Written on May 9, 2014 at 9:44 am , by Janet Taylor
As Mother’s Day approaches and millions of Americans reach out and touch the speed-dial button to their favorite floral shop, I find myself thinking about the day in another way.
This Mother’s Day will be the first for me without the visible presence of my own mother, Joan Taylor, who passed away last spring. The loss of my mother has made me think about the qualities that I need moving forward that will allow me to mother myself.
Those qualities include treating myself with compassion and loving kindness, and being more accepting of difficult situations by hearing my mother’s supportive words in my head—words like “everything will work out” or “you did a great job”—even when I’m unsure.
Since I have four daughters myself, Mother’s Day makes me examine the legacy that I am trying to leave for them, a legacy not of material or financial wealth but of social and emotional capital. In other words, the ability to tap into their own reservoir of self-understanding and acceptance with a dose of optimism sprinkled in.
This holiday, it’s also important to remember that while 90% of women want to be mothers, 39% of them may never be because of issues of fertility or circumstance. And 6% choose to be child-free. For these women, Mother’s Day may have multiple meanings.
One consistent factor for all women is the reality that we have been mothered. That experience, either with a biological or nonbiological mother, has a lasting impact throughout our lives. We learn how to love, experience life’s challenges, work out feelings of frustration and develop our strengths and values from our relationship with our first love and primary attachment, our mother.
The capacity to support each other as women by sharing our experiences of being mothered and what we have learned about our mothers and ourselves is truly what Mother’s Day represents. It’s about honoring our growth and origins and loving who we are just as our own mothers, in their unique and individual way, loved us.
Happy Mother’s Day!!
How do you mother yourself? Post a comment and share.
Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at email@example.com.
Written on May 7, 2014 at 12:58 pm , by Christina Tynan-Wood
We are in the thick of AP testing in my house. The student—Cole—who is facing these exams is not known for his aggressive study habits. One thing I have discovered is that studying for these tests is slippery. This may be why over half the students who take them don’t get a passing grade. And these tests are expensive. Therefore, I did my part: I nagged. I shut off all the distractions I could control. As the day grew nearer, I asked—with increasing desperation—if he was ready. Most of my efforts were met with an unnerving calm and the insistence, “I got it!” So when McGraw-Hill offered me a demo of its AP test prep program SCOREboard ($20 per test), I was in.
First SCOREboard offers a practice test that assesses where your knowledge stands right now. Then it prepares a customized study plan based on what you don’t know. Next it drills you, watching which answers you get right or wrong and asking how confident you are in your answers to determine whether you are guessing. Then you test again (up to four times). It keeps adapting the questions it asks so that you study only what you don’t know. Because, if you’re anything like my teen, you aren’t going to spend enough time on this and you don’t want to waste any of it. SCOREboard sets you up with a study plan that tells you—based on what you don’t know and how quickly you’re learning–how much time to spend studying before test day.
I came upon SCOREboard a bit late in the year for Cole to use it for any more than last-minute cramming. Still, it did give me another tactic to use while I was nagging. Armed with a code to try a practice test, I knocked on his door. “Are you playing video games or studying for your AP science test?” I asked. (I could see he was playing video games.) “I’m doing both,” he tried. “I’m playing video games while I study. But I’ve got it. Calm down.”
“Take this assessment test,” I responded, sending him the link from my phone. “If you do well on it. I’ll calm down and leave you alone with your video game.” That worked. He took the test, sure he’d ace it and get me to leave him alone. But when I came back to check on how it had gone, he was studying. “How’d you do?” I asked, fully aware that the only thing that would make him study was a very poor assessment. “Yeah. I’m studying,” he growled, clearly chastened by a dose of reality.
Cole took his AP test yesterday and believes he did well. Hopefully, that last-minute, targeted cramming helped. (It certainly did more good than the video game.) But we won’t know till July.
If you have a high school student, you might want to bookmark this site now so that you can get a jump on things early when the tests come around again.
Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at GeekGirlfriends.com.
Written on May 5, 2014 at 11:47 am , by Lynya Floyd
“Nothing shook our family like my teenage daughter’s pregnancy,” says Andrea*, 53, a Washington-based mom of three. And she’s not alone. Even though there have been tremendous declines in teen pregnancy, almost three in 10 girls get pregnant in the U.S. before age 20. As part of National Teen Pregnancy Prevention Month, Family Circle will shine a light on sex stats that will surprise you, offer expert advice every parent must hear and share stories of the most vulnerable group of teens—they’re not who you think—starting with Andrea’s daughter.
One August morning, Andrea Richards, a mom of three, climbed out of bed and made her way downstairs to find a letter sitting on the table. It was from her daughter, Kate, and the message would send her frantically rushing back upstairs to wake her husband.
Kate was three months pregnant. She didn’t know how else to break the news to them. And she had packed up and left home in the middle of the night.
“I was devastated,” says Andrea, who was 45 at the time. “Kate was an honor student. All the hopes and dreams of her going to college were gone.” Those dreams were just weeks away from being realized: Kate was 18, working a part-time job in retail and slated to start community college in the fall.
STILL AT RISK
Two-thirds of all teen pregnancies occur in 18- and 19-year-olds, according to research done by The National Campaign to Prevent Teen and Unplanned Pregnancy (TNC). That’s right, older kids. “Many people find that surprising because they might be more accustomed to seeing images of girls in the media who are 14, 15 or 16 and pregnant,” says Marisa Nightingale, senior media advisor for The National Campaign. “But the average age for sex is 17 for boys and girls. So 18- and 19-year-olds are more likely to be sexually active. And nothing magical happens overnight when someone turns 18 that makes them less likely to get pregnant or better at using contraception.”
Before you start to wonder if the numbers are skewed toward teens who get hitched after graduation, let’s dispel that notion. The vast majority (86%) of all births to 18- and 19-year-olds were to unmarried women, according to the Centers for Disease Control. So we’re talking about teens who have just nabbed their first job or already gotten an acceptance letter from college, or they may be making their way through freshman year. But in one pivotal moment, the blank slate of their future—and likely yours, mom, as well—now has something permanently written on it. For Kate, that pivotal moment was on prom night.
“I didn’t suspect this with her at all. We had everything in order,” says Andrea, who shares that her daughter was “in love with love” and dating a boy she and her husband didn’t approve of. They kept close tabs on her. “We drove Kate to prom. We knew where she was going to be. She even called me at midnight and asked if she could spend the night at a friend’s house. I said no. Curfew was 2 a.m.,” remembers Andrea. “So whatever decision Kate made between midnight and 2:15 a.m., when she walked in the door to our home, changed her life forever.”
FINDING THE WORDS
“I told Kate that I hoped she wouldn’t have sex with someone until she was old enough and ready. I was never going to take her to get contraception because it was never okay to have sex before you were married,” explains Andrea. She says she had plenty of “sex talks” with her daughter, who was raised with the family’s Catholic beliefs, and was devastated that she and her husband were the last to find out their daughter was pregnant. “Other kids knew. Other parents knew. No one said anything. Things would’ve been quite different if someone had told us. We would’ve sat down and talked to Kate. She didn’t have to leave the house. We wouldn’t have wanted her to do that.”
Not only does the “sex talk” need to be an ongoing conversation with your child, experts suggest that it also needs to be a broad conversation. “You’re trying to build sexual confidence,” explains John Chirban, a clinical instructor in psychology at Harvard Medical School and author of How to Talk with Your Kids About Sex. He points out that this isn’t about just having the strength to say no, but also accepting all the potential consequences of saying yes…and what can happen next.
“It’s role-playing, talking about incidents and teaching your child to direct and manage their sexuality. As a parent, it’s incredibly important to own your point of view and be true to what’s spiritually or religiously correct,” says Chirban, a father of three. “But just saying no doesn’t respond to what a teenager is feeling in the heat of the moment in a relationship.” At the same time, saying yes has consequences that extend way beyond those two teens.
