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How to Raise a Confident Daughter

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It's much harder than you think.

tween girl dancing

Dr. Wendy Walsh: I remember the moment I held my first-born daughter in my arms. I breathed a deep sigh of relief that I was given a baby who runs on estrogen. Yippee! I silently cheered. I got a girl. Girls I understand. This is something I know how to shape ... and then they grew.

Nearly 12 years later, with two of them now under my roof -- one sporting boobs, the other sporting moods -- I more often ask, "Why me?" Why, God, couldn't you have given me the far less complicated model of kid, a boy? Nonetheless, I have persevered, and I learned through experience and a whole lot of thick textbooks that raising a confident girl in a culture that still values logic over emotional intuition, and money-making skills over mothering skills, is quite an art.

We are a gender that excels in words rather than action. We are a gender whose feelings are sometimes more important than our grades, and our friendships define us more than anything. Girls build elaborate communities, and in our hunter/gatherer history, were the backbone of the species. Men hunted and dropped in with protein, but women still gathered more calories and maintained a multiaged moving "settlement" where babies, toddlers, teens, aunties, mothers, and grandmothers all had vital roles in the nest. Women's power as a gender includes intellectual, emotional, nurturing, creative, and sexual power. Yah baby, hear us roar.

Fast-forward past hunter/gatherers, the farming age, and the industrial revolution to our current world -- the Information Age, where we are now called post-feminists. Funny thing about feminism -- it did an important job of liberating masculine energy in women and allowed our girls to gain some much-needed equity on the economic playing field, but we are now seeing that we threw the baby out with the bath water. Today, women with strong creativity, mothering skills, and emotional powers are not rewarded like the gals who excel in "left brain" math and logic. Seems the only traditionally feminine power that was allowed to remain and be rewarded is sexual power, and ladies, that's getting out of control. Pardon my French, but it is raining whores! It's some age in which to be raising a girl.

A recent poll done by Time magazine on the current state of American women is as positive as it is perplexing. In business, power, and economics, the news is good. Women make up 49 percent of the workforce and 57 percent of all college students, and hold jobs that include Supreme Court Justices, governors, and Ivy League presidents. However, even on the economic playing field, there is still a lag. For every dollar that men make, women earn only 77 cents. On the home front, things aren't quite as rosy. Nearly 70 percent of women still have the primary responsibility of taking care of children, the sick, elderly, and their homes.

The problem that feminists didn't forecast when they staged the International Women's Year back in 1975 was this: as women left the household, no one else showed up to do the job she left at home -- the down and sometimes dirty work of womanhood: cooking, cleaning, and child-rearing. Or, as I like to call it, playing with fire, chemicals, and poop! So what if our daughter would like to be a traditional woman and not want a career outside of the home (God forbid!)? Unless she is Martha Stewart and can turn her canning, crafts, and cooking into an empire, few men these days can finance this type of woman's "hobby." But what we can do is instill enough self-confidence in her that she feels empowered to create further progress for women.

So, as mothers, how do we raise self-confident daughters in a world that clashes with her biology and exerts pressure to earn money while toiling as queen of her castle? I wish I had all the answers. So I did some research. Read my next five blogs to learn how things like your respect, your words, your male friends, and your boundaries can make her a force to reckon with.

next: Why Should We Avoid Giving Honey to Babies?
5 comments so far | Post a comment now
Wendy M. January 11, 2010, 6:35 AM

In my opinion, the best way to raise a confident daughter is to be confident in yourself. I have three daughters and I try to set the example that I can accomplish anything I set my mind to. This can be little goals from fixing things in the house, to large goals like finishing law school. I let them see the satisfaction I take in my accomplishments and I also let them help me out around the house to achieve their own small goals, like baking or helping me make dinner.

Rachel January 11, 2010, 8:10 AM

I don’t have daughters - just sons - but I still feel that I have a critical job in making sure my boys value the right traits in girls/women as they get older. I’m interested to read the next posts!

Lindsaydianne January 11, 2010, 9:43 AM

I agree whole heartedly with Wendy M.

What gets me about feminism is that it left no room for women who WANT to be a sahm. The economy up and took advantage of the women in the workforce and there’s no room to go back.

What this has to do with it raining whores is curious.

michelle January 11, 2010, 2:33 PM

“How do we raise self-confident daughters in a world that clashes with her biology”

“We are a gender that excels in words rather than action”

These unbelievable statements really summed it up for me. Dr Wendy, you are yourself dreadfully confused and incoherent about what feminism is and who women are. And because of this, you will not be able to raise self-confident daughters. (Sorry.) You try to sugarcoat it, but you seem to really think that it’s a man’s world, that biology (whatever that is — you spouted a bunch of cliches about hunter-gatherers) is destiny.

Christina January 11, 2010, 3:25 PM

This is a particularly muddle-headed article. Not even quite sure where it’s supposed to be going or the point that is trying to be made. Several points I personally have issue with are:

1) So how is it that cooking is “the dirty work of womanhood” when most chefs are men?

2) If you review your history, child-rearing only recently became considered the sole provenance of women. Until the second quarter of the 19th century, when men began working more outside the home, child-rearing was generally a shared responsibility.

3) Feminism began WAY before 1975. Contrary to the belief of most boomers, Betty Friedan (who was born in 1921) not only predates them by about 25 years, she’s considered part of the SECOND wave of the US Women’s Movement. BTW - the US is not the first place where women demanded rights. There’s Mary Wollstonecraft (who was born in 1759) of England, not to mention the suffrage movement (which actually started in France in the 1700s and had spread worldwide by the 1800s). FYI, that would be the women who fought for the right to vote.

I could go on, but those were the most irksome issues, so I’ll leave it at that.

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