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Sugar and Spice

How do you raise a daughter in today's world?

I was a little girl once. I dreamed in pink and purple. I had butterfly curtains with a lavender ruffled trim. I adored fairy tales, Ramona and Beezus and later on, . I wore Easter bonnets on Easter Sunday and carried straw purses with colorful plastic flowers attached. I idolized Cinderella; loved dress-up dolls and kittens; had a massive sticker collection that kept our local Hallmark in business; and drew an impressive mural on my bedroom wall of a unicorn under a rainbow. I embraced being a girl.

But my birth order wedged me between , all of us close in age; a cosmic move that significantly altered my visions of sugar and spice. I watched my pretty tea set with the delicate hand-painted rosebuds become a set of twelve miniature Frisbees soaring across the front yard. I would unsuspectingly walk into the family room only to look up in horror as the blur of a random brother flew off the back of the couch at me and pinned me to the ground in a move ala Chief Jay Strongbow. And let me just tell you that, yes, I know what Barbie’s head looks like on GI Joe’s body. But I also collected baby hog-nosed snakes and fuzzy caterpillars. I could give a mean Indian burn and was not afraid to stand nose-to-nose with any boy and demand my way. I could scrap with the best of them to get my fair share, make my point known, or watch Little House on the Prairie instead of Monday Night Football on the small black and white TV in the study. I embraced being a girl in a house full of boys.

I always envisioned having my own little girl someday. We’d have tea parties and eat lemon squares with powdered sugar. We’d do quiet, reserved, girly things while wearing matching outfits and raspberry nail polish. We’d shop for sparkly pink things and she’d have a beautiful bedroom draped in toile. She’d be confident and secure and no one would make her feel inferior. She could be whatever she wanted to be and she’d be happy. And she’d look just like me.

When the time came for babies, I was blessed with not one, but two, boys. I was gifted with beautiful twin boys who instantaneously became the light of my life. They’re pre-teens now, and they do all the typical loud, wild and crazy things that boys do. And they look just like their Dad.

But I like to think they have a level of compassion, kindness and openmindedness that comes from having a mother who survived brothers.

Last week, a reader asked if I would pose the question, "How do you raise a daughter in today’s environment?" I told him I’d be happy to do so, particulary since the amount of testosterone in my world prevents me from knowing the answer myself. So I’m asking my readers to chime in with their advice, experience and insight. Let me hear from you parents with daughters and grandparents of granddaughters.

How do you raise strong, confident daughters in today’s world? How does raising a daughter differ from raising a son? What are your greatest challenges, concerns… and successes?

