Caroline Paul’s book, The Gutsy Girl, Escapades for Your Life of Epic Adventure, had us at orange binding, funny illustrations, and insane stories of extreme adventure. Our parents love giving this book to the girls and boys in their life — there is even space for kids to journal. Not every parent was as comfortable as Caroline with flying into clouds, or climbing bridges at night. They had a few questions about how these stories connect to raising brave girls.
You can chime in too! To win one of four Gutsy Girl buttons, share your examples and ideas about encouraging girls to face fear and practice bravery in the comments. Winning comments randomly chosen on May 3, 2016.
I want my daughter to be adventurous, but I wouldn’t describe myself that way. I worry that I can’t give her what I don’t have. How would I, a 40+ year old mom of two, with a full time job, begin exploring a life of adventure?
CP: Adventure is getting outside of your own comfort zone, not that of someone regularly featured in National Geographic. So you don’t have to scale an iceberg or track hurricanes by car. Hiking with a picnic on a local trail, or deciding to bike to work – those are adventures. I like this quote: “You’re a big wave surfer if the wave is big for YOU.” (My apologies to the sage who said this, as I can’t remember who it was.)
Learning a new outdoor activity (stand up paddling is a favorite of mine), or joining an outdoors group (Outdoor Afro and Sierra Club to name just two) are great inroads to adventure It’s never too late to be an adventurer, either. At age 54, Anne Mustoe retired from her job as a school teacher and decided to bike 12,000 miles around the world. “I was not athletic. I was not young. I didn’t know how to mend a puncture,” she said. She set off and completed the journey anyway.
How can parents encourage adventure in their kids?
CP: I was a shy and scared kid. And my parents weren’t outdoorsy. But my mother had herself grown up with a fearful mom, who didn’t let her or her sister do anything rough and tumble for fear they would be hurt. When my mother was 21 she went on a ski trip with friends. It was a revelation! She had more fun than she’d ever had. So when she became a parent, she vowed that she would encourage her kids (my twin, my brother, and me) to try as many things as possible. Life already had its risks, whether she liked it or not, so we might as well learn to handle them, and have fun in the process. We sledded, we rode skateboards, we rode bikes, we ice-skated, we skied. We didn’t have to stick to any of it, but we had to give each a good go. At a very young age I learned not to be afraid of new things, but to embrace them.
I love this book, but we live in the city and don’t have access to a car or a tent, so how can we be outdoorsy? I grew up camping and playing outside, but my daughter is a self-described “girly-girl.” I want to respect her authentic identity, but not have it limit her options and choices. Do you have any easy entry points for a tween who is tightly bonded with her mascara and hairdryer?
CP: I strongly believe that adventuring can take place close to home, in an urban setting. In most cites there are nearby parks, lakes, public swimming pools, and trails on which to hike, bike and swim. Being a “girly girl” does not mean that your tween won’t enjoy these options. She can do her hair before leaving, if that’s what it takes to encourage her to go.
First and foremost though, take baby steps. Don’t drag her along on a long hike in abysmal weather. Take a short walk at first (preferably with a borrowed puppy), or maybe an easy bike ride. How about ten minutes on the fire escape trying to find the Big Dipper? Include ice cream! Show her the outdoors can be fun, and that it doesn’t conflict with being a girly girl.
I am truly scared of bugs. Is this a big deal? I am not sure this is going to change for me.
CP: Fear is an important emotion. We use it to protect ourselves. But if your fear of bugs isn’t protecting you (and most aren’t harmful so it probably isn’t) then it is most likely a hindrance, however small. So why not look at this as an opportunity to practice overcoming a fear, as that’s a skill vital for a happy and healthy life? This begins by taking small steps outside of your bug comfort zone. Read about all the great things bugs do for the world! Then ask someone to sit with you while you stare at a real bug for longer than usual before screaming. Then imagine yourself picking one up. Then actually pick one up. You are practicing what Girls Leadership calls “microbravery.” Remember, bravery is learned, and like anything learned, it just has to be practiced.
How has your outdoor adventure influenced your day-to-day life? Are outdoor challenges what scares you the most? Or are social or professional or personal challenges just as hard or harder?
CP: I wish competence at fighting a fire, pitching a tent, or flying an ultralight translated directly to being a fine human! There is a gap, and sometimes I manage myself with more skill in a dicey outdoor predicament than in an uncomfortable relationship situation. But the outdoors taught me that resilience is key – making mistakes, rethinking the situation, and trying again, better this time.
I tried changing a bike tire. I had plenty of candy (thanks for the recommendation), but I just ended up greasy with a flat tire still stuck. Next steps?
CP: It’s fine to ask for help when tackling a new challenge. The key is to stay engaged with the process. As girls we are often taught to let someone else fix something for us (especially if it’s mechanical) and we never bother to learn, thinking someone else will always step up. But learning new skills is not only practical (because sometimes there’s no one in sight to help), it improves our confidence in ourselves. So ask for help with that surly bike tire, but make sure you’re not just fishing for a chance to take a nap. Your goal is to be able to change that tire on your own next time.