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Teach Your Daughter to Love and Be Loved

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Girls are tough to raise these days.

mother hugging daughter

Dr. Wendy Walsh: With all the emphasis on equality of the genders, it seems somehow un-PC to focus on what's different about each gender. Bottom line: if we raise our girls exactly as we would a boy, we will get half a boy -- because her most valuable feminine qualities will go un-nurtured. Qualities like caregiving, nurturing, nesting, and healthy, boundaried female sexuality are what we need to focus on. And it is hard to model and explain those qualities unless we have a male-female relationship on which to play life out. Even gay couples tend to fall into some version of male-female partner roles when it comes to raising children.

With 40 percent of American babies currently being born out of wedlock and a 50 percent divorce rate, it is not realistic to assume that every girl will have a biological father on-site, let alone one who will be a good male role model. So it's up to mothers to provide one. Our daughter's brain will form a model of romantic love based on three primary relationships: that with a father; that with a mother; and the one a child witnesses between parents. If Dad is a deadbeat or MIA, it is time to enlist a responsible uncle, a close male friend, or a grandfather. Girls need to feel love, respect, and acceptance by a male in order to choose that trait in a love partner later in life. And it's the only way to feel truly like a girl -- in the presence of strong male protective energy.

Secondly, it's important to model a healthy relationship yourself. Your daughter is a tiny sponge, soaking up messages about life all day long. It is crucial that you choose a romantic partner for yourself who treats you with respect. Even if you are living with and married to her father, those values of monogamy will be lost if he is abusive to you. Or, if you are single and your dinner table looks like a revolving door for man-central, don't expect her to behave any differently.

Finally, become aware of how you refer to traditional female roles. You may be a hard-driving attorney or a competitive investment banker, but your daughter may have inherited her great-grandmother's love of homemaking. Balance your advice about her future lifestyle with as many positive messages about career as you give her about motherhood and homemaking. Women are miracles and can find great self-esteem in many ways. And the best thing about being a woman in America today is that there is no single right way.

Tomorrow: Giving your daughter space, privacy, and boundaries.


next: Love Makes You Fat
3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Anonymous January 14, 2010, 8:19 AM

“And it’s the only way to feel truly like a girl — in the presence of strong male protective energy.” OMG, is this little series almost over yet??

Sam January 14, 2010, 1:22 PM

OMG, couldn’t agree more Anonymous. Tired of the sexist connotations and her always trying to ram her idea of what being a girl/woman is all about down our throats.

tennmom January 18, 2010, 12:57 PM

I think her main point was that girls need to often see examples of “good” men. I lost my late-husband 7 years ago & didn’t marry again until 2 years ago. My daughters have my father and my “new” husband as good examples. They see how they treat me, my mom,how they treat my daughters.
Girls growing up around men who are verbally/mentally/physically abusive too often grow up to tolerate that behavior from men.


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