Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

Good dog and the meta-message

November 29, 2009

That's a good dog

That's a good dog

A couple of weeks ago I interviewed Rachel Simmons The Wise for my podcast series Family Confidential. We talked about her new book: The Curse of The Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls With Courage and Confidence. We also discussed how often moms engage in meta-conversations with their daughters (i.e., Mom says one thing and a fingertip below the surface churns the unspoken message). With all that doublespeak how can a girl learn to be  authentic and express the truth of her heart?  Not very easily. And it isn’t  just moms and daughters. As Rachel put it, no matter who you’re talking to or what relationship you’ve got, “… there’s always a meta-conversation going on.”

For example:

Parent: Oh, you’re still on the phone.

Meta-message: I just know you won’t get your homework done tonight and then what? You think I enjoy nagging you? Well, I don’t! But if I don’t stay on your case how are you ever going to get into a decent college??

Mini meta-message: You’re lazy and I’m disappointed in you.

Parent: Don’t you think your other jeans would look better with that top?

Meta-message: Those jeans are too tight and too low cut. They make you look fat and slutty. What will Grandma say when she sees you wearing that? She’s going to think I’m a bad mother to let you dress that way!

Mini meta-message: You’re fat and you embarrass me.

Parent:  How’s Janie these days?

Meta-message: Are you two still friends? Did you hurt her feelings or do something to make her mad? Are you now hanging out with people I should be worried about? (Sigh) You and I used to be so close. Now you don’t tell me anything. What else are you hiding from me? I’m not sure I even want to know!

Mini meta-message: You’re not a good friend and I don’t trust you.

Visiting with family and friends this holiday weekend I’ve thought about meta-messages. And whether they’re conscious or not, communication patterns between people often determine who we like to hang out with and who doesn’t make our “favorites” list.

Early this morning me and my dog Josie snuck out of the house before anyone else was awake. We headed for the nearby hills and because Josie’s only 8 months old and full of beans I let her off-leash. She instantly vanished through the trees tracking deer and squirrels and nosing the underbrush for ticks thumbing a ride to our house. While she was gone I walked on, enjoying the quiet light and the colors. Every so often I’d whistle for Josie and she’d reappear. Sometimes from behind me on the trail. Sometimes from way ahead. We’d smile at each other and wag our tails. “Yes! Good dog!” Then I’d give her a treat. After each reunion she’d take off  again and I continued hiking.

So it went for about an hour. When I finally put her back on leash I thought about the meta-conversation Josie and I had and why she happily kept returning to me. The way I figure, it comes down to this… each of us, dog or human, prefers to hang with people who tell us we are good dogs.

It also help if they give us treats.


Podcast: Did I bite off more than I can chew?

November 23, 2009

The Package Deal: My (not-so) Glamorous Transition from Single Gal to Instant Mom by Izzy Rose

"The Package Deal: My (not-so) Glamorous Transition from Single Gal to Instant Mom" by Izzy Rose

Most of us appreciate having chunks of our day-to-day existence running on auto-pilot. It’s a good thing not to have to think about which aisle in your supermarket has the oatmeal or which branch of your county library has the best collection of books on CD. You don’t have to think about this stuff. You just know it, because, well, because this is your life.

But lives aren’t carved in stone. Whether you like surprises or not, you get them. And often they make you sit up and notice that life isn’t really a 24/7 auto-pilot proposition.

What happened to me in San Francisco, years ago, was one of those surprises. I was on vacation, so yeah, I was looking for adventure but not necessarily the Turn Your Life Upside Down variety. And yet, within a couple of days of meeting David, we were both crazy in love and planning our future together. Nine months later we were married and living in San Francisco, where I knew no one except David and the dog I brought with me from Upstate New York. Left behind were my family, my friends, the wonderful school where I taught, my adorable 4th graders, the cool old house I lived in, my enormous garden, the forested paths for escaping to when I needed to be alone and pretty much everything else that was nothing like California. Did I regret my impulsive choice to marry a guy I met on vacation? Never! But I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that the first year was hard.

Transitioning from the known to the unknown can be a test of one’s creativity, resilience, self-esteem, patience and endurance. Having too much “newness” thrown at you at once can definitely leave a person wondering whether they should have taken a few slow deep breaths and looked more closely before they leaped. But too often by then you’re already up to your neck in the soup.

