Parenting Tip: Formalize a Mission Statement

by Jessica Vitalis,
author of Stop Pinching Your Sister! (Practical Parenting Tips Based on My Columbia MBA)
posted with author's permission

When Puppy received her first Barbie from a friend at her fifth birthday party, I felt conflicting emotions. On one hand, I was flooded with memories from my own childhood – the countless hours I spent dreaming of owning a Barbie, and the hundreds of hours I spent playing with my Barbie after I finally got one. But as a parent, and as a woman who struggled with an undiagnosed eating disorder as a teenager, I wasn’t quite as excited. It’s not that I’m inherently anti-Barbie, or that I blame her for my eating disorder. But I’m certainly aware of the messages children are flooded with regarding body image, and how these types of messages may have contributed to my own adolescent issues.

As we cleaned up after the party, I casually asked Puppy what she thought of the Barbie. Her response?

“I love it! But it does look like she needs to eat a cheeseburger!”

How, you might be wondering, did a five-year-old reach the conclusion that Barbie was malnourished?

It’s part of my Mission Statement. When I was pregnant with Puppy, I wrote her a letter. Among other things, the letter included a list of promises. These promises covered a variety of topics and represented a commitment to myself, as much as to Puppy, as to the type of parent I intended to become.

One of the promises? “To teach [Puppy] to love and respect [her] body.”

Having formally identified this issue as a core value, my husband and I made a commitment to include an awareness of healthy body images in our everyday parenting (in an age-appropriate manner, of course). The result? A five-year-old who was able to recognize that Barbie’s body isn’t normal.

I didn’t realize it at the time, but my letter was the corporate equivalent of a Mission Statement, or a long-term reason for being. Consider the following, from Coca-Cola: “Our Roadmap starts with our mission, which is enduring. It declares our purpose as a company and serves as the standard against which we weigh our actions and decisions.” Specifically, they list their mission as follows:

* To refresh the world…
* To inspire moments of optimism and happiness…
* To create value and make a difference.

Pretty heavy stuff for a company that sells beverages.

You, on the other hand, are responsible for shaping a human being. Dr. Srikumar S. Rao, author of the international bestseller Are You Ready to Succeed? and professor of Creativity and Personal Mastery at Columbia Business School, posts this comment on the bottom of his outgoing e-mails: “Most persons spend more time planning a vacation than crafting their life.”

Substitute “parenting” for “life,” and many of us would be guilty as charged.

For those of you who think developing a mission statement sounds like Mission Impossible, rest easy. I’m not suggesting that you write the next State of the Union or great American novel. Just that you take some time to formalize your values and priorities as a parent. If you have older children or teenagers, include them in the process – you might be surprised where this dialogue will take you!

In case you need some help getting your creative juices flowing, here are a few more of the promises I made in my “Mission Statement.” I promised:

* To offer Puppy unconditional love and support
* To let her find her own way and not make her follow the path I would choose for her
* To share with her the joys of life and teach her the value of laughter
* To protect her, always
* To share with her the value of education
* To teach her to love and respect her body
* To teach her to trust the energy of the universe

Now it’s your turn – good luck!

Jessica Vitalis resides in Madison, Wisconsin with her husband and two precocious daughters. Prior to obtaining her MBA at Columbia Business School, Jessica worked in film and television. When’s she not at boot camp, running marathons or changing diapers, Jessica can usually be found at her computer. In addition to working on numerous children’s picture books, she is currently finishing a memoir titled Ghosts of Children Present. For more from Jessica, visit her parenting site.


  1. There is a fun young girls rock band called Care Bears on Fire who sing a GREAT song called "Barbie Eat a Sandwich." This made me think of it! Anyone with young girls who are drawn to Hannah Montana, Barbie and the like should check these girls out-- great rock stars who represent REAL "girl power"!!

