Blink—And They're Grown

Parents, Families and Child Care


When Life Takes an Unexpected Turn

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The importance of kinship caregivers and the challenges they face cannot be understated. According to the Annie E. Casey Foundation, there were more than 2.5 million children in this country living in kinship care in 2012, an increase of nearly 18 percent since 2002. There are 119,000 children living in kinship care situations in my home state of Ohio (Between 2013-2015).

“Research shows that children and youth fortunate enough to be raised by a safe familiar kinship caregiver have better outcomes than those children in unrelated foster care—more regular school attendance, better grades and fewer community problems. And they are less likely to move from home to home.” (KinshipOhio)

This issue hit close to home fairly recently. My sister is caring for her 13-month-old grandson. I have the utmost admiration and respect for her and others in this situation. This has not come without unique challenges. I see firsthand what my sister is dealing with: she is paying for child care, food and clothing, and learning to navigate the legal system. All this while simultaneously attempting to run her own business and raising her own two teenagers.

All of this wouldn’t be possible without community support. My sister relies on the advice and assistance of friends and family who are willing to help when needed, as well as resources shared by local agencies that are working to support kinship caregivers (If you’re in Ohio, check out KinshipOhio. In Kentucky, learn about Kinship Families Coalition of Kentucky).

I see my sister loving her daughter, the baby’s mother, by loving her grandson and providing him with a nurturing and stable home while her daughter is unable to at this time. This child is with someone he knows, loves and trusts, which will help him maintain a healthy social emotional development.

When I am with this beautiful, happy 13-month-old boy I say a silent prayer for his mother. My hope is that she and all of the other parents of young children who have found themselves in this situation will one day be able to care for their children on their own.


You Want to Wear WHAT?

It could be 15 degrees outside and my younger son, Jansen, is wearing shorts and a hoodie. Covered from head to toe and still shivering, I ask him if he’s cold. His reply?

“No.”

My older son, Jared, did the same thing when he was younger. I struggled every year with it, wondering, would he get sick? Would school staff judge my parenting abilities? I even got pressure from my mother-in-law. She would insist both boys wear long pants and a coat, but I had to step back and ask myself if this was even a battle worth fighting?

Every winter, I asked the same questions, trying to get them to wear pants, long sleeves and coats, but both boys would reply that they were more comfortable in shorts and that their friends were doing it, too. Instead of fighting with the boys every morning, I decided it was more important to keep some semblance of peace in my home. There were more important things to stay on top of my children for: being polite, being kind to others, doing their homework and getting good grades.

Despite the cough he’s had for a while and his classmates asking  if he is cold when his legs are purple upon arriving at school, he persists, and I can’t worry about it anymore. He’ll outgrow it. If Jansen wants to wear shorts during the cold winter months, that is his choice. He will eventually learn, just like his older brother did, that there are logical consequences.


Make the Choice NOT to Choose for Your Child

Why we need to encourage children to choose their own path, and even make their own mistakes!

We need to encourage children to choose their own path, and even make their own mistakes!

As a mom, I haven’t always made good choices parenting my children. I’ve sometimes been somewhat of a helicopter mom, dictating to my children rather than allowing them to make their own choices. Since I was the adult, I knew what was best for them.

However, I was doing more harm than good. Over the past couple of months, I was challenged to examine whether my way was still working for my children. My boys were teenagers and no longer young children. The way I handled things was no longer working for them. It was time to tweak my parenting methods.

This past year my son Jared, a freshman, attended a local university. This was not his top choice. His plan was to get the heck out of Cincinnati, and that’s just what he sought for his sophomore year, a transfer to a new school. Despite my pleas to stay, citing all of the benefits for remaining there (incredible co-op programs and greater chances of acquiring a job right out of college, giving him a leg up on the competition of fellow graduates from other universities), he was determined to attend Ohio State University (OSU), several hours away. My initial reaction was to rebut his reasons for transferring and to convince him that he was making a bad decision. I even threatened to withhold his tuition if he chose to attend OSU.

