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Eric and Charlotte Kaufman with their daughters, Lyra, 1, and Cora, 3. (AP Photo/Sariah English. File)

Eric and Charlotte Kaufman with their daughters, Lyra, 1, and Cora, 3. (AP Photo/Sariah English. File)

The Kaufmans are possibly the most talked about family in America. The family of four were recently plucked from their sailboat, The Rebel Heart – their home for the past seven years as they sailed around the world. The boat had lost all its steering and most of its communications six days ago, and was taking on water when rescuers found the stranded family. Making the matter most crucial was the condition of their 1-year-old daughter, Lyra, who was feverish and vomiting from possible salmonella poisoning. The family arrived in San Diego today, and will be taking time to recover before talking with the press.

See the full story here.

The fact that Eric and Charlotte Kaufman, parents of Lyra and her 3-year-old sister Cora, were sailing around the world with such young children is causing a passionate debate among families across the nation. Some are accusing the Kaufmans of reckless parenting, putting their young children in peril by staying at sea when they began having children. Others are applauding the young family for taking on such an adventure.

My take? Every family is different, and every family has their “norm.” For the majority of us, sailing around the world is not something that would be normal for our family. But for the Kaufman’s, they were sailing before the kids were even born. Those children saw being at sea as every day life. It’s no less normal than the families who live in huts in the middle of a jungle, families who have only one parent, kids who live in the projects, kids who live in mansions…. (speaking of which, you should check out the photo project of “Where Children Sleep” by photographer James Mollison for an eye-opening look at the economic differences in families around the world).

This was what the Kaufman family knew – sailing as a way of life.

And bad things happen in families, things we don’t plan for. The Kaufmans didn’t plan for their boat to break down, or for their toddler to get as sick as she did. Houses can burn down, leaving a family displaced. Pipes can break, roofs can leak, homes can be burglarized. Kids can catch colds, catch pneumonia, catch cancer. It doesn’t matter whether a family is on a sailboat around the world or cooped up away from germs in their home. The unplanned can happen.

Did being at sea make it more difficult for the Kaufman family to receive adequate care? Sure. But should they have stayed close to shore once they had kids? I don’t think so. Having been sailing for so long, I don’t believe the Kaufman’s were guilty of reckless parenting. I believe they were including their kids in a lifestyle they had already laid the foundation. And I hope that when little Lyra recovers, the family is able to take to the seas once again.

What do you think?

SAHM1

This week, the blogging world exploded when Amy Glass blatantly put down stay at home moms (SAHMs) when she wrote a blog titled “I Look Down On Young Women With Husbands And Kids And I’m Not Sorry“.

Here are a few token quotes:

“Do people really think that a stay at home mom is really on equal footing with a woman who works and takes care of herself? There’s no way those two things are the same. It’s hard for me to believe it’s not just verbally placating these people so they don’t get in trouble with the mommy bloggers.”

“You will never have the time, energy, freedom or mobility to be exceptional if you have a husband and kids.”

What can I say about Amy Glass?

Well, first, what can I say about my own experience?

I am one of the lucky moms who have experienced both SAHM-dom and being a working mom. Both have their perks. Both also have their downfalls. As a working mom, I look with envy at SAHMs. I’m envious that they have time to make their kids lunches every day before school, and are home to help them with homework when the kids get home. I’m jealous that they get to join the PTA, or volunteer in the classroom, or have the time to really investigate what’s going on when Johnny’s grades start slipping. Some of the SAHMs I know are the ones whose kids look the most put together, and have socks that actually match, while you can see my kid’s socks peeking through his holey sneakers because I haven’t actually found the time to take him shoe shopping.

I feel like I’d have so much more time as a SAHM. But then I remember what the reality was.

