The Advocate

Do you ever struggle to speak up for yourself? How about speaking up for your child?

If so, then we have something in common.

Speaking up for yourself is one thing. Whether it’s due to lack of confidence, the way you were brought up, or something else, you are the only one that suffers when you don’t speak up for yourself. But what about your child. They don’t have a voice, and need their parents or loved ones to advocate on their behalf.

I have to admit, I’ve often taken a backseat to voicing my opinion in regards to child development and education. My mother was an teacher for over 40 years and I have great respect for those in this profession. I’ve always been involved and stayed close enough to be  in-the-know of what is going on with my children in school, but also wanted to give the teacher a chance to successfully teach my child. I thought that might be negatively impacted if I was constantly asking for input or feedback on how my child was doing. I also thought I would be perceived as a “needy” parent. I wanted to empower my children to be independent and thrive, and thought by giving them some distance in school, it supported this desire.

My husband and I noticed our son was having some struggles in school and enlisted the help of others. We brought in someone from outside the school to observe him, and learned quickly that we needed to find and ‘raise’ our voices quickly. If we didn’t our son might  continue to struggle and develop some negative self-beliefs about his capabilities. My husband and I were going to do everything we could to ensure that didn’t happen.

We initiated a conversation with his school’s leadership (teacher, principal, counselors, etc.) and discussed our concerns. At the time, my husband and I wondered if we were wrong about our concerns and were overreacting to the situation (e.g. raising our voices too high too fast). After the discussion, one of the leaders pulled us aside and said, “You’re doing the right thing. It’s important we understand your concerns and work to help your child together.” It was a relief to hear.

I’ve gotten better at advocating for my boys ever since. No longer worried about being perceived as the “needy” parent who wants information, and to have influence in who teaches my child, etc., but instead seen as the advocate who will do whatever is needed (even if uncomfortable or scary) to ensure her sons gets needed resources, attention, etc. for the best chance of success. Finding my voice is a muscle that I continue to develop and make stronger.

For those of you who have always been vocal and will continue to be — you are an inspiration to me and others. For those of you working to find your voice…remember you need to be heard. You are the best advocate your child has.

How do you advocate for your child?

Good as Gold

The Sochi Olympics are coming to an end, and I am going to miss it. The athleticism, passion and commitment by the athletes is incredible. I always enjoy seeing an athlete experience their Olympic moment, particularly when it goes in their favor. Winning a gold must be a pretty spectacular feeling.

In a way, I felt like a I had my own Olympic moment this week. I experienced it during an unexpected teaching moment with my children. One of my son’s remarked that another boy in his class likes Hello Kitty. What made me recognize this as a teaching moment was when he added, “Isn’t that funny?” I asked him what was so funny about it. My other son joined in the conversation. “Hello Kitty is for girls, right?” he said. “Well,” I responded, “I can see why you may think Hello Kitty is for girls, but anyone can like Hello Kitty.” I could see the wheels turning in their head thinking this over. I added, “You might think of blue being a boys color, but girls can like blue too. And you might think of girls liking princesses and ponies,” I paused before adding for emphasis, “…and is Mom interested in princesses and ponies?” “No!” they both exclaimed with some delight. To drive the point further home I asked, “And isn’t football supposed to be for boys? Well, what is Mom’s favorite sport to watch?” “College football,” they sang. There were giggles all around and I felt like I got through to them.

As the giggles subsided, I circled back to my main point. “We all are different and will like different things, that’s what makes us interesting. It would be boring if it were all the same.” My sons latched onto this statement and shared their agreement. “If we were all the same we’d be robots,” my oldest said.  “Boring!” my other son and I said in unison.

I left the conversation feeling like I’d encountered opened my boys eyes to appreciate the joys of our differences. It was as good feeling, about as good as it gets. Was it as good as gold? It was maybe even better.

How do you help your child appreciate differences in others? What teaching moment has felt more like your Olympic moment?

Which Way are you Leaning?

