The Art of Active Parenting
My daughter tells me stories about how girls in her class interact with one another; how they sometimes treat each other like replaceable dishrags, tossed aside when they are no longer deemed useful, and I am overcome with the most intense sadness. It seeps deep into my soul and I fear for the future of her world.
Is it just me, or have relationship dynamics between young girls continued on the destructive path created by the myth that there are limited opportunities for women to be successful? Are pre-teens and teens of today still as disillusioned by the idea that they have to beat others down to build themselves up, just as we were when we were young?
I’ll admit I was the girl who wanted to feel powerful and fight against injustice, but I’ve come to realize that how my younger self went about gaining that power was all wrong. I thought I had to stand on my own to be successful; that I had to fight and claw my way to the top. And if I hurt people along the way, well that was just part of the process, right? I mean, they say it’s lonely at the top for a reason, so obviously we’re expected to stomp on a few innocent people if we want to get anywhere in this crazy life.
Fortunately, I’ve learned how untrue that is and I’ve suffered deep remorse for all the people I may have crushed while I was blindly following that idea. But now that I know better, see other people who know better, and am raising my daughter to know better, I wonder why female relationships are still so strained. Because, as sad as it is, many girls are still being raised with this antiquated belief that there isn’t room for all of us to succeed. And that makes me question the root cause of this issue.
I know parents are always the first ones to feel the blame, and it sucks because most of us are simply trying to do our best, but hear me out. What I’m suggesting is not that we are teaching our girls to hate each other, because I don’t believe that is the case, but rather we are not actively teaching them to not hate each other. You see the difference there?
When my daughter was young and would occasionally break something, her apology was often in the form of, “I’m sorry! I didn’t try to.” To which her dad and I would reply with, “Well, try not to.” While that never failed to elicit feelings of complete frustration toward us, she eventually grasped that we weren’t saying the same thing she was. In her mind she didn’t try to trip up the stairs, causing her to drop the glass that shattered into tiny shards of dangerous foot splinters, so she felt blameless in the situation. But our aim was to make her understand that she should be actively trying to not break the glass. Which might mean making two trips up the stairs rather than carrying a glass, a bowl, the cat, and her favorite stuffed toy all in one hand and then wondering why she tripped and broke something.
That same message can be applied to how we parent. We aren’t telling our daughters to view other girls as competition they need to stomp on if they want to get anywhere in life. I mean, I hope we aren’t telling them that and I’m going to carry on under the assumption we most definitely are not. But are we teaching them that other girls are important members of their tribe and not road blocks in their path to success?
And, it’s worth mentioning here, this isn’t just about how we raise girls because if we don’t get our boys on board with supporting the shift in how females interact with each other we’re only solving part of the problem. Boys, and later men, are often prone to encouraging girls to compete with each other for their own entertainment, so let’s all agree that boys need to be part of the conversation and bring them in on the movement for change.
Think about conversations you have with your kids from the time they are little. Do you teach them about the value of collaboration? That we are stronger when we work together? Are you actively showing them how much better your life is when you have fully supportive friends to help you out when you need them? Are you talking to them about the struggles you went through growing up when you felt like you had no one in your corner? When you were left out of your friend circle, and not just about how that made you feel but also how you got over it and what you learned from it?
Something I learned very early on in my daughter’s life is that I can raise her to see other girls as allies in her quest for a bright future but that isn’t enough if other parents aren’t providing their children with similar messages of kindness and collaboration. My intention is not to shit on parents here, but to raise awareness for actively changing our conversations. Because if I’m raising my kid to view other girls as important members of her tribe and other parents are not doing the same for their kids, then we are not gaining any real ground.
So, if you’re like me and you want to see a change in how girls and women interact with each other, let’s work together to actively teach the values of collaboration, kindness, and coming together to become more powerful forces of greatness.
The truth is, it doesn’t have to be lonely at the top. Because, as another saying goes, When women support each other, incredible things happen.
And I want to live in a world where incredible things are happening. Don’t you?