The moment the ultrasound tech announced that you were a girl, I burst into tears. She confirmed what my maternal instincts were already telling me. I had already been mentally designing the nursery, and trying to figure out how many of your brother’s baby clothes we could get away with dressing you in (I mean, who cares if we put you in blue PJ’s?) I am overflowing with joy. At the same time, there are worries that creep in when I look into the future. When my thoughts turn to your teenage years, I can’t help but remember my own struggles at that age and worry about how you will navigate your way through.
I hope that you will manage, against the odds, to see how beautiful you are. Of course I don’t want you to base your self-worth on your physical appearance. But neither do I want you to walk through life feeling perpetually self-conscious about how you look. This will be an uphill battle; you will be confronted non-stop with airbrushed images of women that will create impossible standards to compare yourself against. I hope you will be able to see that these women are illusions, and that real women have freckles, scars, and blemishes, thighs that touch and body parts that jiggle. Our skin will always seem pasty next to the artificially bronzed women you see in advertisements. You may be convinced that you’re “fat,” but the bodies you see in magazines are not real – every body part has been nipped and tucked by overzealous photo-shoppers. I hope you will be able to look into the mirror and see the big picture, the beautiful girl that you are, instead of immediately zeroing in on what you consider to be your flaws. I hope it doesn’t take you until adulthood to look back at your teenage self and see just how stunning you were.
Girls can be nasty to each other, in some fickle and surprising ways. This isn’t just a case of “mean girls” bullying the less popular. Girls who were once friends can suddenly turn on each other, and at different points during your adolescence you will probably end up on both sides of this dynamic. If you find your friends turning on one of their own – suddenly picking out all her faults behind her back whenever she’s not around – I hope you will have the strength of character to think for yourself instead of jumping on the bandwagon. I hope you will remember that it could just as easily be you. I hope you’ll stand up for your friend, even when you’re tempted to join in on the cattiness to solidify your “insider” status in the group. And if you do find yourself on the receiving end of girls’ judgment and cruelty, and I hope you will have the confidence and strength to make it through with your self-worth intact.
I know how powerful romantic attention can be. It can feel validating and exhilarating to learn that someone is attracted to you. But sometimes the thrill of attraction can lead to very bad decisions. This was hard enough “back in my day,” when the internet was barely a factor in our day-to-day lives. Now in the time of Snapchat (which I’m sure will be replaced with something else by the time you’re a teenager), apparently it’s normal for 14- and 15-year old boys to casually ask 14- and 15-year-old girls for nude pics. The stakes are so much higher than anything I faced. I hope you can have the wisdom to understand that everything you share electronically, no matter how “private” or “temporary,” can take on a life of its own and haunt you in ways that pain me to imagine. I hope you will understand that you are a precious gem, and that your affection, time and energy should only be shared with the most deserving. Do not feel lucky or grateful for anyone’s attention; make sure it is earned.
I hope you will believe in yourself – your intelligence and your capabilities. As women we can tend to question ourselves constantly, to express opinions with hesitation and self-doubt, to couch our statements in softening language like “I’m not sure if this is true, but…” I hope you will trust that what you have to say is worthy of people’s respect and attention. Differing opinions do not make yours wrong; I hope you will find your voice and stand up for yourself. Don’t let self-doubt limit your dreams. Take risks. If you fail, you will learn and come out stronger. The world will not end, and don’t for one second fear that you will disappoint me. Whether you want to be a doctor or a professor, an engineer or a judge – dream big, and fight hard when obstacles appear in your path.
Trying to figure out who you are won’t necessarily be a linear process. You may try on different hats and run in different circles until you find your place. There is a place for you in the world, even if you have moments where you feel like you don’t belong anywhere. If you struggle socially, trust that you will find your tribe. There are like-minded people out there, and it can take some time to find one another. When you do, you will feel like old friends reconnecting. But know that your identity will continue to evolve for your whole life. I hope you can be open to experiences that seem like they just “aren’t you,” instead of closing yourself off to new things. You may think of yourself as not the athletic type, but discover that you love swimming. You may think of yourself as not the creative type, but stumble upon an art form that you love. Never be afraid to step outside of your comfort zone; temporary discomfort may teach you new things about yourself.
You have not even entered the world yet, but it already pains me to imagine the hurt that you will inevitably face at some point in your life. I feel the same way about your brother, but I can’t help but feel it even more acutely when I think of your future, knowing how challenging it can be to get through the teenage years as a female. In the darkest moments, please believe me when I tell you that life for you will only get better and better and better. The pain of a heartbreak may feel overwhelming, but one day you will laugh that someone so inconsequential could have caused you so much hurt. Teasing and bullying may cut you deeply, but trust that as you get older you’ll reach a point where you feel confident, successful, and loved. You may struggle with depression and anxiety, but the future will hold joy that you cannot possibly imagine.
I have not even laid eyes yet on your beautiful face, but I can promise you that your papa and I love you unconditionally and always will. I hope we can do our part to raise you to believe in yourself, and I know the world will be better because you will be a part of it.