Tuesday, November 25, 2014

What Your Mother Didn't Tell You {Unless You Are Black}

My child, you may have noticed by now that sometimes you get treated differently. No one wants to talk about it and, if you do bring it up, you will be met with anger and denial. But it's true. It is alive and well.


Sons and daughters, please be careful as this is delicate ground. I don't want you to wallow in self-pity. I don't want you to be afraid. I don't want you to be stifled in your passion or creativity or enthusiasm. I don't want to take away from all of the LIFE that you have ahead of you!

But I want you to be aware.

Child, I know that you do not steal or disobey rules or break laws but there will be some who assume that you do simply because of the color of your skin. All the more reason to be sure that you NEVER give anyone reason to distrust you. Don't allow them to make stereotypes into truth.

Value your education. Some will falsely assume that you are uneducated or destined to be working class. Prove them wrong, all the while with manners, poise and class.

Respect authority. I say this not because I think you wouldn't but because it needs to be said. Racists are scary. Racists with power and weapons are terrifying.

My child, I want you to be PROUD of your beautiful skin, of your heritage and your culture. But I also want you to be safe. I want you to know that, outside of our family, our close-knit community, our safety zone, that others may not take the opportunity to get to know you before judging you. This is not your fault. And it breaks my heart that I cannot change their hearts.

In his famous speech, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said "I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin, but by the content of their character." We're not there yet. And that is why mothers like me are still having these conversations with children like you.
 Photo credit to Jayme Parker

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sometimes Moms are Crazy...And It's Okay

Motherhood- a state of being where sometimes you do things that may seem illogical and/or irrational to others because your gut instinct tells you to do so

This past summer we moved. We've moved several times so that in itself wasn't such a big deal. What was a big deal was what happened after our old house sold.

Let me back up a little bit. The reason we decided to move from our acreage in a small, adorable little village in the first place is because we spent way too much time driving in the car. My car is big but, seriously, we practically lived in there. Many times we left home before dawn and didn't get home again from school/gymnastics/dance/track/soccer until after dark. We found a house that was much more centrally located to our kids' schools and activities and we fell in love with it. It was big- almost twice the size of the small little house in the country. It had a huge yard with a pool and a beautiful fountain. It was on a cul de sac. Finally, our kids who had never learned to ride a bike on our bumpy dirt road could get some practice!

We listed our house and, after what seemed like hundreds of showings and repeatedly cleaning the place and putting away toys and tidying the countertops and rushing home from work to whisk away the pets before the showings, it sold. Then we had inspections on the new house. We fell out of love. As the selling realtor put it "It has good bones. It just needs some cosmetic work." As our contractor put it "This is a money pit. If you want to lose money, buy this house or buy a race horse." We bought neither.

So there we were. Our house was sold with an impending closing date and we had nowhere to go. We're pretty fun people but it isn't exactly easy to find friends who will welcome 7 people, four dogs, two cats, a lizard and five chickens.

Back to the drawing board. Our sweet realtor took us to dozens more showings. We searched online. We went to open houses. And then we found a house that seemed perfect. It had everything on our list- four bedrooms upstairs so all of the kids could be together. Two different kids' bathrooms so girls and boys could each have their own. Master bedroom down. Separate study for adult work space. Two living areas. On a cul de sac. It was so perfect that it seemed like it must be meant to be. We made an offer. After a bit of a discussion and some back and forth, it was accepted.

I should have been happy. I should have been excited. We'd found a house, a really nice house, in a good neighborhood with everything on our wish list. But it didn't feel good. In fact, I spent the next two nights worrying and rethinking, sure we'd made a big mistake. My gut instinct just told me that something was wrong.

I talked to my husband. He asked me to try and pinpoint what it was. Was it the fact that the house was cookie-cutter and similar to the others on the street? Was it because the entire backyard was taken up by a giant pool where my babies could drown and because there wasn't much grass? I didn't know. But it didn't feel right.

