Category Archives: Parenting

Mantodea: Thoughts On A Toxic Friendship

The Wishing Tree, Yoko Ono, Hirshorn Museum Sculpture Garden

My wish: I wish for healthy, supportive, positive relationships that strengthen local, sustainable communities.

Dear Reader:

I have this friend, let’s call her Mantodea. Mantodea is the queen of the underhanded cutting remark. The empress of sneaky “take-it-two-ways” observations. The undisputed champion of the wait-for-the-right-moment-and-strike-when-nobody-is-looking emotional attack. Often, when the attack is launched, you don’t even feel it at first. By the time the sting sets in, you try to remember what is was that she said. Most often, you can’t remember. Not exactly. The remarks are all so fast and blurry and out-of-the-blue and off-the-wall and definitely uncalled-for that they slip in, do their dirty work, and slip away again.

She waits for the right moment, disguised as a friend, then she pounces like the predator she is, and you, my dear, are the prey. She’s bitten your head off before you know it.

For years, I have put up with this behavior, excusing it as either artistic temperament, social retardedness, a bad case of running-of-the-mouth disease. I’ve even questioned my perception. Was I just being paranoid? Imagining slights where there were none intended?

But, no. I’ve seen her attack other people, slipping in a little barbed comment with some sweet-on-the-outside smile. Now she’s begun to make similar comments to the Teen–sometimes in my presence but more often when I’m not around.

Hello. Teenage girls do not need their flaws pointed out. They are well-enough aware of every quarter-inch of adolescent fat, every acne spot, every teeny, tiny imperfection–very often imagined and almost always exaggerated.

As a mom, it’s hard enough working against magazine images and music videos and a culture that equate thinness with beauty. Hard enough trying to tell your daughter she’s beautiful just the way she is without some insecure, middle-aged mantis telling her in so many words that she is not whatever . . . thin enough, athletic enough, popular enough. . . or even thin-fingered enough!

I think she’s crossed the line into crazy.

Over the years, Mantodea has alienated most of the women in her circle. She used to have a large group of women-friends in her neighborhood, moms of her daughters’ friends, co-workers, and neighbors, but over the years, one by one, they have all drifted away.

There’s been alot of press lately about toxic friendships. An article in WebMD says:

“The phrase ‘toxic friend’ is pop psychology,” says Jenn Berman, PhD, a psychologist in private practice in Beverly Hills, Calif. “I would say it’s someone who, after spending time with them, makes you feel bad about yourself instead of good; someone who tends to be critical of you — sometimes in a subtle way and sometimes not so subtle; a friend who drains you emotionally, financially, or mentally, and they’re not very good for you.”

A toxic friends counts on you to put up with her digs. She banks on the fact that you might not want a confrontation. She couches her attacks in language that seems rather innocuous. Her words are like that corn-starch clay kids make in craft-class . . . they appear solid but when you try to grasp them, they run through your fingers leaving you with an empty hand. Still, you know what you know. She’s toxic. She makes you feel bad. She undermines you in little ways. She pulls the rug out from under you and tee-hee’s when you stumble and then puts on an innocent face and says, “I didn’t mean anything by it.”

I don’t buy it. Life is too short to put up with toxic relationships. I don’t want to subject myself to her subtle put-downs anymore, and I certainly need to protect my daughter. Good friends support each other. Good friends help each other. Good friends accept you for who you are and build you up, encourage you in your endeavors, help you to be the person you want to be.

As we move toward a more local economy and closer-knit communities, it will be even more important to treat others with respect and care. Otherwise you may find yourself alone, cut-off. Neutralized.

There is the old saying that whenever you point one finger, four others are pointing back at you. As I release this toxic friendship, I am determined to be more aware of the energy I bring to my other relationships, to be ever-mindful that my positive or negative energy affects those around me, and then to act in ways that are uplifting, encouraging, and supportive.

Toxic friendship, you are hereby neutralized.

Ahhh, the air feels clearer already . . .

Days 27-30: Now About This Heat . . .

High Noon At The Capitol

Dear Reader:

Wouldn’t you know it! Just when the Teen and I are finally recuperated enough to resume our touristing, the weatherman says the temps are going to be in the 100’s and everyone is encouraged to stay indoors.

I thought yesterday was hot–90’s and humid. I spent the bulk of the day whipping out a short story which ended up being “I Never Was That Fond of Kafka” and cracking myself up reading it aloud to the Teen who cracked up right along with me, so I knew it was funny.

Or maybe she was merely humoring me because she wanted the laptop.

“Are you almost done with the computer?”

“Yup. Just a minute. I need to fix this one . . . sentence.”

“You’ve had it all morning!”

“I know. But I wrote a STORY (said with great emphasis) in FIVE HOURS. That never happens.”

(It doesn’t. This is supersonic speed for me. I wonder if all this blogging is making me faster? Or maybe the story just sucks. Who knows. Who cares? It was fun and I had nothing better to do all morning, stuck inside in the heat with a bad foot.)

Five minutes later:

“Mo-o-o-m . . . I need that laptop. It’s two o’clock! When did you get up?” All suspicious.

