When I had my daughter, I was as a point in my life where I believed that ‘tough’ was way safer than ‘soft’. I was a sensitive little flower in my childhood years, but then y’know, life happened and several situations I found myself in over the years demanded that I lose the cute and develop a thick skin. I guess I became hard, which is the total opposite of how I imagined myself being in my adult life.

Last week I read this post, and it got me thinking about how hard it is strike a balance between strength and femininity…. something I should now be modelling to my daughter. Uh-huh.

By the time Tabitha was born, I was convinced that the best way to raise her was the total opposite of most young girls. I didn’t go in for frills, bows or dresses and I didn’t encourage Disney princess movies. It wasn’t just because I didn’t want to assume she was a stereotypical girl, but also because for a long time I hadn’t really indulged the ultra-feminine side of myself either.

I wanted her to be respected and I thought that might not happen if she was obsessed with pink and glitter. I wanted her to believe that she could accomplish anything and I thought that people would take her a lot less seriously if she grew up wanting to be a fairy princess.

Obviously, as is often the case with raising free-thinking human beings, these things don’t always go as planned. Sure, my daughter loves skateboarding, rock climbing and getting muddy, but Tabby is actually one of the glitteriest, frilliest girls around. Everything is rainbow coloured or has Hello Kitty on it. Or ballerinas. Or sparkles… did I mention sparkles already? I didn’t encourage tutus and tiaras… they just happened.

At first when she started telling everyone that her favourite colour was pink, I was thrown off. “I have no idea how this happened!” I would sputter. “I’m, like, the opposite of girly!”

But I’m not the opposite at all – I am ‘girly’. I’ve recognized over time how much Tabitha loves to dress-up and play mother to her dolls, and I see that a soft side is an essential quality in me as a mother. Hardness doesn’t portray me as a strong woman in my daughter’s life; it portrays masculinity, and it’s very hard to be tender with her when in my head I’m thinking that the only way to get along in life is to ‘toughen up’. Seeing Tabitha blossom into a little lady has helped me to reclaim my femininity, and she has shown me how wonderful it is to soften again. She has shown me that it’s fun to be feminine. Whenever she sees me putting on a dress now, she gets so excited and says how much she loves it. She loves seeing me demonstrate my girliness because she can relate to it. My daughter needs a role-model, and I would rather that was me than another character she chooses because she didn’t find qualities in me that she wanted to emulate.

If my daughter wants to be a kick-ass glitter superhero, then I have to trust that she will have the strength to laugh in the face of those who doubt her based upon her color preference. There’s nothing to say this will last, but if it does, then I will do my utmost to ensure that she doesn’t underestimate herself based on her feminine attributes (or the fact that she rarely walks, and usually twirls or prances).

I still hold the belief that many gender stereotypes are outdated and that we shouldn’t be limiting little boys to robots and trucks, and little girls to fairies and toy kitchens but the attempt to raise my children without gender-limiting stereotypes has been a challenge. In today’s, world it’s hard to shield children from them altogether. Tabby might have fallen hook, line and sinker for the pink frilly marketing techniques that are everywhere, but that doesn’t mean she isn’t smart and strong and funny. She isn’t ‘just a girl’ because she happens to believe in fairies. These things aren’t weaknesses – they spark her interest and her creativity, and it would be truly awesome if one day she surprises the hell out of someone who underestimates her because she rocks a lot of polka dots.

I hope I am doing my best to encourage my children to be game-changers and to know that you don’t have to fit into any stereotypes. I hope I can show them that they don’t have to fit the mold if they don’t want to, because ultimately my children are watching my behavior everyday. If I don’t judge women based upon the way they dress or their ultra-feminine attributes, then hopefully my daughter will avoid that too.

For now we’ll just carry on nail painting, hair braiding and watching Tangled until further notice.

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