Monday, May 18, 2009

Beautiful Like Me - Inspiration

Okay, here it is! This week's Beautiful Like Me question is In your opinion, what is the best way to build self-esteem?

Like so many of life’s bigger questions, there are more answers, leading to more questions – none of which can be looked at in isolation. Generally, the answer to this question seems to focus on media and culture. I want to explore something else. Something personal and something I believe may be an integral part of finding our way to a better place.

I propose that the best way to build self-esteem is to start with a foundation of respect, unconditional love and support and the recognition that every child is fully human. As a first time parent, I have spent a great deal of time reading all manner of books on the subject of raising children. Despite some significant differences in “expert” opinion about how to do this, there is often a common theme centering on behavior. Specifically, how to get your child(ren) to behave in a way that is acceptable to you as a parent and society in general. I will be the first to admit that a compliant child is a more appealing thought to me than one that might be labeled “strong-willed” but I am increasingly bothered by the means to which we will go to get that compliance. There seems to be very little regard and even less respect for the fact that the child is a human being fully capable of his or her own thoughts and feelings. There is an assumption that they are lesser than; incapable – that they need adults to coerce them about how to feel, how to think, how to behave. I am not saying that children do not require guidance. But I am struggling to accept the ways in which we (parents, adults) try to bend them to our own will. Frequently when it really does not matter all that much.

In case you’re new here, I have triplets. Three little boys who are as different as can be. Three personalities who view the world uniquely, who set out to solve problems in ways that make sense to themselves but not necessarily to each other or their parents. I believe them to be amazing individuals with incredible gifts each their own. But I also need (if I am being really honest it’s more likely that I want) things to run smoothly. Their compliance makes life easier – less challenging – for me. And there is always the underlying fear that if I do not stay on top of it utter chaos will prevail and we will never have any peace again. I’m always outnumbered and having some semblance of order over the situation allows me to feel (as delusional as it may be) like I am in control. But what price are my children paying for my need/want to maintain my comfort zone? How often am I reminding, correcting, nagging and my worst offense that happens entirely too often, yelling at them to obey? What is the message they receive from me, the person they spend most of their time with, the person they look to for guidance and unconditional love? My greatest fear is that what they are hearing from me (never overtly, of course) is that they are not good enough. And I am left to wonder if this is where the breakdown of self esteem begins. And it cracks my heart open with grief because I am only human, I really do try and be the best I can be for them but I am selfish, I am tired, I am overwhelmed.

Two books have challenged me in a way that no other parenting books have and I highly recommend every parent check your local library for copies –

· Unconditional Parenting by Alfie Kohn, and
· 10 Conversations You Need to Have with Your Children by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach

I was going to give a little summary of each but coincidentally (or maybe it’s fate??), I just began another this evening and within the first 3 pages I have found myself challenged, moved and inspired. It is completely in sync with the thoughts I am exploring here and so I share this with you now:

Parenting isn’t about molding lumps of formless clay into something virtuous and beautiful. Your child arrived in the world a complete original…Your job as a parent isn’t just to pay for piano lessons, or drive your son to soccer practice – it’s to enable him to explore the full potential of his own personality and intelligence and capacity for love. Parenting doesn’t just mean wiping our kid’s nose and making sure that her socks match; it means throwing kindling on the spark of her potential and ardently fanning the ensuing blaze.

We must not simply police our children, we must inspire them.

If we simply superimpose our will on our children, they will feel coerced... If we bully our children into doing well, instead of bringing out a desire to contribute their unique gifts to the world, they will resent us… We must instead use inspiration so that they become willing participants – enthusiastic ones, even – in their own improvement. Every parent is capable of inspiring their children, and we must now find this talent within ourselves and bring it to the forefront. (from Parenting With Fire,
Shmuley Boteach)

So my answer to this week’s question, in your opinion, what is the best way to build self-esteem, is really a thought I am still developing. One that will ask more questions than it answers but one that I hope I will be mindful of in my journey as a mother. I think the building of self-esteem begins long before the pre-teen years and long before the media and culture at large begin to exert their influences on our kids. I think it begins at home and I think it begins right now.

There are several very talented bloggers participating in this project. Because I am a technical dingbat, I have not figured out how to link everyone here in my post. Check out the Beautiful Like Me Project Home Page for links to all the participants and check them out for more thoughts that will make you think (that sounds funny, but you know what I mean!).

Beautiful Like Me - Coming Soon!

Today's question to ponder for the Beautiful Like Me Project is In your opinion, what is the best way to build self-esteem?. I have draft after draft attempting to answer this in a way that makes sense but I have not yet achieved what I think is a readable answer - it's more a running stream of thought(s) ramble. So, this post is to serve as a place holder for the real thing coming soon -really, I promise. Okay, maybe not really soon but today for sure. Possibly late in the day but today. Please check back later and let me know what your thinking about this question as well...See you soon!

Tuesday, May 5, 2009


A boy is trust with dirt on it's face, beauty with a cut on it's finger, wisdom with bubble gum in it's hair, and the hope of the future with a frog in it's pocket

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Monday, May 4, 2009

Beautiful Like Me

Tricia at Shout asked me if I would like to participate in the Beautiful Like Me Project. Having had the opportunity to discuss this and other life questions with her, I was honored and more than a little intimidated to say yes. The explanation of it's beginning can be found here. Participants are asked to blog about a series of questions every two weeks. I am joining in on question #3 - What features/qualities would we like today’s children to see as beautiful? I am sure I will not do justice to the vastness of this consideration. This is my feeble, and very incomplete attempt. I am still mulling it over and continue to discover layers of feelings and thoughts on the issue.

