never stops teaching.
Journaling for awareness. Growing for life.
In honor of Women’s Equality Day and the efforts still being made to pass the Equal Rights Amendment (92 years after it was written) to ensure that “liberty and justice for all” includes women in the US constitution, I want to congratulate the courageous, creative, brilliant women around the world who are shining the way toward true equality. But I also want to raise a difficult question: Why are women so hard on each other? We have a better chance of rising up from limitations, labels, abuse and inopportunity as a group, if we stop limiting each other, labeling each other, and keeping each other down.
I hear about real world “mean girls” way too much these days. Female bosses who don’t want to see other women rise to the top. Mothers who balance careers or volunteer work while criticizing other mothers for balancing life differently. Mothers putting down their daughters. Daughters disrespecting their mothers. Women speaking wounds, speaking insecurity, speaking jealousy or resentment—putting down other women in hopes that they’ll feel better about themselves. But it never works.
We have to work towards working together. We need to recognize the beauty in our sisters—in what is unique and powerful in each individual—and then hold them up for the world to see. We need to celebrate each other and begin speaking gratitude, honor, tolerance and real equality. Then we would really see change.
I am blessed with amazing girl friends who support me and inspire me. But every once in a while I find myself in the pathway of another woman’s wild insecurities or aggressions, and I have to be careful not to let such negativity shake my own self-confidence. I have to keep my heart wide open.
As a woman, I want to pave a road of healthy self-esteem and connectedness. As a mother, I want to guide my sons and my daughter down this path. For the purposes of this post, I will focus on the subject of bringing up girls—raising women—as I believe great strides need to be taken in changing women’s relationships. There are seven objectives I want to raise in hopes that it might help us all rise together.
- Raising Awareness
Some of us are born with it—the ability to recognize the disheartened woman standing at the bus stop or the discouraged young girl in the back of the classroom. Some of us sit in traffic behind a car accident and feel concern for those who were involved and not just frustration for being delayed. Some of us are so self-aware, that we can name the reasons why we feel afraid or insecure or let down. While some of us need to work at our awareness—to see beyond the scope of one experience and into another.
Awareness is, of course, key to growing at any age. We can only leave our limitations behind once we have named what they are. We need to know what boxes we’ve put ourselves into, what labels we’ve slapped on others, before we can liberate any woman in this world. Awareness is something we have to model, teach and continually work at. If we all keep our eyes, ears and hearts open, refuse to ignore the issues no matter how difficult or uncomfortable, no woman will stand alone and disheartened. No young girl will be resigned to a life of discouragement. If we are going to work towards working together, it all begins with awareness. We each have our own unique histories. Let’s not use our stories against each other, but as a way of understanding each other and finding compassion.
- Raising Emotional Resilience
When my neighbor’s lost dog was found, my six-year-old’s eyes glazed over with emotion, and he said, “I do cry happy tears.” Apparently, he’d been wondering why he didn’t tear up easily. My six year old is built with a different level of emotional resilience than his older sister. But being resilient does not equate to not having a sensitive side or experiencing things deeply. It just varies the emotional response. And being emotionally resilient is not a male characteristic—it’s a human characteristic.
Girls often get a reputation of being sensitive or even overly emotional. When I was a child, I was told many times when upset by something, “You’re too sensitive.” This comment was made in an effort to get me to pull up my bootstraps, to buck up, to rub some dirt on it, and so on. Ironically, what I see now is a need for more sensitive children—children who care about their peers, who can develop healthy emotional responses to others, who can cry happy tears when moved by something. Sensitive children are often the most thoughtful children, but they can become wounded adults if emotional resilience is not developed.
Some of us girls are built a little tougher than others. But we all need to allow ourselves to feel exactly where we are in our lives—happy tears, sad tears, or just plain joy. And we all need to allow our circumstances to grow us—to accept we are just where we are, even if it’s not where we want to be. Instead of fighting our way through the world with passive aggressive responses to frustration, we can strengthen ourselves emotionally by expanding our resiliency. We can learn to cope. We can take responsibility for our actions, have compassion for ourselves, and learn to let go. And we can model this for our children.
