Friday, March 20, 2009

On Raising Daughters

This post belongs in the category of "Read This Book to Your Children and You Will Benefit Greatly."  I'm a huge fan of reading aloud to my children.  More on that in a later post...

Poor Caddie Woodlawn.  Not only is her true story pushed aside for the more popular Laura Ingalls Wilder, but she also desperately wants to be like her brothers.  Being a tomboy is what she wants to be, and she is caught in the middle of her father's desire to let her "just be" and her mother's longing to refine her into the young woman she was meant "to be".  Carol Ryrie Brink's delightful accounting of one woman's Civil War-era recollections  gives children an historical picture of what it would have been like to live during that time.  It gave me, a parent, a beautiful picture of what it means to raise daughters.

Caddie consistently gets into trouble with her brothers.  Her biggest gripe, however, is that she is held to a different standard than they.  In one scene, Caddie and her brothers scheme to put an egg down cousin Annabelle's dress.  Caddie's brothers run free while Caddie receives punishment from her mother.  The injustice is just about more than Caddie can bear.  A few hours after the incident, Mr. Woodlawn goes into Caddie's room and gives this monologue, which about takes my breath away every time I read it:

"Perhaps Mother was a little hasty today, Caddie,"  he said.  "She really loves you very much, and, you see, she expects more of you than she would of someone she didn't care about.  It's a strange thing, but somehow we expect more of girls than of boys.  It is the sisters and wives and mothers, you know, Caddie, who keep the world sweet and beautiful.  What a rough world it would be if there were only men and boys in it, doing things in their rough way!  A woman's task is to teach them gentleness and courtesy and love and kindness.  It's a big task, too, Caddie -- harder than cutting trees or building mills or damming rivers.  It takes nerve and courage and patience, but good women have those things.  They have them just as much as the men who build bridges and carve roads through the wilderness.  A woman's work is something fine and noble to grow up to, and it is just as important as a man's.  But no man could ever do it so well.  I don't want you to be the silly, affected person with fine clothes and manners, whom folks sometimes call a lady.  No, that is not what I want for you, my little girl.  I want you to be a woman with a wise and understanding heart, healthy in body and honest in mind."

Having carved a road (or ten) through the wilderness, I know it took nerve and courage and patience to do that.  I'm finding out that raising daughters to have wise and understanding hearts and honest minds is a much harder task that damming a river and that it is taking much more nerve and courage and patience that I ever imagined.


  1. Caddie Woodlawn was a favorite read-aloud book when our kids were young and, reading aloud was a most pleasurable activity even when our kids were grown into teenagers.

    Raising daughters (and sons) to have wise and understanding hearts and honest minds is a process. It doesn't happen overnight. That's where, if you are a person of faith, the standard to help in that process is The Ten Commandments as we impress them in practical ways on our children. We talk about them when we sit at home, when we walk along the road, when we lie down and when we get up. This is not done in a day, nor a week, nor a month, nor even a year. In other words,
    It is a day in and day out effort. The task isn't easy. Sometimes we are so close to the situation that we don't see the positive progress being made in our children. A wise elderly friend once said to me when I was despairing of my efforts something like, 'Gail, you are so close you don't see how your kids are growing and learning.' Gail

  2. We read lots of novels together with the children but haven't gotten to this one yet. I have vague memories of it from my childhood...can't wait to revisit it sometime soon! thanks for the reminder!

  3. I read and reread Caddie Woodlawn many times as a child. It's interesting, isn't it, that children's books we enjoyed when we were younger look differently when we later read them aloud to our own children.

  4. I think I never liked Caddie Woodlawn when I was 10 years old because I definitely did pick up on the theme of "somehow we expect more of girls than of boys," and I didn't like it very much! While I can't say that I always appreciated being held to a high standard, it served me well at the back end of the process :).

  5. Yes, Rebekah, you seem to be a person who was held to a high standard and it is serving you well now!