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My sons and I were in a large department store together. The boys were 9, 4, and 1 at the time. While we were in the car, I restated the “how to act in public” rules:

Don’t look at anything, ask for anything, or touch anything!

I get them into the store. The little one is sitting in the front of the buggy, the 4-year-old is sitting in the buggy, and the oldest is walking beside me. An older lady approached us and said: “OH, you have such handsome and well-behaved sons.” She continued, “I only had one child and felt like I was losing it most of the time. Now, I see you with three boys. Wow, you are like a superhero MOM!” I felt like a fraud. 

Superhero Mom? What is that? 

If she only knew what I said to my kids in the car before entering the store and my tone of voice. OMG! Does she truly think that about ME? Nope, it is not true: I haven’t washed clothes in a week. My house looks a mess. There is no way that I’m a superhero mom. One part of me knows I don’t have to live up to that, but the other part of me says I do.

To me, superheroes are perfect. If you’ve been a mom longer than one day, perfection seems like an unattainable goal. Some days as a mom, all you can do is get out of bed and place one foot in front of the other. You do not feel super or like a hero. You often feel insignificant, overwhelmed, agitated, frustrated, sad, and forgetful because the expectations you have for yourself are already unrealistic.

How do you reconcile your feelings about your parenting with what others say?

Accept the compliment as a compliment (nothing more, nothing less).

Moms tend to be so hard on themselves. You want your child to be successful, happy, and well-adjusted. Instead of accepting what is meant to be a compliment, you can only think of reasons why this can’t be or isn’t true. Or in your mind, other moms seem to do it better, faster, and easier than you (at least that’s what it looks like on IG).  It’s okay even when you don’t feel worthy to just say ‘THANK YOU.” 

Understand the compliment.

Often, the people closest to you see things in you that you don’t see in yourself. Your family and friends see how you: work hard, love your family and friends well, and volunteer in the community. They see your strength, resilience, caring, and compassion in the midst of difficulties. But they also see your struggle yet want to encourage you through it. They want you to know that you are seen and valued for all you do. Their intention is not to add pressure, but to acknowledge all of your efforts. 

Note for the compliment-giver: It’s also important to recognize what moms “hear”  when they are called a superhero. When those words are spoken, many women, because they don’t feel like they are “momming” well, take the words on as added pressure that they need to live up to the title. Maybe instead of calling her a superhero mom, it would help if we actually called out the characteristics we believe make her a superhero—patience with the children, I love the way you engage with your children, your home has a warmth that is comforting, I appreciate the way you keep things in perspective—your children are small for such a short amount of time; the dirty clothes and dishes will always be there.

You do you.

It’s so easy to look to your left and right to see what and how other moms “mom” and judge yourself as lacking. It’s essential you recognize that being yourself is enough. Life isn’t about comparing yourself to others. They’re not you. They don’t have your family. You know what’s best for your family, whether it’s related to technology use or diet. It may be difficult to block out the questions or opinions of others, but it’s imperative you do. 

Be realistic in your expectations. 

It’s important to realize that “you can have it all, just not at the same time.” Take some time to think about and prioritize what’s important to you about your family. Once you have clarity on what matters the most to you and your family, let the other things go, including the guilt of not being everything to everyone. Recognizing what you can and cannot control goes a long way toward reducing stress and unrealistic expectations.

Stop minimizing your attributes.

As moms, we’re really good givers of compliments and time to others, but not good takers when others want to give us compliments and time. Not everyone has the same abilities. Just because something is easy for you, it doesn’t make it easy for everyone. When someone gives you a compliment about something you do, stop internally negating it. Just say, “Thank you.” You may feel like you’re being dishonest because if they only knew… If they only knew the number of shortcomings, flaws, mishaps I have on a regular basis… Guess what? So does everyone else! None of us are perfect, no matter how their social media pages look. 

It’s not easy being a parent. You feel bombarded with information and messages that seem to make parenting even harder. You feel the pressure, all the time. Give yourself a break; all parents have moments of joy and of struggle. Enjoy all the moments you have with your family. Graciously accept recognition, even when you feel like you don’t deserve it or didn’t do anything special. You are special and exactly who your family needs.