I did the stay-at-home mom thing in the first year of my daughter’s life, and in the first several months of my son’s. We moved to a new city and I had no friends. I spent my whole day being mom, talking to babies, cleaning up messes, keeping the kids entertained…. I was jealous of my husband who got to go out and make a living and talk to other adults while I stayed home in sweats and smelling of spit-up. I had dreams, too. But those got put on the back burner while my husband became the breadwinner, and I kept the home straight. My expertise became vested in keeping the household running and the kids thriving. But my self-worth? It mistakenly plummeted. I felt like I a big fat nobody. I mean, how do you incorporate your homemaker skills onto a resume? How do you keep up with the world when the majority of your news media exists on PBS, Disney, and Nickelodeon? How do you not feel jealous when you see attractive women exiting their cars to walk towards their big office jobs, wearing pencil skirts and carrying briefcases, when I’m juggling a baby on my hip and breakfast remnants in my hair?

It was our meager finances that finally dictated my need for a job. But honestly, I was relieved to get back to the work force and take a break from the littles. My new job became my vacation from my real job. And whenever I get a little jealous over a few of my friends who are lucky to be able to stay home with their kids, I remember how much I suck at keeping a stay-at-home schedule, and how hard it was to get time off from a job that was pretty much around the clock.

Mom kidsAs I reflect on this opinion that Ms. Glass has, I can’t help but feel like she wrote it simply to attract a ton of attention to her blog, and nothing else. I mean, if you look now, there are more than 10,000 comments both applauding her stance and blasting her words. However, I feel sorry for her too, because it’s apparent she feels the need to bring herself attention by slamming a whole group of people for a significant choice in their life – a choice that means the world to their family.

And I can also only guess that she doesn’t have children. If she did, she’d understand the miracle that exists in their very first breath, and the way it feels to see the world through their eyes, and the Jekyll and Hyde emotions of wanting to strangle said kid when they’re being total buttheads while simultaneously willing to give them her very last breath if it meant they could keep on living. She’d understand the sacrifice that goes into being a SAHM, of sometimes feeling like the world is on one realm while she’s stuck in the land of tikes, even while understanding that this is where it is most important for her to be. She’d understand what it’s like to give up a career and a paycheck, throwing herself into her child’s future instead. She’d understand that fine balance of devoting time to the family while keeping her self-worth, and the daily struggle of not putting her whole entire identity into being the mom of her child.

I guess I can’t be mad at her, either, though I do feel a little judgey about her writing such an obvious ploy piece to gather hits for her blog. I can’t fault her. I clicked. I read. I’m responding.

Truthfully, no person – mom, or not – should be looked down upon for their life choice if that is what their calling is meant to be. If you are meant to backpack Asia, awesome! If you’re meant to work full time while also raising a family, good job! And if you devote your time to your kids as a stay at home mom, fantastic!

We all would do better to pull each other up instead of putting each other down.

Note: I became aware of this post by Amy Glass when my cousin posted her own rebuttal. She is much more eloquent than I am, and definitely more forgiving. Read what she has to say HERE.

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I few months ago, I did Financial Peace University with Dave Ramsey through my church. As a former single mom, I thought I knew pretty much everything I could about stretching my dollar. And I had a good start, but I was far from knowing everything (and I still have a lot of new-to-me ideas to hone in on).

My husband and I took this course at the urging of several friends and my own sister. When my parents decided they wanted to take it, we decided it was as good a time as any to sign up, just to get everyone off our backs. But it didn’t take long for us to realize we’d just made the best decision we could.

Whether you decide to follow suit and find a FPU course of your own to join (and yes, it’s Christian based. But there are real life habits the course teaches that every person, regardless of faith, should learn), here are the three biggest take-aways I want to share with you about gaining control of your finances.

1. Tell your money where to go. This is also known as the “envelope system.” Every month, I take my paycheck and split it up into categories of where it will be spent. Dave Ramsey suggests going to a cash only system (putting money in pre-labeled envelopes) so you can actually feel yourself spending money. When you use your debit card, it’s easy to be immune to what you’re spending. Actually taking the money out of your wallet and giving it to someone else for a service or product keeps the awareness on how much you are actually spending. Personally, I use a hybrid of using cash and debit. For things like gas and bills, I use my debit card (as even DR does). For things like groceries, our family only uses cash. We have managed to shave $400 off our family’s food budget just by doing this alone! I also plan for large expenses like summer camp, my son’s braces, vacations, birthdays, etc. Each month I set aside a small amount for each item, and over time it builds up.

