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5 Lessons of Motherhood We Learned From Joan Rivers

Friday, September 5th, 2014

The Queen of Comedy. The Queen of Mean. Joan Rivers certainly earned a few titles in her 81 years before she passed away yesterday after suffering complications from an outpatient procedure in New York City. Despite starring on her own reality show with her daughter “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows Best?“, Queen of Motherhood is not a title usually equated with the woman who uttered more four-letter words in a day than many do in a year. Still, there are (at least) five valuable lessons we can learn from Joan the woman, the comedienne, the mother.

Number 1: How to be honest

Joan was infamous for her brutal and sometimes scathing honesty on E!’s Fashion Police. While I don’t advocate mocking your friends (or even celebrities), I do advocate honesty and open communication. Honesty will solve problems in your life and it’s a value worth promoting in your kids. While lying is a developmental marker for children, it’s also important to teach them the currency of the truth.

Number 2: How to Make the Best of Any Situation

As a comedian, it was Joan’s job to bring light to situations ranging from the annoying to the tragic. As the brash broad once said, “Comedy is to make everybody laugh at everybody and deal with things.” Remember to look on the bright side whenever you can.

Number 3: How to Persevere

You may not know (because I didn’t) that Joan Rivers hosted “The Late Show Starring Joan Rivers” on Fox in 1986. Yup. A woman in late night! But the show flopped. (It was worse than Conan’s moment.) Yet, she is still regarded as one of the comic geniuses of our time. She worked hard through professional downfalls and personal struggles. Joan always looked forward.

Number 4: How to Love Yourself

At 81 years old, Joan Rivers did NOT look 81 years old. And she wasn’t ashamed of her plastic surgery one iota. But the difference between Joan’s plastic surgery was that she wasn’t using it to hide. Her appearance was a gift to herself. She was often indulgent and she was unapologetic for how she looked and how she spoke. Not only was she loved in spite of this, she was love because of this.

Number 5: How to Heal a Relationship

Joan said that Melissa blamed her for her father’s suicide, creating a boiling tension between the mother-daughter pair. But, Joan made a point to always be in touch with Melissa and they even entered psychotherapy together at the time. Joan fought hard (and so did Melissa) to save their relationship. And sure enough, the two came out of the woods and were as thick as thieves until the end.

Even as a career-woman, Joan was a hands-on parent. What’s your parenting style?

The Trick to Balancing Kids and a Career
The Trick to Balancing Kids and a Career
The Trick to Balancing Kids and a Career

Photograph: S Buckley/

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Harry Potter and the Lesson of Acceptance

Friday, August 15th, 2014

I was in fifth grade when J.K. Rowling released Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone in the U.S. I didn’t read it until the seventh grade, but I tore through the first few books and became one of those kids who couldn’t wait until the next edition came out. Through seven novels, Harry Potter taught my generation a lot—and does so for millions of kid readers all over the world to this day. Researchers recently revealed that Harry Potter taught us much more than the rules of Quidditch.

As reported in The New York Times, the Journal of Applied Psychology recently published a study revealing that story-reading can affect how kids feel about currently stigmatized groups in our society, from immigrants to homosexuals. Specifically, kids who “read stories about characters from a culture similar to their own cooperating with characters from an unfamiliar culture, they later display fewer stereotypes, and more positive attitudes, about the people belonging to the dissimilar group.”

I remember when Draco Malfoy called Hermione Granger a Mudblood for the first time. It made my blood boil. I felt triumphant when Harry stood up for his friend. And that’s exactly the point. I had sympathy for Hermione. I felt nasty treatment towards her as an outsider was outrageous. This study shows much the same. Kids who read and discussed passages like these (about the in-group , like Harry, interacting positively with the out-group, like Hermione) held more positive views about the out-group of their own culture, like immigrants. On the other hand, kids who read and discussed Harry Potter passages that didn’t address prejudice, showed no change in their attitudes towards ostracized groups. As Harry entertained me, he also taught me.
He teaches the power of our own choices when he chooses Gryffindor under the Sorting Hat. He teaches what it is to fight for a greater cause. He teaches us to treat each other kindly, Muggle or Mudblood or Pure Blood.

