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If You Don’t Make It a Big Deal, It Doesn’t Have to Be a Big Deal!

Monday, July 20th, 2015

The first time the Tooth Fairy didn’t visit my kid when she was supposed to, I felt awful, and I had no one to blame but me. I was on TF duty that night, and I plum forgot.

When my daughter, confused, came to me the following morning, I fumbled for an explanation. If she kept her tooth under her pillow, I bet the Tooth Fairy would come tonight, I said. Satisfied with my answer, my daughter accepted it, and didn’t mention the TF’s no-show again. (And the TF had the alarm set on her iPhone so she’d be sure not to forget again.)

I told my friend, a mom of four, what happened, and unfazed she said, “Oh I’ve forgotten the Tooth Fairy, multiple times.” With a wink she added, “The Tooth Fairy gets very busy sometimes.”

I was thinking of my friend’s basic logic—if you don’t make it a big deal, it doesn’t have to be a big deal—last weekend when I brought my girl to her first concert.  We’d been looking forward to the show for months, since Christmas when her father and I surprised her with Taylor Swift tickets. Before the concert last week, my daughter made a special T-shirt, on which she declared in fabric crayon that she’s Taylor’s #1 Fan. At the show sometime after Taylor came on, well past bedtime, my girl sat down in her chair, closed her eyes, and fell asleep. I tried to stir her, but she was out. I didn’t know what to do—this was something she’d been looking forward to for months, and it really bummed me out to think about how sad she would be when she realized she’d missed everything.

With no other options, I let her sleep. She snoozed through a couple of songs. Fortunately, after that I was able to poke her awake again, rally, have a great time, and you know, shake it off.

Was my daughter disappointed that she’d fallen asleep for part of the show? It barely registered. She had the best time–and wears her new official concert T everywhere. I’m so glad I didn’t say anything to her about the catnapping–it didn’t bother her one bit, after all, so there was no reason for it to bother me.

Like the Tooth Fairy incident, it was a reminder to me that many times kids would likely be fine with something, if we parents didn’t get them worked up in the first place. I’m thinking, for example, of this story about parents’ complaining because their Little League didn’t issue participation trophies. Maybe some kids were going to be genuinely disappointed–but maybe they wouldn’t have even noticed their “missing” trophies if the adults didn’t complain about it.

Parents advisor Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., creator of the video series Raising Emotionally and Socially Healthy Kids, offers this helpful analogy: “When our children fall, most of us learn not to let out a big gasp and run over there, but to pause for their reaction first. And of course if our kids are really upset we run over and pick them up and give them extra love. But if they’re not reacting strongly, then we shouldn’t either.

What about you? Have you ever kept mum about a mild disappointment for your kids’ sake?

What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?

Gail O’Connor is a mom of one boy, two girls, and one rescue dog. She’s a senior editor at Parents and you can follow her on Twitter.

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Instead of “Mom Shaming,” How About Offering Kindness or a Helping Hand?

Thursday, July 16th, 2015

It’s always fun when your kids are falling apart in public, isn’t it?

I’ll never forget a trying day I had in a Target checkout line. I was pregnant, with two bickering children in tow. After I left the store and shuffled us toward the car, a woman approached me and said, “I just want you to know that you’re doing a really good job.” That kind stranger made my day.

Compare that story to something I read about this week, a new development in the loathsome trend known as “mom shaming,” in which strangers criticize others’ parenting choices online. With so much to toss grenades at—breast or bottle? sleep-train or not?—there’s plenty to keep the trolls busy. But this new twist makes the hair on the back of my neck stand on end. The gist: A stranger snaps a photo of a parent doing something he/she deems “wrong,” posts it with an incendiary caption, and sits back to watch the sparks fly. Rachel Garlinghouse writes in HuffPost Parents:

First I read the story of a mom child-wearing her 5-year-old while shopping in a store. The store manager took a photo of the pair and posted it on her personal Facebook page along with critical commentary. The photo began circulating online, and the mom later discovered the photo herself.

 The second story was a mom who was nursing her baby in a restaurant when a [male] stranger took a photo of her and posted it online, along with a comment stating she needed to “cover up.” The mom recognized her own photo after it had gained popularity online.

