Determination and the Will to Live

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
In the mirror I could see the impossibly tiny blue foot sticking out of my abdomen, no bigger than an almond. I only glimpsed it for a moment as the doctor hurried to slide his large hand around the leg and reach for the body. But the tininess, and the blueness of course, alarmed me. Within moments the doctor was holding the smallest infant I had ever seen in front of me, briefly, before he was whisked from the room to be resuscitated. In my head a voice screamed, “Put him back! He’s too small! He’ll never make it!”
When I awoke I was taken to see my son whom we’d decided to name James. He had been put on a ventilator and it was tougher than anticipated to see him on it. Every breath looked intensely painful. When he breathed in it looked as if his ribs were touching his spine. His whole chest would compress incredibly hard. It appeared that every muscle in that tiny two-pound body would tense and it gave the impression that James was experiencing acute pain.
But James was born with two things that mattered: flaming red hair and the determination to match it. He was here to survive. He had Hyaline Membrane Disease which affects the lungs and makes it very difficult to breathe. Yet he fought every day determined to breathe on his own one day. He also required a blood transfusion but at two pounds they couldn’t find any veins large enough to use. Eventually they had to go through a vein right in the top of his head near the forehead. He didn’t like it but he tolerated it with his determination and will to live.
Each week he experienced two steps forward and one step back. That sweet little baby struggled for over 60 days in the hospital before they finally released him to come home. Yet even with all the pain he experienced in the first days and weeks of his life James was the most sweet spirited child that anyone who knew him had ever encountered. He was a joy to his family. He was especially adored by his Daddy. He and his Daddy developed a close bond. They loved to read together, take walks, have “guy talks” and wrestle. For nearly five years they shared a great father/son relationship.
That is why James almost fell apart when his Daddy died suddenly two days before James turned five years old. He had experienced a sudden stroke. No apparent reason. He was totally healthy and there was no family history of it. After the stroke they had done surgery to open the closed artery. We had thought all was well. He had hemorrhaged and within hours was declared brain dead. Then I had to tell James. I have never seen a child that upset. I’ve seen children cry. I’ve even seen children throw fits. I have never seen a child experience that true depth of sorrow. He cried so hard for so long we had to take his clothes off because he was overheating.
Still, we wondered if he was fully comprehending the permanent nature of death. It wasn’t until after the viewing that I would understand what he was thinking. At the viewing I took James and his sister in with me to see their Daddy’s body before the guests arrived. After a moment James asked to be alone with his Daddy. I was hesitant at first and then agreed. After leaving him alone for about five minutes, he came walking out of the room with a tear stained face and looking exhausted. He let me pick him up and hold him and he rested his head on my shoulder.
The next day when I asked him about it he told me, “I didn’t know if Daddy was really dead so I wanted to be alone with him. When you left I said to him, ‘Daddy, wake up!’ But he didn’t wake up. So them I took his hand to shake it. But his hand was very cold. So then I knew he was really dead. And then I cried and cried.” He waited until he was done crying to come out of the room to me.
It seems to me that when James learned his Daddy had died for real that was a moment of determination for him. He had to once again choose to go on and live, to dry his tears, and put on a brave face for mom. That brave, sweet little boy by five years old had already twice in his life, both when he was a tiny two-pound preemie and as a five year old facing the death of his Daddy, shown amazing determination and a will to live!

Who Has Time to Write?

If you’re the kind of person who needs intellectual stimulation in order to feel satisfied, don’t buy into the myth of “supermom.”

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
When my youngest daughter was a baby, just a few years ago, I used to bundle her and her two-year-old sister up in snowsuits and take them to a Friday morning coffee klatsch called “Globally Minded Moms.” The group of us, all mothers with young children, would watch a TED talk or read an article in preparation for a discussion about something – anything, preferably about something other than parenting. I was at one of these meetings one morning when the topic of writing and motherhood came up in connection to an online lecture we had watched. I mentioned a story I’d been working on when a someone who didn’t usually come to our meetings interrupted me to say, “Who has time to write? I don’t even have time to fold my kids’ laundry!” She went on to tell us about a new app she had bought which kept all of her housekeeping duties organized. It even reminded her to change the tea towels in the kitchen, since, she assured us, this absolutely needed to be done every day, and did we know how many germs were on those things?
Who has time to write? The accusation in that question stung, even if unintentional. How is it possible to defend our writing time when, even when the babies are sleeping, there is always laundry to be folded, tea towels to be changed? And if you slack off a little, even for a day, well, just think of the germs! Your whole family could get salmonella poisoning.
And then there’s that other question lurking there, barely veiled beneath the one asked aloud: how can you be so selfish?
I will admit, quietly, usually muttering to myself while doing the dishes, to being artistically ambitious, although I don’t have much to show for it. Even modest ambition can be seen as a character flaw in women who are also mothers, because the expectation for mothers is selflessness. I have a hard time with that word, selfless. Self-less-ness, the state of being without a self. And yet I feel a pressure coming from absolutely everywhere – from people I love and respect who refer to it as “babysitting” when a father cares for his own children, to my own inner dialogue, critiquing the state of my house and questioning my priorities – to justify my time spent writing with some sort of selfless and practical excuse. But here is the thing: I really do believe that my writing is good for my daughters. I’ll gladly discuss a few reasons why here, in the company of other readers and writers. However, in our day to day lives, I strongly believe that we should not be required to defend our writing as though the imperative to write (and, more importantly, to read and also to think) stems from some sort of selfishness or narcissism or even immaturity. After all, this is 2017. It should go without saying. But it often doesn’t feel that way for writer-mothers.
Having my kids see me work at my writing has helped them to develop their own passion for reading and writing. My six-year-old sometimes sits at the table with me and works on developing storylines and illustrating her own books while I work on a draft. She has a natural sense of structure, and her stories often have several threads which come together at the end. She has written a series of books which end with a family pet making a joke and the family realizing they can understand the pet’s speech.
If, like me, you’re the kind of person who needs the intellectual stimulation of reading and writing in order to feel satisfied, then don’t buy into the myth of the “supermom.” How much more present I am for my kids, more patient and playful, when I’ve had that occasional hour to read and write. It recharges me. But, if the prospect of spending months making hand-embroidered bunnies for all the kids attending your two-year-old’s birthday party appeals to you, then go for it. Just don’t expect to have any time left to write.
Many beginning writers stack the odds against themselves, waiting for the perfect time and space, quiet, and private. If you’re a parent of young children, that’s never going to happen. If writing is really what you want to do, don’t use the lack of quiet time or the myth of the supermom as excuses not to write. In fact, as I write this, I am sitting on the couch with my four-year-old daughter. She’s watching Scooby Doo, I’ve got earplugs in and dirty teatowels dangle from my stove. In the current climate of competitive parenting, this is something you would think I’d feel guilty about. I don’t.
This article was originally published in the Saskatchewan Writer’s Guild publication, Freelance, in the summer of 2017.

