Teaching Girls to Respect Themselves is Not Shaming Them

The other day I read a blog post that I found interesting and refreshing. It’s called “To the Middle School Girls at the Pool Who Told My son He Was Hot.” (Go on over and read it real quick.)

I saw it as a reasonable commentary on the way that young girls sometimes act inappropriately, and as an appeal to them to stop and/or to their parents to guide them away from this way of acting. The post isn’t hateful, or judge-y, or hurtful.

I didn’t have a super strong reaction to it, and would have just filed it away in my mind as a nice thing I had read and then moved on, except that I saw at the bottom of the post that the author decided to close the comments because some commenters attacked her personally, even going so far as to call her shameful and disgusting. Wait, what?

Naturally, that piqued my curiosity so I scrolled down to see just what had been so “offensive” about the post.

The main problem commenters seemed to have with the post was that they thought that the mom’s words were shaming young girls and contributing to the “rape culture.”

Hmmm. I did not see that coming. The take home message of the post seemed to be this, “I’m trying to teach my son to respect girls/women. And girls, you should also respect yourselves.”

In my opinion, the author was not shaming girls, nor was she contributing to the rape culture at all.

However, the post comments made me think about the concept of “rape culture” in general and how it seems to get thrown around a lot on social media, perhaps without a clear understanding of what it actually is. So, I Googled it. Here’s a definition:

Rape culture is a culture in which dominant cultural ideologies, media images, social practices, and societal institutions support and condone sexual abuse by normalizing, trivializing and eroticizing male violence against women and blaming victims for their own abuse (Huffington Post)

Okay. So:

Rape culture is making jokes about sexual assault.

It is not a mom pleading with young girls to stop throwing themselves at young boys.

Rape culture is blaming a rape victim because of what she was wearing.

It is not telling girls that they should have respect for themselves.

Rape culture is Fifty Shade of Grey, for pete’s sake.

It is not teaching girls that they can and should be responsible for their own behavior and make good choices for themselves.

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It seems to me that our society has become so hypersensitive to never, ever offending anyone, that we have made it inappropriate and often offensive to tell people to make good choices and take responsibility for themselves. If we dare to suggest that someone might be doing something that isn’t in her best interest, we can attacked as being judgmental and hateful. Just like the mom in the above-linked post, who simply said in essence, “Come on girls, you’re better than that,” and was then chastised for “blaming the victim” (except that there was no victim).

This doesn’t help anyone, and I find it really disturbing as I think ahead to what I want my own daughters to know as they get older.

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As a mom of three girls, I think it does much more harm than good to send the message to girls that they can do whatever they want, wear whatever they want, and say whatever they want, no matter how sexually suggestive it may be, and no one should ever say anything to them about it, because correcting them perpetuates rape culture, or is misogynistic, or sexist, or whatever.

I want to teach my daughters to have respect for themselves and for others in all situations. And that means (when they get older) not posting duck-lipped scantily-clad selfies all over the place, or making suggestive comments to boys, or being sexually aggressive and pushy, and so on. I aim to teach them this stuff not because if they behave this way they’ll be attacked and it will then be their fault. Of course not. But because:

  1. Behaving in a sexually aggressive way could actually put them in a situation where they are at risk for assault, and
  2. Acting in a suggestive way and throwing themselves at boys will make them feel terribly about themselves, and
  3. I want them to know that getting a boy to notice them is not the most important thing and is not what gives them value, and
  4. They need to understand that if a boy does notice them, it should not be because their bodies are barely covered but because of the other many, many wonderful qualities they possess.

I could go on and on with many more reasons, but you get the picture.

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Trying to help young girls understand why they should have self respect and stop throwing themselves at boys is not shaming them. It’s empowering them in a real way. Not a fake, “you’re a woman, you can do whatever you want, sleep with whomever you want” sexual-revolution kind of way. That’s not empowerment. That’s crap.

Teaching girls that they shouldn’t always just do whatever the heck they feel like doing and dress in a provocative way and say suggestive things to boys does not contribute to the rape culture. It contributes to their healthy development.

I’m not trying to diminish the reality of rape culture with this post. I despise the attitudes that lead to this type of mindset. However, I think in some ways, as a society, we’re missing the mark in efforts to get rid of the rape culture. We should be crying out against the magazines and ads that portray women falsely and place an overemphasis on their bodies and appearance and sexy poses. We should be voicing opposition when the media publishes stories, like the recent one about the Duggar family, purely for the sake of sensationalizing and getting ratings, without any regard for the poor victims and their privacy. We should be turning away from books and shows and movies that positively portray sexual violence instead of turning them into bestsellers and major hit movies (ahem, Fifty Shades of Grey!!).

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I know my daughters will not be this innocent forever. It breaks my heart and scares the daylights out of me to know that they will be exposed more and more to the smut that is the “entertainment” industry in our country as they get older. I can only encourage them to try to seek out things that promote truth and beauty and love, and to always have respect and love for themselves and others. There’s no shame in that.

The world doesn’t need what women have, it needs what women are. – Edith Stein (AKA St. Teresa Benedicta of the Cross)

The Kindergarten Birthday Party Dilemma

Miss’s sixth birthday is in about two weeks. I’ve been thinking about what to do for her party for weeks. Okay, months.

There are so many different philosophies out there about how to handle kids’ birthdays and birthday parties. They range from family-only small gatherings with no presents to all-out huge bashes with party planners and dozens of guests (and gifts).

