Raising girls (little women) is hard work. If you are the mother of a pre-teen or teenage girl and are honest with yourself, you’ve discovered the answer to why animals sometimes consume their young. They can drive you crazy. It’s just the way it works. It’s hormonal and stuff. Find out how to stop the struggles and start raising up girls in a world trying to pull them down.

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Mothering girls in this day and age isn’t easy.  It’s an incredible task- raising strong, self-assured and independent but also humble, um-narcissitic and interconnected chicks. See? No small feat.

As a 21st century mother, I feel like my clucking is reduced to a whisper compared to the “advice” they receive from the world. It seems like that “advice” is getting further and further from the truths/habits/beliefs that I want my little hens to absorb. I have a feeling I am not alone.  So then, what advice should we give our pre-teen and teen girls? What do our daughters need?

I am not an expert. I do not play one on T.V. Many times, I have been the worst mother on the block. I assure you that I will be again at some point in the future (my personal bet is next week). My parenting “career” has been blessed with triumphs and cursed with failures. But after raising three girls with no fatalities (yet) and spending hours in counseling with young ladies, I have come up with a list of things that I believe we (as mother hens) need to consider to support our daughters to their full potential in this rough and tumble world.

You might agree with some of these. You will probably disagree with others (some feathers might even get ruffled). I hope, if nothing else, the following causes you to reflect on things that you DO believe will improve your relationship with your daughter/s. I hope it helps you raise up a women that will go out into the world and make some improvements. Lord knows we need some.

EMBRACE THEIR UNIQUENESS.

No, REALLY embrace it. Don’t just say you embrace it. A lot of times, as mothers, what we really want is for our kids to “blend”. Sure, we say we want them to be special and stand out. For many of us we mean “special in a way that maintains the status quo with their peers”. I don’t know if we have some kind of leftover pain from our own terrible middle/high school experiences and we want to shield our girls from that. Can I get an ‘AMEN’? Maybe we are just overly worried about what others will think of them or how they will judge us as mothers. When we say “just be yourself” there are unspoken caveats that run through our brains. Is being like everyone else really what will make your daughter happy? What could we be giving up for the sake of conformity?

Are we really willing to sacrifice what might be the most intriguing thing about our girls because of potential backlash/disapproval? Does the fact that my daughter wears old Beatles shirts and would rather draw all day then go to the mall mean I have failed as a parent? Does it mean she isn’t as happy as her trend setting peers? No. We need to stop trying to stamp down what makes them different. We need to teach them to  embrace that part of themselves and to search for ways to use their unique abilities/gifts/thinking to help them in their adult lives. It may be that the very thing that others find “different” is what will make your girl very successful and fulfilled in the long run.

SHOW THEM THEIR IDEAS ARE IMPORTANT.

It is easy to discount the ideas and thoughts of a tweener/teen girl. Very very easy. As mothers trying to raise women in our society, I think the importance of this one area can not be overstated.

Don’t get me wrong- I am not some gong-banging, bra-burning, man-hating feminist. If you look at the propaganda of how our culture stereotypes women…folks, we still have a LONG way to go. Your average girl spends quite a bit of time watching shows/movies, etc. that show girls with less than stellar cognitive abilities. If female models ARE shown to be intelligent and smart, they are most always also portrayed as manipulative and/or selfish and destructive.

I have had the fortunate fate of working in higher education for a long time now. Some of the most brilliant people I have ever met have had X & Y chromosomes. After talking with many of them, it’s apparent they grew up in households where their intelligence was nurtured and encouraged. It’s not enough that we pat them on the head when they get an ‘A’ in Social Studies. We need to make it a daily habit of listening to them and helping them to develop analytical skills. Challenge them, respect their ideas, and encourage them to delve deeper when they don’t understand something. Try not to give a flippant answer or just dismiss them. Soon they will be entering a society where their thoughts will be dismissed all too readily. We need to show them now what it looks like when their ideas are taken seriously so they can leave the coop and demand that same seriousness out in the world.

LAUGH WITH THEM.

Living in a house with multiple females can be tense at times. At our house, there is a lot of door slamming, eye rolling, and tearful shouting (sometimes the girls do it too). Emotions run high, lives are ruined, clothes are borrowed without asking, and don’t get me started on the failure to complete chores! It doesn’t make for a very happy environment and there are long stretches of time when laughter, excluding the maniacal kind, is nowhere to be found in our coop.

