Maintaining family traditions; stability in a world that often isn’t.

holding-hands-1My son and daughter are five years apart. My favorite picture of the two of them was taken the day my daughter was born. My son had taken a big brother class at the hospital and understood that she would look up to him and follow him as the older sibling. The first time they met, she gazed up into his eyes and I’m so grateful my sister-in-law captured it on film. He loved being my helper, getting her diaper or toys when I asked and I tried to give him all of the quality time I could when she was napping or down for the night.

Even after the separation, as a solo parent I would still be conscious of the attention that she naturally received as the baby of the family. I made sure they were treated equally regarding chores and rules and would let him stay up to watch television or play a game with me after I tucked her in at night. What I refer to as our night-time snuggle hour (it was cute then, not so much now that he’s a teenager) is a tradition now and even though he won’t admit it, I know he looks forward to it at least once or twice a week. Now that my son is a teenager and my daughter a tween, both are going through emotional and physical changes which naturally distances them. As an introvert, he spends a lot of time in his room and she commands my time and all of the rest of the space in the house with her creative endeavors. I understand that they need the space to develop in their own way but I have to admit it’s been difficult as a parent watching powerless, as age difference, school and puberty send them to their separate corners of the world.

I must admit I had given up on our family rituals. Running a household, business and caring for two school aged children is more than a full-time job. I’m usually ready to go to bed before they do, and I felt that they had grown out of our summer vacations, back to school gifts, end of school dinner celebration, church service (twice a month if we can), midnight or early morning movies in our pajamas, Friday pizza and movie nights and other traditions until recently. For the first time in close to a year we watched a movie together last night sharing pizza and the same couch! I almost always order pizza and this past year I would be the only one sitting on the couch watching the movie or most likely it would be just my daughter and I. Last night was different. I ordered the pizza and made plans to go out to a local fundraiser when I expected the kids would be retired to their rooms; but as usual when I make plans, God laughs! After the pizza was demolished I turned on The Dark Knight and invited my son to sit and watch it with me. Years ago he was fascinated by all of the Marvel and DC Comics but gave it up when he got the message from peers that enjoying action figures was childish. I walked out of the room and was floored when I saw him actually reclining on the couch waiting for me. My daughter, not to be outdone fought for her spot on the couch too. I had to play referee once or twice but we watched the entire movie together as a family. I was waiting for them both the bail mid-movie but they didn’t. I silently apologized to my conscience for missing the fundraiser so I could be present, enjoying the snuggle and bonding time with my children instead. I went to bed hopeful and determined to slowly reinstate the not so typical family traditions that we have created over the years. At a time when so much in their lives is changing, the ability to rely on mom’s sometimes quirky traditions offers the nurturing and stability they so desperately need. I am aware that every night may not have a fairy tale ending and that traditions may continue to be tested, yet I remain encouraged. Pizza and move night was a reminder that consistency is important and not to give up until the miracle happens.

What are some of the non-traditional traditions that bring your family together? Feel free to share in the comments below or email us at africanamericanparenting@gmail.com.

~African American Parenting

FREE Be Healthy Expo, August 13th, Camden NJ , Sponsored by CAMCare and Radio One. Fun for the entire family!

Free Health Screenings, Special guests, vendors, celebrity basketball game, line dancing and fun for the entire family! 10AM -4PM. 1865 Harrison Avenue, Camden NJ 08105

Be Healthy 2016 w CamcareBe Healthy General Tentative Outline

Work Shops

  • Chubbie’s (Kids Workshops for ages 5 – 12)
  • Ray and Joan Kroc Salvation Army Community Center Presentation
  • Local Physicians

Vendors Available From 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

Indoor Fitness Activities

  • Line Dancing with Yolanda Sample – with Lady B
  • “Big Girl Work Out” with Praise 103.9 host Dezzie (Family Fitness)
  • Fit Camp Lite by WIT (Whatever It Takes) Fitness Group (Adult Fitness)

Outdoor Fitness Activities – Brought to you by The Army

  • Family Challenges

Celebrity Basketball Game

  • Hosted by Radio-One Talent, Musicians, Comedians, and Former Sports Players! We Also Have A Halftime Slam Dunk Contest!

June 25TH National Fatherhood Conference, Rescheduled – Philadelphia, PA

 

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Update: The Fatherhood Conference had to be rescheduled due to issues with the venue, but it is on and upgraded this Saturday! There will be prizes such as laptops given away for fathers and young men. Please come out 9am-3pm!

