The Most Important Conversation To Have With Our Kids (And Ourselves for That Matter)

I was blow-drying my hair when my son wandered into the bathroom and said he had a question.

Warning to all parents. When your child is going through puberty and says, “Can I ask you a question?” take a deep breath and steady yourself.

Because they are about to ask you something bizarre. Like whether or not you can get pregnant in the pool. Or if penises break.

Also as a heads up, these questions typically occur when you’re in a hurry or distracted.

Which I was, because in addition to blow-drying my hair, I was simultaneously checking email on my phone, getting my daughter ready for school, and feeding the dog.

Since no one had shared these very helpful tips with me, I said, “Sure,” and didn’t turn off the hair dryer until he asked,

“Mom, what’s rape?”

Before I go on with this story, I want to pause for a moment. There are a few very important things to consider before answering questions like these.

And right now, in this time and place, conversations like the one I had with my son are among the most important and most urgent.

Like peanut butter and jelly, kids have been conditioned to think the words “sex” and “violence” naturally go together.

Which is kinda like saying whipped cream and raw hamburger go together. Can you imagine eating a whipped cream and raw hamburger sandwich?

Guess what. We eat them every day, and so do our kids.

Through the movies we watch, the video games we play, and the media we consume 24/7, sex and violence are brought together so often that they’ve been normalized. To the point that they seem natural and right.

WonderWomanTank.jpg

I love Wonder Woman. But really. Who wears a corset and thigh-high boots to a tank fight?

So we need to differentiate sex and violence from each other. Whipped-cream-raw-hamburger sandwiches are disgusting, and we need to explain this to our kids because they’ve been eating them for so long that they don’t know any better.

We talk to our daughters about sexual assault all the time when we should be talking to our sons.

We warn our daughters never to walk alone at night. To go to parties in groups. We censure what our daughters wear, making sure they aren’t showing too much skin. And we warn our daughters to never set down their glass because someone might put a “date rape” drug in it.

We focus so much on our daughter’s actions and choices that it’s as if sexual assault is about them. That it’s some kind of freak occurrence they can avoid with the proper precautions. Like not opening your umbrella during a lightning storm.

But it’s not.

Sexual assault is about actions and choices, but not those of our daughters. It’s about the actions and choices of our sons.

So we must have similar conversations with our sons.

We must tell them that no matter what a woman is wearing, she does not want to have sex with them.

That if they ever find themselves with a girl who is too drunk to give consent, they need to leave her alone.

That “No” never means “Yes.” Because women don’t like to be coerced into doing anything, especially sex.

And if they buy a girl dinner, she owes them nothing. Not even a smile.

Oh, and about that date rape drug. Don’t ever put that shit in a girl’s drink. Ever.

The “#MeToo” Campaign paints an incomplete picture. 

I have been following the “#MeToo” campaign, and in a strange way it has been a beautiful thing to behold. Brave women sharing their stories of sexual assault is powerful. And when it’s a woman I know, my heart breaks.

Which is why we also need a “#HimToo” campaign to run alongside it. Because for every woman who is bringing her story into the light, there is a man hiding anonymously in the shadows.

If it were up to me, we’d be able to tag our assailant in our #MeToo social media posts with a #HimToo. Because the world needs to see that these aren’t strangers who jump out of bushes.

These are men who work in the cubicles next to ours. They are friends of our families. They are our sons.

And half the time, they don’t even know they did anything wrong. Because no one ever talked to them about it.

Which leads me back to my story.

When my son asked, “Mom, what’s rape?” I did the best I could.

I told him sexual assault is not about sex. It is about violence. 

That it rarely happens the way it’s portrayed in the media because it’s hardly ever a stranger but an acquaintance or a friend.

I looked into the eyes that I loved and said, “It’s usually someone just like you.”

And I finished by explaining that it is his responsibility to make sure that he never does this to a woman.

Did I traumatize my son? Maybe. But I would rather he feel traumatized than become a #HimToo.

Was I especially courageous for having this conversation? Not really. Moms and dads talk to their kids about difficult stuff all the time.

Am I changing the world for women and girls? Yes. I most certainly am.

