I often find myself reflecting on things I need to change about myself. These “things” are typically mindset issues. Years and years of childhood lessons that contradict how I need to think in order to be successful. As I go through this personal life dilemma, I catch myself saying things to my daughters that cause me to stop in my own tracks and ask the question, ‘Why am I saying this?’.
I want to pass on wisdom to my daughters, as it is my job as their mother to nurture them and prepare them for their future. However, I am undergoing a re-training of sorts. Throwing out old files from my brain that I deem ‘no longer valid’. Removing the spam files maliciously filed under the educational category, ‘things said to girls but never said to boys’. I am approaching my daughters with a refreshing perspective that I hope will be useful to other parents.
If you feel bogged down with files of spam in your brain, downloaded by generations of skewed parenting advise, this post if for you.
1. “The only thing that matters is what’s on the inside.”
Although I agree with the sentiment behind this statement, young girls internalize this in ways that can be unhelpful. Also, it’s not true. For many people in this world, it is not the only thing that matters. Blanket statements like this one leave big, confusing gaps left open to interpretation.
If my daughter comes to me discouraged, if she is feeling self-conscious and down about her looks or how she is perceived, I aim to provide her with concise feedback. I first ask questions to draw out her “why’s”. I then use statements that are TRUE about her character, talent, AND looks.
“Let’s talk about what is true about you: you are a talented dancer. You work so hard and practice every day.” “I see how you’ve improved on your turns.” “You are compassionate and think about others [insert specific instance of compassion]”. “You balance school, dance, and friendships so well, I’m so proud of your ability to handle these things with such care.”
The truth is that the things that matter are defined by each individual person. We can do our best to impose our values on our children, but they are exposed to a whole world mixed up with differing worldviews. Unless you keep your daughter in a bubble, and trust me, I wish I could do that too, you need to address the fact that people do value what’s on the outside too.
Our daughter’s do not benefit from using blanket statements or lies. They do benefit from honest discussion.
The law of attraction becomes a relevant topic earlier than us parents want to believe. I never wanted to shave my legs nor did I worry about the fact that I had hairy legs until a classmate of mine declared, ‘ewwww, you need to shave your legs!’ during a round of kickball when I was in the 6th grade. I remember exactly where I was standing, where he was crouched down, the heat moving up my face, and the conversation I had immediately when I got home from school that day. My exterior mattered that day. Luckily, I had a parent that valued my emotions and decided I was old enough to learn how to shave my legs.
I believe in the importance of teaching our daughters to value inner beauty above outer beauty. I make a point to draw the correlation between inner beauty and how this trait will attract good, healthy people into your life. The conversation doesn’t stop there. I also teach them how to properly care for their bodies: good hygiene, how to apply make up, skin care tips, hair care tips, the importance of exercise and staying active, eating healthy, drink enough water, and most importantly: I am their biggest advocate and fan.
2. “Don’t be full of yourself.”
I can hear it now. Well-meaning adult women in my life, making this, and other similar statements, in hopes that I would not grow up to be a self-absorbed diva. The biggest issue with this particular statement, is that it is almost never followed by statements that empower little girls.
Generations of adults have cycled a concept that little girls should be the most humble, proper little beings. Smile for the camera, but don’t think your all that and a bag of chips. Wear this cute little dress, but don’t show off.
I recall an instance of two adult women talking when I was a teenager. These women were discussing a female cousin of mine; retelling a story from when she was a toddler. The toddler approached the two women and declared, “I’m cute!”. They both looked at her, and one recalls the other women stating, “No you’re not!”. The women giggled as they shared this story, but it made me sad and confused as a teenager. I thought of my little cousin, all dressed up, feeling pretty, and it made a connection for me between that story, and what I knew then of her low self-esteem. A misguided attempt to keep a little girl from being too full of herself. Words that made wound, that would later become a woman’s scar and inner obstacle.
Why do we value young boys acting and speaking with certainty and confidence when talking about themselves, yet discourage it with girls?
If we focus on building up strong, confident girls; we will get strong, confident women. Let’s focus on BUILDING. Let’s stop breaking girls down.
3. “Don’t act vain/cocky.”
Of the items on my list, this ranks at the top of the list for things we do not systemically say to boys, yet say to girls. I find myself struggling to navigate this with my own teenage daughter.
This topic overlaps a bit with statement #2. The distinction is that this statement is more about performance and less about looks or physical identity.
As a mother of three, I have observed different approaches to motivating good performance. Some coaches use fear. Some use strict rules and guidelines. Some use only positive reinforcement. Regardless of the approach to mentor, coach, teach; please stop saying things like, “Don’t be cocky, just because we won the competition last week, does not mean we will win this week.” “Do not get out there and be over-confident, just focus and do your best.” I have heard so many “Just because … doesn’t mean..” statements lately, that it was a key motivator to write this.
