To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First – Myths Harming Families


When I told my husband that I was planning to blog about David Code’s book, To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First, in honor of our eleven year anniversary this month, he said, “That’s ridiculous. Who ever thought you weren’t going to put the kids first?” While his comment only made me love him more and I feared the book would contain June Cleaver lifestyle changes I couldn’t stomach, I proceeded out of sheer curiosity.

As it turns out, I am so fascinated by this book. I realize I’m supposed to read the parenting books so you don’t have to but I’m going to take the bold step of saying, read this one. To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First is that good. Code starts by establishing the harsh reality: “Your children’s problems are much more connected to your marriage than you probably realize.” And it just keeps getting better from there.

While it’s no secret that American marriages are in trouble – a couple getting married these days has less than a 30 percent chance of staying together, Code presents the information on emotional divorce in such a way that it feels like a revelation. He claims, “We like to kid ourselves that we have a good marriage and would never divorce,” when in actuality most of us commit emotional divorce from our spouse every day.

Code’s Three Myths Harming Families:

·The More Attention We Give Our Kids, The Better They’ll Turn Out. Ask yourself – If your child has a problem at school or on the playground, is your first impulse to intervene? Do you find it difficult to see your kid struggling or upset? Do you strive to be best friends with your child?

·Arguing Leads to Divorce. Consider the following – When you and your spouse disagree, do you avoid expressing your feelings and talking things out, preferring rather to “keep the peace”? Do you worry after an argument that perhaps you’re on your way to divorce? Do you sometimes find it easier to spend time with your kids than with your spouse?

·If we feel unfulfilled in our marriage, it’s because we married the wrong person. “The divorce rate for second marriages is 60 percent, and 73 percent for third marriages.” So Code argues that we should stop secretly wondering if we married the wrong person and start rediscovering what made us fall in love with our spouse in the first place.

If you answered “yes” to any of these questions, according to Code, you may have bought into very popular misconceptions. Unfortunately, “We live in denial about our distant marriages and our stressful lives, but all that anxiety can spill over onto our kids, much to their detriment.” Therefore, we need to come to terms with the fact that less is more. Despite all of the helicopter parenting you see nowadays, “there are more troubled kids and more single parents than ever before.”

I’m telling you by the time you finish the first chapter of To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First you, too, will have gotten Code’s wake-up call: A fulfilled parent is less needy. “It’s not about how much time we spend with our children, or making them the center of our lives. (That just leaves parents anxious and exhausted.) What matters is our ability to limit the guilt and neediness we bring into the relationship with our children.”

So I’m going to give this win-win approach to marriage-friendly parenting a try. Don’t worry. I’m not going put a bow in my hair before my husband comes home from work or pass on Girls Nite Out so we can spend more time together. As far as I’m concerned, “less is more” should not only apply to one’s kids but to one’s spouse as well. I think that’s why I resisted this book initially. I thought it was going to be all about making my husband happy. Who wants to read to read that, right? I mean, sometimes, it feels like being a mother is all about making other people happy. When, in actuality, To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage, is about how to make me happy. Because I do still enjoy spending time with the father of my children and I’d like to keep it that way.


You’re Not the Boss of Me – Eliminating Spoilage


When rummaging through a recent copy of People Magazine, I stumbled upon a quote by the Real New Jersey Housewife who recently filed for bankruptcy. Those of you that are familiar with the show and Teresa’s 11 million dollars of debt probably won’t be surprised by what she said, “Kids can never have too many toys, right?” Well, Betsy Brown Braun of You’re Not the Boss of Me begs to differ.

In the chapter titled, “Gimme, Gimme, Gimme,” Braun explains, “Thanks to the media and the Internet, we are plugged into what everyone is doing, buying, wearing, and spending.” As a result, kids believe that “life is about the possession of things, not necessarily about experiences, feelings, and interactions.” And while every generation thinks its kids are spoiled, Braun argues there is a new acceptance of showing one’s wealth. “Parenting is the new arena in which accomplished adults are prepared to compete as aggressively as they do in the workforce. They are determined to make sure that their offspring stay on top of the heap. They view this as their job.”

