By Melanie Valley
This is a guest post written by one of our The Stay Strong Mom project followers. If you would like your story to be heard, please email us.
As the youngest of three daughters, I was ecstatic when my husband and I found out we were having girls because I got to parent a gender I knew well. I love raising our girls, and I love watching them grow. They’re smart and spunky, sweet and determined. Our four-year-old wants to be the world’s first astronaut ballerina. I love that she believes that she can be anything. I want to nurture that drive in her. Yet, being a female myself and knowing many other females, I know there are unique challenges that women face in the real world, and I know my daughters will someday face these struggles.
Despite the gains made in the 70s, women still face obstacles in the workplace from gender harassment and discrimination. In a recently released study by The National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Medicine, the researchers found that “studies on sexual harassment from the 1980s through today continue to show that sexual harassment of women is widespread in workplaces and that the rates of sexual harassment have not significantly decreased.” This trend does not bode well for our daughters. The study also states that sexual harassment in these fields “can silence and limit the career opportunities in the short and long terms for both the targets of the sexual harassment and the bystanders – with at least some leaving their field.” While this study focuses on the sciences, I know from my personal experience and from experiences other women have shared with me, sexual harassment exists in most, if not all fields.
But the problem for the future of girls isn’t just sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace, it also comes from discrimination against women who choose to stay home with their children. I have personally been told that I “wasted my degree” and “stole a spot” at my university from someone who would have “used their degree.” I have heard from other women that people view them as incompetent or otherwise disparage their choice to stay home and raise their family instead of work outside of the home.
So we as moms have a challenge before us: how do we help pave the way for our daughters in a world that fights against women, and how do we raise girls who are strong and confident in their choices?
There are two powerful things we as mothers can proactively do to help create space for our daughters in the future: we have to be willing to take the risk to pursue our own dreams and be the voice we need our daughters to hear. Children learn the most through observation. They watch us every day and they build their worldview off of how we approach the world. There is nothing more powerful than showing our daughters that we believe enough in their future to pursue our calling in the present. If our daughters see us pursue our dreams, face failures and overcome them, and succeed and find our niche in this world, they will know that their niche exists too.
Likewise, we have to stand up against current challenges like sexual harassment and gender discrimination in the workplace and in our homes. As I mentioned before, I come from a family of three daughters and each of us has experienced sexual harassment in three separate fields. But, because we were raised in a family where we always believed in fighting for what is right and believing that we can succeed, we all spoke out and reported the harassers. Unfortunately, we are in the minority because only a small percentage of women speak out. Many women don’t have the privilege to speak out, so those of us who can speak out, should.
We also need to show our daughters how to respect all women. Our daughters need to see and hear us support other women. They need to see us stand up and fight for others, especially those who are more vulnerable. We need to show our daughters that they and their peers all deserve to grow up in and live in a world where respect, common decency, and hard work are the norm.
Regardless of what challenges our daughters face in the future, we have to raise girls who are resilient. We may not be able to change every hardship our daughters face, yet we can raise daughters who are ready to take on challenges and push toward their goals. One of the best ways to raise resilient daughters is to allow them to fail and learn from their failures.
In an article about the lack of resilience in college students today, Dr. Peter Gray states “[s]tudents are afraid to fail; they do not take risks; they need to be certain about things. For many of them, failure is seen as catastrophic and unacceptable. External measures of success are more important than learning and autonomous development.” Because of this, students are unable to handle the struggles of normal daily life, always hoping to find a parent-figure to bail them out of trouble. These are not the students who will be able to face the trials of the real, adult world and push through and succeed. Dr. Gray suggests a simple antidote in early childhood: let them play and let them fail. Children need to “to play, explore, and pursue their own interests away from adults.” Dr. Gray has argued “the consequences [of lack of free play] are well-documented increases in anxiety and depression, and decreases in the sense of control of their own lives.” Learning from failure in early childhood leads to adults who can withstand trials.
So, the next time your daughter struggles or fails, encourage her, but don’t solve all of her problems. Show her by example what it means to be a strong, capable woman who can push through, achieve her dreams, and support other women in the process.
And maybe, just maybe, our daughters will grow up in a world where they believe in and fight for their capabilities and worth.
Melanie Vallely is a writer who studied Advertising at Boston University’s College of Communication before becoming a stay-at-home mom of two. After experiences in her own life as well as the lives of other women close to her, she became passionate about the treatment of women in the workplace and strives to facilitate change through her writing. She lives with her husband and daughters in a quaint suburb of Portland, OR. You can find her at melanievallely.com as well as on Instagram as @verityandviolets.