Parenting Is Like Oxygen

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on March-3-2014

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Holding a baby feels powerful. We feel it, and at some level we know that the infant experiences it too. Our heart warms. Our belly fills with butterflies. Stress melts away. The skin tingles. We know something important is happening and that there are physical implications, for us and for the child. It feels healthy. For a parent, there may be no words for what is happening, though science is increasingly able to provide words for those who want them.

From a story on NPR, new evidence that a lack of parenting and attachment effects the growth of the brain. We know that a lack of attachment to a parent or parent-figure can lead to several problems, including under-functioning immune systems, emotional disorders, and difficulties with relationships. In the worst cases, neglected children can fail to thrive, experiencing severely inhibited growth, unable even to take advantage of calories when there is enough food. Now, researchers are discovering that the physical structure of the brain is effected by the level of care a child receives in the early years. While it is not irreversible, a child with no parent-figure to bond with may have significantly lower growth in several areas of the brain.

While the science is encouraging and provides for deeper understanding, most parents we know are way ahead of the game. The expert’s findings add little to what we know when we hold a baby in our hands: our children need us. We know this at a deep level, even though we don’t have the x-ray vision to track brain development. To hold a child is to know, for all the miraculous insight that technology provides, that scientists have probably only just begun to scratch the surface of what is made possible by a parent’s love.

“Parents are playing a really big role in shaping children’s brain development. Parenting … is a bit like oxygen. It’s easy to take for granted until you see someone who isn’t getting enough.” -Nim Tottenham, associate professor of psychology at the University of California, Los Angeles

Same Team

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on March-2-2014

I have a child in my class who is on the ASD spectrum. I have mentioned in previous posts that I was very open with them about my own personal experiences with autism. Unfortunately there is no comparing any child on the spectrum it is apples to oranges but you always want what you don’t have~I have been envious they have no behavioral issues while they are mesmerized at how social D is( again early intervention gets all the credit for that one.)

The mom of my student has been very on edge this past week~I can tell her sons social challenges are weighing on her heavily….. naturally.
My students IEP( individualized educational plan) is coming up and so we are starting to think about new goals. This meeting is an annual meeting where the students ‘team’ which consists of therapists, teacher, principal and parents to discuss goals that were met or not met and new goals and any changes in services. They are so unbelievably overwhelming for parents.
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She has visited a few times during recess and my student isolates himself and does not socialize. This frightened her. As a parent you have these visions and hopes of what your child’s life should be like. So incredibly hard when a disorder makes those hopes harder to achieve. I met with her to prep for the IEP and was genuinely able to feel for her. We discussed the joys of watching the second and watching typical developing behaviors unravel. It was a moment where no other parent of typically developing kids would understand. We both were expressing how cool it was we did not have to teach our babies how to play. They just did it. How they don’t obsess over things or have ritualistic behaviors. When I was listing these things I could tell in her eyes that she really knew we were in the same boat. On the same team.

Fast forward a week of really brainstorming and trying to figure out a solve to recess and we made huge gains. He is initiating interactions and we found someone who has interest and will stay with him. This other child is very shy and feels safe with him. On Friday they were running around the playground holding hands. I literally teared up. I started my student on a positive incentive system for positive social exchanges. It works with my son for behavior so why not with a different behavior? I used his obsession… Letters to motivate him. There is buy in and motivation from him now. Hopefully It will continue and his exchanges will become more organic over time.

I received an e-mail from his mom over the weekend that was so heartwarming with kind words for my work with him. One line sums it all up for me ” I am very hopeful that he will make great progress with us as his team.” I agree and feel very good about how far we have come in such a short time period. His social skills
teacher said something she heard at a an autism conference that stated…..he is doing good compared to himself. And that he is.

“Just”

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Posted by Gina Perkins, Pre-School Mommie | Posted in Gina Perkins | Posted on February-26-2014

Several months ago, I was at a large family gathering.  As with all of our gatherings, there was plenty of good Italian food and casual seating. I set my plate down at a coffee table amongst a handful of my cousins (there are a lot of us!), and began listening in on the latest and greatest happenings in everyone’s lives.