Today Kate lives in another state and is engaged to be married—but not to the father of her now-8-year-old daughter. Andrea’s relationship with Kate is much improved and she absolutely adores her granddaughter. Still, everything that’s happened since she found that note hasn’t been easy. “This isn’t a club I would’ve wanted to join,” says Andrea. “But things are turning out okay today.” One message that she wants other moms to hear: “It’s a hard road, but believe me, you have enough love for your daughter and grandchild to pull through.”
*Names have been changed.
Has your child ever had a pregnancy scare? Post a comment and share what happened.
Written on May 1, 2014 at 3:15 pm , by Suzanne Rust
Between Instagram breakups, hateful Facebook posts and viral videos of knockdown, drag-out brawls, it’s easy to be pessimistic about social media and concerned about the negative effects they can have on our children. However, YouTube sensations like Bethany Mota, Rosanna Pansino and Michelle Phan remind us that the glass can actually be more than half full.
These successful young women have taken the challenges they faced in their lives and turned them around. With the simple click of a video camera, they’ve created a platform of hope and positivity and a way to connect millions of souls. It’s no surprise that YouTube featured them in its first high-profile and multi-platform advertising campaign this past April, which included print ads on New York City subways as well as TV commercials that aired during the MTV Movie Awards and the season 7 premiere of AMC’s Mad Men.
Mota, Pansino and Phan radiate a confident, upbeat vibe that we could all use—plus they offer some good makeup and baking tips! For different reasons, these young women once felt like outsiders, but they found a way in through their videos. No, they are not talking rocket science, arguing politics or coming up with a cure for cancer, but they have created a positive following, and if they can make our kids overcome their insecurities and feel better about themselves or help them feel connected, I say that’s a good thing.
Mota, a California native who is now 18, was cyberbullied as a younger teen. She grew anxious and depressed to the point of not wanting to get out of bed. She felt alone and needed a place to vent, so she started to do it on YouTube, where she eventually found a family—now over 6 million strong—in the beauty and fashion world. Mota uses her channel as a platform to provide empowering messages about self-confidence to her teen followers, aka Motavators. Her straightforward tips clearly resonate with her audience.
Pansino, 29, who says that she was quite the nerd and gamer growing up, felt that she needed an outlet to express her awkwardness. She also inherited a knack for baking from her grandmother and decided to combine her passions. On Pansino’s channel you can watch her Nerdy Nummies videos, which are just what they sound like: She creates Minecraft Rice Crispy Treats, Lumpy Space Princess Lollipops (from Cartoon Network’s Adventure Time series) and Lego Pinata Cookies. Basically, it’s an affable, goofy baker’s lovefest, and it’s resonated with almost 2 million subscribers.
Phan, 27, was teased at school because she looked different (her background is Vietnamese). She also had to overcome living with a father with a gambling addiction who abandoned his family, followed by an abusive stepfather. The former art school student found her escape through drawing, which eventually evolved into makeup tutorials and a huge fan base of well over 6 million subscribers. Phan now has her own line of cosmetics: EM, which (appropriately) stands for Empowering You.
Written on April 22, 2014 at 2:40 pm , by JM Randolph
By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom
A couple of years ago I made a New Year’s resolution to finish The Norton Anthology of Literature By Women, a heavy-duty tome that despite its name is packed full of enjoyable reading. I’m still working on it. In my reading, I discovered that many 19th-century female authors developed mysterious ailments that kept them largely confined to their (solitary) bedrooms with the occasional outdoor excursion “for air.” These unidentifiable psychosomatic ailments got them out of household tasks and gave them time to write. Most of the literature by women from this time comes from authors who had at least a period of such an illness.
Have you heard the term “winter recess”? It’s an East Coast creation: a random week off from school in February, guaranteed to be the worst weather week of the year. If you don’t have plans to leave for warmer climes, you’re going to be trapped inside the whole week with your kids.
