The Night I Was Just a Little Racist

So, if you’re reading this I guess I went through with posting this entry, even as I write this I’m not sure I will post it. I’m scared it will fall on deaf ears, I’m scared people will judge me harshly for it, I’m scared just to have this conversation. (Which is a bit silly because only a few people read my posts and most of them will probably be the ones who already agree with me). But it’s one of those thoughts that gets into my head and won’t leave until I let it out. My hope in writing this is that it may open up at least one person to another perspective they may not have considered before.

I am not racist in my conscious mind. I was raised by parents of the hippie generation who taught me judging people by how they looked was wrong. I strongly believe in equality for people of every ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, religion and anything else that causes people to face discrimination. I have had a lot of diversity in my close friends. I was born and raised in Utah, which isn’t exactly known for its diversity, but I’ve also lived in a Florida neighborhood where the combined minority population was higher than the white population and loved it there. I am inflamed when I hear or read a racist or otherwise prejudice comment. The problem is I’m still susceptible to subconscious bias and prejudice. Everyone is. No one is completely free of bias and prejudice, it’s not always racial and it varies in severity from person it person but it’s there, lurking in our subconscious. Few people are the kind of overt prejudice that we associate with racism anymore but that doesn’t mean racism is gone, just transformed.

So the night in question (this is not the only time I’ve judged someone unfairly in a moment but it’s one of the most recent and obvious), I was in the cell phone waiting lot of the airport waiting for my mom’s flight to come in. It was after dark and I always find myself getting pretty nervous in these waiting lots if I’m alone in the car, I feel very exposed and vulnerable. There were only a few scattered cars. I heard a car door open near mine and a man’s voice. That would have put me on guard and even scared me a little no matter what but I realized I was slightly more scared because the voice sounded like that of a stereotypical urban black man. He got back in his car and that was it. This man would never even know I’d made an uncontrolled yet unfair judgement on him. But I knew.

I’m sure many of you will read this and think, “Well, I wouldn’t have had that reaction, not me.” And maybe you wouldn’t have but I would have thought the same thing if this happened to someone else and I was reading it. If a person like me, who seems like she climbed out of a children’s drawing of people of different cultures holding hands in a circle around the world, has these hidden biases buried inside, then I’m sure others do too. So what do we do about it?

I could have shrugged it off completely as no big deal; no harm, no foul. But it happened and even though it was small it matters. Having a little extra fear can have huge consequences in certain situations. Consider a person who calls the cops because a black man minding his own business looks “suspicious” they probably weren’t thinking “there’s a black person, he must be up to no good.” Rather, in most cases, their subconscious just interprets black as suspicious and that’s not okay even though it’s unintentional.

I could have been overcome with shame and completely deny it happened even to myself, which is completely unproductive. Or worse, I could have tried to justify it. I think very frequently justifying thoughts and feelings we’re not proud of can turn a subconscious bias into a much deeper and more overt prejudice. These justifications come in many forms, like feeling guilty about ones own success and therefore labeling all low-income people as lazy and deserving of their position because they must not work as hard or they’d be better off. Which just flat-out isn’t true but the rationalization helps people feel less guilty. In this instance, I could have justified my reaction by choosing to believe I really was in more danger from a black man than a white man. But I know that’s not true. Those justifications to make ourselves feel better are extremely destructive.

The most constructive thing to do is be aware of these reactions and thoughts that creep in our minds, whether they’re about the color of someone’s skin, their accent, the way they dress or anything else that shouldn’t define a person. The first step to recovery is always admitting there’s a problem. Pretending racism is gone doesn’t it make it go away. And you can’t change something you’re not aware of. Once we’re aware of our biases we can question them and actively work to change them. It’s not about feeling guilty or hating yourself for something you can’t control. It’s about stopping yourself in that moment and changing your line of thought. If someone’s about to call the cops on a man who they think looks suspicious but stops and thinks “what about them makes me suspicious?” Is it the color of his skin? Or maybe his tattoos? Or the way he’s dressed? Something else? Or is he legitimately acting suspicious? That person might notice a bias in themselves and make a different choice. I know I can’t completely stop myself from making these snap judgments occasionally whether they’re based on the length of a girl’s skirt or the church I see someone coming out of. But I can stop them as soon as they surface and try to do better next time. My conscious mind can beat my subconscious in a fight.

The broader less introspective thing we can do, is stop perpetuating the stereotypes that cause our subconscious biases. Our minds are constantly taking in information and our subconscious can be poisoned without us even realizing it. We can personally avoid using stereotypes as well as demanding less bias in media and entertainment. We can listen to the experiences and feelings of those who have faced discrimination for any reason and not just disregard them (or as a woman I could say “us”). If you’d never been on a mountain would you disregard someone’s experience who had climbed Everest and tell them it couldn’t possibly be as hard and as cold as they described? Just because they’re experience is hard to face doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

I am a flawed human being and certainly not an expert, although I pay attention to what the experts say on this subject, and I am truly sorry if in my explanation I offended anyone. I also know this is probably an incomplete assessment and would love to hear anything constructive anyone has to add to it. I know this is a multifaceted problem that includes other aspects like privilege but I chose to focus on just one aspect for this post.

It’s so easy not to face our biases because no one wants to get labeled as prejudice but the best way to avoid prejudice in ourselves is to confront it. So, please, please, if you haven’t already, take a hard look inside yourself, even though you may not like what you find.

