Friday, October 25, 2013

Create Space for Growth, Change, and Trying New Things

One of the members of the Brave Girl Alliance Advisory Board is the website "Princess Free Zone." And while this mom's heart is in the right place, supporting her daughter who wanted to be like dad by writing a book about a super hero girl who wears a tool belt and takes on bullies, my girls grimaced at the title of her website. We are aiming for inclusion, not exclusion, and if you want to end bullying the most effective solution is creating a sense of community. The blog posts on the No Princess Zone speak to inclusion and acceptance, and yet the over all message is that it's really better if you aren't a princess.

I was discussing this with my daughter's boyfriend and he made the observation that while it's great to support your kids just the way they are, there can be a danger in becoming overly invested in who they are when they are very little, because kids' preferences change. He pointed out that he wore more "girls clothes" than "boy clothes" when he was little, including dresses, up until he was somewhere around the age of 8. He now prefers t-shirts and jeans.

It's awesome to support our kids in being who they are, but we also need to be open to change. We must guard against pigeon-holing them or putting them in a box and then resenting them or getting upset when they want to paint their box a different color.

If we as parents embrace who our children with enthusiasm that's great! But we also need to let them know that we are open to them changing their opinion or opting for some new definition of self. If the daughter of the Princess Free Zone mom hears message after message about how she shouldn't be a princess, if her mom makes it really clear that princesses and the color pink are not as desirable, or are down right despicable, what happens if one day she decides she wants to wear a tiara? Is she going to say that out loud or is she going to keep that to herself because it doesn't fit with her mother's highly publicized view of who her daughter is and what is best for little girls?

One of my daughters loves the color blue, is athletically gifted, and enjoyed playing with blocks and kinesthetic activities when she was young. Fortunately, as parents, we didn't label our daughter a tomboy, or try to define who she would grow up to be by how she dressed and what her interests were before the age of 11. Even though her sister made her play the boy roles during dramatic play when she was small, she has grown up to be very feminine. As a teen, she has given up soccer for dance and musical theater. She still loves the color blue, but she also wears pink and many other colors. She exclaimed, "This is my toy store!" when we walked into Tiffany's while visiting New York City. She wore a tiara when we went to see Roger's and Hammerstein's Cinderella on Broadway. She is a living princess, and she's fierce, smart, and capable of attending 7 hours of musical theater rehearsal without complaining.

People change. Our children, who are new to this world, constantly learning new things and making new discoveries, may try on many different styles, activities, and interests. Some kids seem to know who they are from birth, pursuing their one true passion with laser like focus. Others need to try many things, dabbling or jumping in with both feet, only to discover the latest passion was a passing interest and then they are on to try something new.

As their partners in exploration, it's important we remember that how our children dress, what they do with their lives, and how they express themselves, is not a reflection of our self-worth as a parent but a reflection of who our child is. We must be secure in ourselves and be their support system as they figure out who they are. This includes accepting that people change. We must try not to paint them into a corner or define them with labels, but give them the freedom to create and embrace their own identity.

This includes their gender identity. We need to let our children explore how they identify, and not get annoyed, frustrated, or generally be obnoxious, if they change how they identify. Some people seem to be "all boy" or "all girl" from birth, but gender isn't binary. And for many people figuring out how they identify, or how they want to express their gender, is a process. This is particularly true if they haven't felt free to be who they are from the start. Gender identity can also become more of a focus as kids explore their gender more fully as they reach puberty. We need to be respectful of that, with all people not just our children. How someone identifies is how they identify, if that changes it changes. No judgement needed, no criticism necessary, we need to accept people as who they are that day, one day at a time.


Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Shameful Parenting

I've been reading a lot about shaming. As the article "Stop Calling All Criticism Shaming, on Slate, points out, shaming has become an over used buzz-word. It seems that criticism is now quickly discounted as shaming, but shaming has also become a form of humor with lol cats  being replaced by cat-shaming.

And before anyone accuses me (again) of not having a sense of humor, yes, some of the pet shaming is funny and clever. However, like many kinds of humor, the origins of public shaming are less than amusing.

If you are on the internet with any regularity you are aware of the parents who have taken to publicly shaming their child as punishment. Parents making children hold up signs on street corners and posting pictures of their children on the internet as a way of humiliating their child into better behavior is no longer a rare occurrence.

