Fortifying My Mormon Daughter Against Negative Messages at Church and Beyond
I have a wonderful ten-year-old girl — my only daughter. She’s quiet, observant, reserved, affectionate, and kind. She’s on the cusp of puberty, and I worry what these coming adolescent years will do to my already shy and sensitive and daughter, given the evidence that tween and teen girls’ confidence levels plummet compared to their male peers.
I doubly wonder what will happen given the fact that I am raising her in the LDS church. Will messages about her having divine worth, being a daughter of God, and being fundamentally and profoundly important in this universe help buoy her up when the negative rumination and perfectionist tendencies kick in? Will she see and recognize the talented and smart women around her in the congregation? Or will she pick up on the cues strewn about LDS church liturgy, practice, structure, and scripture that girls are less important than boys? Will she see how men dominate church leadership, General Conference, The Book of Mormon, and even our weekly Sacrament Meetings? Will she read that word “preside” in The Proclamation and wonder if God has less faith in her than in her male peers?
I worry. How I worry. “God,” I pray, “let me not screw up this one chance I have to raise my daughter to understand her potential, her abilities, her strength, her resilience. Let the church not damage her sense of self-worth and make her doubt herself, as it did me for so many years. Let her not hold herself back. Let her dream huge dreams.”
My worries arise from my own experience. I held myself back. I didn’t think big as I graduated from college. I didn’t aggressively pursue a career that could sustain me and my children. Years and years of YW lessons about the importance of motherhood swirled around my head, and I worried that I wouldn’t be able to be a good mom someday if I embarked on a career. I also felt pain for so many years about the status of women in the church. The temple hurt like hell. The Proclamation was a thorn in my side. The male-dominated hymns, scriptures, and meetings were paper cuts, and I came home from church bloody every week. Additionally, I feel that messages I got about the importance of being physically attractive — messages I got at church and outside of church — did me no favors as I lived out my teen years worried that I would never be pretty enough.
Will my daughter encounter the same self-doubt, the same deep sadness? What can I do to help her be her bravest, most confident, most compassionate self? What can I do to protect her from damaging messages at church and beyond? I don’t pretend to have all the answers, but I have done a few things I’m hoping will help.
- Mother Daughter Book Group: A year or two ago, I started a Mother Daughter Book Group with four friends of mine and their daughters who were the same age as mine. We pick good books, usually with strong female main characters, read them with our daughters, and then come together to eat dinner, discuss the book, and do a craft/play a game that relates in some way to the book. I can’t tell you how much I love this book group. It’s honestly the best thing I think I’ve ever done as a parent. We discuss bullying, bravery, racism, kindness, hopes, and more. As she ages, we’ll discuss body image, sexualization of women, gender inequity, LGBTQ issues, etc. I’m hoping this group will be a place she can feel comfortable voicing her thoughts and exploring important ideas, and the fact that she’s doing so with a team of women of various faiths whom I greatly admire makes it all the better.
- Good Media: Don’t laugh, but I really like some of the American Girl movies available on Amazon Prime. My daughter never was into the American Girl dolls or books, so I wasn’t expecting much from the movies. But I loved one called Melody 1963 — Love Has To Win, about a ten-year-old African American girl during the Civil Rights movement. It was so well done and provided a great opportunity to talk with my daughter about racism. I loved every moment of that hour and a half we spent watching and talking about that movie. Several other American Girl movies have been good too and have covered issues like bullying and homelessness. I’m also awaiting the day when she’s old enough to appreciate Whale Rider, one of my all-time favorite movies, about a Maori girl destined to be the leader of her people.
- Selectively Participate in Young Women: I’m wary of the messages my daughter will get in Young Women. I know there will be a lot of good stuff, but I’m also fairly confident there will be a good share of things taught that I would consider damaging. Modesty (clothing) discourse? Unacceptable. Obedience to the priesthood? Uh uh. Nope. Universally prescribed gender roles? Hell no. My daughter isn’t in Young Women yet, but I’m planning to ask her leaders to let me know beforehand the topics being covered in lessons and in activities, or at the very least, to warn me when lessons on modesty, priesthood, or gender roles are planned. I’ll be sure my daughter is either absent or that I come with her so that I can talk to her afterwards.
- Debriefing after Church: I’m not sure yet how this one will work given that my daughter doesn’t tell me anything about what happens in Primary, but if I ever can get her talking, I’d love to have conversations with her about her lessons, Sacrament meeting talks, etc. My hope is that she can learn early about fallible people and leaders in the church, how people and leaders are just people, usually doing their best, but that we don’t have to agree with them. Hopefully, I’ll get across to her the core traits and principles embedded in our tradition that I most value: compassion, integrity, justice, community-mindedness, agency, kindness, and “all are alike unto God.” Hopefully, she’ll find a way to escape or fight off those messages that told me that I was less than what I was — and which tell others (I’m thinking particularly of LGBTQ folk these days) that they are less than what they are.
This article lists other helpful strategies for raising confident girls, my favorite of which is to talk about your own failures openly, so she can see failure is a part of life and learn to shake it off. Do you have ideas for raising confident girls and fortifying them against damaging messages at church and beyond?