Like Garlinghouse, I’m appalled that there are people who think it’s okay to snap a photo of a parent in public who is simply in the middle of…parenting, and then post that picture with an intent to stir the pot. I like to think that most of us parents with young children are too busy to be seizing opportunities to photo-stalk people we don’t know and upload those images for, for… (Really, for what?) Even more nauseating, YouTube is rife with videos of parents shaming their own children—videos the parents created themselves—to teach their kids “a lesson,” sometimes with tragic results. Some parents have thankfully spoken out against the practice, like this father did, in memorable fashion.

Shaming one another has always been a part of our culture, it turns out, since at least the days of the public whipping post, as Jon Ronson says in his new book, So You’ve Been Publicly Shamed. Ronson writes: “I think our natural disposition as humans is to plod along until we get old and stop. But with social media, we’ve created a stage for constant artificial high drama. Every day a new person emerges as a magnificent hero or a sickening villain. It’s all very sweeping, and not the way we actually are as people.”

I hope not. I have my doubts when I read stories about mom shaming, and similarly, “good Samaritans” who call the police on parents when they see children “in danger”—walking to a park, or waiting alone in a car for a few minutes while a parent runs inside a store—and smugly walk away from the real nightmare they just set in motion for that family.

Instead of being judged for their every move, what parents really need from strangers: a little more kindness and compassion, not cellphone cameras pointed in their direction.

Gail O’Connor is a senior editor at Parents and mom of three. You can follow her on Twitter.

Social Media¿ According to Kids
Social Media¿ According to Kids
Social Media¿ According to Kids

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As a Working Mom, You Just Can’t Win

Thursday, June 4th, 2015

I was on my usual train to work this morning, when I got an email from my child’s school. “Calling all parents!” it began. “Put on your running shoes and come support our Running Club—stop by school TODAY between 11:30-12:30 and join the fun. Run a lap or two with the kids—let’s get fit and healthy together!” The email signed off with: “See you at lunchtime!”

Or not, I thought.

Big picture: I’m grateful we’re part of a school where teachers give up their free time to do amazing things for their students—our children—like launching a running club to get kids moving. (Seriously, how cool is that?) But when I get an email with late notice inviting “all parents” to something, too late for any working parent to possibly make arrangements to attend, I can’t help feeling blindsided, and like, well, whether working parents come or not doesn’t matter, as long as other parents can.

I’ll admit to feeling a little extra-cranky right now, when there are so many events to wrap up the school year, and the opportunities to attend them—or miss them—keep on coming. One of my colleagues is wondering how she’s going to make the “13,000 events in the 13 days left of school.” Thank goodness we both work at a place like Parents that gives us the flexibility to attend most of them. That’s just luck, though—not every working parent can do that. And some rarely get to be at school at all.

The truth: Most of the time, I don’t feel guilty not being at school. Working full-time means I’m just never going to be the Chicken-Nugget Day mom, and I’m cool with that. But missing out is one thing. Deep down, I’m worried how my child feels the many days she sees other moms at school, and her mother isn’t there, even though she’s said she is proud to have a mom who works. I shared my woes with another working-mom friend, who said, “I may have a skewed point of view, but I see all of these events as, ‘How many times can you let your child down?’”

To be sure, at-home moms would appreciate more notice with invitations, too. Just because they’re home doesn’t mean they have the freedom to drop everything and get to school, like so many people assume. They’re often the busiest of caretakers for their families, and without backup. I haven’t forgotten that when I was at home with two kids in school and a baby, a lack of notice bugged me then too, as I didn’t have family nearby to call on for last-minute help. The worst kind of invite? The one that acknowledges it’s late notice, yet goes on to say, “But your kid has been working so hard on X.” So parents who can’t shuffle things around can’t make the event and get to feel guilty about it.

When schools invite “all parents” to events at school with short or no notice, they’re not inviting all parents—only those lucky enough to be home and unencumbered enough to attend. Forget dads (most of whom work), working moms, or even parents who can’t bring a small child in tow and can’t hire a babysitter at the last minute—or at all. I wish schools could do a sensitivity check before sending out invitations like this. They could also give more thought to whether an event calls for parent involvement at all: My Parents colleague Jenna Helwig wrote about that in this blog post earlier this week. Most working parents have to guard their vacation time carefully, to cover everything from parent-teacher conferences to school performances (sometimes for multiple children) to an actual family vacation, when most have only two to three weeks to use for the entire year.

