My Postpartum Never Went Away

Not many people talk about postpartum depression several years after giving birth. However, in some cases it can lasts for years. Postpartum depression usually begins within the first three months after giving birth and can last anywhere from a few months to several years. Roughly 80% of women will suffer the baby blues, a feeling of being overwhelmed, fatigued and sad.  Baby blues are normal, after all, a significant change just occurred in your life. These feelings pass in a few days to a week for most women, but 1 in 7 women or roughly 15% will suffer from postpartum depression.

I was diagnosed with depression and anxiety at 23, long before I became a mother which puts a woman at a higer risk of postpartum. That being said, I always wanted to be a mother; I used to say I would adopt a child from every country in the world and you could usually find me playing with my baby dolls or playing some version of “family” with my friends when I was young. Being a mom was an absolute must for me, so when I found out I was pregnant with my first child at the age of 29, I was through the roof excited.

I worried about postpartum since I already suffered from depression, but I hadn’t been on medication for a few years and was doing really well. And miraculously, I didn’t end up with postpartum after he was born. I was tired, moody at times, frustrated sure (also a full-time grad student), but I was delighted with him. I had the usual ups and downs of most new moms. My postpartum didn’t hit until he was about three years old, and I had a second child, but I didn’t understand what it was until several years later.

Having a second child was always what I wanted; I thought I wanted three or four; I can’t even imagine what my life would be like if that were the case now.  My older son was a typical two-year-old in a lot of ways, except he wasn’t. He had a speech delay from having fluid in his ears for almost a year; we had no idea because he had only had one or two ear infections, typical stuff for an infant. It wasn’t until he was missing his speech milestones we knew something was up. He also required OT for sensory processing. He was an extremely bright boy who was becoming increasingly frustrated because he couldn’t communicate properly or make sense of his world. 

These factors brought a lot of stress, combined with having a newborn and teaching full time; I became depressed again. I couldn’t afford treatment at the time, so I tried to work my way through it; I didn’t cope well but I did manage to hide it from most people.  My second son was amazing in his own right, and I loved everything about him, but we lived far away from any friends or family at the time, so I had very little help with a newborn and a three-year-old. 

I cried so many days, and evenings, nights, mornings, you name it. I kept thinking, what have I gotten myself into? That was almost over seven years ago, and it hasn’t gone away. I love my children, and I have and will do anything for them, but the past decade has been nothing like I thought parenting would be, and I’m still sad—a lot. I was ashamed that wasn’t loving every moment of motherhood and didn’t feel like it was something I could talk to anyone about.

Where was the time for me, and what I wanted to do? Everything came with stress, figuring out schedules, finding babysitters, calling off work when they were sick, constantly putting myself on the back burner. Somehow over the years, from time to time, I managed to still do the one thing I loved most in the world, theater, but it came at a steep financial and emotional cost at times between babysitters and schedule juggling. People would often ask how I had time to do theater, and I would always reply because I had to. I had to. It was the one place I still felt like me and not “just a mom.” 

I am sure some are reading this and thinking, well, that’s what happens when you become a mom; you sacrifice yourself for your children. But I disagree. Yes, we make sacrifices for the sake of our children, we put them first more often than not because that’s what parents should do, but we should never feel like we have sacrificed who we are; and that’s how I felt nearly every day.

It was get them up, go to school/work, pick them up, cook them dinner, stop them from arguing, play with them if and when I had the energy, make sure homework was done, give them baths, put them to bed, and then if I had time, read (my other passion) for 15-30 minutes before falling exhausted into bed and doing it all over again.

On the flip side, I was never cut out to be the stay-at-home-mom, and I was grateful I had a job teaching that I loved, but when COVID-19 pandemic occurred it didn’t provide me with much of an option. So I resigned from teaching to take care of my two children, who were too young to stay home alone. It just wasn’t cost-effective to pay for full-time care for them while I worked. Staying home full-time compacted everything. 

Thankfully this time, I was able to return to therapy and was already back on medication, both of which helped, but I constantly would think, “This isn’t what I signed up for.” Now there was absolutely ZERO time for me; they were here all the time. There was no theater to escape to, no karaoke nights with friends every other Saturday, no date nights outside the house. I didn’t even have the twenty-minute commute from my school to their aftercare to pick them to enjoy a moment of quiet.

I also couldn’t do the things I enjoyed doing with my kids; trips to the zoo, museums, playground, and vacations. I hated the mom I was becoming over the pandemic. I had no patience; I felt like I yelled all the time, I cried even more, and my depression was taking over. 

It took some serious soul searching and multiple therapy sessions to realize that all this time, I was still suffering from postpartum depression.  Let that sink in, seven years of postpartum depression. No wonder I often resented being a mom. No wonder I was jealous of all the Facebook-perfect moms out there.

Now, I am not bashing social media, I have a Facebook account, but I realized that my constant comparison to everyone else out there added to my depression; so when I feel a surge hit, I stay off for a day or two. Studies have shown that while social media has some benefits for some, it can also increase feelings of depression in others. And what did I spend a lot of time doing when I was stuck home with two kids? Browse Facebook, of course. I would sit and scroll and look at what I perceived to be everyone’s “perfect life.” There’s a beautiful meme I saw that perfectly describes what social media is genuinely like. I wish I knew who to give credit to, but I don’t, so to whoever created this, thank you.

My children went back to school last week after nearly 17 months of being with them every day, and while anxious about COVID concerns, I trust their school and am happy they are back. I feel relief.

It wasn’t all bad, of course. I was able to watch them grow and learn close up, they bonded at a new level, and we all had our creativity and ingenuity stretched to the limits.

But for the first time in seven years, I feel relaxed, as if I can breathe again. I decided to stay with freelance writing instead of going back to teaching, and I’m finally doing what is right for me. 

