Forget the Mom Tribe – Find Your Advisory Committee

Consult your Rolodex of subject-specific mentors.

After college, I moved across the country to pursue an entirely different career than my English teaching mother, but my childhood best friend, Laura, moved ten minutes away from her and taught English in the same school. To top if off, she ended up having twins, just like my mom. I teased my mom that Laura was the daughter she wished she had, but, truthfully, I was comfortable with them having a relationship that didn’t revolve around me – until they went to see a Broadway show together with their co-worker, my aunt, and a good family friend.
I allowed a pang of jealously to creep in for a moment as I sat across the country imagining the most important women in my life forging inside jokes without me. That feeling subsided quickly, though. These ladies had become part of an important advisory committee to my best friend, and I wanted that for her.
It might be trendy for women to talk about their “mom tribes” and “girl squads” – our closest group of friends who “get” what we’re going through and with whom we share the raw stories of our lives – but we should give more respect to the advisory committees that surround us, too. They fill a different, but no less important, niche in our lives.
You might already have a group of advisers like this in your life, and if you do, this article should serve as a good reminder of how valuable they are. If you don’t, read on for tips to build one for yourself and for your kids.

Advisory Committee Defined

Advisory committees are made up of people who may not always fit the definition of a friend, but who we turn to for advice, guidance and support. They often form and disband over specific issues and benefit from diverse experiences, perspectives, and ages. It’s just a fancy name for a natural concept – a network of people you trust and would ask for help. These are members of your “village,” your Rolodex of subject-specific mentors.
My best friend’s relationship with my mom is a good example of this. Their work relationship and my mom’s historic role to her as a mother figure meant that Laura felt comfortable sharing certain types of things with my mom. She asked for advice about teaching. She shared stories about her family, and she looked for guidance as a new mom.
However, the detail she disclosed and the way she talked about all of this was different than if she and I were curled up on her couch, sipping wine. It’s these boundaries of intimacy for advisory councils that make them the perfect compliment to one’s closest group of friends.

Benefits of an Advisory Committee

They make us happier

Harvard’s 75-year study on happiness found that having good relationships and a strong sense of community is one of the strongest predictors of happiness. We shouldn’t underestimate our personal advisory committees’ contribution to this finding. They help us feel like we belong, contribute to our identity, and make us feel supported.

They can be one-sided

Friendships make us feel supported, too, of course, but they’re two-way relationships, where advisory committees don’t have to be. The implied one-sided dynamic of advisory committees allows conversations to center around a single person with a focused purpose to help them work through a particular dilemma. I’m sure my mom shared stories and examples with Laura, but she did so to illustrate her point, not to solicit advice of her own. She willingly and happily let Laura take the floor, which let Laura confide in her without an obligation to reciprocate an equal level of time and support.

They offer objective advice

Advisory committees also have the benefit of greater objectivity. Make no doubt, the Harvard study tells us that good friendships are crucial to our overall well being, but a friend’s duty to support us sometimes clouds their ability to tell us what we really need to hear. They might be too close to the situation themselves, or they’re hesitant to tell us what they really think. Even our most honest of friends occasionally bite their tongues to let us freely vent about what’s bothering us.
Other times, our friends don’t have the expertise to counsel us through a particular rough spot, like an issue at work, a medical diagnosis or a death in the family. When we call on members of our advisory committees, though, their purpose is clear. Listen to us. Guide us. Tell us the truth, even if it’s not what we want to hear. Intentionally or not, we typically reach out to these mentors only when we’re ready to hear what they have to say.

Discover and Foster Your Advisory Committees  

As social media and virtual work groups replace face-to-face interactions, our in-person networks are shrinking, but that doesn’t mean our access to personal advisory committees has to suffer. It just means that we need to make a greater effort to forge personal connections in an era where it’s easier to pretend to be engrossed in our Facebook newsfeed than to make small talk with the person next to us.
Think about all the connections you still have: work colleagues, members of your religious organization, family members, parents of your kids’ friends, people who share your hobbies, local business owners who you interact with frequently, neighbors, or acquaintances with whom you do charity work.
We still have opportunities to make more personal connections in our lives, if we’re willing to make the effort. This is not to say we’re obligated to befriend everyone we meet or that we even have to like every person, but if we come across someone whose company we enjoy, who we admire or would like to know more about, we’ve got to get comfortable making the first move. Just ask them a question on the subject you’re interested in discussing. “When your children were my kids’ ages how many hours of homework did they have each night?” It gets easier with practice, and it’s worth the effort.

Be willing to share

For a lot of us, this is also hard to do. We either don’t want to feel vulnerable by asking someone for advice, or we don’t want to impose by asking for a favor. We have to stop thinking this way. We’re developing relationships to enrich our village, which the Harvard study confirmed has positive effects on our well being. When we reach out to people, we’re saying that we respect them, we appreciate their expertise, and we value their opinion. They’ll take your request of their time as a compliment.

Pay it forward

I talked about advisory committee relationships being one-sided, but that doesn’t mean we’ll never be in a position to help someone else. Good old fashioned manners still apply. We should express appreciation, offer assistance of our own, and make an effort to keep in touch. We may not invite all of the people on our advisory committees to our next birthday party, but they probably should be on our holiday card list.

Helping Your Kids Identify Their Advisory Committees

Walk the walk

We model behavior for our kids all the time, so it stands to reason that they pick up on our networking skills, too. They see how we make small talk with strangers. They listen to our stories at dinner about who we spoke to that day, and they sense what type of village we have around us.

Encourage awareness of their connections

As kids bring up problems, pose questions back to them that get them thinking about the people in their lives who can help.  “Hmm, I wonder if your coach would know something about that.”

