There is endless evidence to prove the benefits – and necessity – of physical touch in supporting the emotional and physical growth of children. And though the moms outdo the dads just the teensiest bit in this area, almost all parents are really good about cuddling with their little ones. But then, particularly with daddies and daughters, something happens to bring this physical affection to a screeching halt.
Boobs happen. Enter puberty, exit daddy’s hugs. So sad, but so often the case.
Our society has sexualized little girls so much that dads can be understandably uncomfortable cuddling with their own blossoming babies. We have also heard too many heart-wrenching stories of parental abuse in this not-so-graceful world that many dads don’t want to take any chances of the slightest misinterpretation of their interactions with their daughters.
But dads, listen. Your little girls still need your hugs, even if they aren’t so little anymore. Why?
The evidence is clear enough with infants and young children – physical touch stimulates and supports physical, emotional, and neurological development. And in the absence of touch, children develop physical and psychological ailments and fail to thrive. But what happens when dads cuddle with their babies for years but withdraw when their little girls start looking like little women?
In the absence of information, the human brain makes assumptions. It’s why we love crossword puzzles and Wheel of Fortune. (My mom claims I once declared my life’s goal to be earning a spot as a contestant on The Wheel. I don’t buy it.) Humans are wired to fill in the blanks. So when the blank is a question about why daddy has suddenly stopped hugging me or tickling me or playing chicken with me in the pool, young girls can associate their blossoming bodies with the most important man in their life distancing himself. And in a world where casual sex is often touted as acceptable and shoved in our faces through music, television, and highway billboards, it’s just no good for daughters to connect their sexual development with male abandonment. Research also suggests that if girls don't get proper physical affection from their fathers or a father figure, they can start to seek it in unhealthy ways from other males.
Almost twelve years ago when my husband and I were headed to the doctor to learn the gender of our baby, a song came on the radio that has become very special to our family. Just before we turned onto my doctor’s street, the lyrics of John Mayer’s “Daughters” filled the air in our car. We looked at each other and just knew. We knew the news we would get that day was that a baby girl was on the way... and so she was. Mayer sings, “daughters will love like you do; girls become lovers who turn into mothers, so fathers be good to your daughters...” We shared that little moment with Elle, and so it is now a special song to her as well. And it couldn’t be better advice.
Dads are models for young girls of what to expect from men later in life. If dad becomes physically distant, daughter can develop the notion that this is how the man in her life should act. For all you amazing single-moms out there, if dad isn’t around, help your daughter identify with a strong male in your life. I know plenty of strong and wonderful mommas who didn’t have a great role model in their biological father, but who came to deeply understand what a husband and father should and can be by connecting with another man who was a great father.
“Mom!” Elle shouted. “Where are you going?!” Not gonna lie. I’ve absent-mindedly driven past the school several times. I blame adult ADD for those times. But this time was on purpose.
“We’re gonna walk to school today,” I answered. “One last time.”
I smiled, parked the car a few blocks away, and subsequently burst into tears.
“Can you at least hide it?” Elle asked, her eyes rolling as mine leaked profusely.
I promised to try.
But with every step, I brought up a do-you-remember...? We recalled so many moments on that walk, so seemingly insignificant at the time, but that bring tears to my eyes even as I write this.
One of my favorite poems, “The Last Time” (read it here), is a powerful message to cherish each moment. One day, she holds your hand, crawls into bed with you, or gives you a good-bye kiss at school for the last time. And you’re rarely tipped off that that was it. The last time.
But I knew this was it – the last time I would walk Elle to school. I took a closer look at a fragrant white rose bush I was always fond of and took a very, very deep breath.
I kissed her goodbye and watched her walk around the bus loop. She even waved to me just before she entered the building. And then I stood for a while. I looked around to take it all in.
The new crew of safety patrols, super-psyched about this new leadership role, but who will beg their parents in six months to let them quit. (I hope you say “no” and make them stick it out.)
And like somewhat of a nutcase, I started thanking the neighborhood (out loud!) for all it had been to us. And I started snapping pictures of random spots that triggered powerful memories.
