We wanted to do something big to acknowledge to our daughter that we viewed her as having reached an age where, spiritually speaking, we viewed her as an adult. This is a really important idea. In a world full of immaturity, where children are so anxious to be on their own but often end up back home in a launch failure, practice for adulthood, the gift of responsibility with a parental safety net, is something to be valued. We do have a tradition of going for a nice mother-daughter dinner upon menses. But we wanted to involve her extended family, friends, and community in a coming of age acknowledgment.
Most cultures provide something special to acknowledge adulthood, often including a ceremony that demonstrates to the community that a new member is contributing. Being productive is important to every human. Being acknowledged by your adult community as no longer a consumer, but a producer, an adult whom much is expected of, is a tremendous confidence and self-worth boost to a young person. The community becomes their accountability. Kids rise to what is expected of them.
The Jewish community commemorates with a Bar Mitzvah. Some Native American tribes would send the young person out in the wilderness to fast and wait for a vision. In the Amazon, some tribes have an initiation rite of enduring bites by fire ants without crying aloud. The Amish have Rumspringa, a chance to try out the world before they commit to the Amish church. Hispanic cultures have a quinceanera to come out socially.
But I did not want to celebrate adulthood that my daughter had not yet earned. After thinking long and hard, talking to friends who had done a sort of Christian bar mitzvah for their children, and reading Spiritual Milestones by Jim and Janet Weidmann, I came up with a list of 14 tasks for my daughter to complete before she could be declared an adult in our family. It made sense to me to reward her with a big party (she loves fancy parties) following a demonstration of her ability to handle basic adult tasks. I think the list of tasks would look different for each family and depend on what skills the child needs to develop, but here are my oldest daughter’s tasks:
I had other things in mind that she mastered on her own before we began: balance a ledger, mend, iron, and hem, play chess, play an instrument. I gave my daughter this list on her 13th birthday. She had one year to check off the list. We would have a big shindig on the next birthday after completing every task. Our goal was a coming of age party for her 14th birthday, followed by our mother-daughter Passport 2 Identity weekend.
She had completed the Passport 2 Purity weekend with me the year before.
Some of the tasks were easily done within a few weeks. Running a mile was daunting to her for some reason. But it was probably the accomplishment she was most proud of. She went on to run a 5K the following year. The work made her think about and appreciate what we do as parents. And it made me think through what adult needs to know how to do, ensuring that there were no gaps in her practical education.
My daughter selected three women that she respects to offer affirmation and advice on womanhood, at the coming of age party. I gave them a few guidelines, such as keeping it under 5 minutes, and writing down the major points so she could look at them later.
We made invitations that included a request for each woman and girl to bring in a picture of a woman that they admired and an explanation of why. They were beautiful and personal and included Sandra Day O’Connor, Marie Curie, Ruth Graham, moms, grandmas, and neighbors. We hung them with clothespins on twine stretched along the wall. She invited important women in her life as well as friends.
She helped plan a dinner menu and decor. Dad and her aunts helped cook and decorate. We cleared out the living-dining room and set up tables with nice place settings. I bought pink paper lanterns and made flower shaped balloon sculptures to keep with the theme. The girls and I found branches outside and glued little wads of tissue paper on them to look like cherry blossoms. I took my daughter dress shopping. During the planning I got pregnant and was nauseous all the time. But we were committed and it came off beautifully!
At the party, guests tried out a Japanese origami project, mingled over pink punch, and read over the wall of admired ladies. Then my husband and I got things rolling by telling the guests what this party was about and reading the list of what she had accomplished. My daughter recited Proverbs 31 for the guests.
Finally, we surprised her by listing some adult privileges we were now extending to her: Choosing her own bedtime, no longer needing permission to get on the computer, and choosing what she ate (not needing permission to have sweets or junk food). We made it clear that should she grossly abuse those privileges, we would rein them in and start over. This is her time to practice adulthood and fail safely, if need be. She is now 16 and we have not needed to, though I have pointed out to her a few times the correlation between her bedtime and the way she feels.
Then our three friends presented, each in her own way, a charge to our precious teen, affirming who she is to all of us and encouraging her to reach high.
We all enjoyed lasagna (not in the Japanese cherry blossom theme, but my daughter’s favorite meal) and chocolate cake with cherry chocolate ice cream. My daughter received several grown-up gifts: real jewelry, journals, and make-up. She saved the charges, the admired women explanations, and the cards from her coming of age party to remind her and give her an encouragement or inspiration boost when she needs one.
My second daughter turns 13 next month. I am revamping the coming of age list to suit her particular needs. She is more athletically minded and pushes herself hard physically already. Running a mile will turn into reading a difficult book or developing a good habit. Being an adult will mean developing emotional self-control and thinking deeper for her. She has already started memorizing Proverbs 31 without me mentioning it! I am both excited and nervous to walk this journey a second time with a completely different kid, and her unique personality, needs, and gifts.
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