The Challenges and Joys of Raising Daughters

Sugar and spice and everything nice. That's what the nursery rhyme tells us little girls are made of. Raising daughters is certainly a joy, and often quite challenging as well. The old-fashioned adage, reminiscent of a day when raising girls involved teaching them to cook, clean, sew, do laundry, how to be a good hostess, marry a suitable man and produce an heir, no longer applies to modern-day parenting of girls.
Helping girls grow into women of character and conviction is far more difficult than it was even one generation ago. In a world of violence, war, white collar crime, corporate fraud, peer pressure, and expectations of living out a future as a multi-purpose, multi-tasking, super-woman, raising daughters becomes even more challenging than was the case for our parents. Most of their grandmothers of young girls never worked outside the home. They reared children, maintained the household, supported their spouse’s career and encouraged their daughters to marry well.

Today, women model a different reality for young girls. A majority of mothers work outside the home. Some of them are the primary, or only, breadwinner. Many of them are single mothers with sole responsibility for rearing their children. Girls, very early on, witness the expectations that they, will receive a college education, or learn a marketable skill. This standard is more and more the norm because girls are staying single until an older age than their mothers typically did. They also are aware at a very young age, that they may need to be the sole provider for their child(ren) at some point in their lives, either due to becoming a single mother or as a result of divorce.

The task of helping girls establish their identity can be challenging from a religious perspective as well. Some fundamentalist denominations feel that women should not work outside the home. This teaching inhibits a woman’s desire to explore career options and to do meaningful, productive work beyond being a wife and mother. Applying this ancient principle to modern day reality creates a tremendous dichotomy for women in terms of their own life choices, but also in raising daughters.

It is crucial for parents to begin, almost at birth, to encourage an open, honest and loving relationship with their daughters. They need to encourage their daughters to share their lives with them while the girls are young, so they will learn that it is safe to express their feelings. Failure to provide this safe, loving environment for daughters can lead to a need to please others later in life--boyfriends, other girls, and perhaps later, a husband, and their own children.

Girls who are not encouraged to be expressive, independent thinkers can experience emotional issues in their marriage and during parenthood. Some of these pent up emotions can manifest themselves in physical ailments or illness. Being a parent who takes the first step toward maintaining an open dialogue with a daughter is doubly challenging as many women were reared by a different standard where girls are quiet and polite. Helping girls express their emotions as youngsters, improves their ability to communicate openly, honestly and lovingly with others.

Raising daughters is also a joy, though. Women with daughters are given the privilege of watching a girl grow into womanhood with her guidance and nurturance. Helping girls discover who they are as individuals and learning to be true to themselves is one of the most important tasks a mother can achieve. Just as important to note, countless studies have provided evidence that girls whose fathers are active in their lives grow up with a better self-image and have more self-confidence than girls without a father figure who is actively involved.

If parents raising daughters are committed to helping them express their thoughts and feelings, to explore who they are, to be inquisitive about their world, and be true to themselves, the next generation of women will be even stronger, more confident and fulfilled than the current generation of women. Helping girls realize their full potential is the most joyous and most challenging responsibility parents can embrace.
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