On the third night of sleepless worry, it hit me. The chickens. We were going to have to find a new home for the chickens if we moved to the middle of the city in a cookie-cutter neighborhood to a house that has no real yard and a HOA that gets cranky if you park on the street.

Our kids would be okay with moving houses. They were fine with the idea of getting new neighbors. They had willingly helped pack up their art work, the small tiles decorated with stones that they'd made for our garden and all of the other memories that our previous house held. But I knew that I couldn't bear to ask them to say goodbye to our beloved chickens, the little tiny chicks we'd brought home just a few months before, one for every kid in our family, and nurtured into adulthood, the chickens who were due to start laying eggs ANY day, an event our kids were very eagerly anticipating. I just couldn't do it.

So I told my husband that I didn't want to move. In a blubbering sobs, I told him how our family needs a unique house with a yard for the kids to run and play...a space that feels just right...and room for the chickens. He listened. And he said that, if it didn't feel right, that we shouldn't buy the house.

Now, keep in mind that we'd already paid the earnest money on the house when our offer was accepted. When you back out for any of the reasons listed above (cookie cutter, no yard, chickens), it is not refunded. We're certainly not the kind of people who toss around thousands of dollars like it's pocket change. We can't afford to do that. But, as my husband pointed out, you can't put a price on happiness (and, in that moment, I knew exactly why I'd married him and I knew I'd do anything on earth for him).

We found another house. It's funky and weird and one of a kind. It has plenty of space for all of our kids and pets, feathered friends included.

We haven't regretted our decision. Sometimes a mother's heart just knows.
 Photo courtesy of Jayme Parker

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Teenage Parenting: A Lesson in Remembrance

"It's not the way it was when we were kids."
"Kids of this generation just grow up so quickly."
"It's so hard to be a parent in this day and age."
"Technology has made parenting so much more challenging."

We hear it over and over. We've heard it enough that we've started to believe it, that parenting today is more challenging than it was for our parents and our grandparents.

I'd argue that it's not.

In the depths of our parenting self-pity, we seem to have forgotten what it was like when we were kids. We've erased those mischievous and devious and forbidden things that we did from our memories to convince ourselves that, yes indeed, parenting today is more difficult and our kids today are more at risk, more promiscuous, more precocious than ever before.

Take cell phones, for example. It is true that when we were growing up, no one "sexted" pictures to each other. We didn't even have cell phones until my later teen years and they sure couldn't send photos or videos. However, judging by the number of kids caught "viewing the anatomy" of one another in cars in the high school parking lot, not having a modern cell phone sure didn't stop anyone. And then there was the boy I knew whose father was a prominent medical professional. The boy "borrowed" dad's patients' nude photos and shared them with his buddies after school. No cell phone necessary, thank you very much.

A few months ago, my almost 14 year old daughter made a comment about a good looking older boy at her school. I almost flipped. I mean, holy cow, she is only 13!!! And that boy that she pointed out is in high school! Maybe I should get her into counseling. Maybe I better pull her out of school and educate her at home if she's spending her days looking at boys. Perhaps I should call the parents of the boy and tell them to tell him not to dress so sharp and not to wear so much cologne. But, just before I lost it, my memory came to the rescue and I recalled the first time I went to summer camp. Not only was I smitten with a boy but we snuck off into the woods to kiss...gasp! I was only 11 or 12, several years younger than her.  And from the depths of my memory I recalled my sixth grade boyfriend and how we "went out". We actually didn't go anywhere but we were an item and everyone in sixth grade knew it. Somehow, with all of the "going out" and secret rendezvous in the woods I managed to grow up without becoming a prostitute.

And of course there's the Internet where kids can get into all kids of trouble- searching anything and everything they want to know about, accessing pornographic material and chatting online with people who are adult sex offenders cloaked as innocent teenagers.

But you know what? Kids have always been and always will be curious. Before it was the Internet, it was digging through parents' nightstands and bookcases and trying to find the smutty books and trashy magazines at the library. Before it was online perverts it was friends' uncles and overly friendly neighbors and so and so's big brother's friend and less anonymous but still just as damaging sexual predators who tried to befriend children so they could abuse them.

