The other day I went to parent-teacher conferences for my daughter Grace. She's in 7th grade, so I made my way around the gym and spoke to each one of her teachers. All of her teachers had nothing but praise for Grace. Each teacher began their conference saying that Grace is a model student. They spoke highly of her citizenship and willingness to help out in class, noticed how she rarely misses an assignment (if ever), and remarked on how smart she is.
And she is all those things, responsible, smart, efficient, kind... an all around model student as they said. But I think they only see part of the picture - the part that's easiest to see in a straight "A" girl.
Because you know what I see when I see Grace? I see a leader. I see fire. Grace is a feisty spirit full of motivation and drive. Grace is smart, but more importantly, she is one of the hardest workers I know, and she has the courage and willingness to try new things. Whatever grade, accolade, or recognition she has received she has earned through hard work and perseverance. She is tenacity and resilience. She is internally driven and holds herself accountable to a high standard. She is passionate, mature for her age, and overtly responsible. When I see Grace, first and foremost, I see strength.
It's hard to imagine that anyone who knows Grace would overlook that aspect of her. I'm sure her teachers see it, but for girls, what is nurtured and encouraged in our society seems to continue to be the more docile and nurturing side. I think we're getting better at recognizing their stronger side, but there is still work to do.
Because the fall out I see in their view of Grace as a “model student” is that Grace feels as though she needs to be perfect. I think that Grace feels to be valued, she needs to strive for the unattainable ideal of perfection. It chips away at her confidence, reinforces the dichotomy of success versus failure. It conveys the message that sometimes her best efforts are not good enough and begins to extinguish that fire inside of her. I am constantly telling Grace that perfection is not the expectation. Instead, do your best and see where it takes you. I try and change her perspective of failure. I encourage her not to see it as a finite landing place, but instead a stepping stone towards her greater goal, another part of the journey, a learning opportunity.
I praise her for her effort and work ethic more than the outcome. I praise her for her strength and leadership qualities. I tell her how she is already making a difference in this world and to keep shining bright. I recognize and encourage the tough, assertive, driven side of Grace. Because I think that her drive, more than anything else, is going to be Grace's greatest strength and resource. That internal motivation and follow through will take her to all the places she dreams of, and then she will show others the way.
Let's praise our girls when they are assertive and full of vigor and sprite. Let's nurture their curious, courageous side. Let's teach them that not to fear falling down, instead show them how to get back up again and rise even stronger than before. Let's fill them with confidence and the ability to see their own worth. Let's remind them that perfection is an illusion and instead redefine their expectation to be the best version of themselves. Let's raise strong, beautiful women.