Of course, there’s not just one right way to do it. We’ve never really set a firm birthday policy in our house, but mostly just determined, with each birthday, what seems like the best thing to do. When Miss was little, since we always have a trip to Iowa planned on or around her birthday, we’d just do the family-only party, and she was always thrilled with that. In fact, last year, for her fifth birthday, was the first time we’d ever done anything beyond the family birthday party for her by having a gathering at our house. She had a Brave-themed drive-in movie party, and it was really fun.

I’ve discovered that I like putting together birthday parties for my girls. I enjoy getting into the theme and decorations when we have parties at our home. I like combing Pinterest for ideas and coming up with creative things myself. I know it’s not necessary for them, but I have fun doing it.

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As for the guests? For previous birthdays, I’ve never been in a situation where I felt the need to invite many other people to our parties. Until this year, our girls didn’t go to school, so there was never a question of inviting lots of kids. Except when we have parties in Iowa and invite all of my husband’s family, we never have more than two other families come to a birthday at our home. For Lass’s zoo party, only the Super Family could make it, and that was just fine.

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Since my girls didn’t attend school, I’ve never had to think too much about whom to invite, and my girls have never felt that their parties were anything but wonderful with the few close friends we included.

But now, with Miss having part-time-away-from-home kindergarten this year, things have changed. She has been invited to the birthday parties of at least five of her classmates so far. For all but one of them, all of the little girls in her class were invited (and one even had all the boys too!). I have mixed feelings about having a huge party, so I’ve spent far to much time debating what we should do for her birthday this year.

Do we invite all the girls in her class? This seems a nice way to go so that no one feels left out, but that’s a lot of kids. She has 11 other girls in her class, plus we will always of course invite the Super Family, along with the sisters of one of the little girls in her class whose family we are friends with. And she also wants to invite the little girl who lives across the street. Lots of kids = lots of presents, which I feel kind of weird about.

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Do we keep it small and only invite a few friends? If we did this, there would be a few more people invited than we’ve done in the past, because she does have some new friends from school, but it would still be considerably smaller than if we invited all the girls in her class.

I went back and forth about this in my mind for quite some time. Initially, I thought we’d just invite a few close friends. Then I thought it was important to teach her to be kind to all the other kids and invite them all. Then I thought it’s unrealistic to tell her she needs to invite all the girls if she doesn’t want to, since she’s not going to be close friends with all of them, and she might not have much in common with some. Then I thought we should really invite all the kids who have invited us to their parties, since it’s rude to not reciprocate. Then my husband pointed out that she shouldn’t feel pressured to invite anyone if it’s only for the reason of reciprocating an invitation. . .

I worried about having a lot of kids because that means a lot of presents. I’m cool with birthday presents, because we pretty much only get our kids new toys on their birthdays and Christmas, and a few things on Easter. But I’m uncomfortable with them getting a lot of presents. If all of the girls in her class came to the party, plus the Super Family and the family across the street, that would mean she’d get about 13 presents, not even including those from her family! Not only do I not want that many more things in my house, that just seems so excessive to me. We went to one party where I watched the little birthday girl open present after present, announcing the contents of the package, and then literally tossing the gift aside to move on to the next one. There were barely any “thank yous,” and none that involved eye contact and sincerity. I was cringing inside the whole time.

So what will we do?

Ultimately, what we decided was to ask Miss what she wanted. I was kind of hoping she’d choose to have her party here at our house, so I could really have some fun with decorations, crafts, and games. But she chose to have it at the gymnastics center where she takes lessons (and she’s attended two other birthday parties in the past month). She wanted to ask all of the kids in her class. I told her she could only invite the girls (I could not handle the idea of that many more presents if all the boys came too). She chose, no surprise, a “Frozen” theme for the party.

For this year, this first year of school experience, I’ve decided I’m okay with the big party. The gifts make me a bit uncomfortable, but I’ll just make sure we have a discussion about the importance of saying “thank you,” making eye contact with the gift-giver, for each present. And of course we’ll have her take the time to write thank-you notes afterwards as well.

I know this isn’t the one “right” way to do a party. But after much (over)analysis of the issue, it feels like the right way for us this time. We’ll probably change things again next year, but for this year, a big birthday party is fine.

I still remember the birthday party I had when I was in kindergarten. It felt like a big deal.

I also remember that after that one party in kindergarten, I didn’t have big parties anymore. I had outings with a few close friends or cousins, or sleep-overs when I got a little older. Maybe that’s how we’ll do things after this year. I’m sure I’ll start thinking about it around October, so I’ll let you know.

Thoughts on Community From an Introvert

I never used to put much thought into it, but I think always used to consider myself an extrovert. I like to be around people. I like to go to parties, and when I was younger I loved the bar scene. Each time I have moved to a new city, I’ve sought new friends, because I don’t like not having friends to hang out with.

As I’ve gotten older though, I have realized that I’m probably more of an introvert in many ways. I cannot do small talk. Truly. It’s painful. I need to sometimes have time by myself. I much prefer to have one good friend to having a large circle of friends.

I’ve always been this way. I’ve never been the “popular girl,” but more like the best friend of the popular girl. As I look back over my life, this has been true at pretty much every stage. In high school and college, I fondly nicknamed one of my best friends “The Social Butterfly.” She was friends with everyone, and if I remember correctly, she was voted “Friendliest” in our graduating class. My other best friend was the homecoming queen and voted “Most Popular” (I’m pretty sure… it was over 20 year ago!). It wasn’t that I wasn’t friendly toward people, but I didn’t have it in me to cultivate friendships with lots of people. I was voted the girl with “Most School Spirit.” I was okay with that. I’m pretty sure it still holds true today, and I’m still okay with it.