This is exciting news not only for readers of Harry Potter, but any book that captures similar situations. Kids can learn to be more compassionate, accepting, and tolerant through reading. If that’s not a reason raise a reader, I don’t know what is.

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The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years
The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years
The Lasting Impact of the Early Childhood Years


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Who Is Really Reading All of These “Open Letters?”

Friday, July 25th, 2014

As of late, cyberspace seems to be flooded with “Open Letters.” You know, those very clickable, usually uplifting, sometimes inspiring pieces that start with “Dear So-and-So” while actually published for all the world to see.

Every day this week, I’ve read an open letter, many from parents to their children. Fathers to young daughters. Mothers to teenage sons. I even received a proposal this week: an open letter from a mom to her second-born child. At first, I liked this idea, but I’m starting to feel frustration bubbling.

Don’t get me wrong; I enjoy reading these notes. I think the content is important and these writers generally have something valuable to say—sometimes ideas I wish I had heard at an earlier age. My question is: Who reads these letters?

Not the children to whom they are written. I’m reading them. I think parents are reading them. But do they inspire action? Do these letters provoke parents to pass the lessons in these letters on to their children, or are we just passively spewing thoughts?

Dr. Kelly Flanagan wrote a letter to his now 4-year-old daughter from the makeup aisle, offering his own definitions for such familiar terms found there as brilliant strength. Dr. Flanagan writes: ”May your strength be not in your fingernails but in your heart. May you discern in your center who you are, and then may you fearfully but tenaciously live it out in the world.” His words are powerful—I printed the letter to hang on my fridge. While I actually really like makeup and think it’s fun to put on and get dolled up, the messaging of makeup is not conducive to building the confidence necessary to enjoy makeup without needing makeup. Dr. Flanagan specifically states that he plans to read this to his daughter “eventually.” I believe him. A man bold enough to write this is a man strong enough to read this.

But will other fathers? Are other parents going to teach their daughters about being strong and confident and true to themselves because of this letter, or is it just another URL passing in the night?

My fear is that “open letters” pass as communication. Reading an open letter and thinking on the topic for the 3 minutes it takes to read…that’s enough. Nope. It’s not.

Perhaps these writers have these tough conversations with their kids, but the rest of us need to talk, too. It’s not about open letters but open and honest conversation. Letters must serve as guides for parents to talk to their daughters about confidence, their sons about emotional intelligence, their children about acceptance, their teens about drinking and drugs. I urge parents to take an active role in shaping our future generations. Allow these letters to spark a discussion. Make your children know how you feel and what you want them to know because an open letter of untaught principles is like a letter to Santa—full of hope, but really just for the fun of it.

Do you have tough talks with your child? How do you approach them? Sound off in the comments below!

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Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting

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How Billy Joel Brought My Family Closer Than Ever

Tuesday, July 8th, 2014

Wednesday night I went to see Billy Joel at Madison Square Garden. The ticket was my big splurge for the year and I was beyond excited. (I mean, it’s Billy Joel. At the Garden.) While most people go to a concert with their friends, I went with my family—my mom and my cousin. We had a blast together and it got me thinking about how important it is to share multi-generational experiences like this.

I first fell in love with Billy and his music when I was maybe 8 or 9 years old. My parents were watching a concert of his on TV and I wanted to do anything my parents were doing. His talent and the soulfulness of his music was not lost on me and right there—sitting in our den craning my neck while two feet away from the television set—began my fandom.

My mom grew up on Billy Joel. She has his records. She remembers when The Nylon Curtain came out. And because we were going to the concert together, she told me and my cousin about the time that she and her two best friends went to see Billy Joel in New Haven, CT. They were 16-years-old and on their way driving home from the Hartford train station to her best friend’s house post-Billy, singing and laughing in the front seat, they made the (then illegal) right turn on red since the late-night roads were empty. And…the cops pulled them over. “We were shaking,” my mom told me, as she relived that night in her head. It’s stories like these that make me smile—that give me a clue to the girl my mom was growing up and I feel closer to her because of it.

