I find I do after all have something to say about raising daughters.
There’s a risk — setting myself up as an expert when I am only a dedicated amateur. I love more than I know. And I really don’t know much except that I am over-brimmingly satisfied with the women my daughters have grown/ are growing to be.
And I am a little worn, a little weary lately, watching some mothers and others stupidly hating on the beautiful young teenage women they have under their care. And like one of my personal heroes, Josephine Grey Butler, a Victorian-era activist for down-trodden women, “I feel as if I must go out into the streets and cry aloud, or my heart will break.”
So, to the years of younger mothers who have come to me, privately, quietly, asking what the secret is to having great daughters — here it is at last — the definitive answer.
Such as it is, because of course, you don’t have to believe a word I say. But why not give it a try? Why not see if it doesn’t work better for you?
How to Raise Great Women
- Remember always that you are not in charge of the life your remarkable daughter is going to live. The moment she takes her first breath of air, she is a separate body from yours. She is a separate mind and a separate heart. Respect the girl and woman that she is, separate from your own needs.
- Be generous with your attention.
- Be generous with your gratitude for her, to her, about her — and for, to and about anyone who blesses her life.
- Remember your main job is to keep her safe and healthy — in every sense of the word — and that your main goal is to more and more pass that job on to her. This is where you lay down the guidelines — go to sleep before 11, don’t play in the street, eat a green veg daily, lighten up, do your homework, get some fresh air, dress like you respect yourself, stand up to bullies, make your own phone calls, pray, try again, avoid boys who make belittling remarks no matter how cute they may be — these are the things you model, that you expect, that you insist on while you can.
- Start young: your influence will be limited by her trust in you — which you must increasingly work to deserve. And you will continue to earn her respect by the sincerity with which you live your lessons yourself, by the genuineness of your affection for her and by the time you spend with her. Of course, your influence will also be limited by her own quirks and needs, and thank goodness, by her own good sense.
- Protect your daughter’s emotional safety and physical health from your own attack, above all. Obviously, you would not hit her or coerce her ever — also do not speak disparagingly of her in front of others, do not roll your eyes behind her back. Don’t shame her in front of her friends. Don’t shame her in front of your friends. Just don’t. Don’t tell her secrets. Don’t take out your own insecurities on her. Don’t assume she isn’t listening.
- Tell her the truth.
- Tell her you love her. But only if you do. And if you don’t — what in the world do you think you are doing?
- Be silly together.
- Listen to her. Admit she is right. Applaud her successes. (Make sure they’re her successes, not yours.) Allow her to fail.
- Include her in your own day-to-day. Work beside her. Share your dreams. Talk to her about what matters to you.
- You want your daughter to grow beyond you. You want her to be smarter than you are, prettier than you, braver, stronger, luckier. Lucky you, you don’t have to compete to matter in this story. You don’t have to jostle for position with her, or struggle to cut her down to size. You are already her mother (or father or teacher) and so you have an important place without trying to take her spot or knock her down a notch or push her out of the limelight. You are privileged to bask in the light that is this unique human being. Don’t resist that privilege.