Why You Absolutely Need to Take Care of You

No matter what, caring for ourselves is a matter of urgent importance. It’s the difference between living and surviving.

My mother had an excellent palliative care physician. A smart, rule-following, ethical, and mostly serious woman. She became a mainstay of our lives through countless home visits, numerous lengthy phone calls, and endless consultations.

Her knowledge of our family was intimate, but the rigid boundaries of her professional obligations were unambiguous: she would not be my therapist, my friend, my shoulder to cry on. She was only and ever my mother’s advocate.

Sure, the good doctor understood the complexities of being the child caregiver of an ill parent. Yes, she appreciated the emotional and practical challenges encompassing the situation. Obviously, she knew full well how hard it was.

Still, there was never any question, never any overlap, never a moment when it seemed like maybe – maybe – her role was also to help me. No. She was simply and explicitly my mother’s doctor.

One summer afternoon, we were on the phone discussing the plan for bringing my mom home from the hospital. Again. My mom had stopped using her oxygen and started chain-smoking. Again. She refused to take her pain medication. Again. The combination had landed her in the E.R.. Again.

That’s when it happened. That’s when – for a brief and pivotal moment – the doctor stepped outside of her singular responsibility to my mother and, speaking to me with earnest knowing, with legitimate concern, with urgency, said the craziest sane thing I’d ever heard.

You cannot go to the hospital and get your mother. You have to refuse her phone calls, refuse to pick her up, refuse to speak with the hospital doctors, refuse to speak to the social worker. If you go there – if you pick her up – it will go on and on like this until your mom dies, or until you lose everything, whichever comes first.

I was dumbstruck. Was she – was the doctor – suggesting I abandon my mother in the hospital?

You have children and a husband, you have your life. It’s unethical for me to priortize your mother’s care at the expense of your well-being. You have to stick up for yourself.

Um. Do what now?

Stick up for yourself. Take care of yourself. 

There’s not a detail about that day I don’t remember with unadulterated clarity. The sky was clear blue, the sun was high and bright, the air was warm, my kids were playing nearby.

Their little faces zoomed into focus as she spoke. I knew that it was all true. It was all absolutely, painfully true. If I didn’t force the hospital to engage my mom in developing a new care strategy that didn’t involve me sacrificing my young family to tend to her needs, I would lose these years and never, ever get them back.

I didn’t want that. My mom didn’t want it either. Not in her heart, not in her love for me. She was sick and afraid, and her fear was bullying us both.

I had to choose: her needs or mine? It was terrible. It was hearts torn open and loyalties questioned. It was begging and tears and apologies and promises. It was, in a sense, life or death.

I’m not about to sell you on a program, or pretend to be any kind of expert. I’m not dismissing the realities of single parenthood, three jobs, five kids, divorce, grief, homelessness, food scarcity, trauma, or mental illness.

I’m saying this: no matter what, no matter when, caring for ourselves is a matter of urgent importance. It’s the difference between actually living and barely surviving.

So, what IS self care?

Self care is any intentional thing you do to care for your own physical, mental, and emotional health. It’s the decision to make yourself a priority. It’s the courage to say, “I matter, my well-being matters.”

What self care is NOT.

It’s not selfish. It’s not stupid. It’s not unnecessarily indulgent. It’s not a waste of your time.

Why is it so critically important?

Flight attendants adamantly insist that you put your own oxygen mask on first. You know why, right? Yeah. Because we can’t help someone else if we’re already straight dead.

It’s an overplayed analogy, I know. But it works. If you are going to do anything else in your life effectively, you have to prioritize self care.

Don’t take my word for it. The science is clear, chronic stress takes a toll on your mind and on your body. Stress causes inflammation and, “inflammation can promote the development and progression of disease.” Inflammation caused by chronic stress is also linked to enduring mental health issues such as Major Depressive Disorder.

Engaging in self care is preventative and rehabilitative medicine. It’s mental, emotional, and spiritual health care.

Ok, but can we get real for a sec?

We’re already scheduled 26 hours a day, 8 days a week – jobs, kids, pets, relationships, meetings, bills, cooking, cleaning, laundry, and sometimes lying on the floor crying. Making or finding more time feels kind of impossible.

And, honestly, negotiating “me-time” with a reluctant partner can be entirely discouraging. It’s not uncommon for relationships to succumb to the idea that if one person wants a thing – like time – that means there’s less of it for the other person. In fact, time is one of the biggest reasons couple argue.

Filled with resentment from competing for scarce resources, it seems easier to give up. It seems easier to un-prioritize ourselves than it is to learn – or teach our families – new habits and behaviors. We feel guilty about leaving them, we feel badly for having to defend our choices, we feel as though we don’t really deserve to take the time, or spend the money.

So, let’s kick it back to what the good doctor told me: You have to stick you for yourself.

But how?

Decide that you’re going to take care of yourself.

Decide again.

And again.

And yet again.

Set alarms, set reminders, put sticky-notes around the house, enlist a friend to send a text. Say it, write it, think it again and again: I will take care of myself. I will stick up for myself.

How often do you tell your kids that if they want to get better at something, they’ll have to practice? Piano, soccer, singing, football, violin. It doesn’t matter what it is, if they don’t practice, they won’t get better.

You have to practice too. Deciding to take care of yourself is a practice. Actually taking care of yourself is a practice. Some days, practice will suck. Some days, practice will feel like a revelation.

Just keep practicing.

Ugh, FINE. Gimme some ideas, already.

Ok! Check out: 43 Easy Ways to Start Taking Better Care of Yourself.

And if you have self care ideas, we’d love to hear them! Please share in the comments.

11 Reasons to Avoid Back-Lying in Childbirth

It may be the most commonly thought of position for childbirth, but back-lying is far from the most ideal.

The best maternal positions for childbirth are rarely utilized in United States hospitals. In fact, Rebecca Dekker, PhD, RN, APRN, reports that approximately 92 percent of women in our country push in a back-lying position rather than science-backed postures such as squatting.

This persists because physicians are indoctrinated into a ritualized birthing system as residents, and most rarely see women in upright positions for birth. My husband, a high-risk obstetrician, is one of these. “I never thought much about women being on their backs. If you see it over and over again, and people are training you do it, it becomes the expectation,” he said.

