I Miss My Over-Scheduled Calendar — And My Kids Do Too

Someone asked me recently if I was able to commit to an end of May deadline for a work project. I can do the project from home and any work I can drum up right now is work I am saying yes to. Sadly, there was no need to check my calendar, and we both had a good laugh. Who said a pandemic isn’t a hoot?

Everything has been canceled and anything new is written in faint pencil lines. I feel like Ralphie at the end of A Christmas Story right after the Bumpeses’ dogs ate the turkey. As Ralphie’s dad stands in shock, holding a discarded turkey wing, the voice of adult Ralphie is heard saying, “It was gone. All gone. No turkey, no turkey sandwiches, no turkey salad, no turkey gravy, turkey hash, turkey a la king, or gallons of turkey soup. Gone. All gone!” As I stand in front of the blank family dry erase board in the kitchen, clutching my virtually useless paper calendar, I understand. No birthday parties, baseball practices, dentist appointments, playdates, work dinners, community events, or school functions. Gone.

It’s all gone, and I miss it.

During a February meeting in which a group of us were trying to plan a spring function, I reminded people that May is the worst month of the year for parents with school aged kids. Field trips, spring sports, teacher appreciation events (I am appreciating the hell out of teachers right now), I think Mother’s Day is somewhere in May, and all of the other end-of-the-school-year happenings make it very hard to function with sanity, let alone grace. At the time, the last thing we needed was another event. But now I miss the rat race and long for any and all events.

I keep looking at the mostly white, blank dry erase calendar that is in the kitchen and mourn the events that would normally be color-coded for each person in the house. Of course I sighed and complained about the work that went into keeping everyone organized, fed, on time, and well-rested while juggling my own schedule, plus those of three kids and a co-parent. But I am great at time management, and structured chaos is my wheelhouse.

An empty calendar is not maximizing my multi-tasking, over-planning, detail-oriented skills. Pride while watching my Little Leaguers step up to the plate is not just for them, but also for the fact that their uniforms were clean and their bellies were full of the dinner eaten in the van on the way to the field. We made it on time too, FYI. Let’s just say my kids weren’t the only ones knocking it out of the park each spring.

I miss watching my kids play sports, but I also miss the edge it took off their manic energy. My kids have always been busy and athletic with unlimited stamina. Yes, we can still get outside and find ways to move our bodies. But the focus required at school and during extracurricular activities, plus the physical work to keep up with peers while learning and playing, made for calmer, more content kids. Pandemic equals pandemonium in our house, and without a spring sport to practice my kids are getting really good at jumping off of furniture, drop-kicking their siblings, and getting bloody noses while doing blindfolded somersaults.

My kids and I are social creatures. We love downtime, but we thrive on activity. We want and need variety. I miss my workout buddies, volunteer work, and speaking engagements. I miss juggling the pieced together schedule of being self-employed. I am hanging onto some gigs, but most of my work has been canceled, and with it my packed calendar. When I would pick my kids up from school they always asked what the plan was; more often than not, we would have a sporting event or dinner date with someone. Playdates were weekend staples. Sometimes it felt like more work than it was worth to manage our social calendar, but clearly it was worth every second of group texts, booster seat maneuvering, and cleaning up after mess-making, endless-snack-eating kids.

Being on the go is our jam, and in this new day, finding a routine is hard. Everything has stopped, and we are still trying to sprint.

I try to maintain a sense of normalcy for myself and the kids, but nothing about this is normal. Per the kids’ request, each morning I write out our schedule for the day; it involves plenty of screen time, outside time, and some school work. But in the sense that something has to be done on time, there isn’t an urgency to get to the next task. The urgency comes from wanting to do and go. We are itching to be active, social, and productive. We are craving our busy, multi-sport, far from social distancing life. My kids never knew the effort it took to maintain our hectic, color-coded calendar, because I am organized AF and can multi-task like a boss. They just know they’re missing out on a lot.

There were some days that were overscheduled, and I will undoubtedly be overwhelmed at some point in the future with the need to be in three places at once while deadlines and assignments hang over my head. Some people are appreciating the slower pace and the time to be still, but I will appreciate the rush of life when I am able to speed up again.

When this pandemic is over we are going to hit every library, park, ball field, birthday party, and community event until our calendars return to their state of beautiful, organized messiness.

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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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We Need To Change The Way We Talk To Tween And Teen Boys

Truth time. Good things are happening in the way we raise our girls. As much as diet culture remains pervasive across every media our kids see, there is a growing campaign to fight it and teach our girls to love their bodies. We are talking to girls about sex, rather than pulling the blinds on the idea that they are or will be sexual beings who deserve to know how things work, how to protect themselves, and where the pleasure switches are. We are actively working to end the shame about periods, and encouraging our tween and teen girls to carry that tampon to the bathroom with pride! Because menstruation is not something girls should be embarrassed about.

All good stuff. And as a mom of a pre-adolescent girl, I am incredibly hopeful for her future, and look forward to the continued progress we as a society will make when it comes to raising confident girls who love themselves and believe they can do and be anything they dream.