One of my cousins was cradling her newborn son, another was sharing about his upcoming trip to Costa Rica, another had just been accepted to law school, while another had applied to the Peace Corp.  I sat there feeling so proud of the family that I come from – of our diverse interests and passions, of our collective courage and varied sense of adventure. I momentarily lived vicariously through each tale as I moved my eyes back and forth between the conversation and my kids running circles outside.

And then, it came to me. One of my cousins looked at me, and with genuine interest asked, “So, what’s new with you?” Before I really thought about it, I replied, “Oh you know…this (as I pointed toward the girls). I’m just a mom right now. Check back in in a few years and maybe I’ll have something exciting to say.” And just like that, the conversation came to an abrupt halt – because really, where can you go for there?

I immediately sank in my seat after realizing what I had said. In that moment, I knew I wasn’t “just” a mom. I knew that I had been laying awake at night that very week (and all the weeks before and after!), spinning under the chaos of the different things that I’m committed to. I knew it sounded so martyr-ish – and who wants to be around that? So then, why? Why was that my answer?

The truth is – I’m a mom first. But, justJust a mom? While I’m not even sure what just a mom means, I can say with certainty that there’s more on my plate than parenting. I’m the Social Media & Blog Manager for Parenting on the Peninsula. I’m also a blogger. I am an Independent Consultant for Rodan+Fields Dermatologists. I serve on the Board at my daughter’s school. I volunteer at a local shelter. I am a nutrition coach. And, I cook – a lot!  The truth is, my plate is full. Too full. So full that I’m not doing any one of those things as well as I’d like. I’m over-extended, unfocused, and tired. My attention is pulled in a dozen different directions – and still, when asked what I’m up to, all I can think of is a shrug of the shoulders while saying, “just this.”

Why?

I’ve been pondering this for a few months now. Wondering why I shrunk back so easily. And then I began reading a series on Momastery (one of my favorite blogs) called Sacred Scared. Sacred Scared is about all of these amazingly accomplished women sharing their biggest fears with the world. From reading their brave and vulnerable words, and then following the conversations started after each entry – I saw how pervasive social anxiety is amongst mothers.  How, after having children, and especially if spending most, or all, of your time as a stay-at-home mom – us women become really anxious about the world outside of our homes. The world beyond our routines and comfort zones and yoga pants and My Gym classes.

But why?  One of my best friends and I began having a conversation about this phenomenon, as we both realized how very real it is in our own lives.  And here’s what I said:

I think it is the loss of identity, not knowing who we are – lacking confidence because of that. Feeling out of touch from reality for being sucked into the world of Disney and Sprouts and make-believe. I think it’s being so afraid of the world because we suddenly know a love that makes everything suspicious due to our intense instinct to protect it – I think the withdrawal is half not trusting the world, and half fearing that the world will see our vulnerability. It’s all so messy, and sticky, and lonely, and lovely.

And, I believe that. So, when my cousin asked what I’ve been up to – while he really wanted to know, because he loves and cares for me….I was so afraid of boring him with the details of my scattered day-to-day life, that I dodged the question altogether.  I was afraid of talking about my kids with such pride I’d cry – because who wants to be that person? I was afraid of sounding bragadocious if I rattled off my laundry list of “projects.” I was afraid of letting someone in, to see the real me. The me that’s not just a mom – because, if I have so many other interests and divisions of my time, can I still be the dedicated and loyal mom that a just mom is? Don’t I seem like I love my kids all the more if they’re all I am? All I do?

Uh, no. No one’s giving us moms any points for surrendering our identities completely over to this gig.  In fact, we’re creating this entire movement of social anxiety by doing just that. We’re forgetting who we are, and what we love, and what we want, and what we dream, and what we like – and we’re drifting farther and farther away from the villages that can help us achieve all of those things.

We need each other. We each have such unique gifts and talents. Whether mundane or exciting, each of our lives count. None of us are just anything. We have to start believing that in order to find the confidence to share ourselves more openly with the world. We have to believe that we are all the things that we do. All the things that we dream. A sum of our parts, really. Let’s rise up against the social anxiety, dig our heels in, take a deep breathe, and share ourselves with one another – shall we?

