Girl Power: Strong Mommy, Strong Daughter

This has been an incredible year for girl power.

Strong women conquered film in Wonder Woman. The resulting fascination by girls was a joy to witness with all of the products for sale. I had several Wonder Women knocking on my door at Halloween.

Twitter saw the rise of #metoo with women sharing personal stories of sexual assault and harassment.

Men in power have been accused and punished, at least in some cases, for having sexually harassed women even decades ago.

While I hope that this focus on females taking control of their destinies continues, I don’t know if it will maintain strength in the same way over the next few years.

I know, though, that the ideal of a strong female will continue in my household, not because I am always a strong woman but because I will aspect to that ideal; I am comfortable in my own strength, and I will aspire to be ever stronger and better. My daughter shouldn’t believe that women kowtowing to men is an acceptable normal. I have been pushed around too much in my life by small men, and how I raise my daughter will be influenced by the lessons I have learned, some at great cost.

My Girl Power Mantras

In a moment of forgiveness, I did not call the cops. I should have. I should have documented the violence he inflicted on my person. Get it on the record.

Unsure of my own worth, I put up with his nonsense for far too long. I should have left sooner. Know when to leave.

Males in power spoke with misogyny on their lips and in their eyes. I did well to find a female mentor for guidance. Proactively gather allies.

Friends, male and female, have become my brothers and sisters, supporting me when I needed them simply because they love me. It gives me joy to love, support, and shower them with love in return. Keep loving, hugging, and smiling at rainbows.

Even though I am not where I thought I would be at this point in my life, that’s okay. I can survive anything and find joy wherever I am.  Adventure is everywhere.

#girlpower

I am tired of small, weak men trying to push me around. Strong on my own, in my own person, I will continue to be strong for myself because I want to be  smarter and better in all kinds of ways that give me personal satisfaction and joy. I am a strong woman, and I will fight for my daughter and be very active in her life so that she also becomes a strong woman. She deserves to know her father, but she deserves better than to have only him.

Girl Power Reading

Be a star, wonder womanBe a Star, Wonder Woman! by Michael Dahl

You can be a Wonder Woman at any age and in any setting. This books shows how a little girl is like Wonder Woman just by going to school and how she interacts with her classmates.

 

Ada Twist, Scientist Ada Twist, Scientist by Andre Beaty

A little girl is fascinated trying to figure all sorts of things out. Her determination and curiosity are commendable, but also watch how awesome her parents are, reacting one way at first and then softening their approach for the sake of their daughter.

 

 

The Most Magnificent Thing

 

The Most Magnificent Thing by Ashley Spires

A little girl and her dog build a fascinating thing. It isn’t the thing she tries to build at first, but she figures out that it’s even better!

 

 

Ada Lovelace: poet of scienceAda Lovelace: poet of science by Diane Stanley

Ada Lovelace is considered to be the first computer programmer. Excelling at math at a time when women weren’t supposed to dive into such fields, she made a lot of people uncomfortable. Strengthen your talents, and don’t worry about the haters.

I Am MalalaI Am Malala by Malala Yousafzai

Just a young girl, she’s already a Nobel Peace Prize winner and activist. This is a readable account for young adults.

Instill the Love of Learning for a Brighter Future

So Good They Cant Ignore YouChildren face a world that is changing quickly. The careers that they start in their 20’s may morph dramatically even within a decade. To prepare them for a world filled with rapid change, we can follow the advice of Cal Newport in So Good They Can’t Ignore You and so many others: teach children a love of learning and how to really engage with the process, which can be difficult and even uncomfortable at times. If we teach our children how to learn and to engage with learning in a regular, focused way as part of their regular lives, we empower children to have greater control over their own success and hopefully set them up for better professional and personal lives.

When Learning Stops, Our Progress Stop

we can get stuck when we dont put effort into our own love of learningWhen we stop learning new things, new skills, we become less competitive and our knowledge may become outdated. This is particularly problematic in certain professional fields and less so in others. If we dig in our heels and refuse to be uncomfortable not knowing or being able to do something easily, our stubbornness may ultimately kill our chances of promotion and upward mobility. Many people plateau in their careers because they fail to continue the process of learning that is needed in order to reach the next step. Just coming in and doing the work day in and day out may not be enough to show the boss that you’re the best candidate for a higher level and the accompanying rewards.

