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, 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 — 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 isolate herself from them. Maybe your daughter isn’t the least bit fazed by her minority status! But my husband and I implement some strategic plans to make sure that our little girl, rather than feeling like the odd (wo)man out, feels like the special little lady God created her to be — er, without morphing into a bossy, pampered queen.
1. Goal for the boys: 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. 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 compassion toward and defense of those who are weaker — or just different. They can learn the heart attitude of manners and respect by performing acts of chivalry for their sister (lifting heavy items for her, opening the door for her, comforting her) that hopefully will translate into their other relationships with 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. Goal for both: 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 #1, these cross-gender relations are training in loving well those who are different than we are and learning to appreciate how they’re made.
3. Give her some special girl time. A thoughtful friend of mine recently threw a “princess party” at her “castle” where all 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!
I realize that the “princess” idea, as it’s contrasted with creating strong, unselfish women, is under debate (though personally I don’t know that they’re mutually exclusive). Maybe this time for you two is just going out on a date to get food she likes, to go shopping, to see a chick flick, or to do nothing girly whatsoever. 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 makes her different from the rest of your family.
4. Give her some everyday girl time. For us, this looks like 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, for example. If your girl’s not girly, I’d 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 other people well.
If she’s older, give her some time to process with you verbally. Without amplifying the drama and overanalyzing everything to death, help her to 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 playdates or a night at Grandma’s — or for older girls, a slumber party while the guys go out with Dad.
6. Understand 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 between daughters and their moms. 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, 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.
8. See the big picture. As I step back, I see that God has used the women I know who have grown up with brothers! He has carefully crafted plans for these often strong 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.