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Friday, May 25, 2007

Poetry Friday: Girl Power, At What Price?

Caged Bird
by Maya Angelou


A free bird leaps
on the back of the wind
and floats downstream
till the current ends
and dips his wing
in the orange sun rays
and dares to claim the sky.

But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.




It's tough being a girl in today's world. Personally, I believe girls deal with so much pressure at a young age. The pressure to be smart. To be strong. To be capable. To be athletic. To be beautiful. To be thin. To be Everything.

Now my husband thinks I'm a bit too outspoken on certain matters, so I don't want everyone jumping down my throat with this post. I'm just interested in a discussion, in an exchange of ideas, because I'm quite curious for the sake of research on what people think.

I'm just worried about today's girls. How are they going to handle the pressure to Be Everything? I'm not sure whether all this pressure to succeed is a result of the women's movement and the fight to pass the Equal Rights Amendment, which incidentally is still not an official part of the U.S. Constitution. Or maybe it's a result of a technologically advanced world and the incredible opportunities just waiting to be embraced. Or maybe, it's just the way of the world and I just need to learn to deal with it.

Some women might remember the famous television commercial of the early 1980's with a beautifully coiffed and dressed woman who does it all -- takes care of baby, has a great job, cleans, cooks and more -- "I can bring home the bacon, fry it up in the pan. And never let you forget you're a man, cause I'm a woman..."

Of course the message of this commercial was quite clear to my college friends and I. While our moms had to make choices of whether they stayed at home with the kids or had an incredibly successful career, my generation would be able to have it all. Oh yes. This commercial promised us we could have it all, quite effortlessly, mind you. All because countless amazing women had paved the way for us to have it all. So we better go for it baby, because women have fought for our rights. And we better do them proud.

Numerous women of my generation have proved that women can accomplish so much and be so much more than any of our mothers have dared to dream. We can survive, with or without a man. We can live our own dreams without waiting for Mr. Right. We don't need to be married to have children. We don't have to get married right out of college. We're not considered hopeless spinsters if we're still single in our 40's. We don't have to have children if we don't want to.

Women run businesses and run for political office. Women can be plumbers or electricians. Astronauts. Professors. Policewomen. Doctors. Surgeons. Principals. Mechanics. There are so many capable women who are intelligent, brave, courageous--simply amazing. We are survivors. We are women. Hear us roar.

Sure there are sacrifices and lots of angst. But the achievements have been extraordinary. And this is the incredible gift my generation gives to the next generation. The ability to know they are capable of and deserve so much more. We paved the way so the next generation of girls could have it easier. Forget the sacrifice. Forget the struggles. We can do anything. We are women. Hear us roar.

But with this special gift comes a price. Some women are so competitive, they put down other women who don't have the same edge. We have the Mommy Wars and the Best Career Wars. Instead of uniting, mentoring and helping each other, we women are so determined to prove we have the better life, so we end up attacking one another. Obviously this isn't true of every woman, but when it is noticed, it is plain disturbing. Sadly, this all rubs off on our daughters.

As a mother of young girls, I worry about my children's generation, who will soon wonder how they can dare compare or how they can achieve everything without losing a part of themselves. Girls are exhibiting unethical behavior, worried about their smarts and their beauty(podcast), and bullying one another. And this is all before the teenage escapism in weight control, plastic surgery, drugs and alcohol.

I worry about my generation and the expectations we have for our children. Because as we all know, there are parents who will take the expectations a bit too far. There are parents who will want their daughters to be friends only with the popular kids in school. Some parents want their girls to always be on the winning team. And there are the parents who constantly put pressure on their talented child because they want her to be the next superstar.

A number of girls in my town (boys too for that matter) are overscheduled with activities, starting in kindergarten or first grade. They are enrolled in sports teams, music and/or dance lessons and special tutoring classes too. Playdates need to arranged a couple weeks in advance. Some parents even keep their child behind a year in kindergarten for the sole purpose of giving them an edge the next school year over the other children in the class. I find this plain disturbing.

Part of me is worried because I'm not exposing my children to all of these wonderful opportunities. Sure my kids are involved in activities, but I limit them to 2 activities rather than the typical 5-6 commitments, so they can have kid time. I want my kids to be kids for as long as possible, and enjoy life. Another part of me is trying to be understanding because most parents only want the best for their children and to give them what they didn't have a children. I am left to wonder whether all this overscheduling is part of what is causing the tantrums, the talking back, the attitude of some of my childrens' friends. This gives me much sorrow.

I find it interesting how we now expect our girls to be stronger and tougher, while our boys are taught to express their feelings. Isn't it sad our girls are losing their ability to be empathetic and caring? Most girls feel imprisoned by all the expectations and pressure to surpass what women have already accomplished. Is it any wonder they feel the stress and the worry? How do we set them free so they can Be what they want to be?