One winter recess, I got one of those 19th-century female problems: I pulled a calf muscle. There was nothing mysterious about it, and it made me realize that every other time in my life I’ve used the term “pulled muscle,” I have used it incorrectly. It felt like my muscle had become a rope that pulled taut and jumped off the bone, then shot nails and razor blades throughout my leg. I couldn’t walk at all for twenty-four hours, and then walked with great difficulty for the next 10 days. How did I pull it, you ask? Yoga? Running? Kickboxing? I leaned over and picked up some papers for recycling.
Therefore, a dark and dismal tone was already set at the start of this winter recess. While I complain that I’m trapped in the house with the kids, remember that they are also trapped with me. About halfway through the week they wanted to escape so badly that they voluntarily shoveled the entire driveway and scraped off the van, then came back inside and begged me to take them to Target.
“We don’t even have to buy anything!” they said. “Please?”
The 10-year-old said, “I’ll buy Sour Patch Kids with my own money and share them with you!”
Thankfully, it was my left calf so I could drive.
We spent two hours in Target and everybody got a treat. I used the cart as a walker. It was remarkably effective. We stopped for Subway on the way home. Somehow they made me believe I’d come up with that idea all on my own.
After the aeons that it took for me to limp slowly to the entrance, the 12-year-old pointed out a handwritten sign on the door: No Credit Card Today, Cash Only and asked, “Is that a problem?” Of course it was, because any time I get any actual cash, one of the six other people in my house needs it for something.
We all went out and got back in the van. They moved bags, retrieved drinks, fastened seat belts and resumed eating candy before I was even halfway there.
15-year-old: Can we road trip to another Subway?
Me: I guess I’ll go to the bank.
12-year-old: Wait, I have cash!
Me: How much?
They exchanged a meaningful glance.
15-year-old: Well, between the two of us we have, like $70.
They should be taking me out to dinner.
I turned the car off.
I panic at Subway—about getting the orders wrong, about other customers coming in when we’re in the middle of a six- or seven-sandwich order and holding up the line. This day we had three people behind us by the time they were on the second sandwich. I apologized as we left with our order to go. It was now 45 minutes since we’d first pulled up in front.
Back in the van, I began the task of doing the math with the 15-year-old.
Me: So I owe you $30.
15-year-old: Except I owe you $20 for the makeup at Target.
Me: I already owed you $25 for babysitting, so…
15-year-old: We’ll take that money and add it to the other money…
Me: We need a sheet. Or a ledger.
8-year-old: What’s a ledger?
Me: It’s a sheet.
8-year-old: Why do you need bedsheets to pay us our allowance?
15-year-old: Can I just state for the record that I love this family?
You can only imagine how much that statement means to me, especially coming from the one we affectionately refer to as our Violet from The Incredibles. Some mothers treasure first words, first steps, first days of school; I missed all that. I treasure every moment a teenager forgets to hate being part of a family.
JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.
Written on April 22, 2014 at 2:33 pm , by Suzanne Rust
“Women’s rights are human rights and human rights are women’s rights.” It has been almost 20 years since Hillary Rodham Clinton uttered those powerful words at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, but her commitment to the cause has grown stronger over the decades.
Since leaving her job as secretary of state, Clinton has made women’s and girls’ issues a central theme of her work. Last Thursday at the Lower East Side Girls Club in New York City, Clinton, along with her daughter, Chelsea, held the first installment of Girls: A No Ceilings Conversation, a series of talks that the Clinton Foundation will conduct to get feedback from women and girls across the country and around the globe. The goal is not only to collect data and celebrate progress, but to address the challenges and gaps that impede progress. Clinton is looking to create a 21st-century agenda for equal opportunity and help ensure the full participation of women in the world.
As the mother of a teenage daughter, I was thrilled to be in that room. Few things make me happier than seeing young women achieve greatness, and few things fill me with more rage than the discrimination and injustices that girls encounter around the world. Initiatives like this one, that give girls a voice, are an excellent place to open dialogues, raise awareness and make changes.
