As a young woman, I chafed at the conformity expected of girls raised in what I call the tradition of Midwestern Scandinavian Lutherans. My grandmother, mother and aunts — the faith-bearers of our families — modeled a peculiar blend of nearly unlimited niceness over a rock-solid core of strength. They were cheerful, uncomplaining wives and mothers, generously hospitable and obliging to their families' needs.
But these women were more than nice — they were also tough. Over generations they held their families together despite all adversity — and never seemed to crack.
But as a teenager and young woman, the demands of niceness often felt restrictive and overwhelming. Its mixture with strength confused me. How could one be pleasingly nice and hope to survive in a world that was not?
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