The brown house with the detached guest house that Elle told me, no fewer than fifty times, we should buy so she could have her own place...when she got to middle school. (Sure, kiddo.)
The back gate, where parents dropped the kids off for school to avoid the dreaded car line. And where I spent many a morning (often looking disheveled) talking to neighborhood mom-friends.
Where every year, I would be blown away by the learning experiences afforded to Elle by world-class teachers in a second-to-none public, neighborhood school.
And where I wouldn’t need to teach my daughter to embrace racial or ethnic or religious diversity, because she would grow up surrounded by it and know nothing else.
I started to panic. I started to wonder if we had done the right thing. What did the world have in store for us after Avalon? Could it ever be this good again?
At that moment, Facebook alerted me to a Jennifer Hudson quote I posted exactly a year ago.
“Don’t block your blessings. Don’t let doubt stop you from getting where you want to be.”
I reflected on this little nudge. And after blubbering through the first half of my walk, I reminded myself that endings present beginnings, and that rather than suffer in the sadness of something wonderful coming to an end, we can choose instead to be grateful that it happened.
So pay attention. Take it all in. I’m not the first to say it and won’t be the last. But in this world we forget quickly, and need constant reminders to pay attention. Because cliché or not, it simply all goes too fast.
I once read in an article that the six words your little athlete most wants to hear are, "I love to watch you play!" I took that to heart and now say this often. But three years ago, I was also given six words that truly helped me become a better sports mom. Three years ago I was a bit (read: very) aggravated at my 8-year old daughter’s poor performance in a race. And as I look back on that moment, I must say I'm pretty ashamed of myself.
I’m a competitive person. I’m a pusher. I own that and try to be aware of it. And though I shake my head now, in that moment, I really was disappointed. How could she go so slow? I did at least have the sense to walk away so she didn't see my disappointment, and in that (ridiculous, shameful, high-strung – take your pick) moment, a good friend approached me and said something I’ve carried with me for three years. It’s something I still ask myself today.
“Did she do it on purpose?” he asked, eyebrows raised and a chill-the-heck-out look on his face.
I don’t know why, but that question and those six words hit me really hard.
It made me reflect on the hour-and-a-half practices that she busted her butt through, three days a week. The time she skipped her best friend’s birthday party because she wanted to go to a swim meet where Ryan Lochte was going to speak to all of the swimmers. The alarm clocks set for 5 a.m. on swim meet weekends, mornings on which she woke before dawn without a single moan or groan because she was genuinely excited to get in the water and compete.
Of course she didn’t do it on purpose. She went out there, wanted to do her best, and simply didn’t. I thought of times I had tried to do well and failed. There had been a lot of those.
I felt pretty crummy in that moment.
“No,” I answered, pretty ashamed of myself. And after a silent self-scolding, I went and gave my daughter a hug, which she needed so much more than to know her mom was disappointed in her. She was upset enough already.
That was three years ago. Why bring this up now?
We just got home from my daughter’s first swim meet of the long-course season. Some of her times were slower than she swam a year ago. Some were faster. The same was true for most of her teammates. Swimming is a funny sport in that way.
What is not funny is when parents rage against their children for a poor athletic performance. When parents gauge everything by winning, and ignore progress. When parents fail to acknowledge the hard work and effort their child has put forth, and the disappointment she feels when it just doesn’t pay off in a given moment. (I've also written about some of the unhealthy lengths sports parents go to in a previous blog post - read it here.)
But what goes beyond “not funny” to heartbreaking is when a parent directly tells his child that the time he spent watching him compete was a complete waste of his time. That he was not worth his parents’ time because he didn’t post the numbers mom and dad wanted to see.
Sometimes you can just about see a child’s spirit break right in the little spaces between his parents’ words.
If you’re competitive by nature, you’re gonna get caught up in your kids’ performances. You’ll feel disappointment because you love your children. You recognize their potential and you want to see them do their best every single time. But they’re not going to. Because they’re human. Sometimes they will miss the mark. Like you have. Cut them some slack.
