These Illustrations Celebrate the Beauty of Parenthood

Naava Katz  is a mother and artist whose illustrations capture the “beauty in the details” of life as a new parent. Though she’s been drawing all her life, it wasn’t until after she had her children that she discovered a new love for illustrating the journey of parenthood.

Naava Katz - Hug
As new mothers, we are knee deep in the fields of finding that elusive “life balance”. There are so many tiny details that made up our day. Piled on top of one another, it can feel overwhelming. Moment to moment, it seems mundane. But as we tuck our children into bed and reflect on all we accomplished, all those details blend together to form a melody.

Naava Katz - Letting Go
Years from now, we will all join the tribal cry of, “It went by so fast!” But through her drawings, Naava reminds us that these seemingly simple experiences are not moments to simply get through, but are indeed moments to savor, and smile about.

NaavaKatz_Diapers

NaavaKatz - I Won
Naava’s images tell stories that evoke the emotion and spirit of life with young children. Her art allows viewers to see past the chaos and focus on the beauty of family. Naava’s illustrations remind us to take a breath, to laugh, and to cherish.

NaavaKatz_BabyWear
Our days are crazy, and tomorrow looks like it might be crazier. But under the moonlight we offer a silent prayer of gratitude. And smile. Because it’s all worth it.

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You can view more of Naava’s art by following her on Instagram and Facebook. Create and collaborate with Naava by reaching out to her at www.NaavaOnline.com

Parenting at the Intersection of Scribbles & Board Meetings

Scribble marks on a legal pad greeted me as I walked into the office. It was the first time in a week that I didn’t have a child attached to my hip. The sheer irony of seeing my preschooler’s drawing sitting next to a mountain of legal textbooks made me laugh.

Last week started with a painfully long “to do” list. I had papers to grade, meetings to attend, and I had to pack my family for our upcoming road trip. I organized my calendar and purchased enough coffee to manage it all, but when our two year old spiked a fever on Monday, my plans evaporated and I panicked.

Responding to emails and grading papers suddenly took a back seat to snuggles and Elmo. Luckily, my amazing husband took the afternoon off and I was able to complete most of my work. Little girl was better by Tuesday, and on Wednesday we packed up the minivan and left for our trip. I had high hopes of relaxing with the people that matter most in my life.

I did relax. Somewhat. My stress from the office suddenly paled in comparison to the work of wrangling three kids to sleep in one hotel room. I agonized about work and excused myself from fun activities to quickly respond to emails. And while my sweet husband offered to let me sleep in and rest in the mornings, I was anxious and insistent on filling every moment of the day with an activity. There was screaming, occasional fighting, and things often didn’t go as planned, but we had a blast.

The kids spent time with their cousins. I even snuck away for a massage. I put down the phone and marveled at the kids and our surroundings. By the end of the trip, I disconnected from everything awaiting me at home and reconnected with my loved ones.

We pulled back into the driveway five days later with four loads of laundry, a handful of random souvenirs, and an incredibly filthy car. I smiled at our happy kids, who couldn’t wait to share the trip’s highlight reels with their classmates the next day. I started the work of unpacking and preparing mentally for the week ahead.

The next morning, I eagerly handed the kids off to their amazing teachers. I had stacks of work waiting for me, and I felt guilty admitting I was excited to get started. I poured myself a cup of coffee and stared at the papers waiting for me to grade. As I pulled out the grade sheet, my mind wandered back to the family adventure that consumed me just days ago. I wondered where the time went. I yearned for it back.

Parenting. It’s a strange beast. One moment, all I want is to spend time fully present with my kids and the next moment, I want to pass them along to another caregiver. If I don’t feel guilty about letting them watch TV, I feel guilty about letting the laundry pile up. When I am at home, my mind wanders to my work at my desk, yet when I am at work, I can’t wait to get back home.

The good thing is, I know I am not alone.