IMG_4241^^ Left to right, Homecoming Queen, Social Butterfly, and me ^^

When I moved here and had no friends and no job and was about to have my first baby, I search and searched for a group I could call my own. I joined various mom groups. I went to play dates. I joined the Newcomers Club in my town. I met some nice people and made a few casual friends. But in most play date groups I felt very uncomfortable. I tried MOPS. Awkward. Other than in book clubs (because I can talk about books!!), I never felt comfortable in large groups of people I didn’t know.

It took three years after moving here for me to meet Super Friend, and once I did, I stopped trying to cultivate friendships with other people. I mostly stopped scheduling play dates or coffee dates with other moms. I was perfectly happy to spend my social time primarily with Super Friend (if you knew her, you’d understand). That’s not to say I didn’t have any other friends, I just stopped putting much effort into developing those friendships with others. I’m not really sure why. Because I was lazy? Because I was comfortable (Super Friend!)? Because it doesn’t come easy to me? All of the above, I’m sure.

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^^ Me and my beloved Super Friend ^^

One thing I didn’t realize for the first few years of my friendship with Super Friend was that she had this sort of divided friend-life. There was me, the atheist friend, and then she had this whole other group of friends that she knew through church and her (now our) kids’ school, whom I barely knew. She is so much better at developing and nurturing relationships than me (yes, I’m still the “popular girl’s friend”!), and she had this whole community that I only vaguely knew anything about.

When I began my conversion, Super Friend invited me to attend a Catholic mom’s Bible study (you can read about my first time attending here, whoa). And of course, I started attending Mass weekly and going to RCIA eventually. Over time, my perspective on friends began to change. This change has really begun to crystalize in my mind over the past few months. I’ve realized that, in spite of my natural tendency to hunker down and be happy in my little world with my husband, children, family, and one fabulous friend (and her fabulous family), that is really not enough. I mean, it’s enough for me, but it’s not enough. Wait, what?

I need a community.

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I go to Bible study every other week with nine other moms and we talk about our study and we learn about the Bible. But we also talk about our kids, who all go to, or will go to, school together. We talk about our fears for raising Catholic kids in this world, and how can we protect them from all the stuff they need to be protected from, and teach them all the stuff they need to be taught, so that they will grow up to love Jesus and our Faith. And they will know why.

I realized that these women, these other moms, are the community with whom I will raise my girls. When my kids get bigger and they go to events, even if I’m not there, there’s a good chance one of these moms will be. And they will tell me if  something noteworthy happens or if my kids do something I need to know about. And my girls will know that these moms will tell me what they’re up to. They will know that there is a whole community that cares about what they do and what happens to them, beyond just their parents. And I’ll have spies everywhere…

Just kidding. Sort of.

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Even beyond the Bible study group, I have found other sources of community since beginning my conversion.

RCIA was such a wonderful experience the first time, I’ve returned for another year as a sponsor. Through RCIA I gained the lovely Godmother, who is such a source of support and wealth of knowledge, along with my other friends.

And our parish is a beautiful community too. My natural tendency is to go to Mass, shake hands with and smile at some people during the Sign of the Peace, say “Hi” to the Super Family and other friends who might be there after the service, and then go home. I don’t tend to reach out to others. I don’t speak to strangers. Remember, I don’t do small talk. But the Bible says:

“And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near” – Hebrews 10: 24-25

This past Sunday at Mass, not one, not two, but three strangers or near strangers came up and spoke to me. It was uncomfortable and wonderful at the same time. Two were women sitting near us who complimented me on my children and my mothering, and one was a woman I met in May at a Mother’s Day brunch, who came up and re-introduced herself and then proceeded to introduce her husband and children and start talking to my husband and children. I would never do that. But how great that she did.

Bible study, RCIA, Mass… A whole amazing community that I need to try to be more open to. I need to nurture my friendships more beyond my dear Super Friend. I need to reach out to strangers more. I should be the one complimenting a mom with little kids or reconnecting with someone I met a while ago at a parish function. I shouldn’t be averting my eyes and hoping that no one sees me, because I don’t know what to say.

It’s nice when life is happy and comfortable, but growth happens when I push myself beyond comfortable. I really love the little community that I’ve become a part of. I’m excited to watch it, and help it, grow.

Little Girls and Fat – 7 Ways to Encourage Healthy Body Image for Daughters

I’m pretty intentional about the way I discuss food and exercise and body image and fat with my girls. Our society is obsessed with fat. Or rather, with not eating fat, not gaining fat, and not being fat. My parents never tried to get me to lose weight, and never taught me, explicitly or implicitly, that I needed to be super thin or diet constantly. However, the bombardment of “be skinny!!” messages in our culture still led me to have plenty of struggles with body image and “feeling fat,” particularly as an adolescent (I was never overweight, just not super skinny).

As an adult I have learned that it is more important to focus more on having a strong and healthy body and less on being thin. I know this in my head, but I still struggle with it every single day. I want to be able to lose the weight I gained while I was pregnant this summer. I want to be able to lose the extra pounds I had before I got pregnant this summer. I want to be thin again, like I was before I had babies. Even though I know better, I have moments of loathing this body that has grown and nourished three little people, because it doesn’t look like what I wish it did. That’s ridiculous, but it’s true.

