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Posts Tagged ‘motherhood’

nestI read this blog post thanks to a friend sharing it on Facebook, and I had too many ideas to share in a comment, so I’m writing my own post with my takes on the idea. Liane Kupferberg Carter wrote “For Some Moms, the Nest May Never Be Empty.

I wrote last year that my second daughter, who has Down syndrome, turned 18, and it was a different experience than when my oldest daughter did. She’s now 19, and she completed high school this June. That change and others of this year have been more impactful than her just turning 18. This year, she’s in a new class setting that’s at our local community college, but that’s still run by our county school district, as was her high school class. She is still learning life skills, but the class is working even more toward the students being able to move about in society on their own and work as much in ways they are able to and will enjoy. She carries around a small purse with a little money and her state I.D. card. She got a bus pass and her own library card (which I just hadn’t done with her yet myself). She’s talking more about socializing. Or maybe I’m picking up on it more. With her having “graduated” from high school, having her be able to be “out there” in the world in ways that work for her seems more imminent. I’m thinking more about finding ways for her to get out there and socialize with her peers. I’m thinking about the possibilities of her immediate and slightly more distant future, whereas before I was just putting that on the back burner in my mind, “putting a pin in it,” because there’s just so much else for me to think about RIGHT NOW (I mean, having three kids still at home, plus a “grown” daughter and now a grandson — yay!!! — is just a ton of work anyway. A woman can only do so much).

My husband has kind of set in his head that she will just live with us forever, so we will never be empty-nesters, just as Carter wrote. I’ve always had in my head that she certainly could move out to different kinds of settings that she may enjoy more than just staying with her parents, at least off and on. I still think that. She’s pretty social and capable.

At the same time, my nest continues to feel different. My oldest moved out two years ago when she got married, which really changed the dynamics in our home. We have four daughters, and it’s astounding how the dynamics shifted when just the oldest one moved out. For one, I really mourned when that oldest got married. It took me months to come to grips with it. I missed her so much, and having her be married and “belong” to someone else made it different than just going off to college. For another thing, I just didn’t like the way the remaining three interacted, compared with how it was when my oldest was still at home. They still bicker more than when she was here (as one example), and it’s been 2-plus years.

I’m acutely aware of the differences between me and my friends, especially the ones I follow on social media. They have similar age gaps in their families, at least at the beginning (there’s two years between the first two, but then a four-year gap after I had Marissa — I just wasn’t ready for another infant too soon because she still felt like an infant and toddler for a longer time than the first had — and then a five-year gap between the last two because it took three long years to get our adopted girl), and while I see their oldest out and doing various fun “new-adult” things like my first, then I see their second and third children out doing those things, too, and I feel like my situation has stalled. Sure, it’s comparing, and you know what they say about that, but it’s just always there. I see it. I feel it. I feel “other.”

I still have plenty of parenting time in me: I have a sophomore and a fifth-grader. From experience, I know the remaining time at home is going to fly with my sophomore, who really keeps me hopping. Then she’ll fly on out of the nest on to all kinds of great things. She’s an achiever, like I was. And the 10-year-old, well, 8 years still seems like a long time.

So the nest is still full-ish. But I have enough taste of the birds starting to fly out that I can feel those changes. I can feel the things that aren’t changing. I also worry a bit about things I’m not doing, which certainly isn’t different from any parent, no matter their child’s situation. I have just recently watched one episode of “Born This Way,” which follows some young-adult people with Down syndrome, and it stirred up all kinds of feelings of sadness, guilt, wistfulness, worry, etc. I was happy for the ways those young adults are just being “normal” young people. I felt guilt for not doing more to get my daughter “out there” more like that. In a way, I don’t want to have that to compare my situation to, because it’s almost harder emotionally for me to compare with people who are essentially more in my situation than others I know. It sets a standard I don’t know I can meet. I mean, I’m sure it’s meant in part to give me hope for a good life for my daughter, but my brain doesn’t work that way. I compare negatively.

I certainly know I’m not ready to deal more with my daughter’s dating future (which is probably a whole other post on its own). It’s hard enough to deal with certain simpler issues with her when she acts like an 8-year-old in many respects, let alone the complex world of dating.