What’s a mother to do? We give birth, we take our child home, we start to care for it, and then we are faced with the decision—to go back to work or not.  Of course, some of us will have decided prior to having our child that we won’t return to the workforce because we don’t want to, or financially it doesn’t make sense.  Some of us know we will return to work and it becomes an issue of how soon, and then there are the rest who are on the fence.

And here our quandary begins. Perhaps we’ve invested time in our careers and are making our way up the corporate ladder and want to continue our climb. Perhaps we have a profession we’re passionate about. Or perhaps we need the money, want continued contact with adults, or know that work gives a sense of purpose you haven’t found anywhere else.  You weigh the pros and cons of staying home with your child and not working (maybe temporarily, maybe permanently), and you weigh it and you weigh it and you weigh it. And while ultimately you go with the decision you feel is best you can’t quite shake that nagging voice in the back of your head. Am I taking something away from myself if I stay home? Am I taking something away from my child if I work?

And now the dialogue is no longer being kept to ourselves, or amongst our working mother friends. It’s being discussed out in the open. Oh goodness! Why Women Still Can’t Have it All by Anne-Marie Slaughter was published in the July/August 2012 edition of The Atlantic. Her article encouraged a dialogue between working women, to understand the obstacles women still face to reach the highest professional levels while raising children, and encouraged men, who are expressing a desire to be more involved in the raising of their children, to join in the situation.

Lean In: Women, Work and the Will to Lead by Sheryl Sandberg, the chief operating officer of Facebook, encourages women to be “at the table” professionally, take risks, and pursue your desired career. She also mentions men playing more of a role in the rearing of the child and household responsibilities.

I can understand why reactions to both the article and the book have been strong.  Each gave me pause. What do you mean women can’t have it all? And Lean In—I didn’t realize I was leaning out.  Do I really have to do more than what I’m already doing?

What really bothered me wasn’t the article, book or their content. It was the emotions they were triggering in me—guilt, anger, relief and hope.  Quite a range of emotions, don’t you think?  I still have guilt about putting both boys in daycare when they were young. I know I am a better mom than I would have been a stay home mom (I think stay-at-home moms are amazing), but it didn’t take the guilt away. I was angry because I’ve worked hard to get where I’m at in my career while fighting hard to maintain boundaries specific to the hours that I work and the time I spend away from the family because of it.  I felt relief because someone was finally talking about this—I’ve often felt alone in my daily struggle to do what’s best for my children, spouse and myself. Lastly, I felt hope. Hope that we’ve just hit the tip of the iceberg and more conversations will take place between spouses, partners, companies and communities. That we will reach equality in the home and in the workforce, and as a country we’ll figure out how to better support families so that we not only can survive but also thrive together.

The question, “can women have it all?” makes me think should we want to have it all? and what does having it all mean? I think our kids should have it all—involved parents working for supportive companies and communities that value our future generation more than sustaining a culture of workaholics.

We’ve got some work to do, and I’m leaning towards whatever will get us there.

Which way are you leaning?

A Big Thumbs Up!

I received a note from my son’s teacher a little over a week. It read, “You need to talk to your son about what using the middle finger means.” The note startled me. We don’t use “the middle finger” in our family and haven’t talked about it with our children because we haven’t had to to this point. I responded to the teacher’s letter to gain a better understanding of how the middle finger came up. Can you give me some context behind how my son used his middle finger? Was he using it as a gesture? Or was he copying someone else? The teacher replied, “He was pointing at something with his middle finger when one of his classmates said, “that means the “F” word”, to which your son replied, “what’s wrong with the word “finger”?” Oh, the fact that he said “finger” made me smile like I haven’t smiled in a while. I celebrated inside. Yes, I thought, he still doesn’t know what the “F” word is!

Regardless, my husband and I needed to explain what certain hand gestures mean. I wasn’t ready, nor do I anticipate being ready any time soon, to discuss four-letter-words with our kids. I know I can’t avoid this forever, but I want to delay it as long as possible. Instead we talked about the meaning of using different fingers.

