Baby Dust Diaries

A Life Less Ordinary

Encouragement vs. Praise

Mary, 9, and Jameson, 10, were given a series of IQ puzzles and asked to work on them silently. At the end, the researcher gave each child a score. The research assistant praised Mary for being smart, while Jameson was praised for working hard.

After reviewing Mary’s answers, the research assistant lauded her: “Wow, you did really well at these problems. You got 8 — that’s a great score. You must be really smart at these problems.”

If Dweck’s theory holds, Mary will want to continue to look smart, and when given the choice, will opt for a test that shows it — not something more challenging where they she could learn more.

In the next phase, when Mary was asked by the research assistant what kind of problems she would like to work on next, “problems that are pretty easy so you’ll do well, problems that you’re pretty good at so you can show that you’re smart, or problems that you’ll learn a lot from even if you don’t look so smart,” Mary chose problems to show that she’s smart.

“Problems that I’m pretty good at — so I can show I’m smart,” Mary told the researcher. “I am smart.”

Consider the difference with Jameson, who was praised for how hard he’d worked — not for being smart.

“Well, you did really well on these problems. You got 8 — that’s a really high score! You must have worked really hard on these problems,” the researcher said. Jameson agreed.

Dweck’s research suggests that Jameson — armed with praise for his hard work — will want to challenge himself — even though he got some problems wrong.

Following course, Jameson opted for “problems I’ll learn a lot from even if I don’t look so smart.”

“After they’re praised for their effort, they enjoy being challenged,” Dweck explained. “What we value here is the practice, the effort, the trying of many strategies, and then they can feel satisfied as long as they’ve been engaged in that way. But if you say we value how smart you are, how enjoyable can it be if you’re not shining?”


This snippet is from the growing body of research that says praise doesn’t work.  In fact, not only doesn’t it work it has the exact opposite effect we desire!


This is why it is important to learn the difference between Praise and Encouragement.

Praise always carries an external judgement or label.  Like, “good, best, perfect.”  Praise also focuses on how other people feel or perceive the child.  Like, “I’m proud of you.” This encourages competition and comparison – the idea that your worth is measured based on how you rate along side other people.


Encouragement, on the other hand, is focusing on the internal motivation in the child and encouraging them to believe in themselves.  Encouraging kids to see their own, inherent (non-comparison-based) value creates kids that are independent, self-sufficient, and willing to try new things.  It also creates an environment of acceptance.  Without the constant need to compete, each person’s unique contribution is valued.


Let’s look at some examples (I highlighted the evaluative/judgmental words and the external words.);


Praise Interpretation Encouragement Interpretation
You are so smart! You are valuable because you are smarter than others.  Ergo, your worth decreases around those smarter than you. You studied really hard. You are capable of effort at a task.
What a pretty flower! You are valuable because you draw better than others. Ergo, your worth decreases if you draw something ugly. Wow, this flower has red, purple, and green! You are valuable because you can do things your own unique way.
I am so proud of you. You are valuable because you make me proud. Ergo, your worth decreases when you disappoint me. You must be so proud of yourself. You are worthy of value and can be happy with your accomplishments..
You are the best baseball player. You are valuable because you can play baseball better than others. Ergo, your worth decreases when someone who plays better is around. You are a valuable part of that baseball team. You are a valuable and unique part of the group.
Good job! You are valuable because I approve of you. Ergo, your worth decreases when I disapprove of you. You did it! You followed through and accomplished something you set out to do.
Good job! You are valuable because I approve of you. Ergo, your worth decreases when I disapprove of you. (descriptive) You put away all the toys! You are valuable because you can accomplish things you set your mind to.
You were so good at Grandmas. You are valuable because you behaved in a way I approve of. Ergo, if you behave in a way I don’t like then your value will decrease. You were very helpful with Grandma today. You contribute to your family in meaningful ways.


The outcomes of Praise are:

  • Competition
  • Comparison
  • Rivalry
  • Being labeled
  • Feeling judged
  • Selfishness
  • Fear of failure
  • Quitting to avoid failure
  • Dependence on others for self-esteem
The outcomes of Encouragement are:

  • Cooperation
  • Contribution
  • Altruism
  • Acceptance (of self and others)
  • Independence
  • Interdependence
  • Self-sufficiency
  • Try again attitude
  • Hard worker (values effort)
  • Embraces imperfections
  • Self-esteem is internal

Three ways to break the praise cycle

  1. Say nothing.  Always feeling a good deed must be acknowledged assumes that the good deed was an aberration of normal behavior. Sometimes not even mentioning it can enforce that goodness is innate.
  2. Describe.  This is particularly helpful when your kids do something they are proud of (your child comes to you beaming with a new picture he drew).  They are probably looking for your approval (since that is what society trains them to need) but you can switch their focus to their unique effort by describing what you see.  For example;
    1. Instead of “Good job cleaning up your room.” Say, “You put all the legos in the lego bin and all the dolls on the shelf.”
    2. Instead of “You look pretty today.” Say, “You brushed your own hair and put on your headband.”
  3. Ask Questions/Open-ended Comments. Along with saying nothing, saying LESS is a skill parents could make more use of.  Here are some examples;
    1. When your child says, “Look mom I got an A on my test!” say, “you did?!”
    2. When your child brings you a pretty picture focus on their effort, “how did you pick these colors? What was the hardest part of drawing this house?”
    3. Meet “I won the race” with “how did that make you feel?”
  4. BONUS for Siblings – Praising your children when you have more than one can backfire even further. There is a tendency amongst siblings to take the praise of one child as a silent indictment of the other.  So “you are so smart” to child A becomes “I must not be smart” in child B’s mind. Here are a few tips for encouraging a child while strengthening the sibling bonds (works with friends too);
    1. Never compare. Even tacit comparison (after they clean their room saying “Marcy cleaned all the shelves,” implying Tammy did less). Just describe what you see: “I see a clean room!” Marcy and Tammy know who did the most work but they also know it isn’t a competition in Dad’s eyes.
    2. Encourage cooperation. Use encouragement (not praise) when siblings are being helpful and loving. If they work together to share a toy, for example, instead of saying, “good sharing!” say “I see you two are working as a team!”

What are some ways you commonly praise your kids?

Can you turn those into encouragements?

In Defense of “The Meanest Mom”

I’m sure by now you’ve heard about the “meanest mom” a mom who’s account of a trip to Dairy Queen with her three kids (eight years and under) went viral. Here’s is her follow up where she explains her rationale.

The vast majority of people have rallied behind her. She’s a “parenting hero” and if more parents were “like her” the world would be a better place.

Unfortunately, literally all of the research on child development and parenting practices say the exact opposite.  What she did isn’t open to interpretation like we try to pretend parenting choices are. All current research on human development, psychology, and brain plasticity studies show without any doubt that what she did was damaging to her children and will  have the opposite effect on her kids. She demonstrated bullying perfectly. She embodied adultism in a way more clear than any article I could write. (This isn’t going to be *that* post with all the links to why this is wrong. I talk about that constantly and you can google scholar just as well as I.)

The minority of people pointing this out – that you absolutely can NOT teach kindness by being a bully – rightfully point out that this is, in fact, emotional abuse. Just imagine a husband doing this to a wife and it is easy to see how abusive it was.

Here’s the thing though: this mom, despite being wrong and woefully uneducated on child development, is not a bad person. She is a good person, with good intentions and not a single cultural belief system in sight to help her accomplish her goals.

The social messages about parenting are clear: control, power, obedience, adultism (adults matter more than children), and punishment (including shame and embarrassment) are what parenting is all about. She never learned about child development in school or through public education programs (like the ones so stringently trying to force crib-sleeping, funded by crib manufacturers). She never saw examples in her life or on TV that showed consensual, respect-based parenting. She sees cultural stories that say kids are “out of control” and “lazy parents” are making them that way.

Of course she didn’t want to be one of “those” parents. She sees bullying and disrespect for the working class (see any argument that fast food workers don’t deserve a living wage, for example) as a huge problem. Hooray! She wants to raise humans that are kind and respectful. Hooray! It isn’t her fault she’s been given exactly ZERO tools for doing so by her culture.

So, in her valid and worthy attempt to raise good humans, she ploughed head long into exactly the wrong methods. Of course she did! How could she do otherwise? She’s following the path laid out for her by her culture.

I wish I could spend an afternoon with her. I’m sure she’s a nice person and a conscientious mother. She’s been failed by her culture. Her kids have been failed by their culture. She is clearly intelligent and desiring to be a good parent.

But her culture exists to breed unkindness and violence, disrespect and marginalization of “less than” groups like children, obedience and deference to authority. This is reinforced by schools that work solely on the model of hierarchical control and obedience and profound, deeply rooted adultism.

The woman behind the counter was probably parented the same way. She was a teenager apparently which means, unless she’s unschooled, she is daily subjected to poor treatment and lack of autonomy at the local high school. If she continues to work at fast food places as an adult she’ll be well primed by her opinion not mattering for 18 years to have her livelihood denigrated by her culture through lack of respect and poor pay.

Mean mom herself was probably parented the same way. She associates parenting with being bullied and hurt. She sees her children’s emotional pain as proof she’s given them a “lesson” that will “last”.

And she’s right. Her children have learned that might makes right. That people bigger (or with more “authority”) can take from you without your consent. That the people who love you the most will hurt you when they can if you don’t conform to their expectations. That “natural consequences” means bigger people hurting you.

We all have to accept responsibility for parents creating bullies while ostensibly trying to teach them to be kind. We are this culture too and we have to be diligent in what type of culture we are creating.  The culture set up specifically to support capitalism (which requires that some people matter more than others) and hierarchy of authority (like patriarchy and white supremacy taught in schools) NEEDS you to parent in this way so your kids will be habituated to it by the time they are adults. Then they will quietly accept their lives of marginalization, debt, poverty, and purposelessness.

She’s the meanest mom in the world. Which means her culture applauds her good job! While her children internalize this (mean to children = good) insuring they’ll perpetuate it when they’re adults too. A cycle of abuse with no end in sight that exists to support the hierarchy of society.

Hurt people hurt people. I feel for this mom who wants so much to be a good person raising good people but is stymied by her own hurt and harm done to her by our culture.

It always fills me with so much sorrow when I see people parent this way. Knowing that there is another way. That parenting can be joyful and your relationships with your kids don’t have to be ruled by power struggles and tears. That kids will grow to be compassionate, thankful humans because they see their primary relationships model compassion and thankfulness. That you don’t ever have to bully your kids. That hurt does not EVER need to be part of you parenting.

IToto-1‘m so sorry, Mean Mom, that you’ve had this very natural truth about humans obscured by cultural belief systems rooted in violence and control. I hope that one day you see behind the curtain of our culture and find another way.


I’ll be over here like Toto jumping up and down and pointing behind the curtain screaming, “Look! Look!”

