A Letter to My Daughters on Internet Selfies

Don’t put naked pictures on the internet. The end.

Kidding! Totally not the end. I’ve got a lot to say about this.

We live in a very strange world. It’s so incomprehensibly different than it was when I was your age, and I know I really don’t understand what it’s like to be an adolescent right now. I’m sorry for that. I so often wish I could stop this mad world and turn things back to when you didn’t need to worry that the entire world would get a glimpse of your life through your Instagram feed. Back before people were famous just for being famous; before the competition to be the popular became a lifestyle. Before ordinary people could use filters to make their lives appear to be something they’re not. Before decency and modesty and class went out of style. But I can’t.

And you know what? This messed-up, crazy, broken, brilliant world? I love it so much. I hope you do, too. There is so much good.

But back to being naked online.

Here’s the thing. I’m not going to tell you not to post nude selfies because it’s indecent (although it is) or because I can’t stand exhibitionism (although I can’t). I’m not going to ask you not to do this because it’s classless and base and voyeuristic, although it is all of those things.

I’m asking you not to post nude pictures of yourself on the internet because you live in a world where 90% of the people who know you, don’t really know you. They know the internet personality you have put out there. They know one facet of you.

A diamond is beautiful because it is multi-faceted. It is cut so that it’s many faces catch the light and send it back, sparkling and glowing, into the world. If you have just one of those facets, its beauty is gone. A single facet is like a pane of glass – rather boring but valuable because it lets us see through it. Your one facet that you show to the world on Twitter is like a pane of glass. No one who sees it knows the brilliance of who you are in all your facets. They only see this one window into you.

There’s nothing wrong with that. In life you’ll find that your people come in spheres. A vast number of people will be in the outer sphere, far from your true self, only seeing the piece of you that you show them. A smaller number will know there are more sides to you. They’ll see more of your facets, but not all. A very, very select few will ever know all of you, and I pray desperately that those people will see the glorious beauty of who you are.

When you post a picture of yourself on the internet, you are choosing a facet to give to the world. This is true of every tweet, every Facebook update, every everything you do. The key is to stop and consider – what side of myself am I showing? If this picture (post, whatever) were the only thing someone knew of me, what would they think? Because for many, many people, that picture is the only thing they will know of you.

Will they think you’re funny? Smart? Surrounded by good friends? Really good at decorating your room? Compassionate? Tender? Hard-working? All good things. Some are shallow, but let’s face it – pretty much everything on Instagram is shallow.

On the other hand, will that one picture of you make them think you’re vain? A show off? Shameless? Cruel? Lazy?

If it seems unfair that people will judge you based on a single picture, you’re starting to get my point. You might insist that you aren’t lazy or vain, and that if people only knew you they would understand that – but they won’t. They’ll only know that one piece of you that you present to them.

So post carefully. But also remember that no matter what you post, if you make a mistake and send something into the void that you wish you could take back, I will be here for you. I’ll have your back. We’ll walk that out together, because I see you as the whole, incredible, marvelous, beautiful, wonderful person you are. Every facet.

I love you,



Cell Phone Snark and Hooey

Ah, Facebook, bringer of all things controversial. It’s where I stumbled across this article, which, frankly, seemed so silly that I would normally have ignore it, except that apparently the APA isn’t ignoring it. And it was on Time.com. You know Time Magazine, that bastion of factual information and intelligent writing… or maybe I’m dating myself.

Anyway, the premise of the article is that mom and dad spend too much time on their phones when they should be hanging out with junior, and that frequent cell usage makes you a worse parent. It’s hard to take parenting advice from a journalist whose opening sentence (for Time!) ends in a dangling preposition, but there is a valid point to be made here. According to the article, researchers from Boston University took to fast-food restaurants and observed the interactions of parents and children.

To study the effect of smartphones, Radesky and her colleagues sent in undercover investigators to surreptitiously observe any adult-child grouping with more than one youngster as they ate at a fast-food restaurant. The observers recorded the behavior of both the adults and the children in 55 such groupings, as well as how frequently the adults used their smartphones.”

So, basically, they snuck around on people, recorded their behavior without permission, and then published it in this study. I’m not sure what the ethics are on that, but I can tell you I’ll be nicer to my kids the next time we hit up McDonald’s. Also, the ‘undercover investigators’ bit makes me leery. Why weren’t Radesky and her colleagues doing the observing? The article continues:

“The data provided an unvarnished look at how absorbed many parents were by their devices. One child reached over in an attempt to lift his mother’s face while she looked down at a tablet, but to no avail. Another mother kicked her child under the table in response to the child’s various attempts to get her attention while she looked at her phone. A father responded in curt and irritated tones to his children’s escalating efforts to tear him away from his device.”