Our kiddos don’t need us to tell them how poorly they performed. They know. They saw the clock or the scoreboard. Their coach talked to them. So unless you are your child’s coach, please just give the kid a hug.
And PUH-leeeeeese don’t tell her she did a “great job!” when she didn’t. (One of my biggest pet peeves, along with participation trophies...a topic for another day.) But give her a hug or a rub on the back or tell her to “go get the next one”.
This is not a new conversation, I know. But I’m reminded too often, as I was this weekend, that our children clearly need us to continue this conversation and to bring it to parents that haven’t been listening. So as simple as they may seem, these six words have really helped me be a better sports mom to my daughter, and I wanted to share them with you.
Did she do it on purpose?
Ask yourself these six words the next time your child isn’t doing so well at a game or meet or match or competition and you feel your blood pressure rising, your fists clenching, or your jaw tightening just a little too much. And then go give her a hug and tell her how much you love to watch her play...
And then I found myself wondering how and when feminism morphed from that powerful and dignified congregation of women to five-year-olds in pigtails marching in vulgar shirts and pink hats shaped like the most private part of the female anatomy. It’s downright shameless. And the kicker? Shameless is the goal.
As a mother trying to raise a daughter to carry herself gracefully in this crazy world, I am outraged. And before you tell me to go back to 1950 where I belong, just stop. My extended family could have been the template for Modern Family (LOVE that show.) I grew up in New York, not under a rock. I scream at the television during Mets, Jets, and Rangers games. If you see me on the beach, I’ll be in a bikini. And I might have a Corona in my hand. I’m not a prude.
But ladies, breaking boundaries doesn’t mean that there shouldn't be any. And your public celebrations of shamelessness are making it really hard to raise little girls of virtue.
I recently read a bit about the women’s movement, and I happened across a brief slideshow created by Time, Inc. It’s not scholarly research, but Time is a reputable enough source to make it worth checking out. You can find it here.
This slideshow very loosely chronicled the women’s movement through nine specific movements or marches, starting with the suffrage movement in the early 1900s and progressing to #8 in 2011, when Saudi Arabian women, banned from driving, simply got in their cars and drove around. Eight noble acts of defiance against injustice.
And then there was #9. The SlutWalk. Yes, this is a thing. You can Google it – I won’t link directly to it here. They claim to stand against sexual assault and victim blaming, using some of the same slogans women have been chanting for decades. One popular mantra that dates back at least to the 1970s is, “Whatever we wear, wherever we go, yes means yes, no means no!”
Amen! Absolutely! Yes! Correct!
Unfortunately, that message is lost when you march in the streets, naked except for the electrical tape on your nipples, holding signs that read “I do what I want!” along with much more vulgar messages.
I read another article recently by a woman who called herself a feminist. She advised fathers not to get dressed up and take their little girls out for dinner to show them how a gentleman should treat them, as this only proliferates the rampant misogyny in our culture. (What?) She then detailed an incident in which she was outraged because a man had held a door open for her at the supermarket. She was offended. She plead with her audience to see how creepy and oppressive it was. That someone held the door open for her.
I never thought the mythical bra-burning of the 1960s was necessarily the classiest way to go, but it was a stand against an object that objectified – a physical thing by which women did not want to be defined. Sit-ins were organized in the 1970s to make a statement against a women’s magazine run entirely by men. Makes sense, right? Take Back the Night marches in the 1980s spread awareness of sexual assault and domestic violence against women, and they often protested against pornography.
But today? Today, women are mocking men who show kindness and consideration and they’re calling it feminism. Today, women are marching in the streets for the right to be a slut.
As the mother of a tween girl, I’m extremely disheartened and slightly afraid. The teen years will be hard enough for our girls. They’ll want to fit in. They’ll want this boy or that boy to like them. They’ll want to show off a body that their hearts and minds haven’t grown into yet. And though all this nonsense is not representative of real feminism – the noble fight for equal opportunity and political and social rights – it is what gets the media coverage. And it is what our tween and teen daughters are seeing, so it’s what we are fighting against.