In this week’s podcast I talk with Izzy Rose, author of “The Package Deal: My (not-so) Glamorous Transition from Single Gal to Instant Mom” in which she chronicles the first tumultuous year of her marriage where she gave up her career, moved to Texas and became a full-time mom to her two step sons. Izzy Rose is an Emmy award-winning television producer from the San Francisco Bay Area. She’s the creator of Stepmother’s Milk, a blog and resource site for the modern-day stepmom with national and international readership. She’s appeared countless times on television and radio programs in San Francisco, Austin and Memphis and is a regular contributor to Stepmom Magazine.

Listen to my interview with Izzy Rose right here:

If you have iTunes, you can subscribe to this podcast in the iTunes Store.

Or, you can download an MP3 version here.

Upcoming guests include:

Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees & Wanna Bees and Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads

Diane E. Levin, co-author (with Jean Kilbourne) of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood And What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids

Susan M. Heim, author of It’s Twins! and Chicken Soup for the Soul Twins and More

Hannah Friedman, author of Everything Sucks: Losing My Mind and Finding Myself in a High School Quest for Cool

Dara Chadwick, author of You’d Be So Pretty If…

Matthew Amster-Burton, author of Hungry Monkey: A Food-Loving Father’s Quest to Raise an Adventurous Eater

*What’s a podcast? “A podcast is a series of digital media files, usually either digital audio or video, that is made available for download via web syndication.” –Wikipedia… So, in this case, there’s an audio file for you to listen to (in addition to reading the above).


Holiday? It’s about Time

November 22, 2009


Hey, I'm here guys! Know what that means?

Hey, I'm here guys! Know what that means?

My Christmas cactus recently woke up from its summer stupor, which can only mean the holidays are coming up the front steps. If the last half of that sentence triggered a stress response, I apologize and I feel your heart palpitations. Holiday stress is very real especially if you’re anything like me when I’m on a quest for the perfect gift, the perfect turkey-brining recipe, the perfect holiday.

But, wait! My handy dictionary defines holiday as: “a day taken off for leisure and enjoyment.” Who was this Noah Webster dude anyway? Obviously he never shopped, hit an ATM, circled a packed parking lot for the fourth time, polished, cleaned, cooked, served, or stared bleary eyed into a packed fridge wondering where three more containers of leftovers could possibly fit.

Before we write-off Webster and his cockamamie definition, please note that in a perfect world holidays are meant to be a pleasant break in routine for you and your loved ones – well-deserved time to de-stress and appreciate being part of a family. Who knew?

As a family, we celebrated an unscheduled holiday in January 1996. A tremendous windstorm roared through our neck of the woods, knocking out the power. No school, no computers, no work. We gathered around the fireplace bundled in blankets as I read aloud from a giant book of obscure folktales. We paused at crucial plot points and guessed what would happen next. We acted out alternative endings. We played Crazy Eights by candlelight. We roasted marshmallows and shared memories from childhood. We ate outrageous ice cream sundaes for breakfast. Hey, we couldn’t just let all that Chunky Monkey melt, could we?

During that long blackout we depended on each other for warmth, comfort, entertainment, and connection. And we had a blast. Five days later when the lights went back on, we all felt a little sad.

21st Century parents and kids need family to provide a place to de-stress. Don’t think your kids are stressed? Here are typical responses I get when I ask kids “What does the word ‘stress’ mean to you?”

  • “A kinda mind overload.”
  • “Pressure and lots of responsibility on your hands.”
  • “Overwhelmed.”
  • ” Overworked.”
  • “…a lot of stuff that I have to do like homework, chores and other things a girl my age should not be stressing about. If I have to do all those things in ONE day I would just pass out. It’s too much pressure!!!!”
  • “A tax on your soul.”

Heart breaking, huh? And those are from 11-13 year olds!

Most things in this world are constantly changing but our unconditional love for kids isn’t one of them. We hurt when we see our kids so freaked out and wound up, but what can we do? You can’t stop the world, but you can slow down your own little corner and bring the family in closer. Don’t believe your kids would want to hang out with you? Probably not all the time. And be honest. You wouldn’t want to hang out with them all the time either! But they do want to spend time with you. Especially when you show them that you really enjoy being with them.

