What’s Wrong With the Modesty Message?

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When you’re raised in Mormon culture, you hear a lot of messages about modesty. Modest is hottest!! Just say no to porn shoulders!! This subject has been ruminating on my mind quite a bit and more especially lately because it was brought up in the marriage group I participate in. There are some issues that break on faith lines, but I don’t think this is one of them. I think women tend to be more bothered by this regardless of their level of orthodoxy, but that is most likely merely because they are more aware of it. My own opinions about how modesty is promoted in religious contexts have evolved a lot since I was a teen myself and as my own daughters have grown toward the autonomy of adulthood. So, what IS wrong with the modesty message?

  1. Shouldn’t it be their body, their choice? Although this hasn’t been something that’s been a part of my parenting for the duration, it has evolved over time to become a message that even my youngest children are very familiar with now. Simply put, I don’t own my children. I teach them my values and dialogue with them about pros and cons of potential choices. But, at the end of the day, it IS their body, and it IS their choice. (Seriously, if people ask their name and they don’t want to share it, I don’t. If you try to coerce them to hug you, Mama Bear comes right out.) The modesty message reinforces the idea that body choices don’t belong to the individual, and that’s a problem for me. My kids don’t need to think about who might be looking at and assessing them whether it be me, my husband or their church leaders, friends or neighbors. You can’t be comfortable in your own skin if you’re not sure who’s in charge of it.
  2. It puts all the pressure on girls. I have sat through countless young women’s lessons about dress, decorum and standards. (And, based on what I’ve observed, the boys don’t focus on this. Statistics show that teen girls receive six times as many modesty messages as teen boys.) I’ve seen people sit in front of a classroom and hold up specific people as examples of either what to wear or what not to wear. (Seriously, ewwww.) Modesty is promoted as the idea that we are worth more than an objectified standard (which we are.) However, objectification cuts both ways. When girls hear over and over that they are better without their shoulders showing, that is pretty objectifying. I know girls that have stopped participating in church activity because they’re so tired/bored/annoyed by the one-dimensional nature of this message. In addition, the modesty message suggests that girls need to worry about what boys think, and that if they aren’t careful, they could be responsible for someone else’s poor decision. This is pretty gross to both men and women, frankly. Men are better than that and, if they’re not, the absence of a tank top is certainly not going to inspire them to be decent because it’s a much bigger problem than anyone’s clothing choices.
  3. There is no cultural context. Simply put, modesty means different things to different people in different environments. It is the cultural norm in some countries, for example, for women to be topless to promote bonding and easier access to breastfeeding for their babies. In sharp contrast, Victorian cultures found ankles to be titillating which seems downright ridiculous in our modern era. The only difference is context. I think it is pretty shortsighted to preach modesty as if this context isn’t fluid. It is. (Did you know that the 1964 BYU Homecoming queen wore a sleeveless dress? Yep. It was pretty common in that cultural context and not considered taboo at all.) Our children, both boys and girls, would be much better served to learn self-respect, responsibility and accountability than to focus on a checklist of dress standards.
  4. It interferes with the development of healthy sexuality. This is an issue that I don’t think most young women really understand because, sadly, it only begins to rear its ugly head when they are adults. The standard modesty message does not promote healthy sexuality. It promotes the idea that “good girls” stick to a narrative that is prescribed, and they are broken and used if they don’t. Except, once a girl is married, then the narrative changes. The problem is that girls can’t flip that switch overnight, and many, many religious women find themselves mired in shame, heartache and misunderstanding with their partner because they literally do not know how to be comfortable as sexual beings. This is so, so sad to me. (How I escaped this attitude myself with my background is a miracle to me.) And, again, young men don’t get this same message. The modesty message gives a wink and a nod to the idea that boys will be boys, leaving the majority of the long-term burden of this consequence to women.

I need to make it perfectly clear that this is not a treatise on what anyone should or shouldn’t wear. In fact, it is just the opposite. I have a great deal of respect for anyone who follows a strong internal compass. I just happen to think that every person should feel free to choose these priorities themselves. I don’t always approve of everything that my kids wear out my door. I hope that my children will choose to invest intimacy in a long-term, committed partnership that includes marriage because I think there’s pretty practical benefits to doing so. We talk about these things, and I give my kids my opinion. But, I am pretty dang defensive about anyone who tries to leverage cultural messages in a way that is unhealthy to them. I haven’t always recognized the modesty message as harmful, and I internalized an awful lot of it myself as a teen and young adult woman.  But, when you know better, you do better, and I hope to give my kids better than what I got in this department. For the rest of my readers, maybe it will, at the very least, provide a different perspective that will give you something to think about. Could we do better? Is there a healthier way? I think so.