Here’s the thing – it takes a lot more than Candy Crush to get a woman to kick her child. This is one of those chicken and egg situations. Do cell phones make people ignore their children, or do people who ignore their children use cell phones? Just this evening I was sitting on my front step with, yes, my phone, reading an article. My four year old was building with bricks nearby. He would call me, and I would look up and interact with him, then go back to my phone. It’s easy to point to cell phones as the reason for bad parenting. It’s much harder to address the character flaws – laziness, selfishness, lack of self-control, a temper – that are the real issue. But of course, the ‘researchers’ weren’t finished.

“In light of the data, Radesky is working with the American Academy of Pediatrics to develop some guidelines for the smart smartphone use in front of the kids — just as the academy has advice for parents on TV viewing.”

Because of course the answer to every problem is intervention and rules set by professionals. One rather sneaky study, with a very small sample group, and no background information on the subjects, seems shaky ground to make these vast claims. I’m not saying parents should choose cell phones over their children! For heaven’s sake, I’m the first one to say that we should all go back to the analog age. I’m saying that we’ve got to stop grabbing at what’s easy if we want what’s best. It’s called “ignoratio elenchi” – the argument addresses the issue, but it still isn’t logically valid. It’s more frequently known as ‘missing the point’. My smart phone doesn’t make me a good or a bad parent. My smart phone isn’t the bad guy. As I’ve already mentioned, there is a valid point to be made here. I just think we’re missing it.

American Girls

My oldest daughter fell in love with Felicity years ago. Felicity is a young girl living in the American colonies just before the outbreak of the Revolutionary War. She deals with political issues – some of her family are patriots and some are loyalists. Her favorite horse is nearly beaten to death by its owner. Her grandfather dies and her mother nearly dies in childbirth. This is some pretty heavy stuff.

The American Girl company, however, pulled it off with grace and good humor and the story was inspiring and educational while still being immensely attractive to young girls. We read the books, we watched the movie and we drooled over catalogs of hundred dollar dolls.

Eventually, my daughter saved up enough of her own money to buy a doll for herself, but by then Felicity had been retired. We bought a ‘look alike’ doll instead, and a few Christmases later I found her a Felicity on eBay. By then the gift was more sentimental than anything, but she loved it.

Last year my younger daughter decided she wanted an American Girl doll, too. We started looking through the dolls and I was shocked to see so many wonderful, historical dolls being retired and replaced by “Just Like Me” dolls and “Bitty Babies”. What happened to inspiring? What happened to rich, vivid history?

It turns out, I’m not alone in my opinion. Alexandra Petri published this article over on the Washington Post. Some excerpts:

“The whole point was to give you an entry point to history. Felicity or Samantha or Addy reminded you that, during the Civil War and the Revolutionary War and all the fascinating important times of history, there were Girls Almost But Not Quite Like You.”

Not so any longer. In our culture of sameness and oneness and we’re-all-equal-ness it seems we no longer want our daughters to stretch themselves in their imaginations.

“Maybe we get the dolls we deserve. After all, the redirection has been to shape them in our own image. You can wear what Saige (yes, SAIGE) is wearing. Saige, in turn, will have no more adventure than is readily available to you. You can indulge in a spa day! A spa day, with Saige. No more trekking across the prairie or dealing with wartime rationing.” 

Maybe we do get what we deserve. Maybe American girls have actually gone from brave, principled and heroic to shallow and self-interested. Maybe the new dolls are a reflection of modern America, just as the historic dolls were reflections of their respective times. Today’s girls just don’t face the same challenges of starvation, slavery and war. Today’s challenges are finding the right outfit, feeling left out and maybe having your favorite extracurricular cut from your school. Maybe the publishers of American Girl books want to address today’s issues. I get that.

But let’s face it: acting as though those challenges are the worst thing that can happen is the area of pre-teen girls. We, the adults, are supposed to guide them into the understanding that, actually, that stuff isn’t such a big deal. That’s why we need Addy and Samantha. We need role models for our girls who overcome actual challenges, and do so with grace, courage and imagination.

Bring back the good stuff, AG. Until then, I’m afraid this family of girls will be searching for our inspiration on eBay.

