Setting Examples for our Daughters: What Mothers teach their Daughters about Girly Thoughts

By Patricia O’Gorman, PhD,
author of: The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power (HCI, 2013)

Order: Amazon / Barnes & Noble

and coming in 2014

Out Your Girly Thoughts…Embrace Your Strength workbook (coming April 2014 from HCI Books)

We say one picture is worth a thousand words. If that is so, then one video must be worth many more.

Out of the Mouths of Babes

I encourage you to watch the video below (sent to me by a reader) of a participant at the Barnard College poetry slam. In it, a young woman speaks to what she sees in her mother that both concerns and infuriates her. She expresses her pain about how the intergenerational messages she has internalized hurt both her and her mother.

Those of us who are mothers may believe that our daughters just follow our directives and do not see the context, do not see our actions or those of our mothers (their grandmothers). We think they do not see the price we pay for following the culturally directed girly thoughts that tell us how to act and how to think, and that promise rejection if we stray from acting in this narrow cultural band.

Think again.

Learning to Take Up Less Space

The poet in this video speaks to how generations of women in her family have been groomed and coached to take up less and less space. “I have been taught accommodation,” she says.

She speaks to being concerned that her mother sneaks downstairs at midnight to secretly eat food to which she does not feel entitled. She talks about how her mother masks her pain with lips coated with wine.

Yes, women have been coached for generations to be smaller, to “wane” as their husbands ‘wax’; coached to be the “woman behind the man,” to be important, yes, but invisible and unrecognized.

But our daughters will break this cycle, won’t they?

“Spend enough time sitting across from someone and you pick up their habits. That’s why the women in my family have been shrinking for decades,” the poet muses.

Sound familiar? Listen to Lilly and ask yourself… is this me as well?

What Can We Do to Support Our Daughters?

    • Encourage them to give voice to their concerns about us

Ask your daughter to discuss what concerns her about you. Her answers may be difficult to listen to, but it is better to have your daughter put this into words than just do what women have been trained to do, which is to internalize what they are concerned about and not speak up.

    • Listen to what our daughters are saying

Sometimes it is difficult to listen to our children, particularly when they are angry—speaking to us with raised voices, using profanity, acting in a way we feel is inappropriate, yelling to us from another room. Our children’s behavior may mask what they are saying—but what they are saying may be right on. Listen to the message; don’t just tune it out because you don’t like the delivery.

    • Change your behavior

Yes, you may need to change. Your daughter’s concerns may be well-founded.  There may very well be something there that your daughter is picking up on that you should address by changing your actions, changing your thinking, changing the messages you are sending.

Crisis Is Opportunity

As I wrote in the first step of my book, The Resilient Woman,, crisis is opportunity. Let this “crisis” of your daughter confronting you on modeling inappropriate, ingrained behaviors and attitudes be the opportunity for you to change in a way that benefits you and frees your daughter from following your girly thoughts.

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Patricia O’Gorman, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Saranac Lake, New York, is noted for her work on women, trauma, and substance abuse and for her warm, inspiring, and funny presentations that make complex issues accessible and fun. She has served as a consultant to organizations in preventative and clinical strategic planning. Dr. O’Gorman is a cofounder of the National Association for Children of Alcoholics (NACOA), and she has held positions ranging from clinical director of a child welfare agency to interim director of a crime victims organization to director of the division of prevention for the National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism (NIAAA). Learn more at

Who is Your Model for Resilience?

By Patricia O’Gorman, Ph.D.

Author of The Resilient Woman: Mastering the 7 Steps to Personal Power (HCI, 2013)

Order: Amazon / Barnes & Noble

I was a recent speaker at a “Theology on Tap” lecture. This speaker series takes place in the fun, relaxed setting of a local pub, and my topic, of course, was my latest book, The Resilient Woman. All was going well when I was asked, “Who are your models for resilience?”

