I read this article a few weeks back and have been corresponding with the author, Vanessa Schenck. I love what she is all about. She’s an entrepreneur, she’s a mom, and she’s concerned with what’s happening to our girls. And she remembers David Cassidy too, so we totally get each other. I asked if I could republish this article that originally appeared on Girilla Warfare, and thankfully she said yes because I love the message.
What I am even more excited about is Vanessa will soon be launching a lifestyle brand for Tween girls called TIA Girl Club – an online community-based retail store providing girls an encouraging and supportive place to shop, play and discover their authentic voices. You can find Vanessa on Twitter at @VanessaSchenck or more information about TIA by visiting the website tiagirlclub.com
“So, something happened to me at school today,” said Julia, my nine-year-old daughter just as we were sitting down to eat dinner the other day.
I could tell it was not going to be good.
My daughter went on to tell me one of her best friends had crushed her that day. Apparently, in gym class, the girls played a game that required everyone to find a partner. Julia told me she had asked one of her best pals to be partners and was told, “Sorry. I already have a partner.” To which Julia tried to reason with her by saying, “The teacher said you can have three in a group” and was told, “Why not go ask someone else?”
Knife to the gut.
This left Julia feeling awful, as it would anyone who was just rejected by one of their best friends.
Being rejected by anyone tears into your self-confidence, let alone a really good friend.
This is not the first time I’ve gone through a BFF Crisis-Management Situation with my daughter, and it surely won’t be the last. Let us remember: Julia is in Middle School.
Ah, Middle School! I’ve done my research, and what I know about girls this age is that it’s the time in their development when they are most likely to change their behavior, act in a certain way that’s not really who they are in order to “fit in”. And they will put up with a lot to do just that — fit in.
Girls this age are more likely to compromise their authentic voices, not say what they really want, need or think to be accepted by their peer group.
One psychologist — Dr. JoAnn Deak, author of Girls Will Be Girls, Raising Confident and Courageous Daughters, calls this time in a girl’s life “camouflaging.” It’s exactly what it sounds like. You change who you truly are in order to blend in with those around you. And, like with any good camouflage, you render your true self invisible. As Dr. Deak tells us, camouflaging isn’t all bad. It can provide “an opportunity for self-discovery and growth”. But taken too far, Dr. Deak says a girl can “hide herself not only from others, but ultimately from herself”.
How many of you remember saying you loved David Cassidy because everyone loved David Cassidy (did I just totally date myself)? Or, how many of us dressed as Princess Leia for Halloween because everyone else did, even though you truly didn’t like Star Wars. One bit.
Here’s the thing: At first it doesn’t seem like that big of a deal, not speaking our truth. But the more we do it, the easier it becomes.
Although, as easy as it may seem, it does come with a hefty price-tag. You see, eventually, Dr. Deak says, by continuing to camouflage, we can lose any sense of our authentic voice, and then, suddenly, it’s gone.
Dr. Deak tells us it can take up to three decades for women to get their true, authentic voices back. Thirty years, Moms! She calls this “The Three-Decade-Power-Outage” — and rightly so. Thirty years we go around pretending to be someone we’re not — and most of us don’t even realize it! We’ve played the part for so long it’s become our normal. Yet, it’s not. Not even close. We are being controlled by fear.
Fear, as everyone knows, robs us of living the lives we were meant to live.
That, my friends, was me. I absolutely lost my voice, my confidence in Middle School.It manifested in my life in more ways than one. I attended a University that clearly was not a good fit. But who was I to tell my parents my dream school was in California? Disappoint them? Are you out of your mind?!
Let’s not even begin to discuss my ex-boyfriends. Okay, lets. There was my college boyfriend who was verbally abusive. Remember Oprah’s sage advice: “The first time they show you who they really are, believe them.” Well, the first time he told me I wouldn’t have any friends if I ever left him, I knew exactly with whom I was dealing but I didn’t have the confidence/voice/strength, whatever it is you want to call it, to stand up for myself and leave right then and there. Eventually I did, only to repeat the cycle with the next one. Who I married.
My first husband? Disaster. He and I were no more meant to be together then Jlo and Ben Affleck. I sat in my bedroom and bawled my eyes out the morning I knew he was to propose. Why? Well, because I knew it was coming, the proposal, but, again, I’d lost my authentic voice to be true to myself and say, “Um, no thanks.” It was buried deep under years of pleasing those around me, trying to be someone other than my genuine self.
For me, I managed to recover my voice when I hit my late 20s (this was done through loads of what I call soul-work and self-reflection). I guess you could say I was one of the lucky ones, as my “30-Year-Power-Outage” was cut in about half.
