When Your Mother Wasn’t A Strong Female Role Model

November 29, 2019  |  
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I recently attended a talk on financial wellness lead by a woman who is honestly such a boss. She’s the head of the wealth management team at a massive bank—a real powerhouse I’d love to emulate. She asked if any of us knew who some of the self-made female billionaires in the world are. Someone was surprised to learn that Kylie Jenner is one of them. Say what you may about Kylie but, she did do some pretty smart things with the assets given to her (and I do understand she had quite a head start that most of us do not). But, the woman leading the talk said this and it really struck me: “Well, it’s just a look at what having a strong female role model can do for you.” She was talking about Kris Jenner. Again, we probably all have mixed feelings about this family but one thing is for certain: Kris did not raise her daughters to be meek, submissive women who should just wait around for a rich husband to rescue them. And I…well…I had a mother who sort of did raise me to be that way. Here’s a bit on my experience with that, as I think many women may share it.

female role models

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First off, she didn’t work

The fact is this: my mom didn’t have a career. My American father found her in Europe when she was in her late twenties, he moved her to the United States, he built her a big house with a pool, and he asked her to stop working. He wanted a wife who’d be home when he got home, and who’d be available to spend time with him on the evenings and weekends. And she agreed. So I didn’t witness a mother who was working hard at a career.

female role models

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We had 24/7 care

I am well aware of the fact that stay at home moms can be forces to be reckoned with. They can be true powerhouses. But, another fact is that we had a live-in nanny with whom we spent much of our free time because, again, my dad asked that my mom be available to him during his free time (which coincided with ours). So, she was not that type of powerhouse stay at home mom who was by our side every moment and really shaping us.

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She struggled with depression

My mother also struggled with depression, unfortunately. I remember days when my dad would tell us not to bother our mother, and that she was going to stay in her bedroom that day. Our feelings were very much that she was fragile, and needed to be taken care of—not that she was taking care of herself.

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She didn’t understand the culture

As I mentioned before, my mom came from another country. And, where she grew up, it wasn’t this competitive, start-em-young culture of putting kids on the debate team and making them get summer jobs from a young age. So while she certainly allowed us to do so if we wanted to, she wasn’t the driving force behind it.

female role models

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She attended finishing school

To give you a better picture of my mother, she attended finishing school, and she attended it with some of the children of royalty. Yes, you read that correctly. Being a well behaved, sophisticated but demure woman was in her blood.

female role models

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Her parents applauded her lifestyle

This pattern of teaching the women in our family to be submissive ran deep. My grandparents—my mother’s parents—were very proud of her for finding a wealthy man who essentially turned her into a kept woman. They didn’t worry. They didn’t say things like, “Maybe you should find a career over in America, and have your own way of making a living—just in case.” They bragged about her lifestyle to anybody who’d listen.

female role models

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Nobody spoke to us about money

Our parents did not talk to us about money. This is something that the woman from the wealth management company noted her parents did do: from a young age, she was taught about finances, about what things cost, and about the meaning of making a living and saving. Money was kept out of the conversation around my sister and me.

female role models

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We were taught to be well behaved

The emphasis in our discipline was to be well behaved. It was to be sweet. It was to look nice. I look back at photos of us as children as we looked like little porcelain dolls. I still feel stiff and uncomfortable around my mother. Our dynamic isn’t as free as I wish it were.

female role models

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We weren’t taught to be assertive

The emphasis in our upbringing was not on being assertive. It wasn’t on being go-getters. It wasn’t on being girls who spoke their minds and went after what they wanted. Those things would get in the way of us being “well-behaved,” you see.

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My mom’s friends were like her

My mom surrounded herself with women like her—women who didn’t work, who had wealthy husbands, who had live-in childcare, and whose days were mostly made up of exercising and speaking to a home decorator. So this idea that that’s what it was to be a woman was further ingrained in me.

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I used to think I’d be just like her

Until my mid twenties, I sort of thought that I would be like my mother—that I, too, was destined to be a kept woman. I felt, deep down, that my greatest assets were just my looks and my ability to be “well behaved.” On a deep, deep level, I never thought I’d be a powerful woman.

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It led me to the wrong relationships

If you want proof that I didn’t think I could be powerful, there’s this: for a long time, I only dated guys who treated me like I was a trophy wife in the making. I dated men who focused on the fact that I was pretty and that I was sweet. I felt that I had this whole other side to me that I was hiding from them—the side that is outspoken and funny and strong—because I felt that side would scare them away.

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And the wrong pursuits

I also, for a time, pursued “well behaved” women things like…modeling and…piano. I dabbled with the idea of being a nanny myself. These are perfectly respectable pursuits, but the problem was why I was going after them: I felt I had to stay in my lane.

female role models

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I find role models elsewhere

I was fortunate to find strong female role models elsewhere, like the owner of the shop I worked at in college and my professors. I was lucky that my intuition—that my soul—told me to spend time with them and learn from them. I was drawn to these women because I am those women. And I knew it, deep down. I had just waited a long time to find someone who would bring out the powerhouse in me.

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I’m a little behind on being a boss

Sometimes I get frustrated thinking of how much further along I could be in life if my mother had been a strong female role model. But, honestly, sometimes I’m particularly proud of myself: I made myself strong. I built this on my own. Women who had moms that pushed them can’t say that for themselves.

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