I guess that’s where I put a pin in a few items still, work on some that I’d pinned earlier, and know that I can do this, one or two topics and needs at a time. And whether she eventually flies out of the nest permanently or occasionally, we’ll be (mostly) ready for it when we amble up to that bridge that needs crossing.

 

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My last blog post was about my goal to take better care of my health, with a multi-pronged approach. I did well for a few weeks. And then I didn’t.

The catalyst for getting completely foiled, at least for the past month, was my grandmother’s death. It was expected; she was 99, and my family and I had had a good visit with her a few months before, as we knew she was declining after a long and full life. But the day she died, I got drained, emotionally and physically, and I just had to step out of the Atkins diet that seems to work for me, at least scale-wise.

Since then, I’ve wanted to get back into focusing on my eating and doing all the other things necessary to take better care of my whole self. How well have I done? Crappy. That’s what.

Here’s the deal: I’m a mom. I have a husband and four daughters, and they are all in vital stages of their lives. Parenting them now is in a way more demanding than it was when they were little; then it was mainly sleep deprivation and not being able to catch much alone time. Life was just a lot simpler then. Now, there’s so much more of a mental game to it than just being the taxi driver. I’m there. I’m on call. I’m helping figure out all kinds of important things for the next week, the next month, the next year: their LIVES. Even my oldest, who is married and “on her own,” still needs me, and I am still there for her whenever I can be. Even more, our relationship has a new dynamic and dimension, one we’re still trying to adjust to, I think, almost a year on.

Add to my momhood my personal leaning toward taking care of other people all the time, and my own self gets left in the dust. This past month or so has been a pressure-cooker, a meat-grinder, of calendaring and coordinating activities and appointments; responsibilities, obligations, big questions, long to-do lists, and hardly having a moment to breathe and just think about myself. Granted, I know from sad experience (over and over and over again) that is a recipe for disaster, but after all these years, I’m still trying to figure out how to cut the recipe in half or something.

So I sit here again and contemplate how to take care of myself physically: eat better overall, less sugar, more fruits and vegetables (which I do really love and eat probably more of than the average person, but still)… all that jazz. Figure out how to decrease emotional eating (THAT’s a biggie). Mix up my exercise (I’ve been dedicated to working out for 25-plus years and I really enjoy it and how it makes me feel), do some more fun and different things. The pressure cooker of the past month or two is likely to be turned down a few notches for the near future. Maybe I can make some strides on me.

What I know is this: appropriate self-care can take a lifetime of practice.

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It’s difficult for me as a mother, period, and as a fellow mother of a daughter with Down syndrome, to read the words of Hallie Levine, who says she would have aborted her daughter during her pregnancy if she’d had the diagnosis then. Sure, she says now she’s grateful she didn’t, but she asserts she should have been able to and that others should be able to do so as well. Aside from all my other feelings on the subject (and I have many), I’m going to focus on one phrase she used: “I never signed up for this.”

Having heard a man whose wife is now paralyzed from the midsection down say the same thing in regards to being married, and other people in tough situations make the same remark, it strikes me that we live in a society where we really feel we should only face things we’ve agreed to. We’re so focused on freedom of choice, on contracts, on knowing so much about outcomes and possibilities, that we feel we can and do control our lives.

Assuming some equal opportunity (and that’s a topic for another blog post as well), let’s say we all get to choose the level of education we attain and what we study. We get to choose our line of work. We choose our marriage partner, if we marry. We choose how many children we have and how to raise them. We plan for and choose when to retire, and what to do in retirement.

We “sign up for” these things. We sign on the dotted line for many of them. Life is a series of contracts that we choose to accept or deny. And we’ve written escape clauses into the contracts. Many of us spend years choosing whom to marry, and when to do it, but even a few years into the contractual relationship, divorce is readily available to let us out of that signup. Pregnancy? We can avert it with birth control, we can terminate with abortion.

But how about we step back a moment and consider that life is not really within our control. It’s not just one contract after another. And when events in our era are finalized in this manner, stamped with a legal seal of approval, they often get boiled down to simple terms that don’t fully encapsulate the “real deal.”