I remember waking up and saying, “Enough!” Once I recovered my confidence the first thing I did was use it to get a divorce (no kids, thank God), move to NYC from Seattle and follow my dream of working in fashion.
I also started my first business. And, last but not least, met and married my one true love, who still makes me belly-laugh after 14 years of waking up together.
My life exploded when I recovered my true voice.
Back to Julia. So, when my daughter sat down at dinner and told me about her friend, the first thing I did was ask her how that made her feel. Knowing about the “30-Year-Power-Outage” and how Julia could slip into it at any given time — starting now, in Middle School — I wanted her to exercise that beautiful voice of hers, to express her true feelings and to know she was validated in those feelings. She didn’t disappoint.
She told me she was upset. Confused. Hurt. All of it. My job, as her Mom, was to listen to it all. And hold her. And tell her everything she was feeling was totally reasonable. That she was allowed to feel it all.
Here’s the thing: Losing your voice is a direct result of losing self-confidence. You are robbed of your empowerment, you feel unworthy and begin to shut down your authentic self. Feeling unworthy leads to all sorts of self-destructive behaviour, for example:
But how does this start to happen? What causes girls to lose confidence? For that answer, let’s look to the Procter & Gamble study — the one which resulted in the Always #LikeAGirl campaign. You know the one? It’s been viewed on YouTube 70 million times!
In that study, 89% of females agreed that WORDS can be harmful, especially to girls.
It is my belief harmful words (“I already have a partner. Go ask someone else.”) are the driving force behind our girls’ drop in self-esteem — especially in Middle School. Is there any time more impactful than having someone say something hurtful to you than when you are in Middle School, on the brink of, or are going through puberty?
And it’s not just other people saying harmful things. It’s also you, saying them to yourself.
“I am fat.”
“I am ugly.”
“I am stupid.”
We’ve all said them. It’s you, telling yourself, “I am not good enough.” It’s you, telling yourself you need to change who you are to be accepted. To be liked. To be invited to the party.
So what can we do as Moms?
Well, if I could give my daughter heaps of self-confidence and empowerment I would. But, as Dr. Deak says, we simply cannot GIVE our daughters any of it. They have to EARN it themselves.
All is not lost, though. Because, what I can do is provide her with a safe and encouraging home where she knows her voice IS heard. And loved. That, I can do in spades. By providing her a secure home environment, Julia feels safe to express her authentic self. And Moms, that is so incredibly important. By being able to use her beautiful voice, Julia is learning what she has to say matters. She has self-worth. We do care. We do hear her.
We can also teach our kids that words matter. What Julia says about herself and others not only matter, but also actually create the world in which she lives. Oprah said it best when she said, “What you say becomes your reality. You speak life into being.”
There’s energy in words. By speaking what it is you want in YOUR life, you are drawing exactly that to you.
There’s more. As her Mom, I am Julia’s most influential role model.
By living my authentic life, by speaking my truth, I am showing my daughter every day how my words are creating the life I want.
The day after Julia told me about the gym class incident we were at the mall buying shoes for her Halloween costume and we ran into a classmate. Afterward, Julia turned to me and said, “Mom, that girl said I was ‘freakishly’ tall.”
I was getting ready to give her the “You-Can’t-Control-What-Other-People-Say-About-You” speech when she stopped me short, grabbed my arm, smiled, and said, “Mom. It’s okay. I don’t care what she said. I like being tall. I just wanted to tell you.”
And, you know what? I believe her. My little girl is becoming her true self. Her beautifully tall, authentic self. And I have a front row seat to watch it all unfold. Lucky me.
I talked to a friend of mine the other night who told me a heart wrenching story about how a group of 7th grade girls literally got up from a lunch table and moved when her daughter sat down at it. They certainly had a good reason to do it. After all, an 8th grade hottie asked her daughter to the dance and (gasp) she said yes. Unbeknownst to her the boy was verbally taken and off-limits. Yes, I know this sounds like Mean Girls, Part Deux but in fact it wasn’t. It’s just another day in a garden variety middle school in a small New York town.
As much as the girls’ vile behavior upset me, it’s what my friend told me next that really got my blood pressure boiling. When my friend called one of the girls’ moms — someone she has known for more than a decade — the response was this: “Oh, I don’t think it was a big deal. I just don’t think they are as close anymore. I’m sure it was just a misunderstanding.”
Um, what the what what?
I get it. It is a hard thing to imagine that your sweet little girl can also be Regina George but are we really that naive? Are we so blinded by the love we feel for our kids that we refuse to believe they are capable of unkind behavior towards someone else’s child, someone else’s little girl?
