I had an old-school mama who took a light-handed approach to parenting. With the exception of when my troublesome ways embarrassed the family, there were no one-on-one girly chats. The only real advice I remember her bestowing was never to wear white before Memorial Day or after Labor Day, ladies don’t smoke on the street and be nice.
Her advice to “be nice” was actually less a suggestion and more a personal mantra, as she said it with a Holy Roller’s fervor and it became her signature bark, as in: “Yes, you can go to the party. But, be nice!”
I ultimately folded to the pressure by becoming a full-fledged doormat. A professional victim by high school, I spent my adult years collecting abusive bosses, colleagues, and boyfriends the way some people rare art. I eventually lost count of the sociopath employers and beaus who within days of declaring “I’m so lucky to have you in my life” I later caught cheating or dumped me for a better deal, but just not someone as nice.
It is only now that I have a tween of my own, I realize that my mother’s advice, while well-intended, was a disservice. It didn’t give me the armor I needed to deal with some of the difficult situations and people I’ve encountered as an adult. A lot of anxiety and tears could have been avoided if I had instead been told:
- Trust your instincts. You know more than you think.
- Honor your feelings and have strong boundaries. If someone does something offensive, rude or demeaning, you have every right to say something.
- Stand tall and with your shoulders back. How you carry yourself speaks volumes.
- Always look people in the eye when you talk to them. It conveys confidence.
- It’s okay to make mistakes. It’s from our wrong doings that we learn and grow.
- Don’t be afraid to say no. The more you say it, the more empowered you become.
- Choose your friends and lovers wisely. Toxic people will pull you down.
- Whatever you dare to dream, you can achieve. Never let anyone tell you others wise.
- Make learning a lifelong pursuit. Never stop being curious and asking questions.
- Sometimes you need to tell people to “f— off” or “go to hell.” And you’ll feel damn good you did.
As for my life, I feel I’ve just begun. My goal now is not just to shake the “nice girl” trap, but to break the cycle and empower my daughter to live life on her terms.