6 Things Great Dads Have Mastered

This essay was first published on the Washington Post.

I woke up this morning and watched the sun peek through the blinds. I realized my husband had already gotten out of bed. His familiar voice sang to our daughter, who was erupting in giggles down the hall. I took a deep breath and rolled over for just a few more moments of sleep. I knew I had a long day ahead of me, and I smiled at the beautiful sounds of fatherhood echoing from down the hall.

 Like almost 60% of American households, my husband and I both work outside the home. And while we both often feel stressed, rushed, and overwhelmed balancing home and work responsibilities, I am lucky we share in our family’s child rearing responsibilities. I’m not alone. Compared to 1965, fathers nationwide have almost tripled the amount of time they spend with their children. And the results of this quality time are evident in the research. Studies show that father-child contact decreases behavioral issues in children and increases a child’s cognitive well-being.
 
It’s not just the statistics that help me see the importance of the role of dads in family life. I see the benefits firsthand in my own home. In honor of Father’s Day, here are six things great dads have mastered.
 
1.      Great dads understand that caring for their children isn’t “babysitting.” It’s fatherhood. In fact, 46% of dads wish they could spend more time with their kids.
 
2.      Great dads respect their spouse’s contributions to the family. They recognize the value of both stay at home moms and working moms. Great dads also honor and encourage their significant other to achieve both their personal and professional goals.
 
3.      Great dads plan for the future. They prioritize saving for college over splurging on fast cars. They invest in bunk beds instead of motorcycles. Whenever possible, great dads consider the value of life insurance, retirement savings, and college funds. That said, great dads also see the value in family vacations and appreciate the pleasure of an occasional splurge.
 
4.      Great dads might not be able to attend every tea party, baseball game, and parent-teacher conference, but they know mom might not be able to attend every event either. Great dads are flexible and work with their spouse to share parental responsibilities.
 
5.      Great dads know that by being involved in their own children’s lives, their children are more likely to do the same for the next generation. University of Florida researchers Fogarty and Evans found that “fathers who recall a secure, loving relationship with both parents are more involved in the lives of their infants and more supportive to their wives.”
 
6.      Great dads don’t always live with their children’s mom, might parent with another great dad, and sometimes are single parents. Family structure doesn’t define a great dad. Being a loving, supportive, and involved father makes a dad great.
 
Thank you to all the fathers who get up early, go to bed late, and fill their days dancing to the beautiful beat of parenthood.

6 Tools to Help Protect Children from Sexual Abuse

Co-authored by Jennifer Sager, Ph.D.

Child welfare professionals were not surprised to learn that sexual abuse occurred in the Duggar home. With nineteen children (and counting), the odds suggested that at least a fifth of the children in the home would experience sexual abuse in their lifetime. The first sign of sexual abuse was a tragic occurrence. The multiple acts that followed were an outrage, and likely, those multiple acts could have been stopped
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When we (Stacey Steinberg, J.D. and Jennifer Sager, Ph.D.) introduce ourselves to teachers and other parents, questions about our careers and backgrounds often result in awkward pauses followed by intense conversation. As child advocates having working with both victims and perpetrators of sexual abuse, parents often ask us, “What can I do to keep my child safe?”

In light of the Duggar abuse scandal, protecting children from sexual abuse is on many parents’ minds. Avoiding all risk is unlikely, but there are steps parents can take to minimize their child’s risk of sexual abuse. These tools will also help children get help if victimization occurs.

    1. Accept that sexual abuse is prevalent. 1 in 662,000 children will become an Olympic athlete. 1 in 2,872 children will become a doctor. 1 out of every 4 girls and 1 out of every 6 boys will be sexually abused. Put down the STEM kit and stop obsessing about finding the perfect pair of running shoes. Realize that the best thing you can do to help your child succeed is prioritize his or her safety.
    2. Know that in about 93% of sexual abuse cases, the child knows the abuser. Stranger is not the real danger. The abuser is typically a family member, a babysitter, a coach, or a teacher. Although most of the abuse is done by men, females also sexually abuse. This is typically where parents get scared. “Who can I trust?” It’s important to evaluate everyone in your child’s life. And to continue to evaluate as time passes. There are some people who are attracted only to young children. There are some that will only be attracted once your child has hit puberty. Just because someone was safe, doesn’t mean they are always going to be safe.
    3. Name the body parts. Butt, vagina, vulva, penis. Using cute names tells children that those areas are funny and that you, as the parent, are uncomfortable talking about those parts of their body. Plus, it doesn’t help when a little girl tells her teacher “Uncle Johnny licked my cookie” when she means her vagina area. When we give a child proper vocabulary, we give her tools to get help when she needs it.
  1. Teach body awareness. When a child cries over a cut on his finger don’t say, “You are fine, don’t worry about it.” If we minimize his feelings, we teach the child that we know his body better than he does. Acknowledge his pain. When he cries, say, “that hurts, but it will get better.” Stop what you are doing and connect with the child, so that he knows you will listen when he needs you.
  2. Talk about body safety. When you are tickling your child and she says “stop,” stop. She might obviously want you to continue. She might even scoot her body over towards you. Say, “stop means stop. And no means no. When you are ready for me to tickle again, just ask.” Allow her to ask before continuing the tickling. This teaches a child that she is in control of her body.
  3. The last tip is a big one for us. Remove the word Secret from your child’s vocabulary. A Secret is something that is kept hidden forever. A Surprise is a gift or event, which is revealed at a certain time. It is always eventually told. Use words like Hidden, Mystery, Private, Surprise, Confidential, or Super Agent (instead of secret agent). There are no “good secrets” or “bad secrets.” Tell your children that families can have surprises, but no secrets.

The terrifying reality is that there isn’t a surefire way to protect your child from sexual abuse. Despite using all the tools, someone can still hurt your child. However, by being aware and talking to your child, you can help protect your child and decrease the risk of sexual abuse.

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To report child sexual abuse, call the National Child Sexual Abuse hotline at 1-866-FOR-LIGHT (866-367-5444) or for immediate help, dial 9-1-1.


The information contained in this article is for general knowledge and should not be a substitute for professional medical or legal advice.

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

This 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

This essay originally appeared on The Huffington Post.

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.

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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.

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