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Marking The Year That Changed My Life

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I’ve been mulling this post over for at least a week. How do I address the year that changed everything? What can I say to even begin to do it justice? I probably won’t, but I will try. There are some things in life that are so earth-shattering, so groundbreaking, that you mark them by before the thing and after the thing. You can remember your life before them. You can even look back with fondness, but you can never, never go back to the way it was. This year was that year in my life. 2018 will forever mark that before and after.

I have been called brave for standing up to someone who took advantage of me. I have had women open up and share their own “me too” stories that they do not feel able to expose publicly. I don’t know how I feel about that honor. The truth is that I didn’t feel brave; I felt desperate. My life had become riddled with minefields that were no longer avoidable, and they were tripping in our marriage and home life every time we turned around. I needed out of the almost constant adrenaline fest of fear and insecurity. Going public was the only way I saw, and we took it.

There have been many times over this year that I have wondered if it was worth it. I vividly remember falling apart in the arms of my daughter’s future other-mother-in-law when she came to look at my girl’s foot that was hurting yet again. See, she had chronic sprains, and we were afraid that she had maybe broken it this time. Except, my life had been utter chaos for six months at that point, and things like renewing our insurance had fallen through the cracks. Which meant that I didn’t even have the resources that particular day to take my girl to the doctor. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I did take her, I did sort out the insurance, and she did get the care she needed, but I was so deeply aware in that moment how much of a price we had all paid, and I felt completely and utterly broken by that fact.

I have seven kids, and I truly hope that they either do look up to me or will come to as they become adults. But, having other people see me as representative of something bigger than myself is new, different, humbling. The truth is that my life is largely quite boring. I’m a homebody – a private person, even. I sew. I make soap. I raise my kids. I try to be a good neighbor and friend and not put my foot in my mouth too terribly often. (I don’t always succeed – ask my friends and family.) I write because it’s good therapy and people seem to think I have words worth reading.

I am not a perfect person. I yell at my kids way too often. (The other day my 5-year-old told my 7-year-old that she better do what I asked before I was “tired of this sh*t.” Yep, that happened. Oy. For the record, I don’t speak that way to young children, but I have teen boys and adults that push my buttons like you can only understand if you have them as well. :/ ) I have stolen zippers and laundry soap before (on accident) and been too frazzled to run back in and pay like a proper citizen should. I can be ridiculously self centered and me-focused. We all have a baser nature – inner selves that aren’t pretty or polished. But, I really and truly try to live by a set of values that lead me to be better. All this was true before January 2018, and it will be just as true as the calendar turns again.

Things are different for me. My relationship with religion is different – everything has shifted and adjusted. It’s quieter. There’s less expectations and more uncertainty. It’s more honest. I don’t know how it will look going forward, but I do know that it will be mine. My marriage is different. There’s less fear and insecurity. There’s more mutual respect and room for our own individual expressions.We’ve both had to face the prospect of losing our relationship and found reasons to remain and thrive.

It’s the end of this year. It’s almost officially the after the thing mark. This makes me understandably introspective. How do you process what could arguably be considered the biggest event in your life? What is the debriefing process? I don’t even know. I’ve dealt with it like I think anyone else does: you take it one day at a time and do your very best to cope and learn and grow and survive. It feels more like learning and growing as the year wraps up and less like coping and surviving. And, I guess that is the most important thing to communicate about this year – I made it THROUGH. I’m not really special – truly. My journey may be different than yours, but I would put good money on the table that you have what it takes to get through hard things, too. It may be that you haven’t walked through a year that changed your life. It may be that you have. Either way, when you find yourself faced with your own giant, take it one day at a time. Do your very best to cope and learn and grow and survive. You will. You have what it takes to fight the battles put in front of you. I promise.

 

Lick Up Those Life Lessons!

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Have kids, they said! It will be fun, they said!

I have to preface this by explaining that I am NOT a helicopter mom by any stretch of the imagination. I’m what you could call, I guess, a free-range mom? My kids are VERY independent. They pretty much never bother us when we’re out on a date, and they are free to wander within the parameters of our rules. I don’t have to know where they are exactly at any given moment. I’m what you might consider an under-reactor. Once when our older kids were on a homeschool field trip with an eccentric older teacher, they were WAY past their return time, and she wasn’t answering her cell phone. The other moms were beside themselves with worry and my alarm meter was barely starting to register. (They were fine, by the way.) Still, kids get you, don’t they?!