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Art by Melody Jean Johnson. Image found at mjThePeopleCanFly web | Local Colors of Utah Art Gallery
http://www.localcolorsart.com/node/175/820?page=4&titles=off

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How to Give Parenting Advice

The best way to give parenting advice….DON’T. Okay, that’s not entirely true, I should say don’t give unsolicited parenting advice. Otherwise this would be a very short (possibly better?) blog post. I don’t think there’s a person over 20 who hasn’t weighed in with a little unwanted parenting advice at one point or another. And I’m no exception, I’m sure, but as a parent I’ve got to say it’s annoying as hell to get. So I want to lay down some ground rules for how and when it’s appropriate to give parenting advice. Most of this can be applied to any advice but parenting can be a particularly touchy subject.

First off to the advice givers, I know you’re trying to be helpful. I know it’s frustrating to watch patents make, what you view, as mistakes. I can’t tell you how many times I have bit my tongue (or I guess typing finger) after seeing adorable “baby’s first solids” pictures on Facebook featuring babies way too young for solids or eating in an unsafe reclined position. Or many other things that make my mommy self cringe. But I keep quiet. Sure, I may post a general article on my newsfeed about the appropriate pediatrician recommended time to start solids but I try (with all my might) to not single out parents for a lecture. Because I hate when people pull that crap with me. I think that’s the difference between advocating for parenting methods you agree with and giving unwanted advice.

What it boils down to is that every family is different and each parent must decide the best way to raise their own kids. Just because something works for you or you read it works or it worked for your cousin’s, friend’s, sister’s, fiancé’s, mother, does not mean it is right for every family! If you’re a seasoned parent (parent of older or already grown kids) your advice to new parents can be so valuable but remember, safety guidelines and recommendations may have changed since your kids were itty bitty. If you’re on the receiving end of the offending advice, I’ve found smiling and nodding to be a tried and true response.

How do you know advice is wanted? Is the person who’s talking about their child happy with what is happening? Do they use the word “help”? Are they flat-out asking for advice? Unless it’s pretty obvious the parent is asking for advice in person or online, it’s probably best to keep your trap shut. Of course there at times when the tone of the conversation, especially in person, implies the parent is not adverse to some friendly advice. It’s also surprisingly possible to have a friendly non-judgmental conversation about your different parenting styles with another parent.

If advice seems welcome here’s how to give it. Avoid saying things like “you need…” and “you have to…” and “you can’t…” And instead say things like “we had that problem and here’s what worked for us…” Or “I read an article about that and here’s what it recommended…” You get the point (I hope), always make a suggestion and not a command. So, frustrated mom says “I don’t know what to do, I’m so exhausted! I just can’t get little Timmy to sleep at night.” You might say “That happened to us with Sam at that age, I know how difficult it can be. The Wonderful, Magic Sleep Method (not real) worked for us. I’d be happy to give you more information about it or lend you the book if it sounds like something you might like to try.” Notice how you didn’t say anything condescending about her parenting or blame her for the problem? (Of course if there’s a situation where you have serious concerns about a child’s safety and welfare, different steps may need to be taken).

If you are a person who does not have children and does not have a Masters in child development or some other child related expertise, parents generally don’t want to get advice from you. Sorry, but it’s true. That’s not to say a person without children can never, ever give some parenting advice, occasionally it might be useful but tread lightly, very lightly. It’s not that your friends who are parents don’t value your friendship and opinion but would a football player ask advice from someone who’s never played football? Experience counts, even in parenting. Also, every parent knows, as soon as you hold that little newborn bundle of joy, your world changes in ways you never imagined possible. And it continues, the discipline method you were sure you would use for a toddler may just melt away as you get to know YOUR toddler instead of just A toddler. I was planning on having Miss Independent weaned by a year but as I learned more and experienced our own relationship, that changed and we nursed many months past the one year mark. Those of you who don’t have kids yet might be surprised by how quickly that parent you gave a smug, judgmental smirk to the other day can become yourself. (Keep telling yourself your kids will be different). You really can’t know exactly what kind of parent you’ll be until you’re living it. That being said sometimes a non-parent has experienced something with a child they’re close to or heard something from a family member or read something that’s useful to a parent friend’s situation. It’s okay to put that useful tidbit out there if you use extreme tact and caution. You probably want to start with something like “I haven’t been there so I can’t know exactly what you’re going through but this article I read (or whatever) might be helpful to you.” Definitely don’t say something like “Well, my sisters baby never cries because she…” At least not unless you want to get smacked.

I’ve noticed a lot of very nice, well-meaning people can end up alienating friends with bossy advice. If you think that might be you, please remember, your way may be the best way for you but that doesn’t mean it’s the best way for everyone. And if you put someone on the defensive straight away, they’re probably not going to listen to a word you say. I’m sure some who know me will read this and remember less than tactful advice I’ve given them and I’m sorry for those times. Everyone slips up and says something they shouldn’t have sometimes but I think being mindful of those times can make them less frequent. I have to give a shout out to the play group we’re in, I always feel comfortable talking openly about any parenting subject without feeling judged for my choices. And I never see a hint of those mommy wars everyone’s always talking about with them. (I can say that of most my other friends as well). All parents make mistakes, so please don’t be harsh on those parents that make different mistakes than you do. We’re all trying to raise our children the best way we know how and building each other up rather than tearing each other down is definitely the way to go. If someone wants your opinion, they’ll probably ask for it, otherwise silence is golden.