Teach your girls to fight the good fight for respect and for equal opportunity. Teach them to never relent. Teach them to shatter glass ceilings. Teach them to expect respect, and that a man – or woman – opening a door for them is a simple act of kindness. Teach them to say thank you when this happens, and to open doors for others in return.
And please, teach your girls that breaking boundaries doesn’t mean that there shouldn't be any, and that feminism is not a free-for-all.
Stand up, sit down, kneel, sing... despite having no clue what the priest was saying, I knew what to do and when to do it. I knew which prayers to say and I was no less moved by the Consecration of the Host. But I felt this longing to participate in the same way that everyone else was participating. I wanted to be able to respond in the language of the community around me. But I couldn't. I admit it was a little unsettling and my daughter was understandably more unsettled than I. She whispered to me at one point and asked what she should say in response to receiving her ashes or communion. So I whispered back, "Amen is the same."
I thought about every student I had ever had, new to this country and unable to speak the language. I thought about every student I had ever had with a disability, and unable to participate in the same way as his fellow students. As I sat there, completely lost in the language, I gained a new appreciation for the insecurities and disconnectedness that result from their feeling different. But with the wisdom that only many years (well, maybe not THAT many years!) can bring, I was able to see beyond the difference of language and was even more moved by the sameness all around me.
Everything was the same. The joy in the voices of the choir. The clothes that people wore. The smiles. The teenagers getting restless in the pews. The stink eyes and shushing of parents to their children. The tiny girl in pigtails, skipping down the aisle and holding her mother's hand on her way back to her seat. The little old couple and the pure beauty that radiated from their connection after what I assumed to be a lifetime together. It was simply humanity and it was simply beautiful.
It wasn't the experience I expected or hoped for, to not understand a word anyone said that night! But maybe it was the experience I needed. Because it reminds me that whatever our individual beliefs, whatever our political stance, and whatever language we speak, we are all human. Not in every way, but to some degree, whether you want to admit it or not, we are all the same.
My daughter is fiercely opposed to any type of judgmental or rank-type approach to the world, where one person is seen in any way as better than another because of race, religion, intellect, career, gender, personality, style of dress, hair color, or whether they like their steak cooked rare or dead. It's one of the things I love most about her. And I was so thankful for this somewhat uncomfortable experience as another reminder to her (and me) that regardless of our vast differences, on some level, we all speak the same language.
Your first instinct might be to get defensive. You’re the parent. She’s the child. It’s none of her business what’s on your Facebook page or your Instagram feed, right? I admit these thoughts flashed through my mind.
But what would she see if she did? Who does your social media profile say that you are? If your daughter looked through it, would she see the type of woman you want her to be? Would she see the kind of comments you want her to make? If your daughter’s friends saw your profile, how would it reflect on her at school?
When I first became a mom, I read somewhere that as a parent you should always act as if you are on camera. I have relied on this advice several times, especially on one occasion in which the mother of all temper tantrums forced me to push Elle’s huge Peg Perego carriage over a mile back to our house with intermittent kicks of my right foot – with her in it, screaming – because my hands were occupied with a diaper bag and a tricycle. Don’t ask why we had a carriage and a tricycle – I don’t remember. But I do remember looking hella crazed as I walked past several neighbors with a big, fat smile on my face as I did this dance, pretending I was on camera when I really wanted to scream and cry right along with my daughter. I imagine if that had happened today, I might have gone viral. It was that bad.
And had I gone viral, at least I would have had a smile on! But there have also been moments when the disrespectful child meter in my house reached a certain level and I totally lost my cool. This looks a bit like when Beast in Beauty and the Beast is trying his best to invite a very insolent Belle to dinner and he finally loses it and screams, “then go ahead and STAAAAARRRVVE!!!” His voice shakes the walls. Yup. Done that. Give me your messes and give me your meltdowns, but disrespect is kind of my hot button. But Beast-me makes only extremely rare appearances and is so different from my normal demeanor that we easily look back at it and laugh.
