REMEMBER those stereotypical ideologies that dictated that boys would get to play outside and girls had to stay inside and do housework? Not so anymore these days, well almost. In today's world, girls now get to play outside, but they also sometimes still have to master dishwashing. Of course, some girls — usually daughters of corporate mothers — don't end up doing either. Instead, the housekeeper does all the chores, leaving them to play on tablets, watch TV and maybe participate in school-based extra-curricular activities. A sad state of affairs, but I digress.
Girls have it trickier
The fact of the matter is that in today's world girls have it… well, trickier. Girls have to invest in getting an education and building a career while still developing the soft skills needed to serve in a home. As a young married career-oriented woman, she is expected to be the giver in the relationship and the manager of the home, while the husband is only really expected to provide and 'help out' at home when possible. In a recent blog I wrote about the importance of securing a good housekeeper and having a husband who shares equitably in household duties. That can make things much easier. But how exactly do we raise girls bearing these dynamics in mind? How do we prepare them to live a full life?
Here are a few ideas
• Encourage girls to listen to their inner voice and go after their dreams from early. Pay attention to the things they naturally gravitate towards and get them involved. Urge them to develop hobbies and special skills so that they can have a full life and not view having a career and finding a spouse as their primary ambitions. Teach them to find joy in the arts, friendships, sports, causes, giving back and to become a whole person. After all, the whole person is a happier person, whether single or married.
• Teach them to value their thoughts, feelings, likes and dislikes and to process them honestly and constructively by talking to you about it, writing/drawing their feelings on paper or in today's technology-infused world, making a video that they will share with you. When they are convinced that they have a talent, desire or calling for something but are a little afraid, tell them to feel the fear and do it anyway, knowing that God designed them for a special purpose and that you believe in them.
• Teach them to like the way they naturally look and help them discover and embrace their unique beauty, whether they are fat, skinny, dark, light, nappy or straight-haired. Don't allow them to do many enhancements before age 12. This may vary for each girl and parent but, for me, girls shouldn't be wearing curlers, make-up, spending hours under a dryer and be donning heels until around 13. Watching certain 'kiddies' channels may make this impossible, which is why some of them are banned in my house. It's old-fashioned I know, but give them a chance to enjoy being and looking like a child. As they get older, assure them that they can enhance and choose how they want to look, but also warn them that as shallow as it is, appearances count more than it should in most parts of the world.
• Teach girls to take care of the house and how to make their favourite meals, even though they may grow up to be the director of public prosecutions or prime minister. With having daily housekeepers the order of the day in many Jamaican households, some children never really learn to prepare a meal and experience the joy of serving. Once a month or as often as you can, prepare a meal with your daughter. Don't have your daughters grow up to be successful corporate professionals with a string of letters behind their names and not know how to stew chicken or how to make a nice chicken soup for the common cold. Sure she can outsource all of these services, but having home skills is an important kind of fulfilment and empowerment, useful not only for raising a family but also for taking care of herself.
• Girls should start managing money and resources early — age six or so depending on your unique daughter. Give young girls pocket money and teach them how to share, save and spend wisely. Let them make lists of things they need/want and save to acquire it. And give them key responsibilities like conserving energy — turning off lights that are not being used — and hopefully they will see the results in the bills and appreciate the principle of cause and effect.
In all of our active teaching, parenting and conversing with our daughters, the fact is that they will automatically model our behaviour more than our words. Our white lies in conversations on the phone, speaking unkindly to those less fortunate, bad mouthing the boss or work colleagues at home, and poor conflict resolution techniques are not only observed, they are lodged and copied as life examples in your children's psyche. If what you teach and what you do don't line up, your children will have a hard time trusting you as they get older.
In the end, one of the main keys to parenting girls or boys is starting early. “Train up a child in the way he/she should go, and when he is old he will not depart from it” – Proverbs 22:6. The truth here is that we are to teach and train our children from early so that they can find their way and their destiny when they are older. Training means developing and sharing a framework of rules, rewards and consequences — if you finish your homework on time, you can play on the tablet, if you spread your bed every day this week, your friends can come over, if you lie about taking the money from my purse, I may not be able to trust you again and so on.
Finally, parenting is as much about becoming a better person as it is about raising kids. This does not mean that you have to be perfect to be a parent, but it means that you must make every effort to live your ideals, and when you fall short, be courageous, gracious and transparent enough to share the lessons learnt.
Mother of four girls, Shelly-Ann Harris is author of God's Woman, president & founder of Family and Faith Magazine, and a media, communication, change management professional.
The content in this piece is courtesy of Family and Faith Magazine, in collaboration with All Woman.