Make it okay to seek out advice from others

Of course we want to know everything that’s happening in our kids’ lives, but sometimes we’re not the best person to help. Just as our own friends are invaluable, but not necessarily objective or knowledgable in every situation, we have to admit that we may not have the expertise our kids need for a particular problem.
I’m reminded of advice I saw in an article that suggested parents leave the coaching to the coaches. We don’t need to have all of the answers for our kids, so if we support them in surrounding themselves with people they can trust, we can take a step back and let them find their way.

The Value of Social Media

There’s no denying the importance of face-to-face interaction. Numerous studies have concluded that virtual connections can’t replicate the benefits of face-to-face relationships, but that doesn’t mean social media has no place in our advisory committees. Sites that connect us to people we may know are a helpful starting point to fostering relationships.
While a lot of the research on Facebook usage has focused on the negative psychological effects people experience by using the site, it’s not representative of how all of us interact with it. Those studies found that people felt worse about themselves and lonelier when they spent time on Facebook comparing their lives to the carefully curated photos and status updates of their friends and engaging in superficial communication.
However, many people have found their virtual villages within private Facebook groups, where they ask questions, share frustrations, make recommendations and get useful information from people with similar interests. Mom groups on Facebook are notorious for being judge-y and unhelpful, but plenty of other women will tell you that groups like this have been invaluable to feeling less alone, more supported, and more informed. Just like in real life, being selective in online forums about who you associate with is the difference between cultivating a strong support network or not.

Conclusion

The concept of advisory committees isn’t new, but in our increasingly digital age, it’s worth it to remind ourselves of their value. When we reach out to acquaintances outside of our closest circle of friends, we benefit from hearing new perspectives and making stronger personal connections. People like to be helpful, so let them help you.

Maybe Neighborliness Isn't so Old-Fashioned After All

I was trapped in a 50s time warp in 2017.

Sometimes I feel nostalgic for a vanished past I’ve only read about in novels, when milk and cream were delivered straight from the farm, and the kitchen always smelled of warm soup and fresh-baked bread. But I’m a millennial mom. I juggle motherhood with writing and would rather simmer a plot than a pot.
Recently, though, I found myself in a strange predicament – for a modern mom.
It was late afternoon. Our babysitter had gone home, my three-year-old was napping, and I was frantically trying to whip up an “easy, one-egg” birthday cake for my husband and revise a magazine pitch at the same time.
I had just finished creaming the butter and sugar – and unjamming the printer – when the phone rang. I picked up on the first ring. It was Jack, our friend, calling to wish my husband a happy birthday.
“You actually answered the phone!” he said in surprise. (I usually screen my calls during the day when I’m working.)
His words startled me. Maybe I’d slipped into a time warp – answering the telephone without screening my calls and baking cakes (even in my good-old-days fantasies, my husband or mom is the one actually doing the baking).
Jack and I talked for a while about the days when we were carefree and childless. After we hung up, I went back to my cake and made a chilling discovery. My husband had scrambled the last egg for breakfast.
Unless I acted fast, my easy one-egg cake was doomed. My husband would be home soon, I wanted to surprise him with the cake. I needed an egg, and I needed it fast.
As I stood in the kitchen with a spatula in my hand, a strange thought dawned on me. I, a modern millennial, was going to have to borrow an egg.
Running next door for an egg or a cup of sugar is the kind of thing moms did in the 50s sitcoms I used watched on Nick at Nite when I was growing up. It was the kind of thing any mom might have done in those post-war years, when most women stayed home while their husbands took the family car to work.
I was trapped in a 50s time warp in 2017.
What would I do next? Put on a silk shirtwaist and high heels and start vacuuming like the mom on “Leave it to Beaver”?
Instead, I reached for my cell to call Jen, our next-door neighbor. But then I remembered. Jen was at work. In fact, most of the women in my neighborhood have jobs. And even if they don’t work outside the home, their lives are crammed with commitments and activities. They aren’t exactly standing around their kitchens, waiting for someone to borrow an egg.
I went to the window and peered out. The houses looked empty, the street deserted. Modern suburbia, I reflected, was a country forsaken, a land without people. Even I wasn’t home the way those 50d TV moms were. I couldn’t even remember the last time I’d done something as housewifely and archaic as putting on an apron.
As I stood gazing out the window, wondering what I could use as an egg substitute (Silly Putty? Play Doh?) I saw Mike, our next door neighbor, open his back door to let the dog out.
We had moved into the neighborhood only recently, and I didn’t know Mike and Jen that well. But now, as I stood looking out the window, I remembered Jen mentioning that they had converted their family room into a home office for Mike. So there was someone home next door!
Jen had given me their home number when we met, so I called Mike on my cell. He answered right away. I explained my predicament and apologized for my old-fashioned request. He was very understanding and handed me the egg cheerfully over the fence that separated our yards.
“Thanks!” I said. “I’ll return it soon!”
My day, and my cake, were rescued – not by a woman in an apron and high heels, but a man with a dog and a laptop.
This sounds embarrassingly retro, but as I hurried back home with the egg, I felt as pleased, as if I had laid it myself.

How I Will Participate in the Climate March if I Can't March

Here’s how to be there in spirit. (And still make a difference.)