Beth Cole July 25, 2011 at 03:48 PM
Ohhh boy! In today's world? Raising any child today would be tough.... Although I wonder if it's natural to feel that way once in your 50's? I do know that having self esteem and confidence is top priority. I believe to achieve that with your girls, first off, you need to have it yourself. Teaching something is not so easy if you don't follow your own guidelines. Consistency and honesty, I believe, are the two most important things you can give your children. Consistency SOUNDS easy.. but watch yourself... it's so easy to let things slide. It makes a difference in the long run, to be consistent. I really believe girls [and boys] need that most of all. Your articles are great A ~ LOVE to read them! xox
Ellen F July 25, 2011 at 04:15 PM
Well if I am going to be truthful, girls are much harder to raise than boys.They are more high maintenance, more opinionated, more outgoing and more mature way too soon. Well at least mine are! At 3 yrs old my middle daughter said "no way" when i tried to dress her in her brothers hand me downs. Now when it comes to what she wears, if it's to skimpy i make her change she knows it's for her own good! At 11 yrs olds the mood swings started to kick in,now at 13 she's still a girly girl going through major puberty(very scary). My son is 15 and now his friends are starting too see her in a different light! This year it spiraled out of control she became obsessed with Justin Bieber, when I told the teachers who my daughter was they immediately talked about her love for Bieber. All the girls dressed in purple on his birthday. (funny in my era is was David Cassidy) My daughter shuts her door now and takes forever to get ready to go anywhere, now that i recall i think that was me once! :) I know very soon boys will be calling for her, not just texting or facebooking her. The other day I started talking to her about something, she said why are you telling me this, I just realized she is not only my daughter but my friend, my confidante. But when school starts she will be my daughter whose phone is being blocked after 9pm for the school year, LOL. My other daughter 11 yrs old, outgoing, but very different, she is and hopefully always will be my mush! Looking forward to what's next.
Ellen F July 25, 2011 at 04:21 PM
I Love your articles, I really appreciate being given the venue to respond! :)
Ellen F July 25, 2011 at 04:38 PM
Today's world is much different. When it comes to girls being aware of their surroundings, I have instilled in them from the time they were little to never talk to strangers. Now at 13 yrs old my daughter won't leave the house without telling me where she is going. She will only go with me, another adult she knows or friend, never alone. I feel this is important to talk about with the girls, I try not to scare them though! The rule should hold true for boys, but at 15 I tell my son he must have his phone on at all times and answer my call, no matter how old you always have to check up on them ! I agree with Beth honesty and I try to instill good values!
Michael & Nomi Burstein July 25, 2011 at 04:48 PM
We have a somewhat different perspective with our twin daughters. Michael actually brought up this issue tangentially in his column "Girls Can Be Astronauts, Too" (http://brookline.patch.com/articles/girls-can-be-astronauts-too). Suffice it to say that one of the main things Michael is trying to do is to make sure that the girls aren't exposed to any of the stereotypes about what girls can't do. It's tough, but he doesn't want the girls to grow up thinking (for example) that math is hard. In an ideal world, they would never get exposed to the stereotypes, but his hope is that when they finally do encounter them, they will react with puzzlement as opposed to agreement. He also found a book, "Raising Strong Daughters" by Jeanette Gadeberg, that included a lot of practical advice, and he recommends it.
noni July 25, 2011 at 05:43 PM
IS raising a daughter so different than a son? I imagine that if you are teaching core values and setting good examples, then your child, no matter the gender, is developing the foundation to tackle this world successfully.
brooklineparent July 25, 2011 at 05:48 PM
@noni, YES the world is a very different place for girls than boys, women than men! I believe it's crucial the parenting styles reflect this.
Ellen F July 25, 2011 at 05:58 PM
I agree it's more complicated, however I feel that women have come a long way, but we always have to be more wary of everything around us, never take anything for granted!
Grahame Turner July 25, 2011 at 08:29 PM
I can only speak as someone who was raised by a single parent, and watched my sister grow up (I'm neither a parent nor a daughter). I didn't see a lot of differences between the two. My sister and I have different tastes: she liked horses, I was into computers. We had different ways of dealing with things: I would shut down, hide in my room, she'd run out the door--somewhere between running away and going for a walk to cool off. I didn't care much about appearance, my sister wanted to dye her hair weird colors (my mother always said she'd allow it, because there were bigger battles they'd have to fight later on, so she was saving her energy). We got "the talk" at the same time, my sister was grossed out and left; I sat with rapt attention. We both learned the differences between right and wrong--and how to discern between the two. We both paid for our own car insurance and gas. We were expected to look out for each other, to be friends. We were expected to resolve our issues, or to get help resolving them. I feel like the key differences between raising boys and girls are likely to be the same differences between raising two different boys or two different girls--it's a case of learning how to understand and handle the individual you're with. Although I'll acknowledge again, I'm no expert.
Pam Roberts July 25, 2011 at 09:32 PM