Moderated by actress and advocate America Ferrera, the empowering discussion brought together women of all ages to discuss their experiences and their hopes for the future. Questions came from girls in the room as well as from four schools in different parts of the country via Skype and thousands of others via Twitter and Livestream. Topics of conversation ranged from the lack of women in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) fields and the value of good role models to the importance of asking for help and speaking out, our obsession with physical perfection and much more.
The event, already energized by major girl power, was further galvanized by the announcement of Chelsea Clinton’s pregnancy. As mothers, our greatest ambition is for our children’s dreams to be limitless. Grab the other women and girls in your life (and the men and boys as well!) and get involved in the conversation. The Clintons want to know what’s working and what isn’t so that we, as women, can gather as a team to make global changes. The Clintons cite the African saying “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.” We can’t think of a better mantra.
Watch the entire conversation below.
Written on April 18, 2014 at 9:49 am , by Family Circle
By Jill Caryl Weiner
Last weekend, I attended the Brooklyn Baby & Family Expo for work. I must say, as a parent of a teenage daughter and a tween son, I was amazed at the incredible array of resources that were pulled together for this event. There was a panel of pediatricians, demos of the latest gear, advisors on family estate planning, book signings, local and long-distance businesses—from preschools to play spaces to a start-up offering the latest technology in baby spoons.
I think it’s fantastic, but I can’t help but wonder about the resources for parents of tweens and teens. It seems like parents’ magazines pay less attention to the issues and needs of older kids, and some people may even think we have it all figured out. Really? Do we have it all figured out?
I called my friend Jessica to get her take on this. I met Jess 14 years ago, just a month or two after my daughter was born, at a new-parent support group. Arlene Eisenberg, who cocreated the What to Expect book series, led a weekly Q&A to help us struggling new parents and to keep in tune with our concerns. I made some of my closest mom friends through that support group. Before I met these women, I admit, I felt pretty lost.
Jess and I compared this issue of resources—or lack thereof—for teens and tweens vs. babies and came up with a few ideas. Here are some differences.
1. Money. The number of businesses out there targeting parents with babies is mind-boggling. For teens and tweens there seem to be lots of test-prep companies as well as camps, but for babies products and services are all across the board. This is actually good news for us parents of older kids. I mean, who needs all that stuff crowding up our homes? Plus the businesses we need are out there, they’re just not as obvious.
2. Shared Issues vs. Specialized Concerns. A lot of new parents share the same concerns about their babies, from feeding and sleeping issues to diapering and teething. But the needs of tweens and teens are more specific to the individual person, as they are discovering who they are and want to be. Parents’ concerns are no longer focused only on the basic necessities but on more specialized issues. Your daughter might require extra help in math or have to wear a retainer, or she might want to volunteer to help the elderly, but those concerns are very specific to her.
3. Bigger Kids, Bigger Problems. The problems we faced as new parents caring for these tiny fragile people seemed momentous. But now most of those issues seem so contained compared to teen and tween problems. Even if it’s just parental anxiety about what might happen (because actually things are going pretty okay), that’s pretty stressful. Parents of older kids may worry about issues ranging from overuse of the Internet, to bullying, to eating disorders, to dating and homework stress and so much more. It can seem like we don’t have anywhere to turn for answers.
4. Support Systems. Even though there are a ton of resources available for new parents, these newbies often feel isolated. They don’t realize what’s available, and that’s why an expo can be such a great resource. Parents of tweens and teens have the friendships we’ve made over the years through our children. We have their schools as support systems. Schools offer clubs and teams and have Parent-Teacher Associations gathering experts to speak on issues we’re concerned with. Some recent meetings in high schools around my neighborhood have dealt with eating disorders, bullying—both kid-on-kid and kid-on-parent as well as cyberbullying—saving for college and substance abuse. School counselors are available to meet with students and/or their parents one-on-one.