Earlier in the school year, I spoke up to my daughter’s teacher about the sheer number of mid-day school events, and how that sets up most working parents to fail. To my surprise, he not only listened, but responded with a first-thing-in-the-morning classroom writing reception for parents. I went, sat side-by-side with my daughter as she showed off her work, and I headed to a later train, happy and for the moment even a little victorious: My daughter could have a mom who works, and not feel like the only kid in the classroom without a parent there.

I understand it’s not always possible to accommodate parents who work, and schools can’t please everybody. They have other factors to consider, like coordinating events around teachers’ schedules, too. I just wish schools could think and plan this way more often, to have things when more parents—including fathers!—can be there. Our school is planning two evening events in the next couple of weeks. We had lots of notice, and both my husband and I will be there.

And if schools can’t schedule something except in the middle of the day, please let us working parents know, at least a week in advance, though ideally more—especially for those parents who do shift work and can’t make changes so quickly.

Is that too much to ask?

Gail O’Connor is a senior editor at Parents and a mom of three. You can follow her on Twitter @gailwrites.

Working Moms: Best Tips
Working Moms: Best Tips
Working Moms: Best Tips

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Are You Mom Enough to Do Disney?

Thursday, May 14th, 2015

My three children have reached the ages of 12, 9, and 3 without ever having been to Disney World, and they’ve survived, even if they’re social outcasts.

I’m kidding–sort of. I’m not sure when it became a rite of passage for middle-class families to take a trip to Disney World, but when my older kids claim they’re the only ones in their classes who haven’t been to WDW, they’re not stretching the truth.

My 9-year-old has been especially patiently waiting to make a visit, and later this year, we’ll be boarding a plane to Orlando to meet the Mouse himself. My big kids’ ecstatic reactions to this news were priceless. (Well, not exactly priceless. As our story in Parents reported, it’s hard to do a Disney trip for a family of four for less than $3,842, with airfare.) Our 3-year-old, bless her, simply asked, “What’s Disney World?”

As a Disney newbie, I quickly learned that our usual laid-back approach to vacation planning isn’t going to fly for Disney World. And not knowing the native lingo (Magic Band, anyone?), planning a trip there sometimes feels akin to trying to map out an excursion to an unfamiliar continent. I’ve had friends tell me the planning is all good fun, while others said it’s just plain stressful. So I was grateful for our recent story in Parents about planning a Disney trip, which has tons of useful info.

Related: The Ultimate Disney World Planning Guide

Experienced Disney park-goers do enjoy the planning, though, and the most dedicated among them have websites and podcasts to help the rest of us. A great website for first-timers is Shannon Albert’s Walt Disney World Prep School–her blog posts are comprehensive without being overwhelming, and I’m attracted to her favored plan of attack: Hit parks when they open, tour the attractions early, and leave the middle of the day open for a nap or swim back at your hotel or continued fun in the park, your choice. Another great site is Pete Werner’s “Dis Boards,” which has an active user forum and Disney news updates. One more great read: Christina Wood’s travel blog “Everything Walt Disney World.” And my husband and kids have especially enjoyed perusing the superhelpful book Unofficial Guide to Walt Disney World.

Related: Insider Tips: Make the Most of Your Disney Vacation

Sure, you could try to approach Disney like you would other vacations: show up with a loose itinerary and just wing your days there. But when your fellow park visitors have booked their dining reservations and FastPasses for rides months in advance, it’s a little risky if your kids have their hearts set on certain things, like having lunch or dinner at Be our Guest restaurant. I booked my trip five months ahead of time, and it’s too late for that one. (Luckily, no one had their heart set on it.) A Floridian friend of mine frequently visits Walt Disney World on short notice, and says this is why her Frozen-obsessed daughters haven’t met Anna and Elsa yet. (A quick check on the My Disney Experience app shows a 95-minute wait to meet the sister duo at 10 a.m. on a school day.)

