I made my daughter try on some mail-order bras last night, which was a battle unto itself. My daughter is going through—shall we say—an uncooperative stage, so anything I ask her to do is typically met with resistance. I consider this fairly normal behavior for a twelve-year-old, and try not to let it upset me.
But to my dismay, this atypical peek at her unclad upper body revealed a pretty bad case of bacne (you know, those horrible, pimply bumps that can mysteriously sprout up across one’s upper back). I mentioned this to my husband a little later, thinking we’d discuss the best cream or ointment to clear it up. Instead, he became upset—with me! He as much as accused me of being a bad mother because I do not have the type of relationship with our adolescent daughter where I regularly see her naked.
True, we have had some issues with pre-teen cleanliness in the past. But my daughter is very private where her body is concerned, and I have deliberately chosen to respect that. I have taught her all about feminine hygiene, and from there, I have trusted her. I assume that if something is wrong, she will let me know—and let me see. Until then, I see no need for jailhouse-like cavity searches or strip-downs. Does this make me a neglectful mother? I’d really love it if readers would leave a comment and weigh in.
As a female, I understand all-too-well the angst and humiliation that surround adolescence and the myriad physical and emotional changes it entails. The notion of my own mother inspecting my naked twelve-year-old body against my will makes me cringe. My mom never did that to me. But my husband’s reaction got me thinking—had she been a “neglectful” mother? So I asked my hubby whether his mother had conducted regular bodily inspections on either of his two sisters, and he admitted that she had not, at least not to his knowledge. But then he pointed out that she, too, had been less-than-stellar in her mothering.
Boy-oh-boy. I know people love to point the finger at mothers for virtually all the world’s ills, but that got me wondering, am I fulfilling a legacy of maternal neglect with my own daughter? Do other mothers of twelve-year-old girls share a physical closeness that my daughter and I lack? My maternal grandmother died in childbirth when my mother was only three years old, so she was raised largely without maternal affection or care. Somehow, despite this, she managed to turn out loving to a fault. But—and this is a big but—she wasn’t especially attentive or effective in her parenting. I’d always assumed this was because she was overwhelmed with three rowdy kids and a cheating, abusive husband. But perhaps she simply didn’t know how. Could it be that, as a result of my own inadequate upbringing, I am falling short as a parent myself?
I have always treated nudity as a normal part of life—and par for the course in my household. I’ve tried to set an example for my daughter of being comfortable in my own skin (no matter how flabby or wrinkly it may be). While I do not parade around the house in the buff, neither do I act ashamed if she happens to walk in on me undressing, and I certainly have no problem with her seeing me in my underwear. More importantly, I have always spoken candidly with my daughter about our shared female body parts and their respective functions.
Last night, I licked my marital wounds while swathing calamine lotion on my daughter’s back. Today, I will rub it with alcohol and sprinkle some menthol-y medicated powder on top. If that doesn’t work, I’ll ask her pediatrician for the name of a good dermatologist. But I still see no compelling reason to subject my daughter to impromptu inspections or bathroom barge-ins; I will continue to respect her personal space and bodily privacy to the degree she wants. I think this sends an extremely important message—one that many girls on this planet do not receive—that our female bodies belong to us and us alone. We need not display them for anyone else on demand, and we certainly need not be touched when or where we don’t want. Sure, as a mother, I get to break these rules every now and again if my child's health or safety is at issue. Nonetheless, when all is well, I see no need for routine psychic intrusions. If that somehow makes me a bad mom, then I stand guilty as charged.