April 21, 2014

Book Review: 365 Perfect Things to Say to Your Kids

by Michele Dortch of The Integrated Mother and Write to Incite

The words we speak are powerful. They can uplift and encourage. They can demean and destroy. Yet, in the midst of a busy work-life it’s easy to overlook the power of words, even for the most well-intentioned working mom. That’s why I was excited to receive a copy of Maureen Healy’s new book, 365 Perfect Things to Say to Your Kids.

I had an opportunity to interview Maureen recently about her perspective, her book and her work with parents and children. I hope you’ll enjoy the conversation and use her book as a resource as you speak powerfully into the lives of your children.

A conversation with Maureen Healy

Michele: What do you see as some of the major challenges facing working moms trying to manage their career role alongside their parenting role?

Maureen: Some of the major challenges are lack of time, lack of assistance and lack of understanding the complexity of their lives as working mothers.

365 Perfect Things to Say to Your Kids was created to solve one of these major challenges – lack of time. It has a year full of easy-to-use sayings that any busy mom can use on the way to dropping their child off at school each day. Such sayings were specially crafted to help mothers feel more positive, purposeful and playful in their busy lives nurturing children.

I will also say that I admire working mothers today – whether it is their choice or necessity to work. I believe it sets a positive example for children (boys and girls) to see their mothers not only raising them but contributing their unique talents to the world. Kudos to each of you.

Michele: Thanks Maureen! Now, circumstances are difficult for many working families today, as they face job lay-offs and other unforeseen life challenges. When it comes to parenting, what is a common mistake parents make in the face of these challenges?

Maureen: Too often, in my opinion, parents look at “what is” over and over again. It creates a sort of depressed mindset that pervades their life. And I deeply believe in using challenges and obstacles (i.e. layoffs, financial crisis, loss, suffering) as a stepping stone towards happiness. You see children are always watching and listening. They are looking to figure out this “life thing” and how to handle challenges, obstacles and disappointment.

Parents can teach children by the clarity of their example. As more and more parents focus upon the positive aspects of any situation, begin recognizing more fully their potential and make the necessary efforts to foster change – they will be teaching their children that they can effectively face whatever situation is presented to them in life. This is a huge lesson. It is the development of resilience in children. Growing children that feel confident about their abilities to persevere will be a gift beyond words. This much I know is true.

And I am not in any way saying this is easy. I recognize this can be a painstaking process. My own life led me to Tibetan Buddhism as a path to learn how to utilize troubles on a path towards happiness.

Michele: The theme of your book is “the power of words.” From a child’s perspective, how are our words used to fortify (or unknowingly destruct)?

Maureen: Every child creates his or her world through our words. Children begin shaping their sense of self and others through the words spoken to them. It is for this reason that positive words have the potential to have a lasting and positive impact on children while hurtful words can be damaging.

Such a statement is not intended to scare parents. Parents needn’t be perfect. But as more and more parents harness the power of words they can more consciously raise happier kids.

Put into more psychological terms the words of a parent play a key role in a child formulating a positive self-concept nurturing such qualities as optimism, confidence, courage, connection and self-trust.

Michele: As I read your book, I noticed how the sayings resonated with me personally; for example, “You are here to do what ONLY YOU can do.” Are you finding that parents are enjoying the sayings as much as children?

Maureen: Great question. I have received an overwhelming response from parents that they have deeply enjoyed the sayings themselves. It is these types of sayings that they so deeply yearned for as a child.

Michele: What influences did you drawn upon to develop the sayings in the book?

Maureen: Sayings in this book were crafted from things in my life that inspired me. Such things may include friends, nature, conversations, teachings, books, films and child clients. I was also deeply influenced by my Tibetan Buddhist background to help craft sayings that educate children about emotional awareness and formulating a skillful worldview (one that helps self and others). Plus I believe that I was influenced by leading thinkers from varying backgrounds so it encouraged me to create sayings with a universal appeal (non-denominational).

More about Michele Dortch: Michele Dortch is a professional copywriter, adjunct professor and mother of three. Her ears perk up at the mention of work-life effectiveness, I/O psychology, running, or technology & business trends.

