The One Question We Can Ask to Shape Girls Body Image

Girls who set goals that focus on how their bodies function instead of how their bodies look may be more likely to appreciate their bodies.

My eight-year-old daughter asked me about the size of her rear end before bed one night, and I knew something preceded this conversation. No one in our house ever negatively mentions bottom size.

“Why are you worried about the size of your butt?” I asked.

“Because a woman I know told me the other day that I was growing and so was my butt.”

This caught me by surprise, although it shouldn’t. The stark realization that appearance is what others define females by and is what society tries to tell us is most important hit me young as well. As a grown women, I still struggle to cultivate a healthy perspective when it comes to my body.

That’s why I’m determined to handle this situation in the right way. Instead of trying to offer an explanation for the world’s ridiculous obsession with size and appearance, I asked my daughter a question that I hope will help shift her perspective about her body.

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“What can your body do?” I asked her.

Asking a girl what her body can do takes the emphasis off of appearance and can hopefully remove some dangerous potential habits girls adopt when trying to alter how they look. Researchers found that at least 10 percent of girls confessed to using laxatives to achieve weight loss and 20 million females in the United States alone suffer from eating disorders, so we know that these behaviors need to be modified.

Dr. Joel L. Young, writing for “Psychology Today,” thinks we should we set goals by considering what we want our bodies to do and not how much we want to lose or how we want to appear. Do we want to run three miles?  Do we want to do a chin-up or climb a rope?

Girls who set goals that focus on how their bodies function instead of how their bodies look may be more likely to appreciate their bodies. Even CrossFit champion Annie Thorisdottir said one of her goals as an athlete was to help women and girls “focus more on what their bodies can do than on how they look.”

This concept is so simple that it should be obvious, yet this isn’t the way most people approach the body and it definitely isn’t what society focuses on when it comes to females. We’re taught to pick our bodies apart and check them for defects, promising to do what we must to alter the way they appear. Companies selling beauty products and body-altering cures line up to offer assistance, banking on our insecurities.    

Asking this one question can shift the focus from appearance to ability, teaching our girls to focus on being strong and healthy. It may also help them avoid the toxic relationships that come when children feel their parents want them to look a certain way, and it could help them view others’ bodies in a kinder light.

Obsession doesn’t equal contentment

What we’re currently doing isn’t working for many girls as they then grow up to be women who hate their bodies. “Psychology Today” reports that over 90 percent of women aren’t happy with how they look, although many women in this survey were not overweight or obese at the time the research took place. Three-fourths of women also confess to suffering from unhealthy eating patterns that can be labeled as disorders either currently or in the past.

The toxicity of a looks-based culture bleeds into our personal lives when we treat our kids as if appearance matters more than it should. It usually starts out well-meaning enough, with parents recommending daughters watch their diets and monitor the number on the scale because they assume that being thin equals being healthy. This approach is flawed in many ways, one of which is that it’s not scientifically supported.

Previously, most people assumed that overweight and obese individuals were less healthy than thin people, regardless of all other factors. Today, that belief is coming under heavy fire.

A study that took place in Dallas at the Cooper Institute shows that regardless of weight, people who have higher cardiorespiratory fitness levels are less likely to die early. That means people who work out regularly are likely to live longer than those who don’t, no matter what they weigh.

One research report shows that even moderately fit people who fall into the obese category are still likely to live longer than people whose weight is within normal range but who are not fit. This means an appearance-focused approach robs our girls of their self-worth and long-term health benefits.

What about Barbie?

Despite all the facts that point to physical activity over obsession with weight, many girls simply want to look a certain way. Researchers worry that the facts pointing to active living over weight obsession won’t even resonate with adult females.

That’s why it’s especially important for mothers to take the lead, avoiding the trap of focusing on a child’s looks to the detriment of their self-esteem. We have the ability to change this conversation and set an example worthy of being followed. We need to ask our girls what their bodies can do, but we need to reference our own bodies in the same way, leading by example.

How we talk about our own bodies matters. Calling ourselves fat or making other disparaging remarks about our looks is not okay, especially in front of our daughters. In fact, commenting negatively on anyone else’s body in front of our kids sends the message that women are judged by appearance and not by who they are and what they can accomplish.

Researchers also say it’s a good idea to lift the veil on altered media images. Young girls see what is placed in front of them. As parents we have to show them how filters, Photoshop, and all the other tricks work to erase the bodies of real women and replace them with unreal images.      

Focusing on one simple question can completely rewrite the script when it comes to talking to our girls about their bodies. Regardless of what concerns a girl has about her body, asking her what her body can do helps her focus on what she’s already capable of and sets her on a path to movement instead of self-destructive dieting and body shame. Physically active bodies can do more because they’re worked and trained, and this helps a child achieve and maintain good health and take pride in a body’s performance.   