Life is messy. It’s complicated. It involves all kinds of unpleasant surprises that we tend to think of as happening to “other people.” Even aging and death seem distant to us today, that somehow they’ll never happen to us. But they do. And the older we get, the more we experience, the more we realize that death will happen. Aging will happen. We’ll get sick, we’ll be limited in some way physically. These same things will happen to our spouses, and eventually our children.

Levine says she wouldn’t want to see someone else “forced into” her situation. But simply being alive forces us into all kinds of situations we’d rather ignore or pretend don’t exist or won’t happen to us. Choosing to get married leads us down a path in which we may very well have to care for a spouse who becomes disabled physically or loses his memory, among a host of other scary possibilities. Choosing to have children leads us down a path in which we may care for a child with a physical or intellectual disability or mental illness or any number of possibilities we never envisioned for ourselves. But those paths are real.

I don’t deny that it can be overwhelming at times to parent a child with Down syndrome. That’s just one of those “scary possibilities” I know firsthand about. I grieved for a few days when I received the results of my amniocentesis. It was an experience I didn’t count on. It was a loss, the loss of a “typical” child-rearing experience I had counted on. But life presented me this path, and I’m on it.

I don’t have any idea what other challenges lie ahead of me on life’s path, as a person, as a wife, as a mother. I won’t deny that I’ll grieve, be scared, be overwhelmed, be frustrated … any number of normal reactions. And I definitely won’t “sign up for” any of these challenges. But that’s life. And we’re all in it together. We can’t (and, yes, while many disagree with me, I heartily say “shouldn’t” when it comes to aborting in most cases) prevent these difficulties. We can learn from them, do our best to deal with them, and support each other through them. I hate to see others go through tough times, but I’ll eagerly “sign up” to lend a shoulder to cry on, a hand to help.

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So it’s another Mother’s Day. This year is my 19th as a mom myself, so I’ve become accustomed to my children (and husband) scurrying around trying to figure out how to show me particular love and gratitude on my official day. But this year is the first for me to contemplate the reality of my own daughters becoming mothers: my oldest is getting married in two weeks, and somewhere down the line she will become a mother herself.

I could write a book (well, I have, actually, years ago when my oldest was little and I was just discovering truths more experienced women already knew) about mothering, but today I’ll try to share just a few words about my feelings this day, this week, this month.

I’ve realized even more than before that two opposite truths can coexist perfectly fine, and usually do: I can feel I’m doing an amazing job as a mom and I can feel I’m doing a terrible job as a mom. And while those generally go back and forth, sometimes I can feel both at once. And they’re kind of both true. I’m a person of faith, a Christian, and I believe I’m the daughter of a Heavenly Father and that I have a Savior, Jesus, who taught vital truths for me to follow, set an example, and most importantly suffered and died for my sins and weaknesses and general mortal-ness. So I can feel in that very weak mortal-ness that I’m not doing nearly as well as I’d like to be, being like that perfect example that was set. But if I just try to remember that I’m not expected to be doing great, not expected to be perfect, that the whole point of Jesus atoning was to make up for my huge insufficiencies, I feel a lot better.

This applies so well to the daunting job of mothering. I like to speak to reality, to the challenging, painful, imperfect realities that we all experience day to day. And it’s true that I can lose my temper, that I can get annoyed with my kids, that I can say things I wish I hadn’t and not say or do things I wish I had but just couldn’t summon up the energy to do. I think everyone today is painfully aware of our realities, of the ways we fall short, of the ways we don’t at all seem to fit in the glowy, pink, Hallmark Mother’s Day Mother role. So I’ve seen a lot of friends or others speak to this reality, this feeling that we just simply don’t measure up. And that’s true. We don’t. We’re not perfect, we’re not all the same, in the same Mother mold. Our own mothers weren’t, and we aren’t as mothers ourselves.