It wasn’t until I was forced onto my back for the birth of our fourth child that he began think about birth positions. I’d delivered sitting up or on my side before, and I found being put on my back without medical reason to be physically excruciating and emotionally humiliating.

Once this happened, I began to research what I already knew instinctively—that back-lying birth isn’t optimal. Here’s why:

It’s the least effective position for childbirth.

Being placed on your back actually narrows the pelvic outlet and makes getting the baby out harder. Even in the Merriam-Webster definition of “lithotomy position” (on back, legs in stirrups) it states, “this remains the most commonly used birth position although decades of research demonstrate its severe physiological detriments.”

Upright positions work with gravity to help bring the baby down. Squatting on hands and knees positions are most effective at increasing the pelvic outlet, potentially up to 30 percent.

It can make the second stage take longer.

That’s right – longer. In one study, women with a walking epidural who were put in a recumbent position pushed an average of 22 minutes longer than women who sat up. 

Back-lying birth may increase the likelihood of episiotomy.

And not just episiotomy, it may also increase the need for the a vacuum delivery, the use of forceps, and may increase the likeliness that your baby will have abnormal fetal heart rate patterns, which is the second most common reason cited for a primary C-section.

The World Health Organization discourages recumbent positions.

Especially for women delivering without drugs. Without cultural influences, women in labor will move about freely, and prefer upright positions for pushing. Women instinctively know the best positions to give birth because it’s an involuntary process.

Other industrialized nations use stirrups far less often.

In 2010, Britain’s most senior obstetrician said this dated practice is “physiologically inappropriate” and that he “doesn’t approve of it at all.” 

Lithotomy position contradicts best practices.

Britain’s National Institute for Clinical Excellence (NICE) says sitting, standing, squatting or kneeling is better for birth. 

Fathers also prefer when women are in upright positions for delivery.

In one Swedish study fathers with a partner in an upright birth position were more likely to have a positive birth experience and reported feeling more comfortable, powerful, and engaged during the birth.

Back-lying positions make it easier for your provider but not for you.

This dated practice was started in about 1663 because King Louis XIV of France wanted to witness the arrival of his child, and putting the mother on her back made this easier for him. It continued for the convenience of the man-midwife or physician who might want to use forceps. Today, it’s done for the same reason – convenience for the medical personnel, but not for you.

Current best practices recommend upright positions.

Obstetric textbooks recommend upright positions for delivery, especially for first time mothers, instead of recumbent positions.

Putting women on their backs is not a medical necessity.

Obstetrics and gynecology residents, and labor and delivery nurses, train in an apprenticeship manner and learn to put women in horizontal positions because that’s what they are taught. Research-backed recommendations are often hard to put into practice – old habits die hard.

Many women find this position embarrassing and humiliating.

I sure did. In fact, I’ve yet to meet any woman who would prefer to be on her back in stirrups, exposed for numerous people, for an extended time. Even for quick Pap smears, stirrup use has been shown to make women feel less comfortable, more vulnerable, and more exposed. 

Unless you seek out a progressive obstetrician, or aim to see a midwife, you’ll likely be put on your back when you deliver your baby. To avoid this, I recommend interviewing providers about their experience with various birth positions so that you can take advantage of what position works best for you – sitting, squatting, standing or kneeling. Switch to another clinician if you don’t get the response you’re seeking.

It’s up to us – the expectant mothers – to change this practice, because obstetricians are too comfortable to make the change it for us. 

10 Things Every Parent Needs to Know About Teen Suicide

These eye-opening insights from child psychologists and teen suicide experts can help prevent every parent’s worst nightmare.

*Priya did not expect to find her daughter at home that afternoon. But she did find her – hanging by a scarf from the ceiling of her bedroom, already dead. Krupa was 19.

It began like any other day for them.

The hustled morning. The coffee chit-chat. Her mild annoyance over Krupa neglecting to water the plants. The hurried breakfast. The instructions to drive safe. The roll of the eyes in response.

That nightmarish afternoon, when Priya couldn’t find a way to get into her own apartment after teaching a swimming lesson, her wildest imagination could not conjure up the possibility of her “happy” daughter ending up dead in her own bedroom.

Word spread fast. Police and strangers were bustling in and out of their home. Some sorry, some shocked, some relieved that it wasn’t their kid.

In an irony that did not escape anyone, Krupa’s room was filled with Post-it messages carrying intense motivational quotes. Stickers with hand-written messages covered an entire wall. Great role models sweating it out on posters. Actionable messages. To-do lists on her tabletop. Dreamy bucket-lists. 

This girl oozed positivity. And then killed herself.  

The only words that escaped her mother’s lips were, “ She never gave a clue! She looked so happy!”

Not surprisingly, this incident remained on the minds of other parents – especially those in the neighborhood – for the next few weeks. Fear crept in and clenched them without warning – during a quiet cup of coffee, through a conversation with a friend, in the middle of work, while hustling their child through homework. The silence of the nights became particularly terrifying. 

Why did she do it? Where did her parents go wrong? Did she try to communicate?

The questions were many.

How much did we know about our kids? What are they thinking right now? How did she miss it? What am I missing? How would I know? 

Suddenly, their own kids looked like strangers to them.

The rise and rise of suicides

According to the National Center for Health Statistics, a recent study found that suicide rates have surged to a 30-year high. The issue can now be described as an epidemic. It has also been reported as the third leading cause of death for young people between the ages of 10-24. 

Here are 10 eye-opening insights from child psychologists and teen suicide experts gained from years of working with suicidal teens, their support groups, and their parents.

1 | Denial can be the culprit

Talking about suicide prevention is hard. To make it worse, this phenomenon seems to be on the rise in even seemingly happy and well-connected families – so what are we really missing?

Sarah Zalewski, a licensed professional counselor and cognitive behavior therapist from Connecticut who works with hundreds of teens every year, reiterates this rising occurrence. “This is true – some children commit suicide who nobody would suspect of even considering it. Unfortunately, children are not well known for their ability to see the big picture and to assess a current situation accurately.”

The somewhat good news is that most teens do exhibit symptoms, and they can be detected if observed closely. Many experts confirm that most of these symptoms may be subtle – minor changes in their behavior like an increase in aloofness or apathy and isolation from friends and family. Things that are easier to notice are the loss of interest in personal hygiene, their possessions, and food.