It’s the question that gives us answers. What can my body do? Quite a lot, actually.

Reclaiming the Lost Birthdays of My Daughter

My daughter was nine years old when my husband and I adopted her. We had a lot of birthdays to make up for.

My daughter was nine years old when my husband and I adopted her. She was abused and neglected during her first four years, and then bounced around foster care for the next five. She’d lived in 12 homes before ours. Amazingly, she was still willing to give trusting and loving us a shot.

It was – and still is – hard work for all three of us, but she’s attached. We’re a family. We love each other. We’re her parents and she’s our baby.

Turning 13 was a really rough transition for her because she realized she doesn’t seek the same level of independence as her peers. She still wants to be a little girl. She finally has a mommy and daddy who truly love her, take care of her, and keep her safe, and she isn’t ready for this chapter of her life to close. She missed out on too much.

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Birthdays are especially challenging for her. They remind her that she wasn’t always ours, and make her think of all of the hard times she had before us. She often tells us that she wishes we were her first parents, in addition to her last.

One morning the summer before she started middle school she began sobbing, saying that she wished she were only six, and an idea popped into my head. We missed out on her first nine birthdays. Her tenth birthday was the first one we were part of, and it was the first birthday party she’d ever had.

I decided to redo all of the others.

I had her first birthday party all set up when I picked her up from camp that afternoon. I decorated with free printables I found online. I gave her a birthday crown to wear. We sang “Happy Birthday” and ate mini-cupcakes. We talked about the milestones children usually hit at that age and what her first birthday would have been like if she had been with us then. We played “Ring Around the Rosie.” We even gave her gifts to unwrap (possessions she already owned: a playground ball and a book).

We continued the birthdays over the week, celebrating as a family at dinnertime. Each party had a theme, from Dora the Explorer to cowgirls to high tea.

As I prepared for each party, I wrote my daughter a letter describing how we would have celebrated with her if she’d been with us, and what I thought she would have been like. In each letter I included photos of children of that age who look a little like her as my daughter has very few photos of herself from before she joined our family.

Some of the celebrations were hard and filled with tears. During her fifth birthday redo party, she shared that she was sad because it was the first birthday she spent in foster care. She knew that must have been a really difficult one for her.

Her ninth birthday redo was especially heavy because she was in the midst of a traumatic situation that year. I tell her all the time that the only way to process the hard stuff is to deal with it. These birthday redo celebrations have helped her with that.

My daughter now has a file folder in her brain of good memories from these family parties, plus dozens of photos. I’m confident the positive memories will outweigh the negative ones over time.

How to Teach Kids to Be Savvy Shoppers

Maybe when they’re adults, these little lessons in savvy shopping will mean saving thousands of dollars.

“Mom, look at this,” my seven-year-old said, showing me a price tag on a small stuffed dolphin. “This dolphin costs $22 but the bigger one over here is $26. That just doesn’t make sense.”

My heart filled with pride as I heard my daughter say those those words.

It was our spring break and both girls had set aside money to buy a special souvenir on our vacation trip. The gift store was alive with tempting options: animals, magnets, picture frames – even one filled with sand and tiny shells.

Even though she’s only in the second grade, my daughter was setting aside her fascination with the items themselves and considering the price discrepancy between them. There was no doubt that from a price perspective, buying the smaller dolphin didn’t make sense when the larger one was only $4 more.

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My daughter loves numbers, but this price sensitivity – including opinions on which prices make sense and which don’t – didn’t just happen overnight.

I’ve been making a concerted effort over the past two years to teach my girls about money – how it works, how to budget, how to save, and, ultimately, how to be a savvy shopper.

This interaction in the gift store was a nice sign of progress and made me reflect on what I’ve been doing and what I need to keep doing to further progress my daughters’ financial education.

Here are a few tips I’ve come across and been trying to incorporate into my parenting over the past few years:

Just do it

If money is an uncomfortable topic for you, snap out of it. Your kids will thank you when they’re older. According to H & R Block, 75 percent of teens say their parents are their most important source of financial information. With only 17 states in the United States requiring high school students to take a course in personal finance, it’s unlikely your teen will be learning about money in school.

Topics you can discuss with your kids include how money works (no, it’s not just a plastic rectangle), how your family earns money, and how much things cost.

Honesty is the best policy

When shopping with your kids, be open and honest with them about what you can and can’t afford. Or even if you technically can afford something, let them know that you won’t purchase $20 colored markers when there’s perfectly good $7 ones available. Don’t skimp over specifics, talk to kids about the prices to give them a sense of what you feel is reasonable and what’s not.

