Tuesday, May 05, 2015

Stranger Danger

Just the past few weeks, my 4.5 year old has unofficially declared himself one of the "big boys". Although he does still want an adult around and comes to check in frequently, he wants to go off and play with the "big boys". Sometimes that means eating outside at the church potluck, while Mom and Dad are inside. Sometimes it means playing in the "fort" in the woods with the older boys, while Mom is a few dozen yards away chatting with the adults.

I am equal parts incredibly proud of him, and absolutely terrified that he's not old enough for this new freedom yet.

I'm generally not much of a worrier when it comes to my kids. I don't have a baby gate on my stairs (although I'm pretty sure my two year old would just climb over it), we haven't really put many plug protectors in our new house, I let them play in the backyard by themselves as long as I'm outside, or play in the cul de sac or road as long as I'm keeping a watch out. In some ways, maybe I am a bit too much of a helicopter parent, though.

Either way, I'm trying to let my oldest be a "big kid" while still keeping him safe. As I was talking with one of the other "big kid" parents. She said that she worries about her son because he doesn't meet any strangers. I can totally agree with this sentiment, but I hadn't yet worried about it, because he was always supervised. My oldest will walk through a store and introduce himself to everyone on the way through. He'll tell everyone his name, his brothers name, how old they are, what color house we have. At the park last week he tried to follow a "dad" who was probably not even a dad, but was trying to get a workout near the playground (shadowboxing and then jogging the trails). I had to holler several times for him to come back.

Then, when he was "playing with the big boys" at the church potluck, we checked on him, and he had gone through the church building to the other side towards the woods and the fence. While I know that the older boys are big enough and mature enough to keep an eye out, I also think that if someone on the sidewalk or busy road nearby asked him to get in a car or walk home with them, he probably would without thinking much of it, and the boys at church might not realize that he wasn't related to the stranger. He treats strangers as if they are close friends or family.

How do I get him to realize stranger danger without scaring him or closing off his open and outgoing personality? I love that he doesn't see danger or fear in his everyday life, but I don't want him doing anything foolish. We've had some conversations since then about Mom and Dad needing to know where he is and that he can't change locations without telling us.  We've had the conversations about coming to Mom and Dad if anyone touches a "private area". Honestly, I know that most abuse takes place at the hands of people within a circle of trust, but I also worry that my child would be the one taken advantage of by a stranger, simply because his circle of trust includes everyone.

He knows not to keep secrets from us, and I still try to keep a close eye on him. I do everything that I can to avoid a bad situation. I have a feeling that this new-found freedom will be good for both of us. I just have to keep the worry off my plate and trust God's plan for us.

Monday, May 04, 2015


After talking with a local school teacher and neighbor of mine, I've been thinking more and more about what the best solution is for our education system. I think charter schools are a great step in the right direction. The problem is, whether it's a charter school, public school, private school, or homeschool, there are children that get left behind.

So, what's the solution? How do we ensure children aren't left behind? Obviously testing is not the answer. The "failing" schools are now making even less of an effort to give kids a well-rounded education and instead spend all their time teaching to the test or dumbing down the work.

I think the real solution is to create communities again. People who want to go back to the "one room schoolhouse" philosophy forget that school used to me more than just something teachers did 5 days a week. Families would take turns hosting the teacher at their house for dinner (imagine how many cases of child abuse could be prevented and how many teachers would realize that what most of the children really need isn't more homework). Children would work in the classroom as teachers, custodians, and they had recess! They had a responsibility for their own education.

Since we probably can't honestly re-create the one room schoolhouse for most children, what can we do for them?

  • Monthly or weekly in-home visits by a professional (teacher, counselor, nurse, etcetera) for at-risk children, starting at or before birth
  • Weekly one-on-one peer mentor reading groups (i.e. pair up all 3rd graders

    with Kindergartners, etcetera)
  • Hands on group learning
  • Reinstate recess and physical education for all children
  • Give kids real world work (in-school gardens, beehives, shop class, home ec class)
  • Encourage churches or social groups to "adopt a class" or "adopt a school" and give the teachers whatever community support is needed whether it's redoing a bulletin board or sitting with a few students who need individual attention.
  • Get rid of desks or make them easily portable so students can lounge, move, sit, or stand in class as needed.
  • Sponsor field trips for kids, and encourage involvement in extracurricular activities
  • Reduce homework and test time.
These are just a few of my ideas, feel free to share your own!

Saturday, May 02, 2015

Weekly Food Budget

So, to keep up with the more strict food budget we have for the next few weeks, I'm committing to a weekly "wrap up" of my food spending over the last 7 days (Friday to Friday). I actually have two Aldi's trips this week, although one primarily to purchase a $9 garden hose (with a 10 year warranty) than for food. Also, we didn't do a "regular" grocery trip this week. Rather, I had one trip to Kroger mainly for baking supplies for my father-in-law's birthday, and one Food Lion trip. We rarely buy all our groceries at Food Lion, but it was easier to make just one trip and my husband went while the kids were napping. Here's a quick breakdown of what we spent...

