The Brave Gift We Can Give Our Daughters

Guest blog entry by Jules Feuerheerdt, founder of the Dragonfly Movement, and originally published in ElephantJournal.com.  Jules will be leading a workshop for teen girls called Stepping Into Your Power at The Well North Shore on Sunday, April 8.  Registration is now open here.

Living a messy, imperfect life can teach our daughters the beauty, courage, and strength behind owning our fears.

Sometimes, the busy-ness of life gets in the way of connecting with our teens and we feel stonewalled between the hectic pace of school, work, activities, and meal planning.

We wonder, “Why aren’t we connecting?” or “How come she is closing off to me?”

As moms, we’ve all had moments when we’d like to be a “fly on the wall” and listen in on the secret conversations of our teenage daughters to find out what is actually going on inside their heads. I’ve had that lucky experience as a facilitator leading Dragonfly Girls workshops with teen girls. Through our program, they open up, confide in me, and share valuable insights into what stresses them out. The pressure to be perfect is always the common theme.

If media were to dictate how we viewed our world, it would seem like we live a reality full of exceedingly high expectations—airbrushed reality backlit by a sheen of unattainable perfection. And “media” doesn’t just refer to the mass media created around us—it includes the reality we choose to emulate and portray online in an attempt to gain followers and likes. But what does perfection really mean anyway?

Perfect-looking lives on social media. Picket fences. Busy social lives. Perfect children. A perfect partner. The appearance of having everything falling into our laps with ease. Not having to push through any discomfort in life.

Social media creates the illusion of perfection. But it doesn’t exist. Trust me, I know of plenty of moms who spend a lot of time on appearances and creating a “look at my perfect life” façade. They can play the role, but often, they are crumbling behind closed doors, self-medicating, or feeling deeply unfulfilled.

As Glennon Doyle so beautifully shared at a recent event I attended in Chicago:

“In life there are mountains and valleys. Everybody wants to be on the mountaintop and when they find themselves in the valleys they have this urge to get out fast and get back to the top. But up on the mountain the air is so thin, you can hardly breathe—and all you can do is stand still and try not to fall. But in the valley, that’s where the river runs. That’s where we can sit and reflect and choose a path. That’s where all the power is.”

I share this with the girls in my programs and they all release a knowing exhale because it just makes so much damn sense!

So why is it we rarely ever have the honesty or courage to show our imperfections to the world or to our daughters?

I wonder how reality would change for our families and relationships if we were brave enough to own our imperfect lives, to show off the cracks and crevices that indicate a life full of living. Imperfection helps us develop the intricate toolbox of wisdom, strength, and resilience that becomes the foundation housing our souls and protecting our boundaries.

If we choose to look for the gifts in the hard times, we would see that adversity is our friend who is guiding us through certain hardships to help us reflect, evolve, and arrive upon new plateaus.

Confronting anxiety and stress helps us learn more about ourselves and builds coping strategies. Conflict refines our communication skills and builds meaningful relationships—with others and ourselves. Rejection helps us grow thicker skin and builds resistance (and resilience). And betrayal builds stronger boundaries and helps us to find our voices as we speak our minds loud and clear.

We learn the most when the sh*t hits the fan, not when we are floating around in “perfectville.”

It can be hard to see when you are walking through that tunnel of pain, but what if we stopped running away from the pain, or numbing it out, and just sat with it? What if we acknowledge it, shared it, and became okay with it?

Instead of feeling shame like something was wrong with us, imagine if we bathed ourselves with compassion and accepted our feelings. We could sit with it instead of rejecting it. And perhaps we would begin to see that when we can come out the other side and look for the lessons, we recognize the strength, power, and kindness that we gained. And we can begin to change our perspective and reflect on the hard times with gratitude.

Perhaps the most important lesson of all is the one our daughters learn from witnessing our reaction to adversity. They learn when we’re paying the least attention. They take cues through subtle glances, by watching us work through difficult times.

She won’t learn from words or the pressure to be perfect. She will learn the most from you as you role-model life for her. From observing you when you don’t know she is watching. How you communicate, how you navigate the valleys, your energy, your gratitude, your defeat. You are her biggest influence and by being transparent in your own vulnerabilities, you will help her cope when life throws her off center—as it will countless times throughout life.

My goal is to help young girls learn to embrace the beautiful, messy parts of life, to be open and vulnerable, and to share that imperfection with their friends. I want them to see the gifts in dealing with the messy and the hard.

We are drawn to people who share their vulnerability—they are approachable, they make us feel more at ease about our own insecurities, and they give us the courage to face our own demons. And sharing our truth creates beautiful connections, real friendships, and deep support. And on the teenage battlefield that our girls are navigating every single day, this is what they need the most.

Even though she may be pulling away from you and sharing less as she embraces her own independence, our hope as mothers is that she’s sharing with her trusted tribe of sisters—just like you. Because internalizing our struggles in isolation or feeling the pressure to present an outward appearance of perfection can lead to lonely, dark places.

Let’s not pretend we are perfect and hide behind a mask that makes us feel safe. Let’s show our daughters that we are simply human. That like her, we are navigating our way through life’s mountains and valleys, continuously evolving, and learning lessons. That like her, we all have moments of self-doubt, fear, and challenge that we face with courage because we trust that light always follows the dark.

Craig Dooley