And you can, too.

Talk to your sons, your nephews, your brothers. As much if not more than your daughters, your nieces, and your sisters.

Bring this entire conversation into the light. Not just the female side. The male side, too. The side that really matters.

This is the Sex Talk we should be having with our boys. This is the most important conversation we should all be having right now.

#MeToo

Please share this post so we can have more of these conversations. With our boys, our girls, and each other. 

PS – I wrote a post last week about womansplaining, a few days before the #MeToo movement reignited across the world. It connects to this topic in a lighter, funnier way. Check it out if you haven’t already.

PPS – I am building a school for brave women, and I’ll be writing more about it in next week’s post. As always, I want to hear your thoughts on what women want to learn about through my work. Subscribe to the list and womansplain to me.

Costco Fashionista (And Other Acts of Rebellion for Women)

I shop at Costco. And when I say I shop at Costco, I mean I do more than buy a ridiculous amount of food in equally ridiculous quantities.

(What does one even do with 60 lbs. of pork besides bury it? Because clearly, it’s an entire animal.)

I also buy gifts for every holiday, decor for my home, electronics, and random stuff I didn’t know I needed but totally did.

Like these magical hangers that keep my clothes from falling down onto the floor of my closet. (Perhaps they’re made of NASA anti-gravity material? Is that actually a thing?)

Or a squatty potty that enhances the ergonomic experience of pooping. (Yes, that actually is a thing. And I think NASA made it.)

The best finds, however, are in the clothing aisles. Because contrary to what most people think, Costco knows fashion.

And I delight in sharing this whenever someone says, “You look so cute! Where did you get that (insert Costco fashion item)?”

Because for me, buying my clothes at Costco is one of the most brilliant life hacks I’ve discovered to date.

It takes a little elbow grease to dig through the piles of clothes, and it doesn’t look quite as sassy-cute as something I’d find at Ann Taylor Loft, but it’s good enough.

And that’s what life hacks are all about. Good enough.

This is super-tricky for women because we aren’t taught to see “good enough” as, well, good enough.

We’re taught to strive for perfection. In everything we do, from the roles we fulfill (perfect mother) to how we look (perfect body) to what we wear (perfect outfit).

So for me, buying clothes from Costco – being a Costco Fashionista if you will – is my way of practicing good enough.

Of saying, “Screw you, perfection. I just got a bombass denim dress for $29.99 and that is good enough for me and anyone who sees me wear it.”

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Bomb. Ass.

Life hacks like buying clothes at Costco are tiny acts of rebellion. Brave choices you can take as a woman to liberate yourself from perfection. Which is really just a bunch of unrealistic expectations and outdated gender roles that come with being female.

I mean, have you ever met a man who struggles with perfection?

Me, neither.

Here are a few more life hacks/acts of rebellion for you to consider:

The Housing Cleaning Hack

If you can afford it, hire a house cleaner. And if you can’t, lower your standards. (Like to the floor where the dust bunnies live.)

And if you feel guilty about it, do the math. For women who work outside the home, you can calculate how much it actually costs you to clean your house.

Now add in the opportunity cost of not doing other things (like enjoying your life) and it turns out hiring a house cleaner is actually saving you money.

And for women who stay home with their kids, you more than anyone need and deserve a house cleaner. It’s all you can do to keep up with your children’s craft-art disasters and self-reproducing toy piles, let alone the dirt and grime that naturally accumulate in a house.

So stop cleaning your own house. Or stop doing it so well.

The Homemade Meal Hack

Did I mention that Costco also makes delicious meals that, when coupled with a fresh veggie or salad, make you feel like the most responsible wife and best mother ever?

Costco. It’s what’s for dinner.

Homemade meals are overrated. Just ask my kids who much prefer stuffed peppers with a side of broccoli to anything I could make for dinner.

The Good Parent Hack

Orchestra recitals, soccer practices, kids’ birthday parties, and swim meets fill up my children’s schedules and, by default, my own.

So I attend their activities but now, rather than covertly checking email or texting one of the other mothers, “OMG why didn’t I bring a flask?” I make sure to schedule phone dates with my girlfriends. My kid knows I’m there (good parent – check), and I am actually enjoying myself.