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*originally published on January 18, 2010 on The Integrated Mother. Republished here with her permission.
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Guest Post: I won’t fall in love with a brown girl

by Kimberly Coleman of Mom in the City

As a Black woman, I feel very fortunate to be happily married to an amazing man. He happens to be Black too. (Yes, contrary to media portrayals, there are plenty of happily married Black women who are married to Black men!) We have two great little boys who definitely keep me on my toes – physically and mentally. Sometimes, I must admit that my oldest son Michael (6) leaves me at a loss for words. A perfect example is the day that we were talking about “crushes” and he casually mentioned that he would never fall in love with a brown girl when he grew up.” What?!

First of all, when did kids start getting crushes at such young ages? My three year old son Sean casually mentioned that he had a crush…on Dora. Me: “Do you want to watch Dora?” Sean: “Yes…since I have a crush on her.” Okay…innocent enough. As a friend noted, “at least he picked a smart bilingual girl to be crushing on”. I digress, so let me get back to Michael…

Recently, Michael has had a couple of crushes. I must say that he does have good taste. One of the girls was beautiful, smart and kind. (I don’t know the other girl.) When I asked what he liked about the girl that I know, he said “she’s beautiful”. I asked him who else he thought he was beautiful and he told me about the other girl too. As he described her, I realized that like the first girl, they were White girls who looked like the love interests on his favorite Disney show, “The Suite Life on Deck”. I casually asked, “So are there any brown or Black girls that you think are beautiful?” He was quick to say, “Yes” and then he shared some. “But” he added “I’m not going to fall in love with anyone brown.” When I asked why not, he responded that he didn’t know. He just wasn’t going to. Huh? Here’s the thing. I don’t care who Michael ends up loving. That’s not my issue. Rather, I was dumbfounded by the fact that at the age of six he had already written off a large group of potential love interests…including the racial group that he was born into!

Later that night when Michael was asleep, I talked about our conversation with my husband. I expressed how I didn’t “get it”. Ever the voice of reason, my husband helped me to realize that none of the kid shows that our kids watch ever portray the Black girl as the love interest. If there is a Black girl in the show, she is usually the side-kick to the love interest. Kids are impressionable. Although my boys see my husband and me in a happy marriage, they don’t really relate to us right now. They relate more to Zack and Cody and the other Disney channel kids. Argh.

The conversations with my son and my husband were a great wake-up call for me. We don’t let our kids watch a boat load of television anyway, but I have to be even more deliberate about what I allow them to watch. After much thought, my husband and I couldn’t even think of one kid-friendly show on television that portrays brown and Black girls/teens (not married women) in a romantic light. At least we had The Cosby Show when we were growing up! Between commercials (which lead to “I want, I want, I want”) and the lack of realistic class and racial representation, we might just end up only allowing the kids to watch videos and DVDs on our television!

What are some of the shows or videos that you allow your kids to watch that represent kids of color well?

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Guest Post: My son came home sad and skin color was to blame

by Kimberly Coleman of Mom in the City

My family moved from Harlem a year and a half ago when it was time for our oldest son Michael to attend Kindergarten.  There were several reasons that we wanted to move but one of the main reasons was that we couldn’t find a school that we felt great about.  For preschool, I traveled three hours a day (back and forth twice) to an excellent open Universal Pre-K program with a great racial mix of students.  That commute was crazy though, so we looked for a school closer to our Harlem home.  There was a great academic one, but I felt like the school was all about academics and that there wasn’t a lot of fun/creative outlets for the kids. (I’m a big fan of play for young kids!)

That left us with two school options – a charter school or travel hours each day to one of the city’s open zoned schools.  Pre-K made it obvious that a lengthy commute didn’t fit our family.  There were several great local charter schools, but they were all lottery based.  We weren’t willing to wait to see if our kid received a coveted spot, so we just moved to a neighborhood where all of the local schools were highly regarded.  That is how we ended up in Forest Hills (Queens).