Somehow these parents are unable to see that their own behavior is shameful, they feel no remorse and even tend toward expressing self-righteousness. And while my heart breaks for these children, I feel sorry for the parents, too, as they further destroy any hope they might have for a connected, loving, fun, and wonderful relationship with their children.

Shaming doesn't work as a punishment. Shaming doesn't work as a way of "encouraging" someone to change their behavior, try harder, or do better. Shaming goes beyond embarrassment, it makes the recipient feel mortified, as if they are no good, worthless, isolated, and diminished. Children who are shamed internalize these feelings. Shaming attacks who they are, undermining their feelings of self-worth. And while shaming may temporarily stop a behavior, it does not solve anything, and is terribly destructive in the long run.

As Alfie Kohn points out, "... the lessons learned by children are not the ones that the parent intended. What harshly disciplined kids absorb, he warns is (1) my parent isn't a caring ally whom I can trust but an enforcer I should try to avoid, (2) when you have a problem with what someone else has done, you should just use power to make the other person do what you want, and (3) the reason not to steal (or lie or hurt people) isn't because of how it affects others but because of the consequence you, yourself, will face if you're caught.   No wonder so many adults who do terrible things were humiliated, or spanked, or otherwise punished -- often harshly -- when they were young."

What kids fail to learn from shaming is also problematic, "While shaming has the power to control behavior, it does not have the power to teach empathy. When we repeatedly label a child ‘naughty’ or otherwise, we condition them to focus inwardly, they become pre-occupied with themselves and their failure to please. Thus children learn to label themselves, but learn nothing about relating; about considering or comprehending the feelings of others." (This quote comes from Our Emotional

While our own internal sense of shame may be healthy, in the sense that it lets us know when we've done something wrong, externally inflicted shame is a destructive force that tears down people and destroys relationships. Saying words like, "What were you thinking?!?!" to a child who makes a mistake does not help them think through what happened and how the same situation might be avoided in the future. Belittling a child by saying, "I told you so!" does not encourage them to take risks, learn from their mistakes, or trust their own judgement in the future. Yelling, "How Could You?" ignores the possibility that maybe the kids wasn't cognitively mature enough to see the potential outcome of their action, maybe the kid was over tired, hungry, upset about something that happened at school, or other wise distracted.

I read an article where the mother talks about her son playing with a ball in their apartment, repeatedly, even though she had asked him not to, even though he was "old enough to know better," and even though she had always had a rule that he couldn't play ball in the apartment. One day he was playing with the ball in the apartment and the television took a direct hit. The mom was furious and lashed out at the boy, shaming him for playing ball inside, for all those reasons I just listed. "How could you!?!"  "You know better!"  And the son was devastated. Later the mom found out that the boy had been playing in the apartment because he was uncomfortable around the kids at the park.

If the mom had taken the time to talk to the boy about why he'd kept on playing ball in the house when she'd asked him not to, if the mom has created space and trust for communication, if the mom had connected with her son from the beginning, the TV wouldn't have gotten broken. But more importantly, her son would not have been shamed and their relationship would have been better. The mom in the article goes on to say how a couple weeks without a TV was punishment for her son, implying natural consequences. That made me sad. Why should her son be punished for her poor parenting?

Why should any child who has done something so grievous that their parent feels vindicated by publicly shaming them be punished?  It's my guess that any parent who publicly shames their child has failed their child in other ways as well. Shaming isn't an effective means of discipline, motivation, or changing behavior. The links below provide more information on shaming, the many forms it takes, why it's a bad idea, and what should happen instead.

Shaming Children 

Psychology Today: Shaming Children is Emotionally Abusive."When we talk about disrespectful children, we must look at parenting. Solid parenting shows children respect and empathy. When a parent truly gives respect to a child, they receive it back. When this becomes the norm for the household, we see young people grow up with a loving value system that makes a difference in the world. However, when children are shamed, humiliated and then silenced, it represses the harm that may re-surface later in life. If this happens, it can be in the form of self-destruction or cruelty to others."

Our Emotional  Good Children -  At What Price?  The Secret Cost of Shaming.
"Kids are less given to act out when they are receiving enough attention, when their hunger for play,
discovery and pleasurable human contact is satisfied. Provocative behaviour can indicate boredom, or
perhaps the need for another ‘dose’ of juicy engagement with someone who is not feeling irritable,
someone who has the time and energy to spare.
Finally, children can be grumpy or ‘difficult’ simply from over-tiredness. In this case, what is
dismissed as ‘bad’ behaviour might be a child’s way of saying ‘I’m over the edge, and I can’t handle
it’. Curiously enough, when we as parents react with verbal assaults, we are communicating the same
thing. Isn’t yelling at children that they are ‘naughty’ or ‘terrible’ (or worse) a kind of adult tantrum,
a dysfunctional adult way of coping with frustration?"