Talking Racism with White Kids: Further reading list

This is a list of resources and additional reading for the May 2016 issue of Natural Mother Magazine’s article Talking Racism with White Kids Part I.  Where applicable I’ve linked  to full-text or abstracts. If you want full articles, contact your local librarian for help in getting access to scientific journals.

Stay tuned next month for Part II which is subtitled Racism 101.

  1.  Allport, G. W. (1954). The nature of prejudice. Cambridge,
    MA: Perseus Publishing.
  2. Aboud, F. E. (2008). A social-cognitive developmental
    theory of prejudice. In S. M. Quintana & C. McKown (Eds.),
    Handbook of race, racism, and the developing child (pp.
    55–71). Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  3. Aboud, F. E. (2005). The development of prejudice in
    childhood and adolescence. In J. F. Dovidio, P. S. Glick, &
    L. A. Rudman (Eds.), On the nature of prejudice: Fifty years
    after Allport (pp. 310–326). Malden, MA: Blackwell.
  4. Bigler, R. S., & Liben, L.S. (2007). Developmental
    intergroup theory: Explaining and reducing children’s
    social stereotyping and prejudice. Current Directions in
    Psychological Science, 16, 162–166. Abstract.
  5. Boykin, A. W., & Ellison, C. M. (1995). The multiple ecologies
    of black youth socialization: An Afrographic analysis. In R.
    L. Taylor (Ed.), African-American youth: Their social and
    economic status in the United States (pp. 93–128). Westport,
    CT: Praeger.
  6. DeCaroli, M.E., Falanga, R., Sagone, E.(2013)Ethical Awareness, Self-identification, and Attitudes Toward Ingroup and Outgroup in Italian, Chinese and African Pupils. Procedia – Social and Behavioral Sciences. Volume 93, 21 October 2013, Pages 444–448

  7. Hale-Benson, J. (1990). Visions for children: Educating black
    children in the context of their culture. In K. Lomotey (Ed.),
    Going to school: The African-American experience (pp.
    209–222). Buffalo, NY: State University of New York Press.
  8. Hirschfeld, L. A. (2008). Children’s developing conceptions
    of race. In S. M. Quintana & C. McKown (Eds.), Handbook
    of race, racism, and the developing child (pp. 37–54).
    Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley & Sons.
  9. Hughes, D., & Chen, L. (1999). The nature of parents’ race related
    communications to children: A developmental
    perspective. In L. Balter & C. S. Tamis-LeMonda (Eds.), Child
    psychology: A handbook of contemporary issues (pp.
    467–490). Philadelphia, PA: Psychology Press.
  10. Hughes, D., Rodriguez, J., Smith, E. P., Johnson, D. J.,
    Stevenson, H. C., & Spicer, P. (2006). Parents’ ethnic/racial
    socialization practices: A review of research and directions
    for future study. Developmental Psychology, 42(5), 747–770.
  11. Johnson, A. G. (2006). Privilege, power, and difference (2nd
    ed.). New York, NY: McGraw-Hill.
  12. Katz, P. A. (2003). Racists or tolerant multiculturalists? How do
    they begin? American Psychologist, 58(11), 897–909. Abstract.
  13. Katz, P. A., & Kofkin, J. A. (1997). Race, gender, and young
    children. In S. S. Luthar & J. A. Burack (Eds.), Developmental
    psychopathology: Perspectives on adjustment, risk, and
    disorder (pp. 51–74). New York, NY: Cambridge University
  14. Lesane-Brown, C. L. (2006). A review of race socialization
    within black families. Developmental Review, 26, 400–426.
  15. Lewis, A. E. (2003). Race in the schoolyard: Negotiating the
    color line in classrooms and communities. New Brunswick,
    NJ: Rutgers University Press. Abstract.
  16. McIntosh, P. (1990). White privilege: Unpacking the invisible
    knapsack. Independent School, 49, 31–36.
  17. Murray, C. B., & Mandara, J. (2002). Racial identity
    development in African American children: Cognitive and
    experiential antecedents. In H. P. McAdoo (Ed.), Black
    children: Social, educational, and parental environments
    (pp. 73–96). Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage Publications.
  18. Patterson, M. M., & Bigler, R. S. (2006). Preschool children’s
    attention to environmental messages about groups: Social
    categorization and the origins of intergroup bias. Child
    Development, 77, 847–860.
  19. Pettigrew, T. F., & Tropp, L. R. (2006). A meta-analytic test of
    intergroup contact theory. Journal of Personality and Social
    Psychology, 90, 751–783.
  20. Tatum, B. D. (1997). Why are all the black kids sitting
    together in the cafeteria? And other conversations about
    race. New York, NY: Basic Books.
  21. Van Ausdale, D., & Feagin, J. R. (2001). The first R: How
    children learn race and racism. Lanham, MD: Rowman &

If you need help finding full text documents, hit up your local librarian. She lives for this stuff, trust me. 🙂

Should I Be Using Gender Neutral Pronouns In My Writing?

I struggle with how I, as a cis-het person and an advocate and ally, should use gender neutral pronouns in my writing.

I thought of changing my pronouns on FB. My friends who have done this  have given me a great gift because I’m challenged to think of gender each time I get a notification that uses the neutral singular “THEY commented on THEIR post”. It sounds “weird” because I’ve lived forty years on this rock only using feminine and masculine pronouns when referring to people. Having friends that use gender neutral pronouns on fb means I get a daily nudge towards assimilating this into my linguistic comfort zone.

