Some Daycares Are Reopening Soon, But Is It Safe?

Vermont, the state where I live, has the lowest coronavirus growth rate in the United States. With that, Gov. Phil Scott announced last week that daycares and summer camps will reopen June 1st with very strict guidelines. He and the Vermont Department of Health remain cautious and vigilant. Without clear guidance on a national level or even consistency state-to-state, I am grateful to have a leader who is compassionate, mindful, and trusting of our best scientists and doctors. He has put health above economics, but also knows the financial pinch many are feeling.

Without childcare, most families can’t return to work. As states across America start to open up, daycares and summer camps are part of that process too. But many people wonder if it is too soon. Is it safe?

“Safe” Has a New Meaning

The impacts of the pandemic and cases of COVID-19 have varied state to state. Each state has handled the pandemic in different ways. Sadly, an uncaring and unbiased virus has been made into a political and economic weapon. Death by ignorance should be a crime, yet flattening the curve was never meant to be a stay-at-home-until-a-vaccine-arrives marathon. We shouldn’t march in groups with guns and threaten to sue if we can’t go into a store unless we have a mask, but we can’t demand folks to not reopen their businesses and homes. And with that reopening comes the need for safe environments for kids while parents work.

Christina McLaughlin, Director of Essex Junction Recreation and Parks Preschool in Vermont tells Scary Mommy, “With proper guidance, financial resources, strict safety procedures and creative solutions to logistical hurdles, early educators are armed with what they need to bring the littlest members of our community back together safely.”

“‘Safe’ is a relative term now,” Kate Connor, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Johns Hopkins University and the medical director of the Rales Health Center at KIPP Baltimore tells USA Today. “All of these things are sort of risk-reduction traits essentially, but none of them will be 100%, particularly if COVID is still circulating in the community.”

So What Do the Guidelines Suggest?

The CDC has added guidelines to their website for how to reopen daycare centers and camps, but per the White House’s request they are mere “decision trees.” According to The Washington Post, longer guidelines are being reviewed by the White House. But as I type this, late May is approaching, and many states are already running daycares or about to reopen them.

The first question on the decision tree asks if directors are prepared to follow state and local guidelines. No matter what is being said on a national level, until your state has proper guidelines in order, daycares should not be reopened. The flow of yes/no questions on the CDC site includes the ability to screen staff and children for symptoms and history of exposure, intensify sanitizing, disinfecting, and ventilation practices, maintain social distancing rules, and monitor signs and symptoms of the virus.

Vermont, Pennsylvania, Florida, and Washington offer similar examples of what childcare will look like across the United States.

Pick Up and Drop Off

Guidelines read that pick up and drop off times should be staggered and the same person should be bringing the child(ren) to care each day. All staff and guardians are required to wear cloth masks, and it’s recommended that children over the age of two wear one as well. The camp where my kids would be going to this summer require the kids to wear a clean cloth mask each day when indoors. The campers are all older than five. Before a child can enter a daycare building for the day, their temperature is taken, questions about exposure and symptoms are asked, and staff look at the child for visible signs of infection.

The Day

During the day, children will be kept in groups no larger than 25, but based on the age of the children, providers need to follow state mandates for adult to child ratio. Children will be kept in the same groups and spaces and will have the same providers as well. Within that space, physical distancing will need to be maintained, and toys that are played with or chewed on will need to be disinfected often or removed. Disinfecting is going to become the most important third wheel in this new provider/child relationship; commonly touched surfaces, kitchen areas, and bathrooms will need frequent attention. And when it comes to bathrooms, ideally each group will have their own space, but when that is not possible, certain bathrooms should be assigned to designated groups.

The Youngest Ones

Older children will learn the ways of our new normal, but infants and toddlers don’t give a fuck about social distancing. Holding, comforting, feeding, and cleaning up small children requires providers and kids to be in constant contact. In this case, frequent hand washing will be imperative. Clothes that have become soiled with a child’s secretions need to be removed and placed in a plastic bag or washing machine.

Some may think these guidelines are too much or unreasonable while others will say they are not enough.

Risk vs. Reward

When it comes to COVID-19, there is so much more at risk than our physical health. The longer we are asked to stay home or shelter in place, the more desperate folks become. Many Americans are struggling to work with kids underfoot or not able to pay bills because they can’t work without access to child care. Nearly 39 million Americans are unemployed and 40% of low-income households have experienced job losses. These include families who need child care and the child care providers themselves.

Folks who were already housing and food insecure are barely making ends meet. And those who were scraping by have slid into places where they may not be able to recover for a long time. Kids in the best of homes are struggling to make sense of the world; kids living in homes with greater stressors are hurting and in danger, especially if living in an abusive home. Many argue that the risk of sending kids back to daycare or summer camps is worth the reward.

Aly Richards, CEO of Let’s Grow Kids, a statewide movement to ensure affordable access to high-quality child care for all Vermont families, says, “It is important to remember that in these uncharted pandemic waters, nothing is without risk.”

