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What 86% of Pregnant Women Aren’t Doing (but should)

Tuesday, June 16th, 2015

They’re not getting a Tdap vaccine, protecting against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. It’s crucial for women to get the vaccine while pregnant (during every pregnancy, in fact) between 27 and 36 weeks, according to the CDC. But during a March of Dimes event last week about the return of vaccine-preventable diseases, one infectious-disease expert shared that only 14% of pregnant women are getting the vaccine. Why is this so worrisome? Because babies are highly vulnerable to pertussis (also known as whooping cough), a disease that can be deadly. In fact, in 2012, when whooping cough cases were reported at the highest rate since 1955, infants were affected–and died–more than any other age group. The only person who can truly protect them? Their mom, before they’re even born.

Babies’ risk of pertussis dramatically decreases once they’ve received all three doses of the DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis) vaccine, by 6 months. Until then, they’re susceptible to a condition that can leave infants coughing so hard they struggle to breathe, and/or make a painful “whoop” sound. Sounds Of Pertussis has an audio clip of a baby with whooping cough that’s downright scary, but I urge you to listen so you can recognize the sound.

If you’re pregnant and your doctor hasn’t brought up getting Tdap yet, please ask. And there’s one more big thing you should do (I know–like you don’t have enough to think about as it is!): Make sure that all of the adults who will be around your baby gets their Tdap shot, too. When researchers can pinpoint how a baby got whooping cough, the answer is the same in 80% of cases: from someone at home. This could be you, your partner, your caregiver, your in-laws, your parents, your sister… you get it. Chances are, at some point in your pregnancy, every one of these people will ask you if there’s anything they can do for you. Here’s your answer! And of course, any siblings, cousins, or other kids who will come in contact with your child should be up to date on their DTaP vaccines, too.

Image via Shutterstock

Kara Corridan is the health director at Parents, and a mom of two daughters, 9 and 6. When she was pregnant, the Tdap recommendation wasn’t in effect, so she feels especially fortunate that her children didn’t get pertussis.

What Does Whooping Cough Sound Like?
What Does Whooping Cough Sound Like?
What Does Whooping Cough Sound Like?

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How to Talk to Your Daughter About What She’s Wearing

Tuesday, May 26th, 2015

This one goes out to all the moms of tweens…

The subject of girls’ clothing is so fraught, isn’t it? In recent months you may have read the stories about girls’ dress codes in schools, and the ensuing controversy because these codes are often put into place so that boys, and male teachers, aren’t “distracted” by what girls are wearing. (The boys, meanwhile, usually have no such restrictions placed on them.) At best, this can make a girl feel as though her body is something to be ashamed of; at worst, some argue, it perpetuates a culture of rape. Dress codes generally tend to affect older kids, but last month a 5-year-old in Texas was made to wear a t-shirt over her sundress because its spaghetti straps violate her school’s rules.

Even if you’re not faced with strict dress codes, if you’re the mom of a daughter who’s approaching tweenhood, you’ve probably got plenty to worry about in your own home. In mine, I’ve got a 9-year-old who’s trying to figure out who she is, who she wants to be, and how she wants to be perceived. More of this is wrapped up in her appearance than I’d like, but I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised: It’s been found that 42% of girls in 1st through 3rd grade wish they were thinner. 

When I recently went through my daughter’s warm-weather clothes to find the stuff she could wear this year, she rejected all the cargo shorts, all the cute plaid knee-length ones, even dresses with sleeves. Now she wants to wear what she said “all the cool girls wear”: short shorts and tank tops. Eek. (BTW, that’s not her in the photo.) We’ve talked it through with varying degrees of success. We’ve compromised on a few pairs of sort-of-short shorts, which made her very happy; we’ve also had fights in the morning before school when I just couldn’t let her leave the house wearing what she’d chosen. It’s uncomfortable for both of us, especially as I think back to my own childhood and can still see the judgmental look in my mom’s eyes when I was wearing an outfit she didn’t like. I don’t want my daughter to feel judged, least of all by me. But I do judge. And I do care what her outfits say about her… and about me as a mom. So yes, this is really fraught.

That’s why I turned to Simone Marean, executive director of Girls Leadership, an organization that teaches girls how to figure out who they are, what they believe in, and how to express it, empowering them to create change in their world. Her first bit of advice on how to talk to your daughter about her clothing choices was simple but brilliant: Timing is everything. “When you’re clothes shopping or when she’s getting dressed in the morning, your daughter is in such a place of insecurity and in such a vulnerable mindset,” Marean explained. Chances are, she’s not feeling great about her body, or not feeling good about her social position. She’s likely imagining how other girls or boys are looking at her. So if that’s the moment you choose to put down her sense of style, you’re just not going to get anywhere.