I worry sometimes about my own three girls. Although I know their hearts are kind, I wonder are their minds strong enough to know right from wrong in a moment of weakness, of jealousy, of rage. Or when they see someone they admire acting cruel, will they have the courage to act appropriately? It’s a lot to ask of a young girl and it’s crazy to think they won’t make mistakes.
To be clear, I do not believe that one bad incident does a mean girl make. There is a difference between a child that makes a bad judgment call, and one who out-and-out torments another kid. But, I do believe that the more excuses we make for our children, the more likely they are to do it again. And again. And again.
I read somewhere once that children need to be raised not managed. This is so true. If you hear yourself uttering one of these phrases below, ask yourself, is this how I really want my child to act?
Then take a moment to close your eyes, and imagine it’s your child, your little girl. How would you want another parent to respond? How would you feel if your child was ostracized, and one of the following was the excuses you received:
5. Your daughter doesn’t seem to be interested in being part of the group anymore, so my daughter and the rest of the girls just don’t talk to her as much. Not everyone has to be best friends. Oh, the classic passive aggressive “it’s not me it’s you” defense. That will work well when she grows up and is expected to actually get along with people “outside of her group.”
4. My daughter said it really wasn’t that big of a deal, and really, shouldn’t the girls work it out on their own? What if the police said that to Charlie Manson’s cult? “I know Charlie is a little crazy, but really, can’t you guys just figure out how to get along with him?” Seriously, when did we get so lazy as parents that we can’t take 15 minutes to talk to our kids about the difference between wrong and right? Why will we drive them hours across state lines to sports tournaments but we can’t spend ten minutes to sort out bad behavior. Yes, kids need to learn to work it out, but there are also times when parents need to step in and course correct. All it takes is one parent to be brave enough to actually, well, parent their kid, and it can make a huge difference.
3. It’s not my daughter’s fault that your daughter is so sensitive. Seriously? There are millions of documented incidents of girls out-and-out traumatizing other girls — some of which are supposed to be their best friends! Don’t automatically blame the other girl. Make your daughter take at least a small portion of responsibility. Reflecting on one’s behavior and understanding your role in a situation is a pretty important life skill.
2. It wasn’t really my daughter being mean, it was her friends. The innocent bystander excuse. Lovely. Because as long as you don’t participate, you’re not really doing anything wrong.
1. Girls will be girls. This is the one that really gets my pants on fire. Since the dawn of time we have been saying girls will be girls. As women, are we not tired of this? As parents, haven’t we all had enough? Wouldn’t it be nice to take the negative connotation off of this phrase and turn it into a positive? This phrase should be abolished. Sometimes a girl just is actually mean, but most mean girls are created, not born that way. We should never use this excuse for bad behavior.
My friend’s daughter will be okay. Fortunately she had other friends to fall back on, and she learned a tough lesson early on in life; but that doesn’t mean every girl treated poorly will have that happy ending.
Let’s stop making excuses for our girls. Let’s start raising them up by not accepting excuses for putting others down.
It starts with one brave parent.
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Break ups are never easy, and this one is really tough. Seeing your blue eyes for the last time as I snapped the Rubber Maid lid on your resting place made me feel pretty bummed. I’m really going to miss you.
Sports Illustrated Barbie
I don’t want you to take the blame for the end of our nearly decade long relationship. It’s not you. It’s not even me, although I know I always complained about your clothes being all over the place and the Dream House being a mess and your Camper being parked in the middle of the basement. It’s just we don’t have enough time to commit to nurturing our relationship anymore with soccer and piano and horseback riding (the real kind, not the plastic kind.) I mean, we don’t even take baths at our house anymore, which used to be our quality time.
But I don’t want you to think that this has anything to do with your looks, which I know you’ve taken a lot of heat for the last few years. I have real-life friends that have teeny weeny waists and perfect boobs, long gorgeous hair, and perfectly made up faces. These women run marathons and do yoga and count calories, but they are so much more than that. They also volunteer at their kids’ schools and raise money for charity and hold the hands of their sick friends and give banana bread to their new neighbors. They are skinny and beautiful but also positive and strong. They are just like YOU.
Because I never needed you to be a body image role model for my kids. That’s my job, and I’m pretty good at it. Your job was to open up the imagination of my girls, and you did that and more. You helped my kids run a veterinary office, a school, and a clothing store. You enabled them to have elaborate fashion shows, pool parties and horse riding events. They played house and raised babies and had weddings on some days, and on others performed surgery, filled in cavities or piloted a plane to Disney. It was hours of fun.
