“Cross your legs.”
“Don’t raise your voice.”
“Behave like a lady.”
We tend to teach young ladies that proper etiquette requires that they not take up more space, attention, or energy than others around them. Are we effectively telling girls to be smaller, quieter, easier to handle?
That is not how I see the future for my daughter. She can be a lady who is strong and loud and opinionated. If I am responsible for teaching my daughter about the important things she needs to know for her later years, I better seize the opportunities that land in my lap. A little weekend trip that we planned for her presented both of us a teachable moment…
My kids are fortunate to have many family members who love them, both in our hometown and here in San Antonio. Last year, my mother wanted to take my daughter on a short weekend trip. As they started to head out on their journey, my mom called my husband with a worried tone in her voice. They were just about to leave San Antonio, and my daughter (who was nine at the time) suddenly broke down in tears and said she was nervous about being so far away from us. She was sad about possibly missing out on something fun that we might do as a family. The fear of hurting my mom’s feelings had kept her from bowing out of the trip earlier, but now that she was in the moment, she just couldn’t bear to make the four-hour drive away from home.
Her dad came to meet them and apologize for delaying the trip, and of course my mom felt terrible that my daughter was so upset. We reassured both of them that they didn’t do anything wrong and that perhaps it was best for my daughter to just stay home. I began to replay the few moments prior to their departure, when my daughter had expressed some hesitation and I’d repeatedly reassured her how much fun she would have.
I don’t believe we should allow our children’s feelings to lord over our household, but in this instance, I realized that I dismissed my daughter’s pretty quickly. She is normally an adventurous girl, always ready for a scary roller coaster ride or challenging workout. When she expressed hesitant feelings, I dismissed them, thinking that my reassurances would eliminate her discomfort. But to quote the great comedian Mike Birbiglia, “What I should have said was NOTHING.” I could have listened and respected her feelings.
So the next time that the same chance to accompany her Grammy on a weekend trip arose, she told me about a month in advance that she wasn’t sure she felt like going. I learned from the previous experience and told her that it was fine to politely decline the invitation ahead of time rather than making a last-minute choice to bail. More importantly, I took the time to have a meaningful discussion with her. I told her how proud I was of her for listening to those gut feelings. I explained that when she gets older, she may find herself in a place that makes her feel uncomfortable. She may end up around a few other teenagers who give her the wrong vibe. She may even make a choice and then immediately know that it was the wrong one. Listening to those feelings is a critical thing, and having the courage to speak up or make a better choice is even more crucial. I want her to trust those instincts, because the sad reality for women is that they can save you from potentially dangerous situations.
Someday, I am sure my daughter will take off on fun weekend trips, travel to exciting places, and head out on her own for college or a job. When she is ready, I want her to remember how smart and capable she is to handle challenges or problems. I also want her to trust that her spirit and her feelings are like an internal warning system that shouldn’t be ignored. If your car sensors start beeping because you are getting close to the guard rail, you still have a chance to correct your driving before you hit something. She may not always have to bow out of every situation, but she can trust that I will be there in a heartbeat if she decides she wants to.