There are days, a lot of them actually, where I find being a parent of girls, frightening! The funny thing is, that I grew up surrounded by girls. Being the 5th of 6 girls, or 6th of 8 girls, depending on how you want to count – but, that is a topic for another blog all together – you would think I wouldn’t find it so unsettling. I think though, that is exactly why I’m so unsettled about it in the first place. I know girls!
I know how irrational and emotional they can be. I know how influenced they can be by friends, their surroundings, by boys. I remember how I felt about what my friends did or said, and I remember what I did, in response or in reaction to those feelings.
I have friends and siblings who have raised, or are raising, daughters older than mine. I have been paying attention! Frankly though, it’s not doing a lot to alleviate my fears. In fact, in some cases, it’s only making my anxiety worse.
From the time the girls were about 7, it seems like the world has been out to steal their innocence. Their childhood. Every where you turn there is mass media that is soooo sexualized. From dolls to pop stars. I mean, have you seen the Bratz Dolls? I am not a prude nor provincial, but I do think there is something seriously wrong with a doll that looks like a hooker. What is more disturbing than the fact that Bratz Dolls can be found on the shelf of your local toy store, is the fact that parents actually buy them for their girls!
My fear isn’t really about the products, the music, the movies….the level of skin exposure that is apparently acceptable for a trip to the mall. My fear is in my ability to arm them with the self-reliance, the self-respect, trust and faith, that I know they must possess to be resistant and resilient to the lure of bad choices.
It’s also about timing. It feels like there is not enough time for me to build their foundation for good judgment. Because……the products, the music, the movies…..they are literally at the girls' fingertips all the time.
I know that the “do as I say, not as I do” program is seriously flawed. So, I work at parenting by example. From how I treat people, to what I put on the table for dinner. It all matters and they are paying attention. Children will mimic parents behaviors, whether they are good behaviors or bad behaviors.
When we were working on teaching the girls that God made them beautiful and they didn’t need make-up or hair coloring, I stopped having my hair colored. I don’t really believe that there is anything wrong with coloring your hair, but it did seem, at the time, seriously hypocritical of me to tell them one thing, and go see my stylist the next day. Plus, it was all about the timing. They were in the 3rd or 4th grade, after all. There may be a time for altering your hair color, but it is definitely NOT in grade school.
Now that the girls are teens, their world is expanding…..so damned fast! I know that they need more freedoms in order to fully develop their trust “muscle”. They need to exercise this muscle so that it’s solid, firm and strong. They need to know that they can flex this muscle to protect themselves, and maybe their friends. When I say, “trust”, I mean that they trust their judgment, their instincts, and their intelligence.
Decision making is about trusting yourself. Teaching our children to trust themselves, is one of the most difficult aspects of parenting, I think. In order to do it, you have to let them go, let them fail, let them act foolishly. Then, if they fall down, you have to pick them up, talk to them about how they could have made different choices and let them try again. (Reminds me of a shampoo bottle, “Rinse and repeat, daily.”) When they are successful, you can't forget to acknowledge their success and talk with them about their choices. Affirmation will help build that trust muscle.
Protecting or sheltering our children from the world they have to live in, is not the answer. (Unless, of course, you want to provide for them indefinitely, and there are books on that. Google “codependent”.) Whether we like it or not, the world they will have to navigate as adults is the one at their fingertips today.
My hope is that my girls grow to be women who have a strong sense of self. That one day, if they decide to leave their house (not mine!) dressed like a Bratz Doll, it’s just a costume and not a reflection of their inner belief about their value or self-worth.
I don’t have the answers or fool-proof methods about how we parent the girls today into the women of tomorrow. I just hope that parents are trying. I hope parents are remembering to teach their girls that beauty and strength comes from within and from positive, thoughtful, affirming actions. Because, the world at their fingertips is telling them an entirely different story.