Mother’s Day is just a few days away and if you’re anything like me, the thought of how to celebrate your mom when you can’t be together during a pandemic has been a little bit of a challenge. This year is going to look different. Travel plans have changed. Restaurants aren’t functioning at full capacity and her favorite stores are still in the middle of trying to open. Having the whole family come into town to celebrate is unlikely, so we must be creative.

Maybe you’re like me, and you’re miles away from your mom this Mother’s Day. If so, let’s find a way to make the special woman who always goes out of her way for you to feel celebrated.

Instead of guessing what my mom would like or settling for something an ad told me would be perfect for her, I got personal

I went to the source and had a conversation with my sweet momma, Suzette.

Earlier this week I asked her if I could interview her for a blog. She was excited to help from the get-go. What better way to show your mom you love her than by showing her you need her, value her words of wisdom and opinions? So, we hopped on FaceTime.

Me: What is your favorite way to be celebrated?

Suzette: There’s nothing I love more than family gatherings. Spending time together, having real conversations and talking just to get to know each other.

Me: With this pandemic keeping us from all getting together, what do you think we could do instead?

Suzette: Well, technology has made it easy to be all under one roof despite the circumstances. All I have to do is set my laptop on the kitchen table and you all will be sitting here with me. I think it’d be nice to share a meal at the same time together in different cities and change up what we talk about. Have fun conversations like, “Where do you want to travel to when this is over?” and “Is there anything you’ve discovered recently that keeps you up way later than you anticipated?”

(I think it’d be nice to go around the Zoom screen and say one thing we are grateful for or admire about our mom.)

Me: What do we do to make you feel loved when my sisters and I all live in different cities?

Suzette: Honestly, responding to my silly texts and watching the videos I send you all. Having longer conversationswhich quarantine has blessed me with you all having more time to talk because you all aren’t running around as much! Is there a way I can keep that? When you all were growing up [starts to laugh] I could just trap you all in the car and say we are going on an adventure and we’d have all the time to talk I wanted, and you all loved it!

Me: [Laughing and nodding] I mean this is true.

Suzette: I also love it when you all ask about my interests and want to get to know me as who I am now. Because it’s really different not having you three girls around and being a single mom. There’s no one here to encourage me with just a smile or by spending time together. I’ve always been my own woman, but nothing can beat the pride of being your mom.

Me: I know we can get busy and have a bad tendency to put off responding to a text or calling back or only talking when we have to. I’d love to encourage you in what you’re doing, you’ve always been very supportive of me!

Suzette: I would love that! You girls’ opinions mean more to me than anyone’s. I think I would feel celebrated and loved just by hearing you all interested in the things I love, like Scotland! It doesn’t take anything but effort. If I know you’ve spent time picking out and then writing me a letter or crafted something or set aside time to Facetime and see each other’s faces and see into each other’s daily lives, I feel loved. It’s pretty simple really.

Just from taking the time to interview my mom, she felt like a more valuable part of my life. She reminded me that kids are a mom’s most prized relationship and that there’s nothing she’s more proud of.

The bottom line is to talk to your mom before Mother’s Day. Ask her some of the questions I asked my mom. Enjoy learning about her (and getting the answer of what she wants for Mother’s Day) all in one call! It’s a win-win.

If you want to physically thank your mom for all she’s done, here are some gift ideas my mom gave me!

  1. Send a card. Take the time to write why you appreciate your mom.
  2. Make her something! She will love that you thought about her and took the time to follow through. Yes, go back to the artwork on the refrigerator days! I must confess, my drawings would not look much different now, so I would opt for making her a pair of earrings because that is something I’m good at.
  3. Send a bouquet of flowers. Ask what her favorites are. Add a note and tell her she’s been a big part of helping you bloom (everyone loves a good pun).
  4. Choose a book to read together. Not only would you be sending her a book, but you’d be inviting her into more time together. How’s that? By sharing thoughts on the book during and/or after you both finish it!
  5. Order a takeout delivery from her favorite restaurant. You all can plan to eat dinner together virtually if you usually take her out!