Whoa. How had I not put myself in my daughter’s place until now? Yes, I’d always tried to spare her feelings when I had something negative to say about her outfit, but why didn’t I get how personally she would take it? The better move is to talk about her clothing in a moment when she’s feeling relaxed and not in the spotlight, like when she’s in her pajamas, chilling on the couch, Marean suggests. I should come to her with a message that says, “I’m on your team, and I want you to express yourself.” From there, she’s more likely to hear you when you explain your reasoning.

We moms should also try to avoid the dressing-room showdown by setting the expectations up front, making it clear to your girl that she won’t be trying on a certain top or type of dress, or you won’t be going to a particular store. If you find yourself in the situation anyway, and your daughter’s trying on stuff you can’t stomach, Marean’s advice is, “Take into consideration how fragile she is, and have buckets of empathy.”

It’s also critical to give our girls the right vocabulary when we talk about appearances and appropriate dress. Should your daughter complain that it’s unfair that girls have dress codes and boys don’t, you can agree, and introduce the concept of a double-standard. Around age 8 or 9, girls are just on the edge of being able to grasp the idea of objectification, so that’s another term you can discuss. (For an excellent jumping-off point, read Marean’s guide to talking to girls about the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.) In my case, the next time my daughter tells me all the cool girls are wearing short shorts and tank tops, I can turn it into a conversation-starter: Why are the cool girls wearing that?

This is just the beginning for me and my daughter–and I’ve got a 6-year-old waiting in the wings–so I’m hopeful that Marean’s advice will take me far. This is going to be one very warm week, which means I’m going to be putting it into practice right away. (But not tomorrow morning.)

Kara Corridan is the health director of Parents. She’s gearing up for the double-standard and objectification talk.

Photo via Shutterstock.

How to Talk to Kids About Puberty
How to Talk to Kids About Puberty
How to Talk to Kids About Puberty

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The Best Thing We Moms Can Do For One Another

Wednesday, May 13th, 2015

Before I explain what it is, I want to tell you about Leith Greenslade, a mom of three daughters (ages 12, 10, and 8) and vice chair at the MDG Health Alliance, an initiative in support of the UN Secretary General’s Every Woman, Every Child movement. Last May, she gave a presentation at Moms+ Social Good in which she discussed the low numbers of mothers in positions of power. (Did you know that of the 50 most powerful companies in the world, only 3 were run by moms last year?) She vowed to look into the statistics in a detailed way, creating a trackable list.

One year later, on May 1, Greenslade launched the Motherhood+Public Power Index. It took a solid four months’ worth of number-crunching in her “spare” time to learn how many U.S. moms held powerful positions, and the results were startling.

  • Of the top 40 leaders in government, 5 are mothers. (33 are dads; the rest are not parents.)
  • Of the top 40 college presidents, 9 are moms. (27 are fathers.)
  • Of the top 40 CEOs, 4 are moms. (35 are dads.)
  • Of the top 40 religious leaders, 5 are moms. (27 are fathers.)

“I knew the number of mothers would be bad, because the number of women in these positions is already low. But I was surprised by how bad it was,” explains Greenslade. (You can see exactly who these mothers are, and where they work, here.) Mothers make up 40 percent of the U.S. population, but we hold 14 percent of powerful positions. Fathers also make up 40 percent of our population—but they hold 80 percent of powerful positions. “And these aren’t men with one or two children,” Greenslade explains. “Many of these fathers have three or four children, or more. Moms with lots of kids do not rise, but dads with lots of kids do well.”

Here’s her larger point: These men are the ones making the laws and policies that determine how the workplace functions. (See: our embarrassing family-leave policies; our lack of affordable childcare; our still-too-rare flextime schedules.)  “We can’t expect them to really understand the constraints that ordinary working women face,” she says. “They don’t have any clue how we live.”

To that end, Greenslade has an ambitious goal: to get 30 percent of mothers in positions of power. “I know if we do that there will be a total transformation in the workplace and women will be able to shuffle between our two worlds,” she says. “I’m trying to create a movement where mothers feel supported and valued, and they don’t have to withdraw from the workplace when they feel they just can’t do it anymore.”

You’re probably thinking, “Great idea. But how do I help make that happen?” And now we come to the best thing moms can do for one another: We can create an environment that fosters and supports leadership among women in any form. Greenslade has outlined some very manageable ways to do that:

  • Get people fired up about the Index. Women and men, moms and dads. Share the numbers with your friends, your coworkers, the organizations you belong to, and your social networks.
  • Talk to your children about the disparity in the number of mom leaders and dad leaders. You can bring it to their level, pointing out, perhaps, how many (or how few) principals or superintendents in your school district are mothers.
  • Find the moms in power in your circle and tell them you’ve got their back, whether via email or a supportive shout-out on social media. (You can also broaden this to the women Greenslade named in her report.) Talk about them to your fellow moms.
  • Take any opportunity you can to lead. Maybe that means being a class mom, or running a PTA committee, or teaching your kid’s religious ed class, or raising your hand the next time your boss is looking for someone to preside over a task force at work.