My ah-ha moment occurred when I experienced flashbacks of my dad telling me what was best for me and discouraging me from pursuing my dreams. What I heard when my dad told me these things was that I shouldn’t trust myself because he didn’t think I made good choices. I didn’t attend the right college, didn’t choose the right major or pursue a lucrative career path.

I always remembered feeling angry with him and rebelling because how dare he tell me what to do. I knew what was best for me and it was my life, not his. I needed to make my own choices and learn from my mistakes.

After my conversation with Jared, I had to take a hard look in the mirror to see who was reflected back—my father or myself. It occurred to me that I was doing the same thing to my son that my father did to me. I didn’t want to squelch his dreams. Jared showed me he could make good decisions when he took the initiative to research OSU’s mechanical engineering program and studied hard by achieving a 3.0 GPA his freshman year.

Now that I am a parent, I understand that my dad was trying to guide me from avoiding life’s pitfalls. What I needed from him was encouragement to make my own mistakes and to learn from them. Growing up is all about failing and learning from experiences while receiving guidance from parents. I don’t want my boys to grow into adulthood dealing with the same issues as me. I have to allow my boys to make choices even if I disagree with them.

And while I’m not sure how Jared’s decision will impact his future, what I do know is that he will be happier and freer knowing that he made this decision on his own.


When Parenting Styles Clash

When you go on vacation with family members with children, what if your parenting styles clash?Have you ever spent vacation with your siblings and their children? Did you find that you parent differently from them? My family and I had the pleasure of spending nine days with my sister and her kids. We had a fabulous time. It was nice getting to know my niece and nephew. They are fascinating human beings. On our second day at the beach, I had an “ah ha” moment. I discovered my sister and I parent differently. In addition, I recognized that we share some similarities as well.

My sister takes a very different approach to certain things. We do not have the same expectations on the food our children should eat or helping out around the house. This caused some tension during our nine days together. When I asked my niece to carry two chairs to the beach she did not want to help. We walked in silence until we reached the water. I finally spoke up and gently explained to her that our family is different than the average family and we need everyone chipping in. She apologized and was more helpful throughout the week. Later my sister and I discussed the situation as I thought she would be upset that I addressed this particular issue with my niece. However, she supported my decision to speak to her daughter. When we vacation together next year, we agreed to be proactive and discuss with each other in advance how we would handle each other’s children if there was a direct conflict.

Where my sister and I are both similar is the way we advocate for our children. The mama bear comes out in each of us as we fiercely defend our cubs when needing our protection. We also both like to spend quality time with each our children and want each of our children to feel special.

Even though our parenting styles may vary slightly, my sister and I have both raised the most amazing and wonderful children and I can’t wait to spend next summer with them again.


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Report Cards for Parents?

Have you ever thought to ask your child to grade you as a mom or dad?

I learned about this phenomenon recently, but wasn’t sure I wanted to ask my children how I was performing as a mom. I wasn’t sure I wanted to know. What parent would want to be that vulnerable?

But then I thought about it some more.  As an employee, I am evaluated by my supervisor. It is always helpful to hear from others what my strengths are, and also where there is room for improvement.  What was I afraid of discovering about myself as a mom?

So, holding my breath and gulping with courage, I asked my boys to evaluate my performance as a mom. I explained to them that I wanted to improve my parenting skills, and that I wanted them to be completely honest and that there would be no repercussions.  I also asked them if we could talk about my grades later.

I thought they would not want to do it but they gladly accepted the challenge.

Based on the results of my “report card,” I discovered that my kids really are watching me.  I got good grades in a few areas: my kids felt safe and protected, I offered healthy food choices and I was interested in their dreams.

Of course, there was need for improvement, too. They want me to lead by example, spend quality time with each of them individually, reward them for doing chores and to stop texting and driving.

