Tools for Courageous Girls
We have created many resources to complement the Courageous Girls curriculum and encourage your journey as parents. Our hope is that we will remove the barriers and/or questions you might have as you move forward.
When all is said and done, what do you want for your marriage, your family, your home? Better communication. Deeper intimacy and connection. More understanding and empathy. Less conflict. More joy! These are common statements made whenever we, as a counselor or...
by Megan O’Connell with Terra A. Mattson, MA LPC, LMFT Worry has been a constant companion of mine for as long as I can remember. And as much as I wished it away, it didn’t budge. So when my fourth grade teacher asked us to write a folktale about a character based on...
Life doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a mother. -Robin Jones Gunn
Trusting someone to guide you, blindfolded, to an unknown destination can create a lot of anxiety. Putting complete trust in someone else to lead the way means giving up control — control over your own steps. It requires the ability to put aside leading yourself, and instead, giving that responsibility over to someone else. What better relationship to experience “letting go” of control than within a mother/daughter pair?
The hardest part of starting anything is starting. So congratulations! You have stepped over the line; something is drawing you to begin a Courageous Girls group for your daughter. You are worth it. She is worth it. We have provided you with everything you will need along the way. The only thing missing is your unique fingerprint, along with other mamas and daughters. As you sink into trusting God each step of the way, believe that He is with you, going before you and empowering you to be a catalyst for transforming relationships.
If you are an “ask questions first” kind of a person, there is a Q&A section for you to browse and familiarize yourself with. Every group of sheep needs a person to shepherd it, keeping the sheep from wandering aimlessly. Leadership is necessary. Great leadership is even more essential. God will use your obedient “yes” to grow you, your own faith and your relationship with your daughter as she watches you step out to start this group with her in mind! We are right beside you as your coaches. You’ve got this.
LEAD YOUR GROUP WELL
If you are a mom, you are a leader. If you have a community you invest in, you are a leader. Your integrity determines the direction and influence of your leadership; great leaders passionately align who they say they are with how they actually live and lead. This includes casting vision, keeping priorities focussed, serving those they lead and taking risks to bring that which is still unseen, alive. Strong leadership can be developed in anyone who is motivated to make a difference to those they influence, and who are willing to say “yes.” Watch and see where God leads you as you choose to be a catalyst for hope and join the Courageous Girls movement. Let’s go! Use these tips as you build your group, lead your group and support the group over the years ahead!
LET’S Talk About It
There are some key issues that we all deal with in some form. Mental health, grace & shame, sexuality, and abuse are four areas that we have focused on. As a family therapist, Terra feels that it is important to address these issues and deal with them both in our own lives, but also with our daughters, and others around us.
It is important to state that not all human concerns can be solely addressed by praying more, reading our Bibles more or confessing and repenting more. There are true psychological and biological disorders that need to be attended to by professionals. Consider that some mental disorders necessitate help through medication, therapy and long-term, intensive treatment, similar to treating cancer, a heart condition, or failing eyesight. A few of these disorders include anxiety, depression, PTSD, addictions, personality disorders, OCD, bi-polar, ADD and eating disorders. This is certainly not an exhaustive list, though.
As a marriage and family therapist, I believe deeply in the power of relationship. Courageous Girls is rooted in the idea that we are wounded in relationships, and we are also healed in relationship. As a mental health provider and trauma therapist, I have come to understand the neurobiology that makes up who we are as individuals (God was pretty darn creative when He made us!). Though the health of our relationships
Please seek help if you are concerned for yourself or your daughter. Shame and fear are the only things that keep us from getting help; not God’s Word. I share this analogy with my clients:
Would you tell your daughter that she needs to “pray more” if she needed glasses after squinting for a year in the front row of class? It’s not her fault that her eyes are not 20/20, right? The same is true for her biological genes – the genes she was born with.
The hope of Courageous Girls is not to become free of “mental illness,” but rather, to know that whatever comes our way, WE CAN find victory. Victory sometimes looks like accepting new and healthy coping strategies. I still wear contacts and my eyes are only getting worse. I cannot control it, but I am thankful for the eye doctor who helps me see. This same analogy carries over to the mental health field. We are mind and heart doctors who help people find a new way of “seeing.” We may not be able to control the struggles we or our children face, but we can control how we frame each situation life brings us and whether or not we seek help to find peace and healing.
“I can do all things through Christ, who strengthens me.” – Philippians 4:13. Asking for help is courageous. Be courageous!
