To my dear daughters:
Years ago your father and I went on a trip. At the time we had only your oldest brother and sister, and they were very young. When we were heading home and in the middle of nowhere, we ran into a blizzard. The sun went down and, as it grew dark, both children began to cry. Rather than crying themselves to sleep, they grew more and more agitated until they were frantic and sweaty. We needed to comfort them. We also needed to get safely home through the dangerous storm.
I climbed into the back seat of our little green car. I talked to your brother and sister. I stroked their faces. I sang them songs. After some effort, they drifted off to sleep. When all was finally quiet, I remember peeking around the seat and being surprised by how fast the snow was accumulating on the windshield. While I was taking care of the very special people inside the vehicle, your father had been concentrating on seeing where we were going and keeping us safe through treacherous conditions on the outside.
I remember this experience vividly because, for the first time, I recognized how much we all depended upon your father. And through the years, through many storms, his spiritual sight has kept our family safe. I am so grateful for the influence of this good man in my life.
I have seen women raise children alone. I’ve seen these same women succeed in the workplace. They have done it all, so to speak. But I suspect if you asked them, they would tell you it is a difficult and lonely road.
My girls, I hope you know how lucky you are to have a father in your life. A father who reads to you. Who gives you Eskimo kisses. Who is proud of you. Who is imperfect, but keeps on trying.
I want you to be grateful not only for your father, but for all the good men and boys in your life. They, like you, are receiving mixed-messages about their place, their purpose, their value. So much in this world has the potential to confuse you, but among your feminine attributes are intelligence and intuition. I hope you will use those gifts to discern between the significant and the superficial, between truth and deception. And I hope that you will learn to show the same level of respect to boys that you desire them to show to you.
Competition vs. Cooperation
Most discussion about gender these days is competitive rather than cooperative. I want you to have confidence in who you are. Don’t be intimidated by anything you hear. You are in no way “less than” boys. So please do not shortchange your best qualities in order to compete with theirs.
Of course men and women should receive equal professional opportunities and societal advantages. But the fact is that men and women are NOT the same. We are different in form and function. Beautifully different. Our association is less like a math equation and more like pieces of a puzzle. God designed beautiful differences in our natures so that we would fit together in harmony and synergy.
I hope you will recognize, appreciate and honor gender differences. Sometimes we, as girls, are tempted by pride to declare, “Anything you can do, I can do better.” The truth is that we do have the ability to multi-task, adapt, and quickly learn new skills. If our purpose is to out-do boys, we might succeed. But to what end? And at what cost?
Our quality of life is enhanced not as we prove our strength and capability, but as we improve our relationships. A scale to measure power will ultimately harm relationships. What we really need is sincere concern for one another. What we really need is mutual respect.
Independent vs. Incomplete
Some will tell you that you should be independent. And yes, you need to become as prepared and capable of independence as possible. But the truth is, alone, you are not complete. And neither are boys. This is true individually and it extends to society at large. God designed us to be dependent upon each other for wholeness. The divine pattern is demonstrated by yin and yang – opposites interacting to create a complete and balanced whole. Because we are connected in this way, contempt for either the masculine or the feminine is self-destruction.
We often express concern for adverse messages being sent to girls. I am likewise concerned about destructive messages being sent to boys these days, not the least of which is that they are expendable. That we may want them around occasionally, but we do not need them. Everyone longs to be needed. In many ways, boys are more romantic than girls. They hope to be a knight in shining armor. If we set out to prove we don’t need them, we strip away some of the motivation and joy in their lives. And we make our own road lonely, difficult and incomplete.
Unique Challenges Faced by Boys
This world is a difficult place for women. An even more accurate statement is that this world is difficult for everyone. As a mother, I think often about what the future holds for my children and I worry a lot for your brothers. In many ways it feels as though they are being set up to fail.
Generally speaking, boys today are unsure of their purpose. In days past, they had very clear societal expectations. They were the hunters, providers, protectors. One of their important attributes is the ability to mono-task and focus, to do one job at a time and do it very well. This attribute made men exceptional at their traditional responsibilities. But it leaves them vulnerable in times when clarity of purpose is obscure.
Already facing cloudy expectations, boys are besieged by distractions. Some seemingly benign. Others devastatingly dangerous. Pornography is a pervasive distraction that injures even the most decent. It’s addiction devastates potential, leaving pain and loneliness in its wake. My heart aches for all boys. They should not be expected to fight such battles alone.
Your sincere friendship and virtuous example may be the greatest influence for good in their their lives. Never underestimate the power of your respect. Consistently given, respect has the power to clarify purpose, reinforce willpower and restore dignity and self-esteem.
Cue Aretha Franklin
Respect is a two-way street. You cannot hope to be treated with respect unless you are also willing to give it. Respect is about common courtesy and consideration. It is something you can give anyone, whether or not you believe they have earned it. It is not something you should withhold as a way to manipulate or as a way to evaluate others. Trust is something you give or withhold based on actions. But respect … it is a gift.
Here are five principles that will help you convey this powerful gift of respect:
1. Look for the good. Showing respect is about feeling respect. You cannot pretend it. It is a matter of how you truly see someone. Recognize the attributes that make boys different, that help them contribute in positive ways to your world.
2. Give Praise. When you see the good, make it known. Everyone loves to be complimented. One of our great gifts as women is the ability to nurture. Take it as a challenge to leave every boy you encounter better than you found him.
3. Be gracious. When boys show respect for you in traditional ways, smile and be grateful.
4. Be Modest. Boys are certainly responsible for their own thoughts. Each of us is. But the word respect implies consideration about how our actions affect other people. When we truly respect boys, we will be eager to help them think and be their very best.
5. Be YOUR very best. Don’t spend your energy competing with boys or with anyone else for that matter. There is something within you that only you can give. Be a true friend and example. Develop your talents. Excel in your studies. Be happy and enjoy life. When you work to become your best self, you will inspire others to do the same. And because boys will be watching you, your example will influence them more than you know.
My dear daughters, I do not know what the future holds for you, but my heart is forever praying that you will be blessed with companions who are equal to you in every way. And whether or not you marry, I hope you will come to understand the importance of giving respect to those who share your journey. In particular, I hope you will be grateful for all the boys who complete your life by giving it depth, dimension and joy.
Consistently given, respect has the power to clarify purpose, reinforce willpower and restore dignity and self-esteem.
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