It's Not Just a Statistic When It Happens to You

The bone marrow biopsy confirmed the news we dreaded and a whole new chapter of our lives began, one in which we never imagined ourselves participating.

It was New Year’s Eve and my son had been sick for weeks. After seeing doctors and even being admitted to the hospital, we had no plausible answer. But that morning my nearly four-year-old son couldn’t stand up anymore.

I tried calling the doctors he’d been seeing, the ones who couldn’t figure out what was wrong, but the only help they gave was suggesting that we go to the emergency room if we couldn’t wait for the next available appointment 10 days later.

We decided we couldn’t wait.

I didn’t want to pack an overnight bag, but I was trying to hedge my bets. I hoped that by being over prepared I would somehow generate some positive juju that would result in the emergency room doctors finding some random, simple answer that had been overlooked by everyone else for the past several weeks, send us home with a prescription or two for good measure, and we would be free to start the new year off with our family. In my mom-gut I knew that was wishful thinking.

My son has several other health problems and we are no strangers to the emergency room. That morning started off status quo: a quick stop at the triage station and sent back through a maze into a room while making small talk with a medical assistant. It was fairly quiet in the ER that morning, and the doctor rolled into our room in short order. After a brief review of Ben’s symptoms and a cursory examination, labs, an IV, and x-rays of the bum leg were ordered and the wait began.

Normally, once labs are drawn a nurse pokes her head in about a half hour later with a follow-up saying that everything looks pretty normal, but this time a whole entourage arrived. And they were nice. Too nice. Everything else faded from existence as the lead doctor told us about something called blasts in Ben’s blood and threw around words like “oncologist” and “bone marrow biopsy.” The staff positively doted on us, and I recoiled at every kind word and effort to provide comfort. These were not normal for a routine emergency room visit and I so desperately wanted this to be just routine.

A Physician’s Assistant arrived in our ER room, and his tone and demeanor were entirely different from the rest of the staff. Whereas for the emergency room staff this was an unusual case, for this PA, it was just what he did. It couldn’t have been more comforting. He laid out the outline of the day’s plans and made arrangements for Ben to be admitted to the oncology floor.

Arriving on the floor revived the rage in me that railed against this reality. This was not happening to us, childhood cancer only happens to other people! Once we got there, though, we found that this staff, who daily work with childhood cancer, were true superheroes and more than up to the task of caring not only for my son’s body, but our whole devastated family.

The bone marrow biopsy confirmed the news we dreaded and a whole new chapter of our lives began, one in which we never imagined ourselves participating. One that included blood transfusions, head shaving, and for Ben, over three years of chemotherapy.

Ben is now cancer-free, as is the case in his type of Leukemia about 90 percent of the time. Now, instead of focusing on saving our child’s life, we focus on raising awareness of childhood cancer. We realize that we’re the lucky ones, but that there are 10 percent who still don’t survive. We realize this because we met them in the treatment clinic, we became friends, and we grieve the recurrence and loss of life with those who started this path with us, just as hopeful and frightened as we were.

I like to consider myself empathetic and compassionate, seeking to put myself into the shoes of others. I’ve always considered childhood cancer a travesty, a cause worthy of support. Then it happened to my child, still just a preschooler. The travesty had landed on my sweet baby, the cause I considered worthy encompassed our whole lives. Suddenly it wasn’t just a St. Jude’s Children’s Hospital tearjerking commercial, it was our reality. There are no words to adequately convey the devastation of that reality.

What It Really Means To Love Like A Mother

Mothering is so much bigger than grocery lists and school projects. Mothering happens when the child in front of you needs deep and unconditional love.

She stands in the kitchen looking at me. Her hair is stringy and needs to be brushed. She’s shifting from side to side uncomfortably, unsure of what I’m doing there or what to say.
Her brother overdosed last night. Her mother is my good friend, and the swirling vortex of grief and community sucked me into her kitchen, stocking the refrigerator and tidying the counters because that feels like something when there’s nothing.
“I don’t know how to make lasagna,” she says, glancing at the pan I’m sliding into the freezer.
“That’s okay, sweetheart. I can show you.” I begin to walk her through how to preheat the oven.
She interrupts me. “I don’t know what to do next.”
I pause, and look at the shattered girl standing next to me. “No one does, love. Sometimes, when really terrible things happen, nothing comes next. Sometimes we just sit together in the awfulness.”
I haven’t seen this lanky 22-year-old in years. I knew her when she was in grade school. As the years passed, she breezed in and out of my girls’ nights with her mom, and was off to college faster than any of us expected. She’s a woman I don’t know.
But I know her today. Today she’s a girl standing in the kitchen in search of a mother, and she found me.
I stroke her hair and hold her hand and we stand together unmoving as the oven beeps.

