Last night I failed as a mom. I lost my cool.
It was a lovely Sunday night family dinner. My oldest daughter had prepared “pizza in a bowl”, a pasta dish we found in a children’s slow cooker recipe book that was perfect for her skill level and for my kids’ palates.
My cousin recently married her best-friend-turned-boyfriend of 11 years, and that started our conversation:
– “How long did you date daddy?”
– “Not 11 years, but I chose well.”
– “Was he your best friend?”
– “No, but he is now.”
– “Would you have married your best friend?”
– “No way!”
– “Why not?”
– “He had too many girlfriends”.
And then my heart stopped with the next comment by my 11-year old:
– “If that was a girl, that’s what we call a ‘Ho’”.
I felt nauseous. That comment literally caused a physical reaction in me. I could not breath. I wanted to scream at her. Thank goodness that I don’t believe in physical discipline and I am not inclined to aggressive behavior, or else I might have slapped her. I am normally cool and collected, and a very patient and rational person, but this I could not control. My eyes turned to her in anger.
“WHAT DID YOU JUST SAY?” I screamed. “Do you know what you just said? Do you know how degrading that is to women? Don’t ever use that word again!”
My husband tried to intervene, saying she doesn’t even know what it means. Although she might not fully understand it, the context was accurate. I could not control my anger.
She did not learn this word at home. To this day I can’t even say bad words aloud. It is very unlikely that she learned it watching TV because we got rid of cable a while back, we closely monitor her Netflix picks, we hardly watch TV at all and when she does she’s usually accompanied by one of us. The Internet? Possible. She uses the computer for homework, we have all kinds of parental blocks on it and she’s only allowed to use it in the kitchen when we are present, but I don’t know if something might have escaped us; perhaps a music video? Still, it seems unlikely that she would have learned the word and its definition from a mumbled rap song. This took some actual teaching.
It is very likely that she learned this word at school, although I do not blame the school. She actually goes to a small school with a very diverse and well-educated population in a sheltered environment, but other kids could be exposed to vocabulary and influences, and they just pick up things. I don’t blame those kids either, though, because they didn’t make it up and they don’t fully understand the implications of calling someone such a derogatory term. They just heard it and repeat it because it’s the way their platonic role models talk, so it must be cool.
Society is probably to blame, but pointing fingers is pointless, and really, I must accept responsibility for my daughter’s actions.
I, as well as most modern parents, focus my time and energy on giving my children all the advantages in the world. Especially if we have girls, we work extra hard to teach them to stand up for themselves and be well-rounded individuals. We make sure to expose them to STEM and sign them up for the right extra curricular activities (a little bit of music and art, sports, of course, so they can be physically strong and gain self confidence).
We want to empower our daughters, but how about instead of focusing on the one girl at home, we focus on empowering a whole generation of girls?
It is a sad truth that women’s worst enemies are often other women who criticize, gossip, stare down and mock those who don’t fit their model of “perfect mom,” “proper lady” or any of a variety of stereotypical roles. Whether it is a different political view, parenting style, professional path or appearance, it seems second nature to ease our own insecurities by putting other women down. We call them bad moms, stupid, ugly, fat. We call them “hos”.
How about we stop doing that? Let’s focus on being kind to each other, supporting women under some crazy notion that, perhaps, we are all in this together, playing for the same team, trying our best.
Let’s teach kindness along with coding. Let’s look for opportunities to model respect with as much effort as we search for the best summer camp.
No woman will ever be powerful and successful, not Hillary Clinton or Sarah Palin, not Sheryl Sandberg or Martha Stewart, not my daughter or yours, unless we teach them to support and help each other in spite of their differences, and to treat all people with kindness and respect.
The first lesson in the education of kindness is our example. Let’s examine our attitudes, check our relationships and evaluate our conversations, because the kids are always watching; always absorbing. Let’s inspire kindness through actions as well as words and show our girls the power of good, empathy and understanding. Let’s use all those parenting techniques we have so meticulously studied to reinforce kindness and respect as much as As and gold medals.
Let’s ask for the same from the other influencers in our daughters’ lives. Teachers, you have so much power over our girls. Monday through Friday, you spend more awake time with them than we do. They look up to you. Teachers witness their interactions with peers and hand them successes and failures in the form of grades. Is that all done in a positive and encouraging environment? Can gossip in the classroom be addressed aloud? Can physical and psychological bullying be tackled head on instead of writing it off as normal girl drama? Let’s foster the sense of community in the classroom, so it can expand to the school, to our towns and beyond. Count on us moms to participate and work as a team with a common goal.
Leaders in our society, political, formal or informal, how about we stop voting for “winners” and reject hurtful rhetoric? Just the other day I heard Carly Fiorina making comments about Hillary Clinton’s marriage and couldn’t help but wonder: Why would she think that would gain her any votes? Let’s demand respect from male leaders as well. It’s ridiculous to still have to debate whether women deserve equal pay for equal work, have to put up with sexual discrimination or harassment at the office, or have the work of moms at home go unappreciated and devalued. It takes all women standing together to make a difference, not just a lone soldier.
Let’s make our voices heard across Hollywood and the music industry. Mean girls are not cool, and there are many words to make your rhymes that don’t require the use of “bitches” or “hos.” Our daughters are beautiful, but a woman’s inner beauty is far superior to pretty faces and slim shapes. Let’s focus on that instead. There are plenty of options in the entertainment world and us moms have the power to choose to consume and pay for the media that reinforces our positive values.
Sitting down to write these words, which originated from an everyday experience at my dinner table, just like any other mom would have at home with her family, I realize that as long as I take my frustration and turn it into action, when I learn from my mistakes and communicate with my daughter, or when I encourage one more woman to stop and think, I cannot be a failure as a mom. I am not.
I am a woman who needs support and is willing to stand behind you and your daughter, to compliment you when you do well and encourage you to pursue your goals, whether at home or in outer space, whether we think alike or could not disagree more. We’re in this together. Let’s empower the next generation of girls through kindness and respect.