I’ve found that having these open discussions with my kids has helped to set their price barometers. They now have a good sense of how much I’m willing to spend on sneakers, a bathing suit, or even a box of crackers. I also point out how sales and discounts change my decision to purchase a particular item to let them know why in one instance I’ve made an exception.

Take your kids shopping

I know, I know…shopping with kids can be a pain. How nice it is to glide through a grocery store, in and out, without a single whine or complaint. But the truth is, kids learn a lot from shopping. They see you making choices, weighing options, and paying for your items.

Let them make their own choices

The absolute best way for kids to begin to understand money and prices is if they have some of their own. This can be done by giving kids a weekly allowance, having older kids find a job, or simply by giving them a budget to work with when making choices about after-school activities, buying clothing, or picking out a trinket during a trip.

Until kids have to make decisions about money on their own, money will continue to be an abstract concept. It’s interesting to see how much more discerning kids can be when their own money is on the line.

Monkey see monkey do

As much as we try to deny it, our kids are watching us for clues. That cashmere sweater you bought last winter? Your middle schooler took note. She also noticed that you chose to bring lunch with you on a day trip rather than go to a restaurant.

It’s perfectly fine to spend money the way you choose, but just recognize your kids will develop their sense of the appropriate ways to spend money through watching you.

The end game

Seeing my daughter comparison shop, and then ultimately decide to buy a smaller $5 keychain, was affirming. It was proof that the lessons and messages I’ve been trying to teach are getting through.

In the big scheme of things, her discovery in the gift store was minor. But maybe one day when my daughter is an adult, these little lessons in savvy shopping will mean saving thousands on a car or being able to comparison shop for the right mortgage.

A parent can only hope.

Please Stop Telling Me How Fast It Goes

I won’t miss these things. I know this. But I’m well aware that when these exhausting parts end, so do other things.

I stood in front of the mirror in my bathroom wondering if what I saw in the reflection was real, a trick of the light, or just a by-product of a hallucination brought on by severe sleep deprivation.

It was early evening and I was trying to figure out a way to get that morning’s eye makeup back onto my eyes instead of pooled down around my cheekbones, and what I saw under my eyes made me stop, blink hard, and catch my breath.

I had wrinkles.

And I don’t mean those little creases around your eyes that are a pretty reminder of how much time you’ve spent laughing at the sweetness of your lovely life.

No, I mean actual bags, fleshy coin purses that resemble turkey skin – after it’s been plucked of its feathers but before you’ve roasted it to a golden crispy brown and then eaten it all with your fingers while your family waits for you to serve them Thanksgiving dinner.

This was not good.

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I met some friends for dinner later that night – the very reason I was trying to fix my eyeliner at a time of day when normally I would be exchanging my bra and my buttons for fleece and elastic – and they made the mistake of asking me how I was.

“Wrinkly,” I replied, showing them my eyes.

”Have you been sleeping?” one asked me. These were two of my very favorite kind of women, meaning that they were older than me and put together enough that sometimes I can trick them into mothering me.

“Funny you should ask,” I answered, and went on to tell them both in way too much detail how the night before I’d been in that magical in-between place right before you fall all the way asleep, where one second you’re lying there having rational thoughts about all of the things you set out to do that day but failed at and the next you’re floating along a Venetian Canal with Marky Mark. That’s when Luca rolled over and pressed his mouth up to my ear hole and screamed, “MOMMMY!!” with more force than a three-year-old should ever be able to muster.

I had immediately tossed MM overboard and swam up to consciousness, my heart pounding in my ears and my adrenaline flowing, fully expecting to open my eyes to a child in the process of being kidnapped from my bed or at least dangling from the mouth of a large jungle cat. What I saw instead was that he was already back asleep, his face a peaceful lie that showed no sign that he’d just brought his mother as close to a heart attack as one should be brought to without a defibrillator secured somewhere on premises.

“Oh my goodness,” one said. “What was wrong?”

“Wrong? Oh, nothing. He does that a few times a night.”

And since I was on a roll and had their attention, I went on to tell them how this is inevitably followed an hour or two later by a visit from his older sister, who is more subtle in her waking style. Instead of screaming into my ear hole she’ll just stand next to my bed and bore holes into my skull with her eyeballs – creepy ax murderer psychopath style – until I wake up.

“Every night?”

“Oh, yeah.”

I sat back and waited for the rush of sympathy, the knowing hand patting my arm, the look that says “I’ve been there and I know how hard this is,” but instead this is what I got:

“God, I miss that. It goes by so fast.”

I hear this a lot. I imagine anyone with small children does. In the interest of full disclosure, I think I’ve even said it myself, or scrawled it on a baby shower card, some lovely wordsmith version of this crap like, “enjoy every moment, it will be over before you know it,” or the always tasteful, “the days might feel long but the years are fast.”

