Something that has been on my mind a lot lately, particularly as the parent to a young daughter, is helping her to find her voice and allowing her to feel empowered to use it.
She has always been quite independent and I recall when starting preschool back in the United States, was clingy for a few weeks at drop off but once she felt comfortable and confident, settled in with assurance.
When she started kindy here, it was a bit different as she had just spent months at home with me as we set up our new life, launched a business, and were simply trying to figure things out. She couldn’t wait to be back in a setting with friends and teachers as she thrives and absolutely loves school. So, when she recently started crying at drop off, I knew something must be going on.
After several tear-filled mornings, we found out there is a little boy who is a few years older than her who had been chasing her around the playground, grabbing her forcefully, and on one occasion had pulled her backwards down to the ground from behind.
It was enough to rattle her and I could see it in her eyes each morning.
While the situation was addressed, the difficulty at morning drop off continued. My daughter is a tough cookie so for her to continue to struggle, my intuition was telling me there was more.
Last week, as I was getting her dressed we paused for a moment so we could sit and have a chat. I asked her to explain to me so I could better understand why she didn’t want to go to school. She went on to tell me that this little boy was still chasing her and that she often stays near her classroom during lunch time simply to avoid him.
I could sense that she didn’t feel empowered in the situation.
I looked her straight in the eyes and I told her, “darling, if he continues to chase you and scare you, you have every right to say NO! You tell that little boy to knock it off.”
“But mommy, we are supposed to be kind at school and I will get in trouble if I tell him that.”
“No sweetie, you have every right to tell him that if he is doing something you don’t like.”
“But mommy, I will get in trouble.”
It was heartbreaking for me to see her questioning her power and her voice, her own ability to stick up for herself and say no. I knew this would be one of the most important learning lessons I could teach her as a woman and as her mother.
“You have my permission to do so and if your father and I get called into the Principal’s office to have a chat, we will have your back. If you are simply sticking up for yourself because someone is doing something you don’t like, after you have already told them no, we will always have your back! You do what you need to do to feel safe. You don’t have to worry about this little boy’s feelings or getting in trouble. If he is making you scared to go to school you have the power to say NO.”
The conversation went on for a few more minutes. I called my husband in at one point to reiterate what I was telling her, and he said the exact same thing. We even let her have a few practice rounds of yelling NO straight in our faces.
There was a shift in her understanding but at first the concept was met with a lot of hesitation, thinking she would get in trouble. And we explained that yes, while we need to treat others with kindness, if they are doing something you don’t like, especially if you feel scared at school, then that is not okay.
We gave her permission to feel empowered to say no, to stick up for herself.
That same morning after I dropped her off for school, I was talking with another girlfriend of mine about renegotiating her contract at work. The undertone of that discussion was similar to the one I had just had with my 5-year old. She needed to feel empowered to voice her worth in her current work situation.
It left me wondering why girls receive this message of “being good” with the attachment to a “grin and bear it” mentality rather than stepping into their voice and their power, particularly to feel empowered to say no and how that translates into adulthood.
How many of us have had to step into a place of ‘no’ throughout our lives – whether it was in a relationship, our careers, during an unsettling encounter – to feel empowered to stand up for ourselves? And if you have never learned that it is okay to do so, it can be both challenging and confronting.
But it shouldn’t take feeling used at work, not being heard in a relationship, being bullied at school, or experiencing violence for us to step into our voice.
No permission necessary.
We send these messages to our children that aren’t just black and white, there are a lot of shades of grey and we expect 5 and 6 year olds to process them. If you tell them be kind, it is all encompassing. They don’t understand the gray areas without guidance. It is our job as adults to help them set the boundaries of what is and is not acceptable and to allow them to say no when something doesn’t feel right – a lesson that is much easier to grasp as a child, then having to learn through difficult situations as an adult.
But, if we aren’t providing young girls with these messages from the time they are young and starting school, do we not leave them open to the same dangerous situations and feelings of not being heard that can permeate into their adult lives?
I still remember the time in elementary school when I confidently and without hesitation, voiced my opinion. It was met with the following comment from one my teachers, “we just don’t know what to do with little girls like you.”
What I have come to realize is that little girls like me grow up to raise strong daughters who feel empowered. And that is a beautiful thing.
Later that day, when I picked up the kids from school, my daughter was beaming. She ran into my arms, gave me a huge hug, and proudly exclaimed, “mommy, I told him to leave me alone today and guess what, he did!! He stopped bothering me.”
She skipped the entire way to the car and retold the story to her dad later that night when he got home from work. Our daughter felt empowered to step into her voice, to stick up for herself, and to say no.
Parenting isn’t easy and there are a lot of moments where we question if we are doing the right thing – this wasn’t one of them. We knew we had.
This week, I want to challenge all of us to step into a place of empowerment. Whether you are a parent guiding your children through tough situations, are a business person renegotiating the terms of your contract, or are struggling to feel heard in a friendship or relationship – embrace your ability to say no.
Cheers to a new week and being empowered to say no!