This is a guest post by Lehla Eldridge. Her blog is Unschooling the Kids. She lives with her husband and three kids in Italy.

What does “to be powerful” mean anyway? To have power? Power can be a bit of a scary word. Wars have been fought over power. Maybe for me it means that our girls will be able to stand in their power when they are not being treated fairly.

To have voices, to be strong women? Yes, I want them to be all of that, to be strong and standing tall and equal. How do I do that? I am talking about inner strength and confidence, about the inner drive about that unextinguishable (ooh that is a nice word) female power.

The girls have just looked over my shoulder. They both boooed the title of this post. Then one of them just said. “Mum you don’t need to teach us to be powerful, we need to teach ourselves be powerful.”

The other day we were on Skype to a friend in the UK and he had to do homework about Italy, so we were helping him. Then one of my daughters said, “Mum, can you please give us homework?” I love those moments.

So I asked them what do you like to do? What do you want to do? And the girls both said history.

So here is how is went, these were the questions:

Who were the Suffragettes? Do you think, as women we need to thank them? And if you were a Suffragette, how far would you go for your beliefs? Can you dress as a Suffragette and have your portrait taken?

Then…

Who was Amelia Earhart? If you were her and you went on a trip, what would you take? What happened to her and why did she become famous?

All of these questions were answered today, my son was also in the room, making paper weapons and hearing all about powerful women.

I asked him, “What would you do to help the Suffragettes?”

He says he would sneak in to the King’s bedroom and pour honey on his head, because “have you ever tried to get honey out of your hair? It is a nightmare.” Or he would put a box of nits on his head. “Nits are awful,  Mum,” he says.

I know.

The girls say they would make the king a birthday cake and then dressed as a Suffragette, they would jump out and shoot the king. I ask, “How is that going to help?”

They think. Then Amari piped up and said, “I would threaten to shoot myself unless the laws were changed!” She also talked about tying the king’s horses legs together.

Then we talked about Amelia Earhart. My other daughter made a suitcase and packed a book. There were flaps for all the goodies she would take. Then she dressed up as Amelia and said, “Mum, I am going to make a plane and sit in it. Then when the light is right take pictures of me.” We hit golden hour—we know about golden hour when the light goes crazily beautiful. In Italy golden hour is very golden.

‘Where am I taking these shots?’ I asked. I had one Suffragette, Emmiline Pankhurst, and Amelia Earhart. Emmiline shouts out, “Chain me to the gates!!!” We did.

I said, “Pull a Suffragette face,” and she did.

Then Amelia shouts out “I need to catch the light, what if I put the box up the tree, like I have crashed?” We realize time is fading and there is no time to put the box up the tree.

“Let’s put it on the grass.” I say. “So get in. And be Amelia Earhart.”

“Ok,” she says, and she directs me through a whole series shots she wants.

Then as the lights fade, so do I, I realize that I am not feeling like a very powerful golden woman today. I feel as if I have thrown myself on the unschooling cross and all the ideas have been squeezed out of me and I am forgetting who I am.

The bigger picture is that as well as teaching them about powerful woman in history, I have to look after myself and model what powerful is. Which for me is tricky as it is about boundaries and sometimes it simply means a break from it all to find a space where I too can be strong and golden and fly my own plane.

44 replies
  1. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    Lovely pictures.

    This post reminds me of a book I recently read ‘Falling Angels’ by Tracy Chevalier – one of the main characters is a woman who is wilting as a wife and mother, but then finds a new lease of life as she joins the ranks & cause of the Suffragettes. In the end there are devastating consequences for her and her neighbours’ family. I loved the story because it showed up the difficult trade-offs we can end up facing in following a quest or passion but still being wife/mother/woman.

    I wholeheartedly agree that you as their mother will always be their main reference point of what a powerful woman is.

    • Karelys
      Karelys says:

      I know a lot of women in the past were wilting as having to do the job of mothers and wives. Only. Because that’s what they were supposed to do.

      Nowadays I feel that most of us are so torn between all good things because many of us are mothers and wives by choice. Having children and a deep meaningful relationship is a thing we truly longed for since we were children. And now we’re here. And how do we honor both?

      I envy the women that do not want children because they don’t have to have them to be okay. Before it was too weird and you had to marry to live. But today, if you don’t want kids, you don’t have them and you remove a huge competing priority off your list.

