Since the birth of my daughter, I’ve often found myself stressing pondering about the “type” of parent I want to be. What kind of rules will I enforce? What traditions will I instill? What will my stance on chores, homework, curfews, and –dare I say it – boyfriends be? While I can’t say I’ve made much progress on answering any of the above questions (she’s only 8 months old, after all), there is one question that feels more pressing than most. In the face of today’s world, how do I raise my daughter to be compassionate and independent, with an unwavering sense of self-worth? While this challenge may not be an entirely new one, it is arguably more relevant now than ever.
As a mom to a little girl who will one day – whether I like it or not – become a woman, I feel a tremendous sense of responsibility in raising her. In a world of sexual harassment, unequal pay, body shaming and objectification, females –of all kinds– face enormous challenges. While a mother’s love has very few limitations, changing the actions and attitudes of an entire world is unfortunately one of them. And since my husband tells me keeping her in a bubble for the rest of her life “isn’t a realistic option,” what’s a mother to do?
While I am certainly not claiming to be a pro when it comes to motherhood, the answer, I think, lies largely in the motto on repeat in my 2nd grade classroom: lead by example. If I intend to raise a strong and capable woman (and I can assure you, I do) then I need to do my very best to be one. This task is so much easier said than done and requires me to first take a hard look at how I can better myself for the sake of my daughter. To me, leading by example means fighting against so many of my innate flaws and deficits and, let’s be honest, who really wants do that? But I’ve learned motherhood isn’t always about doing what you want. In order for my daughter to grow up in a world that gives her the respect, love, and opportunities I know she deserves, then she must learn to give the same to the world. I, for one, can’t think of a better way to teach her to do so than by practicing what I preach.
Choosing this strategy means I must capitalize on every opportunity possible to be a positive role model for my daughter. It means being intentional with my words and how I use them to speak about others as well as myself. It means showing compassion and respect to everyone regardless of how deserving of it they may be. It means standing up for what’s right even when it’s not popular and taking the high road when the low one is more convenient. Leading by example means expanding my vocabulary to include words such as tolerance and acceptance and exclude words like hate and fat and stupid. It’s understanding that I am “the company I keep” and surrounding myself (and my daughter) with other strong and compassionate women. Leading her by example means not only encouraging my daughter to pursue her dreams, but encouraging myself to do the same. It means surrounding her with stories of women who have worked hard and succeeded, proving that girls can, in fact, rule the world (or at the very least their own company). It means teaching and, more importantly, believing that she is capable of anything she can imagine. Will I make mistakes? Of course! I’ll make mistakes over and over and over again (I am only human), but there’s so much learning and growing to be had from mistakes, too. And while the weight of the work I have ahead of me can feel overwhelming at times, it’s too important a responsibility to shirk. Our future depends on it, after all.
So with this game plan in mind and hope in my heart, despite all of the obstacles that lie ahead, I truly believe a bright future awaits my precious daughter (you’ll have to check back in 18 years or so to find out). Until then, I look forward to witnessing the woman my daughter grows to become, and the woman I become because of my daughter.