How To Do It All… part two

I know I promised some practical tips on home management, but before we get that far, we’ve got to deal with something far more important: attitude. All the systems and tips in the world aren’t going to make a house run smoothly if Mama’s bitter and frustrated. I’m sure no one reading this has a problem with attitude – just me. So let me talk to me for a little bit:

“Listen, me. You’ve got to quit the whining. Look, raising a pack of kids, homeschooling and keeping all the plates spinning is hard work. But remember, you signed up for this. Yes, I know, the laundry never ends. There are always dirty dishes in the sink. Those kids want dinner every single day. It’s exhausting. But here’s the thing – that stuff isn’t going away. And your complaining about it doesn’t make it easier or better, it makes it harder and worse. Take a look at all that stuff and get some good systems in place. Make it as painless as possible to keep up with it all. Accept that some days it won’t all get done, and make it a goal to do better tomorrow. Most importantly, change your attitude. If you keep a cheerful attitude, everyone in your house will have a better day.

Oh, and let’s talk about all the other stuff you feel like you need to do. Let’s take soccer, for instance. You signed the kids up for that, remember? You chose to do it. So you don’t get to gripe about the cost, and the time it takes in your week, and the drive, and the snacks, and the weather. If every time you look at that thing on the calendar you get bitter inside, then stop doing it. Don’t tell me you can’t. I know you think it’s good for the kids, but you’ve got to look at it objectively and weigh your options. If you feel like the benefit for the kids is outweighed by how much you really hate doing it – quit. Yes, I said quit. Because being grumpy about it all the time is sucking the life out of your home. But if you really feel like the benefit to the kids is more important than the inconvenience to you, than suck it up and quit your whining. I know it’s hard. If you really feel overwhelmed, give a good friend a call and tell her. Then pick yourself up, remind yourself that you made a choice, and move forward.

Remember, your kids pick up on your tone and attitude. They will begin to reflect your character. Think about that for a minute. What kind of choices do you want them to make? How do you want them to behave when stuff is hard or inconvenient? Start to behave like that, and you might be surprised the positive changes that start to take place.

Listen me, you’re doing a great job. We all need a little pep talk now and again. Don’t let it get you down! You’re a great mom and your family is lucky to have you. Keep up the good work.”



How To Do It All

A short while back I received an email from a dear friend who was struggling with balancing her very busy life. I’m paraphrasing, but essentially the note said, “How do you do it all? How do you keep a clean, happy house, cook, homeschool, have dates with your husband and discipline your children?”

Of course, the answer is that I don’t. At least, not all at the same time. And it’s good to remember that I laughed when I read it because we’d just had a very rocky week during which several of those things did NOT get done, but the way other people see us is generally very different from the way we see us. Still, it’s a good question and one that deserves an answer because it gets asked all the time. I can’t tell my friend how to do it all, because her ‘all’ is different than mine, but I can tell you how I do all mine, and share some tricks I’ve learned along the way.

I have five children. That’s usually why people ask me this question. When I want to know how other people do it, I go to women who have more children than I do. I have several favorite blogs written by women with lots of kids and they’ve been invaluably helpful to me. It’s good to get advice and wisdom from as many sources as possible, keeping what works for you and discarding what doesn’t. So don’t consider this expert testimony, just take what you can.

The first thing to realize is that all you can do is all you can do. I can remember a time when I wailed to my husband, “I don’t understand! I’m working as hard as I can all day long and I’m still not getting it all done!” If I remember right I had three toddlers at the time, a full time job and a part time volunteer position at our church. Of course I wasn’t getting it all done – it was too much. Try sitting down and writing a list (I love lists) of all the things you want to accomplish. Make these things goals, not tasks. For example, you might have “Keep a clean home” as a goal rather than “clean house”. Make sure to define these goals. “Be a good parent” is a great goal but very hard to reach if you’re not sure what that entails. I once had it as a goal to make each of my kids laugh at least once per day. Sometimes that meant a tickle fest right before bedtime. So try things you can quantify, like “Spend 30 minutes focused on kids (playing, reading, whatever)”, “Cook something healthy for dinner” or “Give my husband a massage”. These are things you can actually do rather than pie-in-the-sky goals like “Be a good wife”.

Now look at that list – I mean really look at it. Be objective. Is it actually possible to do all those things or are you overwhelming yourself? Do you need to pare it down? One of the things I suggested to my friend was to stop cooking elaborate and creative meals every night. Simplifying her cooking time and shopping list gives her time and energy to do the other things that she feels are important. (Unless cooking like that is your hobby. The idea is to make room for the best stuff in life, not deprive yourself.)

Once that list is done, write a list of all the things you are actually doing and see how they line up with the first list.

How’d that go? I so often find myself running off after rabbit trails and leaving behind the things I actually want to be doing! This kind of exercise helps get me on the right track. Stop doing the things that aren’t on your goal list – even if that means giving up the ‘shoulds’. Things like “I should make elaborate cupcakes for my kid’s class President’s Day party” or “I should replant all my window boxes each spring and fall because my mother in law would be really impressed.” Unless you really love doing it – don’t. But remember – if gardening or party planning makes you feel content and fulfilled than make room for it!

