Raising brave, imperfect daughters, and teaching them to code

Last week I came across a tweet sharing Reshma Saujani’s TED talk, titled “Teach girls bravery, not perfection“. I immediately bookmarked it to watch with my daughter (and tweeted my plan to do that).

Saujani replied to my tweet, and asked me to let her know what my daughter thought of the talk.

So, I watched the talk on Saturday morning with my 7 year old (along with my son). Afterwards, I asked her what she thought about what Saujani said about how important it is to be brave, rather than being perfect, and how the quest for perfection is so self-defeating.

My daughter said she liked the video. I asked her to elaborate, and she commented on this talk has inspired her to try to learn to code again. She said that she stopped trying the first time around because she kept making mistakes.

I noticed this when I introduced her to coding on Code.org last year. She started off really excited to see what she could create after watching me learn front-end web development for most of last year. But she soon gave up when the exercises became trickier and she found herself making mistakes.

Since watching the talk, she’s been asking me when she can get back to learning to code. It also helps that my son has also returned to learning to code after seeing me return to Python (I’ve started at the beginning with Python 3).

Now all I need to do is pick a learning platform for her to learn with. So far, Code.org and Scratch look like good options for her.

Photo by Jelleke Vanooteghem on Unsplash

Soosh’s love between a Dad and his daughter

Snezhana Soosh has shared a beautiful series of illustrations of the love between a Dad and his daughter that are just wonderful. She published them on Instagram. A number of sites have published the images, including Good Things Guy and Bored Panda:

I love Soosh’s illustrations. Here are some of my favourites:

I just want to head home to my little girl now …

My daughter can be a princess if she wants to be

Rian wrote a thought-provoking post titled “Thoughts on being a terrible dad” which touches on something most parents probably feel: frustration at being told how to raise our kids:

My daughters love princesses, and I sometimes tell them to be careful. According to the internet, this makes me a terrible father. And I’m getting a little bit tired of hearing about it.

We have two children, a boy and our little girl. All parents know that being a parent isn’t exactly easy. Our kids are born without manuals and whatever we are told when they are born is frequently not as applicable as our well-meaning advisors may hope. Also, having kids can be terrifying.

I was chatting to my brother-in-law yesterday (he and his wife recently had a little boy) about this. Having kids has introduced me to fear that I didn’t know before them and, at the same time, tremendous joys and highs I wouldn’t have experienced without them. They certainly make life interesting and we do the best we can to raise them well.

I’m pretty sure we are making all sorts of mistakes and preparing them for years of therapy and “growth” but our ability to raise healthy and confident children depends so much on how much we know about ourselves and our fears. We do our best.

Our daughter is a busy little girl. I have always tried to teach her she can do whatever she wants to do when she grows up (she is almost 4 so we have some time) and I do my best to let her explore her world and do crazy things (within limits, mostly having to do with sharp objects and fire).

While we live in a complicated world where women are historically treated as second class citizens (often far worse) and still seem to struggle for recognition in a world still dominated by men and our stupid paradigms, I don’t understand why I should go out of my way to introduce these modern inequalities into our children’s consciousnesses. All that achieves is created a conceptual starting point that sets them up to repeat our broken behaviours.

That isn’t to say that we will lock them up in a metaphorical tower and tell them its all flowers and unicorns, we don’t. What it means is that I want to teach our kids how to be better than we are from blank slates. We won’t always get that message right and some of our paradigms will seep through but why teach my daughter that she wont be treated as equals as a starting point. Rather teach her she can do whatever her brother does and perhaps even do it better and let her growing confidence guide her through the stupidity that awaits her.

Rian linked to a couple articles online which seem to be intended to teach us to be better parents and while some of the tips make some sense, most of the “advice” is just crazy. Here is an example from Devorah Blachor’s New York Times article titled “Turn Your Princess-Obsessed Toddler Into a Feminist in Eight Easy Steps“:

Propose that the hatred that Anastasia and Drizella feel toward Cinderella is not the fault of the stepsisters, so much as it represents a complete indictment of Western society and its attitudes toward feminine beauty. Suggest that all three women might be victims of the same impossible societal pressures. Work in this timeless Naomi Wolf gem: “The contemporary ravages of the beauty backlash are destroying women physically and depleting us psychologically.”

When I first read the article, I thought it had to be a joke. Surely she isn’t suggesting we actually have that sort of conversation with our daughter? If anything is going to send her to therapy, that sort of discussion probably would. It just seems to me that talking to our kids like this creates mental models that won’t serve them as they grow up in a dynamic world. It won’t cultivate their potential to think for themselves and create a reality that serves them, it will hobble them. I sometimes wonder if some feminists forget they are human too?

My favourite story about our daughter that my wife often tells is that my wife once asked our daughter what sort of princess she was (at that point she just declared she would be a princess for a game she was playing)? My wife asked if she could be a variety of Disney princesses and our daughter said “no” to each one, insisting that she would be “Princess Superman”. That is our little girl. She plays with Superman and Metro Man, spars with our son with toy light sabers and occasionally dresses up in a pink fairy outfit and prances on her bed (sometimes with a tiara).

Her current favourite song is “Let it go” from Frozen and she sings it while it plays on her iPad and she dances around the house with a blanket over her shoulders like a cloak. She has fun, she is comfortable being herself and I know she’ll play Star Wars with her brother later too. I don’t particularly care if she is a proto-feminist, as long as she is her own person and she is happy.

As far as not telling kids to be careful goes, I try not to do that either. I heard about a great alternative a while ago which I try use more frequently: “pay attention”. That said, as Rian pointed out (and you almost certainly know), there are times when we do need to tell our kids to “be careful” and it is usually when they are about to do something dangerous! We are still parents after all and we don’t want them to hurt themselves. Yes, it probably instills a little additional fear but I can live with that one too.

A father's advice to his daughter about words in magazines and make-up aisles

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I came across this terrific letter Dr Kelly Flanagan wrote to his daughter in a blog post titled “Words from a father to his daughter (from the makeup aisle)” which I want our daughter to hear when she is old enough to affected by them.

Two paragraphs really stood out for me:

When you have a daughter you start to realize she’s just as strong as everyone else in the house—a force to be reckoned with, a soul on fire with the same life and gifts and passions as any man. But sitting in this store aisle, you also begin to realize most people won’t see her that way. They’ll see her as a pretty face and a body to enjoy. And they’ll tell her she has to look a certain way to have any worth or influence.
… and this next one which, aside from the bit about fingernails, is advice we could all benefit from:

Brilliant strength. May your strength be not in your fingernails but in your heart. May you discern in your center who you are, and then may you fearfully but tenaciously live it out in the world.
Thanks to Daniella for sharing this on Facebook.