How to Show Your Daughter She Can Be Anything She Wants

“Oh no!” I exclaimed while drinking my coffee in between packing lunches.

“What happened,”my 5th grade daughter asked, in between bites of frozen pancakes.

Today is the day before Halloween, which means it’s class party time at the elementary schools. It’s a BIG day for the little people, one of their favorites. I have been at one of my children’s Halloween parties for, like, always. It’s what I do. As a (mostly) stay-at-home mom, it’s one of the perks of my job. Even with the coordinating and party planning and begging for volunteers —I am always grateful for that opportunity to see my kids in their element. I whole-heartedly love it.

But entertaining 26 ten-year olds without getting heckled is a tough job. That why I shouted “oh no” when I received an email from a fellow volunteer — a mom I really like and admire — who goofed up her schedule,

Halloween parties at our school run a little earlier than others because of a special Fall program the staff does. She accidentally inputted the time wrong, and now will be late because she is leading a meeting.

And she feels awful. I’m sure she feels guilty for letting the other parents down, but mostly for missing time with her daughter. She feels the pangs that working moms experience all the time.

That’s when I decided to pick the next words I spoke to my daughter carefully. I looked deep into those dark brown eyes and said, “Nothing is wrong. One of the moms is going to be a little late to your party because she gets to lead a very important meeting for her company. She actually teaches people how to communicate ideas about their business better, and she is really good at it.  Today, she gets to lead a video conference. She has a lot to pack into her day so she’s just going to run a few minutes behind. We will figure it out until she gets there!”

“Really? That’s a cool job,” my daughter said. “I’d love to lead a video conference for a bunch of people one day.”

“You could totally do it, “ I told her. “She started her own business but works with some of the biggest companies in the world. She combined her passion with making a living. You could do that too one day.”

“Like maybe soccer and math?” she mumbled with a full pancake in her mouth.

“Sure, maybe even soccer and math.”

I know this sounds like an innocuous conversation. Really, it’s just a school party. But to me, a stay-at-home mom, this is important stuff.  Life-changing stuff.

Because to be honest, I am counting on you working moms.  I need you guys to succeed.

Due to life circumstances — a husband who travels, moving around the country a few times, birthing three kids in sixteen months — it made sense for me to stay at home. I didn’t anticipate becoming a full-time mom, but it works for my family. I enjoy it and live a fulfilling life filled with volunteering at my kids’ school, charitable work and a little bit of writing here and there.  My children understand that I work, even if I am not getting paid.

But my daughters may choose a different path, and I need role models for them. Role models like my friend who volunteers at school, creates beautiful projects with her kids and runs a business — and still has time to go out and grab a glass of wine.

In that moment I found out my working mom friend was going to be late, I could have admonished her in front of my daughter. But, instead, I wanted to show her something else, something much more important.

Middle school is the time when most girls no longer believe they can be anything they want in this world. According to my friend Vanessa at TIA Girl Club, this is the time when camouflaging occurs, meaning our daughters want more to fit in then become their authentic selves. This is when we lose them.

The number one way to raise girls who believe they can do anything and be anyone is by supporting other women — women who make different choices than ourselves. It is the most important way to show our girls that they control their destiny.

We need to support the moms who are working either by desire or by necessity. Offer to carpool so their child doesn’t miss an event or take in a snack they prepared. Help their kids when they can’t be at the class party. Don’t make them feel bad when they are running late. I’m pretty sure dealing with guilt is a second job for most working moms, so don’t add more.

Because the truth is, I feel guilty too. I wonder if I am the best example to my kids at times, if I am demonstrating girl-power. I am comfortable if they choose to follow my path, but I don’t want them to do it out of fear or resignation. I want them to understand they have the power of choice.

And my brand of feminism has to do with two things and two things only — equality and choice. Feminists who came before us fought for the right to choose a life that was on their terms —whether that was staying at home or participating in the workforce.

And we ladies should support each other in whatever choices we make. If we don’t support them both, what message will that send to our girls?

When men do it they are applauded, so as women, let’s really show them how it’s done.

So, to all the working moms running late today: don’t worry. We got this!

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What Really Scares Me About Social Media

Last week , the below picture went viral all over the media, and I say media because it went beyond Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. It was also on major network news and discussed on the radio.

selfie

I am the first to admit that I rolled my eyes at this story. Here it is, yet again, a bunch of young girls more obsessed with taking a selfie than interacting with the real world. But then something stopped me dead in my tracks.

