By Lisa Witherspoon, author of the blog The Golden Spoons
I recently finished reading a book written by Alexandra Stoddard called Things I Want My Daughters To Know. I originally picked up the book because, having three daughters, I feel a huge responsibility to teach them everything they need to know to become successful women since I am their primary female role model. I will take any advice or help I can get! In the book, Stoddard lists about 55 “life lessons” she hopes to have imparted to her two daughters. Some of the pearls I agreed with; some I did not. However, it got my “wheels turning” as I thought about all the lessons I want to teach my own daughters. So – you guessed it – I came up with a list. (Not to worry – there are nowhere near 55 items on my list.) Here are the top 20 things I hope my daughters will learn from me as they grow and mature into beautiful women, professionals, wives, and mothers.
1) Appreciate your history. Unlike the good ol’ portrayal of the stork with a baby in a sack, you were not just randomly dropped on this earth. You came from somewhere; you came from someone. Be proud of that and cherish it. Professional acquaintances come and go. Friends come and go. Family is constant. That doesn’t mean there won’t be disagreements or differences, but family is family – you are tied to them forever. Appreciate them. Love them. Stay connected to them. Always. When everyone else disappears, they will still be there.
2) Be a Lady. This one is about how you present yourself to others. (And it is not just a Southern thing – at least it shouldn’t be!) You never know who is taking notice of you. Therefore, always present yourself in a way that is appropriate. There is no need to wear super tight and/or very revealing clothes or a lot of artificial make-up. Don’t take part in gossip or ridiculing others. You shouldn’t compromise who you are in an effort to “fit in.” Don’t do something you know is wrong just because “everyone else does it.” All of this sends the message that you do not respect yourself. If you do not respect yourself, neither will anyone else!
3) Be Confident in Yourself. This is one with which I struggle to be a good role model. I worry about my weight, my clothes, my housekeeping and my cooking skills. I often lose sight of what it says in Psalm 139:13-16 – “. . You knit me together in my mother’s womb. . . I am fearfully and wonderfully made. . ” As the old saying goes, “God don’t make no junk!!” I was made by God; you were made by God. Therefore, we are perfect. Your curly hair, your freckles, your crazy energy, your wittiness, your laugh – everything about you is wonderful and perfect. Never doubt the beauty God has created in you!
4) Do What Makes You Happy. If you want to play sports, play sports. If you want to play music, play music. If you want to be a doctor, study hard and be a doctor. If you want to be a teacher, give it your all and be a great teacher. Do what makes YOU happy – not what all your friends are doing; not what will earn you the biggest salary. Friends and money are worthless if you are miserable. Do what makes YOU happy; what brings you joy. You will receive rewards much greater than money or fame.
5) Be Financially Responsible. Money is never constant. Sometimes you will have more; sometimes you will have less. Often, it takes a long time to recover from mistakes you make with your money. As they say, money is a necessary evil – you must have some of it to survive in this world. While money does not buy happiness, mismanagement of your finances can lead to stress and strife. Learn to create a budget and stick to it – regardless of how much money you have (or don’t have). Learn the difference between what you want and what you need. You will save yourself lots of turmoil and worry if you learn how to be responsible with your finances.
6) Keep Order in Your Life. As you probably know, I am a little fanatic when it comes to organization. There is a reason for that. I have learned that keeping order in my life makes things easier in the long run. It is easier to run out the door in a hurry if you know where to find your shoes and your purse. It is easier to pack for an unexpected trip if most of your laundry is clean. It is easier to entertain unexpected guests if you have a clean house and a stocked pantry. It is easier to get children to bed if you follow a predictable schedule. Keeping order to begin with will keep you from stressing and scrambling later.
7) Laugh. This is something your father has taught me a lot about. When you laugh, you can’t help but feel good. Some of my best memories of your childhoods, so far, are of times when we laughed together or times when you made me laugh until I cried. Laughter will help you get through the tough times, too. Bill Cosby said, “You can turn painful situations around through laughter. If you can find humor in anything then you can survive it.” Keep laughter in your life – it is good for your soul!
8) Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself. As women, we are often expected to take care of others. That is impossible if you don’t first take care of yourself. Once in a while, buy yourself something new even if you don’t really need it; get a manicure; take a nap. Never feel guilty for taking a moment to “recharge your own batteries.”
9) Follow Through. Finish what you start and keep your commitments. What’s the point of reading a book if you skip the last chapter?? Finish the book. Finish the project. You may discover it’s an activity that you do not want to do again, but finish anyway. When you tell people you will do something, you must follow through and keep your commitment – someone is counting on you; don’t let them down. If you do, they will learn that you cannot be trusted. Only under extreme or emergency circumstances is it ever acceptable to break your promises.
10) Do Not Wish Your Life Away. While you are a child, enjoy the lack of responsibilities; enjoy the carefree nature of things. Don’t spend it wishing to grow up faster. When you are young and single, travel; enjoy spending time with friends; enjoy being independent and free. There is no need to spend your time fretting about when you will meet “Mr. Right” or when your life will become bigger and better. It will happen – be patient. Take time to enjoy being a wife – just a wife. Your time as a mother will come. When you are a mother, enjoy your children. Don’t wish for them to grow up faster – it will happen soon enough. Each stage of your life is a unique gift. Be wise enough to recognize the beauty of each stage and enjoy it while you can – it will not last.
