To say that I come from a family of strong women is an understatement. As a child, I remember my own mom ranting about how liberated she felt when she turned 40 (while igniting fearless confrontations of standing up for values she believed in). Both of my grandmothers are strong-willed with the things they say and do (at least that’s how I’ve perceived them my whole life). I myself been notorious for opening my big mouth, in situations where I probably shouldn’t, just to make a point of asserting what’s right, wrong and completely fake and phony regarding social standards, morals and the private lives of people who I may or may not know.
And now, I have two toddler daughters who many identify as ‘strong-willed’ young ladies… already. They know what they want. They challenge each other. They challenge me. They sometimes get their way. They sometimes don’t get their way. And they always insist on pushing me more (to which I push back, as any level-headed mom does). My almost 3-year old LadyP insists on changing her wardrobe 14 times a day and does not let go of me until I give in and do so after 30 nonstop minutes of driving her point home. (I do admire her persistence.) “It’s a good thing!” my pediatrician exclaimed, after my 18-month old LilMiss recently tried to raise the most frightening forces of hell because she didn’t want to get weighed on the baby scale for her well-visit checkup. (We tried 4 separate times… my doc, the nurse, me and my firm and forceful ‘no-nonsense-you-will-do-this-now-attitude’ to no avail. Eventually we all gave up, weighed both LilMiss and me together, weighed me by myself and then subtracted the difference just to get some kind of general measurement for her. The little devil got her way. At 18-months old. She then proceeded to swat the nurse’s arm away as the nice lady tried to fasten a fabulous silver Band-Aid after her shot… which she immediately ripped off her own arm in a fit of “I-told-you-I-don’t-want-this-Band-Aid” frenzy.) Genetics or social conditioning?
Whatever the case: IS THIS STRENGTH *REALLY* A GOOD THING? REALLY??
I’ve always been a champion for women to speak our minds, take assertive control and protect and campaign whatever ideals we believe in (should someone try to minimize or threaten those ideals in a social or family setting). Being confidently strong-willed is a remarkable thing… but I know that sometimes I forget the reality is sometimes different. How many times have vocal women put our own foots in our mouths, cost ourselves our own promotions or just plain offended someone else for the sake of making our point known? (Hand raised here, shamefully.) Recently, my strong-willed personality got me in big trouble: I was in a social setting (with friends), a topic of convo came up (which I disagreed with), I opened my mouth and kept talking and countering and opposing and making my point. I wanted to be heard. I wanted others to see my perspective. I did not back down, in the name of protecting something I believe in. It didn’t end prettily. Wouldn’t it have been a lot easier (and made the evening more enjoyable) had I kept my mouth shut? Yes. (Even though I was right.)
And then I thought: Will my girls turn out to be the same way? Will they grow up to be women who feel so strongly about certain life issues that their strong-will will not be able to temper the switch of when to talk and when to push the mute button? I am their primary role-model afterall… and their generational line of ‘strong-women’ is already visibly present in their actions. Do I want them to turn out the same way? YES. And also… NO. I know that, from personal experience, I somehow missed that part of the lesson that says that sometimes silence is more powerful. I’m not ashamed to admit that my mouth has caused more trouble than I should be proud of, in the name of calling things out for what is right and what is wrong… but has it done anyone any real good in the long run? I don’t know. The women I know who do choose to keep their mouths shut and happily and silently go with the flow seem to get into a lot less trouble than the rest of us. I wonder: Do they wish they’d have the cajones to speak up more, or do they wish that the rest of us would just shut up?
With all the “Girl Power” and “Stand Up for Yourself” and “Strong Women Rule” messages that we are so quick to blast… are we so frightened to be perceived as ‘not strong’ that we’re inadvertently steamrolling and overruling others to the point of being disrespectful? Silence can sometimes maintain our own human decency. I know how sexist that sounds, since we’re talking about women, but I don’t know how else to put it. FORGIVE ME. Let’s face it: Women can be perceived to be b!tches for simply sharing opinions in an assured (or, if called for, aggressive) way. And being perceived as being a b!tch doesn’t do anyone any major favors, socially or professionally.
Parenting girls is complicated, I’m finding. So as fabulous as I think my daughters are for already having a strong sense of what they want, communicating what they want and don’t want (and how they have the gusto to make it known to no limit) I can’t help but wonder if I’m also doing them a minor injustice by encouraging them to be vocal. Can you still have a solid, strength of spirit if you just know when to shut up?
ARE WE FORGETTING TO TEACH OUR GIRLS THAT IT’S ALSO OKAY TO BE QUIET SOMETIMES?