When I graduated from college in the spring of 1979, I had a clear goal: Start medical school in the fall and begin the training to become a pediatrician. But by that September, I’d been rejected by several medical schools, and I was wondering what a Plan B might look like. Clearly, this dream of being a doctor wasn’t working out.
But one evening, I overheard my father talking with a friend. His words changed my life:
“I’m excited to tell you that our daughter, Meg, will be starting medical school next fall, although she’s still not sure where she’ll be going yet.”
At first, I got a little angry. How can he say that I’m going to medical school? Hasn’t he seen all those rejection letters?
But I soon recognized that my father believed something about me that I wasn’t yet able to believe myself. His confidence gave me hope, and in the fall of 1980, I started medical school, just as Dad had said would happen.
I often think of my father when I speak about how parents can raise strong, confident daughters. Because the first step toward that goal is believing in our daughters, raising them with the knowledge that they are capable and strong, and that whatever paths their lives take, trusting that they can be successful.
When your daughter recognizes that you believe in her, she begins to believe in herself, and has confidence to pursue her dreams. Here are some other ways that parents can raise strong daughters:
Encourage character, not performance or appearance
Praise is, of course, an essential part of parenting, but we have to be careful that we’re sending the right message, both in our words and in the timing of those words. If your compliments constantly highlight performance or appearance, you may be raising a daughter who will become overly focused on these things, rather than on the traits that will determine her true character. Instead, commend your daughter when you observe moments of strong character. Perseverance. Courage. Honesty. Applaud her for these things. If she demonstrates God’s love and compassion to a hurting neighbor, tell her that this trait makes you proud. If she decides not to quit some activity or job that is too difficult, tell her that you are proud of her resilience.
Give her space to fail
If your goal as a mom or dad is to have a strong, emotionally healthy daughter, it won’t be helpful to protect her from every obstacle she faces. Confidence is nurtured by having our kids face adversity.
No parents want their little girl to get hurt, or to try hard at something and fail miserably. But when we honestly consider our own strengths — the character qualities we’ve forged over the years — we recognize that they’ve developed and strengthened because of a struggle we’ve endured. Overcoming failure teaches us and our kids resilience and perseverance, and it is through failure that God helps us mature and grow our trust in Him. Don’t prevent your daughter from growing by overprotecting her. Childhood is an excellent time for your daughter to practice the fine art of falling down — the most important lesson of which is developing the tenacity to pick herself back up.
Remember she needs a strong male figure in her life
This statement won’t win me any popularity contests in today’s culture. To raise a strong daughter, it’s crucial that she has a good father figure present in her life.
When a dad gives his daughter a hug, she receives the extremely important message that he sees her and approves of her. A daughter considers her father’s feelings about her as more important than anyone else’s. She wants to view her dad as a leader, to look to him as a protector and provider. And this isn’t just the way it’s supposed to be. This is the way it is. A father's interactions with his daughter prepare her for how she's going to relate to other men and to God.
That's a heavy load, but it's a wonderful truth. A good father has the potential to have the greatest positive impact on a girl’s life, whatever situations she is dealing with. A father’s presence and loving attention to his daughter help her grow up to be a strong woman with positive self-esteem.
Meg Meeker is a pediatrician, speaker and writer. She’s the author of Strong Fathers, Strong Daughters.