Building a Habit of Learning Benefits More Than Our Paychecks

On a personal level, learning new things adds to our quality of life. The richness of our mental vibrancy actually benefits our physical health, as well. Older adults who engage in mentally stimulating exercises are more likely to have less pain and are generally healthier.

But, that all focuses on adults and the benefits of a learning.

Children who are taught how to learn and that it’s okay to struggle have better outcomes than children who are praised for the outcome (the “A”). The children who learned perseverance were rewarded for the process (“I’m so proud of how hard you worked”). Individuals accustomed to success who suddenly hit a snag in achievement or who discover that the task before them is challenging in an uncomfortable way may end up giving up on the task and the learning before them. Children who are taught that learning can be difficult but working through it is valuable and normal push through and can conquer challenges that “more gifted” peers end up setting aside. Persistence is valuable.

As Times Change, We Need New Skills

love of learning means hard work sometimes and buckling down to study in the library Just a few decades ago, computers entered American homes, and few people knew how to type. As a culture, there was an emphasis on learning to type and understand computers. As a result, a large percentage of the population can now type with relative ease and perform advance functions on computers and phones.

Other changes that consumers have encountered or have infiltrated our lives: smart phones, online shopping, targeted marketing including through Facebook, home food delivery and meal preparation, and ebooks.

Not everyone uses or experiences those items on a daily basis, but they profoundly affect our lives, the services that people can receive, and the job market.

Adults encountering change in the labor market can learn new skills. It can be difficult, and many people refuse. But, those who focus on learning and are able to adapt are able to find new paths even when old job sectors crumble. Even without an entire sector suffering, the addition of new career capital, as Cal Newport refers to the acquisition of new skills and learning, can accelerate our professional path and give us more autonomy over the paths that we take.

How Do We Encourage Kids?

these little archaeologists are developing a love of learningIn order to help children understand that there is value not just knowing a fact but in dedicating the time and particularly effort to learning, we have to focus on their process and praise the actions, not the product. When a child brings home a report card, praise the hard workdedication, and good efforts exerted, regardless of the grade itself. Only praising the product of the grade “I’m so glad you got an A!” can be counterproductive.

The same process applies in the realm of sports. Praising the good work, how happy the child seems to be engaging in it, and the effort and dedication are more likely to result in the child positively engaging further in the sport and performing better. Elite athletes point to having received these sorts of encouragements from parents. Those who focused only on the goals and points were less likely to continue to push forward because once they failed to make those points, they felt like failures and gave up. Pushing through the difficulties because they were still being recognized for how hard they were working allowed athletes to feel good about themselves during what could have otherwise been a painful moment. And so, they did not give up but took to heart moments of intense learning and training as part of their personal goals.

How Do We Encourage Ourselves?

As adults, we can set aside regular times for us to learn new things. We may have a few minutes on the weekends or evenings outside of work. We may be fortunate enough to have even a half hour here and there during the workday. Put time on the calendar to create career capital for yourself:

  • learn a new thing,
  • write an article that will put you in the spotlight at work and outside, dig deeper into industry news, or,
  • just read something that may help you think more deeply or understand in a new way.

Learning Can Be Fun and Engaging for All Levels

play can aid in the love of learning processThere are a variety of apps, games, and more that can make learning fun and help spur us. Gamifying the experience by earning badges or other rewards for achievements has been shown to be an incentive for all ages.  Even if the resource your child uses doesn’t have badges or stickers as part of the game, you can grant badges for the child completing a course, track, or spending a certain amount of time on the work each week.

Apps

Apps can allow for mobile learning in short time periods like during commutes.