McLaughlin agrees that smart, calculated risks will benefit our children. “The isolation of young children is an emotional threat that we cannot ignore. [Opening daycares] will not be without its challenges, but the alternative where children are hidden away goes against everything that nurtures and enables them to grow.”

Some families will choose not to send their kids back to daycare or summer camps even if it is available. But many families don’t have that option.

McLaughlin tells Scary Mommy she feels supported and confident that her center will reopen successfully. She knows not all centers have this luxury. And when it comes to the kids, she sees their resiliency and desire for normalcy. “Yes, we will wear masks. Yes, we will do our best to social distance. Is that strange for a child? Yes, it is. But guess what? This is the new normal right now. Children are more than capable of understanding, coming along with us and embracing this if given the opportunity. Amidst a world of chaos, young children need a safe and familiar space to simply be.”

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Is Digital Binging A Problem For Kids?

It feels like the pandemic has turned life into one giant screen. Our phones, tablets, TVs, and computers are used all day for work, school, socializing, entertainment, and escape. All of us have seen an increase in the need and desire to stare at a screen, our kids included.

The topic of screen time is a polarizing discussion between the families who have strict rules and those who have loose ones. Most of us can agree, though, that since social distancing started, screen time has increased for each family — no matter where you fall on the acceptable-screen-time spectrum.

My own kids have loved the extra screen time since the pandemic canceled everything. But one of my twins has a particularly hard time coming off of screens, and on some days the screaming and her manic behavior after the tablet or television is turned off is not worth it. I set clear reminders about cut-off times and give warnings as that time approaches. The consequence of intense outbursts is a loss of screen time the next time she is allowed to be on. Nothing seems to help, and I’m at a loss on how to help her transition to screen-free undertakings.

Because of this, I can’t help but wonder — now that kids are binging on Netflix, Disney+, or spending hours at a time playing video games or doing homework online, is too much digital intake a problem? Like all polarizing questions, the answer is somewhere in the middle. The answer also depends on each child and on the type of screen time.

The pandemic and need to physically distance ourselves from friends and activities we love has created a breeding ground for adults and kids alike to feel more depressed, hopeless, agitated, and tired. Turning to our favorite shows and apps makes us feel better because our brain produces dopamine when we binge-watch episode after episode. Delaney Ruston, MD, is a physician and creator of Screenagers, a film that shows the risks of screen time for young people and explores ways to use social media and screen time in healthy ways. She talked to Dr. Clifford Sussman, MD, who is a child and adolescent psychiatrist; Dr. Sussman focuses on internet and video game addiction, treatment, and education. He, like other experts, explains that it’s not just the amount of time that is spent staring at a screen, but on the type of screen time content and what it does to our brains.

In an interview with Dr. Ruston, Dr. Sussman explains that screen time can be seen in terms of being a high vs. low dopamine producing activity. High dopamine screen time includes scrolling social media, playing video games, or getting lost in shows. We experience a constant flow of dopamine which feeds a constant state of gratification or feeling high. In the interview, Dr. Sussman explains, “If your brain gets bombarded continuously by dopamine, you start to develop a tolerance to it — meaning the intensity of good feelings decreases.” We can feel this from drugs, food, and sex too, which is why addiction is often talked about when we see our kids spending a lot of time on screens.

This is part of the debate about screens even among credible medical sources. The World Health Organization (WHO) added “gaming disorder” to its International Classification of Diseases in 2018, yet the American Psychiatry Association’s DSM-5 manual, the DSM-5 did not.

Dr. Ruston tells Scary Mommy, “Addiction really means that they are experiencing some types of significant negative consequences from their tech use—such that they are no longer doing their school work, they have really lost relationships-such that they don’t talk with family and have very few friends.”

If kids are constantly worried about their time away from screens and are obsessively thinking about it, then an intervention may be needed. But spending a lot of time gaming or socializing with friends online does not necessary mean they’re isolating themselves, or have a problem navigating social and emotional situations.

Taking screens away from our kids during a pandemic is either not possible because of schoolwork, or not fair because of the importance of staying socially connected. But the balance needs to come in the form of breaks and mixing in low dopamine activities. Taking a break from screens allows our brains’ dopamine receptors to return to their “normal” levels. The longer we are doing high dopamine gaming, the longer it takes for our brains to regulate. Examples of low dopamine activities without screens are baking, free play, or board games. Low dopamine screen time includes doing homework or reading or practicing a skill using an educational website or app that forces a student to be engaged and thinking critically and creatively. These low dopamine activities result in a slower or delayed gratification, but can still be enjoyable.

Drs. Sussman and Randy Kulman Ph.D. of Psychology Today reassure parents and caregivers that these are unusual times. Excess screen time is serving many purposes. It’s almost impossible to not have the day filled with more screen time than usual, but we should check in with kids to be sure they’re responsibly using screens. And we need to be sure their brains are getting time to recover between high dopamine activities. Otherwise, our kids are likely to be cranky and miserable to be around when not watching shows or playing video games. Dr. Sussman calls this the “residual effect” of binging on high dopamine screen time.