But it’s also absolutely true that we were born to be mothers. God created us to be mothers, and He knew we wouldn’t be perfect as people all-around or as mothers, specifically. And He was OK with that. He allowed us to have this experience of motherhood in part so we could become better through the crucible that it is, and that all of us interesting, different, unique souls could rub up against each other in all our roughness and smooth out our edges together. Most importantly, our Heavenly Father didn’t send us to Earth to do smoothing without any help. I firmly believe He is heavily involved in our lives and that if we turn to Him and the Savior, we will be lifted and all the stupid things we do will be made better somehow.

So this Mother’s Day, I honor my mom not because she was perfect or I grew up in the perfect home, but because she was herself and did a great job of it. Her mothering was what I needed. I feel good about my strengths and how I’ve put those to good use day in and day out with my four daughters. When it comes to my many weaknesses, I will try a little harder not just to be better but, even more than that, to remember that I am not expected to be perfect, that God will fill in the holes. I will try to remind my daughters above all that God is aware of them and that they have a Savior, and He will be there with them in everything they do, no matter how imperfectly they do it. I think I’ve done a good job teaching my oldest to turn to her Heavenly Father for help, day in and day out, especially for the times when maybe I wasn’t the best of help as her mom. So today, I feel confident that my daughter, with all her amazing strengths and, yes, her not-strengths, will be a great mom. She’ll struggle, she’ll flail around a bit, but she will be awesome. She’ll have moments of that high when mothering seems truly like a gift from God and her little ones almost like angels, and she’ll have days that are blurry from lack of sleep and dark from feelings of inadequacy.

In short, she’ll feel like mothers everywhere. And I thank God for that.

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I am about to turn 45 and haven’t been pregnant for almost 13 years now, but I have a number of wonderful younger friends who are still firmly in their childbearing years. I am writing today to them.

Dearest friends, I see your adorable posts on social media and am thrilled with all the sweet experiences you are having now, just as I remember enjoying a decade and a half ago. I can’t help but “like” your comments and pictures of growing bellies and ultrasounds and new babies. What an amazing period of life you are in — and difficult and challenging and exhausting and … the list goes on. The joy is equaled by the fatigue and all the other challenges that can come from pregnancy and taking care of an infant.

But I’m going to say this with all the kindness and tenderness I can show in the mere printed word (hopefully you know me well enough “in real life” to be able to hear me saying this): please stop worrying about your weight.

I have seen your posts over the course of months and been concerned for you when I’ve noted multiple comments about how much weight you’ve gained (in exact number of pounds) and how you were already planning during your pregnancy to lose it post-delivery (yes, I see your Pinterest boards too). I’ve worried a little for you when you talked about your weight a mere two weeks after giving birth.

cathy pregnant

This was me just before giving birth to my third child. Do celebrities ever look like they’ve swallowed a torpedo?

Believe me, I was there. Three times. I gained the exact same number of pounds each pregnancy: 38. And each was different. I started out about 25 pounds overweight with my first and ate pizza almost nonstop and didn’t exercise at all. With my second, I started out maybe 10 pounds overweight and exercised for about the first six months and ate a little better. With the third, I was at just about an “ideal” weight starting out and exercised up until a couple of days before delivery (I looked pretty ungainly, I’m sure, with my huge belly on that elliptical machine, but it felt good). I still gained the same amount of weight each time. And every single time postpartum, I breast-fed my girls and counted calories (keeping them to a reasonable amount for nursing) and exercised after six weeks had passed after delivery. On the last one, I got back down to a really good weight for me six months after my baby was born.

I went into all that detail to show you that, yes, I’ve been there. And for me, losing weight postpartum was work. I felt the pressure. Yes, I hated seeing the pounds pile on during each month of pregnancy, especially after working so hard to take them off during previous ones. I feel bad saying that now because I wish I hadn’t been worrying about something so superficial as how I looked while I was growing the amazing human beings I’m now proud to call my daughters. But the (sad) truth is, I would feel the same way again even now if I were to be pregnant again. I struggle more now with my weight since I’m older; it’s even harder now! And I struggle with the struggle. I want to be healthy but I don’t want to allow myself to be caught up in our society’s “religion” of thinness, of image, of appearance. I am working to be kinder to myself and try to separate myself from the bombardment by media and culture that tells me how I look is a huge component of my worth.