Am I the only one who feels this way? What can we do to ease the burdens of the next generation of exceptional girls, before we end up destroying the hope of our future?

A Wrung Sponge is hosting the Poetry Friday Roundup.

42 comments:

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Ho boy. This is a conversation that needs a bottle of wine to go along with it. The short answer is, "No, you're not the only one who feels this way." The long answer is going to have to wait while I rev up my motors.

Erin said...

I cannot tell you how much that poem you posted means to me!

Robin Brande said...

Wow, is this a brainful. This is why I tagged you as one of my top Thinking Blogs. Because now I have to pull out the old brain and use it.

First of all, bravo. Especially about not overscheduling your kids. I completely agree that that's what's behind a lot of the acting out we see. And who can blame those kids? I know how I feel when I'm stretched too thin, so why should a child feel any differently?

And like you, I understand the intentions behind it--parents who want their kids to have every opportunity and advantage, etc.--but it really is insane. What kids long for is time--time alone, time with their friends, time with their families. Not another rushed car trip to the next lesson. Not eating in the car on the way because they'll get home at 7:00 and then they have homework and then they'd better rush to bed.

Okay, so we could catalogue all the insanity for days here, but what to do about it?

Adults have to set (and accept) a different pace. Start cancelling and quitting all those extra-extracurricular events that end up eating away at any reasonable family time. How can parents accept giving their kids a lighter schedule if they can't do it for themselves? So a radical shift here, limiting everyone to ONE evening activity a week, would do everyone a TON of good.

Is it hard to pull back when you're on that sort of a scary runaway train? You bet. You feel like you're going to miss out. Like other people will get ahead of you. But the only way the culture will change is by changing it ourselves, one family at a time. We set the example for our children and for other families. Don't you think some other mother will hear about your one-a-week policy and want to cry, it sounds so wonderful?

A few years ago I attended a seminar about how to change the world. The answer has always stuck with me. We all have a Circle of Influence and a Circle of Concern. That Circle of Concern is usually huge--world issues like war and famine and global warming, etc. Then there are the more local issues like politics and our education system and the price of gas. The list could go on forever.

But there's very little we can do about our Circle of Concern from where we are. We are small in relation to the problems of the world.

On the other hand, our Circle of Influence is just the right size. It includes our family, our friends, the people we come into contact with every day, the people (in the case of we bloggers) who read what we have to say.

And the way to work on the larger problems is to focus on our Circles of Influence. We do our best making positive changes in our own lives and those we directly touch. And what happens is the miracle. The more attention we give to improving what we can within our Circles of Influence, the larger those Circles grow. Until one day--and here's the miracle!--our Circles of Influence grow so large they actually encompass our Circles of Concern.

But the way to do that is not to fret about our impotence to fix everything at once. Our job is to do everything we can right now to make our own lives better and to serve as an example to others.

So you, parent, slow down. You let your child slow down. You tell other parents how wonderful and peaceful it is. You don't even have to tell them--they can see it. You teach your own children not to see everyone else as a competitor, but as a peer. You give your own children the message that they are valuable enough just as they are, and you give them the freedom to discover their own talents and desires so that they can be the generation that takes us the next great leap ahead.

Whew! Taking a break now. Love to hear what anyone else thinks.

And thank you for posting such an important, provocative topic!

HipWriterMama said...

Alkelda,
What a great idea! I'll host the cyber Memorial Day weekend cocktail party right here. Everyone can hang out with their beverage and appetizers of choice.

How about we rant and rave as long as we have a healthy respect for each other's opinions? Oh, and of course, no gossiping behind anyone's back. That is just too uncool.

- - - -

Erin,
I'm so glad you like the poem. Maya Angelou is amazing.

- - - -

Robin,
Wow. I LOVE what you have to say. Now I get to say this to you. WORD.

jules said...

I'm totally and completely with you on this. I am a big believer in not scheduling too much. Honestly, though, I say that, but then just today I wondered, do I need to sign my three-year-old up for a class? My point being: There's a lot of pressure. Here's something radical: She not only doesn't take a single course (not even something like Gymboree, which is really popular with kids -- well, more like the parents!), but she does. not. attend. a. Parents'. Day. Out. program. Now this is radical stuff for a child who is already three. The majority of my friends with kids her age send them to programs like that (at very young ages, too, and I'm talking about other moms who stay at home, like me, who are not out of the home working every day). And that's perfectly fine, but I get weird looks when I say she hasn't been to one yet. We've just been hanging out together and playing (and reading a lot!). I am in no way saying that makes me better or that she's going to be smarter or blah blah blah, 'cause, believe me, there are plenty of days she's seen the bored, frustrated side of me ('cause the monotony can get to you -- as an adult, that is), but I figure a) she needs to see that behavior in others, and if I snap at her unreasonably 'cause, say, I'm bored off my gourd, I always apologize, and b) I don't want her to always depend on an adult to be entertained. I want her to know how to entertain herself.

