How to Raise a Warrior Girl

I’m determined to raise my daughters to be strong, confident, and happy. I want them to grow up to be warriors.

I was delighted when I found out that my first baby was to be a girl. And the second. And the third. I would certainly love my son if I was blessed with one, but I knew that I’ve got what it takes to raise a girl.

I’m determined to raise my daughters to be strong, confident, and happy. I want them to grow up to be warriors. Mind you, a princess can be a warrior, too, so I don’t deny them their pretty dresses and cute hair bands, but I want them to know that they can do much more than just look pretty.

Here’s how I try to do it:

Emphasize true beauty

I want my daughters to know that true beauty is not skin-deep – it radiates from inside. People come in different shapes, sizes, and colors, but what makes them pretty or ugly is the way they act. But this truth becomes confused by older girls and women who make silly comments about how they or others look.

If someone uses “fat talk” in the presence of my daughters, I step in. I want them to be healthy and love their bodies as they are – perfect in their imperfection. I want to help them build their confidence on the strong foundation of self-love rather than the quicksand of others’ approval. Can you imagine a warrior worrying about her looks or what others might think?

I also make sure to recognize and appreciate the true beauty: a beautiful smile, a beautiful heart full of love, kindness, and respectful conduct.

Teach them to be proud of who they are

A sure way to foster confidence is to give children unconditional love, the ‘I love you even when you misbehave’ kind of love. You don’t have to tell them that, but you have to make sure they know it.

Each of my daughters has unique talents, and they all have their weaknesses, too. One might be better at math and the other a better gymnast, and that’s okay. We’re all different, and being different is our strength. A true warrior recognizes her weakness, but doesn’t obsess over it.

I tell my daughters every day to “focus on what is good.” Be proud of who you are and celebrate your girliness (and later, your womanhood). My daughters should never hear that they can’t do something because it’s not a girly thing to do. They should never have to hide their brains, because popular media says that being too smart is not attractive in women.

I also encourage them to know where they come from and be proud of it. Belonging to a culturally mixed family, my daughters have learned from early on about differences and being unique. They have also learned to appreciate the advantages of their mixed heritage, such as being able to speak two languages and having relatives in different countries.

Give them good role models

Sleeping Beauty and Snow White were never my favorite. I prefer to share the adventures of the brave and bold Pippi Longstocking and Dahl’s Matilda with my daughters than traditional fairy tales featuring princesses whose life’s goal is to be saved by a handsome prince and get married. Why do these stories always end at a wedding? What did Cinderella do after she became a princess? Did she work to help orphans like herself working as servants in her kingdom?

Give your girls the right role models and make sure they know their aspirations should not to be limited to being pretty and popular. Perhaps there aren’t that many strong female characters in children’s literature, but there are many heroic ladies whose biographies you can read for a bedtime story.

“Fantastically Great Women Who Changed the World” by Kate Pankhurst is a good start, and so are books from the “Little People, Big Dreams” series. Or perhaps there are unsung heroines in your own family or community – grandmothers, aunts, cousins, or neighbors whose lives could be inspiration for little girl’s dreams.

Give them something to fight for

I don’t want my warrior princesses shaking their spears at the windmills, so I try to show them the world in its true colors and teach them the difference between good and bad. Poverty, injustice, racism, and environmental pollution are all around us. We shouldn’t pretend they don’t exist just so our little girls don’t get upset.

Be honest with your children and frankly discuss serious issues in age appropriate language. Don’t keep them in the dark. Instead, make them understand that problems exist, and so do the solutions.

If you’re involved in community work – get your daughters involved, too. Let them put their own fundraising cake sale stall next to yours, or find an appropriate volunteering role for them. Perhaps they could walk the dog for an elderly neighbor or help disadvantaged children with their homework.

Foster empathy

No one fights for a cause just because their mum told them to. To make a true difference, you have to be passionate about getting results. And to spark this passion you need empathy. Is empathy something that can be taught? It is, actually.

I share stories that deal with hardships and problems, stories that don’t necessarily have happy endings, like the original Hans Christian Andersen tales. Storytelling is powerful and a great exercise for our emotional intelligence.

Encourage your children to recognize their own emotions and know that it’s okay to feel unhappy, angry, and sad. Emotions are not good or bad; we have to learn to deal with the positive as well as the negative ones.

Emphasize the importance of being kind over being the best. Tell your little warrior girl that personal happiness will come as a bonus when you strive to live a good life.

Try to understand people instead of condemning them. If you see someone speeding, think and say that perhaps they’re in hurry to reach their injured child in hospital. If you see a toddler throwing a tantrum, remark that maybe it’s because they’re hungry or tired. If you get into the habit of being empathetic, and you speak the language of empathy, your daughters will follow. And empathy leads to happiness.

Let ‘no’ mean ‘no’

Helplessness is a learned trait. So is capability. I want to make sure that my daughters learn the latter. It’s a bit tricky teaching your children that they both have a right to make their own decisions, and need to listen to you at the same time. It’s tricky, but not impossible.

To start, I let my daughters decide what and when to eat and never force them to finish the food they don’t like. I let them wear whatever they want as long as it’s situation and weather appropriate, and I don’t care if they match spots with stripes. 

If they refuse to wear a hat on a cold day, that’s okay. I suggest they put it in their coat pocket in case they get cold. If they suggest a family activity, like a board game, I join in. If my daughters demanded a new toy during a shopping trip, on the other hand, I say no. I want them to know they have a right to make their own choices and say no and that their no will be respected, just as I expect them to respect mine.