Humiliating Children in Public: A New Parenting Trend?

Slut Shaming

Slut Shaming Fatigue. Because this Crap Has Got to Stop.
"As Funnell, who is working on a forthcoming book on this topic told me, "we need to remember that many teen girls deliberately aspire to dress in ways that are purposefully unknowable to adults." That seems simple enough. The problem is that rather than listen to young women themselves, too many adults fixate on one of the great worries of our era: that girls are the victims of premature sexualization. The anxiety about sexualization ends up becoming the only lens through which well-meaning adults see teen girls and their clothes. That's a huge mistake. "Instead of judging teen girls or policing their appearances," Funnell writes in an email, "we would do well to listen to teen girls and understand that they make sense of their own choices in ways which we may never have really considered."

Fat Shaming

Fat Shaming Can Lead to Weight Gain -- Now Can We Stop The Bullying?

The Militant Baker's Response to Maria Kang's fitspirational photo: What's My Excuse? I'm Glad You Asked. 

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Helping Our Children Understand Consent

Consent is an important issue for parents to understand. When, or if, Consent is discussed it is usually in a conversation regarding sex, intimacy, and/or rape. Because of this, parents of young children are often unaware of the issue. Most of us who are adults and parents now weren't raised in a time when the topic of consent was discussed in much detail, if at all. Parents of young children who are aware of the topic of Consent feel that it's not something they need to worry about until their kids are older. They're wrong. How we parent our children, from birth, influences their understanding of Consent

I originally wrote about consent and parenting on my With The Family blog, read that post Here.

Consent is permission for something to happen. When we parent respectfully we model giving consent and asking for consent in our interactions with our children, as well as our interactions with others. We support our children in learning about consent as they interact with people inside and outside of the family.

If a relative wants to hug or kiss our child in greeting and our child is not comfortable with that, we support our child in not giving consent, in saying no. If our child isn't old enough to say no, we politely say to the relative that our kid isn't feeling like being hugged and kissed, and if our child is very small, we may suggest the adult blow them kisses instead if that feels appropriate.

If our child wants to play with a toy and their friend says no to sharing it, then we can support that friend in the boundary they have set and our child in accepting that boundary if that's needed, explaining to our child why the friend may not feel like sharing, and helping our child find something else to do.

If someone, or we, are tickling a child and they ask us to stop, we stop. If we are tickling a child and they show any sign of being uncomfortable we stop and check in before continuing. Some kids may love this type of play, but others strongly prefer to avoid it. We need to be sensitive to that.

Consent is important in all relationships.

Understanding the concept of Consent means knowing that if someone else says "No" or "stop" then I need to stop what I'm doing to/with them immediately.

Understanding the concept of Consent also means knowing that I can say "no" or "Stop" or "I don't want to do that," and other people will listen to me, or should listen to me, and respond by stopping.

Learning about Consent is a process that begins at birth. It starts with learning that other people will respond to your needs and pay attention to your non-verbal/pre-verbal communication of what you like, don't like, want, and need.

Learning about Consent involves learning to understand the non-verbal cues from other people, and this is learned by other people modeling that behavior, as well as through conversations and discussions about characters in picture books, actors on TV, people we know, and how the express what they want and don't want, how we can often tell what people are feeling even though they aren't saying anything.

Learning about Consent ultimately means learning that unless someone explicitly says they'd like to do something,then they haven't given consent. It also means that threatening them, manipulating them, bribing them, or discounting their feelings in order to get them to say yes, when we want them to say yes but they want to say no, does not constitute consent.

This article, The Healthy Sex Talk: Teaching Kids Consent, Ages 1-21, does an excellent job of explaining how to communicate with children age appropriately.

Consent Ed, an incredibly informative site that gets into the details about what consent is, what isn't consent, and how we all deserve a world that is free from sexual violence.

Parents often talk to their daughters about being safe and how not to dress, but here's The Conversation You Must Have With Your Sons.

A mother blogs about modeling consent with a two year old: Teaching Kids About Consent (and How Not to Rape.) 

