TIME Parenting

There’s No Such Thing as a Perfect Mother

superhero-mother-daughter-playing
Getty Images

So how about we stop striving to be one?

There’s this mom at the pre-school where my son goes who, I used to think, was the perfect mother.

She’s one of the few stay-at-home-moms who shows up at school every day wearing something other than a uniform of yoga pants, a t-shirt and comfy shoes. She’s always well groomed and not wearing remnants of her children’s breakfast or runny noses all over her shirt. She volunteers in the classroom multiple times a week and spends the moments before school starts gently reading to her child. When there’s a bake sale, her brownies look mouthwateringly delicious, unlike my tray which gets avoided like the plague. Nothing seems to faze her, and from the moment I spotted her, an imaginary halo seemed to dance atop her head.

Last spring, one of the other school moms generously held a book launch party at her home for me. I read a chapter from my book out loud and held a Q&A, followed by some snacks and chatting. I gratefully smiled at the people I knew and got introduced to some faces I recognized from drop-off and pick-up but had never met. It was a wonderful evening and I was grateful to be surrounded by so many real life Scary Mommies. And then suddenly, out of nowhere, I saw her — The Perfect Mother — coming towards me. What on earth was she doing here, I wondered. Like she could relate to anything I wrote, little Mrs. I Do Everything Right.

“I have to tell you how much I loved your book,” she greeted me with. “I could have written almost every word myself. It was so me.”

Huh? Say what?!

What on earth in my book could she relate to? She was the one I referenced when talking about the foreign perfection I’d never in my life hope to achieve. She was the one who looked like a million bucks all the time and who always seemed to handle everything that came at her with grace. While everything I did was merely good enough, everything she touched was perfect with a capital P. Had she picked up the wrong book? What author had she mistaken me with?

Unfortunately, those were not thoughts in my head. Unable to contain my shock and awe, that’s exactly how I responded to her, sounding certifiably insane, since we’d never officially met and she had no idea she’d made such an impression on me. She burst out laughing.

“Me? Perfect?” She laughed until she snorted – LOUDLY – the imaginary halo slowly tumbling off of her head.

She went on to explain that the only reason she showered in the morning was to wake herself up, because without that jolt of cold water at 7AM, she’d never peel herself out of bed. She wears Spanx under her jeans and steers clear of yoga pants because the cellulite on her thighs shows through them so clearly that she can’t stomach it. She reads to her kid in the morning because she’s too spent at the end of the day to do it and he falls asleep watching a DVD most nights. And those brownies I’ve drooled over? Her mother makes them because she can’t cook to save her life.

Hello, nice to meet you, my new favorite person on earth! I think I love you.

Sadly, her son went off to kindergarten last fall, so I stopped seeing her in the lobby and at school events, but I think of her often, this not so perfect mom. Every time I make a snap judgment or feel inferior to some other mother I bear witness to, I envision that halo falling down and the sound of her unglamorously snorting echoes in my head. That interaction was one of the single greatest parenting lessons I’ve learned.

Turns out there is no perfect mother. Really; there’s not. So how about we stop striving to be one, and instead settle for something much more realistic?

Being ourselves.

This article originally appeared on Scary Mommy.

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TIME Family

Watch These Kids Give Their Dads Ridiculous Father’s Day Makeovers

What could possibly go wrong?

To celebrate Father’s Day, Birchbox Man (the monthly subscription service for beauty and grooming products) gathered five brave fathers. Their young sons then groomed and styled them. The result? Some really, really ridiculous makeovers.

“We put a bunch of kids in a room with their dads and a ton of grooming products and let them have at it,” Birchbox writes on Facebook. “As you can imagine, things got messy.”

Read next: 5 Hero Dads Worth Celebrating This Father’s Day

TIME Family

5 Hero Dads Worth Celebrating This Father’s Day

These dads have saved their children from fires, kidnappers and other dangers

All dads deserve a big hug on Father’s Day, but some have really gone above and beyond the call of duty in the past year. From the dad who rescued his young daughter from a burning building to the dad who donated part of his liver to save his son’s life, these fathers deserve a big round of applause for heroic deeds that protected their children.

  • The dad who gave his son a liver transplant

    Brittany Munn, who lives in upstate New York, knew her son was sick from the time he was born, but doctors couldn’t figure out what was wrong at first. They eventually discovered Caleb had the rare and serious biliary atresia, and said he needed a liver transplant if he was to survive past the age of 2.

