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Parenting Daughters: Fairy Wings or Lear Jets?

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Kathy Caprino's "7 Crippling Parenting Behaviors that keep Children from Growing into Leaders," published online on January 16, 2014 in Forbes, is a decent essay on the ever-morphing and time-adjusting true North all parents seek -- or should. I am only in partial agreement with her take, however, as it pertains to raising daughters.

The professional credentials and fact that Ms. Caprino is a parent is indisputable, but I feel her perspective ignores a few realities for girls. A unique skill set evolves with each parenting experience when you are raising boys and girls. I happen to have both -- two sons and a daughter -- and have been fascinated by the innate differences in addition to amazing similarities that show up in each of my children.

I agree 100% with the teaching of disdain, that it is the fountainhead of prejudice. I challenge, however, the items that point to parenting with an agenda for leadership as taken in the context of the magazine which published the article. Forbes is geared to an audience that sees leadership as defined by Fortune 500 companies, the upper 10% income bracket, CEOs; it does not posit success in terms of apple pie experts or humanist leaders like Gandhi. Specifically, I take issue with the piece's focus on taking a girl and intentionally molding her into super-driven, gender-neutralized, executive material. That begins to superimpose materialistic elitism over parenting's foundational goal, which is to teach right from wrong.

I have heard and seen enough parents convinced of their child's superiority to understand at a casual level no one is immune from the biologically-driven preference for one's own offspring -- our kids are hard to raise and it takes a long time. It is right and good to be crazy about your kid. But, coupled with inflated regard for one's child, no matter how intelligent/talented the kid is, such parenting lies dangerously close to "EZ appeasement" and ego-feeding, which breeds only entitlement and arrogance.

While it is Forbes's prerogative to presume no ordinary outcome, we must be mindful of what we preach: Society-changing, great people can grow up and out of neglect and adversity; lame dullards can grow up and out of best-of-the-best parental resources and super-parenting. There is no guarantee or formula for greatness, even here.

Aside from the fundamental true North mandates of parenting -- to teach right from wrong and to keep the child safe as they learn how to navigate their immediate world and later, the world at large -- a parent should focus more on creating balance as dictated by the innate characteristics/drives/desires of the child, as each kid has their own unique identity. A parent's personal goal should be to grow and learn in tandem with the little human they are raising. We tread on thin ice as guides when we prescribe identities to our children. Moreover, anything beyond a personal best and fostering of personal pride is just as often a source for later rebellion and/or resentment and confusion in later adult life. The verboten pink mohawk haircuts (I choose illustriously) might become the mishandled mid-life crisis decades down the road....

Likewise, role definition should be more about nuance and balance than power programming. It is also allowing, in this case a girl, to embrace traditional roles that are tangential to the definition of mother as nurturer and primary caregiver, a role that has existed alongside the evolution of Man. Guess what? They are there and always will be. What percentage of the balance they strike is generally what circumstance -- both in one's control and not -- mandates. The reality of life's snafus suggests the greater worth of teaching (by example most especially) flexibility and humor. And I don't believe there is anything damaging in embracing the nurturer or the homemaker in our daughters. Why foster resentment and negative projection from caregiver to child, be it man or woman? I do not understand this shunning of traditional aspects of our roles and I don't think it should be handled as a purposeful reversal in our parenting styles.

To denigrate, as the article did, fairy tales and anything that comes from the realm of traditional folklore is invalid. For most Americans, yes, we know only the Disney-fied versions, the easy sources via both tech and pop culture. But not getting past the superficial in things is a universal shortcoming.

An anti-fairytale/princess stance ignores the age-old storytelling tradition that spans time and geography, cultures and economic strata. There are universal truths and conflicts personified and encompassed in these stories, which is why they have survived the ages in the first place. Related to the mythological programming that includes the very religions that shape society today, fairy tales are at least not seen as reality or historic, but rather symbolic of the winning outcomes we all seek all our lives. Let us not detest fairy tales as such, but look deeper and teach our children to appreciate not only the stories, but also their versions throughout history, their sources and their published authors. All of a sudden, we are deep into the beauty of literature. Take a look at the Grimm brothers, their careers, what they stood up for and how they paid for their intellectual freedom. And where Grimm naysayers are concerned: The violence card is old and invalid -- I don't buy into the contrived "aghastness." Humans are wired to appreciate conflict, fear and the overcoming of it. As for the "more fortunate" real princesses as mentioned in the article (one who has choice, autonomy, respect and is highly educated), for every one of those, I will show you a slew of jet-setting shopaholics or a complacent, duped trophy. Consider Albert of Monaco and his athlete-celeb wife and the second family situation he brought into that celebrated marriage, and let us consider the full story behind the most famous princess of our time, Diana.

My daughter wore wings and wacky gown combos until they were frayed at the edges (see my HuffPost article: Rainbows in Her Head). She now wears the same pair of jeans until I confiscate them for purposes of sporadic laundering and in her free time, designs complex, multi-level structures on her computer, proudly showing me the lava traps, jellyfish tanks and glass rooftop structures. I had and have no problem with fairy wings, for I feel they morph in time to other means of flying.