In many ways I feel like we're raising children in a safer generation than the generation in which we were raised and the generation of our parents. Issues like sexual abuse and bullying are spoken about more openly in schools, at extracurricular activities and at home. We talk about suicide and mental illness and, just maybe, a little bit of the stigma has gone away. There are more birth control options than ever before and it is more accessible. We have cell phones to document where we are and who we're with and kids can call parents if their cars break down or if they're running late (and we, as parents, can text or call our kids to check up on them, a luxury our parents and grandparents certainly didn't have). We have more tools to help us educate our children, to diagnose learning disabilities and to make it so every child has a shot at a quality education. And we have online communities, support groups, blogs and resources, resources, resources at our fingertips.

Parents, we're going to make it and our kids are going to be okay. There will always be new gadgets, new technology, new temptations. But the basics are unchanged. We're not living in a brave, new world. We're just repeating the same circle of teenage parenting.

It just looks a little different now that we're the parents.

Wednesday, October 29, 2014

Common Myths About Big Families

If I had a dollar for every time that I'm told "You sure have your hands full!" or "Wow, that vehicle is like a bus!" or "Your family looks like the United Nations," or "Do you run a daycare?" when our family is out, I'd be a wealthy woman.

I get it. Big families attract attention and it isn't all that common to see a big family these days (especially one made up of kids of all different sizes and skin tones).

There also seems to be something inherently fascinating about big families. I'm not sure if it's because people just assume any mom with a bunch of kids must be stark raving mad or if it's because they're mentally trying to figure out the logistics of having "so many kids" but, from "Jon and Kate" and their crew to the Duggars and their nineteen kids, somehow everyday family life suddenly becomes interesting when you multiply the "average" number of children in a US household by three or four or more. And, it is true that something like a simple stomach bug that may visit an "average" family for a few days does feel like a major epidemic of horrific proportions when you have half a dozen vomiting children at home.

It also seems as if there are many myths and misconceptions about big families that we often hear. I've tried to address a some of them, both because I feel like many people really are intrigued and want to know and also because I'm sure that other big families get asked the same types of questions (or people in our communities have the same questions but are hesitant to ask).

Myth #1- All big families are poor.
Though we'd certainly have more money if we didn't have such a big family, most big families are big because we choose to have a bunch of children. While the bank account of every family (big and small) is different, there are plenty of big families who are financially stable. It is probably a false assumption that a family is large because the parents are unemployed, can't afford/aren't educated about birth control and spend all day procreating.

Myth #2- All big families are wealthy.
Seriously. I often get asked if we're really rich and if we're poor in the same day (by different people, of course) because we have "so many kids". The other thing that I hear repeatedly is: "Your husband must have a really good job to support all those children!" Thankfully, he does have a good job. But we both work full-time and we both use our degrees to help support our family and to allow our kids to participate in activities and events just like families with fewer children. Again, there are probably some big families who are wealthy but there are plenty of others who have to stick to a budget and whose children wear hand-me-downs and clothes bought off the sale rack.

Myth #3- The husband and wife in a big family must not believe in birth control.  
Statistically speaking, most women would probably have WAY more than four, five or six kids if they didn't believe in birth control.  Some big families may not believe in birth control but that doesn't hold true for the majority of us. Heck, even the Vatican is rethinking their stance on contraception. Most of us realize that a big family is a blessing but that, at the same time, there does come a point where it is probably unwise (physically, financially or otherwise) to continue adding more children.

Myth #4- Kids in big families don't get to spend as much time with their parents/don't have as many toys/don't get to participate in as many activities/don't have as many opportunities. Parenting any child is a conscientious choice. We choose to devote our days and nights and free time to our children, no matter how many we have. As we add more children, we just work harder. And most moms of many kids work REALLY hard to ensure that all of the children have opportunities, plenty of love, special one-on-one time and all of their needs properly met.