While presents over presence might be the trend, Braun offers us great suggestions for not only teaching the value of money but determining our own relationship with money. After all, Braun would say we’re wrong to criticize our kids for wanting more Silly Bands, when we’re out picking up another pair of cute, summer sandals we don’t really need. The reality is “not talking about money robs your child of the opportunity to learn what things cost, the value of money, and the skills he will need to manage money later on.”

Braun’s Tips and Scripts for Avoiding Spoilage


  • · Children need to know that you make choices about how you spend your money. Avoid saying, ‘We can’t afford that.’ Instead say, ‘I don’t choose to spend money on that’ or ‘That is more money than I want to spend.’
  • · Don’t confuse talking about money with lecturing about money.
  • · Limit gifts to gift-giving occasions. Otherwise, you child will feel he is owed presents.
  • · Experiences make the most memorable gifts. Giving isn’t just about stuff.
  • · Don’t fall prey to the plea. But ‘Everyone has one.” You are the parent; you get to do what you think is right for your family.
  • · Teach the power of work. It develops their sense of achievement.
  • · Beware of bribery. It undermines the child’s ability to become intrinsically motivated or make the ‘right’ decision in the absence of external direction.
  • · Help your child regularly to clean out his belongings and donate to children who can use them.


You’re Not the Boss of Me does an excellent job of illuminating the truth: “Spoiling your child has more to do with parents than with children.” The Jersey Housewife is case and point. The good news is that, according to Braun, “while you may be the root of the problem, you also hold the key to the cure.” So continue to worry about spoiling your child, if the last thing you want is a brat, because as Braun points out, “It’s not just a problem of the rich, nor is it just about money.” All of us fall victim to ‘everyone has one’ from time to time. As parents, we need to remember sometimes the best way to show we care is to say no.

You’re Not the Boss of Me – Creating a Respectful Child


I remember being outraged the first time my oldest daughter shouted, “I hate you!” I sent Annabelle to her room and insisted she never say that to me again. Since I rarely raise my voice, Annabelle’s done as she was told. Sure, she slams the door and rolls her eyes every now and then but for the most part she is extremely respectful. My four-year-old, on the other hand, is immune to such tactics. If Lily’s upset, it’s not uncommon to hear a rant about how horrible I am and how I am the meanest Mommy ever. Since I’ve long understood what Braun says about my child needing to feel that her relationship with me is so strong that it will not be damaged by her expressions of anger, her words don’t act as kryptonite for this aspiring super-mom. Still, when she’s in the midst of a tantrum, I can’t help but worry about raising a brat.

“If I spoke to my father the way my child speaks to me…” Betsy Brown Braun writes, “That’s the reaction of so many parents who can’t believe what their children say to them.” Still, Braun argues, “Each generation of parents says the same thing about their offspring.” If only respect was as simple as “thinking of someone else, considering his needs, desires, and position.” The reality is that respect is a complicated concept, which, Braun explains, is difficult for an adult to grasp much less a child. She reminds us that while children come equipped with the basics, like instincts, temperament, and the need to explore, respectfulness is something that is acquired while growing up.

Tips and Scripts for Teaching Respect

·Treat your child with respect. James Baldwin said, “Children have never been very good at listening to their elders, but they have never failed to imitate them.”

·When speaking to your child, be as respectful as you would be with a friend. Braun reminds us that we wouldn’t make flip remarks like ‘What in the world are you wearing?’ or ‘What do you think this is, a pig sty?’ to anyone else so don’t say it to your kids.

·Monitor the media/television programs your child watches. “The Simpsons, Sponge Bob Square Pants, and iCarly, for example, provide models of disrespectful behavior that become acceptable through familiarity,” Braun explains.