I want better for my girls.

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I have heard about little girls who worry that they are fat, or who want to be on diets, or who won’t eat certain things because these foods will make them “fat.” Five and six and seven year olds.

The idea of my little girls feeling that they need to be on a diet or do something to avoid getting “fat” makes me want to cry. I want to teach my girls about fat and food in a different way than what is common in our culture. Here are seven ways I try to do it:

1. I do not ever speak critically about my own body in front of them. Even more, I don’t scowl at my reflection, I don’t weight myself in front of them, I don’t complain that certain clothes make me look fat. When my kids inevitably poke my belly and comment on how squishy it is I just smile and say, “Yes it is.” I don’t say, “Ugh, I know. I need to eat less ice cream and work out more.” Even if that’s what I’m thinking.

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2. I don’t discuss food with them in terms of its potential to make them (or me) fat, and we don’t go on “diets” in our house (I don’t believe eating paleo is a “diet” in the way I’m thinking of it here). We discuss foods in terms of their nutritional value. I explain to my girls that we need to eat a variety of foods to keep our bodies healthy.

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I don’t ban sugary treats, but I tell them that we eat small amounts of these because they don’t offer our bodies much, if any, nutritional value, and eating too much of them isn’t a healthy choice and/or makes us feel tired, etc.

3. I don’t talk about fat or “being fat” as a bad thing. When my girls ask me why some people are fat, I simply say, “Because God makes people in all shapes and sizes.” Once Miss asked me what would happen if her daddy got fat. I have no idea where that question came from, but I said, “Well then we would just love him anyway, whatever he looks like.”

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4. Similarly, I don’t tell them not to refer to other people as fat. The idea of being “fat” doesn’t have a negative connotation for them yet, and I want to keep it that way. I have felt embarrassed when they have asked other people, “Why are you so fat?” but I don’t chastise them for it because it is completely innocent. Obviously, if I ever heard them use the word “fat” as an insult, I would put a stop to it right away. For now, I’m just glad they don’t even think it that way.

5. I never have the TV on adult programming when my kids are awake. Commercials are so full of inappropriate content. When we occasionally have on a sports program during the day, I try to keep it muted, at least during the commercials, to avoid all the commercials about the latest and greatest “lose weight fast” schemes (it’s also nice to avoid the erectile dysfunction commercials so common during sports programming).

6. Exercise is always only referred to in terms of its purpose for making us strong and healthy and helping us to feel good, never for trying to lose weight. I was in our garage working out the other day while the girls played in the backyard. I was doing sumo deadlift high pulls and feeling like a cow, noticing how my belly fat was oozing over the top of my workout pants each time I bent down. Lass came to the door between the garage and the backyard and said, “Looking good, Mom!” I couldn’t help but smile.

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7. I don’t talk about how relatively big or small they are. I have one daughter who is on the small side for her age, and two who are on the big side. Miss and Lass are almost exactly the same size. People comment on this all the time, usually right after asking me if they’re twins. But I don’t make a big deal about it. I don’t make comments about how petite Miss is or compare her sisters to her in that way. They know they wear the same size clothes, and it’s a non-issue beyond that.

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I know I won’t be able to shield my girls from society’s skinny obsession forever. Really what I’m trying to do now is lay a good foundation for the conversations that will come when they get older. I hope that they will have a firmly established set of beliefs about exercise and food and their bodies, so that they can roll their eyes at the photoshopped pictures on the magazine covers and the ads promising that they can “Lose weight fast!!”

For now I’ll feed them healthy food and continue to try to be a good role model of healthy exercise and body image. I certainly need work on this myself.

Revisiting Allowance (Otherwise Known as Revising a Bad Parenting Decision)

You may remember that I posted almost a year ago about my kids (mostly Miss) constantly asking to save their allowance for things. At the time, I thought that they were mostly only asking to save their allowances for items as their way of expressing to me that they were interested in those things. I was sure I was right about this when the tendency to ask to save allowance for something seem to mostly fade away a few months after I wrote that post.

But then it came back. With a vengeance. Both of my older girls began asking to save their allowances for everything. And they really seemed to want the things. Not just to be “expressing interest.”

I thought I was going to lose my mind.

And I began to worry again about whether I was teaching them the right things by giving them allowance and allowing them to spend it on toys. Yes, they were putting a dollar each week into our giving jar. Yes, Miss was also putting a dollar of hers into her piggy bank for long-term savings. But I had wanted them to learn the concept of having to save for things they want, and instead they were buying cheap toys on a whim and then never playing with them, so the point was getting totally lost.

I started to stress out about the allowance policy that we had instituted with very good intentions, but which seemed to have gone terribly awry. I knew I wanted to do something different, but I couldn’t decide what to change. Then a few things happened that prompted me to take action.

I read this post written by a woman who took pretty much all of her kids’ toys away. I was fascinated by the idea of drastically reducing clutter and excess in order to increase creativity and gratitude. I started thinking about how we might implement something like this in our house, but I was hesitant to pull the trigger.

Then we started getting ready for our trip to my parents’ house in April. Often when we visit my parents we take the girls to the Nature Center where they can see and learn about lots of different animals. Each time they had been there before I had allowed them to go to the gift shop and pick out one small souvenir toy to purchase.

This time, when talking to Miss about our upcoming trip to visit Grandma and Grandpa and the possibility that we would go to the Nature Center again, she got super excited and begged me to call Grandma to make sure we could go there. I thought it was pretty great that she was so excited about it.