The picture seemed familiar. I stared at this photo a bit longer.The girls were in a group sitting together. I imagined they were all part of the same club or team. They looked young, maybe in their mid-teens.

It dawned on me then. I remembered snapping a photo of my daughter and her friends — just a few years younger than this group — at a women’s soccer game last year. I can picture their duck faces and the tiny hands making peace signs with the game happening right behind them.  We took it twice to get the look just right.

I imagined that picture showing up on millions of strangers’ news feeds, shaming them for being more interested in creating the perfect kissy face than watching the U.S. women’s soccer team. It was only a moment, but no one else knew that.

This group easily could have been my daughter and her friends. I wanted to vomit.

Yesterday, I came across this story clarifying the photo. It alleges that the girls were participating in a contest  broadcasted to the entire stadium to tweet selfies.

Participating. In a contest. Having fun. In that moment of a three hour game.

When Fox Sports and the Diamondbacks offered tickets to another game, the girls declined and requested the tickets be donated to an organization that supports families of domestic abuse. This bold move is in stark contrast to the shaming these girls received from the Interweb.

So. well. played.

I like to think that as adults we learned from this experience. I see people sharing the second article all over social media saying we shouldn’t judge or that there are two sides to every story.

But that isn’t what freaks me out the most.

What scares the bejeezus out of me is that someone else took this picture of them. Someone else decided to use this photo and tell their story. Someone else took control of their experience and plastered it all over the Internet.

And no one else seems to be bothered by this.

I passionately talk to my kids about social media. I show them how a text can be forwarded to a group with a single touch of a button, or a message misconstrued. I lecture them about how nothing is “private” and how people are not always who they say they are. I am waiting until I feel the time is right to let them have their own phone, Instagram or Facebook.

But there is one thing I cannot protect them from on social media, one thing even I can’t control.

You.

I can’t protect them from you and your ability to change their lives in an instant with your iPhone. Your taking pictures, your telling their stories, your providing the context.

And it scares the bejeezus out of me.

My daughters and I could never post a picture on social media again, and they could still end up the laughing stock of the World Wide Web without doing a single thing wrong. Just by being themselves. Having fun at an event where they didn’t even know someone was snapping their picture and deciding to hit “share.”

Because you sat behind them in the bleachers and saw their g-string sticking out. Because you thought their blue hair and nose ring were “funny.” Because you thought the way they danced during the seventh inning stretch was just like Elayne from Seinfeld.

I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, every embarrassing picture, every “funny” meme, every silly You Tube video we post and share on social media is somebody’s daughter or somebody’s son. It could be MY daughter. It could be YOUR son.

And we have more control than you believe. Simply by not hitting the share button, you are doing your part. Pausing, and imagining that it is your child in that shaming-selfie photo, your sister with her butt-crack hanging out in Wal Mart, your dad with the hair coming out of his ears and nose. Not posting or sharing that content  is doing your part.

Because if we don’t teach our kids better, they will never do better.

It’s hard enough raising kids who respect social media. We shouldn’t punish the ones who are just trying to live their lives.

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THINK_social_media_POSTER

I remember seeing this poster in one of my daughters’ classrooms, except it was regarding thinking before speaking. Simon Clegg turned it into a thinking before posting poster, and I think it is pretty brilliant.

 

 

3 Ways I’m Changing My Daughters’ Measurements

“My sister wants her thigh gap to be three inches,” I heard a small voice say from the back seat of my minivan a few year’s back.

I quickly checked my rearview mirror to assess my daughters’ reaction to this comment made by a sweet third grader I was taking to the movies.

“What’s a thigh gap? Mom, do you have a thigh gap? Do I have one?” my seven-year-old asked.

Trying to sound upbeat while trying not to drive off the road, I responded: “It’s a space between your legs. Some people have it, and others don’t. It all depends on how your body is. You can’t really control it. So, are we going to get the popcorn pack or the pretzel at the movies today?”

I successfully changed the subject, but I knew from that day forward I needed to be more proactive in talking to my girls about weighty issues. The war started, and the first strike came unknowingly from a little girl with a 16-year-old sister.

