The Stories We Tell Our Children

My daughter, the fierce Original Pigtail Pal, has some pretty serious school and social anxiety. She loves learning but hates school, it is her kryptonite. She will do anything to avoid school and has been this way since preschool. Yet this past week when we were at the Field Museum my little learner walked up to a security guard and asked how much it would cost to buy the building because she would like to live there.

She is a mighty and wild girl who is reduced to tears at the thought of another day at school. She is a popular second grade girl with nice teachers in a nice school but she hates being in that building.  Outside of that building, she is an entirely different person. Her courage returns.

She is different from me, my daughter. I am an outspoken person, daring, fearless. My courage is very clearly something I wear on the outside, it is always with me. My daughter is the opposite. She is outspoken, but not in the same way. She makes her point in quiet ways, she is more the steady pace of a river than the roar of a lion. She is daring, not in ways thousands can see but rather in ways that challenge her perception of herself. And it would seem odd to say a little girl who cries so often at school is fearless but she is. It takes courage to show up day after day, full of anxiety and fright you cannot control, and do it anyway. To be on display for everyone you know.

Courage is not the absence of fear, it is being scared and doing it anyway.

So I tell her stories of people just like her. I tell her stories of women of courage.

It took an hour to get Amelia adjusted to school this morning. We had no tears on a first-day-back-from-break which is a HUGE accomplishment for us. Amelia and I had made the plan the night before that we would read our Rosa Parks book in the Resource Room and ease into our day which really seemed to help her. For an hour we read about Rosa and her steady courage. We talked about how dangerous it was to fight oppression at that time and how bold Rosa and her friends were.

Take that, Anxiety! You fill my daughter with fear and I will fill her with stories of American heroines who defy authority and change the course of a nation. This morning we read about Rosa’s stand on the bus and her work through the NAACP registering scores of disenfranchised black voters so that their vote would give them a voice. We read about Rosa working for years for the Montgomery NAACP as their secretary and eventually taking over their youth group. We read a passage in the book about a young black boy being denied the privilege of checking out a book at a public library simply because of the color of his skin and Amelia gasped aloud.

Injustice is something that Amelia seems called to. She idolizes Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. In fact, rarely a day goes by when she does not mention one of them. When I was her age I idolized Amelia Earhart and Joan of Arc. I fancied dare devil history makers and legendary warriors, she prefers a minister and a lady who sat down on a bus.

I like to roar. Amelia likes steady. Two faces of courage.

Through parenting Amelia she has taught me a new face to courage, one very different from my own. From the time she was tiny I have filled her library bag and her bookshelf with stories of girls and women being smart, daring, and adventurous. We’ve intentionally avoided stories and characters that did not demonstrate these things. I have always felt it was important to tell her stories of women who are/were the type of woman I want her to become. I try to act mindfully every day and model for her the woman I want her to be. And from those stories Amelia has formed her own sense of courage.

So this morning when we read that one of Rosa Park’s colleagues from the Montgomery NAACP felt that black men should have equal rights but that a woman’s place was at home in the kitchen my eight year old put her hand out and exclaimed, “Oh. I. Am. Sorry. But. What. Did. You. Just. Say. To. Me? You did NOT just say that women are supposed to stay home in the kitchen. And what? Cook for the men and for their babies? No way. That is just rude. Women can be whatever they want to be.”

I sat there in shock for a moment and then said, “Right Smalls, equal rights means every person should be equal to another. ALL humans are equal, boys and girls, every color. If a woman chooses to stay home to care and cook for her family that is fine because that’s a big job. But….”

Amelia interjected with, “I would tell him if she chooses to love science instead of a husband or climb mountains or be a police officer or something then she has every right to do that and no one can tell her what to do with her body and her brain.”

We sat there for a moment, me looking at my little girl who was still feeling too nervous to go into her classroom, yet possessed a fire in her belly to take on the big challenges in life. The fire to call out injustice when she sees and hears it.

I don’t know if she’ll stand up or sit down when Life calls on her to demonstrate courage, but I do know my little girl knows how to follow her heart for what is right and how to use her voice.

And maybe that is the most important lesson she can ever learn, inside or outside of the classroom.

I tell my daughter stories of women of courage.

I tell my daughter stories of women of courage.

 

Image Source: Half The Sky Movement

Teaching Our Daughters Not To Apologize For Using Their Voices

This morning I shared this thought, and it led to a bigger discussion than I was anticipating…..

Something I want parents to think about: This morning I was talking with some ladies in my print shop trying to figure out the logistics of a large wholesale order that I have coming up. During our conversation one of the ladies spoke up and offered some very good advice that was just what I needed to hear. I thanked her for comments and based on what she said we moved forward with our plan.

But when she was finished speaking, she put her palms up in the air and said, “You know I’m just nobody, I don’t know all that much!”