This first rule is, in my opinion, the most important of all financial decisions you can make. I am never caught with an empty wallet when it comes time to pay the piper, and I’m always prompt with my payments. It’s a really good feeling to be able to give my kids’ summer camp $300 of my hard-earned money and not feel pinched by it because I’d planned for it ahead of time.

2. Cut up your credit cards. I know. You want to build your credit up so you can have a nice credit score so you can buy big things. But how about, instead, saving money to buy those big things? There’s a more in-depth description at FPU detailing how you can even buy cars and houses without credit, but I’m not going to go there. But I will tackle the smaller topic of using a credit card for things like groceries, electronics, gifts, “emergencies”… When you pay off those things you used credit for, you are also paying up to 22% more in interest. That’s such a waste. If you follow the first step of planning out your money’s path, step two will be easier. And if you don’t have the money for something, DON’T BUY IT.

Note on emergencies: We’ve all been there. The car breaks down. The roof has a leak. The kids need new clothes. The dog falls and breaks his leg (true story). FPU’s true first step is to save $1000 and put it away for EMERGENCIES ONLY. In the case of the broken dog, we had to shell out $400 for x-rays (before the $3200 surgery bill….yikes). Thanks to our emergency fund, we were able to pay that first $400 right away.

3. Snowball your debt payments. Gather up all your debt and become clear what you owe on them, and what the minimum payments are. Pay the minimum on each one except the smallest one. On that smallest one, pay the most you can each month until you’ve paid it off. Then apply that amount to the next debt. And so on. With each debt that’s zeroed out, momentum starts to increase. And soon it will actually feel possible to get out from under all that debt.

Further money making/saving ideas:

If you’re in a bind right now, look through your things and see where you can save. Are there areas you can trim in your food budget? Are you paying too much in the entertainment department? Are there things you can live without for the time being (like a data plan on the cell phone, or cable/internet, or…..)? Search your house for things you can sell on Craigslist. Consider taking up an odd job or two for a little while, like cleaning houses or baby/pet sitting.

Do you have some tried and true methods you’ve used to keep your budget low? Share them in the comments!

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For many, December is the season for the Christmas Blues – the time of year that becomes the most dreaded instead of the most joyous despite how many songs have the word “merry” in them. That feeling of dread only grows if you’re broke, if you are missing a loved one, if you find yourself suddenly single… If one more person says “merry” to you, you’ll shove that merry up their….mistletoe.

I can’t promise you guaranteed happiness over the holidays. I won’t insult you by making light of your situation by telling you to fake it till you make it. The holidays can be the hardest time of year, mostly because everyone expects you to be happy – or at least pretend to be happy so everyone around you can be comfortable. Let me be the one to give you permission to cross anyone’s name off your gift-giving list if they try to pressure you into feigned happiness.

And then let me give you a few tips on how to get out of your slump on your own terms:

1. Give to others who can’t pay you back. The holiday season is supposed to be about giving and goodwill towards others. Some still abide by this. But for the most part, I think many of this has been lost. It doesn’t even have to be big. Buy a box of hand-warmers and pass them out to the homeless. Go a step further and give them a blanket too. Donate your time at a soup kitchen. Take a few hearts off the Secret Santa tree. Go to the Volunteer Center and see where they can use your help. If you personally know of a family who is struggling, lighten their burden with a bag of groceries, help with cleaning, or offer them free babysitting. Small things add up to big things, and smiles are contagious. Trust me, the love you give results in a warmed heart, and soon it becomes easy to forget who’s getting the better deal out of your generosity.

2. Refuse to overspend. Set a realistic budget, and then stick to it. Vow to keep the credit cards sheathed, and just use the cash you have. Don’t have much? Get creative. Check out Pinterest for a few ultra cute ideas. Give the gift of service instead of a wrapped gift. Bake your present. Write a poem and frame it. Write a nice letter. But don’t give so much in December that you’re hurting in January. No one wants that for you.

3. Exercise! I know, I know. It’s cold outside. The mornings and nights are too dark. That holiday pie is weighing you down. There’s too much to do. And did I mention it’s cold outside? Yes. Whine about all your excuses. Get it all out there. And then put on your walking shoes and take a walk around the neighborhood. Grab a few friends and do it every day. Do whatever you can to get your body moving. It’s hard at first, really hard. But if you stick to it, soon it will become your favorite part of your day. And then, you’ll feel restless if you don’t exercise. And then….you may even feel (cringe) happy.

