Not long ago, I posted the following picture via @mommafiltered to one of my social media accounts:
The idea seemed to resonate with people, as one-by-one, encouraging messages and ‘likes’ poured in. A handful felt the need to clarify that it’s important for boys to be raised the same way, which … yes, obviously.
But I couldn’t shake the feeling that my daughter needs clearer, more intentional direction in this regard—not because of any inherent difference between she and her brothers, but because, culturally, girls receive far more damaging messages.
They tend to be praised for passivity above provocation; compliance above candor. Our girls are taught to be peacemakers to a fault. In doing so, they learn that their behaviors are more important than their ideas, and that their self-worth is inextricably tied to the way in which others perceive them.
I want more for my daughter.
I want her to be brave enough to face the world as she is, stripped of all pretense. Yes, brave. Because despite the feel-good primary school lessons we all grew up with, people don’t actually want you to be you. They want to be comfortable. They want validation. What they don’t want is to be challenged or inconvenienced or to acknowledge nuance when black and white is so much simpler. They want the Cliff’s Notes version.
Refuse to give it.
As for my girl, I want her to know that she needn’t keep her opinions locked up inside for fear of rocking the boat. No, I want her to stand firm when the ground beneath her feet begins to shake. I want her to be confident enough to swim when the shaking gives way to the cold wet sea. And I want her to feel at home in the knowledge that the boat was never her responsibility to keep afloat, anyway.
I want her to be fearless.
Only then will she set foot on the path to authenticity—and what is life if not lived proudly and unapologetically? Shallow, it turns out.
I know because I spent the first three decades of my life caring deeply about what others thought of me.
As a child, I was quiet Katie—reserved and timid. As an adult, I grew into cautious Caitlin—brimming with passion and opinions but reluctant to make them known.
Taking my first hesitant steps into military life, I felt pulled in two opposing directions. On one hand, I became far more comfortable making new friends and navigating small talk—no small feat for a textbook introvert. Yet on the other, I pulled my true self further inside. There were unspoken rules of acceptability—opinions and worldviews that had somehow been designated as the “norm.” Any variation would be problematic, to say the least.
So I kept my mouth shut at FRG meetings, casual gatherings, and formal events. While others felt free to let their opinions fly, it was clear that some of mine were unwelcome. Ingratiating myself in a new community every few years was hard enough. I couldn’t afford to deviate from expectations—or so I thought.
Eventually, though, I tiptoed into the scary waters of truth. I began writing. I did so for a million articulable reasons. But at its core, I realized that bottling up every unpopular feeling for so long was deeply unsatisfying. Once I allowed my real thoughts to see the light of day, there was no putting the proverbial genie back in the bottle.
Soon, I waded deeper into those murky waters. I began sharing my writing. It was terrifying, but I kept at it.
I wrote about everything: parenting, politics, current events, and military life. It could be serious or lighthearted, humorous or contemplative. But it was always me. And I felt that, on some level, my daughter would sense that shift and would be better off for it.
The reality is, there is no happy ending to living authentically. It’s a process that requires active practice. And the consequences can, unfortunately, be painful.
It turns out that cautious Caitlin was far more acceptable for some. I have lost friends on this journey –it’s true. Most were superficial friendships, born of location and opportunity more than anything. But others, well … I carry those losses in my heart.
It’s an unfortunate burden but a necessary one, because there’s simply no looking back. I’ve come too far to compromise myself for anyone. And with that realization has come the freedom to let go of others’ opinions of me. After all, my opinions are just as valid and deserve to be spoken into life.
Others’ perception of me may no longer be hurtful, but their absence still hurts. Their disappearance, either physical or virtual, can be palpable and I sometimes wish I could remind them of the person they used to know. Even as Cautious Caitlin, my words and actions were genuine — there was just more to me than they knew. I’m sorry that I lost some friendships; I am not, however, sorry for who I am. I have no reason to be.
The good news is I have discovered that like attracts like. My willingness to be more open has led to more fulfilling friendships. Finding like-minded individuals has become a regular and joyful occurrence; not because they failed to exist before, but because I failed to find our commonalities by virtue of my silence.
And the best part? Now I can look my daughter in the eye when I tell her it’s important to be herself no matter what others think.
I will continue to push myself to be vulnerable, even when there are consequences because my daughter needs to know that the right thing is not always the easy thing. And when she looks back on her childhood, I hope she sees herself more positively than I did.
My wish for her is that she doesn’t find herself tip-toeing into the waters of truth as an adult. Rather, I hope she dives in, bold and fearless.
And when her splash causes some to swim away, I hope she floats in their wake without a care in the world; because she deserves it—we all do.