This is an interesting question, and we have a feeling that certain aspects of the answer may take you by surprise. Perhaps one of the biggest surprises is this: girls don’t have to learn to become women in the same way boys have to learn to become men. There’s an important sense in which a man has to go out and find himself, whereas a woman simply needs the freedom to become what she is. Manhood is a goal to be achieved; womanhood is more like a flower that unfolds and blossoms of its own accord. It goes without saying that this can only happen if the plant is properly nurtured and cared for.
A girl is fundamentally a young female on her way to womanhood. This should be an empowering statement for girls, since women are powerful beings. A woman carries within herself the subtle ability to shape men and thus to direct and redirect the course of human history. Hers is indeed the hand that rocks the cradle and rules the world. This is your daughter’s destiny. If she is to grow into a strong, healthy, and confident woman, she needs to understand and appreciate it from a very early age.
A well-adjusted young woman is usually the product of a well-adjusted mother, or perhaps an aunt, a grandmother, or some other mature adult female who is secure and comfortable in her womanhood. Because she is an individual, uniquely created in the image of God, the goal of her womanhood has to be developed and defined in terms of the person she is and the special kind of female God wants her to be. This is something you and your spouse will have to work out with your daughter over time, building up her model of ideal womanhood line by line. In the meantime, we can mention several things that every girl needs if she’s to make the journey toward mature womanhood with a sense of security, poise, and peace of mind. Author Glenn T. Stanton lists twelve of them in his book
Secure Daughters, Confident Sons (see Chapters 2, 4, and 6). They can be summarized as follows:
- Self-assurance. To become a healthy woman, a girl needs to sense within herself that she is capable. Well-adjusted women are not comfortable being victims and won’t settle for it. They possess quiet strength and the ability to negotiate the circumstances of their lives with confidence.
- Significance in the eyes of a man. A girl wants to be the most important person in the world to one particular man. While she’s young, that man is her father; later on, her focus may shift to a boyfriend and ultimately a husband. But at every stage her poise and self-confidence are closely tied up with the knowledge that the heart of some significant male is smitten with her.
- Intimacy. Girls have a greater need than boys to offer and receive intimacy. We’re not talking exclusively about sexual intimacy here, but a deep emotional, personal connection, a sense that she is received, heard, and understood by others. Close friendships are more defining for the female than the male. In her quest for close connections, it’s important for her to realize that intimacy can never be earned or owed – it’s always a free gift.
- Community. Along with her need for a sense of intimacy with individuals, a growing girl wants to find her place in a group. For her, an important aspect of growing up is learning to discern and manage the difference between what she wants and needs as an individual and what she wants and needs as a member of a community of friends. Your daughter should understand that the female communities she develops in early adulthood can become rich sources of happiness and connectedness throughout her entire lifetime.
- Mothering. The female brain is hard-wired to mother, protect, and nurture. From a very early age the chemical oxytocin, an important bonding hormone, surges in her central nervous system and causes her to respond to anything – a puppy, a kitten, a rabbit, or even a neglected doll – that needs care and comfort. This comes natural to a girl, and she needs to be told that it’s one of the greatest strengths God has given her.
- Confidence in her own attractiveness. Every girl wants to be the prettiest one in the room. This isn’t just vanity or a pre-occupation with fashion. On the contrary, confident and healthy women realize that they have great power in the allure of their physical attractiveness because it can impact men without their ever lifting a finger or speaking a word. This can be a tremendous asset to your daughter, provided she understands 1) that her inherent value is not found in her beauty, and 2) that the real power of feminine attraction lies in understatement.
- Modesty. Women and girls of all ages possess an innate sense of the preciousness of their femininity and realize that it is a jewel to be protected and guarded. Do everything you can to encourage this. The precise definition of modesty, at least in terms of clothing styles, may differ from culture to culture, but wherever a girl finds herself there’s one principle that remains constant: modesty is always about context and intention.
- Caregiving. Men and boys want to impact situations. Girls and women want to impact people. Here again the chemical oxytocin and another important hormone, serotonin, are determinative. Together these chemicals combine in the female brain to create a strong impulse toward caregiving in all its forms.
- Emotional perception. Closely connected with the urge to mother and give care is emotional sensitivity of the female brain. As compared with the male brain, it is more aware of and better able to read the emotions, facial expressions, and body language of others. This is reflected in the fact that baby girls connect more strongly with the faces of the people around them, whereas the attention of baby boys is more easily attracted by actions and objects.
- Talk. Girls and women need and crave verbal communication. They are greater word users than men. As a matter of fact, the language center in a woman’s brain is larger than a man’s by about one third.
- Affirmation. Because talk is so important to them, girls need to know that they have a right to speak and to be heard. As your daughter’s parents, you and your spouse need to make a point of listening to her and affirming her in the knowledge that she has many good thoughts that are worth sharing at appropriate times.
- Security. Finally, the female has a great need and desire to feel safe and cared for. This is implied in the natural orientation of the female body: it receives, protects, and covers. Therefore a healthy woman is protective and seeks protection.
This isn’t intended to be an exhaustive list, of course. These aren’t the only qualities you’ll need to nurture in your daughter if she’s to grow into a healthy, balanced, productive, and well-adjusted woman. Nor will every girl have or desire them to the same extent. As we’ve already indicated, you and your spouse can probably come up with other important female qualities that specifically match the nature, character and personality of your girl. The important thing is to design the journey so that it meets the needs of the individual.
If you need help working through these ideas and suggestions, feel free to call Focus on the Family’s Counseling department.
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Rites of Passage for Your Daughter