughters know they will never lose it in spite of making different choices about such important things as careers and whom to love. I had that kind of unconditional love from my mother, who always encouraged me to be true to myself. My mother was not perfect, but she sure knew how to love. And even though I was just 13 when she died, my older sisters and brother filled in, providing a strong love that continued to hold our family together these 37 years.

Yes, at times, my path has been hard, and I’ve had to make changes. Divorcing my husband and raising my daughter mostly without his parental guidance has sometimes been scary. My being a non-Christian has sometimes caused my Catholic and Baptist siblings concern. But I feel fortunate to have found a faith home in which I could raise my daughter to be true to herself. My daughter and I are Unitarian Universalists. In our faith tradition, we often talk about giving children roots and wings: the roots hold them close and anchor them. They are the foundation, the unquestionable love Nancy Friday speaks of. The wings allow them to fly wherever they need to, even knowing that those wings may take them to places where we cannot follow.

Our Unitarian Universalist community is not perfect, but it is a community that believes that love is the most important action we can take. We believe that all families deserve respect and support, as well as the chance to be exactly the family that feels best for the people in it. I know that the religious community that my daughter and I belong to, along with our family, has given us the courage to be the people we are today.

Looking in my own mirror, alongside my daughter, I see that she holds many of the same identities I do. She is female, Unitarian Universalist, able-bodied, English-speaking, a Southerner, and a lover of cats, horror movies, and ice cream. Yet she is still her own person and carries other identities that I do not share. She is lesbian, bi-racial, and grew up middle class. Far from being the cause of consternation, however, these differences bring me much joy, knowing that she has received the message of “Be thyself” and flown with it.

When I look into the mirror of motherhood, I see myself and I see my daughter, for all that makes her unique and all the traits we share. I also see the best thing I have ever done.

Jessica York is the Youth Programs Director at the Unitarian Universalist Association and a proud black mama of a 23-year-old.

This blog post is part of the Strong Families Mama’s Day Our Way celebration. You can read more posts in the series on the Strong Families blogStrong Families is a national initiative led by Forward Together. Our goal is to change the way people think, act and talk about families.