I thought, “maybe I should change mine so all of my friends get daily reminders of gender inclusive language.” Like, maybe each person amplifies the signal and spreads the meme that gender is a construct – a construct WE ALL have control over. That meme spreads like a virus and the world becomes more open, accepting, loving. (I mean that’s why I say anything on here, I hope that’s clear even when I fail.)

And then I think, it isn’t true. I identify with the pronouns she/her. I’ve always been completely comfortable as a cis woman. I’m a “girly girl” – at least I was when I was still interested in performing gender. Even now that I actively try to stop the performance and find a true self beyond the social conditioning of girlness (which means no offense to anyone in full embrace of the femme! This is just my current journey.), I still feel comfortable at this time in identifying as a woman, whatever that word may be laden with in cultural conditioning. I don’t want to be disingenuous or dishonest, ever.

Then I was looking over an article I’m writing right now which, as usual, is chock full of personal examples involving my kids. I rarely name my kids in an article (except on my personal blog) but I refer to them by their gendered pronouns.

I wonder, am I doing a disservice to “the cause” (for want of a better shorthand) and my ideals by not using the neutral singular in my writing? Am I failing to maximize my potential for good? Or, would it be disingenuous because, in reality, we live a gendered life.

It’s just the truth. I do. My kids don’t have gender neutral names. I learned their sex before they were born and bought gendered clothes. I fight daily to shed my social conditioning and give my kids more – more choice, more autonomy, less direction and control.

brainwashed-rthghg.jpgIT IS FUCKING HARD! I’m fighting forty years of immersive brainwashing into states of sexism internalized to the level of automatic thought. On the scale of enlightenment I’m a noob.

And, if I decide to wage genocide on gender in my mind and reflect that in my writing, would I lose my ability to talk to the person I was just yesterday? Then I didn’t even know the word transgender. Or intersex. I believed humans were born either male or female with only “freak anomalies” as extreme outliers. I mean, of course I did, forty years of immersive brainwashing and all, right? Will changing my language make my words indecipherable to the person I used to be?

That matters to me. It matters because I live in rural America. I live where good people, people who’d give you the shirt of their back and bake you a pie ta boot, hang rebel flags in their windows. Where the local FB group routinely posts “jokes” deadnaming Caitlyn Jenner. Where Caitlyn Jenner, despite her many problematic views, is LITERALLY THE FIRST TRANSGENDER PERSON THESE PEOPLE HAVE HEARD OF. I’m not kidding you. They don’t read the same news we do or watch the same shows (some of them, some of them are fucking awesome, of course.)

They aren’t all bad people. They have some things in common that disadvantages them to “being awake” (once again a shorthand that comes off as rude as hell, please forgive): poverty, hunger, lack of education, illiteracy, christianity, complete homogony of demographics (remember I was in college the first time I even MET a black person.) BUT, they aren’t bad. Some are not open to expanding their worldview, for sure. But some are.

Shouldn’t someone speak to them?

I feel torn, often, between living my radicalism, if you will, and maintaining attachment to the people in my environment that I want to touch (consensually, obvs.). It is possible to be SO DIFFERENT that people have difficulty relating to you. (As an example, mention homeschooling and people nod knowingly. Mention unschooling and they look panicky, mention radical unschooling and they start backing away, kwim?)

Recently, I was alerted to the fact that the UK version of my book on amazon got a scathing one-star review that called the book both bigoted and transphobic. OUCH! This knocked me to my knees for several weeks emotionally. I’m crying even talking about it now because it hurts to feel I could have failed so catastrophically that I would actually HURT the very group I’m aiming to help.

Hello depression spiral, you old friend!

Several things helped me get past this and avoid El Spiral. One, that very weekend I got three separate emails thanking me for the book and telling me how it has changed their lives. The response has always been like this – either hate mail (you’re going to burn in hell feminazi cunt!), or heartfelt thanks. This is infinitely more valuable to me than the approximately 70 bucks a month I make from my book.

Second, I spent several weeks meditating on why some people could hate my book so much when I *knew* from personal accounts the positive effect it was having on at least a few hundred people (I’ve sold or given away about 15,000 books). I tried to think of it not as a “wounded party” with “woe is me, why do they hate me” and instead contemplated the problem as a failure (maybe feature) of spreading a meme.

reaching-out-helping-othersMaybe there is something like Vygosky’s Zone of Proximal Development for social memes. Maybe a person is only capable of grasping the next rung on the ladder of understanding. And, if you want to be the person reaching a hand down to help, you can’t do it from twenty rungs up.

I tried to explain that my book wasn’t for parents of transkids or trans people themselves but for cishet folk striving to understand this new-to-them area of social equality. They WANT to understand how gender limits them and their parenting. They want to CHANGE this for the better in their parenting so their kids won’t have the limitations they had.

But I completely understand how someone more advanced on this topic, even at the rung I’m on – maybe five steps up at best, sees a book called Gender Neutral Parenting and slaps their forehead when I have a “girl” chapter and a “boy” chapter. I get it. It isn’t near radical enough, even for me and, as I said, we live pretty gendered lives.

I am so profoundly sorry if my book offended anyone in the LGBTQ+ community. I am not of you. I’m the ignorant white eighteen year old asking to touch the black girl’s hair. I’m aware that I stumble and fall as I clumsily try to create good.

