At the gym today, an exasperated friend asked if my next book could be written about raising daughters. As I talked with my workout buddy, it became infinitely clear that she is in the midst of raising a hard-nosed daughter who is giving her a run for her money. Her daughter is only four years old. This is familiar territory for me. I didn’t say anything out loud, and instead kept what I knew to myself – things are only going to get tougher. I did tell her that being on the front lines of being a mom to four girls took patience, creativity, solid negotiation skills, and plenty of wine.
Having four daughters with very different personalities required David and me to “style” our parenting somewhat differently with each. Our first daughter was strong-willed, a bit bossy and demanding. At the same time, she had an excellent moral compass and pretty good self-esteem which allowed her to avoid a lot of the girl drama that is a daily part of the lives of many teenage girls. She needed clear boundaries and lots of choices.
We called our second girl an “easy crier.” She was respectful and obedient, easy to parent, and rarely needing too much in the way of discipline. Her feelings were hurt easily, however. Direction and suggestions were often met with an emotional and defensive response, and, as a result, we had to be careful watching not just what we said, but how we said it.
Our third girl, an anomaly if there ever was one, stretched all boundaries and presented us with daily challenges from a very young age. As a therapist who, in my view anyway, has some pretty good skills and a solid understanding of behavior, I really had no idea how to manage her. David, who spends his days often negotiating high conflict divorce matters, also found himself overwhelmed, frustrated, and at a loss.
Our youngest was an easy child to raise until she wasn’t. When things didn’t go her way, she could dig in like it was quicksand.
Looking back, here are a few thoughts for girl’s moms that might be useful:
- There is no manual.
- Girls can have intense emotions- expect ups and downs- that can come slow or fast.
- Don’t take anything personally.
- You are the safe person in your daughter’s world; keep in mind that what is directed at you most likely has nothing to do with you.
- Everybody wants control, even your daughter.
- Cede control and offer choices whenever possible. Even if it’s small things like when she might want to brush her teeth or eat dinner.
- Girls are often part of cliques, catty, and sometimes downright mean. Be firm, sure, but also hit your “P” (patience) button.
- Role model “nice” behavior; show what it’s like to be a good friend, building other girls up and not tearing them down.
- Don’t comment on your daughter’s weight. Even if she is too thin or heavy, she already knows. Keep good food choices around the house. Work with her to learn and enjoy a healthier diet. At the same time, though, try not to be over-controlling about it so much so that she responds by sneaking food or even developing an eating disorder.
- Take time for self-care and to nourish yourself. Being mindful of yourself, your own needs and pressures help to keep your own tank from emptying. At the same time, maybe your daughter will pick up on it, learn from it, and follow your lead when she is older with her own children.
- Adopt what psychologist Carol Dweck calls “the growth mindset.” Compliment her in specific real ways. In other words, don’t just tell her she’s pretty. Tell her something more valuable than that, i.e. that you like the way she treats her friends, or you recognized that what she had to do in a particular situation was difficult.
- Be kind, patient and forgiving with yourself. None of us are perfect parents.
Julie Bulitt is a licensed clinical social worker and family therapist. She and her husband, a divorce lawyer, have been married for more than 33 years. Their new book, THE 5 CORE CONVERSATIONS FOR COUPLES, is available online and local bookstores. Follow David and Julie at www.thebulitts.com and on all social media platforms @thebulitts.