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Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Teen’s not a girly girl. What will it take for Mom to accept it?

July 17, 2011

Just got an unusual email from a woman who thinks her daughter has a problem. Have a read and see what you think…

Dear Annie,

My daughter and I are not seeing eye to eye. I want to help her with but she will not listen to me. You always hear of parents not wanting their kids to go with the crowd. But my kid does the opposite. She dresses like a boy, only wearing boy’s sports shorts and a t-shirt. She doesn’t like anything girly. Absolutely nothing!! She isn’t boy crazy, that’s a good thing. It is beyond being a tomboy. During sports she will never put her hair up or back like the rest of the girls (even though the coach tells her to). Even on group pictures of the teams she is the only one with her hair down. Could it be that she wants to stand out or that she is trying to fight the establishment? I want her to be herself but this has gotten way overboard and it is causing a lack of friendship. She almost has no friends because she is so different. Should I just let her learn the hard way?

Frustrated Mom


Dear Mom,

I’m not sure what you think your daughter needs to “learn the hard way” or any way for that matter. And while we’re clearing stuff up, how can anyone possibly go “overboard” in being themselves? That’s like saying, “You are too much of who you are.”

You say “I want her to be herself”… but do you really? What I’m hearing loud and clear sounds like “The way she is, is unacceptable!” If that’s where you’re coming from your daughter feels the sting of your disapproval every day. That’s not helpful.

The only positive thing you said about your daughter is that she’s “not boy crazy.” Surely she possesses many admirable traits, but you didn’t mention any. That’s a sign this girl isn’t getting much positive feedback from her mom. Also not helpful.

Clearly you believe your daughter has a problem and if she’d only “listen” to you all would be well. I disagree. This isn’t about you or your well-intended advice. Your daughter may be rejecting girly clothes because she’s questioning her sexual identity. If that’s the case, she’s not purposely defying anyone, rather she’s on an important journey of self-discovery. Whatever her sexual orientation is, she doesn’t need “fixing.” With all due respect, you may be the one who needs a course correction, not your daughter. Because it sounds like she’s doing her own thing very well, thank you and I say, props to her for all that self-confidence!

I don’t mean to give you a hard time. I’m a parent. I understand what it’s like to have expectations of your daughter from Day #1. All parents dream of what their child will grow up to be. Maybe your daughter’s behavior, choice of clothing, etc. is a disappointment to you. Be honest with yourself about that disappointment. Maybe her way of being is embarrassing to you as you watch the reactions she gets from peers and other adults. Please be honest with yourself about that embarrassment as well, but don’t share these emotions with your daughter. She doesn’t need to hear it.

Bottom line, your daughter is who she is and trying to get your approval by pretending to be someone other than her authentic self is not healthy. That would only encourage her to live a lie and put her in conflict with herself. Not the advice she needs.

I’m going to state the obvious because it’s a good reminder to all parents. Your child is not you. And it’s not her job to fulfill your expectations of who she’s “supposed” to be. She is her own wonderfully unique self. She doesn’t need fixing. She needs the unconditional love of her mom. In order to support her journey into adulthood, wherever it may lead, you need to stop trying to change her and start trying to understand her better. I’d strongly suggest you talk with a family therapist or a psychologist ASAP. Hopefully that will help you sort out your feelings so you can learn to accept your daughter and give her the support she needs.

I hope this helps.

In friendship,
Annie

Filed under: Parenting — Tags: , , — Annie @ 6:50 pm
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20 Comments »

  1. Could it be that *you* are wrong?? Sorry, but not dressing girly and not being boy crazy does NOT make you a lesbian!! Could it be that YOU are trying so hard to be pro-gay since that is so “in” these days that YOU are making this a gay issue when it is nothing more than a normal girl acting like a normal girl?? I did the same thing when I was a teen and believe me, I am no lesbian and I have never questioned my sexual identity. Please get over yourself and whatever agenda you have and think first before you write!

    Comment by Karen — July 17, 2011 @ 7:11 pm

  2. Annie is just trying to help and you are in denial. You should have a talk with your daughter about this and be supportive to whoever she is. However, you might be right. Maybe she is not a lesbian, and that is just the way she acts, but if she is happy, shouldn’t you be too? She is your daughter and trying to figure out who she is. Support her and listen to Annie because she is giving you the best advice you can get right now.

    Comment by Bonnie — July 17, 2011 @ 7:52 pm

  3. Karen, thanks for your comment. Because of it, I changed the title of the post as I didn’t want to be mis-leading. Of course I agree with you that clothing choice doesn’t necessarily mean anything about a person’s sexual orientation. Nor does not being “boy crazy” or excelling at motorcycle maintenance or any of a zillion personal interests or preferences. Though I disagree with your notion that I’ve got an “agenda.” Nope, just trying to help parents be more accepting of their kids’ uniqueness, however it might manifest itself.

