On a recent morning, I received a call from my daughter’s math teacher. She was calling because she was concerned that my daughter was falling behind in math, a subject my daughter usually aces and loves. Her teacher was concerned because she’d noticed that my daughter was tearful during class and, seemingly, shut down when a harder concept was discussed. We agreed I’d speak with her and when I did, I was shocked at her response.
My daughter told me she was too afraid to tell the teacher she didn’t understand. She said it was easier to sit quietly and cry rather than open her mouth to clarify that she didn’t understand what the teacher was teaching. She said she was too embarrassed to raise her hand and ask a question in front of the class. And, then, she said words that almost broke my heart, “Mama, I’m just not strong like you are. I don’t know how to yell when I need to like you do.”
I realized in that moment that though my sweet daughter was born to an outspoken woman with passionate opinions, I’d taken for granted that she’d instinctively know how to find her inner strength. It occurred to me as I wiped her tears and held her close that being able to speak your mind is a learned skill and I had my work cut out for me. I haven’t given my daughter the tools to speak her mind and it was high time I helped find her voice. And, though I don’t want her to be mean or vindictive, I do want her to be able to stand up for herself and bluntly state her needs.
With all of the opportunities that lie ahead for my daughter, it’s my job to instill strength and power in her so that she can continue to blaze the trail that women before her have painstakingly paved. I want her to run down that trail full speed ahead and I want her to have a war cry that lets the world know that she’s strong and in charge. Just like I taught her how to ride a bike and tie her shoes, I am going to teach her how to embrace her inner warrior. And here’s my plan:
1. I will teach her to stop saying “I’m sorry.”
Obviously, I don’t mean that my daughter should abandon apologizing if she’s hurt someone’s feelings or intentionally misbehaved. Rather, I want my daughter to erase phrases like “I’m sorry but…” and “Sorry to bother you…” from her vernacular. I want her to know that she never has to diminish her statements by putting an apologetic disclaimer ahead of what she says. Her thoughts are valid and I want to teach her that women should never have to apologize for participating in a conversation or contributing ideas.
2. I will teach her to question authority.
If my daughter feels wronged, whether it’s on the playground or in the classroom, I want her speak her mind and state her case, even if she has to face an adult to do so. I want her to learn how to give a voice to her anger and to be able to clearly state when she is upset. Learning to speak up when it’s her turn on the swing set will lead to a woman who will feel comfortable demanding a raise or fighting for a promotion she deserves.
3. I will teach her that she doesn’t owe anyone a smile.
When my daughter walks down the street and feels confident, I want her to know that she doesn’t owe a smile or a response to the man who catcalls her. I want her to know that she owns her body and it’s up to her to decide how she reacts when she’s paid a compliment. She has a right to her bad days — the days when she’s angry, hurt, or frustrated — and I do not expect her to plaster a smile on her face so the world thinks otherwise.
4. I will teach her to not go quietly.
When our daughter was approached by a strange man on a walk in our neighborhood, her instinct was to be polite. Even though her gut told her the situation was suspect, she was more concerned about appearing rude than telling the man to leave her alone. Since that day, we’ve practiced screaming and developing phrases that she can yell when she feels threatened. We’ve worked on helping her find a forceful, strong voice that comes from deep within so that she can protect herself should the need arise.
5. I will teach her to find her tribe.
Recently, I took my daughter to a Harry Potter book release party and when she walked in and saw people dressed up as she was, she beamed and said, “These are my people.” I want her to always know who her people are, the people who will lift her up, support her, and help her burst down the trail that has been blazed for her. I want her to know that life is too short to spend time with anyone who isn’t interested in enriching her life. And when she finds her tribe, I hope she hangs onto her tribe members for dear life.
A few weeks after she admitted to me that she was too afraid to ask questions in math class, my daughter burst into the kitchen after school, beaming as she held her math test. She’d gotten a perfect score, and as I hugged her, my heart smiled when she said, “I’m going to open my mouth more often, mom! This is a good feeling.”