What does it take to grow into a strong, confident woman?
The women in my life are vastly different, but they’ve each instilled in me the lessons and mistakes they’ve learned from so I can flourish.
When my paternal grandmother was 18, she married a man and, like any other good wife in the 1950s, got pregnant with her first child right away, closely followed by children #2 and #3. From the outside looking in, my grandmother was living the dream: a family and a home…but what people didn’t see was that my grandfather was an alcoholic and verbally abusive. He made my grandmother believe she had to be submissive to stay safe. When she walked down the road she kept her eyes low, because my grandfather got jealous if she looked at other men.
After a few years of dealing with this, my grandmother packed up her kids and moved from Maryland to Florida and requested a divorce. Back then, people thought she was crazy. With nothing but her kids in tow, she came to stay with her mother and start a new life as a single parent. Now, years later, thanks to her courage and willingness to take a leap of faith, she is celebrating her 50th wedding anniversary with her second husband and has had the opportunity to travel and be loved the way she wanted.
Just after her 54th birthday, my mother enrolled in college to pursue her bachelor’s degree. When I was a kid, my mother used to tell me that there was no way I would ever be able to get into as much trouble as she did when she was my age. My mother was the stereotypical teenage rebel: smoked, drank, partied, and did so poorly in school she almost didn’t graduate high school.
But two decades later, as a Baby Boomer surrounded by Millennials, she is close to graduating with honors and has become a student leader on campus. But it took courage.
My maternal grandmother lost her husband in Vietnam. She was left to raise four children by herself. She never remarried and spent many years taking care of her children, grandchildren, and, very briefly, her mother who was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. As a teacher, she valued education and would play “school” with me when I was little. I believe her passion for education and ambition were instilled in me and are carried out today.
My great-grandmother was an entrepreneur; she owned a beauty salon. She is 94 years old and has suffered the loss of two husbands and a boyfriend, but she is fiercely independent and still sharp as a tack. When I ask her the secret to getting older she tells me, “Stay active and around people.”
Sure, they aren’t perfect, but neither am I. Who is? They did the best they could with what they were given. Their persistence, strength, and humor are what got them through to the other side.
Sometimes I face adversity, and I’m afraid to move forward from my circumstances. But then I look behind me, at the women who came before me and remember my roots are firmly planted in a rich history. Life takes bravery and risks, but the courageous women of my family tree have shown me how to thrive.