Then she revealed the reason for her excitement. She wanted to get a toy. She really wasn’t interested in looking at the animals. She just wanted to go to the gift shop and get a new toy.

She was totally skipping over the fun of the experience in her mind and going straight to “what am I going to get?” I was kind of horrified and so upset with myself for allowing the situation to get to this point.

When I instituted the allowance thing I thought I was teaching them the need to save for things they want. I had successfully eliminated any tendency my kids may have had to ask me to buy toys for them. But by giving them allowance and allowing them to spend it as I had, they had become even more focused on material possessions than they would have without the allowance.

I immediately placed a moratorium on spending the allowance and asking to save it for things. I explained to my girls that we can’t always have the things we want, and that they have more than enough toys already. I talked with them about the importance of being grateful for what we have instead of always wanting more. I told them that we could go to the Nature Center when we visited Grandma and Grandpa, but that we would not be buying a toy in the gift shop this time. They were a bit upset at first, but then they had a great time and didn’t push the issue.

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They looked at the toys in the gift shop, but did not make a fuss about not being able to get one.

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However, after getting home from our trip, we did have some push back for a week or two about not being able to spend their allowance anymore. I got through this partly by just not giving them their allowance for a few weeks while they got out of the habit of focusing on buying and asking for things. During this time I tried to figure out how to implement allowance in the future, and I started packing up boxes of toys to put in storage.

We packed up a lot of toys from our playroom. I decided not to take all the girls toys away, but rather to pack up many of them and put them in the basement, to be in a rotating system with the toys we kept out. I organized toys in big plastic bins by type.

DSC_0114We kept out a little bit of dress up, the small plastic dolls (mostly princesses, but many others as well), the magnetic building tiles, and the play food and dishes (and books, of course). The girls also have about three other bins or boxes they are allowed to have upstairs at any one time. Right now they have the stuffed animals, the plastic animals, and the baby dolls. If they want something from downstairs they have to make a trade of one full box for another.

This system has worked out so well for us. Clean up is easier and they seem to really enjoy and play with their toys more.

DSC_0109 DSC_0113As for the allowance issue, after much internal debate and discussion with my husband and Super Friend, I decided to begin giving the girls their allowance again. They still put money in our giving jar. Miss still puts some of her allowance in her piggy bank (which we never take money out of). And they understand that they are not allowed to buy toys with their allowance right now.

I intend to have them simply continue to save their money. If there is a situation in the future where I think it is appropriate to allow them to spend their money on something, I’m reserving the right to do so, but for now, no buying.

It’s amazing to me how seemingly innocuous decisions of parenting can sometimes lead to completely unintended consequences. I thought I was teaching my children financial responsibility, and it seems all I was really doing was fostering greed and materialism. My kids were just being kids, but I had unintentionally allowed a habit to develop that was not good for them.

As a mom I find this somewhat terrifying, seeing how something so well-intentioned could go so wrong. . . Fortunately, it’s usually fairly easy to change course when something isn’t working as long as I explain to my kids what we are doing and why (I like this post about How Parenting is Like Following a GPS). Who knows? I may need to change this system again in the future.

I’m sure I’ll need to change directions many, many times as a mom in trying to guide my children down the best path possible.

Princess vs. Barbie

We have lots of princess dolls at our house.

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^^ Thank you to my Mother-in-law for that storage idea ^^

My girls ask for them as gifts. They save their allowances to buy them. They love their princess dolls.

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Of course, they have lots of toys they enjoy, and they tend to go in cycles with them. Baby dolls, animals, building toys, etc.

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Princesses are always in the rotation though, whether the big princess dolls or small ones or both. We’ve got lots of them.

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In contrast, we have only one Barbie. She was given to Miss as a Christmas gift a couple of years ago.

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The drastic difference in the number of princesses and Barbies on our house is deliberate. I don’t buy Barbies for my girls. I don’t take them in the Barbie aisle at the store. I’m just not a fan of Barbie.

I realize, those may be bordering on fightin’ words for someone who grew up in the 80s. I have heard lots of women around my age defend Barbie. Because we played with Barbies as kids and some ladies still love her and are excited to share her with their daughters/nieces/etc.

True, I played with Barbies. I loved playing with Barbies. I am not, not, not trying to criticize anyone who loves playing Barbies with or buying Barbies for their kids. My girls play with them when we go to the Farm or to their aunt’s house, and I don’t mind, of course. But. I still won’t buy them. Why?

I can specifically remember as a little girl, playing with my Barbies and thinking they were so pretty. I walked around on my tiptoes (like her) and wished that I had blonde hair and blue eyes and a super skinny waist (like hers). I just don’t want my girls to feel that way because of one of their toys. And maybe they wouldn’t. Maybe I was just particularly insecure about my brown hair and green eyes and normal-sized waist for some reason at that time and they wouldn’t be. But still…

I have some other beefs with B too. Like her clothes. My Barbies never came with clothes like these:

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It is pretty hard to find a Barbie to purchase that is not dressed in a way that I find inappropriate for a little girl’s toy. I know this, because I stood in the Barbie aisle at Target staring at the array of dolls for way too long one day when buying gifts for some families at our church, trying to find a doll I felt comfortable purchasing for a little girl who requested one. It’s not impossible to find one, but not easy. Though recently I did come across this funny Homeschool Barbie.

In general, princesses just seem more innocent to me. Barbie is marketed as sexy much of the time. No thanks.

