A conversation I didn’t have with my mother I will definitely have with my daughter.
I’m an Indian woman.
When I was a little girl, my mother asked me to be strong.
But now, when I look back, I realize ‘strong’ didn’t mean brave enough to speak up for my rights, or courageous enough to say no.
It didn’t mean assertive enough to draw my boundaries and stick to them like I’d seen my father do.
It didn’t mean ambitious enough to carve out my own identity before I depended on a man to make my world easy.
For my mother, ‘strong’ only meant one thing — endure. It meant don’t speak up. Be the twine that holds a burning world together even if it tears you up.
Especially if it tears you up.
It meant listening to whatever your parents told you, always abiding by the rules, and never going against what the authorities say.
It meant to be a good wife and agree even if your husband asks you to do something you don’t like. It meant to be a good mother even though you never wanted kids.
It meant loving and giving and sacrificing your soul only to keep your family happy.
My mother taught me that as a woman, I should measure strength by my ability to endure pain.
And that is what she did wrong.
And so, even though I don’t want a daughter, I know there will be many young women who look up to me in some form or another. Based on what I saw and learned, here’s what I’d tell them:
You are strong when you say NO.
You are strong when you choose your happiness over societal conventions.
You are strong if you want a man, a woman, or nobody at all. You are strong when you desire a family. You are strong when you don’t.
Your strength lies in how beautiful a life you can carve out for yourself despite all odds. It lies in how you never settle for anything less. It lies in how much you inspire and how other women aspire to be like you.
Your strength doesn’t require you to bleed and cry and always give up your dreams for someone else’s. It lies in how well you are able to support yourself and the people who depend on you. It lies in knowing what you want and not settling for anything less.
Your strength is how you break the conventions and spell out a new future for yourself. It doesn’t depend on how much pain you can bear or how hard you can work.
Your strength is not defined by how much you achieved. Your strength lies in knowing your self-worth without mentally checking off a list of prerequisites.
Your strength lies in your smile, your ideas, your beautiful heart.
Your strength lies within you. It doesn’t depend on anyone else.
So, bend but don’t break. Fight, but don’t sacrifice yourself for its sake. Say yes, but only for the opportunities that spark a fire in your soul.
You are you. There’s power in that. Don’t let anyone make you feel otherwise.
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