Raising Strong Girls into Strong Women
There are few surprises in life, so when I learned that I was pregnant with twins, I decided not to find out the gender of each baby. I mean, in my head, I already knew they had to be boys.
I had vowed many years earlier that I would not be the mother of a daughter. I knew how girls operated; they were mean. I had experienced the wrath of girls who hated me just for being me. In middle school I had been ostracized by so-called friends because they assumed I played basketball with the boys just so they would have a crush on me. And I can’t say that I was perfect either. Luckily in high school, I discovered a few amazing girls that shared my love of sports, and we developed a small close-knit group.
But hanging out with guy friends was always much more comfortable for me. I found them much easier to talk to, and I didn’t feel the constant scrutiny that I did hanging around other girls. Even then, I couldn’t imagine living with the drama of a girl, so I decided that I would have sons. My life would revolve around mud, sports, and trucks. I could handle that. And yeah, I was also naive enough to believe I had control.
So when the doctor announced that the first twin was a boy. I wasn’t surprised. I already had him named…I had two boy names picked out to be honest. Imagine my shock then when the doctor said the second baby was a GIRL. He had to be wrong. Was he sure? My twins were born seven weeks prematurely, so they were quickly whisked away to the NICU, and I was left wrapping my mind around that fact that I was now a mother of two children, one of whom was a girl.
I decided then that I would be the best possible mom I could be…not perfect, but as close to it as I could, and I actually started to get excited about having a daughter. She would be a mini-me. She would look and think like me. We would do everything together, and we would share all the same passions. I would give her opportunities I never had. I would even go a step farther; she would be a better version of me. I couldn’t wait to meet my baby girl.
Because I had a c-section, I wasn’t supposed to walk for several hours, so a trip to the NICU to meet my babies wasn’t an option. Anyone who knows me well knows that I am not a patient human. Eventually my mom intervened and explained to the nurse that I wasn’t going to relax until I got to see my twins. The nurse reluctantly agreed that if I could walk up and down the hallway without any help, I could go to the fifth floor to see the babies. A physical challenge…was she serious? This was right up my alley. Once I had proven I could walk self-sufficiently, I was allowed upstairs.
But the vision I had of what my new daughter would look like, wasn’t at all accurate. I was anticipating a mini-Michelle with dark hair and dark eyes. But that’s not what I found in the isolette waiting from me. She was beautiful, but had lighter hair and light eyes. And even then, it was obvious that she was feisty...a trait that she continues to possess. My boy baby, however, inherited my dark, thick hair, dark eyes, and a peaceful personality. From that moment on, I learned that this wonderful girl gift that had been entrusted to my care wasn’t a miniature version of me. She was her own person entirely, and it was my job to help her develop herself into a strong woman on her own accord.
And while it’s no easy task to raise a smart girl into a strong woman, and I’m always working toward being the best mom I can be to all three of my children, there are a few tips that I have found helpful. Most of these I have learned along the way as I make mistakes because let’s face it, there’s no owner’s manual for raising kids, especially ones of the female variety. Just remember that no one ELSE can replace you.
Encourage. All children need encouragement, but girls especially need a cheerleader, a person who constantly reminds them how special and unique they are. They need a role-model who asks them about their future dreams, helps them set goals, and works with them as they achieve or even revise these goals. Most importantly, they need someone who will continue to be an encouragement when they fail. They need someone who will pick them up when the fall no matter the circumstance. So, let your actions prove your loyalty. Go to her activities, learn about the things she loves, and spend quality time together. When you do this, your daughter will feel comfortable sharing her feelings with you. If she is dealing with middle school drama, she will realize that she can trust you to listen.
Love. The easiest thing you can ever do for a child is love them…unconditionally. And don’t be afraid to show them. I tell my kids I love them every day, and I let my actions prove my love. There are so many ways to show love and affection, but I compliment my kids. I give them specific feedback about things I love and admire about them. I write them notes and hide them in their backpacks. I give them gifts. Most importantly, however, I spend time with them, which is what they crave. And I also love them enough to be a parent to them. I develop clear boundaries and disseminate consequences when they’re warranted. I am not their friend. When they mess up, I tell them. I discipline them when they need it. I do this, out of pure love. I love them so much that I care about the direction of their futures. It is inevitable that our girls will make mistakes, but we need to be there when they do to help guide and direct them, assisting them as they learn from their mistakes.
Support. My daughter is a horse fanatic…let’s just say she’s obsessed. Then there’s me, the mom who is allergic to the four-legged beasts. But I support my horse girl nonetheless. Did I assume that she would be a sporty girl like me? Sure, but am I disappointed? Of course I’m not. I feel so blessed that she has found her passion, and I support her. Rain, snow, sleet, or blistering heat, I’m at her dressage shows. I don’t always know what’s going on, but I want to watch her do what she loves. And as much as I want her to succeed and earn first place finishes every time, I also want to be there for her when she has a bad ride.
Empower. Eventually, I want my kids to leave my protective arms and venture into the real world. And I want them to have all the necessary tools to make this transition as smooth as possible. So as difficult as it is, I have to make them accountable for things. I have to give them small chores to do. In the summer, my kids take turns making lunch for the family, washing the dishes, and setting the table. When we started this, I thought they would hate it, but I was wrong. Instead, they look forward to their day to make lunch. They create their own shopping list and we get the groceries together. It has become a tradition. Unfortunately, not all the chores are as well received. No one looks forward to cleaning their room, but it’s got to be done. I want my kids to realize they can accomplish things on their own. I don’t want to be a crutch. Knowing you are capable is liberating.
Those of us who are blessed enough to be the mom of a daughter, have the crucial role of bringing up girls that will eventually be strong women. So get out there and tell your daughter exactly what you love about her, give her a hug, go to watch her participating in her favorite activity, and then teach a new real-life skill.