Friday, April 17, 2015

A Helping Hand is Better Than a Pointing Finger

I have done a lot of posting on parental judgment, and surprise, surprise, today is not going to be different. Today I have an alarming statistic to share with  my fellow parents. In January, an anonymous tip line for child abuse was opened here in Colorado and the following quote was reported at the end of the first quarter:
"The hotline number has been live since Jan. 1 and, although not widely advertised, was spread by child advocates and county child welfare officials. In the first three months of this year, it received more than 54,000 calls, more than 7,000 of which were referred to caseworkers for investigation."

In the first three months that the hotline was open they received 54,000 calls. They didn't advertise. FIFTY FOUR THOUSAND!! Really?! So, there we should believe at least 54,000 incidents of child abuse in the state of Colorado warranted a phone call to the child abuse hotline? That is incredible when you look at the fact that, as of the 2013 census, only 1,238,940 (23.3% of the total population) of our population are minors under 18 years of age, and an estimated 337,414 (or 6.4% of the total population) are children under 5 years of age.
That would mean 6% of the total population of children under five have reported being abused...just in the first 3 months. It that is true, it would mean that more than 6% of our children are being abused right now. That is either horrifically sad, or grossly inflated.

The reality is much more likely that this well-intentioned hotline is being used for self-righteous armchair parenting. "Good Samaritans" are using the ease and convenience of the hotline to call and report children in cars, parents yelling at their kids in the parking lot, children walking home from school alone, parents that are letting their children climb trees or play out front without supervision and other things that they might consider "abusive."

So, what will this accomplish? Sure, it will catch a couple more kids that might have fallen through the cracks otherwise. Lest you think that I am unsympathetic, let me assure you I am not. I want those kids to be found, but the mass blanket invasion of thousands of homes across the Denver Metro area is, in my humble opinion, NOT the answer. We are flooding an already overworked system with 54,000 calls in 12 weeks. They don't have the manpower to personally assess each case at that volume, and they don't have the ESP to just know which cases are worth investigating.

Every time a person calls on what they, in their judgmental mindset is a "risky" or "dangerous" parent, but turns out to be a false alarm, that is one more kid that will fall through the cracks. Before we can open up the lines to easier reporting, first we need to shelve the culturally acceptable parental judgment.

News Flash. Parenting is HARD. Safety is an ILLUSION. And all parents have probably had at least one moment in their parenting career that could have been interpreted as "abusive" by an onlooker without context. The situations that occur in public are rarely if ever true abuse. The key is to catch the less obvious ones, the true abusers are not the type to advertise in the middle of a Target parking lot.

Families need more community, more support, more cultural acceptance and less judgment. We need to start Valuing Families. Rather than spend more money on a "reporting" service, we should spend that money in providing support for stressed families. We need more community centers that provide free monthly parents night out (or kids night out) programs. We need free parenting classes. And most importantly, we need to recognize the ongoing stressors that our workplace puts on families of all kinds and understand that many times abuse is a reaction to the stress parents are under trying to balance work and family.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Moms, Let's Ditch the Defensiveness

Moms, I have noticed something that we need to change Right! Now!

A week or so ago I had a friend message me with a suggestion for an article on moms' tendency towards defensiveness. Her suggestion stemmed from a picture she put on Facebook in which her youngest child, a little girl with Down Syndrome, had crawled into her old five-point car seat, buckled herself in and fallen asleep. She thought it was so sweet she snapped a picture and shared it with friends and family on Facebook with the caption "content."

Immediately she commented under it, "PS: She is safe, even though her chest clip is low. She is in the bedroom, not the car (this is her lounge chair). I know some of my mommy friends are cringing..."

Shortly after she made that comment under the picture she messaged me privately (reprinted with permission):
"Next blog idea: I always feel like I have to put disclaimers on my posts... like the one I just posted where [my daughter] is sleeping in her infant seat - because otherwise I know my mommy friends are judging me. Sometimes out loud, sometimes to themselves, but I feel like I need to beat them to the punch all the time."
She feels she needs to beat them to the punch....the PUNCH. Yep, because that is exactly what it feels like when a friend or family member feels compelled to make a comment that suggests you might not have your child's best interest at heart. It feels like a punch to the gut, and so we get defensive. Furthermore, when we know it is coming, we get defensive in advance, which almost validates its existence in the first place.

I do it too. When my 3 year old son is on the floor screaming in a store, which happens more than I would like to admit, I have been known to shrug my shoulders at passers by, look contrite and say, totally unsolicited, "what can you do? He missed his nap today." Sometimes it is true, and sometimes it isn't true and I am just looking for a way to deflect the judgment I feel.