·Allow your child to disagree with you. Braun says, “Disagreement is not necessarily a sign of disrespect.” It’s all in the approach.

·You are not your child’s friend. “Your child may not like you, but he will respect you because you made the hard call and you followed through,” Braun insists.

There’s so much about this chapter in You’re Not the Boss of Me that rings true for me: not taking away your child’s possessions as a form of punishment (“How would you like it if your husband too away your favorite necklace because you were late for dinner?”), refusing to perpetuate the belief that there is a “magic word,” as manners are not magic but necessary, and that young children don’t belong in restaurants because, as Braun explains, child-friendly establishments, where it is acceptable for kids to be noisy and run around, sabotage the child’s learning of respectable table manners. But I was most thrilled to see Braun highlight the mistake that makes me cringe. “Apologize only if you have made a mistake.” When parents apologize for a consequence, it gives the child the impression that they’ve done something wrong. By all means, if you were disrespectful to your children, tell them you’re sorry for yelling at them, for not modeling the behaviors you are expecting of them, but avoid confusing “spineless parenting with respecting your child.”

So the next time you get a phone call, don’t allow for interruptions or apologize while attempting to have a conversation. As long as you are limiting your lengthy calls to when you’re childfree, you have no reason to be sorry because when you allow your child to break into your phone calls, you’re being disrespectful to your caller. Just as the urgency of the emergency that always arises as soon as the phone rings diminishes with every use so does an apology. However, through careful, deliberate actions, respect can grow over time and you can brat-proof your child.


You’re Not the Boss of Me – Chores


I had just started high school when my mom went on strike. It wasn’t from a job at a local factory. She didn’t picket outside the neighborhood school. No, my mom’s Norma Rae moment, giving a monologue on the injustices of the situation while waving a list of demands, happened during dinner. Now that I’m a mother, struggling to balance the chores of motherhood, I often think about how frustrated my mom must have been to take such drastic measures and feel guilty for failing to do my share.

Determined to not repeat her mistakes, I tried to implement chores when my oldest was five. My efforts weren’t well received. Annabelle insisted, “I have everything I need,” as I tempted her with rewards. While the part of me hoping to avoid a materialistic child was pleased, the part of me anxious to avoid a spoiled brat was concerned. However, since Braun reminds readers “Everyone knows that chores teach responsibility,” I decided to try it again, following the tips and scripts from Your Not the Boss of Me.

·Spotlight your own chores. Braun writes, “I know it sounds ridiculously obvious, but children don’t see the things that you do as chores; they see those things (like cooking dinner and cleaning laundry) as what defines you.” Frightening, I know.

·Choose chores at which the child will easily succeed.

A two-year-old can put dirty clothes in hamper.

A three-year-old can lay out her outfit for school the night before.

A four-year-old can make her own bed.

A five-year-old can clear her own meal.

A six-year-old can pack her own backpack.

A seven-year-old can make her own lunch.

An eight-year-old can decide when to begin her homework.

A nine-year-old can determine when she will practice for lessons she takes.

·Take the time to teach the chore. But “accept the learning curve.”

·Mind your critical self and never redo a chore. Embrace good enough so as not to turn off your child from doing a job.

·Create an incentive. I combined simple things they could do once a chore was complete with a trip to the Dollar Tree at the end of the week.

·Involve your child in choosing her chores. You’re more likely to get cooperation.

·Have consequences when chores aren’t done. And “don’t editorialize. Let the consequence speak for itself.”

·Be willing to lend a hand. Just “be sure to step in before your child complains about the size of the job. Otherwise, she will quickly learn that complaining works.”

While “each family will have a different idea about what they expect from their children,” Braun argues it’s not the chores themselves that matter. According to Braun, the important part is that children learn to do things not only for themselves but also do their share in the context of the entire family. In actuality, your challenge will not be finding opportunities to teach your child to be responsible but rather dealing with “the learning process – the complaints, the whining, and the avoidance.”

