By: Shannon Ralph
I am the mother of a 9-year-old daughter. In some ways, I feel like raising my daughter is more difficult than raising my two sons. Yes, my sons fart. And try to kill each other on a daily basis. And their socks emit a smell that am pretty sure could be bottled and somehow used by the military as a weapon of mass destruction. But, relatively speaking, my sons have proven easier.
I worry about my sons in the same way that I worry about their sister, but I suspect that they will have an easier road. By the sheer fluke of being born male, my boys will have many opportunities available to them. Doors will open. Chances will be given. Second chance will be given. Maybe even undeserved third chances. I would never begrudge them this, as I absolutely adore them and want my sons to have every opportunity to grow up happy and healthy and successful.
My daughter, however, may not be given all the opportunities that my sons will enjoy. It’s a difficult reality to swallow, but it’s the truth. At least in this time and in this place. Women are still paid 78 cents for every dollar a man is paid. Women still make up only 4.6 percent of Fortune 500 CEOs. My daughter will need to learn to take what is not readily given to her. She will have to work harder. Be better. She will need to learn to speak her mind when surrounded by deaf ears. To know her personal power even when the world is blind to it. As her mother, I am the one who is supposed to teach her these things.
Wow, talk about a weighty responsibility!
I take the task of raising my daughter to be a strong, independent woman very seriously. That is not to say that I am always good at it. I try, but I am afraid I sometimes serve less as a stellar example and more as a sad, cautionary tale. But I keep at it. I have no choice. I know my daughter will look to my actions more than my words to learn how a woman navigates the world. I’ve been thinking a lot recently about how I can make myself better to help her grow up to be better. It’s a work in progress—like me (and like her)—but I have come up with 10 things that I believe every girl needs to see her mother doing. Some of these are a real struggle for me, personally, but I only need to look at my sweet, tenacious little girl to know that it is completely worth it.
- Following her gut – Like many women, I was raised to be a good girl. To do what I was told. To not make waves. I was quite adept at being good. At doing what was expected of me. To this day, I have a tendency to value the opinions of others over my own gut instincts. But I have learned over the last 42 years that my gut doesn’t lie. If it feels wrong in my gut, it is wrong. If it feels right in my gut, I need to pursue it with everything I have. I want my daughter to know the incontrovertible power of her own gut instincts.
- Uplifting other women – The proliferation of “mean girls” in our schools today is a scary byproduct of women refusing to uplift other women. Girls tearing down girls and women tearing down women is obviously a disservice to all of us, but for some inexplicable reason, it doesn’t stop us. It is so easy to forget that we are in this together when society prefers to pit us one against the other. The reality is that when one woman breaks through a barrier, we all ultimately benefit. When one woman attains a previously unattainable goal, we all win. Our daughters win. So I watch my words. I police my thoughts. I want my daughter to hear me uplifting other women. Complimenting other women. Cheering for other women. Because by doing so, I am cheering for her.
- Loving her body – This may very well be the toughest one on this list. It’s so easy to casually mention how I hate my thighs. Or that my nose is too big. Or that my hair is just wavy enough to be unruly, but not wavy enough to be trendy. It’s so easy to call myself fat. In front of my daughter. It’s easier to emphatically voice my wish for my body to be different than it is to accept it for the amazing cradler of my soul that it is. It’s easier, but what is my daughter to think? She adores her mom. She thinks I am perfect (most of the time). She thinks I am beautiful and wants to be just like me. If I am ugly, what does that make her?
- Doing what she loves – Whether it is reading a good book, singing in a choir, knitting, kicking butt in mixed martial arts, swinging high on a flying trapeze, or writing moderately successful though deceptively sub-par personal essays like this one, our daughters need to see their moms doing the things we love. Some mothers are lucky enough to make their life’s profession out of the things they love. The rest of us are compelled to do the things we love in our limited free time. Either way, our daughters want to see their mothers pursuing their passions. They want to know they can pursue their own passions. Audaciously. Unabashedly. Unapologetically.
- Cutting loose – It’s true that girls need to see their moms as capable, independent, powerful women, but it’s equally important that a girl sees her mom cut loose. A girl needs to see her mom relaxed. Acting silly. Singing in the shower. Dancing in the kitchen. Whipping and nae nae-ing. A girl needs to know that a woman can be both strong and silly. Both wieldy and wacky. A girl needs to know that she can be fierce AND fun.
- Making a mistake – We all do it. It is inevitable that we will all make mistakes. Sometimes they are small mistakes (like trying to switch to decaf on a Monday morning), and sometimes they are large mistakes (like deciding to “take a year off” before enrolling in graduate school—yeah, I never went back). Harnessing the power of a mistake to know better next time—to do and be better next time—is a valuable skill that all women should possess. Learning from our mistakes makes us stronger. I want my daughter to know that mistakes are fine. Mistakes, though difficult, are not the end of the world. They are a necessity for growth. They are a required component of becoming better people. Better women. I want my daughter to see me make mistakes. And I want her to see me learn from them.
- Speaking her mind – A girl needs to see her mom ask for what she wants. She needs to see her mom demand what she needs. Speak up when she feels strongly about something. Use her voice to promote the activities that are close to her heart. I want my daughter to know that words have immense power and that her voice is uniquely hers. If she deprives this world of her one singular and extraordinary voice, then we all lose.
- Taking selfies – Ugh. I cringe when a camera is pulled out. Like many moms, I force my children to endure amateur photo shoot after photo shoot, but I never hop into the picture. I am always the photographer, never the photographed. I hate the way I look in photos. But my daughter needs to see me loving myself. Loving my image on film. My daughter needs to have a pictorial history of her mother to look back on one day. So I have made a promise to myself to get into the picture. To step into the frame. To take that selfie that seems completely unnatural to me. By doing so, I hope to encourage my daughter to love her own image.
- Trying something new – Stepping outside of your comfort zone is a byproduct of maturity. It is being smart enough to know that you can be more than you are today. By trying something new, we teach our daughters that life is about learning. Inventing and reinventing ourselves. We may not be great (or even remotely adept) at everything we try, but new experiences can teach us so much about who we are and who we want to be. And it can teach my daughter to push herself beyond the limits placed on her by teachers. And friends. And boys. And society. And yes, even me. It might just teach her to rethink placing limits on herself, as well
- Taking a compliment – We all do it. We belittle ourselves when we are complimented.
“I like your sweater.”
“Oh, this old, ratty thing?”
“You have a lovely singing voice.”
“Oh, Jane sings much better than I do.”
“You did a great job on that report.”
“Oh, Jack did most of the work.”
Jack did not do most of the work. You worked your ass off. Own it! Why do we immediately shift into meek, self-effacing little girls when we are given a compliment? How is it that we never learned to accept a compliment with grace? And why is this seemingly a female-only deficiency? My daughter is only 9 years old and already I am seeing her completely lacking in the ability to take a compliment. Unfortunately, I think she learned it from me. We need to teach our daughters to take a compliment with a simple and sincere, “Thank you.” We need to teach our girls that they are worthy of compliments. They are worthy of praise. They are worthy. Period.