There was an excellent discussion of how hard raising girls is, as a woman who didn't have a rosy and ideal youth on twitter today. YIPES! was absolutely my reaction when we found out we were likely to have a girl some 5+ and I still have no idea how to handle it.
Here's my short list of priorities in raising successful daughters.
1. Consider with the spouse how to handle tough conversations well ahead of time. We know that the kid isn't getting a personal screen doodad like an I.pod for a long time. No cell phone until she's 16 and it will be the stupidest phone we can find - no camera, no texting if we can help it, no apps, no music. A phone is for calling people and she needs to learn to use it as such before adding gadgets.
2. Talk about everything. Do not assume just because a word gets used that she knows what it means. We went to an event this fall that was sponsored by one of the large immigrant communities here. They look different from us. We talked a little bit about that, and that it isn't a big deal that people have different skin colors or speak different languages. It's really neat that we're so different.
3. No really. Talk about everything. My parents were really not into talking with us about anything. When I got my period, I got a trip to the library an a stack of books. I grew up with a lesbian aunt (with a partner) and it wasn't until I was at least 12 that I understood that it was like they were married. Why? Nobody explained it! So we are doing our best to explain everything because I'd like the girls to learn the truth rather than some myth other kids have developed.
4. Teach problem solving and practice as ways to overcome any challenge. Being smart is nice but it isn't enough. Practice and effort are really what makes a person successful. I thought I was bad at math for years because I never bothered to practice it enough to really get good at it. Now I know that with practice, I can even do calculus well.
5. I have no idea so I'm going to seek out experts. I don't wear makeup and the spouse only does theatrical makeup, so eventually I'm going to recruit an aunt or "aunt" to teach the girls about its appropriate use. I didn't date guys much at all so I'm going to recruit help to talk about being safe in a relationship. I have few body modifications (tattoos, piercings, gauged ears) so I'm going to recruit help to talk about this stuff. I can speak to "drinking and drugs are highly dangerous so wait to try them" and I plan to start at about age 10 or 11 at the latest.
6. Consistently and explicitly stating the rules. I know that kids love rules. Since I lacked consistent rules growing up, I made my own. I want to make clear all of my expectations so the girls know how to live up to them and to tell them so when they do a good job.
7. Actually know their friends and friends' parents so I know what the other kids' rules are like. My parents were quick to approve based on superficially knowing the parents and I took great advantage of that as a teen, "sleeping over" at approved friends' houses often. I am not terribly sociable but I am going to try really hard to establish relationships with other parents so I can keep better tabs on the girls.
8. Proper sex education. My (very weird) high school had a health day that had lectures on actual health (cooking in the dorms, balanced nutrition on a budget, etc) and sexual health (how do various kinds of birth control work or not, how to put on a condom, how adoption usually works, where to go if you needed help, rape is bad sort of stuff) and probably a bit of mental health thrown in. It was really helpful to me and I hope to set up a similar deal as a community event when we are settled in a community (soon I hope).
Can I spare them what I went through? Maybe some of the biggest and baddest things I went through could be avoided if they knew they were coming (driving and texting will get you killed as will taking drugs sometimes are my friends' sad examples). The very best thing I can do is to help them work through their own problems and give them the tools to ask for help when they need it, and to ensure they feel safe asking for help from someone (even if it isn't their parents). But it is not for me to smooth every bump in the road. It's important for me to teach them to climb mountains safely instead.
So let the mountaineering lessons begin.