In my case, reinstating the chore chart really helped minimize my nagging, a previous Braun suggestion. All I had to do was refer to it to see quick results. With my oldest now addicted to crafts, she’d do anything for a chance to earn more art supplies. I figure even if I can only keep the momentum going through the summer it should give me the “vacation” I need, which could go a long way in preventing a future strike.

Raising Resilient Children: Asking Tough Questions


“I can do it!” I have heard these words more times from my three year old since I began reading Raising Resilient Children than in her entire life. My husband thinks it is coincidence – that she’s finally growing up – but I can’t help to think something I picked up from the book is working.

Don’t get me wrong. I still feel like the same can’t-wait-for-Happy-Hour parent, but I’m telling myself that’s attributed more to the excessive snow days this month than the girls’ behavior. My youngest daughter has gone from us having to accompany her everywhere because she was too scared to go to her own room alone to her insisting, complete with hands on hips and foot stomps, that we let her go upstairs by herself.

So I headed off to hear Dr. Robert Brooks speak at the Children’s Museum of Richmond last night in the hopes of internalizing more of his empathetic philosophy. Having just finished his book, I was familiar with a lot of the anecdotes Dr. Brooks used to convey his point still I was highly entertained because not only was he funny but his persuasive presentation forced me acknowledge one of the recommendations I’d glossed over.

What words would your child use to describe you as a mother?

I had avoided asking my daughters this question, quite frankly, because I was afraid of what they’d say. I knew I couldn’t have this conversation with my girls and not write about it. But it’s one thing to make fun of myself each week with a silly anecdote that pertains to a parenting book and it’s another to admit my parenting flaws to the whole world. (And, yes, the whole world is reading this blog.)

Unable to sleep, I got out of bed before 6am and overrode the timer on the coffee maker. (Those of you who read my blog on rewriting negative scripts realize the seriousness of this action, as I’m not a morning person.) I waited to hear the pitter-patter of little feet on the steps so I could find out if the mother I imagine myself to be is actually the mother I am.

My kids’ response did surprise me but not in the way I had feared. They actually had a lot of nice things to say, and much to my relief, they even used the word fair. According to my three year old, I am “the best Mommy in the whole family”. (The fact that I’m the only Mommy in the family was lost on her.)

I wondered how revealing this exercise might prove to be if I applied it to other areas of my life. Did I want to hear the words my husband would use to describe me as a wife? Lord knows I don’t put a fraction of the effort into my marriage as I do into parenting (but that’s a book – To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First by David Code – and a blog for another day.)

In his closing argument, Dr. Brooks said that the biggest factor in determining which children grew up to succeed was not performance in school or what college they attended, as some might think, but the presence of at least one person who believed in them in their life. While I sat there during the presentation, wanting to believe that there would be three people who would list me as a person they gathered strength from, I realized Raising Resilient Children has made me want to be not only a better parent but also a better person. How can my children not benefit from that?

You’re Not the Boss of Me – Teaching Responsibility


I can remember vacationing as a young child in Pennsylvania Dutch Country and staying at a Mennonite farm. While the dog giving birth to puppies was certainly a trip highlight, what I remember most about that long weekend is something unusual I witnessed at the grocery store. I watched an Amish man push his shopping cart to his horse-drawn buggy at the edge of the parking lot, unload it, and return it to the front of the store. Some thirty years later, this single act of responsibility stands out in my mind than any other.

Betsy Brown Braun writes, “Children in whom responsibility is cultivated at the earliest ages, who are allowed plenty of time and opportunities to become responsible, are not brats. They see a connection between their actions and the consequences of their behavior, both positive and negative, and they learn to be accountable for the same.”