These statements do NOTHING to prepare a young girl for battle. If she is stepping out into a field, arena, or onto a stage, the LAST thing she needs to hear is, “Don’t be over-confident”. How many movies include this statement as part of a motivational speech? Could you imagine Denzel saying, ‘Don’t be too cocky!” before his football team entered the arena for the playoff game? What if instead Braveheart shouted, “Just because we won the battle last week, does not mean we shall win today!!”, then shows scene of bloody battle? You simply do not hear men saying these types of statements to other men.
I have heard these statements by coaches and team captains. I have heard them said right before a performance at a dance competition. And guess what? The results suck.
If you are trying to discourage your girls, or get in their heads to screw them up, then by all means, keep using that technique. Or maybe, just MAYBE, you try something new.
Let’s try doing the opposite. “Okay girls, I want you to visualize success. You WILL win, you will perform each move to perfection”. “You ARE the talented dancers and have worked so hard for this very day, get out there and show them what champions look like.” “Be confident! Be cocky!” I believe their ability to visualize success may actually be a success.
You can teach girls to be confident without it being at the expense of others. You can build them up to be champions and good sports. They have a better chance of success if you hype them up once you’ve given them the training they need, and they put in the hard work required to succeed. Give girls permission to be GREAT. This is not a gender-specific concept. Everyone should be inspired to greatness if they are willing to do the work, and practice, practice, practice. Oh, and there is the talent thing too. Not everyone was born to be an opera singer. So, refer to #1, and speak honestly with your girl about her talents.
4. “You don’t need a man to be happy.”
While women do not require a significant other, they may want, or even yearn for love and companionship one day.
Humans, from infancy, need touch and nurturing. The very touch of a mother has a direct correlation to an infant’s growth and development. It’s an innate need, love.
Instead of harping on girls to be strong, independent women who don’t need a man. Let’s first raise them and build them up as strong, self-aware girls. Engage in open communication with our strong, young girls to discuss the types of things they value in a partner. Model healthy relationships and give them something to aspire to.
Whether we (parents) like it or not, our girls will eventually discover “love”. We cannot swipe it away with a blanket statement that undervalues human connection. Wanting a life partner does not make you weak. Opening your heart to love is characteristic of one who has strength and courage. I want my daughters to know themselves, value themselves, and in doing so, find the person in this world that values exactly that.
I’ve been through divorce. It was the worst experience, and I would not wish it on my worst enemy. I worried, and still worry, about the impacts of the divorce on my children. I’ve witnessed the fallout. It’s been many years now, so most of it is behind us. My children had a front-row seat to ‘what happens when love goes bad’.
Through open communication and years of healing, I’m happy to say they all have a healthy perspective on love. I have witnessed evidence of that in each of them. I spent years as a single mother. I felt a pull and need to have companionship and love, but I did not rush into another marriage. When I did get re-married, it was done thoughtfully, and my children were just as happy and excited for the new chapter as I was. Now my children can observe a healthy marriage, and I am so grateful.
Let us not make the desire for companionship or love, a weakness.
Our girls can have it all.
5. “You need to learn how to love yourself” (too little, too late)
How exactly do I do that? All I have heard throughout my entire life is that I need to be humble, quiet, kind, meek, not cocky, not full of myself, not too loud, don’t laugh like that, don’t stand like this, don’t talk about that, and the list goes on.
Pop culture teaches girls the reverse of this statement. Marketing campaigns splash ideal images of women absolutely everywhere. You cannot go anywhere without seeing a magazine, billboard, poster, or screen of any sort with the image of an airbrushed model sporting the ‘look of the week’. Young girls see, “look at this, buy this, copy that, this is the look you must aspire to, but don’t worry, next week it will be different, and you’ll never catch up.”
Then there are the fad diets. A new diet craze pops up every month. Young girls are filled with junk, processed foods made readily available at a bargain price, and then brainwashed on the latest and greatest way to lose 10 lbs.
And then after all of that, the life coaches and gurus come out of the woodwork. “Self love, y’all!” “All you need do is love… yourself!”. They are feeding off the abundance of unhappiness and discontent that our culture perpetuates.
It is a symptom of a broken world, with a select elite calling the shots and making the rules. We adults need to re-program our minds in order to prepare our girls for this crazy world. We need to stop uttering words and statements thoughtlessly. Let us be mindful about each thing we teach our girls. If we do this, they will never need to be trained to love themselves, they will do so naturally.
We can all take part in breaking the cycle. This blog post barely scratches the surface on a much greater problem. Women are systematically undervalued in most of the world. They are marginalized, objectified, and abused. The statistics are out there: do your research, and please be sure to check your sources. You can help by starting in your home. Keep open communication; initiate conversations and ask her questions. And those things that your mother told you? Take five to reflect before you regurgitate those same words to your young. It is not a perfect process, and we will still make those parental blunders we will pay for later. The fact that you are trying is that thing that makes a different. It will take us that much closer to empowering young girls in the same manner we empower our young boys.
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