    Luckily, his father was a perfect match. As soon as Brian Munn found out he could donate part of his liver to make his son healthy, he jumped at the opportunity. Father and son now have matching scars from their March 2015 surgeries, and Caleb will continue to require treatment. But for now, he is much healthier, and his dad is glad he could do what was needed to help.

    “Once I [knew] that he was OK, and he was on the other side of the surgery,” Brian Munn told WBNG Binghamton, “I knew that it was all worth it.”

  • The dad who saved his daughter from a kidnapper

    Aaron Edson could have been named negotiator of the year for saving his daughter from an apparent kidnapper. Edson and his wife Stephanie awoke in the middle of the night in their home near Salt Lake City in November 2014 to discover their 5-year-old daughter missing from her bed. Edson, panicked, soon found her outside in the arms of a stranger who had broken into the house. When he asked the man what he was doing with the little girl, the burglar replied that he was in danger and wouldn’t be harmed if he had a child with him.

    “I said, ‘Really, I want to help you but she has got to stay,’” Edson told Good Morning America. “I just walked up to him and held out my arm and he just handed her over peacefully and calmly, and no one’s voice ever got raised.”

    In the end, all was well for little Lainey, and the would-be kidnapper was arrested.


    ABC US News | World News

  • The dad whose first aid training saved his own son

    When Ray Adams got CPR training, he didn’t expect to have to use it the same day—and on his own son. Shortly after receiving the CPR training, the youth football coach was watching his 11-year-old son RayShawn play in a scrimmage in Hartford, Conn. in August 2014, when RayShawn was knocked over and seemed to be struggling to breathe. Adams started performing chest compressions and blowing into his son’s mouth, until RayShawn gasped in air and began breathing again.

    Adams now says he hopes all coaches get the same training to be able to step in when tragedy strikes.

  • The dad who saved his baby from a burning building

    Throwing your baby out the window may not sound like a heroic act, but in the case of Liam Crocket, it was exactly that.

    When his home in East Kilbride, Scotland caught fire in November 2014, Crocket acted fast. “The floor began to cave in so I grabbed Lilly, put a blanket over her and held her tight to my chest,” he told the Daily Record. “I knew we had to go out the window. Luckily, there were people outside so I flung Lilly down into someone’s arms. Once she was safe, I jumped.”

    Mother Sarah MacKenzie was away from the house when the fire broke out, and was very grateful for Crocket’s heroic rescue of their 1-year-old.

    “It was his quick thinking that saved our baby’s life,” she told the Daily Record.

  • The dad who fought a bear to save his son

    Greg Alexander awoke while camping in Great Smoky Mountains National Park in early June to the sound of his teenage son’s screams. A bear had attacked the 16-year-old, Gabriel, in his sleep, and Alexander saw the bear “dragging him across the ground by his head,” according to the Citizen-Times. Worried that he might already be too late to save his son, Alexander jumped on the bear’s back, hit it in the face and threw rocks at it until it finally let go and went away.

    The two had to hike several miles to safety, and though Gabriel’s scalp and facial injuries were serious, he is expected to make a full recovery—all thanks to his dad’s bravery in the face of a beast.

TIME Parenting

What Parents Can Learn From Inside Out

disney, pixar, inside out, amy poehler, mindy kaling, lewis black, movies
Pixar/Disney Amy Poehler stars as the personification of Joy, left, with Phyllis Smith starring as the voice of Sadness.

It's the anti-helicopter parenting movie

All parents want their kids to be happy. I mean, obviously. But for most of history in most of the world that has meant keeping them from hunger and death and physical bodily harm. What happens when those threats aren’t quite so looming? Pixar’s new movie is an examination of our modern obsession with keeping our kids in a permanent state of delight. It could be the ultimate anti helicopter-parenting movie.

Of course, like all Pixar movies, it’s also about eccentric characters going on an unlikely adventure. In this case, our heroines are exploring the inner workings of that undiscover’d country, the brain. And those heroines are Joy (voiced by Amy Poehler, this generation’s go-to embodiment of spunk and optimism) and Sadness (voiced, with wonderful melancholy, by The Office’s Phyllis Smith).

