Yesterday, I shared five ideas for raising strong, confident, self-assured girls. Following are an additional six, which make a total of 11 tips for how to help our girls grow up to be the wonderful women they should be.
- Don’t be afraid to be a parent. Girls have friends; they need parents. You aren’t there to be their buddies. You’re there to help teach them to become strong, confident, capable women, and it’s not wrong to expect that you will have to give them lectures or hold them accountable for their behavior. For example, I asked my daughter what she would tell her daughter if she were a Mom. She said she would say, “If all your friends tell you to wear expensive Aeropostale clothes and then jump off a bridge, would you do it?” That is verbatim. I was encouraged by the fact that, apparently, my middle school daughter really is listening. Your kids do value your opinion, and they do appreciate structure and expectations, even if they act most days like you’re the most horrible, toughest, and dumbest person to ever walk the planet.
- Encourage your daughter to get involved. Excelling at something goes a long way toward giving anyone a feeling of strength, and fearlessness. For me, it’s running long distances or writing a blog post I’m proud of. For my daughter, it’s collecting donations for her favorite charity, Friends of Feral Felines here in Maine, or participating in her school’s “Civil Rights” club.
- Don’t just talk–listen. If you don’t listen to the girls in your life, you won’t ever know what challenges they’re facing. Don’t just ask questions–listen for the answers. When they are done, ask clarifying questions, or encourage them to explore how they feel or think about the issues they face. Girls, more so than boys, are very social creatures. They excel at communication, but if you aren’t listening, they will get the hint and move on to someone else who will. If a girl knows she can come to you and tell you what’s going on without your freaking out, she will trust you, and she will seek your help and your advice. If you want to help guide the girls in your life to become strong, capable, and confident, you need them to want to come to you. But first, you have to listen to them.
- Don’t ever say the word “Diet’. Period. This may sound ridiculous, but if you talk about needing to go on a diet or how you’re hearing about some diet, or someone you know is on a diet, it becomes a perfectly reasonable expectation. Studies show that diets don’t work; it is far more sane to eat healthfully and increase activity levels. The assumption that carbs are the only thing standing between a girl and the mythical size Zero jeans is not only wrong, it’s horribly unhealthy. A great resource for more about the “D” word is the book, Like Mother, Like Daughter by Debra Waterhouse. It should be on every mother’s must-read list.
- Don’t be afraid to do a little pre-emptive programming when they’re young. All right, I know that sounds bad, but bear with me. “Programing” is another word for “stealth teaching”. My Dad and I were watching a news item once on the percentage of young adults who have tried drugs. I was not particularly surprised, because I knew of a lot of kids in my high school who had, although I wasn’t one of them, nor were any of my siblings. I asked him, “What did you do to make us four kids not be interested in trying drugs?” He thought for a moment, then answered honestly, “Mom and I always knew you kids were listening to everything we said. So when the subject came up, we just casually talked to each other about how awful it was, then let it drop. We never lectured you, because making something forbidden is a great way to make a kid want to do it.” I couldn’t believe how clever that answer was, particularly as my Dad is a retired Master Sergeant with over 37 years in military service. Trust me–he excels at lecturing! His answer, of course, highlights the importance of being a good role model. I have never been afraid of “programming” my kids since then; always casually, in conversation. So far, we’ve totally avoided fights with my oldest daughter about inappropriate clothes or makeup, and she thinks kids who do drugs or drink are idiots. Will it continue that way? I hope so. She has the mindset about what’s appropriate and what’s not. She is, of course, still a drama queen; she’s in middle school! However, the drama is over using computers or electronics, or staying up late–not clothing or dating. (So far, so good!)
- Parents: never, ever, ever comment on your daughter’s weight. Doing so immediately takes the personality away and instead turns the girl into a label: skinny, not skinny, or (God forbid) fat. My husband and I had a long discussion about that, and he has promised never to be one of those dads that makes a horrifying, damaging comment about weight or size. We were horrified when Michelle Obama talked about her daughters’ weight in the press. Talk about the potential for setting up a lifetime of eating disorders!
Even though there are eleven tips listed in all, please know that this list is by no means exhaustive. It is, however, a starting point for our ultimate goal, which is to be mindful in our choices, words, and deeds, so that we can raise our girls well.
It only takes one comment to start a girl on downward spiral, in this body-conscious, hypersexualized society. Mindfulness in our roles as parents, teachers, women, and as our girls’ ultimate role models is what we need in order to give them the support they need as they learn how to become confident women.
My daughters’ Auntie Sue once shared with me this poem, by Kahlil Gibran. It is an excellent poem worth reading, because it reminds us all that our children are not ours; they are only on loan to us, and our job is to help them become self-sufficient and happy adults.
“On Children” by Kahlil Gibran
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts,
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow,
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them,
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
Please note: normally on Fridays I do the “Last Thoughts: WordPress Weekly Photo Challenge”. In light of this series being continued from yesterday, I have pushed that off to tomorrow instead. And I can’t wait to share the newest photo, “Together”.
Happy Aloha Friday!