This Mother’s Day, let’s be intentional about how we celebrate our mothers despite the circumstances that may keep us apart. She always found a way to do the same for you—whether there were a million things on the schedule, money was tight, you were sick or plans were canceled. 

It is your turn to do the same.

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It’s May and you know what that means… Mother’s Day! For the last few years, it has been our tradition to travel to my in-laws for the weekend. My mother-in-law’s birthday is also in May so we celebrate the two together. A normal Mother’s Day for us consists of breakfast as a family, church, and then out to a restaurant for lunch. My wife’s brother and sister join as well. The entire weekend consists of exquisite homemade food, family games and lots of laughs.

Celebrating this year will look very different than ever before, though.

Because of COVID-19 and quarantine, we won’t be gathering as a larger family and doing what we normally do. Gifts will look a little different as well. With two small children, we have had the luxury of their respective school and childcare center teachers helping them make cards for Mom. Don’t get me wrong, we have done cards at home as well over the past couple of years, but they are never quite as awesome as what our amazing teachers have been able to produce. 

So as we plan to celebrate a little differently this year, what will that look like?

Here are some ideas to help you make sure that your wife feels all the love this Mother’s Day:

  • Make a video asking your kids what Mom means to them. Here are some questions to kick you off. What does Mom say the most? What is Mom’s favorite thing to do? Of all the things you love about Mom, what do you love the most?
  • Have the kids create a song about Mom and perform it for her on Mother’s Day. Want to live on the wild side? Make a song up about Quarantine Mom.
  • Help the kids make her breakfast or lunch. It doesn’t have to be extravagant… just from the heart. Let the kids lead out and choose what they want to make.
  • Let her sleep in on Mother’s Day. This is a big win. We all know moms need rest.
  • In-Home Spa Day anyone? My 4-year-old likes to paint nails and give foot rubs. You can all pamper Mom as a family.
  • Homemade cards are always a win. You may have to be a little sneakier this year though if you are all at home.
  • Does Mom love to travel? Take virtual tours of her favorite places or somewhere she has always wanted to visit. Let Mom decide and take a trip as a family.
  • Is Mom crafty? What is her favorite craft? Whether she likes to paint, knit, or anything else, get some supplies together and create as a family. 
  • Does Mom love movies? Watch her favorite movie as a family. Create a movie theater experience for her complete with popcorn and her favorite snacks.

Most importantly, let’s show Mom that she is loved and appreciated.

From what I’ve learned over the years (from both my mom and my wife), celebrating Mom is a lot less about the cost and a lot more about the thought and heart put into the gift. That’s what matters most. 

Don’t let the quarantine stop you. Make this the best Mother’s Day ever!

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I see you, mama, sitting in a messy house, filled with dishes from last night’s dinner and laundry piled high. You’re trapped in a house during a quarantine and it’s taking everything to not go stir crazy. I see the exhaustion and the exasperation that comes with toddlers running around. Demanding snacks, begging for attention, needing to have what they want, when they want it. I see you trying, trying to juggle their needs and your work’s needs, and maybe, sometimes, even your own needs. I know that feeling of being stretched so thin that you’re barely keeping it together. The seams beginning to unravel, slowly then all of a sudden… you’re hanging on by one tiny thread. 

I see the frustration of an interrupted Zoom meeting, the agitation from a plea for yet another snack, the expectation to be completely focused on that work project and completely focused on caring for your kids. It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s unrealistic to think that anyone could handle the balancing act that all of a sudden we are called to perform. 

So why do you feel like a failure? You know it’s impossible. You know you’re only human. But what about them? What about society? And employers? And family and friends? Yeah… what about them? Everyone needs to adjust their expectations. Including yourself. You are doing the best you can. You are facing the unknown and taking on more than anyone should be expected to. Give yourself grace. 

