She’s nearly 7, loves to pick flowers, chase butterflies and giggle. She’s been on adventures all over the world and is our child who always points out the pretty things around us.
All of these things about Chloe are 100% true, yet I recently learned that these are the things that are holding her back.
You see, if I were to describe her older brother Mason, I would tell you that he’s tough, persistent, and is always up for trying something daring.
You can even see the difference in this picture!! I’m describing Chloe as sweet and dainty, whereas her brother and strong and able and it shows, even in the way they stand! The problem is, that until recently, I didn’t even recognize the problem.
Thankfully, I’m a huge listener of The Tim Ferris Show podcast (perfect for my long workouts) and this spring he interviewed writer and adventurer Carolyn Paul. She talked there about how the way we talk about our daughters defines how we see them and in turn how they see themselves.
She spelled it out so clearly in this Op Ed piece that I feel her article should be required reading for anyone who interacts with girls – EVER!
This started a long period of reflection for me as I evaluated how I treated my three boy’s vs my one girl. I praise my daughter for her cute outfits, while I tell my sons how tough they look with their skinned knee. When Mason gets scared on the climbing route, I shout encouragement and tell him to be tough. When Chloe gets stuck in the same place, I give her a few tips and then tell her that if she can’t do it, that’s okay. While Chloe is by no means a sissy and is usually up for whatever I throw at her (I mean the kid was whitewater rafting at 5 and has logged hundreds of trail miles before she even hit school), I do approach things differently when I’m talking to her. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not wanting to raise her to be a boy and I think that there is incredible value in femininity, I do not think that needs to equate to weakness.
While the differences may seem subtle, I worried what the long term implications would be. In fact, seeing how my kids have had nearly identical opportunities and adventures, I realized that I actually do see my son as more capable and willing to do something hard.
This had to change.
I figured that one of the biggest things that I could do was to be aware of the problem and how I was contributing to it. I started to think more before I spoke. I encouraged her to ride her bike faster and jump off the curb. I challenged her to dive deeper when we were at the beach. Shoot, I even started timing her to see if she could get her favorite climbing route completed faster.
That was a step, but I needed to see bigger improvements.
That’s when we decided to put her in an Avid4 Adventure summer camp. This was the perfect chance for her to do challenging things and to stretch her wings on her own (without me holding her down). With a week of climbing, hiking, kayaking, mountain biking, and canoeing ahead of her, this was the perfect chance. I talked to her leaders a bit about the problem and they were more than willing to help her push herself. However, the ultimate test came when I was sneaking around one day, taking a few pictures. Here’s what I remember from that afternoon (and what I shared on our social media):
“From shore I heard the all too familiar “I can’t do it, I’m scared.”
I instantly knew that was my daughter. It was something I had heard countless times before and something we were hoping she could conquer at Avid4 Adventure this week.
Then I heard her leader ” you don’t have to do this but I know you can and if there are any problems I’m right here” from her new friends in their own little boats I could hear ” you can do it, come on” encouraging her.
She shakily took one step out of her boat in the balancing game they were playing. With every step her confidence grew and by the end she was running across her friends boats and I could see the confidence beaming across her face.
This is an experience she could have only had at a place like this.
Because let’s face it, as parents, when we hear our kids tell us they are scared, we try to do what we can to make that fear go away. Sadly all too often that means I just make things easier for her which is ultimately holding her back. She is strong and capable, I just need to step back and let her spread her wings a bit to let the beauty of being an outdoor kid take root within her.”
After this moment, I felt redeemed. My daughter was strong. She was brave. She pushed her limits and comforts and did something hard. This is what I want her to gain from this adventurous lifestyle we are living. Power, courage, and determination. From now on, things were going to be just a little bit different.
As Paul wrote “We must chuck the insidious language of fear (Be careful! That’s too scary!) and instead use the same terms we offer boys, of bravery and resilience. We need to embolden girls to master skills that at first appear difficult, even dangerous.”
What are you doing to empower and encourage the young girls in your life?