Our generation is full of women stuck between scribbles marks and board meetings. We are all trying to navigate past the guilt and towards the balance we think others have found. There is a sisterhood surrounding us, whether our work of the day involves art projects, volunteering, and skinned knees, or whether our days are filled with meetings, emails, and clients.

I take my daughter’s scribble drawing off my legal pad and tape her artwork to my office wall. Today, I’ll grade final exams, but tomorrow, we’ll make family memories. Sometimes, this balancing act looks a lot more like my daughter’s scribbles than my organized planner. And I’m starting to not only accept it, but to revel in the wonder of it all.

There is beauty in the scribbles. There is beauty in the ups and downs, the ins and outs, and in the waves of life well-lived. I think kids know this innately. But as we over schedule, over-commit, and over-analyze, we grownups tend to forget to seek out the beauty in life’s constant rhythm.

My mentor, Singer/Songwriter Amy Steinberg reminds me, “I am exactly where I need to be.” You can listen to one of my favorite songs, “Exactly,” by clicking here. If Amy’s music helps you recharge and reconnect, consider purchasing her music on Amazon.

 

To the Heroes Advocating on Behalf of Children

Dear Child Advocate,

I remember him as if we met yesterday. Johnny, not even six months old, sat on my lap and giggled as I finished getting together my court documents. I was a young attorney for Florida’s Department of Children and Families, learning how to navigate the complexities of child welfare. Johnny had bruises on his body, his runny nose had crusted over, and he was dirty. I wanted to drop everything and scrub away his despair.

Something in me changed that day.

Before becoming a law professor, before starting my photography business, before blogging, I had one “job” other than motherhood. I was a child welfare attorney, working alongside child advocates just like you. I worked with men and women who, on a daily basis, risked their own safety and sacrificed their own personal needs to protect abused and neglected children in my community. We worked as a team, but it was not until a social worker got sick and asked me to watch Johnny that I realized that while I led the fight in the courtroom, the real heroes led the fight on the ground.

The concerned citizen who calls in an abuse report. The social worker who brings a child to safety. The foster parent who answers phone calls in the middle of the night. The therapist who heals the broken heart. The doctor who fixes the broken bone. The nurse who provides nutrition to the neglected belly. The schoolteacher who provides continuity during a time of great upheaval. The volunteer who collects Christmas presents and advocates through philanthropic service. The adoptive parent who gives a child a forever home.

A social worker made the brave and necessary decision to remove Johnny from his parents earlier that morning. That evening, a foster mother would wash his tattered clothes. Tomorrow, a volunteer might agree to serve as his Guardian ad Litem.

I know caring for abused and neglected children is a thankless calling. Child welfare professionals only get attention when things go wrong. The day-to-day victories often go unnoticed.

Please remember that you change lives every single day. You see things most ‘regular people’ pretend don’t exist. You nurture broken hearts by day and fall asleep at night wishing only that you could have done more. You give everything you have to mend the pieces of shattered lives and then awaken the following morning to do it again and again.

Before going to court, I looked into Johnny’s big brown eyes. I felt the warmth of his skin and was touched by his beautiful gaze. He chewed on my suit jacket and smiled at me. And he broke my heart. Not just because his life was already harder than any I could imagine, and only in part because his future would likely be filled with challenges, but because I knew that as much as I wanted to save and protect Johnny, tomorrow another Johnny would need me, and I would have to shift my focus away from this precious life. I felt a weight on my shoulders and an ache in my heart. I gently placed Johnny on the blanket next to my desk and prepared his court documents.

That day, I provided comfort to Johnny. The following morning, I successfully advocated on his behalf. But by the following week, my focus shifted away from him. Another child needed my undivided attention. Johnny’s life was no longer in my hands.

My favorite author, Brian Andreas, whimsically says, “Anyone can slay a dragon…but try waking up every morning & loving the world all over again. That’s what takes a real hero.” You are on the front lines slaying dragons every day. You go to bed each night like a warrior, and you wake up each morning ready to fight yet another battle.