How to Test Your Kids’ Vision Before They Can Read

You might be wondering how your three-year-old could possibly sit still for an eye exam, let alone read one. Here’s how.

The US Preventive Services Task Force recently recommended vision screening for all children between the ages of three and five.
If you’ve logged a good amount of time trying to distinguish “C” from “O,” you might be wondering how your three-year-old could possibly sit still for an eye exam, let alone read one.
Childhood vision screening generally takes place in a pediatrician’s office. Here’s what your child’s pediatrician is looking for and what you can expect during the visit.

What your child’s pediatrician is looking for

Unlike your eye exams, which may include testing for glasses, your child’s vision screenings are generally looking for warning signs of future vision problems.
Your child’s pediatrician is specifically screening for evidence of amblyopia, which occurs when one eye is unable to communicate properly with the brain. The risk of amblyopia is low: according to the USPSTF, between one and six percent of kids under age six will have either amblyopia of a risk factor for amblyopia.
In its review, the USPSTF found there to be small but permanent improvements to vision in three- to five-year-olds when amblyopia is identified and treated. Because the tests for amblyopia and its risk factors are non-invasive, the USPSTF has determined that the benefits of vision screening outweigh any harms.

What to expect during the visit

A pediatrician may use many different tools to examine your child’s eye structure, coordination, and acuity. The following three tests are among the most common.

Tool 1: Red Reflex

What it measures: Your child has likely had a red reflex test before, as many kids have them before two months of age. The test helps identify any physical abnormalities in the back of the eye, ranging from cataracts to retinoblastoma.
The red reflex test is named after the color healthy eyes give off when viewed through an ophthalmoscope from about one foot away. That red color is easier to see in the dark, which is why your pediatrician may turn the lights off for this test.
The phenomenon is the same as the “red eye” you try to edit out of photographs. In fact, photographs featuring a single red eye have been used to identify serious eye conditions.

Tool 2: Cover/Uncover Test

What it measures: You’ve probably seen your child’s pediatrician do a fix and follow test, in which your child is instructed to look at the pediatrician’s finger and follow it around the room. That test examined how well your child’s eyes function together.
The cover/uncover test works a similar way. Your child will be asked to focus on an object in the distance, then the pediatrician will cover one of your child’s eyes. While your child is still looking at the object, the tester will uncover the eye and watch for movement.
The test is observing for strabismus (incorrectly aligned eyes), which is one risk factor for amblyopia.

Tool 3: Lea Symbols Chart

What it measures: You may have not spent a lot of time thinking about how the letters at your optometrist office get made. They are optotypes, specially designed tools for testing vision. The letters in an optotype are designed to all blur equally under the same conditions, which give examiners a better understanding of a patient’s visual acuity.
Pre-readers get their own special optotypes. Instead of letters, they’ll likely have four symbols: a square, a circle, a house, and an apple. Those symbols, called the Lea Symbols, have been shown to get more cooperation from kids than other eye tests.
The Lea Symbols test works much like the eye charts you see (or don’t see!) at your optometrist. The test measures kids’ visual acuity, and can determine whether or not your child may need glasses.

2017 ABC Kids Expo Editorial Round-Up

Our directed mission at this year’s ABC Kids Expo: to uncover smart, useful, innovative brands making a positive impact on parents’ lives.

Like conscientious messengers returning to our tribe from the far reaches of the desert, we’re here to tell our tales from the 2017 ABC Kids Expo in Las Vegas. Our directed mission: to uncover smart, useful, innovative brands making a positive impact on parents’ lives.
In no particular order, here are 10 standouts that caught our eye:
 

Kudo Banz kid behavior reward system Kudo Banz kid behavior reward system

KudoBanz

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There is a ton of well-founded research and data that supports the use of positive reinforcement combined with recognizing good behavior when it happens. It’s considered one of the most effective methods for improving a child’s behavior. Sticker reward charts are a great way to implement this action.
Kudo Banz is stepping up the game, however, with a fun, wearable reward system that’s always with you. The 1, 2, and 3 on the wristband have attachable “Kudos” that come in a wide variety of characters, from dinosaurs to superheros. This shows your child their progress and motivates them to earn their next Kudo with good behavior.
Tech Bonus: Once they reach the third level, your kids can open the accompanying app and scan the Kudo to unlock their personalized reward wheel and move up a level in the Kudo World. This keeps kids motivated over the long term.
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Lilu hands free breast pump

Lilu

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For mothers who pump, an astonishing 62 percent are unsatisfied with the way their pumps work according to the Journal of Human Lactation. Chief complaints include: discomfort, pain from pumping, as well as insufficient and slower milk extraction than when breastfeeding. Additionally, 66 percent of moms massage their breasts while pumping in an effort to express more milk.
Lilu is the first pumping bra to offer hands-free, automated breast massage, enhancing your pumping session and boosting your production. Little inflatable pockets generate massage and compression motions that gently stimulate milk flow from further back in the breast toward the front. This enables mothers to extract up to 50 percent more milk per session in a shorter period of time, all without needing to use their hands.
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Cake Maternity nursing bras

Cake Maternity

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Few people understand that nursing bras have a lot to do with breast health. Cake Maternity is on a mission to educate women and ensure breast health during this delicate time in a mother’s life. Part of every consumer experience addresses why and when it’s best to be fitted, as well as what bras are recommended by stage.
Cake understands that the pregnancy and breastfeeding journey isn’t easy and, even more importantly, that mothers are women first. It’s with this mindset that Cake respects and celebrates the uniqueness of each mother’s body. Cake products are fashionable, functional, and resourceful, reinforcing a woman’s essential selfhood after the birth of her baby.
This maternity and nursing bra company is setting a new tone and raising the stakes for the whole industry.
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Purill Step Stool from Hasegawa LaddersHasegawa Ladders