But as my girls grow up, I am seeing there are more and more measurements that can bring them down. And I’m finding the best defense is a good offense, so here are three measurements I’m talking about with my girls:

3 WAYS I'M CHANGING MY DAUGHTERS' MEASUREMENTS

1. Social Media Sanity: I am starting to believe that there is no greater damage that can impact a young person’s self-esteem than participating in social media.  Girls often gain a false sense of accomplishment, or even power, from accumulating followers, likes or comments on social media, using these numbers as a barometer of their social status. On the CNN documentary “Being 13,” one student in the study admitted she takes 100 selfies a day to get one she likes well enough to post.

Conversely, when a post or photo is not well-received, or when a teen is excluded online (such as not being tagged in a picture or finding out their friends are at an event they were not invited), this often perpetuates feelings of insecurity.  While we all have experienced the feeling of being left out, social media now offers proof.

While limiting and monitoring social media is critical, most damage often happens when young girls “lurk” online, trolling friends’ activities without any context. Parents cannot underestimate the power of discussing social media with their children — without judgment. Whether we like it or not, social media is a part of teen culture, and unless you chain your child to their bed, they will see it. Topics should include how does it feel when someone comments on your photo or, does it ever feel bad when you check your social media accounts? Most teens cannot connect the dots that it is social media that is making them feel depressed, so it’s our job to talk them through it.

A friend recently told her 13-year-old daughter to use social media to make relationships she already had stronger, therefore only accept friend requests from people she knew well. If anyone messaged her about why she didn’t connect with them, she was to blame her “mean” mom for overseeing her account. The result is a young girl who is surrounded (mostly) by positivity as opposed to a teen seeking approval. While this is not a realistic option for everyone, it is a good way to get a young girl’s feet wet when it comes to social media.

2. Tip the Scales. I was in eighth grade the first time I realized I weighed 20 pounds more than my best friend, despite the fact we were about the same height. Now I realize it was because I was exiting puberty while she was just starting, but I remember the exact moment and feeling awkward about it. I also recall trying not to clean my plate at dinner that night.

We all know it’s important for girls to be healthy, not skinny, but teens today get barraged with images of women with “perfect” bodies. The average teen girl gets about 180 minutes of media exposure daily and only about 10 minutes of parental interaction a day, says Renee Hobbs, EdD, associate professor of communications at Temple University. Who do you think the kid is going to listen to?

Both moms and dads need to have a dialogue with daughters about weight and body image.  The discussion should include how most photos in the media are unrealistic and untrue, such as airbrushed tummies, elongated legs, and hidden blemishes. See what your daughter has to say about a woman you see on a magazine cover or a model in an advertisement. Ask if she would change anything about her appearance. Most parents are surprised to hear that their child would rather look like an “ideal” instead of themselves.

And it’s important to remember that the number one role model for daughters is her mother. This means it’s not enough to try to avoid negatively discussing our bodies; instead, we need to make sure we discuss what we like about ourselves, too.

3. Weight of the GPA. My nine-year-old daughter acted jumpy last week when handing me three tests she needed signed. I glanced at the top of each and saw she achieved the Common Core grading of “I,” which meant she mastered each lesson. I stopped on her math test when I saw she missed three questions. As I flipped to the back of her test, she burst out in tears and cried, “I’m sorry Mommy, I forgot to go back and check my work like you told me to.”

If I’m being honest, I was a little frustrated. Leaving a question blank is just silly, but then I remembered she is nine, and she proved she understood what she learned, so I backed off. Clearly we were both putting a little too much pressure on her regarding her grades.

I was shocked recently when I read that research has shown there is a clear correlation between grades and suicide risk. Sixteen-year-old students with the lowest grades are three times more likely to commit suicide than those at the top of the class.  This is not all surprising when we look at the combined pressures parents and the U.S. education system put on our kids.

While I believe working hard in school and trying to get good grades is important,  particularly in today’s competitive college admissions environment, it is imperative to communicate to our children that someone who gets more A’s is not more worthy than someone who gets B’s or God forbid, a C. Achieving good grades does not ensure a good life any more than one bad grade deems someone as a bad person. As parents, we cannot expect young minds to know the difference.

How do I want my girls to measure their worth?

I try to tell my girls to remember that life is about the impact you have on others, so work on building your brain and growing your heart, and the rest will fall into place.

I’ll let you know how it turns out.