Straight Talk

While October was my month to read scary books (and that was FUN), November seems to be shaping up to be the month of non-fiction. I didn’t plan it that way (really, if I were going to plan something for November, it would be Food Books), but I do have a lot of non-fiction on my bedside table, so to speak.

I just started Michael Pollan’s In Defense of Food, and hoo boy, am I going to have stuff to say about that.

In the meantime, though, I finished a book recently titled The Curse of the Good Girl, by Rachel Simmons. I picked it up on impulse at the library because, der, I’m the mom of two girls.

If you don’t know, Rachel Simmons wrote Odd Girl Out a few years back detailing the “hidden” aggression in girls’ behavior. I believe some of her research has lead to terms like “Mean Girls” and/or “Queen Bees”. I would have to check further into that.

But, if you’re like me, just think the movie Heathers, and you’ll pretty much get the gist.

I am happy to have daughters. Let me say that right up front. They delight and amaze me. I never wistfully wish for one of them to be a boy. I honestly don’t care. (My desire for a baby boy has nothing to do with raising only girls to this point.)

But the world of the teen girl is not something I am looking forward to navigating with my daughters. What I did not know was that some of this girl socialization (for good and ill) starts so dang early.

Flora has already come home complaining about so-and-so not wanting to be her friend. She told me about a day where everyone at her school called her stupid. This incident was later traced to one girl.

She’s 5.

My daughters say things to each other like, “I’m not your friend anymore” and “You’re mean”.

I don’t like it. Further, I am not going to accept it. But I need to find the language, the navigation skills, to nip it effectively in the bud. Without turning either of my daughters into doormats. Obviously.

So, The Curse of the Good Girl. At first I rolled my eyes reading it, I admit (how very… girl-y). The book talks about how the desire to be a Good Girl undermines our daughters in the Real World (Simmons’ capital letters). The Good Girl wants everyone to like her; she will do anything, including denying her own emotions, ideas, and values, to maintain relationships. She silences her voice and she doesn’t take risks, afraid of what people will think of her or that she will disappoint people. And by people, Simmons doesn’t just mean peers; she includes parents, teachers, coaches, and later in life, managers, employees, bosses, etc.

In short, the desire to be liked and to have ideal relationships with everyone overrides our girls’ decisions on how to behave and feel.

But as I continued to read, I saw the importance of what Simmons was saying. I even caught glimpses of myself both as a Good Girl and as a Real Girl — even now, as a working woman, as a wife, as a mother, as a friend — even as a “mommy” blogger in a community of other “mommy” [and other types of] bloggers. In general, I am not a Good Girl — I am not afraid to express my ideas or opinions (just ask Dan!), although I do still fall into Good Girl traps occasionally (again, ask Dan). For the most part, I don’t care what people think of me. I strive to be tactful (and I fail, often), but I’m going to say what’s on my mind. I promise to use I Statements.

Looking back to my pre-teen and teen years, I can see instances where the desire to be a Good Girl kept me quiet. But those instances are few and far between. And mostly took place at home, not with my friends or at school. It was most difficult for me to express my emotions with my parents. I was labeled a drama queen at home.

The irony is not lost on me.

I have to find a different way to let Flora express herself while also guiding her in appropriate and constructive ways to express her emotions. And I have to start now.

Last night, for the first time, I tried something. When I heard Flora say to Kate, “Kate, you’re mean,” I interrupted. “No. We are not going to talk like that.” Flora looked a little surprised. I continued, “If you are upset with Kate, you say, ‘Kate, it upset me when you took the marker out of my hand.’ You don’t just call her mean.”

Another example is: I’m sorry. Flora starts with the “I’m sorry”s as soon as she senses she has done something wrong. If I continue to scold her, she exclaims, “But I said I’m sorry!” I have to explain to her that “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean that the thing for which she is apologizing didn’t happen. “I’m sorry” doesn’t mean that she didn’t make a mistake. She needs to recognize and express true remorse, not just cover her tracks.

I know that my daughters are young for this — I’m going to hear a lot more “you’re mean”s and “I’m not your friend”s and empty “I’m sorry”s. But if I give my girls the tools now, maybe by the time they really need them, they will be second nature.

I can hope, anyway. And I have to lead by example. Wish me luck. Tell me how you are doing it with your girls or boys. And I am open to further reading suggestions, too, regarding raising girls and/or confident children in general.