In two of his books (Bringing up Girls and Bringing up Boys) James Dobson talks about a fundamental concept that critically influences the lives of girls and boys. It’s the concept of the inner voice. It encapsulates the essence of what a child needs to hear to grow a healthy self-esteem. It is the basic starting block for him or her to understand their self-worth and sets the table for how they will be treated by others in future. The inner voice ultimately influences us as adults in a very profound way, because it becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. Henry Ford is quoted as saying: “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t – you’re right.
Dobson explores the inner voice concept by examining the mind of a child to help us understand how this (self)belief system starts during our early childhood and eventually becomes part of our inner voice as adults. This inner voice remains throughout our lives and could develop into an immense catalyst for greatness. But it could also become a massive inhibitor of our ability to achieve our full potential, depending on the character of this inner voice. Amongst boys and girls, that inner voice differs, and the need (or even yearning) for what the voice should be saying is not necessarily the same. In this blog entry we examine the inner voice of girls.
Dobson believes that the most important thing a little girl’s inner voice needs to tell her is that she is lovely. Think about this for a moment. What does it mean to be lovely in this context? To me, Dictionary.com provides the most fitting description of what lovely means: “Charmingly or exquisitely beautiful; having a beauty that appeals to the heart or mind as well as to the eye; of a great moral or spiritual beauty: a lovely character.” Merriam-webster.com says “Attractive or beautiful especially in a graceful way.” Wow! This is a form of beauty that speaks to the soul! Something that has to come from God – not a worldly type of beauty as we so often see in magazines and movies. I believe that this depiction of what lovely means could be translated to this: “I am worthy of being treated like a princess.”
I recently came across a letter a father wrote to his young daughter. In it, he expresses his anger at the perception that women need to “keep him interested.” By chance, this dad came across numerous online discussions focusing on how women need to be sexy and how they can make their man feel “smart and superior”. That’s missing the point, in a very profound way. I was as angry as this daddy when I observed the general trend of discussions on forums and in articles where the concept of being lovely is completely absent. Because of this absence, it is so important for us dads to influence that inner voice – to create the reference for our girls to know that they are lovely and worthy.
When I Google “how to treat a woman like a princess” I am overwhelmed with about 13 100 000 results – all steps and guides in letting your girlfriend or wife feel cherished and appreciated. It’s about whispering sweet nothings in her ear or confessing your love to her over voicemail. It certainly is romantic and will put a smile on her face. But if she is lovely, she is worthy of your time and attention. The focus is on the word worthy. She deserves it. And she needs to feel that she deserves it. She needs to know it, believe it and expect others to treat her that way. And if her inner voice tells her that she is lovely, she will believe it. She will know that she is worthy of care and attention. But where does it start? Where do I, as a dad, have a chance to influence that inner voice of my precious little girl?
From the very beginning, a little girl’s daddy becomes a template against which she will measure future interaction with men. If her dad treats her like his little princess – like a lady, and if he makes her feel lovely, she will expect nothing less from her future husband. And as a daddy, I will also expect nothing less from my daughter’s future husband. But when the time comes, I will not have a say in her choice of life partner. I will have to bear witness to the result of the inner voice which I played a part in forming and experience the outcome of the template I created for her. For this reason, I cannot waste a single minute. I need to ensure that my little princess knows – in her heart and mind – that she is lovely.
I am sitting at my desk in our study. It’s early morning, just before sunrise. Everything is peaceful and quiet in our house – my family is still asleep. This is an important time of the day for me. It’s the best time to talk to God and then plan the day ahead. Time to respond to urgent matters before the rush and craziness of the day sets in.
Just as I am getting on a roll, my six year old son comes wandering down the stairs. He woke up early this morning and got up before his siblings. I hear his sleepy little steps on the laminated floor as he comes through my study door, squinting from the sudden light. At first I’m frustrated by the interruption – my time is SO limited and I usually try to fit too much into this early morning session. But as he draws nearer, I see his beautiful olive eyes and recognise my own in them. I stop typing and watch him move closer. “Good morning my boy” I say softly as not to wake the rest of the household. I notice his hair – the wild blonde curls, still bed-head style. I run my hands through it as he comes and sits on my lap. I turn around to the window and open up the blinds to let the first gentle rays of sunshine caress our faces as we sit there and talk. We gaze out the window at a bird hunting for his first catch on the lawn. We talk about birds and animals and how it is that some can fly. And of his dream to one day become a “doctor for strange animals” – animals that other animal doctors can’t or won’t help and how he will make a difference that way. We talk about stuff that constitutes his universe – important observations, perceptions and conclusions being formed in his mind. He wants to make a difference – make the world a better place. This strong willed little man with his (sometimes) wicked sense of humour has always been a champion of the underdog; finding a “place of safety” for a frog captured by the neighbours’ kids and defending his sister who has lost clout with mom.
Suddenly I realize how blessed a man I am. This is my son; the eldest of our offspring of four; the first bearer of my family name. He has already taken up the role of leader, protector and mentor to his siblings, albeit from the limited perspective of a six year old. Sitting on my lap is a most precious gift of God, awaiting my inputs and guidance to make this world a better place – starting right here and right now.
When our chat ends, I kiss the crown of his head before he walks away. This is, without a doubt, the best time of my day – time with my child. His character is now strengthened. His self-worth reinforced and his sense of direction reaffirmed. My little prince is ready to take on the world. He is my son, and I have never been more proud of him.
I am the captain of my child’s heart; the keeper of his thoughts. I will guard and direct his mind so he can grow strong and resilient with a moral compass. I will connect with him often to strengthen and nourish his character. I will pray with him daily to teach him where his Strength lies. And when the time comes, I will send him into this world with a big heart and a strong character. His heart will be big enough to support the needy and strong enough to defend the weak. He is of me, but he is not mine. He belongs to God, and His work here has just started!