Raising Kids is Hard . . . Raising a daughter is Harder

In the world of girls, their friendships, their social status, their thoughts are taken very serious within their social circles and when there is an imbalance, emotions can run very high. It is not surprising how they envelop themselves in circles, cliques if you will, to protect and maintain their social networks. However, what about those girls that are left out of that social circle, what is their fate? What about their friendships? I worry about my daughter, maybe a little too much, about her friendships or lack thereof, within her social circles. As an adult, it is easy to reflect on my past as a girl growing up. I was on the outside looking in at the cliques and at times the target of their cruelty. I can honestly say that I do not want the same fate for my daughter as I suffered as a child.

In addition to asking my daughter about her day, the usual school stuff, I ask who she played with or did she talk to anyone new. She seems perfectly content with the few kids she hangs out with, mainly boys, but I wonder if she is being excluded, whether by convenience or on purpose, all unbeknownst to her.

Recently, I read the book Queen Bees & Wannabes by Rosalind Wiseman. The book discusses the inner workings of relationships among girls and how to help girls, our daughters, maneuver through cliques and friendships.

When it comes to cliques, according to the author, “Girls outside the clique tend to become targets because they’ve challenged the clique or because their style of dress, behavior and such are outside the norms acceptable to the clique,” (Wiseman, 2002, p. 34-35).

When I was a kid I was teased relentlessly by a couple of girls in my elementary school for being the smart fat kid. The advice given to me by my parents was to ignore them with the assumption that they were jealous about something I had. To this day I do not know what there was to be jealous about or what prompted the teasing, but what I do recall is that it was ruthless and lasted for 5 years. It was not until I went to high school and went my separate way from these girls that the teasing finally stopped. None the less, there were lots of tears and anxiety involved to the point where I did not want to go to school. How do we best help our daughters get through the inevitable, the teasing, the gossip, the just being plain mean, that girls are infamous for? How do we navigate them through it?

We tried with our daughter to help her navigate through peer teasing a couple of years ago and the outcome was less than pleasant. We thought that by giving her the tools to work through the situation was the best option, at the time. And of course, as hindsight is 20/20, we came to learn that the hurt went deeper then we initial thought and we needed to be more  involved in the situation as parents.

As our daughters get older, it is our responsibility to educate them as to how to treat each other and how to respect themselves. They will be exposed to gossip, rumors and teasing among their peers, it is how we teach them how to handle these situations that will become valuable lessons into adulthood. “Your goal is to make sure your daughter learns to take responsibility when teasing and gossiping get out of hand, meaning they’re used to tear someone down to solidify someone else’s place,” (Wiseman, 2002, p. 113).  In growing up she will encounter all sorts of people that will have an effect on her life. It will be the tools she develops within this impressionable period that will serve as her foundation for how she develops relationships.

 Wiseman, R. (2002) Queen Bees & Wannabes. Three Rivers Press, New York, New York. 

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How Do Women and Girls Handle Conflict and Aggression?

Recently, I read the book “Odd Girl Out,” by Rachel Simmons which discusses how girls handle aggression and conflict in social situations. However, could we apply these same premises and definitions of aggression to women as well? According to Simmons, girls are described as, “Unforgiving and crafty, lying in wait for a moment of revenge that will catch the unwitting target off guard and, with an almost savage eye-for-an-eye mentality,” (2011, p. 16). There are several types of aggression that both girls and women exhibit and use in dealing with conflict or individuals that they believe have wronged them. Rational aggression often results in ignoring or excluding a target from social situations. “Social aggression is intended to damage self-esteem or social status within a group,” (Simmons, p. 21). However, in my experience, I have been the target of indirect aggression coupled with a mob mentality. “Indirect aggression allows the aggressor to avoid confronting her target. It is covert behavior in which the aggressor makes it seems as though there has been no intent to hurt at all. One way this is possible is by using others as vehicles for inflicting pain on a targeted person, such as by spreading a rumor,” (Simmons, 2011, p. 21). As with indirect aggression, a mob mentality develops where a target is singled out by multiple individuals lead by one ringleader. “Ganging up is the product of a secret relational ecosystem that flourishes in an atmosphere where direct conflict between individuals is forbidden,” (Simmons, 2011, p. 80). 

