In her new column, Cathy Madavan shares ways in which we can encourage the young women in our lives to embrace who they are
It’s a new year, and I am delighted to be writing a new regular column. So, why is it called ‘Mothers of daughters?’ Well, it seems to be a daily occurrence, either in the news or our own lived experience, that females of all ages are faced with a myriad of challenges, be that inequality, unrealistic expectations, health, harassment, self-esteem or simply juggling all the demands on our time. So, how do we raise girls in this manic and messy world? What messages are we constantly sending younger women? And what, if anything, can a mother do to protect or direct the young females in her care?
Clearly, I am not going to share every pearl of wisdom on every issue (I lack the sufficient pearls), and I am far from a perfect parent – as my daughters will testify! And while I am very aware that not every reader of Woman Alive is a mother, I strongly suspect that readers of this magazine care deeply for the rising generation of girls and young women, and for their friends who are mothers too. We have also all been daughters, with wonderful or complex relationships with our own mothers – we know it is such a significant relationship.
Secure in who they are
My two daughters are in their 20s now and, although they may not live with us anymore (and empty nesting feels like one of those losses nobody acknowledges or talks about), one of my key roles as a mother continues to be what it always has been – to help them discover more of their innate potential and to embrace and celebrate their unique qualities, be that in their work (I’m helping to write a CV today) or in their relationships (I’m on the phone most days!).
I became a mother in my early 20s, and at that point I probably wasn’t that secure in my own identity or confident about my own strengths, so how would I ever help my children to be confident about theirs? I certainly felt overwhelmed and under qualified at times, and I sometimes still do. But despite my fretting over how to sterilises bottles, which school was best or what prom dress we could afford, I knew my most important priority was (and still is) to care and pray for my daughters, letting them know their value by anchoring them in unconditional love.
This sense of security matters so much, particularly as we now inhabit a digital world where comparison is rife and where society’s benchmarks for being a woman are apparently modelled by impossibly successful, beautiful, popular, bikini-clad wellbeing gurus, celebrities or influencers living lives almost nobody can afford. This means that we (and the young women in our care) need to be grounded in our own value, and able to embrace and celebrate who we are and what we can do – rather than focusing on who we are not and what we can’t do. I want my girls to know they are uniquely equipped and capable of making a difference in the world around them, and that a fulfilling life is found in being authentically themselves.
Finding their lanes
In fact, our daughters revealed their unique personalities and strengths from an early age. Our older daughter asked the question: “Why?” almost every time she breathed when she was small. Slightly exhausting! She wanted to understand everything, and in hindsight clearly had a scientific brain. Over many a dinner I tried not to zone out as my science- and maths-loving husband discussed with our twelve-year-old how compound interest works or how the hexadecimal numeral system is fascinating compared to a binary system. I still do not have a Scooby Doo what any of this means.
Our younger daughter, while also good at maths, clearly had other innate talents. I would go to her room at bedtime to discover her perfectly matching outfit for the next day already laid out on the floor. Her room was liberally decorated with photos, and from an early age she memorised the logos of every car brand on the road. This girl thinks visually and can organise those thoughts into systems and pictures in wonderful ways.
I want my girls to know…that a fulfilling life is found in being authentically themselves
You won’t be surprised, therefore, that our older daughter ended up studying physics and now works in technology and data and continues to bamboozle me around the dinner table when we see her. Our younger daughter studied graphic design and can easily whip up a website or create a media and comms plan for work, as well as still wearing fabulously colourful and carefully coordinated outfits! To be clear, I’d be just as proud if they were teachers, florists, plumbers, doctors, care workers or journalists. The point is, it is wonderful to see them finding their lane and playing to their distinctive strengths.
In a world full of stereotypes, peer pressure and inequality to overcome, the greatest gifts we can give any child are unconditional love, acceptance and the confidence to be who they are. As it says in Ephesians 2:10, we are all “God’s handiwork”, or masterpieces, who have been created “to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do”. What a privilege it is then, as a mother, to help my daughters discover what wonderful masterpieces they are, cheering them on all the way, so that they can stand firm and shine bright with the assurance that they are who they are for a purpose.