One of the greatest disservices we do to one another as women is that we teach our daughters “to be nice.”
It is not that “be nice” is a bad message … along with “be polite,” “be respectful,” etc .. But we teach our daughters to be nice with the fervour of moonies at the “weekend retreat” from which no-one ever returns.
The problem is that little girls learn a whole set of rules that are as restrictive and perhaps more damaging that any burqa or religious indoctrination. Little girls learn to deny themselves, to ignore their own needs… to feel achievement and satisfaction in putting others “always first.”
Of course we want to teach our daughters to be kind but being "kind" is far different than being "nice." "Kind" is about a nature .. . a governing soul principal that guides everything you do. "Nice" is a learned superficial worn affect. When someone does something kind we can say “wow, that was really nice of them.” BUT they do not mean the same thing. Nice comes and goes.
When we teach our daughters to be nice at all costs, we are denying them feelings and insight into who they are. We actually force them to “be nice,” even when they do not feel it, and we reward them for achieving that .. never once considering the cost of them learning to hide their true feelings and mask it with an unfelt overture. We are in fact, teaching them to lie … to themselves.
One of the biggest complaints I get when I counsel men, is that the woman they married is not the woman they dated. How many of us have done this on a date …
“What would you like to do this weekend?”
“I don’t know, what would you like to do?”
“No, I asked you, anything at all .. What would you like to do?”
“I don’t know, really I am easy, happy to do anything you want .”
“Seriously I always decide, tell me what you would like for a change.”
“What are the choices?”
“Well, we could go to the fair, or bowling, or out to dinner, or the football game.”
“Really I don’t care, I just like being with you.”
“Well ok then, lets go to the football game.”
So after months of dating like this, and then a marriage, when he buys her season tickets for their anniversary .. something he considers special because they went to all the games when they dated and she loves football, and she goes, "I HATE FOOTBALL … HOW COULD YOU BUY ME FOOTBALL TICKETS FOR OUR ANNIVERSARY? I WANTED BALLET TICKETS. YOU NEVER TAKE ME TO THE BALLET OR DO ANYTHING I LIKE. YOU DON’T EVEN LOVE ME!!! …” He is a little confused ….
Women are taught to be nice at the expense of understanding themselves. They can’t ask for what they want because in some instances they don’t even know what they want, and in other instances they are afraid to ask for what they want.
Let’ s teach our daughters honesty. The fact is we feel things. How do we deal with those emotions .. In a way that honours the feelings and channels them into understanding for self and others and positive outcomes? So when Susie comes home from school and says she hates Mary Jane cause she laughed at her in class and said she was fat and now all Susie wants to do is smash Mary Jane … we don’t dismiss it with “that’s not a nice thing to say.” Trust me, Susie already knows it is not nice. When we hear her on the phone later planning revenge with some of the other girls, we don’t just caution her with, “Susie .. be nice.”
Susie needs to talk about the way she feels. She needs to sit with her feelings and be supported. Yes, we all feel awful when someone says unkind things about us. She also needs to be helped to understand:
1. What others say or think is not something we can control.
2. What others say or think is not always the truth nor does it reflect what everyone else says or thinks.
3. People are unkind for all kinds of reasons that often have nothing to do with us. Often what they say tells us far more about who they are than it says anything about the person they are disparaging.
4. Responding in kind feeds it and makes it bigger.
5. You can control yourself and what you do and within THAT lies the power to change how it impacts you.
Asking how she wants to handle it is far more supportive than telling her she has to go back to school and “be nice.” That is often an emotional equivalent of “please lie down in front of the bus when you see it coming and let it drive over you again and again.” What outcome do we expect except to see from this kind of counsel other than our daughters being swallowed up and who they are disappearing behind the frozen smile of “being nice.”
Asking her to refrain from doing anything mean in response is perfectly legit. But empowering her to step back from interaction with, or helping her to find the words to say if it happens again .. these are important steps for all women. You can role play with her different situations and outcomes, so she feels prepared for the next encounter with Mary Jane. Each of us chooses to deal with situations in different ways .. depending on the circumstances. We need to be empowered to do that and empowerment has to start with children.
We need to celebrate who we are and what we enjoy and love .... to be given messages that whatever that is – is perfect. So that when we date and meet others we can say,” no thank-you,” when we get asked to the football games we hate and we can let someone know ..” I actually prefer the ballet.” It gives us the confidence to find people we are compatible with and if we do that we have a chance to find good friends, wonderful lovers and husbands. We are giving our daughters a chance to be happy.
The truth is we can turn so many things around and make them different for our daughters. We can blame society all we want but who or what is society, if it is not us? And again, we cannot control everyone else, we can only control ourselves, our situations .. and for a time, our daughters .. as we teach and guide them.
Instead of being defeated, instead of wading into all the muck of the past decades and moaning about what has been, lets change the focus and empower ourselves. We can begin right here and right now to make these changes. And if everyone just did what was on their own plate, within their own sphere of influence .. it would make an amazing difference.
It is not about the way it has been .. It is about the possibilities. The possibilities of who you and of who your daughter is. Empower her to make choices, to speak up, to say who she is and what she likes and dislikes, to have feelings, to discern, to decide what she should do next, to fail, to succeed, to be … and you stand beside her as her mother and tell her …. she is wonderful and perfect .. Just as she is.
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