How do girls and women accomplish their social exclusions of others? “To elude social disapproval, girls retreat beneath a surface of sweetness to hurt each other in secret,” (Simmons, 2011, p. 22). It appears that both women and girls have deep issues in dealing with conflict. We have been taught to be nice or as the saying goes, “Sugar and spice and everything nice.” However, what is the expense of expressing our feelings and emotions in an honest and truthful way with those that we feel have wronged us? Why do we insist on hiding our emotions behind covert aggression and false smiles that are designed to hurt one another? I believe this is just the cowardly way out of dealing with conflict and misunderstandings which could be simply dealt with by utilizing an open-minded conversation.

By covertly dealing with our aggression towards others and not dealing with conflict or wrongs that we believe have been set against us, are we then bottling our feelings and dealing with these situations with hurtful behavior? Are we then being a bully? Are we, by example, teaching our daughters to bully? Our culture expects women and girls to act with a level of social civility on the outside; however, on the inside we are exhibiting and expressing vengeful plots against one another. “The majority of female bullying incidents occur at the behest of a ringleader whose power lies in her ability to maintain a facade of girlish tranquility in the course of sustained, covert peer abuse,” (Simmons, 2011, p. 36).

As I have discussed when we ran into a situation of social bullying with our daughter, we tried to intervene the best way we knew how at the time, giving her what we believed were effective tools in confronting and dealing with the situation without our direct intervention. “Currently parents face unacceptable barriers to supporting their daughters through social crises,” (Simmons, 2011, p. 267). If we give our daughters the tools to talk with each other versus talking about or hurting each other, their worlds would be an emotionally safer place. “Parents will raise stronger daughters who can know their own experiences as a shared, common chapter, and still grow up to cherish other women,” (Simmons, 2011, p. 267). I believe to accomplish this we must lead by example to our daughters as we deal with conflict among our female peers. We must also show our daughters empathy and compassion when they approach us with a conflict situation. The key is not to overreact but to open a conversation with them, working through resolutions and means of dealing with the conflict striving towards a healthy solution. In the instance of social bullying and our daughter, in retrospect, there are many things we would have done much differently as a means of support for her and to bring the situation to a better outcome.

However, although this may sound easy, opening the conversation or dealing with the conflict directly is the most difficult step to take. Do we have the strength and courage to contact that individual that we believe has wronged us to open a conversation? What is our fear of direct confrontation? I do not mean confrontation in the negative sense, but in the sense of a dialogue. A resolution may not even be possible; however, is it worth a chance at peace? But if the damage has already been done, is it worth the effort? If a mob mentality has already been established, is contacting the ringleader a viable solution? What if you were the one wronged; what benefits are there in contacting that individual and openly dealing with the situation? To use a saying by a very good friend of mine, in my most humble opinion, contacting the individual that has wronged you, opening a direct conversation, is far more productive then reverting to the childish antics of any form of female aggression.

Again, would it not be easier just to talk matters out and deal with the conflict head on versus convert revengeful actions against one another? We teach by example, if we practice these covert actions as adults, what are we teaching girls, our daughters, about dealing with conflict and about dealing with each other? I highly recommend reading the book “Odd Girl Out,” as it provides excellent advice and insight into raising responsible, respectful and strong daughters.

To end, I could not decide between two quotes so I opted to include both as they are quite germane to the social situation of aggression in women and girls.

An eye for an eye only ends up making the whole world blind.
Mahatma Gandhi 

It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.
Eleanor Roosevelt 

References:

Simmons, R. (2011). Odd Girl Out – The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. New York, New York. 

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Are Common Core Standards the Answer?

The 2014-2015 school year will mark the implementation of the Common Core Standards within 45 states across our country. As with any educational plan (i.e. No Child Left Behind), it is been met with great scrutiny.

What are the Common Core Standards? According to Patte Barth, Director of the Center for Public Education, “The common core standards are intended to define the knowledge and skills in English language arts and math,” (April 25, 2013, para. 2). The mission of the Common Core Standards is to create a universal understanding of what students need to learn in order to be contributing citizens within our society. The ambitious goals of the standards would improve student performance within math and English, making the U.S. competitive with high-achieving nations across the world. According to Dennis Van Roekel, President of the NEA, “Common Core addresses inequity, providing a wide set of standards which ensure a complete education for all students increasing the likelihood that they will graduate from high school ready to succeed,” (May 7, 2013, para. 9). The implementation of the Common Core Standards boasts a bipartisan approval of governors, educators, teachers unions, business leaders and policy makers.