I have my sister’s kids every Tuesday, and they all happily run in and out and play with mine for hours. This week, the oldest niece in the batch came in the house calling for my daughter. They had been playing together outside until about ten minutes before when she thought my 7-year-old had come inside. Except, she hadn’t. I hadn’t seen her, and she didn’t pop out anywhere when we called and looked. After looking thoroughly inside and out, my alarm went off. I called and searched to no avail. In the cars. In our outside greenhouse. Under beds. I texted all my neighbors asking if they had seen her. I finally sent my 11-year-old out on his bike and my adult daughter in her car to sweep the neighborhood. Nope. Nada. In the meantime, my older niece had to leave for an activity.

At this point, I was legitimately worried. I don’t worry. I started thinking of all the horrible possibilities for a little girl that just disappeared out of her own yard in a matter of minutes. Those are not happy thoughts to be thinking a week before Christmas. Almost distraught, I opened the bathroom door that had been ajar just a moment before, and there was my little girl scrunched up on the potty all teary-eyed. When she emerged, she admitted that she had been hiding in a little cubby in our garage. I had walked by there a half-dozen times and even stepped inside and sat for a minute very quietly listening for sneaky breathing. She said she didn’t answer because she thought she was in trouble. Which didn’t make sense, really. I mean, we were concerned, but hiding isn’t like her. Why would she think she was in trouble? But, then my niece came back from her activity and added the little bit of information that made everything fall into place.

I assist at a co-op class once a week – just taking notes and keeping order, mostly, in our very large class of 16 students. My youngest daughter doesn’t have consistent childcare available for her for that hour, so she just comes with me. But, she doesn’t really have a textbook or anything because it’s really a bit above her grade level, so she just gleans what she can and occasionally answers questions whose answers are largely fed to her by said niece who is several years older than her. At the end of every month, our students cash in their tickets for toys and treats and prizes. One of the most coveted cash-in items are those very large, multi-colored lollipops. We sell them for 40 tickets. My daughter usually has somewhere between 10 and 20 tickets while our actual students can earn 50 to 100 during a month. She never gets a lollipop. I’ve never heard her complain or even say anything about it. But, when my niece came home on Tuesday, she mentioned that my little girl had her lollipop in her hand when she “wandered off.” My 7-year-old took that lollipop, hid in the corner in the dark and ate the entire thing.

As a parent, there are some times that I have to make a point to teach my kids lessons. There are plenty of lectures around here, to be sure. However, this day, there was none of that. I hugged her tightly and told her how scared I was when I thought she was lost and to please never, ever do that again! My daughter was so riddled with guilt that when we called her and acted frantic and upset, she believed that she was going to be handily and harshly punished for eating that lollipop. Without any real intervention by me, she licked up that life lesson, and it sat heavy on her heart and her stomach, I’m sure. I would be surprised (especially since that sort of envy and greediness isn’t really like her) if she ever does anything like that again. As adults, we tend to have a level of life experience that muddies this sort of pure consequence, and while I suspect she’ll remember it always, I know that I will. And, that is truly worth the cost of a hundred lollipops.

P.S. I will be taking a blogging vacation Christmas week. I hope you all have a very Merry Christmas and Happy Holiday season! I cannot tell you how much I appreciate each and every one of you who reads my blog. It humbles me that people are touched by my words and my perspective. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!

The Gift of Identity

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Sometimes when I’m preparing my blog posts, I have a lot on my mind or have had a recent experience that I’ve really been ruminating on. Other times, however, the deadline is looming, and I’m chugging along in my daily life trying to figure out what in the heck I should write about. What is this blog about? What do I have to say? And, then it hits me, isn’t that just life? Who am I? What do I have to say? Who do I want to be? How does the world see me?

Even though I have an independent streak a mile wide, I’ve spent a good part of my life picking identities off the shelf. While it’s said the youth brings with it all possibilities, the fact is that it is tempered by the pressures to be the vision that others have for you. There is a lot of fear around making the “wrong choices” or letting people down. I think this carries quite a ways into adulthood, and most people push and pull against it well into their 20s and 30s – sometimes their entire life.

While I don’t want to draw lines on the basis of gender or anything (heaven forbid!), I tend to notice this being more of a thing for women. We give so much to our husbands, to our kids, to our communities. I am my husband’s wife. For decades, I’ve basically introduced myself to people as his wife, and people say, “Ah!” and there is a place for me in their head. This year has changed that dynamic a bit because I have a reputation of my own (for better or worse), and my husband has found himself, for the first time ever, introducing himself as, well, my husband.

I am my kids’ mom. I have spent 22 years largely focused on the health, growth and progress of the seven humans that I grew in my uterus. I homeschool them and don’t work outside our home, and most of my daily energy goes into their lives. In my headspace, though, my life does not revolve around my children. I don’t think I’ve ever said that I’m “just a mom.” Because I’m not.

