How Do We Keep Our Daughters From Becoming the Next Anna Duggar?

little girl playing hornA poignant Facebook post from a mom beautifully brings into focus the tragic situation reality TV wife Anna Duggar finds herself in as the stomach-turning details of her husband's secret life are publicly revealed in all their slimy hypocrisy. The concerned mom, Jessica Krommed Kirkland, explains how Anna's strict upbringing in a community that told her there was no other path for her than being a devoted wife and mother have literally trapped her in a situation that is completely humiliating, unfair, and beyond her control. I won't even attempt to rehash her words; they're too perfect just as they are.

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But her fundamental point is this: We have to give our daughters power. The power to demand they be treated as they deserve. The power to pack up and move out and take care of their babies on their own should their husband turn out to be a lying, cheating child molester. Anna Duggar was never given that power.

"To say 'I don't deserve this, and my children don't deserve this,'" Jessica wrote. "I wish someone had ever, just once, told Anna she was capable of this. That she knew she is. As for my girls, I'll raise them to think they breathe fire," Jessica wrote.

Breathe fire.

But how exactly do we do that? How do we raise our girls to know and value themselves beyond their ability to fulfill a narrow, subservient role defined by men who might not actually care about them? How do we teach our girls that all they need to take care of themselves is already inside them? A few practical ideas.

1. Encourage their smarts

Don't just send your daughter to school; actively encourage her to challenge and push herself. Make a point to encourage girls in math and science, areas where they don't usually get as much as boys from teachers. Call your daughter out if you think think she's playing dumb or trying to downplay her smarts. Instill in your daughters the value of education whether they decide to stay home and raise babies or want a career in high finance. There's nothing more powerful than an educated woman.

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2. Teach them life skills

Car and home repair, banking, renting an apartment, getting insurance ... these are all life skills we should be teaching our daughters so they never have to rely on a man to survive. Take them with you the next time you get the car repaired. Let them sit in as you negotiate a credit card interest rate. Show them how the world works and how they can carve out their own place in it all by themselves, regarless of whether they're someone's wife or not.

3. Strong is the new pretty

Every little girl is constantly berated with princess fantasies and depictions of aspirational women that are unfailingly sweet and kind, a little too desperate for love, oh-so-naive and in need of a protector, and most importantly pretty, pretty, pretty. We all do it. "You're soooo pretty!" or "What a pretty dress!" Listen to yourself for a while and it will become crystal clear why our girls are led to believe there is nothing more important than being pretty and well liked. Nothing. And a little of that is fine and natural and fun. But along with your appreciation for their outer beauty, remind them often of all the platitudes about beauty being skin-deep, in the eye of the beholder, and terribly fleeting. Tell them their worth has nothing to do with their dress size, or how many people want to have sex with them. Make her believe the truth -- that the things you love most about her have to do with the quality of her character and strength of her conviction. Let's raise our girls to prize being people of quality over objects of beauty.

4. Celebrate being a girl

Let's remind our daughters that being a girl is cool. Being a beauty queen with shiny hair and the perfect glossed pout is every bit as cool as being an Army Ranger, because girls get to choose their own path. Be a rocket scientist or the baddest carpool mom on the block. Or if you've really got it together -- you can even be both of those things at the same time. Girls can play with Barbies and have tea parties in the morning and crush homers over the fence in the afternoon. Girls can love robots every bit as much as My Little Pony. Being a girl isn't a weakness. Only limiting yourself because you're a girl is.

5. Talk to them about their bodies

There's been a lot of attention recently in the national media on women's health and in particular to periods. And frankly, that's a pretty great thing. From Donald Trump taking a shot at Fox debate moderator Megyn Kelly, to Kiran Gandhi who just ran the London Marathon without a tampon, periods are finally starting to be something we can aknowledge actually exist. Don't let your daughter feel ashamed about her period or anything else to do with her body. Teach her to care for her body and value it as much as you do. And don't leave your daughter at the mercy of any school or church or, heaven forbid, her peers, when it comes to learning about sex. Whatever you family's beliefs, give her a place to talk openly and honestly about her body and give her the information she needs to keep herself safe.

6. Let her express anger

Sometimes it's necessary to stop being polite in order to stand up for yourself, right? Does your daughter know that? Girls are expected, both because of natural tendency and convention, to be subdued, polite, and deferential. And when you're trying to teach a kid manners and empathy it's easy to overlook the importance of reminding your daughter that she is the boss of her own body and that if she ever feels uncomfortable or like she's in a dangerous position, all she has to do is say no and get the hell out of there. Help her draw those lines for herself and give her permission to be her own boss. Girls who are treated as property by their parents are more likely to want to re-create that experience in their adult relationships.

 

 

 Image via amanda tipton/Flickr

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