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PARENTING IN A TURBULENT POLITICAL ERA

A new president was inaugurated last week.

Our country just tumbled through a rollercoaster of an election season, filled with hate speech, vitriol, and bizarre events such that our country has never seen in its election history. And now we settle into a New Normal: we are on edge, soaking in our news source of choice (be it Fox News, Rachel Maddow, or Stephen Colbert) and waiting apprehensively to see what comes next. Will our jobs be safe? Can I keep my healthcare coverage? Will our government speak for me and my beliefs? Will our elected officials protect the rights of vulnerable groups, and how do we prevent fear from saturating our daily lives?

 

I hold my own strong political views of what I believe is best for our country, and my circle of friends and family is filled with beliefs all along the political spectrum. Though we may hold drastically different viewpoints, I keep within my heart this deeply-held conviction: We all want to create a better world for our children. With this in mind, I’ve been wrestling with the question of how to be the best parent that I can be during these unsettling times, while raising the next generation of compassionate and responsible American citizens.

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Talking to Kids After a Tragic Event

Family parents and children, secure and protecting home conceptI was 27 when the terrorist attacks of September 11th happened. I was a young social worker: I had just finished grad school and I was working at a children’s mental health clinic. With such an unprecedented and horrific event, it was just a matter of hours before the phone was ringing in our office with the question: “HOW DO WE TALK TO OUR KIDS ABOUT THIS?”

I was chosen to represent our agency at a local radio station, where I was interviewed by a DJ about this topic. I used my clinical and child development training to address his questions and provide support and encouragement to parents who were listening. I hope I did a good job.

Now 15 years later I’m a mom of two kids, and sadly our world has gone through countless scary and tragic events since September 11th. When I feel overwhelmed with my own anger and grief in response to these stories, I’ve struggled to find words to explain them and provide a sense of safety for my kids. Just this week there is yet another heartbreaking event in the news—the biggest mass shooting in the history of our country. A sick man in Orlando opened fire with an automatic weapon in a gay night club, killing 49 people and injuring many more.

How does a loving and concerned parent talk to kids about terrible news stories?

Here are my go-to talking points when I try to make sense of a senseless act of terrorism:

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Top 5 Ways to Keep Cool (when my kids are driving me CRAZY!)

days are long

It’s 5pm: There are still at least two hours of parenting left in the day, but the last drop of my patience has run out. My well is empty, my daughter is singing that Katy Perry song for the millionth time (loudly and badly), and my son’s whining is on my last nerve.

We’ve all been there: We all have those daily moments when our kids drive us crazy.

In fact, it turns out that PARENTS ARE HUMAN: We have a finite amount of good-naturedness, and this parenting business is hard and exhausting work. I firmly believe that it’s OK for my kids to see me drop my guard and be crabby and authentic. They need to know that I’m not superhuman (though they like to believe otherwise). On the flip side of this, if I’m constantly running on empty and not taking care of myself, then I’ll ALWAYS be Mean Mommy and not the loving and nurturing parent I aspire to be.

So here are my tried and true methods to recalibrate and reconnect when I’m trying not to lose my cool with my kids:

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My Favorite (Brain-Building) Games to Play With My Kids

Boy playing chess

Children learn through play—with hands-on experiences and social interactions. I love playing games with my kids just for the sheer enjoyment of spending time together: laughing, being silly, and getting to step out of my direction-giving Mommy Role for a little while. Having fun while playing games releases dopamine in our brains – the essential chemical that helps us with problem-solving, pleasure and feeling of reward (read more about dopamine in this great article).

I especially love playing games that challenge and inspire my kids to stretch their brains in new ways, and these are the favorites in MY house these days:

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Setting My Intentions as a Parent

QuoteIt’s just another typical Monday evening. I’m zooming out of my office parking lot, rushing towards the kids’ school to pick up carpool. My grocery list is running through my head. My heart pounds as I remember that e-mail I was supposed to send. I bark directions at Siry to remind me to pick up cookies for my son’s class party.LIFE IS STRESSFUL. Our lives as parents are full of To-Do’s, just to keep our families afloat and the daily details of life in working order.

In the midst of the daily grind that is Parenthood—the diaper changes, the bedtime routines, the homework battles—where’s the Big Picture? Am I parenting on auto-pilot, or with intention? How do I take a step back and reflect on my goals as a parent?

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Three Things to Say to Your Child Each and Every Day

mother plays with her two sons

Overheard in my house today:

“Did you get your homework done?”

“Don’t forget to brush your teeth!”

“Get your room picked up.”

“Are you wearing clean underwear?”

“Do you need to go potty? Really? Are you sure? Listen to your body…..”

 

Do these sound familiar?

Most days, parenting feels like a series of saying the same things over and over again—barking orders and reminders to make sure my kids are clean, well-fed, rested, and functioning at their best. In my kids’ ears, I probably sound like a broken record—like that teacher in Charlie Brown, “Mwa mwa mwa mwa….Mwa mwa mwa…..”

blahblah_header[My favorite cartoon from Gary Larson’s “The Far Side”…. I think it applies perfectly to parenting..….]

So besides the daily necessary directions, reminders and teaching, what else can we make sure we say to our kids every day?

These are the TRULY essential things we should say to ensure that our kids feel loved, nurtured and connected:

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My Spicy Little Pepper: Raising a Spirited Child

happy family smiling and having fun outdoorsWhen my daughter was 8 months old, she would make this happy, high pitched screechy sound: “EEEEEAAAAAAIIIIIIIIIEEEEE!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

OFTEN.

And mostly in places where the social expectation was to be quiet—a restaurant, an airplane, in a sanctuary.

We called her the “pterodactyl”. Now, I have no scientific evidence that this is actually what a pterodactyl would sound like, but I do know that my daughter needed to make it known early on that she was NOT a wallflower, and never would be. She wanted to be seen and heard! She had intense moods, even as a baby, and she wanted to make sure her opinions and feelings were known by everyone around her.

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Teaching your kids responsibility…Without making chores such a CHORE!

choresA few months ago, I felt like a cliché of the exhausted, over-worked mom. My lazy-butt kids were sitting on the couch, playing games on the I-pad, and calling into the kitchen: “Mom, can you bring me a snaaaaack??”, while I was simultaneously cooking dinner, wiping down the kitchen counters, sweeping, and taking a chug of Chardonnay. And muttering under my breath about how annoyed I was that my kids were so damned lazy….

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Teaching Children About Gratitude

gratitudeThis time of year—with the holidays around the corner—is typically a tough one in my house. My kids get very excited when they see commercials about all the cool new toys coming out. They start brainstorming about all the awesome things they want to get as gifts, and my daughter even had the chutzpah this year (even before Halloween!) to start a Hanukah wishlist to send to her grandparents. OY….

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“What’s for dinner tonight?”

weekly menuMeal planning: The nemesis of every busy parent.

Before getting married and having kids (back when life was loosey-goosey and I just had to feed myself), I LOVED cooking. Finding new recipes, experimenting with spices and interesting ingredients, and then savoring the dishes I had created—what a luxurious way to spend time with friends and family. My life looks a bit different now. I get off of work, drive back home (sometimes during a messy, traffic-filled Denver snowstorm), pick up the kids from school, and get home about 15 minutes before we’re ready to sit down for dinner. Doesn’t leave much time for cooking!

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