Of course, I do have a few issues with the Disney gals, mostly with the earlier princesses’ tendencies to fall in “love at first sight” and in general be rather helpless (not characteristics I want my girls to cultivate). But the later stories, of Belle, Mulan, and Merida for example, feature heroines who aren’t solely focused on finding true love (though they aren’t opposed to it when they do).

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And even the princesses who are a bit overly dependent on Prince Charming or lacking in gumption still have some good qualities that I can talk to my girls about. When my girls say, “I like Snow White because she’s so pretty,” I can respond with something like, “Oh, I like Snow White too, but do you know why I really like her? Because she is so kind and thoughtful.” And if they say, “Cinderella is my favorite princess because she has a beautiful dress” I can say, “I like Cinderella too because she is a really hard worker.”

I like that the princess dolls don’t all look the same. They have different skin colors and different face shapes. I can even get into discussions with my girls about other cultures by talking about the stories of the princesses. I know some Barbies have different colored skin and hair, but they all seem to have the same face. Weird.

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When my girls ask me who my favorite princess is, I say, “Belle, because she loves to read and she is very loyal and brave.” Sometimes I mention that I also really like Merida “because she’s also brave and strong and very protective of her family” or Anna “because she is a really good sister.”

What does Barbie have besides her looks and her clothes? A pink car, a mansion, and a boyfriend named Ken.

I’ve come a long way in the past three years. I can tolerate princesses, and sometimes I actually enjoy them (Brave and Frozen are really good movies!). I can even find some good in my girls’ love of princess stories and dolls. The princesses have decent clothes and some positive characteristics that I can discuss with my girls.

I won’t say I’ll never let my girls buy Barbies. But for now, the princesses win.

More On Yoga Pants. And Kindness. And Being Judgmental.

I have had an interesting response to last week’s “Yoga-Pants-Wearing Mom” post.

The post was featured on BlogHer, and it has received quite a few comments over there and on their Facebook page. Apparently lots of people have opinions about the matter of whether or not moms should wear yoga pants and/or what it says about us if we do.

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Most of the comments in response the post weren’t bothersome or even surprising to me. There were people who mentioned their beliefs that people who wear yoga pants: look like “slob[s],” don’t “have respect” for themselves, or disappoint their husbands with their clothing choices.

Meh. I’ve read it all before, which is what prompted me to write the post in the first place.

The one thing that kind of bugged me though, was the comments suggesting that, by wearing yoga pants, I (and other moms who do this) am somehow not setting a good example for my children.

Huh.

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I have a hard time understanding that one.

I do lots of things to try to set a good example for my daughters. My choice of pants is not something that I see as a big example-setting opportunity.

So then, just what kind of example do I set when I wear yoga pants?

Hmmm.

Maybe I’m letting my kids know that I’m not overly concerned with what others think of what I wear.

Maybe I’m telling them that I value being able to have fun with them more than I value wearing a certain type of clothing.

Maybe I’m showing them that I am confident in myself regardless of how I look.

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Does wearing yoga pants send the message to them that I don’t value myself? That I think it’s okay to not take care of oneself?

Um, no.

My kids might get that message if I frequently criticized myself or made self-deprecating comments, and I happened to be wearing yoga pants while doing so.

It might send that message if I wore dirty yoga pants and also never showered or brushed my teeth or exercised.

But I don’t do those things. Crisis averted.

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Perhaps my wearing yoga pants tells my girls that it’s more important to be active and embrace life than to dress up and then worry about getting dirty or rumpled.

Maybe it tells them that it’s okay to wear what makes them feel good instead of what everyone else says is “fashionable.”

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Who knows? Honestly, at this point I doubt that my girls are taking any kind of “message” from my choice of pants.

However, I know that they do and will always get the message from me that, except for a few times in life when it is appropriate and prudent to be concerned about how your clothing is perceived by others (i.e. during a job interview), it’s okay to just be yourself. And it’s important to let others do the same.

My kids dress themselves every day. Aside from an occasional veto for seasonal inappropriateness or a stain, I let them choose what they wear, and I don’t interfere. I don’t care if they match. Except when we’re going to church or for certain special occasions, I don’t care if they’re dressed casually. I intentionally only buy them comfortable clothing, because I don’t want them to feel constrained by what they’re wearing either.

I want them to feel free to run and climb and get dirty and play.

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But more than that, I don’t ever want them to get the message from me or anyone else that’s it’s cool to judge other people based on how they look or what they wear. I want them to get that it’s more important to be kind than to be wearing the latest fashion fad. That what they do is more important than what they wear, and likewise for those they encounter in life. I hope they will choose their friends and mates based primarily on how those people treat them and not on how popular those people are, what kind of car they drive, or if they wear the “right” clothes.

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A random little boy helped Lass on the hay bale fort yesterday. She was so excited to tell me about this and how kind he was to her. She never once mentioned what he was wearing or what he looked like.

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I like talking to them about how to be kind and helpful to others. About how good it feels when someone else treats them that way.

I don’t spend time talking to them about what others look like except when they occasionally ask, as of course young kids do.

And when they say, “Mom, why is that man so fat?” or “Why is her skin so brown?” my response is simply, “Because people come in all shapes and sizes, and that’s okay.”


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So there you have it. What started out last week as a glib post about wearing yoga pants has morphed into a commentary on kindness and trying not to be so judgmental.

 

That said, I’ll add that I’m not a Pollyanna, and I know that it is human nature to judge. I’m certainly no saint when it comes to having judgmental thoughts about others. I try not to act on them, and I don’t discuss them with my kids.