And if you haven't read it already, here's my post on Consent and Parenting Young Children.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Don't Be Such a Girl

I was reading's article "The Real Boy Crises: 5 Ways America Tells Boys Not to be Girly," after writing the post blog post "glitter, sexuality, and hetero-normative femininity," and having spent some time considering the website "Princesses Free Zone,"  which features This charming animated logo.

It's pretty clear that it's not just boys who are being told not to be girly. Girls are hearing the same message from many different sources. Messages like: Don't be a princess! You need to like math and science. You should play a sport, preferably a team sport. Don't "give in" to traditional roles! Don't dress to be cute or attract attention, you want to be liked for your brains, not your looks. Girls, and their parents, are being told girls shouldn't be girly, they should be smart and strong and brave. (Go back and read "glitter, sexuality, and hetero-normative femininity" for more thoughts on this topic.)

Because I have teenage daughters, and I spend time on Pinterest, my awareness has been raised concerning these messages in relation to the bodies of girls and women.

The latest thinspo fad (if you don't know what thinspo is, particularly if you have daughters, you might want to do a google image search) is the "thigh gap." In my 45 years I think I've met one woman who was naturally thin enough to have a thigh gap without starving herself. And yes, teenage girls are supporting each other in starving themselves to the point that they have a thigh gap.

And then there are the latest fitness fads. Exercising because it makes you feel good - physically or emotionally - is great! But the latest fitness fads seem to be designed to make women not only stronger, but also look like men. What is up with that? Crossfit, birkram yoga, and other cult like exercise regimes seem bent on sweating the womanliness out of women. As one of my fb friends asked, "Why would you want to look like a 14 year old boy?" And that's seriously what some women seem to be trying to attain. Being a "strong woman" increasingly means decreasing your body fat to the point that your muscles show, and those muscles include 6 pack abs and the loss of anything remotely feminine about the body.

Women should apparently no longer be shaped like women. The 80's woman would dress like a man in hopes of being taken more seriously or fitting in or something. Remember the pinstriped suits and the ties? Well, now, it seems we've progressed?!? to the point that women need to look like men when they are naked, too.

That's not self-acceptance. It is not self-care, though many women pretend that it is. No, that's being so desperate to feel good about yourself that you'll do damaging things to your body in order to make it into a shape it was never intended to be.

If you are a parent who loves to exercise, that's your passion. But, realize that children internalize the messages we are transmitting, including those we never put into words. It is normal and healthy for girls and boys who are entering puberty to gain some weight so that their bodies have the reserves they need for some serious growth and development. When tweens become obsessed with having a thigh gap, or start dieting, or feel they are fat because their tummy is softer or they need larger jeans, their health is at risk, as is their sense of self-worth and mental health. It's not good for teens either!

It is normal and healthy for women to have more fat on their bodies then men, to have soft thighs and a rounded belly, to have wide hips, and breasts. Some women are naturally thin, with lower levels of fat and fewer curves, but they are a minority. Loving our bodies means taking care of them, not forcing them into some culturally defined shape so that they can be acceptable, to us or to others. And loving our children unconditionally means accepting their individual preferences, including the clothes they wear, the colors they love, the toys they like, the activities they are passionate about, and the shape and size of the body they live inside.

Please note: I'm not talking about transgender individuals in this post. My hope is that we can support everyone in loving and caring for the body they live in, but I recognize that for some people it's not just a simple matter of accepting and loving the body they were born with. 


Skinny, not anorexic, in defense of thin woman: Sonneborn agrees with Conaway's statements and claims the media's perception of an ideal is elusive since magazine covers are airbrushed. Therefore, no one, including model-thin women, can completely measure up. "Less than 5 percent of women fall into the media's ideal," Sonneborn said. "But there is no ideal. How do you emulate someone that's not real?" 

Being a Girly-Girl: It's NOT a crime.  "At the end of the day, I believe there are two questions for you to answer: Who are you comfortable being? What choices best reflect you?
If the answer to those questions stereotype you to be a girly-girl, so what? Embrace it. Enjoy it." 

Thursday, October 3, 2013

glitter, sexuality, and hetero-normative femininity

Let's not be reactionary, let's be visionaries!

I'll be the first to admit that I over think things, some people who love me might tell you I over think *everything.* While this can be a bit annoying, it's not that I am being critical, I'm trying to understand the why, the what behind the words, the larger context and how something fits into it. And yes, this can come across as being critical or judgmental, but that's not where my mind, or heart, is. 