After having two boys, now in their teens, I thought that raising a daughter would be a snap. Oops. Overall, a boy's world seems much more more black-and-white. It's not about the toys, the sports, or the interests; my girl loves Legos & water guns, is one of the fastest kids in her homeroom or on her soccer field, and REVELS in our backyard bug menagerie. There just seem to be so many nuances in emotions -- highs are VERY high and lows are oh, so low. When the boys were younger, I read "Queen Bees & Wannabes" and its sequel, "Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads" and thought that it was overblown. I am now rereading it and paying attention this time! There seem to be many layers in the pecking order. My daughter has been fortunate in that a lot of the girl drama has gone over her head, but she's starting to become more aware and involved. Right now, she talks to me about it -- I hope this continues as she gets older! With my daughter, I am also finding myself more attuned to outside influences on body awareness and self-confidence. For example, sports events on television have a high propensity for showing alcohol advertisements that flaunt super-skinny models (remember that annoying Bacardi Rum Mojito commercial?). So far, my sons appear to "get" that real women and men don't look like that, thank you very much. But how to keep the outside claws of advertising and its skinny myth out of my daughter's head? I guess it's an ongoing conversation.
Steve Bautista July 26, 2011 at 03:11 AM
As a father, raising two daughters (ages 13 and 8) has been a true blessing and has forced me to adjust my activities / attitudes to support their needs and my own desire to have a significant influence on their lives. First, major events aside, sports are rarely seen on my beautiful 52 inch television. When I do get to watch, I will typically get 10-20 minutes of viewing before one gets bored and will ask, “Daddy, will you play with me”? Then, I am forced with the non-choice of spending some quality time with my daughter(s) or watching TV. So, my sports fix comes in highlights on ESPN. In addition, I have become an expert at dressing and accessorizing Barbie’s and Build-a-Bears; can put long hair into a tight ponytail; have spent hundred of dollars on High School Musical merchandise; stood in line for hours so my girls could meet various Disney stars; and created family vacations around trips to see Carrie Underwood (7x) and Hannah Montana in concert. Additionally, I have yielded almost all closet space in our house; become content with using a pink towel; and self-taught myself to lower my blood pressure at the annual Nordstrom Anniversary Sale and in stores such as Claire’s, Sanrio (Hello Kitty), and Forever 21. And finally, I have learned 3 very important phrases that have led to my success and happiness as a father: #3 – Save the drama for your mamma, #2 – Girls just wanna have FUNds, and #1 – Is SHE ain’t happy, ain’t NOBODY happy. <3 my girls!
Ellen F July 26, 2011 at 12:54 PM
Love it, The kids are all different- my 15 yr old son is either in his room with all his gadgets singing away or on the football field-he fits the mold perfectly, however my sons passion is to be a singer(not typical for a boy), as for my daughters you can find my 13yr old texting or shopping-but her desire is to be a singer also. We waited in the mall for hours to meet Justin Bieber, bought tickets an hour before the show. I even waited two days for my kids to audition for the x-factor and "Annie"! What won't we do for the kids!:) My 11 yr old, however she has broken the mold, yes she did play with Barbie's and still loves them, but she is not only a travel soccer player, she is the goalie. She loves this position and has played since she was 3 yrs old! So Nomi yes girls can set out to do whatever they want to do, it takes determination, love for it and if you have the skills or natural ability you can go a long way ! :) And Steve I love your phrases-can we add "wine and dine" which was done as babies and when they start dating one day, hopefully they'll meet a nice guy that will do that, LOL ! :) I'd go to the ends of the earth for my kids-another phrase I love is "It's all about the kids" !
william July 26, 2011 at 04:46 PM
Long live Chief Jay Strongbow! I don't know anything about raising daughters, but your brothers sound awesome.
Priscilla George July 26, 2011 at 05:04 PM
Adrienne, I think your next piece should be on HOW you survived those brothers of yours! I've noticed you mentioned them in a few different articles now ... What are they like now? Probably doctors and lawyers, right?
camille July 27, 2011 at 03:05 PM
LOL, this reminds me of that country song with the lyrics "I know what they put inside Stretch Arm Strong." I bet your brothers know too!
llgilmer July 31, 2011 at 11:25 AM
Loved reading all the comments. Having raised twins, a boy and a girl, and their sister (six years older) I don't think there is any differences in how they were parented. The only differences being their personal interests which were supported. I feel I did a good job when I watch them with their own children. They give their children love and gentle consistent correction with always explanations. They limit the tv and computer use to a minimum (the oldest will be 5yrs, but I hope they continue with the limited use). Watching the younger generation, I feel the values are still the same for both boys and girls. I agree with Noni and Gramhame, each child needs to have their own personal interests nutured and each child will be different. My son is successful in a traditional male dominated career (he is a diesel truck mechanic and he manages the business that he and his father own together), his twin sister is a structural bridge engineer who is the assistant district bridge engineer for VDOT (truly NOT a traditional female dominated career), and their older sister who is a math teacher in middle school (an extremely challenging age to teach for all of the reasons mentioned by your readers in their comments). Each child, boy or girl, is different. If you teach them right from wrong, give them confidence in themselves and let them know you love them always and will always be there for them, that's all they need.

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