How to answer this question has been with me for days now. I think about it in the shower, in the car, making dinner, having conversations with my sons and when looking through a magazine or watching television as I confront the perfect images being sold to us everywhere. Undoubtedly, my perspective is shaped by my own experience. A girl, one of three sisters, who grew up in a very dysfunctional family. We each had to find our own way amongst the culture of perfect while our parents struggled with their own demons. They say that a girl’s relationship with her father is incredibly influential in her acquisition of self-worth, of value, her definition of what it means to be beautiful and I believe it to be true. Sadly, our father perpetrated unspeakable acts against my innocence and while I rarely discuss this because I claim that it does not define me, in a lot of ways it has. To introduce sexuality at a young age, to equate a loving relationship with a person who should be your protector, with fear, shame and confusion denies a child the ability to understand, to evolve into, her own value.

I was always a skinny kid. Scrawny is probably more accurate. It was not the blessing I would perceive it to be now that I am 20 pounds heavier than my “ideal” body weight. I vaguely remember feeling inadequate, not at all beautiful when comparing myself to the images I believed to be perfection, in high school. But it was not something I obsessed over. I had friends, a boyfriend, activities. And I finally filled out, a little, by college so there were a few years of actually feeling good about my appearance. It was not until my late 20s, when my body began to fail me. It’s not as dramatic as it sounds. Until then, I had always eaten whatever I wanted without obvious consequence. I was active, though not necessarily actively exercising but I rarely gained a pound. Suddenly, or so it seemed, I started to gain a few pounds. And they quickly began to add up. By 30, I was 25-30 pounds heavier than I had been at 18. I hated this new body, worked hard to fight against it but habits had been formed and I was definitely an emotional eater. I began exercising in earnest and though my weight remained a larger number than made me comfortable, I started to feel healthy and generally better about my appearance. After a long struggle with infertility, I became pregnant at 32 – with triplets! The goal weight gain for a triplet pregnancy is somewhere between 60 and 70 pounds…YIKES! I spent the first 15 weeks with severe “morning” sickness and actually lost 13 pounds. I spent the next 17 weeks on bed rest, eating every few hours to try and make up for lost time. When I delivered at 31 weeks, I had gained only 33 pounds. I assumed, with a weight gain that was typical of a single pregnancy that it would fall off after my boys were born. Or at least start steadily melting away over that first year. Not so. I will spare you the details of the next 5 years by summarizing this – I have still not lost the “baby weight”. And I now struggle daily with feelings of inadequacy, ugliness, disgust at my appearance.

Despite the confessional about my weight issues, I have never, ever mentioned weight as a factor in beauty or even health to my children. After their birth, I became diligent about our health as a family. Nutrition and exercise focused, we often talk about how amazing our bodies are – all the things they can do – especially if we take care of them. We discuss how the food choices we make can either help or hinder our body’s strength. We plan and prepare our meals together using local and organic food as much as possible. We have a garden, we shop at farmer’s markets, we belong to a CSA. We do not watch TV during the school week, opting instead for physical activity – outside as much as weather allows. I cannot remember a time with them when physical appearance has been perceived as an indicator of beauty – until now.

The boys do not like kisses from me when I have lipstick (or even chapstick) on. This has initiated some funny comments and conversation but I was taken aback at this question that was posed as I kissed them one morning before school – “Why do girls wear lipstick?”. I paused before answering, uncertain if my response would set off more questioning from the peanut gallery (it usually does). I did not want to say that makeup makes a girl pretty or imply it necessary for a man to find her attractive so I answered with “sometimes it makes a girl feel pretty to wear a little lipstick”. This of course was met with “why” and I repeated my original answer before quickly changing the subject. Not my typical MO. I have answered many a question that would make my husband, and a lot of other adults, squirm. I have always been truthful with them about hard topics – “am I going to die, are you going to die, why do people die, what happens when we die, why don’t girls have a penis, what’s a vagina, how are babies born, how do they get in there” and on and on. Why then am I so uncomfortable defining or at least answering honestly a simple question about makeup?

As the mother of boys and a feminist at heart, it is incredibly important to me that I raise men who recognize the equal value of the opposite sex. Men who are respectful of differences without feelings of superiority (or inferiority), men who are self sufficient, who know how to take care of themselves and do not expect someone (a woman) to do it for them. Men who value intellect, humanity, kindness, authenticity at least as much as or more than appearance when looking for a partner in life. Men who value their own bodies as marvels, miracles capable of so much if respected and cared for. Compassionate and strong, confident while humble, secure in all they do, respectful of all humanity understanding the value of every life, be it their own or that of someone in Iraq or a person on a street corner downtown. Yes, it is idealistic and likely unrealistic, but these are the things I hope they value. These are the things I hope they see their parents modeling. Struggle as we may to do so.

So, to answer the question what features/qualities would we like today’s children to see as beautiful?, I hope today’s children can find the beauty in humanity. I wish for them to recognize the beauty in the human experience. To recognize their strengths and even their struggles as beautiful. To reject the idea of perfection and to embrace the everyday, to recognize the miracles that abound, to find real joy in the moment and to seek the beauty in everything. To hold on to their childish innocence and wonder at all that is. These are the things I wish for us all.