The Climate March, specifically called The People’s Climate Movement, in Washington D.C. has been in the works long before the November election and its mission – to raise awareness and action on behalf of our currently warming climate – may be political but it is in many ways non-partisan. I don’t think you need to be a parent to want to leave behind a planet on whose surface human life can survive, but it certainly gives you a big stake in the game.
Because I have a three-year-old, getting down to D.C. with, or even without, my family feels daunting at the moment. Maybe, if I can get it together, we’ll attend a sister march closer to New York, but in the meantime and after, I want to become a better environmental activist and advocate. What does that mean? I am obviously no expert, but I’ve read some articles and thought about some things and here’s my plan going forward:

Consuming Less*

I realize, as someone who is the opposite of a compulsive shopper (rather, I am someone who has spent all winter yearning for and in actual need of a warm throw blanket but have been unwilling to actually pony up and buy one) this will not be a feat. But it, 
a) helps me justify my excessively cautious purchasing practices, and
b) sets an example for my son that acquiring stuff is not the key to happiness.
Perhaps in ten to twenty years, he’ll agree! It’s so easy as a parent to buy and acquire things to entertain your kids, but so much of it has a painfully short shelf life. Borrowing or buying used toys and clothes and passing them along is a boon to the planet, but I know I need to buy fewer tiny plastic yogurt containers, plastic food pouches, and other adorable kid-friendly single use foods that produce more waste than they do nutrition. It’s hard to do battle with convenience as a busy parent, but I know I need to try!  
*Consuming less, its worth noting, is slightly different from conscious consumerism, and you can read about the flaws in the latter here.

Not eating so much meat

This quick read on what might happen if you raise your kid a vegetarian is inspiring. Its author, Cody Lindquist, explained her raising-a-vegetarian rationale to me: “So many people have meat at the center of every meal not because they love it, by because they think it’s part of a healthy diet.
When we realized we could get everything we needed for our son through veggies, dairy, eggs, beans, nuts, and fruit it was a no brainer to get rid of it. If everyone just cut back on the amount of meat they ate, we’d go a long way towards limiting our carbon emissions!” We’re not entirely meat-free yet, but I’ve been making heartier vegetarian pasta dishes and they’ve been shockingly well received.  

Calling my Reps

Calling your reps daily has been incredibly intimidating for me so I try to call once a week instead. I’m in New York so much of the time calling just involves a thank you (YES, Kirsten Gillibrand, Chuck Schumer, and Yvette Clark) for fighting on behalf of clean air and water. But the devil is in the details and there is so much more to fight for, like the kind of regulations that’ll protect our water, air, parks, and food going forward.
As the writer of the conscious consumerism article linked to above, Alden Wicker, says, “If you really care about the environment, climb on out of your upcycled wooden chair and get yourself to a town hall meeting.”

Educating myself

Our local chapter of 350.org has a helpful explanation of the power of divesting from fossil fuel. According to Brooklyn350, “26 state governments, 22 counties, and 90 cities, including some of the nation’s biggest, took their money from multinationals that did business in [South Africa]. The South African divestment campaign helped break the back of the Apartheid government and usher in an era of democracy and equality.”
Like most parents, I have to be really mindful of what little free time I’ve got, but it takes five to fifteen minutes to learn a little more about ways to protect our planet. I forget how we have the opportunity every day to vote with our wallets and our investments and I want to work harder to vote with mine.

Giving some time or dollars

OK, this, for many families at many different times, is just not in the cards! The necessity of activism, however, will only go away when enough of us join the fight. Since I’m not feeling flush at the moment, I’m planning to have my husband stay home one night while I meet a friend at a Brooklyn 350 meeting or environmental documentary screening.
It’s such a small thing, I know, and a privilege, too, that I have a husband who can watch our kid while I indulge in some activism and get out for the night. I don’t know where else to start. If you don’t either, come join me!

How to Raise an Adult Who Remains Civil Even When They Disagree

Well, the last few months have been fun, right?

Well, the last few months have been fun, right? No matter what side you’re on, I think we can all agree that the negativity, the arguing, the winds of change…they’ve been uncomfortable to say the least.
Personally, the hardest part of it all has been seeing neighbors and friends act so horrendously toward one another. The next hardest part has been thinking about how it’s affecting our children. What is this name-calling, judgmental, my-way-or-the-highway behavior (that’s echoed throughout our culture) teaching our little people?
Right now, I may feel small. I may feel somewhat helpless to the madness surrounding us. I may be discouraged and not sure of how to fix these seemingly mountain-sized rifts in the ‘we’ of ‘we the people’.
But there are things I can do – at least five things, actually – to know that I’m not contributing to the problem. So, regardless of the political climate, be it this election or the next, here’s what I will teach my children:

Be kind

It seems simple, so simple that we don’t feel that we should have to say it. But we do. From a very early age, we teach our kids to be nice to their friends, not to fight with one another, not to call names. Yet here we are, a bunch of adults, not being kind to one another and calling each other all sorts of names. What does that show our kids?
Research has shown that lessons stick when our kids see us doing, not just telling. We are sending an incredibly conflicting message to our youth: “Treat your neighbor like you want to be treated, but mommy’s going to treat her neighbor the way she thinks he deserves to be treated for reasons x, y, and z.”
Not cool, parents, not cool.
No matter who’s in office, no matter what the social climate dictates, I will teach my kids that it’s always the right choice to be kind. Resentment and hostility only breed further resentment and hostility. No one ever wished they would have been crueler to others on their death bed.

Diversity is a gift

One of my favorite ways to think about diversity is to first recognize that on a scientific level, we are all very much the same. Bill Nye (yes, the Science Guy!) explained it perfectly when he described a man and woman of different ethnic backgrounds having relations…and what happens nine months later. 

No need to go into more detail. You know how it works. 

To summarize Nye’s statements, we’re all the same species. We’re humankind. Race is but a human construct that would be more accurately described as tribes, if approaching the topic from a purely observational, unbiased standpoint.
Here’s where I think the lesson comes in for our children. Diversity within a species allows that species to flourish: new genes, new ideas, new physical attributes, new ways to communicate, new methods of feeding and housing our kind. Whether we’re talking caveman days or right this very moment, this idea holds true. 