  • SoloLearn – learn software programming
  • Cram – flashcards on a variety of learning topics. May be useful for schoolage kids studying for tests as well
  • Duolingo – learn languages
Educational sites

These sites can track learning paths, recommend new material, and be free. Know that you’d like to learn ‘computer science’ but don’t know where to start? These can be good ways to get started and lead to more discoveries of fascinating, previously unknown topics:

  • PBS Kids – includes lots of games with an educational aspect for toddlers and up
  • Digital Public Library of America – includes material from libraries, archives, and museums. Be sure to check out the Exhibitions area.
  • Khan Academy – Free and focused on learning paths appropriate for all ages. Includes videos and articles
  • YouTube #Education – Browse topics like “business” but let yourself be fascinated by the variety of fascinating other topics you’ll see. It’s like browsing a library bookshelf and allows for more ‘aha!’ moments than some sites that focus more strictly on learning paths.
  • Your library – Please visit your library website. They vary so much that I can’t link here to anything but the New York Public Library. Talk with a librarian to know the extent of the resources at your disposal. You may have access to digital collections, ebooks, subscriptions, and more. Plus, this access is free. You likely have full access to periodicals like Harvard Business Review. There are also digital collections with videos, entertaining ones like on TV and educational ones. Your library may also have live presentations and performances at the library itself. Have a teen struggling in school or want technical training? Many libraries have volunteers offering mentoring services after school and classes on a variety of topics.
Online courses

Prepared coursescan help you learn a topic in-depth and even connect with other students learning. Not all are free, but there are many free ones available on sites like:

Games

Even games can be educational.

Print material

Books, magazines, and newspapers are also good sources for expanding our mental horizons. Magazines that focus on pure entertainment may not have the calibre you may want for mental stimulation and learning. But, excellent options exist, and you can find them bookstores, libraries, and in digitized form online.

Support good writing and journalism if you’re able to afford a subscription. These are powerful venues not just for society being aware of the world. Having complex information shared with us allows us to be more informed citizens. These journalist venues are also powerful for maintaining our democratic state.

Happy Learning!

Incorporating learning as a part of regular lives prepares us to conquer new challenges and not be afraid of change. Teaching our children to appreciate, if not love, the process of learning and to recognize the good that it can do for us is one of the most powerful things we as adults can teach them.

But, learning isn’t just for children. Regardless of whether you have 15 minutes a week or half an hour every day, setting aside time to increase your own career capital can be worthwhile for yourself. And, if children see that you make learning a priority for yourself, they may be more likely to follow your example.

 

Related post: “Messes Are Awesome!”

Novel Experiences Lead to Discovery & Learning

Sometimes we experience a mental jolt, an ‘ah-ha!’ simply by being shaken out of our routine. Novelty and change, whether where we are or in our routines, can make us step back and see things in a new light. This can be fun and provide benefits for adults, and for kids, novel experiences can lead to discovery and leaps of learning. In fact, “intelligence is correlated with openness to novel experience” (Kanazawa, 2010).

Travel: Novel Geographic Experiences

kids novel experiences while traveling

The changes that an adult can handle are different from what children can tolerate. Business travel lets me experience a change in mindset just by taking me out of my normal location. When I visit a different area, I see a different terrain, more/less trees, buildings, people, etc.

Large differences are fascinating and the right level for me as an adult, but if my daughter traveled for a few days to a different state, that may be too exhausting for her. Slight alterations in her routine, reading patterns, or even weekend activities can be useful without being overwhelming.

Try This Yourself

Instead of hanging around the house on the weekend, consider:

  • Go to a nearby zoo or a museum
  • A day trip to the beach/mountains/lake
  • Go on a hike or picnic at a new park or natural area
  • Watch a sports game on Saturday mornings at the park. High school and intramural sports are often free to watch.
  • Take a child/parent class at the YMCA or through the Parks & Rec department
  • Throw a dart at a map of nearby areas and explore wherever you land

These little trips can be great adventures without being too expensive or overwhelming for either parents or kids.

Read Something Odd: Novel Mental Experiences

kids novel experiences while readingMy daughter chooses many of her own library books. She’s three years old, and she often doesn’t understand what she’s picking up in the same way that I do since I can read the title. She grabs books that she can pick up, and this leads to new discoveries that can be really rewarding for us to read together. The content is so different from what we may otherwise read that this novelty lets her experience diverse content without me having to put in effort to find new material.

Being allowed and encouraged to choose her own books grants my daughter freedom over what she reads and over her own destiny. If that sounds dramatic, imagine being a three year-old: Your food, clothes, where you go during the day, and when you even go to the bathroom may be decided for you.

What little moments of power can we grant children to let them wonder and start to make decisions for themselves? This is just a little moment, but there is power in choice. Giving my daughter that power in the reading adventures that she and I share gives her partial ownership over that experience.