In fact, give yourself permission to let the dishes sit in the sink a little longer.

Make friends with the dust bunnies who have joined your space. Let your kids jump in the piles of clean laundry that still need to be folded. Go outside and take a second to breathe. Feel the fresh air fill your lungs and be grateful for all the things that are going right in your world. And for anything that’s got you stressed or worried or on edge, add “but” onto the end. 

“We’re stuck at home… BUT… we’re SAFE.”

“The house is a mess… BUT… I have a roof over my head.”

“The kids are driving me nuts… BUT… I get to be their mom.”

“Working from home with kids is so hard… BUT… I’m grateful for the flexibility and that I STILL have a job.” 

So, take it one day at a time, mama. This is just a season that you WILL get through. Be mindful. Tell yourself a different story. One of resilience and patience and overcoming obstacles against all odds. You are NOT a failure. You’re capable. You are strong. You are amazing, in PJs and all.

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Panicking About Your Kids’ Phones? New Research Says Don’t is the title of an article in the New York Times. 

The writer says a growing number of academicians are challenging the true impact of social media and smartphones, questioning whether too much time on devices is actually the culprit for the dramatic increase in anxiety, depression and other mental health issues, especially in teens.

Before you jump on that bandwagon, believing the claims, you might want to hear what psychologist Jean Twenge has to say. Twenge is a professor of psychology at San Diego State and author of numerous books including Generation Me and her most recent release, iGen: Why Kids are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood.

In a blog for the Institute for Family Studies, Twenge calls out the NYT writer on six facts that, she claims, he ignores. 

Twenge contends that the NYT article grossly misrepresents the research consensus on technology and mental health because the article makes it sound as if the majority of researchers have concluded that technology use isn’t related to mental health. Twenge says that is not the case. 

“The article also misrepresents findings from a recent review of screen time and mental health studies,” writes Twenge. “The article does mention a recent review of studies on screen time and mental health by Amy Orben, who concluded that the average correlation between social media use and depressive symptoms is between .11 and .17.”

It cites this study as evidence that the link is small, but Twenge argues these are not small effects. Data from the CDC’s Youth Risk Survey of US High School students indicates that twice as many heavy users of electronic devices (5+ hours a day) compared to light users (1 hour a day) have attempted suicide (12% vs. 6%).

Twenge states that the NYT article quotes experts who, without plausible evidence, dismiss the possibility that the rise of social media and smartphones might be behind the marked rise in teen depression, self-harm and suicide in recent years. 

The article quotes Jeff Hancock of the Stanford Social Media Lab as saying, “Why else might American kids be anxious other than telephones? How about climate change? Income inequality? More student debt?”

“The problem with this argument is that none of these factors can explain the increase in teen mental health issues that began in 2012,” Twenge writes. “First, they didn’t happen at the same time. The largest increases in income inequality occurred between 1980 and 2000… Student loan debt has been stable since 2012. The number of Americans worried a fair amount or a great deal about climate change went from 73% in 2012 to 74% in 2019.”

Twenge contrasts this with 2013, the first year the majority of Americans owned a smartphone. By 2018, 95% of teens had access to a smartphone and 45% of them said they were online “almost constantly.”

“The largest increase in self-harm, self-poisoning and suicide occurred among 10- to 14-year-old girls,” Twenge writes. “Hancock would have us believe that 10- to 14-year-olds are harming themselves because they are upset over income inequality or possibly someday having to pay off student loans after college – not because they are bullied online, not because they feel constant pressure to look perfect on social media, not because they can access online sites instructing them in self-harm, and not because electronic communication has replaced in-person interaction, a basic human need.”

While Twenge does state that concern about climate change seems plausible, she asks, “How many 12-year-old-girls do you know who are cutting themselves because the planet is warming? It is much more likely they are concerned about self-image, social status, friendships and family relationships – all issues that have become fraught in the age of social media.” 

Twenge also notes that the rise in depression, self-harm and suicide has been considerably larger among girls than boys.