Joy is a type-A workaholic, running around manically to make sure the little factory that is the brain of Riley, a Minnesotan girl who has recently moved to San Francisco, is always fully stocked with upbeat feelings. She tries to keep her co-workers, Anger, Fear and Disgust in line. But most of all she wants to sideline Sadness. Sadness’s chubby little blue hands are not allowed to touch any of the childhood memories that roll like marbles into Riley’s brain.

Especially precious are the more brightly gleaming marbles that represent the core memories. When one of those arrives in the processing room and it’s blue, not chatreuse, meaning it’s sad, not happy, Joy takes extreme steps to prevent it from finding its permanent place in the brain. And ultimately, that puts Riley at risk.

The parallels with modern parenthood are hard to miss here. Feeding and protecting kids from existential threats is no longer the absorbing task it once was, but the instinct to raise happy kids doesn’t go away. So parents try to stave off any potential source of distress—a failure, a loss, a heartache—by flooding the zone of childhood with delight.

For a start, this is exhausting—anyone with less energy than Amy Poehler would just lose her mind—and secondly, it’s counterproductive. Without sadness or failure, kids can’t build resilience. The little islands of security that Joy has built in Riley’s brain, with very little input from Fear, Anger, Disgust or most of all Sadness, prove to be quite fragile and not very colorful.

In his book on building resilience in kids, Grit, Paul Tough quotes the principal of a prestigious U.S. school: “The idea of building grit and building self-control is that you get that through failure. And in most highly academic environments in the United States, no one fails anything.” Spoiler alert: Joy comes to understand that sadness has its place too, that it’s a useful and necessary emotion.

Inside Out doesn’t just gently and comically suggest that perhaps we are making our kid’s lives unhappier by trying to make them happy, it offers an alternative: Riley’s actual parents. Her dad has moved to San Francisco for a startup and is obviously under a bit of stress. Her mom is distracted by the stress of finding a missing truck with all their belongings. (Some Pixar peeps clearly have their issues with moving companies.) But they’re there for Riley. They ask if she wants them to take her to her new school; she doesn’t, so she goes alone. They find a new hockey league for her, but don’t make her join. They make a fool of themselves to support her, when that seems appropriate.

They don’t notice her unhappiness, and she makes a few ill-conceived decisions, but, of course—spoiler alert again!—she realizes her error. Pixar has always made movies for adults cleverly disguised as movies for kids, and and Inside Out is no exception. It simplifies certain concepts in brain science, but it illustrates others in a way that almost anyone could grasp —the dream studio is a particularly inspired sequence—and that may make it simpler for grownups and kids to realize why they’re feeling as they do. As Tough says, “Any time you need to use the term hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal in order to make your point, you’ve got trouble.”

One note of warning. Some people have labeled the movie PMCIFOTC. (Parents May Cry In Front Of Their Children.) Adults should be accompanied by an understanding minor.

Please subscribe to TIME’s weekly parenting newsletter here. All the fun, none of the scolding.

TIME Family

10 DIY GIft Ideas for Father’s Day

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Getty Images

Suited for makers of young and old

Show Dad that you inherited his amazing creativity and ingenuity by giving him a gift you made yourself. We rounded up a variety of ideas to ignite your imagination. You’ll find projects suited for makers of every age, from pre-school through adult. Now grab your glue gun and get busy!

  1. His game is sure to improve with these decorated golf balls. (h/t Laughing Kids Learn)
  2. Remind him how much you care with homemade shaving cream. (h/t Handimania)
  3. This doodle mug is a fun idea for youngsters. (h/t Coconut Robot)
  4. Spell it out for him with this Scrabble-letter photo frame.
  5. These photo bookmarks couldn’t be cuter. (h/t Nearly Crafty)
  6. Another good one for the younger set, with a little help from Mom. (h/t Crafty Monkey)
  7. Let him know he rocks! (h/t Easy Preschool Craft)
  8. Make him a special food treat, and pack it in a mason jar. (h/t Live Laugh Rowe)
  9. Turn a photo into a Shrinky Dink tie clasp! (h/t Oh Happy Day)
  10. Keep him organized with this simple-yet-sophisticated bungee organizer. (h/t Brit + Co)

This article originally appeared on All You.

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MONEY freebies

These are the Best Father’s Day Freebies & Deals

UFC Gym in Chicago, Illinois
Josh Hedges—Zuffa LLC via Getty Images UFC Gym in Chicago, Illinois

Thank dad and demonstrate your great money sense at the same time.