So to help combat my kid’s resistance to being off the screen, I’m going to be more mindful of the content she is consuming, and build in opportunities for more engaged and low dopamine activities. I am also going to take Dr. Ruston’s reminder to praise my daughter when she does turn off the screen without a fight: “Point out and praise whatever small steps they are able to do.”

Another approach, recommended by clinical psychologist Isabelle Filliozat, is to help kids bridge the gap back to reality. Sitting next to your child and making them aware of your presence, and of the real world, helps bring them back to the present. By asking your child questions about the show they are watching or asking them to show you what game they’re playing, you are creating a connection with your child that is more interesting than the screen — and padding the effects of those lowered dopamine levels. I tried it today and it seemed to help, but tomorrow (and all of the days into the foreseeable future) will provide another opportunity to test this approach.

Digital binging is part of our life right now, but it doesn’t mean our kids are in danger or that our lives have to be miserable. We’re simply adjusting to a “new normal” where everything is different than before — even screen time.

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Star Wars Graduation Party Printable Tags

Printable Star Wars Graduation Party Tags are a fun Graduation Party Idea and perfect for an out of this world celebration! Star Wars Graduation Printable Tags May the 4th be with you! Celebrate your Star Wars loving graduate with these cute printable designs. Graduation is coming up and if you know a Star Wars fan graduating, you […]

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This Mom Has An Important Message After Her Child Was Nearly Crushed To Death By An Elevator

On Thanksgiving 2019, Mary Rice and her family were just outside Salt Lake City at her father-in-law’s home. There were gathered with three other generations of the Rice family when she heard her four-year-old son, Kaleb, cry for help.

Kaleb was screaming from the residential elevator shaft, a device that was installed to help Kaleb’s grandmother, a partial quadriplegic. The family scrambled to unlock the elevator door, finding Kaleb pinned from the chest down under the elevator car. They called 911, and then used a car jack to lift the elevator car and pull Kaleb free — but not before Kaleb stopped breathing. He was rushed to hospital, and fortunately he sustained only minor injuries. However, many children have not been so lucky.

According to The Washington Post, eight children have been killed and two more seriously injured since 1981 by residential elevators. The issue here is a design flaw that the elevator industry and the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission (CPSC) have been aware of for 70 years, but they have not done enough to prevent these accident from happening.

There are an estimated 500,000 in-home elevators in the country, and Mary Rice is terrified that another child will be badly injured or even killed, so she is raising alarms about this important safety issue.

The problem stems from a five-inch gap between the doors on the elevator itself, and the door on the shaft. The door on the elevator is accordion style, while the exterior door on the shaft is a traditional swinging door. Between those two doors is often a space of five inches, a gap just wide enough for a small child to shut both doors, stand between them, and allow the elevator to still function. Changing the gap from five inches to four inches could resolve this issue.

But what about existing elevators like the one at Rice’s father-in-law’s? Well, for these older models, there is an easy fix — an adaptor that fills part of the gap. It costs around $100. But the CPSC has taken zero action to mandate that companies install this adaptor, and few elevator companies are interested in fixing the problem internally.

The thought of my child, or any child for that matter, being pinned under an elevator, makes me cringe. But then to know that companies and the government have known about the issue for seven decades, but no action is being taken, makes me want to rage-cry.

Salt Lake City’s Fox 13 reached out to one elevator company, ThyssenKrupp, which now owns Wheel-O-Vator, the company that installed the elevator in the Rice home. They gave the following non-committal statement: “ThyssenKrupp’s top priority is the safety of both its employees and the riding public, and that goal will continue to guide ThyssenKrupp Access in any future interaction with family representatives and applicable governmental authorities.”

In contrast, Otis elevators took it upon themselves to retrofit their existing elevators for safety to prevent this sort of thing from happening, so they are rock stars. However, that was two decades ago. They are the one stand-out on this issue.

Mary Rice said her immediate goal right now is to raise awareness about this issue.

“If someone had told us that you can spend a hundred dollars on a space guard to make that gap smaller so their little bodies can’t fit in there, my father-in-law would have done it in a heartbeat. People need to know that they have options to make these elevators safer,” Rice told Scary Mommy.

“If families are visiting a home that has an elevator, they need to ensure that the elevator has been retrofitted with a space guard,” Rice added. “We didn’t know what happened to Kaleb was even possible. It is vital that parents know about this potential danger and that there is a simple fix that can help keep their kids safe.”

The CPSC did finally issue a Safety Alert on their website in August 2019, but unless a person frequents the CPSC website, it is unlikely anyone would have seen it.

If little kids love anything, it’s elevators. I know for a fact that my children have a really difficult time not messing around with them. If you go to a home with a residential elevator, ask the owner if they know about the safety concerns, and if the elevator has been updated with an adapter.

“The fix is simple,” said Rice. “Everyone needs to know about this so that it never happens again.”

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Parents, YOU Are Your Kids’ Biggest Role Models

Parents, you are your kids’ biggest role models. It’s hard to remember that in the daily grind of parenthood. I don’t know about you, but I spend a lot of time as a parent wondering if my kids are listening to me. It feels like I say the same things 700 times a day. I don’t think anyone has ever put on a pair of shoes as a result of listening to my very first request. In the day-to-day of parenting, repeating myself feels like my full-time job.

