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.

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10 thoughts on “Straight Talk

  1. This just made me think of how often I have said “I’m sorry” for my entire life. I don’t think most of them were empty. Except that I have been quick to use it, forever. So maybe some are empty… But what bothers me is, where did I get all this apparent guilt? It just drives me crazy. And trying to be a good girl might have had something to do with it. I’m less concerned about being a good girl now – a definite plus about aging, for me.

    • It may not even be a guilt thing, it may just be a strategy to move beyond the situation (see my reply to Leanne, below).

      The age and experience thing is very helpful in leaving the Good Girl behind! It’s interesting because in the book, the Good Girl would come back for professional women in their home life and/or relationships with their daughters.

      Thanks for the comment! Ciao, rpm

  2. I, too, am addicted to “I’m sorry” and now have a five-year-old daughter who will string a half dozen sorry’s together when she’s messed up. It bugs me sometimes, but apologizing can also be a great way to disarm others…so I’m not sure how riled up I should be.
    “The Curse of the Good Girl” sounds interesting. I liked “Reviving Ophelia”; the book’s now about ten years old (I think) and it’s meant for teens, but it shows how being a girl is different now than when we were young (or at least when I was young). I try to steer away from reading too much serious parenting stuff, though…it freaks me out too much. Bit of The Ostrich Theory, I suppose.
    Thanks for making me think.
    Leanne (http://ironicmom.com/)

    • Leanne,

      One of Simmons’ points about “I’m sorry” is that in teen-girl speak it means, “let’s move on.” Like, Yeah I screwed up, I’m sorry, we’re still friends, let’s forget about it. And if the other person doesn’t forget about it, then suddenly it’s her problem. So it actually does more than disarm a person, it shifts blame. (I’m not saying either you or your daughter do this. I’m just pointing out what Simmons says.) Other catchphrases to look out for are “no offense” and “just kidding”. These phrases allow a girl to say something mean and then hide.

      The other thing about “I’m sorry” is that when women use it automatically in adult relationships, it is defacto accepting blame for something that went awry. In a professional setting this can be incredibly detrimental.

      I understand the Ostrich theory, I do. But I’m really glad I read this book. I am going to keep my eye on my girls, and see if I’ll need to buy it some where down the road!

      Thanks for the comment!

      Ciao, rpm

  3. I’ve had this conversation with so many other mothers…and boys act like this, too. I generally steer clear of parenting books, and definitely gender-specific parenting books, because I feel that so many of the ‘special’ issues brought up in those are more developmental and age-related rather than gender-related.

    That being said: the “I’m sorry” thing- well, my son uses it, too. Just like my daughter does. How that translates into puberty, I don’t know- perhaps we (meaning, society) are much more willing to accept passive-aggressive from girls, but I’d agrue that boys are taught so squash their feelings down, too, and will do stupid, mean things in order to be accepted.

    I teach my children that calling names is bad; that it’s ok to point out that a behavior is bad, though. Words like stupid, hate, dumb- those are all bad words in our house. I will correct my children- I get them to state their feelings or to control their emotions (both my boys and my girls, here) and use their manners to show respect. I make all of them say ‘sorry’, but it is always followed by what they did wrong and an expression of how they know it was wrong; and then they are to DO something to show their regret or to try to make it better. I’ve had to help my oldest deal with bullies, too- kindergarten was the worst with girls. We’ve moved onto boys being horrible to her now. And here is probably why I get so prickly about using gender as an excuse for behavior (even if it’s socialized behavior): I can’t talk to the boys’ parents, because I’m laughed off with an ‘Oh, boys will be boys’ attitude and THAT is unacceptable. I don’t care who you are, saying “I’m going to punch your face off” is never, EVER acceptable to say.

    *ahem* Ok…I’m going to just post this longest-comment-ever, LOL!

    • Generally speaking I parent by instinct too, but when I stumble onto a valuable resource for myself, I do like to take note! 🙂 As for “gender” vs. “age/development” that is valid. This book really did focus on the relational way girls interact, though. It’s much less direct than with boys, overall.

      I am pretty much teaching my children the same things you ennumerate in your third paragraph: name-calling bad; appropriately expressing feelings, good; apologies should be genuine not a tool to put something behind you. And I agree about the socialized gender thing, all the way. Socializing girls to be “Good Girls” and saying “Boys will be Boys” are doing our children — and their peers — no favors. I think parents of both genders have to teach acceptable behavior, physical and verbal. Next time you’re told “boys will be boys” you should inquire as to whether those boys who gang-raped that 15-year-old (or watched her get gang-raped) were just being boys. Betcha that’ll shut some pieholes.

      And believe it or not, I’ve had longer comments. You should check out my “Down with the Mommy Wars” post from February (I think). I got the mother of all comments. I was tempted to delete it. Oy.

      Thanks for the comment!
      ciao,
      rpm

  4. Thanks so much for reviewing my book. I appreciate your honesty and openness. I always tell the girls I work with that stuff like I Statements and emotions are not necessarily THE way to communicate, but A way….and as you point out, it’s critical to give kids tools as early as possible. One thing I have also noticed among readers is how many adult women seem to struggle with the Good Girl curse (I know I do!). someone even recently asked me for a book on women being Good Girls. I couldn’t think of one — except Nice Girls Don’t Get the Corner Office. Anyway, thanks again!

    • Rachel,

      I am really glad I saw it at the library. I would hate to have to start using some of these techniques when my daughters are already teens. But if I can teach my 5-year-old to think her way out of over-the-top statements like, “You mean never?” or “I’m so stupid” now, I certainly hope she won’t still be saying them when she’s 15!

      As I mentioned, I struggled much more with being a Good Girl at home than I did at school or in club activities. But even at home, my parents and I (eventually) learned how to communicate effectively, and it certainly enriched my relationship with them as an adult and especially as a mom. I don’t think I let my inner Good Girl take over too much now, although like every woman, I probably have my moments.

      Thanks for coming by and for leaving a comment. I hope to be able to read your other books as well as I grow and learn with my daughters.

      Ciao, rpm

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