There’s a problem with this, though, and it’s not just that it makes me panicky and sweaty and does little to satisfy my immediate and insatiable need for consolation.

I know it goes by fast. I can feel it ticking by at an ever-increasing rate, like sand falling out of my fist even as I clench my hand tighter around it.

I’ve actually wasted whole lunch hours at work looking up Wikipedia articles on physics, trying to understand if there is actual science behind the perception that as I age, the years seem to fly by so much faster. There were years when I was a child – age six was a particularly long one – that just dragged on forever, one lazy long day of too much idle time bleeding seamlessly into the next.

But ever since I had kids or turned 30 (or stopped sleeping), there are whole stretches of time I can’t even remember. It’s like how you can recall getting into your car in the morning and arriving at work but you have no memory of the actual driving itself. I’m fairly certain if things keep increasing at this rate, whole years will fly by as blurred scenes of rushing to and fro, and the endless buying and consuming and laundering and waking in the night again and again until one day, I finally sleep through the night only to find upon waking that I’m 84 and under my eyes are skin bags large enough to house a whole Christmas village.

Every time someone tells me how it goes by so fast with that sad look of lost nostalgia on their face, I feel like a total and complete asshat for whatever it was I just complained about, which is extra crappy because then I have the double whammy of (a) being a complainy-pants and (b) hating myself for it.

Because here it is: there are things I am not going to miss. I don’t care what anyone says, I will not miss night terrors – Luca’s or mine. I will not miss the diapers that overflowed and leaked toxic things onto every upholstered seat in my house before someone noticed. I will not miss scraping puke out of the edges of car seats with my fingernails or potty training or being woken up every hour of every night BECAUSE THIS IS WHAT THEY ACTUALLY DO TO TORTURE PRISONERS IN SOME COUNTRIES.

I won’t miss these things. I know this. So when they are happening and I am lying there thinking “I can’t wait for this part to end,” I can’t help but think of these sweet friends who remind me in their honesty that when these parts end, so do other things. Like how when I pick up Luca, he throws his arms around my neck and clings to me like a little monkey to a tree. Or how when I walk in the door from work, he runs to me and his head presses right into the soft spot in my belly where he came from. Or how after I recover from the midnight shock of opening my eyes to see Gabby’s wide-eyed outline in the dark only inches from my face, I move over and she climbs into my bed and falls instantly asleep and I can align my breath with the soft sweet rhythm of her thumb-sucking.

More than all of that, I know I will miss the magic of all of my babies being asleep at the same time in the same house.

I know that so deeply that it makes me want to not even waste my time with a silly thing like sleep.

“So what you’re saying,” I blurt out excitedly to my friends after running this convoluted logic around through my head, “is that they’re really doing me a favor by keeping me awake?”

Of course my friends have no idea what I mean, but they love me enough to nod their heads and flag the waitress over so I can order another glass of wine, and possibly a blanket and pillow, because that is how your friends mother you when they can tell you need it most.

Win at Parenting Your Toddler by Engaging in Passive Aggressive Verbal Jousting

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Toddler: No, I don’t want you to get coffee!

You: Well, I didn’t want you to use your hands to cover yourself with dirt right before we left, but you did that anyway didn’t you?

Toddler: I DON’T WANT YOU TO GET COFFEE!

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Toddler: Daddy! Were you even listening to me?

You: No. It doesn’t feel so great does it?

Toddler: EEERRRRMM!

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Toddler: The baby is too loud for my ears!

You: Ha! That’s pretty rich coming from you.

Toddler: TOO LOUD!

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Toddler: I don’t like you to say that!

You: Welcome to my life.

Toddler: I’m taking off my shoes!!

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Toddler: I want you to go outside!

You: I want you to listen to me for once.

Toddler: OUTSIDE!!

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Toddler: I want a cookie!

You: Hmm, last time I checked, cookies weren’t a breakfast food, so no.

Toddler: I’m putting this pencil on the floor!

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Toddler: Turn on all the lights!

You: It’s 4 a.m. The only light you need is your night light so you can go back to sleep.

Toddler: It’s too bright.

You: The night light is too bright, but all the other lights in the house provide just the right amount of illumination? Seems legit.

Toddler: I’m closing my eyes!

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Toddler: I want to watch Daniel Tiger!

[You check cable guide]

You: Sorry, it’s not on right now.

Toddler: It’s on Netflix!

[You check Netflix]

You: No, it’s not.

Toddler: Yes, it is!

[You check Amazon]

Toddler: There it is! I told you it was in Netflix!

You: Joke’s on you, dude. It was on Amazon, not Netflix. Nice try though.

