Girls are made of sugar and spice and everything nice. What a statement! This well-known nursery rhyme really set the stage for what is expected of little girls. We are to be sweet but also spicy and always, always nice. We are to be “good girls.” What exactly does that mean though? Is it being quiet and polite? Always soft spoken? Always kind? Is it being selfless? Focusing solely on making others happy, ignoring our own wants and needs? Is it being modest? Is it being just modest enough but also sexy enough to attract others? According to Ludacris, it’s being “a lady in the streets but a freak in the sheets.” These conflicting, and often absurd, messages are everywhere. But as the saying goes, good girls don’t make history.
“I’m afraid they’ll think I’m selfish.” “I don’t want to be a bitch.” “I’m being dramatic.” “What will my friends think?” “What if he doesn’t like me anymore?” “Other moms have it all together.” “I don’t want them to think I’m weak.” These and many other variations of these statements are said to me all the time both personally and professionally. Truthfully, I’m often plagued by the same self-doubt despite attempting to project confidence. But what do all of these thoughts and questions have in common? Each one is focused on the perception of us that other people hold. From the moment we are born, as little girls we learn that our role in life is to focus our time and energy on pleasing others. When we focus on pleasing others, we forget how to please ourselves. Or sometimes we are never even given the opportunity to figure out who we are at our core. We completely let go of ourselves in an effort to make everyone else happy: our spouses, our children, our colleagues, our friends. Our worth ends up being measured by other people’s opinions of us. Perhaps we can change these inherent expectations that we, as women, hold for ourselves. The next generation does not need to feel the same unrelenting need to please everyone else. We can raise wild and fierce little women who see how worthy and wonderful they are just the way they are!
Teach the power of “NO” - This applies to saying no to others including your children if that means saying yes to yourself. In Glennon Doyle’s book Untamed (an absolute must read), she tells her oldest daughter “if you have the choice to disappoint yourself or disappoint someone else, it is your duty in life to disappoint that other person.” How different would our lives look if we lived out this concept? Way too often I hear about a mother neglecting her own wants and even needs (ahem, self-care) while her spouse is off galavanting at the golf course all weekend. Yet, we feel guilty asking for a half-hour for a shower. When a man asserts himself, he is described as a strong leader. When a woman asserts herself, she is described as a selfish bitch. Let’s work to change this underlying expectation that women neglect themselves to take care of others. Let’s raise girls who are fierce and not afraid to disappoint if that means taking a stand for herself.
Let her make mistakes. Girls need to know that there is something wonderful in their imperfections. Perfection is not the goal and, quite frankly, is unrealistic. Falling down only provides opportunities to see how strong she is when she stands right back up again. Let her be wild, bold, and adventurous. Let her get dirty. Let her experience the good, the bad, and the ugly of life so that she can know what she is capable of and that being imperfect is what makes her wonderful.
Comment on more than appearance. A woman is more than her looks. Many of us say it all the time. The cliche “it’s what’s on the inside that counts.” But do we truly believe it? Do we send this message in the way we talk to young girls? That there is so much more to her than how she looks. I find myself on auto-pilot saying to little girls “you look so pretty. You are so beautiful.” And even furthermore, do we believe this for ourselves (but I’ll talk about that a little later). Try affirming more than her outward beauty by saying things like “You are so strong. You can move mountains. You have a wonderful imagination. I love your curiosity. You are so loving and kind. Be proud of yourself! You are incredibly unique.”
Encourage independence, courage, and individuality. I would encourage everyone with little girls to invest in the book What Does a Princess Really Look Like? written by a friend and colleague of mine, Mark Loewen, who is a registered play therapist. It is a part of a series called Brave Like a Girl. The book is about fostering individuality in little girls. Teaching her to look past cultural gender norms by not conforming but being authentic and find her true self. Not to think about what will make others happy and what others want her to be, but instead to think independently and create her own definition of who and what she wants to be. And then have the courage to live that out with parents who support her in whatever that may look like. I wonder what your “princess” would look like if inspired and created by your strong, smart, and beautiful little girl herself.
Model confidence not insecurity. I do not know about you, but it is terrifying how much I see myself in my son. All the big feelings, vocal opinions, and strong-will. Our little ones are very literally just that. OUR little ones. We are their models in everything from communication, opinions, resiliency, habits, nutrition, self-love, priorities...literally EVERYTHING. That is a tremendous amount of pressure, I know. But it also provides a tremendous amount of opportunities to help mold our children.
You might ask, how can I be the model of confidence and not insecurity? There are many ways, big and small. Be careful not to dismiss or demean yourself in front of your little (or big) girl, or insult yourself or others in front of them. Demeaning yourself, and others, comes in many forms, but very commonly looks like negative talk about weight or body image or dieting - “I can’t wear that dress, it makes me look fat.”; “Mommy can’t have a cupcake because it’s too many calories.”; “She has gained so much weight since I last saw her!”; “I’ll look good in that swimsuit once I lose weight.”; or “She really shouldn’t be eating all of those fries.” These seemingly small, off-handed comments can have a lasting effect for the little women who look to you for guidance on how they should see themselves and what qualities in ourselves and each other are priorities. There have been so many parents in counseling who look at their children and say “be kind” yet they are not kind themselves or “you are perfect just the way you are” and then in the same breath make a negative comment about themselves.
My ultimate message to you, Mamas - take that risk at work, enjoy some ice cream, and flaunt your beauty, inside and out. These little women are always watching and always listening. Be kind to yourself the same way you want her to be kind to herself. Show your little women how valuable you are in every way, so that she sees her own value exactly the way she is. Let her be her own princess, no matter what that looks like. .
“I will not limit her to the ignorance of our ancestors. She will KNOW that she is powerful. She will KNOW that she is worthy. She will KNOW that she is beautiful. She will KNOW the multidimensional wonder of this amazing human experience, and that there is no reason she can’t have her feet firmly planted on the ground while also KNOWING that she is magic!”