Working with our son we determined the following:

  • A thumb(s) up means good job or I agree
  • Pointing your index finger means I’m talking about you (we cautioned that most people do not like to be pointed at) or I want you to look at what I’m pointing at (see what I see)
  • Using your middle finger means I’m really angry with you or I really don’t like what you just did (we cautioned that it is always better to talk to someone if you are upset with them and to avoid using your middle finger to express how you feel at all costs. My experience, you significantly increase your chances of a physical confrontation when you use your middle finger vs. your words)
  • Using your ring finger doesn’t mean anything
  • Using your pinky finger (e.g. holding it out when you drink from a cup) means fancy

My son really liked the idea of using your pinky to communicate fancy. He didn’t seem to be interested in using or talking about his middle finger at all.

I cherish my children’s innocence and appreciate the opportunity my husband and I have been given to help them learn about ways people communicate in nice and not-so-nice ways. I realize their innocence won’t last forever, but will take it for as long as I can.

F is quickly becoming my new favorite letter. What’s not to like – it’s the first letter in fabulous, Friday, fancy, fun and FINGER.

I’ll give that a “thumbs-up” any day!

How have you addressed gestures and curse words with your child?


I’ve been thinking about the word respect lately.

My concentration around this word began following recent statements made by my six-year-old son to my husband and I.

“How dare you speak to me that way?” He responded after not getting something that he wanted (e.g. TV or a sweet)

“What the heck?” He responded after we told him we couldn’t accommodate his request (e.g. TV, play a game, etc)

Besides being momentarily dumbfounded by what he said, I responded each time saying, “We don’t talk that way to each other. We treat each other with respect.” Defining respect for him has been a bit more challenging.

The dictionary defines respect as:

Respect (Noun): A feeling of deep admiration for someone or something elicited by their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

Respect (Verb): Admire (someone or something) deeply, as a result of their abilities, qualities, or achievements.

I was brought up to respect my parents, but I hadn’t put too much thought into why, until my son responded this way. My sisters and I were spanked by our parents. Most of my friends growing up were spanked by their parents. Spanking was an acceptable way to discipline for many families in the ’70s. I’m thankful that is no longer the case.

We do not spank our children. I have never been comfortable with the idea of mixing actions like love and hitting together. It was very confusing to me why loving parents would spank a child.  Instead, we talk to our son and explain the situation about why we have to take an action or inaction to reinforce a desired behavior. I thought it was working until his outbursts occurred.

I’ve always respected my parents, but had to think about why that was as a child.  Was it because I admired them for their parenting abilities or because I was scared that if I didn’t respect them I would get spanked? I’m certain it was a mixture of both. I knew my parents loved me. They showed me that in tangible ways—hugs, kisses, cheers and time. The spanking scared me. It hurt and the pain endured often felt disproportionate to what I was being punished for.  It kept me inline, but at an unquantifiable emotional and physical cost.

I don’t want my children to associate needing to experience physical harm to learn a positive lesson together. Spanking will not ever be part of my parent rearing equation. But how do you teach your child respect?

I talk to my boys about respect and treating each other with kindness. Listening to each other, responding with consideration and care. I will never embarrass them knowingly, shame them or lie to them. I will continue to explain things to them and help them make the connection between the action and the consequence (positive or negative). I have a saying I use with my boys: “If I ask you for something its for one of three reasons. I’m trying to teach you something. I’m trying to keep you safe, or I need your help.”

I’m not sure respect can be taught. I believe it’s earned, and I’m hopeful in time my boys will come to respect my husband and I for raising them the way we are and will.  In the interim, I’m working to stick to what I believe is key: being consistent and practicing patience. I’m hoping to be an expert in patience by the time they are teenagers. I hear we’ll be in for quite a ride by then.

How are you experiencing respect in your life?

Say What You Mean

I was speaking with a group of moms recently and we were discussing how to find your voice as a woman. We decided that the only real way to find your voice is to say what you mean. It sounds so simple, but I’ve discovered many of us struggle with doing just that.