Yeesh, I'm scared I'm rambling. My point is this: Kids don't have enough down time today, and I think the most telling manifestation of this is their insistence to be entertained all the time.

I want to quickly address "the Mommy Wars," too. I've blabbed about this on our blog, and then Robin picked up the conversation at hers, too: There is a great non-profit group called MomsRising that deals with this -- they say, hey, we ALL want the same things as mothers: more flex-time jobs (so that we can work AND see our families); health care for all children; paid maternity leave; actual PATERNITY leave; better pay for day-care workers and improvements in daycare; etc. etc. The media just sensationalizes these so-called Mommy Wars when they need a story, further dividing mothers. You can actually sign a petition re this at MomsRising (here), and they do all kinds of other great stuff, too. It flat-out pisses me off to see these stupid t.v. pieces about "The Mommy Wars." We need to work TOGETHER for better family-friendly policies (esp. for poorer mothers) and not be divided.

MomsRising has a book called The Motherhood Manifesto, which my dear husband got me for Mothers Day, and I plan to review it at our blog one day. My to-be-read pile is so huge, but I really will get to it.

In the vein of pushing our kids too hard, I also get irritated with (oh boy will this maybe piss some librarians off) all the AR/reading program stuff -- reading for points, for incentives. Even the summer reading programs bug me (though my public librarian friends work SO HARD at all that, and I know it's a ton of work). I just think those AR-type programs have got reading all wrong. I know it works for some kids -- but I want my daughters to just kick back and *enjoy* reading, not 'cause they're going to get a trinket in the end, but because reading has its own intrinsic rewards. SO MANY. Are we not telling our children when we promise them, say, an eraser at the close of a book: I know reading is such an onerous task, so let me make it worth your time by giving you a trinket?

But, then I also never gave my oldest daughter any stickers for using the potty, 'cause, shoot, we all gotta go. Do we not reward them too much sometimes? (Another subject for another day) . . . (and, yes, she uses the potty just fine now).

If you all have a wine get-together, oh please oh please may I come?

Hoping people still speak to me, having aired my opinionated views on parenting . . .

Callipygia said...

I think we raise strong girls (and boys) by modeling good self regard and worth. And that is life long work for some of us! The space that everyone is talking about, give us time to feel our own uniqueness and contribution to the world at large. I think it is important to look at our own self-talk and expectations. Are we telling our daughters that she shouldn't measure herself to unrealistic societal beauty standards, but then groan and poke at our own flabby underarms?

jules said...

Good point, callipygia (and everyone else, for that matter) . . .

Now I worry that I sounded like an insufferable snob (which is why I'm back so soon). Also, for the record, I promise my daughters aren't sheltered. They will take classes some day (maybe even soon), but I will, no doubt, limit it so that they don't get *too* busy.

Anyway, blah blah. Bottom line is that every mother does what she feels is best, and we have to work together to make motherhood easier than it is in this country. (A good book about this is Perfect Madness by Judith Warner, where she compares the laid-back mothering in France -- where she spent the first year of her daughter's life -- to the anxious mothering of contemporary America).

HipWriterMama said...

Callipygia,
Very good point. Girls definitely get their first look at beauty through the eyes of their moms. What is scary is when kindergarten girls talk about their DIETS! and taunt each other about weight, if applicable. Or get mad if someone is wearing the same outfit.

- - - -

Jules,
I don't think you have opinionated motherhood views at all. And by the way, none of my three kids were in any program until they were started preschool. I'm actually getting a bit sad because my youngest will be starting preschool in the fall.

And nobody got any special rewards for going to the potty.

Thanks for mentioning MomsRising. Sounds very interesting.

Yeah, mothers definitely do the best they can, but when it starts to effect the competitive circle and the self-esteem of other girls, I think it's a huge problem.

I'm thinking about this 4th or 5th grade girl who is in my children's school, who is quite a talented singer and dancer. The school is having a talent show, and this girl's mother is hovering like you wouldn't believe, giving this girl advice, telling the other girls in the group what they need to do so her daughter can shine. I kid you not on this.

Robin Brande said...

Jules, I love my own mom (in part because she left me alone to play and read and make believe when I was a girl, and now I get to do that for a living!), but I'd gladly take you as backup mom any day. I like everything you said.

You, too, HipWriterMama. If I ever revert, either of you could raise me.

HipWriterMama said...

Robin,
I love it when women admit to loving their own moms. Sometimes, there's always a few too many complaints about mom, ya know?

And I agree. Jules is a very aware, cool mom. I'm sure it will help her as she maneuvers throughout her children's adolescent and teenage years. Her children are clearly in good hands.

This makes me wonder about today's teen girls and how they are going to get through their issues without losing too much of themselves. The mother/daughter relationships in the teen years can sometimes be quite difficult. Most girls depend so much more on their friends and resort to peer pressure. Just another bit of worry.

jules said...