However, one author says that for all the work we are doing to improve the world our girls are growing up in, we might be forgetting another important group of kids—our boys.

Boys who grow up with body image dysmorphia. Boys who grow up being told they should be one thing (masculine! tough! without emotion! loving sports!) when they may be none of those things. Boys who, like our girls, are just trying to find their way in a confusing world of mixed messages and unrealistic social media idols. And whose developing brains are flooded with a shit-ton more “information” (read: internet) than kids of previous generations ever had to deal with.

They need us too. They need us to campaign for their mental health and positive body image and emotional support and self-love the way we campaign for girls.

And that’s why Cara Natterson, M.D., who’d already worked as a medical consultant on The Care and Keeping of You (a book series for girls), decided to write Decoding Boys: New Science Behind the Subtle Art of Raising Sons

Because all of our kids—boys and girls—are “growing up in a playground we didn’t play in,” Dr. Natterson tells Scary Mommy. That—the doctor, author, and mom of teenagers says—is the greatest challenge 21st century parents face. “This is all new to us. What their sources of information and education are. And socialization. Particularly in the online world. And we’re struggling to figure out how to parent around that.”

She goes on to say that we spend so much time and energy “identifying the negatives and demonizing them”—i.e. the online world—and we need to a better job of seeing where there is good information and positive support for our kids. Because the truth is, they are all online. We can choose to either stomp our feet in denial or cower in fear over what they see, or we can embrace the modern technology that encompasses our kids’ world, and learn to parent through it.

As a mom of a boy who is online every day and who is also naturally more introverted, I have had to see the good that modern technology offers our family. Online gaming and communication provides my son with friendships and connections that he may not have at school. Through his headset and internet world, he can talk to kids who “get him” after spending eight hours in a school building with kids who don’t. Letting him be online, even as a tween, means he is less lonely and feels validated, feels seen, and feels normal. And although the online world may seem scary to parents who didn’t grow up with it, it is also a gift introverted kids of our generation didn’t have.

So if learning to parent kids through a technological world that we didn’t grow up in is the greatest challenge for 21st century parents, what then presents the biggest obstacle for 21st century boys?

According to Dr. Natterson, it’s the lack of conversation about what, exactly, they’re going through. She says we do a really good job talking to girls about “what words they need to know, what skills they need to have, what supplies they need, but we haven’t caught up for our boys.”

The truth is, we aren’t talking to boys enough about what’s happening with their bodies, and we aren’t giving them the social permission to discuss it they same way we are with girls. Dr. Natterson doesn’t mince words and states bluntly that boys “need to have open conversations about wet dreams and inconvenient erections and what they’re feeling when seeing pornography online.” They need to know why their voices crack, and they need to be able to talk about the pressures they feel to be a certain body type (because yes, boys feel those pressures too).

Much like young girls are growing increasingly vocal in this modern feminist age, boys need the opportunity to “grab the microphone” regarding puberty, Dr. Natterson says, in order to grow up into well-adjusted adults who are in tune with their bodies, emotions, and needs.

She says the problem is that we, as a society, have divided up information and conversation as if it’s a pie—a finite resource. “We’ve said to ourselves, ‘Our girls need all this information and all this conversation.’ And, by default, if our girls get it, our boys don’t.”And this, Dr. Natterson says, is the greatest struggle our boys are facing today. And we have ourselves to blame. But we can fix it. We can and must have all the same conversations with our boys—conversations about physical development, emotional well-being,

Another important point Dr. Natterson makes is that boys often aren’t visibly going through puberty as early as girls, so parents don’t realize that yes, emotionally and mentally, they’re in it. And they need us to talk to them about it—even if their voices haven’t changed yet or they’re still shorter than most of the middle school girls. (Her chapter “Yes, Your Nine-Year-Old Might Be in Puberty” is a sobering, but important read.)

Decoding Boys also addresses the fact that kids across the board are fighting insecurities about their bodies. This not a “girl” issue. Boys are inundated with images of what the “ideal” male body looks like. Boys look at themselves in the mirror and struggle to like what they see. Boys deprive themselves of food, over-exercise, try unsafe supplements, and become obsessed with weight, fat, and muscle tone. And they need as much guidance toward self-love and strong self-esteem as girls do. “We have gendered eating issues and body image issues in a way that’s totally inappropriate,” Dr. Natterson says, and that needs to change.

Because it’s a book about raising adolescent boys, not surprisingly, her book talks about sex, consent, and pornography too.

In the chapters entitled “Boys and ‘The Talk’: 21st-Century Information Disruptors” and “Boys and Sex: The Game-Changing Roles of Porn, Nudes, and Consent,” Dr. Natterson goes there—to a place a lot of us don’t want to go. But there’s no denying it—we can’t talk about consent and sex while we raise 21st century kids if we don’t talk about pornography. First of all, pretending our kids haven’t or won’t see it is naive and foolish. Maybe your kid doesn’t have a smartphone yet. Guess what? His friends do.