Thank you for loving the world so much that you are willing to wake up tomorrow and protect yet another child, even at the expense of your own heartache. You are not only my hero, but you are a hero for all the Johnnys I’ve ever met.

With deepest respect and gratitude,
Stacey

This post was originally featured on The Huffington Post.

5 Truths About Parenting Generation Z

Born in the late seventies, I am either one of youngest members of Generation X or the very oldest of the Millennials. I entered my teenage years without an email account, and left for college without a cell phone. I had a beeper, and I remember the Gulf War. I was already an adult when the planes struck on 9/11, and dial-up internet was a thing of the past by the time I hit my junior year of college.

I’ve read a million parenting articles geared towards making sure our kids enjoy the perks we knew and loved during our coming of age, but what are the shared experiences that make up parenting a Generation Z kid? After consulting with parents and educators, I’ve created a list of five Generation Z truths I believe are universal.

  1. We still don’t know if we should let our kids play videogames, but we tend to recognize that we are denying our kids technology at our own risk.  Studies are mixed as to the effects of technology on child development, but one study suggests that children who play an hour of videogames a day are more social, less hyperactive, and happier than their non-videogame playing peers. The caveat – the study also found that playing more than three hours a day is harmful.
  2. We want to go back to the days of free-range parenting, but we are scared. Some of us are scared because the world seems far more dangerous than it did twenty years ago, but many of us fear our overprotective government or the judgment of other parents more so than we fear the hypothetical evil stranger lurking at the park. Either way, we end up keeping the kids inside a lot. We seek a happy medium that alleviates our fears and empowers the kids to explore their world outside the shadow of our watchful gaze.
  3. We have so many choices with regard to how to nourish our kids. This isn’t the first generation of kids to have organic options, but it is easier than ever for a parent to substitute traditional childhood foods for more natural, healthy varieties. Parents still feel torn over what to believe regarding GMOs and additives. We may get away with pleading ignorance for a few more years, but we are coming dangerously close to universal acceptance that “we are what we eat.” Our responsibility to make wise food choices is becoming not only a smart move, but a parenting obligation.
  4. Our kids feel entitled, and we don’t know what to do about it. This one isn’t new. I bet our parents worried about this, too. But parents today are caught between trying to provide an idealistic childhood all while raising a generation of authentic, morally responsible citizens. In an era where my television can play anything the kids want to watch with a moment’s worth of programming, it is hard to teach kids that the good things in life are worth waiting for. It’s no wonder kids don’t see patience as a virtue.
  5. We’ve entered a new era in public education and the effects of these widespread changes are not yet clear. We have amazing, competent teachers. School administrators are well trained, engaged, and motivating. But unlike the educational system we grew up in, public schools today rely heavily on the private sector to create standardized tests that dictate learning outcomes in the classroom. As more time is spent on testing, less time is spend enriching brains and teaching kids to become creative and critical thinkers.

Many of us entered adulthood excited about the future. We may adhere to different parenting philosophies, but some parenting truths are universal. We all want our kids to inherit a world that is even better than the one we were born into. Together, we can guide the next generation down a path of opportunity, success, and perhaps most importantly, a path towards personal and communal fulfillment.

Set Up to Fail : High Stakes Testing in Public Schools

Imagine being a nine year old child. Picture yourself studying for a test, walking into class, feeling confident you prepared the best you could. How would you feel if after finishing the test you only understood half the questions? Would your confidence be shaken?

Over 1/3 of students failed Utah’s state required standardized assessment last year. Florida purchased questions for its standardized test (commonly called the “FSA”) from this seemingly flawed Utah test and many expect Florida will see similar results. Earlier this month, Florida legislators, recognizing the potential issues with the test, signed a bill promising not to hold back third graders who fail the FSA this year. However, elementary students had already walked away from testing a week earlier feeling inadequate and confused. High stakes testing sets a child up to fail.