Why does a disagreement with my daughters turn into the Hundred Years’ War whereas my son and I can find the dirty dishes, yell, threaten to run away, pout, clean the said dishes and be cuddling in bed together within a half hour? Because we have a tendency to only remember the negative and dwell on it. When your daughters tell you that you only spend time yelling at them for everything- it’s because they BELIEVE that you only spend time yelling at them!!! YOU know they are exaggerating, YOUR ROOSTER knows they are exaggerating…but your little HEN doesn’t feel they are because they only focus on the yelling. On top of this selective memory thing, a lot of tweener/teen girls feel persecuted at the slightest admonishment during this time because they are so harsh on themselves and expect no less from others. And then…there’s the HORMONES! Lose~lose~lose!

Sometimes the only way to combat this perception and get through times like this is to open the top on the kettle and relieve some of the pressure (stress) from the situation. I know a lot of women like to bond with their girls over shopping or getting their nails done, etc. but don’t discount the need to just be silly and cut loose. Have a girls night where you watch hilarious movies or take a minute out of your day to text them a funny picture or inside family joke that you know will make them laugh. Not only are you reinforcing “good” memories and mending fences, but you are teaching your daughters to self soothe as adults from stress in a way that is free, non-fattening, and doesn’t require an appointment. Win~win~win!

SHOW INTEREST IN WHAT THEY ARE INTERESTED IN.

As I mentioned, I have three daughters. Three. Out of the three, only one of them is pretty close to my own personality. She and I share a lot of the same abilities, faults, sense of humor, and interests. Two peas in a pod. So, guess what? I find myself struggling to understand the interests of the other two.

While I am content to sit with chick #3 on the couch and share a bag of popcorn while binge watching Sherlock, I can not for the life of me understand why one would want to watch soccer games on T.V. being broadcast by stations that don’t even SPEAK ENGLISH! Another REALLY enjoys video games whereas the thought of playing Super Mario Cart for hours makes me want to go lay down in the university parking lot.

Regardless of whether you are interested in the activities they like or not, attempt to be an active participant somehow. We spend a lot of time, as a society, talking about how it is important when raising sons for fathers to spend time pursing interests with their boys but we don’t really talk a whole lot about mothers doing the same and what impact it has on development. When you show your daughter that an activity or hobby of hers is important to you- you are saying that she is important to you. The more important she thinks she is to you, the more likely you are to maintain open and honest communication that may allow you to speak into her life and offer valuable instruction concerning a situation that you would have otherwise been denied knowledge of.

 LET THEM SOLVE THEIR OWN PROBLEMS (WITH GUIDANCE).

This is probably one of the hardest suggestions to follow on the list. If I had a nickle for every time I took matters into my own hands and “solved” one of my kids’ problems when I should have offered wise counsel and instruction on how to take ownership of the situation…

While we need to strive to let kids work out issues on their own regardless of whether they are male or female, mothers of girls really need to take this to heart and do their best give their daughters skills to manage conflict and then only push their beaks into the fray when absolutely necessary. Why? Because of the shoddy examples of female conflict resolution that the world presents. Is it any wonder that “girl drama” seems to be escalating when the media, etc. glorifies the latest celebrity cat fight or messy divorce? The more outrageous/stupid/petty the reaction the better!

We need to raise women that know how to handle conflict in a mature and sensible manner and can practice those skills now (while under our supervision) because they are going to face it alone in their marriage, at their workplace, and in their relationships with their children and if their only conflict resolution skill set involves a “twitter” war of wits or manipulative pouting- we are in for it.

HELP THEM TO SET REALISTIC AND CHALLENGING GOALS.

I can’t relate to you how many times I have seen girls that have no concept of goal setting, even well into early adulthood. Now, I know a lot of our daughters declare that they are “going to go to college” or do this and that, but in reality, THAT in and of itself does not a goal make.

Serious goal setting is so much more than that and if our girls can grasp it from an early age, there is no doubt in my mind that they will have more success in the future. Successful people are goal setters, plain and simple. So, what is a goal then? For a goal to be powerful and complete it has to not only contain the end result your daughter wants to achieve but the steps and methods she is going to use to achieve it.  It isn’t “I am going to go to college” as much as it is “I am going to get into ABC college by taking a preparation course for the ACT, sitting for the test both my junior and senior years, taking any advanced coursework I qualify for in high school, maintaining a 3.5 GPA my senior year and etc. etc. etc.”

Why is this type of goal setting so important? Because it provides not only their ending point “college” but a road map of how they get from the present to that point. When you can see the path ahead, it makes it easier to stay on track when the final destination seems very far away. A lot of people aren’t unsuccessful because they didn’t have dreams- they are unsuccessful because they didn’t follow or stay on the paths to reach those dreams! We have to try to raise long term female planners in an age when anything over 8 seconds is considered an attention span ABOVE average.