But I also wonder if they are hearing me when I tell them the big things. Do they see what I do for them and appreciate that it all comes from love? Will they grow up to value the virtues I hold dear? Do they believe me when I tell them that they are incredible and can accomplish anything if they work hard? When they are adults and they think about people who inspire them, will I make the list?

According to a new poll by the University of Phoenix, I have a pretty good shot at making that list. When asked, 42% of respondents listed their mom as one of their role models. My husband has an even better shot: 47% of those questioned named dear old Dad.

Sure, your kids will go through phases where they are obsessed with the accomplishments of an athlete, YouTube sensation, actor, teacher, or even a friend, but at the end of the day, they’re looking at you.

It might be a lot of pressure, but it’s also great news. Your kids are likely to emulate your proudest choices. That college degree might actually inspire your own kids to seek higher education. Your choice to serve in the military or volunteer your time with charitable organizations could give your kids direction when they are deciding on their path. Your work might very well become their work. Has there ever been a better reason to do your very best?

Inspiring your kids’ future is a worthy goal, but there’s a more immediate reason to pay attention to the messages you are sending your kids. Highlights magazine polled 2,000 kids ages 6-12 to get their take on kindness, among other things. It proved that our babies are always watching: Almost 70% of the kids reported seeing their parents treat someone unkindly, and 93% of those kids said they felt something negative about the experience.

Our kids value kindness and want us to be kind, but only 23% of kids felt like their parents wanted them to be kind more than they wanted them to do well in school.

When our kids watch us interacting with our adult world, they’re not always seeing kindness, and I can only imagine how confusing that must be.

You and I understand that the world is ugly, people can be a lot to deal with, and we just can’t always walk around sprinkling gentleness like confetti. Real life just isn’t like that. Our kids will grow up and learn that, too.

But right now, they are still building the inner world they will live in forever. We are co-creators, helping them establish a sense of safety and self-worth. As they forge an understanding of social interaction and the world around them, we are the people they have to emulate.

We are their biggest role models.

It’s important for us to have conversations about the kind of people we want them to be. Our kids should have our voices in their heads pointing them toward kindness, inclusivity, justice, dedication and hard-work.

But it’s way, way more important for them to see us being the kind of people we want them to be.

If you want to raise a kind child, you have to be a kind person. Do your best to be gentle to them. Let them see you generously praising your spouse, welcoming all kinds of people into your home, and championing for the underdog. If you want a little inspiration, check out this guide from Harvard University about raising ethical, kind kids.

Raising a hard worker means being a hard worker. Your kids don’t have to wake up to a tidy home and a hot breakfast every morning. Let them see you working your tail off to scrub and cook. Work alongside them during chore time. Let them see you being the person you hope they will become.

If they ask you something you don’t know, let them see you study it. There’s just way more power in teaching them to value learning than there is in letting them think you already know everything.

Let them see you fail. They will learn the value in trying again and again, which is even more important than succeeding sometimes, isn’t it?

Give yourself some help along the way. Provide your kids with other amazing role models to support the work you’re doing every day. Give them plenty of chances to read about brave people who have changed the world. Show them videos of people doing what they do impeccably. Let them spend time with the people in your life who are doing things that feel important to you. Make sure they’re aware of kids who are making a difference even in their youth.

You don’t have to be everything to your kids. There are tons of incredible role models on this planet who can inspire them to go beyond anything you’ve ever imagined for your own life.

But remember that they’re looking up to you more than anyone else.

If you think about it all at once, it can feel overwhelming. You already have to give them everything they need every single day. Considering the lifelong way your actions influence who your kids will become can be daunting. It’s a lot to get right.

But it’s also such spectacular news. Every single good thing you do is helping your kids become better people in the long run. Our work as parents matters so much.

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I Don’t Know How To Teach My Daughter To ‘Own Her No’ When I Still Don’t Know How

I scrolled past a Facebook article the other day while waiting in the school pick up car line. The headline, from a website that had appeared on my feed a handful of times in the past, was about a girl who asked the Internet for help with a flirting situation, and the anonymous, all-knowing people of the Internet delivered. The sub-headline read: “You’ve got to own your own ‘no.’”

To be honest, I didn’t click on the link in my feed. The school doors opened and the kids ran out, after school activities and a few dozen to-dos swamped my brain, and the link disappeared into the chaos of the afternoon, the load I carry as a single mother, and the endlessly updating Facebook feed.

But that night, after the kids had gone to bed and the quiet of the evening gave my mind a chance to filter through the static of the day, that sub-headline stuck out: Own your own no.

Because the truth is, I am terrible at owning my own no.

Not in the big ways, like when a “no” can re-write a story or change an entire life trajectory. Those nos come easier. The nos I struggle with are the smaller ones, the ones that pop up a few times a day, the ones that could easily be yes, if I fail to prioritize my own self-care, my own heart, and my own time. The nos that turn into yes for the sole reason that saying no simply because I’m feeling tired or tapped out feels selfish, or worse, feels unkind, and I hate feeling selfish and unkind.