At this point, those of you who are like me (type A anyone?) are grabbing notebooks and pens and going to town with lists and comparison charts. Those of you who don’t possess this particular personality type may not be feeling quite so ‘helped’. Never fear! Specifics are coming! But this post is getting long, so it will have to wait.

Spend some time thinking and praying about the kind of life you’d really like to live. Ask your husband, your best friend and your mom. Then come back and we’ll get down to the practical parts.



How Not to Raise a Brat?

Recently I followed a link from Smockity Frocks (one of my favorite blogs) to a list at The Stressed Mom about how not to raise a brat.

Here’s the list:

1. Don’t call them more than once in the morning to wake up for school. Or make them set their own alarm clock.

2. Stop doing their laundry.

3. Make them clean up behind themselves or confiscate their stuff.

4. Expect them to help get dinner on the table, and to clean up afterwards.

5. Don’t buy them a “treat” every time you go shopping, etc.

6. Teach them how to be responsible for their own school work and make them be accountable.

7. Don’t allow or reward whining by giving in.

8. As often as possible, allow natural consequences to happen. Don’t intervene. They can be some of the best teachers.

9. Teach them to be independent at an early age, and continue to let them mature into further independence.

10. While you should love your child, and let them know you are there for them as they grow, do not baby them. At age 3 or age 13. That makes for an awful 21 year old who feels entitled to everything and won’t get a job or consider moving out and being responsible for themselves.

All in all, I liked the list. But I was shocked at some of the venomous comments that were left. Here are some of the comments, and my counter-attacks. (Note: I edited some of the comments so this blog wasn’t 8 pages long. You can read the full comments

1. I know everyone will hate me but I disagree. We don’t do #1,7,8 and I don’t do #10. My sister is 17, just graduated high school, got accepted into every university she applied to, just bought her fist car with her own money, is working, is in the process of getting her own apartment, and is very independent. I just turned 16 on Monday. I have one more year of high school because I am graduating early and skipping my junior year. I have a 4.0 GPA and am in the top 10% of my class. We have both been athletes all of our lives and I think that playing sports is a big part of teaching your kids how to be responsible and independent.

My response: You’re 16. I’m not knocking 16, but you’re going to need some life experience before you weigh in on parenting issues. I’d also like to point out that it’s very possible that your 4.0 GPA while playing sports is due in large part to the fact that your parents have shouldered much of the burden of your life (according to you, in that they don’t allow natural consequences, baby you and allow you to whine until you get what you want.)

2. I agree with 3,5,7,8, 9 and 10. The reason I don’t agree with some of them is that kids should be allowed to be kids and have fun too. I agree with chores but don’t agree with going overboard and treating kids like little adults because they aren’t adults

My response: This is the line that always confuses me. “Kids should be allowed to be kids and have fun.” Believe me, no matter how many chores I give my kids, they still manage to be kids and have fun. My kids have several responsibilities each day, on top of their schoolwork. They make their beds, clean their rooms, help with laundry and dishes, vacuum, dust, tidy the common areas, and sweep the floor. Somehow they still have hours of time to fill. And yes, I have heard the dreaded, “I’m bored” cry more than once.

3. Why not just send them off to Boarding School and bring them back when they are legally adults? That way you won’t have to cook, clean up after them, educate them etc. I raised both my sons with the Happy method and both can cook, clean, sew, do laundry, and all because I included them in those activities not imposed them as chores that must be done or else. And yes, I babied them and still do and they have turned out to be very well rounded adults thank you very much.

I totally agree with simply including your kids in the chores, rather than turning your home into a prison sentence. Moms shouldn’t be so quick to jump on the over-the-top discipline bandwagon that they lose sight of how simple and natural “work” can be. Just because your 3-year-old can’t do a full load of laundry doesn’t mean they are doomed to a failed future!

 My response: These were two separate comments but the same premise. I have two things to say. First, no one is suggesting a three year old should be running the laundry room. Second, I heartily agree with the idea that you should have your children work alongside you. I’m not sure why so many people assume you must be one or the other – either a strict disciplinarian “turning your home into a prison sentence” or a “happy” mom who babies her children. In my house we do both. We work together, including them in both things that need to be done and things I love to do. But at some point, whether you want to or not, the chores must be done.

