If money were no object, I would buy top-notch educations for my daughters at the most prestigious universities in the world. I would pre-pay for years of therapy with smart, insightful clinicians. I would take them to every conference, seminar, and rally for female empowerment. Because I worry that it will take years of education and coaching to compensate for the messages they unknowingly receive about the value of girls every day.

Today while I was preparing dinner in the kitchen by myself, I started humming along to a song I’m sure I have heard dozens of times. Then I started to listen to the lyrics. At first I was mildly amused. Then I was irritated. Pretty soon I felt offended and slightly enraged. Sure, the song seems innocuous enough, but the message—intentional or not—seeped through: Some narcissistic douche-canoe was sooo grateful for his long-suffering girlfriend who put aside all her hopes, dreams, expectations, and apparently, self-esteem, to preserve their relationship. How. Inspiring. Highlighted in red are the particular lyrics that I found problematic. My angry inner commentary is in purple.

“The Girl” By City and Colour

I wish I could do better by you,
’cause that’s what you deserve
You sacrifice so much of your life
In order for this to work.

While I’m off chasing my own dreams
Sailing around the world
Please know that I’m yours to keep—–>Really? Gee, what a f*cking prize! She sure is lucky! 
My beautiful girl

When you cry a piece of my heart dies
Knowing that I may have been the cause—–>Pffsstt, seriously? Try harder, then. 
If you were to leave
Fulfill someone else’s dreams—–>Um, what about her own dreams? 
I think I might totally be lost
You don’t ask for no diamond rings no delicate string of pearls—–>See??? She puts up with all this 
That’s why I wrote this song to sing              crap and doesn’t even expect a commitment. Bitch, please. 
My beautiful girl

ooooo ooo ohhh ohh oh oh-——> yawn.

One, two, one two three four
I wish I could do better by you—-->Uh, you could certainly do better by these lyrics. Just sayin’. 
’cause it’s what you deserve
You sacrifice so much of your life
in order for this to work

While I’m off chasing my own dreams (my own dreams)
sailing around the world (’round the world)—— OK, we get it. Hope you’re having a great time, you 
Please know that I’m yours to keep                       self-indulgent ass-hat. 
My beautiful girl

Rinse, repeat.

First of all, I get that this isn’t even a new song. It’s been around for like four years. (I never claimed to be on the cutting edge of the music scene.) I realize my righteous indignation is several years too late. Also, it’s possible that this is the next generation of “Faithfully” by Journey. (They say that the road ain’t no place to start a family!) Perhaps it’s the same message. (Never mind, I refuse to believe that. The 80’s were a magical time.) And maybe I’m overreacting and the lyrics aren’t that bad; clearly, there have been a plethora of songs in the past year alone that are significantly more disrespectful to women than calling them, “My beautiful girl.”

I guess what bothered me was the culmination of subtle messages that perpetuate the notion that being the “beautiful girl” who puts her own needs last is what girls should aspire to. That it’s more important to be kind, generous, and selfless (because the “beautiful” thing is simply implied as being most important, obviously.) than it is to put your own needs at the top of the list. Being patient while your partner pursues his dreams is noble, right?

But maybe it is noble- I’m sure many of us know (or are!) women who have worked dead-end jobs to put their partners through medical school. Conversely, I know there are many supportive men who have done the same for their wives or girlfriends. Of course it is a great quality to be humble, patient, generous, and selfless. Maybe it’s the fact that these qualities are internalized and emphasized as being more important for women than they are for men that gets my blood boiling.

Are Feminists Selfish Mothers?

Ok, maybe this is about more than just worrying that my daughters will hang up their own self-worth to be a cheerleader for some lame aspiring rock star. What about after they come to their senses, dump the whiny mama’s boy, and get married to a stand-up guy who believes in equal rights? What about the stage of life that comes next: you know, the one that requires maximum selflessness and humility? Aka, motherhood?

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My own mother set the bar high; she was an intelligent, involved, social, and dynamic woman, but she was also an incredibly selfless and dedicated mother. I, on the other hand, am painfully aware that my desire to keep my own needs on the table and my identity somehow intact is often perceived as being selfish.

I am ambitious; I have worked extremely hard, falling notably out of balance at times, to pursue my writing goals. I get together with friends regularly. I have three afternoons a week where I am not teaching nor do I have my children with me—alone time. I get massages sometimes. I go to yoga. I meet friends for coffee. I read. I write. I believe that one of the most important lessons I can teach my daughters is that women—mothers—get to have their own lives, too. Our needs matter.

Sometimes this makes me uncomfortable—it isn’t always a pretty picture. At times it looks like Mommy turning on the TV in order to frantically finish up a blog post. Or Mommy zoning out during playtime so she can finish a phone call or email. Or Mommy ditching out on a few hours of a weekend afternoon to meet a friend for lunch. The fact that I experience discomfort polarizes me—while I firmly believe that I am “allowed” to have a life outside of motherhood and spend time pursuing my interests and goals, I feel guilty when I am not 100% focused on my family. And there’s the rub- that GD Mommy guilt rears its ugly head once again.

But I have seen something remarkable happen this past year: my oldest daughter, now seven, has taken an interest in my career. She asks questions, celebrates my small successes with a disproportionate amount of gusto, and is genuinely proud of me. This morning she was excited to go to school and tell her teacher that “Mommy was in the Chuggington Post yesterday!” My girls know that Mommy has feelings, friends, and a job that is important. In my own way, by allowing myself to be a priority, I am teaching them that when they are mothers, they will get to be whole people, too.

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How do we teach our daughters that it is important to be loyal friends, but also important to stand up for their own happiness? How do we teach them to be loving partners but avoid getting their needs trampled? How do we teach them to be giving, compassionate, kind, and humble, while still giving them the tools to follow their dreams, be aggressive when they need to be, and discard gender roles that fail to serve them?

I don’t have the answers. And I have no doubt that at some point, one or both of my daughters will wind up dating a dreamy-lyric-crooning douche-canoe. And I will have to trust that they will come to their senses, remember what they are worth—as truly beautiful, important people—and not put themselves last. In the meantime, I will put all of my resources into nurturing and teaching my young feminist daughters.

Buy my latest book, about mothers supporting mothers: So Glad They Told Me: Women Get Real About Motherhood. 

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