Throughout the day, whether from the media or society at large, our daughters are bombarded with messages telling them they're unworthy, or highlighting unfair expectations about what a girl "should" be. Fortunately, they also have amazing women in their lives to support them. A mother is a daughter's first, and arguably most important, example of what it is to be a good person. You can tell her until you're blue in the face, but there are some lessons you only teach your daughter through your actions.
As an elementary school teacher, empowering my female students was one of my most important goals. Having taught for many years, I now find myself a mentor to a few of those same young ladies who are now in their 20s. Between the blended families of both my husband and me, I have nine nieces between the ages of one and 14. (The tweens all got copies of The Gutsy Girl for Christmas this year.) Once I became a mom to a daughter, however, walking the talk of a strong, independent, compassionate, happy woman became even more important.
It's not easy, and I'm not always successful. However, it's my hope that, if I handle my mistakes the right way, my daughter can learn something from my failures as well. No matter how hard it might be in the moment, it's worthwhile if my daughter learns an important life lesson. And while I'm at it, I'm helping myself be better, too.
It's Important To Apologize
I've always believed that saying sorry is one of the most powerful lessons you can teach your children. It's an essential skill in maintaining healthy relationships. However, they won't know how to swallow their pride and express genuine regret unless you model it for them.
One time, my daughter accidentally hit me in the face with a toy, and I threw it across the room in anger. She immediately broke into tears. I scooped her up, kissed her, recovered the toy, and said, "I'm so sorry. Mommy shouldn't have done that."
Your Body Deserves Your Love
Feeling good about one's body is important for all women, but especially for young girls. According to Dove's Global Beauty and Confidence report, 79% of girls will opt out of important events if they don't feel good about their appearance. If we're going to raise a generation of confident, assertive women, we need to change the messages they get about their bodies.
That starts at home. You can't expect your daughter to be body positive if you're not body positive yourself. Avoid talking about diets, making negative comments about your own body, and seeking praise for your appearance. My toddler already mimics my behavior, from sipping pretend tea to brushing her hair, so I'll be damned if she starts weighing herself, too.
It's Healthy To Take Risks
Unfortunately, we live in a culture that teaches girls it's cute to be scared. This is problematic because it can make them averse to a level of healthy risk taking. A certain amount of risk is necessary to develop new physical skills and to learn. Want a daring daughter? Better be an adventurous mama!
OK, so I'm not climbing mountains, but I am frequently upside down on a ten-foot pole in my living room. Also, I had to clean freaking maggots off my floor. Did I squeal as I crushed them in the paper towel? Nope. Did I want to? You betcha, but I don't want my daughter to think that's how she's expected to react.
It's Normal To Fail
Cultivating a growth mindset in your daughter will benefit her throughout her life. In short, if you have a fixed mindset, you see your intelligence and character as unchangeable givens, which leads you to avoid failure at all costs. With a growth mindset, you believe these qualities can be developed through practice. Therefore, failures are simply opportunities to learn.
You can certainly help your child develop a growth mindset through your words, praising her efforts as opposed to innate abilities. But you also need to work on your own mindset. How do you respond to failure? I wrote and submitted ten pieces before I was finally published, and from that, I hope my daughter learns that resilience pays off.
Trying Is The Most Important
I used to teach high school dance team, and I had a mom furious with me because I gave her child a C. I explained that she'd earned it for consistently showing up late and with a terrible attitude. This mother couldn't seem to grasp that it didn't matter to me that her daughter was a better dancer than the other girls. Honestly, I would have preferred 36 girls with no experience as long as they were willing to work hard.
I remember being offended when I overheard my mom say that my true gift was not natural intelligence, but my work ethic. She was right, though. Effort matters so much as an adult (80% of success is showing up, and all that). I try my best to make sure my daughter sees me, well, trying my best. So as much as I would like to half-ass cleaning the toilet, I do it right.
Always Be Kind
It's so easy to be mean in this world, and there's so much that is so very ugly. I want my daughter to be the kind of kid who plays with the student sitting alone on the buddy bench. Hell, I want her to be the kid who comes up with the idea of the buddy bench. And I don't want her to do it for some kind of Character Counts slip; I want her to do it because it's the right thing to do.
As a teacher, I showed children how to respond to someone who was hurting. You don't laugh when someone falls out of a chair; you help them up. One year, one of my third graders found out her mom had breast cancer and she wet her pants in class. Not a single child made fun of her, and many of them offered to accompany her to the nurse's office for a change of clothes.
I know my daughter is watching so I keep a tight lid on any gossip or nasty comments that cross my mind.
Offer Unconditional Love
I'll never teach my daughter to hold back her love for fear of being hurt. I'd be denying her an essential part of human existence. I have always given my whole heart to the people (and animals, if I'm being honest) I have loved. When I would cry as a little girl over the death of a beloved pet, my mom would tell me that the anguish I felt was proportional to the love in my heart.
I continue to love deeply, and therefore hurt deeply. I express my love for my daughter in words and deeds each day. That means she has to capacity to wound me, and will in the future, especially as a reckless, rebellious teenager. But if I leave myself open to the full range of human emotion, perhaps she will too. And I wouldn't have it any other way.
Be The Change You Want To See
At the risk of sounding flippant, yaaaaasssss, Gandhi. There are terrible things happening in the world. We content with war, terrorism, hunger, and disease. Perhaps these are not things for little children, but they can certainly learn now that they aren't helpless in the face of difficulty. They can stand up to a bully, raise money for charity, feed the homeless.
Your daughter will be more likely to do those things if she sees you do them. Maybe you take her with you to clean up a local creek or to bring some of her sunshine to the elderly. My banner issues are equity and diversity, so my daughter sees Mommy's op-eds on the fridge and will attend the Women's March on Austin.
You Determine Your Own Happiness
I quote my great-grandma with this caveat: mental illness is real. I suffer from it myself. Because I have depression, it can be difficult to enjoy things I normally would.
However, I do believe that there is a degree of "wherever you go, there you are" in life. I know I can't expect that if I just lived closer to home, had more money, or had another baby, things would be perfect. Because I'm still me. At a certain point (and in my case, with help for my medical condition), I have to make a decision to notice all the good things in my life. When I point them out to my daughter (a delicious mug of hot chocolate, kisses from our kitty, all the people who love us), it sets her up for a lifetime of noticing them, too.
It's Important To Try New Things
You've probably had the experience of watching your kid try futilely to navigate an obstacle with their play walker. They just keep ramming it against the table or whatever and getting angrier. Eventually, maybe with an assist from you, they figure out how to go around.
Life is kind of like that. I knew I wanted to be a stay-at-home mom, but I needed an outlet from the constant mind-suck of motherhood. I started a blog. No one was going to do it for me, so if there was going to be any bootstrap pulling, it was going to be me. So, my dearest baby girl, if you get stuck, unstick yourself, my love.