Listening to Girls’ Dreams

An Introduction

Henry James once mused, “Summer afternoon, summer afternoon… the two most beautiful words in the English language.”
Hopefully, we and our children are able to capture some summer afternoon time for relaxation, rejuvenation, and dreaming! What do the girls in our lives dream about? They have dreams for their summer, dreams for the upcoming school year–with its anticipated stresses and pleasures, and dreams for their futures. How can we support our daughters–and our sons–in accomplishing their dreams and goals? A first step is through the art of listening. In this article, Joy Malek reflects on the art of listening to girls’ positive goals and dreams. – Melissa Johnson, Ph.D.

 

Recently my thoughts have turned to the aspirations and dreams of girls. As I think about the girls in my life, I am moved by the big hearts, earnest causes, and considerable ambitions they possess. Day-to-day interaction about schoolwork, friends, and routine wants and needs can obscure the richness and depth of the inner life of girls. Children and teens think about things… as busy as they may seem with more superficial interests, the girls I know have opinions and feelings about a wide range of topics, from politics to ethics to relationships.

When was the last time you asked an open-ended question about your daughter’s dreams, and then just listened? You may be surprised to hear what stirs, inspires and compels her. She may be self-conscious about her interests, or unsure whether she has what it takes to reach her goals. When I was a girl, I announced to my parents that I wanted to become a lawyer. Over the years my inclinations took me in a different direction; and I’m sure that at the time, my parents realized that my eight-year-old career choice might shift. Aspirations evolve, but my parents’ positive reaction to my dream communicated a belief in my abilities that has lasted. As a girl, I could not articulate the fact that my parents’ smiles and encouragement contained the message that I was intelligent and capable, or that the field of law is as likely a career choice for a girl as for a boy. Instead, those values were internalized almost unnoticed, and simply became a part of who I am. The perceptiveness with which girls gather information about the world often prompts them in important directions; many feel drawn to careers and activities that have impact on a social, political, or environmental level. Whatever her leanings, confidence is instilled through the interest and validation that a girl receives from the important figures in her life. When we reflect back to a girl that her goal is important and that she has a contribution to make, it affirms her own sense of identity and purpose.

One question I am familiar with is, “How do I get my daughter to share with me on that level?” As adults, our questions to children and teens often function more as a prelude to “Something Important That We Want To Say” than as earnest information-gathering. I learn much more from the girls in my life when my only agenda is to understand their experience and viewpoints. My questions become more honest, and my tone less judgmental. When I enter into dialogue with genuine curiosity, I find greater openness on both sides. Certainly, guidance and direction are also necessary to give, but these are much more easily received when one feels truly heard.

I believe that listening to and validating the dreams of girls is one of the most important things we as adults can do. Girls often have unexpected amounts of awareness, conviction, and drive to be tapped into on issues that matter to them. However, at almost every developmental level, unique obstacles are encountered that have the potential to diminish confidence and a sense of efficacy. When girls are surrounded by adults who believe in them and reflect their capability back during times of discouragement, confidence is instilled on a meaningful level. Let’s pay special attention to the aspirations of the girls in our lives, and consciously set about communicating that such dreams are within their grasp.

 
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