Gone are the days we grew up in where you and your friends might have discovered (gasp!) your dad’s Playboy under his bed and had limited one-time exposure before your parents caught you and sent you outside to ride your bike.

Now, those images are online, in our tween boys’ hands, all hours of the day.

Again, we can cross our arms and turn our backs and say “not my kid,” or we can face the truth and talk to our tweens and teens about what they’re seeing. Because the reality is, porn is everywhere. EV. ER. Y. WHERE. According to Decoding Boys, 90% of boys 18 and younger have seen it. 60% of girls have too. And newsflash: exposure doesn’t start at age 17 or 18. It starts when they get devices in their possession, which for a lot of kids, is as young as elementary school.

Dr. Natterson says that she’s spoken with so many parents—so many dads—who said, “I got quiet. I went through puberty. I hid in my room. No one talked to me about anything. And I came out on the other side and I talk now. I understand my feelings. I’m fine. Why do we have to do this with our sons?”

Again, our kids are playing on a different playground than we did. We cannot continue to pretend their world is the same as the one we lived in when we went through puberty. We owe it to all of our kids to give them resources and the language they need to talk about what they’re going through.

“The world has shifted. It’s a fact. It’s not good or bad. It’s just a fact,” Dr. Natterson says. Too many variables have changed for us to parent our kids the way we were parented. We need to make some changes in the way we parent, and we need to start by talking to our boys.


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To The Grandparents Raising Their Grandkids: You Are So Appreciated

When I was 14, I packed my things and left. I was fighting a lot with my mother, and my father was in and out of my life and addicted to painkillers. I just couldn’t do it anymore, so walked out. I lived with my dad for a bit, but it wasn’t good. I stayed with friends, but eventually I moved in with my grandmother.

And let me just say, it saved my life.

She was in her 70s. She wore sweatpants and white shoes and in the winter she wore a faded yellow coat. When she hugged me, her arms trembled, and so did her lips when she kissed my cheek. Her home had the same flower print carpet and brown and white tile it did in ’82, the year I was born. I cannot say I understood her, or that we had really anything in common outside of our family relationship. But one thing I knew for sure, she loved me, and her home was the most stable, unchanging place I had access to. At 14, it was exactly what I needed.

I was scared to ask her if I could live with her, but at the time, I felt out of options. I was at her house for dinner. She’d just made me bacon and eggs, and as I sat at her counter eating, I slowly prepared for the question, my right hand rubbing the counter top, my left heel bouncing. I gave it a couple false starts, “What do you think about…” and “How would you feel if …” before I actually asked if I could live with her.

Grandma was standing across from me, her left hand leaning against the kitchen sink. She looked in my eyes, and then down at the counter. Her glasses were smudged with moisturizer. Perhaps she wondered if she could still care for a teenager. Maybe she wondered if it was her place to raise me. I don’t know all that going though her mind, but what I do know is that she leaned her elbows on the table, her face level with mine, and agreed under two conditions: I would attend church, and I would keep my hair short. Naturally I agreed to her conditions, and she gave me the bedroom my father shared with my Uncle Jack.

I stayed there until I finished high school, and it’s only now, as I’m learning about my 20-year high school reunion, after having three children of my own, that I realize why my grandmother was so reluctant to say “yes,“ and how much she must have sacrificed by taking in her troubled, slightly drug addicted, disgruntled, often absent from class, foul mouthed, rebellious, grandson, who went on to grow his hair long and refuse to attend church.

Author and Grandmother
Courtesy of Clint Edwards

She fought with me over homework, girls, drugs, clothing, hygiene, religion, bad movies and music. It was just the two of us in that home. My grandfather had died a few years earlier. To be honest, I lost track of how many times I attempted to drop out of high school, and she looked me in the eyes and called me “a dammed fool” when I did.

She never took her eyes off me. I can still remember her sitting in the white vinyl rocker next to the refrigerator, a wrinkled moisturizer-soaked hand on her forehead, shoulders slumped, trying to figure out how to raise a teenager long after she’d intended to raise a teenager.

I can say with 100% confidence that I’d never have straightened out, finished high school, and eventually gone to college without my grandmother. I’d have never gotten married to a wonderful, charming and supportive woman, and gone on to have three wonderful children without my grandmother’s support and guidance and unwavering dedication. Right now, as I write this, I’m 37 years old, and I think I’m a pretty good dude, with a stable marriage, and awesome kids.

All of it started with the foundation my grandmother set when she said, “Yes, you can live here.”

My grandma died when I was 21, long before she had a chance to see me turn into something she could be proud of. But I must say, I cannot think about my grandmother’s face as I graduated from high school and not remember both the pride and relief I saw in her eyes.

So grandparents raising your child’s child, I know it’s a burden. But I also want you to know that you are probably saving that child’s life in ways you may never see. You are giving them the stable foundation that they so desperately need to become something more than they could be otherwise. Yes, it’s frustration. Yes, it can feel like a burden. But you are making a difference. So hold ’em tight no matter what, because they might not appreciate it now, but they will. Trust me. I know.