“Denial is a very powerful defense mechanism, and many adults miss the signs of an impending suicide attempt by denying the importance of the subtle changes they notice in their child’s demeanor and behaviors,” warns Dr. Gayani DeSilva, a psychiatrist in practice at Laguna Psych in Laguna, California.

2 | The damaging myth of the happy family

Many parents mistakenly assume that providing a happy growing experience for their child is synonymous with successfully shielding their own negative emotions from them. Experts point out, however, that genuine engagement happens only when the child is able to see, display, and digest a range of emotions – and perceive them as entirely normal.  

Cara Maksimow, a licensed professional counselor and founder of Maximize Wellness explains, “When families seem happy all the time, they may be teaching children that it is not okay to have negative emotions. Children’s feelings are not validated or normalized and hence they learn how to hide those feelings to fit in. These children don’t learn that feelings such as anger or sadness are normal parts of life and that there is validity in having a range of emotions.”

3 | The early years are crucial

Not enough can be said about how critical it is to establish a bond during the early years. Teenagers can’t be expected to come out suddenly and express themselves when they are already in the throes of intense emotions. The channels for communication need to be established in the early years.

Recognizing the fact that children are naturally resilient and helping them realize their inherent strengths will develop a strong sense of self and healthy self-esteem in the child. “Take every opportunity every day to point out the child’s internal strengths,” advises Dr. DeSilva.

These practices have physiological benefits as well. Dr. Christopher Willard, faculty at Harvard Medical School and author of “Growing Up Mindful affirms that “spending a lot of time with children in the early years helps develop the brain so it can respond more efficiently to stress and mental health issues if they arise in later years.”

4 | The real cause is untraceable

The causes of teen suicide are often unknowable and worse, untraceable. Experts agree that many factors contribute to mental health issues. Meredith Rene Chapman, M.D, a psychiatrist at Children’s Health GENECIS program in Dallas, who specializes in helping teens with gender dysmorphia, explains that “apart from health issues like chronic pain or physical pain, chronic anxiety left untreated can exacerbate the tendencies for suicide. When a youth’s ability to cope is overwhelmed by stressors, the risk of suicide increases manifold.”

5 | Substance is an accelerator

Adolescence is a strange mix of invincibility and vulnerability. Teenagers are more than willing to push the limits on risky behaviors, merely as a mechanism to establish their own identities. Many teens experience the rush of alcohol and marijuana for the very first time, and the experience could mean the beginning of a vortex.

Dr. DeSilva goes on to explain, “Substance abuse and intoxication increases the risk of suicide 60-80%. The substance does not matter – it could be a depressant like alcohol, or a stimulant like cocaine. Intoxication alters a person’s ability to keep a realistic perspective and see options. Particularly in teenagers, when they have a sense of invincibility coupled with their lack of experience that there are multiple ways to solve current problems and manage their feelings, they are at particular risk of attempting suicide.” 

6 | The word is not taboo

Most parents seem to talk to teens about sex, college, money – but to bring up suicide is taboo. Understandably, there is a certain reluctance on the part of parents to broach this hideous topic, but parents need to know that the more it is openly spoken about, the less taboo it is. As Zalewski reassures us, “Broaching the subject is not going to create suicidal thoughts in someone who doesn’t already have them. This has been established in research multiple times.”

7 | The circle is indispensable

One of the best tactics to detect suicidal tendencies is to make friends with your child’s friends. Get to know their circles. Invite them over. Organize get-togethers.

Here’s Zalewski again: “90% of the time I find a child who is suicidal, it’s because a friend of the child has tipped me (or another adult, who then calls me) off. Often, the suicidal child is making statements on social media that are scaring their friends. But again, these kids are more likely to come to you if they know they can approach you. These tips can save lives!”

8 | The role of schools is not to be taken lightly

It’s not a myth that the teen brain undergoes real changes in the brain during this time. One of the most important considerations for schools would be a later start time in the morning. This could also be one of the easiest adjustments to make. 

According to Dr. Robert Rosenberg, a sleep expert and author of “Sleep Soundly Every Night, Feel Fantastic,” teenagers require significantly more sleep than adults during this growth phase. “There is a higher incidence of depression, anxiety, and suicide in sleep-deprived teenagers,” affirms Dr. Rosenberg.

Even though it may seem eerie to equip schools with suicide-prevention experts, especially after the infamous Palo Alto suicide clusters, schools need to build better systems for imparting coping skills to kids.

“Schools need to institute a better screening method for suicidal tendencies among children,” says Dr. Willard, encouraging schools to build a conscious effort around preventing stress and competition around academic performance.

Parents can certainly help. As counterintuitive as it may seem, revel in your child’s failure. Make your child’s failures as important as their successes, as this will shift the focus to the effort rather than on the results. As several studies have pointed out, cultivating this “growth mindset” is the key to building the cornerstone quality of resilience – especially for children at a fragile point in their lives.

9 | Eliminate the stigma

Another huge factor is the stigma around mental health. Dr. DeSilva says, “If a teenager broke his or her leg, he would have no issue going to a hospital and getting treatment for the fracture. Symptoms of depression are not treated the same way. Teaching kids about mental health and symptoms and normalizing treatment the same way as for physical symptoms is the key to their telling their family or friends about their painful emotions.”

One of the ways to do this is to have a strategic plan for how to handle substance abuse, bullying, and depression. Having a licensed therapist associated with the schools to consult on these issues regularly will help. A curriculum invested in teaching students basic emotion-regulation skills is also a must-have.

10 | Identify the role of society

To be sure, a society whose children want to kill themselves needs a lot of work. Even a small shift towards the positive can yield big results.  

Dr. DeSilva muses, “Perhaps (devoting) a segment on the daily news to local school activities and children’s contributions – as we do to professional sports teams or the local politics – will make me watch the news again!” Giving responsibility to kids significantly reduces their risk of depression.

And let’s not underestimate this statistic: “Guns are used in approximately half the suicides,” Zalewski points out. Guns definitely should not be in the hands of kids.

In a culture where nearly every other cause of death warrants a headline, somehow the disturbing phenomenon of young adults killing themselves is relegated to the back pages or goes unreported. The time for us to pay close attention to the emotional health of our society is now.

