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I was not a confident child . As a matter of fact, when I was my oldest daughter’s age I was evaluated for speech therapy because I was very quiet in class. Turns out my speech was fine. It was my confidence that needed work.

Looking back, I can see that my mom wasn’t a very confident woman. I wish she had known just how awesome she was. Confidence was something I had to slowly build over the course of my life, but I knew I had to help my oldest daughter so that she wouldn’t have to work quite as hard as I did.

Hannah is my mini-me; quiet and thoughtful, smart, shy, and very hard on herself. I’ve learned so much about who I am and who I want to be by raising her. Naturally, I don’t want her to have the same hang-ups that held me back. I’ve kept a watchful eye over the years and I’ve done my best to help her build confidence.

Here are four things that have really helped.

1. Enlist Her Teacher’s Help – Sometimes no matter how much we reassure our children, they need to hear it from someone else. I walked into my daughter’s Kindergarten orientation and as soon as the presentation was over I made a bee-line for her teacher.

I told him that Hannah is extremely bright, but very sensitive and hard on herself. She could already read before the start of school and I knew she could be pushed to excel in school, but it would have to come in the form of many gentle nudges. I asked for his help in making her feel okay about making mistakes, and encouraging her to answer questions.

I didn’t raise my hand in class much as a kid, not because I didn’t know the answer, but because I was afraid of being wrong. To his credit, he is an amazing teacher. He pointed out his own mistakes (like the time he accidentally wrote on the smart board with a permanent marker) so the kids would see that even teachers make mistakes. If she cried because she didn’t know the answer on a test, he reassured her it was fine.

At each parent/teacher conference, I made it my mission to find out more than the academic picture of my daughter’s development. I wanted to know how she interacted with the other kids, how her confidence was developing, if she cried at all, how she was overcoming the challenges of new material, and if she asked for help.

By the end of the year, her confidence was really starting to grow and it has continued to grow.  Every year, I always ask the same types of questions at every single parent/teacher conference.

2. Encourage Her in Math and Science – I can’t tell you how many times growing up I heard my mother say she was bad at math. Most of the time she deferred to my step-dad to help me with any and all math homework.

To this day I still think I’m bad at math, but honestly I was always a B student in math. That’s not really bad, but perhaps somewhere along the lines I made the association that too many girls do – that we’re just not good at math and science.

At my last parent-teacher conference with Hannah’s fourth grade teacher, she told me that Hannah is gifted. That’s not news to me. She was always reading a few grade levels ahead in school. What took me by surprise was the subject. She said Hannah’s state test scores in math were well above the district average and that she wanted to put Hannah in a special math group, which meets before school once a week and competes in math competitions. The group is primarily for 5th and 6th graders.

When I asked Hannah if she was interested I told her that she would probably see math problems she never had before and she had to be okay with that. She asked if they would teach her how to solve those problems and when I said yes she jumped at the opportunity.

I’m so glad she’s going to be challenged to excel in an area that many girls aren’t. I just know that when she has children of her own someday she’s not going to utter the phrase, “I’m no good at math.” That brings me to number 3.

3. Mind Your Words About Yourself – Like I said, the words my mother spoke over herself had an effect on me. I’m totally guilty of still saying things like, “I’m not very good at math,” but I still try to help her with her math homework whenever she asks. I know I’ve gotta watch what I say. My kids are always listening even if I think I’m just muttering something to myself.

My mom often said disparaging things about her looks too. I was very self-conscious of my own looks especially as a tween and teen. I’m not blaming it all on my mom, but I unconsciously learned to give a voice to my insecurities. I try really hard not to say bad things about myself or my looks in front of my daughter.

Girls look to their moms to understand their own self-worth. Be kind to yourself and they’ll learn to be kind to themselves too.

4. Encourage Leadership Skills – One of the best things I did was put Hannah in Girl Scouts. She’s gotten to meet with local business owners, our town judge and even our Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther. It’s great for the girls to meet influential women.

This year, they held mock elections to learn more about the election process. It was optional if the girls wanted to run for President and I was so proud that Hannah wanted to. Being in the spotlight was something I would have avoided as a kid.

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Hannah made campaign buttons for her Girl Scout Troop election.

She made campaign buttons and stood up in front of her peers and made a speech about why she would make a good President. My favorite part was when she said she wouldn’t be upset if they didn’t choose her.