Teach them responsibility

Making your own choices is great, but to truly own your decision you have to be responsible for the outcome, too. So, I make my daughters clean up their own toys and books. They have to sweep the floor if they spill sugar on it.

I don’t take it upon myself to solve their boredom. I can point out choices they have, but I do not organize their days. Obviously, I’m there for my girls if they get in trouble, or if they can’t manage to do something on their own and they know it. I remind them that not everything is in our hands, that we have limited control over the circumstances.

But so what? Happiness cannot be found in circumstances, it’s in us. And we don’t have to wait for a prince or a superhero to save us. We can do it ourselves. Whatever happens to us can make us stronger.

Let them know they can achieve anything

The great women who changed the world didn’t do it by waving magic wands and whispering spells. They didn’t accomplish their goals because they were born talented. They achieved whatever they did through hard work and determination.

This is the message I want my daughters to learn from reading the story of Maria Curie, Emmeline Pankhurst, or Malala Yousufzai. This is why I am careful when praising them, remembering to applaud their efforts rather than exclaiming, “You’re so smart.”

Let them play

Children need to play. And they need their play to be challenging, even risky. That’s why I sometimes close my eyes when I feel my girls are swinging too high to stop myself from stopping them. Risky play teaches them to deal with stress and build their courage, essential for every aspiring warrior. Unstructured free play also fosters inner drive – a sense of trust in themselves.

Overprotection, on the other hand, can leave children unable to cope with stress and more prone to mental health problems. Of course, I don’t want my children to hurt themselves or get into dangerous situations, but there’s a difference between a risky challenge and a hazard.

Climbing a tree is risky, but not really a hazard. Crossing a busy road is a hazard, and it’s crucial that my daughters learn how to do it safely. I also know that I should never push my children to take on challenges they’re not ready for – unless I want to kill that precious inner drive in them.

Build their physical and emotional strength

Warriors need to be strong. While all of the above is meant to develop character and build emotional strength, we can’t forget the physical aspect. I want my children to eat healthy food, so I get them involved in food preparation and talk to them about vitamins and nutrients. I want them to have plenty of exercise, so I strive to take them out daily, even when it’s cold.

I discipline, not to control their behavior, but to give them a healthy framework and help them learn self-control. I avoid the things that could potentially weaken their strength: excessive screen time, snacks on demand, too much sugar, and processed foods.

Encourage dad time

A father is the first male object of love for every girl, and a standard for all male figures. I can tell my daughters that they are beautiful 100 times a day, and still, it’s their dad’s praise that will bring the biggest smile.

Girls who have a good relationship with their father (or other fatherly figure) from early on are more likely to foster healthy relationships of their own, have higher self-esteem, and feel more confident in their choices. Just as a great woman is behind every great man, so too is a loving and caring father behind every strong, confident, and happy girl.

10 Simple Ways to Empower Girls to Love STEM

While the government works to increase the opportunities for women, here are ten ways you can help your daughter fall in love with STEM.

According to UNESCO, only 28 percent of the world’s researchers are women. In the United States, women hold less than 25 percent of the jobs in the so-called STEM fields of science, technology, engineering, and math.

Not only do women working in STEM tend to earn more money than women in non-STEM fields, but their perspective can reveal problems, solutions, and markets that male researchers may have overlooked.

The White House Council on Women and Girls has been focusing on closing the gap with studies on higher education for girls, the role of STEM mentors, and representation of female researchers in the movies and television.

While the government works to increase the opportunities for women, here are ten ways you can help your daughter fall in love with STEM.

1 | Praise her for working hard rather than being smart

Focus on the attributes she can change rather than concrete attributes. Telling her she’s smart or ‘good at math’ can be discouraging when she encounters subjects that she may find more difficult.

Instead, tell her you’re proud of how hard she studied for the science test or how she didn’t give up on the math problems. If you reinforce positive study habits, she’s more likely to keep up those habits when she’s struggling.

2 | Ask her how she thinks things are made

Have a conversation about the way things are made, whether it’s computer programs, video games, or the layout of the telephone poles. Make a game of pointing out ordinary things and talking about the people who make them.

By demystifying building and designing, you change her worldview. She’ll start to wonder what she can build and what problems in the world need to be solved. From there, it’s only a matter of experimentation.

3 | Encourage experimentation

When your daughter comes to you with a question, ask her how she can figure it out on her own. Ask her to try new things without fearing that it won’t work.

If she wants to change a recipe, let her try and see what happens. If she wants to a new desk, let her design one and see if it works. Experimentation is a great way for her to learn new skills, ideas, and ways to think about problems.

4 | Don’t gender her passions or let anyone else do it

Keeping gender out of STEM is more difficult than you might imagine. If she likes coding or making apps, don’t make a big deal out of it in front of her. If she loves bugs, don’t let your friends tell her how strange it is to meet a girl who likes bugs.

Gender biases are going to slip in from her peers, her friends, and maybe even her teachers. But you should be steadfast in reinforcing the normality of her interests.

5 | Introduce STEM role models

Introduce your children to STEM role models in real life and in stories. If you know an engineer, introduce her to your daughter. If you know an app developer, talk about the nature of her job. Read about Rachel Carson, Jane Goodall, Rosalind Franklin, and the women who made the moon landing possible. Normalize women in these fields, so she can see herself in them as well.