And you never complained. Not one time. Not when you were strapped into the corvette with Cinderella Barbie and launched down a set of stairs. Not when you received a really bad hair cut that just couldn’t be fixed. Not even when you lost a foot due to a freak incident with a visiting dog. You were always there ready and willing to do whatever it took to make this relationship work with a smile on your face and a dream in your heart.
Life hasn’t been easy for you either. You went through a very public divorce, enlisted in the military, were shamed in the media and even at age 50, you are still constantly compared to other dolls. But through it all you held your head high, kept those feet arched up and carried on.
I’m sorry, Barbie, but there’s no turning back now. Little girls always grow up, and unfortunately it’s time to move on. I already sold the Dream House (under market value unfortunately), put the car, yacht and plane on Craig’s List, and sent your friends — Skipper, the Disney Barbies, and whoever those brunette girls were — to shack up at the Goodwill, where hopefully some new families will take them in. I even sent the Barbie jeep and scooter to a new home where some different little girls will get to enjoy them. It really is over.
But I want to take a moment to thank you. Thank you for teaching my kids that a fancy ball gown and cowboy boots are an appropriate outfit for any occasion. Thank you for going along with whatever story my girls created for you that day. And even though your clothes are slutty and your stilettos too high and your make up is over done and your boobs are just a little too perky for my particular taste, I’m thankful we could get a Barbie for whatever my kids wanted to be that day, albeit a soccer player, princess, surfer girl or doctor. I’m sorta glad we missed your drag queen phase, but I think even that would have been fun.
I want you to know that although I’m sending you away for a while to a place called the attic, your memory will always live in our minds and in our hearts. And I hope one day — if I am lucky enough — you’ll come back into our lives again when my daughters have daughters of their own. I will welcome you back into our home with open arms and maybe even a new environmentally friendly dream house.
Because even though I know you’re just a doll, you’ve been so much more than that. You’ve been our ambassador to imagination and the purveyor of creativity in our home. And you’ve done your job well.
So long, Barbie. Until we meet again.
P.S. I’m glad you never took Ken back. I always thought he was riding your coattails anyway. And no one’s hair looks that good all the time.
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I love a good road trip. Always have.
In college we used to load up in whoever’s car seemed most reliable to drive 450 miles for a football game. Some friends and I once drove from Washington, D.C. to New Orleans for Mardi Gras hoping we would run into some friends of ours so we could crash in their hotel room (do as I say, kids, not as a did!) And my husband (fiancé at the time) and I once drove from The Keys to New York after our Year 2000 New Year’s celebration.
Yes, I am hard-core.
And I’ve raised my kids to be road warriors as well. At two and a half months old, I drove my twins from Connecticut to Chicago, nursing at rest areas, being diaper changed on the passenger seat, and most importantly, learning that one should always stay in the right lane when not passing or you’ll have a crazy lady in a minivan giving you the evil eye.
We’ve had some pretty long road trips, but the one we took last month took the cake. 2,100 miles, 13 days, four stops, three kids, and one bad mamma jamma.
It was joy, bedlam and insanity all rolled up into one minivan. I learned a lot about my kids on this trip…what they are capable of, what they can tolerate and yes, even the power of their small bodies in even smaller spaces. Here’s a few of my favorites:
+ Kids will talk if they have absolutely nothing to do. After four movies, two hours on the iPad, a game of license plate bingo and eating everything in the snack bag, someone decided to start an actual conversation. With words and everything. It started with books and then evolved to a riveting discussion (led by me) on how the new Girl Meets World show on Disney was based on a show I watched when I was younger (apparently that was unbelievable.) And somewhere in between we talked about how I met their father, why I decided to leave my job, and how nobody could hurt them without their consent. We talked, and I mean really talked, for more than an hour. I’m not sure if we had ever done that before. It was pretty cool.
+ Girls can be gross. Let’s just say that after nine hours in a car with three children, at some point someone will either be tooting, burping, snorting, spitting, sneezing, wiping or picking. I know this because as one child is doing these things, there is another one reporting on it. In tremendous detail because I obviously couldn’t get the full effect by watching it in the rear-view mirror or hearing and smelling it a full twelve inches behind me.
+ Always, and I mean always, ask if anyone needs to pee when passing a rest area. Because my kids are older, I thought if I didn’t bring up the rest area every time we passed one, then they would forget about the allure of these luxurious potties. Big mistake. Huge. It took the third time of one of my daughters telling me they had to go to the bathroom as we drove by the rest area to get it, with one time my pulling over to the side of the road to let her “cop a squat.” Rookie mistake.
+ Earphones are God’s gifts to moms. Leave it to say that Frozen made a reappearance this road trip. Several times. If I didn’t have Pandora and my ear buds, I might have just “Let it Go” on my three kids and it wouldn’t have been pretty.