Sometimes I’ll talk for hours with my girlfriends, usually with a very important look on my face. Is she talking to the doctor? Someone at work? Arguing with her husband?

No one knows, and that’s the hack.

I realize this doesn’t make me sound like a perfect parent. And maybe that’s a good (enough) thing.

Life hacks are beautiful and courageous. So rather than feel guilty about not making a homemade meal or spending hours cleaning your house, feel awesome.

Pat yourself on the back for being brave.

For being good enough.

Sharing is caring. Send this to a girlfriend who is good enough. Or shops at Costco. She’ll thank you for it. 

Oh, and please help pick out next week’s topic! Survey below.

Bad*ssery @Work (Lesson One: It’s all hearts, rainbows & ninja swords)

Let me start off by saying we’re all badasses.

Whether you’re a woman who works outside the home, inside the home, or some combo of both, you are a badass. Whether you have kids or not, you are a badass.

Because total badassery is what it takes for a woman to make it in this world.

But today, I’m going to focus on women who work outside of the home, the majority of whom (70%) have kids and work full-time.

This does not mean they are more badassy than stay-at-home-moms or working women who don’t have kids. It just means they have different challenges that require different techniques in badassery, and that’s what I’ll be exploring today.

In my opinion, working women who have children deserve to wear a Badassery Badge wherever they go so people can be in awe of them.

Something like a “Girl-Scouts-Meets-Special-Forces” badge with hearts and rainbows and Ninja swords.

Because the world (especially the working world) is not set up for them to succeed. It’s not that the world doesn’t like them. Rather, it’s just the world doesn’t know them very well.

Men have been leading businesses, running our governments, and generally kicking ass for thousands of years. And as a result, men are killing it at work.

There are more CEO’s named “John” than all of the female CEO’s combined. The U.S. Congress is more than 80% male. And men are offered higher salaries than women for the same work.

I’m not sharing this to make you angry at men. I love men. I’m married to one. I gave birth to one. Most of my mentors have been men.

And all of them want me to set the world on fire even though it may not be in their best interest.

Rather, I’m telling you this so you will stop blaming/shaming/hating yourself when you find it so hard to keep your shit together.

It’s not your fault that maternity leave only lasts three months, which is just about the time you finally figure out how to take a shower again, and now you have to go back to work full-time.

It’s not your fault that crying at work is considered “too emotional” but raising your voice in anger is not (for men, anyway).

Or that you’re more likely to be asked to plan the office birthday parties than take on a new strategic initiative.

It’s not your fault.

There is nothing wrong with you, you are not inferior or less than. You’re just trying to make it in a world that was not designed for you.

And that’s why it’s so, so important that you stay in the game because even though it’s hard, we need you. All of us do.

We need you to create a world that actually works. For men and women.

What would such a world look like?

Let’s play pretend for a moment and visit that world. Put on your princess dress (or borrow one from your daughter), grab your magic fairy wand, and let’s go.

There’s an issue that strikes fear in the hearts of most working mothers. An issue that requires logistical skills on par with an air traffic controller and significant financial resources to solve.

That issue is after-school pick up.

A deceptively simple concept, after-school pick up takes place sometime between 3:28 p.m. and 3:45 p.m. at my child’s elementary school.

Do you know where I am between 3:28 p.m. and 3:45 p.m.?

At work.

Which creates a bit of a challenge for me. My options are to send my child home to an empty house (which is illegal), hire a babysitter for $15/hour (which is expensive), or quit my job (which is stupid).

If women were also leading businesses, running our governments, and generally kicking ass on a level equal to that of their male counterparts, this is how after-school pick up would go:

  • First, the bell would ring at 5:30 p.m. because last time I checked, a full working day is 9:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m. (Dolly Parton even wrote a song about it. For the movie 9-5.)
  • Second, the children would have already completed their homework, eaten a healthy dinner, and attended their sports practices/music lessons/Yearbook meetings. (All of which would take place at the school because that’s efficient, and if women are anything, we are efficient.)
  • Third, there would be an onsite restaurant where we could pick up dinner for the rest of the family. (Or down a couple of glasses of wine before actually picking up our kids.)
  • And finally, all of this would be free. Because the PTA no longer plans bake sales but drafts federal legislation to increase funding for our schools. (And all of this legislation would pass because half of Congress would be female and our President would be a woman.)

