Parenting is all about preparation. As long as you realize you’ll never be fully prepared.
When kids are younger, preparation is always to make sure you can survive a two-hour trip out of your house. For me, that consisted of 14 diapers, seven bags of goldfish, three extra outfits, every first aid component ever made, toys, books, mats, drink boxes and a protein bar. My family could survive days on a desert island if needed.
Now I’m spending my time preparing myself for questions. Questions that can be uncomfortable. Questions that are important and will shape my daughters’ lives. Questions I often don’t have the answers to.
It’s not shocking to know that most tweens and teens report that they feel they cannot talk to their parents because they either won’t listen, they over-react or the universal “they just don’t understand what it’s like to be me!”
Talking to your daughter about what I call the “shudder” issues (these are topics that when I think about them, they make me shudder), is something I think most of us dread. It’s one thing to talk about sex with our girlfriends over a glass of wine, but it’s a whole other issue when you’re trying to decide how to tackle it with your baby girl.
There is a time when all us need to have “the talk” with our daughters. The best advice I’ve received is don’t do it in one fell swoop….spread it out over time so you encourage ongoing communication. But what about other questions? Questions that relate to body image or friendships or self-confidence. Questions that come out of no where when you’re least expecting them. Questions that can break a young girl’s spirit if handled inappropriately.
And unfortunately, these questions can be asked at any age. This just isn’t for the tweens and older set.
Here are five questions every mom of daughters should be prepared for. I don’t have all the answers, and I think it depends on your own life choices on how you would want to respond, but be prepared.
Why do you wear make up? I work really hard to try to promote a good body image for my daughters, but I totally flubbed this simple question. What I wanted to say was: “Mommy needs to cover up all the wrinkles and dark circles so I don’t scare people.” But instead, I fumbled through talking about covering up a few blemishes and making my eyes look bigger. What I wish I would have said: “I use make up to enhance the features I already love and it gives me an opportunity to express myself sometimes, but I’m way more concerned if people like me for who I am on the inside.” Yes, if I ever have another daughter — which would have to be by immaculate conception — that is what I would say.
Am I fat? Ugh. According to a study announced in February of this year from the National Institute on Media and the Family, about 40 percent of girls ages nine and 10 have tried to lose weight. Four out of every ten girls. That is messed up. Yes, the media is largely to blame; but as mothers, we have to do a better job of setting the tone (I’ve talked about this in the past in Do I Ever Say Anything Positive About My Body?)
Even though you may want to dismiss her concerns, don’t end the conversation with a simple no or of course not. I’m not normally a fan of answering a question with a question, but in this instance it’s good to get to the root of the issue. You may want to ask your daughter if she feels fat or if there is a reason she is asking. It’s then important to focus on healthy eating and exercise, but don’t focus on losing weight. “Maybe we can start walking after dinner and you can start helping me grocery shop. I know I feel my best after I exercise and I’d love to spend more time with you.” We need to stress that women are much more than their physical appearance, our health is more than just our weight, and our character is more important than the size of our skinny jeans.
Does this look good on me? This is a tough one. I think we need to honor the girl code with our daughters when it comes to not letting them go out of the house with something that makes them look awful, but sometimes it is just a matter of taste. Take a barometer reading of your daughter’s attitude with what she has on….does she seem happy and confident or fidgety and unsure. Make sure your response isn’t critical of her body type (i.e., you don’t have the body to wear crop tops) and instead make a few suggestions on what may better flatter her assets.
Why doesn’t anyone like me/why don’t I fit in? Many parents often brush off comments where kids sound like their world is falling apart, but two researchers at UCLA discovered that social rejection actually registers as bodily injury or pain in the brain. It is important to determine if your daughter is just having a bad day (and may be a little dramatic) or if something else is going on. You may want to talk to her teachers or other parents you trust. Try to find out why she feels that way and make suggestions on how she can improve her friendships, but most importantly don’t write it off. There could be an underlying issue you may need to address. And remember, kids of any age do not realize that there is a life beyond their school years.
