With the anticipation (or dread) of the holidays ramping up, there are so many issues that grab our attention: last minute work deadlines to meet, travel plans to arrange, holiday presents to buy. We are all so busy considering the logistical issues that arise at this time of year, that it can be easy to lose sight of the more emotional ways this season can impact our children. In particular, amidst the gifts and hot chocolate, our daughters will likely encounter some complex issues that come hand in hand with celebrating with family and friends. Here are three things to keep in mind as you embark on your holiday celebrations in the coming weeks.
People don’t automatically deserve a hug from your daughter.
We live in a culture in which children are often expected to hug and kiss adults who aren’t their parents, particularly during the holiday season as a greeting or a thank you for a gift. Last year around the holidays, the Girls Scouts put out an excellent article articulating the important point that your daughter doesn’t owe anyone a hug. And it’s true. If we set up the dynamic that our daughters have to give physical affection to everyone who wants it, what kind of precedent are we setting? Our role, above all else, is to reinforce the concept that our daughters are the masters of their destiny in determining who touches them and how. Your daughter is not being rude if she shies away from hugging someone, she is trusting her gut about what feels right to her. Someone she felt comfortable hugging last year may not be someone she feels comfortable hugging this year. Please don’t force her to ignore her instincts in this — she will need them for years to come.
If people make comments about your daughter’s body, it’s your job to step in.
Your daughter may be entering the time when she is beginning puberty and has less and less control over what she looks like as the hormones in her body begin take over. At this time of year, your daughter may be seeing people she has not seen in a while and they may be surprised at how different she looks. They may also be thoughtless in how they express it. Since the last time they saw her, she may have shot up in height, she may have gained weight, she may have grown dark hair in places people can see, like under her arms or on her legs, and she may have started developing breasts. In their effort to connect to your daughter, family and friends may make comments that cause her to feel self-conscious, embarrassed and ashamed. They may say things to her that they believe to be innocuous, but may make your daughter (and you) feel uncomfortable. It is not your daughter’s job to grow a thicker skin and get over it, but it is also unlikely that your daughter will feel comfortable speaking up in response to uncomfortable comments, so in this case, you are her mouthpiece and her guardian. If a comment is deeply inappropriate you should feel confident asking people not to speak to your daughter that way. However, if a comment feels like a well meaning attempt to connect to your daughter, you can help redirect the conversation away from your daughter’s body to areas she does feel comfortable discussing, like her athletics, her art projects or her school play. This will help these adults and your daughter see that there are lots of ways to connect to girls without talking about how they look.
Ugh, I ate so much. I feel so fat.
How many of us have uttered those words in the weeks since Thanksgiving? How many of us have groaned that we need to go on a diet because of all the weight we’ve gained over the holidays so far? I certainly have. But by doing so, we are sending toxic messages to our daughters about the primacy of place our weight takes in our lives. We are loading on the pressure for our girls to be thin on top of a culture that is constantly telling them through every possible media outlet that thinness is success, thinness is beauty, thinness is joy. And how much more toxic is that message if your daughter is in the stage where she is going through the natural weight gain that can accompany the early stages of puberty? At her most self-conscious time, our thoughtless comments will only serve to make our daughters even more uncomfortable. Over the coming weeks, if you make the choice to overeat or drink too much (which I likely will), don’t talk about it in front of your kids. If you have made the decision that come January 1, you’re going on a diet, don’t tell your daughter. Let her have her own relationship to food and her body — don’t make your daughter carry your baggage.