I was in my mid-twenties, young and energetic. My life was filled with travel, excitement and opportunity. I even drove a cool convertible. I had few worries, tons of expectations, and an admittedly easy outlook on life. My colleague was in her mid-forties. She had a dour countenance and was hardened by life’s disappointments. We were friendly but we were not friends. We exchanged the expected office niceties but it never amounted to anything too in depth.
One day as I passed by her desk I smiled at her and said hello and she stopped me. She gently touched my arm, looked me in the eye and said, “I wish you had known me before.” Her words confused me at first, but as I studied her eyes I completely understood what she meant.
She wished I had known her before. Before her childhood dreams were crushed by the harsh realities of a life full of disappointment. She wished I had known her before when she was young, happy, and expectant. As she looked at me she could see herself, before.
Now I am in my mid-forties and life has thrown a lot of harsh reality my way. As my 20-something self stood staring into the darkened eyes of my colleague, I shamefully admit I had more disdain than sympathy for her disposition. The girl I was back then could not begin to imagine the tsunami of emotion I would experience in my lifetime facing personal loss, pain, and disappointment. By the time I was 45 years old I had buried both of my parents and fought a nasty battle with stage III breast cancer, and those are just the highlights. Life sucker-punched me just as it had sucker-punched her.
How do your present circumstances differ from the expectations of your childhood? Perhaps you dreamt of being a wife, a mother, having a beautiful home and healthy relationships. Perhaps you dreamt of having a successful career or philanthropic opportunities to contribute to your community. Perhaps you dreamt of travel, education, adventure, or creating something bigger than yourself. But instead of your dreams you got divorce, miscarriage, bankruptcy, rejection, loss, illness, heartbreak, adversity, and disappointment. You got sucker-punched by life.
Perhaps if our life expectations had been better managed from a younger age, the disappointment could have been abated. Perhaps.
As smart, experienced women we have a responsibility to speak truth to our daughters, to the next generation of women. We must prepare them to face everything life has in store for them. Not to crush their spirit or rob them of their innocence. But to build in them a strong core of faith and trust in themselves and the God who created them. Instead of the constant unicorns and sunshine, there must come an appropriate time when we grab our precious daughters by the hands, look them deep in the eye, and say, “brace yourself, baby, life is going to be tough.”
But we don’t dare leave them in despair, instead we must teach them how to be tougher than their circumstances.
I encourage every woman out there who has influence over the life of a young woman to help them prepare for life’s realities. Let them know that while life may have a happy ending, the journey will be filled with struggles. Let’s teach our girls:
- Get an education
- Take care of your body
- Spend wisely
- Give and receive love and respect
- Build savings
- Avoid debt
- Build and sustain healthy relationships
- Take time for yourself
Teach your daughter how to manage stress and disappointment without ever using the words stress and disappointment.
- Go on a daily walk or bike ride with her
- Buy less junk food, and more fruit and vegetables
- Cultivate her hobbies
- Spend one on one time with her, listen more than you talk
- Make sure she keeps her body well rested
- Be her best example: don’t constantly be in a rush, never criticize your body, never put yourself or others down
- Model for her how to confidently adapt and adjust when plans don’t go your way
- If you are happy, she will be happy. If you are stressed, she will be stressed
Ladies, the highs and lows of motherhood, career, and life are dizzying and the demands on our time are unrelenting. Our minds never stop thinking, working, planning. Life is tough, stressful, and at times unexpected but it is also joyful, exciting, and meaningful. We must show our daughters our strength and in doing so they will begin to build their own strength.
We could sit and talk for hours about the mistakes we’ve made, about the negativity that beats us down daily, about the lack of appreciation we receive, and the bitter taste of disappointment. But ladies, the simple truth is this — we are a gorgeous tapestry of triumph and tragedy, strength and mercy, energy and exhaustion. We must celebrate our womanhood and pour strength and courage into the next generation of women. Even when you don’t feel amazing, believe that you are.
We must keep each other encouraged and healthy and motivated, and we must teach our daughters their worth, their strength, and their hope. Because if the hand that rocks the cradle is broken, who is going to rule the world?
Ronda M. Walker is the Vice Chairman of the Montgomery County Commission, a wife, and a mother of four.