A number of years ago I was interviewed about my role as a woman in a male dominated field. At the time, I was working as in-house counsel for FedEx in the logistics/warehousing space. And I have to admit, it was the first time that I ever stopped to consider how my being a woman may or may not have affected my career. That might seem extraordinarily negligent for someone who overthinks and analyzes stuff as much as I do, but it was true.
The fact is, I was raised to not recognize being a woman as “other.” It’s one of the best gifts my parents gave me. I realized that I was in a male dominated industry, and I certainly realized that I was the only woman doing my kind of work not just at my company, but through a larger organization that I was a part of as well (there was one other woman, and she is/was amazing; I learned so much from her).
As the mom of two girls, I am already regularly thinking how to raise them in such a way that embraces the same mindset that I had growing up, which essentially boiled down to “I can do anything and I can do it in stilettos.” I never thought I had any limitations to my dreams or plans, particularly because I was a woman, and I want my girls to be the same way.
Now I recognize how that reeks of privilege. I understand. However, it’s an accurate description of how I felt growing up and through my entire adult life. If there was a will, there way a way to make it happen.
There are some general principles that I’ve arrived at in my pursuit of parenting girls:
Let empathy be the guide.
The thing I pray for most for my children, besides their health, happiness, and safety, is for them to be kind humans. Particularly raising daughters, I will not raise mean girls. I teach and demonstrate empathy for them and for others regularly. We have daily discussions about ways we can help people.
One thing that people constantly comment on in my parenting is how my children apologize. First and foremost, and this is in line with Montessori methodology as I understand it, I do not force my children to apologize. That does not mean that they can do things and get away with it, but I don’t force and apology before we move on.
My rule is that apologies are optional, but strongly encouraged. What is not optional, though, is asking how you can make something better. This applies to situations when you hurt someone’s body or their feelings, or when they’re otherwise upset/hurting/crying/throwing a tantrum and you had nothing to do with it.
I give my kids the chance to apologize if they did something wrong. “Gabriella, would you like to apologize to Nico now, or do you need some time to think about it and you will apologize in a few minutes when you are ready?” This gives them a sense of control. Shame is prevalent with children when they do something wrong, and my goal as a parent is never to prey on that as it tends to be overwhelming to them already. I give them a choice about when they want to apologize.
If Gabriella doesn’t want to apologize right away, I’ll ask her to instead ask Nico if she can help him feel better. She usually complies right away, most of the time (because it’s habit now), I don’t even have to ask. But we always sit and talk about it. “What is one thing you can do to help Nico feel better that you took his toy?”
So it’s not uncommon to see my kids do any number of the things that kids do in a day and immediately say, “How can I make it better?” I cannot tell you how many parents or friends have commented on this. It’s a rare spot where I think a lot of people think I sound crazy then see it in practice and are like, “Oh wow, that was great.”
Validate, validate, validate. Be a safe space and eliminate shame.
How many grown adults do you know in your life that have difficulty expressing or owning emotions? I’m one of them, as you probably already know. While I’m not so great at validating my own emotions, I’m pretty phenomenal at it with my kids. It is a platinum rule in my house, and this applies to any sitters or nannies or anyone else that interacts with them, to validate feelings.
Yesterday Nico had a massive splinter in his hand that required a minor procedure to have removed at Nemours Children’s Hospital. Instead of telling him- “you’re okay, don’t cry” and “it’s not going to be scary,” I embraced what he was feeling and told him it was okay.
“I know you’re scared to have the doctor take that out of your hand. I am a little scared too, because I don’t want you to be in any pain. But bud, we have to get it out so that your hand doesn’t get infected, and Dr. Nicholson is really good at her job and will do it as fast as possible.” I wanted to meet him where he was- scared and in pain- and let him know it was safe to feel those things with me.
I know this was an example of my son, but the same scenario would apply to my daughters. It’s okay to feel whatever you are feeling with me. I will show up consistently for you and give you that space
Destroy gender roles.
I often say that I was born at the exact right time. I don’t know how I would have survived being born in the 20s. Or 30s. Or 50s. Or just about any time other than when I was born.
I want my girls to know and understand to their core that it is okay if they do not enjoy domesticity. If they don’t know how to sew or frankly, don’t want to. It’s okay if their husband is a better cook- let him cook! It’s okay if you are the breadwinner- bring home the money! It’s okay if you don’t love every moment of motherhood or being pregnant or even if you don’t want to have children. It’s okay if your husband likes to do laundry and you like to cut the grass. It’s okay if you don’t feel like you fit into the mold.