When women (again, more our thing) lament aging and getting older, I kind of don’t understand it. Don’t get me wrong, I would prefer to still have the flat stomach of my 20s, but I take it pretty much as the tradeoff for the better gift of life experience. I turned 40 in 2017 and posted this on my Facebook page:

“Turning 40 last month has made me super thoughtful. This has been a year of huge changes for me. I’ve struggled in my personal space over the last five years, and this has been a year of resolution and finding peace, but not necessarily in the way I was “supposed to.” There have been really hard parts and days I just wasn’t sure it was going to work out. But, it mostly is, and I feel more comfortable and confident in my own skin every day. Mostly, I just love my life so much. I have a strong and resilient relationship and healthy and thriving kids whom I just adore. I’m embracing and feeling confident in building a career that I fully believe will eventually be a huge boon to our family. I know who I am deep down where all the layers are stripped away, and I’ve really come to love that strong, beautiful and passionate woman. Life is good!”

So, if this blog seems to go in a bunch of different directions, it’s because it’s a reflection of my real life. I don’t always know what direction I’m going. I don’t always know what it is that I want to say. I’m at a point where I feel like I can be and do and say what is actually a reflection of who I am. I AM my husband’s wife. I AM my kids’ mom. I’m also a woman, a friend, a writer, an advocate. I’m less afraid to say things as I see them. I’m more comfortable taking up space in the world. I don’t always know exactly what my identity is, but I do know that it is mine to determine. This, more than anything, has been the gift of this year.

 

 

Sometimes You Just Have to Wear the Snow Boots

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As a rule, my girls aren’t particularly dramatic. My older daughters are the best kinds of girls – the friends to everyone that just avoid all the peripheral drama in their social group. My youngest daughter, however, is only seven, and it happens sometimes. My kids also naturally don’t really like change, so this was the perfect storm and made for a S.U.P.E.R. fun morning!

We’ve had snow here. It went from being pretty dry to looking like a winter wonderland in about a week. The day before this event, my little girl had thrown her shoes on and went outside to hang out with her daddy, so I knew that she had them just hours before. However, when we got up on Tuesday morning with places to go, she couldn’t locate them. Seeing as they are the only shoes she has right now, this was a problem. After digging through mountains of unused/too small/where do these belong? shoes, we found a pair of green and black snow boots that looked like they would do the job. BOY snow boots. GREEN and BLACK. Nope. R.E.J.E.C.T.E.D.

Except, we had places to go. And, we were late. So, of course, a 20-minute, full-on battle of wills ensued about whether or not my little girl was going to be caught dead in those boots. Her vote, of course, was h#!! to the no, and I went for the practical approach – wear it or stay home! I have to go! There was a tiny bit of negotiation (No, you can’t wear the heeled church shoes that are too big for you in the snow) before I finally got them on her feet on threat of being left. She wasn’t happy at all and there was stamping and crying and general disgust at being forced to wear boy shoes.

And, then she got over it. She wore them into class and nobody noticed or said anything, really. When she got home she put them on voluntarily so she could go outside. We still haven’t found her shoes, and she’s been wearing them now for days like it’s just no big deal.

My kids aren’t divas or stuck up or pretentious, really. (They live with me. Ha ha!) They don’t, however, take to sudden changes in expectations well. (Again, my kids!) I always try to remind them that things are rarely as bad at they imagine, and it’s sometimes necessary to just roll with things. I give them the option to choose in as many situations as I can (she could have stayed home), but there are times when I can’t stop and explain or convince, and we just have to wear the green boots anyway.

I really hope that she didn’t leave her shoes outside to get subsequently snowed on. If that’s the case, we won’t see them until spring, and they’ll probably be ruined for good. Luckily, there will be a new pair of boots under the Christmas tree in just a few weeks. I promise they’re not boy boots.

 

An Eye For an Eye, Bro!

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I really think I should have just been a girl mom. Except, then I would be completely insufferable to everyone around me. I mean, what’s your problem?? Kids are EASY! Just kidding. I couldn’t pass up the photo for today because that’s seriously what parenting boys feels like. You have to just laugh, or you’ll cry.

I took my daughter in for dental surgery yesterday morning. She got the short end of the gene pool with her teeth, and this is the at least the third time she’s had sedated dental work. (I always love trying to convince dentists that she actually does brush and that we aren’t completely negligent in her oral care. I’m never sure that they actually believe it though she’s honestly my best brusher.) Yesterday, it was a root canal on a permanent but immature tooth, so we had to go to a specialist and spend more than twice our entire Christmas budget for a family of nine so that she wasn’t down a permanent molar at age seven. Whee!

