Fighting For Yourself

I was in the garden yesterday afternoon with my six-year old daughter and she stood from the middle of a big pile of soil and said “I need to go get gardening gloves, mommy.”

“No you don’t,” I admonished, “You need tougher hands.”

As she considered her dirty, sore hands, I considered what I’d just said to her.


Why exactly had I reacted that way? It wasn’t in anger and I hadn’t made fun of her, I just stated something I thought was obvious. Tough, strong hands are good for a girl to have.

“Go ahead, find your gloves, sweetie,” I relented.

Up until that moment, I don’t think I’d really considered how differently I parent a boychild and a girlchild. Even before I had my daughter I stated I was terrified to bring a girl into this world. “You can teach a boy to respect girls … but it’s damn hard to teach a girl to respect herself!”

In a world where we still have not solved the problem of stupid gender stereotypes in advertising and the media … I still find the prospect of raising my daughter to be terrifying. I know that I cannot protect her from everything, I can’t shield her or prevent her from making poor choices once in awhile, so it seems my alternative has been to coach my daughter into Being Tough.

Because if you are tough – no one can hurt you. No one has to be your shield because you wear your own armor.

It’s why I say things like “Hey beautiful girl, look how strong you are!” or how my heart jumps with happiness when she says “let’s go exercise our legs mommy!” and how she knows the difference between a burpee and a push-up and a thruster.

Ah this beautiful, strong-willed, powerful little child of mine. I spend half the time thinking “Who is this child?” or “How have I created this?” and the other half saying “Hell yes, that is my daughter!”

I spent my teenage years feeling like I did not fit in anywhere. Not in my family, where I was the angry, explosive child. Not in school where I was so terrified of rejection that I didn’t try out for a team – I had already been told I was too fat or not good enough, why risk the rejection? (I made the swim team in high school but was so uncomfortable in my own body by then that I quit.)

I put on my armor where it was safe. I hid in the woods of school where I felt most vulnerable.

And now, without saying it, I am teaching her one lesson:

You have to know how to be tough and fight for yourself because there may be times you are the only one who will.

I was five or six years old when my parents left my brother and I to be babysat by a cousin. Oh I adored him. I remember being so excited because he was older and cool and let us do all sorts of crazy things … at one point he cranked Billy Idol’s White Wedding and we all raced around the house and jumped on the beds. Oh the thrill of hanging out with a cool kid.

And then it was time to go to bed – and he climbed in with me and tried to get me to touch him.

I said no and tried to sleep on the floor.

He laid behind me and tried to touch me, I resisted by curling into the tightest ball that I could but he was older and stronger and forced my arms behind me and my hand between his, now naked, legs. I kicked and screamed and fought like he was killing me. He pinned me. I fought. He covered my mouth. I bit.

At some point he gave up and I went to bed – he left my room and I can still see him silhouetted in the hallway light, looking nervous and afraid.

I had won.

But I’d also lost parts of myself.

The part that trusted others easily. The part that was able to give myself wholeheartedly with unreserved adoration and say “Hey! I like you! Be My Friend!”

It’s three decades since that day.

I still cannot stand White Wedding.

I still feel panic rise up if I’m overpowered or pinned.

I still have difficulties being a good friend because I’m afraid what my vulnerabilities will let them do.

But. However. Nevertheless. 

I have forgiven him and I am no longer angry. I’m simultaneously saddened by the event and …  aware of the positive aspects I chose to gleen from a very negative experience. It took a lot of time to mine the positive out of the negative, but I’ve chipped away at it and now I can see how it’s made me the parent I am today.

I can teach my daughter to be strong, tough, resilient … and I can encourage her to trust and be vulnerable. She doesn’t have to learn my lesson to benefit from the knowledge. I may slip up now and then … the older neighbour boy tried to kiss her and I had a momentary freak out … during which I taught her how to loudly say “NO!” … and to place an uppercut on the soft underside of his jaw. Sorry, Neighbour Boy, I am sure NO would suffice …

But I want her to know she’s more than capable of looking out for herself.

That it’s ok to be in the woods when you’re your own warrior.

That she can still trust others – because she trusts in herself first.

That vulnerability is actually incredibly courageous.

That she can have tough hands and a soft heart.



  1. Beautifully written!

  2. Ceilidh says:

    Thank you Heather! That was beautiful and insightful. I really love reading your blogs. You take the words from my mouth so often.

  3. Wonderful post Heather.

  4. This post is so thought provoking. I taught my daughter, at age three, to say “Stop! I don’t like that!” after a little girl grabbed onto her leg during dance class and she didn’t know how to get her off so she could do what the teacher was asking of her. She burst into tears and I could see how helpless she felt. Tough girls have the ability to blaze their own trails and I sure hope these lessons are embraced by our daughters.

  5. So much wisdom and bravery in this, Heather.

  6. Well said Heather. I want my daughter to know she can be strong and tough too. I also have gardening gloves, but for the life of me I can’t seem to manage to use them unless I’m pulling thistles.

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