Almost all girls are told at some point during their childhood to be nice. Most of them are told this so often, along with other things like “smile” or “don’t be bossy,” that the overall message is drilled in fairly early.
Don’t cause trouble.
Don’t make waves.
Don’t be difficult.
Girls are brought up to be pleasers. We learn to take care of other people’s needs and see ours as secondary, or not as important.
This is problematic across all aspects of a woman’s life — at school, in her career, in relationships. In the classroom, a girl may end up doing the bulk of the work on a project, not wanting to upset her classmates by asking them to do more. Or you know, their share.
In the workplace, being uncomfortable with advocating for yourself when you feel you deserve a raise or a promotion leads to women being passed over for opportunities they deserve. We don’t want to seem aggressive or greedy or rude, so we settle for what is offered instead of fighting for what we have earned. We don’t want to cause trouble, after all.
In relationships, we set women up to settle for partners who don’t treat them as equals. All those reinforced stereotypes often force them to feel they must settle. That their needs, wants, desires, and passions must take a backseat.
And when we raise girls to be pleasers, we raise them to be ineffective mothers.
We not only do a disservice to girls and women in this regard, but we do a disservice to the children they may one day have. Who advocates for children in the classroom? Who arranges playdates? Who attends doctor’s appointments? Largely, the answer is mothers (largely, not always, so chill out if you are ready to yell at me).
And when we raise girls to be pleasers who grow up to be mothers, we add more strife to already difficult situations. In the end, children can end up paying the price.
Does this seem like a stretch?
When a child has special needs, no matter the level of severity, mothers are often are the first ones to notice. Mothers are the ones going to teachers and the school system to arrange for accommodations or to begin the IEP process. And when that mother has been conditioned to please and is uncomfortable with confrontation, it’s that much more difficult to advocate for her child’s needs. Adding stress and grief to an already-challenging circumstance.
On the umpteenth visit to a pediatrician with a frequently sick child, is a mother who has been told all her life not to argue going to lose it on the doctor when they insist, again, that nothing is wrong? Possibly. And maybe she would have demanded better care sooner if she wasn’t so concerned with not insulting the doctor, or making waves, or appearing impolite. Maybe she would have challenged the initial assessment if being talked down to by someone in what feels like an authoritative position didn’t intimidate her.
Dropping a child off with a new friend whose parents she is meeting for the first time, a mother who has been conditioned not to make waves may think about how she should ask if there are guns in the house. She may think about how to frame the question so it doesn’t sound disapproving or rude. And then she might decide that the parents seem nice and that she likes them, and that they probably don’t have guns anyway — at least not improperly stored ones. No need to open with that doozy of a question. Right?
The thing is, we can teach girls to care about others without training them to be doormats — compromise, courtesy, and empathy in place of sacrifice. We can raise strong and assertive girls who don’t shy away from conflict. Instead, they can see it as a normal part of life that can be handled civilly. And when we raise strong girls who become strong women, the cycle continues as those strong women become strong mothers to strong girls of their own.
Regardless of whether or not they go on to have children, we should be raising our girls with strength, confidence, and compassion. The end goal with all of our children, presumably, is that we send them out into the world one day with the skills, knowledge, and tools to take care of themselves and lead happy and fulfilled lives. Independent thinkers sometimes cause trouble. They make waves. They can be difficult. And the world is better because they were brave enough to do it.