WHY!? Why do we feel we need to judge each other? Why do we feel the need to deflect judgment? The fact of the matter is 90% of parents out there are just feeling their way forward, trying to do the best they can for themselves and their children (yep, I just judged myself by asking if I should have reversed that statement to read, "their children and themselves," but I stand by my original statement).

Easter Sunday, while working in the church nursery, we had to go get a Mom because her son was inconsolable. We had already gone through all our tricks and tactics, but he wasn't calming down. Both of us noticed that he had swollen gums, was the right age and clearly was beside himself. We rightly concluded he was teething and decided it would be best to call Mom. She came down and we ended up all standing there talking and sharing war stories. Midway through one of her stories she stopped and said something along the lines of, "Sorry, I know that must make me look like a horrible Mom."

I stopped her immediately and told her that she NEVER had to apologize around me and we all discussed the fact that all of us parents deflect, self-deprecate and make defensive statements. Listen for it next time you are in a group, or look for it on Facebook. It won't take you long to see what I am talking about.

I am speaking TRUTH here ladies. We are all amazing moms, and we are all terrible moms.

Some of us are better at crafts, some at keeping things clean and organized, some at cuddling, some at dressing their kids in adorable clothes, some at doing cute hairstyles, some at routines, some at enrolling kids in extracurricular activities, some at remembering and marking special events and so on and so on. We all have strengths and gifts and we all have our own weaknesses and challenges. We are all very, very different and we need to stop assuming what is right for your own child or family is automatically right for someone else's child or family.

And yet, a friend of mine (who gave me permission to use her pictures and status) just had to post the following on Facebook after deleting two pictures from her page. She deleted them because she had received comments on them that made her feel attacked in regards to her parenting skills:
"Due to certain members of Facebook, you know who you are, I must include disclosures on my pictures. The tree [my daughter] climbed wasn't that high. I had to lay on my back to get the whole shot. And [my daughter] is very strong, confident and careful when she climbs. I would never let her do it otherwise. I would lay my life down for my children.
But there is a fine line between protecting them and never letting them find out how good they are. The tree climbing was a safe risk without possibility of death unless someone shot her from the tree. Please do not contact me directly or indirectly regarding this."
  In honor of her bravery as a parent, I have turned her controversial tree-climbing pictures into memes. Please feel free to share away:


Last time I checked, tree climbing was considered an ages-old childhood tradition. In fact, if anyone argues with children climbing trees, there is a plethora of literature out there that speaks to the fact that tree-climbing is actually a good risk.

 Pick up any literary novel about children and you are bound to read about tree climbing. You have to take risks and embrace life, or you will have nothing of note to read about. Some day that little girl will say, "remember the summer I finally made it to the top of the giant pine tree!" Even if she fell out, her story could be, "remember that time I fell out of the tree trying to make it to the top and broke my arm." What a great moment in her childhood! Think about the confidence she is going to have because she accomplished something risky and hard. When she is an adult and she has to make a choice on taking a risk that could lead to success, she can call on that tree moment and embrace the chance. Life is not safe, and safe stories are boring.

What stories will all those coddled, super-safe children be able to tell? Will they tell the story, "remember when I watched that educational television show while safe in my living room?" Or maybe, "remember that time I went to tumbling class with five other adults in a super padded room." Last time I checked, truly great literature was made up of fantastic stories of bravery and risk. Are we really going to deny our children that on a fools quest to reach a 0% mortality rate?

Perhaps we all needed to pay more attention when watching Finding Nemo for the 1,000th time when Marlin said "How do you know something bad isn't going to happen." and Dory says, "I don't." Or, when later Dory tells Marlin, "Well, you can't never let anything happen to him. Then nothing would ever happen to him. Not much fun for little Harpo."

So parents, stop feeling you need to defend yourselves and apologizing before the judgment comes. You are only reinforcing the judging behavior. And lastly, we all need to learn to hold our proverbial tongues and refrain from commenting negatively on other people's parenting styles. Just because it is different does not make it wrong.

And for the sake of all that is holy and good, please get out there and take some risks with your kids. Give those future writers and entrepreneurs some fodder for an interesting life. Our future demands creative solutions and we aren't going to get them if we don't start teaching our kids to take some risks and learn the hard way.

 I can't promise nothing bad will happen, but I can promise you will feel more alive.

If you liked this article, you can read more on risk-taking and judgment from The Two-Penny Soapbox:

Friday, April 10, 2015

Taking Steps Toward a "Brave New World"

Ok dear readers, hold on to your hats because this week we are headed deep into post-apocalyptic, futuristic science fiction, dystopian, Twilight Zone territory. That's right, the future is now and it isn't pretty. Yesterday I discovered that certain companies have started including egg freezing in their benefits package for women employees so that they can focus on their careers and postpone childbirth. While I understand that this is hardly breaking news, it was new to me.

Living in my little at-home bubble that consists of school, writing, kids' homework, extracurricular activities and an alarming amount of time spent in my pajamas, sometimes I miss things. Sometimes I miss a whole lot of things. Luckily for me, The Husband brings these things to my attention thus alleviating any need for me to go out and discover this stuff on my own.

So this morning he was on his way to work and heard a discussion on the radio involving the NPR article, Silicon Valley Companies Add New Benefit for Women: Egg Freezing, and the New York Times article, Freezing Eggs as Part of Employee Benefits: Some Women See Darker Message. The idea is that benefits offered to women executives includes a costly elective medical procedure that will give women peace of mind as they focus on their careers. He immediately called me and said, "Oh honey, I have a great topic for your blog....are you ready?"

Having been a news piece for a while, places like Huffington Post are already filled with articles arguing for and against the practice. I am going to have to say, I definitely agree with the ones that argue that this is a disturbing answer from corporations in regards to the work/family balance. It feels an awful lot like the beginning of the descent into Aldous Huxley's Brave New World (where babies are created in factories).

Putting off children, in my opinion, is dangerous, chancy and irresponsible. That sounds harsh, but I stand by the statement. Ignore the fact that pregnancy is far from guaranteed with frozen eggs, from my point of view, having children late in life just increases the chances that those children are going to be sandwiched in between elderly parents and young children (if they choose to have them).  If that happens, it only increases and intensifies the problems of work/family life balance choices for the next generation. Also, being raised by older parents increases the risk that their parents might not survive to see them reach adulthood. My father-in-law passed away three weeks after his 48th birthday. Most of my grandparents died in their 60s. It happens. I think egg freezing is an irresponsible choice for corporations, a figurative finger in the hole of the dam of work/family relations, temporary at best.

If companies really want to help their women executives, a much more fitting benefit would still be, and will always be, the inclusion of on-site childcare facilities for employees. Employees could go have lunch with their children, feel safe that they are well-taken care of and close by so the employee can focus on their work and ultimately work at a higher level of productivity. Also, it would prevent workers from having to run out early, or struggle to find care because the center would operate during the same hours as the employee. Quality would be assured by mere parental presence, extreme licensing would most likely be unnecessary.

Unfortunately the chance of companies creating on-site childcare sites is as likely as all of us getting magical unicorns to ride to work. It is never going to happen. The problem lies in the fact that we have increased insurance premiums on childcare centers to alarmingly high rates and imposed insane amounts of quality assurance legislation dictating environment and space. We did these things in the name of improving care quality, and we have, but at what cost?

Even our local gym that used to offer parents' day out programs had to indefinitely suspend them because the insurance premiums became too expensive to continue to allow parents to leave the premises. Premiums and quality control are significantly less if parents are on the premises, which should be good for companies, but most are not willing to take on that "risk" or "expense."

These companies would rather put in an employee gym (which they often charge for) or pay for two egg freezing treatments which can cost up to $20,000 rather than add a childcare facility for their workers. It says a lot about priorities. They are trying to appear family friendly, but as other authors have said, it only exerts subtle pressure on women to delay starting a family. Ultimately it is the simple solution of writing a check rather than the messier, long-term solution of taking responsibility for our country's families.

A true solution would be something similar to the crèche program in Brazil. Run by either the government or the Catholic church, the free crèches provide child care, education, basic health care and some of the Catholic-run centers even include a kitchen where workers can pay for an inexpensive, hot meal after picking up their children. As with any social system, there is a higher demand for services than availability, and quality varies, but for the families who gain access it is an invaluable tool in mixing child rearing with income production.

Imagine: A woman goes to work, dropping off her daughter on her way upstairs and works unhindered by worry for three hours. Taking a break, she goes downstairs and interacts with her daughter and a little with the other children and the teachers.  Mentally relaxed, she works productively for another hour and which point she heads down and has lunch with her daughter. Coming back in the afternoon she is able to focus and work undistracted for another four hours at which point she heads down, picks up her daughter and they head home.

If businesses were really truly thinking about bottom line productivity, they would realize that stepping out on a limb and embracing families might actually put them ahead, rather than behind. It is scary and financially adventurous, but if the studies about stress and overwork have shown us anything, it is that employees' health, welfare and productivity are greatly enhanced when their stress level is lowered. And nothing would lower a working Mom's stress level more than knowing her child is just downstairs, down the hall, or down the street. Bottom line is that 80% of women will eventually bear a child . Surely, if this is something that the majority of women are facing, we should do something about it.

Employers, please forget freezing eggs. Forget about pressuring women to put their career first before having children. Forget parental hiring discrimination. Embrace the whole family as a unit and you will have an employee that would probably sell her soul for you...or at the very least, her talents.