Grace & Shame
One of the most profound awakenings occurs when we recognize our shame for what it is: An enormous wet blanket that leaves us feeling cold, heavy, empty and alone . We start to over-perform, hide, pretend, lie, fool and isolate. Shame lies directly to our souls, accusing us of never being enough or worthy of love. Frederick Buechner, author of Telling Secrets, says, “The original, shimmering self gets buried so deep that most of us end up hardly living out of it at all. Instead we live out all the other selves, which we are constantly putting on and taking off like coats and hats against the world’s weather.” God tells us to put away these falsehoods (Ephesians 4:25) and receive what only He can offer us – Truth.
There is an enemy that tries to kill, steal, and destroy what we were originally intended for. Every human being has a moment to choose: To choose God’s way, the original design for our heart’s intent, or to choose our own way and listen to the slow drip of a leaky faucet. Eventually, that slow drip will drive us crazy and drown us.
Shame says, “I am bad.” Guilt says, “What I have done is bad.” God says all of us fall short and make bad choices, but we are “good” because we are made in His image (Genesis 1:31). Look around. I am not sure any of us can justify ourselves for long before realizing we have selfish or impure thoughts, feelings or actions. This is what the Bible calls “sin.” Our culture feels great disdain over this word, but distinctly identifies the gap between God’s righteousness and our failure to be righteous. This is where Jesus comes in. The Bible clearly says that the punishment for sin is death. And yet, God was not willing to part ways with His creation. The result – he made a specific way for us to remain in relationship with Him through the cross of Jesus Christ.
And then grace. What is so amazing about the Christian faith is this – grace. Jesus did it all for us, through God’s unbelievable mercy and kindness. The “undeserved favor” is grace. God loves us so much; he has gone to desperate measures to make sure we have every chance to reunite with Him and experience His ways. His good ways are just that. Our primary job then, is to open our hearts and receive His invitation into a relationship.
Everyone is on a spiritual journey. When we encounter God’s GRACE, we do not want to turn back. Grace allows us to root our identity in what God says about us. Grace separates us from our behaviors (which are not always good). When we do this, there is no more need for the “shame” voices because we know our identity is rooted in His love and not in our choices. We move from being a “sinner” to a “saint,” all because of Jesus. It might sound too good to be true, but the reality is that all God wants is our hearts. He will grow the rest of His nature as we learn to trust Him. He wants all of us…our mind, body, soul and relationships.
Following Jesus does change everything and it also comes at the cost of handing over our own personal agendas. However, His ways lead us into a radical adventure where we get to partner alongside a greater purpose. The gospel, or the good news, flips our ideals upside down so that when we encounter the God who loves us, nothing else comes close.
Wherever you are on the spiritual journey toward Grace, know that God is pursuing you. Look around and you will see that He has always been pursuing you. The fact that you are considering a Courageous Girls group or are in a group right now shows He is ever-present and wants you to see yourself as He fully sees you – loved, accepted, significant and beautiful. Who we are is never defined by what we “do” as Christians, but by who we belong to – our Creator. This profound, but simple message, is hard to understand or to fully accept. You are not alone if you are struggling with the voices of shame. We need each other to help free us from these messages and to actually experience love that reminds us we are loved, known, and courageous…mess and all. Through the vulnerable practice of trusting God and others in our Courageous Groups, we begin to see God’s power made perfect in all our weaknesses (1 Corinthians 12:9-10) and we no longer need to isolate or hide. Grace reminds us that we can come as we are and begin to heal through relationships.
Courageous Girls is a proactive way we can help shape our daughters, and their view of themselves in a world that is telling them they are nothing more than a body to be used for someone else’s pleasure. So many Christian moms are fearful to talk “too” early to their daughters, for fear they will awaken something inside their innocent little girls. Other Christian moms operate from an understanding of what they DO NOT want to happen to their girls, but have not developed their own healthy framework for God’s good design for sex. Both of these types of moms can be found with many questions in my counseling office.
Our understanding of our sexuality is shaped by our experiences, education, and the unspoken rules of our culture. Saying nothing can speak louder than what we do say. When we speak in vagueness, we are leaving wide open holes for everyone else to fill in for our girls. The CG process considers the developmental stages of our girls in exposing our daughters to their unique bodies as female, the profound design for sex, and the on-going passion for purity in the context of safe conversations. The more we “normalize” their curiosities or help calm their nerves about such subjects, the more we remove the chance that our daughter falls prey to another person’s agenda.
Here are some key reference points that inform us why it is imperative to NOT WAIT to talk to our girls; we must help our daughters know what God truly intended all along. These statistics are not intended to scare you, but to make sure you are not putting your head in the sand. I am tempted to do the same, believe me! However, I love my daughters too much and so do you. The good news is that the more we know and talk about the real issues, the less anxiety we have and the better equipped we are to respond IF anything comes to harm our precious girls.
