We all want our daughters to be nice, right? Polite and agreeable. We want our teenagers to tow the line, because it makes our lives a whole lot more pleasant. We want them to think of others and not be the one causing upsets. We want them to dress appropriately – pull that skirt down a little and less of the cleavage. Basically, as parents we want them to be accepting and tolerant and that way we have a happy home.
The trouble is, that being nice is curtailing their potential and limiting their superpowers and let’s face it, if Wonder Woman is deemed appropriate as the UN’s Honorary Ambassador for the Empowerment of Women and Girls, then they are all going to need to don their capes and, as Rachel Simmons talks about in her book: ‘The Curse of the Good Girl’, ‘lionize the nice girl’.
So here’s my problem as their mum. A lion is a force to be reckoned with. I want to empower my daughters, but I don’t want them to be wild and uncontrollable. I want them to have an opinion, but I also want to teach them to listen. I want them to stand their ground, but I want them to be able to accept that they aren’t always right – even if they are a lion. A lion is king of the jungle, but I am still queen of this house.
Being a nice girl is a high standard to live up to and when they fail to keep it up they can become hampered by self-criticism. Add to this the pressures of having to look a certain way in order to achieve those all important ‘likes’ and you suddenly realise why so many girls suffer from depression and anxiety.
I had naively thought that by the time my girls were adults, the genders would be pretty much equal. I am still shocked that they aren’t. What’s going on? Why can’t we have equal pay? Why are we still subject to high levels of gender-based violence and sexual abuse? Why is there still inequality in sport? Why is there still discrimination and harassment in the work place? Why aren’t women’s voices being heard?
I want my daughters to be heard. Right now, I just really want them to have an opinion. I want to cut though their apathy on issues that affect them and their future. So I will keep asking their opinions, even if, for now, I get little back. They have time on their side, but I must lay the groundwork. I must put in the hard graft and get it right, now.
I must focus on how they are doing at school and not on their appearance. I must encourage them to try new things and make them aware of strong female role models. I need to tell my daughters that they don’t need to be liked by everyone, but that the right types of friendship are important. I’m not going to make decisions for them and they must take responsibility for their actions. I will help them to solve problems, but ultimately they must solve them themselves.
Does all this turn my girls into lions? I still want them to be what they are: girls.
Strong and sassy girls, who know how to challenge authority in a way that produces results. I want them to have the confidence to make waves.
I have my own mantras as a mum. They help. I think that these mantras, mentioned by clinical psychologist Barbara Greenberg, are fantastic for our daughters and of course for sons too:
- Make a decision from a place of power, not pressure
- In most situations you aren’t the subject of scrutiny, so be less self-conscious
- Kindness is the best form of communication
- Remember who you are
I will embrace who you are and I will prepare you as best I can for the challenges ahead.