Yes ladies, that’s what would happen.

So the very first lesson in Badassery @Work is to understand that the world is set up for men to succeed and, if we ever want to have our make believe/after-school-pick-up fantasies come true, we must bring our inner badass out into the world.

At home. At work. And everywhere in between.

What does that look like exactly?

It looks like speaking up in meetings like a badass. Supporting other women like a badass. Advocating for better parental leave policies like a badass. Believing in your self-worth like a badass. Raising your hand for a new project like a badass. Taking risks and failing like a badass. Delegating caregiving responsibilities like a badass. Negotiating for what you need like a badass. Saying “yes” before you feel 100% ready like a badass. Saying “no” to stuff that you don’t want to do like a badass. Questioning sexist assumptions like a badass. Giving up perfection like a badass. Asking for help like a badasss. Staying in the game like a badass.

And most of all, it means being brave. Like. A. Badass.

You know how you can start? Like right now? Email this post to a woman who needs it. Put it up on your Facebook page and own it. Text the link to your BFF and say, “Let’s do this.”

That’s your homework for lesson 1 in Badassery @Work.

Class dismissed.

If you’re still reading and want to hear more from me on this topic, send me your email address via the form below. I’m working on a new project – {Re}Finishing School for Brave Women – that’s designed for working women who want to set the world on fire. 

Yes, I would like to set the world on fire with you.

 

AND I would love your feedback on next week’s topic! Email me at kandaolmstead@gmail.com if you have a cool idea.

 

Raising Brave Boys

“It’s a boy!”

Wait. What? Sorry Mr. Doctor Man, but you’re going to have to shove that baby right back up in there because I already have my baby girl’s name picked out and I know what she’s going to look like and she definitely doesn’t have a penis.

That was my response to the birth of my first child. Along with whispering, “Shit,” as they lifted him proudly to my chest. And then, of course, loving him like crazy.

I should have found out the baby’s sex ahead of time, but I thought it would be super-cool to be surprised. I didn’t appreciate how not knowing could turn into believing like I believe in gravity that it was most definitely 100% a girl.

I’m sure a number of factors were involved in my delusion. The most notable being that I believed raising a girl to be a strong woman might be the most important thing I could ever do in my life.

Boy was I wrong (pun intended).

Fast forward a couple of years. I’m at the playground, pushing my son on the swings. Into my hands and then away he goes. In that moment, for the first time, I realized my baby was becoming a little boy who would someday become a man. And just like the motion of the swing, he would pass from my hands into the world.

“What kind of man will you be?” I wondered. And it was then that I understood raising him to be a good man, a brave man, was just as important as raising a girl to be a strong woman.

I just didn’t know how hard it would be. Or how much courage it would take on my part.

Our boys are expected to be strong, which means they are taught to suppress and deny their emotions. The only real emotion they’re allowed (and often encouraged) to express is anger.

Which is like giving them one awful-colored crayon to color with for the rest of their lives.

Schools label our boys for “acting out” in class, even though we know (like, research-has-proven-this-as-a-fact know) that boys need physical activity and interactive learning environments to thrive.

Sit still, be quiet, and pay attention are not boy-friendly expectations. But that’s how most of our schools are set up.

And perhaps worst of all, boys double-dog-dare each other into being more masculine, humiliating each other with accusations of acting “like a girl.” Which simultaneously teaches our boys to view femaleness as weak/bad/dumb/totally inferior.

And that’s not helpful to anyone. Especially women.

So what can we do to raise brave boys?

Boys with a full palette of emotion to express themselves and understand others? Boys who are celebrated for their exuberance and passion, not sent to timeout? Boys who respect girls and later, respect women?

For me, the answer was that I had to be brave myself.

I had to be brave enough to say, “It’s okay to cry,” even though I was so afraid that someday he might be teased for expressing his feelings.