- See more at: http://sahmstheword.com/?p=4115&preview=true#sthash.8Y5u9lIp.dpuf

Reconnecting

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on February-23-2014

I have had more kid free moments in the last month than I have had all five years. My sisters 40th birthday celebration was a few weekends ago and I left the kids for the weekend with my husband. It felt so foreign yet so refreshing. Although I found myself wondering the house we were staying at anxiously I had to constantly remind myself to sit and slow down. It was such a lovey weekend celebrating my sister. imageThe following weekend was my husbands birthday and he never really wants to celebrate but was very clear this year with what he wanted. He asked to go to the mountains and go skiing. We have not been skiing since before the kids were born. We also have a piece of property up in the Arnold area. Someday when we are not shelling out thousands for daycare we will build on it. My husband loves to go up there.
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I have never seen my husband so excited. It was very sweet. I was trying to produce the same feelings but two weekends away from my kids was totally foreign. Don’t get me wrong it was so fun to try and remember how we were as a couple B/K. We were spontaneous and over indulged ourselves.

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Every time we go up there we say if we ever have a moment without the kids we should go to the caves. Not sure why this was not planned but driving I said ” let’s go to moaning caverns”. I had not been since I was a kid and there is no way I am taking my kids down there that would be a recipe for disaster. My husband did not do to much as a child. So he likes gaining experiences now as an adult. It was cool and scary at times. We took our time doing things stopped at stores that we had always wondered about it was really pure heaven. I knew my kids were in pure heaven as we’ll at my sisters. In fact I think D would switch households in a heartbeat. He loves it there so incredibly much.

It felt good to reconnect with my husband. Quite candidly our relationship has been anything but perfect for the last 5 years. Two totally different people from polar opposite backgrounds living together and raising two humans together. It is life though and life is messy. My husband kept saying over and over again how much he loved this weekend and how refreshed he felt. It was really quite cool to see him so excited.

We went skiing and I felt like a kid again. It was crazy how nervous both of us were to be on the slopes again. Mainly to get off the lifts. We were only on the slopes for 2.5 hours but that is how we roll now we squeeze our B/K life in small increments but it feels huge. So glad our muscle memory was still there with this sport. It really does feel good to start being myself again and doing things for me. It Is important for my kids to see that we have lives and interests besides them.
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Conversations without Answers

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on February-17-2014

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Imagine helping kids to start a conversation without worrying about where it will end up. As adults we often think we know where a conversation should go, think we know the answers. But do we always know best?

In a previous post, we wrote about conversations without questions. We suggested avoiding questions in hard talks with kids, teens, and significant others. In these circumstances, questions often seem pedantic and can put the other person on the spot (“Why would you do that?”, “What were you thinking?”) … not a good strategy for achieving mutual understanding when talking about something of importance. In this post, we want to talk about conversations without answers.

Parents often struggle when there is conflict between kids because they feel they need to find answers, to fix problems. They either avoid the tension by separating the kids, or push an imposed resolution that makes little sense to young ones. What if we grown-ups enter into conversations about conflict without being responsible for finding the answer? Are we really the ones most qualified to find the answers anyhow?

When there is a conflict, one of the great gifts we can give our kids is simply to help them acknowledge feelings and make sure everyone feels heard and understood. From this place of understanding, it is easy (and enlightening) to then invite all involved to consider a solution. Help children be heard and understood, and then stand back to watch their natural problem-solving skills kick in. Sometimes the answers come easily, sometimes they don’t, and sometimes it is enough merely to acknowledge that there has been a conflict and exchange apologies. There doesn’t always have to be an answer; but there can always be reconciliation.

If we are the kinds of people who don’t like uncertainty, then we are likely to push for answers in order to put ourselves at ease. By relaxing our impulse to fix problems, we are able to cultivate more open conversations between kids, in which they are more free to discover solutions for themselves. If we’re honest with ourselves, we also sometimes carry around our own memories of personal conflict. When this is true, it’s even more important to help kids work out problems in their own power, so that we don’t press them inappropriately to a conclusion meant to satisfy us.

