Q: My daughter is entering the tween years, and I'm concerned about her self-image. The other girls in her peer group are so focused on being thin and wearing the right clothes. But my mom always told me, "Pretty is as pretty does." How can I get that same message across?
Jim: Without question, our culture tends to define women by their appearance. Some of the worst offenders include popular music and movies. And ironically, magazines aimed at women and girls often send the message that a woman must be physically beautiful in order to have worth. Even relatively conservative publications airbrush the images on their covers.
In this toxic environment, it's up to parents to counter these damaging messages. It's all about finding a healthy balance between affirming your daughter's physical appearance and nurturing her character. According to author Vicki Courtney, little girls naturally want to be told they're pretty. If we don't tell them at all, they could end up having an unhealthy craving for male attention later on. But we don't want to go overboard and send the message that their worth is based on what they look like, either.
As daughters get older, parents need to emphasize virtue and character over appearance. "Pretty is as pretty does," indeed! When girls are exposed to negative stereotypes, we need to help them realize that images of models and celebrities who appear to have found the fountain of youth are not real. Most have been prepped by hair and makeup artists, Botox, plastic surgery -- and then airbrushed after the photos are taken.
Having a tween girl isn't easy. As you noted, many of your daughter's peers have already bought into the lie that appearance is all that matters. But with a little guidance and a lot of love, parents can defuse our culture's negative messages about femininity, and help their daughters develop a healthy self-image.
Q: My son just lost his job. While they get back on their feet, he and his family will be moving in with us starting next month. We're excited to have them around for a while -- but also a bit apprehensive. How can we maintain good relationships during this time?
Greg Smalley, Vice President, Family Ministries: I'm sorry to hear about your son's situation; I know that can be hard on everybody. The biggest area for potential problems centers on unclear expectations by both parties -- you and your spouse on one hand; your son and his wife on the other. So you should try to be as clear as possible going into the situation.
First, you and your spouse need to be unified and agree on any house rules prior to having your guests move in. Decide if there will be any rent involved, a tentative timeframe for the arrangement, and how to handle cleaning, chores, buying food, cooking, babysitting, etc. You also need to be sensitive to the fact that as parents, your son and his wife have the right to make decisions regarding their children (your grandkids). You must respect their parental authority and support it, even if they don't do things the way you would.
Then, sit down with your son and daughter-in-law in a relaxed setting to talk about these issues. Discuss their expectations. Discuss your expectations. Come to a consensus on the house rules, especially involving your grandkids, and how to handle disagreements or broken rules.
Finally, and for the benefit of all concerned, put something into writing -- a sort of mini-contract that defines all of these parameters.
Jim Daly is a husband and father, an author, and president of Focus on the Family and host of the Focus on the Family radio program. Catch up with him at www.jimdalyblog.com or at www.facebook.com/DalyFocus.
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