Jansen and I had a great talk after I got my report card, and we’re making some changes. But while my older son Jared eagerly graded me, he was unwilling to talk about it afterwards. His reasoning was that it was too late as he is an adult now and it doesn’t matter. As a mom that hurt a bit, but it’s because in a way I know it’s true. I wish I could wind the clock back for Jared to when he was little again and do things differently.  I know that of all my children, I failed giving enough time and attention to him.  He wasn’t deprived but he was the middle child, sandwiched between two siblings.

But I can’t change the past. I can only try to do better now. Jansen agreed to evaluate me again in three months, and I’ll be curious to see if I can bring my grade up.


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The R Word

How do you feel when you hear the word “retarded”? I am wondering if others have the same reaction that I do, because I cringe. As the mother of a child with unique needs, I am more sensitive about that word than some others might be. What people don’t realize is that, while it may be unintentional, they are negatively labeling individuals with developmental disabilities as stupid, which is hurtful and demeaning.

When I confront people about it, they said that they are using the term to mean “stupid” rather than representing those with intellectual disabilities. But I would like to think that if people were aware of how harmful using that word the way they do can be, they wouldn’t use it at all.

My first experience with someone using that word to describe my daughter was a behavioral pediatrician. The doctor asked me where I thought my daughter was developmentally. I said I wasn’t sure and it really didn’t matter to me. I didn’t want this information to change my opinion or expectations of Gabrielle. When the physician blurted out that my daughter was “retarded,” his delivery was brash, insensitive and cruel. I was shocked. Weren’t developmental disabilities his specialty? He should have been more compassionate and empathetic.

Needless to say, we never returned to see him.

At the doctor’s office, on the playground, in the movies, I repeatedly hear this word used in a hurtful way. But we can make a difference. Children and adults alike can advocate eliminating the “R” word from our vocabularies, and call out those who use it in front of us. By doing so, we are encouraging and building individuals up rather than tearing them down.

And if we’ve got to use an “R” word, how about “respect”? For everyone, no matter their abilities.


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Angels Among Us

“I believe there are angels among us, sent down to us, from somewhere up above. They come to you and me, in our darkest hours, to show us how to live, to teach us how to give, to guide us with the light of love.”

– Alabama

These lyrics are really resonating with me lately, given what my family has experienced over the last few months.

Upon returning home from work one evening, I noticed something was terribly wrong with my daughter, Gabrielle. Her stomach was extremely distended and hard. Immediately we proceeded to the emergency room. Upon reaching the hospital, my husband and I learned Gabrielle was very dehydrated, her kidneys were shutting down and her heart rate was extremely high. Lactic acid levels revealed that her body was in distress. I was very scared. I knew the information doctors were sharing with us didn’t look good.

Although surgery was not required, the doctor proceeded to tell us Gabrielle’s breathing was labored and a ventilator would provide the support she desperately needed. We consented to these measures, despite the risks of pneumonia and an inability to wean from the machine.

Our first angel appeared when our friend came to the emergency room and sat with my husband and I until early morning. She was our extra set of ears who listened to information objectively and articulated questions to the emergency room staff when we were unable to.

Little did we know that one week would turn into two, three, five. My husband and I took turns keeping a vigilant watch over our girl while still trying to be present for our sons at home. By week two, my husband and I were exhausted. When others realized this wasn’t a short term situation, they asked how they could help.

At first, I declined help as I thought we had this and I didn’t want to burden others, but as time went on, I knew we needed help. We were in crisis. It felt uncomfortable accepting help initially but there were more “angels among us,”  the family, friends, co-workers and hospital staff who carried us through a very difficult and lengthy situation.

People were checking in with texts and phone calls, even daily cards in the mail. We were given meals and gift cards. Coworkers helped out with my workload. Friends and family came and sat with Gabrielle to give my husband and I a much needed break. My sister was such a tremendous help: she spent many nights at the hospital with Gabrielle, sacrificing time with her own family to support ours.

After 5 weeks of hospitalization, Gabrielle is now home and recovering. We couldn’t have made it through this ordeal alone. Our “angels” were ready and willing to help. All I had to do was to take hold of their outreached hands.