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How A Household ‘Help Wanted’ Bulletin Board Changed Our Family

“If I do it, can I play Xbox after?”

“Is everyone doing it?”

“Can you just do it since you’re better at it?”

So would begin the litany of questions when I assigned my sons even the most basic weekend chores. Whether charged with watering, dusting, or raking, the boys inevitably would whine, slump their shoulders, and feign sudden, fretful bewilderment. “How do I know which plants need water?” “What’s a Swiffer?” “We have a shed?”

Truthfully, my children were not sparing me much labor by pitching in. I cannot count how many times I would stop what I was doing to liberate an area rug being swallowed by a vacuum or to rescue a vase perched a micrometer from a mantel’s edge. Still, I soldiered on, determined to instill in my kids a strong work ethic and a sense of responsibility. Each weekly outburst, though, stoked simmering doubts that my mission was succeeding.

Then one dreamlike Friday the tables turned.

My seven-year-old announced that he would need to finish his science fair project over the weekend. With a toothy smile, he turned from my husband to me and with complete sincerity asked, “Who wants to help me?” I waited for him to appreciate the irony.

Though that night did not afford our family any lessons on paradoxes, it did produce our new favorite tool for a stress-free weekend: The Help Wanted Bulletin Board. Our family has found this device to be most valuable when used in the following way.

How A Household 'Help Wanted' Bulletin Board Changed Our Family
Courtesy of Elizabeth Allison

1. The Help Wanted Bulletin Board is literally a bulletin board that hangs next to our refrigerator, the most visited spot in the house.

2. Throughout the week, each member of the family takes a piece of paper, jots down a chore they anticipate may require assistance, and pins it to the board. Each person posts two jobs in total.

3. The activities must be reasonable in scope. Our family defines reasonable as any task that can be performed by any family member in one hour. Jobs have included cleaning out the toy chests, skimming the pool, practicing math facts, and weeding the backyard.

4. All requests should be posted by Friday night.

5. Although everyone peruses the job postings throughout the week, no one commits to any until Saturday morning. At that time, each member of the family signs their name onto two posted job requests. I have found that my boys have a greater sense of control and approach their responsibilities more eagerly when they can select their jobs. To that end, the adults choose last so that the kids have more tasks from which to pick.

6. All jobs must be completed by early Sunday evening. The job solicitor and the job assistant decide together when they will work to complete the assignment.

7. When a job is done, the posting is crossed out. I am still amused by how triumphant the boys look when they do this, but I also understand that the “x” is tangible proof of their success and a validation of their work.

8. Finally, right before bedtime on Sunday night, we gather at the bulletin board and review what our family accomplished. Each job solicitor thanks his or her assistant, and it is impressive how much goodwill is fostered before our children retire for the evening.

Ending the weekend on a calm, harmonious note is but one benefit of this approach to chores. Many others have followed. With the Help Wanted Bulletin Board sitting in plain view every day, my sons understand that the weekend will bring housework. This visual reminder allows the boys to prepare mentally for chores. By eliminating any surprises, the board has reduced much of the whining in our house.

Though household duties are still inevitable, they are no longer seemingly arbitrary. The board lets my children consider how they will contribute in the days ahead. They now have developed a sense of ownership by having a say in what they do, and this autonomy has fostered pride in their work.

Each family member appreciates the support they have received while simultaneously feeling good about helping someone else. In this way, there now exists a feeling of our family operating as a team. We enter the weekend knowing that someone has already offered to help us. What’s more, no one person is shunted off to a corner of the house to work alone, as sometimes would happen before we used the board. Instead, each of us enjoys companionship and conversation while we work. More than once my kids have spontaneously offered up stories about what is happening at school while occupied with sweeping or washing dishes beside me. For me, these unprompted talks are the happiest unintended consequence of the way we handle housework now.

My kids now take time to discern which of their own tasks they can do by themselves and which are best suited to a team effort. Subsequently, they have become more transparent about which responsibilities they truly find difficult and which they just do not want to do.

Finally, the Help Wanted Bulletin Board reinforces the notion that sooner or later everyone needs help, even mom and dad. Often children are told at school or at home that asking for help is not a flaw, but an asset exhibited by strong leaders. The Help Wanted Bulletin Board reinforces this sometimes-challenging idea. Each day it literally shows my boys that even the “oldest and wisest” can seek support and even the smallest and youngest can provide it.

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To My Almost-Teen Daughter: I’m Just As Confused As You Are

My dear daughter,

You will soon turn 12, and that might seem nothing, but for me it’s a huge deal.

You are one year away from the dreaded teenage years, and I’m afraid that if I blink my eyes, you will be a young woman.

You are not a child anymore, but you’re still not a grown-up, and for me you will always be that little girl in the pink tutu skirt, holding her imaginary microphone and singing.