Because this is the truth, one that goes completely opposite to the messages we see and hear all the time in our media-saturated culture: My worth is not tied in any way to how I look, whether it’s how much my body weighs or how many wrinkles I have (or that aging neck that’s manifesting itself) or how gray my hair is.

And that’s true for all of you. Even though society is pretty much shouting from the rooftops (and our ever-present computers and handheld devices) that we’re supposed to be thin, that it is possible (because, hey, look at the celebrities!) during pregnancy, except for a cute “bump,” and then entirely thin (no more bump) immediately after giving birth, and thin all the rest of our lives, that is just A LIE. Pregnancy changes us. Life changes us. And we’re all different anyway. We all have different body shapes and shouldn’t be worrying about trying to fit our square or triangular or hexagonal pegs into round holes. People come in all different shapes and sizes and colors. Make the best of your own shape, size and color. Take good care of your body. Value it for what it can do for you, for the part it plays in who you are as a whole. Treat it kindly and with respect. But don’t spend a disproportionate amount of your time and energy trying to make it what society says it should be. It’s only going to make you more exhausted than you already are, and when you are pregnant or taking care of a baby, you have NO ENERGY TO SPARE. You know this.

So, my dear friends, stop posting about your weight and size. Stop worrying about it. Take gentle loving care of your body and your psyche. Delete your Pinterest “Fitspiration” board. Those things are just plain dangerous. And please keep posting those baby pictures. I can’t get too many of those.

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What’s it going to take for our society to just STOP seeing women, and even girls, solely as sex objects?

This past couple of weeks, one woman’s blog post asking Target to stop the miniaturization (i.e. sexy-fication) of young girls’ clothing went viral. Rightly so. I have four daughters, ages 18 down to 7, and I have long chafed over the fact that retailers simply make girls’ clothes shorter, tighter, and smaller than boys’ clothes.

(Unfortunately, the one place this doesn’t seem to apply is in the waist and hips, because it’s dang hard to find a good variety of slim pants sizes for my slim girls. JCPenney makes them; Gap and Old Navy make some slim sizes; online retailer Lands’ End makes them. But this being a slightly-related but not completely-related topic, I’ll just keep it to this: can’t we have more sizing options? Yes, I know that, one, people — including kids — come in all shapes and sizes, and two, there are more and more heavy kids in what’s becoming an obesity epidemic, thus necessitating the plus sizes in kids’ clothes, but there still are some children out there who eat fairly healthy and are naturally slim. Argh.)

My oldest, in Bermuda shorts.

Anyway, back to the topic: Just because teen girls seemingly prefer short-shorts instead of Bermudas doesn’t mean mothers want to buy Daisy Dukes for their toddlers and elementary-school-age kids.

This goes as well for all the junior-department dresses that are about 16 inches long, particularly formals, that are strapless and end mid-thigh. Pair these with the also-trendy stilettos or huge platforms, and we have the stereotypical image that’s traditionally been reserved for prostitutes.

And look at what a really gorgeous and fun but not-skimpy dress we found for prom.

And look at what a really gorgeous and fun but not-skimpy dress we found for prom.

Mind you, I do like style, particularly dresses. I adore dresses! They’re so fun and girly and there are just SO many styles and interesting looks. I love to shop for myself; I love picking up new frocks for my girls (on sale, naturally; the better the bargain at a nice retailer, the bigger the smile on my face). But there is no reason for such a high proportion of dresses to skimp so much on fabric. And taking the sexy styles of teens (which are too sexy for girls who haven’t even reached adulthood yet) and adapting them into preteen styles is just NOT COOL.

More of us parents and shoppers should be ACTIVELY doing more to contact retailers and demand change. So kudos to this blogger. See? One person asking for change can make a difference.

Then there are the constant stream of images in the media, whether it’s music videos or movies and TV shows (to which our girls are looking for inspiration or, at the very least, simply can’t NOT see in their digital lives). The latest, apparently, is a horrific video by Maroon 5, “Animals,” featuring Adam Levine as a butcher who stalks a female customer. Oh, yeah. Let’s glorify the “fantasy” of a male stalker — a butcher surrounded by bloody carcasses, no less — with an “animal” lust that can’t be controlled.

