“Hold your head high when you walk.”
“Make sure your skirt and shirt are pulled down.”
“Don’t be louder than a boy.”
“Cross your legs when you sit in a skirt.”
“If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
“At times, it’s OK to be seen and not heard.”
“Make eye contact and say ‘yes ma’am’ and ‘yes sir’.”
“Why buy the cow when the milk is free?”
“Say what you mean and mean what you say.”
“Girls who talk about other girls will most likely talk about you too.”
“Always act like a lady.”
These are just a few of the simple lessons in life I remember my mom teaching me as a young girl. They probably seemed insignificant at the time, but the truth is that these clichés, along with many other one-liners, made a huge impression on me and how I carried myself as a young woman. You may remember things your mom taught you and might even use some on your own children today. It’s OK! Mom really does know best!
I was fortunate enough to grow up in a family where we talked about everything, and my parents took the time to teach basic life lessons and have the tough talks. As I grew up, went off to college, got married, started my career in teaching, and moved three and a half hours away, I began to hear those life lessons in my head through many situations.
As a high school teacher, I started to see myself in the young girls that I was teaching. I overheard conversations about boys and dates. I heard statements filled with worry, re-hashing of arguments between friends, girls grading their parents and giving them unsatisfactory marks. I began noticing certain trends in their behaviors, communication skills, and their social and emotional interactions with peers.
You see and hear a lot in the hallways. These sweet girls—daughters—were conforming to whichever group, boy, style, or fad would accept them. They weren’t standing for anything, and they were falling for everything.
High School Girls Need Guidance
The truth is that these girls needed to learn how to deal with the ups and downs of life while holding onto their dignity, purpose, and class. They were about to enter into the “mistake zone” of life, ages 18-24, and I was not going to let them go down without a fight. The statistics for teen girls, especially girls in the “mistake zone,” are staggering when it comes to peer pressure of all kinds: eating disorders, self-harming, sex, identity, father issues, dangerous technology use, and more.
As the year went on, I noticed that some of the girls began to see me as almost a big sister to them or even a mom in some cases. They would stop by during lunch to talk, share private details of their lives with me, ask for advice, or, more times than not, they would ask me questions about my life, my marriage, and my relationships. It was like they were looking for me to answer life’s toughest questions for them or give them tips on how to lead a life that they would be proud of.
I by no means had life figured out, but I spent more time with these girls during an average school day five days a week than a lot of their parents spent an entire week due to work, schedules, etc. I began to form some sweet bonds with many of the girls and started to see their needs and desires just to belong.
No matter how popular they were, the brands of clothes they wore, whether they were a cheerleader or in the band, had a boyfriend on the football team or acne breakouts, these high school girls all desired the same thing: to be noticed and to belong. The sad part is that they were sacrificing themselves, their beliefs, and their knowledge of right and wrong to “belong” anywhere and to anyone.
What It Means to Be a “Lady”
After a year or so of teaching high school, I developed a deep inner sense of responsibility for these teen girls. I began to realize that many of them simply needed to be reminded of (or taught) how to be a lady.
Unfortunately, the word “lady” has become disparaged or dismissed in recent times, but I see it as a title of honor and a description of someone special. These young women needed to know the truth about how to act, talk, and think like a real lady. They needed someone to show them how to socially interact with girls and boys their age. They needed someone to guide them in knowing what to look for in a boyfriend or to tell them what is acceptable and unacceptable in a relationship. It seemed as though they were getting their life lessons from TV, movies, magazines, books, and music videos.
I remember telling my husband that I felt like I needed to do something. I felt like I was the only “lady” some of these girls were ever going to see or be able to learn from, and I had to act fast! Obviously, I wasn’t the only example of a lady around; there were several other teachers, counselors, coaches, and incredible moms that were amazing role models for our high school’s girls, but many of the ones that I saw every day and had grown to love as my own children were looking to me.
I began researching girls’ clubs, and one of the best books I read was Redefining Beautiful by Jenna Lucado. This was exactly what needed to be done. These girls needed a fresh but truthful and accurate definition of beauty. I began to discover that my role as a teacher was more than teaching grammar, grading papers, and reading novels.