Unfortunately for our children, though, we now live in an age where mistakes are much more likely to be caught and broadcast to the world through social media, no matter how uncharacteristic of us that mistake might be. And mistakes do have the power to shape us and help us begin to help our daughters do better than we did. But when it comes to what you continue to consciously post, what choices do you regularly make?
A phrase I came across a while back has rooted itself firmly in my thought process as a parent in this new world – social media is the new permanent record – and I have since been very conscious about posting according to this notion. So when Elle asked to go through my Facebook feed, I felt confident in ignoring my initial nunya reaction and I scrolled through it with her for a few minutes. She rolled her eyes and groaned, “mooooooooommm!” when ANY post had ANYTHING to do with her at all. And she giggled when she saw an occasional word like crap or hell. I am from New York, but I try not to curse – roll your eyes if you will. And don’t get me started on what she said when we got to my fitness posts. (Fitness is still huge to me, it just no longer plays a starring role on Facebook.) But for the most part, she saw the profile of mom who tries desperately to model the kind of behavior she wants her daughter to display.
So, if you would be absolutely fine with your daughter’s profile mirroring yours, let her in. Model for her how to maintain a graceful front online. But if you are regularly posting comments or behaviors that you aren’t terribly proud of, or that don’t reflect who you want your daughter to be, think about how you can change this. She’ll probably see your profile whether or not she asks, and like it or don’t, it’s another new piece of the parenting puzzle.
So post things you’d want your daughter to post. Make comments you’d want her to make. And though we all go off the deep end a little from time to time, the less often you do your best Beast impression in real life, the less likely it will become a part of your new permanent record...
My daughter definitely has a penchant for the plain when it comes to fashion. Her wardrobe choices alternate between swim shirts and plain t-shirts, with either mesh shorts or leggings. So on a trip to the store for a new pair of goggles, I pointed out some solid-colored Nike t-shirts on a clearance rack.
“Oh, but it doesn’t actually say Nike on it anywhere? Never mind. It has to say Nike.”
When did my daughter become aware of clothing labels? I admit I love the feel of a quality piece of clothing and a new Lululemon piece does make my heart flutter a bit, but I’m not really a shopper and I definitely don’t insist on a label showing when I wear it. Where did I go wrong?
Without trying to sound like I was lecturing, I told her it was a nice shirt at a great price, so it shouldn’t matter if someone else knew the brand. She shrugged her shoulders and walked back over to the goggles aisle.
She had just taken a three-hour standardized test, so her dad and I told her she could pick a spot for lunch after we got her goggles. She chose Golden Corral. I will say nothing further about this choice. (They do have a salad bar.)
Just inside the front door, the allure of bright lights and spiked rubber balls in the claw machine drew her in, but we steered her away and found a seat. As we sat, I overheard the girl behind us, probably not yet twenty, laying into the guy she was with. Many choice words were spoken, and the most oft-repeated began with “F”.
“Bleeping look at you in your bleeping Polo and ironed pants and nice shoes! I’m in bleeping no brand sweats and no name anything. How are you not bleeping ashamed of me?”
Elle kept looking at me, wide-eyed. For about ten minutes, the girl continued to hurl self-deprecating accusations at him, pause for a response we couldn’t hear, and then come at him from a different, but equally abrasive angle. We weren’t trying to listen, but you couldn’t help but hear. Profanity flew and several choice topics were raised. And I couldn’t get over the irony of hearing this girl assert that what was most lacking in her presentation was the absence of designer labels just a few minutes after I had the labels-don’t-matter conversation with Elle.
I wondered if her parents ever had that conversation with her. I wondered if her parents had ever told her our manner of speaking and the way we carry ourselves sends a much stronger message than any logo or brand we wear. I also reminded myself that I knew nothing of this girl’s story, that it was not my place to judge, and that I have many friends with a heart of gold and mouth of a sailor. But I was sad for her.