*Based on a true incident

Expert Advice on How to Talk to Your Kids About School Shootings

There is no easy way to have these discussions that threaten to crack us nearly in half. These tips from a traumatic stress specialist can help.

Before I was a stay-at-home parent, I worked as a seventh grade language arts and reading teacher. Columbine happened one year before I started teaching, and while it was a tiny thought in the back of my mind, I wasn’t too concerned. After all, it seemed to be a one-off tragedy. Statistically-speaking, I knew I was safe.

My second year, 9/11 happened. Working in Arlington, Virginia, meant hearing the low-flying plane before it hit the Pentagon, and having several students not knowing if their parents were safe (thankfully, they were). It was traumatic, certainly, but we were all okay.

My third year brought the DC sniper crisis. I zig-zagged my way through the parking lot as they had shot at a middle school not far from us and murdered a woman on our street at The Home Depot. Once again, my workplace was on lockdown, this time for much longer, and we held our collective breath until the shooters were captured.

After that, we conducted shelter-in-place drills, where we practice taping up windows and remaining silent. As the grown-ups, we worked hard to keep a sense of normalcy and calm, knowing how much our students needed us to do so.

When my first baby was born, I went on indefinite hiatus from my teaching job. I haven’t gone back yet, but in the past decade while staying home to care for my babies, I’ve watched the news like the rest of the country as shooting after shooting unfolds. But these tragedies were mostly happening at universities and other places that older children hung out: malls, movie theaters.

As my children grew older, I learned to plan my schedule around the “safest” times: going to see a movie long after it had arrived in theaters as opposed to the first weekend of its release, figuring less crowded meant less likely to be a target. Mall trips during off-peak, not on weekends, again, calculating the lowered risk of a Monday morning shopping trip.

But my babies were growing into school-aged children, and so it was time to talk to them about hiding in supply closets, barricading themselves behind desks, or even how to play dead. My sweet girl who had yet to master the tying of her sneakers would first need to focus on staying alive in the face of a school shooter.

I had been able to hold it together when it was my students, whom I loved, but now I was teaching my wide-eyed little ones that had grown under my very heart how to act dead. I wasn’t even fully ready to explain death itself. Unsurprisingly, I did a terrible job. I ended up changing the subject and sinking myself further into denial about the whole mess, choosing instead to rely on their school to keep them safe and prepared. After all, I lived in a relatively quiet community and our school had taken appropriate measures to secure the building and students.

Then a man who lived in the apartment complex a stone’s throw from both my home and my children’s elementary school was arrested after it was discovered he was hatching a plot for a mass shooting. He had 25 legally purchased firearms and several thousand rounds of ammunition when agents from the ATF broke down his door.

My denial came to a screeching halt. I had to do better. I had to face my fears and make sure my children were prepared. This was the way of the world now, and I needed to be the parent, even if that meant setting aside some very real emotions I was having and putting my children first. But I needed professional help to do so.

I reached out to a friend, who, as it happens, is a traumatic stress specialist. Her job is to help people work through this very type of issue, and I knew she would have the tools to help me as a parent.

Elizabeth Vermilyea, PhD, offered these practical tips:

1) Answer your children’s questions, but don’t over-answer them. Depending on the age of your child, their focus might be different than you think. Ask the child what their concern is and speak to that. For example, when they ask about why the doors are locked, they may think locked doors mean they cannot get out.

2) Ask the child what their specific concern is and speak to that. Allow them to talk about their emotions, their fears, and their anxieties. Help them to identify their main concern and address it in concrete ways. Safety plans, escape routes, and check-in calls are important as well as comforting.

3) Be prepared for regression. Clinginess is to be expected, so make a plan for handling your child’s intense feelings without shaming them. Terror brings about a need for attachment, so facilitate that.

4) Remember that talking about shootings is potentially scarier for adults than kids because we can envision all of the horror. Keep the focus on your children and their concerns so you don’t add to their burden.

5) Keep your own paranoia from transferring to kids by identifying your own fears and feelings and making space to talk about them (with someone other than your children). Make your own safety plans in case of emergency. Get support from other adults. Become involved with school or community organizations that are creating safety plans.

Being a parent can be terrifying for any number of reasons. We naturally worry about our children’s safety and scramble for how to best protect them. We see ourselves in the mourning mothers and fathers on the evening news, and when we see the tiny caskets, we cannot help but think of our own children. But in order to protect them as much as we can in a world with such tragic possibilities, we must be able to have these conversations and set a good example.

Of course, after they have fallen asleep at night, safely tucked in their bed, it’s also okay to have a drink or a cry. We are, after all, only human.

8 Ways You Can Support Kids in Foster Care – and Help End Human Trafficking

Kids in foster care are fighting an uphill battle. We can help beat the odds stacked against them in several ways.

When I first watched the movie “Taken” back in 2008, I was shocked and horrified at the thought of people being sold as sex slaves.

It was something I thought was relegated to ancient times. The scenes of women being chained to beds or drugged into a stupor in order to “serve” their patrons stirred a raging anger and demand for justice within me. How could anyone force such evil on another person?

I wanted to help end human trafficking but I had no idea where or how I could do so. In the eight years since, my anger towards human trafficking has remained red-hot. However, I’ve largely remained ignorant about how I could help until I ran across a statistic that floored me.

Between 50% and 90% of child sex trafficking victims have been involved in some form of child welfare services, according to a number of studies.

Let me say that another way: the majority of child sex trafficking victims come right out of our own backyard, from kids in foster care. Here I was thinking that I needed to travel to Albania or get involved with some extreme form of citizen policing in order to fight human trafficking when the very kids I needed to help – kids in the foster care system – were in my own community.

If you don’t know, kids in foster care are those who are taken by the state from their birth parents or caregivers due to neglect or abuse and put into temporary homes or up for adoption. The life that these children face is extraordinarily difficult which is why human traffickers often target these vulnerable kids. Traffickers woo them by promising to meet their family and emotional needs and, once the kids are manipulated into the system, traffickers use violence or physical control to keep them there.

Let me lay it out a little differently: a big reason foster kids go into human trafficking is because they’re promised love and support. Parents: WE CAN CHANGE THIS. We are experts at providing love and support to children; it’s what we do! If we, as parents, insert ourselves into the lives of foster children to help meet their family and emotional needs, we can help stop them from entering human trafficking. We can make a mountainous difference and help put an end to a great evil in this world.