I believe SO SO STRONGLY in letting humans bloom into who they were meant to be and I feel like gendering is one of the main ways we limit them. It is one of the first inequalities we train kids to and then racism and a multitude of other prejudices just slip into the created framework. It becomes a cornerstone on which we wean the next generation into the system of patriarchy.

I hope to review my book later this year and revise it. I’ll be incorporating every idea and criticism I’ve received (apparently I used “trandgendered” which I always caution against). After all, I’ve grown since 2013 and my book should too.

However, my audience is still (and can really only be because “write what you know”) the people I interact with every day. The people below me that need a boost. I don’t want to fall into writing for my “learning peers” (which I mean without any of the value judgment often put on that word) and never the learners behind me.

The world needs everyone. Everyone has a unique role to play. Caitlyn Jenner’s problematic role in the world is still a profoundly powerful role in the lives of million of people. The NET EFFECT of Caitlyn Jenner is unequivocally GOOD. Trust me from the rural, conservative, mid-west. It really MATTERED.

So, to use gender neutral pronouns or not? I don’t know. I vacillate a million times a minute. My mind crunches this constantly to the point I wonder what other people even think about! (I jest.) That isn’t a lament. I love my current passion – to dissect and critically examine every aspect of my mind. It is my practice right now. I do it so I can pass something different on to my kids. Something better.

I’d love your thoughts.


I’ll refrain from finding a way to slip an apology into everything I write (Fuck you Patriarchy!) and just say, if you read this I thank you for the gift of your time and energy. It is deeply and truly appreciated.

The Need for Creativity

This weekend my mom used a roll of old wall paper that she bought or a dollar at the thrift store to re-line her pantry shelves.

She did this while her house was full of family and kids and while making dinner and cleaning. We teased her mercilessly about it because that is how my family rolls. 😉

She said something very true: “decorating my house is how I’m creative.”

How true! I paint and sew. My mom decorates. My house looks like a tornado hit it with a craft supply store. Hers looks like the pages of a magazine. And both are the signs of us living our creativity.

6a011570601a80970b01538dee9231970bI didn’t do that much creative for years. I was busy getting graduate degrees (and writing papers became my only creative outlet) and working on my career. Once I had kids I suddenly had this URGE to sew and cook. Later this turned into painting and drawing. Now I can’t imagine life without creating.

It relieves stress and is like meditation. The popularity of “adult” coloring books testifies to our need for creation.

How do you feed the need to be creative?

A Civil Debate About Vaccines

conflict-clipart-CLIPART_OF_ProcessI don’t write about vaccines much anymore. The reason is simply that I had read more than enough (several times over enough) to completely convince me that vaccines were a bad idea for both humanity in general and my children specifically (which, contrary to popular press, are BOTH very important to me). It isn’t my passion anymore. Unless someone is talking about “anti-vaxxers” going to jail or having their kids sent into foster care. It is only when you seek to infringe on my right to body integrity that I engage. I no longer play the show me your research and I’ll show you mine game.

I am disheartened that, from my perspective, so many people believe the vaccine propaganda without digging deeper behind these recommended substances being injected into our most vulnerable population. However, what really pains me is how impossible it apparently is to have a civil discussion about the topic.

Last year I was kicked out of a feminist group for, “promoting child abuse” after having a rather civil discussion on vaccines with other members. The group admins believed so strongly that vaccines are an inarguable benefit to children and humanity that they not only couldn’t have a conversation with me about bodily integrity and the right of the state to force medications on autonomous human beings, but that to even bring it up promoted child abuse.

Damn, that is some seriously strong cultural indoctrination.

I *get* that I’m the minority. I know you think I am straight up wrong. I get that you can’t believe I don’t get it. But what I don’t get is that you are going to shame and demean me in your arguments. Honestly, when you notice yourself so vociferously defending a point of view, which is fine, but feeling hot under the collar about it, then maybe you want to examine where feelings that strong are coming from.

An emotional response that strong comes from one of two places. Either you have a personal experience to draw on (for example, you have a child injured by a disease that has a vaccine and you feel the unvaccinated were responsible) or you’ve been subliminally and overtly indoctrinated to feel something by someone else. Who is that? Why did they do that? I’d want to know. And why do they need to use influence and marketing to “sell” this idea so hard? Why don’t the vaccines speak for themselves?

Maybe you feel you have examined these issues and you still feel vaccines are for you. That is great. I’m happy for you. Perhaps you even think that unvaccinated individuals are a danger to others. I imagine that is a painful feeling to have. I know how I feel when I see transphobia against little kids just trying to be comfortable in their skin. I just know I have to speak out – and do so loudly – to give voice to a group that I know is so often silenced. If you truly feel that my choice not to vaccinate my children puts infants, the elderly, and immunocompromised people at risk then I empathize deeply with the compassion for those people that drives your passion. Namaste. That place in me that feels compassion sees the same place in you and I respect your voice in this argument.

Can you see me for one moment? I do care deeply about people for whom measles or chicken pox are deadly. I would never, never have made this decision without researching that aspect of public health and vaccines. I know you think I haven’t researched enough, or in the wrong places, or that I simply don’t understand enough to make what you consider the right choice. I’m not asking you to understand my choice. I’m asking you to see the place of compassion inside that my choice comes from.

The fact is I am not a shitty person. I’m not uncaring. I’m not uneducated or swayed by celebrity worship or an irrational hippie (I’m a quite rational hippie thankyouverymuch). I am a very kind person. If we met in person I’m sure we’d like each other.