Make room for more creative solutions in conversations between children by not assuming that we know the answers to their problems: a conversation begun without an answer in mind is one that encourages full participation. The wise grown-up will recognize that this strategy is not only suitable for children.

Picking a Pre-School

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on February-16-2014

Ever since I entered the field of early childhood I envisioned sending my own kids to a co-op. I had gotten a taste of everything from center based, Montessori, home based and got to fill one of my professional development bucket list items of visiting a co-op that Bev Boss runs in Roseville.

Once I had my own kids and it was time to shop for pre-schools my options were limited in my area. Attending a co-op was not an option with our economic situation. I needed to work full time and needed extended care. This is where I had wished I had no schema of what the different philosophies were. I taught in a home based program that was heavy with parent involvement and it meshed many different practices: developmental, Reggio Amelia, co-op and a bit of Waldorf. I could not shop for a school for my kids without wanting a complete clone of Curious Kids. I also was trying to find a place that would welcome D and at the time was still receiving early intervention and his OT would visit his school. I found a place that was very similar to Curious Kids. I made it very clear that I would love to participate whenever I could. I have fond memories of participating at circle times and holidays and field trips with D. I recently had a day off from school and asked to come in and participate with circle time with Bubba. It was a bit hairy he was not use to me being there and was a bit whiney. His teacher and I bounced back and forth with our song, movement and finger plays. I’ll tell ya…. It is way easier doing a circle time with 24 young fives than it is with 6-8 multi-aged kiddos. It was so fun for me to see the babies and toddlers participate in their own way. Later in the day we had a valentines party and D loves the opportunity to come back and play in the environment where the majority of his early learning took place. It was a great way to spend valentines day. It felt warm and fuzzy.

Since I am an experience girl
my wheels are spinning with the idea of possibly participating in a co-op during my summer off with Bubba before we enter the school system.

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What Education?

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on February-10-2014

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We find that it’s hard to advocate for any single kind of education, because we have encountered a multitude. We’ve experienced it all: home school, co-ops, charter schools, and private prep-schools; public high schools, tiny liberal-arts colleges, city colleges, and universities. We’ve taught and learned in all contexts.

Dave grew up on the Peninsula, starting his local education with Montessori and public elementary school, finishing at a 6-12th grade prep school. In Athens, Greece, Anghelika attended an international/bilingual preschool, and continued in international schools throughout her education (finishing with High School at TASIS Hellenic) before coming to the U.S.. 30 years ago, we met at a college of 600 in Bennington, Vermont, where we designed our own education. Dave went on to get a Masters of Divinity at Fuller Theological Seminary, while Anghelika began working for preschools and studying early childhood education at Pasadena City College.

Our children joined Redwood Parents Preschool in Redwood City after we settled back in the area, Anghelika began a lifelong relationship with parent-participation schools, and Dave began to teach and work with adults in churches. Today, Dave continues to work with adults, but is also a student again, in Santa Clara University’s clinical psychology program, and teaches homeschool enrichment classes for kids aged 6-18.

During the elementary years, our kids went to alternative/charter schools. Then we moved to Los Altos, and our 2nd- and 6th-graders began a march through the public system again with a real focus on testing and academic success. By the time our kids got to high school, we didn’t know it, but there were four choices. The only choice we could see was the one ten feet from our back door: our back gate opens up to the fields of Los Altos High. Our daughter spent two years there before transferring to the alternative arts- and project-based program in the district called Freestyle … a no-brainer for our brilliantly talented artist who would go on to art college. Our son, who we always thought would benefit from Freestyle’s alternative style, would claim “I’m not an artist” and end the conversation.

But after years of struggling with the academic culture of LAHS, he (with our support) finally took the advice of his advisors, and moved to Alta Vista, the continuation High School in our district, for his last year-and-a-half of high school. It seems like the independent-study model at Alta Vista will be perfect for him, as we have a suspicion that he will do part of his college education via independent study, while testing for credit though the college board’s CLEP tests. He’s also working with a tutor.

Is there a kind of education that we haven’t come in contact with? We’ve seen a lot of models, and it would make little sense for us to tell anyone they should learn anything from the way we did it. Our own education and that of our kids’ has been eclectic, to say the least.

