‘Strong Girls’ grow up feeling secure in themselves, they take action and making positive choices about their own lives, and caring about others. They are not scared to acknowledge their feelings and thoughts, and they feel good about themselves. They grow up with a “can-do” attitude, but of course, they may have times of uncertainty and self-doubt but these feelings are not going to stop them from achieving their goals because they’ve learnt to work through these insecurities.
One of our readers, Wilna Mc Kenna shares her challenges, sacrifices, and the joy of raising her two daughters as ‘Strong Girls’. Wilna, born and raised in Seychelles is married to Ciarán, an Irish man, and currently live in County Wicklow, also known as the Garden of Ireland. She is the proud mother of Cara (13) and Anya (11)
This is her take on motherhood and raising strong girls.
Daughter number one, Cara, is 13 years old. Cara’s friends describe her as sweet, caring, and friendly. She is intelligent, very diligent with her school work, and has a great sense of humour. A typical teenager. She loves music and fashion. Her passion is swimming and from the early age of 7, when she won her first ever gold medal in a swimming gala, Cara has her eyes set on the Olympics! Besides swimming, her other favourite sport is athletics. She has represented her school and local athletics team on numerous occasions.
I will forever be grateful to my firstborn for giving me the opportunity to be a Mother; for Motherhood changed me. Never before had I thought that I would, at the snap of a finger, willingly and happily give up everything I had worked so hard for my entire life, in the name of love! I had a good education, a career with great prospects, wonderful family and friends’ support, but becoming a mum to Cara my priorities suddenly changed. Mothering became my sole focus, hence my decision to up and leave my beloved Seychelles and settled in Europe. Although in normal times (pre-pandemic) I do operate Airbnb, my main job remains to be a full-time mother to my girls. Many people questioned my decision back then, but today it is still probably the best decision I ever made for my little family.
Anya, an all-rounder will celebrate her 11th birthday this month (28 March). She is very sensible for her age, intelligent, sensitive, brave, and funny. She loves swimming and running. Anya suffers from numerous food allergies but she has a huge appetite for a little girl. Like we say in Seychelles, “It’s cheaper to clothe her than feed her!” She also suffers from asthma from a very young age but her ailments have never deterred her from living a normal and happy life. Anya is a little lady of many talents and like her big sister, she loves swimming and dreams to be an Olympian one day. She is also a keen runner and is part of the local athletics team. She loves drawing and dancing. Raising Anya can be challenging considering all her food allergies and asthma, but we adapt and always look on the bright side.
Parenting has never been and will never be plain sailing. We all want the best for our children, and sometimes we even want better than what we had growing up. That in itself is a challenge.
I moved from sunny Seychelles to wet, and sometimes cold Ireland. This is where I am raising my children. For many of us, who have moved country as an adult, there is oftentimes the cultural and climatic change to adapt to—raising children in a different culture, speaking a different language, without your family network for support—that’s another challenge.
My husband works at sea and is away half of the year. This means that despite being happily married, I get to experience single parenting for six months of the year. Although I have the best support from my Irish in-laws and friends, this can be tough, more so when the girls were younger—another challenge.
I chose not to bring up my girls the way I was brought up; that is I never raise a hand to my children whereas at the age of 20 I was still often belted for my mistakes. The way I discipline my girls is to sit them down and talk to them. I let them figure out where they went wrong, emphasising the consequences of their actions. Sometimes I need to raise my voice, but I rarely have to ground them on their first mistake.
As parents, both Ciarán and myself know that our girls are privileged to be able to call two of the most beautiful countries in the world, Seychelles and Ireland—home. We always endeavour to maintain both cultures in our everyday lives. Creole food, creole songs, words, and anecdotes are everyday things in our household. We also ensure constant communication with my family back home. Social media facilitates this for us these days. It has not been easy, at least not at first, but with perseverance and proper support, so far so good.
Showing interest in their studies
As a parent, you have to be involved in your children’s education. It is of utmost importance to them, that you show interest in what they are doing at school. You should by all means help out with homework and school projects, however, I find that by keeping a close relationship with the school community, I am in a more favourable position to help my girls. I, therefore, have been actively involved with the school PTA as it makes it easier for me to keep up to date with what they are doing. I also volunteer with other organisations where the girls have interests; Scouting Ireland and our local Athletics team. I also maintain a close relationship with the swimming coaches for easier interactions. And now that we have moved to online teaching, I am finally developing teaching skills!
Let them make their own choices
Cara and Anya have always been supported in whatever activity they choose to do. From a very young, we decided to allow them to try their hands at as many extra-curricular activities as they wanted. They’ve tried ballet, art, gymnastics, athletics, scouting, swimming, surf rescue, dancing, amongst others. Of course, some were dropped along the way. But it was always a decision that came from them. The only rule was that once they started something new, there will be no quitting before giving it a good go.
As they got older, the list has become shorter, and swimming topped as a common interest. I cannot swim to save my life, but my girls are good at it and I am proud of them. This is a talent passed on to them by their father, a competitive swimmer, and ex-player on the Irish water polo national team. When I realised the girls’ love and potentials for swimming, surfing, surf rescue, and anything water-related, I simply took on the supportive role. I researched clubs and activities happening around us that they could get involved with, and after discussing with them, I enrolled them, and then the fun began.
Unfortunately, with current Covid restrictions, pools have been closed for months now, hence no swimming. Hiking is now the new hobby for the whole household.
