Laura G Owens ~ Writer

Humanity. Health. Happiness.

Tag: parents

The right to have kids, shouldn’t be.

 Rachel Fryer

(Rachel Fryer, 32, made a court appearance from the jail Thursday to face the new charges: felony murder, aggravated child abuse, evidence tampering and mishandling human remains. (George Skene, Orlando Sentinel / February 27, 2014)

I once told my friend Carol no one has the right to have kids, we only have the right to want them.

She shot me an annoyed look that said I was missing the point; we all get to have kids, we just better not screw it up.

Evolution hasn’t caught up with my futuristic notion that the something outside the individual (and I’m not referring to God) should decide if we’re worthy to bear children. I haven’t thought this through, like who gets to pick and what’s the criteria, but in essence I think we need to earn the right to parent, not inherit the right.

“I think we should be born sterile,” I told my friend, “and have to prove to something to someone, somewhere that we have the basics in place to have kids. I’m not saying someone has to be rich or have a flawless life record, but parents should be at least 21, have a solid enough showing in the bank, in their current lifestyle and in their head.  This seems logical enough; for God sake not to be cliché, but it takes more paperwork to get a driver’s license than to have a kid. ”

“Fine, but what if this baby approval group rejected you?” Carol asked.

“Then they do. But here’s the thing, I wouldn’t be rejected. I know what good I had growing up. I also know what royal dysfunctional messes left their mark on me,” I told her.

When my daughter Tina was between 2 and 4 there were days I screamed all over her while she chased me down the hall. Doors slammed; I was bone tired, overwhelmed, had PMS and wasn’t giddy (although grateful) about being home full-time. I was convinced I was creating a sad kid forever but she kept smiling at me the next day, and then the next.  As Tina got older and I had more free time to myself, we both screamed less and she kept smiling, not more , but still.

She forgot the time I hid from her in the dark on my porch at 11 pm crouched out of sight.  I tried for two hours to get her to go to bed until we were both spinning out of control.  Eventually I got mean. My husband was usually my mediator during these tirades but he was out-of-town that night and so I was left to my own inner voice which was exhausted, enraged and unsympathetic.  Afraid I might shake or slap my toddler I retreated onto the porch for a couple of minutes. Tina ran around the house from room to room crying “Mommy where are you?

Take that.

Suddenly I felt like throwing up and so I went back inside. I hugged my child on my knees sobbing into the horror that I created even a second of abandonment in her life, because I’d felt more than a second in mine.

My daughter doesn’t remember that night; she seems to remember the other 20 or so days of the month across 16 years I didn’t lose my shit.

The majority wins. That’s parenting.

My Dad’s first wife Pat left our family when I was five.  She had an affair with a man she met on a time-away-from-my-father bird watching cruise.  Pat and Frank eventually got married, partnered up as world-famous wildlife photographers and left their respective kids. Parenting bushels of kids didn’t stand a chance against photographing Lamas, tigers and giraffes in Africa for National Geographic.

This is a woman who should never have had children but she wasn’t born into an era when it was acceptable to opt out, and so she kept having babies. Exist strategies for women who didn’t want to mother used to be Valium, limited career choices outside the home or to leave altogether.  Pat became a mother because at the time when my three brothers, sister and I were born in the fifties and sixties (my father and mother adopted my sister and I) having children is what couples did. Having children was the check list in a woman’s categorized life; not a choice to consider your options.

Not everyone should have children.

Some people shouldn’t dig for non-existent child longings and leanings and the stamina for forever parenthood. I had this for one child; I didn’t have it for two. My desire for a baby while I went through invasive fertility treatments was so all consuming that getting pregnant was a daily breathe prayer of absolute unrelenting certainty that nothing else mattered and nothing else would, until. And yet when my doctor told me I was just as likely to have a second baby as I was a first, my decision had already been made. I was done. 

We need to know why we want to mother. We need to know if our answer is enough to sustain ourselves and our family.

We need to stop pretending we can make some people into parents because kids end up being target practice. 

“Some people are bad parents,  writes Orlando Sentinel columnist Beth Kassab, “and no matter what we do, they won’t get any better.” Orlando resident Rachel Fryer has had seven children is pregnant again and is being held on charges of murdering her 2-year-old daughter and burying her in a shallow grave. Two years earlier she “accidentally” suffocated her daughter’s twin brother by rolling over him when he was only two weeks old while she was asleep on the couch.  Rachel was on drugs at the time.  