6 | Discuss the types of STEM professions available

Children typically only know about the professions they’ve seen in person, books, or movies, which can be a narrow worldview. Talk to your daughter about what other jobs exist without putting any pressure on her.

When you’re at the zoo, talk about the scientists who keep the animals healthy or the engineers who built the water systems. When you’re at the beach, have a conversation about the people who study the ocean or the people harnessing wave energy. Reference the various apps on your tablet and the problems they help solve. Tell your daughter that electrical systems are designed and bridges are built so she can begin to imagine what it might be like to do those things.

7 | Use math around the house

Math teachers are used to hearing, “When will I ever use this?” But basic math is all around us. Show your daughter how useful it is. Talk about discounts and notice receipts. Have her do the conversions for your batch of cookies. Explain the angles in your woodworking or the distances between your plants in the garden or how you can rearrange the furniture and make it all still fit. When math seems useful and normal, she’s less likely to shy away from it.

8 | Use educational toys and apps, but don’t make them the only toys

Code Academy and Girls Who Code are great tools to get girls interested in computer science. But if she’s only playing with educational toys, she might lose out on the creativity in other toys. Encourage her to think about how her interests can be combined in interesting ways.

If she likes science and dancing, ask her how she can combine the two. Can she combine her coding skills with her love of make-up or snow globes or stuffed animals? The answer is almost always yes.

9 | Encourage her to stick with her passions and skills as other girls start to drift away

At a certain age, girls can start believing they aren’t good at STEM. Your daughter might begin to feel self-conscious about her math skills or about being a pre-teen who’s still fascinated with lizards. Encourage her to be herself anyway.

She might decide to stop talking about her favorite subjects, but keep praising her for her hard work and don’t let her pretend to be dumb to fit in with the other girls. Teach her early that if she loves a topic, it doesn’t matter what anyone else thinks.

10 | Don’t discourage her if she starts leaning into something else

After all this, your daughter may still lose her interest in STEM, and that’s okay. If you try to force your daughter to be a veterinarian or an astronaut or a mathematician, she’s only going to resent you until she becomes unhappy enough to do what she wanted to do anyway. Or, she might return to STEM one day after she gets tired of whatever caught her fancy for a while. Perhaps she’ll combine her new interest with the old ones.

You can help her become a woman who works hard to solve problems and experiments without fear of failure. But you can’t make her follow a set career path of your choosing. It’s up to her to do those experiments.

How to Teach Your Daughter to Love Herself

The good news is that parents are not helpless when it comes to raising girls that love themselves and have confidence in their bodies, minds and hearts

Girls and women in North America have a lot of pressure when it comes to the ideal body, and it’s affecting their self-image. The statistics prove what we already know is true:

  • Ninety-one percent of young women that were surveyed on a college campus reported dieting to lose weight at some point.
  • Of that 91%, at least 22% admitted to dieting often.

Women and girls feel more pressure to attain a physical ideal, although boys and men also struggle with body image. Most will eventually resort to dieting, some will develop an eating disorder, and nearly all feel pressure from the media and peers to pursue an ideal weight or body type.

Most often, the ideal that women have is impossible to achieve, because the slim figures portrayed by the media is within the reach of only 5% of women.

These statistics are alarming but not surprising.

The life-changing sonogram

When I was 21-years-old I learned that I was pregnant with my first child. I remember clearly when my ultrasound technician delivered the news that would change my life: “You’re having a girl.”

Less than two years later we welcomed our second girl, and suddenly my husband was very outnumbered.

Bringing home my second daughter from the hospital, it suddenly hit me what a great privilege and challenge it would be raising two daughters in our current culture. It’s the 21st century, but girls are increasingly sexualized by the media, and pressure through social media and digital technology is increasing the intensity of bullying and low self-esteem.

I didn’t want to bring my daughters into a home where their physical appearance would be scrutinized, where calories would be carefully counted or food delicately weighed.  I want my home to be a safe haven for my girls to come as they are, and be who they want to be.

I want my girls to have a healthy love for themselves; a life-long love affair. Still, I know the statistics, and it makes me wonder how I’ll ever pull this off.

According to statistics a young girl’s self-esteem peaks at nine, which means my four-year-old’s self-love should statistically peak in only five years. I’m not cool with that.

So, what are some ways that we can teach our daughters self-love?

The good news is that parents are not completely helpless when it comes to raising girls that love themselves and have confidence in their bodies, minds and hearts.

Below are five things that I think we should all do to raise confident daughters:

1 | Show them that you love yourself.

I was recently lying in bed with my daughter Penny, when I decided to play a new game with her. “Let’s name some things that we love about ourselves tonight,” I said with a smile. I listed a few things, from my long wavy hair, to a heart that cares for others, and my way with words. I watched as my daughters eyes grew wide, and she excitedly listed the things she loves about herself. My simple activity had a profound effect, listing the wonderful things about myself showed allowed my daughter to see clearly my own self-love, and gave her permission to do the same.

Show yourself some self-love by allowing your daughters to see clearly that you love yourself, by the way that you talk about your body and heart, and by the way that you care for yourself through displaying healthy habits.

2 | Encourage them to do something risky.

Girls who take risks are more likely to be confident and find success in their future. Whether it’s encouraging your daughter to set up a lemonade stand even though she’s a bit shy, or standing by the door while she auditions for a play. By confidently rooting her on while she challenges herself and tries new things, you will be encouraging that she takes more future risks, and finds more future success.