4. Get your Vitamin D. The days are shorter, meaning that it’s dark when you go into the office, and dark when you leave. But Vitamin D is the happy vitamin, and so important to keep you out of the doldrums. My first suggestion to you is to make sure you take at least 20 minutes in your day to sit outside in the sunshine (when it’s not raining or cloudy). But my second suggestion is to make sure you’re taking a Vitamin D supplement, especially in the winter months. The recommended dosage is 600 IU for anyone under 70 years old, and 800 IU for anyone 71 and older.

5. Keep organized. It’s easy to feel like there’s no time in your day if you’re not sure how you’re spending it. But if you create a schedule and try to keep to it, you’ll be surprised at how much you can get done in a day. Same goes for how much money you’ll find when you stick to a budget, and how much sanity you’ll have left if you keep your house clean. Do your best this month to keep all areas of your life contained, and you may even develop a new habit for the new year.

6. Don’t over-budget your time. Be realistic, you can only do so much in one day. So don’t create some crazy schedule that will only make you feel like a failure when it collapses in your lap. Instead, put a star next to two or three things you have to get done today. Then, if you finish those and still have time, you can get a jump-start on a few things on tomorrow’s list as well.

7. Allow yourself time to be sad. Let’s face it, sadness happens – and that’s okay. It’s a necessary emotion that everyone must feel sometime or another. Own it. Spend a day in it. Truly feel it. Don’t mask it with electronics, or hide it behind a smile. You are sad. And the only way to get past being sad is to give yourself permission to be sad.

8. Ask for help. If you can’t get past the sadness, there is no shame in seeking out a professional’s assistance in lifting you out of that deep hole of depression. If that’s too scary for you, talk with a trusted friend and let them make that call for you. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to be so incredibly sad that everything tastes bland, every day is on repeat, life has no purpose, and the sunshine just can’t reach you. And I know that when it gets to the point, the hardest thing to do is ask for help. Be brave, and ask for it anyway. It’s the best gift you can give to yourself, as well as to those who love you.

When it comes to Christmas, the catalogs and store shelves are filled with fun ideas for the younger crowd. But what about when kids get older? Toys are generally not as exciting, and the gift options become fewer and more expensive. This doesn’t exactly make it easy for Santa’s helpers to know what to put in a teen’s stocking…

In our house, stockings are just as exciting as the bigger gifts – even in the teenage years. But what the kids don’t realize is that I struggle with what to fill them with every year! So this year I enlisted the help of a few Facebook friends, and together we came up with this list of items that teens and tweens might love.

P.S. Feel free to add to this list in the comments!

Stocking stuffer ideas for tweens & teens:
- Silly socks
- nail polish or lip gloss
- candy, gum, mints, etc.
- retro toy from Cost Plus
- magazine
- book
- DVD
- earrings, bangles, etc.
- pen and journal
- lotions and bath soaps
- travel games
- card games
- cell phone accessories
- earbuds

Gift card ideas
- gas
- coffee
- smoothies
- fast food
- movies
- restaurant
- clothing

IOU ideas
- night out sans siblings
- night with later curfew
- night off from chores
- activity of their choice

I have a 12-year-old son who is a 7th grader this year. Like most 7th grade boys, my son’s actions don’t necessarily involve a lot of thought. Just this week alone, he decided that buying and consuming a Monster energy drink right before bed was a good idea, skipping his chores and lying about them being done was perfectly acceptable, yelling at his stepdad would have no repercussions, and leaving the house and not coming back until after 8 p.m. (with no cell phone or note) was okay.

And in the past month or so, he has also pointed his fingers at other cars while I’ve been driving, pretending to shoot at them.

replica gunYesterday, our county was rocked by the news that a 13-year-old boy was shot and killed by the police in a southwest Santa Rosa neighborhood. The first reports spoke of a man carrying assault weapons who was shot down. But the developing story evolved, and it became clear that no would-be murderer was killed – it was just a boy, carrying “toy” guns, or rather, replicas of real guns.