I’ve been alone in the house for five days now, and it’s incredible, for lack of a better word. I can think, I can run an errand when I want to, I can work out on my schedule, I can watch TV, or work, or write, or clean the house, or take a nap, or practice my singing, or mow the lawn, or take a walk, or go get coffee, I can use the bathroom or take a shower without hearing someone knock as soon as I go in.

I can breathe. 

For the first time in over a decade, I am not at the beck and call of someone else, and it feels phenomenal, and I refuse to feel guilty for feeling this way. 

I never knew how much I needed this space; I didn’t understand. I felt terrible because I didn’t love every second of being a mother, but how could I love being a mother when I couldn’t love myself? I will always battle depression, but understanding it better has given me new strengths and tools to combat it.

When my children walk in the door every afternoon, I am excited to see them; I am calm and restored. I feel like I am finally becoming the mom they deserve. I hope they know how much I love them, and I have always done my best to show them. Yet, I have been far from perfect and made so many mistakes. 

With this newly found space, I finally have the time to find myself again and am discovering I have so much more to give them.

It’s OK to Get Upset

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As long as I have been a part of the early childhood education world, the following phrase has been a part of it: You get what you get, and you don’t get upset. 

I don’t know when parents and educators started using this phrase, but can we please stop?

Not only is it dismissive to the child aka you’re feelings don’t matter but more and more research indicates the importance of teaching children how to express and handle their emotions. When we teach children about their emotions, we give them the power of expression and self, and we start letting them know their mental health and well-being are just as important as their physical well-being.

I understand what the phrase is trying to do; it’s saying, whatever happens, it’s going to be ok, but to blatantly and repeatedly tell children they cannot get upset is ridiculous; it’s also not human.

We get upset. I get upset. One day years ago, when I was teaching four-and-five-year-olds, it was my day to be at the school early and open the classroom. On these days, I made a special stop at Starbucks and bought an expensive splurge drink. A parent who was in a rush asked if they could leave their child with me.  Even though I wasn’t clocked in yet and not even in my classroom, I was in the kitchen of the school enjoying my last moments of quiet before the crazy day began; I said yes. 

While in my hazy, still sleepy, somewhat-annoyed-that-the-parent-had-just-done-this-state, and trying to keep an eye on the kid while I got what I needed for the classroom snack that morning, I set my coffee down on an uneven surface and the entirety of my specialty, splurge coffee spilled on the floor. 

It wasn’t even 7 A.M. My once-a-week splurge lay on the floor (and I now had to clean it up). And I had a 4-year-old standing next to me. I vividly remember telling myself silently, “Don’t cry. Do not let this child see you cry over a spilled coffee.” Honestly I wanted to have a tantrum.

So why didn’t I have a tantrum? Well, I came close, but I didn’t because I had learned how to process and handle strong emotions. We need to teach our children that it is OK to be upset when something negative happens, but how you respond that matters.

When I was teaching and passing things out, I would always shorten it to “You get what you get.” There was always at least one child in the class who would then say, “and you don’t get upset.” When that happened, I would look at them and say, “It’s ok to be upset when you don’t get what you want; what’s important is how you handle it.” Pay attention to that second part – it is OK to get upset when you don’t get what you want.

I have been performing in theater and music nearly my entire life, which means there are countless times I didn’t get the part or the solo I auditioned for and wanted. Do you know how many times I was upset I didn’t get the part I wanted? EVERY. SINGLE. TIME. Of course I was upset! But here’s what I didn’t do. I didn’t go on social media and bash everyone involved with the show. I didn’t scream and throw things. I didn’t swear off doing theater ever again. 

I talked to a friend or my mom. I went and did something I enjoyed like reading a book.  I took a walk and listened to music. I enjoyed a glass (or two) of wine. I took a bubble bath. The point is I found ways to work through my disappointment and move on. These are the skills we need to be teaching our kids. Go ahead and have your disappointment, but let’s figure out the best way to handle it.

There are times I cried and times I didn’t. There are times it took me a few weeks to get over the disappointment and times it only took a few hours, but I was still upset every single time; because I’m human. 

Is it appropriate for a ten-year-old to cry because their sibling got the last green Jolly Rancher?  In most cases, no; but they are allowed to be bummed out about it. Is it appropriate for a five-year-old to have a tantrum because their best friend got the sticker they wanted at circle time? Probably not, but if they do, we can use it as a teaching opportunity to find other ways to express disappointment.

It is rarely a healthy option to tell kids “Don’t cry” because it is another way of telling them their emotions are not valid, but sometimes it can be hard not to roll our adult eyes and think, “Really? He’s crying because Godzilla is no longer on Amazon Prime?” (And yes, my son did this. So what I like to do instead is say, “It is ok to be upset, but Is this situation worth your tears?” Phrasing things in this way makes children slow down and evaluate their responses.

We can help our children process big emotions and disappointments by using phrases like:

  • I see you’re really upset right now. Would you like some space?
  • This seems to be making you sad. Do you want to talk about it?
  • It is ok to be angry, but it is not OK to hurt people or things.
  • You seem worried. Would you like me to sit with you?
  • I am not sure what is bothering you, but I am here if you want to talk.

The more we as adults recognize and discuss emotions, the more our children will understand them. Like language and social interactions, children learn about handling emotions from the adults surrounding them.

If a child grows up in a house where anger is considered “bad,” they may have trouble processing feelings of anger because they believe it makes them bad. We must also avoid assigning emotions to genders. For example, if children hear that crying and whining is what girls do and boys should be strong and fearless, then we are assigning weakness as feminine, but we are telling our boys that they have to be brave all the time. 

