When my daughters were little and we went summer clothes shopping, I got to make all the decisions. Quickly and efficiently, I combed the toddler department for bathing suits and shorts. The girls liked blue and yellow and hated frills. I selected clothes and they wore them.
As they entered their tween years, summer shopping became more complex -- a drama-filled team sport. Stepping into a dressing room with either of my daughters was a guaranteed argument, causing strife and filling me with dread.
But in 2003, something changed. That was the year I started my own business. Although entrepreneurship is certainly not without its stresses, I began to structure my life to allow more time for my family. My girls got to see a whole new side of me, and vice versa.
I remember one day that summer especially clearly. It was my older daughter's last day of school, and she was heading to Costa Rica in a few days for a community service trip. The moment she came home, I logged off my computer and we drove into the city for a late lunch at a French bistro. We chatted about her upcoming trip, the school year, and other random and simple topics before indulging in our favorite pastime - shopping.
Those next few hours made me realize that the transition from childhood to young womanhood is a quantum leap. After several years of "camouflage dressing," during which she favored a baggy grey-green sweatshirt and jeans, my 16-year-old daughter was selecting brightly colored tank tops and short shorts.
I realized then that she was finding her voice. She was becoming comfortable rejecting my suggestions and let me know - kindly, but firmly - that she needed to make her own choices. "You're letting me go to Costa Rica with strangers. Why won't you let me wear what I want to wear?" she asked when I pushed her too hard. Instead, she chose clothes she liked and felt comfortable in. My grandmother, mother, and I were rarely swayed by peer pressure. I was elated to discover that my daughter was following in our footsteps.
I was also struck by how well-organized she was. She gently grabbed the shopping list from my hand and methodically checked off each item as she added it to the "yes" pile in the dressing room. I have always been a fan of "to-do" lists - at home and at work. She was very much her own person and yet she had adopted some of my own rituals and habits.
My daughter was now an adult. I happily assumed the role of valet, returning her rejected items to plastic hangers. She had found a comfortable role for me; and I realized my influence and duties had changed forever.
That day was the start of a discovery process. I learned about my daughter's tastes, her fears and her goals. I started to learn to be less controlling and how to take criticism. Rather than barraging her with questions or directives, I allowed the conversation to flow and the smiles and laughter to come naturally. She learned that I was able to open my ears and my heart and let her make some of her own choices.
My younger daughter grew up knowing me in a way that my older daughter probably did not. When my older daughter went off to college, my little one enjoyed some of the benefits of being an only child. The summer shopping trips were more frequent, and my skin had grown thicker. I no longer took expressions of taste as a personal affront. I took time for lunches and special excursions. And I turned off my cell phone more often than I used to.
I look forward to the day when my girls have daughters of their own and three generations will shop together. Perhaps the women will share a dressing room, laughing, bickering, and growing closer, accepting each other's flaws, unplugging and trying on new ways of communicating and learning about each other.