Sisterhood Is a Legacy

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A_Leah

I share life and land with six other families.

When, nearly seven years ago, we decided to buy a little 10-acre farm, a mother of one of our group said, “The health of your community will be determined by how well the women get along.”

She issued this little zinger with an oracle-esque potency, and it stuck in my craw like a thorn. Maybe it bugged me because it inferred a stereotype of women as gossips. Maybe it chaffed because her pronouncement left the men out of the relational health equation. Whatever the reason, I resented it.

And yet, a seemingly unrelated tradition that has formed in our community has caused me to rethink her words.

Early on in our farm’s short history we decided to mark a child’s transition into adulthood with a little ceremony. We haven’t splurged for gazillion dollar bat mitzvahs or sent our girls into the woods and told them not to return until they’ve slain a cougar or seen a vision of tree spirit.

Nothing like that.

It’s more like a tea party.

But not your average tea party.

When a girl turns 13 the female members of Kingfisher Farm, young and old, gather to celebrate her life and welcome her into our farm’s adult sisterhood. It’s a Red Tent sort of thing but without the blood.

Our motivation for holding such an event has been spurred by the writing of people like Michael Gurian. In his fascinating book The Wonder of Girls, Gurian, a neurobiologist, considers the developing brain of adolescent girls.

At age 13 a girl’s brain is particularly spongy and amorphous (I think those are the technical medical terms). Neurotransmiters that will determine a girl’s future personality reach out like a many-tentacled beast, serpentining out into newly laid neuropathways. They could go any which way depending on the outward stimuli. For those critical years between the ages of 12 and 14 life is one continual costume party. It’s a time of role-playing; everyone feels unsure of themselves because in fact they don’t yet have fully formed selves to be sure of.

So that’s what we’re trying to do: tell each girl we see her fragile budding self and that her self is beautiful.

We do this through affirmation, much in the spirit of Aibileen from The Help (“You are kind, you are smart, you are important”). If nothing else this exercise in affirmation helps the girl in question learn how to take a compliment (no cringing, no deflecting of praise, simply maintain eye contact, nod, smile, say thank you).

The ritual is in fact a naming ceremony. We are naming our young sister’s true self—a self standing like a skittish deer on the forest’s edge, gazing longingly into the meadow of adulthood. In our naming we are coaxing her to take brave steps into the sweet grass.

Both my daughters have passed through this ceremony, the youngest, just three weeks ago. It was deeply touching to hear women affirm what I’ve known since the first moment I felt them flutter inside me: these are remarkable human beings.

Their naming ceremonies recognized not only their remarkableness, but that they are remarkable in particular ways. The sisterhood of Kingfisher Farm has paid attention to the way my Maya sees the world with a poetic eye. They’ve noticed how she looks out for the outcasts and vulnerable. They’ve seen how Bryn is wryly funny and smart as a whip. They’ve noted her bravery and aplomb in social situations.

In essence, they have honoured the seeds of my daughters’ becoming, which in turn heralds their arriving. In calling forth who they already, these women have helped them recognize their true selves.

So, we affirm.

And we tell stories.

Some stories are cautionary tales. My 50-something farmmate tells a grade eight anecdote of coveting her best friends’ go-go boots and how that coveting led her to form a club for non-boot wearers to which her friend wasn’t invited, an act that severed their friendship.

Some stories are amusing. We share stories of developing bodies, and crushes on boys who didn’t return our admiration, and of hairstyles that required way too much gel and hair spray.

But whether sober or hilarious, all the stories carry the same message:

You’ll mess up.

You’ll be insecure.

You’ll want things you can’t afford or aren’t good for you to have.

But this is not who you are.

You are wonderful, beautiful, thoughtful … fill in the blank …

And you belong to a sisterhood that sees the best in others and honours it. That reaches out in compassion. (And, yes, that makes mistakes.) 

In holding these ceremonies we are in fact naming ourselves. We are naming ourselves as sisters who bless. Sisters who expect goodwill. Sisters who include rather than exclude.

Perhaps Kingfisher Farm would flourish or at least survive even if the women didn’t get along.

But probably not.