Fear is another normal and completely biological response in many situations; fear is what kept our early ancestors alive. They needed to know when to run, when to fight, and when to hide too, survive. 

Emotions need just to be emotions—all normal and all OK.

Children should be learning self-awareness and understanding of their own emotions, regulating and controlling those emotions, learning to understand what is essential and what is not (AKA is this situation worth your tears?), and reading and understanding emotions in others. 

We do this when we allow children to see our emotions and emotional process and demonstrate how to handle disappointing and upsetting situations. Teaching emotional intelligence puts our children in the driver’s seat of their mental well-being and teaches them how to problem-solve and self-soothe. 

So, teach your kids you get what you get, and you CAN get upset. But also teach them that a tantrum over a Jolly Rancher probably isn’t worth the energy spent, and if you take the red one, at least you still got candy! More importantly, you’re helping them process their emotions and how to handle things independently so that when they are thrity they don’t have a melt down over spilled coffee.

The Power in Positive Phrasing

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One of my son’s favorite books is “No, David!” by David Shannon. We read it all the time. I like to jokingly put his name in the book, and while it is funny, it also hits a nerve for him and me too. That’s because we can both see him as the character in this book, a little boy who has trouble controlling his emotions and actions and, as a result, hears the word “No,” a lot. 

The funny thing is I know that that is the least effective way to communicate with him and to get him to do what I need to be done. I’ve read all the research on positive phrasing; as a teacher, I had that skill down almost to perfection. I even counseled other parents to use it and explained the benefits behind it. As a mom, though, easier said than done.

When you place a negative in front of a phrase, the child doesn’t hear the negative; they hear the action. So “Don’t run inside” becomes “run inside.” Now, I am not saying children hear this and automatically think you are telling them to run in the house, but the negative gets washed away; it’s not effective.

Positive phrasing, in all communication, is more likely to yield the results you’re after. But why? Well, first, it’s more pleasing to the ear and the mind. “Please walk inside” is more compelling than “Don’t run!” Second, when we phrase things positively, we are more likely to speak in a calm voice than yelling or a scolding tone. A calm voice is more likely to garner attention.

Experts say if you want your children to listen quietly and calmly, don’t yell. When you yell, they begin to shut you out and begin to shut down. When you speak calmly and quietly, you show respect, which begets respect, and they are also forced to listen to hear what you have to say.

You may still get surly looks and crossed arms when you talk quietly, but I guarantee they are listening. 

Telling your child what you want or expect instead of what you don’t want sets up clear guidelines; it tells your child exactly what is expected. If you say, “Don’t run,” it leaves room for them to interpret that as ok well, I can still skip, jump, hop, cartwheel, or crawl. If you say, “You need to walk when inside the house,” there is no room for interpretation. It’s cut and dry.

Trust me, I know this is a difficult skill to conquer, especially of late when we’ve all had way more “quality” time with our children than ever before, but it does work. And I need to remind myself of that from time to time too. But just try it, write your self post-it notes or reminders around the house so you see them and can remember it in the heat of the moment. 

Try taking a deep breath before responding to your child’s behavior. It will help you stay calm and it gives you a chance to phrase what you need to say in your head first.

Take some time and think of all the things you say “no” to in a day and see if you can flip them into positives.

Instead of:

  • Don’t leave your laundry on the floor.
  • Stop playing with your food.
  • Stop hitting your brother.
  • We don’t draw on the wall.
  • Don’t dump all your toys out.
  • Don’t talk back to me.

Try:

  • Please put your laundry in the basket
  • I need you to eat because you are making a mess.
  • You need to keep your hands to yourself.
  • Crayons and markers are used on paper.
  • Please clean up your toys when you’re finished.
  • You need to speak respectfully to me.

Phrasing things positively doesn’t mean you are saying yes to everything; it means you set up clear expectations of what is expected and acceptable. 

Save “No” for moments of danger. Then it should be said in a loud, firm voice. Yelling “No” or “Stop” right before a kid touches a hot stove or steps off the sidewalk as a car barrels down will give them the jolt to potentially stop the dangerous choice. 

When children hear no all the time, it loses its polish. Think of “No” as your boy who cried wolf. If it happens all the time, no one is going to listen to it. If you save it for moments of import, your child will not be used to hearing it, so the novelty will grab their focus. 

My boys are fans of the new movie “YES DAY” and have watched it at least twenty times in the last few weeks. The concept is that for one day, the parents say yes to anything the kids ask (within a set of parameters, of course).

They have asked me to have a Yes Day on more than one occasion. So far, the answer is a no… but we’ll see.

5 Last-Minute DIY Mother’s Day Gifts

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Mother’s Day is this weekend, and if you’ve let the ball drop, didn’t realize it was Mother’s Day, or are still scrambling to figure out what to do, I have you covered!

As a mom of two, I love the appreciation I receive on Mother’s Day. My youngest son already said Happy Mother’s Day and made me a card  today! This year his birthday is on Mother’s Day, so he wanted to make sure I got something special too. 

All moms have a different idea of what they’d like to do on Mother’s Day. Personally, I love having the day to myself, a day of quiet relaxation where I can do as much or as little as I’d like. 

Other moms love being surrounded by their brood and the entire extended family; the important thing is that in the words of Tom and Donna from Parks and Rec you, Treat Yo’self. 

If you are reading this and you’re someone who needs to give mom some love I have compiled a list of simple DIY and low-cost or free ideas you should be able to throw together in the next few days.

  1. Printable Card with 3-D Flowers

I ADORE this 3-D printable card from the website www.sixcleversisters.com. It includes the template for the card as well as a template for the flowers. You will need some colorful cardstock to print the flowers from and a piece of plain white cardstock for the card.