I remember when I used to sit with you to watch Toy Story, and you were obsessed with Jessie, and when she said that her owner left her behind as she grew up, you cried and hugged your toys. You whispered in their ears that you’d never do the same thing.

Yet here I am sitting in your room tidying it, and that corner that used to have your dollhouse and your dolls is filled with art supplies, make-up boxes, and some Legos. Your side table has an alarm clock, a diary and a book, and the boxes that had your toys are gone.

I know you’re confused, but believe me, so am I.

I wish I had a manual to tell me the right thing to say or the right thing to do, because lately I feel everything I say makes you angry or pushes you to tears. I feel terrible. I always feel I’m disappointing you in one way or another. I picture you in a therapist’s office talking about how bad your mother was, how she never understood you.

As the adult, I’m supposed to know everything–at least that’s what you think–but I’m sailing in uncharted waters now. I don’t know whether I should treat you as a grown-up or a child, because to me you’ll always be my baby, so my judgment will always be somewhat cloudy.

Life wants you to grow up fast. The media, your friends, you. You want to rush everything. You ask me about the first kiss, about boys and about so many things, and all I can think of is the day you will come home crying because some jerk broke your heart.

What scares me the most are the stories I heard from so many adults, about their broken relationships with their moms. Many were a result of lack of understanding from their mothers during the teen years, and I wonder: Will I fall into that category? Will my love for you and my sincere will to try and turn every stone to find a means to communicate, be enough?

How can I provide a shield for you from all the hurt in the world that comes with growing up, yet let you try and learn?

How can I put my protective mama bear to slumber when I see your tears and you say that you don’t want to talk about it?

I know life hasn’t been easy for us. Having a mother with a chronic illness, and with so much uncertainty, probably made you worry more.

Sometimes I want you to open up to me, release those fears, open that Pandora’s box, and let go of all the darkness that lurks in your head. I know you’re afraid that what you’ll say would add more burden on me, but it won’t. Your mommy is stronger than you think.

You might think that you’re adding to my stress and feel guilty about that, but I want you to know that every obstacle I pass, every fight I take on, is because of you. I draw my strength from you, and perhaps that was too much to ask of a young girl. But you will grow up stronger than you think, you will be a fighter, your soul will always shine in this dark world, because you know first-hand how to fight for the ones you care about.

One of my favorite quotes from Little Women sums up my thoughts every day: “I think she is growing up, and so begins to dream dreams, and have hopes and fears and fidgets, without knowing why or being able to explain them.”

I want you to know that everything you’re going through is normal, those feelings are normal, and I’m not here to judge you nor will I ever be mad at you. I’m here to guide you, to help you navigate through those tides of highs and lows, just like my mother did with me, and I was also angry at her. (Sorry, Mom!)

Some days I feel I have let you down, that nothing I say or do is enough anymore to comfort you. I long for the days when it was just a kiss on that little “ouchie” you had that would make the whole world better.

But my reward at the end of the day, although you’ve been staying in your room all day, is when you ask me to come and sit next to you while you fall asleep — and there she is, my little baby girl again, needing her mommy for those scary few moments before bedtime.

When you smile and tell me “I love you Mommy,” I know that I can fight all the imaginary monsters lurking around me. I can take on the hardest fight, because that smile on your face is all I need to conquer this darkness.

Life and situations will try and change you, but remember to be true to yourself, remember that a smile and an act of kindness goes a long way, and finally: “My wish for you is that you continue. Continue to be who and how you are, to astonish a mean world with your acts of kindness. Continue to allow humor to lighten the burden of your tender heart.” – Maya Angelou.

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I Temporarily Lost Custody Of My Kids Due To Drug Addiction

It’s only hindsight that allows me to view this day as a good one. It was April 7, 2010, and the day started like any other for me. I woke up, swallowed a handful of pills, enough to get me going, and began getting the kids ready for school. I believe I was able to get my daughter to her middle school before it all went bad.

This wasn’t the first time my husband or I had overdosed. It wasn’t even the second time. It had happened so many times before this day that I’d lost count. The next thing I knew, an ambulance was there, and on this occasion, the police and CPS (child protective services) were also called. I don’t remember a lot of what happened that day. It’s mostly a blur of questions I was too high to answer, and intense sadness when the kids were removed.

We were lucky, which sounds strange considering the serious situation we were in. My in-laws had been fostering my brother-in-law’s kids, which meant they were set up to take my kids right away. They didn’t have to stay at Child Haven, a temporary place for kids before they go to foster care, for any length of time. My husband and I went through the motions those first few days. I cried all the time. I couldn’t wrap my head around the fact they were gone. It’s amazing the lack of self-awareness I had back then. How dare they take my kids from me? I was a good parent…except for the drug problem, but otherwise I was doing a great job. We were assigned someone to help us through the process. They outlined steps we needed to take to get the kids back. The number one thing we had to do was stop using drugs.