And when he did express his feelings, especially his anger, I had to be brave enough to meet it with compassion instead of punishing him, even though I was so afraid that he might turn into a bully or worse.

I had to be brave enough to advocate for him at school. I volunteered in his classrooms so I could develop a productive relationship with his teachers, all of whom thought he had ADD or a learning disability.

And I taught him to be brave for others, to use the power he has as a male to do good in the world. Especially with his boy peers. He’s defended girls who were called fat, Mexican-American kids who were told they should be deported.

Last year, he stood up in front of a room full of boys and taught them the value of “respect” after they’d made fun of a transgender person.

I no longer wonder what kind of man he will be. While he still has a few more years of his boyhood left, I know.

He will be a brave man because he is a brave boy. And because he has a brave mama.

AbeandMe

Sharing is caring. Send this to a parent who wants to raise a brave boy. Or one who already has. 

Oh, and don’t forget to vote for next week’s topic! I’m posting every Friday and want to write about what most interests you. Survey is below! xoxoako

Masters in Bad*ssery (And Why Every Woman Needs One)

Lots of people get their MBA’s to learn how to run a business for profit.

The Masters in Badassery is similar. Only you substitute “run a business for profit” with “run your life for yourself.”

If the idea of running your life for yourself makes your heart pause because it sounds terrifyingly selfish, I totally get that.

For most women, even basic self-care (sleeping, eating, the occasional mani-pedi) feels like an indulgent self-centered luxury if not an outright act against God.

If the idea of running your life for yourself makes your heart pause because there’s no more room on your “To Do List” for you, I totally get that, too.

We have loooong “To Do Lists,” and most of them are other-centered. Adding ourselves may make it combust into flames.

But running your life for yourself is not about whether you’re at the top, middle or bottom of the “To Do List” (where we typically find ourselves). And it’s not about setting fire to the list. (Although wouldn’t that be nice.)

Everything on your “To Do List” – all of it – is your life. There is no magic fairy wand that will make those things go away. And whether you are at the top, middle or bottom isn’t the point.

Rather, it’s about how you “do” your “To Do List,” and by that, I mean instead of having the items on your list run your life, you run them. 

Like a badass.

Here’s how this might look.

Ever been invited to a neighborhood potluck? The one where everyone brings a homemade dish (if they’re a woman) or a bag of tortilla chips (if they’re a man)?

We have one every year in my neighborhood, and I bring a gorgeous fruit pie.

That someone else baked. Someone named Whole Foods.

I even put it on a plate and break the crust a little bit.

Bam. Done.

Total badassery.

Ever volunteer at your kid’s school? I used to do this every week, which was a complete nightmare.

The commute between my office and the school was double the amount of time I spent volunteering, my daughter sobbed hysterically when I said goodbye, and the kids were so snot-covered that I needed a hazmat  suit.

The ROI simply didn’t add up.

So now I volunteer to run the Halloween Party, and I do it in such an epic, badass way that I feel absolutely no pressure or guilt to do anything more for the entire year.

I bring in a smoke machine that makes all the kids super-excited (and wheezy because apparently it’s better suited for outdoor use or dance clubs).

I make a “witches brew” with floaty corpse hands and dry ice. (Cautionary note: Dry ice has been banned from most elementary schools because it burns through children’s esophaguses so you’ll have to sneak it in.)

And I roll in dressed up like Wonder Woman. Which makes me the most awesomest, coolest mom ever.

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Total badassery.

Running your life for yourself looks like figuring out ways to make your life work not just for everyone else, but for you.

Running your life for yourself is something women need to re-learn how to do. And I say re-learn because somewhere between our girlhood and now, we forget how to do this.

If you cannot imagine ever, ever living this way, let me re-introduce you to your twenty year-old self.

Because I bet that woman knew how to run her life for herself.

Granted, she didn’t have the same responsibilities and pressures and commitments that you have today. But she still had responsibilities, pressures, and commitments.

They were just different. (And less loud because they didn’t have mouths that talked, begged, or screamed.)

She didn’t succumb to the “right way” to do something because she either didn’t care or she didn’t know any better.

