The Most Destructive Words We Speak to Our Daughters.

One of the greatest disservices we do to one another as women is that we teach our daughters “to be nice.”

It is not that “be nice” is a bad message.  It goes with “be polite,” “be respectful,” etc.  The problem happens when we teach our daughters to be nice with the fervour of Moonies at the “weekend retreat” from which no-one ever returns.

The problem is that little girls learn a whole set of rules that are as restrictive and perhaps more damaging that any burqa or religious indoctrination.  “Being nice” can end up teaching little girls to deny themselves, to ignore their own needs . . . to feel achievement and satisfaction in putting by always putting others first.

Of course, we want to teach our daughters to be kind but being kind is far different than being nice. “Kind” is about a nature, a governing soul principal that guides everything you do. “Nice” is a learned, superficial worn affect. When someone does something “kind,” we characterize the action as being “nice.”   Nice is a choice we make and can be done even when the feelings behind the action does not support it.

When we teach our daughters to be nice at all costs, we are denying them feelings and insight into who they are. We actually force them to “be nice,” even when they do not feel it, and we reward them for their efforts.  But there is a cost to women learning to hide their true feelings and masking those feelings with an unfelt overture. We are in fact, teaching our daughters to lie . . . to themselves.

One of the biggest complaints I get when I counsel men, is that the woman they married is not the woman they dated.  When I first heard a man say that, my immediate reaction was to dismiss it as simply his individual experience but when I thought about it, I couldn’t ignore the point.  When other men made the same observation.  Think about it, how many of us have done this on a date:

“What would you like to do this weekend?”
“I don’t know, what would you like to do?”
“No, I asked you, anything at all .. What would you like to do?”
“I don’t know, really I am easy, happy to do anything you want .”
“Seriously I always decide, tell me what you would like for a change.”
“What are the choices?”
“Well, we could go to the fair, or bowling, or out to dinner, or the football game.”
“Really I don’t care, I just like being with you.”
“Well ok then, let’s go to the football game.”
“Oh great.”
“You sure?”

They go to the football game.  And every date goes pretty much the same, with the woman “being nice” and insisting she is happy to do what he wants to do.  She goes to the game and appears to have a great time.  After months of dating and a marriage, he buys her season football tickets for their anniversary,  something he considers special, confident she will love them.  Imagine his shock when her response is anger, and an outburst insisting she hates football and prefers the ballet and why can’t he ever take her to the ballet?

Of course, I am over-generalizing, but the point is this …

Women are taught to be nice at the expense of understanding themselves.  If she wants to play dolls and her friend wants to skip, her mother often steps in and tells her to “be nice” which means, in this situation, skip because the other girl wants to do that.    If the goal is always to give into other people our daughters grow up losing themselves. They may not know what they want after 18 years of “be nice,”  or they won’t know how to ask for it.

Let’ s teach our daughters honesty. The fact is we feel things. How do we deal with those emotions, in a way that honours the feelings and channels them into understanding for self and others with positive outcomes? So when Susie comes home from school and says she hates Mary Jane cause she laughed at her in class and said she was fat and now all Susie wants to do is smash Mary Jane, we don’t dismiss it with “that’s not a nice thing to say.” Trust me, Susie already knows it is not nice. When we hear her on the phone later planning revenge with some of the other girls, we don’t just caution her with, “Susie .. be nice.”

Susie needs to talk about the way she feels. She needs to sit with her feelings and be supported in that, yes we all feel awful when someone says unkind things about us. She also needs to be helped to understand:

1. What others say or think is not something we can control.
2. What others say or think is not always the truth nor does it reflect what everyone else says or thinks.
3. People are unkind for all kinds of reasons that often have nothing to do with us. Often what they say tells us far more about who they are than it says anything about the person they are disparaging.
4. Responding in kind feeds the problem and makes it bigger.
5. You can control yourself and what you do and within THAT lies the power to change how it impacts you.