The particular discussion began as they normally do with parenting groups, around the talk about how emotions like frustration and resentment can develop between partners after a new baby arrives. Things your spouse did before the baby came, like not picking up after him or herself didn’t bother you and well, now it really does. As an outside observer, it’s easy enough to think a new parent should just tell their partner how they feel and yet, many of us don’t. Instead our voice gets stuck, it freezes up and the words won’t come out. It can’t be that simple, we think. Can we really just ask for what we want? Or more importantly what we need?

I’ve met many women in particular who struggle with finding their voice and saying what they mean to their partner, parents, in-laws, siblings and friends (note: I think both men and women struggle with this but women talk to each other about it more frequently). I know I am still working on fully finding my voice. Asking others for what you want and need can be scary.  Will I appear selfish? You ask yourself. Incompetent? Too needy? We’ll modify what we really want to say: “I need a break” to something less direct “Any chance you want to take the baby with you while you run errands?”

But what I’ve learned in recent years is that when you ask for what you need you send a message that you respect yourself enough–even love yourself enough–to ask for what you need. Think about that statement for a moment. You love yourself enough. You respect yourself enough to ask for what you need. And when you respect yourself, others will too.

A woman in the group I was speaking to most recently really stood out to me. She was the first woman I encountered in a long time who had truly found her voice. She’d had it before her child arrived and I suspect had an even clearer, stronger voice since becoming a mom. She shared how she asked her husband for what she needed, when she needed it—telling him when she needed alone time, or asking him to take on some of the household chores because she needed help.  It was inspiring to listen to her speak.

I will continue to work to find my voice and to be more direct and clear about what I need and why.

Have you found your voice?

Is The Hunger Games a book for all ages?

It’s times like this that I think my parents had it so much easier. There was no Internet, no cellphones or texting when I was a child, and the most controversial book of the day was Are You There God? It’s Me, Margaret—which covers such scandalous ground as a girl getting her first bra and having her period for the first time—pretty innocent compared to what’s available to young people today, right?  I was prepared for the dangers of the Internet and texting, bracing myself for all the trappings of social media; do I have to worry about books now too?

The movie The Hunger Games, based on the book by Suzanne Collins will open this upcoming weekend.  Let me start by saying that I’m a huge fan of the book. Though it’s considered young adult in genre, its appeal goes far beyond that, much like that of Harry Potter and the Twilight series. As you may have heard, there has been great controversy surrounding the franchise as the books are centered on children killing each other to stay alive in a sadistic adult game. While the premise sounds like something no young person should read, the Hunger Games is ultimately a story of youth, finding yourself, staying true to who you are, being brave, resourceful, even compassionate and using smarts to win an unthinkable game. The book’s heroine Katniss Everdeen is arguably an excellent role model in many ways. The question many parents may be asking is: how old should our children be before we let them read books with such a dark subject matter?

A girlfriend recently called me and asked for my opinion on this very thing. She was concerned because a local elementary school teacher had recommended the books for one of the class’ book clubs. While my friend’s children were not in the class in question, they easily could have been. She was concerned after having heard what the books were about and knew I’d read them so was calling to get my take.

Her inquiry forced me to think about when I would let my own children read it. I shared my recollections of the novel with her and encouraged her to read the book so she could make the most informed decision when her kids showed interest in them.  I was struck by the fact that when I think back on my own childhood, I can’t recall wanting to read any books outside of what was required by my teachers.  Times have changed and the young adult book market is hot so many of us with young children should probably start catching up on our reading before our kids start asking us about Panem.

My personal preference is to read or watch things before I let my kids do so. This is great in theory but with parents’ busy lives, it’s difficult to vet everything our children want to read or see. I think books like The Hunger Games give us a great opportunity as parents to talk to one another and share our thoughts. It also allows you and your spouse or partner to discuss and prepare for how you’ll handle controversial material your child shows an interest in. Plus it might get you to read some great books you might have otherwise ignored (though ignoring this juggernaut seems pretty impossible just now). I secretly love that I now have an excuse to read a tween/young adult book without being judged.

