Why I'm reading this book on raising girls even though I have a son

By Melody Tan 6 min read
Thursday, February 11, 2021

As a self-confessed feminist, the strategies suggested in Raising Girls Who Like Themselves help me to better raise a son, who I hope will become a man who respects women and even champions their rights.

The book is titled Raising Girls Who Like Themselves, but I found myself reading it intently—even taking mental notes—despite not having any daughters. Yes, whether you’re raising a girl or a boy, this is one parenting book you want to read.

Written by husband-and-wife team Kasey Edwards and Dr Christopher Scanlon, the issues raised in Raising Girls Who Like Themselves are based on real-world struggles, largely in part due to the parenting challenges they have faced with their own two daughters.

The seven big issues girls face today

According to Kasey and Dr Christopher, there are seven big issues girls face today:

  1. Anxiety and depression
  2. Body image
  3. Body ownership
  4. Over-scheduling and over-commitment
  5. Not equipped for adulthood
  6. Lack of meaningful relationships
  7. Patriarchal societal expectations

“We approached this book as building a solid foundation for our girls so they can thrive and handle any challenge—today, tomorrow or many years from now,” they say.

Whether you have a preschooler or a tween, this book has plenty of helpful information on how to actually raise them. Meaning you are given tools on what to say, what kind of perspectives to share and the kind of values you should impart.

This book is more about developing your child as a whole—and it starts by how you, as a parent, behave around them.

It’s about guiding principles that influence your parenting decisions, not a one-size-fits all approach. And that’s what makes it so easy to adopt. It challenges conventional thinking and helps you to ponder on the right questions and make the right choices for your family.

“Rather than focusing on discrete problems for putting out spot fires, we wanted to get the basics right so the fires didn’t even start,” says Kasey. “So we connected the dots in all the parenting research and advice we could find and what emerged were seven qualities, or foundational pillars, that every girl who likes herself must have. Then we set out to analyse what parents needed to do to establish and strengthen each quality.”

Parenting advice without the jargon

What makes this book so appealing, however, rests on the fact this is a duo with years of journalism and research experience.

“After the birth of our first daughter Violet in 2009, we were determined to be the best possible parents that we could be. And we've devoted the last decade to working out how to do just that,” says Dr Christopher.

“We've read countless books and credible research studies, we've interviewed the world leading experts in childhood development, education and wellbeing. We've spoken to a stack of parents, attended all the parenting seminars, made our own mistakes and learned from it.”

But the book isn’t littered with gobbledygook academic findings and nice theories that you have no idea how to implement.

This is a book you can speed read without missing the important points and is filled with practical how-tos that you can actually use.

“Every single approach we suggest in our book, we have successfully implemented ourselves,” says Kasey. “This is not to suggest that everything will work for every family and for every girl.

“Rather than writing an expert parenting manual that dictates unrealistic guilt-inducing parenting rules, we have set out to share our risk-mitigation strategy for parenting our daughters.”

On that it does well, although my main criticism of Raising Girls Who Like Themselves is that it doesn’t overtly talk about how to raise girls who care for others, even if Kasey and Dr Christopher do admit they “want [our girls] to be kind, empathetic and considerate”.

But without first liking ourselves, how can we learn to like—and be kind—to others? And I’d like to think that when you set up the foundations and impart the values taught in this book, you’d also unconsciously raise children who respect others just as much as they respect themselves.

A parenting book for the boys too

While many of the topics raised in the book are faced uniquely by daughters—sexualisation of girls, for example—it’s still very much a book for parents of boys.

Knowing that girls are raised to believe they “’owe’ another person any type of physical affection when they’ve bought her dinner or done something else seemingly nice for her later in life”, helps me to formulate strategies on raising a boy who understands that.

As a self-confessed feminist, the strategies suggested in Raising Girls Who Like Themselves help me to better raise a son, who I hope will become a man who respects women and even champions their rights.

At the same time, strategies relating to raising children who are calm, independent, masterful and have strong relationships, are universal and as important for boys as they are for girls. And you really need to read the section on how to approach homework and extra-curricular activities.

When it comes to parenting information, mums are usually the ones doing the research and reading, but this is also a book for the other “boy” in your life: The father of your girls. Kasey and Dr Christopher recognise that dads probably aren’t as interested in reading up on parenting tips (even if they’re equally interested in parenting). It’s why for every big issue they tackle, the section “Action for dads” is short, succinct and practical.

And if that’s still too much reading, here’s “one bang-for-buck parenting tip for dads” from Kasey and Dr Christopher that you should share with the father of your girls. (It’s less than 300 words.)

Take a day of annual leave to go on your daughter’s school, preschool or childcare excursion or to be a parent helper. If there aren’t formal opportunities to do this, ask your daughter’s teacher if you can come in and read the class a story or help with another activity. 

A study published in 2018 in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that children with fathers who spend time engaged in educational activities experience a great deal of cognitive benefits, as compared to fathers who engage in other structured activities such as sports and unstructured activities such as play. Best of all, this applies regardless of your own academic achievements.

The benefits of taking a day off to get involved in your daughter’s education extend far beyond academic pursuits. You’ll be able to meet all your daughter’s friends and witness firsthand how she interacts with them. 

If you see that she needs assistance developing her social skills, you can offer it. Knowing your daughter’s friends (and their names) provides an opportunity to open up communication about those relationships. If she comes to you looking for advice in the future about an issue with a friend, you will know immediately who she’s talking about. 

Additionally, spending that day with your daughter will allow you to have a one-on-one chat with her teacher. 

And perhaps most of all, it will also show your daughter that you are genuinely interested in her life and what’s important to her. 

Worry-free parenting

There are some really important strategies recommended in this book—some I wished I had learned as a girl. Qualities such as speaking up and being assertive, the art of conversation, and how girls should expect to be spoken to (hint: It was nothing to do with appearances).

They’re all presented really simply and often only require minor tweaks in what you actually say or emphasise to your children, in age-appropriate ways.

My current favourite has to be “the giraffe”, when it comes to teaching my own four-year-old not to worry about what (hurtful things) kids say about him:

“When our girls come to us to report that someone has said something mean about them, such as ‘Joe said I was stupid’ or ‘Katie said I’m a big baby’, we reply ‘If Joe/Katie said you were a giraffe, would that make you a giraffe?’”

It’s these little gems and nuggets that make Raising Girls Who Like Themselves worth reading. And with it comes the promise of worry-free parenting.

“All of the research, thinking, trialling, making mistakes and the correcting course that we did before we wrote Raising Girls Who Like Themselves meant we went from worrying whether our girls would grow up happy and healthy in today’s society to feeling confident and excited about their futures,” says Kasey.

“A lot of clarity and reassurance comes from knowing exactly what our parenting goal is. Our goal is to raise girls who like themselves because what we know for sure is that absolutely everything that we hope and dream for our daughters starts with raising them to like themselves.”

This is a book for you if you want to raise children—not just girls—who are confident, self-assured and as the book title says, like themselves.


Read "Raising girls to understand consent", an extract from the book.

Melody Tan is project manager of the Mums At The Table multimedia initiative. She lives in Sydney with her husband and their preschooler son.