But having tasted from just about the whole buffet, we can say how important it feels (with our son, for example), not to settle into a rut and do only what’s in front of you. Our guy is beginning to get a lot more traction right now, and we kind of wish we’d made some changes earlier in his high school career. If we could go back, we would tell our less wrinkly selves to never believe that one school can provide all that a child needs.

We are fortunate that within our district there are a variety of options, and we really see them as options now. We might have thought that we were at the ‘best’ school in the district and that there were ‘other’ schools where you might end up if you can’t handle the ‘best’. This makes little sense to us now. The best school is where you have success in learning. Our son seems to have found that. For now.

West Side Versus East Side

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Posted by Megan | Posted in Megan Savage | Posted on February-10-2014

I am taking a break this week from writing about my family. I’ve got my educator hat on this morning. I have jumped around schools quite a bit~mostly due to finding where I belong. What is a good fit for me and partly to getting pink slipped and having no choice. The majority of my experience is in title one schools, which are basically schools that have a certain percentage that are low income families and are qualified for free and reduced lunch. Prior to this year I spent a year in a high achieving school where kids came from more affluent families. I thought after that year I would never go back. But fast forward to switching districts to be closer to my kids and brand new I landed back at a high achieving school based on wanting to teach Transitional Kindergarten. I would not trade it for the world….but my lens for title one schools are so thick. I really wish our schools could figure out a system where it was more equal. I walk on campus now and I hear choir practice and flutes. I see parents hanging signs and having PTA meetings. Kids and parents want more challenging school work. These are not things that are going on at a title one school. I was sitting in a staff meeting the other day where a teacher announced her friends 50th birthday was going to be spent beautifying the school with gardens and painting projects. I could not help but think why not do that at another school where families don’t have the time due to working several jobs or have the resources or don’t have the skills to be involved in their child’s education. Those kids and families still deserve all the same resources that children on the other side of town have. If parents know better they do better. Why can’t we have affluent families pair up with inner city families to help teach them how to fundraise for schools. I just wish it was not so broken and more equal. It is frustrating to watch unfold in front of your eyes and not having to much control of fixing it~without sacrificing the quality of your classroom and family. The parents at a school like mine have so much energy, time and resources to give. I just wish it went in to one big pot and was distributed differently. Don’t get me wrong I am enjoying my families come in to the classroom to volunteer and donations I have received. I selfishly am enjoying taking a break from the emotional roller coaster of working with families that are broken and have abuse and neglect. I do feel like now I can get my job done and go home to my own kids and not worry about my other kids. I feel content~this is a nice break but I left a huge piece of my heart at those schools and wish to go back at one point in my career.

Living Arrows

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Posted by Gina Perkins, Pre-School Mommie | Posted in Gina Perkins | Posted on February-4-2014

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A few weeks ago, I shared a love letter of sorts that I had written for DJ.  I had woken up that morning thinking of her, and how quickly she is growing.  I expressed my disdain with Father Time about how it was all seeming to pass at such warp speed. And then, I took pause, and I surveyed the moment – and I found gratitude in the bittersweet process.

Today, I realized that my sadness isn’t really for the ways that DJ is growing. And, my sadness isn’t even sadness, either. What I believe I’m feeling is a sense of loss – not knowing how to parent this phase of our lives. Feeling like I’m missing the cues, the answers, the right way.  I look at the ways DJ is changing, and I feel empty-handed, not possessing the necessary tools to nurture the maturing girl whom I’m still labeling as this way or that. The labels are inaccurate, and misleading. Talking even me into a preconception of who DJ is. Or, more accurately, who she is not.

This morning we toured a Transitional Kindergarten class for DJ to attend next year. I had really worked myself up over this tour.  Last time we did a school tour was almost a year ago, and it was a disaster. DJ was overstimulated, and painfully shy, and had forgotten all of her manners from being so overwhelmed and uncomfortable.  It was agonizing, and embarrassing.  So, naturally, with that experience ingrained in my memory – I was really nervous for what this morning might hold.