For Father’s Day 2015, families can take advantage of promotions and giveaways at restaurants, museums, zoos, theme parks, and more—even a free workout in a mixed martial arts-themed gym.

Food

Father’s Day doesn’t have quite as many freebies as Mother’s Day, but there are still a bunch. Here are the five best giveaway promotions:

Beef O’Brady’s: Dads eat free (up to $10 value) at participating locations on Father’s Day, with the purchase of another meal of equal or greater value.

Brickhouse Tavern and Tap: From 11 a.m. to 4 p.m., dads get a free brunch entree with the purchase of another entrée.

Hurricane Grill & Wings: Free entrée for dad with the purchase of another entrée in the party.

Medieval Times: Any day through Father’s Day, dad’s ticket to the dinner show is free with the purchase of a full-price adult ticket.

Spaghetti Warehouse: All dads are entitled to a free order of 15-layer lasagna or spaghetti and meatballs on Father’s Day.

Zoos & Museums

Zoos in Atlanta, Boston, Cincinnati, Columbus, Kansas City, Louisville, and Milwaukee are among the many offering dads (and usually, granddads) free admission on Sunday, typically with the requirement of at least one paid admission. Many museums, like the Harley-Davidson Museum in Milwaukee, Seattle’s Museum of Flight, and the transportation museums in Buffalo and St. Louis, have the same deal.

Theme Parks & Attractions

Dads get free admission to Jungle Island in Miami, the Florida Aquarium in Tampa, Silverwood Theme Park in Idaho all weekend (Saturday and Sunday) with the purchase of another admission. Other theme parks, like Wild Waves in Washington, offer two-for-one tickets for dads and their kids on Father’s Day. The Georgia Aquarium is yet another attraction with free admission for dads on Father’s Day, with the purchase of one other admission.

Workouts

Depending on the dad in question, this freebie could a blessing or torture: UFC Gyms around the country are offering free fitness camp instructional workouts to dads and up to three guests (minimum age: 12) on Father’s Day. Space is limited, and UFC is encouraging families to sign up asap.

TIME Family

How Parents’ Expectations Mess With Kids’ Grades

Bad news? Blame your folks
JEFF PACHOUD; AFP/Getty Images Bad news? Blame your folks

When Mom and Dad expect one child to perform better than the other, that's often exactly what happens

Never mind how long you think it’s been since you got your last report card, if you’re a parent, you get them all the time. Your son’s D in history despite the many times you told him to sit down and study already? That’s your D too. And as for all those As your no-nonsense, hardworking daughter keeps getting? Well, don’t get too full of yourself, but you own a piece of those as well.

That, at least, is one implication of a new—and faintly unsettling—study published in the Journal of Family Psychology. The report’s takeaway: your kids get the grades you expect them to get.

Parental expectations have long been an under-appreciated factor in the childrearing game. Kids are smart, the research suggests, especially when it comes to divining what mom and dad think of them. A child who is expected to underachieve will often live down to that prediction. A child expected to thrive will not necessarily become an academic, athletic or social superstar, but will have a much better shot at it.

To test how this dynamic plays out in the case of scholastic performance, Alexander Jensen of Brigham Young University and Susan McHale of Penn State assembled a sample group of 388 two-parent families with at least two children, and focused on the first- and second-borns of the brood. The sibling dyads—or pairs—were selected to represent all four possible age and gender combinations: two brothers, two sisters, an older brother and younger sister and an older sister and younger brother.

The parents were asked a handful of questions about how their children are similar or different when it comes to school work, which of the two is a better student, and how great, on a five-point scale, that difference in performance is. Simple stuff, but it produced surprising results.

On the whole, parents tended to believe that their older child was the better student, though the previous year’s report cards and grade point average often showed that that wasn’t the case. Parents exhibited a gender bias too, typically believing that a daughter was a better student than a son—which on average was true—even when the daughter was the younger child.

All those beliefs, founded in fact or not, had their effect on kids. When the researchers controlled for all of the reasons one child might have performed even a little bit better than the other in the previous school year, they found that the biggest factor determining how the kids would perform the following year was the parents’ belief in who the better student was. On average, the sibling the parents expected to outperform the other one did, by an average GPA bump of 0.21 points. That’s hardly an inconsequential margin, especially when it makes the kind of symbolic difference bringing home a 2.79 versus a 3.0 does.

