The lady who smiled at her children, and the woman who showed honor to her husband, the hard-working church helper, those I held up as examples to be admired…by my girls! Yes, girls were indoctrinated to be ladies by the examples of the women I admired.
I had never really been aware that I do indeed indoctrinate the children in my life. Yesterday, we were in the greenhouse taking out the last few remaining plants. I handed Laura Rose, our 17-month-old granddaughter, a small potted plant to carry. As we walked out of the greenhouse and into the garden, I told her, “This will soon have pretty pink flowers. Ladies love flowers.”
We made our way over the rough, plowed ground with her little legs struggling to keep balance while holding on to her potted plant. Just as we started planting it, a rain shower came, so I whisked her up and ran up the hill to the house. She was wet, dirty, and cold, so I quickly stripped off her clothes and put her into the kitchen sink full of warm water with lots of bubbles. She loved it! I unconsciously did it again. “Ladies just love warm bubble baths.” This time, it suddenly hit me. I am indoctrinating this little girl in what it means to be female!
When I was young and in school, back in the sixties, it was still popular for writers and college professors to rail on parents and society for influencing little girls to be ladies and boys to be men. At that time, psychologists thought that the difference in the sexes was a learned habit, not a product of nature. They theorized that if society did not lead boys to think that men were supposed to be tough and little girls were supposed to play with dolls, that boys and girls would grow up to be a happy blend, with no social or personal gender distinction. This philosophy included the idea that guilt and morals were simply the unfortunate products of society.

Although very few parents in the general population bought into this ridiculous philosophy, its principles permeated so much of education and literature that almost all parents were affected by it, and still are today. An entire generation of children grew up without learning the simple things they would need to cope with life. Many sweet little girls did not learn from their mothers how to be thankful, obedient wives, and little boys never learned how to be real men and take care of the women in their life. I am sure today’s divorce rate reflects some of the “gender neutral” teaching. But the children in my life will know little girls love flowers and that boys take care of mamas. I indoctrinated them—here a little, there a little, line upon line, precept upon precept. I do want my boys to be real men and my girls to be fine ladies.
For the rest of that day, I took careful note of how often I influenced Laura Rose’s opinion of herself and her abilities, and her opinion of other people, as well as all the wonderful things happening around her.
“We love to sweep. It makes our floor look so clean.”
“Do you want to help wash the dishes? You love helping wash the dishes.”
“Your daddy will be so proud of you. You are such a good helper.”
“Big Papa is so strong, and he loves baked fish and fresh salad out of the garden.”
“He really loves green beans. You love green beans, too, don’t you?”
“Do you want to help me cook the green beans?”
At lunch, Laura Rose ate green beans like they were a delicious dessert. She “scarfed them down,” as Joe Courage likes to say. When her mama came in sometime later, we looked around for Laura. We found her in the kitchen. She had pulled up her stool, found a can of green beans, and was in the process of trying to put the can of beans on the stove. The power of suggestion is remarkable.
I am a country woman, no frills attached, but I know when someone else looks good, walks with grace, and dresses with class. All of my daughters have a beautiful natural confidence and presence. It amazes me how they can take simple things and make them taste, look, or feel so good. They are what I call, real ladies. How did all three girls developed traits that I didn’t have? When they were growing up and we saw a lady walk with grace, I would direct their attention to her qualities. We even had hilarious times practicing walking like a lady—just for fun. On the other side, if we saw a girl with silly clothes and purple hair, flouncing along in a sexy way, I would bring that to their attention also. They knew that I felt sorry for the silly girl and admired the graceful woman.
I made it a point to have them around admirable young ladies who had a sweet kindness about them. We took note of women who could sew and do beautiful handwork. We called them “The Proverbs 31 ladies.” We honored them from afar. These ladies would be shocked to know how much influence they had on my girls and how often their names were respectfully mentioned.
Woe to the woman who was dominant, lazy, moody, or critical, because, with a shudder, I taught my daughters to dread ever being like that. But the lady who smiled at her children, and the woman who showed honor to her husband, the hard-working church helper, the best cook at Sunday dinners, and the young wife who shyly held her husband’s hand, those I held up as examples to be admired. . .by my girls! Yes, my girls were indoctrinated to be ladies by the examples of the women I admired.

We never demanded that our children say, “Thank you,” but we did communicate thankfulness. It was easy. After every trip to the library, I would be sure to say something like, “Mrs. Betty sure is a good librarian. She helps us in so many ways. She is just the nicest lady. We are blessed to live close to this library.” When we had to turn around on someone’s driveway, I would tell my girls, “We are using another man’s property. I am glad we can turn here, and I want to make sure I do not mess up his yard.” When we went out to eat, I always tried to think of the waitress as a friend who was doing me a favor, and my children saw my attitude toward her was that of appreciation.
Many young children grow up treating their grandparents like slaves, showing a total lack of gratitude. My children (and now my grandchildren) learned to revere, appreciate, and serve others by how I talked about grandparents and friends at home. This casual form of training has been completely successful, as all four of the grandparents will gladly affirm, including Papa Glen—a step granddad—who will be 90 years old this fall (He is still Mike’s fishing partner).
My children did not learn respect by my demanding that they say, “Yes, sir,” or by my telling them to give a hug after receiving a gift. We never encouraged them to be artificial or pretentious for convention’s sake. More is “caught” than taught. Children know your spirit. They read how you feel, and that is what takes root in their souls. As I look back on raising our children, I can see that I spent time indoctrinating them in attitudes rather than teaching them to perform. Now I am reaping the blessed benefits as my children walk in truth.
Now it is my grandchildren who are being indoctrinated. So while Zephyr, Laura Rose’s mama, was getting her things together, preparing to leave, I put little Laura in my lap and picked up a brand-new pair of white socks and began to put them on her, “Rachel Stoll wears clean white socks with her tennis shoes, and they look so nice.” And, of course, I added with great emphasis, “Everybody knows that she’s a real lady.” Laura Rose cocked her head back and studied my face, then nodded intently like she clearly understood, “Ladies wear white socks.”
Debi Pearl