In honouring our daughters’ transitions into adulthood we are conferring the legacy of sisterhood—a sisterhood that has the power to sustain a community.

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Leah Kostamo
Leah Kostamo is the author of Planted: a Story of Creation, Calling and Community, a book Eugene H. Peterson called “remarkable” and Margaret Atwood called “clear-sighted and humorous.” She likes to read (and write) wise and winsome stories that inspire people to be the change they want to see in the world. She can be found online leahkostamo.com and @leahkostamo. She ministers with the Christian conservation organization, A Rocha.
Leah Kostamo
Leah Kostamo
Leah Kostamo

Latest posts by Leah Kostamo (see all)

  • Wow, this is beautiful, Leah. You are such a wonderful storyteller. Cheeky and PROFOUND, all at the same time. The sisterhood of Kingfisher Farm sounds lovely.

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thank you, dear Idelette. Yep, the sisterhood of Kingfisher Farm is lovely. I feel tremendously blessed to be a part of it.

  • Honoring the individuals, honoring womanhood, and honoring sisterhood — what a great tradition for your community!

    • Leah Kostamo

      Yes, indeed. Thanks, Michele. Hope you have a blessed day.

  • HeleneBurns

    I truly love this… I will forward this to several amazing people in my world who are raising daughters and are entering that critical cusp of womanhood. May all our daughters and sisters know their wondrous value and worth. Beautiful, beautiful Leah xo (I too once envied a pair of go-go boots – I really thought I had to have them but my Mom thought they were very impractical.)

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks, Helene, and thanks for passing it on. What is it with go-go boots? They are indeed so enticing (or were back in the day)!

  • Nichole Bilcowski Forbes

    Lovely!

    We just had a similar evening for my 13 year old daughter. I called together friends, aunts and cousins to surround my girl with words of love and affirmation and prayer after a deep and serious friendship betrayal left her hurt and broken. We spoke life to her soul that night and included hand written notes that she still reads months later.

    Words of affirmation and life are vital to all of us but never more so when we are figuring out who we are in the world! Thank you for sharing this lovely truth!

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks, Nichole. So wonderful to hear about your own celebration. I think it’s a “thing” that needs to catch on (or is already catching on since we both did it, right?). Blessings!

  • Sarah Joslyn

    This is fantastic. I love it.

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks, Sarah. 🙂

  • I also had a friend hold an evening like this for her daughter. What a wonderful start to celebrating womanhood! Thank you so much for painting this portrait for us, Leah!

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks, Heather. Yes, this sort of ceremony seems to be catching on which is wonderful! Peace to you this day.

  • Kristy

    I keep trying to type, but I can’t find the words. I want this for my daughters. I want this for myself and for my tribe. Thank you for sharing.

    • Leah Kostamo

      You’re welcome, Kristy. May it be so for your daughters too — all it takes is a pot of tea and a few women who know them well. 🙂

  • O, Leah! This made my heart race. I wish my spongy and amorphous brain had this kind of initiation as I longed for clarity of identity.

    I love that your girls get to do life in the midst of such decadent community.

    • As always, I can’t help but marvel at your gift with words.

      You are a fantastic writer! <3

    • Leah Kostamo

      Yes, I feel so blessed that my girls have gotten to grow up in the A Rocha and Kingfisher communities. After doing this intentional community thing for 13 years now, I honestly don’t know how people raise kids in isolated houses. It’d be so hard. And thanks for your affirmation of my writing. I like yours too. 🙂

  • Bev Murrill

    Oh Leah… what a powerful piece… and like the others, I so wish there’d been women who would have talked my spongy young brain into self value… how bloomin’ awesome is that!

    • Leah Kostamo

      Thanks, Bev! You seem to have turned out pretty darn fine even without this ceremony! Thanks for your encouragement to the Sheloves community!

      • Bev Murrill

        It comes with the years… and years… and years… chuckle… x

        • Leah Kostamo

          🙂 🙂 🙂

  • What an amazing gift you give your girls. I hope that, in our own way, we can honor our daughters as they become women.

    • Leah Kostamo

      Blessing as you do that honouring, Annie!