      I confess that as much as I want many things, everything dies at the face of my caring for my family. Everything takes a back seat and everything is the reason for it. Even if it means a cup of coffee by myself at the local cafe or a splurgy massage at my favorite spa. Everything is like little rivers that end up in the same ocean – for the well being of us as a unit, the family.

      • Erin
        Erin says:

        Karelys – I get what you mean. It would be easier to only want 1 thing. But we’re complicated, and life is complicated, and I guess that’s probably why we’re here, growing together, trying to make it all work.

  2. Karelys
    Karelys says:

    I love this post so much. There’s so much value to it!

    I never cared enough about politics because everything was hazy and it didn’t matter what you voted for, it seemed that the powers that be were going to do whatever they wanted anyway.
    Well, that was until I had a daughter. Then all of a sudden the news actually robbed my attention and I wanted really bad to actually understand how to help change the status quo.
    Someone told me that the key lies in local politics (like your district representatives and and all the other people who you directly chose by vote).

    I have a long ways to go in personal mastery. Yesterday Chris and I argued and I was very emotional and of course I raise my voice because that’s what I do when I am overly emotional and the toddler was very upset and I am torn in a million pieces. So I shout to him “sometimes adults get angry and it’s okay!” and he seemed to understand even though he didn’t like it.

    Anyway, I am constantly thinking about how I want to achieve self mastery so that my children will have a good role model. But I am feeling my way around the dark. Very recently some people were discussing how the book Wild by Cheryl Strayed and Eat, Pray, Love by Gilbert are unreasonable because women can’t just take off in order to find themselves. Men can. Men usually do. But when women feel suffocated then what?

    I was at the peak of feeling suffocated a few weeks ago. I was waiting at the coffee shop for my husband who was in an interview and I was thinking about the discussion and how I resented that women couldn’t just pack up and go somewhere to clear their heads because of family demands. So I said “I’ve come up with a crazy idea. Do you want to go to Mexico? I know we have no money for these things. But here’s how we can do it. And I really need a mental break.”

    In the blink of an eye everything was ready. I am so thankful for a husband that first listens and unless something really is undoable, he commits to materializing an idea.

    So it’s not a journey into the wilderness or hopping around the globe alone as a woman for the sake of being a woman alone finding herself. It’s more of a middle finger to the issue of being “tied down” by family. That which is my blessing doesn’t have to be a ball and chain. And I refuse to see it that way. This may be more of a journey in practicing “going for it” whatever it may be, as a family. Even if it’s small steps. Because that’s all we need to get started; a small step. And my family is a part of myself.

    We owe so much to the suffragettes. And all the women paving the way for us to be able to do anything men do and still get paid the same. In the meantime, the tale of most of us is being torn between being present for family and being committed to a career, a cause, or a lifestyle, and being true to ourselves.

    I think that in part, as a married couple and individuals, we’re finding ways to be true to ourselves. But it’s so uncomfortable to be outside convention. When things get tricky there’s no one to look to and pull forward. But if I can’t inherit big money or material goods to my children I can make sure that while I am alive I give as much valuable time and experiences that will shape their lives so they can live as strong adults who know how to find their own power and be masters of themselves.

    • wallis
      wallis says:

      Hi
      I loved your post. A few weeks ago I had a meltdown. And a couple days ago my hubby and I fought over little things. I am blessed I have an amazing husband. who is supportive, understanding, loving and listens to me. He always has my back. We do have our moments though. I had a hard day, and I was tired of doing it all, even though I was the one who chose to do it all. My husband never asked me to be a stay at home mom. It was my choice, he never asked me to home school, it was my idea. But there are times when I feel like the weight of it all is suffocating me and who I am. So I realized I need to be a little selfish. At first I thought, just get a job and be the professional woman I had always dreamed of. And when I spoke to my husband, he helped me calm down and think, and rationalize. because you see I am emotional and a Pisces. I go with how I feel. I am wild like the wind. But I know if I had worked all these years and had not taken my time to give to my I would have said what if. So I know I must give more of me, because I want more for my family, for this beautiful blessing on earth I have been given. I also need to realize that I am my own person and that I need a cup of coffee at the coffee shop, and maybe take an hour at the gym instead of workout with the kids underfoot all the time. Its is also hard when I have no close friends who understand, and who I can ask how did you do this?

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I suck at being a stay at home mom.

        On Penelope’s career blog post about feminism I got some flack from people because my husband comes home after working 10-12 hour days and does the dishes and laundry. They complained that I should be doing more. Even though I HOMESCHOOL my kids all day and they don’t.

        So I decided I would do the dishes and give my husband a break. As I started doing them he asked me not to do them and to leave them for him to get to later that night. I thought, “No, I’m going to do the dishes to give him a break.”

        Ok… so an hour later the dishwasher is making funny noises, I open it and see it is filled with bubbles and foam. I call him at work to notify him of my dishwasher ails. He tells me to cancel the cycle and he will fix it when he gets home. So I canceled the cycle, and then bubbles, foam and water gushes onto the kitchen floor, kind of like an I Love Lucy moment…

        Later that night, my husband comes to me and asks which soap I used in the dishwasher, the dish soap or the dishwasher soap. I said “The one with the yellow lid.” He told me I used the wrong soap and asked me not to do the dishes anymore.

        I’m telling you, some days sleeping all day sounds like the best option. I share this story to hopefully share some humor.

        Keep your chin up, you are doing great.

        • wallis
          wallis says:

          Thank you so much for your story. I dont think anyone has any say in however your home works, If he wants to do the dishes, so be it. My husband can not he has eczema, and his hands blister, bleed and crack if he is exposed to too much water. so I get to do my favorite thing, wash dishes. lol. After 6 years I have finally accepted I am the dishwasher in the family. We are working it all out, one day at a time, together.
          Some days sleeping does sound so good.

      • Lehla Eldridge
        Lehla Eldridge says:

        When I read this ‘ Its is also hard when I have no close friends who understand, and who I can ask how did you do this?’ I thought about it, it sounds like you have a lot of answers inside, in reading your comment. You sounds like you can ask yourself. I sometimes find the unschooling road an isolating one but ulitmately it is what I have chosen. That is where role models for me step in, as I look around at what other people are doing and it is really inspiring and a kind of strength for me, especially on the days when it seems overwhelming.
        I like that you are ‘wild like the wind’

        • wallis
          wallis says:

          Thanks for that response. I am beginning to see that I do have the answers, I believe so much of it has to do with how most of learned, or did not learn. I am beginning to see my true untapped potential while homeschooling and unschooling. I have been listening to John taylor gatto lately, and its amazing how I can look back and see how much of my time was wasted in school. I always knew it but never quite understood the huge loss I had going to school. I have always been a go getter, president of clubs, a born leader but I never had any guidance, or any mentors.
          I hope I do find a mentor one day, for now I come here and to other sites where other parents understand a little bit of what I do.
          I will keep looking within, I keep learning by chance and circumstances, that I have many of the answers. I guess I never truly believed it about me. Others look to me for answers and I forget to look to myself.

  3. Katarina
    Katarina says:

    Teach your daughters the virtues of hard work and persistence. Give them independence in real situations, not simulations. Allow them to be themselves. Let them find their own goals and sense of purpose. Personal power can be wonderful. Trying to become powerful as a goal in and of itself is what corrupts all people. The best leaders are humble servants. People respect them deeply. People who demand power make enemies and are often deluded. I have seen it over and over and over again. Universities are full of such women.

    • mh
      mh says:

      Great comment, Katarina. Beat me to it by 30 min.

      Power is corrupting. Craving power is not a proper goal for my kids.

      I want my kids to be virtuous instead: courageous, temperate, honorable, just, and dutiful. And just by living in my house, they have developed the ability to laugh at themselves and keep their problems in perspective.

      Much of what has been written about Amelia Earhart is a myth. A better women’s role model for our family would be Katarina von Bora or Corrie Ten Boom or Abigail Adams. Fascinating women who REALLY ACCOMPLISHED something.

      • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
        YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

        I’m just thinking to myself, why can’t women have a male role-model? Like maybe, whoever is the best at what you want to do/become, that is who you try to emulate. My oldest daughter’s current inspirations are a ten year old boy who is a tech prodigy and her father. She would see through any attempt of me trying to find a woman role-model for her, like Curie for instance. I need to think about this more.

      • Melissa
        Melissa says:

        I’m suspicious of anyone who tries to dissuade me from searching for power. Seems like a great way to maintain the status quo. No, thanks.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          I’m feeling playful today and thought you would enjoy this music video as a fellow intj. Let me know if it works without the www I just don’t want it in comment purgatory.

          youtube.com/watch?v=0jnv0ejmLlY

    • Lehla Eldridge
      Lehla Eldridge says:

      It is a good point power can be corrupting, but I am talking about power in the best possible sense, self power, maybe power is not the right word. But I like the thought of my girls having inner power and strength, you could replace the word with confidence, or a voice. But I do agree with you power can be very corrupting however that was not how I meant it to be interpreted. But thanks everyone has made me think of how I use words and this has made mull on what I was trying to express.

