the care and keeping of daughters: 12 secrets

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?

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How to Raise Great Women 

  1. 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.
  2. Be generous with your attention.
  3. Be generous with your gratitude for her, to her, about her  — and for, to and about anyone who blesses her life.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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.
  7. Tell her the truth.
  8. 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?
  9. Be silly together.
  10. Listen to her.  Admit she is right.  Applaud her successes.  (Make sure they’re her successes, not yours.)  Allow her to fail.
  11. Include her in your own day-to-day.  Work beside her. Share your dreams.  Talk to her about what matters to you.
  12. 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.
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16 thoughts on “the care and keeping of daughters: 12 secrets

  1. I like it and I guess this one resonates strongly enough I must chime in.

    Teach them the gospel. Firmly, lovingly, consistently, by example, with them, doing it.

    Be kind, be wise, be faithful, take joy…

    Teach them strength. Do things that are hard to do-the hills are your friends.

    Teach them tenderness. Be true to those who trust you.

    Love them with all your heart, might, mind, and strength. Cry with them, cheer with them, laugh with them, learn with them, fly kites with them. Watch them soar.

    Home is a refuge from the storm. A place of peace. A safe place in every sense: physically, emotionally, spiritually. A place where you can make a mistake, and not be hurt, but able to learn. A place to be forgiven.

    Teach them that you cry when they leave, because you love them. You feel delight when they come home, because you love them.

    Teach them there is a place in that Eternal home for them. You will be waiting with the light on, rejoicing when they come, because you love them.

    • I hope hope I do/did, too.

      I have to say: seeing what I can of you and your daughters, I think your mostly must have been abundantly enough, because there they are — grown women still obviously liking you and trusting you. What better thing in the world can there be?

  2. I love you and I love and adore your girls. Makes me wish I had daughters of my own so I can use your advice as my rule book. But I think most of these guidlines can work for anyone who is entrusted into your care in this life…a friend, a student, and coworker. What a world this would be if we loved unselfishly, lavished sincere praise, cherished differences, and really listened to each other!

  3. This is not so unusual – for your writing, I mean, but for me, too – but this brought me the kind of physiological response for which we have nothing but clichés. In the office on a Saturday afternoon, surreptitiously sniffing (what is it? oh, allergies), because I adore you for this. There’s an important man in my life, a man I adore, whose wife is pregnant and who must be a father of daughters or the universe will, in some way, have failed. We are all certain that this child will be a girl-child. It’s the kind of metaphysical given that says more than medical reality. He will have a girl-child, and already he is terrified of what wrong he will do her. I want to read this document to him, want to sing it to him, want to say: see? It’s possible. Your daughter will be magnificent; you just have to let her.

    • I had to learn early to accept the truth that I will repeatedlly fail my child. No sense being terrified about that. I think a perfectly perfect parent would be one of the greatest disservices anyway. They need to have your failures — it’s a gap for them to grow into. You make it easier for both of you as soon as you realize that you are going to fall short, your child is going to fall short. I actually think that’s where the fun starts — when you embrace reality.

      And I just have to put a good word in for sons — if the universe were to turn up a man-child after all – boys are every bit as miraculous. And seems like the same general rules apply.

      • And since I cannot seem to get your site to allow me to comment–

        I will be almost sad (almost) when a new post goes up and you are no longer riveting (though of course you always will be, in every sense). Whenever I check in your words put me so swiftly back to work.

  4. I clicked on this link from a FB post this morning. As a mother of 4 girls, I enjoy reading other mother’s insights about raising daughters. However I was immediately put off by the contempt in the tone “And I am a little worn, a little weary lately, watching some stupid mothers and others hating on the beautiful young teenage women they have under their care.” Not every mother has it all together all the time and they are not necessarily hateful or stupid. One of the best lessons we can teach our daughters is to uplift one another rather than tear each other down with judgement and name calling. I enjoyed the rest of your advice. Sounds like you have great daughters and I wish you the best as you continue to raise them.

    • I’m sorry you were put off, Rachel, and I’m grateful you took the time to tell me so. I think if I had described in more detail the kind of awful words I had been listening to from some mothers at that moment in time you might have agreed that they were more than usually missing the boat. And that’s the situation I was addressing.

      You’re right, none of us always have it together. I certainly didn’t. But haven’t you seen that there are mothers and fathers who really do actively hate on their daughters? Who say cutting, cruel things about them in public. Who ridicule their efforts to try to be more. Who reveal their embarrassing missteps to anyone on Facebook. That’s not something every mother does and I think that kind of selfish mean-spirited parenting is always misguided and unintelligent, to say the least.

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