If everyone’s schedule is already packed and you just don’t see how you’re going to create a regular Family Time then I suggest you sit down with your kids and talk about the daily pressures each of you deals with. Discuss how spending time as a family can actually help you all stress less. Unplug the media for one night a week and do something you can enjoy together: Make a meal, work on a project, play a game, go for a hike, make music, dance, look at old family photos or videos, tell stories, read stories, laugh, relax.

Try it and you may get the same bonus our family got when the storm blew out the power… the gift of time, which is the first step to reclaiming the heart of your family during the holiday season and year round.

Filed under: Holidays,Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , , , — Annie @ 2:24 pm

Podcast: Good Girl vs. Real Girl

November 9, 2009

The Curse of the Good Girl by Rachel Simmons

The Curse of the Good Girl by Rachel Simmons

If you live or work with teen girls you don’t need me to tell you they can be way out there with their emotions. And you already know that girl friendships can be fraught with drama, misunderstandings, betrayals and recriminations. Which proves that being emotional doesn’t automatically translate into high Emotional Intelligence. (EQ, AKA getting real with yourself so you can be real with the people you’re close to. )

When teen girl emotion explodes around parents, they often do what moms and dads of my parents’ generation did… try to contain and sanitize the feelings. Why? Perhaps some parents sincerely believe that people who are too emotional get clobbered by life. Another possibility is that when confronted with a girl’s outburst that parents can’t “fix” the next best solution is to try to shut it down as quickly as possible. Either way the message is that some emotions are just not the “good girl” kind.

If a girl expresses sadness she may hear: “Cheer up. It can’t be all that bad!”

If she expresses fear she might get: “There’s nothing to be afraid of!”

If she rages over some real or imagined  injustice she may be treated to some variation of this 20th century chestnut: “Better watch it, young lady. You’re getting a little too big for your britches.”

When I was a child, the most powerful phrase I knew was “Shut up!” Only used in a rare moment of frustration and laughably tame by today’s standards, those words were consistent show stoppers in my family and always followed by: “That language is unacceptable.” I realize now that it was my assertiveness that was truly unacceptable.

21st century parental messages to girls haven’t changed all the much: Don’t be sad. Don’t be scared. Don’t be angry. Oh, and while you’re at it: Don’t be shy. Don’t be worried. Don’t be embarrassed. Don’t be so silly. Don’t be so dramatic. Don’t be so smart.

If girls can’t be any of those things, what, in heaven’s name, are they supposed to be? Duh! They’re supposed to be GOOD! At all times sweet, loving and cooperative. Modest, supportive, nurturing, generous and nice. But what are girls expected to do when any of those other not so good and not so nice feelings pop up? No problem. If you want to be a good girl (Yes, please!) you learn to stuff it and smile.

In this week’s podcast I talk with Rachel Simmons, author of The Curse of the Good Girl: Raising Authentic Girls with Courage and Confidence. And what a terrific and important book it is. Here’s an excerpt:


To deepen your vision for your daughter, write her a letter (you don’t have to send it) and explore these questions:

  1. What do you wish you had known when you were her age? Think about the girl you used to be and the woman you are today. Focus on what you have learned about relationships, conflict, and self-confidence.
  2. What does being yourself mean to you?
  3. What did the female role models of your childhood teach you? If you did not have any, what do you wish you might have learned from a caring adult woman?

You have learned many lessons in your life. By defining them for yourself, you can begin thinking about how to convey practical wisdom to your daughter, in both what you say and how you act.


Listen to my interview with Rachel Simmons right here:

If you have iTunes, you can subscribe to this podcast in the iTunes Store.

Or, you can download an MP3 version here.

Upcoming guests include:

Rosalind Wiseman, author of Queen Bees & Wanna Bees and Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads

Izzy Rose, author of The Package Deal: My (not-so) Glamorous Transition from Single Gal to Instant Mom

Diane E. Levin, co-author (with Jean Kilbourne) of So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood And What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids

Susan M. Heim, author of It’s Twins! and Chicken Soup for the Soul Twins and More

Hannah Friedman, author of Everything Sucks: Losing My Mind and Finding Myself in a High School Quest for Cool

Dara Chadwick, author of You’d Be So Pretty If…

*What’s a podcast? “A podcast is a series of digital media files, usually either digital audio or video, that is made available for download via web syndication.” –Wikipedia… So, in this case, there’s an audio file for you to listen to (in addition to reading the above).

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