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Autism Advocacy: 8 Survival Tips For Parents

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Yesterday, I shared my family’s recent success at securing a good Grade 7/8 program for my son, who has autism. The short version of the story is that my husband and I knew immediately that the program George was slated for would be very bad, not only for him but for his classmates. And so we went to bat for the kids. Over a period of seven months, we had meetings and phone calls with all kinds of people in the school board. A couple of weeks ago, George’s principal called to tell us that a Grade 7/8 program was being introduced in his current school. The news could not have been better. We would have been OK with a good program at any school, but George’s current school, which is fantastic in so many ways, was definitely the prize we were hoping for.

George was diagnosed with autism seven years ago. In that time, I have learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t work when it comes to fighting in his corner. Here are some of the big ones.

1. Know what your child’s rights are. Don’t go into any meeting with your child’s teacher, principal or any school board representative without having a clear idea of what you are entitled to ask for on behalf of your child. A few pointers: in Ontario, you cannot be forced to homeschool, you cannot be forced to relocate and you cannot be forced to accept a shortened school day. Your child is entitled to an education in a public school in his or her neighbourhood, with the same number of instructional hours as any other student, regardless of what his or her abilities or disabilities are.

2. Have a clear idea of your desired outcome. This is not always as easy as it sounds. Sometimes we simply want things to be different, or better. You have to ask yourself what that looks like. Perhaps you love the teacher but feel that extra assistance is needed. Maybe you simply want clearer IEP goals or better support during transitions. Or maybe you need a completely new direction for your child. Whatever it is, you have to know what you are aiming for. Ask yourself what the outcome would be if you got to be in charge of all the decisions.

3. But be prepared for compromise. This means knowing what you are prepared to settle for. In my case, first prize was a new program for George in his current school. There was always a chance that that wouldn’t happen, so we were prepared to settle for a good program at a different school. Aim for what you are really, really hoping for, but have some acceptable alternative scenarios kicking around in your mind as well.

4. And know what you will not accept. Sometimes, you may be offered a “solution” that just doesn’t work. You are not compelled to accept anything just because you’re told it’s the only option. What we were not prepared to accept was the program George was originally supposed to go to. We made that crystal clear early on in the discussions, and we did not budge. Negotiation is always key in discussions like this, but you have to be clear on the points that you will absolutely not move on.

5. Don’t go in looking for a fight. If you walk into the room assuming that the people you are meeting with are on the same side as you, the entire tone of the meeting can swing in your favour. The thing is, most of the time they will be on the same side as you. Advocating for your child does not always have to be a battle. Principals and teachers are caught between a rock and a hard place. On the one hand, they genuinely care (or they should) about the best interests of your child. On the other hand, they have to operate within rules and procedures that they cannot control. Show understanding towards them, and more often than not, they will show understanding towards you.

6. But don’t let anyone intimidate you. Look, from time to time you will encounter ass-hats. That’s just life. Smile serenely, know that if someone is being an ass-hat to you, they’re probably an ass-hat to everyone, and identify who your allies are. If there’s no ally in the room, politely tell them you need to reschedule the meeting, and go out and find an ally. You can bring anyone you like. You can even hire an advocacy consultant to accompany you. We were fortunate in that George’s principal was firmly on our side right from the start.

7. Remember that the special education community is small. No matter how frustrating the process is, no matter how badly you want to scream and swear, try your best to take the high road. People in the special education field tend to crop up again and again in different capacities. The person sitting opposite you today, whose head you badly want to rip off, could be in a position to help you three years from now. Don’t let anyone walk all over you, but keep your cool and stay polite.