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I’m so proud of Hannah and all the girls who went up to the podium to give speeches during her Girl Scout Troop election. The more girls practice leadership skills like public speaking when they’re younger, the less intimidating it will be when they get older.

I didn’t put any pressure on her, heck I didn’t even hear her speech until she delivered it to her troop on Election Day. To my surprise she won. She then had to run one of her troop meetings and pick a project they would work on.

I told her about Operation Christmas Cheer, a card writing project started by my fellow Hudson Valley Parent blogger Roxanne (aka The Whatever Mom) that sends holiday cards to kids who are very ill. She was all for it and that’s what her troop did during the meeting she had to run. I’m so proud of the girls.

It doesn’t have to be Girl Scouts. It could be sports or any activity that encourages your daughter to take a leadership role.

Hannah has already far surpassed me when I was her age. She’s taught me that confidence comes from practice. It’s slow and steady for some girls, but as long as we keep them moving in the right direction, we can help them reach their full potential. We are their moms, and we have more power than we know.

Erin Johnson a.k.a. The No Drama Mama is the author of “So, You’re Broke? 18 Drama-Free Steps To A Richer Life.” She can be found writing for The No Drama Mama and Hudson Valley Parent when she’s not busy caring for her three adorable kiddos. Her work can also be found on The Huffington Post, Money Saving Mom, Mamapedia and Worshipful Living.

Closet

Archeological Dig Of A Woman’s Closet

Cleaning out a person’s closet is like going on an archeological dig. You can find out what that person valued, what they did, what they wore, and what they liked, but there is a reason why most of us rarely take the time to thoroughly clean out our closets. It’s simple. We just don’t want to deal with who we were. The things that make us who we are can usually be pointed to, used daily and found easily, but who we were, well that stuff we hide away because it’s somehow comforting to simultaneously hold onto and hide from sight.

The Deadliest Dust Bunnies

If you follow my posts, you know that I recently remodeled my basement, turning it into a master bedroom. While it took the help of two men and one day to move the entirety of the room, I’m on day four of cleaning out the closet of our old bedroom. It has been a frightening and weary experience. I have been attacked by dust bunnies and haunted by nostalgia. It seems every time a person in my family dies my husband and I inherit a box of memorabilia we don’t know what to do with so it goes into the closet. It’s a sad reality that we have held onto things that haven’t seen the light of day in years.

The Past Doesn’t Look Good On You

My husband has his an old book bag and graduation gown from high school. For me, as I imagine it is with most women, it’s those damn skinny jeans. You know the ones you were so proud you could once fit into, but have sadly sat in your closet for years. Sometimes “skinny jeans” is just synonymous with the clothes you used to fit into but don’t anymore.

The SAHM Uniform

For me it’s also the business suits that have collected dust for the last three years in favor of the SAHM uniform of sweatshirts and yoga pants. Some would call it sloppy, but hey you never see a painter show up to your house in a three piece suit for a reason. If I know I’m going to get baby food, spit up and other bodily fluids on me I’m not stepping into panty hose and a pencil skirt. I have no idea when I’m going back to the world of office work so there’s no sense holding onto clothes I don’t need.

Business Suits & Skinny Jeans

I know why we have such a hard time letting go of those skinny jeans. It’s because it was the time we felt best about ourselves. For me it was working my way down to a goal weight after two kids. The truth is we never seem to just be happy right where we’re at and I think I’ve figured out why. How in the hell can you be happy with where you’re at if you are constantly struck in the face by where you’re not. My closet was busting full of clothes and I can safely say after weeding out business suits, maternity clothes and the “skinny clothes” I’m left with a third of the wardrobe.

Some part of me worries that if left unchecked it would be so much easier to just let myself fall into complacency. It’s not hurting anyone to let those skinny jeans rot in my closet. We did build a pretty big one in our new room after all and they would fit. But I think in a way it is hurting me. Every time I can’t find clothes that fit it makes me feel defeated.

Starting A “Sayonara Skinny Jeans” Revolution

So though I’m on day four of the job from hell, cleaning out my closet is therapeutic. I have to confront who I was and who I am and the only way to move forward is without all the “what I’m not” items.

So fight off the dust bunnies and nostalgia ladies because they are keeping you from your destiny. Take a cue from me. Though I debated MANY times, ultimately I packed up all the suits and skinny jeans to donate. Maybe another woman will find her “what I am now” jeans at the Salvation Army. If it helps her get rid of her “what I’m not” clothes then I’m doing a public service.