4. I think this blog should be called “The Lazy Mom.” Honestly, if you didn’t want to care for your home or kids, why did you have them? Praising your oldest for teaching her older children to look after her younger ones is ridiculous (maybe she should have used some birth control after the first so she didn’t end up with more then she could handle?) In our society children should not be responsible for looking after younger children (even briefly) that is what PARENTS and CHILD CARE PROVIDERS (the adult kind) do. Beyond teaching them how to pick up after themselves (NOT housework or chores just cleaning up their own messes) there is nothing worth reading on this blog. Its just another “Mommy is stressed out so here are some things you can pass off to someone else” blog.

I think this is for lazy parents. If you choose to have children you are choosing to take on the responsibilities of taking care of them. I think this article is absurd. Why not just demand your child be potty trained and off the bottle as soon as they’re born so you can cross that one off your list too… Or better yet why not entitle it 10 ways to pawn your responsibilities off onto your children!

My response: Wow. These two left me speechless for a moment. But only for a moment. I’ll try not to be as angry and snarky in my response as the commenters. Teaching your children to take care of themselves does not mean you no longer take care of them. They’re still learning. The parent-child relationship is a continuum. In the beginning, they are completely dependent on you. As time goes by, the responsibility shifts, little by little, to the child. Our job is to equip them to take on the responsibility that will inevitably be theirs. I don’t ask my children to do things because I can’t handle them, I ask them to do things because I recognize that they can. I don’t understand the idea that older children should never take care of younger children. Maybe the lack of that kind of training is why so many moms I talk to feel like they are incapable of raising their own kids. My children LOVE helping with the younger kids. They would often far prefer to keep the babies occupied than do their chores. One of my daughters enjoys it so much that she’s decided she wants to be a preschool teacher. Encouraging older kids to help care for younger ones develops empathy, patience and a nurturing spirit. It helps them understand that other people may have different abilities, and may need our help sometimes. It gives them a feeling of purpose and satisfaction to be in charge. Apparently this poster is also against teenaged baby-sitters, though, so her opinion may be a bit extreme. Lastly, if all we expect of our children is to pick up after themselves, but never do any housework, how will they know how to run a home when they’re out on their own? It’s the one inevitable fact of life – we will all have a house to clean someday. Our kids will have a much easier time of it if we give them the skills they’ll need.

5. My babies are 1 and 2… both help me wash dishes, clean tables, help me take clothes out of the dryer into baskets and even try to fold, they pick up toys, basically they are involved in everything I do around the house… I do not force them too, nor do I expect them to, they are just babies… But these are things I do on a daily basis, its apart of their normal day, just as well as play time and nap time, WE CLEAN EVERYDAY. I am stern when I discipline, but when they fall down and cry I’m the first to come running, they depend on me to be comforting and they expect kisses on all their ouchies… Do I think this is gonna mess them up?? Absolutely not. I do not agree with a lot of this only because children learn by example, if they are used to doing something every day because you do it, they will do it. Mimicking is a natural human instinct. Its not as much enforcing rules, and refraining from ‘babying’, or passing off your motherly duties to children, its setting an example. I agree with Kat, this should be called “The Lazy Mom.”

My response: Again, yes, we should set an example and work with our kids. Babying them means consistently doing for them what they could do themselves, not ignoring them when they are hurt. I am fully responsible for my children’s emotional needs. I am only partly responsible for their physical needs – that’s the part that becomes their job. Also, your kids are babies. When they’re ten they’re not going to be so excited about doing what mommy does. Trust me.

We all want to raise great kids. The actual raising part can be a real challenge. It takes balance, perspective and a long-term vision of what kind of people we hope our kids will be when they’re adults. We won’t all agree on how it’s done, but I hope articles like this open us up to new ideas – without the crazy, judgmental comments.

What say you?

Chore Monster

After years of charts and lists and point systems, I’ve recently discovered a new chore system called Chore Monster!

Chore Monster is an app and a website. If your kids have iTouches (or iPhones, I suppose) they can log on to the Chore Monster app to see their chores. You sign up on their website, where you can assign chores with whatever frequency you like.

Chore Monster also keeps track of points that are earned (you decide how many points each chore is worth). These points can be turned in for rewards, which you select and list. Plus, the app itself awards random monsters, which the kids can collect.

So far I’ll say it has several things going for it. For one, the app is full of monsters. Not scary ones, fun ones. The graphics are fun and the kids look forward to checking up on their chores. On the negative side, there’s potty humor. But the kids like that, too.

They’re still in Beta testing mode, so in order to join you’ll have to go to their website and request an invite code. We’ve only just started using the app, so I can’t give a full review, but I’m hopeful. I’ll write it up thoroughly in a few months.

Check it out! www.choremonster.com