When we encourage our daughters to take risks, to overcome their fears, to meet challenges head on, and to reach for the stars, we must also be the strong women they need to emulate. We would otherwise be hypocrites, preaching one way while practicing a different way. By responding to the needs of our children, we grow and become better people. With the goal of being a positive role model for my own daughter when she was a teen, I pushed myself to grow and change. Viewing myself through her lens, it felt really important to be the person both she and I would be proud of. In my many years as a psychotherapist/counselor, I see that other women also respond that way, allowing their children to bring out the best in them.

If we are to set the best paths for our daughters and, of course, for ourselves, we must be willing to show them what it means to be a woman. If we have low self-esteem and/or low expectations of ourselves, we will not only humiliate ourselves but, more importantly, we will limit our daughters’ expectations for themselves. A mother’s self-respect and loving self-care encourage her daughter to practice the same, making a happier life for herself. By seeking our own fulfillment, we teach our daughters to do the same for themselves. Our children force us to take a hard look at ourselves. In most cases, daughters unconsciously encourage their mothers’ self-awareness, pushing them to follow more meaningful lives. We understand that in doing the right things for our children, we become more whole.

In mothering my own once-adolescents, I came to understand that doing the right things for our children and doing the right things for ourselves are most often not contradictory. A good mother not only lives in the service of others, but also in service to herself. We have little to model to our children if we sacrifice ourselves, while suffering unmet expectations and martyrdom. I recall a mother sharing a lovely handwritten note she once received from her daughter, saying how she was grateful that her mother was achieving so much with her life, that in doing so, she was showing her daughter she could do the same. She knew that she was capable of achieving anything if she worked hard enough.

One mom addressed her own lack of independence, deriving vicarious pleasure from her daughter’s experiences. Although she enjoyed sharing her daughter’s excitement about selecting a college, she admitted feeling somewhat envious. She realized she had been denying herself adventures of her own. Concerned she might upset her marriage to her kind, but possessive and rather traditional, husband, she had suppressed her need to spread her wings. It was her daughter’s sense of healthy independence and readiness to leave home to pursue a college degree that awakened this woman’s desire for her own adventure. She applied to a local college, soon embarking on her own journey of enlightenment. She could now grow strong in her own pursuits without feeling any resentment in watching her daughter move forward.

Mothers become better human beings while listening to our daughters’ requests. They ask us to be the very best we can be. They ask us to reach high, never shirking life’s challenges. They ask that we never sacrifice our lives for them or for anyone else, but lead our lives well, fully. They ask us to be their very best role models, their guides, their compasses, the women they want to emulate. By honoring these requests, we can’t help but grow and make positive changes. We must remember that our own adult relationships serve as models — if we are self-respecting and strong, we will set the stage for our daughters to wisely choose healthy partners. Many young women burdened with self-sacrificing mothers struggle with guilt about leaving home, or about choosing independent career paths, and may even become entangled in dysfunctional love relationships.

By plunging into our role as mothers, we can discover our strengths, our talents, our own inner compass, learning just how vital and resilient we really are. As we map out the path we want to follow, we may feel anxiety mixed with happy anticipation. We must show our daughters that we will take risks, that we will push ourselves outside our comfort zone, to realize our expectations, while reaching for the stars. Our daughters will illuminate the path, cheering us on quietly, while watching closely to learn from our successes and our mistakes.

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