Other Rites of Passage

What is the next teachable moment or transition in your daughter’s life? How can you add affirmation and encouragement to that moment?

Dr. Catherine Hart Weber comes from a rich heritage. Her father is Dr. Archibald Hart, a best-selling author and frequent guest on Focus on the Family radio. Her mother, Kathleen Hart, is a professor and leader among clergy wives. Catherine is a woman with a priority and conviction of celebrating life’s meaningful moments. She shares here some of the traditions she and her daughters have created. As you scroll through these ideas, ask yourself, What is the next teachable moment or transition in my daughter’s life, and how can I add affirmation and encouragement to that moment? Let’s hear from Dr.Weber how and why celebrating is a good idea:

There were several moments worth marking in my girls’ lives as they developed. Some were thoughtfully planned out, and others were more spontaneous, as they happened.

Celebrating firsts and intentionally marking transitions are important landmarks in a girl’s development. They are like building altars of remembrance to reflect back on. Celebrating with rituals and traditions has significant impact on each stage of a girl’s development, especially when her mother and father and other close family and friends are positively involved. (Gathering family and friends at significant moments affirms the positive events and phases of a girl’s development, launching her into the next stage.)

Some of the more significant birthdays were 10, 13, 16, 18 and 21:

  • 10 because you are now double digits.
  • 13 because you are now a teenager.
  • 16 because you can legally drive.
  • 18 because you are now able to vote and have some adult privileges.
  • 21 because you are usually considered an adult.

Besides birthdays, it is important to celebrate all firsts and special occasions in a girl’s life, such as going off to school, getting your period (becoming a woman), going to your first dance, the prom, graduations and any other accomplishment or special occasion in their eyes.

You only pass by once, and these are landmarks of memories and opportunities to impact positively as each experience passes by. Stop and notice. Savor the moments. Celebrate with her. Bake a cake. Gather family and friends for a party. Give a card. Write a special note. Give a meaningful gift. Take her out for a special occasion. Take photos and videos. Make photo albums. Let her get dressed up — and get nails, hair and makeup done. Talk with her about each landmark. Listen to how it made her feel and what it means to her.

I [Dr.Weber] have realized over the years just how important it is that we listen to the hearts of our daughters, and get our clues from them, to set the pace and find what is most meaningful for celebrating rituals and marking moments — at the time. Imposing our expectations or ideals on marking the moments for our daughters is not the most loving response.

Be sensitive to your daughter’s personality, her heart and what would be most meaningful to her. It doesn’t matter what would be ‘ideal,’ what others have done, what your other daughters have done, what you did or what has been done for generations. Marking the moment meaningfully will only be a true celebration to be remembered if it is meaningful to your daughter. As moms, we need to remember: It’s not about us. It’s about her. It’s about marking the moments and milestones in her life journey. Let’s take a closer look at some of those milestones.

Birthdays. On my eldest daughter’s 10th birthday, we rented the roller-skating rink, and invited all the friends and family we could think of.

For our daughters’ 16th, they each got to choose something significant as their way to celebrate. Their father gave them both a piece of Tiffany jewelry. One chose a promise ring and the other chose a promise bracelet instead. He had a special date with them, and marked the significant time in their life. We also made a big deal when they could drive on their own.

For the 18th, it’s off to the spa. That is when you can legally have a massage (in the state we live in), so it’s a chance to do something new. Their dad gave them another significant piece of jewelry from Tiffany’s.

Becoming a woman. The ‘becoming a woman’ transition usually comes as a surprise. Often neither mother nor daughter is prepared. For both my daughters, their official ‘womanhood’ came unannounced. When one of my daughters was in fifth grade, I got a frantic call from the school. During the day, she was bothered by stomach pains, and then had to excuse herself during class to go to the bathroom. When she returned, there was some whispering and tones of ‘drama’ with her friends.

When I arrived at the school, I got wind of the rumors that were spreading among the boys. One announced that she had started her ‘masturcation’ which was refuted by another more knowledgeable boy who stated she had started her ‘womanly thing’ which was ‘white stuff’ coming out of her. Needless to say, there were some confused little fifth graders, not at all prepared for this rite of passage. It is coming sooner for young girls these days, often before they even want to know about all these details.

The onset was a shock and somewhat traumatic for my daughter and me. This made it even more important to mark the transition. At first she was resistant to making a big deal about it. She felt shamed and needed time to process the jolt and all the implications. After a few days, it slowly settled in, and we talked more about it, and then began to celebrate the wonder of the beginning of ‘womanhood’ — ever so gently and appropriately for yet still a ‘child.’

There is no one right way to celebrate becoming a woman, especially when you are just a child. It is different for each girl. As a mom, I learned with my first daughter that you need to be sensitive to what is meaningful to the child, depending on her age and the circumstances. Let her set the pace and give the clues for what will best mark the moment.

I had thought about how I would mark ‘the moment,’ and had a pre-conceived plan in place. However, the sudden onset and the somewhat stressful circumstances threw my whole fantasy off. I had planned to go to tea with some family and friends. To share the moment and do something ‘ladies’ would do. Instead, I had to be sensitive to process my daughter’s unexpected embarrassment and the repercussions of the social and personal adjustment for her.

It’s common that young girls don’t want to talk about it or make a big deal about it. They need time to process the changes in their body; so, responding to what she seemed to need, I gave her some space and went slowly, starting with logistics. “Would you like to go to the drugstore and pick out some pads that you would like? Would you like to put together a special bag for your personal items that you can keep in your backpack?”

I only talked about what she was comfortable with and was sensitive to go at her pace. Over a few weeks and the next time round, she was a little more comfortable talking about it. I took my cues from her.

Graduations. For my eldest daughter’s eighth-grade graduation, we hosted a party for the entire class. We opened up our home, and cleared out the living room and converted it into a karaoke party room. We rented a deejay with disco lights and had lots of food. The kids broke off into small groups and worked up routines together to the karaoke songs. They had so much fun, and so did the adult chaperones.

For high-school graduation, we had a family party with cards and presents and gave the gift-of-a-lifetime gym membership and another piece of Tiffany jewelry.

Turning 21. This marks the close of the last stage of development and rite of passage for a ‘child,’ a more significant launching, dividing the line between teen and adult. This ritual is for the parents as much as for the child. Your baby is now officially an adult — whatever that entails.

I remember when I turned 21.My dad and I went out to lunch, and I asked if I could call him Arch — seeing as we were both now adults. Well, that lasted about as long as the lunch did.

But it was a ritual that seemed to capture many elements of the rite of passage.

A tradition from generations in South Africa, where I grew up, is to give a ’21 key’ signifying you now hold the ‘key’ to the rest of your adult life. It is also the time to begin a ‘hope chest,’ giving gifts that would contribute to establishing your own home and adult life.

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