Raising girls to become strong women takes discipline, routine and age-appropriate responsibilities, writes Steve Biddulph.
If you are lucky, you will know some strong women. These women stand up for themselves and other people, and they are resilient under stress. They are people you’d want on your side if the going got tough. How did those women get to be strong? Were they born that way? Usually, the answer is no – they became strong, because they had to .
Some girls growing up have had to face enormous adversity and hardship – ‘the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune’: the illness of a parent, a death or an accident, or having to leave one’s home country because of war. While nobody would choose it, this hardship is the stuff of heroic biographies, of the triumph of the human spirit. Many people are broken by it, but some people come through. ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger!’
But hardship isn’t the only route to becoming strong. Most of us are lucky to be able to take smaller steps and the slower path. We face the needles and blood tests at the doctor’s, the drills at the dentist; we go to a new school where we don’t know anyone, or stand in front of a classroom or front up to an interview panel; we ask for a refund or contest what someone has said; we keep our commitments even when we are tired, frightened or sick. Gradually life teaches us that we can get through things. Life makes us strong.
But there is a third way, which is safer and probably the best. We can be raised to be strong. We can help our girls get there sooner, and in fact a huge task of parenthood is to do this. One of the core ways we do it is with discipline.
Right from toddlerhood, we can guide our daughters to build their ‘character muscles’ – not to be hard, but to be supple, resilient and capable. How you do it has to be appropriate and right for the age they are. It begins with having routines and responsibilities.
- With toddler Matilda, her mum always has a bedtime routine. She has a wash, does her teeth and tidies up her things before a story in bed.
- With preschooler Amy, her mum expects her to help clean up after dinner, bring the plates to the dishwasher, then put away her toys and put her dirty clothes in the basket.
- School-age Mandy looks after the dog: gets its food and water, brings it in at night-time and walks it with her dad a couple of times a week.
- High-schooler Erin goes to her job at the bakery three afternoons a week after school to earn money for the excursion.
- University student Aliah cooks the family meal three nights a week as her mother and father both work late on those nights.
Many parents make the mistake of letting kids just be little consumers of goods and services – they do it all for them. While it takes a bit of time to get kids doing it for themselves, it sure pays off by the time they are at school or become teenagers. Being capable – with clothes, food, pets, cleanliness and tidiness with things, doing homework at a routine time, getting ready for sports or other activities – is all part of true self-esteem.
Discipline is how you build strength. Nobody ‘feels’ like doing hard things, but we can get used to doing them when there is a good reason why.
Extracted from Steve Biddulph’s Raising Girls. Published by Finch Publishing in paperback ($24.99) and eBook ($9.99). Available now from good bookshops, DDSs and online retailers.