My birthday reverie for my girls, and for every girl

birthday-cupcakesMy twin daughters just turned 16. Along with the incredible gratitude and hardly-contained love I feel for my children, I wanted to reflect on being a parent in this particular moment in time.

  1. I remember having dreamy day-dreams imagining my twin daughters as sixteen-year-olds.
  2. I wondered what kind of parent I would become. Do I have the freedom to make mistakes?
  3. I want to fearlessly talk with them about sex, life, death, relationships and their place in the world—no matter how anxious it makes me.
  4. I ask myself, will my children actually talk to me or ignore me?
  5. I worry about all that could happen to them and they show me their enduring resilience every day.
  6. I look around and try to understand the world they live in.
  7. I stand back and observe their friendships—what are they saying to each other?
  8. I see who they choose to hang out with. I embrace these new voices of authority and look for openings of influence.
  9. I watch them try to figure out who they are while bathed in pop culture, hoping I resonate down deep.
  10. I expect them to be kind to the awkward kid at school.
  11. I hope they have the right information to share with a friend who’s in trouble.
  12. I quake at the thought of their first relationship—let it be caring, fun, and nurturing.
  13. I yearn for teachers that ignite their curiosity and respect their thinking.
  14. I optimistically expect that all the adults around them will demonstrate loving and equitable relationships.
  15. I imagine them standing up for their friends and joining with strangers to build their community.
  16. I long to raise brave, lion-hearted, compassionate, jubilant, genuine young women who can take care of themselves, will experience sustenance in their work, and express love for themselves and those they hold dear.

Con la camiseta bien puesta (Wearing my values)

(scroll down for English translation)

En mi proceso de ser una mejor mamá y aprendiendo a educar con amor incondicional a mi hijo, he adquirido ciertas herramientas. Una de las cuales es el entender la importancia de aplicar las 3Cs– constancia, consistencia y congruencia – en todo lo referente a mi hijo. También, he descubierto que esto lo puedo  llevar a todas mis relaciones, particularmente la que llevo conmigo misma. Toda relación humana implica un esfuerzo constante.

superwomanPero bueno una cosa es hablar de las 3Cs y otra muy diferente llevarlas a la practica en mi diario vivir, y especialmente como feminista en un mundo patriarcal. Y por favor, con feminismo no estoy hablando de odio al hombre, en lo absoluto, tengo un marido al que amo y un hijo varón al que adoro! Hablo de la convicción de que hombres y mujeres tenemos derechos a las mismas oportunidades. No obstante, ayer por un momento pensé que mi vida era más facil antes de comprometerme como feminist. Sin embargo, no puedo simplemente cerrar mis ojos y darle la espalda a mi compromiso, fingir lo que no soy y participar conscientemente en el patriarcado! Simplemente no puedo, ya desperté y no hay marcha atrás, o tal vez haya pero no me haría felíz. Verdaderamente creo que hombres y mujeres merecemos tener los mismo derechos y oportunidades en todo momento y a todos los niveles.

OK, entonces, el punto es, ¿cómo ser leal conmigo misma? y ¿como vivir mi feminsmo dia a dia? Porque no puedo ser femista en mi trabajo, luchar por la equidad y llegando a casa, quitarme la camiseta y dejar esos valores en la puerta. De hacerlo le estaría dando a mi hijo un ejemplo contradictorio sobre la lucha de género, de equidad y del verdadero feminismo. Tiendo a jugar el papel de la “mujer perfecta” donde trabajo, soy ama de casa y una mamá disponible las 24 horas. Y por supuesto esto no funciona y agota física y emocionalmente. Cabe añadir que definitivamente no esta dando el ejemplo de equidad que yo aspiro para mi pequeño. ¡Así que la camiseta la llevo puesta todo el tiempo! De esta manera, al final del día cuando veo a mi pequeño hijo de 4 años ser testigo de como día a día trato de mantener mi camiseta puesta, me siento orgullosa pues desde su privilegiado mundo tendrá la oportunidad de cambiar este sistema patriarcal desde  adentro, aportando con su ejemplo de vida a una mejor sociedad.

