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Last year, writer Sarah
the phrase, "Lord, give me the confidence of a mediocre white
man." She wrote it as a joke for women who are often caught up in self-doubt
and criticism, but the joke has some bite.
She has the entire world making her feel like less, I don't want her to feel that way at home.
Cosmopolitan reported, men globally report higher self-esteem and greater
levels of confidence than women and it's not because they are so much better. This
"confidence gap" is related to many factors including the wage gap,
the greater expectations of women than men, and the fact that women are more
likely to be victims of sexual assault and domestic violence. But I see it too
in my own children.
Whenever my daughter declares herself to be the "most
beautiful in the land" other parents scrunch up their faces and look at
me, expecting me to contradict her. But when my son declares himself "da
most powerful" people just laugh. Once a mother, who heard my daughter
make such a declaration about her beauty, assured me that her daughter was the
same. "She is also too confident, we are working a lot on making her more
"We aren't," I said. "She has the entire
world making her feel like less, I don't want her to feel that way at
And it's true. I want my daughter thinking she is beautiful
and kind and smart, because she is. We do sometimes talk about how we need to
make our friends feel good by telling them nice things about themselves too,
but it's rarely an issue, because she is kind and smart. And even at her young
age that belief bolsters her and has helped us through some hard times of
transition and anxiety.
As parents we often talk about humility in our children, but
what we really mean is deference. When we teach humility what we are really
doing is telling our children to have a lower view of themselves in reference
to others or to defer to someone else's superior sense of self. "Sure, you
may be smart" I heard one friend tell her daughter, "but we just
don't talk about it." Why? I want to know. Why can't a girl proclaim her
smartness? Why can't she proclaim her superiority? And let's not pretend that
we don't weld this standard in an unbiased way.
As a woman, I have spent my whole life, battling voices in my head that tell me I am not qualified.
I have never once heard a parent lament about their son's
self-esteem. My son spent an entire week declaring himself a super genius and
no one did anything but laugh. My daughter on the other hand, has told adults
she was the most kind person in her class and they've tried to argue with her.
"Are you sure?" One person asked. "That doesn't seem like a nice
thing to say."
Nice has nothing to do with it. My daughter is smart. She is
kind. And she also knows that she's not the best at everything, nor does she
want to be. "Basketball," she said once after playing with some
friends, "is just not for me. Let someone else be good at it." That
to me is real humility—an honest assessments of one's talents and skills,
rather than a complete denial of self. And that is what I want to teach my
As a woman, I have spent my whole life, battling voices in
my head that tell me I am not qualified to write about the things I want to or
that no one will care what I have to say. I often repeat Hagi's phrase to make
myself laugh and to bolster my own confidence. "People only question you if you
question yourself," a friend once told me. Those are also words I cling to. And
in the past year, I've seen them working. I've had the courage to reach out to
places with ideas and stories that I otherwise would have put aside.
And it's also made a difference in the words I use with both
of my children. I'm not interested in forcing them to perform some act of fake
deference about their skills, nor am I assuring them that they are practically
perfect in every way. Instead, I want them both to live lives of confidence
that build themselves and other people up. After all, it's true confidence that
allows a person to see themselves as they are.