The most satisfying—and terrifying—part of my life is raising my two daughters. There are so many lessons that we have the opportunity as parents to instill in our children, but we only get one shot at it (that’s the terrifying part). Since “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree” (or so they say), I try to lead my life in a way that my girls, ages 9 and 13, will be proud to emulate. And because I want my daughters to grow up to be strong, confident and happy women, I do my best to demonstrate those characteristics, too. But raising daughters to become good leaders—at school, at work or wherever else their lives lead them—means giving them space to lead now.
Here are five lessons I try to ingrain in my daughters to help them be leaders in their generation:
- TO FIND THEIR OWN STRENGTHS AND INTERESTS
I allow a lot of freedom for my daughters to make many of their own decisions, like what sports they will try, what we talk about at the dinner table, what we’ll eat for dinner and what we plan for the weekends. Not every decision is up for debate (I am still the parent, and my decisions stand on some topics), but there’s plenty of opportunity for my daughters to make choices of their own. I encourage them to share their ideas and thoughts with confidence—and also to listen to and respect each other’s ideas, even when those ideas are different from their own. This give-and-take action is a strength builder.
- To be empathetic
There are many people that come in and out of my children’s lives (teachers, friends, neighbors and even the people standing in line with us at the grocery store). I tell my daughters to be aware that everyone is raised differently and has had different experiences. Assuming that we know all about a person just by looking at them is not only unfair and inappropriate, but might also lead us to make judgments that aren’t even remotely true. Creating a habit of respect for all people and treating everyone (and endeavoring to get to know them) as an individual allows a deeper understanding of one another. And this kind of understanding makes for powerful—and thoughtful—leaders.
- To find balance between work and play
Creating a solid work ethic is very important if we want our children to be leaders. I encourage my daughters to set goals and work with focus and determination until their task is finished—even when it gets tough. The goal can be big or small. It can be as simple as homework or vacuuming or helping to make dinner. But making time to have fun is important, too. Whether it’s celebrating an achieved goal (or even progress on the goal) or taking a break just to blow off steam or relax, creating balance between hard work and play is a skill that will come in handy later in life. (Some of us grownups are still working on this one.)
- To watch their words
It’s important that my daughters know the power of their words. With just a few words, we can empower or belittle, and the impact of either can last years. The way we speak to one another speaks volumes of our character, and the greatest opportunity to learn this lesson, for my girls, has been with each other. “Speak the way you want to be spoken to” is our mantra at home. And it’s a skill I hope they’ll carry with them wherever they go.
- To be passionate about learning
Discovering the love of learning is the ultimate path to success. With my daughters, I encourage reading regularly, visiting new places, being open to trying new things and discussing a variety of subjects. A strong leader always seeks to learn, grow and share. Being curious and asking questions are great, too. No one can know everything, but we can all keep learning. (This is true for adults, too. Don’t miss out on the opportunity to learn from your children.)
Patricia Smith is a mother, health and lifestyle coach, author and owner of Tranquility In Balance Center for Wellness in Yarmouth.