Can I wear that/Can I have that/Can I do that? Girls often like to push the boundaries a little earlier than their male counterparts. But seriously. Just say no if you do not think it is appropriate. Sometimes as parents we fear our kids will be left behind if their kids do not have something or do something all the other kids are; but the truth is, when just one parent is brave enough to say no, the others often follow. Be brave.
What scary questions have you had to answer?
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I believe the true measure of a person is determined by how she acts when faced with adversity. I am constantly amazed by my friends and family who have handled seemingly insurmountable obstacles with such incredible grace and compassion — both in their lives, and in the worst of times, when there is death.
And when I see these people, these people who are composed, who are lovely, who are kind in the most dire of circumstances, it makes me wonder, did their grief change them, or did they change their grief? Were they this strong before facing adversity, or did they find this strength only because they needed it?
I am in awe of the people I know who can still see the light in the midst of a tragedy. A mom who has shown so much compassion and gratitude as her young son faces leukemia. A friend who lost her battle with lung cancer, yet fought courageously even to the end. A young dad who creates a beautiful life for his daughters despite losing his wife in a freak medical incident. And a young girl who digs deep to win her war with addiction.
I often wonder, could I be that strong if faced with such an issue? Could I see beyond myself? Would I be paralyzed with the unfairness of it all…could I bear the unbearable? I’m not so sure, so I try to see life through the lens of my friends, to find my gratitude in the every day knowing that today it was not me, not my family, not my life that was shattered. I will be thankful, because I feel it is insulting to those facing such pain, such grief, such sorrow if I am not.
I discussed this once with a friend who has been dealt a lot of bad cards in her life. Of course making it all about me, I remarked that I often struggled with enjoying my own life when so many close to me were struggling with their own. She said something like this: “Life is truly seasonal. Some of us will never know that we are in a beautiful spring until faced with the harshness of winter. Some of us know that the seasons change quickly. And some of us never know because we’re too busy looking up at the dark clouds. Regardless, it’s up to each of us to know when the sun is shining.”
True dat. We must know when our sun is shining.
This past Saturday morning I woke up early. With nothing on the schedule and my three girls lazily watching cartoons downstairs, I rolled over to grab my phone to check some e-mails and Facebook. The very first post I read was from my friend Anne, a tall, beautiful woman with a California tan and an equally sunny disposition. She was the girl in my sorority I admired from afar, although she always gave me a warm smile when she saw me in the year I was a lowly pledge and she a supremely confident senior. Flash forward twenty years and she is equally gorgeous and tan, but now has a beautiful family, recently started a successful business, and lives a full life. Seemingly perfect.
And then she shared this:
In a continued effort to make my Facebook page as authentic and purposeful as possible, I am gathering up my courage and sharing this post. Here goes..
Six years ago today we lost our daughter, Brooke, when I went into labor at 21 weeks into my pregnancy. I never felt brave enough to openly talk about it on Facebook, but something compelled me today to share this very personal post.
Every year on this date, in the days and weeks leading up, I find myself quietly and painfully remembering her loss. We always mark the day by going to our special beach where we scattered her ashes, and we bring rose petals to toss in the ocean. But this year, it was not until well into the morning that I suddenly realized what day it was.
My husband had already left for work and I was packing the kids lunches, when it hit me. Of course I felt incredibly guilty that I had forgotten and not planned my day accordingly. And then all at once an incredible sense of gratitude and calm washed over me as I realized it was OK. It was OK that I did not feel the pain and the grief. I carry Brooke in my heart everyday and am constantly finding her beautiful little spirit in so many areas of my life.