Letting go is something children often find easier than adults. (And not just because they listened to the Frozen soundtrack one too many times.) But as they get older, more and more they might harbor negative feelings. So how do we raise a young woman to let go of the ideas that do not bring her more alive, without hardening that beautiful sensitivity that she came into the world with? We teach her to forgive.
- Raising Forgiveness
Nothing makes me prouder than seeing my children hug after an argument without having prompted them to do so. It reminds me of how easy it is to put my arms around another person. I’m a hugger, but I know we could all put our arms out more than we do.
Many of the great divides between women come down to an inability to forgive. I know some wounds run deep. Some experiences are hard to bounce back from. I could go a step further and say that some people may not easily merit forgiveness. And yet, we are all forgivable.
I was raised Catholic, and when I was seven I received the sacrament of reconciliation—an experience that frightened me, as I was to put my sins before God and asked to be forgiven. At that age, the only sin I’d committed was maybe stealing a sticker from my sister’s sticker book. I’m not sure I took a whole lot away from the sacrament. But when my daughter went through the process last year, it was presented completely differently. It was a celebration of forgiveness, meant to be taken home and celebrated everyday. Forgiveness is now a core value in my home. It is something we practice with genuine resolving hugs and important conversations. I know that my children will be hurt many times over, but I hope their hearts will be free of the burden of anger or resentment. Forgiveness is even more freeing for the forgiver than the one who needs to be forgiven.
But when forgiveness becomes something one has to practice with the same individual over and over, a new, healthier boundary might need to be put on that relationship. We don’t necessarily have to cut people out of our lives—often we simply cannot—but we can proceed with awareness. We can be wise, place our hearts in trustworthy hands, while maintaining our faith in other people.
- Raising People Who Fall
When my daughter was first learning to walk, I was a mess. I wanted to catch her every misstep, until someone grabbed my hand and said, let her fall. I kept my hands outstretched, but did indeed let her fall. She’s nine now, and it’s the same. Me with my arms out and my face winced, trying to let her stride out on her own, falls and all.
When I was a child, I was guided to play it safe and steady. Don’t run with scissors, don’t reach too far, don’t outshine another, don’t take anything for granted. I grew, I stumbled, I fell, I got back up. And by the time I got to college, I was ready to take a few risks. I pushed myself past my comfort zones. I reached further than I ever thought I could. I shined.
The generation that followed mine was guided by a new set of guidelines. Some have called it helicopter parenting. Children were pushed toward larger goals. They didn’t fall quite as much, because parents were there to catch. That’s a pretty great thing, unless the child doesn’t learn how to get back up on her own.
I don’t know if we’ll ever get it exactly right as parents. But I also don’t know if we can ever get it totally wrong so long as there is love. I want my kids to have confidence; I want them to believe that they can achieve anything they want to achieve. But at the same time, I don’t want to hand them a trophy for just showing up. I want them to work hard and to sometimes fall short so they can learn what it is to push forward. There needs to be bumps and bruises. We need to raise girls who fall, so that they know how to get back up.
We need to raise up the fallen by letting them know that they’re not alone, by sharing in our frailties and in our triumphs. By reaching further than we thought possible and inspiring each other.
Life is rhythmic; we all rise and fall. If we as women can find a way to ride that tide together with our heads up, we’ll be on our way. Let’s not just play it safe, but take a leap of faith together.
- Raising Equality
When my daughter tried her hand at soccer, we knew right away that it wasn’t her calling. The coach would say, “Just run hard. Try to steal the ball and go for the goal.” One day after practice she said to me, “Mom, I’m not used to stealing balls,” and it was all I could do not to laugh. As a gentle-hearted rule-follower who’d been told for the first several years of her life not to shove or take, the game was counterintuitive for her at first. One afternoon, a mother of one of her teammates sat down next to her and said, “Honey, you’re a special part of that team whether you can kick the ball or not.” And onto the field my little girl charged in her pink jersey… to pick daisies.
It’s important to give our girls permission to be themselves with equal significance. We each have our unique gifts. Though my daughter hasn’t chosen soccer as her sport, she has respect for those who go out there and get in the game.