I became very passionate about pointing teenage girls toward the truth and helping them embrace humility, class, and their true worth in an all-about-me deceiving world. After recognizing my passion and accepting the challenge, I shared my idea with my principal, who gave me the green light.
These high school girls all desired the same thing: to be noticed and to belong.
I put together a mission statement and devised a plan to start a club at the school that would ignite a “lady” movement. I hoped that the girls of our community would begin to discover what it means to be a true lady in a not-so-ladylike world. I wanted them to learn how to address the big issues like identity, worth, and true beauty so that they will be able to embrace who they were created to be fully.
I believe that every girl is finely created with specific and unique talents, and characteristics, and has so much to offer, but the world tells us something else. Together we would redefine “beautiful” and find our inner sophisticated lady.”
The Sophisticated Ladies Club
I named the club “The Sophisticated Ladies Club” and began putting the plan into action. I made flyers, brochures, and had the technology class create a powerful commercial to run during announcements. I knew I was meant to be a teacher (even after changing my major about five times in college), but for the first time, I realized my job had a much bigger purpose than just being a job. I was there to make a difference. I made great connections with my students and shared my heart through my teaching. My classroom was a sweet place to be. It wasn’t all business.
For the club, I promoted and created the you-don’t-want-to-miss-this-event mentality among the girls in our school. Our first meeting was a packed house! The girls came out by the droves—from all different backgrounds, social statuses, and talents. It was neat to see so many different girls all craving the same thing.
Throughout the next two or so years, we met, talked, cried, had breakthroughs, learned, served others, read, and created. We became friends. I had so much fun coming up with what each lesson or club meeting would be about.
We discussed everything from gossip, fashion, leadership, and relationships on every level of their lives. We talked about security, insecurity, how to be professional, and so much more! We even had a daddy-daughter date night where we rented a room at a restaurant, the dads brought their daughters on the date, and I got to speak to the dads about the importance of their role in their little girl’s life.
Not only were these young women taught how to be a lady, but they served like one too. We served our school, a local church, and their own families. Our mission statement was “Being a lady in a not-so-ladylike world.” We had t-shirts made, because who doesn’t love a good T-shirt? The club grew, and there was a continued desire and need for it, so much so that it was made into a class the next year. I was so thankful that it was making a difference in many of the girls’ lives, and it was having an impact on mine!
We started, endured, and in many cases, finished journeys together. I’ll never forget when my husband and I started the adoption process for our first child, and these girls were right in the thick of the journey with me. When we were finally placed with our son, Andrew, the school hosted a baby shower for us, and when I walked into the room and saw about 50 sweet faces smiling and crying with me, my heart could have busted! To this day, I still get sweet messages on his birthday saying it was a day they’ll never forget.
Changed Lives and Lifelong Friendships
Most have moved on, are in college, are working, or have families of their own, but they still take the time to send me updates. Some will ask for advice, ask for good book recommendations, send me pictures of their families, invite me to dinner, and even ask me to direct their wedding and have my kids be their ring-bearer and flower girl! These girls also make the best babysitters!
The memories I made while having them over for spaghetti dinners and game nights, holding their hands while they cried, jumping for joy when they succeeded, and being their “second mom” (as some still call me), will always hold a special place in my heart. I am so privileged to have known them, and now, in many cases, to be their friend.
I truly believe that many of my girls redefined what beauty is in their lives, and do so changed them forever!
Today, I challenge you to think back to a crucial time in your life. It might not be middle school or high school; it might be your college years. It might be a struggle you walked through or a time of great success. Whatever and whenever it was, think about the women who impacted you the most. What did they say? What did they do? How did they mentor, motivate, or inspire you to be your best self?
I challenge you to be that person for another woman. I truly believe everything happens how it is supposed to, so wherever you’ve been, or wherever you are, you can make a difference. Stop and look around. You might be the inspiration another woman needs today.
You’ll love this podcast episode from This Grit and Grace Life:Are You a Strong Woman of Grit and Grace? – 072