This week I am in a celebratory and yet reflective mood. I have had the privilege of becoming a grandmother to a brand new, wonderful, baby girl so I have been reflecting quite a lot on the awesome but terrifying responsiblity of raising daughters.
I have some previous experience – Martin and I have raised two daughters , and we are proudly connected to our other granddaughter, a funny, kind, intelligent six year old who makes my heart sing with her thoughfulness.
My own daughters are (and I admit to some bias here) strong, intelligent, warrior women and I am proud of them both as well as being slightly in awe of the way they face the world. They are warriors, not because they have been set a perfect example, but because they have faced demons, fought battles and are winning more often than they lose. When they were born, 30+ years ago, I knew nothing of the rigours of motherhood but I learned, the hard way, the way we all learn – by making mistakes, by getting it spectacularly wrong, by trying again and by getting better at it over time.
Now that each of my daughters has a girl child of her own, I thought I would break the cardinal rule of grandmotherhood (eek!) and offer some unsolicited advice on raising daughters.
Trust your instincts
Read books, ask for advice/help from family, friends or professionals but ultimately trust your instincts. People have general views on raising babies, toddlers and teenagers but you are the only one(s) raising your unique daughter. Trust your instincts.
Find a balance
Try to find a balance in all things. We are all a mix of yin and yang, we are essentially good people but we all have a darker side, we are mind and body and they cannot be separated, we each have masculine and feminine attributes. It is important to accept all sides of ourselves and of our daughters.
Let them embrace the cult of pink if they choose to but discuss it with them, help them to discover how odd it is for colours to be gendered. Balance this stereotypical feminity with opportunities to get dirty or to engage in rough play.
My favourite 4 year old girl can often be seen in a tutu and wellies, blonde curls flying wildly, as she climbs onto her dad’s tractor to help bring in the sheep.
Be a role model
Demonstrate the qualities you want to foster in your daughter. Never let her hear you say you feel fat, or you look awful. Talk about healthy eating not dieting. Go outside, engage in sports, demonstrate resilience, push yourself from time to time, be caught reading books for pleasure, work hard, talk about success (whatever that means for you) make time for yourself, challenge inequality when you see it, stand up for the underdog.
A friend recently posted on Facebook that she had won the mum’s race at her daughter’s primary school sports day for the second year running – despite going straight from work and doing it barefoot in a pencil skirt. She received a couple of negative comments (mostly from men) suggesting that it is somehow wrong to try to win. I (and most of her female friends) applaud her for being a great role model – being fit and trying hard are great qualities to demonstrate when raising daughters. The look on her daughter’s face when she, in turn, won a race was all the recognition needed.
Take time out to be quiet
We all need quiet time – every day. Time to stop, to reflect, to be at peace. Take this time for yourself and encourage your daughters to take quiet time out too.
You may need to teach your daughter how to reflect. After she has had some down time on her own terms try asking questions about her day. Most parents will already know that there is no point asking “how was your day?” You will probably just get an unengaged “good” or “fine”. Instead, try asking something more specific “what was the best thing you learned today?” or “who did you sit next to at lunch time?” Friends of ours do this every evening over dinner, as a family they take it in turns to discuss the three best things that happened that day giving their sons a focus on positivity and reinforcing the importance of talking about feelings and listening to each other.
Have a space to call your own
Everyone (including you) needs a space to call their own. When raising daughters you will sometimes need to go to your space to cool off, reflect, plan how to move forward or just “be”. So will your daughter. If she cannot have a room of her own, give her a corner with a bean bag, a spot in the hall or an arm chair that is just for her.
Nurture the yellow dot inside her
When raising daughters it is really important to nurture the yellow dot inside them. Love them unconditionally (especially when you have to tell them that their behaviour is unacceptable). Try to join them in their world and see things from their point of view before judging their behaviour – we all need to be understood. Be honest with them, hypocrisy breaks down trust faster than anything else.
Stop trying to be perfect
Accept that you are going to get it wrong – often. You are not perfect and, when raising daughters, it’s important to admit that. When you fail (at anything) admit it and talk about what you have learned from that experience. Your daughters will learn how to be resilient by watching you fail, pick yourself up, learn and try again. And let’s face it. they will need to be resilient.
Raising daughters will be a fabulous, exhilerating, terrifying roller coaster ride – make sure you take some time to enjoy it!
This is a blog about raising daughters. I suspect that much of what I have written is also true about raising boys but I have never done that. If we are to see a world where women are valued as equal, are valued for their differences and their similarities then we also have to think carefully about how we raise boys. If any of you wonderful Yellow Dot Women would like to write a guest blog, a companion piece about raising boys, please get in touch.