It is our job to equip our children, not to simply shelter them. In fact, we cannot protect them from all the messages bombarding them in a digital age and we are naive if we think we can. I have too many sad stories to prove that point. However, we can help shape our daughters’ interpretations of what they are exposed to and help them think critically about the endless ways they experience twisted views of what it means to be a girl.
Consider these statistics:
50% of girls in middle school have tried oral sex (Girls & Sex, 2016).
By the time a girl is sixteen, she will have had intercourse with at least one person (Girls & Sex, 2016).
By the time she graduates from college, she is likely to experience one form of sexual assault or sexual abuse, regardless of her background (Girls & Sex, 2016).
A recent study conducted by the Harvard Graduate School of Education found that 87% of women aged 18-25 years old reported having experienced sexual harassment in their lifetime; Only 24% had ever talked with their parents about how to avoid these situations (“The Talk: How Adults Can Promote Young People’s Healthy Relationships and Prevent Misogyny and Sexual Harassment” 2017).
One in three girls is sexually abused by a “trusted” person in her life (Wallace 2015).
One in two girls thinks her “ideal” body weight is thinner than she actually is (Wallace 2015).
Every single girl (one out of
every one) has been affected by the cultural norms of being “pretty.”
The rise of self-harming behaviors such as cutting, eating disorders, pornography addictions, and even suicide are at the highest rates they have been in many age groups, and they are rising still.
The average girl is first exposed to pornography between the ages of 8-11 years old.
The reality is that the sex and pornography industries are looming over our homes, destroying our marriages and teaching our children that we are merely animals, driven by our uncontrolled visceral and primal needs. We spend billions on beauty products, gym memberships, and my favorite, chin and buttock reconstruction…for what? So that we will be loved? So that we will be seen? So that someone will notice our beauty and fulfill our longing to be cherished?
Mamas — let’s get these statistics into our heads! Tear away the veil of indifference or the mantra that you replay in your head of “that’s not my daughter.” If we do not actively participate in processing these issues at a developmentally appropriate pace, the culture will surely beat us to the punch!
On a very personal note:
If you have not addressed your own sexual story that may be interfering in your ability to parent your daughter well, consider asking a professional or trusted friend or mentor to come alongside you and start processing your own pain. You are not alone. It is time to address your own story so that you can help your daughter have a different one. You are courageous.
Abuse is rampant. Contrary to many beliefs, there is no particular “type” of
“Abuse profoundly mars our ability to see ourselves as God designed us: uniquely created in His image. Abuse is doubly damaging as it not only distorts our perception of ourselves but also distorts our perception of God our Creator. The incorrect view of God damages the intimacy He intended for us to enjoy with Him” (Mending The Soul, p. 48).
Abuse, in its very nature, shames a survivor in such a way that it creates social isolation, distrust of others, and superficial friendships that one keeps at arm’s length. At its core, abuse violates our boundaries and tells us that our needs, feelings, and desires do not matter. Abuse is contrary to the very heart of God and His character.
It is time to recognize what abuse is and stand up against the systemic, cultural distortion around what has become “normal,” and in some cases, even deemed as “healthy” or “good for us.” Abuse may not feel close to home, but we must understand that if we are to link arms with other moms and daughters, chances are good that we will encounter this type of pain. Far too many women and girls are quietly suffering under the silence and shame of present or past abuse; the reality is that it is closer than we think.
Here is the hope. Though we cannot always protect ourselves and our children from the pain we cause one another as humans, we can find resiliency no matter what we have endured. Ultimately, the aftermath determines whether or not we can survive and heal from a trauma we have experienced. When we come around one another physically, emotionally, psychologically and spiritually to support and encourage each other in safe and secure ways, healing happens. This takes time, and often professional help. If we can wrap ourselves around our daughters and help them know we will walk with them through anything, then their likelihood of engaging pain from a position of strength increases, helping them build resiliency. The greater hope is that we equip our girls to know their value, find their voice and know how to discern safe people from unsafe people. This starts with us moms.
If you are a Courageous Girls Mom who has found herself in an abusive relationship or inflict these types of behaviors on your own daughter, there is no better time than now to ask for help. (see list below)
We often abuse others out of personal shame and our own stories. Get the help you need today. Your daughter desperately needs you to take action here. Abuse comes in many shapes and sizes, so these basic definitions will not cover the breadth of harm we can inflict on one another. However, it is important to identify and clarify general terms with trauma-informed and Biblically supported definitions.