I really enjoyed the expo. It was like being in a time machine and seeing my husband and kids when this whole parenting world was new and we needed everything. As for life with teens and tweens, Jess and I figured out that although we don’t have it all figured out, we have support systems, including friendships and schools, that are kind of like mini expos we can go to anytime. They’re unmistakable resources that make our lives a lot easier.
Jill Caryl Weiner is a New York–based writer whose work has appeared in Mom365.com, New York Magazine, Time Out New York Kids and The New York Times.
Written on April 14, 2014 at 1:54 pm , by Jill Feigelman
Confession: The Easter Bunny terrified me as a kid. And to be honest, I’m still a little wary of rabbits bearing Easter treats. That’s not to say that I’m afraid of bunnies in general, or even giant bunnies in particular (Harvey is one of my favorite movies).
It all started with the Bunny Incident. The fear brought on by that one event extended throughout my Easter-Passover (Esterover, to me) activities, even the opening of the door for Elijah at our seders. (Raised in a family with a Jewish dad and a Catholic mom, I was celebrating multiple holidays before Chrismukkah was even a word.)
When I awoke on Easter morning at the age of 3, my eyes popped. Not from seeing a basket filled to the brim with chocolate and Peeps (you could have bribed me to do anything with those bits of marshmallow goodness) but because of the circle of stuffed bunnies from my toy collection that surrounded the basket. Bunnies of all shapes and colors had their button eyes focused on my basket of treats. How did they get there? I knew they couldn’t walk. That left only one suspect: the Easter Bunny himself. This was the moment I came up with the Bunny Ban.
According to my parents, I shakily stated that I didn’t want the Easter Bunny (a giant 8-foot-tall pink-fur-covered creature in my mind) coming into my room and rummaging through my mountain of toys ever again. When my dad joked that if I didn’t want the Bunny to visit anymore I just had to say something, I pondered. Even at that young age I knew not to bite the hand that fed me. Then I clarified: I still wanted the baskets, but the Bunny had to leave them outside my bedroom door.
Thus the Bunny Ban went into effect. And that would be the case for the next few years. Still, I always felt a little trepidation on Easter night, and that feeling spilled over into our seders. Other than reciting the Four Questions (questions 3 and 4 were always a family effort, since I never could remember them all), opening the door to let Elijah in was my favorite part of the service. But after the Bunny Incident, I started thinking about what might happen if Elijah actually did come in or if the wine disappeared from Elijah’s glass. Similarly, I always wondered what I would do if I caught the Easter Bunny breaking my ban.
When I came to the realization that the 8-foot pink-fur creature was actually my parents, a sense of relief washed over me. Now when I recall the Bunny Incident, I break into a smile. I understand it was actually a very cute sign of how much my parents loved me. Not that I really needed a bunny circle to prove it. They tried to make everything special for me, even letting me open the door for Elijah all by myself as a young kid at Passover.
I also learned a valuable lesson. Sometimes doing something nice for a child backfires in ways you could never imagine. But even when parents make mistakes, most of the time they make them out of love.
Written on April 10, 2014 at 9:00 am , by Janet Taylor
I remember when memories had expiration dates. What I mean is that if someone had a picture that you liked, you actually had to ask for the negative or request a copy of the photo. Occasionally, by the time you received the keepsake, you had long forgotten about the event. The good thing about formally requesting a reproduction was the implicit approval residing in the delivery of the image.
That was then. This is now. These days, a photo is taken and uploaded faster than you can say “Cheese!” A quick turnaround is wonderful for sharing a joke and capturing good times, but if you are looking for private moments, you won’t find them in this technological age. And when it comes to children—and more specifically photos of other people’s children—we’re not dealing with a laughing matter anymore.
A recent poll indicated that 57% of parents on Facebook strongly dislike having unauthorized photographs of their children posted. However, most parents feel like they don’t have control over the images. Their wishes and wants are conflicted. As a parent, if you don’t have control, who does?