But today for the first time in six years I allowed myself to let go of the painful part of her loss and simply celebrate her birth and her precious, brief, little life with us. So, instead of bringing roses to the beach tonight, I took our beautiful daughter, her sister, who was born two years later, to the beach instead. We played in the surf, made seagrass bracelets, and afterward we had dinosaur chicken nuggets and clam chowder, and toasted our blessed life with milk and Sauvignon Blanc at The Boathouse.
And now we are home and taking baths and my heart is just so full. Six years ago I could never have imagined feeling such joy. I really debated sharing this tonight. But despite my trepidation, I hope that maybe this post will serve as a little light of hope for anyone struggling with grief. In a huge display of irony I received a call today from a dear friend asking for advice on how to support a friend who experienced a very similar loss. As I shared with her all of the wonderful ways my own good friends “showed up” for me, it reminded me how fortunate I am to have such compassionate and loyal friends. Without them, I surely could not have reached this place of healing. So, thank you. You know who you are, and your friendship has made all the difference.
It took me until the end to realize that tears were streaming down my face. I have always thought of Anne as larger than life, but reading this, reading how her grief changed her, and then how she changed her grief…well, it was something special. Glennon from Momastery calls it living “brutiful”, where everything beautiful in our life now comes from the pain and grief we faced in our past.
And while some of our pain and grief and sadness is because of awful things like sickness and death and addictions, sometimes it is the small things, like insecurities or betrayals or cruelty from others that limits our happiness, our joy, our gratitude. Sometimes a lot of these small things can cloud our sunshine, make us miss our season of spring.
But by sharing these stories, sharing our pain — the pain we all have in some form or another — we can learn from it. We can help each other find our sunshine again, as Anne’s close friends and family helped find hers. While yes, grief changes us; but that does not mean we cannot change our grief. Moving on does not mean forgetting our loved ones, our experiences, our loss. With time and support, we can change our grief into gratitude.
At the end of the day, I am so thankful for the bravery of people like Anne and others in my life that share their struggles, and decide to share them with the world. We all face pain and grief and heartbreaking, unbearable loss, and we all face a multitude of issues that weigh us down– and in the face of this, we must decide if we want to see the sun again. By sharing our stories, we also give hope to those that may follow.
In the movie The Fault in Our Stars, there is a line that says: “Grief does not change you Hazel. It reveals you.”
May we all reveal our true selves, our best selves in the harshest of winters. May we all find the sunshine after our pain, after our sorrow. May we all find our spring day at the beach, that day when our grief turns to gratitude.
I’ve always felt pretty confident about the decisions I make as a parent — until recently as I try to navigate the hormones of two nearly ten-year old girls. In order to get through these trying days I’ve used a combination of the Serenity prayer, girl friend support, parenting books and Kendall Jackson chardonnay.
But deeper than my exhaustion from the fights, exasperated comments, and eye-rolls, is the constant shadow of self-doubt that is creeping into my world on a regular basis.
You see, when my kids were younger, the decisions my husband and I made were implemented in a dictator-type style. My way or the highway right up to your room. But these decisions were about eating two stalks of broccoli, cleaning up the basement, or one more show on Nick Jr. Obedience was the yardstick in which I measured my parenting prowess.
Now the decisions seem to be getting a bit harder, and my kids are turning out to be real people who have to make choices of their own based on the life skills I help them develop. In addition to the day-to-day battles about clothes and when to go to bed and chores, etc., I now worry about other things. Like when can my kids have cell phones, how do I talk to them about drugs, how to deal with mean girls, what do I tell them about guns in schools, do I need to make them aware about the dangers of taking selfies and how do I explain to them that just because their friend’s parents bought them a brand new iPhone 5S for their 10th birthday that does not mean they are getting one. Ever.
Sometimes I literally feel their tiny hands slipping out of my grasp. And when I desperately try to reach out and grab for them, I often think, wow. I am completely screwing this up. We need to stop putting money into the college account, and increase the contribution for the therapist fund.