  2. This is great. My fiance and I are currently learning from each other on how we parent differently, and how we each bring different values to the table. But when it comes to raising our daughter, I feel a special protection over her my fiance will never be able to understand. He will obviously always be protective of her, but I will always share an understanding of what being a woman is.
    So when my fiance recently came home with a Bratz doll in the hand of our 17 month old, I freaked out! WTF! How could he? Weren't we on the same page? Wouldn't he at least think of what her feminist mother (ME) would think?
    His response was that she saw it at the store and wouldn't let go. The kids were already picking out toys and he kept trying to steer her towards something different but she wouldn't let go. And he was spoiling her... and at least she had pants on and not the skirted ones...
    But I stood firm. And we discussed not only the inappropriateness of a Bratz doll for a baby, but also for our daughter period. If we are raising her as an aware female, she will be raised knowing about body image and exploitation, as well as healthy sexuality and growing into her own. The last thing I want or need, is a doll confusing her about body image and the like...
    But it brought up a very good point, as well as this post does, that my fiance and I had not yet sat down and really wrote out how we are raising the kids. We attachment parent on most levels, me more than him, but we haven't really spelled any of that out. And while I tend to be an absolutist and very firm when it comes to what the kids play with and learn from, I need to see my fiance's side too, and understand that in his sweet mind, he was just giving our daughter her way when she picked out what probably seemed to her to be a very "pretty dolly."

  3. I completely agree! This is EXACTLY how I feel about Barbie. My daughter has my old barbies and some of my mothers (along with the awfully out of date clothing..) and at 5, all she likes to do is dress them up for a tea party in the park, but I am concerned about how it will effect her later on...

  4. I was into them as a kid butt as I became a pre teen me and my bff had a anti- exstablishment Barbie bon fire and danced around it screaching were not plastic down with the exstablishment... Ahhhh to be young again funny fond memories...

  5. I think that is one reason I cannot stand modern cartoons. They drive me beyond crazy and except for a very few (Caillou and Kipper) I don't let my kids watch them. I buy the series from when I was a kid that had plot, taught the value of something, and generally portrayed both strong male and female characters. (He-Man, She-Ra, Fraggle Rock to name the ones off the top of my head).

    However I never thought of body image specifically. I suppose I shy away from that as well, though my daughter has inherited her older sister's barbies. It's funny to think about, but most of the time I hear her playing with them they are eating...

  6. I'm so glad it's not just me. People were starting to act like I'm being way overprotective for not letting my 3 year old have a Barbie, but I'm really pretty disgusted with the overly-sexualized image associated with the doll. It isn't at ALL what I want to teach her about her body or her self-worth.

  7. I WAS anti-Barbie..but my daughter received a princess one in a beautiful gown for her 5th birthday...they slowly infiltrated into the playroom...I struggled with my thoughts on this until one day I walked by and noticed Barbie was breastfeeding a small doll....LOL. My daughter had also fashioned a mini Maya wrap for her. She had decided that Barbie had big breasts to breastfeed!! LOL It's all good! :)

  8. There is a really great alternative to barbie, a brand of collectible and dressable dolls that don't look provocative and are much more realistic in their representation on the human body (they look like about a 10 year old girl). They are super fun to dress and have lots of fun accessories, just like the dreaded B... The website is

  9. My brother and his wife are anti-barbie and did all the gender-neutral things for thier daughter, but I think it only further sensationalized barbie, the color pink and all things princess. Just a thought. Anyway, there's a really great alternative to barbie called Only Hearts Club dolls, check them out:

  10. I LOVED playing with Barbies, and I let my daughter play with them. They aren't realistic, and yes, girls are confronted EVERYWHERE with unrealistic/impossible expectations and images, but I don't think a Barbie can make or break a girl's self esteem/self worth/self image. I talk with my little girl AND my boys daily about these things and we live examples of where real value comes from and what really matters and what is healthy. Superheroes cannot really fly, but it's okay to play with them or pretend to be them as long as they understand that it's just pretend, and the same with Barbies. I will say, I do not allow my daughter to have those Bratz dolls because they dress inappropriately for "girls" and her Barbies have careers and value friendships and experiences while those Bratz dolls are just. . . . brats! :-)

  11. There are hundreds of doll options out there. And Despite my fun w/ barbies as a kid, I will NEVER allow Bratz or Barbies and my daughters will fully understand why.
    If anyone ever buys my daughter a barbie, I will do them a favor and tell them why as well.

    They'll live!