She contends that all of the issues listed above should impact boys and girls equally. Thus, they do not explain why the rise would be larger for girls.

Technology use, however, does differ by gender. Girls spend more time on social media. This may be more toxic than the gaming, which is more popular among boys.

Twenge calls out the author for combining two completely separate questions – whether technology use is related to depression among individuals and whether the increase in smartphone and social media use is related to the generational increase in teen depression.

“Even teens who don’t use technology have been affected by the shift in teen social life from in-person get-togethers to online interactions,” Twenge says. “Consider a teen who doesn’t use social media and would prefer to go out with her friend, but who will she go out with when everyone else is at home on Instagram?”

The NYT article also points to Europe as proof that smartphones are not behind the increase in teen depression. Yet the evidence shows otherwise. The study used to make the case examines adults, not teens. The World Health Organization reports increases in suicide rates around the world, with the largest increases among youth.

Here is the last point that Twenge makes. That while the researchers claiming that technology use is unrelated to well-being said they had not taken any funding from the tech industry, one of them is currently employed and one was previously employed by the Oxford Internet Institute, which is funded by Facebook, Google and Microsoft. 

“Parents can rest assured that their instincts to protect their kids from too much screen time are not wrong,” Twenge writes.

“If kids who ate five apples a day versus one were twice as likely to attempt suicide, parents would make extremely sure their kids didn’t eat too many apples. Why should our response to technology time be any different?”

The moral of this story is – don’t believe everything you read. Check the facts for yourself. What you don’t know can hurt you and the ones you love.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on February 1, 2020.

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Chattanooga is home to a ton of fun events, activities, and experiences for kids of all ages!! Explore the rich history of the city, enjoy all the animals (from penguins to the average house cat), get your creative juices flowing, and more with these unique, Chattanooga local mother-daughter date ideas!

BONUS: Want to download this list of Chattanooga mother-daughter dates? Click HERE!

Local Chattanooga:

  • Polly Claire’s Tea Room This quaint, historic tea room is the perfect place for your next mother-daughter experience! Enjoy a cup of tea and your daughters company for an experience she won’t forget.
  • Pottery Painting (The Pottery Place or River City Pottery) Grab a brush, some paint, a pice of pottery, and create a masterpiece! Your daughter will love this creative experience.
  • ArtsyU Painting Studio Similar to painting pottery, why not take a painting class together? You and your daughter can create a beautiful piece of art while being instructed by a professional.
  • Chattanooga Zoo Experience wild peacocks, exotic animals, fun events, more at the Chattanooga Zoo! You can even book a wild encounter to get a behind-the-scenes look at the animals, how to care for them, and why they’re at the zoo!
  • TN Aquarium Who doesn’t love river otters, penguins, butterflies, lemurs, stingrays… the list just keeps going! Be sure to reserve a full day to get the most of all the aquarium has to offer.
  • High Point Climbing Center Don’t worry, you don’t have to climb the wall with her if you don’t want to! She’ll have a great time feeling strong and capable while getting some of that energy out!
  • Naughty Cat Cafe Any cat lovers in the room? Take a trip to Chattanooga’s first and only Cat Cafe! Enjoy a complimentary drink and snack while cuddling with kitties!
  • Chattanooga Lookouts You don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy a night with The Lookouts! Their season typically ranges from April to September.

Under $20 or Free:

  • Coolidge Park The next sunny day, be sure to stop by Coolidge Park for a great time with your daughter! From riding the carousel (only $1!) to having a picnic by the water.
  • Creative Discovery Museum (Second Thursday of Every Month) Family Night at The Creative Discovery Museum is fun for kids of all ages! Plus, it’s free!
  • International Towing & Recovery Museum Okay, this one might not sound as exciting, but it’s still a ton of fun! Explore a piece of Chattanooga history with your daughter while learning something new!
  • Chattanooga Market You don’t even have to buy anything (although popcorn is a plus!) to enjoy The Chattanooga Market. Typical season is from April through December.
  • Visit an animal shelter (McKamey or Humane Society) If you can have enough will-power to keep from adopting all the adorable dogs and cats, the animal shelter is a fun place for both you and your daughter!