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To Conform or Not to Conform?

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Art by Melody Jean Johnson. Photo found on http://www.localcolorsart.com/node/175/857?page=4&titles=off

I’ve always been the sort of person who doesn’t want to be just like everyone else. I remember walking through the mall in college and seeing a shirt I liked in the window of The Gap. Even though I loved the shirt I wouldn’t buy it, not because I didn’t have the money or had a moral objection to shopping at The Gap but because I felt it would be too mainstream of me to wear a shirt from the window of such a popular retailer. Now that I’m older, and hopefully at least a little wiser, that seems silly. Being unique and original isn’t about what you wear or how you look.

There’s a misconception, especially in young people but some adults too, that individuality is an outside trait and one that must be shown by looking different from the norm. But I’m here to tell you that you don’t have to wear a scarf in the summer or be covered from head I toe in tattoos to assert your originality. (Not that you shouldn’t do those things but more on that shortly). The interesting thing about people who try to rebel against the mainstream is that they usually just trade one kind of conformity with another. Becoming a goth (for example) doesn’t make you unique, you’re just conforming to a different group. One of my favorite movie quotes is from SLC Punk “You wanna be an individual, right? You look like you’re wearing a uniform, you look like a punk. That’s not rebellion. That’s fashion.” Now to be perfectly clear, I am not opposed dressing any way or belonging to any (non-violent, non-prejudice) group if that makes you happy (or possibly melancholy in the case of Goths). Dress the way you want to dress because you love it and not out of some misguided attempt at individuality. So go ahead and cover yourself in tattoos and piercings be a goth or punk or hipster or steampunk or whatever as long as you love it. Actually, totally be steampunk, their clothes and accessories are awesome (okay, that’s just my opinion). Or dress in the latest mainstream fashions if you want too, it doesn’t stop you from being an individual because in the end we are all individuals. (Again more on that in a second. This may not be the most organized post).

It’s true your outside can reflect your individuality within but it’s not what makes you, you. And I have to say if you do choose to get a tattoo(s) I would recommend getting something original and not something you saw on Pinterest, and think long and hard about anything that’s going to be on you pretty much forever (again, my opinion). I also think buying actual original art, whether it be jewelry, handmade clothes or wall art can be a good way to show your originality on the outside and support artists. (Shameless plug alert) If you do that you should totally buy some of my mom’s art because it’s awesome (that one’s straight-up fact).

Back to the “we are all individuals” point of this whole post. Remember how as children we were taught that we are all beautiful unique little snowflakes, well it’s true. And since this is a Kindergarten lesson I’m going to quote a children’s book, On the Night You Were Born by Nancy Tillman “For never before in story or rhyme (not even once upon a time) has the world ever known a you, my friend, and it never will, not ever again…” No one has had the exact same experiences as you. No one has the exact same thoughts, feelings and actions as you. The only way to not be unique is to really try to blend in. Yes, people have similarities and common threads that tie us together. Some people have more original ideas than others. But in the end, however you look, you are an individual. One of my favorite Shakespeare quotes is often taken out of context and used to mean “be selfish” but in context it means quite the opposite. Here’s the whole quote “This above all: to thine own self be true, and it must follow, as the night the day, Thou canst not then prove false to any man.” Polonius is a bit of a pompous fool but I have to agree with him there. He’s basically saying if you’re honest and true to yourself, you will be honest and true to others. I think that applies here too, if you are true to who you are inside, you can’t help but show that to others, regardless of how you look. So embrace your normalcy and your eccentricities and go out there and be that beautiful, unique snowflake they said you were in Kindergarten and I know you still are.

Children Will Listen

I’ve been seeing the saying “Teach your children how to think, not what to think” (I couldn’t find the origins of the quote, if you know please enlighten me) a lot lately and I not only agree with it wholeheartedly but I am very grateful to my own parents for raising me in this manner. And I hope most sincerely I’m able to teach my own children (I say “children” meaning my daughter and hypothetical second child) using this wise saying as a guide.

One of my pet peeves is when I ask someone their opinion and that person says “I was raised to think…” or “raised to believe…” All I can think is “I wanted YOUR opinion, not your parent’s opinion.” I sincerely hope I never hear my daughter say either of these things. Of course we have to instill certain attributes and values on children. For instance kindness, patience, honesty. They need to know to treat people with respect even those who are different from themselves. So honestly I would love to hear my daughter say “I was raised to be hardworking” or “respectful” or “open-minded.” But by the time someone reaches adulthood their thoughts, beliefs and opinions should be their own. Of course parents will always have an effect on their child’s opinions and beliefs whether it’s because their children look up to them and mimic them or because they want to rebel by choosing opposing beliefs.