How will the Common Core Standards affect my children? In the 2014-2015 school year both of my children will be in middle school and will experience seven class periods versus the current eight class periods. This would mean tougher choices in what courses they would be permitted to take. For example, in addition to the cores (math, science, communication arts, social studies and physical education) this school year my son takes three electives (orchestra, a gifted course and a foreign language). Next school year he will lose one of his electives and have to choose two out of the three. That will be a difficult decision for him, but one he will be forced to make due to the fact that the standards are forcing more core classroom time (math, science, communication arts and social studies), reducing time for students to take fine arts or foreign language courses.

I am still on the proverbial fence regarding the Common Core Standards.  On the one hand it appears to be a step in the right direction to attain an educational policy that addresses the needs of all children and allows for teachers to do what they do best, that is teach. However, what is the cost of these standards when it comes to the type of education our children will be receiving? They will be forced to make difficult choices when it comes to fine arts and foreign language programs. As educational budgets get tighter and schools are forced to cut programs, will fine arts and language programs meet their demise? Will these standards make our children more competitive within the global market? Will this jeopardize the formation of well-rounded children? Are fine arts and foreign language important aspects of the curriculum?

I have argued in the past that No Child Left Behind failed schools, students and teachers with its stringent guidelines. The Department of Education realized how debilitating No Child Left Behind was on educators and granted waivers to states in an effort to give power back to school districts to educate children. However, will the Common Core Standards be a repeat of the restrictions of No Child Left Behind or will this be the final attempt to equal the playing field for education across our country?

Articles of Interest & References:

Barth, P. (April 25, 2013). The Common Core Standards: Truths, Untruths and Ambiguities. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/patte-barth/the-common-core-standards_1_b_3149738.html

Common Core Standards — http://www.corestandards.org/

Editorial Board. (May 27, 2013). Caution and the Common Core. The New York Times. Retrieved from: http://www.nytimes.com/2013/05/28/opinion/caution-and-the-common-core-state-education-standards.html

Van Roekel, D. (May 7, 2013). Common Core Standards: Get It Right. The Huffington Post. Retrieved from: http://www.huffingtonpost.com/dennis-van-roekel/common-core-state-standards_b_3231085.html

 

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Are School Transfers the Answer?

Who is responsible for educating our children? Is it the school district? Is it a neighboring school district? Is it solely the teachers? What about parent involvement?

Recently the Missouri Supreme Court attempted to address these concerns when it upheld a state statute and ruled that children from unaccredited school districts can transfer to accredited districts. The cost of these transfers would be absorbed by the unaccredited school districts. The decision affects three districts in Missouri, two of which are in my area. These two districts have announced which suburban districts they will transfer students, to the surprise of the receiving school district. Each school district is looking at upwards of 400 or more students per district in these transfers with little say in the matter.

Turner v. Clayton was the means to the end regarding this transfer debate. Parents in the St. Louis City School system sued the Clayton School District. In the law suit, the plaintiffs wanted the unaccredited school district (St. Louis City School District) to pay for students to attend schools outside the district. The outcome, accredited schools can see an influx of hundreds of students into their schools. School districts across our county watched with bated breath for the outcome of this case. The Missouri Supreme Court found that accredited schools failed to prove that they would be burdened by the transfers from unaccredited schools, therefore ruling that the state statute must be upheld. However, schools are fearful of overcrowding and the ability to accommodate large influxes of students.

So many questions are being asked by parents regarding these transfers. What about class sizes? What about test scores? How will the transfers affect the environment of the schools? Of the communities? The answers are not so simple.

From a parent standpoint my concerns would be the obvious, overcrowding and class sizes. What is the effectiveness in teaching with large class sizes? What about the new students and their academic abilities? Will teachers have to spend time catching them up? How will that affect other students? So many questions but few answers.

Parents are reacting with mixed emotions; in some instances emotions are running high. In one receiving district parents vented their concerns about test scores, overcrowding, etc. however, the meeting took a turn towards stereotyping and negativity against children they just do not know. Is this fair to characterize a group of students because of their economic status or that they are coming from a failing school district? I sincerely hope that the sentiments shown during two minute news bites were sentiments of the minority of parents and that more parents would be accepting of these transfer students.

What about those parents agreeing to send their children to accredited districts? These parents are sending their children upwards of 30 minutes away from home for an education. These parents are going to the unknown and from the news bites; they are being led to believe they are entering hostile environments.

What about the students left behind at the unaccredited schools? What would be their fate? What about the money leaving these failing districts? How will they recover, rebuild or survive? Superintendents of the unaccredited districts are vowing to educate students and regain accreditation. But at face value is this really possible?