Y a tí, ¿te es fácil llevar la camiseta puesta?

******

In my process of trying to be a better mom and learning how to parent with unconditional love, I have obtained some tools and skills. For instance, I have learned to use the 3 C’s—constancy, consistency and congruency—with my son. Recently, I discovered that the 3 C’s can be applied to all my relationships, including my relationship with myself.  After all, all relationships require hard work on a daily basis.

But it’s one thing to talk about these 3 C’s and another very different thing to use them in daily life, especially as a feminist living in a patriarchal world. Please, do not misunderstand me. I am not talking about hating men, not at all. I have a husband that I love and a son that I adore. What I am talking about is my conviction that men and women should have equal opportunities.

Nevertheless, I had a moment yesterday when I realized that in some ways my life was easier before feminism became such a key part of who I am.  Of course, I can’t just close my eyes and betray myself by deliberately going along with the patriarchy. I just can’t. My eyes have been opened! I could go back to my old self, but I would never be happy. I truly believe that men and women deserve the same rights and opportunities—all the time, in all ways.

OK then, my question is how can I be loyal to myself and live as a true feminist every day? I can’t be fighting for equality at work, and then go home and leave those values at the door. I don’t want to mislead my son about what equality in a relationship looks like. I tend to take on the role of super woman, trying to work, and take care of the house, and be there for my son 24 hours a day. Of course that doesn’t work, and I exhaust myself physically and emotionally. Clearly that is not giving my son the example of equality that I aspire to.

So I am re-committing to living out my feminist values 24/7! And at the end of the day when I see our 4-year-old observing me as I figure this out, I feel proud. Because from his privileged world, he will have the opportunity to change this patriarchal system from within. My example at home will provide him with skills to make a better society.

Now tell me, are you living your values 24/7? How is it working for you?

One of the things we have to fear is fear itself

sandy-hookPart of the experience of parenting these days is the constant background noise of worry. News and social media, endlessly fascinated with danger, feed a steady stream of warning about the perils waiting for our children.

After the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, that low hum of worry turned up to full-volume fear for parents across the country. I felt it too, the gut wrenching, full body chill that comes with imagining the worst. But honestly, I was not afraid for my kids’ safety. I know that violence in schools is very rare and that by most measures kids are safer now than ever.

What I did genuinely worry about is the impulse to react to our fear and vulnerability with ever-increasing “security measures.” Armed guards in schools, more locked doors, fingerprints and background checks for parents.

I’m not naive about violence, but my experience has shown me that we can’t keep danger on the other side of a locked door. I know my children live in a world with abusers and rapists. I know that some people do terrible things to children. I know that I can’t tell by looking which man in the park or on the bus would hurt one of them if he had the chance. Just like I don’t know which guy at the gym or which little league dad is beating his wife at home. I live in a neighborhood where it is not uncommon to hear gunshots. Yet I believe that most of the violence is committed inside locked doors by people who belong there.

When it comes to protecting kids from harm by the people they trust, increased “security” is worse than useless. It actually makes our kids—and all of us—less safe. Tight security undermines connection and community—the very things that are most important to kids’ safety, health, and happiness. This letter from a mom to her child’s preschool points out how. My kids’ school, like many, held a meeting for parents about students’ safety in the days after the Sandy Hook shooting. Some of the concern, of course, was about school security, sign-in procedures, etc. But I was grateful that most of the focus was on how to re-commit to strengthening our connection as a community. Resisting fear, breaking isolation, looking out for each other—safety from the inside out.

“Mama, what’s a prostitute?”

Listening to the news while parenting is hard. (OK, let’s be honest, doing anything while parenting is hard!) Typically I avoid listening to the NPR headlines when my kids are in the car because I want to filter out the murder, mayhem, and messiness. For instance, when I realized they were about to talk about the secret service agents in Colombia, I looked 30 seconds into the future and decided I didn’t really want to answer the question, “Mama, what’s a prostitute?”

Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m all for having the tough conversations with my son, but how do you explain prostitution to a 5 year old? Not just the sex part, but the buying another person part. It’s more than a 5 year old needs to think about or worry about right now. (Actually, I don’t really want to think about that either.) It does make me wonder, what if I never had to explain prostitution at all? What if women weren’t treated as commodities to be bought and sold?

Ted Bunch recently asked a very important question: “What if instead of framing our work…as ‘ending violence against women’ we…had the goal of ‘valuing and respecting women and girls’?” Great question and I look forward to answering it alongside all of you. After all, if we valued and respected girls, I wouldn’t have to answer this question for my son and I could spend more time answering his other difficult questions like, “Mama, how do they get the juice in juiceboxes?” (Now you wanna know too? Look here.)

What next? Part 5

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Here is the next installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #4: Love those teenagers 

We often talk about the need to shift popular culture and change social norms. This is the language of primary prevention, and it is gaining momentum throughout the mainstream domestic violence and sexual assault field. For the past 8 years, I have watched the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and many of our colleagues on the mainland strategize about how to integrate prevention activities into our work, and we are now beginning to see these efforts take root in some of the target communities.  Almost all of it involves teen and youth engagement.

While I’ve been largely uninvolved in the CDC initiative, I have been hard at work closer to home. Unfortunately for my 15-year-old son, Hanson, and some of his friends, they too are participating. My frequent announcements of “I feel a lecture coming on” are met by loud groans and an occasional “oh god.” Video games, music, TV, certain levels of Angry Birds―nothing is held harmless. I’ve played “Call of Duty” and “Grand Theft Auto,” watched “Jersey Shore” and two of the “Jackass” movies, and danced to “Crank That (Soulja Boy)” and “Teach Me How to Dougie.” I am offended by almost all of it, but Hanson is at an age where he is regurgitating the advice he has received his whole life. Don’t reject something without trying it first. And you can’t change what you don’t know. So I study what I can, and go about my parenting in fits and starts.

There is very little polish on most of what I do as a parent. Some day in the future, Hanson and I will thoroughly evaluate my briefings on pornography, condoms, sexting, and what girls like.  Someday, I hope he will understand that my social norms work with him really boils down to a mother’s love for her son.

What next? Part 3

Earlier this year, our executive director, Nan Stoops, was invited to be the keynote speaker at a conference organized by the Hawai’i State Coalition Against Domestic Violence. Her assignment: outline a five-point plan for ending violence against women and girls.

Here is the next installment of her speech. (Or jump to: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5, Part 6)

Point #2: Evolve our shelters

Emergency shelter saves lives. It’s a refuge, a resource, and a respite. It’s also costly, sometimes chaotic, and almost always, limited in the time, space, and material assistance it can provide. I don’t know if and how you experience these challenges, but I think they are so prevalent now that we must face head-on this question about how to evolve shelter services. While it is essential to keep shelters going, we need to be honest about the fact that they serve only a small percentage of survivors, they make the community dependent on US to provide support and care, and, while they may stop violence against some women, they do not end violence against all women.

In Washington, we are examining shelter in three ways. First, we are re-evaluating shelter rules, so that families have more flexibility and self-determination while in residence. Second, we are designing shelters architecturally and programmatically to support moms with parenting, to respect religious and cultural practices, and to reduce how many people have to share communal spaces―like a kitchen and a bathroom―as a part of shelter life. And third, we are helping shelter programs focus on providing what women say they need in order to be financially self-sufficient: housing, job training, childcare, in one instance, a bicycle, and in another a spare tire.

This work is confirming the thinking that brought us to it. And that is―nobody really wants to live in a shelter. So let’s find a way to preserve what does work and incorporate some other things that might work even better.

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