“Seven. You know, I let you have this thing all the time. I just want to post it up on my Faceook wall and then you can have it.”

“Hurry up!”

When I finally relinquished the machine (which has become our lifeline to the outside world and especially our friends at home who we miss like crazy!), I decided I’d better get to the gym and work off some calories. Just outside the gym windows, I could see a few kids splashing in the pool. The skinny lifeguard looked wilted beneath her umbrella, her face nothing more than a giant pair of sunglasses and a down-turned mouth, poor thing.

I did the whole weight-lifting routine and then pedaled for an hour on the recumbent bike machine (still trying to baby my stupid foot), working up a decent sweat but only burning off a couple-hundred calories. With dread, I stepped onto the doctor-type scale “helpfully” planted in the gym. I slid the top weight thingy over . . . and over.

Yup. I’ve gained another two pounds this week for a total of four since I’ve been here. Time to cut out the tortilla chips and nightly glass(es!) of chardonnay. I think biking and walking were helping to keep things in check, but now there’s this heat.

Both the Teen and I are getting fat and stir-crazy. I tried to talk her into doing a test-walk over in the air-conditioned mall next door, but she’s like, “Noooo-way. Too embarrassing.” Apparently walking with your mom in a museum is okay but not in the mall.

“What? Moms and daughter shop together all the time.”

“No they don’t.”

“Of course they do.”

Of course, you know I couldn’t win that argument. We settled for walking to Starbucks instead. Over a couple venti iced mocha lattes over in the square (we went out at 6:30 when the temps still felt to be hovering in the mid-eighties) we vowed to get out of the apartment and do something today no matter what. Museums, once you get into them, are kept at ice-cold air-conditioned temperatures, and we are itching to hit the National Museum of American Art. We should be okay . . .

Check in tomorrow and see if we melted!

RELATED LINKS

Is the earth getting warmer? NASA says yes. Click HERE.

Or is it? FoxNews says something different. Click HERE.

Either way, it’s pretty darn hot out right now. Keep hydrated, everyone!

Poem For My Daughter

ADMIRATION

I would prefer you wear
preppy plaid skirts and sweet
button-up blouses with little
round collars; sensible
shoes to cushion your feet
and warm sweaters to drape
over your cool shoulders.

But you like snug
tee-shirts printed
in complicated designs, tiny
skirts worn over footless tights,
skinny jeans, some with rips,
wide belts; glittery
jewelry wrapped around your neck
and ballerina slippers

So thin and hard
they must hurt
your heels. Every day
you create yourself from a palette
of cotton, glitter, and strands
of plastic neon-colored hair
clipped on
and fingernail polish in every color.

I’m awed by your persistence
and your capacity for hurt
in pursuit of image.
To me you’d be beautiful
in any sort of clothes . . .
even wrapped in lengths of silk
even plain dark wool
even rags.

For all the daughters trying to fit in, trying to figure out who they are, trying to make a splash and just trying to get by; And for all the mothers trying to understand, trying to figure out who they are, trying to make a stand, and just trying to get by. Blessings to you all.

SURVIVING Ophelia.

Beautiful Butterfly

Dear Reader:

If it takes a village to raise a child, what happens when there is no village anymore?

In a mass-market culture that views children and teens as a “consumer group” rather than as young people who need guidance regarding societal norms, ethical behavior, and self-discovery, parents are left with the awesome responsibility of accomplishing this task alone. Not only do parents lack societal support, but also they very often have to fight against societal trends which run counter to family cohesiveness, ethical behavior, values based on religious or philosophical beliefs, and even plain common sense.

While I acknowledge that parents should be responsible, ultimately, for the values, education, and social skills their children need to become healthy, functioning adults, I also believe that raising children would be much easier if we had strong, local communities. For instance, it would be reassuring to know that when your child went over to visit a friend over-town, the values you have instilled in your child would be reinforced by the other child’s parents. And when your daughter decides to practice her independence by arguing in favor of a too-revealing outfit, it would be great if other adults in the community gave her the old hairy-eyeball. This kind of dress is inappropriate for our village; now go home and change.

While there is a downside to small, insular communities (they can stifle individuality, persecute those who are deemed “different,” and can be generally hostile to outsiders and outside ideas), the upside is a safer, more protected environment in which to raise our children. Now, with a “flat” world made at once vast and intimate by the internet, social media, and cable television, things like town lines and village boundaries have little, if any, relevance.

Hollywood is in the family room. A morally-bankrupt music industry is plugged directly into the ear canal. Your son’s “community” resides on an internet gaming site, while your daughter’s clique spends more time typing messages on Facebook or texting on their cell phones than they do actually talking. (I have the urge to italicize “talking” as if it is some weird variant of “texting” instead of the other way around.)

These issues are forefront in my mind these days because I am now the mother of an adolescent. Desperate to find some answers regarding the weird, wacky, infuriating, annoying behavior of my almost-teen, I checked a book out of the local library.

Reviving Ophelia

REVIVING OPHELIA was written in 1994 by Dr. Mary Pipher. I’d heard of the book previously, when my daughter was just entering elementary school, and I tucked the title into the back of my mind years ago so I could pull it out when we reached this inevitable stage. One night I made myself a cup of tea and cracked open the cover. As with a horror story you can’t bear to put down until you get to that last, final blood-soaked page, I read it straight through over the next couple of days, whenever I had a spare moment.

