How to Raise Ambitious Daughters Who Are Invested in Their Own Success
Our efforts to nurture women into leadership, stand up for equality, and have a voice as women ourselves are critical to the gender-balanced needs of our society. We know that women who embrace power with confidence are key to bringing leadership parity to every field. Some of our strategies for promoting women’s leadership are proving successful, however, so much of who we are and what we believe about what it means to be female (and our personal capabilities and aspirations) are built upon messages sent to us in childhood.Too often these messages do not support the development of women who are comfortable and confident in their abilities and potential. In looking at my own life I wondered what prompted me to choose education, go to college and pursue higher ed. I thought it was strange that both my sister and brother also chose to go to college and become teachers. But did we “choose”? What subtle message or expectation was in our home that propelled all three of us to select the same pathway for our careers and educations? What guidance did we receive from our parents, Stanley and Agnes, who themselves did not pursue higher education, but gave us these aspirations?It was obvious that our parents wanted more for us educationally and professionally… but, how did they encourage us? What parenting strategies did they employ that led all three of us to choose education? As I examined my childhood and my adult achievements I also found myself looking into other messages that were sent to me by my parents that impacted other aspects of my life. Why was I so shy? Why was I afraid of certain challenges? Why was I “sugar and spice and everything nice” and so willing to accept being “seen and not heard?”More importantly, why did I and why do I continue to have an inner fear of failure and self-doubt? Where did that come from?! These questions led me to take a deeper look at the messages permeating my home during my early years. This quest became a passion during my doctoral work. I examined women, lots of women, who chose different career paths with varying degrees of feelings of self-efficacy and worth and discovered amazing things.Parents send their children, both sons and daughters, powerful messages about women and about being female, which form adult attitudes and aspirations that hold strong, long into adulthood. The messages of “sugar and spice and everything nice” and growing up to marry the more-capable prince in order to live happily-ever-after DO NOT develop young women with a strong voice who then aspire to leadership!My research energized me and prompted me to get the word out to parents about being mindful of what they say, do, and expect regarding their daughters. I was so eager I wrote an e-book on the subject, and I was thrilled to find that parents were eager to learn new ways of communicating with their daughters. They wanted to send messages of strength and hardiness and open career options. I shared simple, powerful strategies like changing the way you identify your daughter by using words of strength and empowerment rather than words that imply helplessness and neediness. This helps parents teach their daughters to think critically, value learning by doing, and appraise their self-worth using authentic beauty as a measuring stick rather than the physical measure our media advocates.Then I kept on writing. I wanted to highlight some critical parenting strategies: Branding Her Strong, Promoting Independence, Promoting Thinking, Promoting Learning, Promoting Authentic Beauty, and Promoting Awareness… all great skills for laying a solid foundation for the development of a strong woman.Parents should be determined to raise their daughters to become independent, self-assured, ambitious strong women who will resist the temptations of the media to become submissive, fearful, and lacking in confidence and voice. We can create a home environment for our daughters that is rich in positive messages about being female that foster resiliency, hardiness, strength, and that fosters educational and career options and choice.A variety of activities can give both parent and child a new awareness of female strength and open the door to developing genuine communication with each other. For example, it can be a focused conversation or together creating a discovery journal. There are so many ways to arm our daughters with the tools they need to choose educational and career paths that will make them successful. But it’s up to us to be proactive about using those tools and sharing them with others.Read Dr. Janet Rose Wojtalik’s books, The Seven Secrets of Parenting Girls and Raising Successful Daughters from Childhood to Womanhood.