It’s so important to me that I not only trust my mom to give me advice, but I can also have fun with her. Not to mention, when I was younger my cousin was a bit like a big brother to me (and by that I mean I played the tag-along younger sister role very well on family vacation). Since we’ve gotten older, he and I see less of each other, yet our love for music connects us. It’s hugely important to be able to enjoy your family. Family can be there for you at your worst moments, but they should also be there for the everyday fun tidbits.

It was a very cool feeling for a 50-something (shhh!), a thirty-something, and a 25-year-old to stand there in the glow of the Garden just having a grand ole time. As the three of us belted out Pressure and swooned to She’s Always a Woman, I was so happy to know that this night would be something that we share. Someday I can tell my kids about the night I went to Billy Joel with their grandma and their cousin and we had the sickest seats and this lady yelled at me to sit down but I didn’t care because I was having the best time. And so it goes.

Use our Activity Finder to discover great ideas for fun with your kid!

Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting

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Raising Awareness Through The USA Special Olympic Games

Friday, June 13th, 2014

Tomorrow marks opening day of the 2014 Special Olympics USA Games in Princeton, New Jersey and 17-year-old Whitney Lackey of Lebanon, Tennessee is gearing up for competition. Diagnosed at 2 months with tuberous sclerosis complex (TS or TSC), Whitney is participating in her first ever national competition.

A condition that affects about one million people worldwide and 50,000 people in the U.S., TS is characterized by non-cancerous tumors in many different organs. Seizures, developmental delays, intellectual disabilities and autism are also associated with the disorder. Whitney’s first seizure was what brought her to Vanderbilt Children’s Hospital the day she was eventually diagnosed. Through MRI testing, the doctors discovered lesions on her brain and a black light revealed white spots on her skin—another sign of TS.

The Lackeys took their daughter to a clinic dedicated to tuberous sclerosis at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital (though Vanderbilt opened a clinic later in 2007). “Her doctors gave us a very grim diagnosis,” says Sharon. “They said she would probably never walk and never talk.” Still, Whitney began occupational and physical therapies at just 8 months to help treat her developmental delays. At 21 months, she took her first step, but it was not until age 4 that she walked well. Yet her biggest obstacle was her constant seizures.

After much experimentation with different medications, the doctors managed to get Whitney’s seizures under control. “She went from having 50 a day from the age of two months until age 4,” says Sharon. “In the last 5 or 6 years she’s been seizure-free.” Though she still has non-malignant tumors in her brain, left eye, and kidneys, she is in stable health and will be representing Team Tennessee at the Special Olympics in the bocce event. “If you had told me back then that she would be going to the USA Olympics…,”  Sharon sighed.”It’s just a miracle.” While Whitney is developmentally behind, she is a happy, social teen excited to spend time with her friends at the Olympics.

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“She just loves to be outside and loves sports of any kind,” said Sharon. In fact, bocce was not Whitney’s first sport. She was first on the local Special Olympics swim team and it was her swim coach, Melody Engle, who got Whitney started in bocce. “We’ve always been her biggest fan and proud of her and it just makes us happy that other people get to see what we see and realize how special she is,” said Sharon.

As for her father, Brent, there is no better Father’s Day present than to see his daughter succeed and the Lackeys have joined up with Novartis and the TS Alliance to raise awareness about the disease and the need for more education and research. “Other people whose kids are diagnosed with TS should know that it’s not all gloom and doom,” says Sharon. “You can lead a very happy, positive, fun, active life.”

Follow the Lackeys and their Special Olympics experiences on Tumblr.

Click here for more information about the TS Alliance.

Baby Care Basics: When a Baby Has a Birth Defect
Baby Care Basics: When a Baby Has a Birth Defect
Baby Care Basics: When a Baby Has a Birth Defect

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