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Let's Talk Parenting

Parenting and Decision Making

Getting Real with Dynisha Smith

I’m hoping that today’s blog becomes more of a conversation. I am genuinely so curious about how other parents make decisions for their house and whether they include their kids. So the whole premise of this is some social media posts – because where else do we argue nowadays – about the difference between millennial parents and boomer parents. I also think that your culture has to come into play here, so while the video was funny, it was based on a white societal normative style of parenting. So I’m going to write this based on my experiences, and if we haven’t met yet IRL or digitally, I come from a black household; so there are definitely going to be differences here. That is actually what I’m banking on.

My Experience with My Role

Okay, so when I was growing up, the line between parents and children was thick, bold as hell, there was no mistaking who was in charge, and even if you were going to be negatively affected by a decision, you didn’t get to have a say. That just is what it was; and when you don’t know differently, it doesn’t really bug you. As I grew up and got into other people’s families and saw some differences, I started to wonder what it might be like to be a more active participant in the way the house works. Overall, I had a good childhood; this isn’t a critique on that. However, it is an exploration of what my world would look like now if we were consulted on things. I do firmly believe that the ultimate decision has to be with the person whose brain is (hopefully) the most developed in the room. But what if?

What I Do Now

I wouldn’t say that my daughter and I are equals by any means, but as a single parent, she is my ace boon, my ride or die. It’s #teamus. So when I go to make decisions like dinner, weekend plans, chore lists, vacation options, etc., I am more likely to consult with my kid than I perceive I was consulted. I find myself asking questions like, ‘Hey would it be fun to go see Grandpa this year?’ or ‘It’s a home day; what do you feel like doing?’ My kid also has a general sense of what we can and cannot afford to do. So sometimes she’ll say I really want to go to Jumptime, and I can say, ‘Oh, I can’t really afford that this weekend but what about next?’ And we may still have to go and do some things she didn’t want to do, but at least she got to make her feelings known. And honestly, it makes those experiences less of a nightmare when I already know she isn’t feeling it, and I can explain, well this is why we have to do it. Now I’m not saying that I don’t still make choices that she didn’t agree with, but I am saying that she knows what’s happening, and has a chance to be vocal about it.

Now here is where you come in. I have also been very open with her about wanting a new house – we are on the same page – and wanting to foster some kids. And we have those dialogues (as much as a five year old can).

What decisions do your kids get a say in? Do you include them at all? Why or why not?

And let’s use designate this as a judgement – and shade throwing – free zone.

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Education Parenting

Why I Chose a Charter School

I’d like to think I’m the kind of parent who thinks ahead. In reality I’m the kind of parent who sort of thinks ahead when I have to, and mostly just waits until the last second. One area in which I made it a priority to really think ahead was education. Living in Idaho has so many positives in the good stuff column – but K-12 education isn’t one of them. Or at least it wasn’t. Education is a sore spot for a lot of us, and I get it – this is what is supposed to set your child up for success. I decided to start my kid at a charter – and in all transparency, I am a founding Board Member for said school – and I want to talk about why.

My Own Experiences.

I went to school here. Elementary, Junior High, and High School. Not once in that time did I have a teacher of color. Not once in that time did I see myself reflected in the curriculum beyond the slave trade and the civil rights movement. Not one time did I see the positives of my culture, or really any other culture presented to me at school. When I got to high school there was this program in conjunction with Trio and Boise State University that happened once a year. It’s aim, if I remember right, was to help minority students understand the college process, and see how cool it was, and what doors could open for you. My friends and I took it as a time to be ourselves, to see ourselves reflected in the college students, and to be just with each other. Because of these experiences, I spent a long time thinking about how I would make sure that my child knew how great it was to be Black, how amazing and diverse and resilient our history was, and how many different options there were for her future. So naturally I had my ears to the ground on what state I needed to go to for that to happen. Yeah you guys – I was gonna move.

A Side Note.

There is so much misinformation about charter schools in the world. A charter school is a public school. Similar to a public school, the funding is based on attendance and student enrollment. When students move to a charter – they aren’t ‘draining resources from their home school’ because guaranteed the home school was able to accept a student to take their place. There are TONS of kids (here at least) coming into the district or needing to change schools due to services etc. Also – you don’t pay extra for a charter. Teachers aren’t kidnapped and dragged to teach at a charter. They may or may not get paid more – that’s based on what school they are at. For example, we all know that the BSD pays better than other districts – so many factors none of which apply to charters necessarily. Charters are not just for rich kids. Or white kids. Charters – just like every other school is supposed to – adhere to state and federal academic standards. Rant over.

A light in the darkness.

