In Praise of the Village: How My Children Helped Me Connect to My Community

Our Village

Our Village (Homeschool Co-op, 2013-2014)

I am by nature a private person. I do not quickly or easily invite into my personal life the people around me. Given the choice, I would keep most of the world at arm’s length. In another era, I would be the crone who lived in a tiny, tidy hut at the edge of the village, emerging every so often to collect water or forage for berries. Other villagers would see me when I opened the door to sweep the threshold. Broom in hand, I would smile at others in the town, give a friendly wave, but probably would not strike up a conversation.

I’m not antisocial. I don’t dislike people. But I’m a textbook introvert, and I like my tiny, metaphorical hut. It’s safe here, and I’m in charge.

Enter, children.

I have four. That’s a lot of people sharing your hut, and with alarming frequency. (Funny thing about kids, they like to interact with their mama. Go figure.) They complicate, well, everything, and the hut becomes less neat and organized. But this is not unexpected. When I decided to have kids, I knew that would mean letting them into my personal space, both physically and emotionally – messing up the hut, if you will. It’s not always easy, but it was a choice.

I was less prepared, though, for the way having kids would require me to interact with the wider world. Mom dates and play dates and classes and groups of people who share my interests – suddenly, there are always people to talk to, plans to make, visits on the calendar. We’re leaving our hut, spending our days in the village center. My friendly, awkward smile blossoms into lengthy conversations with the other villagers. My tiny hut has become a hubbub of activity.

Turns out, it’s not so bad in the village after all. The villagers are friendly, and I often find myself surprised by the things we have in common.

In real life, of course, there is no village square, no tiny hut. Real life is one floor in a turn of the century house at the edge of a mid-size city, shared with best friends on the floor above. Some days the front door might as well be revolving, there are so many people in and out.

Real life is requesting childcare when I get called to a birth, via group text. It’s knowing my kids might get passed from one family to another by the time baby arrives, but resting in the assurance they will be safe and loved no matter how long I’m away.

Real life is spontaneous play dates arranged through one brief status update. It is chatter in social media groups as we guide one another through diaper choices, beginner wrap carries, pediatrician selection, and where to buy the good honey.

Real life is a potluck dinner, doulas seated on the floor in a circle, describing the experiences, high and low, that brought us all to birth work. It is a post on a network, seeking tips on how to help a client with a malpositioned baby.

Real life is spending an evening with another couple, simply because our kids are friends, and saying as we drive home, “Oh my gosh, honey – they’re so much like us!”

I owe it to my kids, forcing me to leave my little hut and join in the life of the village. In the village, my friendships are richer, my business is stronger, my marriage thrives. I may retreat to the hut every once in awhile – it’s a calming hut, after all – but I’m learning things about the village I never knew before. It can be overwhelming at times, but underneath, it’s a very good place.

Here, perhaps, is the best kept secret of my village, and maybe of yours as well: Many of the other villagers share my preference for a quiet little hut at the end of the road. Left to our own devices, we would be a bunch of tired, lonely parents living in small, well-kept huts, lined up neatly in a row. We would smile and wave, but rarely speak. Inside the huts, our children would tug at our legs, ask many questions, and make the same mess again and again. We would cope alone, each with our doors closed, opening them only when the sun was out and we were prepared to smile.

But the children, they want to play in the square, so we set our jaws and we walk into town with them. And in the square, watching our children play together, we chat, and we connect, and we remember: even those of us inclined to live in quiet huts are better off surrounded by a village.

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In Defense of Grandparents



They get a bad rap these days, don’t you think?

Then again, maybe you are even one of those people annoyed by grandparents…

They say things about how their kids slept on their stomachs and survived just fine, thank you very much! Or how their kids just rolled around in the back seat of the car and are just fine. Maybe they mention how all their kids were formula fed…and you guessed it, THEY ARE JUST FINE!

There was even a recent post here on Mothering talking about how grandparents sometimes try to push their way into that special newborn bonding time in the first days of life.

I know that grandparents sometimes say the wrong thing or do the wrong thing or give bad advice. In fact, navigating extended family relationships and setting healthy boundaries with family members is something that I try to talk about in every childbirth class I teach because family that doesn’t respect boundaries (especially at the time of birth) can be a real problem.

Healthy boundaries and adult relationships with those with whom we were once children is an important part of growing up and becoming parents ourselves. I actually lived with my mother-in-law for five years so if you want to trade stories, just send me a pm. I get it.

But these days, I am just grateful for grandparents. Not my grandparents, they are all dead, but my children’s grandparents. And it seems to me that often we pick a few things we think they do wrong and we won’t let them go. We forget about respecting the people who have gone before and walked the path that we are just getting ready to embark on.