And when she falls, be there to help her get back up with a smile and a comforting hug. Everybody fails sometimes, so consider sharing a story of your own failure, and how it led to a greater resolve and success in the future.

3. Equip her with skills, and don’t limit the skills that you teach.

Even though my home has a traditional set-up, with my husband going outside the home for work, and myself working within the home, we still aim to teach our children that they are not limited to any one job or skill-set.

Recently I built a crib with some tools, and my daughter commented, “Why are you using daddy’s tools?” It made me realize that I had failed in this area. We immediately bought our children their own tool set, and I have made sure to use my tools more often. Use a critical eye and don’t be afraid to fix your own missteps, it is a great teaching moment for both parent and child.

4. Model healthy eating habits.

Each person will have a different opinion on the term “healthy eating habits”. In my home, we don’t count calories, weigh food, or put too much emphasis on diets. We do attempt to eat whole foods that are fresh, and cook inside our home instead of going out to eat. We sometimes read labels, when we have to, but we don’t obsess over them.

We allow treats, but we teach that they are best in moderation, or else they can impact our bodies in negative ways, like making us tired or grumpy. We don’t focus on weight, and we recently ditched the scale from our home. Instead we talk about how foods make us feel, and the freshness of our foods.

I believe that teaching children to have a healthy relationship with food starts young, and that’s why it’s been important to me to display healthy habits for my children.

5. Focus on the heart.

We will all have our own value systems as a family. But most of us can agree that treating others the way we want to be treated, and living a life of compassion and kindness should be a priority for our lives.

If I raise girls that are loving, kind and have strong values, I know I have succeeded as a mother. This is why our family puts emphasis on these things. We try to focus on helping others, being kind to each other, and using loving words when we talk to and about other people.

If our attention is constantly on physical appearances, even if it’s to teach healthy behaviours, I think we’ve lost the point. Young girls need to re-focus their attention away from their bodies and towards their hearts and minds, and I think when they do that they’ll be happier and healthier over all.

What do you think about these five suggestions? What would you add?

How to Be Just Like Hermione Granger

One of the greatest young feminists of our time, Hermione Granger, is a terrific role model for our little girls.

One of the greatest young feminists of our time, Hermione Granger, is a terrific role model for our little girls. She’s hailed for being tough, smart, kind, decent, not appearance obsessed, and she keeps good company as Harry Potter’s BFF.

Oh also, she can kick some serious ass when an ass-kicking is called for.

Good role models can be difficult to find, and sometimes the best role models happen to be fictional characters. Here are some ways your kid can be more like Hermione Granger:

Read a lot of books.

And I do mean a lot of them. There’s quite a lot to learn from the written word and studies show reading makes us smarter and nicer. (Who knew?)

So, send your daughter off to the library where she can sharpen her wits (and her kindness).

Don’t worry too much what others think of you.

Don’t be afraid to look smart. Or dumb. In fact, don’t worry about how you appear at all. Ask questions. Raise your hand.

Be confident in your abilities and go after what you want – whether it’s getting the best grade, winning the spelling bee, or saving the day.

Just be yourself, it really will make you happier.

It’s okay to be friends with boys.

Depending on your daughter’s age, boys may be interesting or gross. Even so, tell your daughter it’s okay to be friends with boys. It’s important to have a wide range of friends, from a wide variety of backgrounds.  

Bravery and bad-assery are not reserved for boys.

Societal pressures can teach girls not to appear too strong, the message is being too strong would make them appear less damsel-in-distress-y, less feminine.

But Hermione shows us being a tough chick can not only be so totally cool, but also useful. You may even need to throw a punch when it’s called for – think: Draco Malfoy.

Wear your feelings on your sleeve.

Hermione Granger is not afraid to show her affection for her friends and teachers, or her distress when the world isn’t turning out the way she wants.

The old adage “big girls don’t cry” makes me want to cringe, and I’m happy to say showing our emotions is more tolerable today than it used to be.

I’m not saying burst into tears at the sight of bug, but expressing your feelings should never be considered shameful. Hermione shows us it’s okay to show your emotions, and communicate how you feel.

Be a leader, but know when to follow.

Hermione has a take-charge attitude throughout this series. She often leads her best friends from one situation to the next, getting them out of one scrape or another. She doesn’t wait for permission to save the day, she just does it.

This is such a valuable lesson for our daughters to learn. Often, we know what to do in a situation, yet we wait for someone to tell us when it’s okay to step up and handle business. Women and girls, especially, can be wary of stepping on toes. Hermione doesn’t give a flying broomstick about stepping on toes, she’s gonna take care of things and you can get on board, or get out of the flippin’ way.

And yet, she also knows when to follow. She knows when to step aside and let others handle for her what she can’t handle for herself. She’s the ultimate team player and understands when she must rely on others, and utilize her support network, to get to that end goal, whatever it may be.

Fight for what you believe in.

Above all, Hermione fights for her principles. So many of us go through this world afraid to simply say what we mean, or fight for what we believe in. We’re so scared of upsetting or offending others that we gloss over our own values. We remain silent, never voicing our opinions, afraid of offering an opposing view.

Hermione knows that doing nothing accomplishes nothing. She knows that some things are worth fighting for. She knows that sometimes you need to fight – and fight hard – to win the day.