Toddler: Ha-ha. Told you so!

Want to Create a Better Workplace? Consult a Preschooler

Maybe we don’t want a focus group of four-year-olds arguing to eliminate nap-time, but the rest of their ideas about what work should be like are solid.

Every day I ask my son, Blake, what he did at preschool. Every day I get the same answer, “I don’t know.”

“Of course you know,” I say, trying to stay patient. I ask Blake what songs he sang and what toys he played with. I ask about art, music, and his friends.

“I don’t want to talk about it anymore.”

But we haven’t talked about it at all, kid!

This back-and-forth continued until one day, while shuffling through my daily how-to-be-an-awesome-parent email digests, I stumbled on a gem addressing my dilemma. In the Washington Post, author and teacher Sara Ackerman suggested starting the conversation by telling your child what you did at work that day.

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Oh, this was going to be rich. There was no way my four-year-old was going to care about my daily routine as a communications director at a local university. But I wanted to give it a try. Just for laughs.

The next afternoon, I asked what he did that day. He wanted to tell me about the blue Play-Doh dinosaurs he made last night after dinner. I told him we could talk about the dinosaurs in a bit, but first I had a question for him.

“Would you like to know what Mommy did at work today?”

His eyes grew big. “What did you do at work, Mommy?”

Meetings: Blake says he has a “meeting” at the start of each day with everyone sitting on the floor in a circle.

Most of my days include some sort of meeting too, I told him. With co-workers. With supervisors. With students. With random people who just want to get together and talk. We sit at tables without circle time, unless the tables happen to be round.

“What books do you read in meeting, Mom?”

I told him our meetings just involved talking. No readings of “Llama Llama Red Pajama” or “Pete the Cat.” Just talking.

“Just talking?” he asked incredulously.

That does sound pretty boring. Next time, I’m going to ask our VP to lead us in a reading of “Green Eggs and Ham” before we get down to crafting our latest marketing plan. Hey, didn’t Dr. Seuss teach us to try new things?

Memos: My job involves lots of writing. That means typing on the computer mostly, but Blake doesn’t grasp the concept of typing as writing yet.

“What do your journals say?” he asked. “Do you have a pencil box?”

Most of the kids in his class can’t read or write yet, but they “journal” everyday, jotting down their “thoughts” in a composition book in response to a teacher’s question. With three-year-olds, it looks like a lot of scribbling, but it’s an exercise to prepare them for actual writing as they move to higher grades.

I told him we had memo pads and notebooks, and that I wrote lots of Important Stuff after listening to everyone talk during meetings. I let him know my more artistic coworkers sketched cartoons sometimes.

“That’s cool,” Blake said. “I like pictures, too!”

More doodles, fewer words. Got it. A picture gets the point across better than a five minute lecture. Any four-year-old will tell you that.

Eating: After a morning of activity, it’s time for Blake to eat lunch with his buddies. I told him I have lunchtime too.

“Who do you eat with?”

I stumbled and stuttered, then admitted I eat lunch alone.

“By yourself? Why by yourself?

I didn’t know how to explain to him that I vow all the time to go to the company cafeteria and eat with coworkers more often, but it’s just easier to pop leftovers in the microwave and attempt to multitask at my desk.

“I do work at lunch,” I answered.

“Do you get lonely?”

Not really, I tell myself, but maybe my son is trying to get me to connect more with others. After all, what’s better than a shared meal with friends?

“No, but I should try something different,” I said.

“Yeah!”

Break time: Blake doesn’t know how good he has it. I told him that I start working again after lunch. He asked about nap-time. He doesn’t like to nap.

“Mommy doesn’t get to take a nap.”

Now he thinks I’m the lucky one because nap-time just means less playtime for him. But it doesn’t mean less work for me.

“What? You don’t go to sleep?”

I might have caught one or two zzzzs at my desk or in one of those meetings where people kept talking and no one read us a story. Let’s not tell my bosses about that.

By the time we were done, I wanted to hire Blake and his friends to transform our workplace. Okay, maybe we don’t want a focus group of four-year-olds arguing to eliminate nap-time, but the rest of their ideas are solid: more outside time, more play time, more friend time, and lots of books with pictures.

My son liked hearing what I do all day and now I know what he’s doing each day.

And I’m jealous. I want to go back to preschool and curl up for a nap.

Finding Quiet While Spending My Days With a Chatterbox

My needs are at odds with what my son needs and as the day plods on, my insides feel like they’re ready to pop.

I’d make a good monk. Husband, child, and vagina aside, I’d look great sporting one of those long brown hoodie bathrobes. Making me even more fabulous at my new calling (besides those strappy sandals) would be the whole not-talking thing. As an introvert, I can pull this off effortlessly. However, now with my three-year-old in the house, by the end of the day my tongue needs a massage. How will I survive?