Next up for Greenslade is to create a Motherhood+Public Power Index for China, Brazil, Russia, and India. And she’ll update the U.S. index every year, just before Mother’s Day. If we all do our part, whether big or small, those pitiful numbers just might start to grow.

Kara Corridan has two daughters, 6 and 9. She’s regretting not volunteering for any PTA committees this year.

Photo via Shutterstock.

Back To Work At Six Weeks
Back To Work At Six Weeks
Back To Work At Six Weeks

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Why My Kids Hate Me Right Now

Tuesday, April 14th, 2015

Okay, maybe I exaggerate. But only barely.

We have new next-door neighbors. The parents are delightful and their 6-year-old son, whom I’ll call Luke, is very sweet. He’s the same age as my younger daughter, so they, and my 9-year-old daughter, play together constantly. Best of all, they mostly play outside. Along with other kids in the neighborhood, the children are now always on their bikes or scooters, or our previously pathetically underused backyard swingset, or playing hide & seek, and so on. It’s like my kids have developed a whole new appreciation for playing outside, and my husband and I couldn’t be happier.

But my heart sank this past Saturday when my oldest daughter burst into the house, exclaiming, “Luke’s dad is putting up a huge trampoline!”

See, I have a strict no-trampoline policy. I simply cannot get on board with trampolines. As the health director here, I help spread the word of the American Academy of Pediatrics, which actively discourages kids using at-home trampolines. Nearly 100,000 kids end up in the ER each year due to trampoline accidents. (My own nephew broke his sternum on one.) And between one-third and one-half of those injuries occurred while adults were supervising. In our June issue, which we just shipped, we published a tweet from pediatrician Jaime Friedman, M.D., who said, “Trampolines are an orthopedic fracture machine.” Knowing all of this, how could I ever forgive myself if my children got hurt on one?

So I had the hideous job of telling my girls that they would never be stepping so much as one toe on the trampoline currently being erected 20 feet from our yard. (My husband agrees with my policy, but I don’t know that he would’ve enforced it if I didn’t feel so strongly.) They were crushed, naturally — and in the case of my older daughter, also furious. Who could blame them? It sucked for all of us, including Luke, who had to have been excited to share this cool new thing with his friends. Somehow we got through Saturday, and we were out of town on Sunday, but I can only hide from this elephant in the yard for so long, and I need to be prepared for all the pushback and attitude and negotiating that’s coming my way. I turned to two of Parents‘ trusted advisors for help.

Robin Berman, M.D., associate professor of psychiatry at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA and author of Permission to Parent: How to Raise Your Child With Love and Limits, tried to find the bright side: “Your policy is pretty rock-solid, so this is going to be such a teachable moment for your girls,” she said. “It’s going to be an opportunity for them to grow a muscle of resiliency. They’ll learn what it’s like to have to say no when everybody else is doing something they want to do — and that’s not necessarily a bad skill to have in life.”

My first order of business, said Dr. Berman, is to make sure my kids know that I understand how they feel. “You’ll need a massive amount of empathy to diffuse their big emotions,” she explained. I did tell my girls that day, “I’m not saying trampolines aren’t fun — I’m saying they’re not safe,” but I need to go much farther than that, with stuff like, “I so get that you want to jump on that trampoline. It looks like so much fun, I know it does. And it stinks that you can’t go on. I bet you’d jump on it all day if you could.” And I can’t play up the scare tactics too much, said Dr. Berman, because they’ll only shut down and stop listening to me.

Next, I have to get ready to be loathed. “Think, ‘Hate me now, thank me later,’” said Dr. Berman (this is actually what Permission to Parent is called in the U.K.). “You’ll need to tolerate being the bad guy because you’re doing what you believe is right for your children.” But I should also be okay with being thrown under the bus by my kids. This advice comes from Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., clinical psychologist in Princeton, New Jersey, and creator of an online course for parents called Raising Socially and Emotionally Healthy Kids. I can let my daughters know that if they need an excuse, it’s okay to tell the other kids in the neighborhood that I’m such a mean mom, or that I treat them like babies, or, if they’re feeling charitable, that I have to have this rule because of my job as a health editor.