But if we don’t indoctrinate our children with our exacts opinions and beliefs how can we guarantee they will turn out just like us? We can’t. And even though that was a silly and exaggerated question, it’s scary (by scary I mean totally terrifying). Of course we want our kids to share our beliefs and our likes and dislikes. It’s hard as a parent when you’re super excited to share something you love with your children and they’re just not that interested. The difficult truth is that parents create individual complete people not clones of ourselves (or mini mes if you like). And that’s absolutely necessary to the advancement of society. If everyone thought exactly like their parents there would be no new inventions, no new styles of art and architecture, no innovations at all. If everyone thought just like their parents we would still have slavery in the United States and women wouldn’t be allowed to vote. Each generation faces challenges that the previous generations never imagined. If a child is taught only to parrot their parents beliefs how are they supposed to adjust to these new circumstances? Most likely they will just cling to whatever someone else tells them to believe. Whether it be friend, politician, celebrity or talk show host. I actually had someone tell me they had to agree with everything the president at the time did because he belonged to the same political party as the president. I don’t care what political party you belong to, that’s just a ridiculous line of thought. I certainly don’t agree with everything every politician in my political party does. The point of political parties is to determine your own opinions then join the party you agree with most, not just join a party and agree with everything they tell you (sorry side tangent). Is that really how we want our children to operate? As cattle just waiting to be herded? Also consider that every adolescent will rebel to some extent, otherwise they wouldn’t learn how to be adults, even if it’s just to like a TV show you hate (not even necessarily an inappropriate show just one you don’t care for). If you strongly indoctrinate your children with all your beliefs they’re more likely to choose to rebel by adopting the exact opposite beliefs. While if you teach them to think for themselves they are less likely to oppose your beliefs just for rebellion’s sake. Some children will thankfully learn to think for themselves despite their parents best efforts to sabotage them.

If you’re sure teaching your children to think for themselves will cause them to disagree with you then perhaps you should reexamine your own beliefs and opinions. Did you gain your own opinions through careful analysis of information or do you just hold tightly to your preconceived notions, unwilling to look at any evidence that contradicts them? I am fairly confident that my daughter, with her own careful thought, will come to many of the same conclusions I have. If having your children think too much about what you’re teaching them is a bad thing, then how can what your teaching them be good? Do your opinions have so little to back them up that you can’t give your children other points of view without seeing the fallacy of your own? If you are confident your opinions are sound then there is much less to fear. Being individuals your children will probably grow up to disagree with you to an extent but at least they will have the ability to make their own way in the world.

By now I hope your thinking “By George, she’s right! But how do I teach my children to think for themselves?” This is where I have to confess I’m not an expert on child development but I can tell you how I plan on raising my daughter to be a free-thinker. (I also have to confess I stole some of this from my parents). First off I’m going to let her be an individual and support her in whatever she enjoys. I’m a Star Wars watching, comic book reading nerd and a theatre majoring, art museum patronizing artist (pronounced ar- teest). I haven’t voluntarily watched a sporting event in….I don’t even know how long, never maybe. Despite all that, I will expose my daughter to sports, admittedly probably not as much as the stuff I like but I will let her try them out. Perhaps she will find a particular sport to be her passion in life or just a fun way to get some exercise and meet new friends. Either way if that’s what she wants to do I will go to every game I possibly can and cheer for her till I am hoarse. That’s just one example but you get my point (I hope).

Now for the harder part, when my daughter asks me about a difficult issue I won’t just give her my opinion as fact. First off, I will ask her what she thinks. If she has any thoughts on the subject I will discuss them with her, pointing out the merits and flaws in her thought process. Then I will give her both my own and opposing opinions. I will explain position but also let her know any good arguments the other side has, most positions on issues have good arguments even if I disagree with them. There are some exceptions, most notably prejudice. I can’t very well tell her the good arguments in favor of racism because there aren’t any. But for most questions I will tell her both sides and let her decide. When she is a child she will probably agree with me but as she grows she may discover she doesn’t agree with me on everything. Most importantly it will teach her to look at both sides of an argument and draw the best conclusions she can from the information she has. It is also useful to be able to analyze situations in this way in personal life. It can really help end a personal argument if you really consider the other persons point of view.

Okay, this is where I’m going to lose some (more?) people but if you disagree please keep reading till I’ve made my point. Yes, I believe this applies to religion too. I know religion is not based in facts and reason but in faith. The question is (if you’re religious) do you want your children to develop genuine personal faith or just a pale reflection of your own faith? If you are a religious person take your kids to services, celebrate and teach them about your holidays (or why you don’t celebrate holidays), let them know what you believe and how strong your belief is. At the same time, let them know there are many other belief systems, don’t judge or talk meanly about other belief systems. Let you kid go to church with a friend of another faith. Don’t try to keep your children from learning about other spiritual and religious beliefs and even no belief in a higher power. Let them question, how can they grow their own faith without questioning? If you’re atheist, agnostic or just not very religious, don’t mock religion in front if your children. Explain to them why you don’t believe in or question the existence of a higher power but also let them go to services with a friend, let them explore the possibility. Forcing religious beliefs on children can result in the same opposition rebellion I mentioned earlier. I know it scares a lot of people to think of their children not choosing the same spiritual path they have chosen but it is a deeply personal choice and one each person needs to choose for themselves.

Most importantly make sure your children know you love them no matter what. Whatever choices they make, whatever paths they follow, whatever opinions they form, they need to know they are loved and supported. A child needs to know that nothing could make their parent(s) stop loving them. Be an example, if you want your children to agree with your beliefs and opinions, live by them. Children are always observing and often listen more intently when we’re not talking to them than when we are. Never forget children are little sponges absorbing everything they see, hear, taste, smell and feel. Guide them, teach them, listen to them. Let them learn, let them explore, let them question, let them be their own persons and live their own lives.