I started loving like a mother sixteen years ago

Simon was born after a day-long labor, angry, red and screaming. The doctor held him up and, for a split second, I thought he’d pulled the baby out from under the table, like a medical magician. I expected to feel overwhelmed by love and gratitude and motherhood, but I felt none of those things. I just felt tired.
That disconnected feeling lasted through the next day. The nurses would bring him to me and we’d say all the right things and go through the motions of nursing and burping and changing, but it felt like an elaborate game of make-believe. This wasn’t my baby. This wasn’t real.
In the pre-dawn hours of our last day, I was walking the halls with my IV pole, following my doctor’s orders to move my body. I was alone in the corridor and heard a baby in the nursery start to cry.
“That’s Simon,” I thought, and then instantly laughed at myself. How would I know Simon’s cry? I’d only just met him, after all. I kept walking.
On my next lap, I met a nurse pushing a bassinet out of the nursery.
“Mrs. Chapman! You’re up! I was just bringing your little boy to you. Simon was crying and I didn’t want him to wake the others. He needs his mommy.”
So the mother in me was born.
Many years and many children later, I often fool myself into thinking that the business of mothering is carpooling and filling out forms and sitting in the bleachers. I confuse mothering with picking up shoes, clearing the table, and shouting up the stairs that it’s time to go for real. I diminish mothering with prefixes and qualifiers: single, divorced, foster, and step.
I’m wrong. That’s just the daily noise of it.

Mothering is so much bigger than grocery lists and school projects

Mothering happens when the child in front of you needs deep and unconditional love. It happens when she needs a safe place to land. It happens when he needs a champion.
I’ve mothered a 13-year-old boy who’d just come out to his deeply religious parents. It hadn’t gone well. He was worried he’d broken his family and hurt his mother and might never fit in. Simon dragged him off the bus and brought him home for mothering. I fed him meatloaf and mashed potatoes and reminded him his mother and father loved him beyond reason.
Sometimes parents get a little lost in the details, but that doesn’t make the love any less real.
I’ve mothered a four-year-old girl who was so banged up and broken from the three foster homes she’d been through already. She was awful. She locked my baby Caden in a box and shoved him under the bed. She set fires. It was everything I could do to advocate for her, pushing for therapy and medication. Truthfully, it was hard to like her, but for that chapter in our lives, she was mine to mother, and I loved her fiercely.

Loving like a mother isn’t unique to me

My children’s group leaders, teachers, stepmother, grandmothers, and aunts have loved them like mothers. Their friends’ mothers have set places at their dinner tables and offered a shoulder when they needed one. I’m quite sure I don’t know the half of how my children have benefitted from the rich love of other mothers. It’s a strange feeling to walk around grateful for something you know is happening but haven’t witnessed directly.
Loving like a mother isn’t bound by blood, paperwork, or gender. It isn’t qualified by the word that comes before the title. It isn’t found in limited quantities. Its presence doesn’t diminish the love of other mothers.
Loving like a mother is simply defined by the object of that love. When you love someone unconditionally, in the way they need to be loved in that moment, you love like a mother. And the world is richer for it.
This piece was originally published on the author’s blog, This Life in Progress.

Is “Dad Guilt” Even a Thing?

Of course, there are reams written about the ubiquitous syndrome of “mom guilt.” But what about dads? Are they immune?

Over the last few years, mom blogs have sprung up like mushrooms in Italy. They’ve been interesting and meaty, sometimes delicate, sometimes audacious, sometimes indelible.
We hear about mommy friendships forged on the crucible of potty training. We read about the crumb trails that moms investigate and the mountains of laundry they clamber over. We nod along to stories of feeling judged or feeling empowered.
And, of course, there are reams written about the ubiquitous syndrome of “mom guilt.” It happens when you work too much, or too little. It happens when you yell at your progeny, or miss an opportunity to disciple and mold them. It happens when you’re the hovering, helicopter type, or the hands-off, free-range type. It seems like every mom has some measure of it.
But is “dad guilt” a thing? Do fathers experience some degree of remorse for not investing more in their kids? Or for working too much? Or for taking the wrong discipline tack?
In my home, “guilty” is a verdict that my husband of 12 years and the father of our two kids sometimes imposes on himself. He takes his work-life balance very seriously. Thankfully, the “life” part of that equation doesn’t mean sitting, bleary-eyed, in front of the television every weekend. It means spending time with the kids. When he doesn’t get to do that, I’ve been witness to dad guilt.
I’ve often heard the hubbers comment, “I really want to spend time with the kids in the evenings,” or be quick to offer to take our son to soccer practice, especially after consecutive evenings away on work.
Guilt, it turns out, is not a mom prerogative.
In a recent online survey of 1,200 men from Fatherly and, about one in five (19 percent) dads said they feel guilty about not being “present” enough with their children, and 17 percent said they suffer from “dad guilt” about working too much.
One in five? Maybe that’s not a huge number of dads riding the train to Guiltville. But it’s a decent enough number to realize that dads are trying, too.
In fact, dads today are more involved than ever in parenting. Over the past half-century, fathers in America nearly tripled their child care time from two and-a-half hours per week in 1965 to seven hours per week in 2011. (Interestingly, women’s parenting also increased to 14 hours in that same period.)
Yet, the survey points to the fact that these feelings extend to career as well. About one in four (28 percent) reported they feel guilty about not making enough money to provide for their family the way they’d like to. Maybe that’s an old-school, “dad brings home the bacon” mindset, but it remains a pretty heavy burden to carry.
Maybe dads need a few blog posts encouraging them. Maybe dads need a word of acknowledgment every now and then. Maybe dads need to know that it’s okay to hang up the cape, that we all make mistakes, that perfection and parenting don’t go hand in hand.
To all those dads who are trying – and sometimes failing – we say, you’re doing awesome. We see you and we appreciate you. It’s okay if you don’t have it all figured out. We don’t either.
Speaking of things moms and dads have in common, the study also unveils an interesting piece of information: 26 percent of dads pull the hide-in-the-bathroom trick to shirk parental responsibility.
Just every now and then. When the shrieking gets too loud. When the man caves are overrun by toys.
We get it. And we’ll let you in on a little secret: The pantry works pretty well, too.