Myth #5- If you have a bunch of children, you must practice a certain religion.
Along with getting told that I have my hands full, I'd also be able to buy something new and fancy if I was given a dollar every time I'm asked if we're Mormon or Catholic. While I really like almost all of the LDS and Catholics that we know, we are neither. Usually I reply with "No, we're just passionate Protestants." I do get some really perplexed looks when I park our big ol' van outside of Total Wine...

Myth #6- All moms with a bunch of kids stay home (ie- don't work outside the home).
Lord knows there certainly is enough work around the house that I could justify being a full-time domestic goddess but, like many other moms of big families, I work full-time outside the home. Remember that thing above about paying for school, clothes, food and activities and not being poor? Mmm hmm.

Myth #7-  All moms of big families are really fertile.
We have six kids. One was a happy surprise. One was conceived using fertility treatment. One was conceived through IVF. Two grew in another woman's womb. And one is an exchange student. I know many other moms of big families who have also grown their families through assisted reproductive technology and various other non-traditional methods (adoption, combining households after a divorce, raising foster children, etc). If we were repeatedly getting pregnant solely because we were really fertile, there is that birth control thing mentioned above (and, believe you me, if you have a bunch of kids, no one lets you forget about it).

Myth #8- Large families rely on welfare/"the government"/other financial aid for support.
It seems so silly that I even need to mention this but often we do get asked if Uncle Sam or taxpayer money is helping support "all those kids". Absolutely not. I can't speak for every big family but I do know for certain that most large families are very self-sufficient, incredibly hard working and that many parents would get a second or third job before expecting anyone else to help cover their expenses. When we are asked this question, I always answer with an emphatic no (and then add that when they, as taxpayers, start paying for my children then I will be happy to listen to their input on our family size, if they think we have "too many" and whether or not they think we should add more kids some day).

Myth #9- All big families have conservative values.
Not true, though the majority of big families probably are conservative (due to obvious factors- religion, background, family values, etc). However, I am making it my personal mission to populate the earth with as many little open-minded, hippie, fun-loving, tree hugging liberals as possible.

Myth #10- Big families rarely leave home to go on vacation, don't eat out in restaurants and don't go to friends' houses for dinner (because it's too hard with a bunch of kids).
Though it may not be the most relaxing of meals, our kids are usually on GOOD behavior when we're out. They are used to eating in restaurants and they are good travelers. I've discovered that overall most kids from big families are adaptable and well-behaved, likely because they are used to being self-sufficient and entertaining themselves and also because most parents of lots of kids don't want a whole pack of rude little brats. Oh, and about that dinner at friends' houses thing. We LOVE having people over for dinner and we love being invited to dinner. Most big families understand that it's expensive and a lot of work to cook for so many people so most of us are more than happy to supply several of the dishes (or even bring the whole meal) when we receive a dinner invitation.

Myth #11- Kids who grow up in big families wish they had fewer siblings to "compete with".
All of our kids actually beg for another baby/for us to adopt again. Crazy, I know. Overall, I don't think any of them are too traumatized by being one of several kids in our family and having to share mom and dad.

Myth #12- After you've already parented several children, you know all the ropes and it's not as exciting or fun or "new" the fifth, sixth, seventh....time around.
This I can say with certainty. Every time I've seen that second line on a pregnancy test my heart has been filled with joy. Every time I've received a new photo of a child who we are adopting I am beside myself with excitement. With EVERY child it has been a joy to watch them grow and learn. It never gets old whether you're parenting your first child or your fifteenth. It does get slightly easier (because you know what to expect) but it never, ever gets boring or old.

There you have it. A few of the things that you wanted to know about a big family but were afraid to ask (though some people certainly aren't afraid to speak up!). Have more questions or want to keep the conversation going? Feel free to leave feedback in the comments below and I'll do my best to answer.

Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Hey Teen, We Need to Chat (Face to Face)

Hi there teen, can you put down that tablet/phone/computer for just a minute? I know, eye roll, right?

