Today I have been reflecting on being a female in this world. There have been so many books, blogs, articles, you name it, written about young girls and how to give them the strength to face society as the best women they can be, but it is tough as a parent, to watch your child struggle with social situations in her ‘tweenage’ years.
My eldest daughter is 11 going on 12 this year. She is incredibly smart, in fact, one of her teachers (a professor) just told me that he thinks she is incredibly gifted and wishes there was a formal gifted program at their school. Instead, he has started a high-level reading program with 5 students (Ally included) that meets once a week during their lunch break to read and discuss whatever current book they have selected. It works well for Ally as reading is her strongpoint. It was always mine too. Forget Mathematics, give me a book any day.
Although Ally is very gifted when it comes to reading, she is lacking in some social skills and I’m not sure how to help her. She desperately wants to be popular but for some reason, isn’t well liked. Neither of us encourage her to seek popularity, rather to make a couple of well-trusted friends, but she just wants to be liked anyway. We try to understand what it is about her that other kids her age don’t take to, but we just don’t know. She is highly liked by adults/teachers and her own siblings adore her, particularly Maddy. But what is it that she does, or how is she behaving when we are not in view, that is making her peers dislike her? She brought home a note last Friday that really upset me. It was from another student saying how much everyone dislikes her because she has a smart mouth. We tried to find out more about what this meant, but I truly don’t think Ally herself knows or is aware of, what she is doing. How does one rectify this? How can I help my daughter better socialize at school? She is always very polite and sweet. She can be bossy, yes, but swears she isn’t at school. She used to be a leader but now she is more of a follower because she so desperately wants others to like her that she has given up on the things she wants to do/play at school, doing seemingly, only what others want. I really worry. All this on top of being a girl in a society that is slowly improving, but still judges girls by their looks, their weight, their smile.
She hates her smile too. For some reason we can’t fathom, though different theories have been offered including the fluoride drops we got in Sicily, Ally’s teeth are quite yellow. I have told her we will whiten them as soon as she gets to an old enough age, but she begs me almost weekly to do it. She needs braces and now with the whole dentist fiasco, will have to wait some more. How can I instill in my beautiful girl all the wonderful things about her when she is already judging herself so harshly? Wondering what she does wrong that makes people dislike her? Hating her smile? The great thing about her though, she is full of confidence on so many levels. How can I put this so you can understand? She is not a very ‘sporty’ person, yet thinks she’s great at most sports. Sometimes we have to bring her back to the real world by letting her know there could be better options out there for her. This isn’t fun either when you want your daughter to keep all the confidence she can, but the way I say it and the way some of her teammates would say it, are very different and I would much prefer she hear it from me.
Then there’s her height. Most of the women in my family are fairly tall, my niece is 5 weeks older than Ally yet is about 6 inches taller than her. Most girls her age are taller than her. She is starting to feel it too, with kids teasing her at school about how she’s not growing. Sometimes I just want to punch all of these unthinking, inconsiderate, little shites! We talk about teasing all the time in our family and our motto is: ‘Only give what you can take; Nothing mean, all in good fun’. But these kids are definitely not practicing that. Some of the stuff they say is just plain mean. Ally tries not to let it get to her, but it does. She keeps asking me how she can grow taller. I’m always going to use that sort of a question as a chance to motivate more fruit and vegetables being eaten, but I don’t have the growth secret. Now, I’ve just started saying to her that it will happen in good time and when it’s meant to. Everyone grows and matures at different rates and she may well change at a later stage than most of her peers. My Mum keeps asking me too if she’s grown, knowing how big her other granddaughter is. I’ve finally told her not to ask anymore. I know she doesn’t mean it in a bad way, but Ally is getting a big enough complex about it as it is, so all talk about her hitting her growth spurt has been banned at this point in time.
Girls. They have it tough. We have it tough. Then she talks to me about perhaps going on a diet. What? No, I don’t think so. I’m not going to lie to you, I’ve noticed Ally has gotten a tad wider around her girth over the past few months, probably because she’s changing (slowly) and that’s what happens to most girls (and some boys) but my only thing to say to my children about dieting is “Every thing in moderation.” You can eat anything you like as long as you eat it in a balanced way, is my point of view. That means limit the stuff you know is bad for you, ensure you get lots of good, hearty fruits and vegetables on a daily basis and don’t keep eating just for the sake of eating (exactly what we did on the cruise and over Christmas which is what started me needing to go on this exercise regimen in the first place). Also make sure you get plenty of exercise on a daily basis. My girls ride their bikes almost daily. They walk to and from the bus stop. They walk our dog. We try to be a fairly active family. I’m not concerned about the exercise part, but Ally does like her junk food and won’t eat any fruit except apples, so she may have to start doing something else on top of our regular stuff. I suggested swimming but she told us that some of the girls who don’t like her are on the swim team. Back to that again.