There is a distinct possibility that your children’s grandparents actually know a thing or two about raising children. There is also a high likelihood that they did things wrong, and that as their child you remember a few of these things. There is also a very high likelihood that if you point these things out or wag a book in their face (likely written by somebody younger than them) that they will get defensive about it. If Facebook has taught us anything it is that people get outrageously offended when you spit on their parenting choices, whether they be right or wrong.

These days though, I need all the help I can get and it is nice to get help from people who seem to love my kids almost as much as I do. Time and age can be a great softener of hearts too. My oldest is 10 and I find myself more and more clueless all the time when it comes to parenting. As it turns out, parenting a newborn was much easier than parenting a 10 year old or a 10, a 7, a 5 and a 3 year old all at once…

I recall thinking I was pretty hot stuff at one point because I was nursing my baby and sleeping with him and being otherwise gentle in my parenting. Go me, I had a natural birth!

Now I realize that that was kid stuff. The playing field has gotten much more complicated as have the children. They talk, they walk, they have ideas, attitudes, emotions, anger and much more. All of this despite my best efforts to be a great parent.

Turns out all the stuff I thought I knew from, “The Baby Book.” was great but not quite enough as time went on.

Now when I look at people who have successfully raised decent human beings into adults I don’t judge them because they let somebody sleep on their stomach or cry-it-out or weaned too early. I just wonder how they did it and hope they will give me some small hint so I can do it too.

Also, grandparents will let my kids stay the night every once in a while, which frankly, is one heck of a relief. You can’t imagine how much quieter a house gets when just one child is away with grandma and grandpa.

My advice to those new parents feeling like telling their old parents what is up or what they did wrong or what they need to work on…

Bite your tongue. Not all the time, not on the really big stuff, but re-evaluate what the really big stuff is. You don’t have to agree on everything, but you don’t have to talk about the stuff you disagree on either.

Your parents made mistakes. You might remember many of them. That sucks.

But someday you might understand a little better WHY they made those mistakes. In fact, if you are anything like me you might just end up HOPING that your own mistakes are as small.

(Disclaimer- I know some people have downright abusive parents. This doesn’t apply to you so feel free to disregard. I think this goes without saying, but just in case.)

Photo credit: S P Photography / Foter / CC BY-NC-ND

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5 Tips for Moms Struggling with Work-Life Balance


Florida’s 1st Elected Female Lieutenant Governor Offers Lessons Learned from Experience

Despite the many monumental glass ceilings that have been broken for the equal rights of all citizens in the United States, unique challenges persist for many, including, potentially, half the population, says Jennifer Carroll, the first female – and first black – elected lieutenant governor of Florida and a retired U.S. Navy lieutenant commander.

“Challenges from my childhood and military career have taught me many valuable lessons — when times get tough, get tougher; stay true to who you are and don’t compromise your principles; be willing to walk away from something that’s causing you clear harm,” says Carroll, who recently released her autobiography, “When You Get There.”

“The perfect worker, wife and mother – these are ‘the big three’ roles that matter most to women, but you really want to make sure your children don’t get lost in this juggling. Your husband and your coworkers are adults; children, on the other hand, are vulnerable.”

Carroll has the following suggestions for women concerned about their role as Mom.

•  Pay close attention to your children; listen. Seems obvious, right? As a little girl in Trinidad, Carroll was accosted by a man who persuaded her to accompany him to an outhouse. After he exposed himself to her, she managed to get away, but the experience haunted her while growing up.

“Listen to children when they have something to talk about,” she says. “They may feel too embarrassed to talk about something that happened to them; they may feel like it’s their fault. Be sensitive to their words and behavior, and be open to what they have to say.”

•  Devote one day exclusively to family. While advancing her career in the Navy, Carroll often spent several months away from her family. Later in her career, including as Chairwoman of Space Florida and lieutenant governor, time was also a precious commodity, but she always made sure she had it for her three children, Nolan II, Nyckie and Necho. Since Nolan II has been a player in the NFL, Carroll attends games and make Sundays “Football Sunday” for everyone, including her husband of three decades, Nolan.

•  Model the behavior you’d like to see emulated. Children have sensitive consistency detectors; they are quick to realize the disconnection between what parents say and what they do. There’s something to be said for people who are able to follow their own advice. Many don’t.

“Proactive efforts outside the home, like civic and humanitarian projects, are a great way of modeling behavior,” Carroll says. “My models as a child were my adoptive parents; I think adoption is one of the greatest loves you can provide and is a great model behavior.”

•  Emphasize the importance of loyalty; family is a lifelong relationship. As important as a career may be, you will never forge bonds in a job that are as strong as those within a family. Children are hungry to know they are secure with love and loyalty, so don’t hesitate in reinforcing this message.