Today I saw this image: 

This rubbed me the wrong way initially because of the word "teach."  I don't think you need to teach girls to be strong, intelligent, and adventurous. I think some girls are born with those traits, and you should support girls in nurturing them. But wait, what about the girls who aren't strong, intelligent, and adventurous?  What about the girls who want to grow up and spend their days planting flowers in their gardens and avoiding adventures whenever possible? 

I decided to go check out the site and see if maybe I was being over reactive, or missing some larger part of the picture. And I found that I could support the Value Statement of The Brave Girl Alliance. 

But on their front page this sentence caused me to pause, "The diva fashionista is overdone and boring. Families are looking for multi-layered, diverse, intelligent, and strong media characters to enrich their girls imaginations. If our girls can see it, they can be it.  " Hold on just a minute! My diva fashionista daughters are not boring! My Diva fashionistas are multi-layered, intelligent, and strong in a several different ways. 

But they didn't stop there: 
"We ask media creators to rethink branding that pigeon-holes girls into the lowest common denominator (glitter, sexuality, hetero-normative femininity). "

WHAT!  Did they just define the "lowest common denominator" as "glitter, sexuality, and hetero-normative femininity"?!?! Last I checked glitter, sexuality, and hetero-normative femininity were all natural and normal and wonderful. Well, glitter may not be all natural, and some people think it's the lice of the crafting world, but we don't want to live without it at our house. 

This reminds me of insults such as, "You run like a girl!" 

My girls love fashion, with a special affinity for things that sparkle, they are sexual beings - that's part of being human, and they are fairly hetero-normative in the expression of their femininity. While they recognize their privilege, suggesting that what they are is the lowest common denominator makes my mama-bear hackles stand up.  

We can empower without dis-empowering. This seems like a direct parallel to the idea that equal rights for someone does not infringe or take away someone else's rights. Marriage equality means just that, "let's make the right to marry equal for all people" not "let's take rights away from heterosexual couples." In the same way, empowering one gender should not involve dis-empowering another. And empowering girls should involve empowering *all* girls, not just those who are have no interest in glitter and fashion, or the color pink and baby dolls. 

It's o.k. for girls to like glitter and want to be a princess. It's o.k. for boys to like glitter and want to be a princess. It's o.k. for boys to like tools and construction equipment, and playing in the mud. It's o.k. for girls to like tools and construction equipment, and playing in the mud. And it's also very true that girls and boys who like glitter and want to be a princess may also like tools, construction equipment, and playing in the mud! 

In the effort to champion a cause or expand people's views, it is important not to offer up a new narrow definition. We must not decry whatever it is we oppose and in the process simply create a new box for people to be put into, we must support people in truly expanding their vision and opening up to the possibilities. 

Someone is out there thinking: The Brave Girl Alliance means well, you should leave them alone and stop being so critical. Or even: The Brave Girl Alliance is for brave girls, so girls who aren't brave should go form The Alliance for Girls Who Embrace Hetero-normative Femininity. To that person(s) let me say: I consider myself analytical, not critical. The way we use words is important. We need to be aware of how other people may hear them, or the impact they may have. This is precisely the point that The Brave Girl Alliance is trying to make, but I feel they need to brush up on their meta-cognition. And remember, girls who embrace their hetero-normative femininity can be brave, strong and multi-layered, too! 

Everyone can be a princess, but no one has to be a princess. That's equality people.  

Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Worthy At Every Size

Bodies. I know you have one. It's statistically probable that you don't love yours, or that you can point out three things you wish you could change about the one you live in. 

If you spend any time on the internet, and I'm guessing you do if you're reading this blog, then you have seen countless images with words across them such as, "Strong is the New Skinny" and "What's Your Excuse," and then there are the Pinterest pins and boards dedicated to "Thinspiration." The more progressive posts and sites have moved on to "Healthy is the new Skinny" and "Health at Every Size." 

We Don't Need a New Skinny! We also don't need to be strong or healthy. What we do need is acceptance that people come in all shapes and sizes. People also come in a wide spectrum of ability. And, we live with many different levels of health. People are worthy of love and acceptance, no expectations to be met, no size requirements, no conditions. We need to put the "Un" in Unconditional love! 

We do not get to decide for someone else how thin, fat, strong, fit, or healthy they need to be. The truth is that fat people can be healthy and skinny people can be very sick. I know this from person experience. I have Grave's Disease. When I was first diagnosed I lost 30 pounds, in a few months! People would tell me how great I looked, and yet my pulse could be 120 while I was resting, my digestive system was working so quickly that I wasn't absorbing nutrients, my hair was falling out, and I was at risk for a heart attack or thyroid storm, both of which could be fatal. I was living proof that you can be skinny and be terribly sick. 

