1. You don’t need to keep telling your daughter she is beautiful until she “believes it.” This is well-meaning in a society that is determined to make your daughter feel less-than and, while your heart is in the right place, you focusing on her beauty positively or negatively makes her do the same. The best thing about your daughter is not how she looks. Of course, you want her to accept and love the way she is, but in order to do that, you must also encourage and appreciate the aspects of her that have nothing to do with her beauty. Teach her to demand that the people in her life value who she is, not what she looks like.
2. You don’t need to protect her from the big, scary world of men. You are teaching your daughter to regard men as unsafe and putting her in a weak position where she cannot defend herself. If your daughter is interested in a boy, ask her about him, ask to meet him, be curious about who he is, instead of blanketing him as someone your daughter should be afraid of. Your fear becomes her fear and, while you think you are helping your daughter to be aware, what you are is teaching her to attract fearful men into her life. What she resists and what she focuses on are what she attracts. Teach her to respect herself, to respect men, and teach her to think for herself.
3. You don’t need to threaten violence if a boy comes to your door to take your daughter on a date. This is not cute or funny, despite what sitcoms will have you believe. This doesn’t just cause a distance between you and your daughter, but this puts her, again, in a weaker position, so that she is not allowed to think for herself. Teach her about men who will love and cherish her. Teach her to love and cherish men. Give her trust, an open ear, and give her the opportunity to make her own choices, rather than feeling like a princess in a castle that needs your protection.
4. You don’t need to guard her virginity. You need to teach her about sex and leave the door open, so that she can come to you. You need to stop regarding sex as this taboo thing that you can’t talk about. Sex is not gross, it is not an uncomfortable topic unless you make it so. Your daughter’s virginity is not something that she should be taught to guard and that men need to “earn the right” to it. Her virginity is not a commodity. Her body is not something men can earn.
5. You don’t need to “cover her up” or be aghast by what she wears. Talk to her about her clothing choices, instead of dictating what she wears. Ask her about what kind of clothing makes her feel comfortable. Don’t make her feel like she is to be fearful of how she dresses. Open a conversation. Don’t teach her that it’s okay for men to dictate what she wears or what meaning there is behind her clothes. Teach her to make those choices on her own.
6. Stop saying that “men don’t want the cow if they get the milk for free.” Because your daughter is not a commodity. And, one day, perhaps your daughter will want to share just the milk and that’s completely fine. Teach her to not regard sex as some transaction. Teach her that sex is a multifaceted part of what it means to be human and that, whatever is best for her and her body and her heart, is the only thing that matters.
7. You don’t need to keep giving her the idea that the only thing men want from her is sex. Teach her about what else matters. Her brain, her heart, her compassion. You are the first person in her life who teaches her about her relationship to men and she will take what you do and say as gospel. Make sure what you do and say is intentional. Teach her what to value about herself, not what the world has told her to value about herself. Teach her that she is more than just the sum of her parts. Teach her that the men she’d want to be with, would love her for who she is.
8. Treat her mom like you’d want your daughter to be treated one day. Whether you are divorced or not, how you treat her mom will be, at least for a while, what she expects from a relationship. Your every move is being watched. That’s what you signed up for as a parent. You don’t get to say one thing and act another. You don’t get to tell her that she is worth more than her beauty, but then have her watch you value a woman’s beauty over everything else. Your daughter will remember your actions before she remembers your words.
9. You don’t need to tune out “girl stuff” just because you’re not a woman. Chances are, your daughter will want to do anything to impress you. Encourage her to share all aspects of her life with you, not just the non-girly things. Meet her at the level she is at. It’s not going to kill you to have a tea party with your daughter every once in a while, if she’s into that sort of thing, of course. See what she’s interested in. Invite her into your world, whether your world is sports or collecting coins or reading books by Hemingway. Don’t see her only as a gender, but as a human being who yearns to explore and imagine, without prejudice.
10. Don’t stereotype her. Not every little girl loves Barbie and the color pink. Allow your daughter’s identity to unfold naturally and get to know her, instead of giving her the identity you think she should have. Allow her to change her mind, experiment, explore, and share with you the ups and downs of all of it. Give her the openness and tools she needs to explore who she is, determine her own desires, and find her own footing in this world.