Own what you like, work on the things you don’t or aren’t good at, but know that there are no longer any rules for who has to do what. Whatever works between you and your future spouse are just fine.
If you want to play video games and that leads to a career in coding, so be it. If you like construction vehicles, cool. If my son wants to play with baby dolls or real life babies or help me with traditional feminine tasks, even better, because then they can see it applies both ways.
Defeat patriarchy, and don’t contribute to it.
For a very long time, the domination of men was such a regular part of culture that the term patriarchy wasn’t even needed. Because it was normal.
Following the women’s rights movement of the 20th century which brought about the emergence of the term, the word largely was dormant until the #MeToo movement brought it roaring back to life. In its most basic form, the word patriarchy means the system of society in which men hold the power.
Defeating the patriarchy doesn’t mean that I’m raising my daughters to burn their bras and take to the streets in protest, although I certainly hope they are passionate about their values and beliefs and would always encourage their peaceful advocacy for them. It means that I never want my daughters to allow a man to make them feel that they are less than, not as good as, not as powerful as, or anything less than a male equivalent simply because they are a woman.
To that end, I don’t want them to feel like they have to speak louder or have the last word or take any other number of actions to prove they have a seat at the table.
Learn to take care of and fix things for yourself.
Another great lesson that my parents taught me was to do things by myself. And no, I’m not talking about changing a tire, although that was a helpful lesson (not that I’ve ever done it; thank you AAA). I’m talking about going out and doing the work to get the things that I wanted. I grew up on stage and loved singing and dancing and theatre. From the time that I was 6 years old, my mom would have me call to schedule auditions, change or cancel my lesson times, and even remember to ask for a check to pay my instructors. My mom instilled in me that if I wanted something enough I would be willing to do the work for it.
That also applied to other things, like scheduling things with my friends. My mom was not calling your mom about us having a sleepover. I was calling your mom to ask if we could have a sleepover. Simple things like that that made me very self sufficient.
I craved independence and so do all three of my kids. Gabi’s most famous line is “I do it myself,” which I’ve previously written about. They want to dress themselves, feed themselves, make dinner, bathe themselves, you name it. It’s inconvenient when I’m in a hurry, but I try not to be because I think it’s a great thing that they enjoy their independence. There’s not a lot you can control in the world as a 2 or 3 year old, so that’s an easy battle to give in to and frankly, something I love to encourage.
Model healthy opposite sex relationships.
This is a tough one for me right now as a divorced single mom. One way I work to demonstrate healthy relationships is by still treating their dad like a special person, even if I have other thoughts in my mind. They will never see my talk down about him or to him, and they will know that even though we are divorced mom still makes a point to help them buy gifts for him for Christmas and birthdays and everything else.
They can also see the other side of this- one of the biggest reasons that I moved forward with divorce was because I didn’t want my girls to see a man treat me how their father did for fear of them thinking that was okay and subconsciously seeking that out as they got older. Nor did I want my son to think that is how he should treat women. I had to put firm boundaries in place so that they could see me demonstrate what was good and right and healthy.
Until some future point when (okay, if) I were to be in a relationship again, I will simply have to try to teach values and beliefs that could be applied in the future. And I can surround them with couples, both friends and family, that demonstrate positive relational styles to each other.
It is never your job to pretend to be less so that others are more comfortable.
Next to raising kind humans, this is probably the most important thing that I want to teach my girls. Never do I want them to think or feel that they have to dumb down who they are, what they feel, or what they think because other people are uncomfortable with it. I hope that they can be unapologetically whoever and whatever they are. You don’t have to adjust who you are to please others, you don’t have to make yourself small so others feel big.
Granted, there may be a time and a place where it is strategic to do so or simply the right thing to do. I’m all about the leadership style that takes none of the credit but all of the blame. That is an admirable trait in a people manager in my opinion. But on the regular, no way.
Some people are more comfortable when women are quiet or disengaged. Some men are naturally defensive any time a woman leans in. I never want my girls to feel like they need to limit what they have to offer so that others are more comfortable.
The trick is finding a way to demonstrate this. At their age, I don’t think there’s much I can do except not do so in my own life, to the extent that they see it.
These are some of the guiding principles that I’m following in raising my girls. I’m certainly not stipulating that my way is the right way, simply that I am being intentional about it and trying me best to raise healthy, whole little women. I’d love to know how you attempt this with yours!