Drug addiction is a tricky thing. While you are in active addiction, you lack the ability to stop. It’s a difficult concept if you’ve never dealt with it yourself. I wanted to stop for a long time. We went to 12-step meetings and we “tried.” The truth is that having my kids taken away was not enough to make me stop. This actually helped things spiral for quite a while afterwards. Depression set in even further, and I couldn’t see the light at the end of the tunnel.

I felt stuck in a cycle of using, going to work, and using some more. For decoration, I would sprinkle in some visits with the kids and some 12-step meetings. I was addicted to opioids, muscle relaxers, and Xanax so I had the ability to appear normal occasionally. It didn’t hurt that I was using drugs that were considered acceptable by society. It’s a lot easier to justify your actions when your addiction begins inside a doctor’s office with a prescription pad.

Lost is the best way to describe how I felt with my kids gone. On the one hand, I’m a mom, and I’m supposed to want to parent my children. I know I love them, but at the time, I couldn’t find the will to do what I needed to get them back. It’s strange to go from giving birth and knowing you would do anything for your kids to being at the point where you will do anything except stop taking drugs.

Imagine being so dependent on a drug that you won’t stop using even though you know it’s hurting your kids and everyone who loves you. You are willing to lie and do whatever it takes to keep using.

The addiction began innocently enough. I had back problems after I had my youngest, who was days away from turning five at the time we lost custody. My doctor prescribed opioids and muscle relaxers for the pain. It didn’t take long for this to completely consume my life. My habit involved doctor shopping and buying pills off the street. I was thoroughly convinced that my pain was so severe that I needed these drugs to make it through the day.

Despite my half-assed attempts at killing myself through my drug use, I entered rehab in July of 2010. The day I was rescued from my insanity, I was high, home alone, and wouldn’t answer the door. My sister broke in through my laundry room window to get to me. I can’t imagine how scared she must have been, not knowing if I would be alive when she found me. She called my grandparents, and they got me into rehab.

This whole experience was strange for my family. While they knew I was out of control, they didn’t really get it. I come from an average middle-class family. They are all fairly “normal” by most people’s standards. They didn’t understand the obsession and compulsion that fueled me. They didn’t understand that when I was caught in the grip of my addiction, I couldn’t stop even if I wanted to.

Rehab went pretty well. The structure was good for me. It allowed me the time my body and mind needed to detox from the drugs. The cravings were there, but I was involved in classes and 12-step meetings and I was on to a new way of life.

I wish I could say that I stayed clean out of rehab. Sadly, I can’t. I still thought there was a chance I could successfully take pills. It made no sense since I was still in the middle of my case plan with CPS, trying to get my kids back. Taking any kind of narcotic would be a setback for me. That Christmas ended up being especially difficult because I started drinking heavily. Drinking really wasn’t my thing, until it was. I was a pill user, not an alcoholic, so I figured things would be okay. They tell you in treatment that you need to stop all drugs and alcohol. Complete abstinence is the way to recovery. My ego wouldn’t let me believe that. I was different. I could drink responsibly to take the edge off.

Spoiler alert: I could not. I began drinking all the time, late at night, early morning, throughout the day and at work. It became quickly obvious that I had no control over any substance that I tried to use.

On January 4, 2011, I didn’t use drugs or alcohol, and I managed to stay sober the next day and the day after. I can’t say what made that day any different from the days that preceded it. I was still just as hopeless as I had been before, and in some ways, I may have been even more hopeless. My husband and I had separated, and we were working separately to try to get our kids back. He was ahead of me since he was doing what he needed to for his program and I’d relapsed.

When you are in treatment, there are so many clichés. I was finally tired of being sick and tired. I was tired of doing the work it took to get drunk or high and go about the rest of my life as if I wasn’t drunk and high. I couldn’t stop for my kids or my family or any other person in my life, and I finally decided I should try to quit for myself. Was I worth it? Did I deserve to live? Would I be able to live with the choices I had made?

It turns out the answers to those questions is yes. I am worth it. I am enough. I have come a long way from the dark place I used to live. If I don’t do the work to stay clean, I will use drugs again. I am no longer confused about that. I had to build a life worth living. I used drugs to change the way I felt. The truth of it is, no matter how many drugs or how much alcohol I poured on a situation, it was never enough. It never filled that hole inside. In addition to recovery, I found therapy as an outlet and a way to heal.

On November 15, 2011, my husband, the father of my children, lost his battle with drug addiction. His death was surreal. We weren’t together when he died, but that didn’t stop it from being an incredibly painful and life changing experience for me. At this point, I had been drug-free for 10 months. Not a long time in the grand scheme of things. At the time, I didn’t think it was long enough to be able to deal with such a devastating situation. The only thing I knew for sure was that using drugs wouldn’t make things any better. Hurting myself wouldn’t bring him back. I was able to be there for my kids in a real and meaningful way. We would be able to get through this together.

