Dear Dr. G.,
I am the mother of three girls. They are ages 8, 10 and 13. I was the only daughter in a family with three brothers.
In my role as the only daughter, I did not receive the same encouragement to take school as seriously as my brothers did. I wanted to play sports and take violin lessons but my parents said that this was not necessary for me. They only encouraged me to socialize and to do charity work.
I feel that my parents did not encourage me to take risks and are responsible for turning me into a people pleaser. I take everything very personally. I want everyone to like me. I volunteer at my kids' schools to the point of exhaustion. Since I was encouraged to focus on social activities and events, I host a lot of parties and am only happy if everyone has a good time.
I feel resentful toward my parents. I wish that they would have encouraged me to challenge myself the way they did with my brothers. I even feel a bit resentful toward my brothers, who pushed themselves and are very successful in life.
I have recently started to see a therapist because this people-pleasing tendency is exhausting and is just too hard to keep doing.I know that I can't and shouldn't have to make sure that everyone is happy all the time. I am aware that old habits are hard to change and will work with my therapist on these problems.
Now here is my question for you. I want to raise strong daughters. I do not want my girls to turn out like me and obsess about the feelings of others and to take everything to heart. What are your suggestions about how to raise strong girls?
A Determined Mother
Your question is excellent. You are exactly right. Girls are often socialized to have excessive concern about the feelings of others and sometimes pay a heavy personal price for this. It can, as you well know, be very depleting to expend so much energy worrying about the feelings of others. Of course, males and females should be equally concerned about how they impact others, but not to the point where this concern drains all of their energy. Worrying about the feelings of others should not be the exclusive domain of females.
I am very pleased that you are getting your own therapy. An aware and happy mother can certainly be a more effective role model for her daughters. Good for you!
Now, on to your question. How do you raise strong daughters? The answers are too numerous to list but I will do my best. First, we must encourage our daughters to focus not only on the feelings of others, but also on their own needs and feelings. Watch how your daughters are behaving and listen to how they speak to others. Are they behaving and speaking in an honest manner or are they saying things simply to make others like them and feel good? If you listen well and are concerned about how they are interacting with others then speak to them about this in a calm and helpful way.
Second, all of our children, both male and female, should be taught that they can never please everyone. This is both an unrealistic and undesirable goal.
Daughters should be taught to focus not only on how their bodies look but also on taking care of the health and physical fitness of their bodies. Encourage them to get involved in physical activities of their choice.
While you are encouraging your daughters to attend to their own needs, feelings and the healthy functioning of their bodies, you should also encourage them to find a passion. We all need something that moves us and makes us feel alive, particularly when other areas of our lives are not going well. This helps us maintain pockets of strength.
Encourage your girls to be courageous and ambitious. Having ambition will give them focus and courage will see them through difficult situations. Courage also makes daughters and sons less susceptible to peer pressure.
Your daughters need to be taught that we all need a place to love, to be necessary and to play in life in order to maintain our vitality and strength. Teach your daughters about the importance of balance. Balance plays a crucial role in the maintenance of strength and can be protective against both depletion and depression.
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