This is the eleventh year that Joel Austin, the founder of Daddy University has traveled throughout the city of Philadelphia from radio station to television interview, blog interview and social networking gatherings to convey his passion for combating fatherlessness and supporting men who desire to be the best Fathers their children need. There is an epidemic of fatherlessness in our communities which can be traced back to slavery, and is exacerbated by today’s judicial system that unfairly targets and prosecutes African-American men at an alarming rate. According to the NAACP Criminal Fact Sheet, one in six African-American men are in prison compared to 1 in 100 African American women.

We need our men. We need our men to be great leaders, providers and fathers. When previously incarcerated fathers are released into society, who is there to help them reconnect with their offspring? When young men become fathers and have no male figure in their lives, who will guide them and support them? When our husbands, sons and grandchildren need resources to help them learn good parenting and or/co-parenting skills, where will they go to seek help? The National Fatherhood Conference  is the answer.

This FREE conference held in the Philadelphia School District Education Center, 440 North Broad Street, Philadelphia PA in addition to free breakfast and lunch, provides numerous workshops on everything from custody to co-parenting, financial literacy, and even how to do your daughter’s hair. There is also LIMITED free childcare for those who register early, and a Young Men’s Conference for those who bring their sons between the age of 11 and 18. The Young Men’s Conference runs the same time as the Fatherhood Conference and they will also be provided breakfast and lunch if they register. The time to reach our young men is now, before they fall victim to the school to prison pipeline. Even if you are not a father or for some reason are not attending the conference, you can still register a young man and bring him to attend. The Young Men’s workshops include but are not limited to entrepreneurship, resolving conflict and dealing with “haters” as well as hygiene and financial literacy.

You can find out more information on the flyers above and below this post and by visiting the 11th National Fatherhood Conference registration page. African American Parenting will be in attendance and will post a picture of you and your child on our Facebook post to show all of the wonderful fathers and father figures in attendance. Register today and let us  applaud you for your desire to be the best father your child deserves!

Register Here —-> National Fatherhood Conference

We’ll see you at the Conference!

Young Men Conference

Technology Addiction: Are you a bad influence?

Cellphone-DistractionI have to admit. I jump in the car and drive off because I’m running late to pick up one of the kids from somewhere and as soon as my seat belt is across my waist, I reach over into my pocketbook for my mobile phone. It’s become an instinctual yet love-hate relationship with my phone. I have been tempted on several occasions when I’ve left it inside the house attached to my fast-charging cord, to turn the car around and go back for it. What if the school calls? What if someone is trying to text me? What if one of my family members is ill and trying to reach me? What if I have an accident and no way to dial 911? How would I have answered these questions before I had a smart phone? I guess that’s why we had pagers!

If I am about to go for a long drive I will go back and get it. One day recently I didn’t go far but planned on being out for a few hours running errands and decided I could live without it. I then realized how dependent we are on our mobile devices. Believe it or not , I did survive but like the days after you’ve ended a love affair, I felt like something important was missing from my daily routine and I thought about my mobile phone often. Wondering if it was plugged up or if I left it on in my bedroom with the battery slowly draining. I worried about what condition it would be in when I returned. I would reach for it every now and then. I realized how much I depended on it for directions and instead had to rely on my memory. I wanted to use my mobile app to purchase coffee and set up my grocery list, and after a few moments and a small internal tantrum I went to the ATM and took out cash to purchase my chai latte, then found a pencil and paper to make my grocery list. Before I knew it I had been running errands for over three hours and had not relied on my mobile phone for anything! I was proud of myself. I did notice just how attached I was to my mobile phone especially since most banking institutions make it so much easier to purchase and even deposit through phone applications. Everybody has an app, and it has created a mobile dependent society.

My day around town without my phone taught me just how dependent I was on this small piece of technology. I realized that even at home I find myself often saying to one of my children when they want my attention “just wait one second, I just have to send this text” or “I’ll be right there after I finish this email” , or “get in bed and I’ll be up in a minute” as I return to see who that last Facebook notification was from. The minute usually turns into five then ten and the next thing I know my daughter has read herself to sleep. Yet and still I justify it because I am self-employed and I “have to rely on my phone” to keep me abreast of what’s going on with the social media accounts for my business and to respond quickly to my client’s email or phone message. I need my phone to update my calendar with an event that I saw on Facebook, twitter or text. I justify it and it keeps me oblivious to the control it has on my time and my quality time with my family. It wasn’t until I read this article at Common Sense Media that I realized that it wasn’t just the kids who needed to set limits on the time they spend in front of a little screen, but so did I.