Now picture yourself as a young schoolteacher. You are a recent graduate, excited to make a difference in the lives of young children. You want to work at a school close to your home, and, much to your surprise, that school is hiring! You apply and get the job. You familiarize yourself with the bonus and promotion structure and learn that financial incentives are closely tied to your students’ performance on standardized tests.

Even when a school employs hardworking teachers and has the support of parents and local business partners, some schools serve students that live in homes that fall below the poverty line. Research tells us that the number one indicator of how a child will perform on a standardized test is whether or not that child lives in poverty. Our flawed standardized testing model sets even the most talented teacher up to fail.

For a moment, walk in the shoes of a school administrator. You want to guide your teachers and provide a solid curriculum for the students enrolled in your district. However, states are purchasing required tests from large for-profit corporations. You are caught between trying to provide quality education to your students and maintaining the financial backing from the state to do so. Unfortunately, these goals are often mutually exclusive. High stakes testing sets up even the most altruistic school administrator up to fail.

Now take the perspective of a parent. You childproof your home. You vaccinate your child. You put your child in a car seat and you teach her the golden rule. After providing your child a foundation, you send her off to public school, dropping her off at the schoolhouse gate confident that the school system will be your key partner in her education. As the school’s partner, you plan to stay involved every step of the way.

But you soon find out that corporations, not teachers, created the tests your child will take.

You learn that the innovation and creativity you worked so diligently to harness during her first few years of life could be jeopardized by the “high-stakes” testing culture saturating her public school classroom.

You watch as important subjects like history, art, and music slowly drop from the curriculum as these subjects are not covered by the standardized test. 

You know your child needs an empathetic and patient teacher, yet you watch as teachers shift focus because of standardized testing standards. Assets like empathy and patience work against our best teachers who know their performance review will be based on how much and how quickly your child is able to learn.

Perhaps worst of all, your child takes her first standardized test and comes home reporting that she was required to sign a piece of paper promising not to talk to you about the test or the testing procedure itself.

High stakes testing sets parents up for failure, too.

This is the current climate of public education in our country. Students, teachers, and administrators know the system isn’t working. It’s not too late to fix it. Children desperately want to learn and succeed. Talented teachers are ready to provide comprehensive, engaging, and exciting lessons to their students. School administrators are eager to motivate and inspire their districts to use innovative and creative approaches in the classroom. Parents want to partner with their local public schools.

Teachers and administrators can’t fix the system alone. But parents and community members can help. “To make democracy work, we must be a nation of participants, not simply observers. One who does not vote has no right to complain.”  Louis L’Amour

Get involved. Write to your state and national legislatures. Let’s change course and set students, teachers, administrators, and parents up for success.

1YE1LLNXGBThis post first appeared on The Huffington Post.

The views contained in this post are Stacey’s own and do not represent the views her employer.

 

5 Things Every Working Mom Needs to Hear

Moms, I know you are out there. Like me, I know you are trying to catch your breath as you race from work to daycare at 5:30, hoping your child isn’t the last to get picked up. I bet your stress melts away the moment you drop to your knees on the preschool room floor. I don’t think I am alone in feeling an overwhelming joy consume me as my child runs towards me, crashing into my outstretched, tired arms.

Do you also marvel at the dichotomy? At work, I feel efficient and productive. Yet this strength seems absent as I try to unpack lunch boxes, prepare dinner, and make meaningful eye contact during the short 90 minutes that exist between taking off my heels and putting the kids to bed. I struggle to hold it all together while watching my 4-year-old throw a tantrum on the living room floor. I worry that his meltdown is somehow my fault, that perhaps if I didn’t work so hard, if I spent less time away from him, maybe the tantrums would disappear from our lives.

I’ve been at this working motherhood thing for nine years. Nine years trying to balance the chaos and understand the emotions that come from constantly trying to navigate between two worlds. And as I enter this tenth year of motherhood, I am trying to accept one simple truth.

