Raising Strong & Happy Girls Who Win

Girls Who Win on Pura Vida Sometimes

On a very typical Saturday morning, I was probably in junior high, my sister and I were watching cartoons in our pajamas having just woken up, easing into the joys of the weekend. My father who, by the looks of it, had been up and at it at least a couple of hours, busted through the door, stood inquisitively in front of us, waited a few seconds, and decisively said, “You guys look bored.”

We sprung from the couch and shouted, “No, no, definitely not bored! No, Dad.” He turned around and went into his workshop as we scattered to our rooms to get dressed and make ourselves scarce, fearing the worst. One minute later, here comes dad, who with arms full of drip cloths, paint cans, and Scotch tape, smirks, “Paint the kitchen.” Ugh, nooooo,  Dad, it’s the weekend… And paint the kitchen we did.

Growing up, my parents instilled in my sister and me an unrelenting work ethic, with no division whatsoever of gender roles. We spent many weekends in my uncle’s auto salvage yard prepping old cars for sandblasting, scavenging used parts, and washing motor oil off our hands with orange soap. We had our own tool boxes and belts, know all about gun safety, how to fix our own damn cars, and to this day are our own handy(wo)men. We also cook, sew, craft, have an unhealthy obsession with jewelry – but not because that was prescribed for us, or because we were in training to make good wives some day. In many ways, until very recently, I was blind to societal biases that truly cripple the development of so many girls.

I joke that my dad wanted sons and raised us like boys, because to be perfectly honest, in a Mexican-American family, it is highly atypical to not fall into gender roles. To be fair to those before me, I come from a homesteader family from both sides of the US/Mexico border, where when there was work to be done, everyone was in it together (my grandma was also tough as nails). I never had the feeling I couldn’t do something because I’m a girl. Nope – never once thought that, though I tried to use it as an excuse, to no avail. For me, gender defined the clothes I wore and restrooms I used (sometimes), b
ut not my capabilities.

My lack of personal barriers or internalized misconceptions surfaced again and again, in school, when the band director asked if any of you guys want to play drums and I volunteered; when I had a stint as a roadie in college, and the sound guys said, “Watch out darlin’ – that’s heavy,” and I turned around and snarled, “So?” – they liked that; professionally, when any time I’m confronted with someone that tells me something is a man’s job, I retort or at the very least think to myself, “Stand back and watch me.” And for the most part, they’ll let you play the reindeer games when you put yourself out there.

The point of this post is not to show that my cojones are bigger than anyone else’s, but to praise my parents for never letting me quit or whine and for leading by example. I want to affirm to myself that I can give my daughter the tools to find her own success, and I encourage you to do the same. Really, it’s a good lesson for all kids, big and small.

Teach your daughters to win:

  • Lead by example.
    • Be strong or fake it till you make it.
    • Never let them listen to defeatist self-talk. We all get down on ourselves sometimes, but make sure the aren’t witness to it.
    • Learn to be self-sufficient, little by little, day by day, because you have to start somewhere.
  • Teach them that their successes are within their control – with hard work, determination, and a dream, everything is possible.
  • Instill in them that no matter gender, culture, color, nature, or creed, everyone is capable of blazing a trail and getting there in their own way. Don’t let others’ prejudices – their problems, really – become part of who you or your kids are.
  • Rely on yourself. Guide them toward self-sufficiency and competence. Show them the things you know, together learn home repair on YouTube, take classes, learn to cook, ask your plumber a million questions so you can do it the next time. If you don’t know how to do something figure out a way to learn, one step at a time.
  • Build your tribe. Surround yourselves with people that love and support you, and create your own community. Find people of like mind, with similar interests and challenges… Listen to and accept words of kindness and encouragement, be kind and encouraging to others, and appreciate and have compassion for yourself. Keep the love moving and obstacles conquerable.
[Photo credit: (top, hands) Genevieve Gil, (toddler version of me, not having it) Fred Rochlin, (1929 Model A and me) Juliette Gutierrez Fernandez.]

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  1. I knew you way back when — in preschool in the same class as my son. An introvert with an astounding and magnificent singing voice as a high school junior and senior. What a star! Then you were a fierce City Hall and County Board reporter for the Nogales International newspaper. You could have made a great career there! But no, off you went for a master's degree. Raise your daughter strong and happy.

  2. I really appreciate the nice thoughts – they mean a great deal considering you were so instrumental in my progress at different stages in my life. Thank you for reading and for your comment.

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