My parents used to tell me, “It doesn’t matter what you wanna be. Even if it’s a garbage truck driver, be the best garage truck driver you can be.”
Did this mean they wanted me to be a garbage truck driver? No. But even as a young girl, I understood that they were meant for me to follow my dreams and work hard to make them real. If I did that, they would be proud of me. What I didn’t realize at the time was that my entire life, with little statements like that, they were grooming me to have the mental freedom to do anything I wanted. And those little things are what I want to share with parents of young girls.
Over the years, people have repeatedly asked me how I got to be “the way that I am”. They used words that came up were usually — confident, ambitious, strong, independent. And my answer is always the same. I don’t know exactly what it was, but I know my parents did it. However, getting that question so often and giving the same answer prompted me to take some time and really think about what they did to raise me to be a leader.
So here are 5 tips, inspired by my parents, for other parents who want to inspire their girls to have the can do attitude, limitless imagination, and bold intentions of an entrepreneur.
1. Compliment her on more than her beauty.
Gone is the time for passively telling little how cute they are. As parents, you are the first person to show your girls where their value comes. So take every opportunity to tell them that they’re valuable in more ways than one.
Those moments where my parents told me how strong I was lifting a box as big as me (even though it was empty) or how brave I was for speaking in front of an audience, laid the foundation for my self-worth. I don’t know if they knew they were doing it because I certainly didn’t realize that’s what they were doing until much later. But they would tell me how smart I was, they paid attention to my work ethic, and commend me for it. So everyday, I constantly received reinforcement of the idea that my appearance did not define who I was. And that’s what we need for every young girl.
Take the time to notice how she’s special, what she’s good at, how she’s gone above and beyond. The thoughtful compliments as girl, those will stick with her and serve as a daily reminder of her value. So much so, that she’ll become a woman who won’t need validation to know what she’s capable of.
2. Empower her to make her own decisions, even in the smallest way, and say it.
When you were 6 or 7, you weren’t knowledgeable enough to decide that you never wanted to eat broccoli or what time you had to get up for school. But there were a few areas of life where it made sense for you speak for yourself and my parents always took advantage of those moments to let me do that.
In restaurants my mom would ask, “what do you want to drink: apple juice, orange juice, milk or water?” And I’d almost always say apple juice. Then the waiter would arrive and ask my mom what I wanted to drink, she’d turn to me and say “tell him what you want to drink”. Even in the doctor’s office, we’d be waiting for the doctor to arrive and my mom would say “the doctor is going to ask you what’s wrong. What are you gonna say?”. I’d tell her and then she’d say “okay, good job. So when the doctor comes in, you can tell her”.
These little moments were my mom empowering me to realize that even though I was young and I might need help, I was allowed to talk and I should. Whether your daughter is 6 or 10 or 16 years old, there will be opportunities for you to give her the reigns and empower her to speak for herself. Take those opportunities. Encourage to use her voice, and when it’s time for her to employ it on her own, it’ll be second nature.
3. Give her room to explore, get dirty, fall and get back up.
I can’t count the number of times I’ve seen parents and caregivers obsess over a little girl falling or getting dirty but not bat an eyelash when a little boy is rolling around in the mud after he jumped off the jungle gym.
I started learning when I was five that it’s okay to fall as long as you get back up, then after 15 more years of training, you can be ready to take on the world. This one was a little bit harder for my mom, but my dad had it covered.
My memory starts with the classic “teach my daughter how to ride a bike” story. My mom could barely watch because she was thinking the worst, but my dad just looked at me and said “once, I let go just keep pedaling. You’ll be fine”. I fell, like all kids do, and he just said “alright, got the first one out of the way. Let’s try again.”
Fast forward to a new obstacle, AP European history. The material wasn’t hard, I was just inexplicably bored and I really struggled with forcing myself to buckle down and study. Well my first test grade reflected my poor dedication to the subject and the tears came when I explained why I had door poorly. My dad was way more calm than I had imagined, and all he really said that I wasn’t getting good grades for anyone else but me and that all I could do was my best. If what I gave wasn’t my best then I just had to figure out how to change it because there was no sense in “crying over spilled milk”. His trust in me was enough to help me make a change because I realized the change wasn’t for approval or praise, it was for me.
Maybe for your daughter it’s that boy she really liked or that class election she lost or that exam she failed, she needs your voice of reason. Don’t add to the fire of rumination for too long because of your desire for her success or disappointment, contribute to the solution instead. And sometimes the contribution will be punishment, but other times it’s a simple conversation or pep talk.
Now, every time things don’t swing my way, I ask myself: could I have done anything more to change the outcome? If the answer is no, I give myself a few moments, or even a day, to be sad. But that next morning, I’m moving forward because there is no rejection, just redirection. If the answer is yes, I use that day to look at where I went wrong and how to make it better next time. Taking back control and exercising my ability to effect change has pushed my persistence to new heights.
4. Empower her to have a positive relationship with money.
Every time I got money, whether it be from birthdays or Christmas, my parents always let me keep it. We would pick a place in my room or a piggy bank, and that’s where it would stay until I had something I really wanted to use it for. When I got older, the piggy banks became a bank account that I had access to. They didn’t keep my money away from me until I was “old enough”, they showed me how to use it and do so responsibly. I understood what the numbers in my bank account represented and over time, they taught me more little by little. When I started wanting things, they encouraged me to save money.
My dad always told me that you want more stuff when you can’t have it, but when you have the ability to buy it, actually buying it becomes less appealing. That stuck with me because, in my experience, it was true. He drew my attention to the temporary nature of most of the things people waste money on, and raised me be wise about my money not just for present me but also for future me.
My parents also made sure that I knew it was okay to want to make money. I knew money wasn’t everything, but I also knew it could be used to do a lot of good for others if you had yourself taken care of. Being able to afford, not just a nice life for yourself, but generosity towards others mattered to me and it still does.
It’s important to teach girls that wanting to make money does not make you a selfish person. Financial independence is a positive thing and the confidence to manage your money and get paid what you’re worth is necessary to achieve it.
5. Walk the walk.
All these tips are important to raise strong young women with an entrepreneurial spirit, but perhaps the most important thing for you to do is to emulate good behaviors. Be particularly conscious of negative self talk or self-deprecating language you use in the presence of young girls — especially if you are a woman yourself.
The young women around you are watching how you talk about yourself, how you advocate for yourself, what you settle for, and how you handle life’s curve balls. Because of that, it is more than necessary that you exhibit the behaviors you want them to have, but you’re also not perfect (none of us are). So when you’re, wrong admit it. This not only teaches girls that it’s okay to make mistakes and fall short, but also that strong women can talk about those shortcomings because that’s how we fix things moving forward.
I think the moments that my parents took to apologize to me for something they had done wrong, were some of the moments where I developed the most respect for them. It’s easy to pretend you’re perfect, but it’s hard to be honest and I’m thankful that my parents’ example taught me how.
I feel like entrepreneurship is everything that society has historically not taught girls to be: bold, disruptive, outspoken, explosive, independent, and so much more. But not anymore, changes are coming and in order for women to be prepared to take over the spaces that are in the making, they have be taught young and parents are the first teachers they have. So take on the challenge of raising a girl who can change the world with ferocity! She needs you, we need you. So let’s get to work!
PS: Do you want to learn more about the need for bigger and more creative outlets for girls to develop strong mental and practical skill sets? Here are some additional resources for those of you looking to empower the young women around you. Take control of the experience you want to give your daughter, and devote some time to understanding more about how to empower her!