The Rules

June 8, 2011

I briefly toyed with naming this new blog of mine “Because I Said So,” as a way to grab back a little of the maternal authority that my generation has thrown out the window.  But honestly, now that my girls are moving out of girlhood towards adolescence, my word is no longer an adequate law.  They need explanations, and deserve good ones.  I’ve also had to wean myself off of the constant use of “no,” and gradually adopt the judicious use of “yes.”

It hasn’t been easy, but this new approach plays better to my strengths.  After establishing a firm foundation with twelve solid years of No, our family finally seems ready for a little bit of the positive.  Last year I learned to say it as, “Oui,” but this year, I’m feeling a lot more of the good old American Yes, even when that means that our old rules for kids get bent out of shape.

But some rules are still chiseled in stone.  A few months ago, inspired by BFF Katie, we posted a list.  Some of them were basic (Clean Thyself, or Thou Wilt Be Smelly), and some of them were pipedreams (Make your Bed Every Day.).  But some of them are less like rules, and more like laws.

This one, in particular:

  • Don’t say mean things about people’s bodies, hair, clothing, smarts, or personality. Including your sister’s or your own.

I realize that stating this rule puts me squarely at odds with a whole lot of forces.  And I don’t care.  Preteen girls are famously mean, mostly because they have developed the intellectual sharpness to cut their friends to ribbons before developing the wisdom to see that their swords are even more dangerous to themselves.  (See below, re:  middle school nightmares.)

We also live in a mean culture.  Twitter, HuffPo, Talk Radio, and politicians from both sides of the political aisle thrive most when they are chopping other people to bits.

But the worst of all meanness, in my opinion?  It’s the way that young girls learn to talk about themselves.  Kids are, by definition and by design, inherently focused on themselves at this age.  The problem is just how hostile their laser attention can be when turned inward.

“My hair is so stringy/curly/dirty/flat/ugly today.” “I look terrible/fat/slutty/prissy in this skirt.”  “I really need makeup/waxing/more exercise to look like I should.” “I am so dumb.”  “My butt makes my butt look big.”

We wouldn’t (or at least know we shouldn’t) talk about our friends that way.  So why do we habitually say these things when we talk about ourselves?  And it’s not just the girls that do it.  For many of us, it becomes a lifelong harangue.  I look terrible in leggings/skirts/jeans/any clothing whatsoever. My breasts are too small/big/lopsided.  I Feel Bad About My Neck. We say these things almost without thinking, as though any of this habitual disregard could change the basic facts of genetics and time.

So in bold opposition to this habit among girls and women — and as a way to bolster my daughters’ ability to accept and even love who they will become —  I have held the line on this house rule, firm and solid.  And honestly, the girls have gotten pretty good at holding themselves to it without my help.  I can tell, because they have started to notice when I backslide, and start in on my backside.

So here’s my challenge for you.  First, let’s pretend, for the moment, that the blog is called Because I Said So.  OK, you with me?  Because here goes:

Try out our house rule on yourself.  Just for a day or two.  You may be surprised how many mean things you find yourself stifling — and not just the mean things that occur to you to say about other people, and their bodies, hair, clothing, smarts and personality.

Because, if you’re anything like the rest of us, you might find that you’ve saved your worst meanness for yourself.

I’d love to hear how it goes.

Let me know what you make of it.

T. June 8, 2011 at 5:19 pm

Sometimes it feels like in all the talking I do with my children about issues and choices and behavior, etc., etc., what it all really boils down to is, “Be nice.” To yourself, to your family, to your friends, and your teachers and total strangers and people you don’t particularly like. Just be nice. Sometimes is seems just that simple. Sometimes not. But I find myself saying it, in a few different variations, over and over and over. I hope if I say it enough, and actually try to live it as well, it might just soak in. I’m a bit biased, but so far I think they’re pretty nice kids.

Good for you for dealing with it head on with your girls. I agree that self-criticism is particularly distressing in young girls. I try to be so careful not to talk about my body negatively so that my children won’t have that to model, but it comes at them from so many directions with their peers in school. I like your rule and think I’ll put it into play here at my home, too.

Oh, and for what it’s worth, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with chiseling a few things in stone, or even issuing the occasional “because I said so.” I always try to explain and discuss up to a point. But beyond that point, I consider myself a benevolent dictator.

Launa June 8, 2011 at 8:27 pm

T, you are so right that it is all in the modeling we do. If we tell them one thing, then do another, they see the hypocrisy and ignore the good advice. Thanks for the comment and for thinking deeply on the question.

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