They will have plenty of time to learn about the judgments people tend to make about each other. I’ll do my best to help them make good decisions for themselves and to treat others with respect and kindness, regardless of differences.

But for now, we’ll wear comfy clothes and just play.

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Someday Sisters

We had some serious dress up playing today. Serious as in, they really had to get into character so they took their regular clothes off to be more authentic in their dresses.

Lass was Rapunzel and Miss was Flynn Rider. Miss was directing the play. She selected the dresses for Lass and helped her into each one. Then they’d have a dance, run around through the “kingdom,” and do it all over again.

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Apparently in their version of Rapunzel, Flynn doesn’t wear a shirt.

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They were so fun to watch.

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My favorite part was watching Miss help Lass get into her dresses.

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They are such good friends. I couldn’t help but picture them someday helping each other get ready for big dances, dates, or job interviews, doing each other’s hair, and helping to pick outfits and accessories. All the things sisters do in my imagination. Perhaps they’re more likely to fight over who gets to drive the car and the fact that one is wearing the other’s shirt without asking. I’m sure there will be both of these types of moments, especially when they’re teenagers. I know they will bicker and fight. I hope, and I believe, that they will also be the best and truest of friends. They already are.

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(Even Sis got in on the action a little bit.)

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The last dress Miss had Lass change into was her “wedding dress.” I’d be lying if I said this didn’t bring a tear to my eye.

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Look at her, helping to adjust her sister in her “wedding dress.”

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Someday my girls will be helping each other get ready for big moments like weddings and babies. I don’t have a sister, so I’m totally in awe of this relationship. I am truly thankful that they have each other and that they show their love for each other so much every day. Of course they bicker, they argue over toys, they don’t like to take turns. But I see such tenderness and thoughtfulness between them every day as well.

They’re playing dress up. They’re playing Rapunzel and Flynn (in today’s scenario they got married to each other).

But they’re also practicing being good sisters. Every day, they are honing their skills of love and support for each other that they will carry on throughout their lives.

Maybe someday I’ll get these photos out and show them on Lass’s real wedding day. *Sniff*

9 Reasons I’m Not a Feminist (and Maybe You Aren’t Either)

This is an issue that has been on my mind lately for various reasons. It has repeatedly come to my attention in the past few weeks, like when I recently read this article about women now being allowed in combat. Or when I read the book “The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know — and Men Can’t Say,” which has a stupid name and some real problems in its writing and plenty that I don’t agree with, but is nevertheless an interesting read. Or when I read this blog post in which a woman wrote about how offended she was as a mother and infuriated as a feminist that her son’s preschool teacher was encouraging the little boys to be gentlemen. For real.

I have never identified myself as a feminist. I was lambasted by my professor in an undergraduate women’s writing course when I wrote a paper disagreeing with a feminist book we had to read (I don’t remember which book it was). Though I spent many years in school pursuing an advanced degree to become a psychologist, I always knew that what I really wanted was to be a stay-at-home mom.

So yes, feminism annoys me. Of course I want equal rights for women and men. I have three daughters for pete’s sake. But I think feminism takes things too far. Feminism comes across as angry and hostile and lawsuit-happy. And here are some more reasons I’m not a feminist:

1. I believe in equal rights for all people, not greater rights and entitlements for women (or any other group).

2. It is my fervent hope that women and men will never have equal pay (on average). We already have equal pay for doing the same job (according to the law). We will probably never have equal average pay, because women often choose to work fewer hours and at less demanding and dangerous jobs than men in order to be more available for their children. I hope this doesn’t change.

3. I think feminism is partly to blame for much of the “Mommy Wars” and “Mommy Guilt” women struggle with nowadays. Women of my generation have been inundated with the idea that it is our “duty” to follow in the footprints of the women who “forged the path” for us to have the opportunities we have today to work outside the home. If we don’t want to work and would rather stay home with our children, feminists view this as not living up to our potential. And all this stuff about “having it all,” i.e. working full time and being available for our children as much as we want or need to be while remaining gorgeous and stress free, is crap. I wish feminists would stop putting this junk out there so women can stop feeling guilty if they don’t live up to this impossible ideal.

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4. I think Title 9 is BS. If you have to take away from or put down others in order to get what you want in life, you ought to reevaluate what you want in life. Of course women should have opportunities to play collegiate sports. They should not take away opportunities from men in order to do so. Also, see #1.

5. I think staying home to raise her children is the most important and fulfilling job a woman can do. I do not think that it is a waste of her intellectual abilities (though I too had to battle this feeling within myself when I stopped working).

*Note: Having said that, I want to clarify that I don’t think that working makes someone a bad mom, or less of a woman, or not important, or anything else like that. I’m all for a woman being able to choose what is right for her family, and I’m not trying to fan the “Working Mom vs. Stay-at-Home Mom” flames. I’m just trying to shoot down the feminist idea that a woman staying at home to take care of her children is “less” (important, fulfilled, smart, capable, etc.) than one who chooses to work.
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6. Women and men (girls and boys) are different. On many levels. Period. Our differences are not just caused by the ways we are raised. I wish feminists would stop trying to say that we’re the same. The differences between men and women are a good thing. 

7. Along those lines, I think chivalry is great. My girls will be encouraged to seek relationships with boys/men who are gentlemen. They won’t feel entitled to have a man open a door for them, nor will they feel offended when one does.