We do not get to decide for someone else how fit they need to be. Some people choose to dedicate hours each day to exercise, some people do not. My sneaking suspicion is that many of those people who are pounding their bodies into a certain shape, a shape that they can be proud of, have a serious lack of body acceptance. Yes, I've been there and done that, too. But, if anyone wants to put in those hours that's their choice, and if it's what they love to do I'm going to support them in following their passion. However, the choice to exercise doesn't make them better or more worthy of admiration than a person who chooses to spend their time playing video games, or knitting, or reading books. 

We do not get to decide how healthy another person needs to be. This is a big one for me because I've generally chosen to do things for my body that were considered "healthy." I'm a vegetarian who walks at least 20 minutes almost every day. And here I am with two medical conditions that aren't curable, the causes of which aren't really understood, that keep me from being "healthy."  Once again I am my own case in point: not everyone gets to choose to be healthy. 

Our society is still obsessed with thinness, but now we have added being fit and being healthy to the list of things that people *should* be. According to the media, the government, and most of our friends, thin, fit, and healthy, are the things that every person should aspire to. Those who have attained them are lauded, photographed, and invited to discuss their success on talk shows. Those who have not attained them are shamed, scorned, and given enemy status in the "war on obesity." 

In my last post I talked about how bullying begins at home. Well, fat shaming begins at home, too. (Yes, I'm a case study for that, as well.) Learn to love yourself in the skin that you are in! Read articles, blog posts, and books about body acceptance. Surround yourself with friends who are working towards loving themselves just the way they are, support each other in self-love instead of in dieting. (Dieting doesn't work, as much as I may not like the title "Health At Every Size," is a book that will help you understand the science behind that assertion.) 

Once you love yourself, and the body that you live in, you will be able to model self-love for your children. And yes, your child is amazing just they way they are. When we have a family culture of acceptance, one that truly embraces differences of all kinds including weight, ability, size, and health, we are no longer perpetuating the larger societal culture of "if only..." As in, "You'd be so pretty if only you'd lose 20 pounds."  "You'd be much happier if only you'd stop eating _________ "(Fill in the blank with whatever food people around you villanize.)

I feel the need to note that losing weight, getting fit, or being skinny will not magically make anyone's life better. It won't cure clinical depression, guarantee a date on Friday night, or make you a shoe-in for that new job. It won't make everything better. There is a lot of magical thinking when it comes to weight loss. The real magic happens when a person is accepted for who they are, just the way they are, and when they are confident walking through the world in their own skin. 

We are all going to grow older, we will all be sick at some point in our life, our skin is going to wrinkle and sag, our pace is going to slow. How much happier we'll be during the transition if we have practice accepting our bodies just they way they are, each step of the way. How much happier our children will be if they never have to suffer through self-hate or body shaming, but instead know that they are wonderful just the way they are! 


What Is Me? a blog post from my blog With The Family about my own struggle with self-acceptance. 

A response to Strong is the New Skinny
"The message I want to hear, and what I want all women to hear, is that there is no right or wrong way to be a woman. Whether or not you have a gym membership, your experience and expression of womanhood will never be wrong. Tweet that."

21 Things to Stop Saying Unless You Hate Fat People  

Throwing This Weight Around, from Dances With Fat.
"Let’s start here – mobility is not a measure of value or worth, there should be zero judgment of people based on their mobility.  People have different levels of mobility for different reasons and none of those are anyone else’s business unless the person wants it to be someone’s business."

You Can't Undo Body Shame by Shaming Other Bodies, a fantastic post!
"Most people will experience loss and pain – none of us gets out alive. I wish people wouldn’t make it harder on other people – and then not realize it UNTIL they themselves need gentle acceptance."

Monday, September 30, 2013

Bullying Begins at Home

Anti-bullying programs are all the rage these days.  And while those who write the propaganda don't usually word it this way, a "war on bullying" has been declared. The government even has their own anti-bullying website. 

All the promotion of anti-bullying and bullying prevention programs and curricula is missing the point, and may in fact be pointless or making things worse as you can read HERE at Psychology Today. We can't stop bullying by bullying the bullies. It's not logical and doing so, unfortunately, creates more hate and anger. 