I was trying to get up to speed on all that it takes to get ready for a good time at “the World.” (Um yeah, I’m saying that now.) I quickly saw I was out of my league, and put myself in the hands of an authorized Disney vacation planner. These special travel agents cost travelers nothing, and know all the ins and outs of Disney’s many resorts and four theme parks. Plus they tend to go to Disney a lot—so they have a lot of helpful insights. (Wait, from which park would it be easiest to get to the Hoop de Doo musical revue again? A Disney vacation planner can tell you. ) And there’s still plenty left over for a Disneybound mom or dad to do: reserving a stroller, ordering some groceries ahead of time for the room, and more.

The best ones are also more skilled with handling the run on special Disney promotions, like the extremely popular free dining. I’d heard that we’re going at a time of year when we might qualify for free dining (no small savings, as eating in Disney is expensive), and sure enough, an upcoming promotion was announced on April 27th. This year, it runs September through December, but not all or even most weeks during that time, with the exception of the whole month of September; and certain resorts and rooms, like the Little Mermaid suites at Art of Animation, are usually excluded. We were going in September, and I’d booked at a resort that qualified, so I thought, Great! We’ll be all set.

Not so fast(pass). I received an urgent email from our travel planner asking if I’d be willing to switch our family of five to another resort to get free dining, as the rooms at our selected resort had already sold out of it. (Ah, so that’s how it works.) We’d also have to buy a park hopper pass or water-park tickets to qualify for it. (Wait, that’s not “free.”) In the end, we got the free dining, but many people were not so lucky. People were on hold with Disney for four to six hours, and trying without success to access their site, which was down or crashing repeatedly. It was Black Friday madness, and our seemingly cheerful and unflappable travel planner admitted the stress of that day had her in tears.

This is Disney, maker of magic? A lot of people, even Disney’s diehard fans, were left feeling pretty angry with Disney for the hysteria that they unleashed when they dropped their free-dining promotion on the world (little w). Disney megafan Pete Werner said in his podcast The Dis Unplugged: “Disney doesn’t care about the guest experience anymore. And I can’t think of a better example of it than the nonsense that went on [that day]. You [meaning Disney] know this is going to be popular, so why don’t you brace for this? Why isn’t there some kind of effort made to not allow these things to go on, or at least mitigate them? Why does it get worse every year, instead of better?”

Sure, no one’s forcing anyone to get free dining. But if it became available during your already-planned dates of travel, you’d probably want it, too. (However, trying to plan a trip around the hope of getting free dining is almost guaranteed to be an exercise in frustration, as this wise post from Christina Wood notes.) Would I have kicked work and family aside for a day of being on hold, which is what it took for many people to get it? Nope. I’m not mom enough to do that–like most people, I have a life. (Thank you again to the awesome travel planner who made it her job to get the promotion for her clients, including us.) Pete Werner goes on to say you can argue people feel entitled to Disney’s promotional perks. Like others, he believes entitlement’s an issue at Disney, where some park visitors expect and take advantage of the company’s generous policies that put guests first. But Pete continues it’s Disney that started, and perpetuates, the problems surrounding the popular free-dining promotion.

On the one hand, Disney has the right to conduct its business however it wants. On the other, nobody enjoys being on hold for hours at time, or finally getting through on a website to have it crash upon checkout. Being new guests to Disney, I couldn’t help having a slightly sour taste in my mouth from what I witnessed that day. I’m sure I’ll have forgotten all about it by the time we get to the World (big w), and I see the joy on my kids’ faces the first time they see Cinderella’s Castle. I’ll hope I planned the best I could, and I sincerely can’t wait to get there.

Maybe the debacle of “free dining” rubbed so many people the wrong way, because WDW’s fans know: Disney can do better.

Gail O’Connor is a mom of three and a senior editor at Parents. You can follow her on Twitter @gailwrites.

Disney's Magic Kingdom: Beyond the Rides
Disney's Magic Kingdom: Beyond the Rides
Disney's Magic Kingdom: Beyond the Rides

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Changed for Good: How One Girl Is Lighting Up Broadway for Childhood Cancer

Thursday, April 23rd, 2015

Kylie Myers, a 12-year-old girl and theater buff with an infectious smile, made her Broadway debut last night. It wasn’t the part she or her parents had originally envisioned—Kylie’s first New York City performance was supposed to be a walk-on role in Aladdin. But before she could perform, Kylie, who had Ewing’s sarcoma, a type of bone cancer, died on February 13th, just days shy of her 13th birthday.