For the most part, we have been happy with our choice.  Michael loves his school.  We love the education.  The only challenge (beyond the regular urban public school challenges) is that there is not a lot of racial diversity in the school – as in there are very few Black and Latinos.  As such, Michael was the only brown kid in his class last year.  For the most part, that was a non-issue, but there was one time in particular last year that color became an issue.

The incident occurred based on a lunch conversation.  Michael came home sad because one of his little White girl classmates was sharing her snack with everyone else…but him. (All of the kids shared with one another.)  “He can’t have any” she had said “because he is not White”.  Here’s the thing…at their age, I don’t really think that it was a race thing.  Rather, I think that it was a “difference” thing.  Kids at that age draw lines based on any apparent differences (freckles, red hair, etc.).  All I know is that it hurt my child’s feelings….and no mom likes to see her kid hurt unnecessarily!  The one good thing about that whole incident though is that I was able to see that Michael “got” that people are people.  He told his dad, “But I told her that we’re all the same underneath, right?” Most definitely.  Our family just had to accept the reality that there is no school setting in NYC (except maybe the UN school) that mirrors our family’s lifestyle.  We go to church and have social relationships with all races and ethnicities as well as all economic classes of folks.  After school life will just have to compensate.  Don’t get me wrong though…I’m definitely keeping a close eye on this issue.  I have no problem pulling my children out of a school if they are being harassed for being Black.  You better believe that!

On my blog, Mom in the City, I primarily write about the things that are common to all moms of young kids.  For the most part, I do believe that our lives and “likes” as moms are consistent across the board.  However, I do think that there are certain situations in our lives that arise which are very different.  This is one of those. 

How do you as a mom of color prepare your child for situations that may arise where they are singled out (in a negative way) simply because of the color of their skin?

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Five stars for all of us

by Catherine Anderson

Five Stars for UsMy son Sam, is a super energetic kid, who has a physical intelligence that surpasses 99.9% of the population. No, I am not exaggerating. He rode a two-wheeler, without training wheels at age two, and can hit a fast pitch baseball from a pitching machine going forty-five miles per hour. His hand eye coordination is extreme. His need to master all things physical is like a hunger he can never quite quench. Sitting quietly sorting blocks into colors and sizes, or waiting patiently in line for all of your friends to go to the bathroom is not an opportunity to master the parallel bars on the playground.

I prepped his teacher for this. I told her that Sam will be standing on the podium proudly showing his gold medal in some sport (he’ll have to pick which one) in fifteen or so years. He may well be receiving the Pulitzer too, but I wanted her to know that his physical intelligence is going to set him apart early. For him recess is not just an outlet, it is like a textbook for his body. I asked her to imagine a child who learned to read at one being told he had to be outside for six hours a day with no opportunity to crack a book. Then for twenty minutes twice a day you allowed that child to read. What would happen to them? She nodded with kind consideration, and reassured me that her husband had been the same way as a kid, and he was a tremendous resource for tips in working with energetic boys. She was only hired to be Sam’s teacher twenty-four hours before the start of the school year, so I had reason to be concerned that dealing with a physical prodigy like Sam might not be in her coveted teacher tool bag just yet.

Sam loves people, and people love Sam. He is a natural leader, and kids gravitate towards him. All kids. The quiet ones, and the outgoing ones. The athletic ones, and the uncoördinated ones. Kids like to do what the leader does. This is hard for a teacher, when your class appointed leader is doing arm farts, or jumping jacks when the expectation is to walk quietly through the halls, using only your little bird feet. She used it to her advantage though, appealing to Sam to channel his leadership gifts to help the class see how important it is to listen well like him!

It worked. We had the day with the sticker on his shirt for being a “super leader”. He came running out to me on the playground jubilant about that little smiley face sticker! Then days went by without any stickers.

My friends prepared me that the lack of communication about how your child was doing in school, was the hardest part of transition for them to kindergarten. As a teacher I didn’t want to become that parent.  But as a mom, I didn’t want my son to become the kid getting the message that  he was not doing well in school, even though I knew he was working his petunia off to do everything the teacher wanted. After all, he told me she was great, and had a beautiful smile.