Spiritual Abuse: This abusive behavior looks like preoccupation with spiritual authority and obedience, expressing one’s own voice as the voice of God, unspoken rules, public punishment or rejection if one is challenged, maintenance of pretended peace, and a lack of balance in Christian living.
Emotional Abuse: This abusive behavior looks like isolation, control, giving the silent treatment, failure to provide comfort, dismissiveness of emotional needs, lack of presence, permission for a child to use drugs and/or alcohol, abusing others in front of a child, not allowing the victim to have her own thoughts, feelings or actions without control or dominance.
Neglect: This abuse occurs when a minor is not provided with adequate food, clothing, medical care or protection.
Psychological Abuse: These abusive behaviors include verbal aggression, dominance, control, jealous behaviors, insults, put-downs, inconsistencies in expectations, cyber-bullying and power imbalance. This type of abuse uses shame and belittling language to keep the victim feeling powerless.
Verbal Abuse: This includes behaviors such as puts downs, orders or demands, constant “corrections,” denouncing, ignoring, yelling, insulting, cursing, entitlement and justification to behave the way they do; it can also be constant criticism.
Sexual Abuse: Molestation, sexual assault, rape, and other unwanted sexualizing is very common. A child’s “explorative” behaviors have negative effects and can cause long-term consequences, especially when there is more than a three-year difference in age. Sexual abuses can be classified into the following two types of behaviors:
Overt: Behaviors that include touching of private parts, infliction of pornography, coercion or forcing a victim into sexual activity. It also includes demands for unwanted or bizarre sex acts, treating a victim as a sexual object (one common example of this is interrupting sleep for sex) or exhibiting extreme jealousy.
Covert: This type of behavior can seem less obvious but is still damaging. Behaviors include demeaning a victim’s body with sexualized jokes, harassment or making unwanted sexual comments; it can also include talking about sexual activity or engaging in an unwanted “romantic” pursuit.
Physical Abuse: This behavior is anything that involves threats of physical harm, destruction of property (such as breaking down doors, punching walls or throwing things). Physical abuse can also include biting, choking, grabbing, hitting, kicking, pinching, pulling hair, punching, pushing, restraining, scratching, shaking, shoving, slapping, excessively tickling, twisting arms or other extremities, smothering, intentional tripping, or using weapons against another.
Scheduling and Planning
Each Courageous Girls group looks a little bit different and does what is best for them. We have some information for what an annual calendar might look like, as well as retreats and Daddy/Daughter camping trips.
Sample Annual Calendar
It’s helpful to have an idea of what the entire year will look like for your CG group before you even send out your first invitation. Your annual calendar will establish a rhythm for your group that will set the tone for the next 4-6 years together. Here is one way CG groups have set up the year; there is no way that will work for every group, though, so don’t be afraid to start here and re-organize in whatever way works best for you.
If you are wanting to start a group during the ideal time (late summer/early fall), here are a few tips to help ensure you’ll be ready when that time rolls around.
Spring/Summer (Before your group starts):
April – Begin praying and extend an invitation to 6-8 moms by the end of April. This will give you time to invite another mom and daughter based on the moms who say yes and if there is still room. Here is a link to a sample initial invitation that you could modify to send out to potential CG mamas.
May – Get the moms together to share more of the vision and allow them to catch the passion you have for Courageous Girls. This will also help them plan and prioritize what their family says “yes” to for the following year.
June or July – Have an informal playdate at your home or at a park to meet and have the girls get to know one another in a casual format.
Late Summer/Early Fall (This has proven to be the ideal time for CG groups to begin meeting):
August – Email a CG Schedule (link to a sample calendar) for the year.
September – Initial CG meeting
October – 2nd CG meeting
November – 3rd CG meeting
December – 4th CG meeting; Serve as a group; attend an event together
January – 5th CG meeting
February – Retreat (Choose from one of the options provided or build your own.)
March – 6th CG meeting
April – 7th CG meeting
May -8th (final) CG group meeting of the year
June and July – Father/Daughter campout or game night; Group connection activities; Prepare for next year.
Retreats are fun but they are also important opportunities for groups to build trust & intimacy, and to go deeper into the content of each years’ primary focus. Typically 1-3 days in length, this extended time period will look different for every group but is always a powerful way to engage your group and bond. The link to each annual retreat will give you suggestions for where to host retreats and how to organize the time spent together, curriculum guidance and meal prepping ideas. Use this Retreat Prayers Guide to frame your spiritual time with God.
