My daughters were vegging out on the couch yesterday, watching Grease, when I heard a loud "ewww!" emanating from the living room. When I went in to check on them, I saw that they were holding their hands over their eyes so as not to see the screen. "Mommy- that boy and girl are kissing on the lips!" Supermangirl said. "So?" I asked. "Well, it's gross! Why would they do that?" she responded. I glanced over at Wonderwoman, who is 11, and noticed that she looked uncomfortable too. I shut off the movie and sat down to talk to them. I explained that men and women kiss to show that they love each other, that it's a natural thing, that Hashem intended it to be that way. The girls did not look convinced. "But why is it necessary?" they asked. "Well", I said, "Hashem wants men and women to fall in love so that they will get married and have families." "You don't need a man to have a family" said my 9 year old. (At this point my stomach started to hurt.) "What do you mean?" I asked her. "Well, we're a family, and we don't have a man in our house. And Aunt S has a child, but she's not married". (Her unmarried Aunt S had elected to have a baby on her own.) Oh, boy. This conversation was not going the way that I had hoped. I explained, somewhat awkwardly, that ideally a mother and a father raise their children together, but there were instances when this was not the case.
Needless to say, my daughters' attitude has been bothering me. Do they really think that men are... unnecessary? Why would they think that? Maybe they don't feel their father's absence as acutely as I thought they did. But it makes sense. They don't remember when he lived with us, and they haven't seen or spoken to him at all in nearly five years. He doesn't contribute financially to their support. We don't even know where he is. And yet, my daughters are part of a happy, stable, functioning family. Even in their extended family, the men don't figure as prominently as the women do. Their grandmother and aunts are all strong, independent women who hold responsible jobs, run their own businesses, and are the primary decision makers for themselves and their families. My daughters don't have a grandfather in their lives, and their contact with their uncles is pleasant but intermittent. So yeah, from their experience, I can see why they would assume that men are somewhat unnecessary. (I'm reminded of a story that occurred when Wonderwoman was 6 years old. She returned home after playing at her friend Aliza's house and said "Mommy! You want to hear the funniest thing? Aliza's daddy lives in the same house as she does!")
So... what do I do? Do I worry about this? I've always been so concerned about my son growing up without a father that I didn't think much about the effect it would have on my daughters. How will they learn how to conduct themselves around men? How will they know what a healthy relationship should look like? I can't enlist male friends and neighbors to spend time with my daughters the way that I did for my son. It's not so easy to do that in the Orthodox community, particularly since both girls are now approaching adolescence. I can talk to them about these things, but there is no substitute for seeing it for yourself. What do you do when your daughter is not Daddy's little princess?
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