India's Daughter - Photo by Marilena Benini (Creative Commons)

Raising Girls

India's Daughter - Photo by Marilena Benini (Creative Commons)
India’s Daughter – Photo by Marilena Benini (Creative Commons)

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?

 

4 thoughts on “Raising Girls”

  1. Dear Krish
    Some really good points – tho I think the idea that kids in general learn to think critically about what they like and why applies across the sexes. Don’t overanalyse the rom-coms – some are just good fun! and you can spoil them by being over critical – I remember my mum asking about Grease and it’s really spoilt the movie for me! Mulan is good, tho – nice to get a balance of stories where the heroine does something other than scream and get rescued from dragons. Shrek (the first one) is good for this – not so much the others. (what’s the rule – find a film with more than one named woman, who talks to another woman about something other than men…)
    As an engineer, my perception is that many girls avoid the sciences due to the lack of role models – particularly pictures of female scientists in the text books. So find, and share, stories and pictures of women doing things – not just the obligatory good looking woman on the front of newspapers (or in the media generally…). Keep her horizons broad, so that her choices are hers, and not restricted by what others think she can or should do (or not do).
    And there’s nothing wrong with liking shoes! (as long as you genuinely do and not just think you should!)

  2. US former colleagues of mine in IFES raised their daughter fairly strictly, one aspect of which was a rule about not wearing make up until she was 16. But alongside that her father deliberately told her every single day that she was beautiful. Several years later when she was studying in a well known US Christian university, she thanked him for doing that, sharing that very few of her fellow female students felt confident to go outside their rooms without a large amount of make up on, they had no concept that they might be considered beautiful without the mask of make up.

  3. Never stoptelling them how awesome, beautiful, smart, courageous, funny, etc. they are. From the day my daughter was born I have been proclaiming her value to her. So when the world tells her otherwise she’ll have a competing voice in her head…and that from the one who knows more about her than anyone else: her father.

  4. Interesting…I read the article too, and my immediate reaction was that Hadley Freeman was closing as many doors as she opened.
    My younger daughter (14) is a happy,healthy vegetarian, and has been through her own choice since weaning – she never liked chewing meat; her older, meat-eating, sister was the one who hid the fact she was eating very little and was borderline anorexic at that age.
    Be aware of everything that may be fixing ideas in heads – too much Tracey Beaker, or Big Bang Theory, is as important as certain types of film.
    And yes, teenagers do care about what people say, especially people they don’t really like….they’re the most hurtful of all.
    And loving them is the only way, however hard it is a times! Loving them, and telling them you love them.

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