Clearly, I’m a people pleaser. I know I will bend over backward to say “yes,” sacrificing my own wants and needs as long as it means I can avoid an uncomfortable “no.” And if I can’t find a way to say “yes,” I’ll couch my “no” in a thousand ways to soften the blow, soften what I perceive as a harsh answer. I know I shouldn’t. I know I should own my no and feel comfortable with the word, especially when saying no means having the opportunity to say yes to something I’d rather say yes to. But I don’t. And that’s okay. I’m human and imperfect and I can accept who I am and that I am a work-in-progress.

The problem, then, is not that I, a 37-year-old mother, am still learning to own my no, but that I do not know how to teach my 10-year-old daughter to own her no. How do I teach her an essential life skill when I have not yet mastered it? How do I teach her to prioritize herself, to sometimes make the selfish choice because being selfish isn’t always bad, but instead, sometimes, empowering? How do I teach her to be the woman I am still learning to be?

I could go with the age-old “do as I say, not as I do” approach, tell her that if she doesn’t want to do something, she should say “no.” In theory, that would work because the concept is simple enough. But children, I believe, learn by example. They learn manners by seeing manners modeled, respect by seeing respect in action. Even if I tell her to say “no” when doing so might make someone else uncomfortable but would be important for her own well-being, she’ll see me saying “yes” in a comparable situation. For all the times I advise her one way, she’ll see me model something else. At best, she’ll be confused. At worst, she’ll stop trusting my words.

Which means, I need to find another approach.

I could simply begin to own my no, confirm my “no” is coming from a place of integrity and then own it. As a self-aware woman, as a solo parent and a head of the household, it’s not a terrible solution. It’s possibly the right solution. I can recognize the situations when I’m saying yes but want to say no, and attempt to do better. I can begin to internalize that being selfish isn’t always a negative, and pleasing everyone else isn’t always a priority. And yet, I know it’s not that easy—there’s too much learned behavior to unlearn for that simple solution to be the solution that I need.

Which means, maybe the answer is just to be honest. Maybe—and only maybe, because I truly don’t know—the only way to teach my daughter to own her no is to let her know that it’s okay to prioritize yourself, even if it feels selfish, and I’m learning to do that, too. I might make mistakes; she might, too. Maybe the answer is to tell her—at an age-appropriate level—that I’m still working on myself, that I am hoping to teach her the things I’m learning alongside her.

Maybe the answer is to teach her that she doesn’t have to have it figured out by 10, or 12, or 15, (or 37), and the only thing she needs to know is how to find compassion for herself, for the things that make her a work-in-progress, for the things that make her perfectly imperfect. For the things that make her human.

For the things that make her her.

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32 Indoor Crafts For Kids

Fun things to do when you’re bored and stuck at home. Over 30 DIY indoor craft ideas for kids! Find lots of easy recipes, kids activities and crafts.  32 Indoor Crafts & Activities For Kids Need some fun things to do when your kids are bored? Here are some great kids crafts, recipes and simple […]

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Teaching Our Kids Independence And Responsibility Doesn’t Mean We Can’t Help Them

I grew up during a time when front doors went unlocked and kids roamed neighborhoods without a care in the world. If I fell down, ate mud, got a bug bite, or just felt sad, I either did it all in the comfort of my backyard or by taking a solo walk around the block. There was no question that I had a sense of freedom as a young person to do things away from my parents’ watchful eyes, and I learned a lot about myself in the process.

While I certainly had caregivers who wanted to protect me from the world, I also experienced ongoing abuse and trauma at home from a young age. This was an overwhelmingly mixed message to receive as I learned autonomy and conscious decision-making during my youth. I think having the respite of unsupervised time outside during a childhood rife with chaos came with both comfort and heartbreak. I had no adult support outside of my parents, kept the secret of my lifelong abuse locked away from others, and leaned on my unfettered imagination to keep me distracted from the pain. Much of how I processed (or didn’t process) my trauma came in the form of independent play outside.

Added to these challenges was the pressure I constantly felt to overachieve as I grew. I was placed in every single extracurricular activity that was available to me, competed in talent competitions, maintained a glowing report card, and never complained to my parents about the chronic bouts of low self-esteem, inner shame, and panic that flooded my mind with each new academic year. My extreme independence coupled with trauma and perfectionism led to a complex PTSD diagnosis in adulthood. Apparently, I have been unconsciously living with this mental health disorder since I was a young teen.

As a parent, I’ve had my fair share of moments when I question what I’m doing. I’ve devoured conscious parenting books and podcasts, worked through my own past traumas in therapy, and talked on the daily with my husband about ways we can help our kids spread their wings more. I constantly wonder whether I’m giving my children enough space, encouraging the right amount of responsibility, and cultivating a true sense of resilience with everything I model. My son and daughter are experiencing a vastly different childhood than I ever did, so I’m always considering ways to help them grow up in a modern society that so often values helicopter parenting over free-range care-taking.

