‘Now, honey. BE SWEET.’ In the heart of Alabama, if you hurt someone’s ego with valid criticism, women are fussed at.’: Mom defends daughter’s right to speak her mind

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“I was raised in the heart of Alabama, where women are taught to ‘be sweet.’ If you’re from the South, then at some point in your life, you probably got fussed at this way:

You: *not 100% compliant*


Elevate your voice— ‘Now, be sweet.’

Argue a strong position— ‘Be sweet.’

Hurt someone’s ego with valid criticism—’Be sweet.’

Really, it’s just a sugary, Southern way to say, ‘Get back in your lane.’

Like, ‘WHOA, lady. What are you doing? Step back or nobody will like you.’

This worked on me for a little while, so I tried not to ruffle any feathers. I didn’t engage in political discourse, and I never spoke my whole mind. (God forbid I make someone feel uncomfortable.)

In the South, it matters to be likable.

Actually, to be likable IS to matter.

In my hometown, the highest compliment a young lady could receive was to be seen (and labeled) as ‘a sweet girl.’

Which is why I chased the approval of others til the day I finally realized:

Sweetness is not a character trait. Being sweet says NOTHING about who I am. In fact, whether I’m considered ‘sweet’ or not is judged by the taste of my critics.

Believe me, I nearly burned myself out over 25 years, trying to stay in good graces. I became an edited, codependent, shrunken version of myself.

But never mind all of that, I was sweet.

Some people will call me dramatic, and that’s fine. I own it 100%. But when you hear a message over and over, you start to believe it’s important. And listen to me:

Sweetness. Isn’t. Important.

My daughter is 90% spice and 10% sugar. And even though she can be a handful, I wouldn’t have her any other way.

Because Holland knows there’s a difference between:

Fierce and mean; bold and boisterous; firm and obstinate; kind and sweet

Half of those words describe *what she is doing*

And the other half are *how she’s perceived*.

Why should perception EVER matter? You could find the sweetest peach in the world, and there will always be somebody who doesn’t like peaches.

No, I won’t teach my daughter to be sweet. She doesn’t have to add sugar for the sake of anyone else. If you ask around town about my daughter Holland, chances are NOBODY will tell you ‘she’s sweet.’

But I don’t care. And neither should she.

Is she strong? Is she confident? Is she kind?

Then leave my baby alone; she’s fine.”

Courtesy of Mary Katherine Backstrom

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Mary Katherine Backstrom. Mary’s book Mom Babble: The Messy Truth about Motherhood is available here. Follow Mary on Instagram here.  Submit your story here, and be sure to subscribe to our best love stories here.

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