I am here combining my personal life experiences and observations with compelling research and common sense to question the status quo of what it means to raise a healthy daughter.
Contemporary world is different from what it was a couple of years ago; the 1970’s solutions won’t help solve 21st century problems. There is a need to help the current generation of young women develop the support and sense of self that will allow them to grow into resilient adults. Parents and Teachers must help the girls to navigate this world and find their centers – centers of genuine humanness and authenticity and, yes, spirituality.
Girls today should be happier because they have choices and opportunities that their mothers and grandmothers wouldn’t have dreamed of. And yet, many girls today are failing to develop an inner life, the sturdy core of personality. Even there are many adult women who have not achieved it. If your daughter can develop a sense of self that is deeply rooted, then she will grow up to be a resilient and self-confident woman.
Some define theirselves by family caste and status, some by degree, some by profession, some by religious sect, and some by dress. Take these away, each girls or woman’s sense of self will collapse. A sense of self is about “who you are”, not about how you look or what status of family you belong or what kind of degree you have or what kind of job you get.
Sense of self is not about how beautiful skin you have or how much money your parents have, or what profession you are married with, or what profession you are in or what sect or organization you belong to, or what length of Jelbab you adorn. These are all superficials. Sense of self is about connecting with oneself, developing a sense of one’s own personhood.
A girl should have a sense of self that is multidimensional. As a girl moves from childhood to adolescence, the answer to “tell me about yourself” should evolve from concrete descriptors to more abstract ideas about what they want, and how they see themselves, compared to past and their future.
Girls have opportunities today but yet receive so little structured guidance from adults. As a result many girls fixate on one activity or one dimension of their lives. Most girls are not getting the guidance they need to navigate through the uncharted territories of life. It is no longer clear to girls today what it means to be a “good girl”.
Unfortunately, parents with the best intention may do their daughter little good if they don’t understand their daughter’s situation. Parenting is an art not a science. You need to help your daughters become women who are happy, productive and at ease in this new world. When we listen to our friends it is usually with the purpose of understanding their dilemmas, of helping them clarify how they feel, and letting them know that we care. We listen long enough to know what it feels to be in their shoes. Too often with our children, we rush in and offer suggestions, propose alternatives, or solve problems.
Girls want to become women but our culture is lacking in helping them to make the transition to adulthood in this regard that instead of providing girls with a richer and multidimensional understanding of the inner aspects within them, we ignore and neglect and the consequences can be severe.
Becoming a mature adult means reconciling oneself to the fact that one is not going to be a special, one is not going to be famous.Defining oneself in terms of how one ranks is dangerous – and ultimately immature. Becoming a mature adult means, among other things, that one defines oneself relative to one’s own potential, not relative to somebody else’s standard.
Girls are focused on one dream, a dream based not on their own likes and dislikes but on impressing other people. Let your daughter figure out who she want to be rather than what would impress other people. Help your daughter to broaden her horizons instead of putting all the emotional investment into the one dream. You have to empower her to explore. Sometimes there is just so much disparity between what young women are told to expect and what actually happens that they get disillusioned. The one who blame themselves tend to get depressed.
Girls are subtle in our context. We need teachers who have a heart for teaching girls. Such teachers use methods to make sure that their girls can share with them what’s really happening in their lives. For a girl knowing that a teacher really cares about her is a powerful motivator. Unfortunately, there are teachers who don’t have the ability to empathize and to care about a girl’s problems even being women.
For some girls, life is about more than just mind and body; the core of their identity is all about spiritual journey. Girls on average are more concerned with pleasing their parents than boys but a girl’s willingness to follow in her parent’s footsteps may change during puberty, when girls often question the spiritual foundation of their lives. For some girls, those are the years of “spiritual awakening”. That’s is when they may struggle to figure out what they really care about. Remember your daughter is not your clone.
Researchers have consistently found that the greatest single influence on children’s spiritual development is their parents. Parents are the most important determinants of their children’s spiritual life. If you fail to nurture your daughter’s budding spirituality, it may be extinguished and then your daughter will be at risk for substituting it with something else. She will be disappointed, because no young men or women can fill the niche in the heart that belongs only to spirit.
Part of a girls identity as she makes the transition to womanhood is surely what kind of woman she will be, how she will express her inner side. Girls don’t know, what does it mean to be a woman? The vacuum is filled by the ready-to-wear images of “the ready-made feminine” available to them that are unrealistic and inauthentic – but these young women don’t recognize them as caricature, because they have received no guidance and have no knowledge.
We have neglected the importance of each individual discovering for oneself the right balance. “One should become who one is”, is good advice for any teenager. We should help our daughters to understand who they are and who they want to become regardless of pressures from the society and the popular culture to conform to a particular “ready-made” caricature of the feminine. Figuring out how to express your inner aspects in the right balance is an essential part of the transition to full adulthood and comes to the very close of who you are. It is a spiritual journey.
Some girls are spiritual by nature. They yearn for spiritual fulfillment. And girls are less likely than boys to find satisfaction for their spiritual hunger in the fantasy world of video games. Girls are more likely to plunge into real-world obsessions with physical appearance, thinness, dressing, social networking, may be even unrealistic standards of religiosity. But none of those obsessions will satisfy. It’s like drinking water when one is hungry for food.
Girls who are especially inclined towards spirituality, but who find no healthy expression for their spirituality, may be particularly at risk. Researchers suggest a psychological propensity may be either cultivated into a source of resilience, or if left uncultivated, pose risk for pathology. If that spirituality is not harnessed but left ‘willy-nilly’ it might account for the increased depressogenic sensitivity to life events than average.
Why is the spiritual journey so important? Life doesn’t go as planned. Death and loss happen; failure and disappointment hurt. Achievements of body and mind count for nothing when the crisis hits. She then discovers that she has been living on the edge of the abyss. Academic achievement and job don’t get one through the dark night of the soul. If her life is just mind and body, then she may feel her life falling apart. She may wonder whether life is worth living and all her dreams are dust. But if she has nurtured her spirit because you have taught her to cherish it, then she can endure through that dark night. It still won’t be easy, but it won’t poison her as it might if her spirit is weak.
Create new channels for communication with your daughters. Let your children be more than consumers and competitors, let them have courage in difficult times, let them have sense of joy and purpose. That is what it means to raise a healthy daughter.