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A few weeks back, my older daughter came home from church and shared exactly what she had learned in class. It was not what I expected.
Of course, there was the normal story and scripture, but there were a few things she shared that sounded a little off. She provided a long list of completely random activities and explained these were things "girls can't do."
With a little pressing, I figured out that she hadn't learned this from her teachers, but that one of her classmates had tried to educate her on some completely ridiculous ideas about how boys and girls are different. I admit, I was a bit amused, since most of what she repeated made no sense. She told me girls could only climb on slides but not on chairs, and boys couldn't dance but they could run super fast.
I cleared up the confusion, explaining that girls and boys can do all of those things and let it go. I assumed it was totally harmless. But then it grew apparent that "the rules" really stuck with her and she started to talk about them on a daily basis.
"I can't do that, I'm a girl," she would say randomly when struggling with a game or task.
Raising kids in an imperfect world means exposing them to ideas that go against what we hold important.
As a mom of two daughters, I have prioritized avoiding gender stereotypes. We fiercely hold to the opinion that girls are just as capable as boys, and there are no rules that separate what interests boys and girls can pursue, what toys they play with or how they should behave. We buy toys that appeal to their interests, and we expect them to behave in certain ways because manners and kindness are important skills, not because they're "ladies." In our home, this has resulted in one daughter who has very little interest in stereotypical "girly" things and another daughter who seems naturally drawn to ruffles, flowers and princess toys. But we are cool with that. Our goal is not to create gender neutral children. Our goal is to provide a free atmosphere in our home that doesn't put our daughters in a box.
After making such an intentional effort to allow our daughters space to explore their personalities and interests outside of the ideas some in our society have about who girls can and can't be, it is frustrating to realize there is only so much we can do to protect them from stupid gender stereotypes.
So yes, I first cringed when one of my daughters comes home from class with a set of rules about boys and girls she learned from another preschooler or when a stranger in the Target checkout asks her, "Are you a princess?" Because it's infuriating when you're a parent with certain ideas about how you want to raise your children and realize you only have a certain level of control over who they become. But I also realized that raising kids in an imperfect world means exposing them to ideas that go against what we hold important and helping them navigate those ideas.
Even though our society has made remarkable progress when it comes to how women should be treated and the opportunities we are provided, there are always those who still hold to outdated and sexists ideas about females. I can't protect my daughters from that, but I am also not about to stop trying to raise confident and independent daughters. I will keep telling them they are capable, they are free to pursue their own interests and dreams, and that being a female doesn't limit them in any way. I will teach them to be decent human beings who are caring, passionate and strong, and if we ever have a son, he will be taught the exact same things.
So now, when my daughter comes home with ideas she's learning from friends about girls and boys, I don't sweat it. I know the time we spend at home giving her space to explore who she is and talking about how great it is to be a girl will lay the foundation for her to be the strong and confident person she is.