When I was a little girl, my mother always referred to herself as a hippie. She was about a decade too young to actually be a hippie, but despite growing up in a traditional Puerto Rican family, with traditional Latino values, she knew a little something about being a badass. She didn’t let anyone tell her what she could and couldn’t or shouldn’t do as a woman, and she raised me the same way. Now, I have a daughter of my own and I’m determined to raise her to know her worth, to know how to stick up for herself and to support other women in doing the same. I’m determined to raise a strong, feminist daughter and I’ve been working at it since she was born. These are some of the values and ideas I’ve worked to instill in her and will continue to as long as she lets me:
Her Dreams are Her Only Limitations
There are always those little sweet things we whisper into our babies’ ears as we sway them to sleep. They begin to internalize those words from the very beginning of their lives, so while you whisper “I love you” and “you are beautiful,” be sure to also whisper “dream big” and “you are strong” as well. If no one else in the world says those things to your daughter, at least she will always know that you did.
Always Stand Up for Yourself
My daughter is four years old, and she’s sensitive. I hate to say it, but she’s far more sensitive than my son. She has a knack for perceiving other people’s emotions and intentions and sometimes ends up with hurt feelings because of it. My advice to her? “Use your words to stand up for yourself.” If someone is rude to you, tell them they are being rude and you don’t like it. If someone touches you and you don’t like it use your big girl voice and tell them to stop now. Stand tall, speak up and don’t take any sh*t.
Not Everyone Has to Like You
Can you imagine all the heartache it would have saved you if someone had told you that it was okay if not everyone likes you? Some people are gonna click and others aren’t. Some people are gonna hate on you and some people are gonna lift you up. I have and will continue to affirm to my little one that while she doesn’t have to like everyone, she does have to treat others with respect and likewise that it’s okay for someone not to like her as long as they aren’t disrespectful.
Food is Not the Enemy
From as early as I can remember after my kids started eating solid foods, I’ve talked with them about what food does for our bodies and why it’s important to eat enough and to eat food that’s nutritious so it can fuel us for all the fun we’re going to have throughout the day. We talk about how treats are yummy and fun to eat once in a while. We don’t villainize any whole foods (though I have told my kids that fast food gives belly aches). I want my daughter to always know with confidence how to fuel her body for peak performance and to never be ashamed or embarrassed by what or how much she chooses to eat.
Exercise Is About Feeling Good
I workout multiple times a week and my kids either see me doing it or know I’m going to do it. They also know why I workout. My kids see fitness as a regular part of life because they’ve watched their parents prioritize it for as long as they can remember. They know that exercising is absolutely not about looking a certain way, but that we do it because it keeps us healthy and strong physically and emotionally. When my daughter asks me why I have to go for a run, I don’t tell her because I don’t want to gain weight, I tell her it’s because heart disease runs in our family and I want to keep my heart as healthy as possible. It may seem like kids can’t possibly understand these sorts of conversations, but mine have proven to me time and time again that they know exactly what I’m telling them and are capable of applying it to their own lives.
Women’s’ Bodies Are Not Shameful
My daughter sometimes runs around the house with no shirt or changes into her jammies in the living room. Since she was old enough to walk, I’ve done my best to allow her freedom when it comes to her body and to not make a big deal out of nudity or body parts in general. I don’t ever want her to feel like she needs to “cover up” to be respected as if her body is something to be ashamed of or somehow offensive. I try to lead by example as well by wearing what I’m comfortable in no matter the situation, even if that means I still expose my belly in a bikini at the beach after having two kids. And of course, I’ve made it explicitly clear to her that if she ever has any questions about her body or mine, all she has to do is ask.
Strong Women Support Strong Women
I have made a concerted effort to expose my daughter to the lives, works, actions and presence of strong women. We spend time with strong, smart, engaged, thoughtful women in our family and friend group, we read books about legendary and impactful women from Frida Kahlo to Ada Lovelace, we watch J.Lo dance on Instagram and Laurie Hernandez fly on YouTube. I surround her with the accomplishments of women because the world already does the work of showing her those of men.
No Means No — Always
Do you know what we don’t do in our house? We don’t continue on if someone says “no” or “stop.” Ever. Even if it’s something as silly as a tickle fight. If my daughter says “no” to a hug, then the person doesn’t get a hug from her. If she says “no” to wrestling with her brother, they don’t wrestle until she’s ready. If she doesn’t like something that’s happening or doesn’t want something to happen, she says “no.” Period. And we always listen if and when she says it so she knows inherently that she can and continues to learn the importance of consent in every situation.
Books Are Powerful
The importance of formal education shouldn’t be minimized, but I also want my daughter to know that she can educate herself about anything and everything. I read to her multiple times per day to foster a love of books and hopefully help her learn that reading can open up a world of information and new perspectives. As an Afro-Latina girl and eventually woman, she may encounter teachers, professors, colleagues and bosses that don’t teach or train her to her full potential, but that doesn’t mean she can’t inform herself with facts, science and first-hand accounts.
You Got This
Like many women, my daughter is hard on herself. She wants to get it right all the time and when she doesn’t, she feels discouraged. Those are normal, valid feelings and I give her time and space to feel them, but I also give her regular pep talks to help her learn to move on, keep trying and to never give up on herself. I encourage her to repeat my words back to herself and we often use the phrase “you’ve got this” which we picked up from Olympic gymnast Laurie Hernandez — an athlete whom my budding gymnast admires.