Touching by Helen Frost
Touching by Helen Frost

My daughter’s random choices have also led to my checking out more non-fiction books than I would otherwise have selected. This shakes me out of my routine, too. We read Touching by Helen Frost, for example, which has about one sentence and a big photo per page to help children learn about our sense of touch. That certainly wasn’t on my to-read list, but my daughter enjoyed it enough to read several times before we returned it to the library.

Try This Yourself

The non-fiction books that have shaken me and my daughter out of our routine were all ones that she could reach. I’ve learned that I can let my daughter wander the library, and when it’s almost time for us to go, I give her a 5-minute warning to collect any books that she wants to check out to take home. If I time my “5-minute warning” right, she can be in a new area of the book stacks so that we get a wide variety of material.

If a timer of a few minutes doesn’t work, consider having kids find a few books with similar characteristics, like:

  • The same color cover
  • With the same animal on the cover
  • The authors’ last names start with the same letter
  • At least one old book and one new one

These are small ways to turn it into a game that still lets children explore new areas, enjoy independence in choosing their own literature, and takes the burden off parents from having to pick out award-winning literature every time.

 

Sources and Further Reading

Kanazawa, Satoshi. “What Does Novelty Mean?” Psychology Today. 21 Jun 2010.

Toddler Ballet and Other Extracurricular Classes Do Matter

Starting Ballet as a Toddler

toddler ballet

Enrolling a 2.5 year-old in ballet may seem odd when you consider how they’re still struggling to control their bodies. But, having had my daughter in the classes for almost a year, I’ve seen benefits for kids her age, even beyond the benefits of learning to physically dance. Even for a toddler ballet and other extracurricular classes make a difference and encourage learning of important social skills.

At this stage, children are learning about having a class, what it means to have a regular pattern of actions: in the toddler ballet class, we greet each other, sing and dance similar things week to week, have a new activity, and sing and dance a goodbye song. Children learn to listen to a teacher and give turns to other classmates. In these classes where parents also join, the children also engage with adults other than just their parents in a positive way, which is incredibly useful for their social skills and confidence.

Children could learn a lot of these physical and social skills in other classes, not just toddler ballet classes, and that’s fine. Regardless of whether you choose classes other rather than ballet, just note what essential skills like this may be taught beyond the ‘core’ concept of ‘ballet’ or ‘gymnastics.’


When looking for extracurricular classes, consider these things:

  • Is the class structured? Pattern helps encourage learning and comfort in the new setting.
  • Does the teacher treat both the children and adults with respect? If the teacher talks down to the children and only seems to respect the adults, look elsewhere. Kids don’t if they aren’t being taken seriously.
  • Is your child enjoying the class? If not, try another activity. Even if your heart is set on your daughter becoming a ballerina, her fighting going to every class is going to make her unlikely to enjoy other classes, ballet or otherwise. If the child is able to take a break from the activity and try it again in the future, the child may enjoy it later, like how taking a break between trying foods can finally get a kid to eat broccoli.

Regardless of the activity you choose, consider exploring the topic further through videos or books. Being able to see what professionals can do may help children visualize why they’re going to classes and give them goals to work towards if they’re enjoying the classes. This can also help you figure out if your child is actually enjoying the class and why. Does the child like reading books about the topic? If so, maybe there’s real engagement with the topic. If not, maybe your child is more interested in the class because it’s time to hang out with friends.

Books with a Ballet Theme

See other books “Perfect for Preschoolers (Ages 2-5)” and “Excellent for Early Readers (Ages 6-9)”.

Explore dancing with toddlers by reading as wellDance Tanya by Patricia Lee Gauch

Ages: 2-9

A little girl wants to go to dance classes like her sister. Tanya dances and loves it for how it makes her feel. A sweet exploration of loving dance from a young age.

 

Toddler ballet

Bea at Ballet by Rachel Isadora

Ages: 0-4

This picture book shows a toddler going to ballet class with friends. It also helps children learn basic concepts like names of pieces of clothing, so this is a book for learning concepts more than providing a story.

