The Words She Keeps

I was in eighth grade when I overheard a group of boys discussing their female classmates in the library. I sat frozen in a cubby desk hidden from their view. I attempted to finish a make-up vocabulary test, but my focus disappeared as I listened to their words.

“The new girl is cute, but a little chubby. Sometimes she is pretty, but other days, I don’t know.”

I felt the young man’s words cut through my skin and consume my thoughts. I looked down at my thighs and noticed their roundness. I put my hand on my stomach, soft to the touch. My other hand embraced a lock of my hair, reminding me again that it was a mistake to try a new haircut.

I was the new girl, and apparently ugly and fat.

I don’t remember much of my eighth-grade year, yet I’ve kept those words with me. I hear them when I look into the mirror and don’t like what I see. I think about them when my skinny jeans don’t zip up or when my hair is a mess. Every time my face breaks out or  I slip my legs into a bathing suit, I am in eighth grade again.

Those words shouldn’t define me, shouldn’t have the effect they had. I grew up in a house with parents who showered me with love and positive affection about my looks and abilities. I married a man who is devoted and loving. I have friends who encourage and support. I am successful and happy with the person I became, the one I am still becoming.

Yet, those words often come back to haunt me. These are the words I keep in the desk drawer of my mind, the ones that startle me when they reappear. The ones I often shove into the back but can never throw out.

And now that I have girls of my own approaching eighth grade, I wonder what words will they choose to keep, what innocuous statements will stain their souls?

Although I like to think I can relate to my daughters, the world they live in is much different than the one I knew.

The pressure on young people today is tremendous. From looks and grades to social media presence and athletics, the burden to be the best weighs heavy on our most impressionable minds. This also creates a culture of envy and unconfident youth who do not know how to step away from the stories they create in their minds of their peers’ perfect lives. Individuality is admonished and childhood ends sooner.

The result is a generation of teenage girls searching for ways to cope. Eating disorders, sexual promiscuity, self-harming, body dysmorphia, depression and anxiety, substance abuse, and suicide are just some of the ways young girls deal with these external pressures.

So, I wonder, when my daughter looks in the mirror, will she hear my voice saying she is beautiful on the inside and out, or will she choose to purge her last meal? When a young girl ostracizes her on social media, will her father’s words ring in her ears, reminding her of her strength, or will she choose to cut her skin to deal with the pain? When a boy pressures her to move forward too quickly, will she remember her worth or succumb to peer pressure?

What words will she choose to keep?

Words are powerful. They can motivate groups and cripple young minds.

But words can be vague and open to misinterpretation. Eighth grade me didn’t realize this. Forty-something me wants to change it for my girls.

No longer do I compliment my daughters with generalities. I want them to possess mantras — words to live by and provide comfort in times of stress and confusion.

When we feel bad about our appearance, we say, ““I am enough, exactly as I am at this moment. Remember who you are.”

When someone treats us poorly, we say, “What others say is a reflection of them, not me.”

When we are troubled and don’t know what to do, we say, “Kindness is the best form of communication. Love always wins.”

And when the world brings us down, we say, “It will be okay, because I am loved.”

I am not naive enough to think that simple phrases will protect my girls from the evils of the world, but saying these mantras with them, believing these words, and trying to live it, is a powerful exercise.

It’s the way I start shredding the notes from my past and writing new ones for my daughters.

And living through eighth grade once is enough for anyone.

I Want Her to Be Better than Me

I have three daughters, and of course I love them all equally.

That being said, there is one that I butt heads with more, one that seems to cause my temper to flare faster and bigger.

She happens to be the one just like me.

I had an epiphany moment with her awhile back. I realized she became a trigger for what I didn’t like in myself, and when I am having my own moments of weakness, I was taking it out on her.

I am up on a lovely parenting website today named Her View from Home with my post about trying to get my daughter to become a better version of myself, and how in turn, I became a better version of me.

You can read the full post here.

I Want Her to Be a Better Version of Me

“Why do you not put your school things in your backpack immediately after you finish?” I snapped at my daughter after dinner one night. “You have to be more organized!”

I watched the tears well up like puddles in her dark brown eyes that were exact replicas of mine, yet my anger did not subside. It was the same argument every night.

She hurriedly stuffed a torn yellow folder with papers sticking out in every direction in her purple backpack, and then slowly turned to see if I was watching her.

“What?” I exclaimed in my most exasperated mom voice.

“Why do you not put your school things in your backpack immediately after you finish?” I snapped at my daughter after dinner one night. “You have to be more organized!”

I watched the tears well up like puddles in her dark brown eyes that were exact replicas of mine, yet my anger did not subside. It was the same argument every night.

She hurriedly stuffed a torn yellow folder with papers sticking out in every direction in her purple backpack, and then slowly turned to see if I was watching her.

“What?” I exclaimed in my most exasperated mom voice. (To continue reading click here.)

 

The Tightrope of Self Esteem

I am making my debut on one of my favorite sites today, Mamalode, discussing managing my daughters’ self esteem.

I find it hard to find the right balance of encouragement and honesty with my girls. It becomes particularly difficult during a fashion stand off. On one hand, I want them to feel empowered and loved, and on the other hand, I want to be honest and helpful.

And sometimes you just have to tell a girl she looks ridiculous. You know, the girlfriend rule.

Thanks for reading.

THE TIGHTROPE OF SELF ESTEEM

The small-framed tween girl slides to a stop in her sock-clad feet directly in front of me.

“Ta-da,” she sings, using jazz hands as her chocolate eyes dance with excitement.

“You can’t wear that to school,” I respond too quickly.

“Why not? I think I look awesome.”

“It doesn’t look right,” I declare. The words spew out of my mouth like bullets, and I instantly want to siphon them back in as I watch my daughter flinch. “I mean, you are not supposed to wear it that way.”