8. Be persistent. If a meeting doesn’t yield acceptable results, call another one. If you agree on a course of action but something isn’t working, go back and see if something can be adjusted or tweaked. You are never obligated to just accept something for your child that is not working.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Woodleywonderworks. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

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Autism, Advocacy And Hope

George writing wordsMy son George started Kindergarten just four short months after being diagnosed with autism. It was a bit of a terrifying time for me: I felt as if I had been thrown into this mysterious world full of mazes and obstacles with no map, no compass, and no fixed destination. I didn’t know where I was supposed to be going or how I was going to get there. I had no idea how to navigate the terrain of special education.

Over the seven years between then and now, we have had to do our bits of advocacy, but for the most part, George’s time at school has been very positive. He has had a series of compassionate, competent teachers and every year, we have seen progress. We have kind of breezed through the K-to-6 years feeling good about George’s education.

In recent months, this sense of security almost came to a screeching halt. George, currently in Grade 6, is in a K-8 school that we love. The teachers are fabulous, the principal encourages open dialogue with parents, and the kids in special needs classes are treated with kindness and respect by their typically developing peers.

The only problem with the school is that it does not have a special education program for Grade 7 and 8, so we were facing the prospect of sending George to a program in a neighbouring school. When we went to visit the program last year, when George was finishing off Grade 5, we were not happy with what we saw. We just knew, with that instinct that parents have, that if George went into that program, we would start to see a regression within days.

And so we started the process of advocating for a better Grade 7/8 placement, not only for George, but for all of his classmates. Starting with the principal at his school, we escalated the issue, insisting on meetings with trustees, superintendents, and anyone else who might have any kind of influence in deciding my son’s future.

About seven months after our first meeting with the principal, we got word of the school board’s decision: George will not be going to the overcrowded, under-resourced program that we saw and hated. Instead, a special education Grade 7/8 program is being introduced in his current school. George and his classmates will stay in the environment that they know and love. They will continue to be a part of a student community that is caring and supportive, with a principal who has been firmly on our side all the way.

Advocacy can be difficult and frustrating. It can be time-consuming and, at times, heart-breaking. But when it results in a better future for many children who need other people to fight for them, it can be the most rewarding thing in the world.

Come back tomorrow for some tips on advocating for your children.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.

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The Pitfalls Of Competitive Parenting

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When an article entitled “5 Things You Should Never Say To A Stay-At-Home Mom” appeared in my Facebook feed a couple of days ago, I knew there was going to be trouble. The article itself was innocuous – a little unintentionally judgy, perhaps – but the comments section was a virtual bloodbath. Work-outside-the-home moms were claiming to be busier than stay-at-home moms. Stay-at-home-moms were claiming to be there for their kids more than work-outside-the-home moms. Each side was claiming, without actually saying it directly, to be better than the other side.

As I was reading this, I was thinking about what a shame it is that there even are sides. What happened to the days when parents were just parents? At what point did moms and dads become so insecure that they started resorting to competitive parenting? There seems to be a constant game of one-upmanship in which people talk about the sacrifices they have made and the difficulties they have endured in order to be the Perfect Parents.

Here are some of the problems I see with today’s trend of competitive parenting:

It smacks of judgment, and that’s just not right. Unless you are beating, starving, neglecting or otherwise abusing your kids, you’re doing fine. Stay-at-home moms are not better than work-outside-the-home moms. Work-outside-the-home moms are not better than stay at home moms. You’re not a better or worse parent just because you give your kids boxed mac-and-cheese, or limit their screen time, or give up on arguing with them over a chore and just do it yourself. We are all parents, and we all do the best we can with the circumstances we find ourselves in.

It ignores the fact that everyone’s situation is unique. We humans love to categorize and compare things. Stay-at-home moms vs. work-outside-the-home moms. Breastfeeding moms vs. formula feeding moms. Free-range parents vs. helicopter parents. The trouble with classifying everything is that it leads to division, and it assumes that everyone in the same “group” is the same. Some stay-at-home moms love spending all of their time with their kids, and others yearn for the workplace. Some formula feeding moms would really love to breastfeed, and some breastfeeding moms really don’t enjoy it. Even within the same family, things can be different. I can free-range parent my younger son, but my older son, who has autism, requires a much more hands-on approach.

