My daughter is frequently seen running around the house in her leotard and filmy pink tutu, growling and brandishing a Nerf sword as she and “the boys” conquer their unseen foes. She’s the perfect girl with all brothers. She wrestles with them and pretends to hunt African leopards, and teaches her toddler brother how to take care of baby dolls. At any given time, she might be playing with Legos or she might be pushing a stroller.
But the other day, we had bona-fide little females over to play—three of them. They didn’t fight for a minute as the cardboard dress-up trunk was thrown open: piles of tulle, garish beads, and gaudy tiaras were everywhere. The babies and plastic food made for the perfect girl haven. (Her brothers were gone.) She was in pink and purple heaven. Squeals of delight and decidedly female phrases floated down the stairs, things like, “I need the stroller to take to the ball.”
But then, her decidedly girlfriends had to go home. And my sweet little girl began to cry. I held her as their minivan pulled away.
Coming from a family of all girls—even the dog was female—I don’t know what it’s like to be a girly girl surrounded by testosterone. It helps that my kids are close in age; she doesn’t feel isolated from them. But my husband and I implement some strategic plans to make sure that our little girl isn’t always the odd (wo)man out. We want her to feel like the special little lady God created her to be—without morphing into a bossy, pampered queen.
1. Teach the boys to protect and defend. We want our daughter’s femininity to be something that’s held in special honor, not contempt. Talk around the dinner table, for example, doesn’t need to belittle anyone’s gender. Putdowns disparaging “Men!” (complete with sigh and eyeball roll) or making fun of a crying girl don’t reflect God’s passion for unity. They don’t convey His creation of male and female in God’s image.
During playtime, my daughter doesn’t usually mind being the one who’s chased as “the enemy!” But when things start to get lopsided and she’s consistently not on their side, I ask the boys to switch things up a little.
Lessons like these seem to teach the boys about compassion and about defending those who are weaker—or just different. I want to teach the heart attitude of manners—respect—by ingraining habits of chivalry for their sister. That might involve lifting heavy items for her, opening the door for her, comforting her, or just listening to her. Hopefully this will translate into their relationships with other women, all the way to marriage. Our daughter learns that she’s worthy of respect and honor, no matter her level of dominance or strength—or her gender.
2. Teach both to come into each other’s world. If my daughter wants to wrestle with the boys, we ask her not to ruin their fun by being oversensitive and melodramatic; she needs to be ready to play a little rougher. But of course, the boys need to treat her with special honor, too, and not body-slam the poor kid. Similar to point number one, these cross-gender relations are training my children to love people who are different than they are. It also helps them appreciate how others are made—and each individual’s reflection of God.
3. Give her some special girl time. A thoughtful friend of mine recently threw a “princess party” at her “castle.” The little girls were mailed large invitations which were, of course, pink and purple. They wore their princess getup, clomping around in plastic shoes. Then they frosted cookies, colored princess pictures, chose prizes from a treasure box, and enjoyed a real-live tea party with their moms and grandmas. My daughter couldn’t stop talking about it!
Maybe this time for you two involves doing nothing girly whatsoever. Or maybe it’s just going out on a date to get food she likes, go shopping, or see a chick flick. But the main idea here is to celebrate her femininity and uniqueness in ways that are memorable and meaningful. Communicate that she’s not alone, and that her femaleness is not just an obstacle that isolates her from the rest of your family.
4. Give her some everyday girl time. For us, this includes seeking out books from the library that are geared for girls, coloring paper dolls together, giving her some special space to play with her girl toys, or brushing her hair and chatting. If your girl’s not girly, I gently suggest that you don’t force her to be someone she’s not, but rather just help her to feel comfortable with who God has made her to be. You can also spend some time focusing on what it means to be a woman of God—one who loves a husband, children, and/or other people well.
If she’s older, give her some time to talk about whatever she’s going through—to verbally process her world. Without amplifying whatever drama she’s experiencing (or conveying) and overanalyzing it to death, help her walk through life. Again, the idea is not to pamper her so that she gets self-focused. It’s just to counter some of her isolation, communicate value, and appreciate how she’s wired.
5. Be intentional about helping her get together with female friends, whether it’s play dates or a night at Grandma’s or—for older girls—a slumber party while the guys go out with Dad. If she’s older, she might enjoy a mentor who will have fun with her, give her another female perspective and role model, and nurture her as a young woman of God.
6. Learn how she’s different. Authors like Michael Gurian have written fascinating material on the different ways that boys and girls learn, develop, and process information. It may help you to have well-placed expectations on your daughter’s development as it relates to her gender—and differs from her brothers.
7. Make the most of your own relationship. A mother-daughter relationship may not replace a sibling relationship—and it’s healthy to allow other girls to play the “bosom buddy” role in her life. But I’ve witnessed some beautiful connections with “only daughters” and their moms that are as unique as the women who form them. Pray for God to draw you and your daughter’s relationship into a close, healthy place that honors Him. Some quick ideas:
- Find a project or a craft you love to do together.
- Sign up for a class together.
- Serve together—maybe you’ll teach a VBS class together, or sort through clothes at a shelter, or make a meal for people just out of the hospital.
- Pray with her.
- Pick out a Bible study to do together, or memorize some verses about real beauty.
- Take a road trip together.
I’ve observed how God has used the women I know who have grown up with brothers. He has carefully crafted plans for these women who understand men and work with them as close companions. They are wonderful assets in the workplace and at home, and many of them have a beautiful vigor in their brand of femininity. God has designed my family in the way it would best function for his honor. My daughter isn’t disadvantaged because she’s the only girl. Nope—she’s packing a secret weapon.
And Nerf doesn’t even make this one.
Copyright © 2011 by FamilyLife. All rights reserved.
This article originally appeared in FamilyLife’s blog, MomLife Today.
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