Skinny Jeans

So sayonara skinny jeans. I’ll just learn to live without the idea of you. I’ll learn to trade the “ideal” for the “real.” I’ll slip on my larger size jeans and I’ll stop wondering if I’ll ever be the size I used to be. I’ll remember that my body created three amazing little people and show it a little bit of respect. My weight may fluctuate, but the way I feel about my body shouldn’t. It should never come down to looking at those damn skinny jeans. Without them in my closet, I’m finally free to just love me right where I’m at.

So ladies, who is with me? Who is FINALLY ready to donate those “skinny jeans” rotting away in the back of the closet?

I sometimes wonder if the term “baby bump” was created specifically to “out” pregnant celebrities. Every tabloid cover is filled with pictures of celebs sporting the tiniest little nothing of a stomach with a circle around it questioning if she is in fact pregnant. Pregnancy creates some crazy speculation in people. Is she pregnant or just getting fat? When is she due? Is it a boy or a girl? Most of the time the concern is all in good fun or to avoid an embarrassing mistake like assuming a woman who has gained a few pounds is pregnant. I think the reason is this – the mystery and power of a woman’s body being able to give birth to another human being is just so crazy and awe-inspiring at the same time. But what nobody tell you is that “the bump” many times doesn’t go away just because the baby is out.

My husband with baby Hannah. Will created "the baby bump" as a non-verbal way to communicate "I love you" to our baby.

My husband with baby Hannah. Will created “the baby bump” as a non-verbal way to communicate “I love you” to our baby.

Those Awkward Teen Years

I’ve always been amazed at the moment right after giving birth where your stomach seems to deflate almost like a balloon as soon as the baby comes out. Then months later I look in the mirror and think, “yup, looks like my stomach deflated alright.” BUT I’ve learned to look once and then let it go. I’ve spent so many of my teen years feeling uncomfortable in my own skin; teased for being too skinny, being flat chested, having braces, etc. I wish I could go back in time and smack myself for not appreciating my body, for letting others make me feel bad about myself, and feeling like if only I could change x, y or z then I could actually be pretty. I wasted my youth, waiting for the stars of adolescence to align perfectly in order to be happy with myself.

Body Image Struggles

Anyone who knows me, knows that my 30’s have brought the era of the “I don’t give an F@#$.” It’s made life a lot more beautiful let me tell you. I no longer care what others think about me and there is something so incredibly freeing in that. But the more important question to ask is this, “How do I feel about me?” I’m ok with who I am as a person, but what about my appearance now that my body has undergone four pregnancies and three births. As I was typing I was tempted to say three pregnancies, but that wouldn’t be accurate. I lost my first pregnancy at only six weeks. For all my early angst about my body, losing my baby is the only time I ever really looked at my body and said “I hate you.”

Making A Deal

I literally begged it to stop bleeding out the baby I wanted so badly. It was the one moment in my life I really didn’t want to be in my own skin. So when I made it past the first trimester with my oldest daughter Hannah I made a silent agreement with my body that I wouldn’t criticize it anymore. It was giving me another chance, one I wouldn’t squander by lamenting my stretch marks. I remember my mother touching my very pregnant belly and saying, “My God Erin, you don’t have any stretch marks.” Well, that WAS the case until two weeks before I gave birth to my beautiful daughter. Then came Jay who weighed nearly 9 pounds at birth and brought the additional complication of gallstones for which I had to have my gallbladder removed when he was just 2 months old. So add to the sketch mark collection some surgical scars and a botched hernia repair which permanently changed my belly button from an innie to a halfie – still in but kinda trying to come out. By the time I got pregnant with Sydney I just stopped seeing any of it.

Bye Bye Bikini

I’ve really never been the bikini wearer, even when I was younger and could have pulled it off. But after I became a mom I knew I was saying goodbye to the possibility forever. So there are women out there who have babies and go on as if nothing has changed. My sister is a good example. Her vacation photos of her in a bikini at the beach with her three kids is nothing short of envious. BUT I think it’s the exceptions to the rule that screw women up forever. We look at them and think well if I only do x,y, or z I can look like that too. But pregnancy does things to a woman’s body that make it impossible to go back to the same body you once had. How many of us are still pining away for that pre-baby body? Maybe we always will, much like if we are blessed enough to live till we’re old we’ll lament our non-wrinkled faces.