One child torments another child, that child tells their parents, who call the school, which notifies the school counselor, who talks to the tormentor, which makes the tormentor feel picked on and angry, which causes them to lash out again, which causes the bullied child to tell their parents again, who call the school again, this time the tormentor's parents are notified, they punish their child, who feels picked on (dare we say bullied?) and even angrier....  

So, what is the answer? 

Children may become bullies because they have emotional, mental, or developmental problems, but most often children bully because they have been bullied. Children bully because it is a behavior that someone has modeled for them. Someone made them feel small and helpless, and now they are going to make someone else feel small and helpless so that they can feel bigger, stronger and in control. It's still a nasty cycle, but when we stop and ask "why is this child bullying?" instead of "how do we stop bullying?" we get an answer that stops the cycle.

Parents bully their kids, a lot! Teachers bully their students, way more often than you realize. And while taking our kids out of school is an option, one that I chose when my children were being bullied, taking children out of their homes is always a sad last resort. And that means we need to change how we parent. We need to be modeling how to communicate without resorting to threats, resolve conflict without yelling or physical violence, work out a compromise, and be kind to others even when they aren't being kind to us - or particularly when they aren't being kind to us. 

As parents we have built in opportunities to model these things for our children. I'm going to focus on that last one: being kind even when others aren't kind to us. 

Sometimes kids yell, "I hate you!" at their parents, sometimes kids are out of sorts, and every kid goes through a time when their hormones kick in making them less emotionally stable or more sensitive. Kids have bad days. And what do we, their parents, do when this happens? Do we snap back, "Don't you talk to me like that!" Do we ground them? Do we give them a lecture on how they need to learn to be more polite? Are we punitive, angry, and overly sensitive in return? 

All the lectures, grounding, and angry words we can muster are not going to teach our child to be nice. Being kind to our children models that behavior and creates an environment where they can learn to be kind. 

When our kids yell "I hate you!" at us, how do we respond? First we ask ourselves if we've done something to make our kid angry. If we need to apologize we should start there, and then we can empathize. It's entirely possible those words were directed at us but aren't about us, perhaps our child feels safe with us so the anger is coming out at us instead of at someone or something else. We can listen to our child talk about why they are upset, or we can give our child space if they need time to calm down, we can make them a snack, give them a hug, or ask if they'd like to take a walk. We can be nice to them! And if we do this consistently, when they are having a bad day or they lash out, they will most likely learn that when someone you love is having a hard time the best response is love and kindness. 

If you are an adult who knows a child who bullies other children find a way to support and encourage that child. Everyone wants to be loved. Bullies are often those people who haven't been shown kindness, haven't felt loved, or need to feel strong and in control because someone or some thing in their life is making them feel small and dominated. Bullies need our compassion, kindness, and empathy. It's time to declare a truce in the war on bullies and include them in our group hug. 


Memories of a Bullied Kid, Single Dad Laughing, Dan Pearce, has a heartfelt and helpful 3 part series about being bullied and how to respond. There are other powerful posts on the subject at site as well. 

Bullying Starts at Home, article from Huffington Post.

Helene Guldberg On Bullying, a more in depth consideration of the statistics, and why children shouldn't necessarily be expected to like and be nice to everyone. 

Can Teenagers be Smarter than Bullying Researchers? This includes a video clip from blank slate theater. 

Sunday, September 29, 2013

But My Kid Is Not Gay...

Are you sitting there thinking, "But my kid's not gay, why should I care?" 

Is there really any reason to raise our children from birth in a way that supports them in growing up an ally? Babies don't care if someone is gender nonconforming, babies have no concept of sexual orientation, so what difference does it make?

And there you have my answer: It's important to consider how we are raising our children from birth, because from birth we are shaping their views on social issues even before they are old enough to know that there are other perspectives. From birth we can model compassion, respect, and unconditional love in every interaction with our child. And while you may think that every parent would automatically model those things, many parents do not. 

The second part of my answer is this: Your child might not be gay, but maybe they are and they haven't told you because they believe you won't love them or accept them if you knew. Your child might not be gay, but, if your child is very young, they might be and neither of you know it yet. Your child might not be gay, but they may be gender nonconforming, bisexual, a lesbian, or enjoy dressing in drag. Your child might not be gay, but their cousin might be. Your child might not be gay, but at some point in their life they are going to find out that someone they know is and when that happens it should really be no big deal.

