Updated: May 9, 2020
As the parent of a young girl, I strive to keep my daughter feeling strong, confident and carefree. At the moment, she has no concerns about the limits that may be placed on her because she is growing up female in our world. I am grateful for this but also know that I cannot keep this bubble around her forever and ultimately my job is to help her hang on to as much confidence and determination as I can.
My goal with my daughter and every girl I’ve had the privilege of working with is to guide them to experience themselves as strong, confident, empowered girls that can experience the world in the way they want. Right now my daughter wants to grow up to be a hair styling-firefighter-banker-Mommy one day. Maybe your daughter wanted to be president or a police officer or other profession that is typically male. Does she still want to do those things? If not, I wonder how much of that has to do with what she has learned about being female in our world. We live in one of the most progressive countries in the world but we still do not have a female president, 50% representation of women in government or equal pay. How we help our girls process that this is directly related to what she believes she is capable of? I think the first step is to acknowledge that most women are raised to care for others. I see this most clearly with the young women I work with. So often they are under the impression that if they make other people happy that they will feel fulfilled in their own lives. We may have been taught to value someone else's opinion about what is good and what is not. Then we value that opinion over our own. And get so lost in their opinion that we don't even know what we believe anymore.
When girls grow up, there tends to be a lot of undoing that needs to happen. So that she can love others in her life because she loves herself. So that she doesn't quiet her ideas because one person criticized them. So that she puts her oxygen mask on first. As the parent of a young girl, you can help your daughter keep this natural confidence and bravery we can by shifting how you see your daughter's place in your family so she can shift where she sees herself in the world. Read on to understand what you can do as her parent.
1. Compliment your daughter for her creativity, determination, intellect or strength, rather than her appearance. As girls and women we get so much feedback on the way we look and this places too much value on our appearance. Teach your daughter that the character she is building and development of her values gives her more control over how she shares herself with the world. This will serve her at any age. This doesn't mean that you don't ever compliment her looks rather that it is one of many, many things you admire. 2. Accept your daughter for both her challenging and easy going behaviors. Acknowledge when something is not going her way, validate the difficult feelings that come up and sit with her in the challenge. Criticizing or quieting your daughter every time she has an objection or different thought than you and praising only her "pleasing" behaviors encourages her to be a pleaser. To raise a woman who knows her thoughts, feelings and behaviors are as valid as others, we have to hear her, explore with her, and validate her during those challenging times. 3. Allow her to make her own decisions to anchor her in her values. Encourage her to choose her own clothes, hairstyle, books and friends. Allow her to say "no" when she doesn't want something. If you are always answering or deciding for her, she will struggle to develop her individual voice. 4. If you are a woman, do your own work. In order to raise a capable and well balanced woman we need to embody this ourselves. Take a look at yourself and the moments in your life when you moved away from your true self and started doing what others had planned for you. Who was that girl before these pivotal moments? What did she want for herself that she was led away from?
As you can see, it's so important that we accept our daughters for who they are and who they want to become, not who WE want them to become. I strongly believe that if we aren’t standing in their way telling them they can’t be this, or believe that or represent themselves in this way, then they are better able to hold onto the confidence and zest for life they had when they were five. In order to do this we must truly allow our girls to create their own paths in life. This means when you daughter dyes her hair blue, hooks up with a boy (and/or girl) or chooses friends over family - it’s not meant to be a personal attack to you - it is her starting to launch herself into her own on her journey of transitioning from childhood to adulthood. Allow your daughter to experiment in these ways to discover who she is without put downs or shame, while you keep her wellness in mind.
Below is a list of resources that support the work I do with girls. If you are interested in learning more about how to encourage your daughter to grow into herself:
Girl, Stop Apologizing by Rachel Hollis Reviving Ophelia by Mary Pipher 9 ways we're screwing up our girls and how we can stop by Anea Bogue 10 Signs You're a People Pleaser Imagine a Woman in Love with Herself by Patricia Lynn Reilly
In support of you and your daughter, Hilary