What can we actually do to help?

There are dozens of ways to help foster children; however, I’ve listed seven specific ways you can help. But before even getting into that, let me share some advice I was given that changed the way I approached helping others:

Do for one what you wish you could do for everyone. Translation? Focus on helping one child for now. Just one.

If you’re ready to help end human trafficking and use your parental powers of love and support, see the below seven ways you can help foster kids – listed from lightest to heaviest forms of involvement:

1 | Buy something a foster child specifically requested.

One Simple Wish aggregates specific requests made by foster children (through the social service agencies that support them) for items they need like clothing and school supplies. Prices range from under $25 to over $500. You can view the list of items here.

2 | Help a foster child attend college.

Foster Care to Success helps foster children successfully attend and graduate college. You can get involved by donating your time – including things like tutoring – or your money

3 | Mentor a foster child.

You can directly mentor a child in foster care through organizations such as Big Brothers Big Sisters. This can have a huge impact on a child’s life without requiring the mentor to provide full-time care to the child. 

4 | Become a special advocate for a foster child.

You can become a court-appointed special advocate (CASA) volunteer whose job is to gather information from everyone in the child’s life in order to inform judges of the child’s needs and what will be the best permanent home for them. You don’t need to be a lawyer or social worker.

5 | House a foster child for several days a month.

You can provide a home for children in foster care who are staying with other caregivers on a full-time basis. By providing a short-term home for foster children, you are giving temporary relief to the full-time caregiver and additional love to the foster child. You can find and contact your local agency in order to become a respite care provider.

6 | Become a foster parent.

Foster parents provide a temporary home to children who have been temporarily taken from their birth parents or caregivers due to neglect or abuse. The ultimate goal is for these families to be reunited once the parent or caregiver is rehabilitated and healthy. Foster children stay with foster parents, on average, for two years. Find and contact your local agency in order to become a foster parent.

8 | Adopt a foster child.

Of the 400,000+ children in foster care, 100,000+ are waiting to be adopted. Children who are not reunited with their rehabilitated birth parents and who are never adopted face incredibly difficult odds:

  • 20% will be homeless after 18
  • 50% will be unemployed by 24
  • less than 3% will graduate college
  • 71% of young women will be pregnant by 21 

Adopting a foster child can keep them out of human trafficking and prevent them from becoming one of these horrible statistics. Parents: Our time to help is now.

Why Do Parents Forget Their Babies in the Car?

The most terrifying scenarios of losing a child are the ones that we could so easily slip the image of ourselves into.

So far this year, 19 babies and toddlers have died of heatstroke after being left in cars.

And that number will rise before this piece goes to print because the number of fatalities due to Forgotten Baby Syndrome (FBS) skyrockets in summer, when it sizzles.

The facts and figures are stark:

Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 2016: 19

Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 2015: 24

Total number of U.S. heatstroke deaths of children left in cars, 1998-present: 680

Average number of U.S. child heatstroke fatalities per year since 1998: 37

Even on a mild day in spring, the inside of a car can become unbearably hot for an infant or child. The temperature in a closed, parked car rises 20° in the first ten minutes, continuing to climb over time. Scientists find that cracking a window makes very little difference (<3 degrees).

While most parents insist Forgotten Baby Syndrome couldn’t happen to them, FBS expert Dr. David Diamond, explains that,

[su_quote class=” is-fullwidthImage”]The quality of prior parental care seems to be irrelevant. The important factors that keep showing up involve a combination of stress, emotion, lack of sleep and change in routine, where the basal ganglia is trying to do what it’s supposed to do, and the conscious mind is too weakened to resist. What happens is that the memory circuits in a vulnerable hippocampus literally get overwritten, like with a computer program. Unless the memory circuit is rebooted—such as if the child cries, or, you know, if the wife mentions the child in the back—it can entirely disappear.[/su_quote]

“Memory is a machine,” said Diamond, “and it is not flawless. Our conscious mind prioritizes things by importance, but on a cellular level, our memory does not. If you’re capable of forgetting your cell phone, you are potentially capable of forgetting your child.”

What is executive functioning?

Dr. Diamond is talking about executive brain function. These functions allow us to plan trips, write papers, and do online research. Besides helping us plan and carry out daily activities, executive brain functions power working memory, our ability to reason, our flexibility in carrying out tasks, and problem-solving.

Getting to work on time, for instance, means getting to bed on time the night before; setting the alarm clock but leaving enough time to shower, eat, pack a lunch, and get dressed; remembering why the alarm is ringing when you awaken; choosing the best route to take considering time of day and the weather; and finding your car keys.

Executive functions are fairly automatic, but not as dependable as we’d wish. The brain has a built-in override that takes over executive brain function when we’re stressed out. That function is involuntary. In other words: beyond human control.

Getting to work on time.

Let’s say it’s your day to drop the baby off at daycare. As you drive to work, your working memory pings you to make the turn-off for day care. You’re well-rested, calm, and things are going great, so everything goes smoothly.

But then let’s say you’ve got an overdue work project, your boss has been complaining, hinting you’re not indispensable. Add to this bad weather conditions that make for poor visibility while driving. Now factor in sleep deprivation because the next-door neighbors had a loud party that went on until late, and then the baby was restless and teething the rest of the night. Finally, you had a spat with your partner at breakfast.

When so much is happening – sleep deprivation, strong emotions, and changes in routine – something happens inside your brain, something you can’t control. The memory circuits of your brain are overwritten, like highlighting text in a book. 

Parents are human.

The conscious mind has no power to resist this short circuit to the working memory, this overwrite of executive brain function. It’s an involuntary brain response, completely unavoidable. It’s how the human brain was created. Even parents’ brains.

Because parents are human.

Normal parents.

Take Mary and Jeff Parks, for instance. They were good parents with good jobs, a nice house, and two beautiful babies. But the kids were sick on and off over a period of weeks, and between wakeful nights, running to doctor appointments, and juggling work responsibilities, things got stressful.

Mary was driving to work when it happened. She meant to drop Juan off at daycare but Juan fell asleep, exhausted. He was quiet, and she was stressed, and her brain blanked out her working memory of his presence.

