Just Be Girls: Connection, Balance and Purpose.
“Girls can be anything, but hear they have to be everything.” Courtney Martin author of Perfect Girls, Starving Daughters.
As a kid, I remember being so proud of my mom. She was the postmaster in our small-town post-office and I thought it was pretty cool that she had such an important and visible job in our community. Most of my friends were from farm families so their moms were home and/or helping on the farm. I was never jealous that their moms were home. While proud of my mom as a kid, I now appreciate her even more and can relate to and understand the pressures on her as a ‘working mom’. She worked 7:30 am – 4:30 p.m. with no flexibility, yet managed to have dinner on the table every night, the house cleaned weekly, served as the taxi cab for me and my siblings, taught Sunday School, took some night classes at the local college, took care of her ailing mother and probably more that I wasn’t privy to.
While I am so thankful for the opportunities given to women by those who fought for equal rights, the expectation on women and our girls has grown as a result. Prior to the baby boomer generation, women were expected to succeed as homemakers; when women started working, these standards didn’t diminish. In fact, we could argue, they increased. Not only does your house have to be clean, it has to look like a magazine spread. On top of the homemaker expectation, girls and women now have to succeed by traditional male standards (climb the ladder), succeed by standards of beauty (look like a supermodel) and succeed by standards of motherhood (perfect kids). As Rachel Simmons, author of ‘Enough as She Is’ states, “Women are expected to be superhuman. Ambitious, smart, driven, physically fit, pretty and sexy. Socially active, athletic, kind and liked by everyone.” When we don’t meet all these standards, we feel like we don’t measure up.
Unfortunately, this feeling of failure starts early. Always found in a 2016 survey that 50% of girls are paralyzed by the fear of failure. No matter the activity, kids feel tremendous pressure to be THE best and pursue it at all costs. As one girl stated, “I have to be better than everyone – even myself.” What are our girls giving up in the pursuit to be the best?
When girls succumb to the pressure to be the best, friendships are impacted. Think about your child(ren). How much time has she devoted to just being with friends away from the gym, field, or activity? A 2018 study found that on American children between 3-12 participate in 5 structured activities each week while engaging in 50% less ‘free time’ play than their parents did.
Without time spent building personal connections, kids feel alone. Feelings of isolation lead to low self- esteem and it’s corresponding negative behaviors.
BIO Girls provides connection and sense of community. We level the ‘playing field’ and bring together girls from all walks of life. As one mom stated, “The supportive, inclusive environment of BIO Girls is so important for the brutal pre-teen years." Mentors serve as a non-familial role model, an important component of kids’ self-esteem.
When was the last time your daughter tried something new just for fun? It is important for kids to balance the should’s and have-to’s of life with pursuits she cares about. In ‘Enough as She Is’, Rachel Simmons states, “Basing every decision on high performance will set our girls up for a narrowly defined life that may bear painful repercussions." A grim example of this occurred in the FM area. A D1 hockey recruit blew out her knee her senior year of high school and lost her college scholarship as a result. Her feelings of worth centered around hockey, her friends played hockey, she spent hours on the rink – she had no balance. Without hockey, she was lost and found a replacement for it – opioids. She overdosed just a few short years later.
In 2014, we had a participant, we will call her Jill, who was a gifted athlete but felt tremendous pressure to be the ‘best’ at everything she did. She participated in BIO Girls with her bestie. Mid-way through the season Jill asked if she could run the 5K with her bestie, Jackie. She said she wanted to ‘have fun’ with the 5k race and not worry about her time. When we agreed to allow Jill and Jackie run together, despite Jackie being a much slower runner, Jill’s dad was upset because Jackie would ‘slow Jill down’. We had to help him understand the purpose of running at BIO Girls. We use it as a tool to teach accountability and goal setting; and allow participants to experience success during our weekly workouts. I will never forget that race as Jill and Jackie crossed the finish line together, holding hands and smiling. They were also the first to line the race course to cheer on their peers as they crossed the finish line. After the season, I received a letter from Jill thanking me for allowing her to focus on fun, not being the best. BIO Girls afforded her the opportunity to deepen her connections and find balance.
When focused on being the best, purpose becomes tunnel vision focused only on self. Grades become a college acceptance letter, rather than about the process of learning. Physical activity is used for vanity, rather than health. Activities equate to scholarships and recognition, rather than stress relief and enjoyment. Girls should explore their purpose which will help them find balance. When people discover a purpose bigger than themselves, it creates a sense of satisfaction that no success can replace.
BIO Girls helps girls explore purpose by engaging in service to others. Each site participates in a service project in their community. Ranging from serving at a food pantry to picking up trash in parks to visiting residents at a nursing home, these projects help participants understand that age is not a pre-requisite to serving others and that by giving, so much comes back to you. It’s no doubt why the girls rate the service project week at the top each year. Giving back through BIO Girls create a sense of purpose, bigger than ‘me’.
If you are raising girls, take the time to talk with them. Not about the next opportunity for success, but rather about how they are feeling, what they are passionate about and work with them develop a plan to find balance and connection in her life. The plan should allow her to unplug and to forget about the 'have-tos'; the plan should allow her to pursue her passions, not a result; the plan should allow her to form or deepen connections with others. Maybe the plan includes volunteering at the local animal shelter once a month. Or joining the chess club at school. Or becoming a BIO Girls junior mentor.
Girls need the opportunity to 'just be' and a plan like this will make a difference by helping her create balance and relieve some of the constant pressure this generation of girls faces. How do you help your girl(s) 'just be girls'?