I got home in the early afternoon and tucked her in bed to sleep it off. After a bit, there was a scuffle with my 11-year-old and 15-year-old. Apparently, when I was gone, my older son was hogging the computer so that my younger son couldn’t use it to complete his math lesson. Said younger son got angry, went up to their room and threw all his brother’s stuff all over which was an undeniably jerk move. When I sent my younger son upstairs to make amends and help clean up the mess, he was instead upset because my older son decided to break all his brothers things as well. So, the 11-year-old slammed the bathroom door and, in the process, broke the light cover in the adjoining hallway. Yay.

Luckily, that was the end of the altercation. I sent my older son to the bedroom to clean up the room on his own while my younger son had to get a broom and sweep up all the glass from his angry outburst. The 15-year-old then got a lecture about taking things into this own hands and not allowing me to take care of my own kids with an emphasis on how disrespecting other people’s things doesn’t teach them to be more respectful of yours. Instead, it just teaches them that you can break people’s crap as long as you’re bigger than them. Bad life lesson.

So, fun day, all around. I counted it as a success, though, because 1. I effectively worked through it without escalating everything, 2. I threw a life lesson in there that sunk in, and 3. I didn’t lose my shit in the process. Win – win – win! See, when you’ve been momming for a long time, that’s pretty much all it takes to count it a good day. Maybe they won’t hate me when they grow up after all.

Parenting is Blind Man’s Bluff

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Please, for the love of all that’s holy, tell me I’m not the only one that has a consistently difficult child. I suppose I should feel grateful that I have this little thing called parenting perspective, so I’m not a jerk to other moms, but the truth is that I just mostly feel like crap about it. We’re supposed to shower our kids with love and care, not count the days until they move out. This is the sentiment that started this blog and it is definitively #notpinterestworthy. :/

I’ve made a lot of progress in dealing with my challenging, 6-foot-tall teen, and I still just mostly want to stab my eyeballs with an ice pick most days. I honestly don’t see a lot of options beyond riding out raising him and hoping for the best. Parenting is this really (sometimes) crappy conundrum where you’re solely responsible for the actions of another person when the truth is that you have zero control over their choices. I can lecture myself hoarse, and he will still, ultimately, do what he wants.

This is crap for me. Torture, really. I am probably one of the most reasonable people you could ever meet, but it makes zero difference when you’re a mom. If I had a “real job” as a manager, I would never be expected to sit and smile and be constantly patient while the people around me treated my attempts to accomplish things with all the respect of a talking Charlie Brown head spouting utter nonsense. The logical part of me knows that parenting really is an other-worldly environment full of unrealistic expectations. There is no other place in the world that an adult interacts in that is held to a higher standard, and I live in this space all. the. time. I don’t have a “day job.” I don’t send my kids off to school for most of the day. I’m with them, 24-7.

I’ve always been told that we’re all the “perfect parent for our kids – just what they need,” and I truly hope this is the truth. In reality, I wonder every single day if it is. Did I coddle him too much as a toddler? (He was the baby of the family for almost five years before his brother was born.) Did I not hug him enough? Is he difficult because I have come to expect it from him, and he just lives up to that? Would he be insufferable if I didn’t try so hard to teach him respect for others, boundaries, responsibility? I have no clue. I have no way of knowing, but I still torture myself with the questions and sometimes feel utterly sunk in self hatred of my inability to be the Perfect Mom for him.

I think the hardest part of this is that I know he’s a good person. There is so much potential there, and I can just taste how amazing that would be if he would point things in a more healthy direction. I have no way of seeing the future. I have no way of knowing if any of my minute adjustments to my approach or my creative attempts to reach him will hit the mark. I won’t know until he’s grown and gone and it’s much too late to fix any of it. This fact is so, so hard.

If you know anything about me, it’s that I like to be good at what I do to probably a ridiculous extent. It took my therapist about three sessions to peg this as an inherent quality of mine. This is probably the number one reason I’m crafty. I can’t throw in the towel and “change hobbies” when it comes to what I actually spend the majority of my day doing. Parenting is a labor of love, and it twists my heart and turns me inside out with the sheer hard work of it. So, when you see me pouring gallons of soap or sewing new wardrobes in a month, it’s not because I’m superhuman. It’s because I need to feel a sense of accomplishment. I need something in my life where there is a method and a process and a consistency that I can count on. In this long-term game of blind man’s bluff, little successes along the way remind me that I may, just maybe, have what it takes.