More than 200 Nigerian schoolgirls, age sixteen to eighteen, were abducted a few weeks ago by an al-Qaida-linked terrorist group, Boko Haram, which means “Western education is a sin”. They were taken from their school, loaded into trucks, and disappeared into the darkness of a dangerous world. Like the daughters I love, these girls were about to finish their final year of school. While none have been rescued, a few managed to escape their captors. As I read the news, I was angered and saddened by one more assault on girls.
At home, in school, and in our communities, girls should be protected, encouraged and celebrated instead of oppressed and abused. As my thoughts turned to protecting girls and raising daughters, I wanted to share a few insights into how we can encourage our girls to become confident, strong young women who know they are deeply loved, are ready to offer their gifts to the world, and view the world through possibility rather than limitation.
But first, let’s look at the example of Jesus who elevated the situation of females long ago. As Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, “Jesus gave women human dignity … Prior to Jesus, women were regarded as inferior beings, religiously speaking.” During Jesus’ lifetime, women were not commonly educated and often remained indoors. When a girl was born, she was often left to die. Yet the longest conversation recorded between Jesus and another person is in John 4 when he asked the Samaritan woman at the well for a drink, upsetting his disciples.
Jesus engaged in a deeply theological and personal conversation with her, taking seriously her thoughts and questions. As John Ortberg observed in his book Who is this Man?, “Is it any wonder she could not stop talking about this man? Jesus was doing something very subversive. He was treating a woman like someone who had her own identity.” He freely offered salvation to male and female, Jew and Samaritan, with the same potency, slaking her thirst forever. This man was worth rushing into the city to tell everyone about.
Again, Jesus treated women against the grain of the culture in the story of Mary and Martha. Often people teach this story as a lesson about avoiding busy-ness, but no one in the first century would have seen it that way. To sit at someone’s feet, as Mary does, meant to be someone’s disciple. Martha did what the culture valued in women—cooking and cleaning. Yet Mary did what the culture valued in men—she became a disciple. And Jesus honored her choice.
As the early Church took root and spread, there was a marked difference in the treatment of girls. They were no longer routinely left to die or exploited sexually. They were no longer the property of the head of household, or paterfamilias under Roman law, who could decide if they would live or die. Their identity and worth began to return to God—in whose image they had been created.
For those of us who have daughters, we must first keep in mind that they are created in God’s image. They belong to him and are entrusted to us as parents. If our culture does not support a Christian worldview of raising girls, then we face a greater challenge. If we grew up without the love and guidance we needed from our own parents, then we face a greater challenge. Still, this generation desperately needs for us to stand up and make a difference in the lives of girls – our own daughters, those within our sphere of influence, and girls who may be abused or oppressed in our commmunities. We cannot stand by silently.
Insights on raising girls
1. Love them unconditionally
Because God loves us completely and unwaveringly, we can love fully – with our heart, mind, soul, and strength shown through words, actions, and affirming touch (lots of affection, sometimes with tea and a good movie or a good book).
2. Engage their world
Listen to their questions and struggles while offering understanding and guidance. Look for teachable moments when they are open to talk, even if you have to put aside what you are doing. For us, this often seemed to happen at bedtime.
3. Play with them
Enjoy music and laugh with them. I remember many tea parties, imaginary worlds with stuffed animals, games, and fun outdoors with our girls. Then again, our girls didn’t play video games or use computers when they were little.
4. Stand up for them
Dads, be their heroes. We chased many monsters out from under their beds and from their closets. But we also taught them that God is with them, so they do not have to be afraid.
5. Encourage their dreams and believe in them
Don’t force them into your mold or attempt to fulfill your dreams through them. God has a purpose for their lives.
6. Provide clear boundaries
When they are older, offer guidelines and help them make wise choices.
7. Foster a love of learning
Books and curiosity about the world were considered fun adventures in our home.
8. Don’t reinforce gender stereotypes in learning
Yes, girls can be logical and excel in science and math. I taught our girls critical thinking skills and logic and when one of our girls struggled in math, my husband encouraged her that “her smartness would come out” as she kept working at it. It has. She is an A student in all her subjects, including math.
9. Teach them to:
- Respect their parents, others and themselves.
- Be faithful, excellent in their work, and finish what they start.
- Be confident. Gentleness, compassion, and femininity are also strong. “Being powerful is like being a lady. If you have to tell people you are, you aren’t.” – Margaret Thatcher
10. Help them realize:
- Their sexuality and beauty are God-given. No one has a right to exploit them.
- Their gifts and talents are valuable, should be developed, and offered to bless the world and serve others.
- Motherhood is honorable and valuable.