When my brother and his wife announced their unexpected pregnancy, my family was shocked. My brother and his now wife have been together for fourteen years, got engaged in January, and married in June. A whole two months later, the couple announced that they were expecting a baby. Timing is a strange thing in their world, and given that they are both almost forty years old, we were rightly shocked.
But after the shock wore off, excitement settled in. I immediately felt a strong protectiveness over this new life. I began to think about the sex of the baby and how that might affect the baby's life and experiences.
A month later, I received a phone call from my parents, brother, and sister-in-law, all screaming into the telephone, "it's a girl!"
I was convinced that a boy was on the way, and my brother was too. We were both wrong, but I immediately felt awe at the announcement. My brother on the other hand, was somewhat disappointed. He was expecting a boy.
His fears and doubts about raising a girl became apparent after the announcement. The thought of bringing up a girl was very scary to him. He seemed to be thinking along these lines:
I’m going to lock her in a tower where no one can get to her.
She’s going to need my protection.
I need to pull my act together if I’m going to raise a girl!
Bringing up a girl is so much harder than raising a boy.
Very often, our perceptions of parenting are shaped by gender stereotypes. But the idea that girls are uniquely fragile, defenseless, and helpless—Disney princesses in need of a father and then a prince charming to protect them from the dragons of this world—is false. All children need their parents' protection and nurturing, especially when they are young. And yet, we often perceive daughters as more in need of parental protection and support than sons. I believe we’re selling daughters short.
Four years ago, I bumped into a colleague of mine, Nat, at the grocery store. While we spoke, Nat’s four year-old daughter tried to climb out of the shopping trolley (cart) to the floor. It wasn’t a dangerous situation—the little girl was already a keen gymnast and quite capable of the task.
Without warning, a woman dashed over from another aisle and scolded the little girl. Her words included “You can’t do that,” over and over again.
Nat turned to the woman and firmly told her, “It is quite alright. She is very capable and we do not use the word ‘can’t’ with her because there is nothing she can’t do.”
Years later, I saw Nat again and noticed how big her little girl had grown. Her daughter had become a confident child full of grace and strength. I have no doubt that the empowering messages her parents taught her on a daily basis have helped nurture that strength.
We can empower our daughters to become strong women who can defend themselves and teach others.
My niece will learn that she can be strong and brave from her experiences, mentors, and community. Together, we will tell her that she is capable of achieving anything she sets her mind to. As her aunt, I will encourage her and live out those messages. I will take every opportunity in conversation, through hugs, birthday cards, and anything else, to let her know that she is capable of anything God calls her to.
In her first scan picture, my niece had her arm in the air, finger pointing as if to ask a question or engage in conversation. In her second picture, we saw a perfect foot ready to make its mark on the world, ready to bring change. And we are certain that, with those perfect feet and hands, she will walk into unmarked places and fight on behalf of the oppressed. But her journey of empowerment will be far easier if her parents, her extended family, and her community support and empower her. May we all support and empower our daughters, granddaughters, and nieces.