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Feeling around on top of the fridge for extra breastmilk-storage bags, or reaching that recipe book on the top shelf of the pantry, or helping your toddler reach the sink to brush his teeth…all these daily tasks could use a little boost.
Sure, you could go to Lowes and buy a step stool used by painters and contractors, but do you really want a clunky eyesore cluttering up your HGTV-styled home? (Okay, you have a kid, so it’s probably a mess, but you still appreciate and aim for a thoughtful aesthetic.)
Why not go for an upgrade and try the Purill Step Stool from Hasegawa Ladders. This brand has been creating beautiful, home-friendly ladders and step stools in Japan since the 1950s. Now available on the U.S. market, their designs are sexy, durable, fun, and colorful.
The Purill Step Stool is the ideal family friendly option for a little lift at home. It’s like a new pet that you don’t actually have to take care of.
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Malarkey Kids

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Beware the Munch Monster! This nocturnal beast can easily be identified by its massive amounts of drool, cranky disposition, guttural whelps, and a masochistic gnawing of its own fingers and hands. Have you ever had a run in with this creature?
When your baby begins to cut that first tooth, you, too, will encounter the “Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde” tendencies of your sweet child. While time is the ultimate cure, the Malarkey Kids Munch Mitt will ease the struggle.
This wearable teething mitten textured for chewing is sensorially crinkley, aesthetically interesting, and helps prevent drool-induced dry skin. Avoid the knock-offs, because there’s only one true Munch Mitt.
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Love Bug Probiotics

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Our bodies are full of bacteria, both good and bad. Probiotics are the good version: live bacteria and yeasts fundamentally necessary for a healthy gut. Pasteurization and refrigeration trends over the last 50 years have practically eliminated probiotics from the typical American diet and, in some cases, even added antibiotics, which kill off the good bacteria.
Probiotic-rich food sources such as yogurt and kombucha can help restore our healthy bacteria count and lead to a stronger immune system, improved digestion, increased energy, healthier skin, and weight loss. Love Bug Probiotics takes your family’s gut health to a whole new level.
This company has developed a robust line of products containing only the best probiotic strains. Their scientifically backed expertise has crafted supplements targeting specialized needs and health concerns, including products aimed at prenatal health, urinary health, tiny tummies, symptoms of IBS, and cold and flu.
Protect and nurture the health of your whole family with Love Bug Probiotics.
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Kizingo Kids spoons for kids to feed themselves

Kizingo Kids

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Kids who can successfully self-feed are less likely to become choosy eaters and are more adventurous in their eating, trying a greater variety of foods. They’re also less likely to overeat.
U.S. obesity rates have tripled over the last 30 years, so it’s more important than ever to create positive eating behaviors at a young age. Research has shown that the crucial period for establishing good eating and food habits begins when kids are learning to self-feed. Patterns created during this period influence eating behaviors into adulthood.
Traditional kid-sized utensils are a poor match for little hands, so Kizingo Kids has developed an innovative tool that helps children learn to self-feed successfully. Curved by design, these spoons promote independence and encourage mealtime success.
Kizingo Kids spoons are beautiful, affordable, and they come in both right and left hand models.
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OneBerrie bath blanket

Oneberrie

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Bathtime is a fun, special way to connect with your baby. But when you’ve both had enough and are ready to dry off and head to bed, your infant’s slippery little body can make for a treacherous and oftentimes very wet experience.
Instead of pinning a towel between your chin and chest or even between your teeth, Oneberrie has an innovative new solution: a towel that buttons around mama or papa’s neck, freeing both hands and keeping everyone dry and happy.
The towel adapts to grow with your baby as well. For newborns, wear the towel vertically to wrap him from underneath. For infants, wear the towel horizontally to wrap baby up like a burrito. And you’ll win the day with your toddler by letting her wear the playfully designed towels like a superhero cape!
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Swipensnape diaper cream dispenser

Swipensnap

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Diaper rash ointment is a necessity when faced with 8,000-plus diaper changes before your little one is potty trained. The process seems simple enough, but it takes two hands, and some ointments and creams are oily or sticky, requiring you to wipe your hands clean before touching anything or getting your baby dressed.
Swipensnap has created an affordable applicator that attaches to most tubes of ointment. It’s soft and flexible, allowing for even distribution on your baby’s bottom. The suction cup lid acts as a dock that can be snapped in and out of the applicator, so you can apply the ointment using just one hand and keep you, your clothes, and the changing table, clean!
Perhaps most importantly, this means your free hand can protect your baby from rolling off the changing table.
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CocoonCam baby camera and appCocoon Cam

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Imagine you’ve just returned home from the hospital with your new baby, the most precious creature in your parent universe. Newborns spend most of their early hours at home sleeping, and you spend many of those same hours just staring in awe at the newest member of your family, watching every tiny breath.
For those moments when you need to step away, and as your child continues to grow, baby monitors can help keep tabs. Some monitors deliver sound and video to you in another room, while others are baby-wearable devices that track vital signs. But how would you sleep with a device attached to your ankle? And what happens to the expensive onesie with built in vital sign technology when the inevitable diaper blowout occurs?
Enter the surprisingly affordable Cocoon Cam. Created by engineers from Tesla and Apple, Cocoon Cam uses computer vision technology (much like that used in a self-parking car) to create a real-time visualization of your baby’s breathing activity. The breathing graph is sent to your smartphone along with instant alerts, so you’re always aware if anything needs your attention.
You will get a good night’s sleep, knowing your little one is safe, sound, and protected.