And if your child is gay, and they have grown up in an ally family, then they will be able to tell you "I'm gay," knowing it won't change your relationship.  

When we were raising our babies we had no way of knowing that our daughter's first preschool teacher would be gay, or that her boyfriend would have two moms. We didn't know that one of our girls would want to go into theater and that she'd join a theater program that was directed by a gay man. We did know that we had a relative who had hidden their sexual orientation from their family into adulthood, and the pain that caused everyone in the end. When my girls were babies, I wasn't consciously raising my children differently because of that, but now I know that how we have raised our kids has the potential to save their generation and future generations from a whole lot of hurting.  

If we are to raise children who are compassionate and who accept others for who they are, we need to be compassionate parents who accept our children as the individuals they are from birth. We do this by responding when they cry, actively meeting their needs, listening to what they have to say, and giving them space to be who they are instead of trying to shape them into who we want them to be. 

With every interaction we check to make sure we are not making our needs, wants, or expectations more important than those of our children. We check in with ourselves, asking, "Would I treat an adult the way I'm treating my kid?" We put ourselves in our kids' shoes and we respond from a place of empathy and compassion, not from a place of being bigger, stronger, or older. 

We need to let our kids know that they never have to earn our love by living up to our expectations or pretending to be someone they aren't. We need to love them unconditionally, and unconditional love is not affected by their sexual orientation.

Blog posts relating to Parenting

Letter from the Accepting Dad To the Unicorn's Dad, concerning his child who had recently come out as transgender.

Amelia's advice: 10 Ways to Support Your Gay Kid, Whether You Know You Have One or Not

Click on the "Resources" tab above to find links that offer support for you if you think your child might be ____________ (fill in the blank).

Books relating to parenting: 

Radical Family Parenting: A Guide for Parenting with Compassion, Honesty, Respect, and Unconditional Love, written by Jess Robertson 

Unconditional Parenting: Moving from Rewards and Punishment to Love and Reasons, written by Alfie Kohn  

Websites related to parenting with compassion: 

The Natural Child Project website.  

Saturday, September 28, 2013

The Clothes Kids Wear

It's not about what we want, it's about who our children are.

In a recent online exchange a mother expressed her concern over her child wearing the same clothes two days in a row. Upon reflection she realized that this stemmed from her worries about what other people would think: what the teacher would think about her as a parent and what her child's classmates would think. 

My perspective?  Nothing is more important than my relationship with my child, particularly not clothes, and decidedly not what "other people" will think. What other people think about me or my child is never more important than my child's sense of self and their ability to express that sense of self with confidence. 

I recognize that what other people think may ultimately affect how my child feels, particularly if those people are narrow minded, vocal in their negativity, and generally insensitive toward children.. 

And because of that I would suggest that if every parent supported their child in expressing them self, the social norm would be acceptance of diversity and self expression.

I had a daughter go to kindergarten with pink streaks in her hair and wearing all pink clothing, while another daughter chose to consistently wear her favorite color: blue. My oldest, at that age, only wore dresses, and favored the color purple. We support our kids in wearing what makes them feel comfortable, in their clothes and as a person. Starting when they can express an opinion in what they wear, a smile at pink, tears about itchy tags, grabbing for one item rather than another when dad holds up two shirts and asks, "Do you want to wear the red shirt or the green shirt today?" we need to respect our kids' choices in what they wear. 

If we do this, then our kids are more likely to respect other people's choices in what they wear. 

My girls came home from a trip to Disney World with the grandparents with many memories: meeting face characters, riding rides, eating amazing food. One story they shared with awesome enthusiasm: there was a boy, who might have been 12, dressed as Minnie Mouse, wearing a princess sash! They thought he was so cool. (One of my daughters has pointed out that we don't know if this child identifies as a boy. Her concern that we might offend someone by assuming a gender is a reminder that my kids have taught me most of what I know about raising allies.)

If you are a parent who worries about what others will think please know that if your child is wearing an outfit they love it will show in they way they walk through life. If you kid goes to the grocery store wearing their tutu, Batman costume, rainbow colored hair, or their footie pajamas with rain boots, the glow of your child is going to make someone smile and someone is going to think you are a pretty awesome parent! Focus on that person, and smile big at anyone who frowns in your direction. 

Blogs and articles relating to raising gender non-conforming or gender creative children:

It's O.K. To Be Neither: Teaching That Supports Gender-Variant Children 

HERE is a list of Supportive Books & Media for Gender Variant/Non-conforming Kids