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Today on the morning news, we finally saw something worth talking about. My 12-year-old daughter has a friend whose youngish cousin lives with them. My daughter has been at her house to play many times. A photo of said cousin flashed on our TV with the words: arrested for murder.
"Oh, that's Angelica's cousin," says my husband, as if he's just seen a photo of a cloud in the weather forecast. I start hyperventilating but manage to spit out that our daughter is never going to that house again.
"It's not like he's going to kill me. He's never killed me before, and I've been over there a lot," she says with the eye-roll that means, "Why do I have to live with someone so stupid?"
I gape at my husband for back-up.
"Wow, that's big news," he says, stuffing an apple in his briefcase, barely even looking up.
"Seriously?" I shout. "Am I the only person who thinks that this is a BIG DEAL?"
No one says anything. Well, my husband says to my daughter, "Hurry up and get in the car."
My point is, we like to think these things aren't common. We're wrong.
After everyone leaves, I sit down and try to process this. I let my daughter play in the house of someone arrested for murder.
It terrifies me—do we ever really know exactly where we are sending our kids when we ship them off into the care of another family? Families have some rotten histories: alcoholism, drug abuse, pedophilia, domestic abuse, criminal records. Even if these problems are not normally in the house, they can show up unexpectedly. As a child, I remember my drunken uncle staggering into our home on Easter morning, swiping a bottle of vodka from under our kitchen sink and a carton of OJ from the refrigerator, simultaneously pouring both down his throat. He stood there in his filthy alcohol-and-orange-pulp covered "Women Are Tasty" T-shirt and said, "I love a fucking screwdriver, man."
It kind of put a damper on our family's Easter egg hunt.
What if I'd had a friend over? What if she told her family? What if she told everyone at school? Would my house then be on everyone's "do-not-play" list? Then I would have suffered a double whammy, realizing something was not normal in my family while at the same time losing normal friendships. My point is, we like to think these things aren't common. We're wrong.
Obviously I won't allow my daughter over there anymore, even though she says the problem will be solved when the cousin is locked up (tween logic). And I also know he hasn't even been convicted (adult logic). But what should I do about the friendship? (Mother logic.) The girl is lovely, energetic, creative and fun. She has always treated my daughter well, and this is a major factor. But her family clearly has some serious problems.
Do I let the friendship continue, or do I force it apart? What if they stay close through their teen years, when they are exposed to more bad things, and begin to concoct their own incoherent plans? Do I want my daughter involved in all of that? I really don't.
But ... it's not Angelica's fault. She'll need some friends—some good ones at that. She'll need positive role models and people who care about her growth. This is the only way to move forward, the only way to deal with tragedy and, indeed, the only way to break family cycles of terrible things like addiction. Abandoned kids cannot do this on their own.
Kids don't fail. The world fails them.
If our first instinct is to run away, then where are our hearts, our sense of social responsibility? When kids commit suicide before they're even 12, when a child gets brutally bullied, when children are sexually assaulted, and we choose to ignore, to seal ourselves off, all we do is create even bigger messes.
Kids don't fail. The world fails them.
It's so easy to say: "That kid is too much trouble. We don't want to get involved." But I'm not going to. Angelica can come over to our house any time she wants. Yes, I want to protect my child, but I also want Angelica to have normal friendships. I will be extremely open with my daughter and ask about this relationship often. I will watch it very, very closely. But I will not forbid it. If we ignore every kid who has problems, then what we are essentially doing is putting ourselves in bubbles.
You can't develop empathy in a bubble. And your vision of the world from inside a bubble is blurred and foggy. If you want your kid to have real-life skills, you have to put them in real-life situations. The world isn't pretty and, as much as it is our instinct to protect, we can only go so far. The bubble doesn't do our kids any favors. It gives them a sense of false innocence. A naivety that may make them even more vulnerable to the world's evils later on.