Diversity allows us to grow and succeed. Not being the same is what keeps us from becoming a creepy sci-fi movie. Regardless of all the outside noise we may be hearing, I’m taking diversity for the win.

Everyone thinks differently

Thank the Lord for this one. If we didn’t, we’d still believe the world was flat and use blood letting as a treatment for strep throat. I think that alone makes my point. 

Difference in opinion and thought processes make us smarter. We learn from those who have ideas unlike our own, not unlike in school, when a concept can make absolutely no sense until someone else explains it in a way that you hadn’t come up with yourself.
By nature, we are selfish creatures, who tend to conform to notions that the world exists everywhere as it exists where we are. The upbringings and experiences of others shape their worldview and ideas, just as ours do for us. It’s important to encourage our children to be open to the thoughts of others.
This year, and every year, I will surround my children with culture and positively reinforce variation in their thinking.

Stand up for the underdog, even when you’re not one

Our current political climate has sparked so much within me that I never really knew was there. It forced me to confront social biases I didn’t think still existed thanks to growing up in a generation of people who are notoriously tolerant and accepting.
One idea that has really struck me, that I feel a personal responsibility to instill in my children, is that of giving a voice to those who don’t have one, or to those who may not be heard. 

I once believed that there were no benefits to being a middle class, caucasian kid. I was wrong. No one ever looked at me and questioned my motives. No one made harsh and rash judgements about my character without even speaking a word to me. While I’ve worked hard and been gracious, I already had a leg-up by not having to clear the social-bias hurdle. Then I realized my ignorance.
Due to recently implemented extremist policies, the lives of those who are different and those who represent diversity are being torn apart. Their voices aren’t being heard or respected. It is the job of those of us whose safety and security are not being threatened to speak up for those whose safety and security is on the line. 

If we are kind, if we value diversity, if we welcome different thinking, we stand up for the guy who isn’t being represented fairly. It is our responsibility to give our children every advantage and every opportunity to make it, to thrive. It is also our responsibility to teach our children to use their position in life, whatever it may be, to advocate for those who have not been afforded the same opportunities. Now, tomorrow, and forever.

Strive to be better

In life, in politics, in school, we all make mistakes. Sometimes we think we’re doing the right thing, and we go about it the wrong way. Sometimes our country’s leaders are trying to do good, and circumstances happen that turn the whole thing into a big flop. Sometimes we disagree on how to do what’s best, so the end result isn’t so great. 

All that matters is that we have good intentions and that we strive to be better.
If you’re in a heated disagreement and forget to be kind, do better. 

If you get into it with a friend on Facebook who has polar opposite political viewpoints, and you don’t stop to think about why he thinks the way he does and ignore the journey through life that he’s taken, do better next time. 

If you are witness to an injustice and don’t do anything to stop it, be better to lessen the chances of seeing that injustice again.
If you are discouraged by what we’re seeing, how we’re acting, and how we’re treating one another, teach your children to do better so that our next generation can avoid our mistakes and rise above our bitterness. 

I will teach my kids that, on both sides of the political spectrum, we all have room to do and be a little better.

The Most Effective Way to Talk Responsibility With Teens

Post it in a common space for all to see and use it as living, working document.

I have been fortunate enough in my life to have spent a good amount of time with teenagers. The age of transition is so ripe for learning, so wonderfully awkward and vivid and dank, like fertile soil just waiting for seeds. It can be treacherous ground, as well, for teachers and parents to trod.
How do we guide without coercing? How do we demonstrate good habits of mind without seeming hopelessly dorky and out of touch? Well…first, give up on any hope that you won’t seem dorky and out of touch. Know that they need you to show them the way, even if you don’t know how.
Good, now take a deep breath, and think about this quote from the Upanishads.
Watch your thoughts; they become words. Watch your words; they become actions. Watch your actions; they become habits. Watch your habits; they become character. Watch your character; for it becomes your destiny.
When I begin a discussion with a group of young people as we embark on a shared venture, I ask them, “What kind of community do you want to be a part of? What are your hopes and dreams for this group or for your family? What would be the coolest outcome you could imagine for us to reach?”
This is the start of a discussion about community or shared time and space. We talk about personal goals: “I want to make friends… I want to have fun… I want to feel respected… I want to be myself… I want to learn…to be listened to…to feel safe.” These, and many other desires, come out.
The next question I ask them is, “What do we need to do to create a shared space where these hopes and dreams can exist?” We then reexamine our list in the context of what we as individuals need to do, or not do, to make sure our shared goals can be met.
I insist that everyone make a list of what we need to do without using the words “no” or “dont.” Instead of looking at the list of what we want and saying, “I want to be listened to, so dont talk when others are talking,” I ask them to frame it in the positive: “Respect others’ right to speak and be listened to.” Instead of, “No hitting, spitting, fighting, biting, yada, yada, yada…” it becomes, “I have a right to be free from harassment. I have a right to be in a clean environment. I have a right to express myself. I have a right to privacy and personal space.” And so on.
These are things we all want, so it’s easy to find agreement. But it’s important for teens to discover these common desires for themselves. Although the process can take some time, I’ve found that any time spent deliberating shared goals at the outset equals time saved farther down the line. When conflict arises, we can just return to this conversation and say, “Remember what we all agreed we wanted for ourselves and this community?”
Establishing rights is an important second step. It allows for everyone to express themselves and agree that we all want and deserve them. Then I ask the group, “Where do rights come from?”
This is a tougher bone to chew. I often follow this question with a hypothetical scenario: “If you are alone on an island, do you have rights?” Some answer yes, some answer no, and I ask them to hash it out.
Ultimately, I would argue, that when you’re alone you don’t have rights because you don’t need them. Rights only exist in community with other human beings. Rights are created when two people agree not to harm each other. Or, in the formulation of philosopher Jean-Jacques Rousseau, “We gain civil rights in return for accepting the obligation to respect and defend the rights of others.”
This is precisely the point on which the discussion turns. Rights are only created by observing my own responsibility to respect, protect, and defend the rights of someone else. The responsibility comes first. If you keep waiting around for people to respect you before you’re willing to be respectful, then respect is never forthcoming. It takes the altruistic action of giving respect that creates space for respect to be given.
The next question for the group then becomes, “What are our responsibilities to one another to ensure that we live in a community that will help us manifest our hopes and dreams?” The resulting discussion produces a list of responsibilities – usually only five or six specific ones that the group agrees are necessary to its functioning:
“We have a responsibility to respect each other’s space (body and possessions)…to listen to each other…to clean up our shared spaces…to respect differences…to speak truthfully…and ultimately (this takes some direction from the leader), these all come from self-respect. In other words, it all boils down to taking personal responsibility for all our words and actions.
This list becomes a contract that each member of the group signs. We post it in a common space for all to see and use it as living, working document.
When someone forgets, as we all do, any member of the group can point to the contract and say, “Your actions are not in keeping with our social contract.”
Forging shared contracts is a process. Inevitably, regressions and failures occur along the way. If adults pay attention to these moments, they become opportunities to learn and reflect on how individual actions not only affect, but also create our communities. If the process is upheld and reinforced by community leaders, it’s easy to manage the difficulties that do arise as we all re-member (become members again in) our commitment to our hopes and dreams.
As a leader, teacher, and parent, I need to model this behavior if I have any hope of teaching it. I have to subject myself to the same scrutiny I place on those around me. I embrace this difficult task because it makes me a better person – more humble, more aware. Isn’t this what we ask of our children?

