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Tuesday, May 5th, 2015
What kind of world do you want for your family by 2030? What can be accomplished in 15 years to make this a better world for our children?
Experts and advocates came together last Friday for the third annual Moms +SocialGood event to jump-start this very conversation. The all-day event, which is just one part of the Global Moms Challenge, is dedicated to the power of mothers and families to improve the future for their communities. This United Nations Foundation initiative, along with the support of Johnson & Johnson, has already helped more than 120 million women across the globe.
The event included individual speakers and panel discussions focused on the many facets of parenthood and childhood. One of the many speakers was mother, actress, and member of Save the Children’s board of trustees, Jennifer Garner. Like every mom, Garner adores her three young children—but she’s also devoted to the well-being of all kids. Parents had the opportunity to submit questions to Garner, who answered via video response, about her experiences with motherhood and some of her greatest passions.
Moms +SocialGood is all about the power of moms and families. When do you feel the most powerful as a mom?
JG: I feel the most powerful as a mom when I can handle the challenges of motherhood with equanimity and remember that they’re just little kids and not try to expect them all to be mature enough to handle the disappointments of life that can throw kids into a tizzy. When I can be calm and carry on that’s when I feel like…okay, I did it!
As the third annual Global Moms Relay kicks off, what’s your answer to the question, “What kind of world do YOU want for your family by 2030?”
JG: If I’m thinking just about my family, I’m hoping that my kids are engaged in the world, that they have balance in their lives, and are enjoying all of the incredible opportunities that the world has to offer them. But I also hope that we have enough water, I also hope that kids’ needs are being met all over the world, that kids are living until 5 in developing nations, which is so doable, and that kids in the United States are getting the right chance to start off on the right foot.
Although you’re actively involved in many ventures, what specific projects are you channeling your energy toward right now?
JG: With Save [the Children], I was just in South Carolina trying to raise the visibility of the importance of birth to five education, development, nurturing moms who have newborns—particularly, moms who are raising kids in poverty. One in three kids in rural SC is growing up in poverty and 72 percent of 4th graders in SC are not reading at grade-level—there’s a real connection there. So I was just there trying to boost the morale of the legislators and say ‘come on, let’s fight for little kids and let’s make sure money is going in the most effective places.’
When you first became a mother, what would you say was the one thing that changed the most?
JG: It’s such a huge change, and it’s such a huge shift. I had to really fight from becoming isolated, and I’ve always been social and I love my girlfriends, but you kind of go into your little bubble, which is not really a great place to be. Parenting should be done as a part of a community.
Millions see you as a role model, but who do you look up to the most? And why?
JG: I look up to my sisters and my mom—I think they’re pretty cool. And I look up to all of the moms that Save is helping around the United States, these mothers love their kids just as much as I love mine, just as much as my mom loves me, and are doing their best to give their kids the right start without the help and resources that I have.
Related: For more on mothers around the world, read about Save the Children’s recently released State of the World’s Mothers report.
Caitlin St John is an Editorial Assistant for Parents.com who splits her time between New York City and her hometown on Long Island. She’s a self-proclaimed foodie who loves dancing and anything to do with her baby nephew. Follow her on Twitter: @CAITYstjohn
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Monday, July 21st, 2014
The arrest of a South Carolina mom on charges that she left her 9-year-old daughter alone in the park while she went to work has sparked a furor over her decision and whether it was appropriate to arrest her for it. It’s far from the only instance of a parent doing something dangerous, even allegedly criminal, in order to go to work when there’s no childcare available. I wrote in December about a California woman who lost custody of her son—permanently—after leaving him alone in his crib one workday. And I am sure there are countless other parents facing similar dilemmas every day.
For women who need to work and don’t have reliable childcare, what are the options? Even Michelle Obama faced a similar dilemma in her past, recently making headlines for her recollections of bringing young Sasha along on a job interview.
That South Carolina mom, Deba Harrell, faced a no-win choice, as my colleague Lisa Milbrand wrote: “to let her daughter play in a park alone, leave her at home, or bring her to work, where she was forced to hang out for hours in McDonald’s with little to engage her. Debra picked the park.” Home seemed more dangerous and would also likely have led to Harrell’s arrest, while having a child at work all day seems like a recipe for getting fired for needing to care for her while on the job (and hardly seems like a healthy environment for a child).
