While we have come a long way since I was a tween, today’s girls have a lot to manage in how they see and are seen in today’s world. Having a daughter, I am seeing this through a whole new lens. Navigating how to become a woman surrounded by mixed messaging is a challenge. But I am determined to teach my daughter that who she is and what she brings to this world matters.
Honor Your Physical Space:
I travel for work and when I fly, I always request an aisle seat. It makes me feel less claustrophobic, gives me more space to move around, and does not require me to awkwardly crawl over the person next to me.
I have lost count of the number of times a middle seater has asked me to switch seats because I am both petite and a woman. The answer is always no. This is not because I am being mean, but my physical comfort does not get to be diminished because someone larger than me wants the space I have reserved for myself.
When we fly as a family my husband always gives me the first choice. When I choose the aisle, our daughter will often ask, “Why do you get to sit there when dad is the bigger person?” I explain that my physical comfort is important, and this is what I want. If dad got to sit in every place he wanted because he takes up more room than I do, I’d likely be stuck in an uncomfortable seat every time.
Protect Your Mental Space:
At a very early age, girls start to compare. The words they speak to themselves, and others can be harsh. It is important to know how to be kind, give a compliment, and to receive them. At 10, my daughter and I talk a lot about the words she says to herself and how to be encouraging to others.
Having to navigate friendships isn’t easy at any age. Whenever she shares a problem with another girl I often ask, “How does that person make you feel?” or “What she said wasn’t nice, but which part hurt you the most?” I want her to pinpoint the specific pieces of the conversation, so she can identify her feelings and know what upsets her and what not to say to others.
As part of the Girls on the Run program, she learned how important it is to lift up others and to be proud of her accomplishments, while also training to run a 5k. I’ve been very impressed by this program and encourage you to see if this enrichment program is available at your child’s school.
Your Words Matter:
My daughter does not like to talk to strangers. Who really does? But when it comes to ordering food at a restaurant, she has to ask for what she wants. If she doesn’t, she gets no food. She’s 10 and can order for herself. Encouraging her to do this lets her practice asking for what she wants or needs while having the comfort of us there. If her order comes out wrong, we will help her get the server’s attention, but she must explain what she needs for her to be able to enjoy her food. This sounds basic, but it is a life skill that teaches her to speak up to get what she needs.
Show Up for Others:
One evening the two of us went to get ice cream. As we were walking out a noticeably drunk man walked in. Having worked at an ice cream store in high school, I knew the employee was there by herself. Rather than going home, we sat outside, in clear view of the employee. I caught the employee’s eye to make sure she knew I wasn’t leaving her alone.
My daughter was in hysterics! She desperately wanted to leave the situation that was making both of us very uncomfortable.
After he took off and I calmed her down, I asked her how she would have felt if she were the girl inside the ice cream store. She said, “Scared!” I said, “Right, that is exactly why we stayed.” My gut said that teenager could have been in danger and if we had walked away, she would have been inside the store alone.
My daughter said she felt so uncomfortable, and her stomach was in knots. I told her that is called her intuition. When she has that stomach-churning feeling, trust it! Find help for someone who might be in danger or leave the situation to keep herself safe. That feeling is something I want her to recognize. My hope is it will protect her!
Your Daughters Are Always Watching:
How our girls show up for themselves, their families and their friends will characterize who they are. My 10-year-old, and girls her age, will stand on the shoulders of those who have come before them just like their mothers do. They will continue to define and demand what it means to be a woman today.
So, I hope you encourage your daughter, like I’m doing with mine, to take the physical and mental space that is rightfully theirs. It is part of our job as mothers, to help teach them how to own this space as they grow into women.
Together, we will make the world a more equal, kinder, more accepting place for the next generation of girls!