You’d undoubtedly call me weird, or crunchy. You most definitely rolled your eyes when I said “vaccine propoganda” (ha! my side uses subliminal bias too.) My medicine cabinet has more brown, glass jars with droppers than things you’d buy at Walgreens. I’m a peace-freak who doesn’t spank her kids or send them to the local schools. I’m a “femi-nazi” and I’ll tell you, at length, why you should never say that. But I’m friends with many people who don’t believe the same things I do. And I think at least some of them would vouch for me being a decent human being. I’m not asking you to *get* me or agree with me.

I’m just asking that you can stop for a moment and not see me as an “antivaxxer.” I’m not your enemy. I am a friend. My life isn’t like yours. My choices aren’t like yours. But I worry about my kids all the time just like you. I think about their health and do things to make them as healthy as possible. I also care about humanity and I care very much that babies die around the world, just like you do. I think deeply on issues like white, western privilege and how this discussion would be different if I didn’t live in a place with access to healthcare, sanitation, and nutritious food, just like you do.

Do you want to send the police to my house to put my kids in foster care? Do you want them to be held down and injected against their will? I am such a pariah to you that you want me HURT and ROBBED of dignity and my own children? If you had to be the one to hold them down after ripping them from my arms would it change your answer?

I hope you answered no. If we can’t look past our own thoughts and, even briefly, see the humanity in each other then what is all this even for?

Why I Don’t Pledge Allegiance

I don’t believe in saying the pledge of allegiance. Funny, since I was the person to read it aloud every morning of my junior and senior year.

People react strongly when I say this. How dare I not love my country!

It would be easy for me to use the excuse of the “under god” line which was added in 1954 as my reason for not reciting this oath. And that is one reason. I don’t believe in the tyranny of a state mandated religion. One persons “god” shouldn’t be anywhere on our money, court rooms, or schools.

But that is only one tiny reason. There are several others I’d like to share:

1. Taking a pledge.

Have you ever reflected on what it means to pledge something?

Pledge means a solemn promise or undertaking.
synonyms: promise, undertaking, vow, word, word of honor, commitment, assurance, oath, guarantee

First, should five year olds, who can’t legally make decisions or enter into contracts, be pledging to anything?

Second, to say this pledge I have to solemnly (seriously and earnestly) take a vow or oath. This shouldn’t be undertaken lightly. I can only evaluate if I can take such a serious oath based on careful review of what I’m pledging to.

2. Allegiance and Patriotism

Allegiance is to give loyalty and devotion to a thing. It was historically used by subjects to swear fealty to a monarch. In this case we are swearing allegiance to the flag of the United States of America.

Giving allegiance to a flag is just stupid but the implication is that you are giving you allegiance to is The United States of America so I’ll focus on that.

So, let’s talk about loyalty. Loyalty is about being reliably faithful to a person or thing. This is easy to see in interpersonal allegiance. I have an allegiance to my husband as I’ve agreed (taken an oath even) to be loyal to him.

My loyalty has limits imposed by my own morality. If my husband murdered someone I would not help him hide the body (sorry babe) because murder is immoral. This is what makes it different than fealty which doesn’t really care about your morality which is completely subsumed to the sovereign you are giving your fealty to.

Loyalty to an impersonal thing like a government should also have caveats for morality. This is why we expect soldiers to disobey orders when they are morally wrong as in the My Lai Massacre or the Abu Garaib torture. Loyalty in this instance means follow orders but not at the expense of morality.

Patriotism is defined as love of country and of our compatriots (fellow countrymen). I’ll talk about love of country in a moment but love of compatriots seems a simple thing. Of course I love my fellow Americans. Especially when we prove how loving and powerful we are as when we came together after 911. It warms my heart. I want all my compatriots to be happy and fulfilled.

Here’s the problem with love of compatriots. Compatriots are, by definition, those you have a common country with. Whether that is land, government, language, or ethnicity, the whole concept is based on Us and Them. Saying I’m “patriotic” implies I have love for other Americans instead of (at worst) or at least more than (at best) non-Americans.

This is where we get the idea that loving our country also means “there is no country I’d rather live in” which quickly slides in to: my country is the best. Better than yours. My compatriots matter more than you “others”.

I don’t think this is ever a positive view to hold but even if it were you better be sure your country deserves such devotion which I’ll talk about in a moment.

So patriotism and allegiance. Do they go hand in hand? Patriots are usually very allegiant but those with allegiance aren’t necessarily patriots.

For example, a mercenary has allegiance to his employer but isn’t necessarily a patriot. Their allegiance comes from a choice to act on behalf of a country/government not out of love of said country. Someone who is allegiant but not a patriot can not always be counted on to give “blind” allegiance.

A patriot, on the other hand, holds allegiance so strong that they will forgo their own sense of morality in order to show undying love for country/government.

For example,

“Stephen Nathanson contends that patriotic loyalty is not always a virtue. A loyal person can, in general be relied upon, and hence people view loyalty as virtuous. Nathanson argues that loyalty can, however, be given to persons or causes that are unworthy. Moreover, loyalty can lead patriots to support policies that are immoral and inhumane. Thus, Nathanson argues, patriotic loyalty can sometimes rather be a vice than a virtue, when its consequences exceed the boundaries of what is otherwise morally desirable. Such loyalties, in Nathanson’s view, are erroneously unlimited in their scopes, and fail to acknowledge boundaries of morality.[17]”

In other words, loyalty driven by patriotism and nothing else is a vice not a virtue. For your loyalty to be virtuous it must have an accompanying morality that isn’t dictated by the object of the loyalty. It is the ultimate check and balance.