5 Supernanny Inspired Techniques to Improve Your Family Dynamic

If Supernanny can’t come to your house, try these techniques to help improve your family atmosphere through the use of humor and fun activities.

Remember when the networks ran several “Supernanny” type reality TV shows? We all watched in horror as children raced through their house, kicking the dog and spitting on the baby. Their parents rolled their eyes in frustration, moaning, “I can’t handle my kids.” Then a professional British nanny marched through the front door, ready to do a complete parenting make-over.
By the end of the hour-long television show, the nanny had miraculously brought the family under control. Children ate at the table, used inside voices, and shared their toys. The biggest revelation was for the parents: “Nanny suggested we spend more time doing things with our family. She set up specific schedules for us to do an activity together. Just spending time having fun has helped our family tremendously.”
Sometimes we overlook obvious solutions to our problems. There’s no guarantee unruly children transform into angels after a game of UNO. Yet many discipline problems diminish in relation to the amount of time parents and children spend together in “relaxed mode.”
Maggie Scarf, in her book “Intimate Worlds: Life Inside The Family”, writes, “A common trait of dysfunctional families is a tremendous lack of humor – a deadly seriousness.” Watch the families on “Supernanny” or “Nanny 911” and you’ll see this lack of humor and complete seriousness about day-to-day events.
If Supernanny can’t come to your house, try these techniques to help improve your family atmosphere through the use of humor and fun activities:

Undirected play with pre-schoolers

That is simply a fancy title for letting children direct how they play. Plop yourself on the floor and roll a few toy cars back and forth. It won’t be long until your child comes over and begins to interact.
Avoid the tendency to say, “Why don’t you use these boxes and build a garage for the cars?” Let your child direct you in the activity, even if it means he simply wants you to lay on your back while he rolls the car back and forth over your stomach. Consider it a mini-nap.

Undivided attention

Yes, that means turning off the cell phone. When reading a book, taking a walk, or working on a craft project, it’s horribly annoying and impolite to constantly answer the phone, ignoring your child.
One mom set the timer for 10 minutes every night for each of her children. They knew those 10 minutes meant they had her complete attention, even if it was to simply to listen to them complain about homework. (Of course she acknowledged her children on a regular basis as well, not just for 10 minutes a day!)

Model appropriate behavior

If parents scream at children, it’s obvious that children will yell back. Think about Supernanny: The more tense the situation, the lower her voice becomes.
Instead of yelling across the room, walk up to your child, make eye contact, and explain what you want in a calm, low voice (even though you may be screaming inside). Sometimes the simple act of giving a direct command to your child with a Darth Vader voice shocks them into complying.

Schedule daily time for fun

This works even if it’s just a few minutes. One Dad occasionally scheduled Sparks Parties with his children. He’d bring his three children into a crowded, dark closet, where they’d simultaneously crunch a Wintergreen Lifesaver with their front teeth. Try it. You’ll see “sparks” flying from everyone’s mouth!
Each Spark Party lasted less than 60 seconds, yet the children had a positive image of doing something fun with their dad.

Chores, with a twist

No one likes to do chores on a Saturday morning, but the work becomes less distasteful if job duties are written on a piece of paper and inserted into a balloon. On small slips of paper write “vacuum living room” or “empty all the wastebaskets” or, best of all, “supervise a parent emptying the dishwasher.”
Blow up the balloon and tie the end. On the count of three, everyone grabs a balloon and tries to pop it…without using their hands. As the balloon bursts, read the paper and begin your assigned job. (Compare that to “If you don’t pick up the toys in the rec room, you won’t watch TV for a month!”)
If all else fails, pretend you are being filmed for a “Supernanny” segment with a camera and sound crew documenting your every move. That will motivate you to be as practically perfect as Mary Poppins!

Early Child Development Programs Can Make Children and Parents More Successful, Says Study

Early child development programs are more beneficial than previously thought – especially for disadvantaged children and their families.