Goodnight, Sleep Demon

After years of sleeping just fine in her own room, she stopped. At first we thought she must have had a bad dream the night before. But it kept going.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
“My stomach hurts.” “I can’t sleep;” “Can you close my closet?” “Can I just sleep with you?” Sound familiar? You are not alone – and neither is your child.
Obviously all children have times of anxiety when leaving their parents, or meeting new people, or going to a sleepover for the first time. Most will even go through a period of wanting to sleep in your room. But most toddlers or young kids grow out of that.
What they don’t generally do is stay awake all night long, miss school, throw random tantrums about leaving you; or turn down sleepovers with their close friends. What they don’t generally do is bring that anxiety into the school years.
They also don’t spend two years trying to sleep in their own bed, alone in their own room, but just being incapable of it. Seriously.
Approximately 12 percent of children suffer from separation anxiety disorder before they reach 18. While that’s not a huge amount, it’s enough that it should be talked about, highlighted. There should be information out there for parents to know what’s typical and what isn’t. You know what to look for in the flu, but where’s the document about anxiety, or Anxiety – and the differences between them. I wish i had clued into any of the telltale signs before I did. But honestly I didn’t know what those signs were. All my friends had kids who had had some trouble sleeping. And when you are living through it, it feels singular; like you alone are battling these ever-elusive sleep demons.
For a while I traveled a couple of days a week for work – and my leaving was excruciating. It was also excruciating when I called home and could barely understand anything being said through enormous fits of tears and “Come home, Mommy; please come home.” It broke my heart. My husband was hassled, frustrated, and downright cranky: Trying to get her to school was anything but pretty in the mornings I was away. I felt enormous guilt and was torn between trying to calm and comfort Carrie or telling her to just suck it up and go to school. I often hung up in tears myself. But I comforted myself. I just thought “ this too shall pass”.
That all changed one day when my daughter’s kindergarten teacher saw me dropping her off and said “oh it’s so great having you home – no more tummy aches.” EXCUSE ME?? That was the first I had heard of those apparently daily events. The fact that they disappeared when I was home was clearly a sign that she was distressed. Carrie had worried I would get hurt or die in an airplane, or not come home, or any number of things all the time. But we didn’t know that – she didn’t have the words to tell me, was too scared to say it, and Dave and I didn’t stop to ask the right questions.
Things improved when I was home more often. There was continuity, I was clued into her sensitivity and she felt safe. So again, I wasn’t too concerned. She went to school just fine, she liked her teachers, had friends, and had fun. She was actually back to being a bundle of joy, laughter, and creativity. Until she wasn’t.
You know that story of when he was good he was very, very good, but when he was bad, he was terrible? Well, let’s just say I do too. Carrie started to turn down play dates – or would only have them at our house. She wanted to only play one on one; she said she felt like a prisoner at school, and she was always worried. She needed to know what the plan was and when it changed? Then watch out – tantrums like crazy came on. Inconsolable tears; fits where she would straighten her back and not get into the car to save her life. She stopped going to sleep overs, or would go but have to be picked up in the night – and believe me, that was not good for anyone.
And then, after years of sleeping just fine in her own room, she stopped. Just stopped. At first we thought she must have had a bad dream the night before or something. But it kept going. Night after night, we would check her room and closet for bad guys and people that might want to hurt Mom. She couldn’t sleep because what if there was a fire? What if someone broke into the house; what if she was kidnapped? Or worse, what if her brother was?
Clearly something was off. There was no talking logic to her and there was no sleep for any of us. So when we were beyond ourselves with exhaustion and frustration, we found a counselor and had her start seeing someone to talk to and work through the fears. But now on top of the no sleep, the stomachaches were back; and panic attacks going to school were starting. Carrie was seriously struggling. Unfortunately, by then we were all struggling. Dave couldn’t understand that for Carrie these issues were completely real. Their conflict, the stress and walking on eggshells to keep the peace was taking a toll.
Our efforts to calm her or use reasoning were completely ineffective. Sick of the arguing and tears, we tried letting her sleep with us for a very little while. Wrong choice! So wrong. Then no one slept because the bed was too small and she thrashed around all night. Finally, counselor number two suggested we try something different: put an extra bed in her room and one of us sleep there. That was step one – get her to sleep in her own room again. Eventually, it worked; she got some sleep. Me? Not so much.
Step two was that once she fell asleep, we then returned to our bed. That worked … until she woke up, saw we weren’t there anymore, and started screaming. Or woke up from a nightmare. Back one of us went. By then we were so tired ourselves that we might fall asleep in her room before she did – thereby not affecting any change in the right direction.
A tired mom is a short-tempered mom. A tired dad might be even worse. The house that was once so joyful and peaceful was now filled with angst, anger, and just plain exhaustion. I wasn’t sleeping; my husband fell asleep in her room confounding the issue. So then we were tired and at odds. Add to that an older brother who was tired of all the fights and of his sister being such a nightmare. Everyone’s patience had dissolved long ago and family dynamics hit a new low. Clearly we needed more help and so did she.
By now we had tried all of the tricks to solving this issue. Gentle bedtime routine? Check. Regular bedtime? Check. Warm bath; stories; snuggles? Check, check, and check. We encouraged rituals that soothed her – gave her her blanket and favorite stuffy. We tried meditation, soft music and then white noise when that didn’t work. She read. We read to her. You name it, we tried it. At this point we realized she had some serious Anxiety and we were well beyond our abilities to solve the issue. So we found a new therapist to help us face this sleep demon.
Our new therapist was great – Carrie really took to her and looked forward to seeing her and, I think, to having someone of her own to talk to. One of us was still staying in her room at this point. We again tried leaving after she fell asleep. More tears. Then the doctor suggested a more gradual approach. After getting her to bed and completing our nightly, calming rituals, we (one of us) sat in her room. Not on a bed, not lying down. Sat in a chair so we would not fall asleep. Which, if I’m honest, had it’s own issues, but still.
When she fell asleep, we were supposed to move to the hallway and sit there. Slowly, ever so slowly over many nights, we moved a little farther away within the room, then into the hallway, then further down the hallway, until finally we made it to our own bedroom.
So how did our new therapist help? A few ways. She had Carrie talk about her fears and give voice to them. Apparently that sounds way easier than it is. The Anxiety that Carrie felt also meant she had had a hard time voicing or admitting to the scary thoughts. So her therapist had her look at What Ifs. She talked about those What Ifs. Then Carrie would tell me about them so I could help her at home. For instance if she brought up a fire, we could lead her through that. “Have you ever had a fire or known anyone who did? If not, was there a reason her house might get one? Did anyone smoke or leave on the gas? No, well then was it possible no fire would happen?” Same with a burglar or an airplane trip – or whatever; we learned to walk and talk her through her fears. Which sounds good and is a great starting point. But of course that alone didn’t do it, as this Anxiety is not rational.
Another helpful tip was having her picture her fear and describe it. Then draw it and name it. That helped put some distance between the fear and her. Plus we could use humor and come up with ways for her to yell at it or tell it to go away; we were able to make it a little, tiny bit fun and less scary. Sometimes I had her draw her feelings and we’d throw the drawing away or burn it so it couldn’t come back.
Another winner? While we had tried relaxation and meditation apps (didn’t work for her) her therapist taped her own soothing voice in a little meditation for Carrie. Reminded her what to do, how to relax, how to help herself. We had her play that in her bed when she was experiencing a tough night. And as we got one night of sleep, it went to two, then maybe back a step – but eventually we were able to have enough success that she set up her own goal and reward system.
She would choose how many nights she would stay alone and if she was successful, what fun thing we would do. It became hers; she controlled it. She was sad, mad and therefore determined to banish it. Thank God for her stubborn streak at those moments.
Lo and behold, it took. She realized she could make the sleep demon disappear all on her own. She owned it and she conquered it. And eventually, she even went on a successful sleepover again.
Last week she came back from three weeks away on a service trip where she didn’t know anyone. That is a beautiful thing.

