This year, as we celebrate IWD2021 and I sit and percolate the #choosetochallenge theme, I can’t help but think about you, the last 18 months and all that you’ve experienced.
You are now 15, almost 16 and it’s incredible how much can change in 2 years – from the relatively naïve 13 year old to a teenager with strong opinions and values. And it is these strong opinions and values that have made the last 2 years such a challenge for you.
Every single day I watch in awe as I see before me the girl becoming the woman. I look on as you challenge and question. I sit back in amazement as you own your voice, stand up for what you believe and lean in to trying new things – something I was too scared to do at 15. And, I witness firsthand how even at 15, when we think so much has changed in society, that it continues to be so much harder to be different than it is to fit in.
I continue to worry about the world you are entering and the continued inequality that exists.
I continue to fear for you when I watch you leave the house with your girlfriends for a fun night out. I worry because of the situations you could find yourself in with boys and men and I get that I am absolutely projecting my inner fears and my own teenage experiences on to you and your life. And I continue to be inspired by your strength and inner wisdom, your willingness to every day challenge the world around you and me – and I want to thank you.
I want to thank you for teaching me so much about me, you and life these last 2 years. And most of all I want to thank you for showing me that every single one of us has the power within to effect change in our own backyards – that actually it is the actions we take and how we make people truly feel every single day that drives the change that we all know is needed.
Let’s be honest, you had a year of hell in Year 9.
The School Bullies Had A Field Day
The school yard bullies beat your confidence out of you – and it broke my heart to watch my strong, confident and full of life daughter go in to hiding.
You spent many nights crying because you didn’t want to go to school and ALL because you didn’t want to conform, you disagreed with their behaviour and because you were honest in sharing with the powers that be what was really going on. You were bullied and ostracised because you had a voice, because you stood up for yourself, because you said NO, THAT IS NOT RIGHT….and yet you were the one that ultimately had to change.
The day you told me you had worked out how to avoid people for the entirety of your lunch broke me.
The day you questioned what friendship really is after experiencing how some ‘friends’ don’t have the courage to stand up for you because it’s easier to keep quiet, it’s easier to fit in.
The day you asked me to help you get out of the school – I sobbed uncontrollably.
And yet you unlocked in me a mumma bear that had to step into her own courage. I had to challenge the status quo of our life, of the decisions we had made, I had to listen to you harder than I have ever listened to you before, and ignore everyone else’s opinions and thoughts.
The bullies may have won because it was you that had to leave the school. But all I see now is my daughter smiling again, showing kindness and gaining in confidence every day. Thank you, Taya for making me really see and really hear you. Thank you for showing me what real strength is; what it really means to stand up to people when all around you want you to conform and when everything inside of you says no despite it hurting so so much. This strength I know will stand you in good stead. Thank you for teaching me to #choosetochallenge how we stand up for ourselves, how we make to decisions and how with bravery we can choose to change the situations around us..
Your Confidence In You Matters Above All Else
I love that you continue to own who you truly are – inside and out and this was even with the ongoing body shaming that happened in Year 9. Even today you said, “I really do love my body now mum”. You navigated the, “Taya, why are you so fat” playground teasing at junior school to being teased online over these last 2 years for having curves and boobs. I love the fact you put a boy back in his box telling him to FUCK OFF after he body shamed you online. I love the fact you challenged your friends when they were wearing exactly the same as you but just because you had boobs you were criticised and abused. I love the fact that you proudly hang out at the beach, laughing and enjoying the sun and surf as any 15 year old girl should.
You have taught me that whilst I may be passionate about helping others unleash their brilliance and owning their spotlight – I have to continue to understand that it is often easier said than done. That irrespective of what we hear, what we know and what we want to be, everyone has different baggage they are bringing with them and our job is to work hard to listen and understand without judgement. That actually, in reality, society continues to love and reward conformity and mass opinion. Thank you, Taya for teaching me to #choosetochallenge this ongoing need to conform and to embrace individuality and all that it brings.
The Pain Is Real Amongst Your Friends
In the last 18 months, amongst your friends, we have seen heartache and heartbreak, mental health challenges, eating disorders and self-harming. Through you I am learning how irrespective of my bigger legacy work and ongoing fight for equality, the need to #choosetochallenge has to happen closer to home too.
People are hurting. Your friends are struggling and it is up to all of us, men and women, mums and dads, generation after generation, to quit the judging and rather facilitate the path forward minimising the potential pain and hurt.
We all have biases. I have biases. These are ingrained in us through our childhood and our own experiences. Whilst there have been a fair few shouting matches where you have shown me how my own unconscious bias affects my judgment – thank you for challenging me and teaching me every day to become a better person, a better woman, a better friend and a better inspiration for others.
You have shown me first-hand the power we all have within us to impact the person to the left and right of us, the person above and below us.
You have shown me how simple acts of kindness – the birthday gift, the chocolate bar or flowers of thanks, the cute little messages of encouragement – build the courage others are needing to push through; how love truly fuels self belief in others to change things and how powerful true friendship is. Here I witness your beautiful and longest friend that is seriously struggling right now, who has lost every one one of her friends and yet YOU are still there with no judgement, with so much love and encouragement, with so much compassion and support. You have shown me how when you connect and support each other, it really is this present moment, right now, that matters because remarkable moments of learning, of love, of belief and of growth are right here right now to experience and enjoy.
Continue to Lean In to the Women Around You
I’m not sure you fully yet appreciate the amazing women in your life.
Raising children is a tough job in this crazy world and even harder when you don’t have extended family and grandparents around to help you, to be the sounding board for things that sometimes you just don’t want to talk to your parents about.
I am forever grateful that you have amazingly strong, kind and warm-hearted women around you that live and breathe #choosetochallenge; that treat you as a human being vs a child and that allow deep conversation, debate and exploration to happen. I love the fact that you love to hang with us. I love the fact that you chat and giggle with them. And to you, Kelly, Alison, Kara, Alicia, Melissa, Maria, I thank you for loving my daughter and your willingness to teach always, without judgement.
This year’s IWD theme can be as big or as small as we want to make it.
Absolutely, there are still massive and (let’s be honest, wrong on so many level) inequalities that continue to exist around the world and I will continue to be a voice for change. At the same time, I realise that as a woman entering into my 50th year around the sun, I also have an important job to do close to home.
Taya, my darling girl, I embrace the opportunity to watch from the sidelines as you keep choosing to challenge the world around you. And whilst I may not fully understand what it’s like to be a teenager in this 21st century world, I thank you for continuing to teach me.
Know that I will always be there to encourage you to think and play bigger, to speak up and challenge current thinking. I will always pick you up when you fall. I will always be there to hear you out and I will always be there with a shoulder to cry on.
I know we are going to be high fiving and celebrating so many incredible things in years to come as you and your generation of women continue to challenge society’s norm and change things up for good.
We may still be fighting for equality in the workplace, in society, in governments, in how we live and lead around the world. But if we can all, you and me, choose to challenge close to home as well as in the world at large, then I do know that things will change.
Abigail Disney once said to me, “You don’t have to climb Mount Everest to drive change, you simply need to choose to be a brick in the wall of change”. I was inspired and motivated then and you my darling reinforce this every day.
After all you are already living in a very different world as a woman than I grew up in, let alone your grandparents.
Change is happening and whilst it may not be happening quick enough, I, for one, am so excited at what we are achieving now and what you and your generation are creating for the next.
I will #choosetochallenge every single day and I am committed to creating the safe space and encouragement for you to #choosetochallenge too
I love you to the moon and back