For many years, I thought I would forever be a boy mom. I had three sons and had been a mother for almost ten years before I gave birth to a little girl that would change our household forever.
I hesitate to ever make generalizations about children, because I have found each of mine to be surprisingly, wonderfully — and sometimes maddeningly — different from one another, whether they share the same gender or not. But the experiences of parenting a son and parenting a daughter have been different too, in big and small ways.
With all my years of training from parenting three little boys, there are still a few things I (and other parents of girls) wish we had known about raising a daughter:
1. The social terrain gets rough early.
"My daughter is in second grade and experiencing social strife — namely, her beloved BFF wants some space and broke up with her in a note," Chicago mother of two Christie O. Tate (no relation) told TODAY Parents. "It's a heartbreaking situation for my kid, but every time I talk about it with other mothers, we revert to the single available narrative: how mean girls are. I didn't realize it was our ONLY explanation for the complex social navigation our daughters do in these young years."
Though girls can be mean to each other, that doesn't always make them "mean girls," Tate said. "The other girl isn't a mean girl — she's trying to get some space. We need more narratives for the great emotional and social work our girls are doing."
2. Their toys may consist of teeny, tiny pieces. So many tiny pieces.
After years of stepping on the miniatures weapons of torture that are my sons' Legos, I thought I was prepared for anything. Then, I met Calico Critters. My daughter loves toys of every variety, from superheroes and Star Wars to American Girl dolls and Strawberry Shortcake, but she has a special affinity for All Things Very Tiny and Very Hard to Find but Very Easy to Accidentally Vacuum: miniature dollhouse accessories, doll shoes, and mugs fit for small mouse figures dressed in aprons and pinafore dresses. I'm almost nostalgic for Legos — but not quite, since she's just about old enough to start loving Legos herself. Wish me luck.
3. She might mirror you.
Katie Sluiter had two boys before she had her daughter Alice, now 2. "She mirrors me in a way the boys never did, from the way she stands to the way she brushes her hair out of her face," said Sluiter. "She watches me in a way the boys didn't either. I always thought we were good about not pushing gender stereotypes, but it's amazing to me how much she chooses to model herself after me rather than her dad. She has quickly become my ally, my friend, my team member."
"I had no idea how closely my daughter would watch every move I make and listen to every word I say in her own quest to figure out how to make her way in the world," New Yorker Jonna Weppler told TODAY Parents of her 9-year-old daughter, Campbell. "I also had no idea I would stress so incessantly about passing my many neuroses on to her. I feel connected to her as though we share one heart."
4. Then again, she might be nothing like you.
But our daughters are entirely their own people, and that is important to know from the beginning. Alix Balfe Campbell, a mom of three in Massachusetts, said the differences between her and her daughter, Imogen, can be challenging. "Immy is 7, but I feel like I only recently came to terms with the fact that she is a very different little girl than I was," Campbell told TODAY Parents. "She's a talkative, uninhibited extrovert; I was, and mostly still am, a quiet, shy introvert.
"While I am learning to embrace and admire those differences — how I wish I could talk to anyone the way she can! — it does make it more challenging to find places of connection," Campbell admitted.
Sandra King from Marietta, Georgia, said she made an assumption that she would know exactly how to parent a girl. "I'm one of four girls. I thought I had the girl thing handled," she said. "I had no idea of the surprises I would have along the way. I also thought that she would be just like me. Nope — she not only looks like her father, she is just like him too," she said of daughter Kennadi, 14.
5. Don't sweat the princess stuff too much.
Moms of girls will tell you that your little girl might love all things pink and frilly and dream of being castle roommates with Anna and Elsa... or she might not. Either way, it's not really a big deal in the end.
"I wish I'd known that my fears of pink and princesses and tea parties would never really come to fruition," said Leigh Ann Torres, who has three daughters, including 8-year-old twins and a 7-year-old. "My older girls weren't really into that stuff, and when my youngest was born practically with a tiara on her head, I realized how much I enjoyed those things with them.
"Now they are three very different girls, each with their own distinct degree of girliness," she said. "I wish I'd realized that having a girl wasn't like delivering a package full of pink and dolls and makeup. They are their own people."
6. Want them to have a healthy body image? Start with yourself.
It can feel like a huge responsibility to parent a daughter in this day and age — especially when it comes to instilling a healthy body image. "They are watching, and listening, and modeling. As I work to love and honor my body, I can see them do the same," said Samantha Livingstone, a former Olympic swimmer and now a mother to daughters Kylie, 6, twins Mia and Jade, 4, and Reese, 9 months, in Williamstown, Massachusetts.
"While we can't claim fully responsibility for all of the messages they will receive about who they are in this world, we can absolutely help them to build a solid foundation, said Livingstone. "My relationship with myself, my body, with food, exercise, others... Establishing a healthy relationship with me is hard and important work. As I've learned to let go of perfection and embrace my imperfections, it's allowed me to pass that along to them."
"Having a little someone who looks so much like you makes you re-evaluate all your own neuroses," agreed Michele Neuendorf, mom to one-year-old Cecelia.
7. Girls can be (proudly) just as gross as boys.
Newsflash: Boys aren't the only ones who can pee all over a toilet seat, said Carla Naumburg, who has two daughters in Boston, ages 8 and 6.
Kristina Grum, who has three daughters ages 9, 8, and 6, agreed. "I never thought they'd get the toilet so dirty or fart so much — followed by laughter!" she told TODAY Parents. "There's also some comparison about poop in our house. Kids are weird."
8. Girls are not necessarily harder or easier than boys. Yes, even the teenage ones.
If we mothers of girls have heard it once, we've heard it a million times: "Just wait until she's a teenager!" But Tricia Worthington, a mother of four girls in Yakima, Washington, disagrees (and she should know!). "I wish I had known that having teenage girls is AWESOME. Truly," she said. "Not without ups and downs. But come on, I'm getting to watch a child develop into a strong, dynamic, independent, beautiful young woman who's going to rock the world someday in her own way. What an incredible honor."
9. Having a daughter is fantastic.
I mean, I knew they were pretty great — after all, I was one — but having a daughter is even better than I could have ever dreamed. She already makes the world a better place, just as each of my boys do. I can't wait to see what she does when she grows up.