But, really, we need to chat.

I see you sitting there on your device for countless hours, texting friends, watching videos and shows, Facebooking, Instagramming, Tweeting...what I do not see is you sitting IN the same room as your friends and having actual conversations. I don't hear the excited chattering I'd expect from a fun, social teenager.

Can these friends of yours who you spend hours "talking" to tell from your posts and messages when you are sad or upset? Or do your words and pictures convey one message and your heart says another? My child, nothing replaces actual, physical friends and face to face conversations. It does your heart and your mind good.

Will these online friends be there for you in real life when you need them? To celebrate your achievements and to help you up when you're down? I know they may feel like they're just a click and instant chat away but what happens if they don't log on today...or ever again?

I worry about your "high school experience". Are you joining clubs and activities, are you going to dances or are you and your virtual buddies too cool for all of that? Maybe some day they'll make online sports and band and theater so you don't even have to put down your iPad. I kid...sort of.

When I ask about pressing issues facing your generation you list bullying, dating, racism, drugs, cancer and suicide. How do you know if friends are suicidal if you don't look in their eyes and listen to the tone of their voices? How do you learn how to have a conversation with a member of the opposite gender (or the same gender or whatever gender you are interested in) if you don't talk face to face? How do you expect to stay healthy if you don't get up off the couch and put down the iWhatever? How do you know what is on someone's heart if you have to interpret their messages through abbreviated text chat and emoticons?

Please don't take this as another "mom lecture". It is not intended to be. I like gadgets and devices and a reason to sit and look at my social media accounts as much as anyone. But please don't lose your life because you're so busy texting that you walk into oncoming traffic (I actually saw a girl do this today...thankfully the drivers were paying attention and she didn't get hit). Please don't forgo your real, living friends for internet buddies. Please don't underestimate the importance of learning how to read the expressions on someone's face, the tone of their voice or their mannerisms as they speak. And please don't let the world pass you by while you sit inside posting photos of yourself, your meals and the spider that crawled across the floor of your bathroom.

I want you to live a life that is worthy of incredible Facebook posts and awesome Instagram photos and fun tweets. Document the incredible life that you are living, the experiences that you are having an the friendships made along the way. Live extraordinarily, adventurously and then broadcast it far and wide!

I guarantee, you will have a big audience.

Sunday, October 12, 2014

A Letter to My Veterinary Colleagues

To My Fellow Veterinarians,

Recently there has been some very disturbing news coverage about our profession. If you read this article and several other studies, it sounds as if our profession has a much higher suicide rate than "average", maybe even four times higher than that of other professionals. If that isn't eye-opening, I don't know what is.

No question that our jobs are challenging. All of us have worked hard and made many sacrifices to get to where we are and yet often it seems as if the money and appreciation and sleep are all in short supply. There are always more sick animals, always the wish that we could have done more, always the dream that we could practice without concern for a client's ability to pay.

Treating sick animals and appeasing clients often feels like Holden trying to wipe away all of the "fuck yous" in The Catcher in The Rye. "I went down by a different staircase, and I saw another "Fuck you" on the wall. I tried to rub it off with my hand again, but this one was scratched on, with a knife or something. It wouldn't come off. It's hopeless, anyway. If you had a million years to do it in, you couldn't rub out even half the "Fuck you" signs in the world. It's impossible."