“Mom, that little girl doesn’t want to talk. Is she shy?” my son asks.

“It seems like she is, and that’s okay. Some people are shy. Are you shy?”

“Nope!”

My little guy has definitely inherited his father’s outgoing nature, and coupled with his three-year-old nature, he is a non-stop talker. Whether I’m fielding a barrage of questions ranging from the traditional, “Why is the sky blue?” to the non-traditional, “Do trees have eyelashes?” I am constantly talking. I’ve spoken more to my kid in the last three years than I’ve spoken to everyone else in the last 30.

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As an introvert, I’ve always found it a challenge to speak freely in the moment, so I don’t want to stifle his outgoing nature by pulling him into my own shy world. I want to encourage my son’s outgoing nature and support his natural willingness to talk. I am always there to listen, but listening isn’t enough at times – he also needs me to engage in conversation. I’ve tried nodding or giving him simple one word responses and those don’t seem to go over all that well. I’m happy to talk to my kid, but it exhausts me to my core.

Trying to explain “quiet time” to him is like trying to unlearn the lyrics to Frozen’s “Let it Go.” Impossible. And using the old, “It’s me. Not you,” rationale didn’t even work on my most stable of ex-boyfriends, so I’m doubting this tactic would do anything but spur on more conversation with him. So I’ve been taking extra long trips to the bathroom to get some quality time with myself. The bathroom is a sacred place (most days).

Since my little guy has learned how to use his words (and I mean all of his words), this whole parenting thing has moved me further and further away from my comfort zone. I love it when we quietly color together or when he has decided to remove all the dirty clothes from the basket…in silence. I can feel my insides settle down into a comfortable place, and I feel more like myself. The problem truly arises when I find myself losing patience with all the talking. Logically, I know my son is exploring his world, and talking is his way of doing this. Emotionally, I can’t handle the constant chatter. As a stay-at-home mom, I feel full up by lunch and wonder how I will survive until the evening.

It’s about that time that I feel like a terrible parent. My needs are at odds with what my son needs and as the day plods on, my insides feel like they’re ready to pop. I know that at some point I will want to throw the Play-Dough at the carpet (I would never get that out of the shag), tell him to shut it for five minutes, and walk out the room.

That tiny daydream makes my eyes well up and my heart hurt. My son’s bright eyes watch me for approval while he yammers on about Minnie Mouse’s eyelashes, and the guilt I feel for even thinking such a thing shuts down that thought down immediately. My heart hurts again for a different reason. Do I have to become an extrovert to raise an extrovert?

Like my kid’s Play-Dough, I find my insides getting squished and morphed into shapes I never knew existed. I knew being a mom would re-shape me, and I was ready for that. I welcomed it. I bought new, larger-sized outfits and yoga pants for it. I didn’t know that being a mom might ask me to shift my entire core, though, and that’s what I struggle with. I’ve tried to be more of an extrovert, but I’m not.

I love my son. I want him to be happy and shine as the person he is. I would support him until the world ends and then I would build a whole new world and support him on that one all over again; but I need to find more places to support me, or we will have a shag carpet full of Play-Dough.

I need some quiet time, and unless my family wants me to spend more time hogging our bathroom, then there are going to be some changes implemented at our house. So my son is now hearing sentences like,“I’m taking a quiet break. I’m going to color this whole page quietly, and when I’m done I will talk some more. But you can keep talking. I love to hear you talk!” At three my son can begin to learn empathy by seeing that mom is different: mom is quiet. Seeing other perspectives can teach him to accept all the differences in people.

Does this cunning plan always work? No, but I will keep on searching for ways to support us both so we can be comfortable in our own skins. The little guy can talk all he wants, because that’s him, and I can take quiet breaks while we are together, because that’s me. Together we will find our way (and it’s better than building a private bathroom).

This Job is Technically Unpaid, But We Think You'll Love It

The longer you hold this position, the hours required will diminish, but the job will always be there for you.

This job is not for everyone. It requires a person who can put the needs of others over her own and doesn’t mind seeing her belly expand to unfathomable proportions over the course of nine months.

The position is unpaid in currency recognized by any country but the benefits are endless. The hours are definitely not flexible and you will be on call 24/7. Actual hours worked will diminish with each decade but will never diminish to zero, thankfully. You will not need to sign a “no compete” clause so you may hold an additional job, if you so desire.

If you accept this position, you will need to be unfazed by projectile vomiting, diarrhea, and crying, (which may occur simultaneously). You will become accustomed to getting less sleep than you need, going days without showering, and often wearing clothes that look like a picture menu of meals you’ve served over the course of the day.

