5 Unfair Expectations You’re Placing on Your Daughter

“Well then why does he get to run with his shirt off?” It was a question I wasn’t prepared for and had never really considered. I was arguing with my teenage daughter about why she couldn’t run in a sports bra. I wanted her to wear a t-shirt or something else—anything else—that would be more modest. When she asked why, I said something about her showing off her body instead of working out. Immediately, she brought up her older brother who had the habit of shedding his shirt the moment he stepped outside, so long as it was above freezing. And I never said anything to him.

I’m not making an argument that a girl taking her shirt off in public is the same as a boy doing it. They are not the same. That said, it’s also not true that boys aren’t thinking about how others are looking at them when they are shirtless. I began to realize I had unfair expectations of my daughter. There were weights I placed on her that I didn’t place on my son. We do this with many things. Here are 5 unfair expectations you’re placing on your daughter.

1. She must be more mature than boys.

It is true that in general, girls tend to mature sooner than boys. This has become so widely understood that we take it for granted. The problem is it can create an environment where we place unfair expectations on our daughters to always be more mature. This can mean that while boys get to be childish far longer than is helpful, girls are often expected to be adult-like far earlier than is reasonable.

Girls need time to mature too. She doesn’t need to be a “little lady” when she’s 10. She needs to be a kid. Give her the freedom to mature at her own pace, and don’t expect too much too soon.

2. Boys’ responses to her body are her responsibility.

I am blown away by stories my female friends tell me about their experiences being catcalled in public. Have you heard of this thing called “subway shirts?” Women in NYC are wearing loose shirts over top of their normal attire so as to avoid being harassed by men on the train. I am a fan of modesty. I think it should be encouraged for both genders. But there is no excuse for men acting like pigs.

There are great reasons for modest attire, but boys’ behavior is not one of them. The responsibility for a boy’s thoughts and behaviors rests squarely on that boy. It’s unfair to place that on your daughter.

3. She needs to be a leader.

I am a strong proponent of women in leadership. We need way more women leading. But sometimes I think we can overcorrect and place unfair expectations on our daughters to always lead. Not everyone should be a leader at all times. Some people, women and men, are built for leadership. Some aren’t. That’s not a flaw, it’s a feature.

Leadership is not a virtue but a role. Not everyone was meant to play it. If your daughter shows an inclination and a desire to lead, fantastic! Fan that flame. But don’t assume that if she doesn’t want to lead, she’s doing something wrong. She has other gifts to offer the world.

4. She needs to get married.

Marriage in the U.S. is on the decline. A recent Pew Research Center analysis of census data from 2019 shows a sharp rise (9%) in the number of adults living without a spouse or partner. I think marriage is both sacred and an important part of a stable society. But if I’m honest, I tend to think differently about how important it is for my daughters versus my son. Many of us assume our daughters need someone to take care of them. We may not realize it, but we still see women as in need of a protector.

But not all women desire marriage. While I hope my daughters get married, I need to remember that this is not my life and, even more, that she is not incomplete without a spouse. She needs love in her life, friendship, and support, but it may or may not come in the form of a marriage partner. And she gets to make that call.

5. She needs to be academically minded.

We still unintentionally (or intentionally) create unfair expectations in our minds of “women’s work” versus “men’s work.” For example, she can be a scientist/doctor/teacher but not a mechanic/electrician/plumber. So we ask our son to help us hang drywall or fix the toilet but tell our daughter to read a book. Why?

I was recently talking with my brother-in-law, a BMW mechanic, and he said he’s seeing a surprising number of women becoming mechanics. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, this is a trend across fields. Increasingly, women are finding opportunities in skilled trade jobs. I’m not saying we should discourage women from doing academic things, but we shouldn’t preemptively close doors that might hold opportunities for them either.

Sound off: What are other unfair expectations we place on our daughters?

Huddle up with your daughter and ask, “Do you think I have any unfair expectations of you?”