Perhaps the answer is that every family needs to have a social media and sharing policy. Decide if it’s okay to have your little cherub’s face posted at any time by folks who are not part of your family’s tribe. If it is, have at it. If not, then diligently make sure that your wishes are enforced. That may result in the potentially difficult task of asking friends and family to delete unauthorized photos. By the same token, if you post a picture and are asked to remove it, please do.
In the future, schools and organizations may need to require consent for the release of photographs to protect your wishes. Until that happens, the wiser decision may be to ask, not assume, before hitting the “post” button.
Have you ever asked someone not to post (or to remove) a photo of your child from a website? If so, post a comment and tell me what happened.
Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Written on April 9, 2014 at 1:40 pm , by Paula Chin
Yet another horrible and heartbreaking attack on campus—this time, at Franklin Regional High outside Pittsburgh, where a 16-year-old sophomore went on a violent stabbing spree, injuring at least 20 teens and adults in classrooms and a hallway before he was subdued and handcuffed by a courageous principal and a school resource officer. Somehow, amid the chaos and terror, everyone kept their wits about them—a fire alarm pulled during the attack helped get more people out of the school, and a female student applied pressure to the wounds of one male victim, possibly saving his life. We don’t yet know what prompted the attacks, but there are rumors that the assailant was a victim of bullying. Our hearts go out to the victims and their families. I’ll be hugging my teen a little harder tonight.
We’d like to know:
1. How much do you worry about violence at your teen’s school (not much, somewhat, a lot)?
2. Have violent attacks occurred at your kid’s school (yes, no)?
3. Do you think enough safety measures are being taken (yes, no)?
Written on April 8, 2014 at 2:02 pm , by Family Circle
By Julie D. Andrews
Barbie’s back…and making headlines. She’s got a hot new Twitter feed boasting 200K-plus followers. She’s “unapologetic” about scoring the cover of Sports Illustrated‘s famous (or infamous, depending) swimsuit issue. And she has a new cousin: Entrepreneur Barbie (pink-yet-sophisticated shift dress, check; smartphone, check; tablet, check).
Modern makeover or not, Barbie still evokes body-image controversies, making us unsure about coughing up 20 bucks so our girls can tote around the hot-to-trot miss.
Confession: I played with Barbies. And I liked it. A lot. (I also loved pink and still do, but now I call it fuchsia.) I didn’t know Barbie’s body proportions weren’t realistic. I also didn’t realize most men were not Ken—without six-pack abs, towering height and billowing ascots.
It’s not fair to ascribe adult hangups to kids, to burden their playful little hearts with body-image stressors. Dolls, by nature, are aspirational. They wear stylish clothes and inhabit lavish dollhouses. My Barbies had it all, sans regret: hot-rod convertible, flashy mansion, steamy boyfriend, runway wardrobe. But they also drove Tonkas (thanks to my brother), zoomed to important meetings and fraternized with G.I. Joe operatives on secret-spy missions.
Some researchers say it’s this mix that’s important for girls. A recent study concluded that playing with only Barbies could limit girls’ career choices. Take-home? “The most important thing is to make sure there is a wide variety of toys to play with,” said researcher Aurora Sherman.
But maybe it was something else that “saved me.” Maybe I was just who I was no matter what I played with. I was me, playing Barbies. Or me, climbing trees, jumping off rocks (once nearly chomping off my tongue), leaping into pools not knowing how to swim (a story my mother still tells) or refusing to part with my Wonder Woman slippers. I boldly went—and, by extension, so did my Barbies—jumping off buildings and kung-fu kicking too-fresh boys. Perhaps I saw Barbie as just like me, not the reverse.
Not everyone agrees (some screens are likely iced in steely stares). Artist Nickolay Lamm’s recent online crowdfunding campaign to manufacture Average Barbie, officially named Lammily, raised $95K within days.
That’s cool; I get it. But I can’t help but wonder if girls would know the difference if we didn’t point it out to them. I don’t want girls to settle for “good enough” but to go for gold and dream up lives they can aspire to. As comfortable as they are, sweatpants don’t fly in the corporate world.
