In this extract from his new book, Steve Biddulph offers tips for guiding your daughter towards adulthood
There is a beautiful and accurate way of looking at girlhood. It is a “quest”, a journey with a purpose, a path along which she gathers the ingredients of her womanhood. We are her main guides, especially early on, and always there in the background later, just helping it go more easily. In raising a child we always have this dual awareness. We enjoy each day for its own sake. But we also have in our mind the big picture: what is important for her to experience and learn in preparation for the time when we are no longer there to help her.
Knowing the stages is incredibly helpful because it keeps us to a plan. Our goal is making a wonderful woman. And that’s what the stages do.
So, we start with a simple question:
What age is your daughter right now?
Now the important question: since she may have passed through a number of stages, see if you can rate how well they were achieved, in your opinion, using the scoresheet. Do this off the cuff, even if you don’t fully understand what the stages mean yet. We’ll return to them in detail later, but this is a starting point.
I’ve inverted the stages so you can see them as a kind of building, with the foundations at the bottom. (If your daughter is under 2, you can only rank the bottom line. If she is aged from 2 to 5, you can rate the second item as well. If she is aged from 5 to 10, the third; 10-14 the fourth; and 14 and over, the fifth. So you have rated all the way up to the age she is.)
Give each life-stage from one to five stars, just as if you were rating a hotel.
5 Trained for adulthood 4 Found her own self 3 Good at friendship 2 Confident to explore 1 Loved and secure
Can you see where the gaps are?
Where might she need your help to repair missing or weak stages in her growing up? The neuroplasticity of the human brain means it’s usually possible to put in experiences that were missed the first time around.
Complete this sentence
I think we need to work to improve stage…
The main and most important thing they need is to feel loved and secure. For them to feel truly secure, you need to feel that way yourself. Two main things increase the amount of love you can give your girl.
1 Slow down your lives, so love has time to grow. 2 Get into the river of love by being with people who are kind to you. Then you will be filled up and have more to give.
Even with older girls, you can still give the sense of security that they may have missed by slowing down and being warm and loving to them, so they can begin to relax.
FROM 2 TO 5
A big part of raising a happy girl is making sure she has a childhood that isn’t cramped by growing up too fast. That means two things:
1 From the age of 2, encouraging her to be a wild explorer, in the outdoors, in her mind, in creativity. Set her spirit free. Don’t fence her in with ideas of being neat, girly, cute or compliant. Dress for action. Live free and wild.
2 Keep your house free of the insane media pressures about how you look. Make sure you yourself aren’t hung up about looks. Don’t have television on except for shows you specifically want to watch. Don’t go clothes shopping with her until she is well into her teens. And maybe not even then.
From 2 to 5 is the time of play. A girl should emerge from this full of energy and confidence, and bursting to get into the larger world.
Friendship is complicated, and the primary-school years are the peak of learning how to make it work.
The skills include valuing friends, sharing, caring about others, managing anger, apologising, and learning when and when not to trust others.
We need to be coaches for our girls. This mainly means listening, but sometimes we can make suggestions and help them understand which of the seven skills of friendship apply.
Bullying in girls is usually not physical, but relational bullying (excluding a girl from the group, calling names, being sarcastic, spreading rumours) can be even more harmful. If it persists it may need intervention by the school.
Fathers make a huge difference to girls. Not all of us had great dads. We can learn to be much better than our own dad was. The best man is one who keeps learning and is willing to be vulnerable when trying new things.
Every young person has a spark or two: things inside them that they would just love to do. Tragically, too many kids (and adults) lose their spark. Our job is to help our kids find their spark and help them pursue it. A kid with a strong interest area does better in almost every aspect of their life. Beware of activities that are too competitive, or driven, or based on being perfect. If it’s a true spark, it will be energising and fun.
Aunties are an ancient and essential part of helping girls grow up, especially in the teenage years, though it begins much sooner. A rite of passage helps a girl have a liberating passage through puberty. Creating an event, especially if you involve the significant women in her life, can be a moving introduction to womanhood, and literally grow her up.
A HAPPY SEXUALITY
Girls need to know that sex is great — and that is the best immunisation against being misused or disempowered. Pornography teaches kids harmful and inaccurate messages, and often violent and degrading attitudes towards girls and women. It’s causing a lot of awful sexual times for young people. We parents are the best ones to talk to them. Make it all matter-of-fact, and help them think clearly and be in charge. Girls need to know they don’t have to settle for less than great. Every family has a Respect Quotient. Raise it as high as possible.
Girls need to be strong. They are born strong, and if we nurture that it will grow. Role modelling really helps. Emotions are not always helpful — sometimes you have to override fear, fatigue or grief and just do what has to be done. Anger is important to be able to call on when people are not respecting us. Parents who use put-downs erode a girl’s strength. Being willing to be open-hearted works better and doesn’t harm her spirit.
Being a female meant, for thousands of years, being seen and treated as inferior and denied the chance for a safe and healthy life. In the 20th century women rose up and fought for that to change. There’s still some way to go. Your daughter’s own individual problems are very often because of the forces and pressures, abuses and inequities in how the world treats girls. If she realises this, she can feel a whole lot better about herself, and a whole lot angrier — in a good way — at the world. Wouldn’t it be great to involve her in doing something about that?