You are your daughter’s biggest advocate.
Life for your daughter can be confusing. She is constantly bombarded by marketing messages telling her to be thinner, sexier, and prettier. She’s trying to navigate the turbulent world of social media, puberty, relationships, bullying, and fitting in.
Your daughter will create her own interpretations of these messages and experiences. However, she doesn’t have the experience yet to put what’s happening around her into context. Without your help, she may develop some damaging beliefs about herself. These negative beliefs can lead to low self-esteem, low self-worth, depression, anxiety, and more.
She may turn to negative outlets in order to manage her feelings. These can include emotional eating, violence, drugs, self-harm, sexual promiscuity, and more. As her parent, it is your job to help her understand her world and cultivate positive beliefs about herself.
Help your daughter navigate these negative experiences and grow into a strong, self-compassionate woman. Start by telling her these five things.
1. “You Are Enough.”
One of the predominant messages your daughter hears is that she is not enough. She’s not pretty enough. Not smart enough. Not sexy enough. Not skinny enough. Not spiritual enough. Not sweet enough. Not nice enough. Not strong enough.
Try this experiment. On a piece of paper, write down “I’m not _____ enough.” Write it ten times. Then ask your daughter to fill it out. I bet that she will be able to fill in all ten blanks. Not because she is flawed or inadequate. But because society tells her she is. And by now she believes it.
And this may be a come-to-Jesus moment for you. What messages have you been teaching her? Which one of those “not enough” statements did she learn from you? She can learn it from your criticism of her, whether it’s subtle or direct. Or she could see her “not enough” statement modeled in you. And she is just following suit.
Your daughter needs to know that she is enough. And she needs to hear it from you.
2. “You Belong Here.”
Families have their own culture. And that culture is established by the parents. And we all want to belong to our families.
Researcher, Brené Brown, explains that, “even in the context of suffering — poverty, violence, human rights violations — not belonging in our families is still one of the most dangerous hurts.”
And there is an important distinction between fitting in and belonging. Fitting in is conforming. It’s doing what everyone else is doing. It’s trying to be like everyone else. Belonging is being accepted for who you are. Even if you’re different.
Your daughter may not fit the cookie cutter mold you built for her. She has her own goals. Her own beliefs. Her own way of doing things.
You may want your daughter to be a doctor. But she wants to be a baker. You might want her to be captain of the cheer squad. But she enjoys drama club instead. Maybe you want her to be more masculine. But she enjoys all the glitter and bows of femininity. Or vice versa.
Her differences may create conflict between the two of you. Or she may conform because you are forceful or she wants to fit into the family culture. But if you do not support her differences, the message you are sending her is that she is wrong. That who she is is wrong. She doesn’t belong in the family because she is different. You don’t have to agree with all of your daughter’s choices. But she needs to know that she still belongs in the family.
There is nothing she could do to taint your love or her place in the family. You could be catholic and she could be atheist. You could be straight and she could be gay. You could be republican and she could be democrat. And none of that would matter. Because she belongs in the family. You need to give her the space she needs to be herself while still being a part of the family.
3. “It’s Okay to Stand Up For Yourself.”
Girls are often discouraged from sticking up for themselves and their needs. They are taught to be nice and self-sacrificing. To nurture relationships. To take care of other people’s needs before their own. To be perfectionists and people-pleasers.
A girl’s autonomy is often insulted. If she’s assertive, she’s labeled as a bitch. If she tells someone what to do, she’s bossy. If she has confidence, she’s conceited. If she doesn’t have time to help, she’s selfish.
Teach your daughter that it’s okay to be assertive. She has needs! And she needs to be able to communicate those needs. She needs to learn how to set boundaries for her time, resources, and her body.
Part of teaching this will require you to accept her “no’s.” If she doesn’t want to kiss grandma goodbye, then don’t make her. By respecting her decision to not give grandma a kiss, you are respecting a boundary she set for her body.
If you don’t respect your daughter’s “no’s,” then you are teaching her that her boundaries don’t matter. Other people’s expectations of her are more important. And this erodes her ability to stand up for herself.
Your daughter’s ability to be assertive and set boundaries starts with you respecting her “no’s.” You teach her whether or not her feelings, needs, or boundaries matter.
4. “Sexual Assault and/or Rape Is Not Your Fault.”
One of the most damaging narratives a girl hears is that it’s her fault if she experiences sexual assault or rape. As if these horrible experiences weren’t damaging enough. Being blamed for what someone else chose to do to her is wildly painful.
Sexual assault or rape is one of the most soul-shaking experiences a person can endure. And the last thing your daughter needs to hear is that it is somehow her fault. Many girls suffer in silence because they are afraid to tell their parents what happened. They’re afraid they won’t believe them. Or they’re afraid that they’ll be blamed for what happened. Don’t let that be your daughter.
She needs to hear this message well before sexual assault or rape happens. But she definitely needs to hear it if it does happen.
It doesn’t matter who she is, what her sexual orientation is, how many people she’s slept with, what she was wearing, who she was with, what time it was, what she was drinking, where she was, or what she was doing: sexual assault and rape are not her fault. And you need to tell her.
5. “Chase Your Dreams.”
From the day they were born, girls have been told what they can and cannot do. I honestly thought we were past this. I thought that the “girls can do anything” narrative was widely accepted. But I have still heard these “girls can’t…” comments from young boys to my preschool-aged daughter.
So yes, that narrative is still out there. Pretending it’s not won’t help your daughter.
Your daughter needs to hear that she can chase her dreams. No matter how big or small. If she wants to be a ballerina astronaut, then let her. If she wants to be a third-grade teacher, great! If she wants to be the first woman president of the United States, she’s got my vote. But does she have yours?
Give her the encouragement she needs to chase after her wildest dreams. Whatever they may be.
Many girls these days are encouraged by their parents to chase their dreams. However, that narrative comes to an abrupt halt once they decide to have children. All of a sudden their dreams don’t matter anymore (even though their male partner’s dreams still matter). So whether she is four or a mother of four, your daughter needs to hear that she can and should chase her dreams.
Conclusion: You Are Your Daughter’s Biggest Advocate
Being a girl is tough. But you can be your daughter’s biggest advocate. The messages she hears from you will shape how she views herself. You are the mirror she uses to see her worth.
Another great quote by Brené Brown really drives this message home: “Sometimes the most dangerous thing for kids is the silence that allows them to construct their own stories — stories that almost always cast them as alone and unworthy of love and belonging.”
Help your daughter write positive and compassionate stories about herself. Teach her these five important messages.
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