The first step in getting your Masters in Badassery is to remember your twenty year-old self. Like, really remember her.

What would she put on her “To Do List”? And how would she manage the stuff that’s on yours?

Here’s my list:

  1. Make dinner
  2. Attend service club meeting
  3. Buy birthday present for dog
  4. Go to 4th grade Back to School Night

Hmmmm…. What would my 20 year-old self do with that list?

  1. Make dinner  What’s cookin’ Whole Foods?
  2. Attend service club meeting after a glass of wine
  3. Buy birthday present for dog  Here’s an extra scoop of dog food
  4. Go to 4th grade Back to School Night (This stays on the list because how else am I gonna sign up to rock out the Halloween Party?)

Now it’s your turn. Lemme know how it goes.

Sharing is caring. Send this post to a badass girlfriend. She’ll thank you for it.

(Oh! And don’t forget to vote for next week’s topic! I’m posting every Friday now, and I love love love to get your input. Survey is below. xoxoako)

 

The Man Question

I imagine this title may generate a bit of curiosity, especially in a blog dedicated to women’s development.

And because, generally speaking, women have a lot of questions about men.

To illustrate this point, here’s a quick summary of the questions I’ve had about men, sorted by decade:

  • My 20’s:  Am I ever going to find my man? Does this man like me? Love me? Like really love me? Will he ever ask me to marry him? (I know, I know. I was young.)
  • My 30’s:  How can I get this man to change? (That really was the only question for an entire decade.)
  • My 40’s:  What do we DO with the men? (Especially relevant now that we’re in the midst of a women’s empowerment revolution.)

Most of these questions center around being in a relationship with a man, but The Man Question has nothing to do with dating or marriage.

It’s a question posed to me by a male reader (of which I think there are about two) who responded to my invitation to submit writing topics for this blog. And it was this:

“How can I be a good father to a little girl?”

Oh. My.

Are you trying to break my heart wide open right now? Because you totally just did.

fatherdaughter

After a few days of mulling The Man Question over, here’s what I came up with.

1) Respect their mother. The way you treat her mother will be how she thinks she should be treated. In fact, she will most likely end up marrying a man who is just like you. Which I know is scary because you’re still figuring your own self out and that’s a lot of pressure.

So here are a few quick tips:

If you want her to be talked to nicely, talk to her mother nicely.

If you hope she will be appreciated for her awesomeness, appreciate her mother’s awesome.

And even if you’re divorced, you can still honor whatever it was that brought you two together in the first place by being respectful.

2) Do your chores. Seeing you participate in traditionally female roles (cooking, cleaning, caregiving, etc.) will free her of the expectation that women must somehow “do it all.” This expectation comes at a cost to their careers, future income, and leadership aspirations.

So if you’re not already doing so, please pick up a broom, cook dinner, drive the kids to daycare – whatever – because equality must start inside of the home if we’re ever going to achieve it outside of the home.

3) Make her tough. I know having a girl child is a melty-melt experience for most fathers. When our own daughter was born, my husband treated her like a delicate little flower.

As much as I love this, it’s super not helpful because that delicate little flower is going to have to go out into the world and deal with some pretty tough stuff.

So make her tough.

Get her into competitive sports, remark on how strong she is (because she is), tell her she’s as good as (if not better than) any boy.

When she falls, encourage her to walk it off. Because she’s going to fall, be pushed over, and tripped, just like the boys if not more so.

I know it’s scary to raise a daughter. I have one myself. Compared to my son, she will be more vulnerable, she will experience more challenges, she will wrestle with more doubt (her own and others)…

AND

At the end of the day, she will have a father who respects her mother, who models equality home, and who shows her that she is tough enough to handle her own life.

A father who believes in raising brave girls who then become brave women.

A father like you.

Sharing is caring. Send this to a brave man who wants to be a good father to a little girl. (That little girl will thank you for it.)

Oh! And as you may know from last week’s post, Write Like a Mutha, I’m blogging every Friday now, in a way that’s more interactive with you. Use the survey below to vote for next week’s topic! xoxoako

 

Photo Credit Kyle Head