My children are allowed one hour of screen time per day, and if they want more screen time, they have to read and/or do some form of physical activity that matches the amount of time they want to watch videos or play on the XBox. This rule is usually met with attitude but it works!

For myself, I’ve instituted a “you don’t play until you’re done work” policy for social media. I check it first thing in the morning and I am limited to 15 minutes liking, sharing and tweeting, another half an hour watching my favorite Periscope motivators and then it’s off the phone until I get my work done for the day. The phone gets put away again between the hours of 6-8pm when I am spending time making dinner, checking in with the kids and getting them ready for bed. I keep the phone in another room, and set it to announce calls so that I can choose to answer or ignore depending on who is calling. Any calls/texts I receive I will return after the children go up to bed.

This is the first step. I have to be honest and say that some days I just want to zone out and escape into the phone (literally!) when life and parenting etc. gets to be overwhelming! However, I am making a conscious effort to be aware of the wall I put up between myself and my children (and my spouse/partner) when I am obsessed with technology.

Check out the chart below and see if you think it represents your family. If it does, you may want to put yourself in time out.

Technology Addiction: Finding Balance

Are you the bad influence in your family? We’d love to hear from you and how you set limits on technology (if any) in your home.

~African American Parenting

Compassion fatigue ; even Superman takes a break from saving the world!

wpid-img951416.jpgMy former sister in law once told me while I was still carrying my first born in my womb, that being a parent would be the most difficult yet most rewarding job I’ll ever have. She was right. I think even the most seasoned of parents question the choices that they make for their children, wonder if they’re doing everything that they could for them, stay up at night worrying about them when they are away, worry if they’re being over-protective or not disciplining them enough, and we all hope we are not causing irreparable damage!  Believe me, I have witnessed many who have raised children without an ounce of compassion and nurturing, but when you put your heart and soul into your job, whether as a parent, nurse, doctor, teacher, politician or first-responder, you utilize an enormous amount of physical, mental and spiritual energy and  risk suffering from burnout or as my pastor so eloquently phrased it; compassion fatigue. Those of us who are natural givers can suffer from depletion if we do not take the time to step away from all of the giving and allow ourselves to restore our energy levels and rest our weary minds and hearts.

My typical day starts at 6:30 am, getting my son up and out the door to make his 7:15 bus. He is a morning person so there isn’t much struggle there.  I then have about half an hour to check email/facebook/wordpress before it’s time to get my not-a-morning-person-until-you-turn-on-music-and-dance daughter out of the bed and ready for school. While she’s getting dressed, I’m making her lunch, packing her snack, filling her water bottle and making breakfast for her so she’s out of the door on time. Now that half of my normal daily energy level is spent, I try to get in an hour of either meditation and/or exercise  before I head to my client’s office to work. If it’s a good day there are no phone calls from school nurses or other clients who need my attention while I’m working. After I squeeze a day’s work into four hours, I rush home to meet one or both kids, start dinner, then head out to pick up or drop off my artistic one to some type of lesson, try to get work done while I’m waiting but am usually distracted and then commence to getting her home and finishing dinner. If I’m lucky enough to finish dinner in-between helping with homework, reading and completing paperwork sent home from school and phone calls, we may eat before 7 pm which is usually the first time I’ve sat down all day.  I then try to squeeze in a little family time during dinner either at the table or watching one of the few shows we all agree on; Family Feud or Chopped if there isn’t a good family movie on cable. The next hour is spent getting my seven year-old bathed and ready for bed, trying to stay awake long enough to read her a book and tuck her in. I walk back downstairs to the living area, take a deep breath and prepare to spend an hour of quality time with my son. If I can keep my eyes open through the latest episode of Ninth Grade Ninja or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, it’s a miracle, but he only cares that I’m there and he gets me all to himself for a while.  At about nine I send him up for his shower and check on the younger one to make sure she’s asleep. It’s at this point that I feel the exhaustion setting in, but I have to get a second wind, put away leftovers from dinner, respond to any client emails, do laundry, stock the dishwasher (I hate to do dishes) and connect with friends and family I don’t get to see or talk to on a regular basis. On a good night I’m in bed by 1AM setting the alarm for five and a half hours later. This is the life I know. Don’t get me wrong, I love being a mom, and as difficult as it is parenting solo, I would not  trade it for anything! I am fortunate to have the time to spend with my children day and night. However I truly believe that the only way that I can be a so-called “great mom” and serve my family, friends and my clients with the care and attention that they deserve is to make time to retreat from all of it every once in a while. It’s not easy when you are the sole parent to remove yourself from your children without an incredible amount of guilt, but I am learning that if I am at peace, my state of being is transferred to my children and they are much easier to parent! Simply put, if you spend most of your hours giving, you have to take a fraction of that time to allow yourself to be on the receiving end. If there is no one to take care of you, you have to make the time to care for yourself.