I. Am. Enough. You are, too. Say it with me: “I am enough.” Here are five things I remind myself of while trying to balance career and family. I hope this list comes in handy tonight as you simultaneously flip yet another load of laundry and mentally draft an email before collapsing into bed.

1. It’s quality, not quantity, that matters.
Moms today spend more time with their kids than mothers did in the 1960s. Theodore Roosevelt said, “Comparison is the thief of joy.” Perhaps it all depends on where you look to make your comparison. So many of us waste our time comparing ourselves to the mothers we see in our Facebook newsfeed. The next time you feel inadequate, shift your focus away from social media. I promise — those are only the highlight reels. Research tells us that the amount of time a mother spends with her child is far less important than the quality she gives during those moments. You have enough time to spend with your kids. The key is to make the moments count.

2. The kids are fine!
Early childhood education, as is often provided in day care settings, is good for children. While you are working hard and helping to support your family financially, the kids are thriving in organized child care settings. Quality early childhood education improves learning outcomes later in life. Children in organized care learn socialization skills early on and are better able to adapt to new experiences later in life.

3. Working is good for your health.
Researchers French and Demaske found that women who return to work after maternity leave experience less depression and better physical health than their nonworking peers. “For the mothers in our study, steady, full-time work was associated with better physical health than other work pathways and better mental health than interrupted or stay-at-home pathways.”

4. Your daughters (and daughters-in-law) might thank you for sticking it out.
Just 30 years ago, maternity leave was almost nonexistent. Today, family leave policies in America are still woefully inadequate. The International Labor Organization studied 164 countries and analyzed their maternity leave policies. The study found that the United States is one of only two countries that does not provide cash assistance to mothers upon the birth of a child. Many countries recognize the need to support families. Hopefully, in our lifetime, our country will as well. We all have a duty to not just wallow in our struggles as working parents. Instead, we should see our own experiences as an opportunity to band together to try improving our nation’s attitudes towards working parents.

5. Gretchen Rubin, one of my favorite authors on work-life balance, reminds us that “The days are long but the years are short.”
Celebrate the small victories that really are not so little when we slow down to think about them. Does your 4-year-old wake up each day excited to greet the world? Revel in that success instead of fixating on the never-ending pile of papers on the counter. Did your child go to bed with a full belly? Don’t discount the effort it took to make that happen.

We all struggle. Our struggles make us human. So tomorrow, as you drop your child off at preschool and mentally shift gears to the work ahead, I hope you take a minute to reflect on this list. And if you see another mom at the office with cereal stuck to her pant leg, or watch as she accidentally pulls out a pacifier instead of a pen at a business meeting, I hope you remember that she, too, might be caught in the cycle of trying to seamlessly transition between work and motherhood. Despite how easy texting and social media makes communication, I would venture to guess that many moms, like me, still feel disconnected. Take a minute to share your story. The more I live, the more I see that by sharing our challenges, we can reconnect to one another, and hopefully, together, make our individual struggles to balance life a little less daunting.

Stacey Steinberg teaches Legal Writing and Juvenile Law at the University of Florida Levin College of Law. She is also a lifestyle photographer and a mom. You can view Stacey’s photography on Facebook.

A Roadmap Towards Work-Life Balance

Last week, I found myself at a coffee shop grading papers. I couldn’t help but overhear two young college students talk about career options and their dreams for work-life balance. It was so hard not to interject. There is so much I want to tell them. But where to begin?

I remember being in their shoes. A third year law student, I thought I knew so much. I wanted to feel passionate about work. I wanted to make a difference. I was sure I would make good money. And I was confident I would seamlessly transition into motherhood a few years down the road.