8. I don’t view women as victims, and I think it is harmful to my gender to continually harp on the idea that we’ve been oppressed and victimized. Women can be strong without needing to take away from or attack men.

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9. I have every intention of raising my daughters to be strong, independent, loving, non-feminists. I will tell and show them that choosing to stay home with them is the best decision I have ever made. I will encourage them to pursue whatever goals they set for themselves, but I will also let them know that it’s okay for them to pursue their goals in stages and to plan for the possibility that they may someday want to leave their careers for a while to be home with their kids.

If I’m honest, I wish feminism would just go away. I don’t think it’s necessary, and in fact I think it is harmful to women and families (and men too). I think it just stirs up resentment among women and between women and men. Calling it “Women’s issues” or “The Women’s Movement” or whatever other name tries to present it as being representative of the views and needs and wants of all women is incorrect and annoying. It’s feminism. I am not a feminist. Are you?

 

18 Things My Daughters Will Know Before They Turn 18

The other day I was wandering around Pinterest, and I saw something that caught my eye. It was titled something like “15 things you should teach your daughter before she turns 18.” I don’t know why (it’s not like I choose the things to teach my daughters based on them), but I always enjoy reading these little lists. I often find them to be endearing. Sweet. Nice thoughts on mothering daughters. So I clicked on it and proceeded to read.

Unfortunately, this one was pretty disappointing, and even slightly disturbing. It had points like the following (I’m paraphrasing):

“The only alcoholic beverage you should drink from a bottle is beer.” Okay. This is true. But not one of my top 15 things to teach my daughters before they are 18.

“Every guy looks at other girls’ boobs. They can’t help it. Don’t take it personally.” Really? That’s what you want to teach your daughter before you send her off into the world? Ew.

And “Every slice of pizza you eat requires 30 minutes of running to burn it off. 2 slices, an hour, and so on. That doesn’t even count the beer.” I don’t even know where to begin with the issues I have with this statement. How about that it is just begging for the development of an eating disorder?

Anyway, there are 12 others there. Some of them aren’t so bad. One warns against cutting one’s own hair. Another recommends you don’t ask a question if you aren’t emotionally ready to hear an honest answer. I won’t go into all of them. You get the gist.

I realize that the author’s intent seemed to be preparing one’s daughter to leave home and go to college, where crazy parties and roller coaster relationships can wreak havoc with a young girl’s self esteem and even place her at risk when overindulging in alcohol, drugs, etc. Yes. I get that. I  also sense that perhaps this list was written a bit tongue in cheek. I don’t know. It certainly wasn’t cute or sweet or inspiring of warm and fuzzy thoughts of my future as a mother of daughters preparing them to go off into the world as strong, independent, compassionate women.

But reading that list did make me think about the things that I think are important for my daughters to learn before they are 18 (or before they leave the house). So here they are (some of them anyway).

18 Things My Daughters Will Know Before They Turn 18

1. How to change a tire, check oil, and use basic power tools.

2. How to accept a compliment graciously. A smile and a sincere “Thank you” are sufficient. Self-deprecation is not attractive.

3. When meeting someone new, shake hands firmly and make eye contact.

4. The joy of cooking. My Dad tried many times to teach me to cook before (and after) I left home. I was never into it. I always told him, “I’m an intelligent person Dad. I can read and follow a recipe to cook whatever I want.” This is true to a degree, but I viewed cooking as a chore and was really a horrible cook until well into my twenties when I started having fun with it. I want my daughters to learn that cooking is fun and to experience the joy of cooking good food for themselves and others.

5. Do not waste your time in a relationship with someone (boyfriend, friend, etc.) who doesn’t respect you and treat you as a priority. (And for Pete’s sake, if he’s looking at another girl’s boobs in front of you, ditch him!)

6. The things you eat and drink can either be your body’s best medicine or its worst poison. Eat real food and enjoy it. Eat only until you feel satisfied, even if it means leaving some food on your plate. Don’t deny yourself occasional “treats.” Everything in moderation.

And because I want my children to learn about alcohol and drugs from their Dad and me rather than from their peers:

7. Too much alcohol impairs ability to make good choices. Don’t impair your ability to make good choices. If you do drink, be responsible about it. Never, ever get into a car with a driver who has been drinking (including yourself). And from my paranoid side: Only accept drinks that are prepared in your sight, and don’t leave your drink unattended.

8. When you’ve had a bad day, turn up the music and dance until you feel better.

9. You don’t get anywhere in life by speaking negatively of others. If you feel that you need to cut someone else down in order to get ahead, you need to reevaluate where you’re heading. Avoid gossip and backbiting.

10. Be a good friend. Listen well. Friendship is a fine art (wisdom from Great Grandma S), and a true friend is a treasure.

11. Your sisters are your best friends for life. Don’t let disagreements linger. Forgive and love and protect each other no matter what.


12. Beauty and attractiveness are determined more by behavior than appearance. Be kind to others and carry yourself with grace and confidence always.

13. Family is always a top priority.

14. Learn about things for yourself. Don’t believe everything you hear. Know how to do your own research. Form your own opinions.

15. Trust your instincts. If you have a “gut feeling” about something, listen to it.

16. Dress in a classy manner. “Stylish” does not mean “revealing” or “skin tight.” Unless you’re wearing a bathing suit, I guess.

17. Never let someone (including yourself!) tell you you can’t do something. As your Dad likes to say, “If I cannot find a way, I will make one.”

18. If you choose to pursue something, always do it to the fullest. You’ll never regret working hard for something.

What would you add?