Having a child, while rewarding, comes with a steep price. The average cost to raise a child to 18 is now $230,000 for a typical family. Diapers, formula, clothing, medical and dental – the expenses often make child care, including early development programs, out of reach for many parents.
Yet, a growing body of research suggests these programs are more beneficial than previously thought – especially for disadvantaged children and their families. And it has the biggest positive effect on women’s employment and pay, and the sons they raise.
According to a new study by Nobel-winning economist James Heckman and researchers at the University of Chicago and University of Southern California, early childhood development programs can deliver an annual return of 13 percent per child on upfront costs through better outcomes in education, health, employment, and social behavior in the decades that follow – a rate of return that’s comparable to returns on a savings account or the stock market. In one group analyzed, mothers earned more when children were in preschool, and the effect was still there after several decades.
When boys in this group reached age 30, they had earned on average $19,800 more annually than those in the control group. They also received an additional six months of education. Girls in this group received two more years of education and earned about $2,500 more than girls in the control group.
In an interview with UChicagoNews, Heckman said, “Investing in the continuum of learning from birth to age five not only impacts each child, but it also strengthens our country’s workforce today and prepares future generations to be competitive in the global economy tomorrow.”
In other words, early child development programs can make children and parents more successful.
Olga, a freelance writer and mother of three, is forever grateful to the women who ran the early child care program her children attended. “My kids started daycare at six months old (all three of them) and that allowed me to finish my thesis, and later to start my blog, not to mention that it saved my sanity,” she told me. In addition, the program taught her children their third language, giving them an advantage over other kids the same age.
Yet, a report by New America and put the average cost of child care at $16,514 a year – ranging from $10,468 for a center-based child care program to $28,905 for a nanny. With the average household income just shy of $52,000, combined with average living expenses that topple $1,500 a month, the cost of early child development programs are prohibitive for many families who struggle to balance the demands of caring for their children with working.
The Department of Health and Human Services says child care should cost around seven percent of a family’s income at most. In the survey, one in three respondents said they spent at least 20 percent of their annual household income on child care. Nearly one in three parents would put themselves in debt (or even further in the hole) to pay for child care, up from 25 percent in 2016.
Sadly, it’s children whose parents can least afford child care who would benefit from it the most. Children born into affluent families usually have more options, and access to higher quality early programs. Heckman’s study demonstrated long-term results by following children from birth until age 35. Two programs in North Carolina were analyzed. Both offer free, full-time care to lower income children. Data from the two studies was collected and calculated using a return on investment through life outcomes, such as health, involvement in crime, labor income, IQ, and increases in mothers’ labor income as a result of subsidized childcare. In addition to better outcomes in the areas identified, Heckman and his team also found that children in the two programs saw a permanent boost in IQ.
Another recent study, which followed nearly one million children in Denmark from birth through old age, revealed that high-quality preschool had multigenerational benefits. Children who attended these programs had more schooling and an increased likelihood of living beyond 65. They also had children who received more education and greater employment opportunities.
Olga reflects on her upbringing, from the other side of the fence, as that of a daughter. “I had a nanny when I was a child while my mom worked,” she said. “She’s in academia and she is now a highly recognized expert in her field. My father stayed at home more, but I loved my nanny. And I know without her, my mom wouldn’t be able to come as far as she did. And, no, I don’t think it was bad for me to have a nanny.”
So, while expensive at the onset, high quality child care programs may be worth the long-term investment – with greater financial, social, and health returns.

Six Ways to Keep Your Kid Busy at the Office When Your Childcare Falls Through

If you find yourself working with a kid in tow. These tips ensure you’re able to get your work done while your kid has a great day at the office.

Every working parent has been there. You’ve got a day crammed with meetings or a big project to finish up when you suddenly find yourself without childcare. Maybe your nanny is out sick or your daycare center is closed for the workday. No matter what the reason, you’re seriously stressing about how you’re going to accomplish your goals with your sidekick along for the ride. If you find yourself working with a kid in tow, check out the tips below to ensure you’re able to get your work done while your kid has a great day at the office.

1 | Create a coloring book

If you’ve got printer paper, a pen, and even the slightest bit of artistic talent, you’ve got a coloring book. Sketch a few out-lined drawings of your family, animals, flowers, or shapes. Hand your kiddo some crayons (or a pack of highlighters if that’s what you’ve got on hand) and let him color in the designs you’ve created. Alternatively, if you’re not feeling artsy, print out a few pre-made coloring sheets here, here, or here for your kid to enjoy!

2 | Practice the basics

If your little one is more interested in reading or math than in coloring, consider printing off some simple worksheets or word searches to keep her mind busy as you work. If you really want to blow your kid’s mind, take five minutes to create and print your own personalized word search, populated with all her favorite things.

seeking freelance writers to submit work about families, parenting and kids

3 | Turn them into your mini-intern

Most kids love to help out and, whether you really need the help or not, there’s something for children of any age to do. Elementary- and middle school-aged kids can help with simple filing, while preschoolers can sort paperclips, markers, or other office supplies by color, shape, or size. Younger kids also make excellent inter-office mail carriers and feel pretty important delivering files, office supplies, or small packages to co-workers.

4 | Create an under-the-desk fort

Everything is more fun in a fort. If your kiddo has a book, an iPad, or any other passive activity, extend the fun by letting them play in the “fort” under your desk. To create your fort, simply give your kiddo reign of the under-the-desk area in your office. If you have a tablecloth or large roll of paper, give him the opportunity to create the fourth wall and spend the afternoon hanging in his secret lair.