My life is as removed from Rachel Fryer’s as you can imagine, still as any mother, I’ve felt overwhelmed, depressed, enraged and desperate. “I’m bout to have a nervous breakdown,” read a message allegedly found on Fryer’s cellphone. “I can’t take it no more….My child is retarded, I don’t know what else to do….I need my depression medicine ASAP. This is too much, I’m about to lose it.”

Rachel’s 7 year old daughter allegedly told the police that her mom often hit she and her siblings, and that Rachel beat her the day before her younger sister disappeared.

I know the feeling of wanting to smother incessant crying or to haul off and wallop a child who hits your last nerve. And yet thank God I never did either of those things because I had internal and external options given to me by my parents. I was born into lucky circumstances and somehow maintained impulse control.

I’m not heartless to Rachel’s tragic story, but I’m not willing to give an adult the repeated benefit of the doubt where kids are concerned, when doubt has as long and obvious a tragic history as Rachel’s.

As reported by the Orlando Sentinel

  • Child-welfare officials were concerned Rachel Fryer was an unfit mother and, at various times, objected to her regaining custody.
  • The 32-year-old and her children were reunited, and it wasn’t long before Fryer’s life began to crumble.
  • She couldn’t afford rent.
  • She didn’t have enough money for food.
  • Beds she rented for the kids — ages 2, 3, 4 and 7 — were returned because she couldn’t afford them.
  • Two months after Fryer and the children were reunited a court-appointed child-advocate requested a hearing over “pressing concerns” about the Sanford family.
  • That hearing was never scheduled, and the following week, Fryer’s 2-year-old daughter Tariji was dead.
  • More than 1,700 pages of documents detailing those and other elements of Fryer’s history with child-welfare agencies were released Friday, providing a glimpse of what unfolded in the years after Tariji’s twin brother died in 2011.
  • Fryer, who has given birth to at least seven children and is pregnant, has a long history with the Department of Children and Families.
  • After a drug raid at her home in 2005, Fryer voluntarily gave up her parental rights to two of her children.
  • She gave birth to several more children, and in 2011, Tariji’s twin brother, Tavontae Gordon, died.
  • At the time, authorities concluded Fryer accidentally suffocated the infant while they slept together on the couch. But Sanford police earlier this month reopened the investigation into Tavontae’s death.
  • The infant’s death prompted DCF to remove the four other children — including Tariji — and place them in foster homes.
  • DCF reports characterize Fryer as a woman with mental health problems, drug and alcohol abuse, physical health problems, unstable housing, unstable employment and recurring criminal behavior.
  • In mid-2013, a court-appointed child advocate said the children should remain in foster care because neither Fryer nor the children’s father, Timothy Gordon Jr., had complied fully with the reunification requirements.
  • But Fryer completed her case plan, and Seminole County Circuit Judge Donna McIntosh reunited the family.
  • After that reunion in November, problems quickly arose.
  • Case workers noted in an early December report that Fryer had no steady employment and her income wasn’t sufficient to care for the children.
  • As Fryer’s struggles mounted, she and the children withdrew. The kids missed school. When a bus driver walked up to Fryer’s door and asked to see Tariji, Fryer refused.
  • In a Jan. 30 report, the court-appointed child advocate expressed concerns about Fryer’s financial problems and an array of other issues, including her arrest in December for failing to appear at a court hearing.
  • She also took her kids out of daycare because she was “tired of everyone in her business,” even though it was a condition of her reunification with the children.

“I don’t want people to think I don’t love my kids because I really love my kids. I was scared. I was really scared,” Rachel Fryer said. 

The problem I have is with Rachel’s version of love is her version isn’t good enough. More than likely she grew up around drugs, was neglected or abused and her way is the only parenting style she knows. I could be non-judgmental except we have to judge the welfare of children when lives are at stake. Sometimes we have to judge the long and obvious history of some parents or we don’t protect the children.

This isn’t a matter of whether a mother breast feeds or not, stays home or works, all that competitive parenting chatter that doesn’t make an ounce of difference in the long run of a child’s life. We’re talking about neglect and injury and death, we’re talking about the fact that Rachel somehow keeps getting pregnant and so, is getting another chance to try parenting, again and again.   