You’re Not the Boss of Me argues cultivating responsibility in your child is not just about learning to accept responsibility but parents inviting, giving, and expecting it. Braun explains how “children today are not raised to feel that they play an important role in the family.” If you think about it, she’s right. “Hundreds of years ago, children as young as four or five were responsible for tasks that we can’t imagine giving to a twelve-year-old today.”

Unfortunately, it is easier to sabotage a child’s development of responsibility than to encourage it. Whether we’re rushing them along, thinking we can do a better job, or simply frustrated from repeatedly nagging so we do it ourselves, Braun argues we often rob our children of the opportunity to take responsibility for themselves.

Here are some of Braun’s best “tips and scripts” for teaching a child to be responsible:


  • · Stick to your own commitments and insist that your child do the same. (You may have to review The Balanced Mom by Bria Simpson to make sure you haven’t overcommitted.)
  • · Discuss with your child how you make good choices. (In teaching, we can this a “think-aloud.” I find I do it so much my husband has to stop me from doing it for him.)
  • · Let your child know what meeting her responsibilities does for you or for the family. For example, “Because you sorted the laundry, I had time to bake cookies for the family.”
  • · Post visual readers of chores. (For the nonreader, she suggests, a pictorial list.)
  • · Don’t be a nag! Part of learning to be responsible is remembering to meet your obligations.
  • · Allow your child to experience the consequence of not making responsible choices.


Having seen the positive impact of consequence during my years as an elementary and middle school teacher, I really liked the s ection of You’re Not the Boss of Me that dealt with consequences. Braun makes a persuasive case for natural consequences versus the illogical consequences parents often threaten. “The four-year-old didn’t clean up her toys so she can’t have a playdate. The third-grader didn’t do her homework, so she can’t have dessert.” Braun is right when she argues, “Illogical consequences don’t teach lessons that last.” My second grader has only forgotten her library book once since kindergarten because, when she did, I refused to go home and get it for her. She didn’t like being one of the kids that kept the class from earning the promised reward.

The reality is every time it’s raining and my car is loaded with kids and groceries, I tell myself, ‘Just leave the cart in the parking lot. Everybody else does.’ But I can’t because I can still picture that Amish man, taking responsibility for himself, and I can’t help thinking what kind of wonderful world it would be if we all did the same. Of course, this begs the question, “What’s it going to take to make my daughters feel the same way?”


You’re Not The Boss of Me – The Importance of Longing



When I received You’re Not the Boss of Me: Brat-Proofing Your 4- to 12-Year-Old Child by Betsy Brown Braun, I went right to her chapter on Making a Gratitude Adjustment in your Child. This has always been one of my pet peeves. When I taught middle school in an affluent district in New Jersey, it used to drive me crazy to hear the kids respond, “Is this it?” after receiving a treat.

In my twenties, I traveled to the Ecuadorian rainforest for a volunteer vacation with a bag of T-shirts that my friend’s students had decorated in tow. Irene, a fellow teacher, had visited the same biological reserve the previous summer and insisted the kids would be grateful. Having grown a bit cynical in suburbia, I had my doubts, but she was right. When I opened up my sack and passed out the shirts at the local school, it was as if Santa had come. No one complained about their shirt being too big. No one whined about not liking their picture.

While my daughters have enjoyed presents over the years, I have yet to see anyone receive a gift with as much gratitude as those children did. Braun writes, “We all know that our children are more fortunate than most of the world’s population. Why don’t they feel it?” I’ve realized, from reading You’re Not the Boss of Me, that while I started off on the right foot, instructing my children to say thank you and involving them in the thank you note ritual, “feeling gratitude is a whole different story.” As Braun reminds us, “Children cannot be taught to feel gratitude, any more than they can be taught to feel anything. Feelings are things that have to grow from within. Seeds of genuine gratitude need to be sown.”

Granted, my kids know not to ask for something from the gift shop at Busch Gardens because the treat is simply getting to go to the amusement park and neither one would dream of pitching a fit in the grocery store line over a trinket at the check out counter. Still, I’m guilty of doing many of the things Braun lists as ways to sabotage gratitude.