All of my research and lived experience has personally taught me that raising kids can be as simple as it is daunting. Our children need to know first and foremost that they are loved, accepted, safe, and supported. Boundaries are great, natural consequences are a helpful guide, and teaching them how to contribute to society-at-large is awesome. But none of that matters if we don’t embody love from the inside out for them and share that love willingly and openly whenever they need our support.

I think this is an especially notable topic of conversation when we consider the teens in our lives who are struggling with anxiety and overwhelm from their endless lists of academic obligations. My 14-year-old stepdaughter Bella is in this exact demographic, and she’s definitely drowning in the onslaught of responsibilities being piled onto her. According to the World Health Organization, depression is one of the leading causes of illness and disability among adolescents across the world, and suicide is the third leading cause of death in 15-19 year olds. It’s a well-known truth that our teens are maxed out with a societal message that teaches them to measure their own worth by how highly they perform, how independently capable they are, and what activities they are taking on to prove their future value in the workforce.

But when we focus solely on either a “let them fail” or “push them to succeed” mentality, we are completely ignoring that our teenagers are vulnerable, sensitive, and delicate human beings whose brains have not yet fully developed to handle all of this pressure. Something’s got to give, and it starts with us parents evolving to a way of raising our children that includes helping them as they learn how to grow up, as this recent Facebook post by The Guilty Chocoholic Mama so eloquently describes.

“I know so many grown children who do not have a story of life made easier to tell,” blogger Elizabeth Spencer writes in her post. “They have parents who made (and make) life harder for them. My heart breaks and aches for them. If this is you, my heart breaks and aches for you. But as parents ourselves, we are still writing our stories with our children. We still have the chance to earn this telling by them: ‘My parents made life easier for me.’ This is not enabling. This is not co-dependence. This is not stunting growth. This is relationship. This is love. This is life. It’s rarely easy for long. But lived together, it can be made easier.”

Adding these kind of empathetic and supportive parenting principles to our daily lives can be a tall order for any adults who struggle with asking others for help, speaking kindly to themselves, and being open to new ways of thinking. Which is exactly why I advocate for every single grown-up to embark on their own self-love journey as they discover how to generously love their children and teens.

So how can self-love help us parent our kids with a more supportive spirit? Well, if my trauma recovery journey has taught me anything, it’s that learning to love ourselves is the greatest tool I have in raising my children. My son and daughter will always have the example of a mother who is learning how to extend herself from a place of inner worth. They’ll be able to come to me in the midst of challenging moments and undoubtedly feel my unconditional presence with no strings attached. I will encourage them to fly and soar and fall and get back up. I will also keep my arms wide open for them to run to anywhere and anytime.

This does not mean that I stop letting my kids encounter challenges, work through problems themselves, or stumble along the way. It means that I make myself available to them should they need to lean on me, feel seen and heard, or just want a break when they’re aching for one.

It’s easy to look at the words “independence” and “responsibility” and think only in terms of stringent, assertive control. We are regularly encouraged to push our children and teens to stay in line with how the world operates. We teach them to buck up, do their part, and not be an asshole. We champion “tough love” parenting in the hopes that it produces adults in this world who think beyond themselves. The major problem I find with exclusively raising kids in this way is that it can leave very little room for empathy, gentleness, and interdependence.

Many adults in my world have criticized me for being too permissive with my kids, hugging them for too long, and letting them emotionally unravel for as long as they need. They lecture me about giving my young children daily chores, expecting more from them when they act out, and using a reward-and-punishment system as a way of getting them to listen. While this could certainly create enough fear and superficial incentive for my kids to do what I need them to do and leave me alone when I want them to be independent, at its core this kind of lifestyle doesn’t address ways to cultivate their self-worth, their innate intuitiveness, or their inherent need to belong and connect.

As a mother, I personally see each of my children as the unique human expressions that they are. I remember that they need as much love and ease as I do in this life. And I guide them to make positive, thoughtful choices without the worry of harsh repercussions. This has resulted in a four-year-old daughter who plays out in our backyard on her own with wild abandon, helps me around the house when she sees me cleaning, and loves her little brother fiercely and fully. She is an attentive, kind friend to her classmates and is sure to ask the grownups in her life if they need any help. She is a conscious risk taker, dreams big, and persists even in the face of uncertainty. She owns up to the moments when she acts out and can even articulate why she did. And she has shown me a better example of resilience than anyone I’ve seen in my life.

It’s so important for us parents to ask ourselves a few things. How often do we individually seek out help when we need it? Are we allowing ourselves to be authentically seen and vulnerably heard with our loved ones? And how open are we to evolving and healing if we grew up without the necessary loving support we so deserved? The answers to these questions can be the greatest key to wholeheartedly parenting our children. We want kids who do stuff for themselves and are of service to those around them. But without giving them the foundation of the unconditional love we all benefit from receiving, their actions may ultimately be half-hearted.