It was only when Mary went to pick Juan up at the end of the workday, and the caregiver looked surprised, that Mary realized and ran to her car, knowing it was too late. Juan was dead.

It’s what happened to Steven Lillie, who left his sleeping 9-month-old daughter behind in the pickup truck. Lillie, a police officer, held a high pressure job. He meant to drop his daughter off at daycare before work. But Lillie’s working memory failed him and as the baby had fallen asleep, there was no noise to remind him of her presence.

He remembered only hours later when a family member called and casually asked about the baby. Lillie rushed out to the car and found his daughter lifeless, in the backseat of the truck. It was the day after Father’s Day.

There are steps parents can take to prevent Forgotten Baby Syndrome. You can leave your purse or cell phone in the backseat of your car. This will prompt you to make eye contact with your baby or toddler in the backseat, even if the child is quietly asleep. Or you can download a free app to alert you to check the backseat of your car, such as the Kars4Kids Safety app. Kars4Kids Safety pairs with the bluetooth function of your car, alerting you to check the backseat of your car.

What kind of parent leaves her baby in the car? A good parent, a loving parent, a responsible parent, a human parent. Like you, like me, like any of us.

The Car Seat Logistics of Bringing Your Premature Baby Home

When your baby is born premature, there are a few extra car seat protocols most hospitals follow. Here’s what you can expect.

One of the most difficult and harrowing experiences of my life was sitting by my premature baby’s crib and waiting. And then waiting some more. It seemed like all I ever did was wait, a million tiny steps forward and back, all culminating in the words, “Let’s talk about a discharge date.”

Those last days felt fraught, as I worried that a setback would delay me finally, finally taking my baby home.

One of the last steps for most preemies is the “car seat test.” Premature babies aren’t just small infants, they need special precautions to assure they will be able to handle life outside of the hospital walls. So in addition to the day-to-day ability to eat and keep a normal heart rate and oxygen level, they need to be able to do those last two while in the car.

Soon before discharge you will be asked to bring in your infant’s car seat, where the nurses will check to make sure it’s an appropriate seat, and will strap the baby in for a period of time (frequently 90 minutes) to make sure all the vital signs stay within the normal range. The exact practices will vary from hospital to hospital, and baby to baby, but this is how it usually goes.

Make sure you have a seat that will fit a preemie.

Specifically, look for one that is rated down to four pounds. Even if your baby is heavier than this, it’s more likely to fit well. You want to make sure the lowest strap slot is low enough to be at or behind his shoulders. Read the manual! Then read it again.

You may have to watch your baby cry.

They will try to time it for one of your baby’s sleepiest times, but much like in the car, sometimes she will wake up and scream. You will be able to talk to her, and maybe offer a pacifier, but if you remove her from the seat the time period will start over. It’s hard to feel powerless as you watch your tiny child scream.

She passed! Hurray! Now what?

Preemie airways are even smaller than that of other newborns, so be extra careful that your seat is at the appropriate angle in the car. Get the straps snug. This may mean taking off any strap covers (check the manual first!), because your baby won’t take up much room in that seat. You can use a rolled up washcloth between your child and the crotch strap, and on either side of her head.

Do not use any aftermarket car seat accessories! This is true for all seats and all children, but it’s especially important for your fragile little guy or gal. No infant inserts, strap covers, head positioners, etc. If it did not come with the seat, or was not sold by the manufacturer to go with the seat, do not use it.

Preemies are especially at risk for positional asphyxia. Once you’re out of the car, take the baby out of the seat. Infant seats are meant for the car and the stroller, and can put tiny babies in danger of cutting off their airway when not used at the correctly reclined angle. If you have a very long drive home (which is not unusual for NICU parents), the nurses will likely suggest you stop every hour or so to check on your baby, and make sure she is still positioned well. If possible have another adult sit in the back seat.

Congratulations! You’ll be amazed at how quickly she grows to fill that seat.

**If there is a conflict between the advice seen here and your car seat manual, always defer to the manual.**

The Reason You Won’t Find Seat Belts on a School Bus

We’d never dream of putting our kids in the car without properly buckling them in. So why are school buses an exception? The answer may be simple.

I was in kindergarten when I rode the school bus for the first time. It was already very crowded when I boarded, and I was proud of myself for asking an older girl if I could squeeze onto the seat next to her. Then, the bus made a turn, I was unprepared, and I tipped into the aisle, catching myself with a hand to the floor. I wasn’t hurt at all – just very embarrassed – and I distinctly remember thinking, why don’t school buses have seat belts?

It’s a good question. All fifty states require us to buckle up in cars, and children must use car seats and booster seats until they have children of their own. (Kidding. It’s usually until they’re about 4′ 9″ and 10-12 years old.) Yet, when we wave goodbye to our most precious cargo as they board the school bus, they plop down on tacky brown pleather seats without another thought, and the bus rumbles off.

The American School Bus Council (ASBC) has my favorite answer, explaining that school buses are designed differently than passenger cars. “The children are protected like eggs in an egg carton – compartmentalized, and surrounded with padding and structural integrity to secure the entire container.” Large school buses are heavier and distribute the force of impact differently than passenger cars and light trucks do.

This exterior design, coupled with the interior’s high-backed bench seats situated closely together, make seat belts unnecessary. However, federal law does require seat belts on the small buses (let’s call them the half dozen egg cartons) because their weight and size are more similar to that of a small truck. But, I know – your biggest takeaway from all of this will be to envision a giant egg carton driving your kids to school from now on.

There are more reasons that our little Humpty Dumpties are safe on their school bus without a seat belt. School buses are inspected regularly, and they’re taller than most vehicles on the road. This lets the driver see better and raises the passenger section above the typical collision point of a car. Plus, its color and size make it highly visible and recognizable to other drivers, so, save for a few jerks, people know to stop for school buses.

The facts

The National Highway Transportation Safety Administration (NHTSA) has done extensive research that supports the ASBC’s claims and determined that school buses are seven times safer than passenger cars. While more than 42,000 people are killed in traffic crashes in the U.S. every year, on average, six school-aged children die in school bus accidents as passengers. Of course, that’s six fatalities too many. Still, it’s undeniable that the safety stats favor the giant egg carton, especially when we consider that about 800 children die each year walking, biking or being driven to school.

