Tuesday, March 06, 2007

Raising Confident & Courageous Daughters (and Sons)

After my first child was born, I often relied on the book Your Baby & Child: From Birth to Five Years by Penelope Leach. It's a fabulous book for a number of reasons, but one of the main ones is that it doesn't push a particular "style" of parenting. Leach offers a variety of options, and usually describes the pros/cons of several of them, and then leaves it up to the parent to figure out which one works for them. So, what was I thinking once my first child turned 5?? That I would no longer need help? Advice? A book? Many books on parenting??

Given my total brain lapse, and still present memories of what it was like to go through adolescence and my teenage years with my mother, I recently went in search of "raising daughters" books. Normally I would simply search for "parenting" books. But over the years, I've come to realize that there is in fact a different dynamic between mothers and sons & mothers and daughters. Neither is good or bad or better or worse than the other - they're simply different. And, as much as I am a firm believer in the constructed nature of gender (and to some extent sex), one cannot live outside one's culture. [Note: this is the one issue/disagreement I have with the book.] That said, I've just finished reading Girls Will be Girls: Raising Confident, Courageous Daughters (2003) by JoAnn Deak and Teresa Barker, and I have to recommend it to all the moms I know (even if they don't have daughters).

Supadiscomama's post (and M's related comment) on praising children reminded me to blog about this book and the absolutely logical, common sense approach that the authors discuss taking when praising a child. The author basically explains that our culture has taken the idea of the importance of giving children praise to "Mt. Everest heights." We've come to a point where we praise children for, well, everything! As a result, a variety of things can (and do) happen: 1-children come to expect/demand praise for everything they do, warranted or not; 2-children become needy and can't function w/out this praise; 3-children become complacent b/c everything is given equal positive response; 4-children become confused or angry as they learn that the outside world doesn't respond to them in the same way as their parents have. I read this passage nodding my head and saying to myself "Yup, this makes absolute sense! Why didn't I realize this?" Constant (and generalized) praise is the equivalent of giving your kid a brownie for doing something he/she is already expected to do (clean their bedroom, brush their teeth, etc.)

Deak, who has spent almost her entire career working with girls of all ages, explains the importance of 3 key concepts in a girl's upbringing: competence, confidence, and connectedness. These concepts are where the strength of this book lay for me because I think they are requirements for emotionally healthy daughters and sons; they are gender neutral. Another big plus is the "checklist" of tips offered at the end of each section, which provides specific suggestions for practical application of the ideas discussed in each chapter. Now that my oldest daughter is 8 - she's officially a "tween" -- God I hate that word! But, I know that I need to understand what it means to be a "tween" (and a parent of a tween) in today's world, not that one I grew up in. This book helps me to do that.

Just like when you're pregnant and reading all those pregnancy books...and then baby comes and you're reading all things baby...I realized I can't stop there. I have to keep learning about this other girl in my house. This girl who could potentially start her period this year or next (yes, the age of puberty is quickly lowering)! This girl who has just started asking me when she'll get hair "down there," when her breasts will grow, and when she will be old enough to have a boyfriend (never? :)). She has 2nd grade classmates who wear training bras and hold hands with boys at recess. I have to know how to answer her questions about both and all things in between. But first, I have to instill in her the trust and confidence to bring her questions to me, not her classmates.

My question for the day...the one that wasn't addressed in the book is: When your child asks you about your own past (childhood or teen years), do you tell them the truth? (i.e. Admit to kissing a boy at 8 years old (not me, I promise)? Or drinking alcohol at 13? or whatever horrible thing it is you might wish you hadn't done..)


supadiscomama said...

That's a tough question--one that I can't answer. Supadiscodaddy and I both have pretty naughty pasts, and I certainly wouldn't want Supadiscobaby to follow in most of those footsteps. At the same time, though, I don't want to be a big fat hypocrite, and I don't want to lie to my kid. I'm not completely naive, and I know he's going to do things that I think he shouldn't do or isn't ready for--but I'd rather he told us so we could talk about the related issues with him. I hope that if we're honest (though maybe not including the dirty details) with him, he'll be honest with us. But maybe I live in dreamland...

M said...

I don't think you live in a dreamland. My dad had a "naughty" past, and he was up front with my siblings and me regarding his past, which included the requiste sex, drugs, and rock n' roll of the late 60s and early 70s. My own past is fairly clean, but C's past is not. We plan to be honest with our son and to use our experiences as learning tools, but we probably won't share all the details with S.

M said...

I should have added that my past was fairly clean largely because my dad was so honest. After hearing stories about his and his friends' bad acid trips and related trips to the hospital, I didn't have much desire to experiment with drugs myself.

wwwmama said...

Thank you for this post! I want these books. (Can you say more about your specific beef with the first?)
I plan to be honest with my kid(s) but only so much at a time, you know? An eight year old probably doesn't need all the details. Just not any lies, I guess.
That praise issue is a good one to think about. I over-praise all the time, but I've recently started to cut back a little because I realize now that my toddler is older, she sort of assumes her own power and doesn't need the constant reinforcement.