So What if My Daughter Loves to Play Princess?

There’s no need to order a princess moratorium at your house. After all, there are plenty of fantastic lessons to be learned from royalty.

Our house is currently taken over by all things princess.

My daughter’s feet are clad with fancy flip flops bearing the image of seven popular princesses.  A sparkly pink crown is abandoned in the kitchen and three princess costumes are strewn throughout the living room. Several princess dolls are tucked ever-so-carefully into ‘bed’ on the couch.

I have a clear memory from when I was little of wanting to be a princess when I grew up. (For a while I was convinced that there must be some kind of royalty in my blood, but I digress.) I remember watching the Disney movies about princesses; especially “The Little Mermaid.” Oh, did I love her! I pretended I was a mermaid swimming through the water with my red hair flowing behind me. One of my most prized possessions was “The Little Mermaid” soundtrack on cassette tape.      

When I started teaching, I quickly learned some people have very strong opinions about princesses, especially those portrayed by Disney. They see these characters as weak and timid and strive to eliminate their presence in the classroom. In fact, some of the books that children brought in to share with the class were looked down upon because they included a princess in the Disney-fied version of a traditional fairy tale.  

I had no idea anyone could be anti-Disney or anti-princess and, quite frankly, didn’t personally see anything wrong with it. That is, until I became a mother of a daughter. 

Suddenly I had strong opinions of the characteristics I wanted her to embody – I wanted her to be strong, a girl who knows her own mind, one who’s not afraid of digging for worms or splashing in puddles. I didn’t want her to be thrust into the girly-girl category if that isn’t who she wants to be. 

I became more aware of how gender-specific products are marketed in the store and shied away from buying things that were all pink and covered in sparkly flowers or sassy sayings. I wanted her to have a vote regarding what she likes; not just push things on her because they are what society feels little girls should play with. 

I must confess, when Anna started talking about princesses this past winter I tried to downplay it. I inwardly cringed at the idea of embracing all things pink and sparkly. After all, my daughter is the girl who picks up chickens and wanted a blue room last year. I brushed it off at first but those darn princesses kept cropping up. She began weaving their names into our conversations and heaven forbid if we passed an item at the grocery with a princess on it. 

I slowly began to embrace the princesses when I saw how much my daughter was drawn to them. Quite frankly they are probably here to stay for a while. I mean, the products are shiny and sparkly, why wouldn’t she be drawn to them? I’ll admit it, they are pretty. And fancy. And what four-year-old doesn’t want to be fancy from time to time? 

But those are only surface level characteristics; the glitter will rub off after some time, one of the green high-heeled shoes will be lost under the couch, and the doll once coveted will begin to look ratty and worn when her hair gets tangled. But what will remain, and what I choose to focus on as her momma, are the timeless stories that accompany those showy princesses.      

I have a choice as a parent; give her flashy surface-level princess or push past the commonly portrayed character in order to delve deep into the story itself. We can get lost in the story and imagine what it would be like to be stuck in a tall, tall tower. We can look at several versions of the same fairy tale and talk about the similarities and differences. Or she can use her body to act out the story and enlist her little brother as the handsome prince. (Or evil sorcerer if it’s that kind of day.) 

Tonight she donned a pink dress with purple shoes, adorned herself with colorful rabbit jewelry, and wore a white headband as a crown when she transformed into Cinderella. We danced in the living room until suddenly she ran away leaving her shoe behind. Her brother and I grabbed her shoe, found her, and declared her the rightful owner. 

Whether she realizes it or not, we have embarked on a literary journey where the Disney-version of the fairy tale is just one of the stories she is exposed to. Darn it, I am going into full teacher-mommy mode finding all the different versions of the fairy tales that are appropriate for her to listen to at four years old. (Note to self: always pre-read more traditional fairy tales.  There might just be talk of cutting off important body parts, i.,e. a foot, that isn’t quite appropriate for this age group.) 

Sure she might conjure up an image of a blue-clad woman when she thinks of Cinderella but is that a bad thing if she can also vocalize the gist of the story?   

So yes, my daughter checks out Disney books at the library, proudly wears a Rapunzel shirt, and carries a princess umbrella when it rains. But she also reads from an anthology of traditional fairy tales, listens to vintage princess audio books, and acts out the stories during playtime.

We’ve embraced the princess around here and, you know what? She’s still digging for worms in the garden and chasing chickens around the yard. 

Should I Let My Young Daughter Focus on Being Pretty?

What does it mean to be “pretty?” How do we help shape our daughter’s perception of what it means to describe themselves and others as such?

“Momma, I’m prettier than you,” declares my daughter as she watches me get ready for the day.

I’m not mentally ready to hold a conversation this early in the morning, let alone think about the ramifications of her observation. My confidence does a brief nosedive as I gaze at myself in the mirror. The dark circles under my eyes stand out. My hair has turned to a mass of curly frizz seemingly overnight. I look down at my clothes; my husband’s firefighter shirt and jean shorts aren’t exactly the most fashionable choice, I’ll admit. 

“Well, honey,” I explain, “I may not look pretty but I sure am comfortable. I’m happy with the way I look and the clothes I’m wearing make sense for working in the garden.” 

I’m quite sure she’s just making a frank observation and doesn’t mean any harm; however, she is spot on. There is no comparison between her outfit, a fancy princess nightgown, and my run-of-the-mill shorts and shirt. I’ve reached a point in my life where, for the most part, I’m happy with how I look. More often than not I dress for comfort rather than fashion knowing that my day will mainly consist of picking up a toddler with dirty hands and doing chores in the chicken coop. 