Mark and Robin Myers watch their daughter Kylie light up a billboard and important message about childhood cancer in Times Square.

Now, Kylie, or Smiley Kylie as she was known to those who loved her, is playing a much bigger part: a starring role in a short film produced by The Truth 365 of the Arms Wide Open Childhood Cancer Foundation (AWOCCF). The public service announcement, titled “Get Wind of This,” encourages others to join the fight against childhood cancer, the leading cause of death by disease for U.S. children. In spite of that, as Parents reported in this story in our November 2014 issue, little more than 4 percent of the National Cancer Institute’s annual budget goes toward childhood cancer. One thing that rankles parents in the childhood-cancer community: the idea that pediatric cancer is “rare.” In fact, at 1:17 in the video, you can see Kylie’s best friend and cancer survivor Bailey Moody, playing guitar and wearing a headband. Bailey and Kylie were in the same small class together in school in Georgia.

Last night, I had the pleasure of meeting Kylie’s parents, Mark and Robin Myers, who traveled with Kylie’s big sisters, Meredith, Kendall, and Jenna, from Atlanta to all watch Kylie’s Broadway debut, her PSA on repeat on a giant Times Square billboard.

“We always called her Smiley Kylie. Even as a baby she was always very smiley,” Robin told me. “So when she was diagnosed, Mark kind of came up with this idea. He said, ‘This is going to be really hard, so let’s try to get other people to smile for her when she can’t smile for herself.’ So we started out with her friends, and they would take selfies and post them. Then we did smiles from vacations, and then we said let’s try to get all 50 states and we did, in like three days.

“And Kylie: Her ‘thing’ was theater. She loved to sing and be on stage. She didn’t listen to popular music, she listened to showtunes. So we thought hey, wouldn’t it be fun if we tried to get some Broadway smiles and just see what happens? And we didn’t have connections with any shows—it wasn’t like we knew anybody—and within days, they just started pouring in. There were 12 musicals nominated for Tonys last year—we got smiles from nine of them. They would take them backstage and they would send them to us. Kristin Chenoweth did one. Idina Menzel did a video for Kylie. It was huge. Kylie would just scroll through them in the hospital.

“We’ve changed a lot, forever, in a lot of ways, but one of the ways is my awareness of the beautiful things strangers did. We were very loved by our church and our school and our community. But the shocking thing to me was all the people who don’t know Kylie who did kind things like that. I mean all these shows, all these Broadway actors did that. And I can’t tell you how much joy it brought her. All of her favorite shows sent her smiles. There was a guy in Pennsylvania—he was a jeweler, we don’t know him—and he made Kylie a piece of jewelry that was a smile. People that we don’t know who just did these incredible random acts of kindness…. I’ve never experienced anything like it. It was overwhelming, just the kindness of people we don’t know, that have no connection to us, but who just wanted to do something lovely. And I know cases of childhood cancer touch people’s hearts, if they know about it. And more people would care, if they just knew.

The rain couldn’t keep away fellow parents in the cancer community who came out to support the Myers family, including Matt and Nicole Kabel whose little Sally (“Sweet Sally Sunshine”), 2 1/2, is battling infant leukemia (and was truly sweet and sunshine in her father’s arms, the glow of Times Square no contest compared to her blond adorableness); “Tattoo Tom” Mitchell, who came up from Virginia and will be running a 200-mile (two hundred!) ultramarathon in Lake Tahoe next September to raise funds for the organization Stillbrave that he began in memory of his teenage daughter, Shayla; Dena Sherwood, who with her husband Billy founded the AWOCCF after their son Billy Jr. was diagnosed with Neuroblastoma; and mom and advocate Andrea Verdone, whose daughter Natalie’s battle against leukemia was featured in this story in Parents and whose donate-a-dollar project you can read more about here on Andrea and husband Dan’s site.

For the Myers family, advocating for more funds, research, and better treatments for childhood cancer has become a family mission. Mark will be speaking in Washington D.C. at CureFest for Childhood Cancer in September.

As Kylie told her parents,  ”If I have to die from childhood cancer, childhood cancer should die, too.”

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