But while parental expectations had a powerful impact on the kids performance, the reverse was not often true. Even when the child who was thought to be the lesser student did better than the other one, parents’ beliefs remained fixed; the golden child will always be seen as the golden child, never mind any academic tarnish that may accumulate over time.

The study was by no means a perfect one. Some parents surely do a worse job of hiding their expectations than others; some may even make it a point not to hide them, in the why-can’t-you-study-like-your-sister-does way. A sample group of 388 families might have 388 different ways of managing that dynamic.

Then too there is the chicken-egg problem. A question and answer survey of parents and a statistical core sample of just a year or two of grades does not remotely capture an entire childhood’s worth of experiences in which kids’ academic performance may be changing all the time and parents are forever having to tack into those winds.

“At younger ages, differences between siblings may shape parents’ beliefs,” the authors conceded, “and a direction for research is to determine how parents’ ideas about similarities and differences between their children emerge and develop over time.”

Still, if there’s one thing kids have always had it’s an uncannily good radar for what their parents think of them. And if there’s one thing parents often lack, it’s a good defense against that. Mom and Dad may never be able to hide their expectations about their kids completely, but they could, at least, do a better job of adjusting them as circumstances warrant. The kids themselves—to say nothing of their GPAs—will thank them for it.

TIME Family

13 Gift Ideas for New Dads

These gifts will keep them awake and ready

These clever, useful gifts cater to every new dad’s lack of sleep, time-management needs, and wide-open heart.

  • Cold Brew Coffee Infusion Bottle

    Epoca-Primula-PCGBK-1220-Cold-Brew-On-the-GO-20-oz.-Bottle-with-Filter-and-Black-Neoprene-Sleeve-2c6edf68-689a-44d6-a6fb-636ce12c2e4b copy
    Epoca—Overstock

    New dads don’t get much sleep. This cold-brew travel mug puts his much-needed morning joe on autopilot—he can simply fill the mug at night (say, when he’s preparing the baby bottles), then reach for it in the morning on his way to work. The neoprene sleeve makes it travel-friendly; the dishwasher-safe design makes it dad-friendly.

    To buy: $31, overstock.com.

  • Dad’s Playbook

    dads-playbook
    UncommonGoods

    The subtitle—Wisdom for Fathers from the Greatest Coaches of All Times—says it all. Fatherhood is the most important coaching job of his life, and the inspirational and tactical quotes from sports heroes like Steve Young will keep his head in the game, through victory and the occasional defeat (it’s amazing how quickly one caves in the face of a first tantrum).

    To buy: $13, uncommongoods.com.

  • Vader’s Little Princess and Darth Vader and Son

    Darth_Vader_and_Son
    Chronicle Books

    The illustrations say kid’s book, but the laugh-out-loud funny references speak directly to Star Wars fans. Perfect bedtime reading for after the little one’s asleep, these books by Jeffrey Brown are most definitely the gifts you’re looking for. (And that’s no Jedi mind trick.)

    To buy: $8-10 each, amazon.com.

  • Pillowtop Hammock

    pillowtop-hammock
    Island Bay—Hayneedle

    Baby gets a swing, why not Dad? Few things are more peaceful than swinging in a hammock in the yard, staring up at the sun-dappled trees, sneaking a few pages of that long-forgotten book, or catching a quick snooze. And once the little one is old enough to join him… just imagine the Instagram moments.

    To buy: $130, hayneedle.com.

  • Dresser Valet

    Reed-and-Barton-James-Mans-Valets-and-Storage-in-Brown-Bonded-Leather-Buckskin-Suede-735092227829
    Reed & Barton—Wayfair

    New dads have a lot to think about—make it easier for him to remember where he left his keys, wallet, tablet and smartphone by giving him this catch-all dresser valet. We love this leather one for its classic look, sturdy back (perfect for a leaning tablet) and mousehole charger openings.

    To buy: $42, wayfair.com.

  • Succulent Planter

    Babies require lots of care and feeding. Succulents, on the other hand, do not. Boost his life-sustaining confidence with this tabletop succulent garden. In fact, the whole household might breathe easier: Succulents are one of few plant types that take in carbon dioxide and release oxygen. Talk about a breath of fresh air.

    To buy: $32, etsy.com.