I'm always in the minority when I tell friends this, but somehow I'm less worried about raising daughters as I would be sons (particularly the teenage years). Another issue for another day, though (bottom line for me, though, is that I really can't stand how our culture here, our society, whatever you want to call it, puts pressure on boys to stifle their feelings, that if you express them, you're somehow "sissy." I would absolutely refuse to raise a son like that, but, man, the pressure from our society is SO STRONG that I am in awe of people who raise sons not afraid to show their feelings. I don't know how they do that).

HipWriterMama said...

Jules,
I totally hear you on this. It is crazy the pressure on boys to stifle their feelings. I think there is a slow wave of change though. While it isn't doing anything for most of our teenage boys, I've been noticing a respect of feelings for the boys that are in my daughters' classes --up to second graders. It is so cool to be privy to parents who allow their boys to show their feelings.
So I kind of feel like the boys will be okay in this.

My main worry is still with the girls. If today's teenage and college girls feel so much pressure and stress on being successful, tough, beautiful and all that...can you even imagine what our daughers have in store for them as they get older?

Kelly said...

Wow! So many things here, it's hard to focus.

First and foremost, I second Jules' recommendation of MomsRising. Awesome organization that gets beyond the stupid MommyWars, something I believe the media makes up.

Raising girls vs. raising boys. I have to say that it's more difficult to raise a boy. And here's why: I want to raise my boy to be a full partner to whomever he decides to spend his life with. I want him to understand that he's not going to get a "wife" to take care of him like a mother would. For me, modeling a equal partnership in creating a home is absolutely most important. And that's meant making sure my husband and I don't resort to traditional roles in the household. It also means that I must, under all circumstances, raise my two kids with the same expectations. You don't know how much it angers me when I see parents and teachers resort to the old "boys will be boys" adage. NO WAY. Boys and girls will be compassionate and caring individuals and it is my job to make sure my boy does not become a spitter, a hitter, etc., like many of his peers. This is a lifelong job.

So, yeah, girls do have the whole image thing, but I also think that's been exagerrated in the media. I remember as a child looking at Barbie, then Seventeen, etc. and understanding that I did not look like any of the models and also being okay with that. Somehow my parents raised me to be more concerned with who I was than with how I looked. To this day, I'm one of those people who has to remember to look in the mirror before leaving the house. And my daughter is, so far, the same way. The old "it's what's inside that counts" is something my parents insisted on, and it's something I do as well.

So, I guess what I'm saying is that it's difficult to raise a child. But, the challenges are there for both genders.

Another response for other aspects of this post...

Miri said...

I'm gonna say that most of this is spot-on.

Most of it, because there's one thing I have to address that I think is a common misconception.

You hear all about the pressure for girls to be smart, do well in school, succeed at the highest level. I do that, and I get eaten alive. I have very few friends willing to stick it out. I have rampant jealousy aimed against me that makes my life fairly difficult during the school day. Maybe part of that is my brutally honest personality, but plenty of people like that in the averages of academic success are admired, respected, and liked. Me? Nope.

There is no feeling like crossing the stage at an academic awards ceremony and hearing the girls sitting next to your parents call out "We love you, Sarah!" when Sarah's still sitting down.

Some of the kids who say there's pressure to do well in school are lying through their teeth. There's significant pressure, in my school at least, to stay right with the crowd, and don't you dare stick a toe above.

jules said...

Kelly, I would love to hear from you about how you balance free time with activities. I think you and MR are awesome moms (isn't it funny how I can think that, and I've never met you, but I don't doubt it for a second), and I know your kids do activities. When my girls are older (they're still so wee young now that I don't want to line them up with a whole ton of stuff), I *want* them to. I want them, most of all, to take music lessons (in something, anything) if they want to, and my three-year-old might need some sports (as she has this kind of gravity about her, it seems and needs more lightness on her feet, if that makes any sense). So, if you wanted to give your free advice on how you balance that as the good mother that you are, I'd owe you big time. 'Cause I look to mothers like you who a) do such a good job and b) have older kids to learn how to get it right myself when it comes time.

Sara said...

Hey all. It's a little early in the morning for wine, but I'll join you for a cup of conversation.

As Jules and Robin know, I've got a 16 year old son and an 18 year old daughter. I thought you might want to hear what happens down the road if you "un-schedule" your kids. Guess what? They turn into kids who know what they want and go after it.

I can't pretend that I had some well-thought out philosophy, like jules (bravo!) It was more that I treasure unscheduled time myself and our family rule always was: if you absolutely LOVE IT, we will support you, to the ends of the earth. If you change your mind about what you love ten times, that's ok, too. But there will be none of this half-ass stuff, for show. We quit soccer teams after one year. We bailed on Boy Scouts when it got boring. We passed on to neighbors the elaborate science building sets.

I see childhood as a chance to try EVERYTHING on, from friendships to careers.