5 | Make paperclip jewelry

If you’ve got a crafty kid on your hands or one who loves to fiddle, consider giving her the supplies she needs to make a paperclip necklace. Even most preschoolers have the dexterity they need to string together simple jewelry and they’ll love the opportunity to wear their masterpiece home!

6 | Break something out of the busy drawer

Okay working parents, if you don’t have a busy drawer, now is the time to create one. Instead of throwing away all of the promotional stress balls, key chains, and trinkets you acquire, stash them in your busy drawer, only to be removed when a kiddo needs to be kept busy. Consider buying a few dollar-section toys like play-doh, bubbles, or a paddle ball and you’ll be more than ready next time your kid makes an unexpected visit to the office.

The Third Is Logarithmic

It was late September. Sunshine filtered through the dirty windows of the pediatric exam room. Dr. Cohen, sinewy and nasal, was perched on his rolling stool, avoiding my goldfish eyes. At the best of times, they give the impression I’m startled, that day they were wide with anxiety. Jack, my third child, was 10 days old.

“He’s very noisy,” I said, as Dr. Cohen’s stethoscope left circles on my baby’s yellow back. Looking at his notes, he told me Jack looked great and encouraged me to put him by the window in the sunlight to shake the jaundice. The simplicity of this suggestion, as if my son were a potted plant, confounded me.

When my husband, Dom, and our older sons, Max and Oliver, had come to take us home from hospital the week before, I’d noticed a rash on Max’s arms. He was five and didn’t seem bothered by the scratches. A doctor I didn’t recognize was called in. “You and the baby need to be quarantined until you get that checked. It looks like chicken pox.”

My knotted brain recalled Max being inoculated for chicken pox but I couldn’t be sure. It was too late to call the pediatrician. A crazy 24 hours ensued with tears and confusion. It turned out to be poison ivy from a preschool nature walk, but by that time I’d lost my footing and was struggling to regain it.

seeking freelance writers to submit work about families, parenting and kids

Dom was back at work. Left alone for a moment, Jack was mauled by his brothers with a ferocity that left me pleading. Max was developing anxieties that matched my own, except for an irrational fear of automatic flush toilets. Jack was only quiet in my arms. Oliver, who was two, felt usurped and flicked his food even though he was hungry. The fridge was empty, bottoms needed wiping, diapers needed changing, and I seemed to be botching it all with a steady stream of tears.

I nodded at the doctor slowly, not saying that I barely recognized myself, that I was sure I would be here forever, and I was scared. Sensing, perhaps, that I needed something more, he added, “After two children, the third is logarithmic.” He mistook the breath knocked out of me as a laugh. I switched him a smile, so hungry for reassurance and yet terrified that, in spite of failing math, I actually understood him.

I looked up the word logarithm. It had something to do with an exponential increase. In the dark chasm between wake and sleep, mathematical equations taunted me, pinning me down and demanding something I couldn’t give.

I’d never seen the beauty in math. I found myself back in Mrs. Scott’s classroom, her red hair clashing with her peach pantsuit, as she tapped out algebra on the blackboard. I exasperated her. We both knew it. I shrunk into my seat as she approached my desk and leaned over to help the girl next to me. Sullen, I looked down, saw the ink on my fountain pen and sensed a power shift. With one flick, the ink bloomed on her behind. My chest swelled at being the bad girl for once and getting away with it. In my sleeplessness, the remembrance of defiance and shame twisted together like a knot I couldn’t untie.

Daylight again and I swung Jack in his car seat, trying to quieten him. I was back at the pediatrician even though the jaundice was gone, Oliver should have been napping, and Max had developed a fear of the exam room’s red-eyed automatic paper dispenser. Jack’s cry picked up, piercing me, more than discomfort, it seemed like anger. Something had to be wrong.

“He’s very noisy,” I said. “Hard to settle. Could it be colic?” The word I wanted to use was “neurological,” but it felt like a betrayal. What I didn’t say was I was struggling to make sense of anything. The doctor, mildly detached, inhaled, “He’s doing fine.”

Why was it so impossible I had a healthy child? Healthy children? Why was that so hard to accept? I could not answer the questions I threw at myself. I couldn’t shake the fact that it was greedy to have had a third child.

“We’ll get through this,” my husband said. Dom is patient and funny. “They will grow up.”

It was a joke, but it hurt. Growing up required a level of nurturing that felt impossible, a level of foresight I didn’t have. In the third week, I was back at the pediatrician, dark circles under my eyes.

At dusk, Dr. Cohen called to check if I was okay. I was giving Jack a bath.

“I’m fine,” I told my husband, the gray grout around the tub blurring. “Tell him I’m fine.”

“She says she’s fine,” I heard him say.

“Get her to give me a call,” he said.

Instead, I dropped the baby. It was mid-October and Jack was just shy of three weeks old.

Searching for air, I suggested we take the kids to Ardenwood to pick pumpkins. My husband went to get the car. I’d put the baby in the car seat and snapped it to the stroller base. I’d corralled the older boys down the front stairs. I’d positioned the stroller outside on the wide top step. I’d turned to lock the door.