  • Cotton Polo Shirt

    This shirt has it all: a modern take on the classic polo, the perfect stain-concealing gray hue (hey, spit-up happens), and a socially-responsible backstory, thanks to Everlane’s direct relationship with the factories that produce it.

    To buy: $35, everlane.com.

  • Watermint Body Wash

    molton_body_wash
    Molton Brown

    When that alarm goes off just a few short hours after the baby finally went back down, he’s going to need a refreshing wake-up call. The crisp mint, buchu extract and cardamom combo in Molton Brown’s generous-sized body wash promises a cool start to any day. (No word on whether the company plans to make a scent that lulls babies to sleep before 2 a.m.)

    To buy: $30, amazon.com.

  • Guitar Pick Punch

    e91b_diy_guitar_pick_punch
    ThinkGeek

    It’s a universal musical truth that guitar players can never find a pick when they need one (no matter how many they own). And once there’s a baby in the house, the need for soothing music ASAP becomes that much more urgent. With this clever hole-punch, he can turn any sort of semi-hard plastic (think old gift cards) into a tool of tranquility.

    To buy: $25, thinkgeek.com.

  • Modern Mobile

    107183_A2_Modern_Mobile_Kit
    MoMA

    Why should junior get all the fun? This arty, grown-up mobile adds color and interest to a home office or family room—plus it’s fun to put together and can inspire deep thought when stared at for long periods of time (like meditation without the om).

    To buy: $40, momastore.com.

  • Quiet Headphones

    sennheiser_headphones
    Sennheiser

    There’s no risk of waking the baby with these headphones that don’t leak sound. The universal-fit jack is compatible with all smartphones, and the lightweight design promises hours of listening without feeling like his head is in a vice.

    To buy: $46, amazon.com.

  • Cordless Screwdriver

    dewalt_cordless_Screwdriver
    DeWalt

    You’ve seen the shower registry—you know exactly how many things he’ll need to assemble over the next few years. (Ah, who are we kidding? He’ll be assembling furniture and toys at least until the kid’s in college!) Set him up for success with a two-position cordless screwdriver that charges in just one hour.

    To buy: $73, homedepot.com.

  • Digital Camera

    canon_powershot_n_12_1
    Canon

    Some picture-perfect moments are so special they deserve better than his smartphone camera. The Canon Powershot N has 12.1 megapixels, 8x optical zoom and a 28mm wide-angle lens—all packed into a sleek design smaller than his palm. And for instant gratification and brownie points with the grandparents, he can upload photos to social media sites instantly using the built-in wi-fi.

    To buy: $149, amazon.com.

    This article originally appeared on Real Simple.

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TIME society

What It Was Like to Have My Tweet Become National News

xoJane.com is where women go to be their unabashed selves, and where their unabashed selves are applauded

The more loudly people complained that the tweet was a giant overreaction, the more they proved the need for feminism

xojane

Monday morning I was still in my day pajamas – you know the look: yoga pants, tank top, sports bra – when there was a knock at my front door, and I opened it up to find a man with a necktie and thoroughly gelled hair. “Are you Abi?” he asked me through the screen door. “Did you write the tweet about Target?”

I wrote the tweet about Target a week before, while my 7-year-old son and I were browsing the toy section. Actually, that’s not entirely true: I snapped the picture of the aisle sign while we were browsing the toy section, sometime between Pokèmon cards and Minecraft action figures. I wrote the tweet later, while I was waiting for him outside the restroom so we could check out.

“Don’t do this, @Target,” I wrote, and attached the photo of the sign that said, “Building Sets / Girls’ Building Sets” just as my son emerged from the bathroom. “Did you wash your hands?” I asked him as I tapped tweet.

And now my tweet had brought this smiling, be-gelled man to my front porch: a reporter from a Cleveland news affiliate, here to interview me.

“I was actually down here to do a story about LeBron,” he said, “but the office called and diverted me to this instead.” Before the Target tweet, the closest I had come to social media stardom was the time Roxane Gay RT’ed a selfie I took with her at a book signing. Now I had bumped a LeBron story.

I threw on a dress and some makeup, thanked God for dry shampoo, and within 15 minutes was miked and on camera. I was brilliant and articulate, I hoped, as I explained why I thought the sign was a problem – because making girls’ building sets a distinct category from building sets made it sound like girls are a separate category from kids; because the notion that girls would only be interested in special “girly” sets for building pink and purple hair salons and dollhouses and malls is the same nonsense that pigeonholes girls and women into certain roles – as my cat watched us from the front window.

