(3-minute read) Not only do I lead organization specifically for girls, but I am also the mother of two daughters – one preteen and one teenager (all thoughts and prayers are welcome). In both of these roles, I have become acutely aware of how a girl’s sense of self, particularly her esteem, changes as she grows. Unfortunately, it typically dwindles as she grows. Pressure increases. Opinions are shared. And she is inundated with the often unrealistic standards set by society at large.
In an effort to help girls build confidence in themselves and their abilities throughout their development, I’ve read books, attended seminars, spoken to professionals…you name it. The most rewarding part comes when I am fortunate enough to witness firsthand this increased sense of self, whether it’s under my roof with my daughters or through GAALS programs with one of our GAALSters or from one of their parents.
You can imagine my surprise when one mom, let’s call her Kim, came to me with the opposite problem. She called me concerned, saying “I’m worried. My daughter sees herself as better than she is. I don’t know what to do.” Of course…this piqued my interest. A young girl with an inflated view of herself? In my experience, this was rare. Kim continued, telling me that her daughter is a good student, but not great. That she is a good lacrosse player, but not great. Despite what I termed exceptional mediocrity, Kim expressed that her daughter repeatedly says she would like to go to Penn, and even thinks she will get a scholarship to play lacrosse there.
Although I could empathize with her concern, my gut reaction was pure elation. I was thrilled that Kim’s daughter, my sweet, little GAALSter, is so self-confident. I admired her daughter’s sense of self and personal strength. In fact, I wished that some of it could rub off on other GAALSters…ones who could really use a bump in their self-esteem. But in terms of how to help Kim with this problem, I found myself speechless (which, if you know me, is a rare occurrence).
I needed time to think, to process. In my temporary state of laconism, I had Kim do the talking, asking her how she responded to her daughter’s aspirations. She told me that she didn’t say a word. Why? I asked. “Because any words that did come to mind would not have been the supportive, nurturing ones that moms are supposed to have,” she said. This interaction immediately sparked two important questions. Ones that, because of my typical experience, I hadn’t really taken the time to think through before.
- Was it a bad thing that her daughter’s view of herself wasn’t realistic?
- Was it necessary to temper her daughter’s expectations?
I was torn. As much as I loved the confidence, the more I thought about it the more I felt there may be cause for concern. What would happen when her daughter awakened to the fact that getting a lacrosse scholarship was not likely going to happen? Nor was the ambitious goal to attend Penn. As the conversation continued, we somehow found ourselves trying to rationalize her daughter’s beliefs. Did her daughter possess the ability to be a straight-A student should she put in the effort? What about an extraordinary lacrosse player? If the answers were yes and yes, we thought it would be easier to understand this heightened self-image. After all, isn’t unfulfilled potential still potential?
But Kim answered honestly. “If she focused her efforts on one of them she, probably, could.” I asked, “What would that look like? What would be lost as a result of shifting her focus?”
This question brought to the surface another interesting, but important concept that Kim hadn’t thought about. Her daughter took part in activities outside lacrosse, had a healthy social life, and maintained good (even if not stellar) grades. She had expertly managed to find an incredible life-balance. I pointed out to Kim that if her daughter shifted gears and began spending more time studying in order to become a straight-A student, or practicing long enough to become an exceptional lacrosse player, it would inevitably affect the time she spent on these other parts of her life. In other words, her daughter’s life balance would be thrown off kilter.
Kim grew silent. I sensed the challenge. In this day and age many parents view their child becoming exceptional in one area as more important than being average in a wide variety. It is tempting to feel pressure to fall into that “not good enough, need to get better” mindset. Fortunately, after some back and forth, Kim ultimately agreed that this was not a worthy trade-off.
“So then,” Kim asked, “what do I do about my daughter’s inflated sense-of-self?”
I started off by telling Kim that she should pat herself on the back for doing something right. By emphasizing and encouraging life balance, something not many parents seem to do, she is fostering a “healthy” rather than “inflated” self-concept. And, she should applaud her daughter for not caving to the societal pressures and opinions that surround her. It is rare for a child to possess the strength to quietly make the choices that are best for them, without factoring in what the world around them seems to be doing, and encouraging them to follow suit.
And as for what a parent can do when her child repeats her unrealistic belief about her future, tell her how great it would be if these things happened, while also reminding her that it is okay if they don’t. Subtly hint at the fact that there is so much more to her. Basically, a parent should continue to build her daughter up.
The reality is that we all have people along our life journey that will cut us down. And unfortunately, it usually sticks with us for years, and even a lifetime. We hear their voices or worse, we start to believe what the words they said. And even worse, we may start to live it. My hope is that if girls start that high (like Kim’s daughter), even when they get knocked down, they will have the resilience to get right back up, and will never get to a point that they don’t embrace, respect, and value who they are.Share: