I like to think of myself as an independent woman. An “I can do it myself!” kind of person. And as my mother has thoughtfully reminded me over the years, that was both the best and the worst part about having me as a daughter.
I can’t even imagine what it would be like to raise me. Or to raise anyone for that matter. But it must be a struggle to want to help your kid and make sure they have the best, but to know you need to let them make mistakes on their own and figure shit out if they are going to be a productive and functioning adult someday.
Under no circumstances do I think it would be easy to strike that balance, but I can’t imagine where I’d be if my mom hadn’t figured out how to do it. Being raised to be able to do things myself — my way — made me who I am. It allowed me to develop my own sense of style and creativity early in life; it allowed me to make stupid mistakes in college and learn from them (mostly); it allowed me to excel in my career; it allowed me to move to New York, try a new job, try a new city, buy a condo, quit my job, start over, and make new mistakes — all while trusting I would land on my feet. I am also lucky enough to have a support system that will catch me when I fall, which certainly made all of those things easier. But the foundation was there, the message ingrained from the start: I can do anything.
I can change a light-bulb, check my oil, open my own damn pickle jar, and change my own freaking tire. Well, that last one is a lie. I guess I COULD, but I don’t really care to. But you better believe I can make my own money to pay for AAA, who will send someone out to change it.
I was reading some of the submissions on “Women Against Feminism” which has been floating around the internet recently and it got me thinking. Firstly, that there is a lot of confusion about what feminism actually is, and secondly that very few people seem to distinguish the difference between accepting help (which is healthy and awesome and sometimes actually a very hard thing to do) and feeling dependent on another person to do things for us.
Sometimes I worry about what happens when women are under the misguided impression that we need someone else (specifically a husband or boyfriend) to do things for us. Sure, it’s nice to have my boyfriend open the pickle jar if it’s really stuck, and I definitely leave the handiwork around the condo for him to do, but if he disappeared one day, I’d survive. I’d run my pickle jar under hot water. I’d hire a handyman.
These examples seem innocuous enough, but if women aren’t raised to really believe they can do things themselves, it’s easy to go down the rabbit hole, and allow these little things to add up. And then one day, quietly and without notice, all the little things feel like the big things and now all of a sudden you can’t imagine how you would get through life alone. That’s the mindset that scares the crap out of me, because I’ve seen it. I’ve seen it lead to bad relationships, abusive situations, and toxic marriages that lasted far longer than they should have. A relationship should be about a lot of things, but dependence isn’t one of them.
So I hope there are a lot of mothers out there like mine… mothers and parents who will teach their daughters that they can do anything. Parents who will allow their daughters to fail. To fall down, and get back up again. Mothers who embrace the mess, embrace the challenge, and allow their daughters to do it themselves. As hard as it might be, and as much as you want to intervene to help, I implore you, the mothers of young girls out there: Let her do it herself. Encourage her to try, to make mistakes and to try again. I can’t begin to imagine how hard it is to raise kids these days, and I don’t pretend to know the challenges you’ll face. I don’t plan on having kids so I’ll never know. But I DO know what it was like to grow up in that environment, where my stubbornness and determination to dress myself, decorate my own birthday cake and assert my independence in general helped shape me into the woman I am today.
So moms, I know biting your tongue and letting your daughter mess things up will drive you crazy. I know you’ll want to pull out your hair. I know this because my mom tells me how crazy she went watching me do things she knew she could “fix” or make better. But she also realized she had to walk the walk — if she was going to raise me with the message I could do anything, she couldn’t say no when I wanted to decorate the cake for my 5th birthday party. She was a smart cookie though — she made two cakes: one for me to decorate, and then one that was actually presentable for party guests. And to her credit, she served both of them.
And when I wanted to paint my own face when I dressed as Superwoman (who else?) for Halloween when I was 3, she had to bite her tongue and just let me go, even if it was a disaster. I wanted to do it myself. I always wanted to do it myself. And if my parents hadn’t let me do the little things myself, I might not have even tried when the stakes were higher.
It might not seem like much, but all those times moms say “No,” or “Let me help you with that,” or “I’ll just fix that for you,” they might be sending a message to their daughters that they don’t really intend at all. But those million little moments add up to a much bigger sense of self. So say yes. Let her do it her way. Help her build a sense of self that allows her to have faith in her own abilities and instincts. One that will allow her to move out of state to chase that scholarship, to join a traveling sports team and be out on the road, one that will give her the confidence to march her self-sufficient butt into her boss’s office and negotiate a raise. Let her do things herself and give her the courage to walk out of that dead-end job and chase her dreams, or the strength to escape that abusive relationship.
It’s a hard, scary job to raise an independent daughter. And it’s one I don’t plan on signing up for. But I’m so glad my mom did. And I’m so impressed with all the moms out there who are doing it, and finding that balance every day.
So thank you, Mom, for letting me do things myself. And for making second birthday cakes, and not redoing my face-paint when I was 3, and for letting me walk to your car in the parking lot from Kindergarten so I could feel independent. The world needs more moms like you.