    Comment by Annie — July 17, 2011 @ 8:26 pm

  4. Bonnie, thanks for seeing the intention behind my email response to Frustrated Mom. I appreciate your support! Just to set the record straight, Karen is not the person who wrote to me about her daughter.

    Comment by Annie — July 17, 2011 @ 8:29 pm

  5. Lesbian schmezbian. I don’t like labels. Why do we need them at all?

    I have known many a woman who is very much into men who love to wear jeans, boots and t-shirts and they don’t put up their hair either and rarely wear skirts or dresses and not much makeup. By the same token I have known many women who prefer to be with women who love dresses, manicures and lipstick. And many a burly, football loving man who prefer men. And some men who don’t like sports at all, are kind of ‘soft’ and love women!

    I think we need to be mindful about stereotyping – and labels.

    As for the Mom…in reading her note, I see that she is worried about the fact that her daughter chooses to be different and she thinks that is the reason her daughter has no friends. I’d guess that there is something deeper there for the daughter if she has “almost no friends” right now. Maybe she is going through a phase or something more significant and not fitting in is her way to express herself.

    I believe that your recommendation for a family therapist is a good one. Why wait for a crisis? We don’t wait for a tooth to be extracted before we go to the dentist. A slight pain is a good reason to seek help. If “Frustrated Mom” is worried, I’d guess that on some level she senses that something is ‘off’ with her daughter. It could be deeper and catching it now is a good thing. Hooray for “Frustrated Mom” for reaching out! Let’s give her the support she deserves!

    Comment by Randee — July 17, 2011 @ 11:52 pm

  6. Gee, that letter could’ve been written by my mother about 15 years ago. I was the sullen androgynous teenager who preferred boys’ clothes – mainly because they were more comfortable. I didn’t wear my hair right. I didn’t have too many friends, either.

    I would counsel “Mom” to lighten up. Your daughter is not out doing drugs, getting pregnant, or into criminal activities. She’s just different. And while it’s not easy being different – I can certainly attest to that – it’s even harder pretending to be someone you’re not just to make other people happy. The world really needs all kinds of people. So, leave her alone already.

    And yes, she might be gay (clothes nonwithstanding), but that’s a whole separate issue and I would strongly caution against ‘going there’ until the daughter herself initiates it. For now, just focus on accepting her as she is…whatever that might be.

    Comment by outoutout — July 18, 2011 @ 1:33 am

  7. I am the original poster of the email. I too thought when reading Annie’s comment to me that she didn’t have ‘an agenda’ well, hope not anyway but by putting ANYTHING about a gay issue was inappropriate. She is only 12 and I was only emailing to get some help and feel like I was being bashed big time!!! I didn’t think I was to put all down that she excells in or I WOULD HAVE. I just put down the problem I felt she was/is having. I do love my daughter very much and she knows that. As for not putting her hair up I am talking that she doesn’t in SPORTS WHEN HER COACHeS EVEN TELL HER TOO. She posed in a group picture the other day and she was the ONLY ONE with her hair down in a group of 30 girls. I am not exagerating she was the only one and her hair is black and she stuck out like a sore thumb. She is in soccer & basketball and both coaches say to have her hair up and not one else on the teams have their hair down but her.The coaches come to us and tell us to have her hair pulled up, we tell her but she doesn’t. I was asking for help.

    Comment by Susan — July 18, 2011 @ 4:34 am

  8. I am the original poster again: When I say that my daughter is not boy crazy I mean by that that some of her friends ARE boy crazy. I’m not saying my daughter doesn’t LIKE boys… she does, she has a boy friend (the way a 12 yo has a boy friend we don’t let her go anywhere private w/her just in a group setting. I just mean she isn’t way… overboard like some of her friends and I don’t have to at least WORRY about THAT issue is all I meant by it. As far as her dressing like a boy I guess at least I don’t have to worry about her wearing SHORTER THAN MY DAY DAISY DUKE SHORTS like some of her friends. I THINK SHE IS JUST TRYING TO FIND HER WAY IN ADOLESCENCE and guess I should count my blessings at least she isn’t dressing provocative and too sexy.

    Comment by Susan — July 18, 2011 @ 5:33 am

  9. I teach at middle school and you should thank your lucky stars she doesn’t want to dress like the crowd right now– Give her points for independence.

    Comment by @lindajones — July 18, 2011 @ 12:36 pm

  10. It’s not easy going through school when you’re “different”. There’s a mold that not everyone (thankfully) fits into. It’s very, very difficult for a parent when your child can’t make friends or is not included with others just because she/he is different. All we can do as parents is love them exactly the way they are and celebrate their uniqueness. Once our kids enter the adult world, they will find others who are aligned with them and life will become much easier. We all want to belong but we can’t and shouldn’t change who we are just to fit in.

