As a blogger I'm frequently cruising social media looking for content to share on my page. When I find myself nodding in agreement or thinking "Amen!", I know that content resonates with me and likely will with my readers as well. In my scrolling though I've noticed a certain category of motivational memes & quotes lately--the "females empowering each other" brand--that, while nice in theory, have just felt...well...inauthentic. Ya know, ones of this nature:
Don't get me wrong, I'm wholeheartedly in agreement with the concept, I just feel like, as women, we're not really walking this talk--that what we're saying we believe isn't quite lining up with our actions. Of course that doesn't pertain to all of us and I highly doubt anyone would read a quote like this and say "Na, I think tearing each other down is the way to go". I'm just sharing my observation that, while I see words about empowering each other being liked and shared by many of us, I think in large part there's a discrepancy between what we say we believe and how we actually behave toward one another as women.
In my opinion, what kills female friendships aren't outright acts of "tearing down", but rather more subtle behaviors that "chip away". Not obviously aggressive betrayals, but those hard-to-define transgressions like
and body language that says something very different than the words coming out of our mouths.
The types of behaviors where you're fully aware you're being cut down or insulted but it's so subtle that, if confronted or called out, it can leave you--the recipient--looking like the crazy person rather than the person making the jab. And, sadly, I've seen it just as much amongst adult women as I have amongst the young girls I teach.
This kind of behavior is, to me, much more concerning than direct confrontation because it involves a level of mental and emotional manipulation that is totally unnecessary and crazy-making. On the whole, men tend to be much more direct with one another in their friendships and, while their jabs at one another can be tough to hear, they at least don't leave the other person trying to guess where they stand because they tell it like it is. Which raises the question: why is this SO hard for many women?
The "Me-too" movement and the fight for equal pay in the workplace have helped us move forward as a gender but what I see as holding us back the most isn't the opposite gender but each other--our passive-aggressive nature toward one another. Because a group that's not united can't make forward progress, and we can't be united when we're not telling the truth to one another.
Perhaps it's so ingrained in us to be seen as polite and non-confrontational that we're willing to take playing mind games with one another over telling the truth directly. I don't know how to fix the problem and that's okay because it's not my job to. My job is to do my part within my own circle of friends to be as honest and straightforward as possible, to communicate directly and to do so with love as much as possible.
As I near 40 and life becomes more busy, I simply no longer have the time or energy for anything other than transparency. I find that I value a small handful of friends carrying no pretenses over a dozen that, after our interaction, leave me guessing where we stand. And those friends who can be real not only in appearances but in their communication with me, they're freaking GOLD.
As for these girls coming up--the young ones learning for the first time how to navigate their female friendships, how to work out conflict--I'm going to keep fighting hard to teach them not to do it the way our generation has. I hope to help them learn what many of us didn't--that it's okay to use your voice and tell your girlfriends the truth, directly, with love. I hope to teach them that breaking a glass ceiling takes strength and there's a hell of a lot more strength together than separate.
Unless you spent Spring Break hibernating in a cave, you've heard the hoopla surrounding the college admissions cheating scandal in which parents (including some well-known celebs) engaged in various forms of bribery in order to get their children into the top colleges they desired. Many people are shocked by how this could happen, but I'm betting most of them aren't teachers. Disappointed, yes. But not surprised.
Because a phenomenon we've seen for awhile now is what's truly at the root of this issue: some parents wanting more for their children than their children want for themselves. It's about being able to tell people that your child goes to (fill-in-the-blank) University and how that makes the parent feel rather than a genuine desire on the part of the child to do the hard work required to earn their way in authentically. Of course I don't know these people firsthand or know that this is the case--maybe these students legitimately did care about their schoolwork and worked hard but, despite their best efforts, struggled academically. In this case, resorting to bribery is obviously still wrong and reinforces the idea to the child that, if we can't get what we desire through hard work, we can get there through financial privilege and manipulation. It also models for the child a great lack of empathy for those students who have worked hard to earn their way in ethically.
The core issues of wanting more for our kids than they want for themselves and prioritizing the image others have of your child over truth and transparency are not new issues. After teaching elementary and middle school for 14 years I can tell you many a story that would seem to lay the groundwork for the issue underneath this scandal. One that comes to mind is a message I once received from a parent saying "I'd really like for _________ to have an A on the report card rather than a B, what can we do?" Of course the two pronouns that are troublesome here are the "I" in "I'd really like..." and the "we" in "what can we do?" You may think I'm mincing words here, but words are important, as they reveal a lot about our mindset. What is more important to this parent: the letter grade on the report card and people's perception of that or her child's true understanding of the material? A better question for the teacher might be (if a B is a true concern to her), "what material is my child not understanding or what behavior do you see that's interfering with his/her success and what help would you suggest?"
I can't tell you how many parents have asked over the years "how do I make my child (insert desired action)?"
How do I make him work harder?
How do I make her care?
How do I make him respect me?
How do I make her behave?
And the simple truth that's hard for some parents to hear is, we can't (and shouldn't strive to) make our children do anything.
The most powerful teaching tool I've found for children is modeling what we want for them through our own behavior. As the saying goes, our actions will be more powerful than our words. What they absorb from their surroundings, what is modeled day in and day out is, in my experience, the greatest indicator of who they will turn out to be. This is why what's at the core of conscious parenting is staying aware and accountable for our own mindset, words, & actions rather than being focused on changing our children.
The positive news I can report in all this is that, for as many cases of helicopter and lawnmower parenting I've seen in my years of teaching, I've also seen such stellar examples of parents understanding that allowing their children to struggle and even fail at times is critical to their learning and growth. As we've seen in our own personal adult lives, our greatest lessons often come from our greatest struggles. It's the same principle we see in addiction and codependency--that sometimes an addict has to hit a rock bottom in order to grow and change, that we can't "get them" to change.
I'm sure many teachers would agree with me that it's an uncomfortable but immensely rewarding process to watch a child fall, have an "a-ha" or wake up call (which is the result of the struggle/failure), make a change, and then watch them experience all the feels that come with experiencing authentic success. Nothing feels better than seeing that big smile, giving them that high-5, and being able to look them in the eye and say "see how cool it feels when you ________? (study hard, pay attention, show effort, etc)"
THIS is learning,
THIS is true achievement,
THIS is something to be proud of,
and this is the kind of learning and growth process that is so much more important for me to see in my son than a certain school name on his sweatshirt or a certain letter grade on his report card.
Many have asked, in regard to this scandal, how did we get here? How can people do things like this? But my teacher friends and I, we're not all that surprised because we've seen this kind of behavior in smaller ways. Look, I'm the first to acknowledge that parenting is really freaking HARD and I'm the last to claim that I do it right. Great parenting isn't about striving for perfection, but it IS about awareness. And I'm just offering this: from what I've seen over the years I've learned that's it's important to stay aware of the messages we're sending through our actions--to stay mindful of
valuing integrity over outer appearances,
of not trying to force our own agendas & dreams onto our kids,
and, most of all, not being more uncomfortable watching our kids struggle than we are with watching ourselves act out of integrity.