A lot of the discussion about Harrell’s case has focused on how protective and hovering parents should be, and whether we as a society have gone too far in “criminalizing” parenthood, as Radley Balko of the Washington Post put it.
But as essential as that debate is, there is another, related issue that these cases raise, and that is the question of affordable childcare. New York Times columnist Ross Douthat begins to address this in his latest column, questioning a “a welfare system whose work requirements can put a single mother behind a fast-food counter while her kid is out of school.” He concludes that “we have to also find a way to defend their liberty as parents, instead of expecting them to hover like helicopters and then literally arresting them if they don’t.”
But Douthat stops short of taking his argument to its natural conclusion. Affordable, reliable, and safe childcare is a necessary component of a functioning society, especially one that expects—requires, even—parents to work. And so we need to figure out a way to guarantee it to all working parents. In Europe, “all European countries offer government subsidies and regulation support to early childhood care,” according to the European Union’s website. “These measures include tax breaks, vouchers, subsidies paid to parents or to the care provider; and in several European countries, capping of childcare costs relative to household income, or by obliging employers to support childcare costs (for instance in the Netherlands).”
I don’t know what form this sort of policy should take here in the United States, but whether it’s tax breaks or subsidies or publicly funded day-care centers or something else entirely, without addressing this problem, we will see many more Debra Harrells.
I also don’t want to let the absent dads off the hook. While moms like Harrell are arrested and may lose custody of their children, nothing is asked of the dads. Granted, many are not in the picture at all; but where they are or can be found, I don’t know why they are not required to be part of the solution, financial or otherwise, or why they don’t share the blame for alleged neglect and other decisions.
Our public policy must recognize the realities of today’s families, especially the huge number of single parents (and the correlation between single parenthood and poverty). In addition, many families today lack the extensive familial and social networks that may have, in the past, provided (free) childcare so mom and/or dad could work. This is not just a problem for the very poor. There is nothing optional about working for most people trying to support their kids, and childcare could easily be beyond a single parent’s means. As parents, most of us have said things to our kids like, “I don’t have eyes in the back of my head,” or, “I can’t be in two places at once.” For the single moms who must be at work in order to feed their families but have no one else to supervise their children, these are not flippant throw-away lines; they are realities that we as a society must help fix.
Considering day care? Download our Daycare Center Checklist to help you evaluate your options.
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Wednesday, December 11th, 2013
Christmas is a time of giving and a time of magic, which is why I’ve made it a tradition to participate in the U.S. Post Office’s Operation Santa program where everyday people can help fulfill the holiday wishes of less-fortunate local kids. As far as I’ve been told, the letters that qualify for the program are selected by postal workers based on the return address on the envelope (think the projects, really poor neighborhoods)–so they really are coming from kids and families in need.
My favorite part of Operation Santa is that you get to read through as many kids’ letters as you like before choosing the ones you want to “adopt.” Some of these letters are flat-out funny. For instance, one little boy admitted to Santa that he actually hadn’t been good all year, and that he’d done a few naughty things, but that he tries to be good, and that he’d help out an old sick man “if his dad said yes.” Many are sweet and come from little ones wanting things like “doctor sets” so they can practice to be a doctor when they grow up. Others—the biggest tear-jerkers—come from older kids not asking for anything for themselves, but hoping that Santa can bring a toy or a warm coat for their little brother or sister.
And then . . . there are the Xbox letters—or, to be more accurate, they’re the Xbox Live, iPhone 5, iPad mini, laptop letters. As you can imagine, they go something like this: “Dear Santa, Please bring me an Xbox Live with these four games. I’ve been good all year.” Or, “Dear Santa, Please bring me an iPhone 5. I’ll leave cookies by the fireplace.”
If you’re like a lot of people, you’re probably rolling your eyes and thinking these big-ticket letters are coming more from a place of greed than a place of need. But the truth is, that these kids aren’t asking for expensive things to try to work the system—they’re asking for them because they want to feel normal.
