We now live in a society that is very different from anything that has gone before. This unprecedented modern world demands that women have all, and be all to all people all of the time. This is an unhealthy expectation and it is causing many women to feel that they are underachieving in all areas of their lives.
As the mother of two daughters, what should I be talking to them about to help them to grow into independent, confident young women?
A number of words spring to mind: ambition, failure, men, flexibility, change, vulnerability, cycles, friends, to name just a few. Powerful words that have both a light and a dark side that we need to ponder when talking to our children. These are important issues to talk to boys about too, although some of the words may be different, but I feel that women are less settled in what their role is within our society.
My dad’s words of wisdom were always the Serenity Prayer when we were discussing my ‘problems’ as a child. <em>God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference. </em>I didn’t fully appreciate the meaning of this prayer while I was so wrapped up in the dilemmas of being a teenager, but I now find myself quoting it to my daughters. It suddenly makes so much sense and I hope that my daughters will one day understand the value of these beautiful words.
As young adolescents, we are faced with making massive decisions about our future, mainly in terms of our education. Should we choose to continue studying this subject, or stop studying that subject? At such a tender age how can we possibly know what we want to do as a job? Will narrowing our options at a young age limit our choice of career, or will it more simply limit our choice of what makes us happy?
Some children know what they want to do when they are older, and ambition is always to be encouraged, but what if once their ambitions have been achieved it’s not what they expected? Is that failure? No, it’s change, flexibility and a learning curve that will propel them on to the next stage of life. Not knowing what job we might do isn’t failure either, but again flexibility. Maybe a young girl’s ambition is to be a mother one day; this is something that is not seen as ambition by our society, and young girls are often frowned upon when they talk of having children. On the other hand, not having babies is also questioned as we get older, so maybe I need to add ‘contradiction’ to my list of words.
Ambition can also change over time as we grow and move into new phases in our lives. Again I don’t think this is failure, but rather about learning that it’s OK to change our opinions and ultimately what we want out of life.
Change can be scary and is often seen as a bad thing, as it is sometimes beyond our control. This can leave us vulnerable. By instilling into my girls that change is to be expected throughout life, I hope they will roll with the punches and grow in confidence.
Men and relationships is something that definitely needs addressing in our overly sexualised culture. Our children are exposed to far more sexual images than 20 years ago, from music videos and computer games to the clothes that are in the shops. This is all having a huge effect on how young girls see themselves, not to mention what it does to the minds of young boys. Traditional values are something I was taught as a young girl and they are definitely something I want to instil, but there needs to be balance. Sexuality is a natural healthy human desire, not something wrong or dirty; but it is something that comes with maturity and knowledge of oneself. Self-respect is a huge issue when the subject of sex and relationships arises: if a young girl feels comfortable with herself she is more likely to be less promiscuous and to seek out a more loving and mutually respectful, hopefully long-term relationship.
Honesty is important in forming good relationships with our daughters to help them grow up with self-respect and self-esteem. Communication is the key. This gets very tricky as they grow older and naturally become more secretive. Privacy becomes important as girls develop more independence, and as parents we must respect that. Sometimes it’s hard, especially with today’s technology: it’s so tempting to check their text messages or even track our children using smartphones. Don’t get me wrong: safety is always a priority. But ask yourself how you would have felt if your mother could have seen your every move. How would you have felt if she had read your diary?
And then there is the internet and social media. This terrifies me. People put so much of their lives on social media that nothing is private any more. That seems like a complete contradiction of my last point, I know, but I feel that privacy on the internet is needed for protection from bullies, paedophiles and unnecessary emotional pain. Not only that, but an increasing number of employers now check social media before offering a potential employee an interview, and if a negative comment or photo is posted online, it’s up there forever.
Our reactions to our children’s problems have a huge impact on how they handle them. Overreacting can cause things to be blown out of proportion and make the situation worse. On the other hand, underreacting can cause a child to become withdrawn and less likely to come to you for help in the future. What leads us to over- or underreact is our own baggage from childhood, adolescence and beyond. We can’t escape our life experiences, good or bad, but we can choose to use them to help support our children through their own tough times. This may be uncomfortable and force us to relive difficult and painful memories, but by understanding our past we can give so much more to our children without judgement or expectation from our own lives.
I’ve decided that it’s probably not a good idea to sit my girls down and bombard them with facts, my experiences or a long list of dos and don’ts. I think it better to take each subject I’ve mentioned and wait until the need arises to discuss it in more detail, using language appropriate for my daughters’ ages. I hope this will give each of them a framework of knowledge and skills that will help her to live life as her own person and feeling proud of what she is achieving, whatever society is suggesting.
So for now I leave my two beautiful daughters this message:
Life is a journey of moments and experiences made up of happiness, excitement, joy, hope, sadness, loss and tragedy. We must carry with us from these moments love, acceptance and our memories. Even if your memories are painful or difficult, you have experienced them and therefore they make you who you are. Embrace your life and all its challenges, but above all love yourself unconditionally. Everything you need to survive is inside you. You are like an unopened birthday present to yourself just bursting with unknown treasures – so go ahead, rip the paper and take a peak.
Gemma Voce is the mother of two daughters, aged 12 and 8, and they live in Leicestershire with her husband. She enjoys creative writing, reiki and cooking. To find out about her healing treatments, visit www.rainbow-therapy.net.
First published in Issue 47 (Early Spring 2017) of JUNO: