Dilemmas of Raising Girls

I’ve done quite a lot of reading over the last few years about raising girls, it makes sense seeings as I only have girls and I see a lot that worries me about their future.  All the body image stuff, the particular style and cruelty of girl on girl bullying and the gender pigeon-holing of young girls leaves me with a slightly sick feeling in my stomach.  It makes me want to stop them growing up at all some days.  But more than that it makes we want to prepare them and build resilience (now there’s a buzz word for you) so that when they do, inevitably, face these problems they aren’t broken by them.  And so I read about raising girls, I borrow books for them from the library with strong girl characters who are into things less superficial than the fairy and princess obsession currently raging within my two girls (I have a hard time not seeing that as a bit of a fail in itself) and I show them movies that have girls and women in roles not typical of most Disney animations.  We constantly talk (or I do at least) about how girls can be and do anything, that you don’t have to be into the same things as other girls and that it’s important to treat everyone how you would like to be treated and to think about how what you do or say makes other people feel.

Sadly even with all this it’s sometimes like beating my head against a brick wall.  I’ve been noticing things with Miss Four that really do concern me and make me wonder how on earth you help girl children navigate this world without getting caught up in the crap that goes along with being a girls.  Firstly, Miss Four has worn glasses since before she was one, she looks ‘super cute’ in them, they improve her eyesight enormously and make life easier for her in so many ways.  But for the first time ever I’m now battling with her to get her to wear them.  She started by saying they were uncomfortable, so we got them adjusted.  Then I’d find her without them and she’d say they were dirty so I’d clean them and put them back on her.  Then while she was staying with her Nana (my Mum) she was sitting on the bathroom bench watching my Mum ‘put on her face’ (I never wear make up myself) and she said she thinks she looks ugly in her glasses.  It broke my heart.  How can a four year old think she’s ugly. EVER.  And now this is the battle every day, me saying that she looks beautiful (inside and out), smart and every other thing I can think of, when she’s wearing her glasses.  But it seems nothing I say has helped.  I’ve taken her to pick new glasses for when she starts Kinder in a couple of weeks, ones that make her look a little older and that she loved on sight (despite the somewhat disgusting price tag for a pair of children’s glasses!) and hopefully that will help.  If this is what four is like, what will ten and fifteen be like, I shudder at the thought.  And I remember my own issues with my body and just how long it took me to get over that.

The second concern is the beginning of friendship issues and bullying culture.  I’ve long worried about the whole emphasis on ‘BFFs’ with girls, why can’t they just have friends without putting them in some kind of hierarchy that can then be used against one another.  This is a topic I go on about incessantly with both the girls, but still they insist on having  A best friend and wanting to be other people’s BEST friend.  It’s really come to the surface since moving and only having one close friend.  Of course that friend has several other friends so she’s not quite so dependent on Miss Four as Miss Four is on her.  When they get together there are dramas…. over who wants which dress ups, over what and how they’re playing together and over who said what to whom.  It can be exhausting and it takes quite a bit of time and energy to get them playing nicely together.  And they’re as bad as each other, often changing roles from bossy-britches to dipper-dopper depending on whose house they’re playing at.  What I’ve also noticed is the start of that girl bullying tactic of exclusion.  If Miss Two is also around as well the dynamic changes, all of a sudden two can team up against the other one and exclude them from the play for a time.  I’d like to think Miss Two is too young to understand what’s going on, but she is often used in the manipulative kind of play by either one or the other of the older girls.  Before, of course, they make up and then start excluding Miss Two.

In my head I know this is part of being four and that probably all girls (or most) are the same, and I have heard that from other parents of four year olds.  I’m hoping that starting Kinder and expanding her friendship groups helps dilute some of this behaviour.  I’m not sure I can handle this type of problem constantly from now until when?…. the end of high school, that seems like an age away.  And in fact it may not even change then, I’ve seen grown women behave in very similar ways and having recently moved, I’ve learned just how hard it is to break into cliques of female friends.

I also most definitely fall into the trap of over thinking (and according to my mother, over reading) about these things.  Perhaps they will all just work themselves out and I’m really worrying over nothing.  But it does feel at the moment like I’m dealing with both big girl and little girl problems (yeah, I’m still used as a climbing frame all the time, we’re still having tantrums over teeth brushing or whose turn it is to sleep with ‘ballet bunny’ and she’s still bursting into tears if she can’t find her dolls shoes).  I was kind of expecting one lot to disappear as the other one started, or some blissful time in the middle where we had none of these issues to deal – yes, I know, totally naive.  What I was not ready for was the merging of the two and the big girl problems starting at such a young age.

At times like this, it kind of makes me wish I had boys…. then I see boys playing together and get exhausted just watching the level of noise, energy and physicality of it all and I realise raising boys has it’s own set of issues (namely testosterone).

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21 Responses to Dilemmas of Raising Girls

  1. renlikesred says:

    Jake and his mates are all in the “best friend” phase too. It’s been going on since about mid last year and who’s best friends with who seems to change daily. So it’s definitely not just a girl thing. One day I dropped jake at childcare a bit late in the morning. jake rushed up to his friends, a group of 3 boys and the “ringleader” a more outspoken boy, said “oh no, Jacob’s here. We don’t want Jacob to play with us today.” Jake’s smile and head dropped and my heart stopped. I was so hurt for him. I told one of his carers who assured me that sort of fickle behaviour was common and not to worry, they’d be friends again in no time. she welcomed me to stick around for a while as I was really reluctant to leave him and sure enough within about ten minutes they were all over it and playing happily but it killed me at first. It really made me anxious about what to expect from school etc… As they get older. He experienced a bit of that stuff at playgroup too as 3 of the boys attend another child care centre together and are very cliquey – even at 4! He did make a beautiful friend at3 yr old kinder though who is so similar to him. They were clearly drawn to each other which helped me realise that I have to give him credit that he will find the sort of friends that will bring the best out of him. On another note, it’s all guns, weapons and superheroes here. That sort of stuff is heavily thrust upon them in the same way the princess stuff is on girls. Probably doesn’t mess with their self esteem as much though. My friend’s little four year old boy is very concerned about his height at the moment as he is somewhat shorter than the other boys at childcare so maybe four is the age all of our little boys and girls start growing up 😦
    Yeah, parenting is hard. Bloody hard. I’m really wondering these days whether to go back for that third or not. Raising two little people is already more than enough!!! Still hanging on to the baby gear though….

    • Barbara Good says:

      Oh yes, I too have witnessed a little childcare scene similar to yours, and yes I too felt so hurt for her. But she didn’t notice and I kinda loved that too! This sounds awful, but I’m sort of pleased that it’s not just a girl thing in a way, but a kid thing. I think I can deal with that better so thanks for sharing!
      The third child has been on my mind lately too Ren. In some ways I’m set on just the two – ie I can go back to uni, go back to work, travel etc etc. But I’m having a hard time closing the baby door, so is that saying something? Am I not yet done? I don’t know.

      • renlikesred says:

        I’ve been giving number three A LOT of thought too lately and just last night had a lengthy discussion with hubby about it. I’ve been going through all the reasons not to for a while mostly financial – bigger car, house, schooling etc… but also a need for me to have more of me again. Also to take stock of what I already have – two perfectly healthy, bright and funny little boys that keep my house and heart full. do we really want to rock that boat? Plus a bit of a fear about the birth itself as both were quite traumatic – for both C and I, and the recovery from both was slow and painful. I could get over all of that though if I really really wanted another one – so I had to ask myself, why do I want another one? Firstly, yes, it would be lovely to have a girl to balance the testosterone overload in this house – but with no guarantees, that’s obviously not a good enough motivation. The second reason is “practice makes perfect.” Something (studious) in me about the need to do it “better” the third time round, being more experienced and knowledgable about breast feeding, sleep etc… but it’s also really important for me to just let go of things that didn’t go so well and accept both experiences for what they were.
        Thirdly, I want to cuddle babies. That joyous, beautiful, peaceful, perfect feeling of snuggling your own hand made little human. But I have two younger sisters and two sons – there will still be more babies to cuddle in my life.
        C was already on the “lets leave it at two but I’ll go again if you really want” train. And after all this thought, I’ve decided to call it a day and stick with two. I’m ready to start selling and clearing out the baby stuff. It’ll be sad but it’ll be ok. I feel like its the right decision for the whole family.
        I might feel differently in a couple of years but for now, I’m closing the door. I actually feel relieved to have decided one way or the other. Prior to this, I felt really stuck. Overwhelmed some days by indecision and lack of direction.
        So anyway, now, next question… What am I going to do with my life??? 🙂

      • Barbara Good says:

        I really could have written that comment almost word for word myself. I too have decided to close the door now, and I’ve started getting rid of the stuff. And hence the Masters, because when I do have kids in school etc I want to do something really great with my life (besides raising two fantastic kids of course). I know that if money was no issue I would have more, that’s the bit that I find hard to accept, but it is I have to realise that something has to give… and that something is the third baby. Two is a great number though! Well done on making your decision…. and yes what are you going to do with YOUR life?

  2. renlikesred says:

    Also, re: Miss four’s glasses, are there some good role model girls out there who wear glasses that she might identify with? One of the little girls in the movie despicable me/2 has glasses and is full of spunk.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Thanks for the movie tip, I’ll try that one mext movie night (oh actually Snow White is next up, after that though definitely). What I really need is some princesses in glasses, then she’d be all for them I reckon. I should write to Disney!

      • renlikesred says:

        Now I’m questioning whether I imagined the glasses or not but either way they are cool little girls and definitely not of the princess kind! And a funny kids movie regardless 🙂

  3. I am in tears reading this and the comment too. I was a victim of terrible bullying and victimisation at school and I carry those scars to this day. I’ve seen similar behaviour against my eldest son and as he is much like me in personality I nearly cried. Would the cycle repeat again? (My mum endured some of it at school too I believe :() It was one of the main reasons we have chosen to homeschool, or it is for me at least. A friend of mine is having similar issues with her daughter at school and is experiencing the same behaviour herself from those girls’ mothers (can you believe!). I think the best thing a parent can do is try and set a good role model and to do exactly as you are doing. Keep on talking to your girls. Keep on telling them how wonderful and beautiful they are (which they are by the way) and stay strong. I am trying to do the same.
    As you say, breaking in to friendship groups is challenging. You’ve a friend here though, any time you need and I’d love to introduce you to a friend of mine who is also newish to the area. 🙂

    • Barbara Good says:

      I think it would be totally naive of me not to think my girls will at some stage encounter bullying Jessie, and god forbid, may even be the bully at some point. I know I struggled with it at times at school… and that was in the days when the victim was told to just ignore it or not to get upset it will only make it worse! I hope they will be resilient and think highly enough of themselves that they get through to the other side at better, stronger people but only time will tell.
      I think you’re very committed to home school, even as a teacher I know I couldn’t do it. Miss Four is a complete social butterfly and would go crazy without lots, and lots of contact with other kids. Plus I don’t think I could do justice to the lessons with her while trying to keep Miss Two happy as well…. and you have three kids, amazing. Good luck. Actually both Miss Four and myself are really looking forward to the start of Kinder in a couple of weeks, but I am glad I kept her back an extra year.
      Thanks for the hand of friendship, thankfully I have met or already knew some great people, mostly who are also new to Ballarat as well.

  4. Andrea says:

    I too have pondered self esteem / body image for my daughter (5 yrs). I like your approach.

    A few years ago I bought this book called ‘I like Myself!’ by Karen Beaumont which is a fun book about self acceptance. I bought this from Royal Children’s Hospital book store (I live in Melb) as they cater for these topics from time to time. I also bought ‘It’s O.K to be different’ by Todd Parr and ‘Good Days Bad Days’ by Anholt. These were also from RCH on different occasions. Regards Andrea

  5. I have to admit that I dislike the BFF culture too. However, as it seems to be here, we can only work with it. We are doing our best to teach our girls to be inclusive of everybody, treat everyone with kindness and to be helpful where they can. It doesn’t hurt that they have duties and chores that they need to accomplish each day. We do have certain advantages – living on a farm, we do have horses and the ability to pay for riding lessons for the girl that is interested. For the other girl, who loves hockey, we provide the driving and support that is needed for that. They, in turn, are expected to help us in order for us to be able to help them.

    We have also always done our best to socialize them. They have learned to get along in our community – they help out neighbours and relatives as well as friends. They can carry on a conversation with an adult, know proper table manners and know how to introduce themselves and others in a social situation. It must be working, because we are told that they are lovely girls quite often (does that sound like bragging? We are proud of them). And above all, we have taught them to know their place. They are not needed in every adult conversation and have been taught to know when it is time for them to vamoose.

    Good luck to you. And brace yourself for the hormonal years. We are in the middle of them with our 13 year old and fast approaching them with the 10 year old. It’s interesting..

    • Barbara Good says:

      I’m sure you’ve done a great job with your girls Heidi. I too want them to have good table manners (definitely not there yet) and be able to talk to adults etc. I was painfully shy as a child and talking to an adult other than my parents was gutwrenching for me. I’ve also wanted them to be confident and surer of themselves than I was. So far they certainly seem that which makes me happy.
      Good luck with the hormonal years, I’m so not looking forward to that. Though I am a bit more used to dealing with teenagers than younger kids, having taught high school (in Australia that’s from about 11/12-17/18) for about a decade.

  6. rcra says:

    I feel your anxiety about the whole girl-raising thing. So much of our culture is unhelpful and infuriating. I’m very thankful that our families are relatively feminist. I keep looking to my sister and her efforts with my niece, who’s an awesome 16 year old now, the one the others go to for advice. But I don’t have my sisters self-reliance to model for my own daughter. If people are poorly behaved towards my sister, she doesn’t seem affected, putting it down to them being foolish, life goes on, life’s too short, etc, etc. But I get hurt and worry that I did something wrong. It’s a old and useless habit to think it’s my job to make people like me – such a product of the patriarchy! Ugh. Suddenly I want so much to be a much better person for my daughter. But anyway,…
    This website has been great. http://www.amightygirl.com. I hope to buy more books for Kate as she grows. Possibly for myself too! 🙂

    • Barbara Good says:

      I am already an avid follower of A Mighty Girl. Love searching through their lists of books and then hunting them down at the library. I also like their recommended parenting books sometimes too, though I do have a general aversion to parenting advice books on the whole. That drive to be a better person for your daughter to model is a pretty strong one with me also. I do worry that they both see me doing typical female roles a lot though, I would hate to think they feel like that’s their role in life as well just because of their gender.

  7. rcra says:

    Oh, and like renlikesred said, the exclusions stuff is a non-gendered, or all-gendered, thing. I’ve seen awful behaviour in boys that I’d described as bi***y coz I simply don’t have another word for it. And it is infuriating that such behaviour is characterised as girlish, but it summarises what they show: exclusion, collusion, backstabbing, and rumour mongering. It’s like the black market when social status is currency.

    • Barbara Good says:

      You see having worked with teenagers for so long I had no clue some of this stuff was all-gendered as you say. By Year 7 there is a definite difference between the way girls and boys treat each other and I always worry about groups of three girls, the potential for dramas in those groups are very high.

  8. Liz says:

    On a positive note my 7 year old daughter is completely over princesses – they are sooo 5 minutes ago….. Regardless though I think Disney is getting better at gender stereotyping stuff – Frozen, which I personally quite enjoyed, (as did she – I think overlooking the fact there were princesses involved) is a vast improvement on Snow white etc.
    Re: friends and exclusion: At 7 they seem to be a lot more capable of playing in large groups which is nice so the BFF thing is less of an issue. I think prior to 6 or 7 they haven’t really learnt how to play in a group. I remember my daughter at about 5 getting really stressed that two of her friends were going to be in her swimming class. Her question was; “how do I play with both at the same time?”.

    At my daughter’s school there are definitely some kids who are excluded on occasion and others who instigate the excluding. I’m not sure I would call it bullying per se – more them experimenting with power relationships and wanting to tell people what to do. Girls at 7 seem, in my limited experience, very concerned with rules (both real and of their invention) and ensuring that everyone obeys them. I don’t think its malicious though and the school is good at dealing with issues as they arise. I’m also not sure that it is any different from when I was at primary school.

    The biggest change and challenge for me since she started school is accepting that I have very little control over any of this and beyond attempting to instill self-confidence in my child and hopefully engendering her trust in me so she feels she can talk about any issues that arise its really up to her to negotiate all these difficult relationships.

    Finally my 4 year old boy is going through a stage of finding everything very uncomfortable to wear – I struggle to get him to wear everything from socks to trousers. Do you think she actually believes she is ugly (I wonder what the concept actually means to a 4 year old) or could it be that she is just looking for an excuse not to wear the glasses? Don’t know – I find it very difficult to really understand how much young kids really grasp concepts. I often assume they know what something means only to find their interpretation is very very different to mine.

    • Barbara Good says:

      Oh what relief, the princess phase does end, you’ve filled me with all kinds of hope Liz. We took Miss Four to her first ever trip to the movies on the weekend to see Frozen because I had heard it was a ‘better’ kind of Princess movie.

      I think your theory of getting better at playing with larger groups and not needing BFFs so much is interesting, I hope that it proves correct with Miss Four, that would be wonderful. Schools are very good at dealing with the minor tussles of friends too, and all this stuff I’m seeing now I probably won’t even know about by the time she starts school – it’s just a bit in my face this year because she’s with me all the time.

      Sadly the ‘ugly’ thing is not about just not wanting to wear the glasses, it’s because they make her look different and in her words not as pretty. She’s very much into worrying about what others will think of her appearance and thinks pretty is dresses, long hair (though she did agree to have hers cut shorter cos she hated having it brushed), make up, jewelry. She’s become quite the slave to fashion and she would rather not wear her glasses if she thinks she looks prettier despite the fact she really can’t see without them.

  9. Sue Walker says:

    I definitely think the dynamics of raising girls would be slightly more of a challenge than raising boys, I have 3 boys all 3 years apart so in ages between 8-14 and I would not have said this when they all under 7, it was hard work and I would watch my friends with girls that actually stayed in the one spot drawing and reading with envy as my boys refused to stay still and were all over the place!! Then as they got older and I saw the friendships play out a lot between girls and boys and noticed boys would have an argument wander off for the day and play with someone else, only to be fine the following day not so girls fights were drawn out and became nasty and now with Facebook and the teens on it, I fear the girls for my sons, lol! Yet I know the ones my eldest hangs around with are lovely girls some out there are scary! My middle son has a girlfriend and she is delightful the perfect girl for him as she is not into the make up/hair/nailpolish girly stuff, rather she is a tomboy. I do think many times girls can get their weight issues from those around them and this is true of boys too, I myself had a thin crises (sadly its left me) and I had to change my attitude noticing my eldest child 7 at the time was starting to refuse certain food groups stating they were too “fattening” it was a wake up call and changed my thinking and words around him dramatically. Its not easy I don’t envy you but I bet you will do a great job as your already thinking ahead of the challenges that will face you. 🙂

    • Barbara Good says:

      Yes girls are definitely less physically boisterous, but the other challenges seem to make up for that. And equally you’re right on the importance showing your kids (especially girls) that you’re happy with yourself and your body. I’m more waif like than anything, but even that comes with things I hated growing up – looking too boney, no boobs etc. Now I just embrace what I am (except when my weight inexpicably drops dangerously which it does do from time to time) flat chest and all.

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