Positive Parenting: Mother Daughter Empowerment Series
As a sex educator, I’ve been advocating for better information for parents about how to talk with their kids about sex. So when Kendra Holliday of The Beautiful Kind tweeted that she and her daughter were going to attend a workshop designed to help moms and daughters develop some tools to promote positive choices, I asked her to send me a write-up about it. Here’s what she found:
I’ve always been frustrated by the lack of discussion about really important topics like sex and body image when it comes to raising kids, so I was thrilled to learn of a new program where I live called Girls in the Know.
From the website:
“Girls in the Know is a non-profit organization designed to educate and empower mothers and their daughters, ranging in age from9to 13 years old. Led by a group of women professionals, Girls in the Know teaches healthy communication skills to strengthen the mother-daughter bond while promoting positive behaviors and decisions as girls mature into adulthood.
I found out about Girls in the Know from my daughter’s school, who partnered with the organization to offer a series of evening classes in their school library.
My 11-year-old daughter and I were so excited to find out what it was all about! We were one of a dozen mother-daughter duos in attendance. The library was festively decked out in hot pink, with pink tablecloths, a pink Girls in the Know shirt for each girl, and cookies and pink lemonade. Honestly, it looked more like a 6-year-old’s pretty princess party theme, but I guess they had to boy-proof the area to prevent anyone of the wrong gender from wandering in and disrupting the female flow.
Class 1: Self-Esteem and Empowerment
A school counselor led the first class. The owlish woman in a conservative dress started off by passing around a jar of Hershey kisses and having us guess how many there were. You were also supposed to ask your daughter and someone sitting next to you what their guesses were and see how your number changed when taking theirs into consideration. This was to be an exercise in peer influence.
My daughter guessed 200, I guessed 140. In actuality, there were 125 Hershey kisses in the jar, and we all got to eat them regardless of how inaccurate we were. Girls love chocolate! Everybody wins!
The counselor pointed out that we often focus on the bad influence of peers, but we shouldn’t forget about positive influence as well. We were encouraged to think about how we could be a good example for others.
This segued into trusting your gut and some book recommendations: My Secret Bully and Stand Up for Yourself & Your Friends, a book on bossiness and bullies.
Did you know 160,000 kids stay home every day from school due to bullying?
We learned bullying strategies such as ignoring, humor, and, if it’s relentless, telling a trusted adult. This, by the way is reporting, not tattling.
Next, we listed ten things we like about ourselves, then three things we love about our daughter/mom. It was fun seeing what was similar on our lists, and what was different.
The point of this exercise was supposed to be a lesson in accepting your daughter for who they are, and not trying to force them into your ideal. For instance, let’s say you had a dream early on of wearing matching pink dresses while shopping with your daughter and it turns out she prefers wearing soccer shorts and hates shopping.
As you discover your differences, you might feel disappointment (as Anne of Green Gables said, “Life is a graveyard of buried hopes), but if you work through and process the reality of motherhood in a healthy way, you can embrace your expanded scope and turn it into a positive. As opposed to screwing up your daughter by being a controlling, guilt tripping freak.
My least favorite part of workshop was roleplaying. Girls stood up in front of the group and awkwardly read from a script where they pretended to ditch another girl to go see a movie. This was an effort to teach empathy.
My favorite part of the workshop was another empathy exercise where mothers and daughters traded shoes with each other. I like how it weirded everyone out. I gave my daughter my black Pumas with green trim and pink laces, and she gave me her fat navy and black boy sneakers with velcro straps. Amazingly, she’s 11 and wears the same shoe size as me – 7.
Her shoes were stinky and roomy on me. Mine were a little too tight for her. Immediately after putting my shoes on, she tied my laces together in a knot, which was annoyingly symbolic. Other girls wore their mom’s work sandals and high heels and tittered.
After class, we stopped at the store and bought dessert, which is the underage mommy-daughter date version of getting a drink “ a caketail instead of a cocktail, if you will.
Class 2: Body Image
This talk was presented by a thin, athletic, pretty nutritionist. Pink lemonade and popcorn was served as a snack.
While munching, we learned that the average model is 5′ 10 and 110 lbs., while the average woman is 5′ 4 and 140 lbs.
As people quietly tsked at this discrepancy, I asked the nutritionist WHY there was such a drastic difference in body image fantasy vs. reality in our society and she changed the subject. Dang.
Next, she showed a photograph of a girl before and after being photoshopped into adulthood. We discussed the differences in the two pictures “ they had slimmed her face, erased her freckles, and smoothed her eyebrows. And here I thought youth was such a desirable quality in our culture!
She briefly defined unhealthy eating habits such as anorexia and bulimia, but didn’t go into details regarding how people become inflicted with such life-threatening illnesses. I wanted her to mention tips like mothers not obsessing over weight in front of their daughters or telling them they would be so pretty if they only lost a little weight, but time did not allow for elaboration.
The most dramatic part of the evening was when the instructor held up an empty 20 oz. plastic cola bottle and had a couple girls help her pourFIVETABLESPOONS of sugar into the bottle to demonstrate how much sugar is in one bottle. HOLY MOLY just looking at it made me gag! We shouldn’t have more than 5 teaspoons of sugar a day, by the way.
