Raising independent young women in modern society is a mixed bag. You have the patriarchy, politics and body shaming on one hand and feminism, community and body positivity on the other, among other fun yin-yang considerations in a girl’s upbringing.
Girls should be nice but not too nice, and feisty but not too feisty. Being a girl means walking a tightrope of contradictions. How “modern” is modern society, anyway, with that kind of thinking? A girl needs to walk her own path, and that’s tough to do — even today. Here’s how to encourage independence in your daughters.
Own Your Impact
Mothers hold a powerful influence over their daughters. Many parents think that peer pressure most likely sways their children, but mothers are the most powerful role model of all according to researchers — a daughter’s excessive screen time is linked to her mother’s sedentary activities, and a more active mother tends to have a more active daughter. Grade school girls rely more on Mom as their safe haven.
How a mother acts around her daughter influences her behavior. Self-image develops from a young age, and overhearing your gossip affects how she judges herself. Don’t be a mean girl as an adult. How you treat others can predict how your daughter learns to treat and interact with others. Always speak with conviction, and teach your daughter not to lead with apologies.
That also comes to yourself. If you suck in your stomach, so will she. Dads should also pull daughters into doing the seemingly mundane and remind them that they are loved — Dad’s love is powerful, too.
Help Her Find Her Uniqueness
From grade to high school, girls’ self-esteem declines as they go through puberty, and by adulthood, men have higher self-esteem than women. As you grow older, your self-esteem grows too. In Western countries, the self-esteem gap is greater than in poorer countries.
Help her find her uniqueness, what makes her an individual. Growing a self takes time, but you can help your daughter lay the foundation — so the emotional challenges don’t harm her heart as deeply when she moves into puberty and beyond. Adolescence is a time when girls grow their identities separately from their parents, and when they already possess a firm sense of self, navigating the choppy waters of teen years feels less rough.
Let your daughter diversify her passions and keep what fits. Don’t go with what’s popular for the sake of doing it. Even if your family is more athletic, but she’s artistically-inclined from a young age, pursue that road with her.
The Playground Teaches Responsibility and Fun
In a world of concrete, adults lose their inner child to the nine-to-five grind. When you work too hard, that leads to burnout which increases the risk of death and chronic disease. Set a different example for your child, and cultivate a work-life balance that reflects the rules of the playground. Don’t lose the compassionate, open-minded and fair parts of yourself.
The playground teaches your daughter responsibility and how to have fun. She follows the posted rules and your rules as a parent playing safely on the playground with others, but she also creates her own rules and plays fairly. Free play expands the imagination and possibilities of each moment. When she encounters a bully or problem of how to go down the slide, she learns to resolve those for herself but knows she’s got you for back up. The playground offers free life lessons!
Praise the Imperfections
Kids mess up, but girls remain under pressure to be on their best behavior and conform to those norms as a “good little girl.” Messing up and taking risks lay the groundwork for confidence.
Let her mess up and do things on her own — praise the imperfections. Daughters face existential quandaries when told they can “do anything” and then get chastised for not conforming to good girl norms or making mistakes. Mess ups don’t mean you’re not good enough, and that’s an important lesson that daughters need to learn from an early age.
Don’t be afraid to speak up about your own minor mistakes with a positive attitude. Go through lists of small items of learning goals, and allow those little mistakes to happen without negative interference — which will also help develop her problem-solving skills.
Tough social situations develop at an early age, such as not getting invited to a peer’s birthday party, and that greatly affects a daughter’s self-esteem — especially when she’s trying her best to be polite and not “too sensitive.” She learns everything from you, Mom, and that weighs heavy on your shoulders and heart.
You’re her entire universe from birth, but that improves both your lives as you encourage her independence and individuality. That’s tough going even in modern society — she’ll face many challenges but emerge strong and confident when you know your impact and embrace it and her fully, imperfections and all.
Jennifer Landis is a mom, wife, freelance writer, and blogger at Mindfulness Mama. She enjoys yoga day, red wine, and drinking all of the tea she can find. Follow her on Twitter @JenniferELandis.
Image courtesy of Caroline Hernandez.