The Parenting Hack That Keeps My Kid in His Room at Bedtime

At the risk of sounding dramatic, bedtime has always been the bane of my existence- until I discovered this.

At the risk of sounding dramatic, bedtime has always been the bane of my existence.

As a child, it brought on anxiety, and fears of intruders and house fires abounded. As a teen, bedtime meant I had to close my computer and end phone calls with friends, and what a terrible thing to have to do. As an adult, bedtime often felt lonely and stressful, with endless to-do lists and existential thoughts suddenly overcrowding my mind. Now, as a parent, bedtime entails being utterly exhausted – bone-tired, brain-fried – but unable to rest until I wrangle my two energetic children into bed and somehow convince them to stay there.

It’s easier with my infant – just knock him out with some of Mama’s milk and he’s not going anywhere, but with my preschooler, it’s a different story. For the first three years of his life, he co-slept with my husband and me. While our family fell into the habit out of sleep deprivation and desperation, I grew to completely love co-sleeping: the cuddles, the closeness, the ease of nursing, the reassurance of having my baby right beside me, and the reassurance it gave my baby.

Still, as the saying goes, all good things must come to an end, and I knew that end was near when I became pregnant with my second son when my first was two and a half. I could tell by then that my big boy was ready for his own bed and his own room (both of which he had – he just hadn’t slept in them yet), but I also knew that this was going to be a tough transition, for both of us if I’m being honest.

I looked to the Internet to help me figure out what to expect from this process, and I came across the term: “Jack-in-the-Box Syndrome,” defined as a common “affliction” causing children to constantly pop out of bed after their parents have put them to sleep due to a major case of FOMO (fear of missing out). The articles I read contained some tips for dealing with it, but I soon learned that I’d have to think outside the box, because my son’s “Jack-in-the-Box” game was on point and strong.

“Hey Mom. I’m hungry.”

“Dad! I’m thirsty.”

“There are shadows on my wall.”

“What’s inside the wall?”

“How many miles have I slept so far?”

“I mean minutes.”

“Is it morning?”

By the third or fourth night of this, I was losing steam. I couldn’t spend the whole night ushering him back to his bedroom, and he couldn’t be staying up so late. I started to waver in my decision to transition him. Should we build some kind of epic family bed instead that can fit our growing family? No, no, no, I thought, this will be so good for him. He’ll learn to love his big boy bed and be proud of his independence.

But how would we get there?

One night it dawned on me as I was using the talk button on the baby monitor to tell my son, “You better not open up that door!” that I could use this talk function for way more than issuing warnings. I could use it as a tool to make it appealing for my boy to remain in his bed by inviting him to engage in actual conversation with me over the monitor. This way, I could open up the lines of communication that he so misses when I shut his bedroom door, and I could also ensure that I don’t miss out on the meaningful talks we always had while co-sleeping when he was relaxed enough to really open up – talks that would be more difficult to have with a newborn in the mix. Plus, we could pretend like we’re using walkie-talkies, and how fun is that? This could be our new special thing.

And just like that (well maybe there were also some toy rewards involved) bedtime started to change for the better. Not only did this parenting hack help my son stay put in his room, it also helped keep our bedtime routine (relatively) short and sweet. Kids will do just about anything to prolong saying goodnight. Now when my little man gives me puppy eyes after we’ve already done bath and books and snuggles, and says, “But I just have to tell you one more thing!” I reply, “And I can’t wait to hear that one thing, over the MONITOR!” and I make it sound super exciting. It works.

Now, of course, this monitor chatting can get a bit out of control, and there’ve been plenty of shit-show moments where I’m trying to nurse the baby to sleep while also fielding questions from my preschooler about why he can’t marry his cousin and how many days are left until Christmas. When this happens, I remind him that he needs his sleep and kindly request that he slow his roll with the questions. For the most part, he does.

Other nights, he barely talks to me at all, but knowing that he can is comforting to him, and that’s what makes this system so great. He gets his own space and chance to self-soothe, which is healthy and important at his age, and I don’t have to spend hours in a dark room waiting for him to fall asleep. I can tend to his baby brother, do chores, or unwind while still helping my son feel secure and heard as he decompresses from the day.

“I love you to the moon and back,” he tells me over the monitor each night.

“I love you to infinity and beyond,” I respond.

I don’t know how long he’ll want to talk with me like this, but I’ll be ready and waiting, monitor in hand, for as long as he does. When my six-month-old gets older and moves out of my bed, I’ll try the same hack with him, although with his chatty and loving big brother around, I may not even need to.

Picture Books That Teach Self-Confidence and Individuality

How do we talk to our children about being comfortable in their own skin? These books can help.