In January 2012, I regained custody of my kids. My relationships with them continued to improve. I’m sure they were hesitant at first. I can’t blame them; I wouldn’t have trusted me either. I had to show them things were different in order for them to believe it. The path to the forgiveness I was seeking was long and difficult. The older two know that I chose drugs over them. It was important for me to acknowledge that, because while it may not have been a choice for me, this was their reality. My choices affected their childhood and their sense of safety in a profound way, and I don’t get to tell them how to feel about that. Kids are resilient, and they have been able to forgive me and move on. The older two are adults now, and I have strong relationships with both. My youngest was affected the least because he was so young. I am happy to say he probably doesn’t remember much about those days, and most of his memories are of me clean.

In January of this year, I celebrated nine years drug- and alcohol-free. In the beginning, I didn’t believe this was possible. Turns out, life isn’t all that bad. I’m the mother, daughter, sister, aunt, friend and co-worker I always wanted to be. I show up for the people I love, and not a day goes by that my kids don’t know how much I love them.

The road may be difficult at times, but those difficulties pale in comparison to how things were in the past. I am a firm believer that everything happens for a reason and there are no accidents. I know the journey toward my recovery began on that awful day when my kids were removed, and for that reason, I now look at that as the day that saved my life.

If you are struggling with addiction, there is help out there. Whether the solution is treatment or 12-step meetings, find someone to talk to and begin the road to recovery. You are worth it.

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If You Want Your Teen To Be A Financially Independent Adult, Focus More On Self-Control

It starts before they have even left the womb: the pressure for our children to succeed, to develop to their fullest potential. I berated myself during my first pregnancy because of how stressed I was — I’d read that stress can negatively impact your baby’s development. I panicked that my stress hormones would travel through the uterine wall and stunt my baby’s delicate, still-forming brain, inhibit his potential. Ironic what a huge stressor it was to worry so much about controlling my stress. Even now, I worry I gave my child ADHD because I was stressed during my pregnancy. (This is actually a thing.)

Once they’re born, the pressure to perform increases a hundredfold. We eagerly urge our babies to reach their milestones, proudly sharing videos on social media of “early” turning over, crawling, walking, talking. In some cities, the competition (and price) to get into preschool is intense. Where I live, we have a few high-performing elementary schools that parents clamor to get their kids into. We test our kids’ IQs, hoping to get them into “gifted programs” so they may be challenged academically. My son is in the seventh grade now, and the pressure really amped this year — from now on, every grade he makes “really counts.” It’s true though — the grades he earns now determine which high school courses he’ll take. His high school courses will determine his college readiness, his ability to get in, and his ability to earn scholarships.

If you want to be successful, we tell them, every grade counts. I have said some variation of this to my son. My son who has ADHD, who struggled all through elementary school, who made straight A’s for the first time just last semester. I admit that report card made me swell with hope. Maybe he’ll get a scholarship after all.

We put so much pressure on ourselves to ensure our kids have the best education and put forth their highest academic effort. We so desperately want them to be successful, and a rigorous academic curriculum is the way to get them there.

But is it? An ongoing study in Dunedin, New Zealand has been showing us that IQ may not be quite the heavyweight contributor we thought it was. And when we look at outcomes for valedictorians, the highest academic achievers in their graduating class, we’re seeing that they aren’t quite the roaring successes we might have predicted either. Successful, sure, but not nearly the world-changers we might have expected.

So what is the secret ingredient for success? Some have labeled it simply “emotional IQ,” but that’s too broad a term for what the Dunedin study has found when it examines the 1,000+ participants it has been studying now for nearly half a century.

What the researchers in the Dunedin study are finding is that there is one specific element of emotional IQ that is the greatest single predictor of future financial stability: self-control. Even when researchers control for IQ, gender, and wealth of the family they were born into, self-control continued to have “significant incremental validity in predicting the socioeconomic position [participants] achieved and the income they earned.”

By the age of 32, study participants who demonstrated poor self-control as children were less likely to have established “financial building blocks for the future” like owning a home, having an investment account, contributing to a retirement account. Children with lower self-control were more likely to struggle financially in adulthood, to have more health problems, and to have been convicted of a crime. Even when researchers removed the 61 study participants who had been diagnosed with ADHD, they still found the association between low self-control in childhood and less financial stability in adulthood to remain the same.

Why is self-control so important when it comes to wealth and health? Regulating emotions plays a huge roll in every aspect of our lives, so it stands to reason that being able to manage our reactions and react logically rather than emotionally would translate into better outcomes. But for children, it’s more than that. The Dunedin study found that adolescents with less self-control made the kinds of life-changing mistakes that could have a lasting impact on their lifestyles and thus their ability to maintain their health and achieve financial success. Still, even those with lower self-control who managed to make it through high school without any major setbacks experienced worsened health and less financial success in their thirties compared to their peers with more self-control.

And what about those kids who have ADHD, like mine? What about the kids who have always struggled with self-control? Is self-control an inalterable characteristic like the color of our child’s eyes or their height? Are our sweet, impulsive children doomed to a life of struggle?