  • · Meeting all her needs. “Don’t automatically or always comply. Inform your child that she is able to get her own water or blanket. You can add, Showing appreciation for my help makes me want to help you.”
  • · Negative associations. “When a parent says, You ought to be grateful for all the time I spent with you, the child might easily grow to associate expressing gratitude with being yelled at.
  • · Reverse envy. Such as “You ought to be grateful. There are children who have no toys at all. Remember the child who always gets, doesn’t know any better. She has never had to go without, so how should she know what that feels like?”
  • · Rhetorical questions. “My parents used to say, Don’t you know there are children who are starving in Africa? when we balked at eating our meals. The answer: No. I don’t really know about starving children.”


So where does gratitude begin? Braun argues, “The child’s feeling of gratitude will be encouraged to grow in direct proportion to the amount of time and effort involved in attaining or obtaining what she wants. A child who is taught to wait, to work, to save for what she wants, who is allowed to long for something before getting it, and sometimes doesn’t even get it at all, will surely feel appreciation when her desire is satisfied eventually. And at the same time, you will be teaching your child the crucial life skill of delaying gratification.”

You’re Not the Boss of Me offers great practical “tips and scripts” for allowing appreciation and gratitude to grow. Still I was struck by the final section of this chapter, Sowing the Seeds of Gratitude by Giving. In it, Braun points out not just the importance of sharing with others but also the need to model how it’s done.

This past holiday season, while the girls and I gathered toys they’d outgrown to share with others, my three-year-old asked me, “Mommy, why are you always trying to give away my stuff? What are you sharing?” Her question left me speechless (which doesn’t happen all that often). Sure, I had some old clothes on the pile, but I hadn’t even entertained the possibility of purging any of the I-may-need-these-someday items from the attic. Once again, Lily had proven that while I may be the boss, I still have a lot to learn.

Motherhood and Pirate’s Treasure


In an effort to be a balanced mom, I scheduled some time to commit to my passion, as Bria Simpson suggests, and attended a James River Writers event called From Random Thoughts to Random House, which featured Michele Young-Stone, author of the fiction novel The Handbook for the Lightning Strike Survivor. Michele Young-Stone’s persistence in pursuing her passion while mothering a young child made such an impression on me, this week she’ll be guest blogging, sharing her thoughts on raising our kids without losing ourselves.


Motherhood and Pirate’s Treasure

Last month, my son told his grandparents, “I wish I could find a pirate’s treasure chest so that I could pay someone to write my mom’s books. That way she’d have more time to play with me.” As the pirates would say, “Arggh!” I am guilty as charged.

After my debut novel The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors was due for publication, one of the first questions I was asked (in various interviews) was: What was the hardest obstacle while writing and subsequently finding a publisher for your novel?

My answer: Being a mom, graduating with my MFA in creative writing when my son was two-months old; finding time to write while taking care of him; having a crisis of identity: am I a writer or a mom? Is it possible to be both? How do I juggle my family life and my writing life?

And then I felt guilty because—of course—nothing is more important and meaningful than being a mother. And I know this. In fact, my debut novel The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors has more depth because I’m a mom. Before having my son, my novel investigated the relationships between children and parents, but I only knew this relationship from the child’s perspective. I could imagine the mother’s perspective, but after having my son, I knew and understood that love. I “got” that a mother will do anything to protect her child.

Nowadays, I’m traveling a lot, reading from my novel and signing books, and whenever possible, my five-year-old son Christopher and my husband Danny are there with me. I wouldn’t be who I am without them. The greatest moment I’ve experienced since my novel was published was taking my son to a bookstore to show him, “Look! There’s Mommy’s book.” He’s proud to tell everyone, “My mom’s a writer. She wrote a book.” He’s my biggest fan, even if he wishes someone else spent hours writing at the computer. He still hasn’t found that pirate’s treasure chest. And, I’m really glad, because, as I tell him, I LOVE what I do.