That afternoon when the segment aired, I watched it from the waiting room at my dentist’s office with the receptionist and a hygienist on her break. “SIGN OFFENDS LOCAL MOTHER,” the title bar said, as if the aisle sign had stuck its foot out to trip me while I was shopping and then called me four-eyes.

We watched in silence for two and a half minutes as my onscreen self stammered and gestured through my interview, and when it was over, the receptionist changed the channel to Cartoon Network. “Huh,” she remarked conversationally. “If I’d seen that sign I would never have read anything into it.”

By that evening, Local Mom was being offended in every local news broadcast. The next day the story jumped to national news shows and websites, where I became the Ohio Mom who was “angry,” “upset,” “outraged,” even “furious.”

Strangers tweeted at me that I was just looking for attention and should be spending my time worrying about more important things, oblivious to the irony that they were spending their time seeking me out to give me attention. Libertarians lectured me about how consumers drive the free market, as if I weren’t a consumer who was now doing exactly that.

Men’s Rights forums picked up the story, and my twitter mentions became about what you’d expect from MRAs. I had written a four-word tweet, and now I was being called an ISIS supporter who hates homeless, starving children.

As the conversation unfolded, I found myself being made into a gender stereotype, too. I wasn’t a writer, a grad student, a university instructor; I was Ohio Mom. My critique of Target was angry and offended; they stopped just short of calling me shrill.

In my Twitter mentions, I became fat, ugly, and unlovable. The more loudly people complained that this was a giant overreaction, the more they proved the need for feminism.

And yet, I began to agree with some of the trolls. Maybe I was making a big deal out of nothing. Shouldn’t I be worrying about more important feminist issues, like violence against trans women of color? Didn’t this attention rightfully belong to the activists who had earned it, instead of just some mom from Ohio?

I told my therapist that I felt very aware of the white- and class-privilege that had put me at the center of this story; that I wasn’t sure if I had anything important to say, or if I should even try.

“Women have fought for decades to have a voice,” she said, “and yet so often we minimize the voice we have. Your words are powerful, and you can give yourself permission to use that power. You don’t have to feel guilty for speaking up.”

Together we made a plan for how I could own my power. I started asking interviewers not to label me “angry” or “offended,” and some of them obliged – it didn’t change the narrative that was already out there, but it was a step toward reclaiming my identity.

I gave a friend my Twitter password and asked her to filter my mentions for me for a few days, weeding out the worst of the trolls. I stopped letting the increased attention and scrutiny affect the way I was interacting with my social media communities.

And my community stepped up, too. Online friends made fun of the trolls in my mentions and sent me cat GIFs. Local friends stopped by with wine and moral support.

When a producer from a national talk show scheduled a camera crew to come to my house for an interview, friends offered to watch my kids and help clean my living room.

There is something absurd in a single tweet gaining this kind of national attention. This is how the 24-hour news cycle sausage is made – by taking these small, nuanced conversations and turning them into overblown, oversimplified issues.

But the beauty of social media is that we can use our voices and take our power, support each other, call for change on a whole spectrum of issues. And we don’t need a man to show up uninvited on our doorsteps for that to happen.

Abi Bechtel wrote this article for xoJane.

TIME Ideas hosts the world's leading voices, providing commentary and expertise on the most compelling events in news, society, and culture. We welcome outside contributions. To submit a piece, email ideas@time.com.

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10 Things My Father Was Right About

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Stop worrying

My father spent his youth as a crossing guard, a Boy Scout, and a designated driver. I, on the other hand, squandered mine cutting gym class and hanging out at the mall. Back then, my father would deliver themed, Mike Brady–style lectures (one recurring favorite was the Importance of Being Honest), which I grudgingly tolerated and later dismissed. But as I’ve gotten older, a funny thing has come to pass: I’ve often found myself doing exactly what he told me to do, following even his most questionable advice—like renting the movie Pink Cadillac. Herewith, his greatest hits. (Caution: Some of these lessons may trigger flashbacks to your own father’s finest moments.)