So what are my kids trying on this summer? My daughter is applying for a job at a planetarium. This weekend, she is camping with friends. My son just discovered the excellent TV show House, and is playing the guitar and asking to join a gym so he can work out. Nothing earth-shattering, but they are learning what they need to be happy.

As to boys' needs vs. girls', I could write an encyclopedia. But the short version is: at some point, girls will look at their mothers and say "YUCK. Your life sucks. I don't want to be YOU." (Or maybe it's MY life sucks, and you brought me into this world, so therefore, YOU suck.) Either way, life will be hell as a mom for a few years. If you're lucky, there will be a dad (or other family person) in the picture who will step in and love her, and then one day, she will decide you are OK, and maybe even wise, and hey, possibly a good friend.

For boys, well, mine is a genius when it comes to reading people and being kind. He's not a crier, or outwardly emotional (and I can see boys having problems with this!) but he definitely "tunes in" to people's feelings and needs. And I told him early on: This is a GIFT. A true GIFT. Don't let anyone tell you differently. And now, my husband is helping him use this gift to be a good leader. In my opinion, this is essential to a boy's emotional health. It's not enough to tell them that having emotions is ok, you have to show them how being sensitive makes a difference in the world. (Girls, too, obviously.)

Whew. Who knows what more I could have said with a glass of wine in me???

Kelly said...

Okay, here's another response to this conversation...

I'll say up front that I'm lucky. I have awesome parents. They were great and still are. But, as a girl, my dad's influence was most important to me as a child (I'm also one of 3 girls, and all three of us would agree--we love our mom, she's awesome, but Dad was who we looked to as children for approval and affirmation). And my Dad was so, so great. I don't remember him ever saying "You look Beautiful" to any of us. He always said "You look nice." He went to every single one of our events and complimented us on our effort, rather than on "how great" we were. He always focuses on our achievements rather than our looks. He played sports with us (bummer for him that not one of us loved his beloved basketball, but he played tennis nonetheless). He took us to plays and museums, telling us funny stories about artists and history. Because he was a child in the 50s, he never was a full partner in the home (poor mom), but he was always a full partner in childrearing.

So we moms may worry about what we can do, but don't forget...Dads have to get in there too. (Or the other partner!)

jules said...

Miri, wow, thanks for the enlightening from-the-trenches feedback.

Sara, good stuff. Thanks for the feedback. I will remember this stuff! Hey, exactly when did your daughter decide YUCK and then get over it? That terrifies me (though I *know* it will happen, so I cherish every hug now).

jules said...

Kelly, about your last comment, my husband just the other day was saying that he heard the results of some research study that confirm exactly what you're saying your dad did -- that children who were constantly told, "you're so smart!" (this gets on my nerves) stopped trying, but the kids who were told something like, "good job, I can see you worked really hard to do that" kept trying (complimenting their efforts, as you said your dad did), plus got that self-confidence feedback they need.

Yeesh, I sound really psycho-babbly, but he just remembered he had heard that and told me when I was complaining to him about those kids who show up at schools and think they're the shizizzle because they are constantly told they're smart, as in you're better than other kids.

I have a friend whose kid applied for a private school, and the headmaster told my friend that they wouldn't accept him, because he was pompous. And my friend just got defensive and talks about what an awful school it is, while I'm thinking, do you not see it? He was constantly told that he's so smart, in a way that made him think he was superior.

I also find this a difficult balance -- how my daughters can know they're smart without me telling them all the time? I don't want them showing up to school being all pompous.

HipWriterMama said...

Miri,
Thanks so much for your viewpoint. I have to say I'm so impressed that you're standing strong to your beliefs and not caving in to what the norm is at your school. That's nice to see.

It's really interesting you don't find the pressure to succeed very evident in your school, rather more the need to fit in to the norm.

Now I wonder whether this more a Boston thing, since there are so many colleges and corporations around here? All I know is that kids are really stressed around here and I'd like to figure out how to help.

Kelly said...

Okay, last thing, and it relates to what Jules says about activities.

Here are my rules: 2 activities per child (plus mandatory swimming lessons for short periods in the summer). One of the 2 activities must be music. This is for several reasons: a) music is another way at looking at and appreciating the world; b) every child loves making music with others; and c) band kids in high school are always the best kids--the ones I want my kids associating with.

The other activity they can choose. My daughter chose ice skating, which would not have been my first choice. But it was her greatest desire, and 4 years later she's still doing it. My son, who is 6, hasn't settled on a second activity. Instead, he's told me he wants to do music--double. In other words, he wants 2 private lessons in violin per week. Well, if that's his choice (instead of a sport), then that's his choice. I have only one hard and fast rule as to activity choice: no cheerleading and no football.