But there is common ground. What needs to be realized is that parents from the accredited and unaccredited school districts care about their children and providing them with a solid education. This is what they have in common; however, I do not believe that have reached the point of realizing their commonalities.

More needs to be done at the state and federal level, however, more also needs to be done at home but supporting our schools through parent involvement.  When situations are at a dire state, we see parents come out in droves. What about being proactive versus reactive? A great deal can be learned from this situation. Maybe before a school fails, educators, parents and especially legislators need to look at the why, identify the issues and figure out how to improve the situation.

As educators and parents enter the unknown, I wonder if legislators thought about the consequences of these statutes. As this story constantly evolves, Missouri legislators are being reactive, given the backlash by parents and weighing in with a bill that would give power to school districts to veto the transfers. The bill could appear at the January 2014 session and take effect for the 2014-2015 school year. Could a veto power send mixed messages regarding the acceptance or rejection of students from unaccredited schools? Would these mixed messages mimic the messages being sent to failing schools as they attempt to transfer to accredited schools?

Can unaccredited schools afford to pay tuition for hundreds of transfer students while attempted to regain accreditation? The goal is better education for our students, however, is crippling a failing school district the answer? Is subjecting an accredited to an influx of students the answer? Is there a winner in these situations?

Only time and patience will tell if this is the correct option in the education of our children.  

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A Letter to my Daughter

Happy Mother’s Day everyone! It has been a very busy time in my life and I have been way behind on my posts. The following was written back in February, however, I chose to wait to publish it until Mother’s Day.

A Letter to my Daughter

My Dearest Daughter,

There are so many things I wish I could tell you as well as what I have protected you from.

As a parent, as your mom, there are times where I have been rendered with a feeling of helplessness. When you become ill or physically hurt, I want to do everything in my power to make you better. However, nothing prepared me for when you were emotionally injured. An illness has medication for treatment, a physical injury, can heal, but an emotional injury is long lasting. When you became a victim to bullying I will be honest, I was not prepared for the emotional turmoil you were experiencing. The tears, the self-doubt, the plummeting self-esteem, the heartache was heart breaking. I felt helpless.

Although I put on a brave face when you would come home from school in tears, know that I was crying with you as I consoled you. When we sat together at the psychologist’s office and you whispered that you were scared, know that I was scared too. When you stood in a stoic pose before me and said, “Mommy, I don’t want to live anymore; I want to live in Heaven.” I could not tell if my heart sank or stopped. I was frozen. All I could think of doing was hugging you and repeating over and over “I love you.” I did not want to lose you to bullying. But we worked through it, we got through it together.

I realize that I am the biggest influence in your life and that daughters emulate their moms. It is my responsibility, as your mom, to be an example to you by showing empathy, compassion and benevolence towards others. Therefore, as your mom, my biggest challenge is to raise you with a strong sense of self given all the influences and the environment that surround you. I know I must teach by example and that can be difficult at times. It is more than teaching you good manners, the pleases and thank yous, it is about teaching you to treat others with compassion and carry with you a sense of tolerance and understanding. The latter is the most difficult for it is so easy to concentrate on differences versus working towards compromise.  The most difficult phrase for me to say, not only as an adult, but most especially as a parent, is “I’m sorry.” I know, as your mom, I’m not always going to get it right however, I will do my best to apologize, for I want you to know that I mess up sometimes and it’s OK.

My sweet daughter, you truly amaze me and I am proud of you. Your bravery and sense of adventure inspire me. I see glimpses of the amazing woman you will become. Know that you are strong, you are intelligent and you are beautiful, but most importantly it is what you carry inside your heart and how you treat others, these will be your greatest contributions to this world. Your strengths, your sense of self, no one can take that away from you, unless you let them, so do not let them. Thank you for letting me see the world through your eyes; I love the view. Your dream is to be an artist when you grow up. Paint the world with the spectrum of colors that reflect your bravery, your imagination, your passion and your compassion for others.  What you paint will make this world a beautiful place.

As you strive for perfection, please remember nothing and no one is perfect. There will be disappointments, dreams will not always come true and your heart will get broken. But the best moments in life will only happen if we keep going and that is what you have to do, no matter what, just keep going. Although when you see me juggle our family’s world, activities, dinner, life in general, please know that I make mistakes, I make a lot of mistakes and sometimes I will forget to say “I’m sorry.” But no matter how many mistakes or how many flaws, I keep going and I will always love you and advocate for you.