Give them your full Support
It is fortunate for us as parents that our two daughters mostly like the same activities. This is important for two main reasons: giving lifts to and from activities, and financially doable for us. However, they both know that first and foremost is what they want. We are merely there to support and advise as best as we can.
Other than providing financial support and transportation, I support their activities by taking care of the administrative part of things, like keeping a diary of training, galas, and competitions amongst many other things. I also provide the loudest cheering voice when they’re competing!
My husband and I are doing our best for the girls to achieve their maximum potential in life. The sky’s the limit, we often remind them. We believe they have the ability to do well in life. We are honestly not sitting and dreaming of Olympic medals, this is their dream. But we show them that we believe in them and in their dream. All we want is for them to believe in themselves as we believe in them.
Dealing with disappointments and failure
“If you’ve never failed, you’ve never lived” is how the saying goes. The hard truth is: everyone has failed, and everyone will fail again, including our girls.
A hug, a kiss, and comforting words of encouragement are the normal ways we deal with failures. Sometimes a cup of hot chocolate or ice cream does the trick. Other times, silence works too. It all depends on the situation.
I try to instil in them that honesty is always the best policy and that lying only makes the situation worse. My girls know that I will always have their backs. If they are at fault (as it sometimes happens because they’re little humans growing up), my expectation is that they tell me the truth. Even when they know I am going to be disappointed and mad at them. If I don’t know the truth, I will not be able to help them.
Accepting their imperfections
As humans, we are not perfect and never will be, but everybody needs a second chance. For this reason, I believe it is ok to allow children to be children. To make mistakes and learn from them. What is important as parents is to let them know where they erred and to guide them onto better paths. It’s okay to make mistake, take the wrong decision, the wrong turn. But it’s key to recognise the fault, take the bull by the horn, and change for the better!
As my own mother always said, “you don’t raise your child for yourself, but for the world, they have to live in.” As parents, we may accept their shenanigans, but the society in which they have to live in may not so they also need to recognise their mistakes.
Showing trust and mutual understanding
I am known to be a strict parent. I cannot stand my children being disrespectful to me or anybody else. However, I also operate an open-door policy and no judgment with my children. They know that they can talk to me about anything. Of course, children are children, and it’s not easy for them to tell their parents everything. So, my approach is to let them feel that I trust them in the hope that they feel confident enough to talk to me.
The birds and the bees, and body image
One evening, when Anya was at the tender age of 4, I had the two girls in the bath, Anya asked me how are babies made. I said “It’s a special hug between mammies and daddies”, to which she asked, “But how are they REALLY made?” It was her first lesson on our reproductive system. Yes, I broke it down to her level of understanding. I educated both of them about the birds and the bees. I expected more questions in the days to come, but nothing for a long while. So, my advice to all parents is never to lie to your child. Give them the truth, simplify it for their age group if need be, but always tell the truth. As for my girls, by the time their class had the “talk” about girl’s reproductive system and periods, they were well aware of it, and in fact, they found it strange that some girls had the difficulty of understanding and accepting it.
As mixed-race children, living in a predominantly white people society, both Cara and Anya wanted straight hair for years. I suppose they just wanted to look like their friends and fit in. I was determined not to put hair relaxers, or any chemical in their hair at such young age, but I would often use a GHD hair straightener and flat iron their hair—hard work, and the straight hair lasted for a couple of days at the most. Two years ago, I decided to go natural, and this has so far been my best move of ‘leading by example’. Both girls are now embracing their naturally curly hair. In fact, they are more serious about it than I am.
Empowering our daughters
“You can do it!” I say to the girls many times, as I encourage them to perform a task they may find overwhelming because it is important to constantly remind them of that simple fact. But this is only one of the many ways to empower our young girls in this day and age. Encouraging learning and researching about things, and nurturing a culture of debate will help empower girls. I for one keep telling my daughters that they have a voice, and to use it. Use it wisely, use it politely, but use it.
I do believe that the World is entering an era where feminine spirit is more needed. We are clearly heading towards a place where womenfolk is equal to its counterpart, and if that means me staying at home now to ensure the future has two level-headed empowered girls in their midst, then so be it – that’s my job done!
Instilling social confidence
I am a very social person. I love company, I love friends, I love socialising. I talk to anyone and everyone. I must say the girls are not as bad. Anyhow, I strongly believe that as a mother I have to work at instilling social confidence in my daughters. I think it helps to let your young daughters know that they are just as good and beautiful as any other girl out there. Keep reminding them that they are worth it and that they matter. Making friends and getting out is crucial in young people’s development. Unfortunately, the current Covid restrictions are limiting social interactions at the moment, but we will get back to socialising as soon as possible. In the meantime, I am allowing more screen and phone time to communicate with friends.
My daughters have brought the best out of me. They have made me aware of a certain type of love that I never imagined possible. I gave up my whole life in Seychelles and adapted to new ways of life in a foreign country. When I came to live here, I had no friends. Through the children, I met lovely people and now have a solid circle of friends on whom I can rely.
When I moved to Ireland I barely knew how to drive. I had a Seychelles driving license for years but had never practiced. In all honesty, I was scared of taking to the big roads here but living in the countryside, with two young children and my husband working away, that soon changed. I found confidence thanks to my children.
I am also grateful to my children for encouraging me to remain active. They are forever on the go and I have to keep up with them.