Related to this, I have to add that I've wanted to move from where we live for a long time. I truly dislike living in a small town. I hate the gossip, I hate the social pressure (PTO, anyone?), I hate the fact that "everyone knows everything" even though they know absolutely nothing. I hate how smalltowners make fun of my husband's accent. On a daily basis. Oh, and what Miri says about school and academic pressure is here too. Don't you dare try to be the smart one or you will pay. (Again, this is way more difficult for boys than girls. Boys had better not try to be smart--that's girly.) I think the pressure you describe, Vivian, only takes place in big, wealthy cities and suburbs. It doesn't occur in the sticks. Here it's fit in or you're out.

BUT...my kids every day can open the door and go outside. There, 13 children await them for tramping through backyards with sticks and whatnot. That's unsual and something to treasure.

HipWriterMama said...

Sara,
Thanks for sharing how you raised your kids. I definitely feel like I'm on the right track with my girls when I read what your kids are doing.

And those teenage years...I'm in full expectation of that. I've lived vicariously through my sister-in-law's relationship with my teenage nieces, and it is scary.

Sara said...

Jules: I'd say the YUCK peaks around 13-14. I'm just saying I wish someone had warned me. It was like being re-cast in a movie as the ultimate bitch, when all you wanted to be was The Nice One. It hurt my feelings so badly! (Which of course, didn't help the dialogue, since it made me focus on ME, and not her.) She came out of it around 16, not in part because she went away to school, took a survey, and discovered that I was NOT the worst mother on the planet. Also, I learned to not take things so personally, and just LOVE her, angry and all. That was hard for me, because nobody had taught me how to love that way.

Kelly: totally agree on Dads. I would've said more in my post above about it, but I didn't want to imply that those without dads were doomed. But my husband is so good at things that I haven't a clue about, and vice versa. He is really good at telling funny stories about the mistakes he made growing up.

HipWriterMama said...

Kelly,
I so agree with you about the Dads. I think Dads play an important role with girls. I'm with my girls ALL the time, but when my husband comes home, they cling on to his every word and action.

He's finally figured out the power of his words, and is making conscious efforts on the "better" way to say things.

I've always wondered whether he would be more hands off, since we have girls and not boys. But he's been great taking them biking, skating, swimming, playing ball, gardening. Mostly action driven, but the girls enjoy it and feel more confident with their physical abilities.

Sara said...

One more idea on the "smart" thing. I grew up as "too smart" in a Tennessee school that didn't think smart was cool. I suffered in middle school. But, by the time I got to high school, I discovered theater. That's where the smart kids go. And band.

Then I had two smart kids. Living it all over again. So I dealt with that by writing a book. So much better than screaming. :)

HipWriterMama said...

Kelly,
I agree with the 2 activity rule. That's what I do too.

That's so cool your son loves violin. I played piano and violin for years when I was younger. If your son really enjoys the violin and plays well, he can even start his own side business. I tutored violin when I was in middle school and high school. I earned more money this way than my combined efforts of babysitting and flipping burgers at McDonald's.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Wow! When I went to bed last night, HipWriterMama had planted some seeds, and this morning, I found a whole field of wildflowers had sprung up! At this point, I just want to think about what everyone's written. I have a 4 year old girl, and she is my only child. She is imaginative and musical with a particular fondness for fairies and textiles (her first word was "gace," an attempt to say "lace"). She can play by herself, but has issues regarding the pragmatics of speech, has some low muscle tone, and has been legally blind in one eye since birth. There are girls in her preschool class who are in the full-throes of four-year-old-dom, complete with secrets whispered during circle time and dramatic melt-downs that seem partially designed for show.

Of course, I want the world for her, but the particular challenges she has in her life are actually a blessing sometimes: I'm fierce about not overscheduling her (at this point, we rarely schedule things in the afternoons because we need down-time), and while I think she would enjoy ballet lessons, I don't want to schedule that until/unless she asks for it. We have all sorts of musical instruments lying around the house, but no formal music lessons as of yet. There are times I think, "Should I be starting music lessons now so that, if she's a virtuoso, she'll be on the right timeline?" And then I realize just how utterly ridiculous that is. I love Mozart's music, but I wouldn't wish his childhood on anyone.

Quick note to Jules: While we do have stickers for the potty (we love stickers), I am with you on the glut of rewards systems. We have two library systems where I live. One system counts up the minutes a child reads and the child gets coupons for pizza, ice-cream and some sort of big reward at the end (with the opportunity to win a laptop computer), and the other system has the child read 10 books and receive a paperback of his or her choice. The child can read more books, and each 10 books makes the child eligible for attending the mayor's "breakfast of champions." I have always opted for the simpler summer reading program from the system that has less money. Egads.

Enough. I need breakfast. And a bottle of wine! Just kidding.;)

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

P.S. I keep reading about the so-called Mommy Wars, and I'm a bit incredulous. It seems like something manufactured by people who have run out of movie-star gossip reports. Maybe I'm just too tired to fight. All the mommies I know are too tired to fight, too.

HipWriterMama said...

Jules,
I remember reading the same thing your husband did about how to tell your child she/he is smart.

