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Teaching My Son Entitlement in the Aftermath of the Orlando Shooting and the Stanford Rape Trial

My son has been drawing rainbows lately. He started with long, arching bands across the top of the page, and then moved on to hearts, the spectral layers rendered in scratchy ink marks that radiate outward from the core.


Like most preschoolers, he loves colors; he refuses to name a favorite. Purple eyeglasses and hot pink rain boots are prized accessories. A few days ago he told me that pink is a girl’s color, and I corrected him, too sharply. “Who told you that? Colors belong to everybody.”

“I know, mom.” He sounded accepting, but slightly dejected, as if he already knows that our victories in this culture of hyper-masculinity will have to be internal ones.

When I heard about the mass shooting at Pulse nightclub in Orlando, I shielded my son from the news. In a few years we’ll discuss the evil that he already sense. For now, he wrestles with it in safe fantasies of super heroes and villains.

I scrolled through images of the shooter’s victims, shedding tears for other people’s children while mine slept in the next room, nestled in the cocoon of childhood. How could I explain such an act of hatred to him, when I could not understand it myself?

For me, raising a boy has been a joy-filled, humbling endeavor riddled with uncertainty and a dose of fear. After all, he will become a man someday, and I know that men are perpetrators of violence. Of course, I also know many men who are loving, compassionate fathers, friends, partners, citizens. But virtually all of the mass shooters in these crimes have been men. And every one of my friends who has been raped was raped by a man.

Rape was on my mind because the atrocity in Orlando came on the heels of news about another crime that had shaken me. The lax sentencing of the blonde, smiling boy who raped an unconscious woman on the Stanford campus and refused to accept culpability enraged and haunted me.

It enraged me because the story was not new, or unique, and the outcome should have changed by now. The letters the boy’s friends and relations submitted to the judge illustrated attitudes of privilege and entitlement that still pervade our culture and deny the sanctity of women’s bodies.

It haunted me because I don’t know how to make sure my son never, never feels entitled to touch a woman’s body without consent, the way that boy did. The widely released photo of the rapist’s polished face greeted me every time I opened my computer or glanced at a newspaper, and smiled mockingly at me when I closed my eyes at the end of each day.

I realized I had allowed the Stanford case to take over my psyche when I heard myself telling my husband, “You’re just like the Stanford rapist’s father!” because in a tired moment he displayed what seemed like excessive lenience toward our five-year-old.

“Are you seriously comparing me to the father of the Stanford rapist?”

“We have to set limits!”

I looked at his astonished face and relented. No. He is a good guy, the one I chose. I remember how I fell in love with him for his nurturing ways, for his expressiveness and humility. He will be a model for our son. He will not assert our son’s right to enjoy a steak over his need to be a kind, responsive human being.

Then as information about the Orlando shooter’s history became available, his possible motives did, too. He was a man who may have been struggling with his sexual preference while subscribing to an oppressive religious dogma. This man believed that his feelings of love were wrong, so he turned them to hate instead.

The privileges granted to men are often countered by a hefty dose of denial: denial of the right to express their emotions, or their love toward another person.

For now, the lessons I give my son are simple. Keep your hands to yourself. Keep your body safe. Use your words, and listen to your friends. No hitting. But how can I teach him to respect women in a culture that devalues them? Or to respect those who are different than him amid sometimes overwhelming intolerance? Or to accept and love himself, even if that self does not conform to the norms of a fearful society?

I have been looking at those rainbow hearts and thinking again about entitlement. Maybe the problems start with a culture that robs boys of their true entitlements. Rather than letting them believe they are entitled to a rib-eye steak, or to an elite education, or to another person’s body, we need to teach them these things: that they are entitled to feel fear, or pain, or joy, and to express those feelings safely and openly. They are entitled to cry. They are entitled to love whomever they love. And they are entitled to all the colors of the rainbow. These are the entitlements I want to teach my son, and that I hope will carry him into a kinder, gentler adulthood.

Who said motherhood doesn't come with a manual?

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We're a busy people, this family of mine. And we like it that way. But we're still always looking for simple ways to reconnect.

And most of the time, those moments happen around the dinner table.

I'm not embarrassed to admit we've become homebodies—we vastly prefer nights in watching movies and meals at home to the stress and cost of evenings out. While my husband and I still try to schedule a few legit date nights out now and then, by the end of our busy days, we like relaxing at the table as a family, then putting our daughter to bed to spend time together catching up on our shows or watching a movie. Most of our dates happen on the couch, and we're okay with that.

Dinner itself is a tradition I grew up valuing. As one of five kids, it seemed to be the only time our family was really all together, catching up on our days, making plans, or even just being physically present together. (This reminds me so much of the table we would gather around every night!)

Now that I'm my family's connector, I make sure to prioritize that time (even if most nights it's all I can do to get my wiggly toddler to sit still long enough to get a few bites of her dinner).

Whether we're relishing a home-cooked meal or simply noshing some pizza (because mama is tired, folks), nothing can replace the feeling of reconnecting—or leaving the table with satisfied bellies.

