Raising children is never an easy thing. Toss in society today with its constant analysis and lens into every aspect of people’s lives. The pressures of raising a strong, independent, self-loving, child are there and are no exception to gender. As it is though, girls have always had a harder time with the societal parameters that are inadvertently (and unfortunately sometimes intentionally) put on them. Whether it be aware of gender specific roles that are bestowed upon them, knowing their self-worth, addressing pay gaps in the work force, respecting their body and self-image – it can all be very stifling to a young girl.
As a woman, I know first-hand how challenging it can be to safely and wisely navigate these waters. The challenge that I am presented with now is how to teach my daughter how to take control of her future, rely on herself, know she is a capable young woman of many, MANY, things, and that she is beautiful – inside and out. I believe that it is never too early to start planting these seeds in her mind. I always have been an advocate of talking to her in a regular-not-baby voice. I explain things to her, tossing in big words and telling her what they mean in simplified terms. We don’t shy away from taking her to museums, art galleries, and to sit down restaurants (although, let’s be honest – we end up eating at 5:30 and I bring an army of crayons and books with me). I always make it a point to tell her how proud I am of her and why. I call attention to her exemplary actions or thoughts, praising her and then challenge her to think more. To me, having these conversations and language in our home are critical in her development as a growing young woman.
In addition to simply having “conversations” and explaining things to her when she is curious or when an opportunity for learning presents itself, there are a few things we do in our home to continue this. As I have grown older, I have learned to care less about what other people think about what I may wear, do, or even say. Confidence is key, and is a continual growth. While I may have a stronger sense of self now, I still have my moments; and it is because of this, that I try to not let my daughter see or hear me say things like “I feel fat today” or “I don’t like my hair…” etc. If she does however, I always try to counter it and say something positive. Every night I remind her to thank her body for all of the things it allows her to do every day. Our bodies do so many wonderful things from the daily tasks to pushing us to tackle great obstacles; but no matter which it is, our bodies should always be treated with respect.
Another way we try to promote a sense of strong self-worth in our home, is having meals as a family. Research has proven time and time again, that girls who eat meals with their families are less likely to develop eating disorders, poor self-image, etc. Growing up, my family always had dinner together, and it is because of those family moments and conversations that I feel as though I have a voice in my now adult life. Sometimes during our meals, we go around the table saying what the best part of our day was, and what was the most challenging part, and why. As she gets older, this type of dialogue will help her use critical thinking skills, problem solve, and empathize with others.
Lastly, we allow her some choice in what she wears. If it is a special occasion or we have somewhere important to be, I’ll present her with two options of “acceptable” choices. On regular days though, we will give her more free choice and won’t lose sleep if she chooses to throw on a sparkly tutu over her Adidas sweatshirt or sport a pair of fairy wings. Having children dress themselves is key in fostering their creativity and boosting their confidence.
In addition to things we do inside our home and throughout our lives, are the tangible things that can influence her thinking. We have a ton of books, all on various topics. Some of these books are about pretty ballerinas, and others are about go-getters, creative thinkers, and heroic persons. Some of the titles we love for these types of influences are: Rosie Revere, Engineer by Andrea Beaty , This Little Explorer by Joan Holub , and Beautiful Oops! by Barney Saltzberg – to name a few. When it comes to movies, we also allow her to watch a variety of child appropriate ones.
Recently I read that Kiera Knightley won’t let her daughter watch princess movies, since they glorify girls who depend on men for their happiness. While I fully, FULLY, understand her sentiments, I don’t personally adhere to that same mindset. The current favorite in our home is usually Moana (who’s with me?!) – for those unfamiliar, it is a tale of a young island princess who takes it upon herself to set sail across the sea and defeat the angry sea goddess. She heroically wins, and the only male she teams up with is the Demigod Maui – no romance involved. With this said however, our LO is also a big fan of The Little Mermaid and Frozen. I don’t hide these more traditional story lines from her, but provide her a range and explain to her that she is in charge of her own happiness.
Everyday is a learning experience as a parent. Life becomes a series of trials and errors, and knowing what works best for you and your family is always best. While my words here reflect my own personal approach to raising an independent young woman, I continue to grow everyday, striving to be a better parent. I am not a parenting expert, nor am I claiming to have figured this all out, I just know what works for our little family.