Kroger - $19.76 total. $10.61 for baking supplies and a gift for my father-in-law. $1 for some laundry detergent that I plan to give to charity, and the rest was typical food purchases. I bought hamburger buns for 0.49, microwave popcorn for $2.49 for an 8 pack, $3,89 for raisins (turns out I should have waited to get these at Aldi's for $2.79, but my 2 year old had been asking for them), and Poptarts for $1.99.

Food Lion - $30.41 total for grocery purchases. We bought a pound of cheese, Food Lion brand Bagel Bites (generic prices, but taste like the real thing), used a free coupon for a Totinos Party Pizza, 2 gallons of milk, 2 bags of Goldfish (my kids eat regular and vanilla cupcake every day for snack), Tortillas, 2 packs of Lance peanut butter cheese crackers (my oldest son has sensory issues and this is one a very few ways to get protein in him and the only brand of it he will eat), and then my husband bought soda for himself, since it's about the only thing he drinks.

Aldi's trip # 1- $2.31 with tax for food items including organic baby carrots for 0.69, wide pan whole wheat bread for 0.90, Gardetto's snack mix for 0.67, and then the garden hose which I don't count as a food purchase.

Aldi's trip # 2 - white tortilla chips, 3 pounds of fuji apples, baking soda, 20 ounces of Roma tomatoes, 2 pounds of red onions, 3 heads of garlic, 6 ounces of blueberries, peanut butter wafer bars, 1 pound of margarine, and 4 avocados for $13.70 including tax. Most of these items were purchased specifically for making guacamole for a church gathering.

I also generally include diapers in our weekly grocery budget, and we spent $24.55 on diapers at Amazon (although this should last us 6-8 weeks). We also spent $7.89 on a small one week pack of diapers last Saturday to make it until our Amazon order came in. If I include all the diapers, but take out the baking supplies and gift for my father-in-law, it comes out to $88.01 for the week for groceries. Definitely an atypical week with my father-in-law's birthday, a bulk diaper purchase, and planning for a church gathering this week, but still pretty close to the current (smaller) budget.

Friday, May 01, 2015

Paid Maternity Leave

Every so often, I get on a political kick. As a forewarning, I'm generally a free-market libertarian. Mainly, I feel that the church and community should be the one providing most "government" services and that our (federal) government should keep their nose out of most everything other than protecting our country from war (i.e. they should not be legislating marriage, abortion, protected classes, education) and should allow the states freedom to choose on those topics.

So, although I have my opinions on things like gay marriage, welfare, abortion, and so forth, I try not to force those opinions on others. I strongly believe that the Word of God does not return void, and I also believe that those who don't claim to be Christians should not be forced into morality. If we want to change the way things are in our community, we need to take physical action and not political action. For example, the First Choice Pregnancy Solutions organization, which rather than picketing abortion centers, offers women the ability to make the choice without pressure by offering solutions to many of the crises that women face with an unwanted pregnancy (they set women up with housing, food, job assistance, education assistance, medical assistance, counseling, and more).

However, there are occasionally a few topics I feel strongly about that are more political than physical. One of those topics is maternity leave. The United States is one of the only first-world nations that does not have a national program of maternity leave. Why is this something the Federal government needs to take charge of?

Benefits of paid maternity leave

  • Encourage breastfeeding. Everyone is on board with the pro-breastfeeding campaign. However, I cannot tell you how difficult it is, especially for a first-time mom, to learn how to use a breast pump effectively and to do so during working hours. As an example, I had to pump with my second son who was in the NICU for a week. I pumped every 2 hours for 15-20 minutes, then went to bottle feed him, then cleaned all the pump supplies, then cleaned the bottles, and about 30 minutes later had to pump again. It was exhausting, there was literally nothing else I could do, and it was my full-time job. Hopefully, by 6 weeks, women are only pumping right before work, 3 times during work, and right after work. So that's only an hour and a half or two out of their work day, I'm sure that they will be able to keep that up for 6 months or so with no problem. The other issue with pumping breastmilk is that it becomes very difficult unless you have an extremely calm, restful environment where you can picture (or smell, hear) your child. I used to have to close the door to my bedroom, since a specific song that helped me visualize him, and rock back and forth while closing my eyes. Many women have jobs that are too stressful to effectively pump.
  • Encourage physical health. For moms who are forced to return to work after 6-8 weeks, their body has barely recovered from the ordeal of giving birth. By "recovered", I mean that they can walk and sit for 15-20 minutes at a time without pain. The human body doesn't fully recover from the ordeal until 3-6 months (or more) following birth. So, we have a lot of women in physical pain, that have no choice but to return to work.
  • Reduce cost of daycare. I'm sure some of you are wondering how this would reduce the cost of anything. I can tell you from experience, that the most expensive type of childcare for a daycare to provide is that of "infant" care. Because infants are so needy (feeding, changing, cleaning bottles, rocking to sleep) they require a much lower teacher to child ratio. If we remove 50% of these infants from the daycare system, the cost of daycare should reduce because of a lower overall teacher to child ratio. 
  • Encourage women to work. Now, I'm not 100% sure if that's something that I want as a benefit, but it is a benefit. If you are worried about paying women who will not go back into the work force anyway, you can allocate funds based on whether they return to work after the time frame. For example, if you receive 6 months of paid maternity leave, and don't return to work within 1 year (unless you become disabled) you have to repay 50% of the funds. I can say that if I were offered the choice of 6 months paid maternity leave, I probably would have returned to work when my first child was 6 months. I still likely would have quit after my second child, but having just one child at home (or to put in daycare) and being somewhat isolated was very difficult for me that first year.
  • Empower women to make their choice. I didn't have much of a choice to make when I first had a child. I was in a low-paying job, so I would only net $500 a month after childcare. My husband wanted me to stay home, and I wanted to stay home. I didn't have any family in the area as a support system. So, even though I had what I "thought" I wanted, I felt like I didn't have a choice. For women already at risk for post-partum depression, adding any more risk factors such as huge life change, and feeling forced into a decision, is always a bad idea. Give us the space and freedom to make our choices, rather than forcing a choice on us. Many women feel forced to continue working, because they only get six weeks at a partial payment and then have to return to work or continue with unpaid leave (if it's even available to them).
All that being said, I'm not arguing for or against women in general being in the work force. There are plenty of women who do not make good stay-at-home moms, and plenty of women in the work force who probably shouldn't be. I am all about allowing women the freedom to make that decision. Freedom from financial pressure, freedom from religious pressure, freedom from the pressure of other moms. However, in general, moms (or dads) do need to be home with their kids the first 6 months of their lives. That's a time that you can't get back with your children, and they can't get it back with you. 

