We see examples of strong, extraordinary women everywhere, from television to politicians who push for impactful policy changes. But often, the most inspiring women are the ones in our lives: our mothers, our sisters and our daughters.
Today’s girls are breaking down gender barriers and redefining what it means to do something “like a girl.” They’re leading the movement against gun violence, marching for fundamental human rights, promoting equality, holding authority figures accountable for their actions and proudly embracing feminism. While we applaud these kids’ efforts, we also can’t forget the thousands of women who helped foster their passions.
Across the country, moms from all backgrounds are making a difference by raising strong daughters, teaching them the value of independence, empathy, compassion, and confidence. Below, 12 of these women explained how to raise feminist daughters, starting with health, wellness and fitness expert and UNHCR advocate Jillian Michaels and founder and CEO of LIVELY, Michelle Cordeiro Grant.
“I lead by example first and foremost. I show my daughter that while she and her brother are my priorities, I still make time for myself, my health, and my passions. I believe it shows young girls they don’t need to be martyrs to have value and that self-respect starts with self-care. Plus, when we are feeling healthy and strong physically that confidence transcends into all facets of our lives.
“I also believe that to whom much is given, much is required. My family and I were born luckier than most, and I show my daughter the power and importance of giving back. It’s well-known and scientifically proven that sharing your blessings (be they time, money, skills, etc.) can build one’s sense of worth, meaning, and power. My work with UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, has done this for me, and I’ve encouraged my daughter to find a cause she is equally passionate about. She loves to buy socks and blankets for the homeless out of her allowance or volunteer to walk shelter dogs.” — Jillian M. from Los Angeles, California.
“My daughter, Lydia, is 5 years old, and when possible (and appropriate), I try to incorporate her into events where I am participating so she can understand more of what I do and ask questions. I am so fortunate to have an amazing network of boss babes around me, and I think one of the best ways to teach her about female empowerment is to show and expose her to other amazing women. For example, next week, LIVELY is hosting a panel at our experience store in SoHo, where we’re speaking about self-love and growth, and I’m excited to have her join me.” — Michelle Cordeiro G. from New York, New York.
“I model female empowerment for my daughter. I think it’s easy to talk about things in theory with ‘Women can do that too’ and ‘You don’t have to do X just because you have two X chromosomes.’ But what really sticks is them seeing you walk the walk. In our home, we try to let go of gender roles. My husband helps with the dishes, changes diapers, and does a little of everything that I do as a mom. I let my son play with baby dolls, and I teach him to rock them gently and hug them (because I feel it helps kids develop skills of empathy), and my daughter sees that. She sees me go to my clinical hours every day, and I already see her modeling me by doing check-ups on her baby dolls and toys. I try the best I can to be a good example of a strong female for her.
“I also try to insert female empowerment into her life subtly with shows like Doc McStuffins (I want her to see that women don’t have to choose between career and family and can be anything they want to be). I bought her a cartoon book showing famous women in history and read it to both of my kids.” — Tiffany M. from Turlock, California.
“I’m a Black, millennial mom to a bi-racial 14-year-old daughter who also happens to be battling Myasthenia Gravis, an extremely rare autoimmune disease that causes the body to attack itself. I’m teaching her to be strong in the face of adversity, to let her perceived weaknesses drive her through fear and to her goals. She’s had to miss a lot of school, far more than her classmates, but that hasn’t stopped her from continuing to have all As in her gifted and talented classes by using the items at her disposal. She has a goal of attending Harvard to become a Pediatric Dentist, and she’s not letting anyone stop her.
“I support her in all ways that I can. When her eyes are too tired and blurred to see, I read her schoolwork to her. When she can’t sleep, I stay up with her because I don’t want her ever to feel like she’s alone. I can’t fight her fights for her, but I can fight them with her.
“Hopefully, I’m influencing her to follow her dreams and don’t follow the norm because it’s what other people think should be done. She sees me dedicating countless hours to my blog and, hopefully, this inspires her to believe in herself.
“I invest in her. When she was in middle school, she wanted to have a candy store, so I funded her venture, and she had a little neighborhood store (housed in our pantry) where she sold candies and other goodies to other kids in the neighborhood. Now, she’s very into art (and is a phenomenal artist) and wants to start selling her African-American inspired pieces. We need more hardworking female entrepreneurs, and I continue to invest in her ventures.
“Lastly, I appreciate her. I leave her little notes of love encouragement in her lunchbox. I send her texts before her Girls on the Run practice rooting her on. I show up for her because she always shows up for me.” — Roketa D. from Charlotte, South Carolina.
“As a woman in a traditionally male career field in the military (I wore steel-toed boots and leather work gloves), I set a personal example and made sure that my daughters, particularly when they were younger, understood that women can succeed in any career they want.
“As a parent, educator and blogger, I taught my daughters to know their own importance, competence, and beauty and not to allow social media and others to determine their self-worth. I have always told my daughters that they are worth more, and used situations that arose in their lives to illustrate that they are worth being treated well, worth the opportunity to succeed, and worth treating themselves as valuable. I want them to know in their core that they have the value and strength to not settle for less, but know that they are worth the very best in life and relationships.” — Susan S. from Northern Virginia.
