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Raising Daughters to Be Themselves

We all have to curb our expectations

We all fall into expectations—both conscious and subconscious—that we've developed long before our daughters entered our lives. Every mother expects her daughter to follow the course she (the mother) knows. But perhaps you are an accountant, and God gives you an artistic daughter who has never understood coloring within any lines. Or you garden, producing and eating only organic produce, then daily slip into your Birkenstocks, and your daughter wants to become an entertainment lawyer. Imagine a woman who is a politician, always in the limelight, and her daughter wanting to be a stay-at-home mom in the carpool lane.

That's where a mother's counseling in personal creativity must get really creative. It must not only ensure that your daughter follows a path of growth in character and principles, but that she also pursues her own place in our human race. The one uniquely designed for her … not the path you choose for her or one of others' expectations.

The girl you are entrusted with is not a clone of you, and she's not her sister or her cousin. She should also not be conformed to the image of what others—your mother, mother-in-law, neighbor, friend—think she should be. This is not to say there might not be invaluable advice from each of those people. But each premise, yours or theirs, must be tempered with the nature of your daughter. Are your expectations based on what's best for your girl—or simply there because it's what you know, what you've been told, and what you're comfortable with?

To do the job of motherhood well, we need to be confident about who we are—even when we don't know how to handle a situation. We need to know what our worth is, what we believe, and how we want to live. If we understand these important issues, it will be easier to guide our daughters to do the same. To perform effectively the duties of a Creative Counselor, we are required to set aside our comfort and do our best to help our daughters follow their own course … all the while maintaining their individuality.

Nellie Cashman is a great example. Though not much has been written about her, I find her series of adventures fascinating. Born in Queenstown, Ireland, she and her older sister, Frances, immigrated to America in 1851, when Nellie was 16 years of age. Arriving at Boston Harbor, they stayed one year, then boarded a transcontinental train for San Francisco, California.

Nellie signed on as a single woman at the age of 23 to a mining troupe as cook and set out for the Cassier Districts in the mountains of Juneau, Alaska. Nellie was a lone, petite, attractive woman, but she held her own. Even in the mining camp the men treated her with dignity and respect. She worked alongside them, cooking and mining, and suffered the same hardship, success, and disappointments they did.

After a year in the mines she left Alaska in the fall to venture into the larger city of Victoria, British Columbia. Upon arrival, she received word that a fierce winter storm had trapped the men she left behind. They had exhausted the major portion of their food and word was they were seriously ill from scurvy and couldn't make their way out.

Nellie purchased potatoes and vegetables, the nutrient-rich foods needed to treat the disease, hired six men to join her expedition, then turned right around and headed back to the mountains. Traversing the ongoing winter storm, Nellie and her hired companions made it back to camp in time to save the lives of her prospecting friends. The mining community's hearts were won, and Nellie became known as "The Angel of Cassair."

Nellie's endeavors included a restaurant in Tombstone, mining in Nevada, and a business in Montana.

In Tombstone, Nellie was well-known for her passion and compassion. Early one morning, she, along with a few men she'd hired, demolished gallows built to hang five murderers. This wasn't done because they were innocent, but because the city was charging admission to the execution. She thought everyone "should die with dignity." After her morning demolition project, she went to the jail and spoke with each man, giving them the opportunity for one last confession. It was their souls that interested her.

Her sister, Frances, was by now widowed and had been left with five children. When Frances was significantly injured from a fall in 1880, Nellie immediately moved to live with her in San Francisco and help take care of the children. Three years later, upon her sister's death, Nellie took it upon herself to become parent and caretaker. Never having married, she moved the children to her home in Tombstone and into her life.

Once back in Tombstone, Nellie again rescued another human. When the price of silver decreased at the Grand Central Mining Company, angry employees were overheard planning the kidnapping and lynching of the mine superintendent. Hearing of their scheme, Nellie paid a visit to the superintendent's home. After a brief stay, she leisurely drove her buggy into town down the main road, then abruptly turned into the railroad station. Jumping out from under a blanket in the back of her buggy was Superintendent Gage. He leaped onto the platform, jumped into the train, and left the city with his life.

After the children were raised, Nellie moved back to Alaska to the territory she loved. This Alaskan legend, known as the first female prospector in this challenging land, lived in a cabin, traveling 12 miles by snowshoes to get her mail. At age 70 she was still mushing (running behind a dog sled) and set a record that year as she mushed her dog sled 750 miles in 17 days and became champion musher of the world.

I tell you this story because Nellie lived a life I'm pretty sure her mother would never have planned for her. Looking into her sweet daughter's eyes Nellie's mother may have envisioned Nellie playing the piano and raising socialite children while entertaining with her mayor husband.

Like many other little girls of her era, she could have chosen a domestic life far simpler and much less physically challenging. But that was neither Nellie's course nor her character. Hardships and adventures were a mainstay for her as she led the difficult life of a pioneer.

And because she did so, lives were changed. Men about to hang were allowed to face their death with dignity. Miners lived to prospect again. Her valiant rescue of the mine superintendent not only saved his life but stopped those who were angry from committing an act they would regret the rest of their lives. Her sisters' children were reared in love and confidence. And Nellie was friend and caretaker to so many more.

Nellie followed a pattern that would have made sense to very few, yet countless lives of those around her were made better by her unexpected choices.

I have absolutely no information on the mother of Nellie Cashman, but I feel fairly confident that she had to have reared her daughters to follow their own course. It is what we must do as well. If we unwittingly force a mold upon our daughter because of what we or culture expects her to be, others will miss being the beneficiaries of things only your daughter may be capable to do. But if your daughter is encouraged to fulfill her unique place in this world, she will indeed leave a powerful legacy in the lives around her.

Then you, my friend, will have been a very effective mother.

Excerpted from Help Wanted: Moms Raising Daughters by Darlene Brock. Used by permission from The Grit and Grace Project, LLC

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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