When I checked in with her four days after the first sticker, I learned that he was indeed having a very hard week. Lots of reminders, and not lots of listening. As my heart sank, I reminded myself that this is all new to all of us; Sam, his teacher and me. My job was suddenly not only to support him, and remind myself how fantastic he is doing, but to remind her that transitions take time for Sam, and that he will master the expectations of school, like he can master a fast ball coming at him at break neck speed.  I asked her to tell me what was the most important thing we needed to help him focus on. And what words did she use to the class, so I could use them at home? I kept the conversation with her clear too.

The next day, Sam came out barreling out of the class (which open onto the play ground–talk about good design!) with two stickers and boasting that he was given computer time for eleven minutes! How did you earn that I asked? I listened to the teacher the first time, and got five stars next to my name. See mom, he added, I can do anything! In his take home folder for the week was a little slip of paper, with five hand written stars, next to a little image of a computer. I smiled and waved to his teacher at the door. We were all wearing stickers and stars this afternoon. It will be a great year, and a great school career for Sam, as long as this kind of collaboration and communication keeps the focus on Sam’s success.

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Type-A Mom Conference: Bloggers of Color Tribe Session

by Kris Cain

The Background

Kelby Carr, creator of Type-A Mom.com and the Type-A Mom Conference has been a good friend of mine since we were both on bed-rest while pregnant with twins. She was having her first set of twins, and I was on my 2nd set. I was using the internet to keep busy. We IM’d back and forth quite often after meeting on a Twin Mom’s support forum. Somewhere between being laid up and having newborn babies Kelby told me about an idea she had for a new website that would cater to moms and help us share information and support each other. She wanted me to be involved. I thought “That sounds great! But I’m busy with these 2 screaming babies! I’ll get back to you.” LOL!!!

We kept in touch, and I just let that pitch from her slide by. But a year or two passed by and she basically said “Ok, look woman.. you need to do this with me since we are both so Type-A Mom and all”. I said “Yes, ma’am” cause I do like to do as I’m told (usually). :) Anyway, she had already gotten the site up and running, signed on several writers and was drawing massive attention, FAST. When I came on board as a writer, I could tell right away that there was a true community there.

The Conference

Last year, Kelby decided to jump into the conference arena. It was a success! She asked me the speak, which I did. I greatly enjoyed myself and the support that was felt from all the ladies in attendance. Type-A Mom was my first “real” conference, and it did not disappoint. I had gone to BlogHer when it was in Chicago, but only to a couple of the cocktail parties. I was just really getting back into blogging regularly and I was amazed at the number of people there, and the whole hype surrounding mom blogging. So when Kelby asked me to speak, I was honored! Last year’s subject was “Power Facebooking”. I was in the great company with Lindsey Maines. I am speaking again this year in 2 aspects. First, catch Maria Bailey, Casey Mullins, myself and moderator Danielle Smith in the session Multimedia Blogging: Using Pictures, Audio and Video. And then… the one that Moms of Hue readers would really have an interest in…

The Bloggers of Color Tribe

We are trying something new this year, Tribes. I will be moderating the Bloggers of Color Tribe. In this session we will discuss issues surrounding being a blogger of color. Have you felt that you encountered closed doors? Have you been reluctant to try for certain opportunities because of your ethnicity? Does blogging even have a color? Whatever is on your mind, we can talk about it. We would like to keep the session to 5 main topics. It will be a conversation, not a teaching session. So, everyone will get a chance to talk. It will be casual and all are welcome. We will keep it fun.

I have a couple of ideas for topics, but if you are coming I would love to hear from you. Feel free to leave me a comment here, or email me at kcain AT littletechgirl.com with any questions or ideas that you may have.

Thanks much, and I hope to see you there!

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Rosewood, race, and an innocent kiss

by Talibah Mbonisi

*This article was originally published here at MOH in July 2001.

How serendipitous!  Since last Tuesday, I was planning to write this post; but as divine perfection would have it, I didn’t.  Instead, I waited until I found myself caught up in the emotion of one of my favorite, albeit painful to watch, films, Rosewood.