The stroller rolled, creeping at first and then faster. The car seat unsnapped, fell, and flipped upside down on the concrete. My hand moved to my mouth but it was someone else’s gasp I heard. A woman walking past on the sidewalk. I was split in two. One of me standing frozen on the top step, spewing hot breath into my cupped hand. The other leaping, wild, seven steps in one go to reach the car seat and turn it over, terrified at what I might see. Jack, twenty days old, was upside down – a tiny race car driver in a roll cage. The older boys stood, sensing something had just gone seriously wrong. My husband took charge, driving to the emergency room. I rubbed Jack’s forehead gently with my thumb, cloaked in shame, certain a bruise was ripening.

“Jack’s fine,” Dom reminded me after we were discharged with no signs of trauma. He made forgiveness look so easy.

I’d like to say that with three boys spanning the full stretch of elementary school, there are things I get now and math is one of them, but that’s not true. Jack’s fall still confounds me. It seems impossible he was unscathed. In all my sleeplessness during Jack’s first year I felt something was wrong, and I was right. It was me. Taunting myself with a question I was too afraid to answer: was I worried for my children or was I worried for myself? In the end, we are one, intrinsic parts of the ongoing and complicated equation of family.

Are You Taking the Grandparents For Granted?

Grandparents don’t just make life easier – they make our kids happier. They make us better parents and they help in ways we often don’t consider.

It’s easy to forget how much we rely on our kids’ grandparents. Most of us – about 60 percent of parents, to be exact – rely on them regularly to help raise our children. Plenty of us call on our folks as babysitters when we want a night out, or send our kids to see grandma and grandpa after school while we finish up at work. Our lives just wouldn’t be possible without them.
It’s something we all realize, in a way – but it’s not always how we think about our parents. When my wife and I pick up our son from one of those long stays at his grandparents, we tend to focus on the negative. We’ll notice all the little ways he’s changed: how they’ve spoiled him again, or how he’s picked up some of those traits our parents have that drive us wild.
Sometimes, on the way home, we talk about how much better things could be. One day soon, we promise ourselves, we’ll get our finances worked out, and then we won’t need to drop him off at the grandparents anymore. It’ll be better, we tell each other, when we don’t need to have them around all the time.
It’s our own frustration about not having more time, but if we could think about it clearly, we’d realize how lucky we are. We tend to write off our son’s grandparents as nothing more than discount nannies who help make our schedules work – but they do so much more than that.
Grandparents don’t just make life easier – they make our kids happier. They make us better parents and they help in ways we often don’t consider.

Grandparents connect kids to their family

My wife and I often imagine what our lives would be like if we could afford a live-in nanny. Or a governess, perhaps. Or, at the very least, to send our son to a half-decent nursery. How much would he learn, we wonder, if he could spend his time with professional educators instead of being plopped off with his extended family?
But that’s just the problem: nurseries aren’t family. It might be true that a professional caretaker can teach kids a few more things than their grandparents can – although it might not be. The jury’s out on that one. Some studies say that grandparent are better teachers and some say that nurseries are.
Either way, grandparents offer something no nursery can. Grandparents connect kids to their families. When our kids are spending time with grandma and grandpa, they know they’re with someone connected to their parents. They’re developing a bond with their family and with someone who is going to stick around for the rest of their lives. That’s a much deeper connection than they can make with a paid caregiver – and it keeps them connected to you, too.

We evolved to be raised with the help of grandparents

We’re supposed to be getting help from grandparents – from an evolutionary perspective, at least.
It’s a relatively new idea that two grown-ups are supposed to move out of town and off into a distant city, far away from everyone they know, to tackle raising kids all by themselves. This new idea was brought to us by a new world, and we’ve lived with it so long that we almost think it’s natural now to only see the grandparents at Christmas. But it’s not.
Parents aren’t supposed to raise kids on their own. We usually get help, and it makes such a big difference that there’s actually a theory that we wouldn’t have evolved without grandparents. Early humans, some researchers think, were only able to take care of their kids because their grandparents chipped in and helped. Were they not there, the human species wouldn’t exist today.

Grandparents help kids learn better

When parents accept help from other people, their kids learn better. Those helpers back up the things we teach our kids, and that makes them take the lessons more seriously. The idea that manners or reading are important stops being just something mom and dad like to go on about. When grandma and grandpa back it up, the kids realize every adult believes this and they start taking it more seriously.
They also see things in our kids that we miss. We spend so much time around our kids that we get locked into one idea of who they are. We see them fail at something, and we think they’re just not ready, even after they are. But when grandparents show up, they can break through that stagnation.
It’s happened to me. When I started teaching my son to ride a bike, I saw him go down hard so many times that I started to think he just wasn’t ready. We’d wait another year, I decided. Then his grandfather came over and insisted he hop on one more time. This time, I let go and he kept those pedals moving. It would never have happened if his grandpa hadn’t forced me into it.