Think of it this way: About 450,000 public school buses travel roughly 4.3 billion miles to transport 23.5 million children to and from school, and every single kid will step off of the bus safe and sound nearly every single day. When school buses do crash, the accidents are investigated, and the NHTSA references multiple studies, dating back to the 1980s, which determined seat belts would not have prevented the majority of injuries or fatalities that occurred. While this may not be helpful news to the families who lost children in such a tragic way, it should comfort the rest of us to know that these egg cartons on wheels are very safe, even if they don’t have seat belts.

It wouldn’t hurt to install them, though, right?

A seat belt may have saved my five-year-old self some embarrassment on the bus, but they still may not be as helpful as we’d hope. Seat belts are only effective when used properly. Otherwise, they can result in serious neck and abdominal injuries. Realistically, it’s nearly impossible to get and keep all kids strapped in safely on a school bus, given their squirmy nature and general hatred of being confined. Plus, who’s going to do it? The driver’s primary attention must be on the road, and aids don’t travel on every bus. For the small buses, preventing ejection trumps the risk of injury, and the little egg cartons hold fewer kids, so they’re easier to monitor.

There are even more practical matters to consider about installing seat belts. It costs extra money to do it, $8,000 to $12,000 more per bus, which comes out to about $117 million per state to phase in seat belts over ten years. Also, adding seat belts reduces the overall seating capacity of the bus because the belts take up space on the seat. This would require school districts to increase their bus fleet by up to 15% to transport the same number of people.

If towns aren’t able to add to their fleet, then more children would have to find alternative ways to get to school, and we already know that walking, biking, and driving in passenger cars is less safe than the bus. In fact, the NHTSA estimates we could see an increase of 10 to 19 fatalities a year if seat belts displaced some kids from their cushy egg carton. Consider also the added burden this could place on families who depend on the bus to get their children to and from school.

So, since the majority of injuries linked to school buses occur around them (think: a passing car hitting a kid getting off the bus), rather than in them, experts advise that money could be better spent on different preventative safety measures, rather than installing seat belts.

Why does it still feel like buses should have seat belts?

The National Safety Council and Ad Council really did an excellent job of drilling it into our heads that seat belts save lives, starting in the 1960s with their Buckle Up for Safety campaign. They did it so well that despite all of the data showing they’re not needed for the big egg cartons, the National Conference of State Legislators (NCSL) reports that six states (California, Florida, Louisiana, New Jersey, New York, and Texas) have laws mandating seat belts on school buses. In New York, for example, all school buses manufactured after July 1, 1987 are equipped with seat belts, but individual school districts decide whether children have to wear them, according to Patrick Kinane, the president and co-owner of Golden Sun Bus Services, Inc. in Oswego, New York.

In addition to the six states with laws on the books, the NCSL found that “twelve states have introduced bills that would require school buses to have seat belts installed,” though none of those bills have passed, yet. This perception that buses would be safer with seat belts is what Steven Colbert calls “truthiness,” i.e. when something is believed to be true, even if it’s not. Kinane said he often fields questions about seat belts from parents and sometimes even the kids. Parents are generally in favor of them, particularly for the youngest children.

The desire for seat belts comes from a good place. Everyone wants kids to be safe, and it makes intuitive sense that seat belts would help us achieve that, since they’re so effective in passenger cars. The reality, though, is that school buses are already the safest way to transport our kids. So, whether it’s due to a lack of research or a decision to ignore facts in favor of truthiness, the push for seat belts on school buses continues.

But, really, this is one debate where we should save our breath. We can wave goodbye to our kids as the school bus rumbles off without wringing our hands in worry. Mr. Kinane reminds us that “bus drivers care about the children they transport as much as they do their own children and often times will refer to them as ‘their kids.’ The children’s safety is the number one priority when they are transported back and forth to school.” When accidents do happen, these giant egg cartons are designed to protect our kids, and they do their job exceptionally well.

9 Statistics-Backed Ways American Parents Are Getting It Right

Many American parents feel dazed, confused, and filled with self-doubt, wondering if we’re doing it all wrong. Turns out, we’re not.

Moms and dads the world over all worry about their kids, wondering if they’ll grow up to be happy, healthy, well-adjusted humans. But unlike parents in other countries, American parents seem to take a regular bashing about what we’re doing wrong.

To further fan the flames of our insecurity, just scan the ever-burgeoning parenting section in a local bookstore for hundreds of titles on how to “do” every aspect of parenting better, from potty training to Ivy League preparation. Our bundle of joy turns us into a bundle of nerves as we constantly strive to raise the bar on our own parenting skills. As Washington Post journalist Brigid Shulte points out on NPR’s Tell Me More, we’re an achievement culture, always wanting to be our best and pushing our kids to be their best.

The persistent portrayal of how American parents raise their kids shows that we’re (apparently) a society of helicopter parents who hyper-focus on enrichment, but who, according to Tiger Mom Amy Chua, seem perfectly content letting our kids turn out badly. We feel the push-pull of simultaneously being over-involved and over-scheduled, yet not driving our kids hard enough to achieve perfection.

Besides being maligned and feeling insecure, we’re also perplexed, as new parenting styles pop up every year, sometimes contradicting our own approach and making us second-guess our parenting skills. In the end, many American parents feel dazed, confused, and filled with self-doubt, wondering if we’re doing it all wrong.

“We’re so very afraid of getting it wrong that we overdo it to try to get it right,” says Julie Lythcott-Haims, former Dean of Freshmen at Stanford University, in an essay published in the 2016 edition of “The Parents League Review.”

But, are American parents really that bad? Do we truly suck at raising our own kids?

No, and we need to stop thinking that we’re doing everything wrong.

Fortunately, more than 50 percent of parents with children younger than 18 think they do a very good job raising their kids, according to a recent Pew Research Center survey of 1,807 U.S. parents.  The findings also show that parents (whether married or single) care a lot about how others view their parenting skills. Roughly nine out of ten married or cohabiting parents (93 percent) say it matters a lot that their spouse or partner sees them as a good parent. And parents still want to impress their own parents, as 72 percent of those with a living parent want their own parents to think they’re doing a good job raising their kids.