There is nothing wrong with the schools here for the most part. They just aren’t reflective of how I imagined my kid experiencing schools. In a story that could be it’s own post, I met two wonderful people who dreamed of opening a school where all kids could thrive, where all kids could be exposed to identity development, and have all of their identities celebrated. In a time where the Treasure Valley is diversifying beyond what anyone expected – and joyfully so – this was like a little miracle sent just for us. Not only where they excited to show kids of color, and other kids too, all of the joys of learning but they were also set to do so through a STEM focused lens. What could be better than that?

Kindergarten.

So fast forward to this year – the second year the school is open and her first year there. We learn all of the necessary things like the parts of a book, how to be a kind friend, and the foundations of math. We also have computer science and movement three times a week. We are a part of a school culture that welcomes wonder, celebrates joyfully, encourages conversation, and incorporates community into all that we do. I’m very excited to see my little brown girl thrive in her educational pursuits, and have opportunities that I didn’t; and isn’t that what we all want?

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Doing it Alone Self-Improvement

Single Parents as Students

A friend and I were having a lively conversation about college the other day – and who has it harder. His arguments make sense – it’s hard for young people to want to go to college in this climate, despite the economic growth, because of the unreasonable hiring practices of companies. He just spent three months helping a PR firm look at it’s diversity practices when it comes to young people of color. That’s something a lot of top companies are doing – take Starbucks and Walmart for example.

One thing that I have as an added layer, is single parenthood. How does being a single parent play into the complicated life that is college? Well added expenses for one. But beyond that it’s the missed opportunities that college provides that single parents can’t always take advantage of, and the additional stress to manage.

Expense versus Gain

According to the Lumina Foundation, 4.8 million undergrad students in America are raising children. 43 percent of that population are single mothers. I wonder how many graduate students – traditionally older people with some professional experience under their belts – also fall into this category. One of the things that I wish I had paid more attention to before committing to this program was expense versus gain. What skills, knowledge, and economic opportunities will arise for me – real opportunities not hypothetically – through this educational experience? I should’ve made a list. And then I should’ve made a list of every financial sacrifice that was going to need to be made. Oh, and the other sacrifices, like time spent with my kid, favors called in, etc. AND THEN I would have put those lists right next to each other and really gave thought to which outweighed the other. Personally I am committed to making the gains outweigh the expense of added debt and financial sacrifice, but because hindsight is 20/20 I hope making a list in advance helps some other parent out there.

Missed Chances

There are many awesome opportunities provided by being in a program of study, even as a graduate student. Research opportunities, conferences, workshops, special lectures, the list goes on. However being a single parent can significantly reduce the amount of those opportunities you take part in. Even if you are lucky enough (or unlucky depending on your relationship) to have a co-parent, sometimes you can’t make that weekend conference, after hours lecture, or two day travel work. I do take advantage of as many opportunities I can, while managing care for my kid. Sometimes that means she’s spending a Saturday with GiGi, or having a late night hang at Nana’s. These kinds of opportunities are sometimes missed chances for single parent students.

Stress Load Management

If any people in this world are good at stress management – or avoidance – it’s single parents. Many of us do not have time to feel stress; we have to work, take care of kid(s), take care of house, try to socialize, and sometimes pursue higher education. Add on top of all of that, the mountain of emotional trauma that a lot of single parents have experienced, some guilt, and sprinkle on all of the hopes and desires of the kid(s) in the picture. That is so much to deal with! Being a student can provide resources that help with the management of stress; from mentors, to onsite childcare, to finals week stress relief for all students. Know what your program, department, and/or campus provides in this area – and take advantage of it! I know I do, especially the free food and free massages!

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Let's Talk Parenting Raising Healthy Kids

How to Talk to Your Kids about Gender, Sexuality, & Private Parts

When did your child first start noticing gender differences? I’m not talking about toys or colors, I’m talking about private parts. Before joining Boise State University‘s counseling program, I couldn’t imagine how to start having these conversations with my child. I’m a touch more prepared, although it still makes me nervous, but I know it’s important to talk to your kids about this stuff. 

Don’t panic. 

The first time your kid comes to you naked (probably not new) and points out their specific genitals, it will probably catch you off guard. It did me. The first thing I had to remember was to keep calm. Take a breath – you can do this. No matter how you approach the conversation, just remember that the way you react tells your child whether they should be ashamed of their natural bodies, or whether it’s okay to notice. 

Stay consistent. 

Whatever your message, stick to your script. I knew from the minute I felt her kick that I wouldn’t want any sexual predator to take advantage of her. I chose to tell her exactly what the body parts are called. Then we had the bathing suit conversation. If it’s covered by your swimsuit, it’s a private area only for you to see, and we don’t need to share that -or let anyone else show you theirs. 

How to have "the talk" with your child.

Encourage conversations. 