To read more, click here.

The “Firsts” that Come with the Tween Years

In motherhood, there are so many “firsts” that take your breath away. That first time your baby laughs. The first steps a toddler takes to your outstretched arms. The first time your son takes the school bus or your daughter learns how to ride a bike. When I reflect on these moments my heart feels full.

As our kids grow, the “firsts” come less frequently and the time stretched between them lengthen. Instead of celebrating a new milestone, the goal becomes surviving another Monday shuttling your kids to piano, soccer, the library and Tae Kwan Do while serving something edible for dinner in a Tupperware container that is BPA-free, of course. #winning.

And then, out of nowhere, another first occurs. Except this time it doesn’t involve the potty, or school, or sleeping through the night in her very first big girl bed. Instead, it’s the first time your child rips your heart out, tears it to shreds, stomps all over it, and kicks it to the side for good measure.

We worry about what a child will become

Let me explain.

Last night, I shared with my daughter what I thought would be some great news. She was asked to take a placement test for accelerated math. Exciting, right?

My daughter felt differently. She did not want to take this test, and felt that the class would be too difficult for her. She felt challenged enough, and did not want the additional work. Of course I explained to her that she could do anything she put her mind to, and that we could discuss the options after she took the test, but she would have none of it. I continued my lecture. She held her ground.

That’s when she said it.

“I do not want to talk to YOU about this. I do not want to talk to you EVER,” she said flatly.

Ouch.

I know. I couldn’t believe it either. I was shocked, dumbfounded, stunned. I felt like she just slapped me across the face. I asked her if she was sure if she meant it and she nodded her head in the affirmative.

I then told her very maturely, “Well, that can be arranged.” I rose up from my seat, turned on my heel with my head up high and marched myself right out of the room.

It took me about 17 steps before I could feel the tears well up in my eyes as I started the dinner dishes. This was not the relationship I have worked so hard to maintain with my daughters. This was not supposed to happen to me. Maybe other moms who didn’t work so hard at communication, but not me. I was focused on being open and honest with my girls, I used understanding tones and tried not to yell (a lot), I worked hard at being the compassionate mother who “gets it.” Although I ran my house in a sort of dictator-like fashion, my husband and I always worked hard at listening to our kids and ensuring they felt like their opinions mattered.

But we went off the rails. She just gave me the proverbial middle finger and I did the equivalent of the teenage door slam. It may not have been as dramatic as the “I hate you’s” or other verbal barbs that young girls spear throw at their mothers, but to me, well let’s just say it rattled my cage.

I know what you are thinking. This isn’t that big of a deal, and it really isn’t. But it did mark a major milestone in our house. This was the first time one of my daughters openly challenged me about a life decision. It was the first time that she lashed out in a way that was not a tantrum. It was the first time that she strategically struck me in the jugular — she hit me exactly where she knew it would hurt. And it did.

A few minutes later I called my husband. Knowing that I was exhausted from a busy weekend, I told him what happened in between saying things like, “I know I am just being sensitive” and “I think I’m just tired.” He (thankfully) agreed that while neither of us thought she completely understood what she was saying, we also needed to teach her a lesson. We both feel that it’s important to ensure our children understand that both words and actions matter, so we devised a plan.

It was simple. If she did not want to talk to me, I would simply follow her wishes. I would ignore her until she apologized (without prompting) even if that meant she did not go to bed or to school the next day. She launched the first cannon, but I was going to win the war, or at least this particular battle.

I immediately put my plan into action. I walked right by her as she sat on the couch with her sisters playing Minecraft and ignored her. Although she didn’t even look up, I felt like my attitude spoke volumes. I went up to my room and ignored the heck out of her for approximately 18 minutes.

That’s when I heard my youngest ask for her turn on the iPad, and a few seconds later there was a knock on my door.

“Mom, I’m really sorry I said I didn’t want to talk to you anymore. I didn’t mean it,” my daughter softly said to me.

As I tried to tell her that I only wished she saw all the intelligence and talent and beauty in herself that her teachers and friends and father and I can see, the tears started flowing uncontrollably out of my eyes.

And that’s when another milestone happened. My daughter rushed over to me, threw her arms around my neck, and for the first time, she put MY heart back together.

As we held each other silently for what simultaneously felt like an instant and an eternity, I knew our relationship changed. In one moment, we both saw each other at our worst and then at our best. I was still her mommy — the one who kissed her forehead each night and made sure her blankie was within reach — but I also had to accept she was growing up.

She wanted some power and control over her life, and in her own way, she was asking me to hand it over. And in order to not lose her, in order to keep her close, I had to oblige. “I want you to take the test, but the ultimate decision on whether you participate in the class will be up to you; however, you’ll have to discuss it with Dad and I, and meet the teacher.”

“That sounds fair, Mom. I’m good with that,” she said. And then, as if to remind me that she still needed me, she kissed me on the cheek and skipped out of my room. My heart felt full again.

I am not so naive to believe that this won’t be the first of many “challenges” I have with my tweenage daughter and I know that that the issues ahead of us will grow in size and scope. However, I am hopeful that we both learned a little bit more about each other, and we remember more about putting the pieces back together than tearing them apart.

And I need to get my big girl panties on, because this is going to be one heck of a ride.

Did you enjoy this post or the things you read on Playdates on Fridays? Please make sure you like and share on Facebook and Twitter to make sure no one else misses a playdate! Or feel free to sign up for email notifications of new posts to the right. I never sell or spam, and only post one to two times a week, unless my kids drive me extra crazy, in which I may have a bonus post just to keep my sanity in check. Thanks for visiting.

 

 

Five BS Excuses Parents Make for Mean Girls

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?

Regina George

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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