Whether they communicate it or not, our children are begging for us to hold their hands for as long as they need, cheer them on when they try something new, and lovingly support them as they boldly and compassionately show up in this world. Let’s please be willing to trust that our ongoing parental support is one of the greatest forms of empowerment we can offer our kids. If we let them, they will ask for help as often as they honestly feel they want it. If we allow them to lead using their own inner compass, they will assuredly clue us in to the moments when they need dependence. And by knowing they can come to their parents at any given moment, no matter what, our children will be stronger for it.

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More Inclusive Ways To Invite Caregivers To School Events

A few years ago, my kids’ elementary school was hosting Donuts with Dad for a Father’s Day event. The idea was sweet and simple: invite Dad to morning snack and celebrate him with a donut and handmade card. The well-intentioned event quickly became exclusionary and shined an unnecessary spotlight on my oldest daughter who was in kindergarten at the time. She and her younger siblings don’t have a father.

My children are used to making Father’s Day gifts for their grandfather or a male friend of the family when the class makes projects to send home for Dad, but an event that singles them out as being “other” or “different” for not having a dad loses its sweetness. My daughter’s best friend noticed too. He was worried that my daughter would be lonely. I did my best to assure him that she would be okay and pointed out a few of their other friends who wouldn’t have fathers present either.

My daughter, her siblings, or any other student should never have to do the emotional labor of explaining why a father isn’t present. And no classmate should feel the stress of worry for their friend who appears to be lacking someone or something. I think it is wonderful to build a relationship between home and school, but there are better and more inclusive ways to celebrate and get to know the caregivers in students’ lives.

The Pennsylvania Department of Education showed examples of this in a photo they posted on their Facebook page. The poster provided alternatives to the assumed nature of families made up of one mom and one dad when it comes to school events.

They added this text: “Do you invite caregivers to school for special events? Sponsoring events can help build strong and supportive school communities, but they can also unintentionally exclude students whose families may not be considered traditional. A word substitution or two in your event’s name can help ensure it’s inclusive of all caregivers – here are a few options to consider.”

Some of the new language choices for schools were: Breakfast with Buddies, Pancakes with Pals, Muffins in the Morning, and Donuts with Grownups. People in the comments mentioned Bagels with Buddies and Muffins with Mentors as great choices too. These updated versions don’t mention parents, moms, dads, or even grandparents. This is not a bad thing. By redefining a student’s loved one, the school offers space for a child to confidently share their home life in the classroom. The school creates community, inclusion, and sends the message that all family dynamics are recognized.

My children have two caregivers: one who is their biological mother and me, their nonbiological, nonbinary parent. I transitioned after my kids were born and they still call me Mama from the time when I identified as a female. They are not wrong to do that and it doesn’t bother me when my kids tell folks they have two moms. For the most part, I am fine with that label when it comes from my kids, but being at an event specifically for mothers feels too gendered. I am not a father either and would never feel comfortable at an event for dads. A binary, “traditionally” labeled event leaves me out. Even if it is made clear my children can invite me to any and all events, there is still a sense that I and they are outliers. Why do that when more inclusive language can be used to indicate everyone is welcome from the start? Why not let the title set the tone? Why must there be an underlying message of exception, as if permission to attend has to be given to someone different than the intended audience.

Lest you think I am only in favor of changing heteronormative events that perpetuate harm against kids with LGBTQIA+ families, I am in favor of changing the nature of these events for the benefit of all kids. Kids are being raised by parents of same-gender parents, trans and nonbinary parents, single parents, grandparents, foster parents, and divorced parents with potential step-parents and contention. Kids may have a parent unable to attend for physical or mental health reasons. Some kids may have a terminally ill parent or a parent who has died. There is too much risk in inducing trauma, anxiety, or shame by hosting school events meant specifically for a child and their mom and/or dad.

These events, even when it’s not the intention, also feed into damaging biases about gender roles and stereotypes. Daddy Daughter Dances are a great example of this. They send the message that “dates” are between a boy and a girl only and that a girl’s first love and protector should be her father. Gross. And again, for the kids who don’t have a dad or for the students who are either closeted trans or nonbinary kids, it only creates a feeling of exclusion. What about the students who identify as boys? Why can’t they go to the dance with their dads? Calling them family dances would eliminate this. Or calling it Party with a Pal or a House Party allows a student to bring anyone without getting stares or questions.

Changing language and being more thoughtful in our choice of words does not take away from maternal or paternal roles. Moving away from Donuts with Dads or Muffins with Moms does not mean valuing dads or moms less; it means valuing all families and the people loving and supporting the kids they are raising no matter their labels.

Doing this also sends a critical message to all students. If we want to create inclusive learning spaces we need to create a space that affirms students and creates allies. The goal is to build students who are accepting of diversity, who celebrate it, expect it, and call for it when it is not visible.

My kids have a strong sense of pride in their queer family. They openly share our story, my pronouns, and the details of their sperm donor and their donor siblings who live in another state. But even they feel on the spot at times when asked about their dad. Sometimes they stumble when asked if I am a boy or a girl. I know they are not alone, and I know there are other students in schools who don’t feel safe or confident to be an outlier.

