It might not be immediately obvious that you’re following the right path to be raising strong and independent daughters. Sometimes, it creeps on up on you.
For example, when we sat down with my daughter’s reception class teacher (the first year of school in UK, for non-UK readers) at Emma’s first-ever parents’ evening, she smiled and said, “She’s a kooky little monkey, isn’t she?”
We exchanged glances. Emma was an individual, we knew that. She’d never been afraid to do her own thing – which now apparently included trotting around being a unicorn while everyone else was learning their alphabet, refusing to play games she didn’t like and saying exactly what she thought.
As parents, we hope our kids fit in at school; at the same time, I was proud of her for not being afraid to follow her own path. It’s something we’ve always encouraged her to do.
Fast forward a few years. She’s now 18, still independent, strong-minded and the most stubborn person I know (apart from me) when it comes to sticking to a principle. She’s fiercely outspoken about her beliefs – woe betide anyone who denigrates the LGBT+ community or shows the slightest leanings towards animal cruelty, domestic abuse or racism (to name but a few).
She’s the first to stick up for anyone in trouble, and isn’t afraid to get into a debate with her elders – but not necessarily betters – about contentious topics from Brexit to veganism.
Ok, we might not love some of her personal style choices – as well as ear, tongue and septum piercings she’s now expressed the intention of getting her lip done – but it’s who she is, and we wouldn’t change her.
So, how did we end up with this wonderful, complex and independent young woman? The truth is, I don’t think we did anything special – we just followed a few rough guidelines.
1No cotton wool
There’s a difference between protecting your child and over-protecting them. If Emma fell and cut her leg, we wouldn’t make a fuss as we dealt with it or keep asking if it hurt. If she was ill, we offered as much comfort and care as was needed, but didn’t encourage her to linger with constant sympathy.
At the age of 14, she fell over while roller-skating and hurt her wrist. She said she was sure she’d be ok with a couple of painkillers. At the hospital, they discovered it was broken and she admitted the pain was severe. Her stoicism amazed me. I’d have howled like a baby.
2Get in touch with nature
From an early age, we encouraged Emma to learn about her surroundings and respect the natural world. Apart from wasps and hornets – and to be honest, I don’t blame her there – she loves anything that has four or more legs.
She’s the one who will happily pick up spiders with her bare hands and gently remove them from her scaredy-cat mother’s bedroom; she has no fear of the scorpions that sometimes explore our Turkish home and encourages the crickets and occasional praying mantis. On one memorable occasion, she arrived home with a chameleon perched on her shoulder that she’d found in the local graveyard – now, that was pretty cool.
In our family, we believe it’s important to express your feelings, that it’s better to be wrong occasionally than to keep quiet about something important. We’ve tried to instil this in our kids, too.
If she’s unhappy, Emma knows she can say so. If instinct tells her something is amiss, she knows she should listen to it and speak out if necessary. Too many people hide their feelings or quash their inner voices because they’re embarrassed or unsure they have a right to do so.
4Listen to others – but stand your ground
One of the most important lessons we’ve tried to teach is that, while it’s good to be sensitive to someone else’s opinions, you don’t have to agree with them.
One example is the lip piercing Emma wants. She’s listened carefully to why it might not be a good thing, and come up with her own reasoned arguments in favour. She’s also pointed out that, ultimately, it’s her decision and she’s the one who will have to deal with any consequences. We can’t argue with that.
5It’s ok to get upset
Admitting you’re upset doesn’t make you soft; it shows you are strong and have the confidence to let your guard down sometimes. Whether it’s a sad film, bad news or a simple case of hormones getting the better of you, you shouldn’t feel you have to hide your emotions.
Sometimes, bawling your eyes out is exactly what you need to release stress and tension so you can see a situation more clearly, or accept it and move on.