The Human Growth Chart

But do me a favor ladies, next time you look at your body and see the markers of pregnancy don’t wish them away. Don’t think of them as battle scars. Instead see them as a growth chart. Trace each line of the growth of your precious baby or babies. There are women who would gladly sport your so-called “flaws” if it meant they had a baby in their arms. Jennifer Garner said it best when she named her post-baby bump Violet, Sam, and Sera. She’s proud of her body not for what it looks like, but for what it gave her and we could all take her lead on that.

 

The New Definition of “Baby Bump”

So if I may submit for your consideration a new definition of “baby bump.” When Hannah was a baby, my husband invented a silent communication of “I love you” to our child. He leaned his head towards hers and she did the same, culminating in “the baby bump.” It’s a tradition we’ve carried on with our son and soon it will be Sydney’s turn to learn “the baby bump.” Because of my husband’s invention my kids have been saying “I love you” long before they could talk. I’m willing to lend you our family tradition if you want to try it with your babies. Let’s reclaim “the bump” in the name of love and gratitude for the precious gift of life and start loving our bodies because no matter how “flawed” anyone thinks they are, they are pretty freaking awesome!

Weight Watchers, Jenny Craig, HcG Pills, B12 Shots, South Beach Diet, Grapefruit Diet, Phentremine, Hydroxycut, Nutrisystem….

Been there, done that. 

The day I started 7th grade was the day I started my first diet. Prior to that day, my diet consisted of pizza, fried chicken, candy, soda, potatoes and lots of pasta. In my family, the way you showed someone you loved them was by cooking them a great meal. Every Sunday my entire family would meet at my grandma’s house to eat a huge meal and play cards… only we’d eat so much that we would fall asleep after the meal and forget to play cards.

I was always big for my age… I just never realized it until 7th grade.  My problem was not a lack of exercise; I’ve played organized sports all my life (my first word was baseball for crying out loud)!  My problem was that I had a family that showed love with food. My grandma would keep me after school until my mom picked me up. I’d eat a snack that was probably big enough to be a meal, then go home and eat a large dinner.

The day I realized that I was overweight was when one of the girls I cheered with said to me, “WOW I can’t believe you can touch your toes, you’re so fat.”  Thus began my journey through yo-yo diets and failed attempts at losing weight.

I literally tried every single diet out there. At one point, I was starving myself on the “lemonade” diet and only drinking a nasty concoction of hot water, lemon juice, cayenne pepper and honey. I’d lose 5 lbs after dieting for months, get discouraged and start eating again.

Finally, it clicked for me (Stick around for my next blog to see what my new “diet/lifestyle” is all about).  I got serious about losing weight and lost 12o pounds in a little less than 2 years. But there is still one major problem… Even though I’ve lost 120 pounds and I’m at a weight I would have died to be at 4 years ago, I just don’t notice the difference.

I’ve had body image issues since middle school. The teasing and constant nagging about dieting has taken its toll on my mind. My parents were great… don’t get me wrong. They loved me unconditionally and always encouraged me to be the best person I could be. We very rarely talked about weight (except when my mom and I dieted together). The ridicule came from other kids.

Here’s the take home point I’d like to make: If you’re a parent of an overweight child, don’t make a big deal about their weight. Don’t over analyze everything they eat. Don’t criticize them. Trust me, they get enough teasing from other kids, they do not need it from their parents. Take all the junk food and unhealthy items out of your home and start cooking healthy family meals. Don’t say you’re going on a diet, just say you’re trying new recipes (better yet, say nothing at all). Take family walks together or play a family game in the back yard.

Most importantly… THINK ABOUT HOW YOU TALK ABOUT YOUR WEIGHT AND LOOKS IN FRONT OF YOUR CHILDREN. If your child hears you saying you’re ugly, need a face lift, need to go on a diet, etc. they’ll soon be saying the same things. Be positive about all the great things that make you who you are. If you’ve got laugh lines that you want to get filled in, don’t complain about the laugh lines in front of your children… be thankful that you’ve had a lot to laugh about during your lifetime.

Please check out our health section for more information on body image, dieting and encouraging your children to exercise. In my next blog I’ll discuss how I lost 120 pounds!

Thanks for reading, 

Brit

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