Those are empowering messages.  They are helpful to her, to the other parties, and to the community.  Asking how she wants to handle it is far more supportive than telling her she has to go back to school and “be nice,” the emotional equivalent of “please lie down in front of the bus when you see it coming and let it drive over you again and again.”

Asking her to refrain from doing anything mean in response is perfectly legit. But empowering her to step back from interaction with, or helping her to find the words to say if it happens again, these are important steps for all women. Each of us chooses to deal with situations in different ways, depending on the circumstances. We need to be empowered to do that and empowerment has to start with children.

We need to celebrate who we are and what we enjoy and love. To be given messages that whatever that is – is perfect. That way, when we date and meet others we can say,” no thank you,” when we get asked to the football games we hate.  We can let someone know,  “I actually prefer the ballet.” It gives us the confidence to find people we are compatible with and if we do that we have a chance to find good friends, wonderful lovers, and husbands. We are giving our daughters a chance to be happy.
We can turn so many things around and make them different for our daughters.  Blaming society is pointless when you consider WE are society.  Society succeeds when every member does their part with their individual responsibilities.

It is not about the way it has been, it is about the possibilities. The possibilities of who you, and of who your daughter is. Empower her to make choices, to speak up, to say who she is and what she likes and dislikes, to have feelings, to discern, to decide what she should do next, to fail, to succeed, to be … and you stand beside her as her mother and tell her …. she is wonderful and perfect, just as she is.

3 thoughts on “The Most Destructive Words We Speak to Our Daughters.

  1. You nailed it. When being ‘nice’ is about putting your needs last, you wonder why women suffer depression and a host of other emotions without support, because it is not ‘okay’ to assert your needs. And if you do? You are a bitch. Selfish. Career woman… the labels for women who assert their needs in balance with the needs of others.

    Sometime after the age of 39 I gave myself permission to put myself first. It started as a slow cascade of choices. Learning to say “no” and then learning to untangle myself from the “yes” decisions that put my needs (or my financial or mental health) last.

    In my family I was known as the ‘savior’ or “go to girl” or “ask Lori she’ll do anything and give you the shirt off her back”. There came a time mysteriously around the age of 39 where I was tired of not having a shirt on my own back. By the age of 40 something emerged that I called my “unapologetic dragon” which made damned sure my needs would never come last again.

    It’s hard to watch other women in that spin cycle of ‘people pleasing’ at the expense of self-development and self-nurturing. But I have learned that while you can encourage them to give that permission to put themselves first… it really must come from within. Something has to evolve within a woman to learn that the world is not served by her power, when she puts herself last.

    Strong women put themselves first, and fill an abundant well from which family, children, friends and community can draw. No village is served by a well that is run dry.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you for sharing and I really appreciate your mentioning how it has to come from within. Building our daughters up so they feel empowered is difficult when a woman is completed invested in being a people pleaser herself. We are not sure what to do with girls who speak up and make demands of life. I think it is especially hard to have that strength facing us when we have difficulty looking in our own mirror.

      It is frustrating to see businesses send women on all types of courses meant to make them more dynamic, have more confidence, speak out more, and then when they return to the workplace and embrace those changes, the management penalizes them for it and the rest of the staff involve themselves in destructive gossip. Unfortunately, the worst offenders of “who does she think she is?” is often women, and when those women come from within our own families, it can be devastating. So it is a cycle. Women grow up disempowered, they raise disempowered daughters and everyone learns that if you want to part of things, you have to be “nice.” It is the women who have to break this cycle, and we have to support one another to do that. People like you, someone that other’s admire, sharing your journey, can have a big impact. Thanks again.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. I have a feeling you’ve read “Women Who Run With the Wolves” by Dr. Estes. I learned more from this book than any feminist literature ever taught me. The best thing that can happen to young girls is to be raised by. or be close to a woman who is strong and wise. Women who struggle themselves because they were raised by women – who were raised by women – who were raised by women who have been losing their wild, natural nature for generations and are unable to listen to their inner voices because they don’t know how.


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