Most young kids—especially kids who have little to nothing at home—really don’t understand the difference in price between, say, a playset or doll that might cost $40 and the latest tablet that can cost hundreds of dollars. Why? Because their family likely can’t afford either. To that child, both are equally out of reach.
Plus, it’s only natural for a kid to want the things other kids at school have and talk about–and right now, a lot of those things (not all of them, though, thank heavens for Rainbow Loom, right?!) are seriously expensive. In a needy kid’s world, getting an Xbox Live or an iPhone 5 would take a work of magic—the kind of magic kids think only Santa Claus can provide.
TELL US: Do you give gifts to needy kids at the holidays? Would you be upset if an underprivileged kid asked for an expensive toy or gadget?
To learn more about Operation Santa (you don’t have to choose an Xbox letter unless you want to!) click here.
NEXT: Great last-minute gifts for kids
Image of Santa via Shutterstock.
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Monday, November 25th, 2013
Thanksgiving is almost here and I couldn’t be more excited. I’m looking forward to unhealthy amounts of reality TV, my grandmother’s sausage stuffing, and a slice of pumpkin pie. But I won’t help prepare my family’s Thanksgiving dinner before dashing off to the grocery store for another family first. Here’s why.
Adopting a family for Thanksgiving was one of my favorite activities in my high school peer leadership group, and also one of the most heartwarming. The social services department in my town provided us with lists of each family’s requests, which we needed to fulfill before the holiday. Most families wanted the basics for Thanksgiving, but others didn’t even want extras like pie. (Who turns down pie?!) All they wrote down was food to get them through Thanksgiving and beyond.
I didn’t think I would need to shop for a family like that in 2008, but I did. It was the height of the recession. Friends I knew since kindergarten suddenly had their parents out of work, and the town paper urged the community to donate to the food pantry.
I’ll never forget the last time I adopted a family in need. I laughed when the two young boys found soup ladles and used them as light sabers. I held back tears when the mother embraced me and said she was so happy her kids wouldn’t go hungry this year (we turned her pantry into a food fortress). I didn’t do it to feel good about myself, and it certainly didn’t feel like a chore. Their gratitude made me think differently about poverty in my town, something that rarely crossed my mind in my hectic day-to-day of school, sports, and college applications.
It’s nice to be home after four years away at college and do a good deed for someone else this Thanksgiving. When I sit down to feast with my family, I’ll feel good knowing that another family is doing the same in their home.
Image: Thanksgiving dinner via Shutterstock
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Monday, November 11th, 2013
I’ve been engaged in an informal experiment lately that has been eye-opening (to me and perhaps some others) so I’m going to blow my cover and encourage you to try it too. After Parents published this story about child poverty in the U.S., I decided to make it a point to bring up the most noteworthy statistic from the piece as often as I could in casual conversation: One in five children in this country now live in a family where the total annual household income is below the federal poverty level of $23,550. One in five. In New York City, where I live, the number is actually closer to one in three. Which might explain why some people hardly blink when I share the fact. Others, however, are shocked.
It can be very easy to get nose-down in our own little world and lose track of the larger one. But for all of us—and for our children–the future is at stake. Children living in poverty are at risk of troubles both physical and academic, starting with impaired brain growth and weak acquisition of language as babies and progressing right through to higher dropout rates, increased risk of both hunger and obesity and, eventually, diabetes and heart disease. Dr. Perri Klass, one of my all-time favorite writing doctors, makes the cost of childhood poverty upsettingly clear here.
We can’t change a problem if we’re not aware of it, of course. So as we head into the Thanksgiving holiday, I challenge you to help raise awareness by also sharing the one-in-five fact. And then to look for ways to make a difference. In my case, our family lives close to the Harlem Children’s Zone, so we both see what poverty looks like and help fight it by donating to the organization. And no matter how much or how little your own family has to give, we can all teach our kids how to appreciate what they do have–it’s the first step to learning how to share our blessings with others.
Use our worksheet to figure out how to make room in your family budget for charitable contributions.
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