In 2013, raising a strong, independent girl has become a regular conversation. The information is out there. Got a question on how to do it? There are countless bloggers, foundations, non-profit organizations and books at your disposal. And thank goodness for that. As a school counselor and the mother of a 15-month-old daughter, I am grateful for all those resources. I've dedicated my career to providing my female students with the tools to becoming strong, confident and independent girls so that they can grow up to become strong, confident and independent women.
I believe my passion on the subject came from my mother. My parents divorced when I was 4 years old, leaving my mother to raise my brother (who is three years older) and me all on her own. We went to our father's house in metro-Atlanta every other weekend, but the reality was that our mother raised us. When I was 13 years old, my brother moved out to go and live with our dad, leaving my mother and me alone for the roller coaster that was my formidable teenage years.
My mom did an amazing job. I think I'm a pretty decent person, if I do say so myself. I'm positive my mother didn't have a parenting style when it came to raising me though, as I look back at those years, I think one could sum up her parenting philosophy with one word: Preparation. My mom did everything, and I mean EVERYTHING, by herself and she made sure I was watching. Got a leaky toilet? Get out the tools, we're fixing it. Got a problem with the sprinkler system? Get out the garden gloves, let's do this thing. Got a hole in the roof? Call the roofer. You get the picture. The point was that there wasn't anything she needed someone else for. She could do it herself and dang it, she was going to teach her daughter to do it herself, too.
My mother and me on my wedding day
I don't think my mom's intentions in raising an independent, confident daughter were wrapped-up in worries that Disney princesses would take over my brain space. She was worried that, based on the evidence in front of us, I might be alone for the rest of my life. She wasn't worried that I wouldn't get married and have a partner because I wasn't 'marriage' material, but she was worried that, based on her own history, which was now our shared history, people come and people go and you can't count on them. My mom used to tell me, "Whitney, you can only count on two people in this world -- your mom and yourself." It's a beautiful statement, if not a little sad. As a 33-year-old woman, I know that I can count on myself and my mom if I were to need anything in this life. However, in all those lessons on how to be self-sufficient, my mom forgot to teach me that being self-sufficient and being vulnerable are truly the keys needed to become a strong, independent, and confident woman.
There's a thin line between being self-sufficient and being vulnerable. I've realized that in all the blog posts and all the articles that are out there as resources for building strong, independent girls there's very little, if any, conversation about how being able to be vulnerable plays a huge role in the success of relationships, be they professional, personal, romantic, etc.
But how does one teach that as a parent? First and foremost, allow your child to feel things other than happiness and sunshine. I know this might seem strange, but the happiest part of my day is when one of my students comes to see me because he/she did poorly on a test or is struggling with a peer. Most of the time, it's the first time they've felt anything other than daisies and sunshine. We sit in my office and we just feel it. It's scary, but they need it. Allow your child to feel and understand failure, sadness, and disappointment for these are all great attributes of vulnerability. Without them, they may never know what true happiness feels like and thus, how to share it with someone else.
I'm in my third year of marriage and though I'm madly in love with my husband, I fight my natural inclination to do everything on my own on a daily basis. Allowing myself to be vulnerable and to include my partner in my everyday life is a constant struggle. During my first year in my job as a middle school counselor, I started running girls groups for my 6th and 7th grade students. The goal of these groups is to build a strong and healthy sense of self so that my students can build healthy relationships with other people. Learning how to have good relationships with others is hard enough to do. I don't want my girls to have to wait until their early 20s, like I did, to learn how to do it. I want my students and my own daughter, to know that being strong and independent and being vulnerable are not mutually exclusive and in fact can make that thin pink line become stronger.