This opinion piece was originally published in this month’s edition of India Currents magazine. I’d love to hear your thoughts on the subject!
One of my strongest memories of childhood is from age 9, where, propping my eyes open with thumbs and forefingers, I willed myself not to doze as I waited behind metal railings for Daddy to emerge from the airport. I had never been on a plane myself. Foreign travel was many years away. But none of that mattered because I was finally going to be reunited with my beloved parent after a two-month gap. When he came into sight, tall and French-bearded, I dashed straight into the exit aisle, head first, running as fast as my chubby legs would carry me, pigtails bringing up the rear. Thankfully skirting the trolley, I hurled myself into his belly, determined not to let go.
I’ve never been one for diplomacy in declaring love. I had a favorite parent and made no bones about it. I have a favorite friend and think nothing of calling her my bestie in the presence of our other close pals. I even have a favorite spouse, but he says that isn’t applicable, since he’s the only one who has ever occupied the position. Circling back to what I meant to share, yes, I was always Daddy’s girl, and remain so to this day.
My discomfort with the tag begins with the insertion of the word “little.” When grown women voluntarily declare juvenility, it is cause for concern. It signals a refusal to mature, a hankering for continued protection, and the rejection of the possibility of a loving adult relationship with your parent. We all grow up. Most of us even manage to add maturity to the checklist. We spend the maximum chunk of our lifetime in adulthood. Who, then, are these women who declare their undeveloped-in-some-aspect status and are they fully aware that it entails connotations of emotional stuntedness?
Some are those who lost their father/father-figure early in life, leaving a gaping hole in their emotional development. I am truly sorry for them and understand at some level the need for comfort and protection. Then there are those who, despite having a living father, go all cute and helpless in his presence and think it is perfectly okay to exhibit this inappropriate behavior. We beat men up for being tied to their mothers’ apron strings. They are called sissies and contempt is showered upon them, because adults are expected to operate within the parameters of healthy, mature boundaries. Why then is it perceived as culturally acceptable to have women in their 20s, 30s and 40s openly declare that they will always be little girls to a parent or parental figure? Does one have to be a “little” girl to spontaneously hug one’s father and laugh over childhood memories? And more crucially, how healthy is it if your parent still sees you as a child when you have one of your own? You’re probably thinking “this is socially acceptable across pretty much all of India” and you’re right: infantilizing one’s adult children is a predominantly Eastern trait, but in the case of Daddy’s “little” girls, this phenomenon seems to cut across cultures with the stereotype readily accepted and fostered in Western society, a classic example being grown-ass Jewish-American Princesses (JAPs).
As women in an era that affords increasing freedoms and gender neutrality, how relevant is this “little girl” position and why do we even want it? Are you less of a daughter if you share a loving, positive equation that includes talking about your work, your dreams, and those cookies you charred in an adult manner? Do you see no need for self-determination when Daddy dearest is around to arrange it all? Even if you did not have a positive paternal role model during your childhood, how does clinging to a false image benefit your growth as a fully functioning adult human being?
In Dr. Peggy Drexler’s book Our Fathers, Ourselves, she points out that daughters feel more at ease around their fathers when they are treated like intelligent beings and not delicate playthings. Perhaps it is easier to continue in the rut of set relationship patterns. But there is pleasure in realizing your father, whom you looked up to as a child, now listens to your thoughts about the upcoming elections. There is the joy of explaining how you tweaked that favorite family recipe. There is fun in trading musical experiences and recommending new reads. There is even an undeniable pleasure in bashing the relatives, now that you can see their follies through adult eyes!
Eric Berne, of Transactional Analysis (TA) fame, states that we operate from three states: Parent, Adult, and Child. Our relationship patterns usually crystallize over time such that we tend to relate to one another in predominantly one state over another. Some, for instance, will react to a spouse as a child or a parent. Plenty of parents, out of sheer habit or perhaps not knowing any different, will respond to their adult children in parent mode, occasionally deploying child mode as a guilt trip. This unhealthy scenario does women a disservice, helping to enforce stereotypes of weak, helpless womanhood. There is no shame in being weak or helpless when you truly are, but a lifetime of interaction on those lines can only harm you.
It is true, ladies. Our fathers are frequently the first male loves of our lives. But then we GROW UP. Like ALL healthy human beings. And the evolution of our loving relationships is the best indicator of much-needed maturity. You’ll always be Daddy’s girl. But you haven’t been little for a really long time. Take ownership of your adulthood. Embrace its unique perspective. You will find that your daughterhood won’t diminish because of it.