Someone I love dearly is in an abusive relationship.
My heart breaks for her every time she recounts another violent episode, and so I can only imagine what her parents must feel — the mother and father who raised her, loved her and dreamed tremendous dreams for her.
Having a child is a weight unlike any other, one you bear forever, it seems. And some might disagree with me, but I think that having a daughter is something that much heavier.
Before having my daughter, I was the proud mother of twin sons. Before they were born, I had many hopes and dreams for them, but mostly I wanted them to be self-sufficient and smart, responsible and helpful, decent and compassionate human beings. I didn't care very much if they were athletic or handsome or funny or charismatic. And I didn't think too much more about it.
But from the time I knew I was pregnant with a daughter (long before the ultrasound confirmed it), a tumble of feelings hit me in a great crash of excitement and fear and love and ambivalence.
In addition to the general things I hoped for my sons, I found myself listing the things I wanted for her in great detail. For example, I wanted her:
To not be afraid of math.
To not care if people think she's overweight, or beautiful, or built to suit their personal preferences.
To enjoy the company of men but not need their approval.
To be as comfortable in cleats as she is in strappy sandals.
To dissect the bugs that I shriek at when I see them in the basement.
To fit right in with her rough-and-tumble brothers, but not be too self-conscious to say, "That hurts!"
To live on her own before living with someone else.
To save her money, pay her own bills and also (sometimes) blow way too much money on shoes if she wants to.
To say what she thinks without fear or self-consciousness.
And that was just a portion of the list. The hoped-for adjectives I attached to my unborn daughter were a pressure-cooker of contradictions.
Strong and sweet, empathetic and kick-ass, ambitious and family-oriented, pleasant but not "a pleaser," athletic and intellectual. Capable, responsible, self-sufficient. Nurturing and loving but not a pushover. Daddy's girl and Mommy's (eventual) best friend.
Intellectually, I knew it was all too much. How can one woman — one person — be all these things? And why did I want all this for her, when essentially I just wanted my sons to be good and happy contributors to society? How could I want all that for her when so little of it applied even to me?
Perhaps that's part of it.
I wanted those things for myself, and so I put pressure on my growing baby to be all the things I should have been, or still wish I could be.
But it's a dangerous thing, that tendency to want to reinvent yourself in the image of your child. It's unfair and oppressive to her. And it robs me of the opportunity to know and appreciate who she actually is — good, bad or otherwise.
In any case, this world puts enough pressure on girls, while at the same time failing to give them their proper due. (Consider all the talk about female Olympic athletes' looks or the husbands/coaches who "made" them successful.) I don't need to contribute to that weight.
Because now that she's here — and I'm a few years wiser — I know that, more than any of the other things I once dreamed up for her, all I really want is for my daughter to be free.
Free from pain, free from patriarchy, free from self-doubt — free even from me.
As for my dear friend, she sent me pictures recently after her most recent fight with her boyfriend. Her lip was bloodied; her body scratched. She put him out — again. This time, she took out a restraining order. This time, I pray, he's gone for good.
There's a girl-child inside the bruised woman in those pictures. And she too deserves to be free.
Tanika Davis is a former Baltimore Sun reporter who now works as vice president at a communications firm. She and her husband have twin 6-year-old sons, a 4-year-old daughter, a perpetually messy house and rapidly appearing gray hairs. She also needs a nap. She can be reached at email@example.com. Her column appears monthly.