  4. YesMyKidsAreSocialized
    YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

    The biggest tool for me is self-actualization and the freedom to be one’s authentic self.

    However, we are trying to keep grandiosity to a minimum here. Teaching them to be powerful seems manufactured to me.

    My two older kids are non-conformists, so being powerful is meaningless to them. Being creative, spontaneous and giving them freedom to be who they are without the narcissism is my goal.

  5. Trilby
    Trilby says:

    Power is influence. It isn’t force or strength. It isn’t money. Those are tools we use to influence, but they aren’t the only ones available to us. I think one of the most important things I can teach my kids – or help them to develop – is the ability to use multiple strategies to influence the world around them. For the better, of course. We are not limited in our capacity to affect change, regardless of our political or financial strength. We may just have to start smaller or look for different ways to influence those around us, but those paths exist. Yes, we needed vocal women to stand on the front lines and fight for women’s rights. But we shouldn’t overlook the subtler work of women who influenced their families and friends, who made changes in their own lives that fed into the bigger picture.

    • Lehla Eldridge
      Lehla Eldridge says:

      That is an interesting point the subtle influences of women who have made huge differences by the way they show up…am pondering on that now. Thanks for that point.

  6. mh
    mh says:

    “Maniac, brainiac, winnin’ the game
    I’m the lyrical Jesse James”

    That’s quality lyrics, right there.

  7. lehla
    lehla says:

    It is great reading through all the comments. I will definately go and check out Katerina Von Bora and the other two women. And thanks for that song by Jesse James, I haven’t listened to it for years and it made me laugh as I used to LOVE it!
    So I guess what interests me is the word power. I see it is a tricky word and has alot of connotations. I wanted to use the word in the best sense. Inner power, confidence and strength. Not in a crazy power hungry kind of way. So in effect you could replace the title and say ‘How Can I teach My Daughter’s to be confident/have a voice/fearless…’ and then it is an interesting topic, as can you ever teach any of that? When my girls said ‘Boooo!’to the title they were quite right in a way. As I think what they could see is that Power, or confidence, or having a voice is not something that I can necessarily teach them. It is something I think that they can learn from life and from role models.
    My idea is to show them other women that are inspiring to me and if they run with it great, if it inspires them great. There was a good point about men aswell, as yes of course there are great male role models out there too. In an unschooling way, I guess I like to give them something that they can step in to and run with. They both loved the playing the parts, researched them and really enjoyed pretending to be those women, so much so that their voices changed and they were inhabiting what they thought those women to be. We do that alot as they love dressing up, Cleopatra, Georgian ladies, Thing 1 and Thing 2 from Dr Suess, you name it they dress up in it!
    So in essence teaching them to be powerful is possibly irrelevant but if they can glean inspiration from the work of other women in the world, or men then I think great!

  8. Tracy
    Tracy says:

    On the male & female role-model point:
    I have had both, and many male role-models, but for somethings it was particularly important to me to have a female role-model. I think it comes down to how women are perceived by the world at large. So if someone is breaking out a mould I can be inspired by that. If that someone is a woman than I know I can relate to that, because likely she would be treated similar to how I would be treated. If that someone was also short, then extra-bonus, then I definitely tell myself I have no excuses for not giving it a go!

    • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
      YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

      I’m sure that this gender difference may be more important later on. But then again, my girls aren’t exactly typical. They play with superheroes, ninja turtles, toy weapons, captain america shields, thors hammer, lightsabers, and legos. They are also interested in comic books, art, math, and science. They are not interested in what I would refer to as typical girl interests. This isn’t a criticism of anyone else, but more of pondering on my end with the male-female role model question. They don’t ask for women role-models. But I think you have helped me think a little more about this, and if my kids ever feel inclined to need a female role model for whatever their interest is, I’m sure I can get some quick info on google.

      • redrock
        redrock says:

        I am with your kids – I never liked to play with dolls (5 minutes is all the doll ever got before becoming too boring), loved all things sciency, building blocks, rocks, and so on. The completely un-typical girl, and in my whole career I never had a female professor or mentor, my department hired exactly 2 women in 50 years of existence. So, I agree that women can certainly have male role models, but it is nice to see that there are women who have pursued a similar path with success. It is nice to see that those who are “like me” can succeed and it mitigates a little bit the loneliness of nearly always being the only woman in the room (talking to colleagues the same holds for african americans in science and engineering). By the way, there are a lot of studies which show that seeing a teacher, mentor, colleague, boss, …. of the same gender/ethnicity achieving in their profession/studies is a great motivator. It shows “hey, there is someone like you who has done great stuff” and this is a place where you can go.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          That actually puts things in perspective for me and is really helpful. So thank you! Right now they are creating stop motion Lego videos.