What continues to elude me is why women who are participants in these blatant displays of demeaning women are willing to sign on. The Maroon 5 video features Levine’s new wife, Behati Prinsloo. No doubt the honeymoon phase hasn’t worn off yet. Otherwise one would hope she would be the first to say, “Look, Adam, honey, I don’t think that’s a great idea. Let’s try something else, shall we?”

Then there are Jennifer Lopez and Iggy Azalea celebrating their barely-clad backsides in “Booty.” (Let me note that I have not watched these videos, just seen a few screenshots. I do NOT care to put any more images in my head of these things.) They are the stars of their own shows; J.Lo, with her clout, arguably does or could control her image and what kind of music she sings and videos she shoots, so I hold her more responsible. I believe the typical argument goes like this: “I’m a strong, empowered woman, and I’m taking control of my own sexuality and am CHOOSING to show my sexual side.”

My only response to this is this: Baloney.

You know that you’ll get lots of attention and more money by using your sexual side to sell your “brand.”

Think what these empowered women could do if they really put their money where their mouths are and CHOSE to send different messages, messages about how richly talented and diverse and interesting women and girls all are, starting with themselves. And think what we as consumers could do if we sent a message the other direction to these celebrities and the media who promote them: What if we truly did not buy their products? What if millions of us rose up in protest and sent emails and letters, showing that we really don’t want what they’re foisting on us?

In an age when many of us really are trying to teach our girls something better, to rise above worries about trivial matters of our appearances, why are the music industry, the film and TV industries, working so hard against us? (Rhetorical question, folks.)

I heartily agree with this sentiment expressed by a parenting researcher and author in The Daily Telegraph: “I am sick of trying to teach my daughters how much they have to offer the world, only to have everything I say undermined by the sleazy, unhealthy messages that someone with no respect for womanhood promotes to the mass market to make some more money. The wellbeing of our wives, sisters, and daughters is worth more than that. It’s not OK.”

Today we recognize the amazing determination of one teen girl in pushing for education for girls in her native Pakistan. Malala Yousafzai was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize: one of the finest achievements anyone could aspire to, and she’s only 17. We aren’t all in awe of her for her booty, her figure, her beauty, or her style; far from it — she covers her head in public with colorful scarves. She bears scars from being shot in the head for campaigning for girls’ right to education. No, everyone is impressed with her convictions and bravery to do the right thing, despite almost being killed.

That’s what matters. That’s what we want to encourage our girls to embrace about themselves: their strength, their bravery, their determination to find the best in themselves and make it better and share it with others, conviction to make the world a better place. They’re all different sizes, different colors, different backgrounds. But they all have so much to give! I speak from experience because I have amazing girls.

It is high time we ALL spoke up for the amazing girls and women of this world and helped them reject being reduced to mere one-dimensional sex objects.

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I’ve read a couple of articles lately that have reminded me just how tough it is to parent these days. And not in the ways you might think.

First, I read a great column about one woman’s experience, When kids were unbreakable, remembering her “dangerous” childhood and giving her kids some more opportunities for freer play. I think most of us who are in our 40s and up fondly recall hours of free play when we were growing up. I was particularly lucky to live “out in the country” most of the time before I turned 10, after which point I was more in neighborhoods. In both living situations, though, I was away from my house (and my watching mom) for hours at a time, playing in the dirt and in creeks, exploring the woods, walking along dirt roads, riding bikes along suburban streets or cutting through unfenced yards to walk to friends’ houses. I rode my bike with no hands a number of times, and once I ended up needing stitches in my elbow because of it (and I didn’t do it again). I don’t remember a lot of other dangerous things I must have done, just that I had lots of fun, was mostly smart about it, and paid attention to what was going on around me. Dad taught me to shoot a rifle in the backyard a few times (in the country); Mom taught me how to use a knife (and lots of other tools) in the kitchen.