 

Ballet for children. Firebird by Misty Copeland

Firebird by Misty Copeland

Ages: 6-9

A beautiful story of a self-conscious young girl who falls in love with dance. With an empowering message, this book offers beauty and a positive message.

 

toddlers dance classA Dance Like Starlight: one ballerina’s dream by Kristy Dempsey and Floyd Cooper

Ages: 3 – 9

This book is based on a true story of the first African American prima ballerina. As a girl growing up in 1950s Harlem, her dreams seemed out of reach, but that didn’t stop Janet Collins from reaching for the stars.

Creating the Best Support Network and Family

Reflecting on times in my past when I needed help and who actually formed my support network and stood by my side, I’ve realized that there were patterns in who vanished and who tried to give me the help I needed. The best people who supported me and formed my new ‘family’ of loved ones were other broken dolls with imperfect pasts, especially childhoods. These people with imperfect life experiences formed the strongest support network and family I could have asked for, better than the people I was related to by blood.

Lessons I learned

  1. People you are related to by blood may help you. Or, they could turn on and throw you to the dogs. I had the latter outcome occur when I was in college and desperately needed the support of my family.
    Lesson: Forget about blood. Family is what you make.
  2. Marrying into a new family can be great. For a while. But if you get divorced, those people will side with the person they’re related to by blood, leaving you alone. It won’t matter that you had a great relationship with the mother-in-law; she may support her son regardless of the lies that come out of his mouth.
    Lesson: Not being at fault for the rift won’t stop you from being isolated anyway by in-laws.
  3. The “strange” people I hung out with in college helped me through some dark times, just listening, supporting, and cheering me. These individuals had experienced negativity in their own childhoods and knew what it was to be in pain. They helped me find the sunlight again and get myself back on a healthy path.
    Lesson: Friends are valuable and can help regardless of age and immaturity. In some ways, immaturity can yield wisdom and just plain joy.
  4. When I started my divorce, the people who listened to me most and cheered me on were again the broken dolls who had experienced pain, loss, and lots of self-doubt. They understand the importance of just checking in on a regular basis to say hi even if nothing important is discussed. Being remembered bolsters one’s self-esteem incredibly.
    Lesson: Find others who have known pain, even if it wasn’t the same kind you’re going through now.
  5. support network and familyThe people who said that they would support me but didn’t, who even stopped talking to me and being friends, were often so absorbed by themselves that helping me didn’t even cross their minds. They hadn’t experienced the same brokenness in the same way. Or, maybe their personalities were so different that they couldn’t understand my needs, even if I had told them explicitly that just talking to me was important. The people most likely to be in this group included: boys raised by doting mothers who’d never abandoned them or given them cause to doubt their own greatness; bosses who assumed that having a good career was enough that issues in my personal life wouldn’t affect me at work; and friends who meant well but didn’t realize that it wasn’t enough to say ‘let me know if you need anything’ once and never check back in.
    Lesson: Narcissists and certain personality types aren’t going to get it.

Pain yields empathy and understanding

Why have these people been so good at helping me when I needed it? They’ve experienced the kind of damage that gave them humanity. They may have broken, but in healing, they were stronger. I hear about their pasts and their experiences, and I am in awe and regain my own strength. There are incredible people around us.

Family is created, not born

Being related by blood does not make you family. I tell my daughter this often. I want her to understand why I think it’s important for her to join me when I videochat with friends. These friends are her family, too. Her godparents are great people, and I consider them family, better family than the blood family and family I married into have treated me so far. One must create family, whether with friends, children (blood relations, adoption, fostering, even mentoring), etc. Sometimes we get lucky and have great people we’re related to. I’m jealous if that’s you, so count yourself lucky. Who we choose as our family, though, affects our happiness and ultimately our support network in profound ways. We need support networks. We will fall, cry, and need someone to hold us, even if it’s just a virtual hug conveyed in a phone call.

Next time a friend is going through a rough time…

If you’re looking to help someone you know, just have a conversation with the person. You don’t have to ask me about the bad stuff going on in my life. I may not even want to talk about it. But, having a positive interaction with another adult is a powerful, healing thing that may help me get through the day, a day in which I may be fighting with the ex, compiling documentation for an attorney, and generally just stressing out. Talk with me. Really. I like physical hugs as well as the warmth that just your friendship gives me.