Many people have offered us advice about parenting a girl. It is mostly about how to deal with the “drama” in raising a daughter. I realize I am only four years into being the mother of a daughter. However, I am also a psychologist who has helped other parents raise their daughters. And I am an aunt, a cousin, a friend, and, most importantly, a daughter myself. With this said, I really do not like when people talk about girls being “drama.” I think it adds to this belief that girls are of lesser value—to be diminished when they have a reaction to a situation.
Honestly, that scares me. I never want my daughter to be dismissed because she does not feel comfortable with a situation or her intuition says something is not right.
So, you see, I have an obligation and determination to teach my daughter to be strong and confident. The world is going to knock her down by telling her she should look this way or act that way. We see it everywhere: on TV, social media, magazines, books, peers. She already comes home from preschool telling me she can only wear her jelly sandals because her friend has the same ones or she needs to wear a dress so she can “twirl” with her friends. Sometimes I support it because it is important to her. But we also talk about the importance of being herself. We celebrate what gifts she’s been given that are unique to her: “her curlies,” her name, her laughter, her kindness, her heritage, and her imagination.
Why am I so determined for her to be a leader? I mean, not everyone is meant to be a leader. What makes my daughter so special? Let me explain. Part of it is driven by fear—fear that someone will prey on her as a little girl or as a grown woman or both, fear that she will become depressed and self-harm, fear that she won’t have the confidence to follow her dreams. But part of it is also reflecting on my life—the lack of confidence I had in my body image, watching my mom put herself down or making jokes about herself that taught me to do the same, goals that I did not attempt because I did not believe I could achieve them…
You see, as parents, we want our children to become better than us, stronger than us, more successful than us. So how do I attempt to accomplish this altruistic goal of teaching her to be strong and confident? I realized the hard way that it starts with me.
When my daughter was not even three years old, I overheard her ask my husband if her outfit made her look fat. I about died. I knew instantly she was modeling her mommy. It was in that moment that I realized that I needed to speak kindly about myself. God made me perfectly. If I am not happy with my body then I can focus on making healthy choices, but I cannot call myself fat or ugly. It sent an awful message to my daughter. Since that day, I make a conscious effort to not speak poorly of my body as I heard my mom do, which contributed to my poor body image. I am changing so that my daughter learns something different than I did.
I also work on helping her to see her successes and accomplishments, rather than her constantly seeking our praise. I want her to notice for herself when she does well so that she can be proud of it, rather than needing someone else’s approval.
When she is being “emotional,” we talk about it.
Now, I have to admit that I am not always perfect with this area. Remember, I already told you, I am a work in progress. There are still moments when I say to her, “That is enough.” But I am getting better and trying to be more conscious of it. More often than not, we sit down and talk about what upset her, what scared her, how her body reacted. I want her to learn what are good reactions and what are over-reactions so that she is able to differentiate the two and not dismiss her feelings. I want her to learn to trust her gut so that she knows when a situation is not safe and to get away from it.
Moreover, I write to her.
This may sound corny, but I have an email account for both of my children that only my husband and I know of. I write emails to my children—about what they are doing, what they like, events in their life, but most of all, praising them for what wonderful people they are. I do this so that later in life, when they get down or doubt themselves, they can read my letters and know that they are amazing, strong, and smart—perfectly made.
For mothers of my pre-teen and teen patients I often recommend starting a “Mom and Me journal.” It’s a place where your daughter can ask you any question or write about anything, and a place you where you will respond. Nothing in the journal can be talked about outside the journal. This offers a safe place for your girl to talk about things she might be ashamed or embarrassed or scared to talk about. Who better for her to share with and get wisdom from on how to handle situations than her momma? The journal also helps us because when our girls ask us a question that is maybe surprising or scary, we have time to react without them seeing it and can have time to process before responding. It’s a win-win.
Lastly, I spend quality time with her.
I put my phone away and I focus on her. I play with her, doing what she wants to do. I allow her to lead me during that play and I respect her when she is doing it kindly. When she is being controlling or demeaning, I explain to her how it makes me feel and work with her on how she can say it differently. We do things that are special to us, such as telling silly stories, singing songs, cooking together, or making art projects. I make her feel important so that she knows she matters in this world.
So, yes, I agree that raising girls is not easy. But calling girls “drama” diminishes the beauty and incredible gift of being a woman. I am determined to model and to teach her to offer herself grace when she notices her weaknesses and the grit to build her confidence by knowing her strengths.
Have you read Raising Great Girls? Check out Darlene’s book!
For more articles with encouragement on raising daughters, start here:
How to Be a #Girlmom
Teaching Your Daughter How to Stand Out from the Crowd
Why You Need to Talk to Your Teen Girl About Sex and How to Do It
Men and Women Are Equal, but Not Identical
Anatomy of a Strong Woman
Raising Great Girls: How to Do the Job with Darlene Brock
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