My confidence was misplaced. While I left law school armed with knowledge and enthusiasm, I had little in my arsenal to prepare me for the realities of balancing work and life. If I could give these students some career guidance, I thought to myself, I would say the following:

  1. Follow your passion. I never thought I could walk into a courtroom with a young sexual violence survivor and prosecute her assailant. But, just a year out of law school, I got to do this on a regular basis. I interviewed child abuse victims. I made plea offers. I tried jury cases. In law school, I thought only the best, brightest, and most experienced attorney could handle such serious issues. But in reality, the best attorney to handle such an emotionally charged case was the one who was passionate about the issue, competent, and willing to work hard. And at the time, that was me.
  2. Define your goals. Identify what gives you the biggest push towards inner peace. What will make you go to bed each night feeling like your day was worthwhile and fulfilling? The sooner you can figure this out, the better able you will be to match your career with your authentic self.
  3. Don’t rely only on work to make you happy. Get a hobby. Volunteer. Even if you love your job, happiness cannot be achieved through work alone. Some of the most unhappy people I know have jobs they are passionate about. Having interests outside of work offers us a perspective we all need in order to achieve balance in our lives.
  4. Diversify. Continue to network, even when you think you’ve found the perfect job. Explore your other passions and interests. You might one day decide to turn that passion into a new career.
  5. Enjoy the journey. College is a time of great excitement. Take the time to make lasting friendships and experience the joy of early adulthood – the time will pass all too quickly.

The young students at the coffee shop continued to talk as I jotted down my thoughts. A teacher at heart, I made the bold move of interrupting the students. I shared with them my notes. The pair seemed appreciative, which led me to jot down one last piece of advice.

  1. Speak up. Share. It can be so easy to fall into the silence of “getting through” each day. But if we don’t share our experiences — both the good and the bad — we isolate ourselves and we inhibit our ability to learn and to teach. The best measure of success isn’t our ability to earn a living, but in our ability to create a life. We are all passengers on a shared journey towards fulfillment and balance. We might as well help each other out along the way.

This was originally published on The Huffington Post.

Dear New Professional Working Mom

Dear New Professional Working Mom,

I want to tell you my story. Seven years ago, I felt lost and confused. As a new mom and a full-time attorney, I was pulled in two very different directions and, as a result, I often felt I did neither job well. Days and nights were a blur. My house was a mess in a way that mirrored my scattered thoughts. We were surviving, but no one was thriving. I knew I was not alone, although often I felt no one had the unique work-life struggle I had.

I was a prosecutor, handing cases involving child abuse and sexual violence. My husband worked from home, creating a constant feeling of envy and resentment. Our rambunctious son made the few moments of quiet feel like we were only in the eye of a hurricane. The calm passed quickly at our home, making way for fits of chaos and confusion.

Fast-forward nine years. I still work. My husband now works 60+ hour weeks outside the house. We have added two more children to our mix. And yet I am so much calmer. So much more at ease with balancing work and motherhood. My house is cleaner, my thoughts are less scattered, family time is more peaceful. And most importantly, I would venture to say, we are thriving.

What changed? We got a housekeeper. That certainly helped. I still work with child abuse victims, but now I am a writing professor dabbling in child welfare issues. That certainly helps, too. But I think the change has less to do with my circumstances, and far more to do with my mindset. As a new mom, I resented my law degree. I resented the responsibility and the expectation it placed on me. But for the first time in a long while, I am grateful to be an attorney. I am grateful to have a profession. Perhaps having three young children made me better understand that I am good at lawyering. I am good at teaching. Being a stay-at-home mom? I now know I neither enjoy it nor am good at it. And for the first time in a long time, I am learning that this is OK. I tip my hat to stay-at-home moms. It is a much harder job than mine. It is such an important job, but so is mine.

New Professional Working Mom, it gets easier. You worked hard to get where you are professionally. You will have to work hard to get to where you want to be as a mom. The nice thing is, motherhood is a book, not a single chapter. While this chapter might be the hardest you’ll ever get through, the scene will change. Pour yourself a strong cup of coffee, find a comfortable spot to rest your tired feet, and read on. I promise, while new questions may appear, your own truth will unfold.

With love and respect,

Stacey “Experienced” mom, law professor, photographer, and friend