*I have since seen the quote I didn’t know the origins of attributed to Margaret Mead.

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photo taken by https://www.facebook.com/pages/Reflections-by-Christine-Photography/333679582164

What’s Inside

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I am thin. I am thin and I’m not saying this to boast, it’s just part of my state of being. It is one tiny part of what makes up the whole person I am. Somehow, somewhere the shape of our bodies became a defining, to some THE defining, aspect of who we are.

I am thin and I am not a concieted snob who looks down on others because of how they look. It is no more fair of people to assume that I have that attitude than it would be for me to make assumptions based on someone not being as thin as I am. I usually don’t make the common assumptions about people’s eating habits and activity level based in their weight because….I am thin and I am a lazy pig. I have a fast metabolism and have always eaten large amounts of not always healthy foods. I actually like healthy foods but I also have a major sweet tooth and am more likely to order a burger than a salad when I eat out, which is all too often. I am fairly active but I’ve never stuck to an exercise routine for more than a few months. It’s really not fair because I know people who eat healthy and work out like crazy and still are not thin. They are probably healthier and more energetic than I but not always as thin. My bone structure is also petite which means a person can have the same or lower percentage of body fat than me and still not look as thin. If there were any fairness in the world I would weigh 200 lbs.

I am thin but not as thin as I once was nor as thin as many people are. Now I look pretty normal but I use to be really thin and get the standard “eat a hamburger” comments and even had a fellow college student ask me “Do people call you chicken legs?” (Seriously? Maybe when I was ten). Which brings me to….I am thin but that doesn’t mean I’m attractive or happy with my appearance. Some clichés are true, the grass does look greener on the other side. I can’t tell you how many girls with straight hair I’ve heard wish for curly hair and vise versa. I’ve known beautiful girls with “boyish” figures to obsess over Marilyn Monroe curves and lovely curvy girls to long for smaller breasts and narrower hips. Personally, although it’s far from perfect, I’m probably more confident in my body than my face. (I want it to be clear that I’m not compliment fishing or trying to make other people who may have similar aspects as the ones I hate about myself feel bad. My purpose is to show how critical most of us can be about our appearances, even someone like me who is relatively confident in how I look. And to show that skinny doesn’t automatically equal attractive and confident). My nose is huge it dominates my face. I’m one of the few women I know who doesn’t suck in my stomach for pictures but instead tries to avoid profile shots. Oh and my nose has one of those bumps on it people get when they break their nose, but I never broke mine. My ears stick out. Despite being in my thirties I still break out.  I’m seriously hairy, even after I shave you can still see the hair and I shave my legs and underarms nearly everyday. I wax my eyebrows about once a month and my upper lip every other month and pluck my chin every day, usually twice. I’ve even had some laser hair removal, I worry frequently people will notice my excess hair. People say I look young for my age but I notice the sunspots and beginnings of crow’s-feet. I probably consider my body my best feature yet I am conscious of my cellulite and the way my breasts sag after having a baby. And no, that’s not all but I need to move on otherwise I’ll just have pages of self complaints rather than a blog post. It may seem I think I’m hideous but in reality my confidence in my appearance varies grossly. One minute I can be strutting through the mall thinking I look fab and the next I’m staring at myself under ladies room fluorescent lights wondering how I could ever have imagined I looked good when I left the house.

I am thin and I am a hypocrite. I tell others that it’s what’s inside that counts and that you don’t have to he thin to be beautiful and I really do believe that. Still, I fear that I will become the F-A-T word that I wouldn’t call anyone else. I was concerned when I stepped on the scale the other day and saw that I weigh more than I ever have (well without a baby growing in me of course), not concerned enough to lay off the brownies though. It’s not that I don’t believe inner beauty is the most important thing and that beauty is in the eye of the beholder, I just believe those platitudes apply to everyone save me.

Do you know what really scares me, what absolutely terrifies me? That some day my wonderfully beautiful little girl will come to me and say “mom, I’m fat” or “I’m ugly” or “my nose is too big.” I can’t stand to think my girlie who is so gorgeous, who shines so brightly may suffer these same self bashing thoughts. That despite being told repeatedly how wonderful she is inside and out and my efforts not to put my own appearance down in her presence, that she will look at herself through critical, disapproving eyes.  It brings tears to my eyes to think about it.

I wish I could conclude this post with a miracle solution that would make the deep-rooted obsession in our society with size and appearance disappear. I would like nothing better than to wave my magic wand and make everyone see their true worth. I don’t even fully understand it. How our country can have such a problem with obesity and also such a problem with skinny obsession and with eating disorders. From one hand we’re being sold grotesquely unhealthy chemical laced food and from the other diet pills and exercise videos. Consumerism manipulates us at every turn but it’s deeper than that too. I’m a reasonably intelligent, educated woman, I took gender studies in college. I know when I see that perfect looking girl on the cover of a magazine that she’s wearing an unholy amount of makeup and has been physically altered as much as is feasible then digitally altered as well. (And I don’t just mean airbrushing they shorten noses and chins etc. Apparently super models and movie stars just aren’t pretty enough on their own). I know that model, who is probably a very attractive woman to start and probably starves herself to be so thin, looks nothing like the picture on the magazine in real life. I know all that and still think “If only I could look like that, be that beautiful.”

