Last weekend I attended a women’s retreat, and though for the sake of feeling “away” I planned to keep in touch with my family only on the book-ends of the day, I quickly I realized that my mothering role would accompany me on the trip.
My phone (set to silent) buzzed as I drove up into the mountains Friday, it buzzed a little Saturday, and it buzzed the whole way home on Sunday. Always a small voice on the other end: “Mom? What are you doing? How are you? When will you be home?” My heart melted at the sound on the other end. You see, I have an adolescent daughter, and the weekend away allowed me to see with fresh eyes that this precious girl- so independent and head-strong at times- is still so needful when it comes to Mom.
Seated with Moms of boys at lunch recently, I was asked: What do you think the biggest difference is between raising girls and raising boys? Although I think my immediate answer was something about destruction – my boys break everything!- in reality there is one stark contrast I notice.
Girls need to talk.
On any given day, my oldest son will walk through the door and I will ask him how his day was. He will reply with either “fine” or “not good”. He will then get to homework, regardless of the nature of the day.
My oldest daughter on the other hand, will walk in the door from school speaking, even as the door is opening. I will immediately hear all sorts of things: Her opinion of the lunch I sent. The color of elastic bands her friend chose for her braces. I will hear about who has a new phone, and about which girls are not getting along. I will hear about which of her friends has a crush and on whom. I will hear that her teacher is still enjoying the Starbucks mug we bought him. And on it goes with energy and consistency, until I remind her that homework will not complete itself.
She is classically female and already, wired for relationship. She wants to talk and she needs somebody to talk to.
Recent studies conducted by British scientists, shed light on this pattern: It has been claimed previously that women speak about 20,000 words a day – some 13,000 more than the average man. The basis for this need, is found in a simple protein. Scientists have discovered that Foxp2 protein actually appears in higher levels in the female brain. Not surprisingly, Foxp2 is the protein responsible for language. Women are shown to produce 30% more of it than men, leading them to “produce” more chatter.
There are moments my ears are not attuned to listen, and how my daughters know it. They will immediately stop and state: Mom, I can tell you are not listening to me. Older mothers have advised me to listen on and on, to make myself available to each conversation and question. What a full-time job! Elizabeth George, one of my favorite mom-authors, states:
Daughters naturally adore their Moms and crave time with them, unless they are being pushed away or ignored. Then it won’t take long for the wall to go up. The smart Mom knows that love is spelled T-I-M-E. And the more, the better!
I am in the mid-stages of learning to stop, engage, listen. To take serious note of all the seemingly inconsequential details, because that attention spells concern and love. Ironically, I find that many times when I am most ready to drop to sleep or feel particularly depleted, my girls are eager to talk and they have “one more question” or one more concern. I am convinced that those Foxp2 proteins surge in highest levels after 8pm!
One idea I am striving toward is to think about raising a daughter as raising a future friend. The end goal of my time living with my girls is a deep and abiding friendship – one in which they need never question my love, loyalty or investment. One from which they will draw strength on into adulthood. And just as any good friendship centers around free conversation and mutual listening, the same applies to raising girls. They are just small women, craving the same words and expression as adults do.
Those 20,000 words rattling around in your daughter’s brain are waiting to find expression, even now. I hope and pray that as you and I raise the next generation of women, we are able to put on our listening ears today.
Particularly if it’s after 8pm!