Because something strange happens when you have kids. Suddenly, time seems to enter a warp. One day (usually the days when nap time is short and the tantrums are long), time will drag on endlessly, making each minute feel like an hour until my husband gets home and can help with the kids. But most of the time, when I stop and really think about where we are in this busy season of life, I feel like time is flying by.

I look at my daughter, and I feel like someone has snuck in during the night and replaced her with this big-little girl because I swear she was just born a few months ago. I hug my son, unsure where the time has possibly gone because didn't I just take that positive pregnancy test yesterday? And I marvel at this rapidly growing family my husband and I have built because, really, wasn't he just asking me to be his girlfriend a year or two ago? (Try 10, self. That was 10 years ago.)

As fast as time races by, I don't have any answers for how to slow it down. If anything, the pendulum seems to swing quicker and quicker as our days fill with new activities. With jobs and responsibilities, with more and more activities and play dates for the kids.

But at the dinner table, I feel like time slows down enough for me to pause and look at this little family. I imagine us two, five, 10 years down the road (gathering around a table just like one of these). More little (and then not so little) faces peering at me over the table, asking for another piece of bread or more milk as my husband makes them giggle with a silly face or story.

I imagine them as teenagers, telling me about an upcoming test or asking if they can borrow the car after dinner. I even see them as adults, coming back to visit with their own kids for the occasional family dinner. (Hey, a mom can dream, right?)


No matter where life takes us—or how quickly—I'm grateful for this time and this place where we can always come back together.

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It happens to the best of us. Even to the GOAT. When you have a baby it's so easy for your home to just fill up with brightly colored plastic. Just ask Serena Williams.

Her 1-year-old daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.'s things seem to be taking over the house, as Williams shared with her Instagram followers.


"Sometimes I have to throw my hands up in the air. #thismama used to have a living room. Now I just have a play room. When did that happen?" she captioned the relatable pic.

We've all been there, Serena. As Motherly's minimalism expert, Juli Williams, previously wrote, when so many kind family and friends gift your child with playthings, it's easy to forget where the toys taking over the living room even came from.

"By the time my daughter was 8 months old she had so many toys that we had filled two huge chests with them," she explains. "Plus the activity gym, bouncy seat, swing and walker that were sitting in our living room. Oh, and don't forget the bag of bath toys hanging to dry in our bathroom tub."

The clutter began to get to Williams, who was tired of picking up toys her daughter wasn't even playing with. When she got rid of almost all of her toys, she found herself "more at peace, with less to clean" and she noticed her daughter was playing more with the toys she did have.

Williams isn't the only one to notice this: Scientists have, too.

As Motherly reported last year, researchers at the University of Toledo found that toddlers play longer and more happily when there are fewer toys around. Their study involved setting toddlers up in a room with either four or 16 toys. It turned out, the kids with just four toys engaged "in longer periods of play with a single toy, allowing better focus to explore and play more creatively."

Bottom line: You don't have to sacrifice your living room (and your sanity) to bright bits of plastic when you become a mama. If you're overwhelmed by the number of toys in your space, your baby probably is, too.

If you are feeling the same way Serena is, consider Team Motherly's tips for keeping toys from taking over:

1. If you're moving soon, don't take all those toys 

When Motherly's co-founder, Elizabeth Tenety, packed up her playroom for an interstate move, she didn't bring 75% of the toys to her new house. She had the same problem as Serena, and didn't want to bring it with her.

"Our playroom was often unusable because—you guessed it!—the toys were E-V-E-R-Y-W-H-E-R-E and all over the floor, all the time. (No room to play.)," Tenety previously wrote.

Before the big move, she donated a ton of toys and found it has been "absolutely incredible to see the impact of living with radically less—on me, our home, and especially our kids."

2. Consider packing even if you're not moving 

Take a look at your living room or play room (wherever the toys replicate in your home) and consider what you would bring with you if you were moving (even if you're absolutely not).

Pack up anything you wouldn't take, and move it to Goodwill or another charity.

3. Prioritize experiences over material goods 

As our children grow, they're going to remember the memories we make together—not the toys cluttering up the house. If you can let grandparents and aunties in on this secret, you can keep your living room from looking like Serena's.

When Tenety decluttered her kids' toy stash, she asked her family not to gift the kids with any more toys, suggesting a weekend at grandpa's house, some art supplies or swimming lessons would be more meaningful.

Minimalism expert Juli Williams did the same. "For my daughter's second Christmas, we asked our family to gift us a registration to a toddler class instead of toys—and my daughter loved it," she previously wrote. "I took photos at the class and sent them to our family every week to show them the exciting new things she was learning—and so they truly understood that it was a gift that kept on giving."

4. Consider a no-toy Christmas this year

For a lot of families, a pile of toys under the Christmas tree is a holiday tradition, but more and more parents (including Mila Kunis and Ashton Kutcher) are opting for no-toy Christmas celebrations.

