The question is, of course, what makes a good role model? Or, better yet, what do we want to model?
And I think the answer is self-confidence. Whatever role you have in the world, if you do it with self-confidence, then you model for your daughter what one version of a self-confident woman looks like. And while you can’t expect your daughter to grow up to be like who, at least your daughter can have a reference point in her mind about what self-confidence looks like.
My son once announced, “Dad and I have farm chores and mom is the cook and the cleaner.”
I was appalled. I wanted to lecture my son about how I do a lot more than that. But I thought better of it. He is trying to make sense of things. This is one way to understand it. I told myself to just muster the self-confidence to know that I do a lot more but not feel compelled to scream it out to the world. (So instead, the next morning, I had my son cook breakfast for everyone.)
Kids pick their own role models. You can help guide those choices, but the research shows that most of what determines who the kid chooses is nature, not nurture. If your daughter loves math, she won’t pick Taylor Swift as a role model.
Sometimes mothers worry that if they don’t have a job outside the home then they are not being a strong role model for their daughter. But if daughters need to actually see a parent doing something in order to believe it’s possible for themselves, then no mother could be a good enough role model because mothers can only live one, single life.
It’s important, instead, to make sure daughters know that you respect whatever choice they make. which includes choosing family instead of work. Not everyone has to work. And not everyone has to take care of family. But everyone needs to respect both choices equally.
And something else: be careful about conveying to your daughter that she can “have it all”—stay at home with her kids and have a big exciting career. You know she can’t do both. That’s not how the world works.
Start telling your daughters (and sons!) early on about the personal sacrifices people make to be important or famous people. Talk to your kids about how parents give up some things to be with children. It’s not a conversation about regret and misery—it is about personal responsibility. And how it’s nice that we each get to choose our own life, based on what’s important to us—not anyone else’s standards but our own.
That’s being a good role model for sure.