    Very often people who grow up as the non-comformists of the world become very successful people. They are better able to think outside the box.

    Susan, your daughter is going to be just fine.

    Comment by Barb — July 18, 2011 @ 12:53 pm

  11. If the hair issue is the big problem, mom should be supportive of her daughter, after all, it’s her hair. She could gracefully step out of the way and suggest to the coaches that they handle the situation with their player. Perhaps if the daughter was benched for not cooperating and playing the game the way the coaches wanted her to play it, she might reconsider her stand on hair bands. Mom is not the bad guy, the coaches are!

    Comment by Penny Holguin — July 18, 2011 @ 2:12 pm

  12. Susan — It’s obvious you love your daughter and are worried about her. No one should blame you for what you’re feeling. But I doubt you can tell her anything she doesn’t already know. Think of how happy you’d be if she had a good friend who accepted her for who she is and didn’t want to change her. It may be that the best thing you can do is to be that friend for a while. That’s something that’s in your power to do; changing her probably isn’t. Let other people worry about how they want her to be different. Be the one who didn’t give her a hard time — she’ll remember it.

    Comment by CJ — July 19, 2011 @ 10:16 pm

  13. I think your daughter sounds just like my now 17 year old daughter when she was 12. Lighten up! Like you said, she’s not trying to dress sleazy or like she’s ready to hit an over 21 club. My daughter wore the boy’s bbal shorts and big shirts because they were comfortable and hid her developing body. 12 year old girls aren’t always comfortable showing off those changes as they are happening. As far as disobeying the coaches, let the coaches deal with it. She has to follow those rules for safety so there should be some consequences for it also. She sounds pretty normal to me. Just give her some room to grow into who she wants to be. You’re doing fine mom!

    Comment by Dawn — July 20, 2011 @ 1:05 pm

  14. I find this whole thing so confusing. Is the daughter’s only issue that she doesn’t like to wear her hair up when she’s playing sports? I can understand the coach wanting girls with long hair to pull it back for safety/better visibility, but if she doesn’t like to wear it up, would she like to wear it short? Or is it that she refuses to dress in the team uniform (which is a problem that is more about teaching her how to be a team player)?

    I am so confused. I read this to be about a well-adjusted 12-year-old who has her own sense of style. I love my kids’ individual quirks, and unless there was a good reason for the coach to give her a hard time about her hair (like safety/visibility), I would tell the coach to blow it out of her ear and take my daughter out for an ice cream.

    Either that, or I would ask her if she wants a haircut and a new style. If she says no, that’s the end of that.

    Comment by Sarah — July 24, 2011 @ 12:29 pm

  15. I was also surprised by the harsh response/ “advice” for your email. Obviously if everything was splendid and perfect with your daughter, you wouldn’t be writing in to get advice. I think the email would be unusual if you wrote in explaining how great your daughter is…and that was it. I hope you do celebrate and praise your daughter for what she does well. I don’t think the email came across that you thought your daughter was unacceptable, but that you wanted her to be liked by others, and protect her from hurt of others who might make fun of her for being different.

    Obviously since she is just 12 years old, she is just starting a long journey of discovering who she is. She’ll learn that her identity is not in her hairstyle or the clothes she wears. If she was confident in her identity, then it wouldn’t bother her to pull her hair back when her coaches ask her to (which is something she should do to respect authority figures anyway) because her hair isn’t who she is. She can be respectful and change her hairdo, but that doesn’t change her.

    I would say that your concern is that she is making it a point to act this way, to be different from everyone else; like she is seeking attention. Maybe she wants to be the only girl in the picture with her hair down, so that she will be noticed.

    I would suggest spending more time with her, just listening. Making it a point to encourage her in her goals, and have fun with her! Make sure she feels loved by you no matter what she does or what she wears. You’ll get to know her better, and she’ll probably learn more about herself as well.

    Comment by Kandice — July 24, 2011 @ 5:55 pm

  16. I am a father of a 11 year old girl whom I adore. She too wants to dress like a boy, has her hair cut short and buys herself boy t shirts boxers and polo shirts. She dresses so much like a boy that women have suggested to her that she is in the wrong bathroom. Where every we go the people call her bud or assume she is a boy She has started to get curves and may be self conscious . My biggest concern is that she has a hard time making friends and it is heartbreaking. I think her style of dress is further alienating her from making girl friends. I have decided to love her independence and stop giving her advice on dressing like a girl. I even shopped with her for superhero t shirts and boxers. I know she wants friends and is unhappy at school because kids won’t play with her.
    I am comforted by some of the comments by other Tom boy moms who have said, let her be her own person. I would like some help assisting my daughter in making friends.
    Thank you for any advice you may have.
    Chris