I don’t have a perfect solution but maybe I have a place we can start, a way to contribute to all those who are striving to create social change on these issues. We can be aware that we are meant to look unique, we are not cookie cutter people and different people find different shapes, sizes and facial features attractive in others. We can all work to convince ourselves that our worth as human beings is not dependent on our outside appearance, convince ourselves enough to really believe the truth of it. I am thin and I am beautiful but my beauty does not come from being thin. It comes from the sincerity and sometimes sarcasm in my eyes. My genuine if a little crooked smile. My ability to think for myself and form my own strong opinions. My silly sense of humor. My complex and unique personality and yes, appearance that makes me…me. You don’t need these things to be beautiful because you have your own unique beauty and yes, I’m talking to YOU, whoever you are I think you’re beautiful and you are more than your BMI or the length if your nose. So lets stop just spouting platitudes about inner beauty and start really, truly believing them about ourselves.

What makes you uniquely beautiful? Pleas tell me in the comments section, really I want to know.

Do What I Say Not What I Do

I’m going to start this post with a disclaimer right away. I think one of the biggest problem with being a parent today is all the judgement we receive. No matter what we do someone will judge us for it and although I try not to judge, I’d be lying if I said I never, ever do. I really don’t want this to be a judgmental blog however. (Most of my posts seem to end in everyone holding hands and singing Kumbaya). The purpose of this post is to defend my parenting and not to judge individuals for their own choices. I will be writing negative things about other parenting styles in order to show why I make the choices I do but this is not meant as a personal judgement on other parents.

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If that meme was more honest it would say “Once upon a time parents beat the crap out of their kids and those kids grew up emotionally stunted and took their bottled up anger out on their own children by beating the crap out of them.” Okay, that might have been a little harsh. In all fairness the meme doesn’t actually mention physical punishment but I think it’s implied as “once upon a time” corporal was the punishment of choice. It’s also important to understand I am not against discipline. Discipline is absolutely essential to raising children, they need firm boundaries. What so many people don’t seem to realize is that spanking does not equal discipline.

It seems lately my Facebook newsfeed has been bombarded with pro-spanking memes making ridiculous claims. (Oddly enough, I had trouble actually finding most of those memes while writing this. So I apologize that I don’t have as many examples as I would like). As fun as memes are, they also really annoy me. People take them so seriously even though they often aren’t based on any fact or research or logic at all. Any idiot with an Internet connection can make a meme.

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See, I made that, it only takes a few minutes. My point is just because it’s on a meme doesn’t mean it’s true and I’m sick I being told I’m a bad parent because I choose not to spank. Particularly since the vast majority of experts and research back up my choice. Parents who don’t spank are blamed (in meme at least) for all of societies problems. Which is interesting since there are way more parents who spank their kids than who don’t. The statistics vary (all say spanking is most common) but one I saw repeatedly was that 94% of 3-4 year olds were spanked in the last year. So are those 6% of kids not getting spanked the cause if all our societal woes? If you really believe that the younger generation are mostly entitled spoiled brats yet most of them were spanked as kids, how can not spanking be the cause? There’s also this assumption that there was some magical time when all people were decent, hardworking people and everything was perfect. Sorry to burst your bubble but that’s complete bull. There has always been violence and other negatives in every society and the older generations have always scowled at the younger. Yes the world has changed but in good ways as well as bad.

I acknowledge that a lot of people have gone too far the other way and fail to discipline their kids at all. Being an over-indulgent permissive parent isn’t good for children. I think many parents who don’t give their kids enough discipline have decided not to spank but don’t know how to discipline without spanking. I mostly just feel sorry for these parents. Being an overly strict militant “because I said so” type parent doesn’t benefit children either. The assumption that if you don’t spank your children that means you don’t discipline them is completely false. The most important part of discipline isn’t punishment, it’s teaching. Any punishment (especially physical punishment) given without a talk about why the child is being punished and the reason why that behavior is wrong is completely ineffective. So, little Sally does something wrong and is spanked without discussion. All little Sally has learned is “If Mom or Dad sees me do this I get spanked. So I better not let Mom or Dad catch me doing that.” It doesn’t teach a child what they’re doing is wrong or why, only not to get caught doing it. Some parents do use explanation and other discipline in conjunction with spanking and I can respect that, even though I choose to use other methods.

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This was one of the most ridiculous memes I found but not the only one making claims that kids who aren’t spanked will end up in prison or as a criminal. There’s no evidence whatsoever that this is true. The evidence actually points the other direction. There have been numerous studies connecting spanking to aggression as well as substance abuse, anti-social behavior and these are just the problems linked to spanking that are likely to land a person in jail. If there has been a study revealing the percentage of prison inmates who were spanked as children, I couldn’t find it. However, 80% of prison inmates were physically abused as children (some states consider spanking with anything other than an open hand abuse). Which clearly demonstrates that lack of physical discipline is not the problem. Or maybe the other 20% of prisoners are these horrible people who weren’t spanked that I keep hearing about.