I asked her not to sell herself short, that clearly she did know quite a bit because she helped me worked through my dilemma and that she had been very helpful.

I frequently hear women do this (and sometimes men) and it drives me crazy. Here is what I want you to think about — when you make excuses for your intelligence instead of owning it, what do our kids but *specifically our girls* learn about using their voices? When you apologize for using your voice with a “I’m sorry but, this is what I think….” or in some other way disqualify the importance of what you are saying, what do our kids learn about who has the right to speak their truth and who doesn’t?

Don’t apologize or excuse away your intelligence. Own it. Use your voice.

Use Your Voice button from New Moon Girls, available at www.pigtailpals.com

 

The discussion that followed went on to analyze why people say, “I’m sorry, but…..” or “……, just kidding!” in ways that disqualify their statements. We also talked about why girls and women let the end of their sentences trail up, turning their statement into something more of a question. The historical context of the issue we are discussing is steeped in patriarchy and being told our voices do not count, do not matter. Girls and women are taught to take up less space, remember our places, never be arrogant, never be opinionated and rock the boat. Pretty and pleasing. I call bullshit!

Yes, it is learned behavior that (mostly) women have to unlearn and yes, that is not easy. Still, it is important that we are aware of the game being played and how we contribute (or not) to it. Even more important is that we not teach this game to our daughters.

If apologizing or erasing statements is a habit you have, please know this: I am not telling you to have confidence. That isn’t something you just “get”. It is something you build.

I am telling you not to give your permission away.

I am telling you not to apologize when you speak, especially when you do it in front of your daughters. What other people think of you is really none of your business. Speak your truth.

If you are having a civil discussion there is always room for disagreement, you do not have to disqualify your own words to make room for it.

Hear the difference between, “I’m sorry but” or “I don’t know anything but” and:
~ “My experience has been blah blah blah, of course you are welcome to disagree.”
~ “This will not be a popular opinion nonetheless it is a part of this conversation, blah blah blah”
~ “Blah blah blah blah blah, but I’m open to hearing what you have to say.”
~ “There are different angles to this, my thoughts are yadda yadda yadda.”

 

Parent Question: “My 8 year old daughter often speaks with the up ending in her sentences. I don’t know where she gets this (probably a friend at school) because I don’t speak this way. Any advice in how to help her with this? She’s incredibly shy about expressing her opinions and I don’t want to make her feel ashamed about how she speaks in any way.” -Julie

PPBB Answer: We really don’t want her to lose her voice and her confidence in using it. An important thing to remember is that her personality may be introverted or extroverted but that is not an indicator of her self confidence or self worth. She may not like talking in front of people, or prefer to share her ideas with a small group as opposed to the whole class. We need to be respectful of this, and I’m sure that you are.

Talking with her teacher to make sure she is participating in class and stating answers to questions is a good start. Maybe you and the teacher can develop some goals and confidence boosters for her, like raise her hand once a day during her favorite subject.

At home, ask her questions about things where the answer is more than a “yes or no” and she has to tell what she thinks. Or ask her to help be problem solver, because there is a lot of room to give solutions without knowing the one right answer. An example might be an issue with a sibling, a family practice that needs to change (maybe you need to get better about recycling, walking the dog, not wasting food), how to help a neighbor, plan a holiday meal, come up with a plan for to help the local food bank. Whatever, just get her talking. Make sure to speak to any siblings ahead of time so that they understand we are working as a team to grow her confidence and that any ridicule or rudeness towards her remarks will not be tolerated.
Maybe it is a BIG thing — like a proposal to the PTA or city council for recycling at school or helping the animal shelter. Even if you don’t actually go to the meeting and make a proposal, go through the motions at home. Her stuffed animals can be the audience, or maybe some moms from your group of friends. Or, have her draw a picture of the topic of discussion, post it on the fridge, and ask your spouse to ask her about it later that evening.

So how do we get her to stop up ending her sentences. That is a great question. When I hear kids do it, I always say, “Are you telling me this or asking me?” They say, “I’m telling you this.” I reply, “What you said was smart. Now say it again as a statement instead of a question.”
Or when she says, “I want chicken for dinner?” repeat it to her as a statement, “I want chicken for dinner.” Or make a joke of it, and add, “I want chicken for dinner. Please, dearest sweet wonderful mother of my life.” If she hears you model it, she will learn it. Just like when my kids say, “How many monies is this?” I say, “That is a good question. How much money does this cost?” I am acknowledging the correct thought process, and then redirecting the execution. Picture yourself as a basketball coach. You aren’t ridiculing her for missing the free throw, you are teaching her the correct form so that she has the skills to make bucket after bucket.

Listen to Girls, Celebrate Girls, Use Your Voice stickers/magnets/buttons by New Moon Girls available at www.pigtailpals.com.

Do you need a little reminder to help encourage good speaking habits?

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