In celebration of Women's History Month, Van Boxtel Photography is launching the Strong Mothers: Strong Daughters (SMSD) project, to shine a spotlight on how mothers have, and are teaching their daughters to be strong. The idea started when I was working with a mother and her two daughters. I knew this mom to be a force, and her daughters were following suit. It reminded me that strong mothers tend to raise strong daughters. And thus, began an idea two years in the making. (I too, am raising my own strong daughter, which takes a lot of time, hence, the two years…lol)

Let me address the issue of sons and fathers right away. I am a maternity and newborn photographer, so mothers are my primary contact when photographing their families. I know and respect there are many men out there, raising their daughters to be strong and independent women. I also know there are mothers raising their sons to be supportive and kind humans. I know many. In fact, I struggled with the fact I was not going to include some of my dearest friends and community influencers in this project, just because they have an incredible son(s), and not a daughter(s). But this project is for mothers and daughters, because I am focusing on the very special gift of maternal influence and modeling. I am not neglecting men and boys, but focusing on women and girls. This is my first personal project, and I have about 25 more in my docket, most of them focused on parenting. So I will get to sons, dads, and pets (for the furparents) another time.

This project is near and dear to my heart. It celebrates the relationships between mothers and daughters, and focuses on how we are raising them to thrive in their own space and identity.

Raising my own wild and fearless daughter, I am reminded everyday how important it is to help her learn how to face the world head on, and above all, to know her worth and love herself.

Strength is …?

“Strength” is a broad and open ended word term. It means different things to different people. Even Merriam-Webster has nine different definitions, many of which deal with toughness, physical power, endurance, and the ability to withstand attack or force.

Too often, mothers identities are put into boxes, their strengths defined by someone else. We hear it all the time, other people commenting on a woman’s strength as either a good or bad thing; criticizing women for being too strong, or not strong enough… It’s exhausting, constantly living in the shadow of how other people define and measure our strengths.

My Strong:

Throughout my formative years, I assumed strength meant authoritative, self assured, and confident. So, I tried to be those things, because I wanted to be strong. I wanted to be like the confident women around me, whom people listened to and admired. I followed that definition well into adulthood.

Even when I started this project, I still had the perception that strength was something you could see and could identify as an outsider looking in — still anchored to someone else’s definition..

I wasn’t going to include myself in this project. Though, I assumed my timidness about it was due to my introversion, with some personal introspection, I realized it was also about not believing in, or understanding my own power.

But, I knew I was strong, and was raising my daughter as such, but I couldn’t find examples, within those parameters, of how or what my actual strengths were, or where my power came from. I am not all that physically tough, or particularly forceful enough to strike fear into the hearts of others. I don’t command a room full of people with my authoritative might.

I am a pacifist and often self-effacing.

So, when I decided I would include myself, I had to adjust the confines of my prior beliefs and assume the right to define “strong” for myself. So here it is:

My Strong: having the ability to grow and evolve through learning, through failing, and through experiencing. (If my teenage self could see me now, she would freak!)

My strength lies in my ability to learn and change. It is expressed in my ability to see failure not as a character flaw, but as something that cultivates growth and progress. I am not weakened by failure; I get stronger.

My superpower is self awareness. The knowledge that I am not defined by my failures.

I see this superpower in my daughter. Though she is only seven, she has shown incredible insight for her ability to make mistakes without quitting or giving up on herself. Not always — she is just seven. Losing at certain card and video games can still end in tears… she is competitive, but that is a completely different conversation! But she can fail and make mistakes without internalizing it as a personal let down. I’ve tried very hard to encourage failure without futility, even before I understood it as the source of my strength.

What’s The Point of SMSD

My intention for SMSD is twofold. I want to expand our definitions of the word “strength,” while also portraying how we foster and nurture these qualities in our daughters. I want to show how our strengths manifest in how we raise our daughters to be the forces we know them to be.

I would love to hear what your definition of “strength” is. If you are interested in participating in the Strong Mothers: Strong Daughters project, or have someone to nominate, please get in touch. The more mothers celebrated, the better! I am not limiting the definition of mother / daughter to biology. If you identify as a mother or a daughter, and you have something to say about strength, and how you were raised by your mother, or how you are raising your daughter, you qualify.

You can reach me at the link below.