When the young couple left the restaurant, Elle made eyes at me again, and I asked her what she had noticed about them. She had noticed the young lady’s flagrant profanity, she had noticed the anger in her voice, and she had noticed that the young man hadn’t said much at all. I asked her if she had noticed what each of them was wearing.
“No. Why?” she asked, and then immediately asked her dad if he would try to win something for her from the claw machine.
I desperately wanted to resurrect the clothing-labels-aren’t-what-really-matters lecture. But I bit my tongue, happy that at least for now, regardless of wanting her Nike label to be visible, she wasn’t actually sizing people up by their outward appearance. And I’m grateful that at least for now, her dad winning her a spiked rubber ball from the claw machine still makes her happier than donning a designer label.
With the exception of sparklers, I’ve never let Elle within twenty feet of fireworks. (Go ahead. Roll your eyes. I’m that mom.)
So imagine my blood pressure spike when a New Year’s Eve cul-de-sac party featured fireworks at center court while kids aged 6 to 17 were shooting hoops and riding bikes right through the launchpad. Parents chatted as missile after missile went off just feet from their children. A bottle rocket tipped, shooting sparks and causing a bush to billow smoke and a neighbor to almost lose a window. The fireworks were beautiful, but while everyone seemed so chill, I was silently panic attacking. (Was I overreacting?)
Then I caught sight of my darling daughter holding a firework right along with her friends in the middle of this suburban warzone. She knows how I feel about fireworks. She knows that had she asked, I would have said no. So I told her in no uncertain terms to put the firework down. Then she pouted for the rest of the night. Yay, 2017.
The next day I sat with her to discuss why I felt so strongly about fireworks. I was prepared with statistics and YouTube PSAs and pictures of an NFL player with a disfigured hand. But I wasn’t prepared for what she was about to say.
“Elle, you know how I feel about fireworks. What were you thinking?”
Without hesitation she replied, “everyone else was doing it and it looked like fun.”
My heart sank. I felt sick. A high school teacher, I recalled every story of every kid I had ever known or heard of being killed because of drunk driving or an overdose or something they did because everyone else was doing it and it looked like fun. I wanted to cry. This was no longer about fireworks.
This was about engaging in dangerous behavior because of peer pressure and feeling left out and not wanting to be embarrassed because all the other kids are doing it. I can’t count how many times I told her the very words she had just spoken were the worst possible reason to ever do anything. Ever. (Am I overreacting?)
She must have read my face or actually heard the thud of my heart sink into my stomach because she immediately added, “and it looked safe, mom. It really looked safe.”
I didn’t yell. I appreciate her candor with me and don’t want to lose it. But I couldn’t hide my disappointment and sense of what I can only describe as fear. (Am I overreacting?)
I hung my head and thought for a moment and softly said what I had said so many times before. “Elle, that is the worst possible reason you could ever possibly give for doing anything. Ever.”
She acknowledged this and apologized and we continued the conversation with zero eye rolling. She understood my perspective. And I do understand hers. I was eleven once and I hope to never lose sight of who I was at eleven, or twelve, or whatever age she is. So while I was disappointed and did reprimand her, I didn’t fail to see that she very quickly recalled what I’ve been trying to teach her all these years. That though she acted impulsively, the understanding is there. It hasn’t yet cemented, and may remain a bit pliable for years to come. But the seeds have definitely been planted and they are trying to take root. Piaget, anyone?
Frederick Douglass once wrote, “it is easier to build strong children than to repair broken men.” We have but a few years in this construction phase of our children’s lives and I intend to overreact right through it. Because when you let things go and you overreact too late, well, it’s too late. So I will continue to be that mom and pour my heart into building a graceful girl, no matter how much eye rolling, pouting, foot stomping, or door slamming I get from her – or from the world around me.
