Teaching our daughters to be resilient, resourceful and unafraid

January 9, 2018

I’ve heard it a lot, particularly in the black community and steadily growing sentiment in mainstream culture -partly influenced by feminism, we need to teach our daughters to be independent. It seems like an obvious statement, teach your daughters to be independent so they don’t have to depend on men and they can take care of themselves with or without them. But something has always made me uneasy about this statement, and I realize now that it’s because it comes from a place of fear. I understand that many think it’s simply practical —men die and people do get divorced, but I can’t help but hear a sense of fear under the guise of pragmatism.

We live in a divorce culture, meaning that even if my parents, in particular, are married, a great deal of people I know don’t have parents who are married, that divorce is a common part of our lives and the mere fact of many people experiencing divorce in our society creates in us a fear that we too may go through the same thing and the sense that it is only practical to prepare for one just in case. And we also worry about the woman who goes to the opposite extreme, we see women who aren’t financially independent and put up with abusive relationships primarily because of their fear that they won’t be able to support themselves and or their children on their own —we don’t want our daughters to end up like them either.

So it’s only practical to want your daughter to be independent so she can leave a marriage if necessary and never have to worry about taking care of herself if it fails. The problem with this conclusion is that it may perpetuate the fear we’re fighting against. If the fear is divorce, being financially independent does not “divorce-proof” one’s marriage, in fact, women who work outside the home are far more likely to divorce than those who don’t. And despite most women working outside the home, after divorce, 1 out of 5 live in poverty (1).

Should our daughter’s independence be our primary goal?

In encouraging our daughters to be independent (which in reality means being dependent on a corporation to fulfill her needs instead of her husband) we’re also treating divorce as a passive occurrence. But the fact is, people actively get divorced —arguments are unresolved, problems aren’t fixed, and papers are filed, no part of a divorce is passive. Yes, people do get divorced, and the divorce rate in our society is quite high, but every divorce is an active choice. Instead of teaching our daughters to be independent in case of divorce why don’t we teach our daughters to take care of their marriage so they won’t have to divorce? We prepare our daughters their entire lives for careers, so is there any surprise that their marriages often fail? Instead of handing us the tools for independence why not hand us the keys to a happy long lasting marriage? And yes, I can feel your fear creeping up as you read this, after all, people do get divorced.

But can we not teach our daughters to be resourceful and resilient outside the context of a possible divorce? If we teach our daughters how to be resourceful, they will undoubtedly know what to do if her marriage ends, but if we also ensure that she pours a great deal of energy in to the maintenance of her relationship, divorce will only come about when absolutely necessary. One of the great powers money holds is the ability to walk away from a bad marriage, and so our daughters should know how to acquire money even if they don’t work outside the home —every woman should know how to make passive income. Most of us will want to take time off of work when children arrive or even wish to follow our mates if they get a new position in another city, but if the only way we only know how to make money is through a job and we hold the fear of divorce in the back of our minds we will force ourselves to work even when our intuition tells us its best to take a step back.

“Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.” —Mary Matalin

Another, but I’m sure less popular means of our daughters having money without tying themselves to a 9-5 is through a large dowry. Despite dowries being a part of marriage in Islam, large dowries are often looked down on within the Muslim community because many believe high dowries prevent marriages from occurring —since many men simply can’t afford it. But large dowries needn’t be paid off at once, they can be paid in installments and the security it can offer women usurps all other concerns. I deeply believe every woman (in the West, I couldn’t give an estimate for anywhere else) should make her dowry at least $5,000, this is enough money to pay for a studio apartment for about 3- 5 months in New York City (And several months more if you live in a cheaper city). In Islam there is no concept of alimony and even in the West the concept seems to be waning, despite the notion that women “win big” after divorce, the fact is 1 out of 3 lose their homes, 75% don’t receive full child support and as already mentioned 1 out of 5 will fall in to poverty. So a large dowry allows for a woman to have some finances to depend for at least a short amount of time while she decides what to do post divorce —dowries must be paid off even if the couple divorces. Setting up an allowance could also achieve a similar outcome, as long as it’s contractual and agreed upon before marriage (i.e., not up to the husband’s whims).