HELP THEM IDENTIFY AND DEVELOP THEIR STRENGTHS. In the course of my current employment I ask a lot of girls “What are your strengths?” No answer. The seconds tick by and they start looking alarmed as if they are waiting on me to tell them or give them a clue as to the answer.

How sad is that?

No doubt that some of them know. But then you have to ask the question “why don’t they want to talk about it?”As a culture, do we still view confident girls as being ego-maniacs or too proud so they instinctively keep quiet? I don’t know the answer. My own experience leads me to believe that for whatever reason, girls either A)seem like they haven’t spent much time thinking about the subject or B) don’t want to address it or haven’t explored how it applies to areas of their life enough to engage in conversation about it.

As their mothers, we should be the FIRST people in their life to help them figure/point out what they are good at and where their aptitudes lie. We need to help them to examine how their strengths can be leveraged and used to make them successful women. I don’t know if you’ve spent much time in a Middle School/High School but it sure doesn’t seem like there are a lot of girls lining up to do this job for you. Even as a grown women, a lot of us don’t have someone in our corner supporting us to develop our gifts. How many opportunities have been missed? How many songs haven’t been written or mountains haven’t been climbed?

Because of our role as their mothers we have the amazing gift of not only helping our daughters to see their potential but then acting as a role model for them of how to be supportive of other young women around them. Why is it so important to me that you teach your girls to be supportive as teens? Because some day they might be the women that interact with MY daughters! Ah…I look forward to the days when “Mean Girls” only brings up vague memories of a horrible movie.

BUILD THEIR SELF-ESTEEM BY REMINDING THEM WHO’S OPINION COUNTS. If you were to look at American culture from the outside, you would argue that we are one of the most self-esteem-building civilizations that has ever lived on the planet!!!  We’ve decided that trophies are awarded for participation, red pens can’t be used for grading and cyberspace is full of pictures of pouting, duck faced, perfectly groomed girls of every shape and size. It appears that we are ALL about ourselves ALL of the time. So, why do we have so many young women with low/little true self-esteem?

Something about trophies and softened correction and selfies isn’t getting the job done. That’s why.

So, if self-esteem can’t be predicted by selfie count, what is going on? First, we have to look at what self-esteem really is. One way to define esteem is the worth or value that one places on something or someone. Self-esteem then is the worth or value that we place, feel or have about ourselves. This is where it starts to get tricky. A lot of times, the way we view ourselves or the amount of self-esteem we have is based not on our own opinions of our abilities/talents etc. but is a reflection of the esteem we believe others hold for us.

If we have a high self-esteem but no one around us shows esteem for us, we can either be left with a false positive self-esteem (unfounded pride or narcissism) or our self-esteem drops in response to the belief that others do not hold us in high regard. Do you see the danger our daughters now face in regards to self-esteem in our current society? They are watching a society too consumed by itself to notice them to gauge how much value and respect they have for themselves.

It’s more important now than ever that we begin to show our daughters that its not the quantity of esteem (instagram ‘likes’) that is most important but the quality of the people around them that they look to for validation. What is the character of the person who’s opinion your daughter holds most dear? We need start explaining that they will only see a true and accurate reflection of how others view them when they are careful about who they give this power to…because it IS a powerful thing to a young girl/woman.

When your daughter comes home and someone from school has said or done something to damage their self-esteem, it isn’t enough to dismiss it as mean kids/teens. Help your daughter learn to evaluate whether the opinion of the offending party is a true reflection by comparing it to what important people in your girl’s life think about them.

FOCUS ON WINNING THE WAR TO DECIDE WHAT BATTLES ARE REALLY IMPORTANT. Remember when we were talking about goal setting for the girls? We need to be active goal setters in how we raise them too! What is the end result we are looking to achieve with our daughters? Some of us may want our girls to be highly educated and have challenging careers. Some may want theirs to grow into women that have compassion and put the needs of others ahead of their own. Some may want to raise up an individual that brings laughs and light to millions. Some (hopefully every hen) may be planning for all of these things!

Regardless of what values you hold dear for your girls, its important to really set down and decide not only what kind of woman you want to raise but come up with a game plan on how you will accomplish this and what things/thoughts/ideas you need to impart to them. I always tell my class that very few people are successful, really successful, by accident. This holds true for parenting as well.