So, secret’s out: I can’t wait for my niece to get her first Barbie and to rekindle my glory days of inventing story lines. For good measure, I’ll ask about Barbie’s board meeting and whether her startup’s secured expansion funding.
Julie D. Andrews is a writer living in New York City. Her new book, Real Is the New Natural, dismantles the negative, destructive messaging about body image and beauty bombarding us daily under the guise of health. Moms are calling it an excellent vehicle for propelling discussions about tough topics with their daughters.
Written on April 7, 2014 at 1:54 pm , by Family Circle
By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom
It’s time to break the silence on one of the more problematic issues facing blended families today: what to do about the Easter Bunny.
For reasons that are not entirely clear to me, my stepkids adjusted far more easily to all holiday celebrations other than Easter in our new family situation. I place the blame squarely on that nebulous bunny.
When I was a kid, the Easter Bunny brought the baskets and hid the eggs that my sister and I then found, but even then I knew it didn’t happen the same way at everyone’s house.
The Easter Bunny has no standards. He has neither sidekicks nor clearly delineated responsibilities. In the realm of mythical childhood mascots, every other one of them has a well-defined job description. At least with Santa, you can connect the goodness and giving part of his gig to the deeper spiritual nature of the holiday. The validity of connecting a bunny to an empty tomb is a stretch. Even if we connect him to the prolific…proliferation…of bunnies in order to symbolize the rebirth and fertility of spring, in no tradition anywhere does a rabbit lay chicken eggs.
Trying to understand the Easter Bunny is like reading a technical manual that has been badly translated from Arabic to French to Chinese to English. Some words are there on the page, but that doesn’t mean it makes sense.
My husband wasn’t terribly helpful when it came to sharing Easter traditions. “That was their mom’s holiday,” he said. “I did Christmas.” So that first year, we guessed. The Easter baskets were ready when they woke up in the morning. They contained bubbles, chalk, Frisbees, balsa airplanes, two Hula Hoops and enough candy to send a small village into a stupor.
13-year-old girl: What’s all this?
Me: Easter baskets. From the Easter Bunny.
13-y-o: Why did the “Easter Bunny” come so early? He usually doesn’t come until after church and he only brings candy. [Insert sarcastic teen voice.] Mom would get us all in the car to go to church waaay early, and suddenly remember that she forgot something in the house. She’d go back inside for like fifteen minutes, and then when we got home from church the “Easter Bunny” would have miraculously delivered the Easter baskets.
Me: Easter is all about the miracles.
Where things really broke down was the egg hunt. If you’re not raised with the belief that the Easter Bunny hides the eggs, nothing will convince you otherwise. Not even the 4-year-old was buying it.
The only egg hunts they had done were at churches or parks in large groups. These kids are super competitive to begin with, so we hid some easy, some hard, and let them stagger the start youngest to oldest. That only made the oldest notice all her siblings occupied in the back and immediately move to the front yard to find every single egg there in about ninety seconds.
They were sorely disappointed that only real eggs were hidden. Apparently there were supposed to be plastic eggs filled with candy and money.
Easter remains the holiday that I never get right. I’ve stopped trying, and instead look for ways to amuse myself.
I have to give the Easter Bunny due credit: He saved me one time by stepping in for the Tooth Fairy. After the Tooth Fairy forgot to show up several nights in a row, the Easter Bunny covered the duties and wrote a note of apology, which was unquestioningly and gleefully accepted by the loser of the tooth (the Easter Bunny being more generous than the Tooth Fairy).
I was interrupted during story time the other day by the 18-year-old barging into her brother’s room to ask me to pass along to the Easter Bunny the fact that she doesn’t like the large robin’s eggs candy, only the small ones.
I decided it’s time for the Tooth Fairy to repay the debt to the Easter Bunny by taking over duties this Easter.
JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at accidentalstepmom.com.