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Here is a work-in-progress take on the things I want to teach my daughter, and the ones you could too!
The day you know you are expecting a daughter, perform a cleansing ritual. Get rid of all the Cinderella stories and movies. Trash anything which remotely suggests that a damsel in distress is saved by a prince charming that comes along to make her life all hunky dory. Why, you ask? I give you 2 logical reasons:
a. Narrating to your daughter, stories of prince charming, (who, I am sure, you have also never met in your life) is equivalent to filling your daughter ( at a very delicate and malleable age) with false hopes conjured by storytellers ages ago. Even before your daughter has had a chance to find her grounding and to understand what she wants in a friend, companion, and partner – you are putting a preconceived notion of an ideal man into her head. I call it fairytale brainwashing. Please pause and look up the definition of ‘fairy’tales.
Tell her stories of strong women from your family and friends, who are leading the kind of life they want to lead today, against all odds.
b. The damsel-in-distress situation accentuates the self-pity syndrome in girls who then wait to be rescued. Is that the kind of woman you want your daughter to grow up to be? Tell her stories of strong women from your family and friends, who are leading the kind of life they want to lead today, against all odds. If she grows up waiting for a man to rescue her of her miseries, she will find it difficult to look for strength within her to deal with her issues. It’s also very likely that she will grow up professionally looking for a mentor to do the rescuing at work.
Ok, so you knew you are going to have a baby girl and you went to crazy pastel town and flowered (yes, I made up a word) the nursery with hues of pink and purple and all things pretty. I understand that. It is your parental urge to decorate your infant’s nursery beautifully. However, once she grows up and starts recognizing objects and shapes – for the love of god, do not presume that your child will prefer dolls over trucks, and pink over blue.
Give her a chance to explore what she really likes, and exhibit a little courage as a parent to let her be different from the societal notions of what a girl ‘should’ and ‘should not’ like.
If you are like me, you live, breathe, preach feminism. It is great, amazing and unique, but need not be what your daughter grows up to believe. So do not force-feed her these concepts. Introduce her to your theories dispassionately (without the bloodshot eyes and the shrill pitch). You can introduce her to objective thinking, but the ideology she decides to follow will be hers, and will define her as an individual.
Parents (I speak primarily of Indian parents as that has been my primary sample) dream about their child settling down the moment she is born. Refrain from portraying marriage as something she ‘must’ engage in when she grows up. Let her dabble with the concepts around commitment and loyalty on her own. My parents often talked about my life ‘after’ marriage, and during those interactions, I never once questioned if I would get married. I assumed that it is the natural course of life.
Now, I am at a crossroads where I debate the viability, need, and feasibility of marriage every day. Maybe, if a concept had not been forced down my throat so early on, I would be in a better position to have a definitive idea on what I want to do. Tell her she has to grow up to be her own person and has to stand on her own feet. It is not correct to wait for a ‘husband’ to come along and ‘support’ her if she is too lazy to figure out her calling.
Teach your daughter the essence of equality. It is not a very easy subject for girls who sometimes do get things a little easy. I have seen instances throughout my academic and professional life, where girls are not expected to ‘ace’ certain subjects – like software programming, scientific research, gaming – so it is ‘okay’ for them to get by leaning on the ‘guys’.
If you teach your daughter equality, let her know that involves stripping down certain privileges that she might see around her (guys picking your luggage, filing your taxes, helping you with programming assignments, etc.). At the end of the day, if you groom her to be fair and objective, equality in every practical aspect should naturally follow. Teach her to extend the concept to everyone – every race, every income group, every individual.
So many women are insecure about their looks and resort to harmful dieting tactics, artificial implants/treatments. The source of this insecurity is the standards society has set as beautiful – spotless skin, lustrous hair, hour glass figure, a 34 cup size! I want to teach my daughter to be comfortable in her own skin even if she is not perceived as beautiful by others. I want to teach her to wear her best accessories – her smile and confidence.
Do not misunderstand me, I am not going to encourage her to eat unhealthy or stay lazy and not work out. Health and beauty can be separate. Wishing to lose those extra pounds does not necessarily stem from insecurity, but can simply be a healthy habit that will go a long way for her to have a comfortable lifestyle without being dependent on others. I want to teach her to see people for who they are from their acts, not their appearances.