I have a ritual that began over four years ago when my children’s father and I separated, that I still continue religiously to this day. Every few months I take my mini-retreat. My budget is tight so I can’t do it often, but I make sure that I save enough each month so that when the time comes, I am ready to book the room. At first I did it because I couldn’t stand being in a quiet house when my kids were with their father on Christmas night, and I wanted to get out of the house to keep from missing  them. I had a discount coupon for a nearby hotel and decided to reserve a suite for the night. The best thing about my private is that for a little more  than the price of a tank of gas and a mani-pedi, you get a full suite to yourself, a two hour manager’s reception (yes, that means open bar) and a hot breakfast in the morning. Aside from those perks, I get to enjoy a bubble bath without anyone banging on the door to get in, I can watch one of the two flat screen televisions on any channel I want whenever I want, I can relax on the couch and read without anyone yelling “Mom, tell my brother to give me back my “fill in the blank”! And after my glasses of wine, snacks and bubble bath, I can sink deep into the plush pillow top mattress and the down pillows, and coast into a deep sleep, assured that no one will knock on my door and interrupt my slumber unless of course I sleep through breakfast and the maids are ready to clean the room!

After my meditative breakfast I head to the pool area which is almost always empty at 10am in the morning and take advantage of the late checkout I requested by going for a swim and an extended relaxing and dreamy float in the Jacuzzi. I can’t  tell you how refreshed, relaxed and renewed I feel after just twenty-four hours away from it all. The hotel is only about half an hour from my home and at first it felt silly to pay for a room so close to home, but for someone who has the exhaustive task of taking care of not only my children, my home, my business and clients and myself it is an oasis!  Yes I could stay home and take a bubble bath or sleep late but as a mom, I would spend more time feeling guilty about the dishes in the sink, the floor that needs sweeping or the laundry piling up around me and I wouldn’t be able to relax or feel the freedom of escaping from all of the normal day-to-day duties.

I encourage you to think about the definition of compassion fatigue and if you’re affected. Stress can have a major impact on both your spiritual, emotional and physical body so I urge you to take the time to renew your compassion and challenge you not to feel guilty about it, at least until after you slip into the bubble bath. Try it and share your experience in the comment section below.

Even Superman retreats to the Sun to renew his strength after a day of saving the world!

 

Who are you trusting with their brain?

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My children started school today, and all around the country there are parents buying school supplies, new clothes, bookbags and countless electronic devices in order to prepare their children for the new school year. We spend so much time and money getting the “things” we need, but what is just as important for me is knowing the teachers, administrators and other support staff who influence the intellect and emotional health of my children for the majority of their day. As fortunate as we are to have access to a noteworthy school district and staff, I am still very aware that my children will be surrounded by children who will not look like them, teachers who will not look like them and more than likely the only people of color they will see are in the cafeteria or cleaning up after them throughout the day. It’s unfortunate that most of those in the schools they attend have never had the experience of being a “minority” or having a close relationship with someone of another ethnicity or religion. These truths concern me more than whether they have the correct number of sharpened pencils. Each year as August comes to a close, I being to make my presence known to those who will hold my children’s hearts and brains captive for six or seven hours each day. I have had enough experiences throughout the years with school systems (both public and private) and have learned the hard way that everyone hired as a teacher/administrator does not necessarily have my child’s best interest at heart. I will share a few tidbits of wisdom I’ve learned that have helped me get the school year off to a great start:

