photo: Adria Valdes Greenhauff, Vivala

My mom doesn’t take crap from anyone. She’s bold, brutally honest, and stronger than anyone I’ve ever met. While the other little girls at school daydreamed about being Disney princesses, my mom and I were sitting at home on the couch watching reruns of The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Yes, she turned me into a feminist before I even knew what it meant.

As a single mom raising two kids on her own, she made things look easy — buying a house on her own, taking us on family trips, and never letting my brother and I miss out on field trips or extracurricular activities for lack of money. To this day, I often wonder how she did it all without seeming to skip a beat.

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She encouraged every dream I had, even buying me oversize red glasses and a microphone when I told her I wanted to be just like talk-show host Sally Jesse Raphael. No goal was too ridiculous or unattainable, as long as I was willing to work for it. So it’s no surprise that she also encouraged me to be fiercely independent and strong. Here are six life lessons I learned from my feminist mother.

1

Strive for financial independence

photo: Giphy

My mom taught me that I should be in a relationship because I want to be, not because I have to be. Maintaining my own career and income is something that has remained important to me, even after I got married.

2

Every woman should go to college

photo: Giphy

Growing up, not going to college was not an option. In fact, I couldn’t watch a Disney movie as a kid without my mom preaching behind me, “That Little Mermaid needs to stop chasing around men and go to college.” She didn’t care what college I went to or even what I studied. She cared only that I got an education and used those four years to explore new interests and social circles and become more independent. I’m glad I listened to her.

3

Don’t get married too young

photo: Giphy

My parents were high school sweethearts and got married when they were 21, which, looking back, was “way too young” according to both of them. Before I settled down and decided to get married, my mom encouraged me to date different people and enjoy being single.

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4

Anything boys can do . . .

photo: Giphy
When my brother went away to college, my mom and I spent four years living without a guy in the house. It was during this time period that I learned how to do everything from building furniture to using a lawn mower to putting air in my own tires.

5

Stop crying

photo: Giphy

According to my mother, crying should be reserved for funerals because if someone didn’t die, that means that your problem has a solution. For her, crying over a problem was a waste of time because it never helps bring you any closer to its solution. It was just going to leave you with a headache and ugly ojeras. Don’t get me wrong, I still cry, just rarely around her.

6

Be a proud American

photo: Giphy

Since my mom moved to the United States from Cuba when she was 16, she has always felt lucky to live in America. This country has offered her, along with her parents and children, opportunities she could have never dreamed of having in Cuba. Because of this, she’s one of the proudest Americans I’ve ever met, refusing to ever miss an opportunity to vote or attend jury duty. She reminds me to appreciate things I sometimes take for granted.