Kids aren’t practice for get parenting right, eventually. Kids are the main event for getting ourselves right.

 

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British study shows kids of working moms just fine. Here’s why.

Photo credit: wilpf.org

The Brits know. Quality childcare is key. Maternity leave, essential.

Studies had shown that children born to career mothers in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s did not perform as well, with their literacy and numeracy skills about two percent lower. But the latest research by Heather Joshi of the University of London’s Centre for Longitudinal Studies found children born since the mid-1990s whose mothers worked during their early years fared just as well as those whose mothers did not. – Working mothers urged to drop guilt as study finds kids do fine.  – British Study

So, the question I have is does this study translate to the U.S. given we don’t have paid maternity leave and HIGH quality childcare isn’t the norm for all income brackets?

Joshi said the most important factor that triggered this change in Britain was the Labour government’s investment in childcare in the mid-1990s.

I already intuitively knew kids of working moms are fine, at least with the parents I know, and I’ve been home full-time with my daughter since she was 9 months. So why do I care?

I’m at home so I could finger point at working mothers. I care because I don’t believe in shaming people for what is natural and that is: some women want to work, have to work, deserve to work.

Ambition is not exclusive to men despite a woman’s biological imperative to have babies. I’ve been ambitious and remained so even when my daughter was born.  I just so happened to channel my ambition at home, via writing and other pursuits, some of which took me away from her for short periods.

My daughter is 15 now. I’ve been at home as a writer and volunteer for years.  I would without a doubt, have worked part-time but I left my marketing research job due to a myriad of guilt, employer and health reasons. I was lucky to have the choice.

Formula for a happy kid? Who knows, but we sorta do.

Kids whose parents work do just fine academically and behaviorally if, and here’s the kicker, kids are surrounded by loving people who genuinely show care and concern.
I have no facts. I’m too lazy at this moment to dig them up. Seriously, I’m going instinct and obvious here. Usually I go facts, figures, stats to be heard, but obvious transcends, sometimes.  Kids need attentive, caring parents and attentive, caring caregivers. Given that, of course the kids will thrive.  Love is love which is not to say a parent’s love is the same as a caregivers, of course not.

It’s to say parental love and care + caregiver love and care = thriving kid. The embracing village and all that. Grandma, aunt, uncle, friend or really loving, attentive daycare provider. It’s all good. Switching kids all over the place, not so good. Kids really do need continuity. Crappy half-ass childcare where the person is barely paying attention or never engaging your child in developmentally stimulating stuff? Come on. No child deserves that.

BUT who can afford the best? My question is, what child doesn’t deserve the best? They all do, regardless of income.

When high quality childcare is more affordable and accessible to folks beyond the wealthy we’ve arrived.  This goes along with my safe-car question which is: Why should the safest cars be the most expensive cars? Only rich kids get to live if they get in a car accident? But that’s another post.

Changes in British maternity leave also contributed to the finding, although the US still lags.

Drop the guilt in yourself, and other mothers.

I’ve been writing for a decade about, among other things, debunking myths and shame in the motherhoodsphere (postpartum depression, mommy wars and motherhood identity are my favorites).  One of the shame-filled issues is society bashing working moms as “less” or not a full-time mother.

Poppycock.

As a stay at home mother this still, always chaps my hide and was a key reason I started the Orlando Mothers & More chapter while I was in another club who focused mainly on stay at homes (or part-time employed). I wanted a more “inclusive” message.

The fact is, finds the Brits, give parents accessible, affordable HIGH QUALITY childcare and time off with their kids, and children will thrive as well as those with parents at home.

 An analysis of six studies looking at 40,000 children over the last 40 years found there was no link between mothers continuing their careers and children achieving less at school or misbehaving.This research suggests changes in maternity leave and greater availability of childcare and the consequent increase in maternal employment have played a big role in enabling parents to balance work and family, Fiona Weir, chief executive of the single-parent charity Gingerbread, told Reuters

 

 

P.S. Picture is of World War II Rosie the Riveter.  

