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Dear N,

You are the expert on yourself.

You know when you want to feed, how long you want to feed, when you want a nappy change, when you are tired, when you want to sleep (different things, apparently!), when you want to wake up, when you want to play, when you want to babble, when you want a cuddle, when you are itchy, when you are cold, when you are happy, when you are sad.

I can make educated guesses on some of these things (you are rubbing your eyes and crying – let me help you settle to sleep!) but I often get it wrong, because I don’t have all the information. No one does, except you.

As you grow and become more self-aware, you will know what kind of toys you like, what kind of clothes you like, when you want to cut your hair, when you want to eat and what kind of food you want, when you are full and want to stop eating, when you want a bath, when you want to go outside and run, when you want to read a book, when you want to play a game, when you want to spend time with me and your dad and your sibling(s) and your friends, when you want to be alone. If you want a partner, or more than one partner, or no partner. If you want children, and how you want to have them, and how you want to raise them. If you want to be a girl, or a boy, or a woman, or a man, or neither, or both, or something entirely different.

I’m not the boss of you. If I ever tell you “it’s not that bad” when you hurt yourself, or “you can’t be hungry now” when you ask for a snack before dinner, or “smile!” or “hug your grandparents” or “you’ll be fine” when you’re uncomfortable – please remember that I don’t know a thing, because you are the expert on yourself, and neither I nor anyone else can tell you otherwise.

And so I want you to learn yourself. Pay attention to the things that make you feel good, the things that don’t, the kind of books you disappear into, the injustices that make you rage, the clothes that show off the parts of your body you want to show off, the food that satisfies your hunger, the food that satisfies other urges, the movements that come easily to your body, the pronouns and descriptors which feel right to you.

There is too much emphasis in this society on external cues for phenomena we can regulate ourselves. Girls especially are taught not to trust themselves. Some of these are well-intended – think of a parent saying “just one more mouthful” when you’re full but they’ve slaved over dinner at the end of a long day, or “you’re not wearing that” when they just mean to protect you from predators (who, by the way, only care what you’re wearing because they can use your clothing as an argument in court, not because it actually makes them ‘lose control’ or whatever bullshit). Some of these are not – think of starving yourself because there are whole industries which make their money from teaching you that your body is wrong, and binging because you’ve lost your natural instincts to eat what you want, when you want.

It’s going to be hard, N, to hold your ground against a world which tells you that we know your body and your mind better than you do. (I’ll tell you about my labour with you through that prism, one day, if you’re interested.) (And I’ll probably tell that story to other people on my blog, too.) Which is why I want you to immerse yourself in yourself. You are the expert; be the best expert you can be. Don’t be the ‘expert’ who makes assumptions and learns from amateurs. Do the original research. Experiment. Form solid conclusions, and use those conclusions, and publicize those conclusions. Experiment some more. Do this so that when people say “go on, you know you want to,” you can say “no” with utter confidence.

Don’t let yourself be swayed by others. Stand your ground, have boundaries, and don’t let other people tell you who you are.

I, for one, will never pretend that I know you better than you do yourself. If I slip up, I am sorry. Like Will Smith, I want my daughter – you – to own her body, to understand her mind, and to make her own choices.