My daughter, on the other hand, has decided that being fancy is how she’s going to exercise her sense of style. She discovered the sparkly trinkets in a long-forgotten jewelry box. A dress is her top choice on a daily basis. And for the most part I’ve rolled with it.

She wants to wear a ruffled dress when she checks on our baby chicks? Sure, why not. It’s not as if I spent a ton of money on her “fancy” attire; her dresses are hand-me-downs or came from thrift stores. Her jewelry used to be mine when I was a child. Her flip-flops were the only brand new item she got for the summer.

I love watching her accessorize with a too-small headband, a bracelet stretched to its limit around her calf, and part of an old Halloween costume tied over her dress. Looking at her I see a little girl playing dress-up; one who is unaware, yet, of making sure she matches. Her definition of fancy is dependent upon the number of accessories piled on her limbs and a dress on her body. 

She hasn’t let the way she dresses affect her play and will get just as dirty wearing her fancy jewels as she would if she were unadorned. She insists on wearing shorts so she can comfortably do flips on the swing set. Up until recently I saw her wish to be fancy as a passing whim; one of those phases some children go through as they begin to express themselves in different ways.

Now I question accommodating that desire. By giving in to her request to wear a dress everyday have I set her up to compare her outward appearance with others? Am I raising a girl who is as confident on the inside as she is with her outward appearance? And, oh dear goodness, how is this comparison going to go over with her friends in preschool? The last thing I want is for her to inadvertently make a friend feel bad if she’s not wearing something my daughter deems “pretty.” 

I want my daughter to reach a place where she feels a beautiful personality is more important than a pretty appearance. It’s fine if she wants to express her style by stacking on sparkly bangles before heading to the playground, as long as she’s doing it to make herself happy and doesn’t judge others for their lack of fanciness. It may take time for her to develop this mindset but it’s my job to help instill this while she’s young.     

Who knows, this could just be a passing phase that will give way to something else. Winter could roll in and she might realize she would be warmer in pants. Even so, it’s time to be proactive by addressing what it means to be pretty on the inside and on the outside. We need to talk more about how some observations might be better kept to oneself and how being confident in our appearance is, in our family, the true definition of pretty. 

7 Powerful Life Lessons Girls Can Learn From Muhammad Ali

Muhammad Ali is not only the Greatest of All Time, but also the perfect role model for a strong, capable, and change making girl.

My father was a fan of boxing, and he loved Muhammad Ali.

As Daddy’s little girl I was stuck to him like a magnet, so there was no question in anyone’s mind that I’d also be a boxing fan and rooting as enthusiastically as he did for Muhammad Ali.

Although I didn’t even like stepping on an ant, I was mesmerized by this man who danced back and forth in the ring saying, “I’m the greatest,” or “Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee.” My tiny fists would alternate between shadow boxing with him, and egging him on to knock out his opponent. And that was how it remained as my father grew older and I grew up, too big for his lap, but never too big for his arm draped around me as we sat together on the couch.

One thing I’ve realized about the great sportsman and humanitarian, Muhammad Ali, is that he influenced me in a positive way. Gender should never be a prerequisite for whom we hope our children emulate, or will be inspired by. Everyone needs a role model, and Muhammad Ali was mine. 

There are so many lessons girls can learn from the late Muhammad Ali to help them stay capable and strong:

1 | I am the greatest.

Teach girls to never be ashamed to say they’re the greatest, to shout it loud and proud, speak it vehemently through their lips, and feel it in their heart even when others think they aren’t.

Knowing they’re great will encourage them to do great things and bask in the freedom of accomplishment. Growing up, too many of us were often told that excessive pride was not a good character trait for girls. 

That’s wrong. If we want our girls to write their names in the sky they must know they can – and should – stand in their own glorious power.

2 | Talk smack.

Muhammad Ali talked smack, but he also backed it up. Our girls need to know it’s alright to talk smack every now and then.

Girls need to make others see, and understand, that they’re a force to be reckoned with. And to protect themselves against the elements of sexism and discrimination. They must find and claim that extra bit of inspiration to finish the last leg of any race. 

3 | Leave it in the ring.

Muhammad Ali left his blood, sweat, and tears in the boxing ring. He was focused and didn’t let anyone or anything deter him.

Girls need to know that when they’re doing something – whether it’s a spelling bee, a science competition, or an audition – they need to leave it all in the ring.

They have to believe in their potential power, creativity, and skills. They have to believe that perseverance and giving their all makes anything possible.

4 | Learn to do the rope-a-dope.

The rope-a-dope is a style of boxing associated with Muhammad Ali in which one opponent intentionally puts him or herself in what appears to be a losing position, attempting thereby to become the ultimate victor.

All girls need to learn how to maneuver themselves out of tight spaces to become the victor. They need to learn strategy; they need to know that appearing to an opponent as though they’re losing steam is an important tactic for catching their breath, regrouping, and pressing on unerringly to triumph.

5 | Do the Ali shuffle (keep dancing).

Girls need to learn as they move through this world, they need to keep dancing.

They need to dance to celebrate their bodies because no matter what shape or size they are, or disability they may have, their bodies are a work of art – a unique masterpiece. Girls need to dance to hush those who shame them through malicious comments.