Motherly's own Rachel Gorton has also opted for this minimalist tradition. "Christmas in our household represents so much more than toys under the tree. I don't want our children to be distracted from the real reason we celebrate this holiday by a shiny new toy they don't need," she previously wrote.

"I want them to learn about giving without the concept being tied only to possessions in their mind. I want them to understand that giving doesn't always come in the form of an object."

Like Kunis and Kutcher, (and Tenety and Williams) Gorton emphasizes meaningful gifts and gifts of experience in her family's holiday rituals. Serena might want to hop on this trend, too.

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As the royal tour of Australia continues, it seems the Duchess of Sussex is feeling some jet lag—but it's not necessarily from traveling.

During a visit to Bondi Beach to participate in an "anti-bad vibe circle" with members of the OneWave surf community mental health support group, Markle talked with circle participant Charlotte Connell who is also pregnant, about 23 weeks according to news reports.

Cornell says Markle told her that her own pregnancy has been making her tired, and keeping her up at odd hours. Mamas around the world are nodding in agreement.

"Meghan told me that pregnancy was like having jet lag," Sky News quotes Cornell. "She said she was up at 4:30 a.m. this morning doing yoga in her room as she couldn't sleep."

It's not surprising that (on a two-week tour with a mind-boggling 76 planned engagements) Markle is feeling a bit tired. Fatigue is so common in pregnancy, we hope someone on the tour is making sure Markle can sneak in a nap now and then (seriously, research suggests pregnant women who regularly nap are less likely to have a baby with a low birth weight).

As for being up at 4:30 in the morning doing yoga? Well, if you can't sleep (and so often pregnant mamas-to-be struggle with this) self-care though yoga may be the next best thing.

It's a great way to relax, and a recently published study found working out during pregnancy can cut your labor time down significantly.

Meghan may have pregnancy-induced jet lag, but it sounds like she knows how to take care of herself, something all pregnant mamas should remember to do.

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Although my youngest is approaching a year, I'm still inspired by cozy, but minimal nurseries—especially those that can grow into toddlerhood and beyond. One that has always caught my eye was my sweet friend Lauren's little sweet space for her darling little boy, Graham. Graham's nursery is clean, modern and has just the right amount of warmth added to it.

I asked Lauren what inspired her with this little space, what some of her favorite items were and what feeling she was trying to evoke with the space. Here's what she had to say...

1. What inspired your nursery?

Lauren: I wanted to create a modern, neutral and warm space. His room honestly doesn't stray too far from the rest of our house, which is where I pulled the colors from when I set out searching for a rug with burnt orange, gray and green in it.

I also knew I wanted to include some house plants—again like the rest of our home!—and a few cacti. But I was careful not to get too theme-y, as I knew I would regret it. Rather, I stuck to a color scheme to go with the white walls, natural wood and modern furniture I had in mind.

2. What was the first item you bought for the nursery?

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The first item I purchased was a bassinet basket from Design Dua, which actually lives in our room now, but is probably my favorite piece for baby. I also already had a large sheepskin rug given to me as a birthday gift and knew I wanted to save it for the baby's room to do layered rugs since it is a small cozy space.

3. What is the most meaningful piece included in the room?

The most meaningful items in his nursery are the crocheted play blanket made by my mom. It was technically for my oldest, June, but perfect for all those early baby days spent playing on the floor around the house. And the heirloom Willaby blanket, as they are such a beautiful keepsake. I guess I really like blankets!

4. How does the space make you feel when you spend time there?

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Relaxed and cozy.

5. What "must have" items did you decide to go without?

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With him being our second, we already had all the necessary baby gear, so my nesting was mostly all about creating his modern little nursery. I prefer not to have a crowded home with baby stuff everywhere, so we chose not to invest in a pack 'n' play, baby swing, baby activity center, double stroller or even a true changing table—or any other baby furniture really, besides the affordable IKEA crib! Rather, I got pieces I can arrange around the house in the future.

6. What are the most-used elements of the nursery?

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The rocking chair and the sheepskin rug. I discovered with my daughter you spend a lot of time playing on the floor, so a fluffy rug was a must—as is a comfortable and stylish rocking chair for rocking those babes to sleep daily for the next couple years. And, currently, his handmade baby gym is a hit daily!

Although I was inspired to create a baby gym that matched, I was mostly motivated by wanting one that was foldable to set out the way in his small room when not in use. We made one by combining a couple Pinterest DIYs, using leftover wood from our garage and a few leftover pieces from his DIY mobile.

7. What advice would you give any pregnant mamas planning a nursery?

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It's easy to impulse buy or get overwhelmed with giant lists of must-have baby items, so it helps to plan it out. Or, at least, that is what I enjoy doing as I tend to be an online shopper. That way you can take advantage of sales or coupon codes after you've thought about what will work well in your space. Also, pick items that can grow with your baby or have multiple uses.

Thank you so much to Lauren for giving us a peek inside her adorable nursery! Graham sure is one lucky guy.

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