The site includes step-by-step instructions, and it is a bit time-consuming to cut out all those flowers, but if you have a crafty kid or teen, or you enjoy this type of crafting yourself, this is a low-cost way to make a unique Mother’s Day Card.

  1. Printable Bouquet

I am a massive fan of the idea of the printable bouquet, and www.123homeschool4me.com has the most adorable one I’ve seen. Each flower has space for your child to write something special about mom on them. Examples are:

  • Mom is so special because…
  • My mom rocks! She…
  • I love when mom….

You can print these out on colored paper or use the black and white template and allow your child to color and decorate them themselves. It even includes the template to print a bouquet wrapper to keep it all together. 

This is one special flower delivery mom is sure to remember and keep forever!

  1. Homemade Bath Bombs

If the moms or special women in your life are anything like me, they love taking a hot bath. Combine that bath with a glass of red wine and a book, and I’m in heaven! 

When taking a bath, my favorite scent is lavender, so when I came across this homemade lavender bath bomb recipe, I knew I had to include it. 

This is the perfect gift to make if you have a little scientist in your life! My youngest son loves making bath bombs with me.

This recipe, found on the site Don’t Mess with Mama, requires baking soda, Epsom salt, citric acid, water, essential oils, and almond oil. You will also need a bath bomb mold or a cupcake tin can work in a pinch.

For an added touch, you can add some fresh or dried lavender to the mix. If mom doesn’t like lavender, you can add whatever essential oil scents she likes best. 

Citric acid can be found in stores like Walmart, amazon.com, Target, and craft stores. Whole Foods has a great selection of essential oils.

  1. Cupcake Toppers 

If you enjoy baking or your kids do, making homemade cupcakes and adding these adorable little cupcake toppers are sure to delight mom.

The site Momtastic offers this free printable and instructions on how to make the cupcake toppers. They also have a link to make the cupcakes pictured if you desire, or you can make your own based on mom’s tastes and favorite flavors or colors.

Cupcakes are such a great idea because they are customizable, and every mom loves eating a sweet treat her kids made just for her.

  1. Mother’s Day Coupons

The past year has been rough for moms (for dads too, but we’ll spoil them next month), so what could be a better gift than coupons to help take some of the workload away from mom and to show her how special she is.

The Spruce Crafts has an entire list of free printable Mother’s Day coupons that include everything from extra hugs to breakfast in bed to offers to do a few loads of laundry!

Each set is adorable in its own right, and the bright colors make them fun and unique. You will want some cardstock to print these off and perhaps a pretty ribbon to tie them together, but other than that, this is a low-cost and effortless last-minute DIY Mother’s Day gift.

Whether it is a mom, grandma, step-mom, friend, girlfriend, aunt, or any other special person in your life you wish to celebrate this Mother’s Day, any one of these simple yet thoughtful gifts are an excellent way to say, “I love you, and I appreciate all that you do.”

*I have not been reimbursed or compensated in any way for anything recommended or listed in this blog.

Humanity for our Teachers

I want to give a shout-out to all the educators who have been working tirelessly since last spring to ensure our children had a safe place to learn, whether virtually or in the building.

While my situation allowed me to leave the classroom and stay home with my children, I realize that is not the case for many, and I understand how fortunate I am.  I spent a mere two weeks teaching and trying to juggle childcare for my children before I was furloughed and then eventually decided to stay home.

No matter how hard I try, I cannot put myself in the shoes of anyone out there still navigating the work and childcare battle, but I know it is hard. I spent years struggling with finding subs when my kids were sick, and I had no one to watch them because their father was a full-time student.

I spent years being the one who missed work because it cost less for me to stay home than it did their father.  I’ve felt the unsurmountable stress of finding a babysitter for the weekend or evening school event.  And, I’ve been home, extremely ill with two small children because I didn’t have anyone to drop them off or pick them up, or when I lived in Chicago, the drive was too far.  

Since I switched to writing full time, I have had my calls interrupted by my kids.  I have had my work stopped because there was a nerf battle going on in the basement, or someone fell outside during recess and was injured.  I have had days where I’ve been interrupted so many times to help with school work I eventually gave up on what I was writing for the day.

I have cried in frustration too.

I understand the plight of the working parent.  But I also understand what our educators have been going through.  And many of these educators are also working parents.

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People are constantly worried about kids falling behind; I admit I have had my moments too, but then I stopped and asked myself, “What are we so afraid of them falling behind?” 

Math scores?  Reading tests? Arbitrary numbers and statistics that we are told our children need to meet to be the best.  We’re continually telling ourselves and our children that they have to be the best.  And again I questioned, the best at what?

I want my children to be the best at being human, being kind, empathetic, helpful, compassionate, and understanding, and that starts at home with parents and caregivers.  

We can start by showing educators compassion and understanding.  

I believe my son’s 1st-grade teacher is a saint as I watch and listen to her daily try to wrangle 17 first graders to pay attention to a screen, to help them one at a time to navigate through which button to push or link to click and she never sounds impatient or mad. 

Do I think most children would do better in a physical classroom? Of course. My son with severe ADHD would benefit significantly from being hands-on in a school, but it has not been an option where I live nor for many around the country. 

As an educational advocate, I also understand that the playing field isn’t equal, and virtual schools make it even less so for some.  My heart aches daily for the children going hungry or being abused and who lack the school building’s safety to come to for eight hours a day and may miss getting a warm meal, or any meal at all.

I feel for the children with shaky or no internet access, whose parents can’t or won’t help them with their work, or who are struggling without the aid of tutors, mentors, and that special human touch of an in-person caring teacher.

But much of this is out of my control. And every teacher I know who is virtual is aching to be with their kids again; they just want to ensure it is safe both for them and their students.  So what is this country doing yet again to its teachers?  We are throwing them under the bus.   

