I love being a dad, both to my birth children, adopted child and foster children. I am very keen to learn how to be a better parent and so was intrigued by a really interesting piece in the Guardian this week on the specific challenges of parenting girls. I’m no expert so here are my musings on the recommendations provided by columnist Hadley Freeman. Love to know what you would add?
1. If your daughter wants to be a vegetarian, urge her to wait until she is 16
Freeman denies a connection between annorexia and vegetarianism but make this interesting observation:
Vegetarianism encourages people to divide foods between the good and the bad, and it then becomes a legitimate means of limiting one’s diet. Your daughter has a whole lifetime ahead of her to think of food as something other than a pleasurable physical necessity. Why let her start early?
As parents we want to be able to help our children develop both a healthy body image hence the caution from Freeman about children becoming too conscious about which foods they are eating. There is a lot of pressure on girls to look a certain way and eating disorders often seem to be connected with this. But on the other hand we want to help our children develop good eating habbits that will set them on a good trajectory for the rest of their lives. So the 5 a day habbit of fruit and vegetable is a way of dividing food into good and bad categories and why not start early with that?
2. Be movie-aware
“Ration your daughter’s diet of romcoms and musicals or she will have unrealistic expectations of human relations”
It was good to come across a piece in the guardian encouraging some form of discernment because of the corrosive effects of certain movies. I am a movie lover and really enjoy watching films with my children. There are definitely some films (not just influenced by the age ratings though that is important) that I would not encourage my kids to watch. But rather than taking a purely censorial approach to movies – I believe there is great value in watching and discussing films with your children.
“What did you think of the way the boy treated the girl in that film?”
“Why are women so rarely the central characters in movies”
We watched Mirror Mirror and Snow White and Huntsmen recently and it lead to some good discussions about beauty, relationships, physical disabilities and courage.
3. Ask “What do YOU want?”
“Start your daughters early, regularly asking them questions similar to the following:
“Do you like that dress or are you only wearing it because other girls at school are wearing something similar?”
“I’m sorry Violet is being weird with you at school, but do you even care, seeing as you never liked her anyway?”
“That’s great that Robert asked you on a date, but do you actually like him, or did you say yes only because he asked?”
Trying to help our daughters to think for themselves, make wise decisions, question the status quo and peer pressurisation is definitely helpful. As a Christian I am continually drawing on strong women in the scriptures who had to face very tough countercultural decisions in order to honour God. I am a huge fan of the stories of Deborah, Ruth, Esther and Mary stories for that. I had a lot of fun chatting through with my 6 year old the story of Jael too recently… All of these women challenged the status quo and were used by God to great effect – liberating their people, rescuing the needy, proving faithful, wise and gracious all at the same time.
Overall it was quite a random list from Freedman – would have loved to have seen more on how to let your daughters know they are unconditionally loved. i think that has got to be a fundamental value. I think knowing unconditional love will help children with body dysmorphia, romance and peer pressure.
So there’s my engagement with Guardian article – what top tips would you share on parenting daughters?