We All Want to Raise Strong, Brave Girls
First of all, just writing that title made me go “AHJHJKJgajgdajsgdjhagdhja” because we all want this for our daughters, don’t we? We all want our daughters to grow up brave and empowered, able to stick up for themselves in an unpressured environment that, frankly, does not exist. And that’s really the root of all of this, isn’t it? The world is a rollercoaster. How do we help our girls ride without puking? Is there an antidote? An emotional Dramamine we can prescribe to keep them from feeling sick as they go up and down and upside down and backwards?
Image: Steven DePolo
Sadly, there is not. There is no book to read or advice to take or equation to solve that will empower our children to be mighty in society’s eyes. All children are born to two parents and their names are Nature and Nurture. We have absolutely no control of Nature and therefore very little control of our children and/or the kind of people they turn out to be, which is horrifying—and also a relief. And yet surely we have SOME control over their future bravery and personal strength—and that is what I was hoping we could discuss today
First off, I feel like we should talk about strength. The word STRONG gets thrown around quite a bit while its definition seems to get lost along the way. Whenever I used to hear the word “strong” I pictured a giant flexed muscle. I literally pictured an arm holding barbells, which is kind of insane. But then I started to REALLY think about what it means to be strong. Not just as a woman but a person, place or thing.
Strength has nothing to do with muscles. Or boldness. Or force. Strength is an attribute, an ability to CONTRIBUTE and BENEFIT. It isn’t a “larger than life” karate chop to the testicles that hang between Life’s hairy legs.
Strength is just as powerful when it’s whispering.
I was not what anyone would call a “strong” or “brave” child. The fearlessness came later on, when I was a teenager, but in the beginning I was what one would call “weak.” I was regularly picked on in school, made fun of by boys, and ignored by teachers.
I was NOT what anyone would call empowered in any way. Not even close. And yet, there was one place where I felt limitless and fearless and myself—and that was when I was writing.
Writing has been the one constant in my life and everything great has come from the feeling I had then and never stopped having. I felt in control. I felt brave. I felt smart and interesting. And the more I wrote the more I believed I was these things because I LOVED what I was doing and I felt, in a way, it was mutual. My journal was my best friend for my entire life and now I make a living writing one. And, sure, I’ve written some crap in my day. I will always write crap… but that’s part of it, too, isn’t it? We can love something and suck at it sometimes. (Look at parenthood. Look at marriage. Look at LIFE!)
It wasn’t just me who was growing my self-worth in the pages of my journals. My parents were just as responsible if not more because they supported me. My parents recognized that I had found an outlet and every day they helped me water my quiet bloom with support and interest and respect. My mother let me stay up as late as I wanted when I was writing. My parents recognized that asking me to “turn off my ideas” to go to bed was not the right side of the battle…
I never felt I had any limits on when I could create and for how long. This meant everything to me because I was able to identify my own limits as a creator and then translate that as a friend, a student, a young woman and then adult.
When it came to my writing, I made the rules.
That message grew within me like a vine.
I have since done the same for my kids. You want to journal until 3am? Here’s a flashlight. Goodnight.
My first on-screen parenting role model was Christina Applegate’s “Sue Ellen” in Don’t Tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead
Did she cheat and lie and steal? One could say that, yes. But she also took charge, delivered positive change and utilized her strengths to empower not only herself, but everyone around her. FASHION was her superpower. (Hell yeah, it was.)
I regularly think, “What would Sue Ellen do?”
Sue Ellen would do FASHION.
For some kids it’s sports or music or making short films or building cities. For others it’s cooking, crafting, yoga, performing on a stage… for me it was writing and for Fable (age 5) it’s drawing picture books and drawing outfits, which she does when she’s happy and sad and angry and excited and all of the above.
When it comes to her clothing, she makes the rules. When it comes to her picture books, she makes the rules. When it comes to her rainbow dinosaur family, she makes the rules. (And then tapes them to the kitchen wall.)
That said, some kids don’t have a THING that consumes them and empowers them and makes them feel strong outside of their every day lives and some of us do not have the time and resources to introduce our kids to everything that exists in order to help them find their bliss. However, now more than EVER before, there are ways to introduce, learn, fund and harbor interests and passions outside of school. Our public school offers after school programs and scholarships for kids interested in pursuing music, sports, theatre, science and so on… Also, YouTube is AMAZING for all things everything when it comes to lessons and learning. Here are a few resources:
In the meantime, creating a “creative” table (or an area in the house devoted to making things, music, pictures, writing down ideas) is awesome to get kids excited about self-expression. We have an art table in our house that is a total mess but is always open for business for those who want to draw or glue things or tape… or draw on top of glue that has been taped.
Because even if a child hasn’t found her MUSCLE, knowing that she is supported as she searches for it is, I think, paramount.
And that’s kind of where I am right now with my kids—trying to introduce them to everything that may or may not set them on fire and give them a purpose that absolutely NO ONE and NOTHING can take away—something that will be with them when they feel like no one else is. A place to put their voice, energy, ideas… build, create, let go… BE BRAVE. So that when they close their eyes and picture “strong” they will see THEMSELVES paired with what it is that makes them feel that way—the pen, the paintbrush, the soccer team, the guitar, the camera, the ocean…
Because STRONG means something different to every one of us.
What about you? How do you empower your daughters and sons? What empowered you as child, teenager and now as an adult? What didn’t? I would absolutely LOVE to hear from you guys on this. (As always, please also feel free to share topic ideas for next week.) Can’t WAIT to hear your thoughts on this!
With love to everyone,
Originally published on mom.me