When Strong Girls Outshine

Strong girls This one. She is fierce. Strong and determined, athletic and stubborn. She fills rooms with loudness and song, jumps down staircases, and slams doors shut. The opposite of soft is the picture of her steps through life.

This Fall? A concussion. Pulled hamstring. Bruised and blackened hand. So far.

And here is my question: Without tempering her passion and ability in any way, how do I soften the edges? Because sometimes, I get cut. She can pierce too easily.

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We are in the stands watching and waiting from above. Her event has been called, but she is the 4th heat. Near the dive blocks is a chin up bar and she and some boys her age are kind of goofing around under the guise of warm-up. A boy agonizingly pulls himself up to the bar. One. The next boy gets on. Three. And then she goes. One. Two. Three. Four. Five.... Twelve. She jumps down beaming.

From the rafters we are simultaneously proud and smirking. In minutes, we know, she will rub it in. The boys will try again, at least once, to prove themselves and because surely they did it wrong the first time. Then she will show them again how much stronger she really is, their arms still skinny and lanky without post-pubescent muscle. One will mutter admiration. The others will scoff, shamed.

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For the first time in years we are out to dinner with friends, alone. Their two match our youngest two in age and we spend our kid-less night discussing them. Their son has given our daughter a run for her money for years in academics, student government, and P.E.. Apparently, she is one of the few girls he has kept as a friend, respecting her participation and ability in P.E. as so many other girls chat on sidelines. I imagine my daughter becoming a confidant, a sound board for him later until one day he wakes up and realizes it was her he loved all along. Isn’t that how every story ends? The tomboy athlete is every boy’s best friend, but never the one pursued.

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She has already summited her first 14’r, a Colorado rites of passage and achievement she wears proudly. Though we are a hiking family, collectively, we rarely make it to the end of any hike. The youngest is far too distracted by boulders and tired by short legs and we never seem to start our journey early enough to summit before the sun starts to set.

We are on vacation with friends and though we left the trailhead as 11, we are now 4, trudging up the incline: my two oldest, myself, and one of our friends. She is 50 feet ahead at all times and I am breathless. Eventually, I project my panting, “I cannot keep this pace! You’ve got to slow down.” Minutes later when I need to catch my breath again, she acts annoyed. There is a determination to lead, to summit, to finish, that I am both awed and dismayed by. Would she leave her mom behind to reach her goal? Finally, I make that choice for her. Another 1/4 mile uphill, I sit and wait for them to climb the last bit, head pounding and heart heaving out of my chest.

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I am raising a daughter in a new era and thrilled by the conversation, new products, academic incentives, and expectations of girls. I delight in her ability and desire to do all the crazy things she does. Inwardly, I smile that she can outrun, out push-up, and out pull-up the boys.

So how do I fan the flame in such a way that those around her don't burn? It's not her responsibility to care for boy's egos, but what about being sensitive and spurring others on rather than gloating? She should get to finish hikes, but how can she be a leader who walks alongside rather than races to the top?

She shouldn't have to squelch her speed, her knowledge, or her passion because it overwhelms the boys, but how can I teach her to be a confident and strong girl who learns the art of encouragement, listening, and compassion?

AandEHike web

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We who mother, we are girls. We were tree-climbers and knee-scrapers and beauty-dreamers. We planned our proposals and wrote screenplays for our weddings. We are not archetypes of pink princesses or overalls on rope swings. We are all.

And my goal with my daughters is to embrace the all.

Share with me your story? When were you told you were too much? Were you squelched to save face for a boy? Were you raised to hold it all beautifully? Do share.