Today, I'm a guest writer on Jane Perdue's LeadBIG blog. She invited me to join a series this month that tackles big questions about ways we can shatter stereotypes and empower all races and genders. How do we create a movement that transcends a calendar event and becomes something we do every day of the year? As with most big questions, I begin with myself. You can find my answer on Jane's blog, and I'm also sharing it here.
I am a mom of three children—two boys and a girl. My daughter, the youngest, is two years old.
Three mornings a week, I drop her off at the preschool. After the first day, the teacher said my toddler kept taking off her shoes on the playground and going head first down the slide.
I laughed, because I wasn’t surprised. I live with this happy, vibrant child (and it’s exhausting). I witness her free-spirited and fearless behavior daily.
But at school, she’s breaking the rules.
These rules—wear shoes on the playground and feet first down the slide—are enforced for the children’s safety. They are not intended to squash their unique and creative spirits. I know this, because I know the school, and I know this teacher. My middle child was in this same class three years ago.
But my middle child was laid back. He did what he was told. He sat down in his chair. He didn’t crawl on the snack table and stand up on the rocking horse (like my daughter does). And so, when I considered all of this, I noticed the discomfort rising up inside.
The voice says, My daughter is misbehaving. She is not being good.
And the root of the discomfort, I assessed, was fear. Fear that my daughter’s behavior was becoming a problem and that problem was a reflection of me.
I’m glad I could see the discomfort for what it was. If I hadn’t noticed, I might have missed an opportunity. I might have sent my daughter the wrong messages. Messages that disempower: be nice. be good. be seen, not heard. I might have perpetuated a pattern I’ve worked so hard to break.
I know I have the power to influence the woman my daughter will become. In the meantime, I must also do the best I can to keep her safe, and teach her how to be safe. I must teach her to treat other people and their property with respect. I must also encourage and support my daughter's alive and vibrant spirit, which was evident the moment she came out of the womb.
I want her to know the rules, so that one day, she’ll understand when it’s okay—even necessary—to break them.
But here’s the other thing. That’s exactly what I want for my boys. My greatest wish for my children is that they will grow into exactly who they are, exactly who they were meant to become.
I want them to be empowered by their gender, not defined by it. Do I have all the answers? No. But I can start by noticing when those old, outdated beliefs creep in, so sneaky and subtle at times. I can rise above my discomfort and fear and see my children—really see them—for the individuals that they are.
Maybe that’s where change begins. Right here. Very small. With me.
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