1. Hold hands while you hash it out. My folks have been married for 47 years. One of my father’s rules for a happy marriage is that if a nasty argument erupts, hold hands as you fight. You’ll feel goofy doing this, but here’s the thing: It works. Recently my husband, Tom, forgot to pay a few bills that were buried under a pile of clutter. I was incandescent with rage. So we interlaced our fingers while we talked it out, and I felt my blood pressure plummet and my endorphins flow in spite of myself. It’s impossible to scream at someone who is giving your hand a gentle squeeze. It just is.

2. Pay attention to anyone who wears a tool belt… My father is practical, thrifty (or, put more accurately, cheap), and savvy about home improvements. He calls a repairman only as a last resort—and when he does, he hovers around the guy and asks tons of questions. “Carefully observe anyone with a skill that you don’t have,” my father often said, “and then you can take care of the fill-in-the-blank yourself.” He was right: After shadowing a handyman for an hour, I later fixed my own dishwasher, to the perpetual amazement of friends who call their super to change a lightbulb.

3. …Or a uniform. It has always annoyed my dad that a waiter gets a 20 percent tip for serving a crème brûlée, while a hotel maid who disposes of used dental floss often winds up with bubkes. My father routinely told our sanitation men and the crew who cleaned his office that they were doing a good job and made sure to compensate them at holidays. As a child, I used to writhe with embarrassment when he did this. Now I do the same for the sanitation workers in my neighborhood. One guy once told me, with a catch in his voice, that in 10 years, it was the first time he had ever been thanked.

4. You can never have enough baggies. Anything can be stored in a resealable plastic bag, according to my father. Shoelaces, maps, socks, meat. I used to mock his habit of bagging everything, but since then I’ve seen the light. They’re miracle workers—easy to stash, and you can spot their contents at a glance. Now, just like Dad, I have a special drawer just for these bags, which range from giant (for sweaters) to tiny (to squirrel away nuts in my purse). When I’m missing a size in my lineup, I get tense.

5. You can’t go wrong with Clint. Dad says if you are unable to decide what movie to rent, get a Clint Eastwood film. Even the bad ones, he contends, are superior to most other films. Even Every Which Way but Loose. Even The Gauntlet (look it up). Now, when I’m overwhelmed by the options, I simply look for Clint’s scowling face.

6. Don’t belittle the annual sack race. When my sisters and I hit adolescence, my father doggedly upheld our many family traditions, despite a tsunami of scorn. “They don’t mean anything to you kids now,” he’d tell us, “but one day you’ll invest in them yourselves.” Have we ever. Every Fourth of July, we have a sack race, and I just introduced a new tradition last Christmas. After dinner, I passed out lottery tickets and coins. Soon, all you could hear was an industrious scritch-scratch. And my father was beaming.

7. For Pete’s sake, stop worrying. Dad, like many guys of his generation, is a doer, not a talker. Just “fix it,” he tells himself, no matter how intractable the problem seems. His swift and decisive action used to strike me, a champion ditherer, as impulsive, but I’ve come to realize that consulting your gut leads to better decisions than exhaustive (and exhausting) deliberation. Now when I’m stymied, I say this phrase, and the answer comes.

8. Carry a hankie. Years ago, my parents and I were visiting a museum. I had a cold. My father handed me a fresh hankie and told me to keep it in my purse. And so I have. Tissues disintegrate, but not this sturdy cloth. Restroom dryer on the fritz? Handkerchief! Want to wrap a cookie to go? Handkerchief!

9. No one’s smarter than you. Long ago, if I was in a group and the conversation strayed to an unfamiliar topic, I’d keep silent. Dad urged me to say, “I don’t understand. Can you explain what you’re talking about?” Asking questions makes you sound smart, he said, and confident to boot. At a recent gathering, somebody mentioned the Mauritius Continental Shelf. Silence. Then I asked, “What’s that?” And all the former Ivy Leaguers around me exhaled and admitted they didn’t know what the hell it was, either.

10. You will want kids. My father always encouraged me to have a baby. I used to tell him that it wasn’t for everyone, but he shot back, “I know you, and you would love it.” True enough: Tom and I became parents recently, and that little girl is the joy of my life. I cannot wait to impart my own pearls of wisdom to her, such as the infinite uses for twist ties or the Importance of Being Honest (sound familiar?). And since she’s a lot like me, she’ll probably roll her eyes and grumble—and listen to every word.

This article originally appeared on Real Simple.

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