Would love to hear in the comments from you all, the additional things you would want to teach your daughter!
Pic credit: Image of a little girl via Shutterstock.
Lovely article. Totally agree with the bit about ditching the fairy tale books :Cinderella and so on, which are totally irrelevant to this day and age, plus give girls this false idea that a prince of some sort is waiting around the corner to sort out all their woes. Wish we had more positive female role models; perhaps, we need to find them like you say. Good read.
I love “Cinderella” stories with the twist.. which is the likes of Shrek (1,2,3,4). I think it is important for children to know that these are the stories that are prevalent in society and when people come at her with “But girls dont do this….” she will be well prepared. When I tell my daughter these stories, I always end it with “What could she have done differently? How could she have rescued herself rather than sitting around waiting for someone to rescue her? How could she have dealt with her stepmom and sisters?”… Interestingly my daughter asked me the question during the narration of Ramayana: “Why did Seeta not fight to escape from Lanka?”… A beautiful story of rescuing oneself is the story of Baba Yaga and Vasalisa.
I like your take Uma! It is evident that your daughter is questioning things instead of accepting what is laid out so your approach definitely works 🙂
I loved cinderella stories…..grew up reading them…….If I do tell my daughter’s the traditional fairy tales, I think I would want them to explore the alternatives too.
Thanks for sharing 🙂
Thats exactly how ai brought up my girls. Both of them. So while my eldst one chose books n Lego over dolls,
Blues n greens over pinks and purples,
My younger one picked dolls and punks and purples. Neither of them accepted fairytales and both luckily are fair – they don’t expect any favors and definitely don’t expect boys to pick up their slack. Good article.
Prasantha, that is soo good to hear 🙂
Very well said. Most of the strongest women are just around us. But sadly we don’t recognise them. May be they don’t have a fancy story but definitely they do have an inspirational story. My mum is a real fighter and till today she has shown enormous strength to all odds of life. She is a great role model to me and my kids.
Thanks for sharing Vidhya! My mother – Ruby Sandhir – stands as my strongest role model too. I have grown up watching the immense strength she shows in situations.
From being restricted at college education, she went on to head a school as a Principal and changed the face of the school with progress and development 🙂
I don’t quite agree to your points. What is wrong with a little girl hearing the stories of some princess being rescued by a prince? After all it is a story and provided that is not the ONLY type of story that you are telling her, I don’t find a problem there. I tell my daughter all type of children’s stories and it is up to her to like one story over the other.
Coming to dolls etc. there are different type of children, some children like to sit and play with dolls and some don’t. My friend who used to do role playing with dolls a lot went on to became a film director/producer. By restricting them, don’t you think you are imposing your theories on the kids, which you said you should not do under the ‘Feminism’ point? Don’t you think you are contradicting yourself?
Thanks for your comment Mini…..I think you and I are on the same pagw. If you re – read the article, you will notice it focuses on letting the children choose their own path. Dolls ‘need not’ ne their playmates suggests letting them explore other playmates and leaving it up to them to choose dolls or not 🙂
Interesting take on cinder llama stories. I agree that if you can balance the traditional ‘damsel in distress’ with stories of courage, that might give kids a different perspective too.
Your article is good, inspiring and useful for the parents in bringing up their little girls. I loved to share it.
As a parent, we feel proud of our two beautiful, confident daughters. Our prime aim in bringing up our daughters has been to see them standing tall, confidently on their own feet. We nurtured independence in their choice of dress, shoes, even going to specific restaurant. All was their decision. Big decisions regarding their career were always their’s. Of course you cannot leave even a plant to grow by itself. One has to use water, manure and care.
I strongly agree with Vidushi that examples of bravery should be instilled in young girls. Confidence to take care of themselves will help them to find a soul mate rather them prince charming.
I have a lovely daughter of 6+. I liked your points of brave girls and to believe each one of us is beautiful. I’ll definitely tell her stories of brave girls including you. She loves to play in park with her friends rather with any of the toys. Her friends are her best toys …… not only girls…but a lot more of boys. I just give her the correct path to walk in life as she’s too young.
Very nice article indeed….. I do not have a daughter but if I had would have instilled with stories based on confidence and challenges to be faced in today’s world. No stories of charming Prince to rescue would help these days. I’m going to share this for my lovely nieces….. Runa
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