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Mindful Parenting, Especially for Girls

For many generations, parents and educational institutions have taught that children shouldn't have their own opinions or voice.   We were to be seen, but not heard.   But now, as adults, many of us are going through our own un-schooling of these ways that we were raised, and learning compassion for ourselves in our parenting journey along the way.  

For any of you raised in the Mid-west, where to show pride or brag is to sin, this is especially enlightening. And as a female, shrinking, or a lack of self-pride is an all too common affliction. 

If you peruse the literature on female development, you may notice that there is a common thread regarding how many young girls often lose their voice by the age of 10. They are exposed to messages to be "sugar and spice and everything nice," to be "seen and not heard," to "look pretty." So what happens when we don't look so pretty, when we have feelings that are not so "nice," when we do have a voice that may or may not agree, and when we do want to shine and share our light? For many little girls, they begin to refrain from accessing their opinions and preferences and from expressing their authentic feelings. Slowly these young women become "other-directed" rather than "self-directed." The consequence in adulthood, from this cumulative disconnect and self-neglect, can lead to resentment, confusion and depression. But there is always an opportunity for an awakening, reminding us of what we knew from the beginning and of how precious we really are.

When my twin daughters were small, I made a conscious decision to not only say, 'I'm proud of you,' but to also say 'You must be so proud of yourself.' This approach helps children realize, from a young age, that their true compass and locus of truth, approval and love always lies within themselves.

This is a a jewel of wisdom I have shared with so many friends.  When my best friend's daughter was 12 years old, I called her after a school play to ask her how it went. "It was great," she exclaimed. "I was really proud of my performance!"  I thought this was a remarkable response, because when I was in junior high school, sharing pride in this way would have been considered boastful or "stuck-up." When my girlfriend got on the phone, I told her how incredible it was that her daughter could really celebrate and acknowledge herself, at an age when young girls often begin to dim their light to be accepted and not perceived as "conceited."  She told me something that I vowed to share with as many parents as possible:  "Teach your kids to be proud of themselves.  Because that teaches them to rely less on external feedback, and to be more secure in their own inner voices or internal compass - let them rely less on external praise and teach them to be confident and to give themselves a pat on the back at early age."  How many adults can't accept either a compliment or criticism?  The answer is most of us - and it's because we were raised to be self critical. 

I've been spreading the gift of these words of wisdom ever since, encouraging parents to consistently use this reflective mirroring back to our children, not just for accomplishments but "just because." I try to say "You must be so proud of the person that you are. I am so glad you are here and love you so much" to my now teen girls. Can you imagine hearing that or saying that to ourselves everyday? It's a beautiful reminder to us all.

And when was the last time you gave yourself some "love" in the morning mirror?
Be proud of who you are.
Be proud that you are here.
That makes you a living miracle.

Photo credit:  My own twin daughter in their happy place - on stage. 

"Our deepest fear is not that we are inadequate. Our deepest fear is that we are powerful beyond measure. It is our light, not our darkness that most frightens us. We ask ourselves, who am I to be brilliant, gorgeous, talented, fabulous? Actually, who are you not to be? You are a child of God. Your playing small does not serve the world. There is nothing enlightened about shrinking so that other people won't feel insecure around you. We are all meant to shine, as children do. We were born to make manifest the glory of God that is within us. It's not just in some of us; it's in everyone. And as we let our own light shine, we unconsciously give other people permission to do the same. As we are liberated from our own fear, our presence automatically liberates others."    

- Marianne Williamson

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