This Mother’s Day, Lynn Ruane shares her daughter Jae’s lessons for life, watching them transform parenting into a political pedagogy…
“Hey, Jae, I am going to write an article about us for Mother’s Day.”
“Not without my consent, you’re not.”
That is how this article begins, and most conversations about Jae, her life, her personality and her feelings about the world. If ever the phrase nothing about me without me had meaning, it applies to her. I want my kids to be healthy, vocal and compassionate young women, but trying to raise them when they become that at a young age causes enormous parenting tension.
Choice and voice make it difficult to tell her to clean her room, do her homework or get some exercise. When I do, she will return with a thought, a plan, reasoning and justification as to why she shouldn’t or won’t do what I ask of her in the exact moment. Whether it’s the order I asked her to do them in, or the relevance or priority they have in her life, Jae makes a pretty convincing and logical argument as to why her way is better, more efficient or more beneficial for her well-being. Often presenting me with this new, better plan by signing off with “and don’t worry, it will get done, I have manifested it” as she saunters off, not waiting for me to reassert my parenting request for her to do it now.
Because of this assertiveness and connection she has with her voice, I know she will ultimately be okay in the world. From day one, she let us all know her dominance, a loving dominance but still very much, “listen, I am here now, and I am in charge”. Even my pretend protest that I will take her phone if she does not do what I say has little weight: much like the Santa treat, the prospect of being grounded, a boogyman, the tooth fairy won’t come, your friend can’t stay over. This child unbribable, immovable.
As a mother, it is often difficult for me to distinguish between what I teach them versus what they teach me. Without realising it, our relationship has evolved into a Freire type situation. Our house has flourished into a space of co-learning. I say these things, yet my girls will say, yes, that’s your perception, that is your experience, we may tell differently.
Parenting as a political pedagogy is at the forefront of my mothering mind at age thirty-six. Parenting in the beginning was with an iron fist; as a young child, parenting was a way to prove that I could do it and that she would not turn out like me. There is not much room for little flowers to grow with my big wall in the way. I learned this the hard way. Much like my views on the world, my parenting has morphed from ‘sit down, be quiet, don’t talk to boys’ to ‘do whatever you like, speak up and be kind in your interactions’.
In my 20 years of being a mother, I have grown with a changing society. My daughters can be as loud as they like, as opinionated as they want, without fear of being erased and judged for their refusal to be ladylike. Whether Jae wants to dance on TikTok or hold her friends accountable for using the N-word, she is empowered and supported in doing so. Her desire to have fun, wear fake tan or cut all her tee-shirts into belly-tops doesn’t in any way negate her female political voice on issues of LGBTQ+, race, ethnicity or reproductive rights. She is all of the things – all of the times – powerful and unbelievably witty. She taught me this; that being a young woman in the 21st century can be fun and outrageous and progressive and fair.
With this comes a deep sense of humanity and emotional understanding of the world. A simple question for me like “make me a cup of tea, because I brought you to the shop earlier” is met with lessons such as, “Ma, you shouldn’t bring me the shop just for something in return”. I know this, but she reminds me time and time again that emotional or material bribery is not okay. Does this mean I won’t chance my arm also to get her to make me tea? Probably not, but I enjoy watching her assert herself with the confidence and self-belief that she does.
Jaelynne’s rules for life
- Use your voice.
- Hold your friends accountable.
- Refuse to be bribed.
- Refuse the use of threat to make you do something.
- Have fun while changing the world.
- Your clothes don’t define you.
- Self-belief is not always something you feel, but you most definitely can have.
- A top-down approach to parenting is not happening on her watch.
- Develop and present an excellent argument to help achieve the desired outcome.
- Finally, consent matters. Jae has given her consent to this article, but not before changing parts of it.