In veterinary medicine, we can't always give a good prognosis, we can't make everyone happy and we don't always succeed. I wouldn't go as far as to say our jobs are hopeless or impossible. We do, however, need to be more conscientious about a few things:

  •  Mental illness still carries a stigma and many people are afraid to get the help they need for fear of losing clients or seeming unprofessional.  Not knowing where to go for help and not knowing the signs of depression/mental illness are also contributing factors. It's difficult to evaluate how we're feeling and to take the time we need to care for ourselves when we spend the majority of our day caring for others.  
  • Vets deal with some heavy stuff and we make life or death decisions on a daily basis. How many of us have done more euthanasias in one day than you can count on one hand? How many of us have witnessed animals who were severely abused or neglected? How many of us have had a patient die on our watch or lost a patient on the surgery table or had to settle for much less than gold standard care because client finances were limited? And these types of cases repeat themselves over and over and over.
  • We live in a society that is heavily influenced by social media. That is a double-edged sword. The same Facebook pages and Twitter accounts and Instagram photos that help build our practices can be used to tear us down. One unhappy client or one poor outcome and a veterinarian or clinic can (anonymously and often very unfairly) be trashed on social media. Many of us do worry about losing the career opportunities that we've worked so hard for and that matter so much to us because of one disgruntled client.
We also need to make some changes in how we live and practice:
  • Many veterinarians are isolated. We are married to our jobs and our practices. How many of us have skipped the gym to fit in a few extra clients at the end of the day? How many of us have spent countless holidays working and away from our family and friends? How many of us see our coworkers more than our spouse? And how many veterinarians had a serious relationship or marriage dissolve during vet school or during our career? It's hard to feel deep contentment and happiness when our hobby is work and when our social circle consists solely of those in our practice.
  • We need to choose our workplaces carefully and, as a profession, we need to make it clear that we won't tolerate ridiculously long work weeks or inflexible, rigid jobs. It has long been an unspoken creed in vet medicine that hard work and long hours signifies commitment to our profession. However, it is in no way lazy or unprofessional to desire a healthy work/life balance. Whether we have 0 kids or 12, whether we have a time-consuming hobby or not, whether we are married or single, we ALL need a healthy balance of work, family/friends and play.
  • We need to take time for ourselves. I can't count the number of times that I've planned to take a day off and then my phone rings and a sweet client is crying on the other end of the line and suddenly my day off turns into another work day. We do it because we love it. But, if we do it all the time and neglect ourselves, we'll become resentful, exhausted and our mental and physical health suffers.
  • Finally, we need to start talking about this. Recently many of my former classmates and I opened up very candidly and honestly about our experiences, our home lives, pay rates, our current mental health statuses, the challenges of our profession and where we go from here. Sadly, after these discussions with my classmates, I don't think that the numbers quoted in the studies about depression, suicide and mental illness among veterinarians are exaggerated in the least. By starting a dialogue, knowing that we aren't alone and supporting one another just as we did through vet school and just as we did in those early days in our career (hello, internship!), maybe the burden will begin to lift for someone. Maybe it will be easier to make ourselves vulnerable and to ask for help knowing that others have done and will do the same. Perhaps we can share a laugh about a story that no one outside of our profession would understand and maybe we can cry together over the losses we endure.

Coworkers and friends, please take care of yourselves. Take care of each other. You are some of the best and the brightest and, frankly, many of us would miss you if you were gone. You are not alone.

Fight on, veterinarians. And know that we're all in this together.

A Veterinarian Who Hopes to See All of My Classmates At Our Next Reunion (so we can de-stress together!)

Monday, September 15, 2014

Advice from a Mother of Five {Usually} Happy Children

I get told at least once a day "I don't know how you do it."

Well, I don't either. Probably with a little luck, a lot of prayer and some really good friends.

The other day a friend who is expecting her first child asked if I could sit down and write a list of things that I've learned as a mother, what I wish I'd known, little tidbits of wisdom that I've acquired. I laughed. Many times I still feel like such a novice at this motherhood thing. After all, I've only been a mom for 6.5 years and many days I feel utterly clueless. However, apparently having five children that are groomed, fed and relatively happy (and a foreign exchange daughter) qualifies me as some kind of expert...or just really crazy.

Sometimes I feel way too sleep-deprived to string coherent words together, not to mention to offer tidbits of wisdom but here it goes.