I will end with a quote from Eleanor Roosevelt, a super mom and advocate that I truly admire, “We gain strength and courage and confidence by each experience in which we look fear in the face . . . we must do that which we think we cannot. Remember always that you not only have the right to be an individual, you have an obligation to be one.”

Love,  Mom

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Self Image — Am I Fat?

Self Image — Am I Fat?.

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Self Image — Am I Fat?

While at a party I overheard my daughter describe herself as fat. If you know my daughter, or were to look at her, you would know that her being fat is far from reality. My daughter swims four times a week and does not snub fruits and veggies at meal times or for snacks. However, in comparing herself to another child at the party, she labeled herself as fat.

I quickly responded in that mom voice, almost scolding, that she was not fat and ended the conversation. Unfortunately, I have not reopened the conversation with her. Why does she think she’s fat? Why would she say that? Could it be because of my struggle with weight that I have not broached the topic again or that she believes herself to be fat?

At this age, the preteen years, concerns over self image is not too unusual; especially with over 40% of girls wishing they were thinner; I guess I was not ready for this new chapter of parenthood. The last thing I want my daughter to worry about is her weight or her appearance.

As I think about what to do next and how to address this situation, I focus inward, at my own outlook, at my struggles with weight and self image. How can I help my daughter?

First, open a dialogue; find out why she things she’s fat; determine what internal dialogue she is having with herself.

Second, continue to stress good health not weight. She is a competitive swimmer and makes good food choices, maybe I can take a few lessons from her.

Healthy eating seems to be the theme lately. Whole grains, fruits, veggies; having to keep count and make sure you get your daily fill. Another piece of the puzzle of life, another ball to juggle in our day to day routines. As a parent, I try to make sure that my kids eat healthy. Fruit and skim milk at breakfast, fruit and/or a veggie in their lunch box; wheat bread for sandwiches; and veggies with dinner every night. That’s a lot to think about in addition to paying the bills, working, making sure planners are signed, etc. Then there’s the planning of the meals. I know it is so much easier to pop some chicken nuggets in the oven, boil water for mac-n-cheese, or pay homage to the fast food giants. Yes, our family does, on occasion, resort to quick, easy, and possibly not so healthy meal choices.

Kidshealth.org provides several tips in promoting healthy eating for kids. “Have regular family meals at home – this promotes a comforting ritual for both parents and kids to use this time around the table to catch up on life and grab a breather from the hectic day; cook more meals at home; get kids involved in the cooking and shopping, make a variety of healthy foods available and keep your pantry free of empty calorie snacks; and let the kids choose.”

Sounds easy right? Hmmm . . . I’m going to have to say “No,” on that. It’s not easy when we’re juggling busy schedules and fast foods are so readily available. How easy it is to endorse a “Do as I say, not as I do,” atmosphere with our kids, feeding them the healthy stuff, while we’re eating cool whip for dinner? I guess it’s fair to say, if we, as parents, follow our children’s example of healthy eating and go on the “kid diet,” we’d together become a healthy family. However, getting started is the most difficult part.

I recently read an article about working out, again another thing we need to squeeze into our already tight schedules. Working out is that activity we are forced to think about as we attempt to squeeze into our jeans too. The article quoted Ellen DeGeneres, “I gotta work out. I keep saying it all the time. I keep saying I gotta start working out. It’s been about two months since I’ve worked out. And I just don’t have the time. Which uh..is odd. Because I have the time to go out to dinner. And uh..and watch TV. And get a bone density test. And uh.. try to figure out what my phone number spells in words.”

I can relate to this quote in so many ways when it comes to working out. I can come up with a wide variety of excuses as to why I cannot go work out, laundry, dishes, chauffeuring, cleaning, exhaustion; when in reality there is one really good excuse for me to make it to the gym, my health.

Finally, I need to look at my own internal dialogue and combat my own weight and self image issues. This is the most difficult aspect of my life. I need to be an example to my daughter in many ways, including a positive self image. We have a saying in our house, “When mama ain’t happy, ain’t nobody happy.” Well, that is very true. However, what about, “When mama ain’t healthy, ain’t nobody healthy,” well, except for the kids because she makes sure they are eating their fruits and veggies.

How can we, as super busy families, make the healthy eating, healthy lifestyle thing work for us? Be selfish, start with ourselves, start with the mom, the dad, make eating healthier and getting in exercise our personal priority. From there we can then lead by example and maybe shed that 10 year old pregnancy fat in the process.

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