          My husband’s university he went to had half a dozen female engineering professors in the ME dept. and the department chair was a woman. But when I was working at Etrade a long time ago, I was one of two women on the entire floor. It was nice having the bathroom to myself. But it was an *interesting* environment to be in. I don’t think I ever felt lonely, probably because I like being alone, but it was something I noticed. :)

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            It is not necessarily “lonely” in terms of the social interaction, but there is a clear trend in terms of not being included as much in the professional enterprise if you stand out either as a woman or african american or other visible minority.

            There was an interesting study a year or so ago looking at the observation why african american engineers seem to be less successful in their profession and one big issue was the effortless inclusion in a professional network and casual networking done in the hallways of engineering firms/schools etc.

        • YesMyKidsAreSocialized
          YesMyKidsAreSocialized says:

          Unfortunately our society is currently based on a winner/loser system. Until people stop wanting “stuff” it will continue to be this way. So I agree that there could be better efforts made at teaching effective networking strategies. The other side of the coin, is that engineers are not naturally skilled at those types of necessary interactions, one of the huge reasons my husband has been so successful is because he *is* one of those people.

        • Elizabeth
          Elizabeth says:

          On dolls, the last time a well-intentioned family member gave a doll and a princess costume to my middle daughter she started crying on the spot. So, not even five minutes of play.

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            I pretended for 5 minutes, but few could fathom that rocks and sticks were so infinitely more interesting.

          • Lehla Eldridge
            Lehla Eldridge says:

            I find this conversation interesting. It is interesting how girls show up differently, I was quite a tomboy as a kid growing up, however our girls are quite girly in thier choices. In as much as they love to do all the archetypal feminine things. Infact I think that they are more feminine than me in lots of ways. However they are very strong physically and climb trees and do run with the boys aswell, it is interesting. I was thinking about your conversation here and the work place and was wondering if I have ever had the experience of being in a male dominated environment around work and then I thought, yes I have. I was one of three actresses in a very male dominated show, 9 men I think but we had a female director. The only strong difference that I clearly remember, it was 22 years ago was that I was paid much much less than all the men in the show and I didn’t have the confidence or the know how to deal with that, I just felt frustrated and cross. Other than that they were great fun to work with and what struck me as a huge coincidence that nearly all of them knew all the words to the album The Secret Life of Bees by Stevie Wonder…

          • redrock
            redrock says:

            I don’t think being feminine and working in a technical field are, or should be exclusive. Although they are often thought of that way – if you work in a technical field (STEM or such) as a woman many people think that you should dress less feminine or don’t do “womanly” things like knitting, or baking. I want to do both!
            And visibility is different from inclusion – a rare woman in a male dominated profession is always more visible (same holds for african americans) but is nonetheless included less – thats what essentially creates the “glass ceiling”. Missing out on the informal exchange of important information or being included fewer times in projects – this adds up over time to a significant disadvantage. Although I do think this is changing, but it is still a factor and is most impactful at a time when a career is made, not so much during college or PhD but when things get competitive and resources and access are most important.

        • Elizabeth
          Elizabeth says:

          redrock,

          I think you are right. My oldest daughter asked me if she was a boy because she noticed that only boys her age shared her interests. I explained that those things she is interested in aren’t girl/boy interests, rather that people whose minds work a certain way are attracted to those interests and gravitate to them. They are both very feminine and have zero athleticism, very low muscle-tone as well.

          Lehla,

          I love this comment! It should have been included in the original post somehow, it all kind of ties in together nicely.

        • Elizabeth
          Elizabeth says:

          redrock, thanks! I wanted to share a photo with you of them quizzing each other on the order of planets in our solar system but couldn’t figure out how to share just one photo here.

  9. Erin
    Erin says:

    Oh Lehla, I really liked this post. I especially liked the last paragraph. It’s so easy to get caught up in my child’s life, but, I think, part of the point of unschooling is that my kid is not only capable of doing just fine without me micromanaging her, but that it’s human nature to need self-directed living…for all of us.

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