As a life coach and a psychologist I’m often asked how to raise a great daughter without using a cattle prod or boat loads of inappropriate language. Any quick Google search will tell you the answer lies in self esteem, sports, academics, friends, and family stability. Those are all extremely important and very useful in raising that fantastic daughter but they are not the super secret ingredient. The super secret ingredient (to be shared right now) is YOU, her mom. Yes, it’s true; Mom (or a mother-like figure) is the key to that fabulous daughter you are all hoping for. No, it’s not genetics either (which for some of us could be a really good thing), it’s Mom as her daughter’s window to the world.
First, let me ask you this, what qualities or characteristics do you hope your daughter might have. If you said, “large breasts” please call me for some intensive therapy or consider having yourself committed immediately. I’m hoping you said things such as, “strength, kindness, wisdom, a good friend, a great mother, a committed partner, creative, dedicated, and hard-working.” So how is Mom the secret ingredient in her daughter’s ability to achieve these characteristics? You are her role model for all of these behaviors. Your daughter will watch you to learn how to interact with the world. So what in the world are you teaching her?
If you tell her that it’s most important to be beautiful on the inside as you run out for your Botox or plastic surgery appointment, she won’t believe you. Not that there is necessarily anything wrong with Botox or plastic surgery but if you aren’t accepting your own appearance than why should she accept hers? You are without question the most beautiful woman she has ever known and she wants you to know that. Do you criticize your own appearance, complain about your weight, make fun of the appearance of others, judge yourself and others based on their appearance? You’ve just taught your daughter that beauty is limited to a certain group and that it is based on superficial appearance only. You’ve also taught her to judge others harshly and to not be kind. Next time you watch her behave in that manner you might want to do a quick check on your own actions.
How do you treat her and others in your home? Do you speak harshly and with condescension? Are you critical and quick to point out faults? You’ve taught her to do the same and don’t be surprised when she does just that. Do you have kind, loving words for her more often than not? When you first see her do you comment on her appearance, either positive or negative? Lesson taught! How do you let others treat you? Is your spouse or partner belittling, aggressive, rude, or dismissive to you? If so, you’ve taught your daughter how to be treated in relationships. You can lecture her all you want on insisting boys treat her with respect but if she sees you receiving less, she will mimic that relationship in her own life. Does your spouse treat you like a second class citizen because he is the bread winner and you are the home maker? You (and your spouse) just taught your daughter that being a stay at home mom is not valuable in our society. Remember this; your actions, not your words, will speak volumes to your daughter.
Do you share with your daughter what inspires you, what you are good at, and your belief system? If you love yoga, tell her how it makes you feel centered, strong, and spiritual. If you are good at math, tell her that. Share with her what you did before you were her mom. Tell her what you want to do with your life as both of you get older. Share with her your goals and let her watch you achieve them. Celebrate your successes, even the small ones. If you work outside of the house, tell her why you do and tell her what you like about it. If you work inside the house (and don’t we all) tell her why you made the choice to stay home. However, if you tell her why you made one choice over the other and you criticize moms for making a different choice, you have just taught her two very important lessons. The first is to judge others who make a different choice than you and the second is that if she chooses something different, she will be disappointing you. The mommy wars have left a path of destruction that has only served to hurt moms and their daughters. Do you really want to do that to your girl?
Your daughter will learn how to handle stress and fear by watching you. Do you face your fears, acknowledge them and then move forward or are you in constant denial? Do you manage your stress by taking care of yourself or do you ignore it and put your health and well being at risk? If you expect your daughter to treat her body with care and respect than you need to do just that. Are you often angry, bitter, resentful, and full of complaints? She’s watching that and learning from you. Is your glass half full or half empty? Do you find the silver lining in even the most difficult of situations? If so, you have taught your daughter to safely navigate a life that will be filled with challenges.
Do you dress in a way that shows your confidence and self care but is appropriate for your age and public viewing? Do you allow your daughter to dress in a way that is both physically uncomfortable and sexually revealing just because everyone else is doing it? You’ve just taught her to follow the crowd and to ignore the physical discomfort of a too tight and too short dress with really uncomfortable high heeled shoes. Your daughter needs you to say no to her and to set limits for her. She will not tell you that she needs limit setting but she does! Get tough, your girl needs a mom not a best friend. You can be her best friend when she is an adult but not now.
Finally, how do you treat your friends? Do you talk poorly of them behind their backs? Are you jealous and indignant when they achieve things that you haven’t or do you celebrate their success? Do you get mad at them easily or are you forgiving and patient? Are you a good listener? It’s hard not to be judgmental or to periodically gossip but at least try not to do these things within earshot of your daughter, she’s listening. Teach your daughter how to be a loyal and good friend by role modeling these behaviors. Tell her what you like about your friends and how important they are to you. Teaching her the priceless value of girlfriends is a lesson that she will use for life. Not to mention, it will help in our long term goal of taking over the world!
Be the woman you want your daughter to be. Don’t say it just be it. Tell her you love her everyday and tell her specifically what it is you love about her. Point out her skills, her kindness, her intelligence, and how she is such a blessing to you and others. Be there when she falls, not to catch her, but to help her get up and try again. Let her fail and learn from it, don’t treat her like a fragile flower, treat her like the strong, amazing woman she will grow to be.