    Comment by Chris — September 1, 2012 @ 5:27 pm

  17. hi, chris! I wish I had advice for you, but instead I am posting to commiserate. Your story sounds exactly like mine, and I have the same fears about my daughter being picked on and not making friends. I am in tears right now as another school year starts and I imagine the worst, as I feel she looks more boyish than ever. People are constantly calling her young man, etc. She only wants to wear boys clothes, has short hair, and does not wear any makeup or jewelry. If she is gay, I’m fine with that. My heart breaks at the thought of her being bullied or excluded because of this. Would love to know how you cope, because I’m at my wits end.

    Comment by Heather — September 1, 2012 @ 8:40 pm

  18. There’s no problem – except the hair thing and that’s because the coach has told her to pull it up. All of us rebel – even at the adult level so let her learn that lesson the hard way. If your concern is that she’s going to be picked on because she looks like a guy, quit worrying. People get picked on because they lack confidence, not because of how they look! When I was in school, some of the most classically (normal) attractive people were the victims of bullies because they wouldn’t stand up for themselves. On the other hand, they tried to pick on me and by grade 7 gave up when I threw their words right back into their faces and showed my teeth. If she has confidence, she’s good. Additionally, we live in a society now where all genders, sexes and sexual orientations are legally accepted and within most groups, are socially accepted. Chances are she has lots of friends who are more than OK with her appearance, her mannerisms, etc. that you don’t realise she has. I think the real issue is that you maybe wanted a girl to have that girl time with; all that hair and makeup crap, reproductive nonsense, feelings… whatever typical women talk about. If you’re angry that you were robbed of this chance to have the daughter you wanted – as my mum often says of me – I’d suggest you go to one of your friends and talk it over but don’t tell your daughter this. Whenever my mum says she “wanted a daughter”, I immediately internalise it as “I’m not good enough for you.” This message sends people down a path of drugs, sex, poor decisions and behavioural patterns, depression, self mutilation and addiction… or if you’re lucky, they’ll only move away and probably cut off contact in the future.
    All she should hear from you is, “I love and accept you the way you are.” Maybe she’s gay, maybe she’s asexual, like myself. Maybe she’s just hiding a developing body, and once her girl parts finish developing, she’ll wear those clothes you would prefer her to wear. Just don’t bother trying to figure it out now, eh? Let her be a teen (and no, saying, “All the other girls are going through the same thing. Don’t be embarrassed”, or “you don’t have anything I haven’t seen.” doesn’t help!) P.S. I guarantee you that by eighteen, she’ll have gone through all sorts of fads, fashions, hobbies, sports, and friends. It’s a learning process and maybe she’ll come out one day to you, maybe she’ll mellow out and become a stereotypical heterosexual girl later in life. :-)

    Comment by Kamden — September 16, 2012 @ 3:34 pm

  19. just let her be the way she wants to be i am like that and every day i have new friends cause they like me the way i am <3

    Comment by jomary — March 6, 2013 @ 3:07 pm

  20. This is a wonderfully well thought out response. I have to agree with most points that Annie makes. It’s possible that this mom’s is partially concerned out of embarrassment, and it’s my belief that it is incumbent upon all parents be supportive of their children as children learn self-individuation and self-expression.

    However, I have to disagree with the idea that a parent’s role is solely to support whatever decisions a child makes. A parents role is also to educate. There are bound to be countless times in a person’s life when conformity will be an important skill. A mundane example would be during a job interview. A hyperbolic example would be criminal behavior.

    Our job is not to tell kids there will never be any consequences for non-conformity, anymore than it is our job to tell them they should invariably conform. Because we care, our job is to point out the real consequences of non-conformity, because kids are learning and may not be thoughtful about the outcomes. (In this case, perhaps the loss of friends.)

    Once kids have learned conformity as a skill, and view it as a tool with potential tradeoffs (balancing joyous self-expression with joyous social relations), then kids can feel empowered to make thoughtful decisions about when they do and do not want to conform.

    I think it’s still important for a parent to frame this as a child’s choice, and support their ultimate choice. We just need to make sure kids are educated about their choices. If you’re confident the child understands the tradeoffs, you can rest easy. They’re maturing and looking out for their own happiness in a thoughtful manner. I think it’s possible to do this without pressuring if you show that you care because you want them to be mindful of their choices and their impact on their own happiness, and not because your love would ever be contingent on their conformity.

    Towards that end, I also agree with Annie that an ounce of praise is worth more than a 100 pounds of reproach.

    Thanks for a really interesting read.

    Comment by Damon — March 8, 2013 @ 11:21 am

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