With the holidays upon us, Hallmark channel’s movie season is in full swing. If you’ve never experienced a Hallmark holiday movie, you simply must put it on your holiday to-do list. The paint-by-number plots and impossibly perfect characters reel you in with this siren-like song. But despite their predictability, they are genuinely heartwarming and absolutely perfect to watch as a family. You cannot help but smile. And so far, they’ve all been safe for even the littlest ears with specific regard to sensitive Christmastime issues when parents can get a bit hypersensitive about who might let something slip. We have far too few years to enjoy watching our children light up at this magical time of year – Hallmark movies are a safe bet for everyone!
And everyone knows the classic Hallmark slogan, “when you care enough to send the very best.” These movies definitely live up to that sentiment. But the commercials. Oh, the commercials. First, there are a lot of commercials. But that’s not the biggest problem.
There we were, cuddled up with blankets outside on the lanai (it’s only dropped into the 50s where we live so far this season – don’t hate). We were all oozing with the warmth of the Hallmark movie love and I, in particular, was teary eyed at many moments because that night’s movie was all about ballet, my first love.
But then, during the commercials, what to our wondering eyes would appear?
A promotion for a new show called “Knocked Up.” Oh dear.
Apparently Lifetime has a new show coming out that traces the lives of three women who are unexpectedly expecting - "after one night of fun" - as they framed it. And the media giants felt the appropriate moment to share this thrilling new series was between the writing-the-Santa-letter scene and the reuniting-a-family scene of a holiday family movie. It never ceases to amaze me.
So as I suggested in my last post, your children will be exposed to some less than graceful ideas. They just will. So it is up to you to talk, talk, talk to them. In bits and pieces at the right times, and in great depth at other times, about the ideas they will encounter in the world that – I’m guessing if you’re reading this – are going to be very different from what you have taught them. So as much as you want to shelter your children forever, you also must prepare them for what you’re sheltering them from.
And now it’s time for me to check which Hallmark movie is on tonight...
We travel to a new city at least once a year and usually alternate driving and flying each year. We do this in part to save money, but also because there is just something so unequivocally American about a good ol’ family road trip. There is such nostalgia in backing out of the driveway before the sun rises and hitting the highway when it’s still dark, car piled up with blankies and suitcases and of course, the snacks required to make an 8-12 hour car trip palatable. And even if just passing through, I think it is so important to show our children life beyond their own backyard if we are to sow the seeds of respect for diversity.
This year our car trip was made extra special by a nice, young Georgia State Trooper who was kind enough to let a sweet, slightly lead-footed family off with a warning. Awww... Elle’s first time getting pulled over. Touching, huh? But perhaps one of the most special moments of any family road trip is that moment where you point at something obscure or random (or imaginary, as in “hey, kids, look at that family of deer”) on the opposite side of the highway in hopes that your kids don’t see “those” billboards. You know the ones... “Turn here for XXX Girls!” or “X-Mart – Next Left” or “$trippers – Need We $ay More – Next Exit!”. How are these fit for prime time???
I kid. Sort of. I really do love the nostalgia of a road trip and truly value showing my daughter how different people live in different areas of our great nation. We have also made some pretty hilarious and invaluable memories on the road. But it does weigh on my heart that even the classic family road trip is not immune to the omnipresent R-rated, desensitized, and oversexualized culture that has invaded us. Our kids are truly battered with images of casual sex everywhere they go – even on the open road in the country.
It’s true that “we can’t shelter them forever” as I’ve heard some moms of three year olds say. But if we want to raise our girls to carry themselves gracefully, they have to receive much more input reflecting dignity and grace and decorum than input that reflects an attitude of anything goes and baring it all to get attention. The fact that you can’t drive down a country highway without seeing overexposed women advertising their striptease services means your kids will see this stuff – they will! But how they will handle it depends on the path you pave for them in the small moments. In how you dress and in how you speak and in what you watch (at least while they’re awake!) There is no denying that every form of media will feed our girls a steady diet of messages telling them to demand attention rather than respect.
So what do you do, day in and day out, to teach them the opposite? Have you developed your “game plan” to teach your daughter to demand respect over attention? If not, start now. Because you can only point at imaginary deer on the opposite side of the highway for so long...