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mommy Guilt

First of all, I hope that everyone reading this knows that I am not being gender-biased when I use the term "mommy guilt". It can and does affect men as well as women. Actually, my husband was feeling pretty bad about himself Monday night, and that's what originally caught my attention regarding this topic.

We've all felt it at some point in our lives as parents. That awful feeling in the back of your head saying, "Am I screwing this all up?" The answer, my friends, is "Yes, you are."

The question should not be whether or not we are screwing up as parents, but we are doing to prevent the screw up the next time. We are all imperfect people in an imperfect world with (extremely?) imperfect children. So in those moments, when you've just yelled at your 2-year old for doing something completely normal for a 2-year old to do, or when you're frustrated with your 4-year old because of something you're trying to deal with on a phone call and he's just trying to get on his bike and ride around the corner, the mommy guilt starts to creep in.

I'm sure from my examples, you can tell that I'm talking about other people's children, right? Certainly not my own...

So what do you do with that guilt?

First, recognize that everyone messes up. The messing up is NOT what you should feel guilty about. Guilt is not a positive emotion. I'm not saying to ignore, but what I am saying is learn from it. If you have realized your mistake, and all you feel is guilt, then you need to take a few more steps down the road. You are imperfect, you have made a mistake, so what are you going to do about it?

Second, empathize with the person you've wronged. Maybe the person who's most wronged was a child, or maybe a neighbor, possibly even your husband (gasp!). So empathize with them first. Empathy is different than sympathy. You don't even have to be in the same room as the person you've wronged (yay for the introverts!). All you have to do is think about it from their perspective. Did my neighbor think I was being a jerk when I posted something on Facebook about my parenting style and totally lambasted their parenting style? Did my husband feel emasculated with I called him out in front of our kids or neighbors? Did my kids feel scared when I got a little out of control over a very 4-year old sized mess?

Empathy is not the same as guilt. What you really want to do is think about exactly what they are feeling and why. Especially with our children, they may not have the words to put to their emotions (my 4 year old has just started saying that "it hurts his feelings" when he's in trouble). So think about what it truly meant for this person that is so big in their lives to have a melt down over something they can't understand.

Next, consider your next steps. Sometimes, it may be better not to apologize (especially if the neighbor may not have even read your Facebook post). Are there ways to prevent the situation from happening in the future? Is there a trigger such as a phone call or not eating breakfast, or over scheduling your days? And if you did hurt your kids, please do apologize. When talking with someone about this situation, they told me it was the same thing that their father had reacted to them in that situation, only they never got an apology for it. Your kids will remember that apology (or lack thereof).

There are many steps you can take to prevent behavior, but try to come up with just one at a time. Once you've reached your conclusion, take action. Make the apology (if necessary), eat something (if you're just hangry), put the phone away, clear the calendar, and do whatever you need to do.

One final note, the best prevention for those mommy guilt situations, in my opinion, is to have reasonable expectations. If I know that Mondays are tough, then I can try to expect that beforehand, and not get overwrought at my children's poor behavior. If I know late naps make then cranky, I can plan around their nap schedule or wake them up earlier or later. If I know the weather will be bad, I can try to plan our schedule around it as much as possible.

And finally, give someone a hug or a friendly compliment. You never know what someone else is going through. Rather than judging that stranger at the park, ask them if you can help. Rather than posting on Facebook about something, tell your neighbor that you admire their differences. Rather than yelling at your kids, start the day with some snuggles and reading a good book. It won't be long before they don't want to snuggle anymore (or so I've heard).