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Multi-tasking is a required skill. You will need to be able to perform a myriad of household tasks while also being alert to imminent dangerous behaviors such as jumping off the furniture and falling down the stairs.

The person best suited for this job is someone who can learn on the job. As soon as you have mastered what you are required to do, the skill sets needed to do the job will change, so you will need to learn a new set of coping mechanisms and skills. The target will never stop moving so you will need a lot of energy and/or coffee.

You will also need to answer a lot of questions, whether you know the answers or not. (Thank goodness for the internet.) If you don’t know why blood is red or poop is brown, you need to be resourceful enough to find the answer because making up the answer is not an option if you accept this job.

There are some untruths that you are allowed to traffic in, however. The tooth fairy brings money when teeth fall out. No one knows why but most children won’t care if they’re finding cash under their pillow.

As the years go by, you will be required to acquire new interests. It may be an interest in soccer or football or lacrosse. You must immerse yourself in that new interest and be prepared to watch hours and hours of it. You will need to be fluent in the language of that sport and also be able to provide the water and popsicles for the team after the game, upon occasion. You will also need to learn restraint when the coach does not give equal play to each child.

This job is best suited to someone who can put their dreams and aspirations aside from time to time. The perfect candidate for this job will also need to be able to recognize the strengths, abilities, and desires of someone else and try to be supportive of that person’s goals, even if you aren’t necessarily comfortable with those goals. However, the perfect candidate for this job will have the discretion to fund or not to fund anything, at their discretion.

Approximately 16.5 years after accepting this position, the job will require nerves of steel. The successful candidate will be required to ride for 40 hours in the passenger seat of a vehicle driven by someone who doesn’t have a driver’s license.

Soon after, the successful applicant for this job may face the need to understand the college application process. But in an attempt to not dissuade everyone from applying for a mom’s job, we will just leave those details out for now.

The longer you hold this position, the hours required will diminish, but the job will always be there for you.

If you secure this job, unlimited crying will be allowed. Unlimited laughter will be allowed. Unlimited love will be your compensation.

I Know My Strengths, and "Fun Mom" Isn't One of Them

I can be relied on to keep things running smoothly, or to comfort them and pick them up when they fall. But I’m not what you would call a “fun mom.”

My three boys know they can come to me for just about anything, and they do. Scrapes and scuffs, hurt feelings, hungry tummies, the list goes on and on. There is one role in which I consistently fall short, however, and that is the role of playmate. I can be relied on to keep things running smoothly, to show up for them when I say I will, or to comfort them and pick them up when they fall. But I’m not what you would call a “fun mom.”

I see those moms around and I admire them. I see them at playgrounds, playing hide and go seek and squeezing themselves into the tube slides that always smell like feet. I see them at school, enthusiastically signing up to help with class parties. If I feel like I have to sign up, I do so grudgingly and look forward to the event about as much as I look forward to getting my teeth cleaned. I wish I could be the fun mom but have come to realize that we all have different strengths and “fun mom” is never going to be mine.

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I’ve tried it out on occasion. With three boys, the “fun” activity at our house seems to always be wrestling. The thing about wrestling is that it hurts and it’s not very fun at all. I enjoy it okay with the toddlers (although it’s surprising how much damage a two-year-old elbow to the face can inflict). At a certain age, though, boys tend to get stronger than they realize and, if I’m being honest, a little stinky too.

I’ve also tried joining in my kid’s imaginary adventures but find my mind consistently wanders. I struggle to be in the moment when there is so much that always needs to get done elsewhere. Another problem is that once you start something with your children they’ll expect you to continue on in perpetuity. Just try telling a toddler “all done” and see how well he takes it. Once they learn how to say “again,” it’s all over. They will hit you with “again, again” until you either pass out or die.

Playing is just not my favorite activity to do with my children. I would much rather read to them or have them read to me, cook with them, or cuddle up on the couch next to them during a movie night. Fortunately, my boys have a dad that loves to play and they take full advantage. They know they can rely on him for a wrestling brawl or tempt him to purchase a toy that he would enjoy along with them.

I want to work on being more present in the moment, no matter what I am doing with my kids. But just because I don’t enjoy playing with my kids does not make me an inadequate mother. When playtime is over, they will come back to me to have other needs met and I will happily oblige. I may not be a “fun mom,” but I am trying my best to be a good mom, and they seem to know and appreciate that.

Teach Your Daughter About Pleasure (Without Wanting to Crawl Out of Your Skin)

As mothers, we can signal to the next generation of women that they deserve not just to experience pleasure but to invent it for themselves.

Ironically, I don’t think I reached sexual maturity until after I had a baby.