It places too much emphasis on the distinction between doing things out of choice and doing things out of necessity. Many work-outside-the-home moms really don’t have a choice. They need the income just to pay the mortgage and put food on the table. But some work-outside-the-home moms choose to work outside the home. And guess what? That’s OK. I don’t know why so many people have this notion that parents are not allowed to make a single decision in their own self-interest. I mean, sure, if you’re leaving your three-year-old at home alone for eight hours a day just so you can pursue a career, that’s a problem. But if you are taking care of your kids, protecting them from harm, and doing what you can to help them become mature, well-rounded individuals, nothing else really matters.

It takes the focus away from what we really need to be doing. When it comes down to it, these attempts at competitive parenting don’t accomplish a single thing. They are merely distractions that give parents something to argue about when there are so many other things for us to be devoting our energy to.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Jason Bolonski. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

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10 Surprising Things I Have Learned Since Becoming A Mom

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I was born in the last month of the 1960’s and went through little-girlhood in the 70’s, when gender stereotyping was so much the norm that the term “gender stereotyping” didn’t even exist. Little boys played with guns (yes, they were even allowed to take them to school without being branded as mini-terrorists), and little girls played with dolls.

I think my mother was quite concerned when I didn’t turn out to be a typical girl. More often than not, I abandoned my dolls to play “cops and robbers” with my brother and his friends, and when my parents enrolled me in ballet classes, I was without any doubt the scruffiest member of the class. When I was little, my mother bemoaned the fact that I didn’t play with dolls like other little girls. As I grew older, she was concerned that I wasn’t ladylike or feminine enough.

I didn’t want to be feminine. Being feminine seemed too much like hard work. I’d have to faff around with my hair, worry about my clothes and my nails, and spend hours trying to get my makeup just so. Don’t get me wrong – I liked to dress up from time to time, but I wanted to save it for special occasions, not everyday living.

All of this added up to the idea that I was probably not going to grow up to be marriage material. And if I couldn’t even keep a doll alive, what were my chances of being able to raise an actual human baby?

Fast forward to today… that tomboyish little girl from long ago is now a middle-aged woman who is Mom to two beautiful children. In my eleven years as a parent, I have learned that I possess some previously hidden talents and skills. Like these ones:

1. Contrary to prior beliefs, I actually do have a mother’s instinct. I used to think that if I ever had kids, I would not survive without the aid of a million parenting books. To my surprise, I have been able to muddle through based on my gut feel and a hefty dose of common sense.

2. Although I do occasionally lose it, I have far greater reserves of patience than I ever thought would be possible.

3. I can survive on very little sleep.

4. I have the ability to completely tune out the constant talking of another human being, while giving the talker the impression that I’m listening intently.

5. I can accomplish long lists of tasks in very little time.

6. I am good in emergencies. Like one kid hitting the other kid on the head with a gardening tool, or someone trying to flush Bob The Builder down the toilet.

7. I am capable of organizing and hosting successful kids’ birthday parties without going completely insane. I do tend to need a good shot of wine afterwards, though.

8. While I regularly do without sweet treats so that the rest of my family can have some, I am not above occasionally hiding chocolate so that I can have it myself.

9. I’m brilliant at multi-tasking. I can cook dinner, help a kid with homework and conduct a telephone meeting with a client all at the same time.

10. I am a lot more creative in the kitchen than I ever gave myself credit for. If I lack both ingredients and the will to go to the grocery store, I’ll still be able to get something resembling a full meal onto the table. I’ll never be Gordon Ramsay, but at least no-one will die of food poisoning.

What hidden talents have you discovered since you became a parent?

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Peter Becker. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

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His Brother’s Keeper

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It is a cold snowy afternoon, and the boys have just finished doing their homework. George – eleven years old now and as tall as me – is sitting on the couch trying not to cry. I am on the floor with my back up against the couch, holding his foot in my lap. I start ministering to his sore toe as gently as I can, knowing that no matter how hard I try, it’s going to hurt.