“As a Caribbean-American mom of a two-year-old daughter, it’s so important to me to empower her to be confident and brave. I do this by sharing examples of strong women and reading to her.
“This desire even led me to create an illustrated children’s book called Brave Little Firsts: The Remarkable Firsts of Women from Around the World, which shares the historic firsts of women from around the world. By sharing real-life examples of women who were both brave and confident, I am empowering my daughter to believe in herself and to know she can also achieve anything she sets her mind to!” — Tiffany T. from Boca Raton, Florida.
“I believe our daughters should be confident and empowered, and I’m teaching my daughters this by, first, modeling it for them. I’m showing them that women can go after their big and scary dreams. I’m teaching them that female empowerment isn’t about fitting in the glass slipper, but breaking glass ceilings. I’m also teaching them to love and care for their bodies by moving, dancing, and exercising and enjoying foods that make them strong while never shaming them for a cookie. I believe our daughters should love themselves as they are. Be confident in their own skin instead of feeling the need to live up to ‘society’s standards’ of what a girl or woman should be.” — Laura N. from Evansville, Indiana.
“I am the mother of a beautiful six-year-old girl, Mariah. Beginning at age four, I started noticing her ask questions that were a bit concerning. Mariah and I are African-American, and she is one of the very few of her skin color at her school. As a woman, I have had moments of insecurity and lost confidence growing up, so I do whatever I can to instill confidence in my daughter at a young age so she will grow to be a strong, confident woman. As a morning tradition on our way to school, I blast Beyoncé’s ‘Run the World (Girls).’ When I turn on the song, it represents a special moment between her and me — a moment of confidence. ‘We run the world,’ I tell her. ‘You can do anything you want. Don’t let the ignorance of others affect how beautiful of a person you are.’
“Mariah also wants to be a doctor when she grows us, so I’ve already told her she’s a doctor-in-training. I bought her scrubs and a lab coat that she wears around the house.
“I’m a mother to a six-year-old beautiful girl named Mariah, and she runs the world.” — Kristina B. from San Diego, California.
“The biggest thing I focus on is to work on my personal growth and aim to be a living example of all the qualities I hope she develops. I work on the way I talk to myself, the way I manage my emotions, and the way I communicate with other people. I catch myself judging myself, comparing myself to others, and all the things that disempower women, and I’m inspired by the fierceness I have to make sure these are things my daughter doesn’t learn.
“I immerse her in all kinds of experiences that teach the idea that there are no limits for her and what she could do or how to be. This includes feminist kids’ books, like the Rebel Girls and The Little Feminist series. We participate in a really fun local organization called Skate Rising that helps empower girls through skateboarding, acts of service and compassion. My daughter and all the other girls who attend are so lit up with inner power during these events, working together, collaborating and spreading kindness. I aim to offer as many of these kinds of experiences to my daughter.
“I teach my daughter how to stand up for herself and what she needs and how to assert her body boundaries of when and how she does and doesn’t want to be touched — even when that means I work on accepting that she doesn’t want to give me a hug or kiss at a certain time.
“I also help her learn the language she needs to assert her voice with her friends, teachers, family and me. I created the Inner Rainbow Project’s ABC: An Alphabet Book of Confidence, for her second birthday with a collection of all the words I want her to learn to empower her throughout her life. She’s almost four and just getting to learn the meanings of the words now, like ‘gratitude’, ‘kindness’, and ‘confidence’, and it’s exciting to witness.” — Carly M. from Encinitas, California.
“I have an amazing two-year-old daughter. I never wanted to be a mother, but life had other plans for me. I’ve never taken a role more seriously in my life. I feel it is my job to help her build her internal monologue before the world has a chance to destroy it. Every single day, I tell her that she is beautiful, intelligent, unique, and amazing. I try my best to nurture her interests and help her to understand the world around her.” — Trina F. from DeFuniak Springs, Florida.
“Female empowerment is educating the next generation of women that they can be anything they want to be — that their voice truly makes a difference. As the mother of two young girls, I allow them each day to embrace their natural curiosity, imagination and simple love of life. They inspire me, just as my mother before me, to set a good example of female leadership and surround myself to support and be supportive by fellow fearless and compassionate females.” — Liz A. from New York, New York.
“I’m teaching my 12-year-old daughter about empowerment in a few different ways. First, I’m a full-time working mom and have always been (just like my mom was when I was growing up). I compete in figure competitions (think bodybuilding meets beauty pageant), and I have my own side business as an online fitness and nutrition coach.
“By following my passions and demonstrating hard work, perseverance, and determination in all aspects of my life, I hope to instill those same attributes in my daughter (and my son!). I want her to see and know that she is capable of anything and that being a woman is not a limitation, but a strength and a blessing.” — Allison J. from Mahwah, New Jersey.
These stories have been edited for length and clarity.
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