I know moms are always plagued with doubt. As new moms it’s “Do I really need to buy organic” or “Will the fact that I let them cry it out give them abandonment issues?” And I still hear doubt from my friends with older kids around dating, driving, school issues and career choices (but mainly about dating.) It never ends and can rock our psyche. Self-doubt can make good moms question their judgement or worse yet, forget who they are as parents.
I’ve been feeling this doubt. A lot. And it’s been getting the best of me. I can’t help but feel that I am making wrong decisions, saying the wrong thing, picking the wrong battles — all the time. This black cloud has been looming over me, making me feel exhausted, unmotivated and beaten down. It has crept beyond the parenting realm and into my marriage, my writing, my life. Doubt has made me more sensitive, less confident and a bit of a mess.
So, it was a surprise when cleaning out my e-mails I found an article I saved from a writing coach I admire, Lauren Sapala. The topic: “Self-Doubt: The Writer’s Constant Companion.” No joke. In her post, she discusses the doubt every writer feels when going through the process, and how doubt can make you do dumb things. While writing is cathartic, it also makes you incredibly vulnerable. There is just no way every person will receive your message the way you intended it. And not everyone is polite on the Internet. Kind of like parenting a tween.
That’s why I feel like this article could also be entitled: Self-Doubt: Every Mom’s Constant Companion. Who among us does not wonder how much we’re messing our kids up? My self-doubt has been growing daily like the weeds in my flower beds.
In her article, Lauren discusses that if we do not face our doubt head on, we give our power to it. To quote: “We automatically assume that it knows what’s best for us.” Kinda like when we let our doubt change the decisions we would make as parents.
But it gets better. This is where Lauren went from smart to brilliant in my eyes:
“There is a Buddhist exercise that helps people handle their fears by asking them to invite the fear in for tea. We can do the same thing with self-doubt (which is a form of fear). Whenever your self-doubt about writing shows up, use your imagination and invite it in for tea. Give your self-doubt a comfy chair and the option of cream and sugar. Ask your self-doubt what’s been going on, what’s happening, what’s new?
Most importantly, ask your self-doubt why it’s choosing to show up now, and what can you learn about yourself from observing it?
The key is to treat your self-doubt like it’s about four years old. Yes, of course it has value and things to teach you, and a certain innocent way of looking at the world that is interesting, but the fact remains that a four-year-old does not get to run your life. For obvious reasons. Most four-year-olds may think they have really good ideas, but eating cake every day for breakfast just isn’t going to work in the long run.”
Didn’t I tell you it was brilliant?
As moms, we can learn so much from this. Self-doubt is just another child we have to lead, another kid we have to put in her place. We can listen to it, but we cannot think that it knows better than us — what is in our hearts, what’s in our souls, what we want for our children, what we believe is best for them.
Washing away the self doubt. Photo from _scartissue.
I had a long cup of tea with my self-doubt this morning, and I listened to what it had to say. I listened to how it was scared I was starting to lose my kids, how it felt I was losing control, how it was unsure about the influence other people had on them. I considered what it had to say about my parenting style, my communications skills, and my approach. I heard (again) how it feared for the safety of my girls, their ability to “fit in”, and letting them make mistakes.
And then I politely asked it to leave. I wrote down on a piece of paper five things that I was scared of for my girls, five things I wanted to teach them about my morals and values, and five things I did right as a parent. I thought long and hard about the way I wanted to communicate with them, and about the things I was doing wrong.
And for the first time in a while, I feel refreshed and ready to face my kids instead of dreading it. Because my kids are good, just like I know I’m a good mom. While I know I’ll keep making mistakes along the way, it won’t be because I made decisions based on doubt; it will be because I made a decision out of my beliefs of how to parent my girls and a whole lot of love.
So when that doubt creeps in this evening as I’m sure it will, I’ll kindly tell it to take a hike. I’m out of tea, and I’m sure as hell not sharing my wine.
Do you doubt yourself as a parent? How do you keep doubt from creeping in?