Just as with laughter, they need to know that dancing fancy and free will release feel good endorphins. They should know that this is not only for their physical well-being, but for their emotional health as well, so they’re strong enough to TKO anything attempting to obscure their shimmer-shine.

6 | Never back down from controversy or beliefs.

Muhammad Ali was willing to go to jail and lose his livelihood for what he believed.

Our girls need to know that their voices count. They’re never too young to be an advocate, demand justice, and have their rights and passions respected even if they go against the grain.

7 | Be a humanitarian.

Muhammad Ali treated all people – no matter their race or creed – humanely. He shared a sense of hope for a better world and did his part to cultivate that hope, even through his debilitating disease, even when he could only express it through his eyes and his heart.

Girls must also know that whether it’s through school, or social media, they can raise awareness about humanitarian causes no matter how great or small. They can participate in food drives, start a hashtag to stop bullying, take on body shaming, volunteer, paint a mural with an inspiring message of hope, or plant a tree for a cause.

Girls need to know that they have the power, the grace, the intellect, and the ability to create a better world, all while adding their own unique touch. 

ADHD Misdiagnosis in Girls Has Profoundly Negative Consequences

ADHD symptoms are dramatically different in girls than boys.

ADHD materializes dramatically differently in girls, with potentially serious negative consequences.

In Quartz, Jenny Anderson reports that girls’ ADHD symptoms tend toward inattentiveness and disorganization, vs boys who typically exhibit hyperactivity.

“Anxiety and depression turn into low self-esteem and self-loathing, and the risk for self-harm and suicide attempts is four-to-five times that of girls without ADHD,” 2012 research shows.

ADHD is a chronic neurobiological disorder which affects the brain structurally and chemically, as well as the ways in which various parts of the brain communicate with one another.

According to this Quartz article,

  • ADHD affected 7.3% of girls in 2011, compared to 16.5% for boys.
  • Girls tend to develop ADHD later than boys. They frequently mask it in an attempt to conform to society’s expectation that they are on the ball and organized.
  • While ADHD symptoms can become less intense for boys after puberty, for many girls, it gets worse.
  • Teachers and parents often miss the warning signs.
  • Failing to diagnose the condition, girls miss out on critical academic services and accommodations, as well as therapy and medication.
  • Many girls end up misdiagnosed and treated with anti-anxiety or depression drugs, some of which exacerbate the effects of ADHD.

According to the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry study referenced in the Quartz article, there is “evidence that boys are wildly over-diagnosed with ADHD.”

Read “Decades of failing to recognize ADHD in girls has created a “lost generation” of women” on Quartz.

Quiet Hands, Wandering Thoughts on the Transition to Womanhood

A mother answers her daughter’s questions and fears about her first period in this beautiful and moving essay.

Tuesday afternoons bring a sweet reprieve. Up at Meg’s farm, we exist without clocks or schedules, freed from the effort of our busy-ness. The dim horse barn is a cave of patience, exuding a balm of animal musk, hay, sawdust, grain, and leather.

Twelve horses graze in the surrounding pastures; their collective breath soothes the day’s agitation. I lie in the dappled sun on a blanket beneath the old apple tree, quizzing nine-year-old Ava on her spelling words while Carmen has her riding lesson.

Gutsy, gallop, glitter

Ava nails them all. These are the words she already got wrong in school, and she won’t make the same mistakes twice. I watch Carmen (age seven) trot along on Buddy the pony, a handsome little fellow with a gleaming chocolate coat and a big Napoleon complex. Carmen posts bouncily, a bit off-kilter, trying to keep time with Buddy’s quick trot.

“Quiet hands, heels down,” calls Meg, and indeed my girl’s hands are not quiet, bouncing about with her gait. There’s so much to remember – how to steer with her body, lead with her gaze, ride like a queen, spine-to-spine with the animal.

Late goldenrod teems beyond the dusty ring. Ava lies on her belly plucking pieces of grass, always fidgety, fingers in motion. Why can’t she keep still? I manage to resist irritation, close my eyes and try to savor the moment, drain the last drops of elixir from summer’s goblet.

Goblet, gutless, gasping

Fourth-grade spelling is harder than I remember, though I don’t remember much from that year beyond my sticker collection, stored in a spiral-bound book behind protected pages – puffy stickers, googly-eyed ones, scratch-n-sniff, and the precious, rainbowed, oily stickers that changed colors when you stroked them. We traded stickers during recess and choice time, and the collecting and wanting went on for months until I swapped my entire collection for Lely Campbell’s roller-skating Smurfette. My friends couldn’t believe I’d given up everything. But I was ready for the change; I never looked back.

Gimmick, gunnysack, gladiator

Ava spells it with an –er, then quickly backtracks and corrects herself.

“No! Don’t tell me! I know it,” she cries.

Four mares graze in the pasture beside the ring. If given the chance by a timid rider, Buddy will stop in mid-lesson, pause by the fence closest to the females, and stamp his feet like a matador, whinnying loudly to prove his importance. The dignified mares rarely glance his way, more interested in munching timothy and navigating their own complex social hierarchies. The horse farm is not unlike a school playground, its daily displays of power and exclusivity. Ava and I laugh at Buddy’s bravado, and she throws little piles of grass in my lap.

“Mommy, can I ask you a question?”

“Sure, honey.”

“What happens if you’re not at home when you get your period?”

