Tuesday, August 06, 2013

Ten Things I Want to Teach My Daughters

The other day, Kate and I were updating her magnetic calendar for August, when she picked up one of the holiday squares and said, “Look, compassion!” 

It was actually the square for the start of Passover, but with its picture of a chalice and matzo bread, I easily saw that the word she was looking for was “communion.” 

Good words either way. Better than when I mixed up “Protestant” and “prostitute” after seeing Pretty Woman at age ten. 

As preacher’s kids (rather, the kids of two religion dorks), Kate and Claire will learn lots of churchy words over the years. But learning compassion and the other values we emphasize is much more important than knowing that a “Sing Bible,” as Kate called it, is actually called a hymnal. 

Even at their young age, kids pick up a lot, especially when it comes to the guiding principles of our lives. Here are ten that I try to emphasize. Some are things I say regularly, mantras I repeat that become part of my own girls’ vocabulary. Some are things that will be more important as they grow older that only come up occasionally or in basic, childlike ways now. Some are things (most of them) that I still struggle to teach myself, but that I hope by instilling in them young, my girls will not struggle with when they are my age. 

1. God loves everyone and we should too. Jesus said everyone is our neighbor, and we should be kind to everyone, helping people when they need it. We don’t return evil for evil, even on the level of “he hit me first” in a preschool squabble.

2. We have more than we need, so we should be thankful for what we have and share with those who don’t have enough. I try to point out basic things that we are fortunate to have: a house, food in the pantry, a nearby grocery store—to help them realize not everyone has those things.

3. You can do anything you put your mind to. This was probably the biggest lesson my dad taught me, and I already talk to Kate about setting goals and working toward them. As child development experts suggest, we try to praise kids more for the effort they put into something, the way they tried hard or thought about something intently, rather than saying “you’re so smart,” (though I confess we say that too, sometimes!)

4. You are beautiful. Enjoy looking nice, in whatever style suits who you are, but never let someone else define what is beautiful or make you feel that you are not. Likewise, every person is beautiful, and you should never make someone else feel that they are not. We certainly try to praise inner beauty and strengths more (“You’re such a loving big sister,” “You have great balance,” “I love how you love to practice writing your letters,”) but with so many girls struggling with body image, I’m starting to think it’s not such a bad thing to help a girl feel good about her outward appearance too.

5. We don’t need most of what people are selling. We live in a media-saturated world, where even preschool-focused videos online are preceded by ads for grown-up products (often deodorant, interestingly, and Matt and I decided they should at least target the ad to parents, saying “Kids can smell fear—get Secret Ultra-Dry.”) To control the urge toward consumption, I try to make Kate aware of advertising and articulate my thought process aloud. For example, “They are trying to sell me a new couch, but we already have a good couch. We don’t need a new couch.”

6. Strict gender roles are silly. Boys can cook, change diapers, nurture kids, and wear pink if they want to! Girls can be firefighters, fix toilets, build things, and be pastors. We try to model this equality in our marriage, pointing out what a great cook Daddy is, and how Mommy assembled the new piece of furniture all by herself. We never, EVER make fun of boys for doing something “feminine,” or say something is “just for boys.” Gestation and lactation are just about the only trump cards we play on this issue in our house!

7. Real princesses don’t wear crowns and pink sparkles, and there are only like five of them in the world. Ok, this one is more a personal pet peeve, but as authors like Peggy Orenstein and Gigi Durham have argued, this girly obsession with commercialized princesses and pink everything really can have negative consequences, limiting what girls feel they can be or do.

8. It’s okay not to know. I heard Claire utter her first “why?” this morning. Kids have a lot of questions, and it’s easy as parents to try to answer them all. But there are some unanswerable questions out there, and I want my kids to be okay with not knowing. Like the other day when we were talking about whether someone could see us from heaven, Matt and I told Kate that no one knows for sure what heaven is like, so maybe people can watch their loved ones or maybe they’re too busy doing other stuff—who knows?

9. Don’t be in a hurry to get married. Your life does not begin when you get married, nor does a bare ring finger indicate you are less loveable or beautiful than someone who is married. I’m ashamed to say I really felt that way. Matt took his time proposing (not in a bad way—we only dated two years) because he wanted to be ready. I got ready after we got married, and it’s a lot harder that way.

10. Know thyself, as Socrates (or one of his peers) said. Knowing who you are and what you like is central to confidence and contentment, and while I learned this lesson years ago, I still struggle with comparing myself to others or feeling I “should” be a certain way. Focus on the things you enjoy and the things you are good at, and be content. Comparison is the enemy of joy.


Girl Mom to Be Hewitt said...

All great points--and most of them are things that we've also discussed in preparation for raising our little girl. We definitely think similarly. In praising kids for their efforts, I also think it's important for them to articulate how they are feeling, not just that WE think it's good that they did something. My mom was wonderful about praising me and as a result I think I need too much outside validation for things instead of getting it from within. I think we're also in lucky situations (both of us) to have male spouses who do a lot of the "feminine" chores--Jim does pretty much 100% of the cooking in our house, for instance. Not that women can't cook, too, of course, but there will never be a sense of not being able to do something because of gender. (You're right--other than gestation, though that's up for debate with the "Pregnant Man" who had two babies several years ago.) While we don't want branded tv/movie character toys in the house (Sesame Street, Dora, etc) I don't have a problem with princesses and dress up as long as a discussion always accompanies them--it's okay to dress up and have fun, but you don't need a man to rescue you. I think that the problem with some of this stuff isn't that it exists, but that parents don't talk about it. My mom was an uber feminist and I saw the Disney movies with princesses and yet I never felt the hurry/desire/desperation to get married. Anyway, great blog post and so true about how raising girls is different from raising boys. As someone who went to an all-women's university as well, we've talked about sending our girl to an all-girls school in middle school and beyond. I think it's so, so, so important!

Me Again! said...

A pet peeve: hearing women called girls. So, I feel the obligation to clarify my signature above: I will be a mom to a girl vs I am a girl who is a going to be a mom.

EMU said...

Fascinating post! Tells so much about...YOU! Who you are & what you value, and things you've liked and disliked about your own raising. If I ever have time to sit down, think, and write, I'd love to write a similar post. Love it!

Pauline said...

An excellent and very timely post! As a pastor's wife (I'm a teacher of religious studies so still geeky!) and mum of 2 girls, I struggle with how to be a positive with my messages as possible. I love your 10 things and can see us implementing this!

Saving Money With Becky said...

I love this article! In a world filled with immodest clothes, commercials filled with ultra skinny girls with too much makeup, and not enough good morals being taught we need to help our girls as much as possible!
I grew up in a single parent household. My mom was not one to tell me to follow my dreams- I seem to remember her always telling me negative things and never looking towards the positive. I was also chunky, and I grew up always focusing on my weight instead of my beautiful eyes.
I really try to encourage my kids to follow their dreams, encourage them to try their hearts desires, feel comfortable with who they are!

Rachel Moss said...

Great list!
I never wanted Disney Princesses to be part of our lives, but I lost that battle the first day Katelyn went to in-home daycare. Now when she wants to play princess, I always talk to her about the most important job of real princesses...helping other people. We talk about how a good princess works to make sure the people in her country have the food, clothes, and shelter they need.


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