Thursday, December 11, 2008

“Stop Playing Like a Girl!” #1

What if a dad or stepdad scoffs at the things girls like to do, like dress up, play with dolls, dance, play make-believe and the like? I recently heard about a stepfather who genuinely love his new daughters, but is used to life (and play) with his own two biological sons.

He expresses annoyance at the girls’ play activities, which he sees as too “girly.” And he doesn’t seem to believe that his attitude hurts the daughters’ feelings.

How can he come to understand that this kind of play is normal and healthy for girls (and can also be normal and healthy for boys like his sons)? How can he come to understand that his words and attitude have a major impact on how his daughters see themselves?

First off, I think it helps to remember that this dad, like every dad of daughters or stepdaughters, operates with a significant hurdle in front of him: all of us fathers grew up as boys. We don’t know what it’s like to be a girl or grow up as a girl, so a girl’s life can be (and often IS) very baffling for us to witness and understand.

This is especially frustrating for moms, stepmoms and women professionals who work with families; as former girls, they know tons more about growing up a girl than I ever will (and I wrote two books about it!). The challenge for women like these is to have realistic expectations about what Dad or Stepdad will know and when he’ll know it. That can easily make for an environment of tension at home when conflict over “girlish” play arises.

Tomorrow, I’ll explain more about the kind of impact on daughters that dads and stepdads have—whether we realize it or not. And come back over the weekend for some tips on how we Dads can get over our resistance to “playing like a girl.”