I thoroughly enjoyed your presentation today and found myself chuckling as I was reminded of miscommunications between myself and the men in my life.
My question is: I am the mother of 2 girls, ages 5 and 3. As a mother are there things I can do to help them “speak their truth”. Already at such young ages, I see the differences in gender communication/gender actions between the girls and the boys. As much as it is fascinating, it is also frightening as I know how hard it is to “ask for what I want”, “gain credibility in a male dominated world” and “have purposeful conversations with my very male minded husband”.
I’m interested in your opinions as a professional and as a mother.
Dear Mindfull Mama,
Yes, having raised two daughters myself, I can appreciate your concerns. Here are a few things I was conscious to do in my parenting that I believe could benefit both boys and girls:
1. Always phrased my requests in the positive. I believe one of the things women, in particular, have a tendency to do is tell people what we don’t want, rather than ever stating exactly what we do. So, I was the mother around the pool yelling, “Please walk” vs. “don’t run”. When we would walk in a store I would say, “Use your eyes vs. Don’t touch.” This may not sound like a gender issue, but I wanted my daughters to be able to articulate and ask for what they wanted, rather than just complain about what wasn’t working. If they were really wound up perhaps complaining about their sibling or some situation, I would ask, “What do you want?” or What do you want me to do? In other words, getting them to be direct and focus their requests.
2. I didn’t allow them to say, “I don’t know” too often. Do you want milk or water for dinner? “I don’t know.” I would respond, “Well, I don’t know means no in this house, so when you figure it out let me know.” Then I wouldn’t do anything until they claimed it. Too often, as girls get to be preteens, I don’t know becomes a powerful part of their vocabulary as they’re looking to others to help them make decisions or in their desire to go along with the crowd they stop stating their preferences. I make them claim it or they don’t get it.
3. Having said that, from a very young age I would have them order their own food even at a McDonalds counter. Use your voice. They gave out little ice cream cones at my playland when the girls were young for free, but you had to ask. I went with them the first few times, but after that I had them go on their own and I would watch from a distance. In the beginning they were shy, didn’t want to, felt uncomfortable, etc., My response, “Well, then you just don’t want that ice cream cone badly enough” and I would NOT get it for them. I knew they could. When they finally broke down and did it, I made a BIG deal of how proud I was, etc. telling everyone in front of them so they could own it.
4. Didn’t stop them from bragging within the family or being competitive – wasn’t harping all the time to “play nice” but rather “play fairly.”
5. Never said phrases such as, “Act like a lady” but simply encouraged and modeled good manners. If they asked for the special flower on the cake, I might say, “If no one else wants to share it with you, I’d be happy to give it to you and then check with her sibling. My own mother would say, “You get what you get and be thankful!” I have some of that attitude about some things that are more important, but I don’t want them to not ask for what they want. I don’t always give it to them, either, because we don’t always get what we ask for!
6. Constantly telling them stories about strong women who have taken risks by asking for what they wanted since they knew the worst answer they could hear was no – and that’s where they were already.
These are just a few ideas that popped into my mind. I hope these help, or at a minimum get you started.