My parents philosophy was to only spank (just a couple of swats over the pants) if we (their three children) put ourselves in immediate physical danger. If I was ever spanked or threatened with a spanking I don’t remember it. So I don’t consider myself someone who was spanked as a child. The main reason I don’t spank or plan to spank my daughter, although most experts back me up, comes from my own observation. The old saying “do what I say not what I do” just doesn’t work well with kids. One of the main ways children learn is by modeling or copying their caregivers actions and behaviors. If you swear in front of Little Billy it doesn’t matter how many times you tell him not to say those words, as long as he hears you say them he will too. Same goes with “please” and “thank you” it’s great to tell kids to be polite but seeing their parents be polite is the quickest way the learn it. I see my daughter copying my words and actions on a daily basis. A couple of months ago she picked up  a bag, put it over her shoulder like a purse and exclaimed “I’m going to Zumba!” As a child I was told at school and church and by my parents that it was good to give to charity. But what really sticks in my head, the real reason why I give to charity is because I saw my mom physically putting money in the Salvation Army drive bucket. The examples we set as parents make ten times the impression on children than what we tell them. So (logic alert) then how can we hit a child (spanking is hitting) and expect them to learn not to hit. It’s a prime example of “do what I say not what I do.” Several studies have linked spanking to increased aggression in children. The most in-depth and comprehensive study I read about found that children who were spanked more than twice a month** at three years old were more aggressive at age five. I’ve gotten in more than one discussion about spanking with people who are adamant that it worked so well to keep them in line as children. Then in later conversations they would tell me stories about all the crazy bad things they got away with growing up. Stuff I would have never dreamed of doing. One coworker who fervently endorsed spanking even told me about the horrible fights he got into with his brothers, one of them beating him badly with a golf club. I always wondered how these people didn’t see the connection and would yell about how well spanking worked and then laugh about how aggressive and misbehaved they were as children. Of course all children are different and some are naturally more difficult than others. And even the best parent in the world can have an unruly child or one that grows up to have severe problems. Parenting can only go so far and adults are responsible for their own decisions.

The excuse I’ve heard most often for spanking is  “I was spanked and I turned out okay.” Well, guess what? I wasn’t spanked and I turned out okay too. For one thing “okay” is relative and I’ve heard some very not “okay” people say that. But mostly just because something didn’t horribly damage you doesn’t mean it is the only or even best way of doing things. It used to be common place for women to drink and smoke during pregnancy and most babies turned out okay. That doesn’t mean I’m going to knock back some beers the next time I’m “in the family way” (okay, I don’t actually like beer but I won’t drink any cocktails either). I never once wore a helmet while riding my bike when I was a kid and I turned out okay. But I sure as hell make my daughter wear one. Those may be extreme examples but still relevant.

Another reason I often hear for spanking is that kids need to fear their parents to respect them. Fear and respect may overlap sometimes but they are not the same thing. I fear serial killers, I do not respect them. I respect my husband, I do not fear him. I can’t even imagine how sad it would be to grow up afraid of your parents. Yes, if your child is terrified of you, they will probably behave but that’s not way for a kid to live and kids also won’t go to their parents with their problems if they’re afraid. Fear based discipline may be easier and get quicker results but it is not good for the family dynamic.  I’m glad to say my daughter doesn’t seem to be the slightest bit afraid of us. She knows the “I mean business voice” but I wouldn’t say it scares her. You may be wondering what my un-spanked toddler is like. I have to say, I think we have been lucky to get a naturally, relatively easy toddler (if you can call any toddler easy). But I think we deserve a tiny bit of credit as parents. Of course she misbehaves sometimes, she throws tantrums and gets into things she shouldn’t but for an almost two-year old she’s comparatively good. I can’t tell you how often we have servers at restaurants or random people at the store comment on how good she is.

Okay, I’m going to briefly mention some really uncomfortable things that I feel should be touched on but I don’t want to dwell on. First, spanking can lead to actual abuse. As a child gets used to being spanked parents sometimes escalate the corporal punishment until the child gets really injured. Second, on rare occasions a child can associate the pain from spanking with love and even sex (remember spanking occurs on an erogenous zone) and it can lead to sexual deviance as an adult or possibly worse cause them to seek out abusive relationships. With all the reasons not to spank and many alternative forms of discipline. I choose the alternatives. Trust me, most kids today would rather be spanked than have their PSP or iPod taken away for a week. Can I say for certainty that I will never, ever under any circumstances spank a child? I really can’t, but I hope I never do.

I did find a minority of experts who say an occasional spanking (over the pants, open hand) in conjunction with other discipline can be beneficial to children. And I honestly don’t believe if you spank your children you’re a bad parent. I have known many great parents who spank their children. So, if YOU want to spank YOUR children that’s your choice. (Although, I urge you to research the subject and not just do it because that’s what you’re used too). But please for the love of all that is holy please stop blaming me and those like me for all of societies problems. And please, please stop posting stupid memes about what a terrible parent I am for doing things in a way that is different from you and possibly a way that is harder but the way that I am sure is best for my family.

* If you would like to discipline your children without spanking but don’t know how or are having trouble there are a lot of great resources. For toddlers The Happiest Toddler on the Block has really helped us. If you need help finding resources, I would be happy to oblige.

** I originally posted “year” instead of “month” accidentally. My bad.

Sources

(I was really lazy and didn’t follow proper bibliography format this time but it should be enough if you want to find out more or check my info).

“Is it Okay to Spank?” by Kitty O’Callaghan. CNN.com

http://www.childtrendsdatabank.org

“Spanking Teaches Kids All the Wrong Lessons” by Laura Berman. Chicago Sun-Times.