When I was growing up, being self-assured was always one of my biggest struggles. Not surprisingly, as a parent, it has been one of the hardest things for me to teach my kid.
All of us, adults and kids alike, at one point or another struggle with being confident in who we are and comfortable with the things that make us unique. To some extent, we all want to fit in, but sometimes we just don’t – at least not with everyone – and that’s okay. But it still doesn’t make it fun or easy to come to grips with.
My seven-year-old son definitely marches to the beat of his own drum. He is silly, loud, and extremely stubborn, but he is also sensitive and tends to get his feelings hurt when other kids don’t understand or accept him. He wants to have friends, and I desperately want that for him. More than that, I want him to remain true to himself and be okay with who he is, however goofy or off-center that may be.
How do we talk to our children about being comfortable in their own skin? How do we help them see how amazing they are in spite of what bullies or peer pressure may say? How do we build confidence and find a way to converse with them about this big, real life struggle in a way they can understand right now?
My solution to this (and to many of life’s other problems) is books. Kids of all ages genuinely love having someone read to them and with them. Don’t believe me? My husband’s years as a high school English teacher and mine as a school librarian beg to differ.
In his book, “The Read-Aloud Handbook”, Jim Trelease argues that children who are read aloud to from a young age learn to associate books with being loved and cared for. The act of being snuggled up with a book before bed (or at any time) promotes closeness and openness between child and parent. This, in turn, fosters a love of reading and promotes confidence in themselves as readers, in addition to developing their fluency and vocabulary.
Reading books together is a great way to connect with your kids on a level they understand. It gives you a chance to slow down your busy life and just be in the moment. This time also creates space for healthy dialogues, providing a much needed chance to talk and really listen to each other. And who doesn’t love an excuse for a good snuggle session?
Here are some of my favorite picture books that teach self-confidence and encourage individuality in our kids. They are wonderful conversation starters and just plain fun to read.
GiraffesCantDance

Giraffes Can’t Dance

Author: Giles Andreae
Illustrator: Guy Parker-Rees

This is perhaps my favorite children’s book of all time. In this stunningly illustrated story, Gerald the giraffe spends his life watching as every other animal in the jungle dances beautifully. They tease him because he, as a giraffe, cannot dance.
But what Gerald learns with the help of a friendly cricket, is that everyone – including him – can dance if they find the right music. Gerald wows the other animals when he emerges at the jungle dance with his amazing new moves. As Gerald says, “We all can dance, when we find the music that we love.”


 StandTall

Stand Tall, Molly Lou Melon

Author: Patty Lovell
Illustrator: David Catrow

Molly Lou Melon is small and not very graceful. She also has big teeth and a funny voice that sounds like a bullfrog. At her new school, Molly Lou finds herself the prey of the class bully. This doesn’t bother Molly Lou though. She follows her grandmother’s advice and stands up for herself.
This book is a great way to talk to your kids, not just about being self-confident, but also about dealing with bullies.


NakedMole

Naked Mole Rat Gets Dressed

Author & Illustrator: Mo Willems

Mo Willems is, hands down, one of the best children’s authors of this generation. He is funny and relatable. His stories meet kids where they are, but never talk down to them. This book is no different.
As you would assume, naked mole rats are supposed to be, well, naked. However, this book is all about Wilbur, a naked mole rat who secretly loves wearing clothes. Reading it is a funny, light way to talk to your young kids about being who they are and doing what they love, even if other people (or mole rats) don’t understand them.


TheDot

The Dot

Author & Illustrator: Peter H. Reynolds

Vashti doesn’t believe that she is a good artist until one day when her teacher urges her to just “make a mark” on her paper. The teacher makes such a huge deal about the beauty of Vashti’s dot that it encourages her to make more dots – lots of dots! Vashti becomes more creative with her dots and her creativity inspires others to make their mark, too.


Chrysanthemum

Chrysanthemum

Author & Illustrator: Kevin Henkins

Chrysanthemum has always loved her name. At least she did until she started school and realized that not everyone thought her name was so amazing. The other girls tease her for being named after a flower and even encourage others to smell her.
Ultimately, Chrysanthemum overcomes the bullying thanks to the love and support of her music teacher and family. This is great book for kids with unique names, but really for any child who has dealt with being teased because they are different.


 

Spork

Author: Kyo Maclear
Illustrator: Isabelle Arsenault

Spork is neither a spoon nor a fork, and he doesn’t truly fit in with either group. He often feels left out from the other utensils. Spork tries to be just a spoon or just a fork, but nothing feels right until he finds his special purpose as a SPORK.
This book is as cute as it is clever. It could serve as a great resource for biracial families or families of mixed cultural or religious backgrounds.


ABadCaseofStripes

A Bad Case of Stripes

Author & Illustrator: David Shannon

Camilla is a girl who loves lima beans, but she worries that others won’t understand and make fun of her. She is so concerned about trying to please her peers that she comes down with a bad case of stripes.
The cure for her stripes is finally being true to herself and not caring what others think. This is definitely one of the longer, wordier picture books on my list, but it is wonderful for older elementary schoolers.


 HueysInTheNewSweater

The Hueys in the New Sweater

Author & Illustrator: Oliver Jeffers

Hueys are funny little creatures that are all very much alike until one Huey, named Rupert, decides to knit himself a sweater. Rupert loves his new sweater, but the other Hueys aren’t so sure about someone being different.
Eventually, Rupert’s sweater inspires other Hueys to be different as well. This book is short and sweet.


Not All Princesses Dress in Pink

Authors: Jane Yolen & Heidi E. Y. Stemple
Illustrator: Anne-Sophie Lanquetin

This book empowers girls to value their unique qualities. Being a princess and wearing a tiara doesn’t mean you can’t like to climb trees, play sports, or get dirty. Being who you are and doing your very best is the most important thing for any girl and the best way to reach your full potential.
Whether your daughter is a girly-girl or a rough and tumble tomboy, this book is a great, refreshing read.


Calvin Can’t Fly: The Story of a Bookworm Birdie

Author: Jennifer Berne
Illustrator: Keith Bendis

Calvin isn’t like the other starlings. All of his many, many brothers, sisters, and cousins are interested in finding worms and learning to fly, but Calvin only wants to read and visit the library.
When it comes time to migrate, he hasn’t learned to fly yet. In the end, it turns out that all of his book learning comes in handy. It’s a good thing that Calvin did all that reading despite what anyone said.


Tacky the Penguin

Author: Helen Lester
Illustrator: Lynn Munsinger

Tacky is a very odd bird. All of the other penguins are annoyed by his obnoxious clothes and weird habits. Until one fateful day, when Tacky, in all of his strangeness, saves the day – and the other penguins.
This is a fun book that is sure to get some laughs from your little ones, but it’s also a great story of about being yourself, no matter how weird or tacky you may be. Also, if your kids love Tacky, he has lots of other adventures to read about.


