Tuesday, 19 November 2013

Reflections on 'Raising Girls' by Steve Biddulph

Being a girl is tough. I remember it well. The anxiety about looks, boys, school, looks some more, peer pressure, bullying, looks some more ... OK, these things don't apply to Eleanor right now, but one day she will sadly come across them. I didn't deal well with any of these anxieties as a girl, so I wanted to find some advice about how I could help Eleanor to cope better than I did. On the strength of a recommendation from another Twitter mum, I thought I'd give Steve Biddulph's new book, 'Raising Girls', a try.

It's pretty sobering reading. Things were hard when I was a teenager, but the rise of the internet and smartphones seem to have made it so much worse. Add to that the increasing gender segregation of things like toys and clothes, and girls today have to deal with a heck of a lot more than I ever did. If I struggled to cope 15 years ago, how much harder will it be for Eleanor in 10 years time?

Fortunately, it's not all doom and gloom. This book has some great advice on how to help your daughter to develop rock-hard confidence and guide her to make wise decisions. I have to confess I haven't read it all - I missed out chapters 4 to 6 as they deal with girls aged from 5 to 18, and, well, Eleanor's not even 2 yet. I did really enjoy the chapters on 0-2 year olds and 2-5 year olds though, although realistically these were more like 0-1 and 1-5, but let's not split hairs! Biddulph endorses responsive parenting for babies, not leaving them to cry and letting them know you are there and you love them, and for toddlers and preschoolers he encourages free play, getting messy, exploring nature and avoiding gendered toys and prissy clothes. If you've read the rest of my blog, you'll guess that I agreed with much of what he said! The sections lambasting Bratz dolls and Lego Friends had me nodding my head vigorously! The toddler section was actually part of my inspiration for this blog, and for pushing my own boundaries to let Eleanor get out and about, and to get messy. I realised that, despite it not being my thing, I really want Eleanor to be a nature girl who doesn't mind getting her hands dirty!!

His advice on discipline is useful but a bit brief, and ambiguous too - he advocates removing a child from a situation where they've 'been naughty' and waiting until they're calm enough to talk about what happened. Great - but it's unclear whether he intends for the parent to stay with them until they've calmed down. That might seem like a small thing but to me it's crucial - for reasons I may blog about later, I am very uncomfortable with the idea of the 'naughty step' or leaving a toddler in turmoil alone as punishment. I think Biddulph could have been clearer about his intentions here. But overall his focus on developing your daughter's inner moral compass rather than enforcing compliance is very good. Although there is a part of this section which made me squirm; he talks about working with young people injured in car accidents, or raped after going somewhere with strangers, who, "say ... 'I was confused and didn't take charge of myself.'" This reductive victim-blaming really spoilt what was otherwise a very good section on discipline.

The best thing about this book is that it's so darn READABLE - clear, witty and concise, it's the one of easiest parenting books I've found to read. And that makes it ideal for dipping in and out as your daughter gets older - you just need to skim-read the summaries of the previous chapters then dive in to the relevant section. Although I know that things will probably have changed when Eleanor's old enough for the other chapters to become relevant, the core advice is very sound so I will be referring back to this book for years. And hopefully, with enough copies of this book getting into circulation, some of the scarier chapters - about cyberbullying, 'sexting', binge drinking etc - will no longer be relevant as hundreds, thousands, maybe millions of parents teach their daughters to take a stand, and mobilise themselves to make a difference.
I'll leave you with this picture of Eleanor perusing the book. I took this a couple of months ago and I still haven't worked out whether she's learning how to raise dolly (that bald thing next to the book) or checking that I'm doing my job properly! She certainly looks thoughtful though!

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