“Pro/Con: Spanking” by Jessica Pauline Ogilvie. Los Angeles Times

“Spanking Can Make Children Aggressive, Study Says” by Pohla Smith. Post-gazette.com.

“Spanking Children: A Guide for the Science Minded” by Gwen Dewer P.h.d. Parenting Science.

“The Influence of Corporal Punishment on Crime” by Adah Maurer P.h.d. The Natural Child Project.

“Plain Talk About Spanking” by Jordan Riak http://www.nospank.com

I also used general information from my college human development class, most of which was verified by other sources above.

….You Might Be a Feminist

I have another confession ….and this one involves the F word. Yup, that’s right (hand raised) I am a feminist. Shocking though that may be, I have something even more shocking to tell you: you might be a feminist too. Now, I know what many readers are thinking “I’m all for equal rights and everything but I wouldn’t say I’m a….feminist.” Guess what? (Chicken butt). Wanting equality for women is the definition of feminism. It doesn’t mean you hate men or burn bras or insist on political correctness. (Although, you’re welcome to do any or all of those things. Actually, don’t hate men, that’s not very nice). It simply means you don’t think people should be treated differently based on gender.

All feminist aren’t the same. Feminist often argue over points amongst themselves, like whether certain things empower or objectify. We are doctors and teachers, lawyers and florists, stock traders and fast food workers and everything in between. And yes, even stay at home moms (like yours truly). Women fought for the right to choose whether to work outside the home or not. And there’s nothing wrong with choosing the latter. Although it makes me sad that most families can’t afford to have a parent stay home even if they want to. Now it seems like many women have a job and still get stuck with most of the housework.

Don’t feel left out if you’re a man reading this because you might also be a feminist. That’s right men who think women should be treated equally are feminists. Don’t worry just because the word has “fem” in it, it doesn’t make you less of a man. I would say it actually makes you much more of a man.

Why is the word feminist such a taboo? Because even in this day and age some people still want to keep women in “their place.” Most of them say they have nothing against women while simultaneously demonizing us. They call us radicals and (my favorite) feminazis. Because (sarcasm alert) wanting equal pay and an end to discrimination, so like the Nazis. These people want to tell us we’re wrong and shameful for standing up for ourselves or others. These people do everything they can to make us feel bad for something they are doing to us. And even some smart, independent women believe these lies.

Women are not a minority or a special interest group, we are actually the majority of people on this plant (albeit by a close margin). Of course it’s not okay to discriminate against minorities either. The problem is that sexism is so engrained in our culture that half the time we don’t even notice it. Women weren’t even allowed to vote in the U.S. until 1920. And that’s after fighting for suffrage for decades. That means when my grandmother was born her mother couldn’t vote. Although, many atrocities have been committed against many groups of people in our culture, I believe discrimination against women is the oldest and deepest prejudice. Before people discovered other cultures to look down on, most societies oppressed women. That’s why it’s so hard to change.

We’ve come a long way and in a relatively short time but those who say we’ve achieved complete equality are seriously mistaken. You only need look on the Internet for a few minutes to see chauvinism is alive and well. My favorite quote about women’s rights is actually from the TV sitcom Malcolm in the Middle and is said by the usually bull-headed Reese (after a change of heart near the end of the episode of course) “I guess what these protesters are trying to say is that women, real women, aren’t that different from regular people. They want the same things that men want. Only men don’t have to hold a big protest to get them. And women shouldn’t have to either.” We shouldn’t have to be feminists really, equality should just be expected. I shouldn’t have to tell my daughter that she can grow up to do any job even if its a stereotypical male job. That should be obvious to any little girl, knowledge that’s taken for granted.

Many will read this and think “yeah, but men and women ARE different.” And I can’t say that they aren’t, at least generally. Obviously men and women have biological, physical differences (talking about medical sex not chosen gender preferences). Most men are physically stronger than most women. Studies have also shown that women are more likely to look at details while men are more likely to look at “the big picture.” There have been numerous studies that have shown differences in the way most men and women think and handle situations. But these are all generalizations and don’t characterize all women or all men (well besides the difference in reproductive organs). Men are often seen as more logical while women are seen as more emotional. I’m not going to say that my husband is illogical (he’s really not) but there have been several instances where I have been the more logical one in a particular circumstance. Many men are also prone to losing their temper (yes, many women are too) and anger is an emotion. It drives me crazy when men with anger management issues tell me women are too emotional. Assuming a person likes certain things or acts in a certain way because of which naughty bits they were born with is ridiculous. I could write a whole post just on how stupid it is men and women are supposed to like different foods from each other.

So, I’m a feminist and I’m not embarrassed or ashamed. I don’t slap men for opening doors for me or fit into this made up stereotype of what a feminist is. It is absolutely never wrong or shameful to demand respect for yourself or others. So don’t be afraid to use the term feminist anymore (if you already used it, good for you). Stand up for women’s rights! Shout it from the rooftops “I am a feminist!” (Acrophobics are exuded from that last one but everyone else, grab your ladders and bull horns). I thought about ending this post with a sappy list about things women “are,” you know like “women are strong, women are smart.” But then I realized that would be going against the very point of this post. The only thing that all women are is individuals and we should be treated as such.

* I am happy to post comments that pose a different viewpoint than my own. However, remember that I have full moderating powers (mwahahahah) and will not post hateful or prejudice comments.

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