In the first chapter, Saplings In A Storm, Pipher writes, “In early adolescence, studies show that girls’ IQ scores drop and their math and science scores plummet. They lose their resiliency and optimism and become less curious and inclined to take risks. They lose their assertive, energetic and ‘tomboyish’ personalities and become more deferential, self-critical and depressed. The report great unhappiness with their own bodies.” (pg. 19)

Pipher then goes on to explain three big factors that make adolescent girls vulnerable to the societal pressures to conform to our American culture’s feminine ideal– an ideal based on size, beauty, and sex-appeal. First, a girl in early adolescence is at a developmental level where everything is changing at once: hormones, skin, body, cognitive skills, etc. Second, American culture tends to emphasize the importance of appearance. Third, the girls’ culture tells them they need to distance themselves from their parents . . . just when they need the most support as they struggle with personal changes, new experiences and social pressures. (pgs. 22-23).

A large section of REVIVING OPHELIA discusses various clients, case-studies if you will, who are all struggling successfully or unsuccessfully through their adolescent turmoil. The book ends on a somewhat helpful note with tips and ideas to aid the weary and, let’s face it, shell-shocked parent.

What was the scariest aspect of all this for me? It was written sixteen years ago–three years before my daughter was even born! If our culture was bad sixteen years ago, how much worse is it now?

Christina Aguilera

Well, we all know it is much worse. That fact was brought home to me in a very graphic way when I happened upon a website devoted to looking at symbolism in our mass media. The website is called The Vigilant Citizen and is perhaps a bit paranoid when it comes to searching out signs of some vast underground conspiracy bent on controlling our lives via mass media.

However, the author (who refers to himself as Vigilant) gives us an analysis of Christina Aguilera’s latest video which seemed very coherent. . . and disturbingly spot-on.

If you dare, watch the YouTube video. It is disturbing on so many levels. It is an eyelash short of pornography, for one thing. It glorifies the sexual subjugation of women (men, too, actually), for another. It glamorizes S & M with a bejeweled mouth gag–in an image that is at once beautiful and horrifying, at least to this mom. And that’s the worst aspect, I think. Making the horrific beautiful. Maybe I’m a prude, but I watched this video with my mouth hanging open, literally, staring at the computer screen and thinking, “Thank god I don’t have cable; thank god I don’t have cable.”

Until I realized that my daughter’s friends probably have cable.

Until I realized that the BOYS in my daughter’s school probably have cable.

Suddenly, I didn’t want to let her out of the house. THIS is the ideal of feminine beauty in our culture? THIS is what my daughter needs to be in order to fit in to her time and place on the historical continuum? Not only is she told in countless ways every day that “beautiful” is synonymous with “thin” and “tall” and “clearly complected” (and, yes, “blond” still, I’m afraid), now she is told “beautiful” is “gagged” and “voiceless,” nothing more than a sexual toy. How is she to know any better . . . unless I tell her?

Suddenly, it occurs to me that I’ve given my daughter too much leeway in her choice of clothing. In an effort to give her autonomy and expression, I’ve allowed her to conform to a soul-degrading, appearance-driven social norm. She won’t like it, but I’m about to put my parental foot down.

Yes, things have changed in sixteen years, and not for the better. You can hear Dr. Pipher speak on this topic in a documentary-style video put out by ChallengingMedia. Like the book, the video is called Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls.

If nothing else, it gives you reason to think.

How will knowing all this help me SURVIVE my daughter’s adolescence? From now on, when she is displaying some typical teenage behavior, I’m going to try to remember that no matter how unhappy I may be feeling at the moment, she’s feeling one-hundred times worse. No matter how stressful my life might seem, hers is on a scale I can scarcely imagine. Will I fight to keep her safe? Yes. Will I try to help her become her own, independent person? Yes. Will it be easy?

Heck, no. I think that hot baths, yoga, and glasses of Merlot will be de rigueur for this mom over the next few years. Eventually, though, she and I will emerge from the storm, stronger for the struggle. At least, that is what I hope.

Columbine

In the meantime, I’m going to look for ways that I can support societal change that supports, rather than destroys, women. As for mass media, I don’t believe in governmental censorship. I do believe in educating the public about the dangers of allowing certain types of mass media into the home. I do believe in talking to kids about the messages mass media is sending out. I do believe in saying, “This does not represent MY values. Here’s what I think. What about you?”

What about you? What do you think about issues of mass media, adolescent culture, censorship, etc.? Drop me a line . . . Outside the Box.

Quick Post: Materialism in Children

Dear Reader:

In connection with the previous blogpost, I found this interesting, short piece on what some researchers say causes materialism to increase during the early adolescent years. Basically: Low self-esteem. Click on the link to the blogsite GROMIND to read the article.

However, here is one sign of a changing ethos. According to a Science Daily article published in June, ostantatious displays of materialism may be going out of style. In other words, maybe soon it will be IN style to be OUT of style. Cool.