Grandparents need their grandkids

It’s not just that our kids need their grandparents. Grandma and grandpa need their grandkids, too.
Grandparents thrive on doting on their grandkids. It’s not just that it makes them happy to see their grandkids run around and to spoil them with treats – it actually affects their entire quality of life. Grandparents who spend time with their grandkids have better mental health, physical health, less depression, and a better overall quality of life.
Our parents need their grandkids as much our children need them, and there’s no way to do that without bringing them together. There’s a chemical reaction that happens when our parents touch and play with our kids that brings them together and makes them happier, and it just can’t happen over Skype.
That’s what we forget: It’s not just about us and how much time and money we have. Our parents are a part of our children’s identities. They’re a part of our family. We need them for more than just daycare – we need them for our kids.

Taking and Giving Back: Finding Peace on Both Sides of Stay-at-Home-Momming

When I shifted gears from career to staying home with my kids, I came to realize how instrumental the role of SAHM can be.

It was unfamiliar territory to me to be standing sedentary in the schoolyard, watching my kids play with their friends before the bell rang, instead of rushing to get the kids to school and make it to work on time. I had decided to take a leave of absence from work for a year in search of that long lost friend Sanity, who used to wrap so comfortably around my brain and confidently guide me to sound and thoughtful decision making. I missed that friend. I missed who I was when he was with me.

According to Stats Canada, in 1976, nine in 10 non-working mothers in a single-earner family were stay-at-home parents. In 2014, 6.6 in 10 of non-working mothers were stay-at-home moms. For a variety of reasons, moms went back to work and shared in the financial contributions to the family, but not all fathers felt it necessary to share in the ongoing needs at home. Women maintained those duties as well, eventually becoming overworked and overstressed. Psychologist Shari Thurer wisely wrote that “[m]otherhood versus personal ambition represents the heart of the feminine dilemma.”

Many of the women I met in the schoolyard had felt that pull and decided they would rather not leave their children in the care of someone else, and, if they were going to take on the role of a SAHM, they were going to do it with the same drive that pushed them to succeed in their former workplaces.

As I encountered more of these SAHMs, it became clear that they took their jobs very seriously. Why wouldn’t they? Considering their accomplished backgrounds in careers such as publishing, marketing, banking, accounting, advertising, human resources, legal, social, and medical work (to name a few in my schoolyard), they had worked hard to get where they were and weren’t about to settle for cruising through this next phase of their lives nonchalantly.

They paid attention to their kids’ lives and volunteered in classrooms, on field trips, and on school committees; they knew what their kids were eating; they knew their children’s friends; they chauffeured their kids to games, practices, lessons, and clubs. Most of the women I met were not on maternity leave but had made a conscious decision to change careers for a period of time. (I should also note that the community in Toronto in which I live has a fairly comfortable social status, where many parents can afford to stay at home by choice and not by any financial directive).

But do you know who is sitting in the backseat of their cars, farting with their kids on their way to soccer or ballet? Other kids whose parents are at work. As I infiltrated deeper into SAHM territory, I realized how fundamentally important these moms were to the fabric of our community. Without volunteers in schools, field trips would not run and special, in-class programming would end (which wouldn’t matter because funding for many of these events would not exist). I had no idea how important these women were to the enhancement of my children’s experience at school.

If parents weren’t at home, many kids would not have the opportunity to participate in programming beyond school. How do you get your daughter to hockey practice an hour away at 5:00 if you’re working nine-to-five? What happens when playing in a league includes weekend tournaments that begin Friday morning (on a school day) and end Sunday night in a town that requires a hotel stay? If you don’t have a flexible job or don’t want to hand over your vacation days in order to get your kids to these events, these moms are your saviors.

These moms were my saviors for years and I am so grateful to them. How many times have I asked someone in a panic to pick up my kids or to drive them to a practice? In desperation, I was asking people I barely knew for help until I couldn’t do it anymore. I was the universal receiver and it didn’t feel good. My kids couldn’t keep up with the schedule because there was no schedule. All they knew was that Mommy was wound up really tight, so don’t mess with her. Don’t tell her she’s late again. Don’t mention that she’s wearing two different shoes. But DO tell her gently that she’s tucked her skirt into her pantyhose. Again.

This past year I was able to be present. I drove the van filled with gassy kids, I offered to help out in a pinch, and I brought the (homemade) muffins to the game. Not once did I consider this to be an “us versus them” (working versus non-working) mom competition, which I knew created tension and resentment in some schoolyards. I was not smug in my newfound ability to participate more fully in the daily lives of my children. In fact, I was grateful for the opportunity and was particularly sympathetic to working moms. I did my best to proactively alleviate stress where I knew they felt it – where I used to feel it. It was a much more comfortable role. Having the capacity to give back felt really good. Since joining the playground club, I wear the daytime uniform exclusive to this group consisting of yoga pants and flip flops, which makes it impossible to put on two different shoes or show off my underwear through my pantyhose.

As the year comes to an end, my husband and I decided that the net gains of me not working well outweigh the losses, so I have left my job and will continue to stay at home for the time being. Welcome back my old friend, Sanity, may you never stray far from me again.

6 Ways to Make Time with Your Kids Count When You Don't Get a Lot of It

There are ways for a parent who’s never home to make the most of the time they have.

We all have to work. It didn’t used to be that way. There was a time when it was perfectly feasible to support a whole family on one income, but not anymore.

