Essay by Megan Leithead
Raising a daughter is proving to be the hardest (albeit most rewarding) thing I’ve ever done in my 33 years on this planet. I remember the doctor telling me, “it’s a girl,” and inwardly thinking “Yes! This is going to be so much fun! Someone to shop with, play hair, paint nails, arts and crafts! We’re going to have so much fun together.”
What I didn’t think of, or know at the time, was how powerful raising a daughter was going to be. I didn’t think or realize all the challenges and experiences we were going to face. Or all the important information I would have to emphasize upon her as a mom and as a woman.
At age 4, we had our first experience with bullying. Yup, at age four. Whatever could other four year olds bully her about you wonder? Hair. My happy-go-lucky, kind hearted little girl was a target because of the blond, ringlet curls she cannot be held responsible for. She would come home crying that she didn’t like her curls and she wanted straight hair because two girls at school told her curls were ugly. We quickly learned that life isn’t all picking rose petals and digging for worms. Life has an ugly side and life isn’t fair. WHAAAT?? < in my best minion voice> Nope.
I always tell her that there are winners and losers. Life isn’t a participation ribbon kind of sport. Harsh I know, but it’s true. I continually encourage her to be proud and confident of whom she is. She is unique in every sense of the word. She needs to celebrate and be honored with everything that has been stowed upon her by biology or some higher power.
I recall one bath time conversation that really started the ball rolling with inequality. It started with the evolution of women’s roles in society. Background: This occurred pre-Hillary receiving the nomination. We were discussing presidents and she asked who the women presidents were. I told her we’ve never had a woman president. She was flabbergasted!
Then she argued with me that we have and she’s on our money and has her baby on her back. Confused, I asked if she was thinking of Sacajawea. She said yes. I regretted to inform her that Sacajawea was never a president but a Native American woman who helped guide two men during an expedition. She was still confused as to why women have never served as president. “Are they not allowed to?” was her question to me. So I did what any mother would do for their then 5 year old: we took a brief trip through history. We discussed what women’s roles in society were compared to now. Blew. Her. Mind.
It will be a long time until she fully understands what amazing women throughout history sacrificed and fought for to change the landscape of women’s roles in society.
As her mom, it’s up to me to guide and coach her to stand up for herself, for others and not conform to the role(s) society expects her to be. To demonstrate how to be comfortable to step outside of her boundaries and don’t let fears of what others may say or think hold her back. To encourage her to be steadfast on what she believes in, but retain understanding that others may not agree. To pick herself up off the ground. To try, fail, try again and succeed. Just the other day we were discussing mistakes…she says “Mom, you know who makes mistakes and keeps trying? You!” I felt such a sense of accomplishment.
There are so many times that I question my own parenting. As we continue to have these deep conversations I wonder whether or not I’m doing the right thing. Do I really need to be so open and honest? Should I be teaching her this already? Or at all? Should I just let her be a kid and have no worries, cares or concerns? Do other kids ask these questions? Are other parents telling them the truth or bypassing the topic all together? I have to constantly remind myself every kid is different. My kid is different.
She’s absurdly curious, incredibly intelligent and wouldn’t ask questions if she truly didn’t want to learn about it. I can’t sugar coat it for her. I must merely present her the facts and give her the space to develop her own beliefs. Being honest and upfront is the only way she’ll truly learn to get through this thing we call life. (RIP Prince!) These conversations make me more aware of past and present women’s roles in society, progresses that have been made yet the challenges that are still to come.
Quite often I have moments where I wonder if I’m a strong enough woman to be able to teach my daughter to be one. I’m still learning to be confident outside my comfort zone. I have insecurities on a daily basis. I struggle with my identity. I have immense difficulty in separating who I am as an individual, who I am as a mother and who I am as a wife. I grapple with concept that I can be all three. I more often than not just combine the latter two into the first. Repeatedly I wonder if my parenting isn’t hypocrisy. How can I teach her to be strong and confident when I fight with my inner self every day?
Being a woman isn’t easy either. But being a mother is a role that only women can be successful at it. Women have become CEOs of major corporations, are incredible athletes shattering records and for the first time, a woman has received a major political party’s nomination for president of the United State of America! Women’s roles in society are a constant work in progress. We need to encourage our daughters to celebrate what past women have achieved and to be passionate for what they can accomplish for the future generations of women. Their dedication and perseverance allows me to make the most of my chances to make a positive and lasting influence on my young daughter’s life. Thank you to all the women of present and history. Your trials and sacrifices do not go unnoticed nor unappreciated. You paved the way to help make raising our present-day daughters a little easier.
As I reflect back to the first day of 1st grade, she wanted me to drop her off at the door versus walk her to the door. She couldn’t get out of the car fast enough, yelled “BYE!” and ran through the doors of her elementary school. My tears began to fall before the teacher shut the car door. When I shared this with someone close, they said, “would you rather her be the one crying?” Exactly.
My dearest daughter, you have plenty of time to grow up. For now, continue to be the best you that you can be. Be strong. Be colorful. Be CONFIDENT. Be thankful. Be proud. Pick yourself up and try again. Most of all, I just want to see you be BRAVE!! And know that I am learning as much from you as you are from me. Olive Juice.
Being a mom, most definitely, isn’t easy.
Megan is a business owner and mom of a six-year-old daughter. We are so excited to include her story in our series on self acceptance.