SPOON

Spoon

Author: Amy Krouse Rosenthal
Illustrator: Scott Magoon

Alright, so I may have a thing for utensil-themed children’s books, but I promise, this one is also fantastic! Spoon is the adorable story of a spoon who envies all of the other types of utensils and all the fun they have.
Later in the story, Spoon finds out how much the other utensils envy him! This book really highlights the fact that we all have a purpose and that it’s completely fine (in fact, it’s amazing) that we aren’t all the same.
Many kids struggle with being confident and happy with themselves. We need to find ways to encourage self-confidence and individuality as positive character traits in our kids.

Short-term action plan

● Go to your bookshelf (or the bookshelf at your local library) and find one of these amazing books or another great title. You can also order one from Amazon right from your phone.
● Find a time in your super busy week to read books with your kids.
● When the book is over, ask them what they thought about the story. Did they like the characters? Have they ever felt like any of the characters? What would they do if they were in the story?

Long-term action plan

● Make reading together a daily (or at least a regular) thing for you and your kids.
● Go to the local library or bookstore together and choose books for these reading times.
● Investigate more titles that help you engage in conversations with your kids about whatever it is they are going through.
● Read the books first to give yourself time to think through what kinds of questions or morals you might want to talk about with your kids.
● Make your reading time a special and ‘sacred’ time. Put away your phone. Get out the biggest, comfiest blanket in the house. Maybe even plan a reading date that involves lots of books, snacks, and a cup of cocoa.
● Reading with your kids is a valuable, memorable, and inexpensive way to spend time together. Don’t treat reading like homework, for you or your child. Have fun with it!

Tonight's Lights Out Struggle

The light flicked on again. I stop and stare at the shining coming through the bottom of the door. “How can he still be awake?” I ask my husband.

This is a submission in our monthly contest. October’s theme is Determination. Enter your own here!
The light flicked on again. I stop and stare at the shining coming through the bottom of the door.
“How can he still be awake?” I ask my husband.
“He’s going to be exhausted tomorrow,” he says while shaking his head. I take a deep breath.
“Okay. My turn to check this time.” Setting my laptop on the couch, I have a feeling that this won’t be the last moment getting up.
Padding across our dark wood floors, I lean on our three-year-old son’s door and gently push it open. His lamp is on. There are toys strewn across the floor. That’s when I notice him. Our son is sitting on his bed wearing a hard hat and boots with his superhero cape tied around his neck. He’s meticulously lining up his dinosaurs on his pillow. He looks at me. Based on his expression, I think I walked in at a very busy time.
“What are you doing?” I ask.
“Building.”
Hmmm, a one-word response. This usually means he has no intention of stopping and would like me to leave the room closing the door behind me.
“It’s time for bed. You have to get up for school tomorrow.” Carefully slipping the hard hat off his head and tugging the boots from each foot, my son stops to look at me.
“I don’t want to sleep,” he whimpers.
“How come?” I ask while gathering each brontosaurus and tossing them in the bucket.
“I’m scared. There are monsters in my room, and it gets too dark.” Yawning, he crawls into my lap.
After checking under the bed, in the closet and in his drawers, I confirmed the expected. There are no monsters in his room. Calling dad for backup reassurance, he does a quick sweep of the room and agrees there are no one-eyed furry creatures lurking in the dark.
With another kiss and hug, we flick the light.
“Now go to sleep.”
I find my cozy spot on the couch and park my tired body. What’s on Netflix? Flipping through the channels looking for a new binge series, I hear a car horn. Ignoring it, I keep searching.
WeeOoooWeeOooo
A police siren? I glance back at my son’s door. Sure enough, he’s awake again. This is the third time going into his room. Feelings of frustration are boiling.
Not bothering to knock I walk into his room.
“We just checked for monsters, and there is nothing in here. Lights out. Now.”
He looks at me. A slight smirk is forming on his face. For some reason, I’m starting to think I’m being tricked.
“I have to go to the bathroom.” He’s squirming around in his bed. I send him the Mama Bear stare.
“Hurry up and go. No more playing around.” Picking up his little body and walking to the bathroom he randomly starts sharing a friendship problem from school. This quick trip to the john has suddenly turned into a long drawn out affair of problem-solving.
“I’m sorry those boys were running away from you at the playground. Remember, you want to play with friends that make you feel good. If they always hurt your feelings, then it’s best to find a new friend.”
With a nod of his head and smile on his face, I’m feeling confident we solved the world’s problems for the day, and we can finally get some sleep.
Again, lights out. Eyeing the open spot on the couch, it begins calling my name. Lingering outside his door for another minute, I take a deep breath. Burying myself into the cushions of the couch I close my eyes. It’s late. There’s no time for an episode of anything.
“Looks like we forgot to take that Christmas book out of his room again.” Charlie Brown’s “O Tannenbaum” was playing from down the hall. Such a thoughtful gift from Auntie, but there should be a silent button on musical books.
This boy is determined tonight. Pointing my finger at my husband, he takes the cue and claims it’s his turn.
After he closes the door, it becomes silent again. Angels begin to sing, or maybe that’s in my mind. My eyes start to feel heavy. I drift off to sleep.
Unsure of how long I’d been out, I sit up and look around. Where is my husband? Maybe he went to bed. I clumsily make my way to our bedroom fumbling for the lamp. Click. Staring at a messy bed, with the cat sprawled out at the foot, it’s empty.
Poking my head in our son’s room, there curled up under his covers is my three-year-old. Wedged in next to him is my husband crammed into the toddler bed. I smile and for the last time, turn off the light.

3 Fears Your Preschooler Can't Articulate, But Influence Their Behavior

These common worries tend to surface in the form of sadness and tantrums, and it can be difficult to differentiate the causes of the outbursts.

The age of preschool is an emotionally confusing time for young children. Between the ages of three and five years old, children are working through a lot of insecurities and fears that they do not yet have the language skills to articulate. These common worries tend to surface in their everyday lives through sadness and tantrums, and it can be difficult to differentiate the causes of the outbursts. In an effort to better understand our sweet little ones, here are three common fears that your preschooler isn’t yet able to tell you about.

1 | The fear that their behavior determines your love for them

Young children are highly attuned to adult’s facial expressions, tone of voice, and verbal inflection. When adults respond to children’s behavior with yelling, a stern or harsh tone, or lashing out, children often become scared and feel that they are the cause of the parent’s stress. This can lead children to believe that their parent’s love for them is contingent on their good behavior.