Allegiance can’t be given lightly. You have to think about the actions of the object of your loyalty. How likely are you to have moral conflicts with the object of your loyalty? Is an act of morality that might not be loyal seen as “unpatriotic”? Is loyalty valued over morality?

If any of these are true the object in question might not be worthy of my loyalty.

3. The Republic

The pledge’s next line is about our allegiance to “the republic” represented by said flag. A republic is a form of government where the people rule through direct democracy or through elected representatives.

American republicanism is a bit different from other concepts of a republic in the classical world.

“Republicanism is the guiding political philosophy of the United States. It has been a major part of American civic thought since its founding.[1] It stresses liberty and “unalienable” rights as central values, makes the people as a whole sovereign, rejects aristocracy and inherited political power, expects citizens to be independent in their performance of civic duties, and vilifies corruption.[2]“

This sounds like something I would be willing to pledge allegiance to. But, only if the current state of our country was represented by this definition.

Is the CURRENT republic worthy of allegiance? Are liberty and unalienable rights central values in America today? Do we have inherited political power? Do we vilify corruption?

Or has corporate money eclipsed any true republicanism? Is corruption seen as an unavoidable feature of the system or rooted out wherever it is found?

4. Liberty and Justice for All

The final phrase of the pledge also sounds great but only if it is in any way true for us and our compatriots.

Liberty is freedom. Are we free? Are we all equally free? Or do we lead the world in imprisoning our compatriots? Are our compatriots of color given the same liberty as white compatriots or are they three times as likely to be jailed for equal offenses?

Do we all have access to justice? Or does money become the ticket to justice instead of it being a birthright of our country?

Does our country act justly in its relations with other countries. Do we keep our treaties? With the Western Shoshone Nation for example? Does our country respect justice when enacting trade laws? Or do we enslave and ravage other countries in order to promote the interests of our compatriots only?

If I’m going to pledge allegiance to something I’m going to have to take that seriously and ask some hard questions before I do. I want to know that this country deserves my allegiance and that my loyalty will not be immoral at least some of the time.

I don’t pledge allegiance to the flag of the United States of America. The republic for which it stands has been corrupted by corporatism and the aristocracy of capitalism. Our nation doesn’t operate under any god I recognize. Liberty is dependent upon your skin color and net worth. Justice is entirely dependent upon immoral and selfish interests and applied unevenly based on skin color and net worth.

The United States of America does not deserve my allegiance. It is unworthy of it. I don’t pledge it out of blind patriotism. I don’t recognize my compatriots as more important than my non-American brothers and sisters.

When my government realizes it has become completely unworthy of your pledge it will be the first step towards deserving it.

I pledge allegiance to humanity and all the kindness and good for which it is capable. I pledge allegiance to the cooperative spirit and peacemakers that work everyday to make the world a more just and free place for everyone. Not just compatriots defined by outdated lines of nationalism.

And my kids won’t say the pledge until they can cogently answer these questions for themselves.


“Then get out”
If you can’t understand the right of an American citizen to NOT pledge allegiance then you don’t understand anything about this country.

“You can only say this because of the freedom of America”
Agreed. There are certainly many countries where I could be killed or imprisoned for refusing to pledge allegiance. I don’t think the only criteria for allegiance to my country should be that “it could be worse”. I have a higher standard than that.

“No country lives up to your standards”
Agreed. I could tell you dozens of countries doing a better job in a lot of these areas but that isn’t really my point. I don’t want the US to become like some other country and then I’ll pledge. I don’t want to pledge to a country. Nationalism is an antiquated idea that no longer serves the needs of the Earth or humanity. Technology has made us smaller, closer. We have the opportunity to erase our arbitrary boundaries that make us hate and kill each other. We can move beyond us and them and realize our future is only secure if we are WE.

“But the troops…”
My refusing to pledge allegiance to this country does not mean I don’t love our troops. My dad and husband both served. I’m a pacifist and don’t believe in the military at all. That doesn’t change the intentions behind their actions when they enlisted. There are many beautiful things our military does. It isn’t the fault of individual soldiers that warmongering is such a big part of our current ethos as a nation. Someday, without war, these military men and women will continue their peacekeeping work without the violent side.

That Time Good Morning America Talked About My Daughter’s Hair
ABC News Videos | ABC Entertainment News

I Shaved My Daughter’s Hair

AellynshairEvery month my kids see their Daddy shave his head. Last week my younger son wanted his shaved off too. When Daddy was shaving Boston, Aellyn said she wanted him to shave her head too. Daddy said she’d have to ask mommy since I wasn’t home.

She asked if we could and I said sure. We weren’t home so it was easy to say yes. I decided I wouldn’t bring it up and maybe she would forget.


She talked about it the rest of the day and the next. So, last night, we shaved her damn near bald.

First, let’s talk about this from Aellyn’s perspective. This wasn’t a hard decision or even a big deal to her. She’s never been told how “girls are supposed to look/act” because we parent outside of sexist stereotypes whenever we can* (I wrote the book Gender Neutral Parenting if you are new here). We talk about sexism a lot and I told her the morning before we cut it that some people think girls shouldn’t have shaved heads. She said, “no way. Girls can have their hair anyway they want.” I said I know but some people might say something about it or call her a boy. She said, “That’s ok mom, I’ll just tell them I’m a girl.”

Look at this video I took during the cutting.

It’s amazing to see her nearly blasé attitude about it. Isn’t that how we should all be? I mean it is only fucking hair!