11) Be Strong. Be brave. As much as I would like to, I cannot shelter you from bad things in life. You will experience failure. You will experience loss and sorrow. You will experience disappointment. When you do, it is o.k. to cry. It is necessary to grieve. However, you cannot let the bad times define you. Be strong and be brave. Face the obstacles head-on. Learn from the tough times and find a way to move forward. When you come out on the other side, you will be proud of yourself and you will appreciate the beauty of the good times even more.
12) Know your limitations. Superman is a mythical character. No man (or woman) can do everything. You have God-given talents. You also have God-given limitations. This is why one of my favorite prayers is the Serenity Prayer. It says “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.” If you are not artistically inclined, you can change that by learning new skills, but do not expect to paint a masterpiece right out of the gates. If you are only 5’3″, do not expect to be the star center on the girl’s basketball team. You cannot change your height. You should most definitely expect greatness from yourself and set high goals, but sometimes you must be realistic and adjust your goals to fit your skills, talents, and physical abilities. Everyone has a certain amount of time and energy as well. Do not commit to so many things that you end up running out of time or energy before you are able to complete the tasks. Also remember that there is no shame in asking for help. It is not a sign of weakness. On the contrary, it shows that you are self-aware and realistic.
13) Learn to Cook. It doesn’t have to be gourmet and it is not necessary to do it every day, but being able to prepare a meal for yourself, your guests, your family, or a friend experiencing hard times will give you a sense of accomplishment and pride. By preparing meals yourself, you can be more healthy and more frugal. You can experiment with tastes and textures. You can adjust recipes to your own personal liking (or the liking of those you are serving). Food is everywhere in our lives. Learn to enjoy the creative opportunities it offers.
14) Proofread! There are few things I can think of more frustrating that turning in a paper, sending an email, or posting a blog only to realize later that you made very basic mistakes. It is also quite annoying to receive a letter or an email and see that the person who sent it didn’t take the time or put forth the effort to write it properly. It shows laziness and apathy. Proofreading is simple and doesn’t take much time, so do it. Then, do it again. The more important the document you are writing, the more times you should proofread it or have someone else proofread it.
15) Learn Proper Grammar. Learn when to use I or me; when to use he/she vs. him/her; the difference between there, their, and they’re; the difference between your and you’re; the difference between it’s and its. Don’t end sentences with a preposition (i.e. Where is he at? = nails on chalkboard). Don’t start sentences with conjunctions like but or and (these words are meant to join things, not begin things). The rules of grammar are not terribly complicated and will eventually become natural if you practice them regularly. Using proper grammar (and spelling) is an indication that you have paid attention to details. It shows that you are intelligent and educated. (If you are ever unsure ask Memaw!!)
16) Present Solutions, Not Just Problems. There is nothing wrong with speaking up when there are problems that need to be addressed whether it is in your job, in your home, or in your relationships. However, do not just complain and whine. State what you see as a problem and then present a solution. Your solution may not be utilized in the end, but being able to present one shows that you have carefully considered the situation. It proves to others that you are not just complaining, but that you are trying to help solve the problem. Your “complaints” will get more attention and respect if you can be helpful in reaching a resolution.
17) Surround yourself with good people. You cannot choose your family, but if they bring you joy and peace, embrace them. Turn to them in times of need or anxiety – big or small – and they will give you the insight and comfort that you need. You can choose your friends, so choose wisely. Surround yourself with positive, supportive, intelligent, morally ethical people with whom you share a mutual respect. Choose friends who see your beauty (inside and out) and who make you a better, happier person by bringing you joy, laughter, insight, and peace. (Remember, too, that your eventual husband should be your absolute best friend. If he is not a good friend he will not be a good husband. He should bring you joy and peace as well as romance and love!)
18) Stand up for your beliefs. If you are liberal, be liberal. If you are conservative, be conservative. Once you have chosen a stance, stick with it. Don’t be wishy washy and change your opinion to please someone else or to avoid confrontation. That shows others that your are weak and easily influenced. No matter which side you take on any issue, be educated and be able to intelligently defend your position. Don’t be afraid to speak out – in an intelligent, ethical manner – to defend your cause. If you are educated about the topic and can express your thoughts clearly, people will respect your opinion even if they disagree.
19) Use Common Sense. As the old saying goes, “common sense is not that common.” It is a simple rule, but one that many people fail to follow. If something seems like a bad idea, you probably shouldn’t do it. Common sense. If certain people or activities make you unhappy, stay away from them. Common sense. When trying to solve a problem, don’t make it more difficult than it needs to be. Common sense. You are all wonderfully smart, intelligent girls, but intelligence cannot be substitued for common sense!
20) Have Faith. Faith in God. Faith in yourself. Faith in people. Faith in humankind. Bad things happen. During your life, you will experience sadness and anger and fear and loneliness. If I could protect you from it all, I would do so without hesitation. But, I can’t. When you face adversity, remember that there is always good in people and there is so much good in the world. Find it. Hold onto it. Have faith that, eventually, the good will always overcome.
As I read back over these, it is painfully evident that I am not perfect. Although I try, I don’t do all these things all the time. However, I think I do them more often than not. Some of these pearls I have learned the hard way. Some I am thankful to have learned from my parents. Some I have learned form others or just from experience. I know there are things you will eventually add to your own list of “Life’s Rules,” but I hope this gives you a good start and a solid foundation. Above all else, remember that you are loved more than you will ever know – by me, by your Daddy, by your family, and by God. I pray that love will give you the strength and courage to be the best person you can be – always.