I know personally, first hand more teachers than I could count, I’ve listened to their stories, I heard their fears and concerns, I watched them struggle as they too learn new technology, new ways to create and present lessons, new ways to engage children over a screen, new ways to teach.

How often in your career have to been asked to throw away 85% of what you know and, in a few short months, been told, figure out a new way? Oh, and it better be perfect because if not, we’re judging you and then going to bully you?  I hazard to guess you’ve expected to do that zero times.

But somehow, it has become ok to bully teachers because they are not perfect.  Somehow, once again, it is the teacher’s fault that our child is not “the best.”  Somehow we are again blaming schools and educators for everything wrong with society.

And people wonder why there is a teacher shortage.

I get sick to my stomach when I see comments like “go back to work,” “stop being lazy,” “you need to do your job.”

If you think teaching 20 kids over a screen while simultaneously not losing your cool, trying to offer individualized instruction, and trying to make sure something you are presenting sticks, then please, by all means, try it.

Oh, and add to that the hours you spend off-screen planning lessons, adapting them for online and hybrid learning, grading and assessing work, answering parent emails and phone calls, and attending meetings on how to continually better the system that has been evolving day after day.

My older son’s third-grade teacher is buying science experiment supplies, driving around to each child in her class’s home this weekend, and delivering the materials so every child in her class can participate.  She also dropped off goodie bags and supplies before the school year began and before winter break.

Teachers.  I applaud you.  I support you.  I respect you.

The thing that really gets me, though, is that my kids HAVE learned this past year.  They have advanced academically and picked up skills they didn’t have a year ago, and I would assume that my kids aren’t the only two who have learned new information and skills.

So what exactly is there to be angry at teachers about?

They have also learned adaptability, flexibility, problem-solving, computer skills, creativity, resourcefulness, how to think outside the box, patience, acceptance, and that life doesn’t always go as one would like.

In my opinion, valuable skills.

The truth of COVID life is, many careers have had to switch to a virtual setting, but I don’t notice anyone giving other professions a hard time or calling them lazy as they perform their work from home.

Yes, children need socialization, we all do, and this has been extremely challenging; I miss my friends and all the things I used to do too, but why does society think that everyone gets a free pass except the teachers?

Why and when have we, as a country, stopped valuing what they do?  

Why are we supporting hundreds of other industries that have been effected, but the industry that produces our most valuable resource has been vilified?

Frustration is high, but people are also scared, and the last time I checked, people have a right to feel that way.  This has been a scary and unprecedented time in our history.

It seems insane to me that a medical condition has become political, that so many refuse to believe what science says. Still, this is new and scary, and information comes from a thousand different places, so maybe I do get it.  You have people who still believe vaccines cause autism.  They don’t.

I do not claim to have the answers, but I know that being kind goes a long way.  Perhaps in place of fear and blame, we could try compassion and support because, in the end, above all else, that is what I hope my children learn from this experience; not multiplication or that the first word of the sentence needs to be capitalized but to rally in a time of confusion and fear instead of tearing one another down.

I hope they learn how to be human.

You’re the Parent

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How often have we said or thought the following phrase about someone else, “Do something, You’re the parent.” In our society, we love to judge other people, especially parents, and the way we all display our lives in public and on social media makes it extremely easy for others to judge and be judged.

I have done it, I am ashamed to admit, and it has been done to me; none of us are perfect, but it is imperative, now more than ever, that we stop judging, blaming, criticizing, and start helping one another.

Parenting is hard. It is really, really damn hard, and the truth is until the shoe is on your foot, you don’t know, and in reality, we can never wear another’s shoes. My six-year-old is not your six-year-old. The experiences that have shaped and guided me as a parent are not the same that have molded you.

We see a child acting up in public and the parent desperately pleading with them to calm down; we listen to a friend complain because for the third time this week their child isn’t attending her virtual classes, or we see an acquaintance on Facebook who is continually asking for help with their unruly toddler and your inner monologue goes – “Do something, you’re the parent!”

But at that moment, the parent IS doing something; they’re doing the best they can in that given moment. The friend complaining is reaching out. The acquaintance on Facebook is probably lonely and needs a space to vent, and the parent doing whatever it takes to get their child to stop screaming in the Target aisle may be overtired, overworked, spouse out of town, and they’re just done.

The kindest thing anyone has ever done for me in those moments of stress is giving me the “I’ve been there smile.” It has diffused so many horrible feelings that I have had about myself in the moment of thinking, “I am the worst parent ever.”


The sad thing is, all of us as parents assume that other parents are judging us, judging our kids, judging how well we handle our home-work balance. That assumption comes out of the fact that so many parents DO judge one another.

Wouldn’t it be lovely if instead of thinking, “I can’t take my kids to Target because I don’t want to face another judgy mom staring at me if there is a meltdown,” we could face the world knowing that those other moms and dads have our back?

And it’s not just behavioral issues we judge each other on; it’s whether or not you breastfeed, use cloth diapers, send your child to preschool or stay home, how many activities you have your kid signed up for, what activities you have your kid signed up, how the child is developing, and how “put together” you look, especially, as a mom.

If this pandemic has taught us nothing, I hope it teaches us to cut each other some slack. We have all been faced with this unique circumstance, and all had a taste of what our fellow moms and dads are going through. May our shared stress bring about a shared unity of the pitfalls of parenting.

You don’t have to like that your co-worker uses a dozen disposable diapers a day because you feel it is bad for the environment. Still, you can understand that it is her choice, and she made the best choice for her and her situation and respect that.

You don’t need to look your nose down at the stay-at-home mom who posts pictures of their child’s crafts each day because that is what makes her happy, and it’s her life, not yours; you can celebrate her happiness with her.