What does this have to do with the day to day battles that we have with one or more smaller females in our house? EVERYTHING. You’ve heard the saying that we should “pick our battles” implying that some battles just aren’t worth winning and cause more strife than they are worth. Let’s keep “picking” them but instead base our choices on whether or not the battle is crucial to the overall goal that we have in raising up a woman. It won’t cause the battles to go away (hormones alone wouldn’t allow for it!) but I believe when you view battles in this context you can’t help but see every argument as an potential learning experience for yourself and your girl/girls. That change in perspective might be the difference between broaching a subject with grace and selling the offending female to the gypsies.

CHALLENGE THEM TO THINK BIG. It seems like the last few decades in our country have been marred by more and more bad news and deflated dreams. You can’t turn on a T.V. set without someone talking about how graduating college students will never find jobs and the growth of new business starts is crumbling. If you think your daughters aren’t putting two and two together or paying attention to these headlines, you are wrong. I meet a lot of students that come to college with no real interest in a subject area but choose a degree because their parents are “hoping I’ll be able to find a job” with it.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not advocating all students major in Philosophy or Art. I understand the concern and worry about this for my own children. But at the same time, I want my daughters to also be able to imagine a world where they can accomplish something great. There are plenty of people in this world that will be telling your girls they “can’t”, I just think someone (mother hens to be specific) should be reinforcing the belief that they “can”.

If their dream seems unrealistic, instead of trying to set the bar lower or make the dream smaller-how about teaching them to brainstorm ways they can change the big dream to be easier to attain? Try helping them locate resources to work towards their goal. Not only will working together bring you closer but you might just find that impossible dream that your daughter had starts looking more and more achievable to you too!

TEACH THEM TO BALANCE FEELINGS WITH THOUGHTS.
The simple truth is that we live in an age where we are encouraged to make decisions based on how we “feel” about a situation/person/event or if our “feelings” dictate a certain response. A very clear example of this is the American brand of consumerism. We’ve been trained to confuse want (desire) for need (practicality). One is fueled by emotion whereas the other is fueled by reflective thought.

While this is encouraged in both men and women today, it seems to come more naturally to those of the female gender and I have seen it cause more heartache (in my own life and others) than you can possibly imagine. I see a lot of girls that are only capable of looking at life’s events through “feeling” colored glasses. Hens are (in general) more apt to allow ourselves to give uneven weight to emotions even when they run counter to how our heads are interpreting our environment. Sometimes, we are so lead that we refuse to put our thinking caps on at all until a decision has already been made and we’re left on the flip side wondering how we ever ended up (fill in the blank).

Balance is key. We were given brains AND hearts (the metaphorical kind)  for a reason. Our daughters need to grow up learning to resist a culture that says “do whatever makes you happy for the moment” and learn that the wisest choices for their lives are made when both parts are in on the decision making. As mothers we need to try our hardest to model this type of decision making for their benefit (I know, I’m asking for an impossible thing) but like I always tell my girls:

FACT CHECK THOSE FEELINGS BEFORE YOU REACT

SET THE EXPECTATION THEY SHOULD BE VALUED FOR THEIR MIND, THEIR APPEARANCE & THEIR SOUL. OK. If you haven’t already tuned me out, this may be the one that sends you over the edge and you start questioning the judgement of poultry.

I believe we need to be raising daughters to value their mind, their body/appearance and their soul. Too many times it seems like we are really good at two out of the three and we pat ourselves on the back as mothers for being pretty good at this “parenting” thing. Heck, sometimes we only focus on one and pat ourselves for that too!The truth of the matter is, there are really three facets that make up a well balanced grown woman.

Oh, I’ve heard a lot from women that believe we should focus on the mind and that education and learning etc. is what will set our daughters up for success. That regardless of their interests and abilities, this should be our first and foremost priority of female chick rearing. Others claim we should be focused on the soul and the character of a person. That if their heart believes they should live in the underside of overpasses for their entire life we should encourage and embrace it. As far as the last, I haven’t actually found a real-life mother specimen willing to admit its all about their daughter’s looks but I KNOW they are out there because I’ve seen Toddlers and Tiaras.

By the same token, sometimes we think we should cover the mind and soul part but that the looks part shouldn’t be important at all in an advanced society. To that I declare “Chicken Puckey”. In our attempts to take away the importance of someone’s appearance we are basically invalidating that portion of who they are. I don’t think girls should be consumed with what they look like. As mothers, I think we need to keep a balanced and open opinion about embracing all the aspects of our daughters without discounting a huge chunk.

As moms it is our job to teach our daughters to value themselves holistically and that means supporting and encouraging them to pay attention to and work on every facet of their being. Successful, happy, engaging and enlightened women have mastered all three areas and I think we should strive for nothing less than that for our chickadees.

Lecture over.

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