I still struggle to balance writing and motherhood, but I think it’s like any other career: we moms do the best we can. It’s good for our children to know that we have passions and interests outside our homes. I hope that by following my dreams, I’m setting a good example for him. You can do anything you set your mind and heart to.

You can read more about me and my exploits at:


Michele Young-Stone, a native Richmonder, is the author of the debut novel, The Handbook for Lightning Strike Survivors (Crown Random House). Proud mama to a five-year-old son, Michele is no stranger to the balancing act that is motherhood.


About the book: “Nothing in this novel is predictable, which is one of many reasons that it’s a delight. Young-Stone has written an exceptionally rich and sure-handed debut, full of complex characters, brilliantly described. . . . Her style certainly has an electric immediacy.” — The Boston Globe

The Balanced Mom – Caviar Complaints


The summer before my senior year of high school, I spent in Paris as an exchange student. Before my departure, I complained, as many sixteen-year-olds would, about not having anything “good” to wear. Still, I crossed the Atlantic with enough clothes to not repeat an outfit for an entire month.

I was assigned to a family with a small flat near the artist’s neighborhood of Montmartre. Six years of French lessons barely kept me afloat, but I didn’t need to speak the language to comprehend how poor my host family was. A weekly bottle of soda. Family card games instead of television. The hole in the little brother’s only sweater. Humbled, I hid my two suitcases under my bed and limited my wardrobe to only a few selections.

Some experiences change you forever. This trip to Paris would the first of my life-altering adventures. After falling in love in a Third World country, I would marry a man who placed no value on material possessions and try to live Mark Twain’s words, “To be satisfied with what one has; that is wealth.” Still, I’m only human and as Bria Simpson writes in her chapter Caviar Complaints, “It’s easy to lose perspective and get bogged down in what are really problems of the fortunate.”

Simpson writes, “You lose sleep because your son didn’t make the ‘right’ basketball team. You obsess about the inevitable imperfections of your body and your home. You worry because not every person likes you. These are problems you worry about because you can. If your basic survival were at stake, you wouldn’t worry about these caviar complaints.”

So when I got a telephone call from my mom announcing that my brother had been named Police Officer of the Year, over some 2,000 peers, and that the awards ceremony would be the week my final grades were due at the college, I took Bria Simposon’s advice. “Will this matter a year from now?” Since the answer was a resounding yes, I decide to put aside my work and make an impromptu trip to North Carolina.

I like to think of my “little” brother rescuing kittens from trees and helping old ladies across the street. In actuality, when there’s a homicide in Charlotte, Steve’s the one they call. (You’ll be able to watch him and his officers in action this fall on A&E’s The First 48.) As the only sergeant of this Violent Criminal Apprehension Taskforce, Steve has been on call 24/7 for over a year, making 3:00 a.m. trips to crime scenes while juggling the commitments required of a husband and father of three. As I wiped away tears while listening to my brother’s achievements, I knew I’d made the right decision to throw off my “balanced” schedule so I could be there to celebrate his extraordinary efforts and dedication.

What I wasn’t expecting was to continue crying through the remainder of the ceremony. Numerous individuals received Life-Saving Awards, but one story, in particular, still resonates with me. Two officers had to deliver the tragic news of a nine-year-old girl’s drowning to her mother. She excused herself to the hospital’s restroom. When five minutes passed and the mother hadn’t returned, the officers asked a nurse to check on her. The nurse reported that the mother had locked herself into a stall and was sitting on the floor, gasping for air. The officers entered the bathroom. Immediately, one noticed through the crack that the mother was no longer wearing her blouse. They kicked in the door and found that the grief-stricken mother had attempted to strangle herself with her shirt.

