What a Girl Wants

Last weekend I attended a women’s retreat, and though for the sake of feeling “away” I planned to keep in touch with my family only on the book-ends of the day, I quickly I realized that my mothering role would accompany me on the trip.

My phone (set to silent) buzzed as I drove up into the mountains Friday, it buzzed a little Saturday, and it buzzed the whole way home on Sunday.  Always a small voice on the other end: “Mom?  What are you doing?  How are you? When will you be home?”  My heart melted at the sound on the other end.  You see, I have an adolescent daughter, and the weekend away allowed me to see with fresh eyes that this precious girl- so independent and head-strong at times- is still so needful when it comes to Mom.

Seated with Moms of boys at lunch recently, I was asked: What do you think the biggest difference is between raising girls and raising boys?  Although I think my immediate answer was something about destruction – my boys break everything!- in reality there is one stark contrast I notice.

Girls need to talk.

On any given day, my oldest son will walk through the door and I will ask him how his day was.  He will reply with either “fine” or “not good”.  He will then get to homework, regardless of the nature of the day.

My oldest daughter on the other hand, will walk in the door from school speaking, even as the door is opening.   I will immediately hear all sorts of things:  Her opinion of the lunch I sent.  The color of elastic bands her friend chose for her braces.  I will hear about who has a new phone, and about which girls are not getting along.  I will hear about which of her friends has a crush and on whom.  I will hear that her teacher is still enjoying the Starbucks mug we bought him.  And on it goes with energy and consistency, until I remind her that homework will not complete itself.

She is classically female and already, wired for relationship.  She wants to talk and she needs somebody to talk to.

Recent studies conducted by British scientists, shed light on this pattern:  It has been claimed previously that women speak about 20,000 words a day – some 13,000 more than the average man.  The basis for this need, is found in a simple protein.  Scientists have discovered that Foxp2 protein actually appears in higher levels in the female brain.  Not surprisingly, Foxp2 is the protein responsible for language.  Women are shown to produce 30% more of it than men, leading them to “produce” more chatter.

There are moments my ears are not attuned to listen, and how my daughters know it.  They will immediately stop and state: Mom, I can tell you are not listening to me.  Older mothers have advised me to listen on and on, to make myself available to each conversation and question.  What a full-time job!  Elizabeth George, one of my favorite mom-authors, states:

Daughters naturally adore their Moms and crave time with them, unless they are being pushed away or ignored.  Then it won’t take long for the wall to go up.  The smart Mom knows that love is spelled T-I-M-E.  And the more, the better!

I am in the mid-stages of learning to stop, engage, listen.  To take serious note of all the seemingly inconsequential details, because that attention spells concern and love.  Ironically, I find that many times when I am most ready to drop to sleep or feel particularly depleted, my girls are eager to talk and they have “one more question” or one more concern.  I am convinced that those Foxp2 proteins surge in highest levels after 8pm!

One idea I am striving toward is to think about raising a daughter as raising a future friend.  The end goal of my time living with my girls is a deep and abiding friendship – one in which they need never question my love, loyalty or investment.  One from which they will draw strength on into adulthood.  And just as any good friendship centers around free conversation and mutual listening, the same applies to raising girls.  They are just small women, craving the same words and expression as adults do.

Those 20,000 words rattling around in your daughter’s brain are waiting to find expression, even now.  I hope and pray that as you and I raise the next generation of women, we are able to put on our listening ears today.

Particularly if it’s after 8pm!




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14 thoughts on “What a Girl Wants

  1. Maryanne, thinking of Mira and this post, I could not agree more. I feel like you and I are living the same experiences on the daily with our girls. Mira talks pretty much non-stop from the moment she gets ups until the moment she falls asleep. She formed a lot of words from early on in life, much earlier than Grayson has. He just grunts and points. The observation you make about girls need to talk peaking after 8pm is so incredibly true. I will have all day and all evening with Mira and she will talk, but the heavy conversations don’t seem to come up until she is climbing into bed, just as I am ready to go to sleep myself. I always try and remind myself of what you and your mom-friend have said, you deny them the conversations that they crave and they will eventually cease communicating with you all together. Communication is such a vital part of our mother-daughter relationships, especially as they hit the difficult stage of teenage-hood and young adulthood. These strong bonds have to come from somewhere and I believe, as you and your mom friends do, that we have a role as moms of girls, to nuture their need to talk from a very young age.

    • Shannon, I am constantly reminding myself of what I needed as a adolescent girl: the ear of my Mom. I think that if Mom is not available, friends will fill that Mom-sized hole. And I don’t want her peers steering her in the manner that I should be!

  2. Maryanne, I always need this reminder especially since my sweet Lucy falls in the middle child syndrome! I enjoyed reading of course but I also have to admit… Your photos are amazing!! The girls in these pictures are beautiful! Very nice photography:)

    • Brooke, I would be remiss to not mention that Pat is the amazing photographer in our house. He has captured most of our moments!

  3. I find Ellie wants to talk to me pretty much all day long! Its not usually anything really deep but she just wants my listening ear!:)

  4. Hmmm. I remember at Grace (& Beth’s) second baby shower your mom said that. “Listen to little girls, respect little boys.” Having little interaction with girls now, I always remember that whenever our neighbor “friend” comes over and talks and talks. And what you said about raising a future friend, is one of the reasons I am praying for a daughter. Beautiful post Maryanne, thank you.
    Betty recently posted…Disney TripMy Profile

  5. Looking forward to reading about your next post on boys and respect! An hour before the “big” kids come home from school I try to sit and relax for a bit, once the front doors open and they come home I feel like another day has just started. Listening and talking to my girls comes naturally to me, my oldest needs to talk about everything. My son? He comes home says school was “fine” and wants to go play with lego….communicating and knowing what’s going on with a boy I find very difficult!
    Lindsey Sieders recently posted…“I will say it again, Rejoice!”My Profile

    • Lindsey, I remember those months after #4 arrived. I definitely felt- still do sometimes- that my second shift began at 2:15. And now with big kids, my 3rd shift seems to begin at 8pm! I try and remember that I do not need to listen perfectly always, but try and listen as best as I can MOST of the time.

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