I’m grateful that so many parents are cognizant about what they’re exposing their children to, and grateful for people willing to share their perspectives including other blogs that are tackling this same topic. It gives parents a variety of inputs and helps us make better decisions.

Being a parent to young children today isn’t any easier or harder than it was in the past, it’s just different. I really enjoyed The Hunger Games and look forward to the day my children can read the books—many years from now.

Emerging Victorious

I recently had my first book published. Many friends have been very encouraging by telling me how proud they are of me. While I am grateful for their praise and support, the reality hasn’t really sunk in yet.  I keep asking myself the question, why don’t I feel proud?

When I was younger, I swam on our neighborhood swim team. The team practiced every weekday morning throughout the summer. I loved swimming. I loved practicing with kids my own age and learning from the older ones. There was always an opportunity to push myself to be better. I loved competing at the swim meets where I could demonstrate the progress I’d made and bask in the glow of a hard-earned success.  Any time I swam my hardest and won an event I felt deep feeling of accomplishment. It made me feel proud and reinforced the notion that all my hard work would pay off. Like many burgeoning young athlete, my early success in the pool lead to a childhood dream of competing in the Olympics. I could truly visualize myself swimming the vigorous lengths and emerging victorious, making my country proud.

As I’ve grown older, I’ve struggled with feeling such genuine pride in myself. I’m still very good at pushing myself to achieve my goals, but I often don’t allow myself to truly acknowledge my accomplishments. There have been some notable exceptions. Moving cross-country for a job when I was in my 20s made me feel proud.  Traveling alone overseas for a few weeks in my early 30s made me feel proud. Speaking to parenting groups about what I’ve learned along the way made me feel proud. The common thread between these accomplishments was that I took a risk needing to know if I could do it. I knew if I didn’t try I would regret it.  It made taking the risk greater and the reward taken from the accomplishment more satisfying. Yet, though I’ve written and had my first book published, which I never predicted or dreamt I would do, and the risk is quite possibly the greatest I’ve ever taken, the feeling of accomplishment hasn’t come, at least not yet.

Maybe it’s because this is a new beginning for me. It’s the first step toward the life I want to live, one in which I am more creative and able to push myself in more satisfying ways. Not just the life I’m feel I’m supposed to live—the one I accepted as a young adult that may or may not align with my true passion or calling. How many of us truly pursue our dreams as adults? It’s scary and overwhelming to go after what we really want–especially with a family to support–but what do we miss out on if we don’t push ourselves to try? Or perhaps it doesn’t fall into the category of something I needed to do and I wouldn’t have felt regret it if I hadn’t done it.

Maybe down the road, I will look back and feel proud that I was brave enough to take the first step and push myself to accomplish something I didn’t even know was possible.  Maybe in the moment, I’m still feeling to vulnerable and nervous about the huge step I’m taking.

My dream of becoming an Olympic swimmer didn’t become a reality for a variety of reasons that were out of my control. As an adult I returned to my favorite sport when I joined a Masters league (a competitive swimming league for adults). With a lifetime of perspective between myself and my childhood ambition, I realized the reality that I’d never had the necessary leg strength needed to be an elite swimmer. I still love the sport and it comforts me to know that I avoided losing my entire childhood over a goal that wasn’t meant to be.

Writing feels like something that is much more in my control; fortunately there are no age limits or strength requirements. I decide what comes next on this journey for what comes next, another book or something else and determine how hard I need to push myself beyond this. I’m looking forward to what comes next and while I don’t know what the future holds; I do know that pushing myself to live the life I want to live helps me visualize myself emerging victorious.


What do I want my parenting journey to look like?