3 Hands-On Ways to Teach Kids Love Is Love

Raise a generation of open minds and open hearts.

“No one in America should ever be afraid to walk down the street holding the hand of the person they love.”  -President Barack Obama

That is a beautiful thought. Isn’t it?
Thankfully, the last decade has seen great progress toward acceptance of diversity in relationships, but kids are still exposed to judgmental attitudes and discrimination. They see demonstrations of hatred and violence in their schools and communities from those unwilling to embrace all people regardless of gender, race or sexual orientation.
But we have the power in our homes to overcome our culture’s negative influence. Our families are the building blocks for teaching respect and equality regardless of societal influence.
In (famous) other words, “Love is all you need.”
We have the privilege of raising a generation that will, hopefully, authentically show each other that love is love.
Raising kind and empathetic kids takes some reflection, strategy, and effort. There are plenty of resources out there on the interwebs that put the how-to of teaching these important character traits right at your fingertips. Before you go searching, read on for some fantastic (if I do say so myself) ideas to get you started.

Have a brainstorming session

Bust out a paper and pen and get your collective family brains going. Do a word association of what comes to mind when you talk about the words “family” and “love.” If you want to get really fancy you could try a Venn diagram.
As you share thoughts like connection, laughter, hugs, smiles, and others that come to mind with family and love, you’ll see that they share many words. Perfect! Right? What we’re trying to get across to our kids is that families love each other. This will also illustrate that there is no right way to love or to be a family.
Now that your kids have a clear idea about what makes a lovey-dovey happy family, take things one step further to make a list of people they (and you) love.
Talk about how the people you love can be friends, family, neighbors, teachers, anyone! All these people are different genders, races, and ages of course. Still, you love them all. Talk about how you show your mom your love differently than how you show a teacher your love, but, it’s love all the same.
Now, bring your love and family lists back into the picture. Bring it all together. Bring your point home that it’s okay to love and be a family with anyone who makes your heart happy. People are people. Family is family. Love is love.
There. See? That’s not too hard, is it? So, when your child asks why she has two moms and her friend has a mom and dad or why his friend’s parents are different races, you will be prepared! It’s an essential discussion to have. Go forth imparting wisdom with courage!

Learn about love

Regardless of your religious beliefs 1st Corinthians gives a pretty straightforward narrative about how to truly love someone. Here are the highlights if you need a refresher.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
Can’t argue with that I don’t think.
Read these verses to your kids or have them read to you. These words are a good reminder when we are bombarded with media influence of what love “should” look like.
If you have younger kids you might want to introduce the love is love concept with simpler, fewer words. There are some (not enough) books out there to bring the family diversity topic to little readers. These are some of my faves.

1 | The Family Book

2 | Zak’s Safari

3 | Mommy, Mama and Me

4 | You Are My Once in a Lifetime

5 | Love Is You and Me

6 | ABC A Family Alphabet Book

When you’re done here definitely go look into those and similar books.
Alright. So your family talked about love and learned about love.
Now get creative and have some fun with it!

Create with love

If the mention of arts and crafts sends you hiding under your desk, don’t worry. This is simple. Make a collage!
Go through magazines, google images or family pictures and find the ones that reflect- say it with me now-  “LOVE!”
They can be pictures of families, couples, friends, even cuddly puppies. Anything that gives warm, fuzzy feelings of joy and gratitude, put it on there.
While you’re creating, crank up the songs you love.
In fact, check out this love-ly playlist to really carry out the theme, and don’t be afraid to belt ‘em out while you make your project!

There you go! The topic of who, why and how we love need not be an intimidating one.
Equipped with these suggestions in your “rock this parenting thing” mental folder you’re all set to share the love. So, go get to it!