In his book, “Unconditional Parenting,” Alfie Kohn outlines the difference between conditional and unconditional love in the following way:

[There is a distinction between] loving kids for what they do and loving them for who they are. The first sort of love is conditional, which means children must earn it by acting in ways we deem appropriate, or by performing up to our standards. The second sort of love is unconditional: it doesn’t hinge on how they act, whether they’re successful or well behaved or anything else.

Every parent wants a well-behaved, well-adjusted, and emotionally-regulated child who doesn’t act out, but the reality of the preschool years is that children will act out. It’s our mission as parents to guide our child’s behavior in such a way that she knows what’s expected of her while also knowing that she is deeply loved.

What you can do:

  • Try to remain as calm as possible when managing your child’s behavior. Remind your child that your love for her never changes, even when she misbehaves.
  • Clearly state your behavior expectations and re-affirm your confidence in her ability to do it the next time.
  • Apologize when your reaction is harsher than you intended it to be. By admitting that adults also make mistakes, children can learn that mistakes are part of learning.

2 | The fear that you will leave and not come back

Attachment to a parent is the very first survival mechanism that an infant learns when he leaves the womb. That attachment grows stronger as the child learns more about the world and how big of a place it really is. By three years old, most children are ready to venture out for short periods of time in order to explore and then return to the safety of their parents. The problem is that children have a limited ability to gauge the concept of time, so when children are away from their “safe base,” minutes can feel like hours and hours can feel like days. This leads children to fear the worst, that Mommy and Daddy aren’t coming back.

What you can do:

  • Give your child an object of yours to hold during times when you’re away. It can be anything that reminds him of you: a picture, a hair tie, or a small trinket. This gives him a physical connection, a “piece of Mommy” to hold on to until you return.
  • Tell your child what is going to happen. Give him a predictable time frame when you will be back, for example, “Daddy will be back after your nap.”
  • Try to avoid using the “Mommy is leaving” threat when trying to get your child to leave a public place. This is confusing for children and can lead to a lack of trust when there comes a time when you truly are leaving them.

3 | The fear that they aren’t good enough

Inadequacy is a huge fear of preschoolers, and it surfaces in different ways. This can be the child that cries because her picture didn’t turn out the way she wanted it to, or the child who says, “It’s too hard” and doesn’t even want to try. The fear of inadequacy becomes more prevalent in the preschool years because children are at a developmental stage where they begin to view themselves in relation to other children. Comparison makes a child question his worth in a brand new way, and these are big feelings for young children to sort out. The development of a child’s self esteem begins in these early preschool years. He begins to evaluate himself in relation to his peers in terms of how well he does certain tasks and what other children think of him.

What you can do:

  • Point out your child’s growth and praise her willingness to try new things.
  • Place more emphasis on the child’s effort on a given task than the finished product.
  • Validate children’s feelings of inadequacy and promote problem solving with phrases like, “I can see that you aren’t happy with this. What are some ideas to make this better?”
  • Build your child up: help bring to light all of her very best qualities and how those qualities mean more to you than her performance.

What Are We Apologizing for When We Apologize for Our Kids?

What am I really sorry for? I’m sorry for the times I have apologized for things they cannot help. Like being an energetic, wiggly kid.

“I’m sorry” I mutter when my three-year-old bumps into a stranger’s legs at the store.
“I’m sorry” when we cancel because she woke up at 3 a.m., was a terror all day, and finally went down for a nap.
“I’m sorry” that he can’t eat the treats because of food allergies.
“I’m sorry” when the two year old doesn’t share a favorite toy.
“I’m sorry” about the wiggles and squeals we try to suppress at church.
“I’m sorry” he acts hyper when he feels overwhelmed.
“I’m sorry” she wet her pants.
“I’m sorry” he’s eating your snacks.
“I’m sorry” she clings to the teacher in class.
“I’m sorry” someone pushed.
“I’m sorry” he’s standing too close to her.
“I’m sorry” they are loud.
“I’m sorry” they are in your way.
So many sorrys.
Recently we traveled to visit family. During the first part of our trip I spent a lot of time saying sorry – for spills, messes, misbehaviors, and early mornings. One afternoon, after struggling for several hours to get my kids to take naps, we showed up late at my grandma’s house for a playdate we had planned. When she answered the door I immediately began explaining myself, doing the “mommy sorry.” She cut me off, mid-apology. Looking me directly in my eyes as I fought off some tears of overwhelm, she said, “Please. You don’t ever need to apologize. We are in this together. We can be flexible.”
Her words melted me and all my mommy-insecurity into a big puddle of tears, right there on her porch. This was a veteran mom of six children talking. But more importantly it was my grandma, someone who loves and sees me and my kids for who we are, not how well we perform.
Her words lodged themselves in my heart, and they have caused me to think a lot about the superfluous “mommy sorry.” Why do so many of us do it? I hear you apologize for your kid not answering adults when asked a question, for your toddler not sharing, for countless other social infractions. I know I’ve said my share of sorrys too.
Why do we apologize for the growing process of our little people when it is not something we can control by verbally taking responsibility for it? Are we actually sorry? Their very existence hinges on inconveniencing others. When we say sorry for everything about our kids, it starts to sound like we are apologizing for the very fact they exist and for the people they are.
What am I really sorry for? I’m sorry for the times I have been more concerned about pleasing others than properly parenting my kids. I’m sorry for the times I have apologized for things they cannot help. Like being an energetic, wiggly kid. Or having food allergies. Or not sharing, although pediatricians say kids can’t understand sharing until age three. Why do I apologize for the social behaviors of these small people? For them not yet understanding personal space. For being attached to their mom. For struggling to master the art of whispering. For not noticing they are in the way because their eyes can’t even see over the shopping cart. Why do I apologize for their physical needs and the instincts they follow to meet them? Like wanting someone else’s snacks. Or taking a really long nap. Or having an accident in the middle of Target.
I’ve realized if there’s anyone’s forgiveness I should ask, it’s my kids. I hope they forgive me for the times I have apologized for their kid-ness. I want them to know I am not ashamed of them or embarrassed about the things that make them kids. Those sorrys were voiced by Mom’s insecurity, not her heart.
Parents of the world – can we stop apologizing to one another for our kids being kids? After all, we are all in this together. We can be flexible with each other as we all do our best to raise kind and responsible people. Let’s support more and judge less. Let’s be the village it takes to raise a child.