And if you don’t like the way the dad in the next aisle is giving in to his 5-year-old who is having a tantrum because he wants the sugary cereal, instead of rolling your eyes, give props to the dad who is spending time with his kid and taking him grocery shopping (maybe even so mom can get a well-deserved break).

So society, I present you with a challenge. The next time you’re out or on social media and see a parenting situation that makes those judging feelings begin to creep back in, put them on pause. And, instead of thinking the worst of that parent, give them some props. A smile, a thumbs-up emoji, or a “stay strong momma, you’ve got this” can go a long way in making a stressed-out parent’s day and may just give them the boost of confidence and positivity they needed.

Back to School Tips!

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The countdown to back to school has started, in some states, children have already returned. Regardless of whether your child is attending in person or virtually, things look a little different this year, but there is no reason it cannot be a fun and exciting event! In typical years, many children have anxiety and frustrations about the returning school year: no one wants to let go of the summer fun! This year both you and your child may be facing some extra emotions and obstacles, but that does not mean the new school year should be dreaded. Here are my top tips on how to make the start of the 20/21 school-year a positive one!

Back to School Shopping!

Every child loves back to school shopping: new clothes, new materials, new backpack. Even if your child will be attending school virtually this fall, there is no reason they can’t have a snazzy new outfit for the first day! They will be connecting with their friends again, meeting their teacher for the first time, and just like adults who work from home, getting dressed makes you feel better about yourself and makes you more productive! Giving your child the chance to pick out a new outfit and dress up is a guaranteed way to make them excited about school.

Talk to Them

Children have worries and fears just like we do, and even if your child seems completely relaxed and ready to go back, they most likely have a concern about something. It could be having to wear a mask all day, or their sport season being postponed, or how are they going to talk to their friends if they have to stay 6 feet apart? If your child is attending virtually, maybe they are concerned because their computer skills are lacking or they had a hard time reading the content in the spring, or perhaps they’re sad they still won’t see their friends face to face.


You can’t force a child to talk to you, but you can let them know the doors of communication are open. Asking a simple question like, “Hey, do you have any concerns about school you want to talk about?” lets your child know you are there to listen. Validate that it is ok to feel nervous or anxious or mad and that you are willing to listen if they decide they want to talk about ANYTHING.

Prepare Them

This year will present a new list of challenges, so send them into battle prepared for success. Teach them how to wash their hands adequately and express the importance of it. This is important for little ones as well as teens who might brush it off. As the mother of two boys, my favorite response to asking them to wash their hands post-bathroom is, “But I didn’t touch anything.” For little kids, have them sing the ABC’s or Happy Birthday Twice through. Post reminders in the bathroom with pictures or invest in a timer or a flashing light to make it fun.

Go over mask-wearing, the proper way to wear it, and why we wear it. Treat it like any other article of clothing that is required for school like shoes or a shirt. Buy them masks that they want to wear! This can be an opportunity to let them express their personality. Assure them that all the other children will be wearing one too, so while it may seem odd at first, it will eventually just be another part of getting ready for school.

Play Time!

Get them outside and playing! Regardless if your child is attending face to face classes or virtual classes it is A LOT of sitting. Children in elementary school need AT LEAST 1 hour of active play every day. If they haven’t had the opportunity to run around and burn off some energy in an after care program or with a sitter, let them play when you pick them up. In fact, make it a rule that they play! Homework can wait, their brains need a break and their bodies need exercise.

Fun and Simple Outdoor Play Options

Baby Pool or Sensory tub filled with water, plastic measuring cups, large eye droppers, rubber ducks (or other floating animal) and small plastic watering can

Backyard scavenger hunt: provide them with a list of things to check off or find

Bikes, Trikes and Skateboards – if you have a safe area for them to ride and play then use it!

Sprinklers – While it’s warm enough hook up a sprinkler to the hose and let them run free

Hopscotch, Jump ropes, Bean Bag Toss, Ladder Golf, Soccer Ball (speaks for itself)

Create an obstacle course using ropes, stepping stones, a balance beam, log or 2 x 4

Beach Ball Challenge, how long can they keep it in the air!

Give Them Space

Give your child a dedicated area to work, especially if they will be doing virtual schooling. Consistency is key, so create a space for them to work and make it theirs (at least while they’re working). Make it comfortable and quiet, and add little touches that make it more personal such as a picture of their grandma, some figurines of their favorite toys, or a poster of their favorite movie. If you have the room to create an area in their bedroom, I highly suggest it, just make sure what’s in their room won’t be a distraction from their work! The idea is to provide a safe and consistent space where your child can get their work done with little to no interruptions.

Office Hours

If, like many parents, you will be working from home with your kids also home, set office hours. This can work with children ages 5 and up, but it will take some practice and consistency. Set your office hours for 2-3 in the morning and 2-3 in the afternoon and explain to your children that you are working. This is an interruption-free time, emergencies excluded (their brother taking their nerf gun is not an emergency). Create an office hours sign that you can hang near your workspace to let your children know you are not to be disturbed. Keep in mind, that this doesn’t mean the house will be silent. Instead teach your children how to use a respectable volume in their voice while playing. They are going to need reminders at first, probably for a week or two. Remain firm, consistent but not harsh. If you are going to be on a call or Zoom chat, give your children a heads up that you will be doing so, so there are no unexpected surprises. In-between your office hours lavish your kids with the attention they need and want. Play a game, go for a walk, or make and eat lunch together. You need to take a break just as much as they need some mom or dad time!