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How to be an Effective Parent Volunteer

There are many ways to stay active in your kid’s education from kindergarten through high school that will not only benefit them, but you as well.

In our time-crunched society, it can be a struggle to stay active in your child’s school.  Many of us work during the day, or have younger children at home and can’t come to school regularly to volunteer in classrooms, attend PTA meetings, be the party-planning room parent or chaperone field trips.  There are still many ways to stay active in your child’s education from kindergarten through high school that will not only benefit your child but you as well.
Children achieve more when their parents are invested in their education.  By being present at school conferences, performances, and competitions, children see that their parents are interested in them and their day-to-day life.  You get to see your child in the context of his peer group, meet his friends, and get a sense of the culture of the school. Children see you form relationships with their teachers and friends, and by extension, the school community.

What can I do?

Visit an elementary school on any given day and you will see a steady stream of parent volunteers signing in and out of the office.  The end of the year Volunteer Appreciation Assembly at the school where I teach in the Detroit area is attended by no less than 100-200 volunteers who have helped in some way throughout the year.
There are many opportunities to help in elementary school. You can:

  •  Listen to children read or practice math facts 
  •  Be a “Mystery Reader” and read a favorite book to your child’s class
  •  Copy or laminate teaching materials
  •  Plan a class holiday party
  •  Offer to present programs such as Art Smart or the Math Pentathlon
  •  Attend evening events (Halloween Party, Science Fair, dances and sporting events)
  •  Prepare class materials at home
  •  Help organize fundraisers, such as Box Tops for Education
  •  Chaperone a field trip
  •  Organize or participate in an after-school program such a Study Buddies, basketball, Spanish Club, Wordmasters, etc. 
  •  Help in the Media Center, shelving books or assisting with technology

There is a decline in parental involvement in middle and high school, partially because of the children’s struggle for independence and the importance of the peer group, and partly because many parents return to work as their children grow older. There are still many ways of staying connected to school.

  • Offer to take tickets at the door or run the concession stand at a dance or sporting event
  •  Chaperone field trips
  •  Attend sports, music, and theater performances
  •  Sign up for snack duty at sporting practices
  •  Offer to take photos for the school yearbook
  •  Attend Parent-Teacher Conferences and Open House Night to build relationships with your child’s teachers and school staff
  •  Work with the drama department to help build sets or repair costumes
  •  Run a fundraiser
  •  Attend school board and PTA meetings

How to be an effective volunteer

Schools and teachers welcome volunteers as important members of the school community.  Many active volunteers mean that schools can focus their attention on academics while still providing enriching, meaningful opportunities for the students. You can make it easier by:

  • Arriving on time
  • Honoring each child by keeping academic and personal information confidential
  • Communicating with the teacher any concerns you may have
  • Respecting limits (don’t be the field trip chaperone who arrives back at the bus with ice cream cones for his child and two friends).
  • Don’t expect privileges for your child because of your involvement
  • Don’t hover over your own child. Give him some space.

Both you and your child will benefit from your involvement in school. Your child will see that you value and are invested in her education and the school community.   You will see your child in the context of other children, friends, and peers, as she begins to establish an identity that is uniquely her own.

How Parenting and Politics Challenge My Inner-Introvert

After years of fighting my shyness, I thought I had come to a happy medium, but two new issues arose that challenged my inner introvert: Parenting and Politics.

I have always had what my parents called a “slow-to-warm” attitude. I’d rather hang out with my two best friends or my husband than make small talk with twenty people. I have an aversion to public speaking and hate talking on the phone. I need a respite from humanity each day. I need my time to recharge.
I also happen to have a job that requires me to speak to strangers constantly. I’m often tasked with pitching and selling my ideas. It’s like when I was graduating college, I looked into my future and thought, What could I do that is the complete opposite of what I think I like doing? And then I did it.
That being said, I love my job. When it comes to my career, I might still struggle with my natural introversion more than colleagues, but I ultimately overcome it,  at least to a degree that has kept me gainfully employed.
After years of fighting my shyness, I thought I had come to a happy medium, but then two new issues arose that unexpectedly challenged my inner introvert: Parenting and Politics.
I had no idea just how much parenthood would force me into so many social situations with strangers. There are non-stop playdates, mommy groups, dance recitals, gymnastics classes, and let us not forget the birthday parties.
Birthday parties do come with some bonuses, though. There is a magical common ground found at birthday parties that can be the cure for the common introvert. While everyone has their own personal parenting style (and the differences can often lead to brutal parenting group Facebook debates), when it comes to chatting about kids, it’s easy to find a connection. “Your kid does that too?” It is the answer to any awkward small talk and it might even be its own form of group therapy.
I consider children’s birthday parties to be more like support groups. It gives parents the opportunity to vent about the new frustrating thing their kid is doing, and to hear that they are not alone. Plus, you get to eat your feelings, often in the form of pizza and cake.
Recently, though, I’ve discovered some of my own weird baggage when it comes to introversion and parenting.
My daughter often tells me on the way to school, “I’m going to be shy today.” I’m not sure what motivates this and I’m not certain that it’s even true. Whenever I see her interacting with classmates and teachers at school, she seems to be confident and boisterous. It pushes some button inside me, though,  that hates my own inner introversion, and wants her not to struggle with it like I did.
However, if she wants to be shy, I don’t want to treat it like it’s a bad thing. She shouldn’t be punished for it, or forced to be friends with someone she doesn’t want to be friends with – as long as she’s still kind. There are benefits to being an introvert, not to mention countless examples of very successful ones. I have to let her be who she’s going to be. I need to give her the tools to be her best self, no matter whether she’s quiet or a class clown.
The other major challenge to my introversion has come in the form of politics. Like many Americans, I’ve recently become much more politically active. I’ve always talked the talk, but in the last year I’ve begun to walk the walk.
If the recent election has taught me anything, it’s that concrete actions matter. I can tweet and share articles all I want, but that’s not the same as interpersonal communication. This now means interacting with strangers, be it a congressman’s representative, fellow protesters, volunteers, or other concerned citizens.
For an introvert, this can be terrifying. I signed up for some phone bank training and quickly flaked out. Maybe I should have started smaller. After that false start, I’ve begun making phone calls to my representatives. Follow the script, stay polite and firm, and get off the phone. This is doable. I’ve written letters to the editor, the perfect form of communication for shy people. I joined the Women’s March in Los Angeles, bonding with countless strangers as we collectively dealt with our national grievances and frustrations.
A month ago, I helped my friend run for local office. This meant handing out flyers and trying to convince strangers to vote for her. It tested everything inside me to have to approach (sometimes unfriendly) fellow constituents to explain where my friend stood on issues and why they should vote for her. But I pushed through; this was too important to let the introvert inside win. I wasn’t going to admit defeat like I did with the phone bank training.
At the local election, my worlds of parenting and politics converged. My husband brought my daughter, and she marched up and down the line of voters, chanting my friend’s name. She took her job seriously and had no qualms about speaking out in front of strangers. It inspired me to do the same, and reassured me that no matter if she “wants to be shy today,” she can still call upon her inner confidence when she wants or needs it.
Shyness does not relegate her (or me) to some quiet corner in the room. It may mean a different approach to situations, but that doesn’t inherently mean it’s the wrong approach. I’ve noticed that the ability to take a pause and read the room is not necessarily a bad thing. Quiet introspection sometimes leads to more complex ideas. Less of a wide-ranging social life may mean fewer, but stronger, connections.
My daughter can be shy if she wants to be shy, and loud if she wants to be loud. Most importantly, I’ll instill the confidence in her that either is fine. While I’m at it, I’ll continue to try to convince myself of that as well.
 

