Parenting is all about preparation. As long as you realize you'll never be fully prepared.
When kids are younger, preparation means making sure you can survive a two-hour trip out of your house. For me, that consisted of 14 diapers, seven bags of goldfish, three extra outfits, every first aid component ever made, toys, books, mats, drink boxes, and a protein bar. My family could survive days on a desert island if needed.
Now I'm spending my time preparing myself for questions. Questions that can feel uncomfortable. Questions that are important and will shape my daughters' lives. Questions I often don't have the answers to.
It's not shocking to know that most tweens and teens report that they feel they cannot talk to their parents because they either won’t listen, they over-react, or the universal “they just don't understand what it's like to be me!”
Talking to your daughter about what I call the “shudder” issues (these are topics that when I think about them, they make me shudder) is something I think most of us dread. It's one thing to talk about sex with our girlfriends over a glass of wine, but it's a whole other issue when you're trying to decide how to tackle it with your baby girl.
There is a time when all us need to have “the talk” with our daughters. The best advice I've received is don't do it in one fell swoop: Spread it out over time so you encourage ongoing communication. But what about other questions? Questions that relate to body image or friendships or self-confidence. Questions that come out of no where when you're least expecting them. Questions that can break a young girl's spirit if handled inappropriately.
And unfortunately, these questions can come up at any age. This just isn't for the tweens and older set.
Here are five questions every mom of daughters should prepare to answer. I don't have all the answers, and I think it depends on your own life choices on how you would want to respond, but be prepared.
Why do you wear make up? I work really hard to try to promote a good body image for my daughters, but I totally flubbed this simple question. What I wanted to say was: “Mommy needs to cover up all the wrinkles and dark circles so I don't scare people.” But instead, I fumbled through talking about covering up a few blemishes and making my eyes look bigger. What I wish I would have said: “I use make up to enhance the features I already love and it gives me an opportunity to express myself sometimes, but I'm way more concerned if people like me for who I am on the inside.” Yes, if I ever have another daughter—which would have to be by immaculate conception—that is what I would say.
Am I fat? Ugh. According to a study announced in February of this year from the National Institute on Media and the Family, about 40 percent of girls ages nine and ten have tried to lose weight. Four out of every ten girls. That feels messed up. Yes, the media is largely to blame; but as mothers, we have to do a better job of setting the tone (I've talked about this in the past in Do I Ever Say Anything Positive About My Body?)
Even though you may want to dismiss her concerns, don't end the conversation by just saying no or of course not. I'm not normally a fan of answering a question by asking another question, but in this instance it's good to get to the root of the issue. You may want to ask your daughter if she feels fat or if there is a reason she is asking. It's then important to focus on healthy eating and exercise, but don't focus on losing weight. “Maybe we can start walking after dinner and you can start helping me grocery shop. I know I feel my best after I exercise and I’d love to spend more time with you.” We need to stress that women are much more than their physical appearance, our health is more than just our weight, and our character is more important than the size of our skinny jeans.
Does this look good on me? This is a tough one. I think we need to honor the girl code with our daughters when it comes to not letting them go out of the house with something that makes them look awful, but sometimes it is just a matter of taste. Take a barometer reading of your daughter’s attitude with what she has on: Does she seem happy and confident or fidgety and unsure? Make sure your response isn't critical of her body type (i.e., you don't have the body to wear crop tops), and instead make a few suggestions on what may better flatter her assets.
Why doesn’t anyone like me/why don't I fit in? Many parents often brush off comments where kids sound like their world is falling apart, but two researchers at UCLA discovered that social rejection actually registers as bodily injury or pain in the brain. It is important to determine if your daughter is just having a bad day (and may cause her to act a little dramatic) or if something else is going on. You may want to talk to her teachers or other parents you trust. Try to find out why she feels that way and make suggestions on how she can improve her friendships, but most importantly don't write it off. There could be an underlying issue you may need to address. And remember, kids of any age do not realize that there is a life beyond their school years.
Can I wear that/Can I have that/Can I do that? Girls often like to push the boundaries a little earlier than their male counterparts. But seriously. Just say no if you do not think it is appropriate. Sometimes as parents we fear our kids will be left behind if they do not have something or do something all the other kids are; the truth is when just one parent is brave enough to say no, the others often follow. Be brave.
More from parenting