In most modern families, Mom and Dad both have to spend the better part of their days at work just to make enough for the family scrape by. We spend our days in cubicles or worksites, miles away from our children, and it can feel like we’re hardly getting the chance to see our children grow up.

It’s tough when you don’t get to be there for your children, but that doesn’t mean we can’t make every moment we get count. Being there for our children is important, but it’s what we do when we’re with them that really matters. There are ways for a parent who’s never home to make the most of the time they have.

1 | Clear your head before walking through the door

My whole family can tell when I’m thinking about work. That’s partly because of how I am – I tend to mutter to myself and gesture with hands when I’m thinking – but they’d know anyway. They understand me better than anybody, and when my body is at home but my mind is still at work, they can tell.

I like to tell myself that I can be present with my family and figure out a problem at the same time, but I can’t. Human beings aren’t actually capable of multitasking, we can just do a lot of things in a row really quickly. This means that when I’m thinking about work, I’m not really listening to my son. I’m just planning on tuning into him soon.

That’s why it’s important to clear out your mind before you come in. There might be a lot of big problems at work, but write them down so you can deal with them when you have time. Let them all go and don’t let yourself think about anything other than your family, because they know.

2 | Keep dinner sacred

When Dad’s running late at work, a lot of parents don’t bother waiting. The kids get their meal on time, Dad takes a microwaved Hungry Man meal in front of the TV, and everyone avoids a lot of grumbling. It’s a practical solution for most people, but you might not realize just how much it costs.

Family dinnertime is one of the best things a family can do. It’s the main time most families bond. It’s a moment when everyone sits down and talks together, sharing experiences, problems, and perspectives, and getting a new insight on every one of them.

The benefits are incredible. Family dinnertime exposes kids to more new words than reading. It improves their health, makes them more resilient against stress and depression, improves behavior and self-confidence, and, most of all, keeps the family together.

So if Dad comes home a little late, give the kids a snack and wait for him. It might be frustrating, but it could save your marriage and your kids’ mental health.

3 | Let them help

Doing chores doesn’t have to be time you spend apart from your kids. It’s one of the best bonding experiences you can give your children and, most of the time, they’ll love you for letting them help. Kids are fascinated by all the things we can do that they can’t. They hate the feeling that there are things they can’t do, so when they see you cook or fix something, they’re dying to help.

That goes for mechanical work, too. I realized this while fixing my son’s bike. He was so fascinated and eager that he kept trying to climb over my knee so he could watch. At first my instinct was to tell him to give me a little space, but instead, I handed him the wrench.

It was a chance to teach him how to be self-reliant and how bicycles work. More than that, it was a bonding experience. It was time he got to spend sharing a common interest with Dad, and that helped us grow a little closer.

4 | Exercise by playing

I don’t have time to go to the gym. Some people might call me out on that, telling me that if I really cared about my health I’d make time. That’s just the problem. If you’re going to the gym, you have to make time, and you can only make it by giving up time with your kids.

That doesn’t mean you have to give up on your health. By the time your kid’s three-years-old, you can at least get in a full cardio workout while bonding with your kids. All you have to do is play with them.

Granted, a three-year-old isn’t exactly going to run a marathon with you, but there are ways to push yourself harder than your kid. My son and I race laps around the local square, him on a bike while I chase after him on foot.

This is more than a chance to bond, it’s a chance to show your kids that health is important. It’s nearly guaranteed to make them more active and healthier throughout their lives, and it keeps you close at the same time.

5 | Keep a bedtime ritual

Some parents don’t even get time to share dinner with their family. For a long time, I had a horrendous commute. By the time I made it through the door, my son’s head was hitting the pillow, ready to fall asleep. The only moment I got with him was his last moment awake.

I had to make it special. If I didn’t want him to forget I existed, I had to make our bedtime ritual something he looked forward to all day long. Every night, we’d brush our teeth together. We’d chat while he got into his pajamas, and then we’d read together. Books became our thing. They became such a part of his life that he was reading by the time he was three.

We’ve never stopped, even now that he can read on his own. I plan on reading to him every night until he begs me to stop. It’s one of the best you can do together, and if you take the time to talk about what a book makes you think about, it can do more than just improve their reading – it can give you an insight into how your child sees the world. Asking him what he did that day will never match it.

6 | Make them part of your hobbies

Parents need to take a little time doing the things they like. A cranky, tired, and depressed parent isn’t doing the children any favors. We don’t just have the right to do things that keep us happy, we have an obligation to our kids.

That doesn’t mean we always have to cut our kids out. There are ways to work in time with your kids while doing something you love. As part of my son’s bedtime ritual, I play him guitar after wishing him a good night. I indulge in a hobby I no longer have the time for, while my son gets to feel closer to me.

As he’s gotten older, I’ve been able to involve him more directly. We put him in music lessons and it’s paid off, because now I get to play music with my son. I get to accompany him while he practices his songs, and he’s even learning how to improvise in a jam session with his dad.

That’s what we tend to forget: spending time with our kids doesn’t mean we have to give up time for ourselves. We can do things for us and for our kids at the same time, and it’ll just bring us closer together.