+ Never underestimate what can set off a back seat riot. Fights I threatened to pull off the road for included (but not limited to): whether to watch a movie in full screen or regular screen; how loud someone was chewing their pretzel sticks; humming while listening to an iPod; yawning too loudly; using the wrong “world” in Minecraft; and my personal favorite, the fact that (according to one of my daughters) one of her sisters’ heads is so big that it got in the way of her seeing the hot air balloon outside the window. Fortunately no one got hurt, either by me or by each other.
+ You can teach fine dining on a road trip. The drive through 9 states taught the girls that there is an entire world beyond Mickey D’s and Subway (although that is primarily where we ate.) Skyline Chili, Bob’s Big Boy, Fazoli’s, Steak ‘n Shake, Catfish Kitchen, Chong’s and good old WaWa’s were all potential eating joints for us, just to name a few. It was fun to talk about the restaurants, their regional appeal, and the times I have (sadly) eaten at every single one of these one time or another.
I’m not going to lie, there were some rough moments — but it was so worth it. We had exponentially more laughter than tears, more joy than annoyance, more love than fights.
And yes, I would even do it all over again. Just give me a year or so to recoup.
For as long as I have had children, people have commented about the hormones that were one day going to invade my home. I have always laughed it off, because it seemed so very far off in the distance. And although I listened to other parents talk about how at age nine their daughters started to change…a little bit more attitude, a little bit more tears, a little more moody — I didn’t take it very seriously.
Because like most parents do, I chose denial as my force field, telling myself that my kids were different. I was different. Our journey would be different.
And it has been. For girls, they aren’t very dramatic and though we experienced a few doozy of some tantrums in their younger years, most of the time they are remarkably even-keeled. Just like their mom.
Up until recently. Because over the past few weeks it seems like someone is always on the verge of tears. And by verge I really mean out-and-out uncontrollable sobs.
I don’t think my parenting style has changed much. No one is sick, under too much stress or been faced with a recent tragedy. Yeah, we’re not on too much of a schedule and probably haven’t been sleeping as regularly, but it’s not like we’re staying up late every single night.
Yet there seems to be a heavier tone in the way the girls respond to me — more sass, more exasperation, and a little more defiance. There seems to be a borderline eye roll and some heavy sighs after I ask them to do even the smallest tasks. And there has even been some slight embarrassment when I do my killer running man moves in front of their friends.
But could it be hormones? Could it be puberty? There are no physical signs, so could this really be the big change?
I was not convinced. After a particular trying day today with my sweet girls, I thought I would reflect on what I could do differently for my kids. Maybe it wasn’t all them….maybe I played a part in the tears. So, I wrote down the things that made my normally good-natured girls upset today. They include (but actually aren’t limited to):
+ Helping to learn long division. One of my girls is entering a new math program this year and needs to complete some work before school starts. Today’s lesson was long division, and she wasn’t understanding it based on the computer program. I got as far as: “How many times does three go into 22” before the water works started. Apparently I didn’t know how to teach it right.
+ Asking to change into a bathing suit that actually fits. Remember when I said that there were no physical signs of puberty yet? Well, that doesn’t mean my size 10 daughter can fit into a size 6 swimsuit. Apparently it was pretty traumatizing to have to walk up the stairs and change.
+ Offering to brush her hair. Yeah, I still haven’t figured out why that one brought on the water works.
+ Encouraging them to watch E.T. Apparently one of my daughters thought my choice of movies was so hurtful that it made her cry, so we watched the Disney channel instead. Again.
+ “Hey, can you guys jump in the shower before dinner?” This actually brought two sets of tears and one full waterworks. I like to think that maybe they were protesting for clean water in some third-world country, but I’m pretty sure they were just mad because they had already taken a shower the night before.
Could hormones really be the cause of so much angst? My twins are approaching double digits in just three short months, and although I don’t see any physical signs, the attitudes are very real. And although she’s just 16 months younger than her sisters, I’m pretty sure my eight year old is just coming along for the ride.
This is happening.
Yes, I think we may be approaching Tweendom in our house. And although I’m completely unprepared, I am comforted by the fact that so many brave moms have fought this battle before me and survived. Some even lived to tell about it, passing valuable secrets such as the book above which will help me discuss terms like breast buds and body odor with my three prepubescent lovelies.
I’m still holding out that maybe — just maybe — we’ve been having a few bad days lately and maybe some ice cream and a few snuggles will bring my sweet little girls back. Because if this is the opening number to what the teenage years are going to be like, I told my husband to buckle up, because this is going to be one heck of a ride. And we need a lot more wine.
Game on girlfriends.