I remember making very specific plans to see it on the Friday of opening weekend, knowing that I would need at least two days to calm myself down before I re-entered the integrated world of my grad school classes.  For those unfamiliar, Rosewood, based upon a true story about a false one, is the all too common tale of a Black town stolen and then destroyed by a white mob that latches onto a white woman’s accusations against some nameless Black man.  It’s an age old story used over and over and over and over and over and over and over again to justify the heinous lynching and mutilation of countless men and the overt theft of many similar Black towns.  While Rosewood is set in 1923, as recently as this year’s campaign season, we see the same tale propagated with the same evil intentions.  (Banished is another film that talks about this history.)

I will always love Mr. Mann and Sylvester.  As I’m writing this post, they have just saved a train car full of women and children after having to defend not just their property, but also their lives…the lives of their children.

But that isn’t really what this post is about.  It’s just the subtext.

Several weeks ago, my son’s first grade teacher sent home a handwritten note saying that a little girl in his class had accused him of kissing her hand.  The note went on to suggest that my son’s account of the story may have been less than true (that her hand some how brushed up against his mouth when they were playing, his lips touched it, and she mistook it as a kiss.)  Her note suggested that I decide if he was telling the truth.

Initially, I was confused about why I was even getting a note. What was the big deal? They were six-year-olds, and this seemed pretty normal. I also knew that the week prior, my son had told me that this same little girl was his girlfriend. Apparently, she had broken up with him this week and had chosen a new boyfriend instead. I just didn’t know how to read it. Had my son kissed the child’s hand against her will? Is that what she was suggesting? Why was this issue so significant that it warranted a note asking me to sign the bottom? And, as I pondered and then speculated, I became angry and protective. I made calls to people whose opinions I trust, professors, attorneys and his father among them…learned Black folk. And, they raised good points about the litigious nature of parents these days; about the need to teach our girls to speak up when they are violated; about the possibility that this was targeting based upon the fact that my son has a, shall we say, strong personality that makes him stand out; and about the consensus that this was probably just silly B.S. By the end of my call campaign, it was clear that I needed to actually speak to the teacher, but that this coupled with some other things was an indicator that we might need to consider another school for our child.

I am finding that raising a Black son in this country is no small endeavor. I confess that as much as I carry hopes and dreams and faith for him, I also carry many fears. Many are the same as any parent has for any child, I think. But some are the fears that only the mother of a Black boy here can know…I think. And, the truth is, they inform, sometimes subtly, other times subconscioulsy and yet others, consciously, my decisions about how to navigate his experiences, opportunities, education and just about every other aspect of our journey together.

But, they also can misinform. And, that is what this post is about. Everything that I have written up til now is real. And, I would wager this year’s salary that most Black mothers know the fear that gripped me that day. They know how I could go from a note about an innocent kiss to that image of Mr. Mann hanging from that tree.

Anyway, I spoke with the teacher. I explained that I wasn’t going to sign the note, but that I wanted to understand better what the issue was. No, he hadn’t been accused of coercing the little girl. No, it wasn’t a big deal. It was just a she says/he says that she decided to leave up to his parents.

So, the punchline…Last week, I went in to help some students practice their addition facts. I met the little girl. Just as cute as she wanted to be. Her addition wasn’t half bad. No wonder my son was smitten. Oh, did I mention…she’s Black.

Not only did I assume that the little girl was white, that assumption coupled with the fact that their teacher is a white woman colored (pun intended) my entire experience of that moment. What is amazing is that, I wasn’t the only one who assumed. There was a knowing among us all, everyone to whom I recounted the initial story. It was key to the underlying premise of each of our discussions about the matter, but I don’t remember ever making any explicit statement. The fact is, had the teacher been Black, or had we known that the child was, everything would have felt different. It wouldn’t have changed the stories like Rosewood, but it would have changed the framework within which I processed the note and the incident that it documented.

Race in the United States is a complex and powerful construct. History cannot be ignored; and parenting, well…it may take a lifetime for me to figure that one out. I’ve learned something here, a few things, I think; but mostly I have gained another level of consciousness about parenting my son and the ways that my experience of race influences that process.

This post was originally published on The Mama Spot and is re-posted here with permission from the author.

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