Strong Women, Strong Girls

by Sarah Johnson

sarah.johnson.1Few things please me more than strong women raising strong girls.

As the parent of a teenage female, I witness every day how much the women around her have an influence on her understanding of herself. I want those women to be strong, confident and kind.

Luckily, she’s had some great role models. Over the years, she’s been guided and nurtured by important women in our lives, many of them the “mamas” who first found each other as part of a mostly-outdoor playgroup when our kids were toddlers. Early on we all recognized that these were people we trusted to be part of the community that helps raise our children, and as such, they became “Mama Sarah” or “Mama Kim” instead of Mrs. something or just Kim.

Now we’re all over 40, and many of our kids are actually old enough to get outside without us. Sometimes they do, presumably because we’re doing a good job of raising confident, competent young adults. But our job is not done, and as older, wiser, stronger women, we still have a lot of influence and a lot to share with the young women in our lives. Getting outside with them is one of the best ways to do it.

Nancy Rizzo shows her 12-year-old daughter Kate the way through a challenging route.

When we prioritize being active outside, we demonstrate to young women the lifelong value of taking care of our bodies and minds. The physical health benefits of outdoor recreation are obvious. But perhaps more importantly for our girls, at this emotionally vulnerable and transitional time in their lives, nature is good for our heads.

Richard Louv, the author of “Last Child in the Woods” who coined the term “nature deficit disorder,” notes that lack of time outdoors is linked to anxiety, along with childhood obesity, academic underperformance, and bullying. I am well aware that when I get stuck in my own head, perseverating over that thing that happened at work or the latest crazy political shenanigans, the best way for me to move past it is a mountain bike ride or a hike – even a short one.

Outdoor activities require us to take and respond to risks, skills that are important to successful adulthood. Every time we navigate through the rocks on a rugged trail, attempt a tricky downhill on a mountain bike or run further than we have before, we’re not taking the easy route. Even a walk on the River Trail includes the possibility of uncertain conditions, and we want our girls to know that’s not a reason to stay inside.

Girls need to see us as strong and competent women. Until a few years ago I played soccer in the local co-ed league, and I’ll never forget the look on my daughter’s face when we ran into a male teammate who told her, “your mom’s a rock star on the soccer field.” Even better, though, is when she sees me fail – I want her to witness the yard sale (skier lingo for an impressive, ski- and pole-flailing wipeout) then watch me put my skis back on and happily carve down to the lift for another run.

Anne Nederveld and her daughter Micah hiking at Yosemite.

These days, some of the best talks with my daughter happen on the chairlift and hiking on the trails. There’s something about sitting side by side or walking one in front of the other that allows her to open up in a way that doesn’t happen as naturally when we’re face to face. One friend, whose daughter is 17, says hiking is “one of the things she still does with me during this time that she is pushing away and finding her own identity.”

For many of us, our time in the outdoors is part of our identity. It’s not just about having fun, although that’s a great motivator. Being active in the outdoors is one of the paths to wiser and stronger – as role models, our job is to show our girls the way.

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