Near Chattanooga:

  • Wilderness Outdoor Movie Theater Although this movie theater only runs during the warm months of the year, she’ll never forget the experience she had! Plus, it’s only 20 minutes from downtown! Bring cash though, they don’t accept cards!
  • Lake Winepesaukah Also best during the summer months, this local amusement point is a great choice for a full day of fun! From roller coasters to water slides, Lake Winnie is one of Chattanooga’s best attractions!
  • See Rock City If you’ve ever driven on I-24, you’ve seen the signs, the barns, and the billboards. But have you seen Rock City? Your daughter will love a full day exploring the beauty of Lookout Mountain and beyond!
  • Raccoon Mountain Caverns Take an adventure like never before and explore the caverns of Raccoon Mountain together! This guided tour will teach your daughter all about caves, the creatures that live in them, and how she can help protect their beauty!
  • White Water Rafting on The Ocoee River This activity is not for the faint of heart! If your daughter loves daring adventures, she’ll love the experience of racing through the rapids!
  • Hidden Hills Farm & Saddle Club Take a trail ride on a horse together or enjoy one of the many events on the farm at one of Chattanooga’s hidden gems! Be sure to schedule your ride in advance (and wear your best cowgirl outfit!)

Outdoor Adventures:

  • Chester Frost Park Want a trip to the beach but don’t have time to hop over to Florida? This man-made beach on Dallas Bay has great playgrounds, picnic areas, and so much more!
  • Enterprise South Nature Park Not your average park! Follow these walking trails for an up-close look at part of Chattanooga history: the location of ammunition bunkers for World War II. Although they’re empty now, it’s still a neat sight to see!
  • Reflection Riding Arboretum and Nature Center Book a guided canoe trip, do some birdwatching, or enjoy a peaceful walk on one of their many trails! You’ll both feel reenergized and reconnected with nature by the end of your trip!
  • TN Riverpark From the Chickamauga Dam, through Downtown, and on to Historic Saint Elmo, this 10-mile paved trail has plenty of opportunity for a bike ride, a picnic, or a fun time by the Tennessee River!
  • Sculpture Fields at Montague Park One of Chattanooga’s most recent additions, Sculpture Fields features 33 acres full of sculptures from around the world!
  • Warner Park Pool and Spray and Play For $2-$3 (depending on age), you and your daughter can enjoy a full day by the poolside! This public pool is close to downtown and open to the public for some summer fun!
  • Chickamauga Dam Recreation Area Featuring one of Chattanooga’s best playgrounds, this beautiful recreation area has enough for a full day of fun! Enjoy a splash in the water, grill some lunch, and explore the walking trails!

Want more parenting resources? Click here!

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I had this idea. A fun, whimsical baking sesh with my uber-helpful daughter, Jackie, baking a beautiful, homemade, delicious, vegan Frozen-themed cake for her 4th birthday party. I was determined to make it happen. I was going for “super mom” status as I prepared for a small family get together that became an elaborate Frozen-themed birthday extravaganza. I’d already sent out the FB event invite. This was Jackie’s “un-FOUR-gettable” birthday. It was too late. I had to make it unforgettable. 

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It was 3 AM. Our two-week-old son, Strider, was crying for the third time that night. To say we were exhausted was an understatement. We were full-blown zombies ready to eat each other alive.

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I remember when I was in the awkward teen stage of life. It was so difficult to navigate my way through high school. Unfortunately, the internal criticism didn’t stop when I turned 18; it followed me into adulthood.

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We sat next to each other on the hotel bed, the awkward silence between us laden with guilt, fear, confusion and trepidation. Something had transpired on the drive to our weekend getaway with my husband’s family, who had come into town for our youngest daughter’s dedication. A celebration, a joyous occasion, marked by a colicky 4-month-old, a whiny three-nager, the stress of planning an event, having in-laws in town and my recent diagnosis of Postpartum Depression.

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