“Women worked during WWII when men went to war in droves, forcing childcare to the forefront. Unfortunately conditions weren’t always ideal for the little ones.Like men, women would quit their jobs if they were unhappy with their pay, location, or environment. Unlike men, women suffered from the “double shift” of work and caring for the family and home. During the war, working mothers had childcare problems and the public sometimes blamed them for the rise in juvenile delinquency. In reality, though, 90% of mothers were home at any given time. The majority of women thought that they could best serve the war effort by staying at home (Campbell 216). During the war, the average family on the homefront had a housewife and a working husband (Yellin 45).”

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Marriage After Baby – At Home Date Nights & More Tips to Gradually Re-ignite

marriage after baby, marriage after kids, when partners become parents

It’s natural for new parents to settle in at home with their baby, to “cocoon,” too exhausted to go out and too anxious to leave their child with a babysitter or even trusted parents and in-laws.

As priorities re-order couple time often gets pushed aside. Yet often putting the marriage on the back-burner becomes a permanent pattern in the family and over time, the relationship suffers, the kids notice.

Children can sense when their parents begin to seem emotionally distant.  The unspoken hostility, (or spoken), the disconnect between the couple creates a family “climate” that can feel off-balance.  This marital “gap” can start very gradually (see my post on divorces due to “low conflict” marriages) and over time widen into a great relationship chasm.

And it’s really no surprise.

New mothers rarely have the time, energy or interest to do much more than keep up with the growing demands of their baby and new demands. In addition a new mother’s body and biochemistry is often still re-adjusting which affects mood, stamina and sleep.

Sleep understandably becomes mom’s best friend, watching television the easiest and least expensive entertainment. Exhaustion and the added responsibilities of combing parenting with all other aspects of her life, particularly for a woman whose husband doesn’t share her load, can begin to create quiet, simmering disconnect in the marriage. The husband’s might begin to feel resentful that while he and his wife are deeply grateful, and the baby is the new love of his life, the baby also takes center stage, replacing the attention, intimacy and connection he once shared with his wife.

Click for Marriage after Baby Books

As a result, I suggest new parents begin re-connecting as soon as possible, starting small, but making a mindful effort to nurture their relationship from time to time.

What’s Good for the Parents is Good for the Children 

“Kids whose parents’ relationship has cooled are more likely to have behavioral or academic problems than kids of happy couples,” says Philip Cowan, PhD, in the Parents.com article “Happy Parents, Happy Kids.
“Dr. Cowan and his wife, psychologist Carolyn Pape Cowan, PhD. have studied families for decades “Even if you can’t see yourself going out on a date for yourselves, do it for your kids,” says Dr. Cowan.

And while there’s no timetable for when new parents should get their marriage back on track particularly because the physical and life transition can feel different for each woman, there are simple ways couples can gradually begin to re-ignite their pre-baby relationship.

Making an effort to make the marriage as important as parenting sets the priorities for the future of the relationship, particularly once the kids are out of the house and the couple faces an empty nest.

Dating Again: Bistro in a Bag for Nervous First Time Parents

While spit up and dirty diapers are hardly props for a romantic evening, even small sporadic moments can help couples re-connect.  At home date nights, while not ideal when a child is young and in constant need of attention, can set the stage for couples to put their relationship as priority.

It doesn’t take much to create a spontaneous romantic setting if the baby is asleep. Parents can set up the following in a pleasant area of the home such as the front or back porch or on a blanket in the family room by the fire.

The at home date night might include:

  • Table cloth
  • Small blanket (for picnic style)
  • Two elegant placemats and cloth napkins
  • Candle in a protected candle holder (aromatherapy is ideal)
  • Lighter Small FM radio or CD player
  • Relaxing, upbeat or romantic CD
  • Flowers from the garden, or inexpensive bouquet from the grocery store
  • Soothing or energetic aromatherapy air spray.

A no-hassle delectable plate of finger foods can be an easy and fun dinner, raw veggies, frozen appetizers, cheese, salami, crackers, crusty breads with dips, olives, essentially an Italian antipasto platter that makes for a flavorful, interesting meal with easy clean up.

Click for Marriage after Baby Books

“Relationship re-entry” as I call it, is reason enough to pull out the good china, letting the dirty dishes soak overnight, taking a break from clean up. Even small efforts like these that put the focus back on couple time, while seeming impractical for parents trying to juggle a baby, send a message to the brain, “our relationship matters.”