Now this comes from my counseling experiences. As your child grows and develops, so should these conversations. I don’t anticipate being able to keep telling my kid “that’s yours, so keep it to yourself. And don’t ask to see anyone else’s business,” because her curiosity will grow. All of ours did. As a parent I’d prefer that she asks me for information before she asks a friend or Google. I’d also prefer that she comes to me with things she hears from others, so that we can discern together if it’s true or not. 

No matter how you tackle it, make sure that you do. The best thing you can give to the next generation is knowledge! 

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Let's Talk On Motherhood Parenting

Discussing Race with My Daughter

In this climate we all hear a lot about the topic of race in a variety of ways. In the last year, I’ve seen different organizations and populations tackle ‘The Talk. If you don’t know, The Talk is a conversation that parents of color often have with their children to prime them for the discrimination and racism they will face as they grow up. Some of the videos are heartbreaking, and some infuriating. The fact remains that as a parent of color, I HAVE to make sure that my child is aware, much earlier than her peers, of all of the ways that her skin color will make things different for her. Whether your privilege allows you to scoff and stop reading here, or you’re interested in another take on it, here are three conversations that I’ve had with my daughter on race.

Why is Your Skin Brown?

Kids can be the most brutally honest critics and cheerleaders, not yet possessing a functional social filter. The lack of which provides for some of the most rich teaching moments. In our house we read. We read books with a variety of characters, human and animal alike, who are navigating all kinds of situations. I want her to see all of the different people, gender, skin colors, hair types, abilities, etc. So we read books with little brown girls and boys too. Through literature we’ve been able to talk about why we are brown; it all comes down to who our moms and dads are. That’s it for now, keep it simple right? So we are at dinner with some friends, and a new little girl we just met asks my daughter why her skin is brown. Her adults are a little panicky, but my daughter is unphased. “My skin is the color of chocolate, duh! My mom is brown so I’m brown too.” Simple as that. As she ages the complexities of genetics and DNA might come out, but for now playmate to playmate, that answer is good enough.

Why are some people so rude?

I might not have mentioned it but my daughter is five. There are naturally some things that I don’t show or share with her – but when she’s out of my care and in someone else’s I have little control sometimes. As we are laying on the bed doing some reflecting, she tells me about a news story she watched at Nana’s (insert Mom cringe here – come on Nana, the news?! Was Paw Patrol not on?) where someone was really rude to a brown-skinned girl who walked out with a doll. I had two choices here – remind her that we can’t walk out of stores with stuff we didn’t buy, give her my own opinion – she’s a child for goodness sakes just let her return it like the rest of us did at some point and move forward, or take a third route. When I asked her what she thought about it, without putting any context on it – we were able to have an age appropriate conversation about why some people are treated differently. And at the end she says, well that’s not fair. When I grow up I don’t want that to happen to me or my friends. See, through these conversations, allowing her to lead, giving her enough information to form her own opinions, I am creating the next generation of advocates. And I will continue to do so, and continue to allow her to explore her identity in her own ways.

They don’t want to play with me.

The hardest conversation that we have had together was over this past summer. We were at a park, and it was pretty dead except for a little girl and boy. They might have been siblings; I’m not sure. Their caregivers were across the park from me, and I never spoke to them. Now, I have a pretty outgoing kid. She’ll talk to anybody, ask anyone to be her friend and if they want to play, whether they are a bit younger than her or way older. If I had to guess, I’d say these kids were only a few years older, maybe 7 or 8.  My kid made multiple attempts to ask them to play, and have them join in with her, or ask if she can join them. At first they didn’t say anything they just ran away. And after five or so minutes the little boy finally said, No! we don’t want to play with you, you’re little and brown.

Of course, I don’t know if he was just annoyed, or if that was legitimately true. But the damage was done. How do you console a child after someone tells them that? I really want you to reflect on what you would do, if some child told your kid they wouldn’t play with them because they are [insert your own thing here]. My face got really hot, and I got up and played with her. I was angry, and I tried not to let it show. We played tag, and we raced down the slides, and we attempted to play hide and seek. And on the way home, we talked about kindness, and character. Someone else’s words and choices do not determine who we are as people. Brown is beautiful, and even when other people don’t see it we see it and we love it. Our skin, our hair, our attitude – we are beautiful. We can be kind. We can remember how it felt, and try our best not to make others feel the same way.

Conversation on race will only get harder over time. If she’s anything like me, and I’m told she is, being African American – the culture, the resilience, the joy – will lead her to pride, and to social justice.

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On Motherhood Parenting

Kicking Parental Guilt to the Curb

Getting Real with Dynisha Smith

Today I missed my kid’s bus stop. I don’t know about where you live, but here you have to be at the stop to collect your kindergarten student or they are taken back to school.