Money is not the only way our daughters can protect themselves from devastation post-divorce.

But money is not the only way our daughters can protect themselves from devastation post-divorce, money is only one resource. Yet there are other resources available like having a useful skillset or being economical, having the characteristic of resourcefulness is what matters —essentially an inner power that ensures her if it all falls apart she’ll make a way. But parents are also one of the greatest resources a daughter can have. If her husband commits a devastating offense, she needs to know that she can come back home and her husband needs to know that as well. In fact, deep family ties allow for a woman to more easily get out of a bad situation —in its immediacy than money can. And parents can also set up a monetary emergency fund for their daughters “just in case”. Resourcefulness, passive income, dowry and/or allowance and deep family ties armor more than enough to protect our daughters from staying in awful marriages or being in financial straits if their marriage must come to an end. But the differences between what I’ve mentioned and the insistence on women working outside the home and being independent is that working outside the home and being independent actively takes away energy from the marriage while resourcefulness, passive income, dowry and/or allowance and deep family ties, do not.

Many women of my generation are slowly moving away from the previous generations’ focus on career to one more centered on family, Ann Marie Slaughter quotes Mary Matalin —who worked in the Bush Whitehouse, as saying, “Having control over your schedule is the only way that women who want to have a career and a family can make it work.” (3) Maybe that’s in part because we live in a divorce culture and realize our marriages aren’t just going to work, we’re going to having to make them work. So we choose career paths in consideration of our families, sometimes even before we have one. Women have spent too many days contemplating if they can afford to stay home with a sick child knowing they’d be risking their jobs, too many days longing for more time with their children and too many days chasing after independence for fear that their will be no one to depend on. Is this really what we want to pass on to our daughters? Can we not free them of this fear and give them the possibility not of being independent in a masculine results-driven way but to be independent spirits who let their hearts guide them (while still taking the measures listed above as security).

Teaching our daughters to be interdependent.

What if we shifted more of our focus towards being interdependent? Taught our daughters how to take care of the home and their husbands and their kids, after all, there are tons of programs teaching them how to do good in school, get a career and climb the career ladder, but who is teaching them how to have and maintain their households? It’s not the case that our parents don’t teach us anything about how to have a good marriage —they give us tips here and there and they’re our first go to in times of trouble, but living in a divorce culture, we need so much more than that. We need to know how to “divorce-proof” our marriage as much if not more than we need to know how to take care of our selves in the event of divorce.

We live in a culture where marriage often fails, we need more than pep talks and occasional advice, we need all the help we can get including time to prepare ourselves for a union that so many no longer value but many more of us deeply want to. And we also live in a culture that is in more desperate need of homemakers than ever before —cheap clothes, are made in inhumane factories where men and women are paid slave wages, fast food makes us increasingly sick, too much screen time hurts our memory and socializing capacity, etc. So much of the world’s modern issues could be fixed if more women were able to focus primarily on their households instead of a false sense of independence tied the very corporations that contribute to modern ills. Many women are beginning to realize how valuable their contribution to the home can be, but they don’t have the support of their parents —especially their mothers. If you’re afraid that she’ll be financially dependent and unable to leave a bad marriage —teach her how to be resourceful, and if you’re afraid she won’t know how to take care of herself after a divorce —teach her how to be resilient. But don’t teach her to live in fear, a fear that never allows her to truly live.

1, 2. 1 in 5 Women Experience Post-Divorce Poverty, http://www.thelawcorner.com/news/1-5-women-experience-post-divorce-poverty

3. Why Women Still Can’t Have It All, https://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2012/07/why-women-still-cant-have-it-all/309020/

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