There I was, standing in my bedroom, selecting an outfit for the day ahead.
Little Miss Two was at my side, as usual, watching my every move.
I chose my super slimming, high-rise, black jeans, the ones that take a fair bit of jiggling to get on. A merino long-sleeved top (a thermal, in other words, I live in Tasmania afterall). And a light grey oversized knit that feels like I’m wrapped in a blanket.
There, I’m thinking. Ready.
It’s about then that I notice my little blonde-haired girl waving her rear-end at the mirror. She’s peering over her shoulder, gawking at her nappy-cushioned bottom… just like I do. The good old, “Does my bum look big in this?” move. I was shocked. I could’ve cried. My darling bundle of innocence had picked up on a rather shallow habit of mine. But I didn’t – I just laughed. I swung her up into my arms and laughed and laughed with her. She knew she’d done something endearing and she joined me with her wonderful giggles of joy.
When I attended one of child psychologist Steve Biddulph’s Raising Girls talks about a week later, this scene came flooding back to remind me just what an important role I play in shaping my daughter’s identity, self worth and body image. Here are three things that stood out to me; three things I want to commit to memory so badly that I’m writing it down, publishing it on my blog and asking that you keep me accountable.
1. I love my body.
Steve reminded us how much kids pick up on the way we treat ourselves. This is nothing new, of course. You know this already. Or do you? Because they don’t only catch the exclamations of body hate, but the more nuanced tells – the deflated sighs, the way we spend all our spare time shopping for clothes or the way the first thing we say to our girlfriends is a comment on their hair, new jacket or “Have you lost weight?”
Steve’s encouragement was to show enthusiasm and love for our bodies in front of our kids – who knows, it might even become genuine! Importantly, he urged us to focus on ability rather than aesthetics. Not: “I love my legs because they’re long and sexy,” But: “My legs are awesome because they mean I can run and dance and skip!” Not the most natural thing in the world to do. It’s been a challenge slipping “I love my body” (or variations of it) into conversation with my daughter and five-year-old son. But the discipline of loving my body in the same way that God does – that’s been good for me.
“I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are your works; my soul knows it very well.”
2. Listen, listen, listen.
Keeping open avenues of communication with our daughters (and sons) is vitally important, Steve shared. So when your six-year-old begins sharing about the petty issues of her school friendships – listen to her. Because setting up an environment where she knows she will be listened to means that later on, when the issues and consequences are bigger, she’ll still come to you for advice.
Steve said to practice biting your tongue too. Like, when she comes home after a date and says the boyfriend is pressuring her for intimacy and she feels uncomfortable, how do you respond?
“That sleazy filth-ball, I’m calling his parents!” will probably shut down conversation, whereas asking questions like, “How does that make you feel? Our body’s natural response is often a good indication of whether something is good for you or not…” will stimulate healthy discussions and empower her to solve the problem herself. Good advice, huh?
“Know this, my beloved brothers: let every person be quick to hear, slow to speak, slow to anger.”
3. Step up Aunties.
This point was essentially adhering to the, “It takes a village to raise a child” proverb. Steve emphasised the importance of other adult women in the life of a teenage girl. I’m still a way off needing to worry about this – but I do have aunties at the ready! Not only aunties either, but grandmothers, friends and teachers can have the same influence. It’s about building a trust network so that when she trips up, and if mum for whatever reason isn’t the first person she goes to, then an aunty-type is. Aunties tend to be a lot cooler than mums, you see. They can cut to the heart of an issue in one fell swoop, without protests of, “I can’t believe you just asked me that!”
I love being an aunty. I wish I lived closer to my only niece – especially since this little revelation care of Mr Biddulph. Down the track, when she’s a little older, there are plans for weekend stays, coffee dates and shopping trips. At the moment, we’re planning a complete facelift of her bedroom. Such fun!
“She is clothed in strength and dignity and she laughs without fear of the future.”
There you go.
Some practical ways to support our girls in the journey to womanhood.
Thanks for sharing your wisdom, Steve!