For the last couple of weeks, George has been plagued by an ingrown toenail. He was at the doctor earlier in the week – a feat in itself for this boy with autism who finds doctors to be mysterious and scary – and I am carefully following the care-and-cleaning instructions that I have been given.

He tries so hard to be brave as I clean and bathe his toe, but he cannot help getting distressed. As he cries out in pain, James suddenly appears in front of us. James – nine years old and full of energy – is just in from throwing snow in the back yard. His gaze moves from his brother on the couch to me on the floor surrounded by First Aid supplies.

“I want to do it,” he says.

“You want to do what?” I ask, not understanding.

“George’s toe,” he says. “I want to do it. George is my brother. I’m the one who gets to take care of him.”

I regard my son, blown away yet again by how much love and compassion is within him. I think about the practicalities of him dressing George’s toe and how I have already been kicked several times during these First Aid sessions. I don’t want James to get hurt.

But my Spidey-sense is telling me to listen to James. I switch places with him, and following my instructions, he calmly takes care of George’s toe. George is still crying but he is visibly less distressed. Maybe James’s small, light fingers are gentler than mine. Or maybe George is responding to the love of his brother.

James uses a little bit too much of the antiseptic lotion, and the dressing and bandage are a little haphazardly applied. But none of that matters next to the waves of kindness that are radiating from James.

With the job done, James gently kisses the newly applied bandage and gets onto the couch.

“You’re my George,” he says, wrapping his arms around his brother.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit to the author.

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2:15:00 in 2015

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At the beginning of 2014, I had grand plans for my running. I was going to run my first 30K race with a view to building up from there to a full marathon by 2016. I already had eight half-marathons under my belt, so while I knew it would be a challenge, I felt that it would be achievable. I registered for the Around The Bay 30K which takes place in March, and I drew up an ambitious but doable training plan.

The plan got derailed when the Polar Vortex hit. The temperatures were lower than anything I have ever experienced. Even with all of winter running gear, I wouldn’t have been able to handle running in that cold. The bigger obstacle, of course, was the ice. There were sheets of it on the roads and sidewalk that were inches thick in places. Even the most seasoned of winter runners were staying indoors.

As a result, I was forced onto the treadmill for most of my training. I did do a couple of grueling runs in heavy snow, but for the most part, I was clocking up 18K runs and more at the gym. A month before the 30K race, conditions were still too severe for outdoor winter running, and I decided to pull the plug on my training. I did not think it would be wise to attempt my longest ever distance right at the end of the worst winter in recorded history.

I went with Plan B: I sold my bib for Around The Bay and instead registered for the 30K Midsummer Night’s Run, which happens in August. That way, I would have the summer to train in safer conditions.

Enter the Ankle Of Doom. More than 20 years ago, my left ankle was seriously injured. In spite of a lot of medical intervention over the years, it has never really been right since. It always hurts for about 24 hours after a long run, but as long as it recovers quickly, I can live with that one day of pain each week. Except that this summer, when I was running distances of 22K and more, my ankle wasn’t recovering. It was constantly hurting and I developed a semi-permanent limp. When I set out for my long runs each week, I was still in pain from the previous week.

I knew I was pushing myself too hard, but I kept telling myself that it would improve, that all I needed was time for my body to get used to the longer distances. Even though I knew this wasn’t working, I was continuing on with desperate hope.

I was finally forced to face up to reality one day in July, while I was doing 25K along the lakeshore trail. Ankle Of Doom throbbed the entire time throughout the first half of the run. As I reached my turnaround point, I knew I was in trouble. I took a two-minute walking break and then, feeling a little better, I started running slowly again. About 3K later, I was feeling OK, so I decided to kick up my speed a notch. Five minutes later, I felt an almighty twinge in my ankle, as if someone had pulled back on an elastic and then released it.

