I want to take some time to discuss a topic that I’ve been writing, researching, and speaking about for a very long time: raising strong daughters.
I have been a pediatrician for over 30 years. When I was a fourth-year medical student, I had our first child and during residency, I became pregnant each year. Not ideal for many people, but this worked well for my husband and me. As you can see, I truly believe that women can do anything.
Every woman knows what type of life is best for her and her family. I feel strongly that women should grow up to have real freedom to choose their lifestyle — whether they choose to be full-time mothers, work outside the home, or some combination of the two. As we raise our daughters, we must raise them with the knowledge that they are innately capable and strong, and that no matter what they choose to do with their lives, we as their parents believe they can be successful.
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How can you ensure that you are raising a strong daughter? Be attentive and intentional about how you parent her and be sure you are following these four principles:
1.) Believe in her. In September 1979, my father spoke a single sentence that changed my life. I had graduated from Mt. Holyoke College earlier in the year and had been rejected from several medical schools, so I was living at home pondering Plan B. One evening, I overheard my father talking to a friend on the phone. (I’ve told this story before but it’s worth repeating!)
“I’m excited to tell you that my daughter, Meg, will be starting medical school next fall. She’s not quite sure where, though.”
My head went hot. What was he saying? I’ll be going to medical school next fall? How can he say that?
My father believed something about me that I couldn’t yet believe myself. Not only did he believe it, but he, a doctor himself, put his reputation on the line in front of his friend. I felt thrilled and excited, because my father’s confidence gave me hope. And sure enough, in fall 1980, I started medical school, just as my father had said.
Don’t prevent your daughter from growing by overprotecting her. Let her fall down every once in awhile.
When your daughter senses you believe in her, she begins to believe in herself, and when she does, she can do anything.
2.) Focus on her character. It’s important to compliment our daughters — but in the right way. If your compliments consistently focus on her appearance or her performance, you will end up raising a daughter who becomes focused on her appearance or her performance — both of which do not determine her true character or value.
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Instead, compliment her character. Make an effort to pick out one or two character qualities you see in your daughter and applaud her for those. If she is compassionate, tell her that this trait makes you proud of her. If she decided not to quit something even when it was difficult, tell her that you are proud of her perseverance.
3.) Let her fail. If you want to have a strong, successful, emotionally healthy daughter, the worst thing you can do is protect her from every obstacle she may face. Real character and resilience develop in the face of adversity.
As parents, we want to protect our daughters — not let them get hurt, struggle or fail. But when you think about your own strengths, realize that they evolved because of a struggle you endured. Perhaps you overcame failure, learning resilience and perseverance.
Don’t prevent your daughter from growing by overprotecting her. Let her fall down every once in a while, so she can learn tenacity by picking herself up. Learning resilience builds strong character.
4.) Make sure there is a strong male figure in her life. One of the most important — if not the most important — keys to raising a strong daughter is to make sure she has a good father figure present in her life.
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When a dad hugs his daughter, she gets the extremely important message that he SEES her and he APPROVES her. Her father’s feelings about her are far more important than anyone else’s. Fathers have the potential to have the greatest impact on their daughters’ lives. Simply by being with them and paying attention to them, they can ensure their daughter will grow up to be a strong woman with great self-esteem. (There is so much research to back this up, I wrote an entire book on the topic.)
The future greatly relies on the way we are raising our daughters today. Let’s raise them to be strong women of character who know where their worth and value truly come from.
Dr. Meg Meeker has practice pediatrics and adolescent medicine for more than 30 years. She is the author of the best-selling book “Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters,” as well as a number of digital parenting resources and online courses, including The 12 Principles of Raising Great Kids.