Expect the Unexpected

None expects the Spanish Inquisition, and no one expected COVID or for it to last this long. Be ready and willing to remain flexible. If your son is having a really rough day and could use some extra snuggles, cut your office hours short that afternoon. When your daughter has come home on the 5th day of school and lost her 3rd mask, don’t yell and berate, this is new for her too. If your kids consistently say they’re bored after school, look at what toys they no longer play with an consider investing in some new outdoor gear. As families, we have already spent the last six months adapting the way we do things, how we function as a family and how we are navigating this thing called life, and we will continue to adapt. You’ve Got This! You Are an Amazing Parent.

Choices in 2020 (and I am not talking the election)

Children & Choices

Choices. It’s an oft heard word in the realm of child hood development. Give you child choices. And it’s true, you should. You child has so little control or power over anything that happens in their lives that allowing them to have or make choices from time to time can be a powerful boost to their self-esteem and sense of worth. They are told when to play, when to stop playing, when to bathe, when to eat, when to go to bed, when it’s time run an errand, when it’s time to go to school when it’s time to leave school and the list goes on and on and on and on. In most scenarios, they need to be told what, how and when to do something because you are the grown up and they have no self regulation. So much pressure to constantly do what other, larger people tell them to do can create a volatile situation in their emotional system. But what if you could take some of that vim and vinegar out of their system by simply allowing them choices each day?

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You’re Doing it Wrong

I can hear many of you now, “But I give them choices and they never decided and it always backfires…” Guess what? You’re doing choices wrong. I used to do it wrong too. When I first started working with children I didn’t understand the power of choice and I made mistakes, a lot of them. Now I have the wisdom of a lot of years in the classroom, a lot of books read, a lot of continuing education courses take and a lot of experience with small children. You may be thinking, “There’s a right and wrong way to give choices?” Yup. There is. If you have read this far and are thinking, “Children should do what they’re told because I am the grown up. End of Story.” then this post is may not be for you, although I encourage you to read it anyway.

Realistic Choices

The number one thing you need to know about giving a child a choice is that it needs to be realistic. Sounds simple, no? Yet giving children unrealistic choices is one of the biggest parenting faux pas done daily. If you tell your child to put their coat on or they are not going to school today then you have just screwed yourself. Are you truly willing to keep them home for the day because they refused to put a coat on? My absolute favorite is when parents threaten that Santa wont come if their child doesn’t listen. Really? Are you really going to follow through with no presents on Christmas morning? I consider myself a tough cookie mom and even I won’t go that far. Parents, you cannot present an option to your child that you are not 100% willing to follow through on because the second you don’t follow through, they have your number. If you threaten to turn the car around if they continue bickering in the back seat then you better turn that car around should another argument begin. If you say you are leaving the store is they keep whining about the cookies you won’t by, then you better be prepared to leave a cart full of groceries and walk out. Each time you don’t follow through with a “threat” your child logs that in their brain. If you repeatedly do it, they know you are full of bluff and have no reason to believe you, which does nothing but spell trouble for you.

Limit Options

Providing a child with too many choices is overwhelming. As much as possible limit their options to two and no more than three choices. Asking a 4 year old what they want for snack is akin to opening Pandora’s box. Instead say, for snack today you can have a yogurt with fruit, or crackers and cheese which would you like? Once the choices have been given that’s it, no negotiating. If they whine and plead and throw a tantrum, let them, Once again if you give in they will smell blood and know they can pull that same trick over and over and over. A a few tantrums in the beginning is much better than a life time of stress because you taught your child they can walk all over you.

Just to clarify, this is not the same as using food for reward/punishments’ which should NEVER be done, this is saying these are your options, if you are hungry and want a snack then you will choose one. Same goes for choosing anything else, clothing, toy to take to grandmas, or a book to read at bedtime. If a matter is time conscious, such as getting dressed in the morning then set a timer and let your child know that they have until the timer goes off to make their decision, otherwise you will be the one choosing.

Pick Your Battles

Simple advice but true. Not everything needs to be done an exact way. Let go of some of your need for control. If he wants to wear red plaid shorts and a lime green shirt to school, let him. Who really cares? Plus you are giving your child the opportunity to express himself creatively. If she wants to play the trumpet instead of the flute then support her and buy yourself some earplugs for the first year or two! Some nights let them pick their own dinner, some days let them watch the extra TV show. By allowing them these small bits of choice and power their need to exert full control will relax. A child’s reaction to feeling no control is a tantrum. Think about how you feel when your boss dumps task after task on your plate with little to no input from you… it feels pretty lousy doesn’t it?

By no means should tantrums be accepted as OK behavior, but they ARE normal. Do not get mad at them for having one. Stay as calm as possible and ignore them. It will stop. I promise. Through a tantrum a child is trying to gain your attention. At this point they don’t care if it is negative or positive. DO NOT FEED THE ATTENTION MONSTER. When it is over you can talk to them about their strong emotions and brainstorm together better ways to handle it. If they are being destructive or harmful then say in a firm tone that even though they are mad “hitting, throwing, kicking etc.” is not acceptable.

To sum it all up, this is what parents need to remeber:

  1. Make Choices Realistic
  2. Be Prepared to Follow Through
  3. Limit Options to 2 or 3
  4. Pick Your Battles
  5. Tantrums Happen, Don’t feed the monster

Kid, You Don’t Always Get a Trophy

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Moms and Dads, I need your help. Please, PLEASE, stop acting like your child just won the World Series while they stood in the left-field picking their nose as their team lost the game. On the same note, don’t tell them they should get a prize for trying. All this bombastic praise is raising a generation (or two or three) of entitled, impatient, aren’t I the most fabulous children that don’t know the first thing about surviving in the real world. Now before you stop reading, thinking I am the meanest mom in the world, allow me to say this. I love praising my children when it is merited. They do not get a parade for picking their shoes off the floor, they do not get a plaque to hang on the wall for completing their homework, and they do not deserve a trophy for losing. They don’t.