There was instant agony. I could still put weight on my ankle, but with every step, I felt as if a hot poker was being skewered through my foot. I forced myself to continue: I was on a trail, nowhere near a road, and I did not have the option of calling my husband to come and pick me up. Only 8K to go, I kept telling myself. You can run 8K in your sleep. This is nothing for you.

8K is excruciatingly long when every step feels like torture. My ankle got more and more wobbly after every step, and I knew that if I wasn’t careful, it wouldn’t be able to carry me all the way home. For about 3K, I alternated fifty steps of walking with fifty steps of running. The counting definitely helped – it gave my mind something to focus on other than the pain, and alternating walking with running enabled me to keep going. Those three kilometres or so went a lot more quickly than I thought they had.

But then I reached a point of meltdown. I sank down onto a rock facing the lake and burst into tears. By this point, I had less than 5K to go, so I knew that I would make it home. It would take a while, but I would get there. But the realization hit me that I would have to forego the 30K. I knew that in all likelihood, I would never get to achieve my dream of running a full marathon.

I went through the rest of the season in a kind of haze. I switched my 30K registration to 15K and had a good race, and I ran my autism fundraising half-marathon, which also happened to be my 10th half-marathon. A doctor told me that if I concentrated on rehab exercises for my ankle for the next year, I might be capable of training for a marathon.

But I’ve decided that enough is enough. After having pushed myself very close to the point of not being able to run at all, I have accepted that a marathon is not a viable goal for me. I am proud of the fact that I can run half-marathons – for someone who, let’s face it, is not naturally athletic, that’s quite an accomplishment.

And so instead of hurting myself trying to chase a goal that could permanently disable me from running, I am going to improve on distances that I have already accomplished. I am going to get my 10K time back to under 1:03:00, and I am going to run a sub 30-minute 5K. Best of all, in 2015, I am going to run a half-marathon in under 2:15:00.

As modest as these goals are, I have my work cut out for me. But instead of making me weaker, working toward these targets will make me stronger.

Am I sad about giving up on the marathon dream? Of course I am.

But I would be sadder if pursuing the dream took away my ability to do anything at all.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: Ludo Rouchy. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

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New Year Roundup

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Every time the calendar ticks over to a new year, I invite friends and family members to share moments from the year gone by, as well as their hopes for the year to come. 2014 was a year of ups and downs: some had the best year of their lives, others had the worst. Many of us were on a roller coaster with good bits and not-so-good bits.

My friend Kandita, who I met when I roomed with her at a blogging conference a couple of years ago (that was an insane weekend) started 2014 with one last name and ended it with another. She looked absolutely beautiful and radiant as she married the love of her life.

My former co-worker, carpool buddy and maid of honour Michelle moved to London, Ontario a couple of years ago. Since then, she has dealt with many personal challenges, but she has never lost her desire to help other people. This year was a big one for her. She gave up her liver disease awareness work and started focusing instead on helping homeless and underprivileged people in her city. She also got a job, ending a lengthy period of unemployment, and she saw her daughter through some challenging times.

Karyn, who lives in New Zealand, also went through some major life changes. She decided to leave a marriage that was making her unhappy, and in doing so, she has started to rediscover her inner sparkle. In one of my favourite Facebook statuses on her wall in 2014, she said that happiness has become her default state. She starts 2015 with a goal to build a happier life for herself and her three sons.

Caroline, who lives a short way outside of Toronto, went through the shock and heartbreak of unexpectedly losing a very close friend. This brought home to her that we are not indestructible. Therefore, in 2015, she wants to take time for the things that really matter in life.

Corinne lives on the other end of the city to me, and a few months ago I saw her for the first time in years. She took the leap of reopening her business this year, and she enjoyed reconnecting with a lot of people she had lost touch with. She is looking forward to a year of discovery and success in 2015.