Researchers say we absolutely can teach our kids self-control, and every bit of self-control they learn adds to their potential for future success. For my son with ADHD, we are already witnessing the effects of our ongoing interventions. Starting medication in third grade had a huge impact on his ability to control himself, and his father and I have always maintained strict but fair expectations with regards to his behavior and education. His teachers, especially the ones who “get” ADHD, have had a massive positive impact on his desire to learn and succeed. We’ve given him outlets to explore his wild, creative mind while enforcing consequences when he makes impulsive choices.

Here are a few other everyday ways parents can develop self-control in their kids:

1. Model it. We all lose our shit sometimes, but it’s important to model good self-control most of the time. Our kids learn from us just by watching what we do.

2. Provide “scaffolding.” Scaffolding is when you set up rules and routines that allow your child to navigate their activities and practice self-control with a support system in place. Maintain the “scaffolding” with consistent rules and expectations, and gradually loosen control (remove the scaffolding) as your child begins to demonstrate the ability to self-regulate their emotions and self-govern their actions.

3. Meditate with your child. Mindfulness and self-awareness are the building blocks of self-control.

4. Enforce table manners. This is a simple way to practice self-control on a daily basis.

5. Practice delayed gratification by saving up for big asks. Whether it’s a toy or an experience, don’t simply give it to your child. Make them work for it, save for it, and purchase it themselves.

6. Require that chores and homework be finished prior to fun activities.

As parents, it’s all too easy to get caught up in the current of focusing all our attention on intelligence and academic achievement — after all, these are tangible measures of our child’s abilities. But maybe we could all benefit from taking a step back and turning our focus inward, on ourselves, and teaching our kids to do the same.

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To The Squad-Less Moms Raising Kids Without A Village

In a culture hooked on buzzwords like “squad,”  I’m sometimes left wondering if I’m the only one over here scratching my head. One phrase that really echoes in my brain in regards to child-rearing is, “It takes a village.”

But what if you don’t have one?

I got married as a teenager and was pregnant by 20. When most of my high school friends were focused on figuring themselves out in college, I was figuring out breastfeeding and completely zeroed in on this new baby in my arms. I, surprisingly, didn’t feel lonely during those young years on the narrow path. In fact, mothering was a dream come true for me and I poured every ounce of my being into caring for my son in our one-bedroom apartment, $425/month. This was 12 years ago, before social media was there to remind me at the drop of a hat that I wasn’t doing life the same way as everyone else. I carried on blissfully unaware in my little bubble where I truly felt like I had everything I needed.

My husband is very (as he absolutely should be) dedicated to this parenting gig, so I don’t claim to know or even begin to imagine what single parents go through. But for me, outside of him, that “village” you hear of seems very elusive. I love my extended family, but we were never in a situation of grandparents taking the kids for sleepovers and when our boys were five and one, we moved across the country to start a different life alone.

Of course, I’ve asked for help from a select few in moments of need, but mostly it’s been me and my husband tag-teaming. I never thought much was unique about our set-up until social media added it to my list of things to feel inadequate about. (Other things on said list include a house on par with Joanna Gaines’ standards, the perfect mom bun and kids in matching, monotone PJs.)

Via Instagram, I’ve started to see that moms seems to have this magical “squad” whom they couldn’t survive without… that bestie who stops by and scoops the children over for a playdate when she’s feeling overwhelmed. Friends Venmoing Starbucks gift cards on a rough day and dropping off a homemade lasagna when their kids are sick with strep throat.

“It takes a village,” they always seem to say.

My reality has been that my husband and I worked opposite shifts for years to make ends meet, Netflix getting us through the hard times and the only “bestie” dropping off food was the Domino’s pizza delivery guy. I don’t share this to complain; I’m totally at peace with our lifestyle. In fact, I never felt like it went against the grain until social media gave me a backstage pass to the Jones’s everyday. I am very independent by nature and enjoy functioning that way but it does leave me wondering if I’m the only one out here in trenches without my “ride or dies.” Just going through the motions and hoping to God I’ll get to take a nap or two on the weekends.

I am so grateful for the friends I’ve met along my journey whether they’ve stayed for a long time or briefly popped in and out. It’s healthy to find human connection but I don’t necessarily think I’ve created a “village” and I don’t have a group of friends helping me with parenting, that’s for sure.

I value time to myself and am involved in yoga and jump on the invite to join a book club or have dinner with other moms. There are people I enjoy spending time with when I get the chance but I wouldn’t describe them as the “people I do life with” or my “squad.” Making friends as an adult is hard. Moving from Ohio to Colorado was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made, but it also meant starting over and meeting people from scratch.

I will say that, even sans village, my kids seem to be making it okay. If anything, they know that their parents love them more than the moon and stars. Being their mother is still a dream I don’t take for granted. No, my husband and I don’t have a lot of “backup,” our family lives hundreds of miles away, but we make it work. We are these boys’ world and we will always find a way to provide no matter what.

So, the squad-less ones raising their kids without a lot of help: cheers.

I’m here to say that I don’t think it takes a village… but it sure as hell takes a lot of hard work.

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