Your Friendly Neighborhood Online Parenting Forum

Want a whole host of opinions about child-rearing, politics, and lifestyle choice from other parents? Hop onto your neighborhood online parenting forum.

In addition to wasting a bunch of precious time, online parenting forums have also paved the way for moms and dads to overtly or inadvertently foist their opinions about child-rearing, politics, and lifestyle choice on other parents.

Does this scenario sound familiar?

BOB: So, what are we going to do about the monkey bars at the playground, everybody?

JANE: What’s the problem with the monkey bars?

SUE: Well, five kids broke their arms on them in three weeks – including my kids, Velvet and Jagger.

JANE: That’s too bad, but studies have proven that playgrounds today are actually “too safe” and it’s detrimental to the children’s development. You’re obviously a bunch of helicopter parents.

BOB: Well, I think it’s detrimental to have a broken arm.

SUE:  FYI, the preferred term is no longer “monkey bars.” It’s “parallel equipment.” While we’re on the topic of safety, I’d also like to start talking about the pool, so we can fix any lingering issues by the summer.  

JANE: What’s wrong with the pool?

BOB: Well, there is garbage everywhere, and non-organic snacks, and some people allow their children to throw balls in the air, all of which is inherently dangerous.

XYRTHIS: I am a free-range parent and I ENCOURAGE my children to throw balls in the air, even near the pool. In fact, I think the fences from around the pool should be removed. I have created a separate group called Locals Against Fences if you want to join. But yes, we do need organic snacks PRONTO.

DAVE: I can tell from her comment that Xyrthis has not lived in this town for 75 generations like MY family AND is a ridiculous liberal who most likely moved here from Brooklyn four months ago. But I agree, we should do away with the fences, because I consider myself a libertarian and a rabble-rouser. P.S. I am running for mayor of this town based on the fact that I have lived here for 68 years. I hope you’ll vote for me! You may say I have no political experience, but I say I am the SOUL of this very town.

JOE: Well, the food at the pool is provided by Pizza Haven, and Sam, who has run Pizza Haven for 45 years, says that he has tried, in fact, to sell organic fruit at the pool before, but the kids just buy candy and pizza. The organic apples ended up being used as balls and thrown in the air by the children. Also, I, too, am running for mayor of this town even though I am only 22 years old, because having worked as a lifeguard and snack supervisor at the pool since I was 16, I know the inner workings of this town better than anyone.

ANNE: No fences around the pool? Are you insane!? Have you forgotten about this town’s deer problem? The deer will eat the trees, bushes, grass, organic and non-organic snacks. They will drown in the pool and spread Lyme disease, and then Bill, who works at the pool, will have to clean dead deer corpses out of it. Also, I really don’t think pools should be used by children at all. Get a grip, you scumbags!

JANE: Anne, there is no need to use divisive language. Also, clearly you do not understand the important role that deer have played in this town, not to mention in classic literature AND the pagan tradition. I suggest you educate yourself before calling others names.

JOHN: I think you should all stuff your organic snacks in a plastic bag.

XYRTHIS: I can’t believe you brought plastic bags into this discussion. That lawsuit was dismissed, you know, and the plastic bag ban remains in effect.

PAUL: The plastic bag ban overturn is totally unconstitutional. The judge who allowed the dismissal of the suit only did so because of Law 30.5.67 in our town’s Code of Conduct, which you can easily find on page 5,437 in the copy at the local library. The document is there in full for anyone to read at any time! It should be noted, however, that our current Mayor and Trustees have tried to limit the people’s access to this document by highly unethical means – such as limiting library hours to only 10 hours a day. Also, the entire political body of the town is NOT operating with full transparency. The minutes from the last town meeting were posted on the town website, however, the last 30 seconds of the meeting were “accidentally” cut off. Don’t you think we, the taxpayers, have a right to know exactly what happened in those 30 seconds?!