I really appreciated Dr. Kennedy-Moore’s advice to brainstorm scenarios with my girls. What are they going to do the next time they’re all outside and Luke heads to the trampoline? Would they want to go ride bikes instead? Maybe they’d be up for playing Olympic judges, and score Luke on his jumping skills? (I like that one, but am I crazy to think it has any chance of working?! “Hey, kids, you could have fun watching your friend on the trampoline!”) The point, said Dr. Kennedy-Moore, is to talk through the possibilities in advance. And I have to warn my children that it’ll be hardest in the beginning, when the trampoline is new and all the kids will want to try it out.

Speaking of “all the kids,” Dr. Kennedy-Moore asked if I could find another family who sees this issue the way I do. “Research shows that it’s easier to stick to our guns when we have at least one ally,” she said, not to mention how nice it would be for my girls to not be the only ones on the sidelines. She added that I have to make sure my daughters know that they can’t make Luke feel badly about going on the trampoline or tell him it’s not safe. She speaks from experience, having raised her own four children vegetarian: “I’ve hammered it into my kids: You cannot be rude about this. You can’t criticize other people’s decisions.”

Both Dr. Berman and Dr. Kennedy-Moore said that it’d be nice to have a quick conversation with Luke’s parents to let them know where I stand, and to make sure they know I feel strongly about it, without coming across as judgmental (in other words, I don’t need to list my reasons for not allowing my kids on their trampoline). Dr. Kennedy-Moore took it one step further and thinks I should invite them over for a family game night, to maintain the nice relationship we’ve started and to show my children that we like them even if I disagree with them in this instance.

The experts agreed I have a long road ahead of me. But I’m going to remember what Dr. Berman said, keeping with the trampoline metaphor: “Your girls are going to soar to great heights, and might even bounce higher, when they’re older and facing peer pressure, having already handled this difficult situation.” I’ll take it. Wish me luck!

Kara Corridan isn’t totally risk-averse. See her essay, “Worry Doesn’t Equal Love.”

Photo via Shutterstock.

Study Finds Major Jump In Kids Injured In Bouncers
Study Finds Major Jump In Kids Injured In Bouncers
Study Finds Major Jump In Kids Injured In Bouncers

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A “Pointless” Update on the Mom With 8 Months to Live

Wednesday, April 8th, 2015

Last November we featured a guest post from a mom named Tori Tomalia: “3 Kids, 6 Lessons, and 8 Months to Live:  A Lung Cancer Story.” In May 2013, Tori, of Ann Arbor, Michigan, was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer. At the time, she had a 4-year-old son and twin daughters who weren’t yet 2. Through extraordinary fortune, her aggressive treatment plan has worked for nearly two years.

But when I got an email from Tori a few weeks ago with an update, I was almost scared to read it. Instead, I found myself laughing out loud (see the image at right). Tori and her husband Jason have made a huge decision: They’re opening an improv theatre and brewery. See, they’ve both been involved in the theatre for a long time; they’d even talked about opening their own space back on their very first date. Meanwhile, Jason has gotten into microbrewing in recent years, and they’ve decided to join those two passions. As Tori put it, “We realized that if there was ever a time to pursue our dream of building something together, the time was NOW.”

The name comes out of a particularly rotten day Tori was having. Chemo was getting her down in a major way, and she asked Jason the question I can imagine goes through everyone’s mind when they’re enduring this kind of all-consuming, exhausting, painful treatment: “What if I go through all this, and it still just ends up awful? What’s the point? Everything just feels so pointless.” Jason responded, “Okay, maybe it is all pointless…. So let’s do this. Let’s open a pointless brewery and theatre, and make our pointless dreams come true.”

Tori explains, “It’s the perfect name. How often do we waste our days doing what we are supposed to do, looking the way we are supposed to look, saying what we are supposed to say. You get up, rush to work, drink coffee to stay awake, work hard to get ahead, stress over deadlines, all for what? What is the point of that? If you knew your time were limited, wouldn’t you spend it doing things you love, and spending time with the important people in your life? When it comes down to it, all that matters is the people you get to meet, spending time with the ones you love, and bringing joy to the world. Everything else is pointless.”
It’s one of the most inspiring, life-affirming reactions to a horrible situation I’ve heard of. I was so excited when I learned that Pointless Brewery & Theatre is on Kickstarter, because I bet lots of you feel the same way I did: Sign me up! If you’d like to help Tori and Jason make their pointless dreams come true, consider donating this week–in another happy twist, a kind donor has committed to match every pledge that comes in by this Friday (up to $5,000). They need to raise a total of $50,000 and as of right now they’re at $31,409. Any amount will help, truly —  and if they don’t get to $50,000, all donations will be refunded. Please take a minute to watch their funny, emotional video here (it’s different from the video below) and I guarantee you’ll want to chip in.
Kara Corridan is the health director at Parents and a mom of two daughters.

One Family's Experience with Childhood Cancer
One Family's Experience with Childhood Cancer
One Family's Experience with Childhood Cancer

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