I think my husband is just now starting to see all of the obstacles facing girls. Other girls are mean, boys are mean. Girls are expected to be both beautiful and smart, yet the minute we make a mistake it’s ‘because we’re a girl’ or because we’re not smart. It’s time we changed this kind of thinking for once and all. No more putting crap on other girls. It is our duty as mothers (aka females) to ensure our girls are not mean to other girls. It is ok to be competitive, but when you start putting someone else down to lift yourself up, something has gone wrong. We should be greeting each other daily with a pat on the back and a compliment. That’s something else I’ve learnt from my other daughter (from the moment she started talking until this day), give compliments. Try to find something, anything, about someone you are talking to and compliment them on it. “Your hair looks amazing today!” “I like your scarf.” “Those are beautiful (insert anything here, earrings, sandals, etc).” It doesn’t have to be super personal, but it does have to be sincere. This gossiping crap has to stop too. There’s an old saying we are all familiar with, ‘If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.’ It’s true. Just don’t speak. Obviously there’s also some grey here, if something has been done to wrong you, then tell your story, but don’t put that other person down in the telling, otherwise you’re stooping to the same level, meaning you are no better than them. Even when Ally talks to me about someone at school, she never puts them down, she will say something very simply like, “…… was really mean to me today. She called me short and said I was a B word.” (She’s not allowed to say it but will let me know if someone has said it to her by stating the term B word). Now this was but an example, but I like the fact that in the real life scenarios there isn’t anything like, “……. was a real B word. She was so mean, even though she’s ugly and dumb, she had the nerve to call me short and a B! My girls rarely put other people down. I encourage you to ensure your daughters don’t either (and sons for that matter).
We must pick each other up rather than put each other down. We must encourage healthy eating rather than junk (which we are doing but we still have a long way to go), we must encourage the realistic body not the photoshopped image, (again, we are doing just that) but we must also encourage the realistic body that is doing regular exercise rather than the overweight body that is doing none. Our daughters need to hear from us every single day just how beautiful they are, just how smart they are. Unfortunately certain web sites and famous people and authors and journalists and bloggers and whomever else, that talk about the unimportance of beauty have got it wrong. We are made to admire beautiful things (whether that be in nature, or in another human being). There is such a thing as inner beauty, yes, but there is also such a thing as outer beauty and it will always be recognized. Our daughters should be recognizing their own beauty both inside and out. I read an article the other day about how you shouldn’t be encouraging your daughters to care about the way they look and I have to say, I completely disagree. You should always take pride in your appearance. You should love yourself both inside and out. We all look in the mirror and we all see flaws no one else sees, but we have to be able to see beauty there too. There will always be someone more beautiful, smarter, with a better body, and we need to be aware that that will always be the case, but it’s ok, because we are confident in our own selves and our abilities and our beauty, both inner and outer. There’s no point in telling your children to not worry about being beautiful on the outside. They are always going to see people being recognized for their beauty. It does exist and it is very real and there are truly beautiful people to look at surrounding us. It’s part of life. We need to focus more on the confidence part. We need to focus on all the positive things in our girls. We need to help them to help both themselves and to help others. We need to make sure they are lifting others up.
How do we do this? Well this is where we as women must lift each other up too. I challenge you to give everyone you meet tomorrow a compliment. I challenge you to find things that will inspire your daughters to be the most beautiful people they can be by bringing others up. Lead by example. Don’t gossip, don’t bitch and moan, always talk positively about your friends and their strengths and always remind your daughters to be the best “insert name here” they can be. I also went into my daughter’s room whilst she was at school today and put inspirational quotes, and reassurances everywhere. Including some I thought pertinent to just her at this time. And there are quite a few for when she’s laying in bed looking at her ceiling:
Boys will not judge my daughter and place her into a category and girls will not bring her down. She shall know each and every day just how special and amazing she is. And how beautiful she is on the inside and out. She will know how talented she is when it comes to singing and playing her guitar and she shall know that she has very special strengths and is truly gifted when it comes to reading and comprehension. We will be realistic with her when she asks our advice but we will never shame her choices. I challenge you to make sure your daughter knows those same things, as relevant to her and her strengths. Your sons too. But they not who this article is about.
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