  1. Take advantage of your access to teachers the week before school starts : Most of your child’s teachers are at school the week prior to the first day of school, preparing their classroom for the kids as well as any open house events happening in the school. Take advantage of this time that they will be able to read email without interruption and send a quick “Hello, I’m XYZ’s parent, nice to meet you” email. This is a great time to quickly mention any emotions your child has about the new year as well as any emotional, intellectual or health issues that may challenge the teacher, good or not so good. The email I send for my middle schooler is much shorter than the one for my second grader, and if it is a new teacher,  I also will attach my “This is My Kid” note to the email which I’ll explain below.
  2. Type up a one or two paragraph note about your child that you can update from year to year: I started it in Preschool because it was requested by one of the teachers, and I’ve kept it up each year. Some people may think it’s too much but I believe that someone who has my child’s time and attention for the majority of their waking hours should know more about them than their name and address. I include a little about their favorite things and subjects, but more importantly, what helps them transition, how they handle change, any allergies or health issues, any extraordinary emotional issues that may distract them as well as what motivates them to learn. I have found that their teachers have really found the information to be extremely helpful. 
  3. Make every open house and/or back to school night: I know, who wants to work all day, fight traffic to get home to get dinner and then go back out at night to the school. Ugh! Not my favorite thing to do, but a great way to show not only the teachers, but your child that you have a vested interest in their happiness and success in school. You’re showing them that you care about where they sit, who they interact with, how long it takes to get from class to class and what books they use. You get to put a face to the teacher’s names, see how their teacher interacts with their students and feel their energy (yes, I said it…but energy transfers to your kid). It’s also a subtle message to those who interact with your student that you care about what’s going on at school and that you are ready and willing to work together as a team to make sure it’s a good experience for your child. I can’t stress how important this is. Your presence is a powerful statement.
  4. Keep a folder for each child: The beginning of the year causes an influx of paperwork and procedures that make my head spin! When I purchase their school supplies, I also purchase a two-pocket folder for the year that I use to keep track of all of the correspondence from their school. One side has paperwork etc that I need to act on and return to school, and the other side has information I need to keep such as school procedures, daily schedules, calendars, teacher contact information, report cards and any other teacher correspondence that I need to refer to throughout the year. Whew! I get exhausted just thinking about it, so the folder helps, believe me!
  5. Don’t assume everyone has your child’s best interest at heart: I can’t stress this one enough. I was paying for my son to attend a Montessori school that refused to customize his educational goals even after he achieved a 99 percentile on the IQ test administered by the State. The director wouldn’t even discuss his score with me and that was the last year he attended that school. Don’t assume that your child’s teacher is not biased just because he/she is a teacher; don’t assume your child’s teacher has ever had diversity training, don’t assume the social studies class will teach the truth about American History, don’t assume that your child will be treated fairly or even better because he/she is gifted or “bright”. Don’t assume that your child is being treated fairly. Talk to your children about their day, let them know how they should be treated and teach them to have the same expectations of their teachers. Hold their teachers accountable and make them aware of your expectations, just as they make their expectations clear to the students at the beginning of the year. Stay abreast of your child’s progress and don’t be afraid to make a phone call or send an email if you feel they are not receiving the help/support or enhancement that they need to succeed. Check out the school website, and take the time to get information about any awards, special programs or scholarships for which your son/daughter may be eligible. I have had several situations where their teacher did not nominated them. I must say that I have been fortunate to have had wonderful experiences in our school district, but there have been a few who have been a challenge. 
  6. Help your child look forward to their first day: Both of my children were nervous about their first day, but I try to set up some fun activities the week before school starts as an attempt to lessen the anxiety. If there is an Open House at their school, I attend it with them. If their teacher sends a welcome letter, I share it with them and ask them how it makes them feel. We go to the store and they each get to pick out a “have a great school year” gift or other small token; it serves as a constant reminder of my support of and belief in them. Of course there’s the back to school day outfit that they get to pick out and on the morning of their first day of school, I add something special to their breakfast. The evening of their first day, we go out to a celebratory dinner, whether it be pizza or someplace a more classy, they get to pick and even dress up if they’d like. It gives us a chance to talk about their day and serves as my way of showing them how important their education is to me and that I share their excitement. 

After you do all of the above, go to your nearest coffee shop or masseuse (or both!) and celebrate yourself for the amazing job you’ve done to get them and their brains in good hands! I hope these tidbits have helped. Please feel free to comment and add any methods that help your child/ren get off to a positive start.  Wishing you a successful school year!