How can our children learn to process disappointment, anger, sadness, and all those scary and ugly feelings if we don’t let them? It sucks, I know, I have watched my son cry because the camp he was looking forward to all summer was canceled. I have seen him stomp his feet in anger and frustration because he couldn’t quite get the new skateboarding trick. I had to explain to him that he wasn’t cast in the first play he auditioned for and really wanted to do. Instead of blaming someone or something else, telling him he was the greatest skateboarder ever or really deserved the part in the play over the other boy, I told him the truth. Crazy right?

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I explained camp was canceled due to coronavirus that it was out of our control, and it is really disappointing, but some things we can’t change. I acknowledged his frustration with the skateboard and told him that the only way to get better was to practice and keep working hard, and I also acknowledged his effort. That’s different than blind, blanketed praise. I didn’t tell him he deserved something or was owed something, I said to him that I could see how hard he was trying and if he kept at it; eventually, he would get there. And when it came to the rejection from the play, as a performer, I had been there more times than anyone can count, and I said it sucks, it hurts, but it’s the way it goes. You wait for the next opportunity, and you try, and you try, and you try. As the saying goes, you fail 100% of the time you don’t try.

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What you DO want to praise and encourage is their effort, hard work, determination, and insight. The key is to be specific. Tell them WHAT they did that caught your attention. Then, help them problem-solve to get to the next step. “You did a lot of research on your planet project, I saw you reading all those books from the library. Since you didn’t get the grade you were expecting, what do you think you could have done differently?” In one fell swoop, you validated their effort and work and opened the door to help them do better next time.

As parents, we want our children to have the sun the moon, and yes, throw the stars in too. We don’t want them to feel disappointment or shame or anger; how else will they learn? If we take every upset away and make them think they should always win despite lack of effort, natural talent, or unforeseen circumstances, how will they grow? If we hand them everything instead of teaching them the value of hard work, how will that benefit them? The best thing we can do as parents is to embrace the difficult times that come their way and use them as teachable moments. I know it’s not easy, but they will thank you later.

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Daughter to Disability; my one of a kind Dad

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My dad was always my number one fan and believed I could accomplish anything and everything. The best piece of advice he gave me was to try. I did not have to be the world’s best ballet dancer or the kid who scored the most goals on the soccer team, but if I was interested in something, I should try. If I hated it or failed, no big deal, I could stop, but only once the initial commitment came to a natural end. I didn’t have to be the best, i just had to try my best.

By encouraging me to carry on and follow through on a commitment, I learned the value of perseverance and honor. Staying true to your word is a valuable trait I hold onto to this day. It also means saying no when you know you can’t follow through. Saying yes to everything because you don’t want to let people down is a slippery slope to go down.

Germany, Summer 1996

I have many fond memories of my dad as a child, playing Wiffle ball in the backyard, being thrown in the air in the pool, and him allowing me and my sisters to style his hair with barrettes until he looked fabulous according to under ten selves. My dad was a loving but firm dad. He gave support, guidance, love, but we also knew when we crossed the line and would be subjected to a good old fashioned “dad talk.”

My dad was an FBI agent, which made him one of the coolest dads to have among my friends. I remember the sense of pride I felt when he would be a chaperone on a field trip come in for career day. I looked up to my dad in a way, and I imagine most young girls do. I was never a popular kid, geeky, awkward, and little chunky, but when my dad was around, I felt like the most popular kid in school.

Two of my favorite memories of my dad are related to those “serious” topics of drugs and dating. I remember he was sitting at our giant desktop computer in the living area, and I was in the kitchen microwaving something, and on the T.V., a commercial about talking to your kids about drugs came on. My dad looked up from the computer and said, “Do you do drugs?” I was roughly thirteen or fourteen at the time, I said, “No.” and he replied “Ok, good.” and that was that. The second was that he used to tell my older sister that he used his FBI skills to track any guy she dated. I was pretty sure this was false at the time, but I remember thinking, “Yikes!”

My dad had an excellent sense of humor and loved to pull our legs, as the expression goes. In the summer of ’92, we took a family vacation to Washington, D.C., and among the famous sites, he arranged a private tour of FBI headquarters for us. Little did I know that 15 years later, I would be living in D.C. and working two blocks from these same headquarters. During the tour, we were taken down to a basement level and told that this is where the Xfiles were kept!! It wasn’t until several years later that I realized there were indeed no Xfiles…. at least that we know of 😉

2008

My dad loved Indiana Jones, MacGyver, Crime dramas, Andrew Llyod Webber musicals, playing his guitar, and supporting his three girls in all our adventures, whether sports, musical theater, or learning a new instrument. He built us a treehouse and a lemonade stand. We went to Phillies games and out on daddy-daughter dates.

Circa 1983

In my early teens, my dad was diagnosed with Progressive Supranuclear Palsy, a condition being made more mainstream recognizable by the new T.V. show, Zoey’s Extraordinary Playlist. PSP is a condition that slowly creates the loss of your motor skills. It affects one’s ability to eat and swallow food, speak, walk, and perform essential functions for yourself. Over the next two decades, my dad held on much longer than any medical expert predicted. He carried on through bouts of pneumonia, a broken hip and pelvis, seizures, and depression. He received the diagnosis in his 40’s, much younger than people are typically affected. But even through this massive change in his and my family’s life, he continued to take joy in life and to be his children’s number one fan.

2012

I cannot even begin to imagine what it must have been like for him to go through this process, to experience the loss of the use of your body, nor would I try. But despite the adversity, my family and my dad had to overcome; I can say I was lucky to have the dad I did.

Happy Father’s Day to all the incredible men out there that make a difference in a child’s life, your presence matters.

To learn more about PSP please click here.