When I got back to Virginia late that night, I should have been stressed. There were finals to grade, suitcases to unpack, groceries to buy. But I wasn’t for all I could think about the whole way home was that distraught mother. Instead, I tucked my girls safely into their beds and I felt so lucky to have them in my life I thought I’d cry, again. My “caviar complaints” were never clearer.

The truth is I’m tired of wasting energy on trivial matters. I’d like to shift my thinking to maintain a healthy perspective, as Simpson encourages. “Deal directly with the big stuff and let the rest go…Practice gratitude daily and keep your life whole.” Because I have no doubt she’s right. Once I free myself from caviar complaints, I will open myself up for a life of abundance. Who could ask for a better environment to raise kids?

The Balanced Mom – Taking Back Mother’s Day


As far as I’m concerned, I get two days a year when I’m totally justified being selfish – my birthday and Mother’s Day – so you can imagine my disappointment when I learned that my daughter’s choir would be singing at church Mother’s Day morning. It’s not like I have any grand plans, but sleeping in, guilt-free, is a must on Mother’s Day. Call me crazy but frantically dressing the girls in uncomfortable clothes they’ll complain about and then urging them to sit still and scolding them for talking isn’t how I envisioned this holiday starting out.

So, thanks to Bria Simpson’s The Balanced Mom, I did the unthinkable. I announced that we’d be passing on this performance. My husband, of course, teased me about being dead inside. What mother doesn’t want to see her adorable child perform? But I stood my ground, limiting my kid’s activities in an attempt to have the day I want.

I bet you can guess what came next. Guilt. Erica Jong wrote, “Show me a woman who doesn’t feel guilt and I’ll show you a man.” I’m sure the choir director didn’t mean to perpetuate it when she saw us at church last week and told me how much they’d missed Annabelle. I felt a desperate urge to defend my decision, but then I remembered what Simpson wrote. “Keep explanations to a minimum. Sometimes we add unnecessary stress to our lives by obsessing about the ideal way to get out of something. Save your energy for more important projects.” So I did because she’s absolutely right. “No one can make you feel guilty, unless you let them.”

At the risk of sounding ungrateful, I made another bold move. I asked my husband to forgo flowers and jewelry (even though he has impeccable taste) in lieu of a present that would “light my fire,” as Simpson encourages. No, not lingerie. That would be more appropriate for Father’s Day. Simpson claims, “We all have fires in our hearts – true passions…When we identify and integrate some passionate interests into our lives, we elevate ourselves…While engaged in a true passion, time often passes without your awareness. You are in the flow of something you love, and it’s easy to get lost in the present moment. What activities make you feel this way?” While writing is what immediately pops into my mind, the reality is that this solitary act requires inspiration so this Mother’s Day I asked for a family membership to the newly renovated Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, as there’s nothing I love more than spending an afternoon strolling through the Impressionist collection or taking in the latest exhibit.

For I realized when I read Simpson’s chapter on “Feeling Great About Affording Help” that while I was not guilty of sacrificing personal goals and a fulfilling life for material possessions, I was guilty of funding my daughters’ needs and interests before my own. “How you spend your money needs to reflect your values. If you value the idea of living a whole, balanced life, your spending needs to reflect this.” While my dream of a housekeeper is a bit further off, I saw this VMFA membership as something attainable and something, unlike a bouquet of flowers dead in a week, that will mean months of fun for me.

So take a “Mommy Time-Out” this weekend. “Shift your perspective to understand that it’s essential to take this time for yourself. A time for no plans and no schedules of any kind. You get to do what you feel like doing, rather than what your busy schedule demands.” Simpson has the audacity to recommend you do this at least once a week, but my aspirations aren’t quite that ambitious. However, I do plan to avoid the kitchen at all costs, ban the latest Kidz Bop CD from the stereo, and take up residence in the hammock out back with my latest read, The Painted Kiss by Elizabeth Hickey (a great historical fiction book about artist Gustav Klimt). Because if I can’t do it on Mother’s Day, when can I?