No matter what the couple does for an at home or outside date night, the point is to put the focus back on the relationship on a regular basis.   If going out for wine and a gourmet meal or setting an elegant table at home isn’t what feels right, then taquitos and takeout with some good conversation is fine.  It’s not what the couple does, only that from time to time, they focus on each other.

Flexible Fondue for Home Date Night

Who doesn’t love food drenched in melted cheese or rich chocolate? Fondue offers a convenient way for parents to create an impromptu romantic dinner that can hold up to interruptions. Baby starts to cry? Turn off the pot and re-light later. 


Inexpensive fondue pots are available online or at local discount retailers (sometimes these are only seasonal during the holidays).  Dippers can be very inexpensive and include anything that tastes good covered in cheese or chocolate (almost everything), a loaf of crusty French bread broken it into bites, some cauliflower and broccoli florets, sliced carrots, pretzels, strawberries, mini brownies etc.

Pre-made cheese and chocolate fondue packages are available at most grocery stores and while the cheese packets can be pricey, it’s easier and more affordable than buying the assorted grated cheeses, wine, and Kirsch (often used in fondue) and trying to mix the perfect pot.

Regular Communication Keeps Parent Connected

Parents often move to autopilot, moving from day-to-day, joyful and appreciative for their child and each other, yet unaware of what they may be leaving behind, communication and couple time. One of the most important habits new parents can adopt for their family’s long-term emotional health is to regularly  talk about how they feel.  

Ideally couples might try sitting down once a week, putting on calm music and talking, disconnecting cell phones, letting the answering machine pick up, because while the world can wait, the relationship can’t.  If parents get interrupted because the baby is awake or needs attention, the effort alone sends a positive message to the couple and over time, to the children. Kids who see their parents making their own relationship as important as the children’s’, receive, in my personal opinion, powerful and positive messaging.

As the family grows and the demands exponentially increase, making couple time a regular priority becomes a juggling game and a matter of choice, but doing so is critical to maintain a healthy long-term marriage.

Couples should try to keep the conversation honest yet non-defensive and constructive, steering away from “You never, you always” and instead explain what he/she appreciates, then what they need. For example mom might say,  “I really appreciate that you do (x,y,z) and you’re a phenomenal dad, but when you come home from work and want to decompress and I’ve been with the baby all day I need you to either take over with her, make dinner or pick up dinner so that I can get some time to myself, go for a walk, whatever.”

Couples Benefit from Informal Climate Survey 

One way to foster positive communication that’s a little more goal-oriented is to do an informal “climate survey” after the baby is about three to six months old, when the massive changes begin to settle into a “new normal.” A climate survey is a process companies use to measure employee satisfaction and to spot potential red flags. And while it sounds formal, the concept is something I use to simply describe couples making a habit of touching base with each other, with getting a feel for the overall tone in their family.

To begin, parents ask each other how they generally feel in their lives, then about their expectations and short and long-term goals, noting how these areas have changed since becoming parents. Some questions might include:

  • “How do you feel physically and mentally?” (Mom needs to pay special attention to her physical and emotional health).”
  • “What has surprised you about the changes that come with parenting? What are your unexpected joys and disappointments?”
  • “What realistic changes can I/you/we make?”

Couples should strive to be non-defensive and completely honest. They should avoid statements like “You always, you never” and instead say “I feel that” and “I would really appreciate if.” The goal isn’t to sugarcoat, stuff feelings or to avoid conflict, but rather to foster communication in a non-defensive manner, to provide useful constructive feedback for the health of the marriage, and to build a solid family foundation based on regular communication.

Click for Marriage after Baby Books

While re-igniting the marriage after a new baby is inherently challenging as priorities dramatically shift, couples who take a gradual and realistic approach to reconnecting with each other as soon as possible, communicating regularly and creating date nights, are building a healthy dynamic and model for their relationship and for their children’s future relationships.

Children only know what they see and what they sense. Twenty years from now will your kids see a parents who were (for the most part), emotionally connected or parents who were living under the same roof but slowly drifting apart, parents who lived for the lives of their kids, but forgot about the life of their marriage?

Sources

Robinson, Holly. “Happy Parents, Happy Kids,” Parents.com (accessed March 2, 2010).

Photo credit: Photostock 

Copyright Laura Owens. Contact the author to obtain permission for republication.

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