I've been letting my kids know how proud I am about the things I observe them doing. It may not always be in the academic sense, since I want the kids to have a positive well rounded sense of self.

Anything regarding academics, I applaud them on their efforts and hard work. My second grader, in particular, really gets a great feeling when she works hard at an assignment or project and does well on it. She also recognizes that if she doesn't put as much effort in studying, ie. spelling test, then she doesn't do as well.

So the motivation is there for her to study hard to get good grades. The added bonus is she sees for herself she's smart. I do tell my children they are smart, but it has to be substantiated with something they did, otherwise they won't believe me anyway.

If the kids spend extra time trying to figure something out, I'll let them know I'm impressed with their persistence and problem solving.

With anything having to do with their artwork, we spend a little time discussing it and I'll tell them I appreciate how I love their sense of creativity and perspective. Then of course I hang their picture up on the wall, in a pretty frame.

And then of course, when they deal with squabbles with friends, I end up telling them I like the way they handled the problem, the compromise, the working out feelings, etc.

I'll never forget the look on one of my daughter's friends face, who is really over the top when she talks about how she's the smartest girl in the class, when I praised her in this way--by acknowledgement and example. She was absolutely starved for it, and just drank it right in.

You'll do right for your children. I know you will.

Kelly said...

Vivian: He does LOVE it. I'm truly surprised. My daughter has always enjoyed music, but his love for the violin came out of the blue. He started begging me to play at age 3! How he even knew about violins, I'll never know. I put him off until 5 (3 is too young for formal music lessons, imo).

That you made money in middle school and junior high teaching violin is AWESOME!! Something to keep in mind...

HipWriterMama said...

Alkelda,
Your daughter is already learning music through your example! You sing to her and play guitar. If you have all these other musical instruments lying around, she must naturally gravitate towards one of them. Maybe you can just let her play with it and teach her?

My mom tells me she taught me how to play the piano when I was three. I don't really remember that. But she started me on my intense love and joy for music.

BTW, did you know that Carly Simon was a major stutterer as a little girl? Her mother noticed that she didn't stutter when she sang...and the rest is history.

HipWriterMama said...

Kelly,
I agree 3 is way too early for formal music lessons. I wish your son the best!

I actually got my tutoring start because of my middle school tutor. He actually recommended me to parents who didn't want to pay his tutoring fee. I was so thrilled. I made $5/hr for tutoring, instead of $1/hr for babysitting.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

HWM, I did not know that about Carly Simon having been a stutterer as a little girl. I was a stutterer too (and still lapse into it when I get excited or angry, which is probably why I try to keep my extreme emotions in check and prefer to write them out).

HipWriterMama said...

Alkelda,
My eldest had stuttered quite a bit when she was younger. She outgrew it for the most part, but I've found that if she is particularly stressed, she might stutter a little bit.

I did a little research to figure out ways to make it easier for my little one, and stumbled across info on famous people who stuttered/or still stutter. Needless to say, it totally fascinated me.

Check out this link, you'll be impressed and inspired. James Earl Jones, Jimmy Stewart, Winston Churchill, John Stossel, Julia Roberts...the list is filled with incredible people who are well known for their incredible gift of speech for a living.

zee said...

Wow, I am speechless. I seeing a lot of passion on this topic. I read this entry this morning, and I was like ready to post a comment, and now it looks like this really resonated with a lot of people. Not only are people commenting, but people are commenting a lot and lengthily (hey that's not a word but it should be).

I totally agree with this entry. it is a problem. There is an amazing book on this topic written by Staci Eldredge called Captivating. It talks about what it means to be a woman and how society is how we feel crushed on all sides by expectations from society, church, our parents. This book changed my life.

The quoted poem you placed reminded me of the inscription at the beginning of this book. Here is it, tell me if it resounds with you:

You belong among the wildflowers
You belong in a boat out at sea
You belong with your love on your arm
You belong somewhere you feel free

HipWriterMama said...

Zee,
Thank you for recommending the book and sharing the inscription. It's beautiful.

Kimberly/lectitans said...

I'm not a parent, but I have been a child and I am a teacher, so I certainly see this all over the place.

I love my mother. I think she did exactly right by me. She would tell me I was smart, but she never used it to imply I was better. (Any time I came into snobbishness that was all me, and never her.) She didn't over-reward me, and the times when I have looked at her and thought, "I don't want to become you," it's only because she had to deal with undiagnosed illness for a long time, or felt as though being a mother wasn't enough by others' standards. ("What do you do?" is kind of an irritating question if it's repeated after you've answered.)

I worry that the girls of today are getting the pressure to BE EVERYTHING more directly than from their TVs - they are getting it straight from what their moms are modeling. Some of my students barely see their parents. It's a rampant problem in the kids who can drive themselves places now. And when I meet with parents in conferences, they often feel at a loss as to how to deal with their children.