Variety, moderation, and balance in your diet is important. There are sometimes, once in a while, and every day foods. In case you’re wondering, veggies and fruit are everyday food. Cake is a once in a while food. Twinkies should be a never food.
That night we went home and made kale chips, our favorite healthy, easy snack. They are so good! After eating this every day food, we felt we deserved some once in a while (ahem) ice cream.
Class 3: Safety
The safety class was presented by a female police officer in uniform “ she was even packing heat! She was the most engaging speaker yet. Right off the bat, my daughter grabbed some chex mix and asked the friendly neighborhood cop how she justified having such a dangerous job and being a mom. The Officer seemed surprised at such a direct question, and explained that there were many parents in the police force.
First, she covered internet safety.
- Cyberspace is forever “ think before you send!
- Kids shouldn’t use their name in their email address.
- Don’t keep the computer in a bedroom or basement, but in a common room.
The instructor informed us that facebook has a privacy setting for kids under 18 so that only friends can send them a message. This safety feature was added to prevent random adults from sending kids messages.
She suggested 7th grade might be a good age to get a cell phone, but that many families were getting their 4th graders cell phones.
If a kid is home alone and someone knocks on the door, the rule used to be not to answer the door and act like no one is home. But a lot of houses got broken into that way because they were being cased, so the police are suggesting a new technique:
If someone is at the door, the kid should stand near the unopened door and yell, “Mom, someone is at the door. Then pause, and say, “Okay, I won’t answer it.
If your kid gets invited to a friend’s house, get to know that family. Find out if they have guns in the house or if the older brother is having a sleepover the same night his little sister is. Don’t just drop your kid off at a stranger’s house!
Come up with a code your child can use if she’s at a friend’s house and something weird happens like an adult gets drunk. For instance, if your daughter calls you and says, “My eyes are itching that means you need to go get her, no questions asked.
And finally, remember this one? Trust your gut! Read The Gift of Fear to learn invaluable self-preservation techniques.
Class 4: Sex Education
This class was taught by a curly-haired, no nonsense gynecologist, who started off by telling the group she was NOT scary, which I thought set a weird tone for the remainder of the class.
We turned our noses up at the pretzels offered (where did the chocolate go?) and played the Telephone game. The phrase “Paul picks purple pansies to take to a panda playdate turned into “Pie something purple parade something playground by the time it got to the last girl in the room. Yep, information can get distorted as it gets passed around. It’s better to go to a trusted source for your questions about sex, which should hopefully be your mom!
We talked about menstruation. It was amusing sitting around the school library after hours, dunking tampons into bowls of red water with my daughter. Meanwhile, my own period was raging under my skirt, the reality so very different than this tampon fondling game.
As the wet tampons expanded into billowing pillows of scarlet cotton, the girls grew alarmed.
“These are large size tampons, the good doctor explained. “They were on sale.
I was glad my daughter asked what having a period felt like, but I refrained from sharing with the class that when I first got my period, the cramps were so bad I threw up. I DID tell them that the blood can look brown instead of red, which threw me off at first. I was in 7th grade and thought I pooped my pants!
Gyno woman scored points for telling everyone that sex is not just an act involving the penis and vagina. Sex is much more than that – it can be hands, mouth, and/or genitals on a(nother) person.
Then she asked, “Who here is comfortable saying the word ˜hair’? Everyone raised their hands.
More hands raised.
“How about ˜penis’ or ˜vagina’?
My daughter and I were the only two in the room who raised our hands. She was impressed. “Looks like you are an open family, that’s good!
I was pleased she mentioned masturbation, although she didn’t use that word. She was more subtle, saying, “It’s normal to explore your body and find out what feels good.
She encouraged us to impart the following promise for our girls:
“Now that I am becoming a young adult, I have the responsibility to protect myself, respect myself, and have control over my body to avoid being hurt or doing something I will regret in the future.
I wish someone had thought to share that sentiment with me when I was a girl coming of age. I don’t think I realized my body belonged to me. Repeat after me: My body does not belong to society. It belongs to ME.
At the end of the class they had the girls fill out evaluation sheets. They asked the girls to complete this sentence: “I feel _________
I heard a couple girls squeal, “I feel traumatized!
Sigh. Too bad they didn’t feel empowered, relieved, or informed, but hey, these classes are an excellent start in trying to erase the shame and embarrassment dictated by our society when it comes to stuff like this. We need to nip the negative messages in the bud before they take root. In the meantime, we have workshops like these. For sure, my daughter and I appreciated them.
What’s more, the program is expanding to other cities and genders. In addition to St. Louis,Chicagois now offering similar classes. If you’d like to see a program like this in your city, do some research, and if you don’t find what you’re looking for, start your own group! That’s what the founder, Lori Lander did. Can’t wait to see Boys in the Know debut!
After our last class, my daughter and I celebrated with “ I won’t lie – more ice cream. We also read a story together and took a moonlit walk around the neighborhood, which allowed us more time to reflect and bask in our open and honest relationship. We definitely took away some valuable tips, and the quality time spent together was inspiring. We fully intend to keep the bonding ball rolling!
Kendra Holliday is Writer and Editor of The Beautiful Kind, an online sex-positive community for women. Co-Founder of Sex Positive St. Louis, she has an 11-year-old daughter and identifies as momsexual.