BOB: Paul, are you a lawyer? Because I think I want to sue the pool.

PAUL: No, I’m not a lawyer, just a concerned citizen.

BOB: That’s great, Paul. By the way, I have a free television to give away if anyone wants it. Also, does anyone know a good handyman?

LESLIE: I can’t believe you just assumed there are no good handywomen in this town. And please educate yourself on how to use the “search” function in this group and “turn on notifications.”

SARA: Hi, everyone. I’m new in town and wanted to ask about the fire alarm. It seems kind of loud, doesn’t it?

DAVE: I can’t BELIEVE you asked about the fire alarm. If you don’t like it, you should move. The fire alarm SAVES LIVES. You must be against the saving of lives, and you clearly haven’t volunteered with the fire department like I have.

SARA: I just noted it was loud!

BOB: I’ve just about had it with the liberals in this group, and this town. I’m going to be flying a flag with a swastika on it at the next farmer’s market. But let me educate all of you before you complain about the swastika – that symbol doesn’t mean what you think it means.

DAVE: Wow, you guys are really a bunch of privileged whiners. By the way, someone just sped through the stop sign at the corner of Main and Elm. I took a photo of his license plate – here it is.  See you all in the spot where the monkey bars used to be!  

Finding Community in a Pile of Plastic Containers

The pile of plastic containers, ziploc bags, and tupperware tell the story of a community that nurtured us as new parents. Now it’s time to return the love.

Darkness flows up from the cellar. It’s been over two years since we settled into this house and we still haven’t found the will to install a light, not even one of those touch lights that sticks to the wall. It’s okay though, I know where to reach now.

The good dishes rest on wooden shelves above the basement steps, next to a case of seltzer and our 20 pound bag of rice. The shelves are sturdy, anchored into 19th century brick with a permanency that has outlasted generations. The open shelving makes the dishes easy to find, but offers little protection. If the stairwell door slams too hard a shower of plaster crumbs will rain down. I always wash them before use.

You won’t find my grandmother’s serving bowl or the milk-glass deviled egg plate on these sturdy perches. Instead, the sacred shelves hold the Glad containers and the take-out boxes. There are disposable aluminum baking pans, Ziploc bags, and marinara-stained Tupperware. Plastic cups and utensils fill in the cracks. An array of leftover napkins flutters down the steps if you move too quickly, coating the concrete floor with images of wrinkled balloons, monkeys, or lace.

The collection is significant in size and meaning. These are the dishes that fed us, day by day, when we first became parents. These are the good dishes.

Our community showered us before the birth of our daughter, but they fueled us in the aftermath. The crab cakes weren’t just pan-fried and the enchiladas were more than just cheese and chicken. They were a welcome to our girl and a tangible offering of love, infused with support and served with a side of hope. Nothing says “we believe in you” like Thai red curry and a six pack of Kölsch.

People emerged from all parts of our community in those early, hazy days. Friends who poured a glass of wine, family who offered that secret recipe, co-workers who before had never been invited for dinner. There was a woman from church whose name I first learned when she knocked at our door. As she dropped off her tortilla soup she said, “In a bit you’ll be on this side of the meal delivery too. You’ll make it. Hold on to the containers.”

These are the dishes that are passed on to others.

When it’s time, I choose each one carefully, first evaluating the volume of the container and then the seal of the lid. There is always a matching lid. A lost or cracked lid indicates the dish has fulfilled its purpose, and it should be laid to rest on Thursday morning with the week’s empty milk jugs and old newspapers.

Our stash is dwindling, but still, there are three newborn onesies and six burp rags hanging on the wash line next door. It’s time to raid the shelves again.

I cross the street to our overgrown garden plot with a chipped blue colander and a pair of scissors, cutting only the most tender lettuce leaves while collecting half a dozen mosquito bites. I return to our kitchen, praying for sleep for the new mama in the other half of our duplex.

The lasagna noodles are just starting to boil as I mix an egg in with the ricotta, adding a shake of pepper and a pinch of salt. I slice radishes, shred carrots, and whisk wishes for health and no colic into a dressing.

The rhubarb blueberry cobbler in the oven bubbles steadily in its square aluminum pan, the peaks golden and crispy from the love-and-butter-filled dough.

I unhook the lock at the top of the door and feel my way through the paper and plastic. There it is: a clear, round container with a light blue lid that will fit the salad perfectly. As I reach for a pan suitable for layering lasagna, my two year old daughter runs into the kitchen.

“Mommy, what you doin’? Makin’ supper?”

“I’m making supper for Miss Sara and Mr. Dave.”

“And Baby Violet?”

“Yes, and Baby Violet.”

“Can we do it together?”

We are now the feeders. My baby can demand whole milk with words instead of wailing for breasts. She can run into the kitchen and ask to carry the salad next door. Each good dish we have parted with has strengthened not just the people we fed, but has been a sign of the growing strength of our family. As we got back on our feet, we could begin to lend a hand. Our empty shelf is a sign of our supported clan.

When my husband and I talk about adding to our family, I first remember how a newborn consumed us. Then I think of the dishes and how they’ll be replenished – emptied of the chicken & rice casserole, filled with encouragement and a side of tacos. 

For every family fumbling in the dark, there is another family who has memorized where to reach and knows which lid fits. They’ll pull out the dish, fill it with goodness, and pass on the beauty of community.