I can’t comment on who is at fault in this situation. There just isn’t enough information yet about what went down in the time when this kid was spotted, and when he was fired upon. But I do know that nerves are rattled at the recent news of a boy the same age who brought a gun to his Nevada school, injuring two students and killing a teacher before turning the gun on himself. I know that there are news stories all over the nation of kids who are capable of heinous crimes. And I know that a boy around the age of 13 would think nothing of carrying around a toy gun that looked exactly like the real thing – because they’d WANT it to look like the real thing.

This morning, I sat down with my son and told him about this 13-year-old boy’s death and his family’s tragedy. I took the opportunity to discuss how there is nothing funny about pretend violence – how it can actually lead to something tragic like this. And I laid out some firm guidelines for him:

- Never go out in public carrying anything that might look like a real weapon. Nerf guns are one thing – their bright colors and odd shape makes them apparent they’re just a toy. But anything that is supposed to look real can be mistaken for the real thing, and could get you injured or killed.

- Never point your fingers at anyone else to look like a gun. You don’t know who you’re pointing at, and it could have the real thing pointed back at you in return.

- Always, ALWAYS respect the law and those employed to enforce it.

This boy’s death is a tragedy for his family, and for our community. There are no words to describe the sorrow I feel for everyone involved in this devastating event. Yes, there was a time when a kid wouldn’t get shot for carrying something that is only meant to look like a weapon. But times have changed. Even “just playing around” can be deemed unsafe.

I urge all parents to take a moment and speak with your kids about the importance of weapon safety – even if that “weapon” is just pretend.

School has been in for about 4 weeks now, and the reality of middle school is finally hitting the fan for my 7th grade son. With 6 classes and homework assigned in each, my organization-challenged son has been fumbling a bit with the amount of work he still has to do once the school bell has rang. Last week was especially hard for him since he was sick on Monday, and then tried to play catch-up all week long.

Friday morning he came to me in tears because his homework wasn’t done for his hardest class. Of course, he’d had plenty of time the day before to use up his videogame time and play with his friends in the evening. And when asked if his work was finished, he swore that it was. Obviously that wasn’t true.

Looks like we’re in for a few changes in our household.

I’ve had to come up with a new plan to hopefully encourage success this 7th grade year, and maybe help him take on a few better habits before the year is up. To help out other parents of struggling middle schoolers, here are a few things I’ve incorporated to help him gain control over his school work.

Get them a daily planner.
Most schools now require these. If not, get one for your child anyway. Have them write down their homework DAILY, and then check it every day to make sure their homework is done. If necessary, ask each teacher to partner with you on this to ensure your child knows their homework assignments. After all, your child’s teachers want your child to succeed.

Write down your expectations.
Your child is 12 or older. They’re not little kids anymore. However, some kids this age are going through such information overload, they can’t keep two thoughts straight. Create a checklist of what you expect them to do so they won’t forget. If it’s an unchanging list, you can even laminate it. Trust me, many kids will actually appreciate this.

No electronics until work is done.
That means no TV, no computer, no videogames, no phone…no nothing. If they need to use the internet for their homework, have them do it in a common room (if possible) and stay close enough that you can check to make sure it’s actually homework and not social media they’re working on.

Enforce appropriate restrictions.
If your child isn’t capable of pulling a B in his class because the work is too hard, don’t punish him. However, if your child’s grade is affected by not turning in homework, by all means, start taking privileges away! And be firm – don’t give them back until progress is made. Nothing works like a little incentive.

Limit after-school activities.
I’m sorry to all you sports families out there (we’re one of them, too), but if your child is struggling to get their homework done, then they may need to take a pass on Fall Ball or soccer. It seems ridiculous to be challenging your kid in sports, dance class, or any other extra activities if their school work is suffering.

Be available.
School is hard. Junior high is hard! I look at my kid’s homework, and I am grateful I don’t have to go to school anymore. But they do – and they need your help. You might not know everything they’re learning (which is a humbling realization), but you can at least be there for moral support, and to guide them in how to figure out the answer. Who knows, you might remember a thing or two from your Jr. High Algrebra class…

What are some ways you help your kid be successful in school?

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