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The Role of ‘Mum’– A Girl’s First Understanding of Femininity

Trigger Warning/TW: The themes touched on in the following article may cause distress for some with the mention of the impact of the mother’s emotional state of the unborn child.

What we will be looking into:

  • The role of mum and raising emotionally healthy girls
  • Nurturing the mum-daughter connection and modelling the feminine
  • Building a secure foundation of resilience and autonomy

The role of mum

Today young females face an array of challenging factors – including puberty, complicated social dynamics, and external demands. It is not surprising therefore that young girls often experience high levels of stress.

Apprehension, doubt, and fear are common emotional states reported when thinking about the world around them and their future. But should this be the case?

As a mum / female caregiver, you play an active role in your daughter’s life. Throughout childhood a young female subconsciously absorbs how their parent or caregiver carries, regards, and thinks about herself. Mum plays a critical role in their daughter’s development of happiness and formation of self-worth. You will make mistakes.

Nobody is perfect. You can do this!

We need to break away from the narrative of ‘the perfect mother’. Society’s ‘perfect mother’ doesn’t exist. Making mistakes is normal and your daughter needs to learn that it is ok to do so.

Beginning in utero (the womb), the initial bonds of emotional attachment are formed, and your daughter will develop an understanding of their first emotional states in relation to you. This emotional attachment has a lasting impact and research shows that children who are brought up with an emotionally available parent grow up with a healthier sense of self. 

Raising emotionally healthy girls

Parenting is complex. Raising a daughter is interwoven with larger issues of socially informed gender roles and differences in values the daughter is exposed to.

Arguably, girls today are exposed to chronic stressors like never before.

Research shows that two-thirds of parents admit that it is difficult to distinguish a child’s normal ups and downs from features of depression.

There has been a growing gap between adolescent female and male mental health, with a recent study reporting that girls are statistically more likely to develop internalising disorders such as depression or anxiety.

Girls reach puberty before boys which may provide an explanation for this. However, there may be other contemporary contributing factors.

Young people often create identities based on what they view on social media, assigning emotional value to what they post and whether it is interacted with. Additionally, they are evolving in a world littered with gender inequality, sexual harassment, malicious comments, violence against women and recently, loud misogynistic voices on popular social media platforms.

The pressure and expectation placed on girls to measure up to unattainable ideals of perfection in behaviour and appearance is huge. Challenging this, whilst also being wary of the sexual harassment that occurs in a male-dominated society, can be exhausting.

It creates an internal conflict. Girls are asked to walk a fine line of being liked and valued for being attractive, which is measured by ‘likes’ on social media AND being safe whilst existing in a world in which girls can live an independent and fearless life.

So, the message is:

You can have any freedom you want and do anything you choose in this world, but you have to be safe. And to ensure you are safe, you must think about your appearance and the way you look.

We recognise that it is wrong to place this burden on girls and mothers. This is a problem that can be alleviated not just by educating our daughters, but also our sons. 

This makes being a mum and raising an emotionally healthy girl difficult due to these contradictory dynamics.

Nurturing Trust

  1. You can teach them about trust and emotional security.
  2. You can teach them how to trust and be trustworthy.
  3. If your daughter trusts you, they will be confident and emotionally secure. They will know that your love for them is constant and thus provide the security needed to thrive.
  4.  Studies show that a mum-daughter relationships are more important for mood regulation than mum-son, father-daughter and father-son. 

Fascinating Fact:

Female teens who feel able to go to their mothers, whether it’s to meet their physical or emotional needs, and feel fully accepted by their mother:

  1. Scored higher on positive body image
  2. Resisted societal messages that their bodies defined their worth.

As a parent, being sensitive towards the needs of your daughter will in turn teach them how to be sensitive towards the needs and thoughts of others. Taking the time to understand their perspective means that you connect before you correct. This time also provides an opportunity to reflect on links between your own past experiences and the present moment and how this may be impacting you as a parent and potentially activating your nervous system. When we enter a state of calm, a child will eventually mirror that. Try to listen with compassion and be present, even when difficult emotions arise that trigger your own lived experiences.

Model kind and loving communication – your response to your daughter’s daily interactions will show them the importance of being loving towards others. The way you speak to your child and others around you models to your daughter how to extend kindness to others.

As a parent, learning how to repair when communication breaks down, and embody a positive attitude – even when things are tough, will be your superpower. Your response towards varying challenges and difficulties shows your daughter how to tackle and overcome them. They will develop their own understanding and language to use in real life situations and scenarios.

Fascinating Fact:

It is natural for young women to feel more comfortable disagreeing with their mother’s opinion or questioning their authority than their father’s. This does not mean allowing space for disrespect or offence but instead to recognise the difference between her decompressing and causing emotional harm. It will provide her the opportunity to practice repairing relationships.

Modelling the feminine

Femininity is said to make us kinder, more compassionate, and loving. However, embodying the feminine is not an easy task and is often buried under layers of fears and limiting beliefs. Confusion arises today as we have been taught to deny who we innately are. Women have taken on more masculine roles and have pushed themselves to act, think and talk more aligned to society’s definition of what is masculine. But we can find a way to rebalance.

You might find that as a woman you are feel more vulnerable and open. Embodying empathy, connecting to our intuition, and demonstrating vulnerability are all feminine traits that we can model to our daughters to help them feel empowered.

We can support our daughters to recognise and question dominant thought patterns and internalised narratives. We can replace these with empowering messages that support healthy development and reset their bodies, brains, and nervous systems. It opens the door to self-liberation.

We have an opportunity to raise young women who embody a secure and aware sense of self. Working to reduce female self-blame ultimately means moving away from an idealised concept of femininity!

Building a secure foundation

All young women will navigate tremendous change regarding their physical and emotional development throughout their lives. These changes can be guided and nurtured by parents that are aware and present and more so by a motherly figure, whichever parent this responsibility may fall to.

The power of womanhood is a gift and parents play a role in awakening this realisation for their children.

How can we go about building this foundation?

  • Model positive self-talk – as a mother avoid talking about yourself or your physical appearance in a negative way. This helps to remove shame around our bodies and appearance.
  • Reiterate the understanding that it is what’s inside a person that defines them and makes them who they are.
  • Demonstrate how it looks to be proud of a creation or project, not just in our looks / physicality. Focusing on passions helps to build confidence and develops a sense of mastery, autonomy, and identity.
  • Equally, avoid frequently praising your daughter’s physical appearance – instead focus on non-aesthetic achievements. What makes them such a good friend / sibling? How did they approach a task that was creative or show determination?
  • Be mindful of our own responses when interacting with others – am I critical / judgemental of how other people look or speak? Am I able to regulate myself emotionally when interacting with others? How might my child interpret that?
  • Educate your daughter on the power of the human body and what it is capable of. It is so much more than its physical appearance.

A strong and healthy mum-daughter relationship is a beautiful gift, that can be achieved through nurture.

At Kari Health, we want to support you in ensuring this relationship is as beautiful as we know it can be. Motherhood can be a nerve-wracking prospect for new and older mums alike.

We are here for you, and we understand.

Evidence Based
This article has been reviewed by our Kari Health Experts and Editorial Board to ensure accuracy and reliability of the information presented. However, please note that the content provided is for informational purposes only and should not replace advice from your medical professional.

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