Thank gosh we are not the last stop or I might have lost it. I was maybe two minutes too late – I saw the bus headed to the next stop, and broke every traffic law short of Baby Driver to get two stops ahead of the bus. And you guys – I cried. Looking back now, I feel kind of dumb admitting that.

The Torture of Parental Guilt

I picked her up and talked her through her own emotions. I reminded her I will always, without fail, short of death (this I said silently) come for her. In that moment though, sitting in my car praying to every deity I could think of to please delay the bus a few minutes because I swear i’ll be a better person – all I could think about was what kind of failure doesn’t make it to the bus stop on time? Why did I go down this street? Why didn’t I run that light?

Raise your hand if you’ve ever had this kind of guilt over something. If your hand went up, you and I are not alone. Moms and Dads everywhere admit, albeit quietly at first, that they have had at least one moment of complete and utter panic over something to do with caring for their kids. Maybe you forgot your kids lunch, maybe you didn’t arrange transportation for something ahead of time… the list goes on. You let them cry over ‘spilled milk’ – whatever that means for you – until you just gave in. And then you feel like crap for giving in.

It Can’t Keep Going Like This

So what the flip are we supposed to do about this? Tediously I have to repeat myself, I don’t know about you but I cannot continue to live like this for the next thirteen years. Like most other single parents, I have probably come across multiple memes with a damned if you do, damned if you don’t message. Work, stay at home, spend more time with your kids, take better care of yourself, get more education to make more money, make better financial choices – move to another country and assume new alias. Okay that was just my solution – insert shrugging emoji here.

It is so much and it is so daunting. And with all of that off of my chest, I’m proposing a new litmus test for that damn parental guilt. Let’s ask ourselves – in reflection, because let’s be honest, we ain’t gonna remember these in the moment – these simple questions. Is our kid safe? Are their basic needs met? Is the damage irreversible? Can we commit to doing it differently next time? Do they still understand how loved they are? If you answered yes to most of these questions – keep kickin’ ass, your kid is fine, you are fine, and you ARE doing enough.

You ARE doing enough.

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Doing it Alone On Motherhood

3 Relationships That Change When You’re a Single Mom

Getting Real with Dynisha Smith

As a single mom, I engage differently. All of my relationships have mutated, mostly for the better, but change can be a hard pill to swallow. I can only hope I’m not alone, and this resonates with the other single parents, especially mothers, out there.

My Mother & I

My own mother ended up being a single mom after fourteen years of marriage – something that I don’t think was in the cards. She is a loyal, caring, yet demanding type of mother. Her expectations were high, her disappointment worse than any other consequence, but her praise and support greatly outweighed that pressure. I would never imagine finding myself asserting my own opinions, especially when it comes to my own daughter, with my mother. Not when we grew up ‘yes mam’ and ‘no mam’. But I do. I am fiercely assertive over my domain including the way I run my house, and the way I am choosing to raise my daughter – and thankfully overall my mom gets that and respects it – but we are on a different path than she is with her other kids. Our relationship isn’t better or worse, just different.

My Relationship with Romance

Dating is harder. I don’t have the ability to swipe right and meet that same night – not that it’s safe to do that – always meet in public and drop a pin fam. The spontaneity of dating is lost when you have the sole responsibility of a five year old on your plate. It’s almost like work. You find someone attractive, have some good conversation, meet once or twice – and then amongst all of the normal ‘work’ of dating, you get to play “Tell Them About My Kid Now or Later” game. Telling them now could speed up some processes – not everyone wants to date a parent – and lead to a quick end or a beautiful beginning. But telling them later also allows you to focus on YOU and gives back some power, at least to this woman. Either way it’s a hard choice that turns dating into more work for single parents. And why yes the word up top is romance – even your relationship with the word is different. The concept seems, per the reasons outlined above – almost comical, unicorn-like, something I attain to have but probably never will again.

Old and New Friendships

Friend Envy is Real. We all have that glamorous friend who spends more on mimosas, travel, and make up in one month than most of us single parents do all year. Their hair glistens and flows, their nails are always done, and their Instagram is regularly updated. You have a love hate relationship with this friend. Maybe you were this friend pre-single parenthood. Every once in a while, childless envy can rear its ugly head. Guess what? Its normal.

There isn’t a parent on this planet that doesn’t have some sort of nostalgia when your glamourous/single/unattached/bachelor friend comes into town. But guess what else? There are hundreds of people out there who get child-FULL envy – they wish they had a small child full of wonder to go through life with. So even when all your single friends are gearing up for a festival or a trip to Vegas that you can’t attend – that’s where your parent friends come in. These are those new (and sometimes old friends you reconnected with) friendships that you’ve made through daycare, Sunday school, playdates, etc. These are the times where getting together can help cut that envy time way down. My relationship with friends is completely different, but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way.