Over the past several weeks, we took a look on both sides of the blog at how we — as both youth ministers and parents — might love and disciple our boys and girls well and with prayerful, thoughtful intention, within their God-given genders. One week we focused on boys, another week we focused on girls, and this week we will wrap up with a few more pieces about discipling girls.
I believe whole-heartedly in law and grace and the functions the Bible assigns to them. In its first sense the law tears us down. It humbles us and shows us our need for God’s grace. When the law has done its work, the grace of Christ builds us up.
The law shows us our need to repent, and grace takes us to Christ. The law reveals the darkness in our hearts, and grace leads us to redemption in Christ. The law reveals our brokenness, and grace heals us.
As the adoring father of an utterly delightful little girl, law and grace play a central role in informing how I parent my daughter. I believe we live in a world that is hostile and cruel to women. Around every corner come messages to my little girl that will degrade her.
The attack on her body begins with Barbie and the Princesses. Companies will produce disproportionate figures of characters with skinny legs and massive chests and create an impossible standard for beauty. (For all of their supposed progressive sensibilities, how come Disney is such an aggressive oppressor of little girls in this sensitive area? I digress.) From there, airbrushed, graphically manipulated magazine covers will provide more unrealistic standards. Then there will be the “real” people on television whose appearance has been altered by countless cosmetic treatments and surgeries. She will be told implicitly that she’s not enough physically her entire life.
Then there will be social standards. When boys misbehave, it’s boys being boys, but for a girl… well, we have certain words for girls who act out.
One day she will become an adult. She will receive this mixed message that she’s supposed to be a perfect mom and perfect wife and upwardly mobile professional. If she has a successful career, then she’ll be labeled a negligent parent and wife. If she stays at home, then she’s a regressive, unenlightened “June Cleaver.” Women truly cannot win in this area.
I’m just scratching the surface of all the ways the world is going to demean my daughter and tell her that she’s not enough. My point: the law will do its work through the normal experience of being a woman in the world today. There is little risk that a girl will make it through life without being broken down.
As a dad, among other things, I see myself operating as an agent of grace and affirmation as a primary responsibility. I am working to develop a confident (and I am fine if she starts out a little overconfident) little girl, who is prepared for the barrage of messages that she will encounter as the years progress.
What does this look like? I feel the freedom to affirm my daughter to an effusive extent. In a span of ten minutes you may hear the words “princess,” “daddy’s special girl,” “angel,” or “daddy’s precious angel baby girl” fly out of my mouth. It’s a delight! I love to heap encouragement on my daughter. I correct her when appropriate but there will be a ratio of fifteen words of affirmation for the one word of rebuke. There is an abundance of affection as well. I feel license to be bountifully gracious in building up my daughter.
There’s a Right and Wrong Way to Affirm a Daughter
This may sound like a page out of the “self-esteem” playbook from the past generation, where good intentions resulted in leading kids toward insecure narcissism. Thus, I think there is a biblical and wise way to encourage a daughter.
First, my affirmation is not entirely physical. Yes, I do remark about her beautiful grey eyes, bright smile, and magnificent curly hair. But I make a point to also compliment her thoughts, her creativity, her efforts, and her kindness as a sister. Complimenting our daughters physically is good and important. However, if we only compliment them on how beautiful they are, then we are putting them in the narrow box as physical objects that the world tends to do. We want to affirm them as a person made fully in the image of God, mind, body, and spirit.
Secondly, what we affirm in our daughters should be acknowledged as God’s gift to them. I don’t say “you are really smart” when she has a precocious insight or shows progress in reading. Instead, I say “God has given you a bright mind.” I want her to have confidence that is founded in proper humility. She’s a remarkable person and it has everything to do with the Lord blessing her in unique ways. She should feel blessed and grateful. Her confidence should flow out of God’s grace to her.
Third, our affirmation to daughters should be sincere. If my child is not a star soccer player, I am not going to tell her she’s the best player on the team. I am going to look for things to affirm, like effort, attitude, and sportsmanship. Kids can sense insincerity from a mile away, even at a young age. On this note, I avoid self-help cliches, like, “If you can dream it, you can do it.” It’s not true. I don’t want her confidence to be in herself. I want it to be in the Lord.
I want to raise a daughter who is confident, but this is not something that I need to manufacture. She should be confident. She is a daughter of the Most High God, made in his image as his unique workmanship. The truth of God’s grace in her identity, creation, and design should naturally result in a humble, joyful, and firm confidence.
Dads, you need to know that the world is going to degrade these truths about your daughter from childhood into adulthood at every turn. We have the blissful opportunity to be a powerful voice of grace to our daughters.
If you have to lean to one side or the other of law and grace in fathering a daughter, I encourage you to lean heavy on the grace side. The world will give them all the law they can handle.
Check out our articles about parenting both boys and girls, dads discipling daughters, and how male youth ministers can disciple their female students.