We likely all have ideas about equality. Perhaps these ideas are influenced by education, values, experience, or success. We’ve likely all looked down on someone or had someone treat us as though we were lesser. Why? Insecurity? Resentment? How can we raise the bar for ourselves and our girls if we are wearing labels that say we are not enough? Labels we put there. Labels we put on each other.
If we want to take a step closer to equality as women and as people, we need to ask ourselves if we see our self-worth alongside the worth of others. Are we each our own worst enemy—our most critical voice? Or do we treat ourselves with love?
We can help our daughters develop a healthy self-esteem, careful not to throw off the balance and inflate their egos. The household cannot be built to revolve around the child, but rather the child must be an integral part of the household—a family unit where joy and disappointment, time and experience, are shared. Our girls must not think that everything is about them. We can move away from the archetypes of Princess and Martyr and embrace that of Mentor and Companion. We can raise generous citizens of the world.
Equality starts at home. As mothers we can’t put unrealistic expectations on our daughters. We can’t favor one daughter over another. We can’t stick labels on our girls—“she’s the smart one,” “she’s the athlete,” “she’s shy and not as skilled.” With our support, our girls will determine just who they are. And when they do, we cannot behave with disappointment or pity or envy for the paths they choose. We’ll do them great service if we simply empower them.
My husband and I have always asked our kids at dinner what their happiest moment was in that day. But about a year ago, we added the question, “What made you happy for someone else today?” The best part of my day is always hearing my children celebrating others—celebrating milestones in other people’s lives, not just in their own.
As women, let’s model true love by allowing other people’s happiness to be equal to our own, and shine light on the significance of each life we encounter.
- Raising Respect
A friend of mine was in a situation recently where she stayed in an unhealthy conversation longer than she should have. She stayed out of respect for the other, but she forgot about respecting herself. She forgot that it is okay to walk away when you feel disrespected.
Can we expect our daughters to get up and walk out of bad situations, bad conversations, or even bad relationships, if we are still struggling with it ourselves? How do we teach respecting one’s self enough to walk away without loosing the other big piece—respecting others at all times.
I am often reminding my children that there is a nice way to say everything. And I suppose that is the answer.
Raising respect then includes raising the filter. Where did all our filters go? When did it become all right to express every feeling we have every second we have them without considering how we affect others? We teach our kids to share their feelings, but are we teaching them how to share their feelings? When and with whom?
With “Batdad” flooding Facebook with inappropriate quips said by his kids and sitcoms stimulating us with eccentric characters speaking over each other in stream-of-consciousness, it is hard to maintain that any of us have filters. It’s one thing if we’re getting a laugh (and don’t get me wrong, a lot of that stuff is funny), but it’s another when the contrary is occurring. What happened to the old adage, if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all? Call me old school.
I have great hopes that our women of tomorrow will feel compassion and celebration for their differences and speak with kindness. I have great hopes that they’ll respect others enough to walk in where they are needed and respect themselves enough to walk out when they are disrespected. We just have to keep shining the way.
- Raising Action
We raise our girls with the endeavor of teaching them independence, so that they can eventually go off into the world and take care of themselves. They’ll know how to get a job, maybe even beat out the competition in their field and rise to the top. They’ll know how to plunge a toilet, maybe even roast a chicken or change a tire. But is being self-sufficient the whole goal?
What if the goal was to raise action-oriented women and allow that to include both independence and otherness. Working toward working together means actually working together. At home, in school, in the work place, in the world. We could be powerful if we worked together more communally and pulled each other up on our rise to our utmost dreams. We are women with goals and passions who can make a real impact if we stick together and act with purpose.
I have tremendous admiration and respect for every woman in this world, because every woman has something unique and beautiful to offer to this very moment. Every woman is living her own story—the good, the bad and the beautiful—the best she knows how. I believe in the women of tomorrow, because I know the women of today can do anything they put their hearts and minds to. We are models of ambition, but also of gratitude. We are models of family and of community. Of love. We are leaders in knowledge and in change. We are liberators and mentors and mothers and sisters. We are half the world. So let us shine on. And tomorrow will be bright.