The short story is this: my mom and dad didn’t watch my every move. I wasn’t penned inside my house; I wasn’t watching TV or any other screens very much. I ran and played. I breathed fresh air. I invented all kinds of fun games by myself and with friends and (if forced 🙂 ) my younger siblings. I made something fun out of “nothing,” the materials at hand. My mom felt fine — and was a perfectly great parent — letting me go outside her supervision for those hours.

Today, things are far different. We live in a hyper-vigilant society, in which we have 24-hour news coming at us from TV and the Internet and smartphones. Every instance of bad things happening to kids is reported to us. We fear strangers and are sure if we aren’t watching our kids every moment, that someone will likely snatch them. We live in a time when we are told to know the signs of child abuse. This is a good thing; abuse is not pushed under the rug as much and is better reported. But it’s made us all wary of being the kinds of parents who let our kids have free creative time to explore and imagine and play, without being within 10 yards of them at all moments. We fear that our kids might get kidnapped and/or abused. We fear that we’re not being “engaged” with our kids, providing them lots of fun play options. We fear we’re not good enough. I’m fairly sure that these weren’t concerns for our parents.

Which brings me to the second, and very disturbing but not surprising, article, Woman Calls CPS After Seeing Kid Play Outside. It upsets me to read it because I’ve been in a similar position. When my first two were only 2 years old and a few months old, I was reported (anonymously, though I was able to piece together who it was because I knew her personality and modus operandi) to CPS because someone was concerned they were undernourished and one had a raw, chapped rash between her lips and her nose. Here’s what the circumstances were: my kids were and still are, many years later, petite. The infant had Down syndrome, and many people don’t realize that children with Down’s have their own growth chart. My pediatrician measured her growth against other DS kids. She was fine and perfectly healthy. In fact, we’ve always been blessed that she’s been remarkably healthy, with no heart problems, no digestive problems, almost no ear infections, even. But she looked, to one too-sensitive observer, to be “too small.” My 2-year-old just had a bad (and difficult to break) habit of licking above her lips and that small area was for a fairly short period of time just red and chapped, and I did everything I could think of to make it better. This apparently also made me an object of concern.

A case worker came out to our house and questioned me and looked at the kids, and I was lucky enough that that was the end of it. My kids also were too young to know anything was going on. But it was extremely upsetting for me. I was scared and just sick to my stomach. Raising my kids was hard, and I was always grateful for a break and me-time, but I certainly didn’t want them taken from me!

It was also my introduction to the brave new world of Big Brother: everyone is watching you. And they are given the power over your life to call a number and anonymously report the possibility of you being a Bad Parent. Then you are thrown into what I have discovered is not just a flawed system, but one that’s in some places openly hostile and dangerous to normal, good parents. I don’t have space to tell all the stories, but I could relate a number of them, of good and loving parents who have ended up having to take time-consuming and unnecessary parenting classes, hire attorneys, and be in genuine fear for their parenting and working lives because someone misconstrued something they did in public. It is terrifying.

We have become a nation of helicopter parents, it’s true. And we’ve become a nation of people who are quick to jump to conclusions, who are quick to call “the authorities” on the basis of a tiny possibility of a problem, who don’t know their neighbors from Adam, who have no idea of any context of the lives of the people they’re reporting on. If we knew each other better, knew that our neighbors were good parents who love their kids, whose parenting styles assuredly are different from ours but are NOT BAD, who support their kids and teach them and are making them into responsible adults, we’d be far less likely to go straight to the government with a concern rather than talk to our neighbors first, if we do anything. But we don’t. We are very connected with disembodied people via smartphones and tablets and computer screens, and with talking heads on the news, but not truly interconnected with a community of real, living, breathing people. We’re taking a quick way out to call the authorities and assuage some kind of guilty conscience (for not being better involved, for not knowing Mr. and Mrs. Smith and their two kids next door) or to pat ourselves on the back for “doing the right thing,” as the government and news outlets repeatedly tell us.

Would it be possible at this point to go back a little, to recapture the sense of community we had as neighbors, to support each other in the tough job that is parenting, and to let our kids have the space they so desperately need (as studies keep proving) for free play and imagination and learning how to navigate the world? I’m a little worried that it’s not, that we’ve gone too far. But I desperately hope we haven’t.

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