If you are going to host a school or classroom event, make it a policy to be outwardly and seamlessly inclusive. Or don’t have it at all.

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’80s And ’90s Movies And Shows We’re Thrilled To Stream For Our Kids

A few weekends ago (you know, before the COVID-19 pandemic really hit the U.S. with a vengeance), my family and I were at a state basketball tournament. I spent quite a bit of time in a hotel room with my youngest two kids while my husband took our two tweens to the games. On a particularly long afternoon, I logged on to our Netflix account so my son could pick a movie to watch. What popped up? A fantastic movie from my childhood that gave me all the 1990s vibes: Richie Rich.

We’re big fans of Home Alone, so Richie Rich was just what we needed to pass the time. My son was thrilled. Could it be true? Was Macaulay Culkin, AKA Kevin McCallister, actually Richie? Of course, once you watch a movie, you get suggestions for similar movies and television shows. Soon, I was poring over our streaming subscription services, discovering movie after movie and show after show from the 1980s and ’90s that I couldn’t wait to introduce to my four kids. Would they be as wooed by each one as I was as a kid? Time would tell.

With so many of us practicing social isolation due to the coronavirus, we’ve all been challenged with the task of keeping our kids entertained. Whether or not we are tackling homeschooling, we still have many hours in the day where our kids are “bored,” and we have to figure out what to do with them besides argue. That’s where nostalgic childhood movies and shows come in to save the day.

Whether you subscribe to HULU, Prime Video, Netflix, or Disney+ (or if you’re like us, all of them), you’re bound to find some of those feel-good flicks and episodes that take you back to our own childhood. So pop the popcorn, pile on the living room rug with some pillows and blankets, and have fun kicking it old school.

HULU:

Family Matters

This was one of my two favorite childhood television shows. Who doesn’t love Steve Urkel’s antics, Grandma Winslow’s wisdom, and Carl and Harriet’s sarcasm? This show was a big deal when it came out in 1989 because it starred a black family and earned a prime-time slot on TGIF television alongside shows like Step by Step.

Free Willy

A troubled boy doing some forced community service at an aquarium learns that a whale (Willy, of course) is going to be killed — and does everything he can to save him. And in case you didn’t already know, there’s Free Willy 2 and Free Willy 3, both also available on HULU.

Full House

My kids didn’t realize that Fuller House (which they can watch on Netflix) wasn’t an original. I showed them some of my favorite episodes of Full House, like when DJ and Stephanie put a hole in their dad’s wall. No one can forget Stephanie’s signature catchphrase (“How rude!”), Uncle Joey’s impressions, or Uncle Jesse’s hair obsession.

Prime Video:

Good Burger

I can still recite lines from this 1997 movie starring Kel Mitchell and Kenan Thompson (who now is an SNL cast member) as teenagers Ed and Dexter. They work together to save Good Burger, the fast food restaurant they work for, before Mondo Burger puts them out of business.

Never Been Kissed

Drew Barrymore portrays a reporter who was relentlessly teased in high school (remember Josie Grossie?) and is assigned to go undercover as a high school student. After re-watching, I was surprised to see actresses Octavia Spencer and Molly Shannon. This cheesy flick reminds us that it’s fun to make a new, first impression.

Netflix:

Hook

Released in 1991, this film stars Robin Williams as a grown Peter Pan who is no longer the happy and free boy he used to be. Grown up with a family of his own, he travels back to Neverland where he meets Captain Hook (Dustin Hoffman) and Tinkerbell (Julia Roberts), with the sole mission of saving his own children.

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off

A snarky teen (Matthew Broderick) and his friends ditch school, using plenty of attitude and antics to help them escape their determined principal and Bueller’s brown-nosing sister. This 1986 classic has some great one-liners that are sure to please your kids.

Indiana Jones

All four Indiana Jones films, starring Harrison Ford, are currently available for streaming on Netflix. In case you forgot, start with the first one, which is Indiana Jones: Raiders of the Lost Ark. Good news! The fifth movie is in the works, and yes, Ford is in it.

Disney+:

Honey, I Shrunk the Kids

Dad and inventor Wayne Szalinski creates a machine that accidentally shrinks his two children and two neighbor boys. In a race against time, he works to save them. Of course, follow it up watching it with Honey, I Blew Up The Kid, and get ready for another sequel, which is in the works.

Sister Act

Whoopi Goldberg disguises herself as a nun, living in a convent, to hide from the mob after witnessing a crime. Just like when she was a child in Catholic school, she has a hard time fitting in with the crowd. The music alone is a reason to watch this classic movie.

Boy Meets World

My sister and I loved watching this show about Cory Matthews, his family, his friends, and of course, his ever-wise principal. After watching all seven seasons, move on to the reboot, Girl Meets World, which is also available on Disney+.

To all my 1980s and 1990s fan-friends, you’ll be sure to enjoy re-watching these as much as your kids will enjoy viewing them for the first time. Plus, some blast from the past watching sessions with the fam can be good for the soul during this tumultuous time in history.

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