The afternoon light darkens a shade, the blue-grey tinge of a coming storm. I draw in a breath. “Wow. Have you been thinking about this?” My first baby just turned nine, has crossed over this summer into the big-kid realm, now closer to adolescence than she is to preschool.

“A little,” she admits.

“Well, you probably have a good two years before your period comes. At least two,” I say hopefully. “But it’s good to be prepared.”

She’s quiet, plucking more grass, never still. I put my hand over hers.

“If you were at school you could go to Nurse Amy,” I say, “and she’d give you a pad and call me and I’d pick you up.” Ava half-smiles.

I continue: “And if you were at a friend’s house you could tell the mom – if you felt comfortable – and she’d help you and call me. But really, it’s good to know that just a little bit of blood comes out at first. You can fold up some toilet paper and put it in your panties, and you’ll be fine.”

“Really?” She looks relieved. Had she imagined a gushing river? She’s heard me talk about getting my period on Christmas in sixth grade, in the midst of family chaos in my grandparents’ three-story Tudor. The cousins had woken early to the lemony scent of Milanderli cookies baking, the black velvet curtains in the living room drawn tight. Behind the velvet waited the wondrous tree, decorated in the night by the grown-ups during their very merry gin-and-tonic party.

I’d lain awake past midnight listening to the tidal ebb and flow of their laughter, imagining the fairy lights, the heirloom candleholders from Switzerland, the cherished ornaments unwrapped from tissue nests. In the morning, a small city of presents lay waiting to be razed.

At 11, I longed to be included in the annual decorating, hated being lumped together with my baby cousins. I was in a rush to grow up, but there was so much I didn’t understand. The fiery scald of the spiked eggnog, my grandfather’s red-faced, too-loud laugh, my petite grandmother scurrying nervously back and forth to her basement headquarters, her stores of wrapping paper, ribbons, tape and cards piled on the ping-pong table — and the brownish stains on my panties I’d noticed for a few days.

How strange and shameful – had I not wiped well enough? I balled up the panties and stuffed them in the bottom of my suitcase, took out a clean pair, but the same thing kept happening. I told no one, used more toilet paper, tried to wipe fastidiously until finally the dull-brown color tinged into red and I understood. A vague shock flooded my belly. So this was the legacy of my Judy Blume education.

I went searching for my mother in the rambling house, found her in the cookie-dough kitchen in a floury apron with my baby sister on her lap. Whispered in her ear: “Mama, I got my period.”

“Oh, sweetie!” She hugged me close, said she was proud, but pride had nothing to do with it. I followed her to my grandmother’s bathroom closet, flushed with embarrassment at my body’s early betrayal. I didn’t want anyone else to know.

Plague, hieroglyph, foliage

These are the challenge words. Ava must memorize the rules and the exceptions. The apple truck thunders by the horse farm with its stacked crates balanced. September rustles in a translucent procession of green and gold, ochre and rust. It happens every year, so why am I amazed? The cycle of change unveiled before us, the trees surrendering the ghosts of summer.

Bandage, gymnast, archeology

Ava recites them perfectly. This fall she is a vision of mastery, running the one-mile faster each week in cross country, urging Fable the chestnut Morgan into a smooth canter when it’s her turn to ride. But some nights she can’t fall asleep, even after a hot bath and warm milk with honey, after deep breathing and guided relaxation.

Eventually, I give her homeopathic Calms Forte tablets, and sometimes resort to Benadryl, two teaspoons, her eyes wide with the insomniac’s horror: What if I stay awake all night? When I rub her third eye and the nape of her neck, she softens like a rag beneath my fingers.

I try to soothe my daughter’s anxiety despite the quiet undercurrent of my own. I try to answer questions as they arise, help both my girls remember rules I may have forgotten or never knew: spelling, math, horses, friendships.

Some afternoons Ava rides her bike home after lessons, one mile down the dirt road from Meg’s farm to our house. This privilege is granted because she is careful, keeps to the right, obeys all traffic laws, brakes when she hears a car. Many mothers I know would not allow such freedom, but I relish the convenience and trust our rural neighborhood. And I love how gracefully she coasts into the driveway, sitting tall, hair streaming, cheeks flushed, as if she’s returned to the fold after a brief, private journey.

 

Like a Girl

A maxi-pad commercial in the Super Bowl last night made me tear up.

You may have already seen the Always commercial from last summer called “Like a Girl” where men and women of all ages talk about what it means to “play like a girl.” It has over 54 million hits on YouTube. That one made me tear up too.

I teared up because it reminded me of my own frustrations playing and learning new sports as a girl. I was competitive. I wanted to do anything the boys could do, but better. I have been known to grab a boy by the hoodie and pull him to the ground after he beat me in a race. It was that bad.

I find my daughter shares the same frustrations. One day in the car she asked, “Mommy, how do you change the law? Because I want to change the law that only boys can play professional baseball.” She’s only six-years-old, yet she’s already frustrated by the limitations she feels as a young girl who loves sports.

It’s important to me that my daughter grows up with strong female role models. I never want her to think “playing like a girl” is a bad thing. I want it to make her proud to play like a girl, throw like a girl, and run like a girl.

This is why I get out on a snowboard or skateboard with her. It’s why I put her in skate clinics with other girls. It’s why I constantly look for videos or films with strong female athletes in them, so she will always know that playing like a girl is exactly what she wants to do. And every once in a while it’s nice to hear her say, “Look at my mom! She’s killing it!”