Sara, who lives south of the border from me, has a condition called Chiari, that results in debilitating headaches. Two years ago she had surgery, and in 2014, she finally got a handle on the pain. She is hoping that in 2015 she will be well enough to move out on her own.

Bronwyn also lives in the United States, but I have known her forever, since she was a little girl in South Africa. Last year, she quit her full-time job and went to work at a summer camp. This year she intends to continue the work she has started on her self-development, by getting her weight under 200 pounds and by going back to school full-time.

Fellow Torontonian Tawnya had a mixed year. She lost her beloved grandmother, but she ran her first half-marathon. She had two bicycle accidents, but is alive thanks to the fact that she always wears a helmet. In 2015, she wants to do the Army Run again, simplify her life by getting rid of clutter, and embrace challenges and changes instead of running from them.

My cousin Gillian, who lives in the back-arse of nowhere Tasmania, has family that is scattered all over the globe. Last year, she got to be with her whole family as they celebrated her mother’s 80th birthday. Her wish for 2015 is for health and happiness for everyone.

Noella lives in Missouri and is one of the loveliest people I know. She had a bittersweet year – she had a painful disconnect with her stepchildren, and at times her bills exceeded her income. But somehow her bills got paid, she was able to put food on her table and she got a part-time job just in time for Christmas. Her year did have some high points, like a Mothers Day trip to Memphis and a fancy birthday dinner, both with her son. Her health stayed strong and she received wonderful support from family and friends. Her dream in 2015 is to go to Savannah.

Jennifer, also from the United States, worked with her husband on putting their marriage first instead of focusing solely on their children. In 2015, she wants to find full-time work, get her fitness journey back on track, and go on a couples getaway to recharge and reconnect with her husband.

Elle lives in Australia with her husband Ray. In 2014, they flew back to South Africa where Ray proudly walked his daughter down the aisle at her wedding. This year, Elle hopes to find a job that she will be happy in until retirement.

And what about me? Well, 2014 was a huge year for me. I reevaluated my running goals, and through a bittersweet process I decided to take the full marathon off my bucket list. I also made the leap into self-employment and formally registered my own business. I have high hopes for 2015: I am going to run a half-marathon in 2:15:00 or less, I am going to build on the early successes in my business, and I am going to declutter and organize my home.

What were your biggest moments of 2014? What are your hopes for 2015?

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle, with input from the above-mentioned individuals. Photo credit: Takashi .M. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

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For James On His Birthday

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To my darling son James,

Nine years ago today, you finally decided to leave the comfort of the womb and join us in the world. You were a week overdue: either you were very comfortable where you were, or you figured that we would need an extra week of quiet before the adventure began.

The day of your birth was incredible, filled with little moments that I will never forget – like the little kid in the hospital coffee shop who was convinced that I was Santa Claus. You can’t blame him: it was Christmas morning and I had a massive belly and a Santa hat. The best moment of all, though, was when you came flying into the world like a cannonball, screaming in outrage. There was never any doubt that you had a very healthy pair of lungs and an abundance of energy.

Since that day, you have filled our lives with a very special kind of magic. You are never afraid to explore and discover not only what is in the world, but what is within yourself. Your massive imagination takes all of us on weird and wonderful journeys, and the front of my fridge is covered with your fabulous artwork. Your creativity combined with your love of animals has given us a zoo of animals that have been lovingly crafted by you. As I write this, you are transforming ordinary cardboard into a set of Wild Kratts creature power disks.

You have the biggest heart of anyone I know. You are one of life’s true givers who experiences absolute joy through the act of making other people happy. Every single day, I am on the receiving end of your spontaneous hugs and little handmade gifts and notes. I see the kindnesses you extend to your friends without even having to think about it. Being a caring person is so much a part of who you are that your school gave you an award for empathy.

The love that you have for your brother is genuine and complete. You do not take anything for yourself without first making sure George has something too. If George’s autism is making things difficult for him, you calmly and patiently do whatever you can to soothe and comfort him. You play with him, you share with him, you protect him. You take care of him so beautifully, and yet you think of him as your hero.