It’s not that I didn’t have good sex before, it’s just that there was always some part of me that was closed to all it could be. My husband and I had good chemistry and a healthy sense of adventure, so there was certainly nothing to complain about, but I held onto internalized slut-shaming and body-shaming throughout my twenties. I didn’t realize the level of fulfillment I’d been missing until I gave birth.

It may be silly but the sacrifice of carrying, delivering, and nursing a baby finally convinced me that my body was mine. It took something that big to feel I had earned it, away from the stewardship of my upbringing, my peers, and society as a whole. Having a child made me feel like a grown-up, and with adult confidence, I could finally explore and express my wholeness without needing to get drunk or feeling selfish. I could finally admit that sex was important not just to my relationship but to me.

But of course, pregnancy changes the body, as does age itself. Sometimes anger flares up when I think of how I wasted the physical and energetic prime of my life being ashamed of (or simply oblivious to) my appetite for touch. [su_highlight background=”#ff6a59″]I’ll be honest, it’s strange for any mother to think of her young daughter growing up and becoming sexually active – there’s a mix of queasiness, worry, and even jealousy – but when it comes down to it, I don’t want her to have my regrets.[/su_highlight] I don’t want her to spend the first quarter of her life believing she is leasing her body from me, obliged to shoulder the baggage of all women who came before her.

Emboldening young women to embrace their sexuality, teenage girls intertwined on the grass

My daughter has right now, in her early childhood, such a splendid sense of entitlement to pleasure, commanding affection and space with equal ease. She’ll spend any amount of time admiring various sensual wonders – the squish of muddy puddles, the softness of sage buds, the pure joy of spinning until she topples to the grass.[su_highlight background=”#ff6a59″]Her body and mind are not yet at war. She doesn’t feel obliged to justify why things feel good or bad, or care whether anyone agrees.[/su_highlight]Dancing naked is ecstatic. Pooping makes her brain feel “sparkly.” Right now, and hopefully for a while yet, sensation is delight.

It’s this curiosity and lightheartedness that I pray she retains even as her life becomes less about personal gratification and more about joining society. Because even believing that sex is a holy practice, you can’t just sit at an organ and start cranking out hymns. We need permission to mess around a bit, to experiment and fumble, to develop the range of our personal style and discover the logic of harmony with our fingers, not just our minds. Casual play is an important part of serious practice, and self-knowledge is an important part of true intimacy.

Some little girls do this on their own, engaging in masturbation from a very young age. My mom friends who have such daughters feel this is no reason for alarm – that insofar as it’s an issue, it can be resolved with a simple talk about limiting self-touch to when we are all by ourselves, with clean hands.

But then there are the girls like me, who never would have dared to learn about my body first-hand. Is it the job of a mother to encourage them otherwise? Certainly there tends to be embarrassment on both sides of parent-child sex talks. I sometimes wonder if sexual self-discovery is a type of threshold where kids are meant to enter a new frontier without any guidance from their parents, perhaps for the first time. But the fact remains that exposure to sex is only happening sooner and more often in the age of streaming porn and camera phones.[su_highlight background=”#ff6a59″]If moms want to have any influence on setting the tone, we may have to work with the technology that is setting the pace.[/su_highlight]

Enter digital resources like OMGyes (NSFW), Juicebox App, and MakeLoveNotPorn. The first focuses on “lifting the veil on women’s sexual pleasure,” introducing us to a collection of diverse, everyday women (complete with human personalities and cozy bedrooms!) who explain and demonstrate tenets of female pleasure as defined by original research. For those who can afford the subscription fee (which funds both the studies and the development of a groundbreaking touchscreen video format), these real women spread their own legs to show the viewer stimulation techniques such as “Edging,” “Hinting,” “Orbiting,” and “Layering.”

Though MakeLoveNotPorn may sound anti-porn, as its sex positive founder Cindy Gallop once told the Huffington Post, it’s founded on a simple belief. “It’s not that porn degrades women, but that business degrades porn.” Thus she’s built a resource to dispel myths perpetuated by a male- and money-centric industry, structured around a co-op style video library where one can rent erotic home videos made by real couples with typical bodies and a rainbow of turn-ons.

Sites like these do the heavy lifting of awakening young women to their own sexual authority. Moms don’t have to choose between playing dumb or breaking out a flip chart, we can simply pass along a link when the time feels right and make ourselves available for questions. Our daughters will likely appreciate the discretion as much as the support, because let’s face it, who wants to hear about their parents’ sex lives in full detail? On the other hand, who wants to let their daughter live on an island of self-ignorance and sexist clichés?

With the help of a few private tutorials like these, we can signal to the next generation of women that they deserve not just to experience pleasure but to invent it for themselves.

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seeking freelance writers to submit work about families, parenting and kids