I remember the first time my mum said to me 'you didn't come with a manual, I'm only doing the best I can'. I was a teenager, dealing with some normal teenage stuff like school, and confidence and some not so normal stuff like my biological paternal family (I wrote about my subsequent estrangement from my family, click HERE if you missed it) and frankly, I was a mess. But I also expected my parents to have the answers and know what they were doing. In the way that it doesn't to young people, it had never occurred to me that they were muddling through all this too.
Fast forward over a decade and I'm very lucky to have a strong relationship with my parents- which is handy because we run a business together. And whilst I've come to respect and appreciate the complete lack of instructions that come with children, it's only now I find myself in a position where I have the potential to make an impact on younger members of family, a particular young woman that I truly understand what they meant. It's a minefield!
We don't have a great deal of younger generations in our family, I'm an only child and we don't have loads of extended family. But as some of them are now the proud owners of small humans and other young people come into our lives, many of them female, it seems important to work out how to inspire them, nurture them and make sure they have not just the means and choices to be bold, empowered women with choices, but also the spark for the fire that drives them to go out there to chase those things. And that seems to be the tough bit. Here's a few things I've been finding helpful for the young women in my life:
Treat young people like adults...
I'm aware some parents might think it's inappropriate but I've found that talking to my 15 year old cousin like I would friends of my own age yields far better results. Yes, she is still a child and it's our job to support and look after her, but speaking to a teenager like they don't understand the world is condescending and will not grow a conscious and inspired adult. So yes, she here's me talk about the realities of work- the days I don't want to get up or the pressure when it isn't going to plan, or about my partner, my future husband who supports me endlessly but still can't seem to shut a door behind him and drives me insane, and about trying to budget for a holiday, buying a house and maybe planning a wedding all at the same time and what that means for our wine consumption and funds for cool stuff like festivals and gigs.
Share anything and everything that might be interesting...
I wish I had been more engaged with possibilities and and options and what was out there at 14, 15 and 16. I didn't realise just how many alternatives to school, university, traditional vocations and jobs were out there. That's not really anyone's fault, it's just how things were, not helped by the fact that I didn't really have any clear direction myself. My parents didn't want me to feel I was being pushed into anything and I wasn't so amazingly wonderful at any one thing that it was obvious either. As a result, I've started sending links of any kind that I think are interesting to my young cousin. Interesting article about feminism. Infographic on careers in design. Videos of Nobel Peace Prize winners speaking about empowerment. Explanations on consent and what it actually means. A blog post by a friend about freelance life. All shared. This also feeds into treating young people like adults- if we want to empower young people and in particular young women, they should understand challenges they might face as well as the joys that may await them. Here's a few of the favourite links I've been sending on lately:
What Is Consent - Betty.me - online magazine aimed at young women/teenagers
Army Role Finder - Forces careers aren't for everyone but most young people aren't aware of the broad reaching careers that are available via the Forces and just how many cool things you can do as part of the military- did you know many of our Olympians are serving in the military?
This apprenticeship guide which allows you too look at industries as well as ideas based on school subjects- the most logical and useful tool for opening doors to apprenticeships I've seen for a long time.
Amy's post via The Pool on why 5 year old Eva is a hero of feminism is a sound reminder to us all
Be the change you want to see in the world
This Gandhi quote is still relevant. Do I want the younger generations of women in my family to feel empowered and believe in themselves more than I did? Of course I do, and to lead the way, I believe they need to see that happening in real time. Am I a role model? Hell no. Aspirational? I doubt it. But I do believe that for our younger generations to understand supersede what is possible now, they have to see those around them reaching for it too.
So yes, I will continue to tell you amazing running and sport has been for me because it gives me confidence in my own ability that only I could discover for myself.
Yes I will continue to be open about how challenging living apart from my future husband is, but that we do it because he believe I have as much right to follow my career path as he does, because I believe that is what healthy relationships are built on.
I won't apologise for getting excited about brilliant books, sports events, articles, TV shows, or anything else- because my gender does not define my interests or my hobbies.
I will continue to be enthusiastic, angry, tired, doubtful, joyful, excited or frustrated and not be afraid to talk about it because these are normal emotions and need to be normalised amongst men and women.
I will continue to embrace a balanced diet and promote eating as something to be enjoyed without demonising food and worst of all making 'healthy' into a label that must be applied to boring food that is viewed as a penance, because otherwise we'll keep perpetuating the bullshitideas around food and body image which plague so many of us.
You might think the sensible time for this post to have gone live would have been yesterday on International Women's Day. I suppose it would have added to the atmosphere of celebrating women, focussing on promoting gender equality and generally upping the profile of the many campaigns fighting for a voice.But whilst I'm support and embrace IWD, I also think it's important to keep the momentum going. So rather than smash this post in yesterday, I sat on it for my usual Thursday slot to keep the empowerment, inspiration and equality of women, especially our young women in our minds and our actions.