“It’s time to put an end to the everything-you-do-is-wrong school of parent criticism, which puts us all in an impossible bind,” writes Perri Klass, M.D., Professor of Journalism and Pediatrics at New York University, in a New York Times blog.

Shulte echoes that sentiment in her NPR interview, saying that “it doesn’t do anybody any good…  it just fosters an element of competition among parents that is really not very helpful for anybody and probably the least helpful for the child.”

Our best bet? We need to ignore the guilt-inducing finger-pointing and keep in mind there’s no one “right way” to raise kids. Instead of focusing on parenting trends, societal pressures, media-driven values, and mommy wars, we need to focus more on praise, support and acknowledgement of all the good we are doing.

What, specifically, are American parents doing right?

1 | More moms breastfeed.

Research continues to demonstrate that breastfeeding provides many substantial physical and mental health benefits to both infants and mothers. Increasingly, mothers in the U.S. are heeding the message, according to Child Trends, the nation’s leading nonprofit research organization focused on improving the lives of children, youth, and their families.

Between 2000 and 2011, the U.S. saw a growing proportion of infants who were breastfed, with the biggest increase (70 percent) of infants still being breastfed at 12 months (from 16 to 27 percent). Overall, more than three-quarters of infants were breastfed for at least some duration, an increase of 12 percent (from 71 to 79 percent).

2 | Parents protect their kids and their community through vaccinations.

According to a 2015 study in “Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report,” vaccination rates among children ages 19-35 months for 2014 remained high. Over 90 percent of children received vaccinations for measles-mumps-rubella (MMR); polio; hepatitis B; and varicella.

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Overhead view of children eating breakfast

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3 | Families still eat dinner together.

A 2013 Gallup poll of U.S. families shows that, despite our busy lifestyle, the majority of U.S. families still eat dinner together. Among adults with children younger than 18, more than 50 percent eat dinner together at home at least six nights a week. 

4 | Parents spend more time on educational activities than previous generations.

We read to our kids, ask them questions, play math games, and teach life skills. Americans of all socioeconomic backgrounds devote increasing amounts of time to stretching kids’ minds compared to our parents or grandparents, says the Institute for Family Studies. Although parents with higher levels of education are more likely to devote time to educationally enriching activities than less educated parents, in general, we’re all doing better than we did just a few decades ago.

5 | Parents set a good example of civic involvement.

According to 2014 statistics from the Corporation for National and Community Service, 32.7 percent of parents volunteer, donating 2.3 billion hours of service in activities such as fundraising, tutoring, mentoring, coaching, and collecting/distributing food. And 2013 data shows that 96.1 percent frequently talk with neighbors, 44.5 percent of parents participate in groups and/or organizations, and 89.8 percent of parents engage in “informal volunteering” (such as helping out neighbors).

6 | Teens get high marks for giving back.

According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, teenagers (16 to 19 years old) continue to have a relatively high volunteer rate, at 26.4 percent, compared to 20- to 24-year-olds (18.4 percent), and 25 to 34 years (22.3 percent).

7 | Substance use among teens is declining.

Recent findings from NIH’s National Institute on Drug Abuse shows a decrease in the use of alcohol, cigarettes, and many illicit drugs over the last five years among American 8th, 10th, and 12th graders – many to their lowest levels since this survey’s inception.

The U.S. Department of Health & Human Services Office of Adolescent Health reports similar findings, citing that tobacco use by adolescents has declined substantially in the last 40 years. And a report from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration notes that, from 2002 to 2013, the rate of underage drinking decreased 6.1 percent.

8 | Teen pregnancies and sexual activity are declining.

According to 2014 findings by the Guttmacher Institute, the U.S. teenage pregnancy rate reached its lowest point in more than 30 years, down 51 percent from its peak in 1990. And a 2015 study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention notes that teen sexual activity dropped dramatically over the past 25 years. In 2011–2013, 44 percent of female teenagers and 47 percent of male teenagers aged 15–19 had experienced sexual intercourse, declining significantly (by 14 percent for females and 22 percent for males) since 1988.

9 | High school graduation rates reach record high.

In 2015, the U.S. Department of Education announced that the U.S. high school graduation rate has steadily increased for the past four consecutive years, rising to an all-time high in the 2013-14 school year, with 82 percent of teens graduating.

While American parents are doing a good job at parenting, we need to take into account that there’s more at play than a general attitude toward parenting. We can’t discount the various political differences that figure into the parenting equation – those that often set parents up for success. For example, many non-U.S. governments often foot the bill for benefits that Americans need to pay for out of pocket – like childcare – so it’s no wonder other parents around the world sometimes appear to fare better.

“Don’t beat yourself up for failing to achieve perfect work-life balance,” writes Pamela Druckerman in The New York Times. An American journalist and the author of “Bringing Up Bébé: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting,” Druckerman points out in the article that “the French have national paid maternity leave, subsidized nannies, excellent state day care and free universal preschool, and yet they blame the government for not helping parents enough. We Americans have none of the above, yet we blame ourselves.”

What can we learn from – and teach – other cultures?

Despite our different approaches, we can still learn a lot of lessons from the way parents in other countries raise their kids.

“We like the idea of children who can speak their own mind, give their own opinions and be their own person. This is a part of being independent,” says Christine Gross-Loh, mother of four and author of “Parenting Without Borders,” in an ABC News interview. “But there’s a whole other piece I think we’ve been neglecting, and that’s the idea of self-reliance and self-responsibility and those are the sorts of traits that I see being fostered in other countries that are not fostered as well by many parents here in the United States.”

Gross-Loh, who traveled the world to research parenting through a global lens, culls the world’s “best practices” for raising kids, including insights from China, Finland, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Sweden, and the United States.

“I absolutely think American parents are doing a lot of things right,” says Gross-Loh. “I’ve been struck by how much effort we put into raising tolerant and caring kids who have a sense of the world as diverse and multicultural. We read them books that show diverse characters, we talk to them about race and gender and bias and justice. This sets us apart from other countries I’m familiar with where there is more homogeneity and less urgency in putting these issues on the table.

The bottom line is this: There is no one right way to be a good mom or dad, but we can all learn from each other. So relax, American parents. You’re doing just fine.

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

There are a few things boys are entitled to. The right to feel fear, pain, openly. To love who they want to love. And to wear whatever color rain boots they desire.

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.