When I was a new parent there were three sentences that were constantly running through my head:

  1. How am I going to do this?
  2. What comes next?
  3. Is there anything else I should be doing that I’m not?

While I wasn’t always 100% confident in my abilities initially, I knew I could figure out the answers to #1 and #2.  #3 felt like a question I’d never be able to correctly answer. With each question, it helped me to inspect each one a little more carefully and try to figure out what the anxiety was behind each.

How am I going to do this? This took me mustering up the courage and using common sense for the most part. The question tended to pop-up when I hadn’t done something before, like taking the baby to the store for the first time–how am I going to get them in and out of the car, how am I going to get through the store–will the baby be in the cart or stroller, etc.?  After attempting a task and starting to realize I could do each of these things, it made it much easier when I confronted a new task. The most anxiety I’ve had in recent years is taking my son to kindergarten–physically very easy to do, mentally very hard–letting him go be in a school with “big” kids, realizing I can no longer protect him like I was previously able to–scary!  But I did it, and I know I can do whatever new is coming next.

What should I do next? This question started when I first realized there were phases to parenting and that I had little to no control over them and never knew when one phase would be starting or stopping and when I was actually in the middle of transitioning to another. Examples included when will my child sleep through the night to when will they be able to feed themselves to will my child ever not have a cold for longer than 2 weeks, etc. What I figured out was while each phase it out of my control, they are all indeed temporary.  This really helps me when my children are going through a phase I’m not crazy about–the saying “no-to-everything” phase (which was accompanied by tantrums, hitting and throwing), because I know eventually grow out of it. Some of the temporary phases, I’m not looking forward to growing past–the cuddling, hugs in public and the “I love you’s”. I’m trying to treasure every second of every phase good or bad.

Is there anything else I should be doing that I’m not?  This was the question that made me most anxious. I want my children to have every opportunity to thrive which caused a constant list of thoughts to run through my mind–should I be reading to them more? are they getting enough time outside? are they enrolled in enough activities?  are they the right activities? are they signed up for to many activities? am I doing everything needed to make sure my child gets into Harvard (okay, any college!)? You can see why I might feel anxious, any parent would.

When my children were young, products that promoted helping raise a baby’s intelligence were very popular.  I struggled with whether or not I should be committing my money to purchase these products and spending time exposing them to my children.  One example that comes to mind was a set of DVDs that promoted the learning of the alphabet and numbers, which sounded like a good thing, but they were DVDs, and everything I’d read said to limit TV time.  Now, I’m not a parent who was or is gung-ho on no TV, but the fact that the products were being marketed to me and my parenting peers as educational–good for our small children–was puzzling.  Would my child be behind if they didn’t watch the videos? Would I be doing them harm by letting them watch the videos (everything I’d heard and read had mentioned minimal TV time for kids)? It was very confusing, until I reflected on my own upbringing.  We didn’t have DVD players–a show came on once a week at a certain time, and if you weren’t there to see it live, you weren’t going to see it period.  I started to relax when I realized that and the fact that I, along with pretty much everyone else who grew up prior to VCRs and DVD players, all turned out okay.

Questioning your parenting skills is common. I have yet to meet a parent that feels they have 100% confidence in their abililites or even in what they are doing–be it how they are teaching their children, what they are or aren’t exposing them to, how they are disciplining them, or what else they should be doing.

In regards to the question, “Is there anything I should be doing that I’m not?”, have you applied this to yourself in how you parent?  Have you ever stopped to think what you want your parenting journey to look or be like?  When you first became a parent did you know what you things you want to teach your child–morals, values and beliefs?  Anything you know you don’t want to pass on from your own upbringing?  Do you have time to sit and think about how things are going–what’s going well that you want to continue? Or what you think needs to be added, changed or stopped altogether (like to have your child watching those educational videos or not)?

Give yourself permission to take control of your parenting journey.  Your opportunity to make you parenting journey your own is finite–your kids will be leaving the house before you know it.  Make time to reflect, be proactive and in control–start to figure out what else you should  be doing that you’re not–and no longer fear it.

When and how do you make time to think about your parenting journey?  What changes will you make to get your parenting journey where you want it to be?