We were happy when our daughter drove down from L.A. for Mother’s Day weekend. When she and I had a few minutes alone, I told her I was writing this article on raising a courageous daughter. I was curious and somewhat apprehensive to see her reaction. I was pleasantly surprised when she heard, she instantly cracked a smile, nodded her head, and gave a little fist pump. Then I asked her what she thought we did to help her to become courageous. She answered in one sentence. No spoiler alerts here; I’ll share with you what she said at the end of this article.
Every once and a while, friends or family members mention on how “great our kids have turned out.” What’s interesting is that sometimes it’s the women who comment specifically on our daughter. They remark on what she’s accomplished and who she’s become. I usually respond that she did everything on her own. This is mostly true; however, we know raising kids is way more complex.
Parenting is very personal. How we decided to raise our daughter may or may not match with others’ child-rearing styles. As parents, we made many mistakes along the way. My belief is that certain parenting choices helped set the foundation for our daughter to become smart, strong and courageous.
1. We were quasi-helicopter parents.
I know, “helicopter parent” has a bad connotation. Yes, we hovered around and regularly poked our noses into our daughter’s business. She quite often told us that we asked too many questions. I’d contend that better way to describe us was “engaged”. The difference between being a full-fledged helicopter parent and a quasi-one is that we did not swoop in and shelter her from hard work or the consequences of bad behavior. We knew that adversity and struggle build character, grit, and resilience.
The inverse benefit of being highly engaged is that we could jump in when adult involvement was needed. There was a time in high school where she encountered an older girl who was a bully. I had no choice but to intervene.
2. We taught her values.
Parents set the values in a family. A few of our core values were honesty, compassion, and perseverance. We also put importance on family, education, tolerance, health, and hard work.
We worked on setting an environment that did not minimize female abilities or contributions. For instance, she was expected to do as well in science and math as her brother. It didn’t hurt that her dad had a Ph.D. in engineering. Math was an everyday event and was expected to be easy.
Setting an atmosphere of risk-taking and exploration is so important for children. Exploration helps kids open their minds. They find what they like and don’t like and, if they are lucky, they find their passions along the way. In my opinion, risk taking builds courage. Finding out that failure is not the end of the world or just a way to find a different path. Both are important to learn to courageously step out one’s comfort zone.
3. We spoke positively about body image and appearance.
In our household, appearance was discussed when it related to age-appropriate dress, health, and cleanliness. An amusing backlash from this was after she went off to college, she chastised me because I never taught her how to walk in high heels or put on makeup. I chuckled and told her after a little practice she would learn.
4. She had female role models.
We often talked about successful women and how great they were. As her mother, it was important to me to make sure she was surrounded by female role models from all walks of life. Not only women who were strong and successful, but also other women who made personal life choices that changed their lives - in sometimes not so positive ways. The comparisons and follow-on discussions were influential learning opportunities.
5. And she had positive male role models, too.
Equally as important as female role models were how the important men in her life treated her. This mostly meant her brother and her father. Her father was a feminist combined with protective father instincts. When she was little, she saw a group of cheerleaders and said out loud, “I could do that.” Her dad interjected and said she could never go out for cheerleading. He told if she wanted to be involved in a sport or anything else; she should be on the field and not on the sidelines. As an adult, she often repeats this story. She also finished college as a NCAA All-American.
6. We accepted there's no "How-To Manual."
It is immodestly obvious that we are proud that our daughter and son have grown into kind, smart and courageous young adults. Parenting is tough. Too bad no one has come up with the definitive “How-To” manual. As my mother used to say, “We [parents] do the best we can with what we know.”
I promised at the end I would tell you what our daughter said for what we, her parents, did to help her become courageous. Her answer was, “You set the examples.”
Connie Wedel is a global citizen and HR executive who has worked with incredible employees, teams and leaders across 6 continents. Connie is a leadership and career coach, equal rights and diversity advocate, writer, speaker and mom.