  12. On the subject of Bratz Dolls...

  13. I am generally opposed to most young girl's toys, especially the toy babies that are supposed to be treated like the real thing. Feeding, changing, burping...Make no wonder little girls want kids and will have unprotected sex, toy companies are making it seem like real humans are just something you play with and when you're bored, throw to the side. What was ever wrong with educational toys and toys that can actually show you beneficial, like the easy bake oven? I am very grateful to have a little boy, it seems as though they aren't as exposed to things like that.

  14. We did a similar thing during Alexa's first birthday. We had a naming ceremony that included vows from both mom and dad.


    Today we commit ourselves to Alexandra and promise to respect her and afford her every right that each of us deserves, including the right to live a life of freedom, happiness, and love, with the support and honest conversation that she will seek and the nourishment of mind and body that she will need.

    Today’s celebration is evidence that Alexandra will always be sustained by loving parenting and guided by family and friends to become her best possible self


    I vow to always love and respect you. To help you love knowledge and seek out truths for yourself. I will help you become the best person you can be by encouraging you in all your interests. I hope to give you a well rounded life that includes the love of good food, friends and family, the courage to try new things, and the understanding that happiness is a virtue that must be grown and nurtured.


    I vow to always surround you with love. To guide you so you may grow into a happy and joyous person. I will show you how to be fair and just. I will teach you how be generous and trusting. I will do everything to grow your curiosity and wonder. I wish to grant you the best possible life where you can explore the world while not being afraid to try new experiences. I want you to remember that you are loved by family, by friends, by mother, and by father.

  15. you can buy dolls called 'wisdomdolls' which are based on greek goddesses and have more realistic faces and body proportions.

  16. I'm VERY anti-Barbie, anti-Bratz, anti-Hannah Montana, and anti-anything that could even REMOTELY have a bad influence on my two daughters' self-esteems, self-images, etc. Case in point, one of my FB friends posted a question: should she let her 8-yr-old daughter put pink highlights in her hair?

    R U KIDDING ME??!! Eight yrs old, pink highlights? Sorry, but HELL NO! And, P.S., this 8-yr-old girl is "rewarded" for good behavior, good grades, etc. WHEN DID KIDS GET REWARDED FOR WHAT'S EXPECTED OF THEM ON A NORMAL BASIS??!! Why R kids coming out of our wombs with some twisted sense of entitlement, just because THEY do what we EXPECT of them? I don't get it, I really don't!

    I have 2 daughters, and I VEHEMENTLY requested NO barbie, NO bratz, NO hannah montana toys, dolls, accessories, NADA! My girls don't need that crap, and my husband and I do NOT need pre-pubescent, hoochie-mama-lookin' 8-yr-old girls (or even younger than 8 yrs old, gulp)! We are THEIR PARENTS, and it's OUR duty to be THEIR filtering system in shaping them as young, competent, independent women who will be confident and not feel like their sexuality should play ANY role in their young lives.

    Of course, NO parent is perfect, and I understand that. I realize that I'll have 2 meet my girls halfway sometime down the road w/ what THEY want in terms of clothes, jewelry, and, God help me, makeup, but I'll be DAMNED if they even LEAVE OUR HOME looking like they just walked out of an alley in the crappiest corner of the universe! Too many young girls and women are CRAVING for boundaries, guidance, rules, and authority in their lives to steer them in a positive direction, and they DON'T have, they wind up on the streets, pregnant before they can even vote or drink legally, and they're forced 2 grow up in circumstances that THEY don't even understand.

    Let's use our heads when it comes to raising our daughters, who, someday, will be our next generation of lawyers, doctors, teachers, and even mothers. We have to be adamant NOW and stay that way and be willing to face MANY fights, doors slamming in our faces, and "i hate you" 's, but that's ok, because we're keeping them safe and innocent as MUCH as we can WHILE we can.

  17. I have two girls, 3.5 and 2, who do not yet have any Barbies because of many of the issues mentioned here. I do have a stash of my old Barbies that I will probably give to them later, but there are a lot of sentimental reasons for that. (My grandmother made most of the clothes for my Barbies, and I really want to be able to share that with my girls.)

    Recently, though, we got Happy Meals (a rare treat, too) that had Barbie fairies in them. My youngest was staring at her and said, "Oooh, look at that boob...I want to nurse!" It was hilarious, but if my two-year-old reacts that way to a plastic toy, then that toy needs to put some clothes on!!



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