Eleanor Roosevelt was on to something.
Recent developments in my life have had me thinking about strong women, and what makes them tick. Women go through life, doing what needs to be done. We spend our days taking care of our families and our jobs, often putting ourselves last on our own priority lists. But back us against a wall, and you may discover we have strengths you weren't expecting. Don't underestimate us, or the fictional heroines we love to read because they, too, are rooted in strong women.
My family and friends think I am a strong woman. But compared to some women I know, I’m a wimp.
One woman I know is a wife, a mother of three children under 6, and a full-time researcher. Her youngest son was born prematurely, and before the age of 1, starting having seizures and coding. For months, she was afraid to leave his side in case he had another episode, and yet she did, in order to keep her other children’s lives as normal as possible. One night, her oldest son told her he must not be praying right because he prayed that the baby would never have to go to the hospital again and yet he did. He asked her to pray with him to be sure that he was talking to God the right way. Although she told me that just about broke her heart, she managed to do as he asked without falling apart. She is the glue that holds her family together, and I admire her for fighting to keep life as normal as possible for her kids during such a difficult time. And despite all she has on her plate, she finds time to ask about me and my family.
Another woman was seriously injured and lost her fiancé in a car accident before she was 20. Over time, she was able to rebuild her life. She married and now has two adult children. Her youngest graduated high school and joined the Marines. Although she is terrified something will happen to him, she acts strong for him because that’s what he needs. She focuses on his accomplishments and lets him know how proud she is of him. But one year later, she finds herself struggling to cope. After a strange phone call from her, I found her sitting on the patio in the dark wrapped in an old chenille robe. I held her in my arms, letting her cry until she couldn’t cry any more. She thanked me but it wasn’t necessary – she would do the same for me.
An older woman relies on her strong religious faith to carry her though daily life. She is always giving to others, sending notes of encouragement or offering to help in some other way. Her positive outlook slipped when she went through a difficult time with health issues that included three surgeries in a little over a year. She wasn’t recovering as quickly as she expected and without realizing it, she started relying on medications. It wasn’t until she couldn’t find the bathroom in her own home that she finally admitted something was wrong. Following an appointment with the doctor to review her meds, she ended up in the hospital, where they took her off all the meds, cold turkey. At the time, she was furious with everyone around her. She believed she needed the meds. But after a week of no meds, her head started to clear and she reverted to the person she has always been.
A once vibrant and happy young woman recently broke off a relationship that was showing signs of mental and verbal abuse. Although it was a painful recognition, she admitted she had been unhappy for some time, allowing her significant other to dictate her life. That’s not the way she wants to live her life.
These women are all important people in my life. The first woman is a friend who calls on me when she needs to vent. I encourage her when I can, but sometimes she just needs someone to listen and not judge. The second woman is the friend who would help me bury a body and then go to jail with me, and make the whole experience fun. We are there for each other. The third woman is my mother. She was furious with me at first, but now is thankful I cared enough to interfere when I knew something was wrong. The fourth woman is my daughter. I taught her, maybe too well, to be her own person. But most importantly, I hope I instilled confidence that she can make good decisions for herself.
These women are each strong in their own ways. I’m not sure I could handle any of their situations with as much grace as they have. My strength lies in being supportive and strong for others; I’m a nurturer and I know it. Knowing these women has given me insights into writing strong, capable heroines.
What characteristics are representative of strong women you know? Who is your favorite strong fictional heroine and why?