I think time together and time talking honestly are what kids need. With my parents, I knew that I could do any sort of extra activity I wanted (there was no push for one over another) but I didn't have to do any at all. So I focused on chorus and theater, and that was it. I didn't load up on other stuff. My students seem to think they have to do EVERYTHING. Somebody's telling them they won't get into college if they don't. I heard a student say she was giving up one activity that shows strength, commitment, athleticism, and hard work, so she could join more clubs. As a club sponsor, I see most of my students leaving meetings after 10 minutes, because they have three other places they need to be.

The secret, I think, is in letting girls figure out who they are in their own way and on their own time, while showing them that we are comfortable enough with ourselves to sit down every once in a while. When I have a child, I hope to spend plenty of time with her or him, whatever that may require from me. I know I wouldn't trade the time my parents have spent with me for anything in the world.

MotherReader said...

Oh, I am very late to this conversation and I'm terribly sorry as it is quite an interesting one. I've enjoyed everything that people have had to say on a difficult topic.

Jules, thanks for thinking of me as a good mom. Most of the time I feel like one.

We also have the two activity rule - and one of them is Girl Scouts, because I think GS offers a wide exposure to lots of different interests. It also serves as their social time as both of their troops contain their best friends. So really they have one activity. 11yr. old does Drama Club and 8 yr. old does ballet. And I've found the least intense versions of both. Drama Club is an 8 week program twice a school year, right after school that ends with a twenty minute performance. The ballet class is through the rec center and has no recitals or costuming - just learning the skill sets.

I've deliberately not pushed sports because I hate the Saturday takeover these sports programs have instituted. Our weeks feel pretty busy with two girls having two activities that rarely fall at the same time - and throw in my part-time work schedule and the odd school event. But unless we're going somewhere, our weekends are pretty open. That's our downtime to read, to play outside, to play on the computer, to watch movies together, to play together, to just breathe.

LIke Kelly, I'm a big fan of music. But one of the fortunate things about being in the big suburban areas is that strings are offered in school starting in 4th grade and chorus in 5th - so we're covered there.

The other thing I do is really talk to my girls. I try to get out of them what happened at school, so that I can be part of their processing. I don't ask "How was school?" I ask "What was the best thing that happened today?" or my favorite, "Who did you sit with at lunch today?" Both questions make them have to stop and think for a second, and then they are more likely to start talking about that part of their world.

We talk also about the importance of being kind to others -(11yr old's skill), without letting people roll over you (8yr old's skill). Being polite and being respectful matters. That the worst words you can say are "If you don't I won't be your friend anymore," and that we don't need friends who use that threat. We also talk about the flaws of our family and friends, and how we can live with them and help each other.

This has gotten too long and I haven't even talked about the crux of the issue other than my own approach. But basically, we keep some unstructured time alive. We talk and talk and talk about everything. We value kindness, politeness, and repectfulness.

If there is one thing I would change, I would have involved them earlier and earnestly in helping out around the house. I think it encourages a self-sufficiency that kids are missing out on and it would free me up more. That's the biggest failing that I've had, but I don't beat myself up now. It does mean I'm having to play catch-up on getting the kids more helpful now.

Alkelda the Gleeful said...

Zee-That's a quote from a Tom Petty song! It's a good song, too.

HipWriterMama said...

Kimberly,
Thanks for giving your perspective. What grade do you teach? It sounds like you're teaching at some level in a high school.

Is there some standard policy of dealing with this in school if it becomes too destructive during class time? Have you ever had to talk to a parent about the behavior, and if so, how have they dealt with it?

- - - -

Mother Reader,
It's never too late to join in. Thanks for stopping by!

I like your approach and thoroughly agree with you on keeping the lines of communication open. Kimberly also mentioned that in her comment.

I think it's so important the kids feel safe coming to me with anything. I'm learning how to control myself if I'm upset or in total disagreement with what they have to say--otherwise, they'll totally close up. No need for that.

I'm with you on wishing I involved the kids earlier on helping around the house. At least there's still hope for 3 year old.

- - - -

Alkelda,
Okay, What's the title of Tom Petty song and any audio of it? Hee, hee.

zee said...

The title of the song is just Wildflowers, and I knew it was a Tom Petty song. Sorry I forgot to mention that. And MotherReader, thanks for the ideas about questions to ask my kids. I don't have any kids yet, but someday I will, and I have often wondered how to overcome the "good" answer kids says when mom asks, "Kids, how was school?"

Kimberly/lectitans said...

I teach high school. I've never had a parent come in with whom I've had to speak about this. I'm new enough at teaching that I'm in "survival mode," which means I mostly only meet directly with parents of students who are at risk of failing. Otherwise, I wait for the parents to contact me. Our school has other problems (drinking and driving, for starters) that seem foremost in parents' minds. I can't help but think there's got to be a relationship behind the students' destructive manner of unwinding and the high pressure environment in which they live.