1.  Many of our most difficult moments are also teachable moments for our children. Our kids observe how we respond to situations of adversity and, though it's not always easy, many of our best parenting moments come from these tough situations. Car breaks down? Our kids see how resourceful we are and how we stay calm and come up with a solution. Wallet gets stolen? They watch as we call credit card companies, call the bank and life returns to normal. Friend doesn't show up for lunch as planned? Their watchful eyes and listening ears take it all in as we handle it with class. Every time a teachable moment occurs, we have two choices- make it a learning experience for our kids or simply react (a.k.a. flip out). Many, many times I've reacted, flipped out and failed to make it a teachable moment. The good news- seeing us react is also a good lesson for kids! It's okay to wig out every now and then if it's the exception and not the norm. It's good for kids to learn how to successfully handle challenging situations but it's also good for them to see us blow it and to watch us recover, apologize and move on.

2. "Me" time and "us" time is important. Don't neglect yourself or your spouse when you become a parent. The other day our kids were complaining that my husband and I scheduled a date night and that it "isn't fair" that we're going somewhere without them. I told them they're lucky that we still like each other enough to go on date nights! That being said, "me" time doesn't have to be a full day at the spa. "Us" time doesn't have to be a weekend getaway. It certainly can be! But when you're parenting in the trenches, when you have itty bitties at home, when time and money and everything else is tight, make do with what you can. A few minutes in the bath tub by yourself- sacred! An evening at home when all the kids are in bed and you can have an adult dinner- amazing! A morning walk together while a neighbor watches the kids- priceless. A few minutes at the gym while the kids are in the gym daycare- do it! Take care of yourself and take care of your spouse. It is a valuable lesson for kids to see that your needs, which will be their needs when they are adults, matter too.

3. Teach your children to become self-sufficient. You are not doing them any favors if you don't teach them to wipe their own bum, if you type their essays for them or if you complete their college applications. If it matters enough to them, they will learn to do it on their own. Let them do it and allow them to feel the satisfaction of having accomplished it themselves. If it doesn't get done (or if it doesn't get done well), let them handle the consequences associated with it. Of course there are times when mom and dad need to step in (bullying, a really hateful coach, special medical needs, etc) but it is our job as parents to give our kids the encouragement, skill set and opportunity to learn to be largely self-sufficient.

4. Self-control. Easier said than done.  Recently I engaged in a dialog with several other mothers of large families and we were discussing how self- control may be the single most important life skill that we can practice and that we can teach our children. If you have red hair and are of Irish descent like me, this one is challenging! When it's tempting to grumble, raise your voice, get a little hateful or lose your temper, rein it in. If you tend to over-spend, mention to your children that you would like to buy more but that you are setting limits on yourself. If you are overweight, be open with your children about how you are trying to monitor your food intake and get more exercise to become a healthier person. If our kids see us modeling self control and learn to practice it themselves, it's likely that they will be successful in social settings, in the classroom and as spouses, parents and employers/employees when they are adults.

5. Laugh. A lot. It's the only way to survive as a parent, especially as a parent of many kids. There are some days when you have to laugh to keep from crying. Recently we spent 10 days in a hotel with five kids and two cats. At one point a cat escaped and five panicked children chased him down the halls of the hotel for a good 10 minutes. I've caught poop in my bare hands when one of our preschoolers had to make an emergency pit stop when I'd forgotten to pack a plastic bag/wipes/extra pullup. One of our kids loudly yelled "So dark!" when they turned the lights down at Christmas Eve church service. Another kid detailed to her entire kindergarten class how a dumpster full of horse manure crushed mommy's leg, resulting in a trip to the orthopedic surgeon. One child wrote "crap" instead of "trap" on their spelling test. One child went missing in Michael's and it took several employees and a team of shoppers to help find him. Thankfully, a few weeks (and a few glasses of wine) after the aforementioned incidents, they were all pretty comical.

