Among the mistakes I have made as a parent, there is one in particular that bothers me the most.
When my oldest daughter was in elementary school, she would come home and tell me how a certain boy would tease her. I would reply
“Oh, he must like you.”
How long have women been told that a behavior, one that makes us feel uncomfortable, is not only acceptable but also encouraged?
My daughter had to endure several years of teasing, all in the name of “he must like you.” These “innocent” teases became more vulgar as her and her classmates got older. One incident wound up with us in the principal’s office where we had to make a formal complaint, only to be told, “oh, he’s doesn’t mean it.” As well as extensive damage to her self-esteem — the mixed messaging of her standing up for herself only to have nothing happen to the boy — paved the way for future events to go unreported.
Fast forward several years. My knowledge regarding the emotional well being of my children has dramatically improved ( I hope). I have learned that my prior responses to my daughters’ feelings when they told me something troubled them was not only invalidating, it was possibly damaging.
So when my youngest daughter came home from school to tell me a boy in her second-grade class was staring at her so much it bothered her, what did I do?
“Aww — that’s sweet. He must like you.”
Had I learned nothing?
She kept coming home and talking about it. A lot. He would just sit and stare at her. She would tell me that she didn’t like him, and his attention annoyed her. She wanted her seat moved. I kept telling her she should be nice to him. My avoidance and mixed messaging were not helping the situation.
Except for one day, when she came home with a bracelet he had made her. It was at this point I started to rethink my position. If I told my daughter to accept a gift from someone she didn’t like, what message was I sending to my very impressionable eight-year old?
People like gifts. Children like gifts more. She did like the bracelet. But the whole situation had so many negative future connotations. So I asked her:
“Do you like him?”
She replied, “no.” I asked her what she thought she should do. She looked at me and said:
“I should give it back.”
Yes, my amazingly insightful, empathetic eight-year old. You shouldn’t accept gifts because people are trying to make you like them.
She learned a valuable lesson that day — you don’t have to like someone because they give you gifts. And I learned that if we want our girls to be empowered, we should be teaching them to expect to be treated fairly and with respect.
If someone likes you, they should try and have conversations with you.Make you laugh. Ask you what you like or don’t like. Be a friend. They shouldn’t tease you or give you gifts to get your attention.
Let’s empower our girls to make decisions that are in their best interests — for today and for tomorrow.