I know that sometimes I cannot keep up with your boundless energy and your constant chatter. But I absolutely love that those things are a part of your character, and I would not change a single thing about you.

I love you, and it is a joy and an honour to be your mom.

Happy birthday.

Lots of love,
Mommy

 

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Parenting: Live And Let Live

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Early this morning, while I was sipping my first coffee of the day and browsing through my Facebook feed, I came across a thread that made me feel incredibly sad. It was a post about co-sleeping, and one of the first comments was from a woman saying that she believed co-sleeping was fine as long as it was done safely, that she had co-slept with her first child and that she would co-sleep with any future children.

The thing that made me sad was how other moms lambasted this woman, told her that she was uneducated, and said that if she lost a baby, it would be her own fault.

I have no interest in starting another debate about co-sleeping. Quite frankly, I don’t have a strong position about the subject one way or the other. One of my babies slept in a crib, the other co-slept with me. I did what I felt was best for each child, and in both cases, I made safety the paramount concern.

What I do have a strong position about is the idea that the vast majority of parents do what they think is best for their children, most of them research their choices, and most of them do everything they can to keep their kids safe. Unless a mother is being deliberately and blatantly abusive or negligent, she should be allowed to make those choices for her children without worrying about what other people think.

It always fascinates me that a species as diverse as the human race tends to think in such absolute terms, and parents are no exception to this. Many of them tend to believe that there is only one right way of doing things, and it’s their way, and anyone who does things differently is a <insert insulting adjective> parent.

Frankly, I’m tired of it. When will parents just accept that what’s right for them is – well, right for them? The fact that some moms breastfeed their kids until Kindergarten does not give them the right to criticize moms who are unable to breastfeed or who simply choose not to do so. Parents who limit their kids’ screen time should not be accused of being unreasonable, and those who do not should not be branded as lazy. If you let your baby “cry it out”, you are not heartless and mean, and if you pick up your baby whenever he cries, you are not spoiling your child.

Your own personal experience – no matter how tragic – does not entitle you to judge other people. Your child’s autism diagnosis may have come shortly after a vaccination, but you don’t get to accuse pro-vaxers of being uninformed and ignorant. Maybe your formula-fed child developed life-threatening food allergies, but that doesn’t give you the right to tell other formula-feeding moms that breastfeeding would be possible if only they would try harder. If your baby died while co-sleeping, I am truly sorry for your loss, but please don’t go around telling parents who choose to co-sleep that they are potential child-killers.

I’m not suggesting that we all shut up about our beliefs and opinions, or that we stop sharing our experiences. On the contrary – parents who speak out about what they go through can be valuable resources to other parents who are struggling with their choices or looking for information about their options. It’s even OK to be passionate about something that you have a strong opinion about.

Just be respectful about it, that’s all. No blame, no finger-pointing, no judging.

This is an original post by Kirsten Doyle. Photo credit: mariana f. This picture has a creative commons attribution license.

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Guest Post – Margie Webb: I Am A Loser

My friend Margie is one of the most inspiring people I know. To say that she has taken charge of her life would be an understatement. Over the last few years, she has tackled the various areas of her life, improved them and transformed them. Today, she writes about her journey toward better health. Read on, and prepare to be inspired.

Nov 2013, March 2014 & September 2014

Nov 2013, March 2014 & September 2014

My weight is going to kill me.

I knew this at the exact moment that the nurse had to take my blood pressure twice because she was concerned about the initial high reading. While I wanted to believe that it was her ineffective bedside manner because I know that my fat arms require the larger cuff, the fact that I knew I even needed the larger cuff DUE to fat arms was the moment that I had to accept my fate. My downhill march to death has started and I have nobody to blame but myself.

Granted, I hope that it doesn’t happen today, or tomorrow, or anytime in the near future, but eventually, if I don’t get healthy, my weight will kill me. Admit it, you never see elderly fat people just kicked back, living it up at the Senior Center. That’s because by the time you hit middle age, if you are obese, the health problems start to wear down your body and organs.

That’s blunt but it’s the truth. If you are reading this, are of a certain age and more than 100 pounds overweight, then you probably already know what I know: the life expectancy for a morbidly obese person who is past 40 years old is decreased by up to ten years. (http://ajcn.nutrition.org/content/82/5/923.full)

I am 41 years old, a middle class Caucasian female, and I am trying to save my life. Earlier this year, I topped the scales at over 300 pounds. Looking back at pictures from that time is very painful because I can see the unhappiness in my eyes. Physically, I was at my highest weight and my body felt it in various ways. My struggle with my weight is the same story that my generation of women share: we came of age with mothers who learned in their 1960ish teenage years to fad diet their body images onto us. Then, the internet came along, which solidified the “skinny is perfection” belief, and as we have children, we are passing along that message. It’s a vicious cycle with serious consequences for our society’s future.

Every woman that I know is an expert in picking her body image to shreds and always, ALWAYS, believing that she needs to lose this much or just a little more and she will be perfect happy. Our society regularly rams this message down our throats and millions of us are the reason that the diet industry is a $20 billion dollar business. Twenty billion! (www.abcnews.com) That’s how much we have been brainwashed that quick-and-easy is the only fix.

In high school, I was a size 8 and you could actually see my collarbones. And. I. Thought. I. Was. Fat. That memory makes me laugh hysterically now because if I ONLY KNEW what was coming for me. But, I was told I was fat and I believed it to be true. I never much watched what I ate or exercised. Once I got in to my 20’s, started having children, and continued eating processed foods, my weight began to climb.

And yes, I succumbed to the diet schemes and again, like many women, I have a list of them that I tried. Oh and I would be successful with them too. That is, until I stopped taking the pills, or ate carbs again, or stopped howling at the moon at midnight, or whatever the tricks of that particular weight loss plan. Then, I would not only gain back what I lost, but I would add more pounds to the total. As I grew older, the weight started to affect my health.

At 40 years old, I was diagnosed with diabetes and high blood pressure. These are solely because I am overweight and I am overweight for two main reasons: I did not eat healthy and I never regularly exercised. That’s it. That, gentle reader, is the simple truth about struggling with weight issues. Outside of weight loss surgery, which I am against for opinions all my own, no diet or pill is going to help you successfully lose weight and maintain the loss.

This is a growing epidemic in our culture as our population continues to rely less on fresh, clean food and more on processed and fast food. We all know the statistics and that our culture is driven increasingly by the quick result. That’s a huge reason why so many people, like me, have been unsuccessful in their weight loss attempts. It’s all good those first few weeks but when you don’t lose 200 pounds at once, many have the tendency to quit.

I have worked for many things in my life, finishing my college degree as a working, older mother, being chief among them, but nothing, and I mean, NOTHING, has been as hard as losing weight. I started my wellness journey last January with a goal of eating less crap and moving my body more. Vowing to not use any diet tricks (and sad to say, I did get weak once and spent 14 days hating myself on Advocare), I started a journal and created a Facebook group just for women like myself. The name of the group is Losers, because that’s what we all want to be.

Here I am almost a year later and 54 pounds lighter. No, I am not even halfway to my goal weight and there have many bumps along the way. But, I have made changes and am baby stepping my way to a longer life. I credit the support that I surrounded myself with and the mindset that this is going to take a long time.

And yes, it’s going to take a long time. It just is, there is no way around that fact. But, it’s worth it: for yourself, for your family, for the sustainability of our society.

Are you ready to save your life?

Margie can be found on Twitter @thehunnyb and on Facebook under Margie Webb. If interested in joining her Losers support group, she can be reached at either. Photo credit to the author.