6. Know that this stage won't last forever. I swear that just yesterday I was up to my ears in diapers and tantrums and wondering if I'd ever get a full night's sleep with all of our toddlers and now I'm monitoring Instagram accounts and buying One Direction tickets and wondering if I'll ever get a full night's sleep with these teenagers. Whaaat? How did this happen? Just remember that both the good and the bad of every stage is temporary and won't last forever. Enjoy those sweet baby, toddler, childhood and teen moments. And, during those hard moments, remember that this too shall pass.

7. Embrace your tribe. Your mom friends are your tribe, your lifeline, your sanity. They are who "get" you. They are the ones who will give help when you don't even know you need it and long before you've asked for it. They are the ones who are right there in the trenches with you, fighting poop blowouts and teenage sneakiness and preschool backtalk. They are who will keep you sane, who will share your laughter and your tears and your pot of coffee. Isolation and keeping all of your skeletons in your closet is old school, girlfriend, so fling open that closet door and share your crazy with girlfriends who get it.

8. Remember who YOU are and tuck it in your pocket. For now you may be the lactating, bum-wiping, clothes laundering, ouchie kissing, lunch packing superhero but maybe once upon a time you were the workplace superstar or maybe you dream of going back to college when the kids are older. The time to follow your dreams might not be now but that doesn't mean it's never. Don't let go of those dreams. There is a time and a place for everything and, in the meantime, remember that motherhood is one of the most sacred jobs of all.

9. When we know better we do better. Maybe we've made some mistakes. Maybe we have regrets. That's part of the parenting process. We all make mistakes, learn and adjust. The mom we are in our 20's isn't the same as the mom we are in our 30's, 40's or 50's. Most moms aim to do the best job possible. We're all a work in progress. We need to be open to advice and constructive criticism but we also need to have grace with our fellow moms and with ourselves.

10. Prepare for the fact that our kids might not grow up to be the adults we expect. Maybe our son we thought was going to be an engineer goes to art and design school. Maybe our daughter will grow up and be attracted to women. Perhaps our kids will grow up and be professionals who have no desire to have children of their own. Maybe they'll move overseas and marry a foreigner. Just remember- our idea of happiness may not be what makes them happy. I'm pretty sure that my parents didn't expect their only child to grow up and have a half dozen children and to lead a spontaneous, unscripted life. I'm certain that my inlaws didn't expect their son to grow up and marry a foreign girl who was eight years younger. If karma exists, my husband and I have it coming!

11. If you want your children to respect authority, model it at home. If mom and dad complain about the school principal, baseball coach, our President and their boss, it shouldn't be a surprise when the kids aren't listening or respecting authority. We may not always agree with the decisions or morals of those in positions of power but, nonetheless, we need to teach children how to respectfully disagree or, if it is not their place, to stay out of it. Disagreeing does not equal a free license for rudeness.

12. There is nothing wrong with starting on the bottom and working your way up. Instead of telling kids to shoot for the stars, I tell my kids to start at the bottom and to see how far they can climb. Too often kids think that they are going to be self-made millionaires or that the only way to success is to start their own business or to be discovered by a big talent agency. This simply isn't true. I often remind our kids that I used to do laundry at the local vet clinic and that my husband volunteered in the morgue before he was accepted into medical school! There were many minimum wage paychecks, microwave dinners, late nights spent studying, college roommates and years of college in between where we were then and where we are today.

13. Give your children a moral compass. Kids thrive when they have clear, measurable rules. Whether you follow the Bible or the Torah or just have a good, practical foundation of morals, make these rules a part of daily family life. These should not be viewed as stifling and oppressive. Remember, kids crave structure and stability. Emphasize that we all have rules that we have to follow- laws of our country, rules of our workplace, rules of the swimming pool. As parents, it is our job to help our children practice following the rules set before them.

These are a few of the principles that I try to follow and a few of the lessons that I have learned as a wife and mother. I hope that you find them helpful. If not, keep doing what works and toss out whatever doesn't. There is no one size fits all mold for parenting. There is no instruction manual and no script. It's a fly by the seat of your pants, buckle up, hang on and enjoy the ride kind of process.

You know what? It's going to be fantastic. Enjoy!