I gave DJ a pep talk on the way over to the school – stuff about it being ok to feel shy, but the power of using her words to talk with me about it, and being brave and courageous in the face of a new adventure.  I held my breath as we approached the front office and she shrieked behind me, over the loudness of the gate’s wheels and wood gliding across the pavement.  I was pretty sure I knew how this was gonna go…..

Upon meeting the teacher, I explained a little bit about DJ’s personality. Her sensitivity. Her special needs for gentle affection and a quiet corner – and then, I caught myself in mid-sentence. Where was DJ? She was fully integrated in the classroom. She was playing with the faux snow at the sensory table before quickly climbing up into a reading loft.  She explored each corner of the large classroom, and even sat in at circle time – raising her hand and offering an answer to a question when the teacher asked for input. She proudly spelled her name aloud, in front of a classroom of adults and children whom she had just met. And then, she begged to stay for art.

I pulled the teacher back into my unfamiliar space, and I said, “Clearly, she is fine. What type of support and parent education do you offer to mom’s like me?” In those proud moments of watching DJ effortlessly tap into her sense of independence and resilience, I realized that I’m not mourning the ways that she’s growing. I’m feeling challenged in the ways that I need to be growing.  I’m feeling disconnected to the little girl presently in front of me.  I’m feeling nervous about changing the rules that we have worked so hard to define together.  All those rules about what works, and what doesn’t.

I had gotten so familiar with her needs, those rules. I had grown so accustomed to adjusting the world around her – making it a more comfortable place for her. I had worked really hard to become the parent she needed me to be. I have kept such focus that I’ve forgotten to glance up now and again to ensure that this mom is still the one she needs. And you know what? It’s a bit intimidating to realize that her needs have changed – and that, as a result, my parenting must also change.

I’m not sure where the rule book is – the Holy Grail of Parenting, but I’d sure like to read a few chapters ahead!  It would be so refreshing to understand what to expect before you find yourself in a classroom talking about a child who is no longer the one you’ve been describing.  I am immensely proud of DJ. In fact, I can’t yet put into accurate words just how amazed I am by her transformation over the past 9 months. But, in time, I certainly will.  For now, though, I need to find my direction. I need to navigate through this new territory, and I need to allow her to redefine the ways that I meet this revised iteration of her needs.  I need to take a step back, out of her way, and allow her to fly without the hindrance of what was.

This all reminds me of one of my favorite poems by Khalil Gibran, called “On Children.”  Here is an excerpt.

You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite,
and He bends you with His might
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies,
so He loves also the bow that is stable.

Parenting Ecosystem

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Posted by David Maddalena | Posted in Anghelika and David Maddalena | Posted on February-3-2014

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In her book, Why Love Matters, Sue Gerhardt writes compellingly about the need for love above all else in parenting. It’s no surprise that a love-filled childhood makes a strong foundation for developing kids. Yet what about us grown-ups for whom the foundation was not made as strong as could be? Parents who’ve had difficult childhoods, and experienced a poverty of love and support, often need serious work to strengthen their own base before they can care for their kids well. And yet, Gerhardt reassures readers that a damaged childhood need not lead to damaged and damaging parenting. Parents need love too. Like, sometimes we really need it.

Parenting isn’t just about what parents give to—or do for—their kids, as though families are some kind of market economy with kids as consumers and parents as producers. Good parenting is an ecosystem that includes healthy grandparents, parents, and children. Gerhardt says, “Well-intentioned governments have recognised the need to support family life. They have put measures in place to do so – from tax credits to parenting classes” (p. 2). But such ‘measures’ are only part of the solution. We parents need to know that the love can’t only flow outward. We have to throw a little love our own way too.

Parents would agree that their job is important. But how many parents also believe that their health and well-being is important? In fact the well-being of parents is critical to the health of the whole family ecosystem. This is why parent-participation preschools are so important to us, because these institutions exist as much for the care of parents as for the care and education of little ones.

The helping professions (people who get paid to help others—doctors, therapists, etc.) all have ethics rules about caregivers taking reasonable care of themselves in order to be unhindered in their ability to care for others. Should parenting be any different? If you’re a parent, you probably would give anything for your child, would probably give it all to see them thrive. Yes. Do that. But let’s not fail to fill our own tanks up from time to time. Parents need love too.