Consider doing this retreat at the beginning of your year, or within the first two months, as it helps all participants share a common vision and develop deeper relationships that can only be fostered outside the rhythm of monthly gatherings.
Mother/Daughter Overnight Retreats
These are ideal for any group starting out, especially if many of the moms and daughters are new to one another. Extended retreats provide many different organic factors that allow natural barriers to break down so the group can lay a foundation for the year(s) to come.
The ideal amount of time is 2 nights, as it takes a little bit of time before everyone starts to settle down; new friendships evolve over making meals together, playing games, having deep talks and observing the similarities shared by all girls and women.
It is normal for both moms and daughters to feel nervous about these kinds of retreats; we all have our own hang-ups about how we sleep, daily routines, letting other women see us without our makeup and hair done, etc.. For some girls, this might be the very first time they have slept away from home. Consider these apprehensions and make sure to find a place that allows for decent sleep and as much bathroom privacy as possible. Ideally, you may be able to find a friend or community organization with a “free” option to prevent cost from being a barrier for anyone in the group.
Mother/Daughter Day Retreats
A day retreat is a great alternative to overnight retreats, when the logistics are too complicated for the group. It is also less expensive. If this is the option you decide on, make the most of the day by starting early and have as much interaction between moms and daughters as possible. See the retreat links for ideas to help integrate the yearly curriculum and to make your retreat the best launch pad for deeper relationships within the CG group.
A Mother’s Reflection about Retreat
“I remember our first retreat well. Most of the women did not know each other and I am not kidding when I say every single mom mentioned at some point that she “did not belong” in this group for one reason or another. It was then that I realized Courageous Girls was not just for our daughters, but was for us moms as well. We all need to develop courage and strengthen our identity in Christ so that we are not bound by our own silly tapes that play in our heads or by hurtful past experiences that keep us from forging new ground. By the end of the weekend, every mom was surprised at how well her daughter had connected and how the moms themselves had found common ground with one another. Moving from the retreat into the rest of the Courageous Girls meetings made a big difference in how fast our group bonded and created an “us” identity rather than all the individual families we started as.”
These retreats have been a tradition that moms always look forward to, not only as restful get-a-ways, but also as a time to pray, process our relationships with God and set intentions for our relationships with our daughters, They are also opportunities to “get out of our boats” that we row daily and step into paddle with another mama as we take on perspective of others during this time. We also have a lot of fun together, too. Each year, aim to have a spiritual focus and then foster conversations that point all the mamas toward their purpose.
Though this curriculum is primarily for moms and daughters, we believe dads play vital roles in the lives of girls. Daddy’s can often set the tone for what kind of man a daughter will be attracted to and strongly impacts how she regards herself around boys and men, in general. However, many girls do not have actively engaged or healthy dads in their lives, Finding a male figure (such as an uncle, a grandfather, or youth leader) who can invest in your daughter will help fill in gaps for her while building resiliency and confidence. Visit the resource page for more books to help foster healthy relationships in this part of your daughter’s life. To find more free resources for Dads & Daughters,
Helpful Hints for Dads, Written by a Dad:
Add “become a better listener for her” as an annual line-item on your New Year’s resolutions. Learn to slow down, be present and actually
Put her in position to lead when you play, and enter into her world, participating in what she wants to do with you. (Warning: This may involve dolls and tea-cups.)
Notice and affirm her with your words. Identify what’s going on with her, from the smallest things (like a change in accessories or hairstyle
Check in with her regularly to get feedback on how she thinks you’re doing
Make memories together, just you and her! Gift her a scrapbook that she can decorate and fill with pictures taken during memory-making events. Help her pick out a special frame for a photo of the two of you that stays near her bed.
Annual Courageous Girls Father/Daughter Campouts:
Consider executing a memorable campout for the CG dads and daughters. This can become a tradition that everyone looks forward to each year. Consider starting by pitching tents in someone’s backyard and gradually move into the wilderness. Set a standard that incorporates each dad/daughter pair setting up their own tent, hiking mountains, playing Capture the Flag, swimming in a river, lake or
Annual Courageous Girls Daddy/Daughter Dinner Dates:
Dads can arrange an individual date with their daughters or go as a larger Courageous Girls group. In either case, remember that dads are teaching their daughters how to relate to boys and be treated with respect. Go overboard in opening her door, helping her with her coat and making her feel special. Make sure to put away technology, work or any other distractions and honor her feelings. Reiterate to her that her words have power and that her ‘no’ has merit. Girls listen to dads — even when dads don’t get it right. Your influence over her at this vulnerable age will impact her for life.