I had an immediate answer: my resilience models are in the films I enjoy—Beatrice Kiddoe, (the heroine in the Kill Bill movies), and Katniss Evergreen, the heroine in The Hunger Games—and in the real world. They also include women like political activist Aung San Suu Kyi from Burma, who was imprisoned for her efforts to reform Myanmar, as well as my own mother and grandmother. Later, as I contemplated the question again, I realized that this is a question men would not ask each other. Men have their role models, and many of them, from all sectors of life.

For women, the question “Who are your models” has many answers, but few of them are obvious. This is a shame, and the reason is that, quite frankly, women have not been routinely celebrated in history. We have been largely invisible and our accomplishments not deemed worthy of note due to our gender. We have even been punished because some saw stepping outside of defined roles as “unfortunate.” As a result, many of the role models we choose, are, well, personal. So to be asked this question often causes a pause as we each must stop and consider our answer.

One of the reasons this is such an important question for each of us isn’t because of a lack of available heroines. But sadly, there are many models for the superficial (and ultimately devastating) notions of what society holds up as important. We secretly admire and aspire to be something we are not—and most often, we focus on the way we look—and these internalized ideas become our girly thoughts, the subtle, outside messages we internalize that cause us to blame ourselves—even berate ourselves—for not achieving what we feel we should. Girly thoughts are decidedly anti-resilience.

A few days after my lecture, my book editor sent me an article that spoke to this dilemma of who our models and heroines might be. It illustrated how a professional photographer is teaching her daughter to celebrate real women by having the five-year-old pose as famous women and taking a picture of her as each of these inspirational women from history. What a terrific use of this mother’s strength and talent, I thought, as she teaches her daughter—and the rest of us—how to answer this question.

I invite you to view her gallery here and then ask yourself the question, “Who would pose your daughter as?” I hope you’ll share your thoughts in the comments, too! Women today have the ability and the opportunity to reshape the discussion so the generations that follow us will be the resilient women of the future. Let’s give them the models they need to banish girly thoughts forever!

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Our Mother, on Mother’s Day: Honoring Our First Model for Our Resilience

We all come to the celebration of Mother’s Day with a long history of being a daughter, profoundly influenced for better, or worst, by our mothers. For some, the notion of honoring our mother on Mother’s Day brings about a mix of emotions. Into this emotionally charged day full of obligations, memories, some sweet, others not, I’d like to propose that if for no other reason than giving you your first example of how to deal with life challenges by developing resiliency, we should honor our mothers on this Sunday, Mother’s Day.

There is no one who we are, or were, as close to as our mothers. They were our model for who we wanted to become, and did not want to act, sometimes simultaneously. We did, at one time, idealize our mothers. Many still do. We did want to just be like mommy, and many of us still use our mothers as a measure for our actions, even if this surprises us. Not that every example we were offered, worked. Nor that our mother didn’t have her own struggles: perhaps, with an alcoholic husband, or her own drinking, eating, or drug use; or her needing to deal with violence in her home, or in her community while protecting her children, or her facing discrimination at her job. Not that our mother didn’t have her own girly thoughts, those negative messages we internalize from society that serve to both limit us and blame us. Because she both loved and wanted to protect you, her daughter, your mother may have reinforced many of these messages, after all, that was all she knew.

But our mothers did show us what worked, and what didn’t. Through our close observation of them, we absorbed our earliest life’s lessons of how to make it through life with dignity, while respecting others, and ourselves. As such we are simultaneously so very close to our mothers, and often shocked and repelled by how much we are indeed like them. This is the mother/daughter dance.

The relationship between a mother and her daughter is complicated, at the very least. There is great love, tenderness, even, pride, but this relationship can also be tinged by other feelings, less talked about, less patriotic: envy of the power a mother has, particularly when we were a teenager; jealousy, on a mother’s part particularly as daughters matures, and she ages; caretaking, as mothers become infirm, and daughters become in some ways their nurturer, coming often at a time when daughters are over-whelmed by the needs their our own children. Being a daughter is a challenge. Having a daughter is a challenge. And it is within this very challenge, that our resilience is staged and begins to be developed.

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