I, unfortunately, was very much indoctrinated by my culture to put great importance on my appearance and my hair in particular. I had very long blonde hair as a child. Other girls in my class would fight to stand next to me in line so they could play with my hair. The adults in my life always told me how beautiful my hair was.

For my tenth birthday I cut all my hair off. The stylist kept asking me over and over, “are you sure, honey?” As she began cutting I felt this nauseating sinking feeling in the pit of my stomach. When she was done I bawled my eyes out.

No big deal. I’ve overcome much of the “laws of femininity” that society tried so hard to force on me. I’ve had many a pixie cut and just last year I buzzed my hair with a 1″ setting.

And yet my deep, gut feeling about my daughter shaving her head sounded something like this: “DEAR GOD NOOOOOOOO!”

Yep, really enlightened, huh?

That’s the thing about this cultural conditioning I talk so much about. It forms roots so deep in our psyche that I know I’ll never be completely free of them. But I can always try to observe my gut feelings and NOT MAKE DECISIONS BASED ON THEM. To instead question my assumptions. Peak behind the curtain of cultural conditioning.

I really, really, REALLY wanted to talk her out of it. I wanted to fawn over how beautiful her hair is. In fact, I knew I had that power over my daughter. What I think – as her primary caregiver and friend – has a huge impact on her. I could have used just the right words to talk her out of it.

Or, maybe not. Maybe she would have put her foot down anyway and cut it.

Either way, I would have told her that her appearance is important TO ME and that she exists for the consumption of others. That how others view her is more important than her internal voice, sense of adventure, and inherent value. That her decisions should be made based on external “rules” and not her own sense of what is right or wrong for her.

Even worse, I would show my daughter that manipulation is something that people do to control someone else. That love means power.

Hell no. Not even remotely worth it. I will take the discomfort of seeing my daughter without hair over teaching her that she is a doll to be dressed up for others’ pleasure or that any future relationship she is in she should allow someone to manipulate her or dictate her appearance.

But, guess what?

She looks beautiful with her head shaved. Not just beautiful in the way of aesthetic beauty (although she’s that too. Have you seen eyes and cheek bones on a shaved head? Swoon.) but beautiful in her complete purity of self. She knows herself without the layers of rules, expectations, and worries that most of us carry around every day.

As Pete shaved her in sections I was so worried she’d hate it and regret it. I was waiting for her to experience that sinking feeling in her gut as the hair fell. I didn’t want her to experience the crippling fear of change or “being ugly” that plagued me as a child.

Nope. Not for her. The idea of regretting something as stupid as hair would probably never cross her mind. To her, this was FUN!

IMG_4397-2 Once again, these tiny people in my life teach me so much. Parenting has, bar none, been the best personal development class in my life. I try so hard to remove my conditioned sexism from my parenting and they remind me how easy it is. They show me who I am under my conditioning. What a gift!

I still hold worries about what others will say to my daughter about her hair. I’ll write more about our experience with her having a not-traditionally-feminine hair style in the coming weeks. I’ve already had one person tell me to “keep it private” and I was happy to tell her how marginalizing that is and how telling people to hide is how the status quo keeps its power. Would we tell gay people to “keep it hidden”? /facepalm. Well we shouldn’t.

We should encourage people to be true to themselves and who they feel they are authentically. Then no energy would be spend crying over cut hair in a beautician’s chair. Energy that can be spent making the world a better place for all.

Are Parents a Friend or Foe?

1010206_802204776492736_3804007470436320531_nThe meme was making its way around Facebook yesterday to a chorus of “hell yes” and tagging teen offspring so they know you’ll “hunt them down.”

I’d like you to try a thought experiment with me (suggested by my friend Ginger). Replace parent with another relationship in your life like your husband/partner.

I am your husband.
I will stalk you
Flip out on you
Drive you insane
Be your worst nightmare
Hunt you down when needed
Because I love you.

Does that sound like a healthy relationship? When someone says they love you is it ok for them to treat you like this meme suggests? Of course not! We recognize if your “love” holds such control and conditions that it is not in fact love at all.

For children we throw all the normal rules of healthy relationships out the window. This is a particular crime because kids learn how relationships work from watching their primary caregivers and the way the treat others.

As parents we model relationships for our kids. Everything they take into adulthood about how relationships should be come from their earliest formative experiences with the adults in their lives. Do you want this to be the message your kids hear?

This meme isn’t about loving your kids. It is about controlling them, wielding power over them and teaching them that life is a hierarchy and they need to submit to those above them and force submission from those below them. This meme is about a non-consensual relationship where the object of “love” has no say in their treatment. It is one sided.

There is another way. And guess what? It works better. Lectures? Anyone who has a preschooler knows lectures work about as well as spanking. Which is to say it may cease the behavior but it never lasts and carries the scars of knowing mom only loves you if you “behave”.

Luckily Joni over at Tales of a Kitchen Witch created a much better version of this meme.

11026039_921735471180943_1973685582210676202_nNow replace this one with “partner” or “spouse”. Does that sound like a relationship you want your daughter to have one day with her significant other?

Instead of stalking, lecturing, and being a nightmare how about we listen, guide, and be a cheerleader.

That is the definition of love I want my kids to see when they think on our relationship. I want them to know from this example that ANYONE who treats them like an object by lecturing, stalking, and hunting them is a predator and they should not have a relationship with that person because they deserve unconditional love and always a consensual relationship.

« Older posts

© 2016 Baby Dust Diaries

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