“When you have a secure family foundation, you can approach work with greater strength and confidence,” she says.

•  Engage them! This is a two-fold effort: Make sure children are engaged in their studies and extracurricular activities, such as sports, study groups, a job or other productive behavior. And talk to them about what they’re doing and also what you’re doing.

“Conversation is an opportunity to connect with your children, to take advantage of teaching moments, and most of all, to enjoy your children!”

About Jennifer S. Carroll

Jennifer Carroll, author of “When You Get There” (, is the former lieutenant governor of Florida and a retired decorated lieutenant commander/aviation maintenance for the U.S. Navy. She was a member of the Florida House of Representatives from 2003 to 2010 and was the executive director of the Florida Department of Veterans Affairs. Currently, she is a Political Analyst for WJXT CHANNEL News4Jax Jacksonville, Florida, and Senior Adviser for Global Digital Solutions, Inc. (GDSI) in West Palm Beach, FL. Carroll holds an MBA, among other academic degrees. She and her husband, Nolan, have three children.

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Playful Parenting of Older Children and Teens

mom_kidsBy Kelly Bartlett

Thank you to Attachment Parenting International for the contribution of this post.

Young children play effortlessly. Kids are naturally predisposed to play, and it doesn’t take much to engage a child in a silly game or role-play. Through play, kids express feelings, needs, thoughts, and ideas that they might not yet have the words to articulate. Playing together lets parents connect and communicate with kids beyond a conversation and provides insight into their world.

But how does playtime change as kids get older? How can parents adapt their approach to playful parenting after kids outgrow the desire to get silly, wrestle, and pretend? How can we achieve the same results with our teenagers that we can by playing “tickle monster” with our toddlers?

Emily Troper is an early childhood educator, a founder of Continuum Learning Community in Portland, Oregon USA, and an attached mom who says that play is a big part of her family’s life. Troper has four children ages 6 to 19, and though she says it can be difficult to find ways to play that suit all of her kids, it is important enough to continue to try. Troper shares some of her family’s insights on how they continue to play together and what playtime looks like in a house with teenagers.

Physical Play

Physical games don’t lose their appeal for kids, but they do become more organized. While young children enjoy the rough-and-tumble play of wrestling, tackling, being tossed, rolled, or carried, older children (and their developing logical brains) enjoy sports, games, and other organized activities. Basketball, golf, tennis, jogging, even air hockey or table soccer all release endorphins and cause players to experience a shared, “feel-good” moment.
Interactive physical activity provides emotionally connecting experiences for parents and kids.

Troper says that despite her children’s wide range of ages, they have discovered several games that they all enjoy. She says, “We love the sock game from Larry Cohen’s book [Playful Parenting]. Everyone wears socks and sits on the floor. When we say ‘Go!’ we try to get off the other family members’ socks but keep our own on.” Their family also loves driving go-carts and playing Ping-Pong together.

Verbal Play

As children grow and their brains and language become more developed, jokes are a great way to stay connected. Jokes are interactive, and they keep us thinking and laughing together. A funny joke activates many areas of the brain and releases endorphins when we “get it” and find the humor in it. For Troper’s family, play has become much more verbal as her children have grown older, with mealtimes becoming a new kind of playtime. She says, “We often share funny stories at the dinner table and have a long history of inside jokes.”

Fun Stuff

Besides finding games that the whole family can do together, Troper says it’s equally important to have fun with each of her kids individually. She recommends joining kids in whatever they’re interested. “With my oldest son, we enjoyed watching comedy shows after the younger ones were sleeping and laughing our heads off together.” Whether the activity is playing cards or board games, listening to music, building Legos, or playing laser tag, sharing regular, enjoyable one-on-one time helps parents stay in-tune with their child’s interests and keeps their connection strong.

A Listening Tool

In the early years, play helps express a child’s feelings and is an avenue for parent-child communication. According to Troper, this did not change much as her kids have grown older and outgrown the creative play of early childhood. For her teenagers, playful, enjoyable moments continue to be opportunities for listening to find out what her children might be feeling and needing. She says, “With my oldest son, the pre-teen years were filled with being in the car together in the morning and afternoon. We listened to the music he wanted to listen to and talked about it. It was light and fun, but every so often, deeper subjects would come up and it was a safe space to talk.”

Although parents may not share all of their kids’ interests, taking the time to understand and get involved in them inevitably leads to talking, connecting, and building a trusting relationship. The games may change as kids get older, but the enjoyment of playtime doesn’t end in early childhood. Tweens and teens still like to have fun. They still like to laugh. They still express themselves through their interests. No matter how playtime has evolved, parents can use it as an opportunity to get and stay close to their growing children.

Image: US Department of Education


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Candy Crafts: Creative Ways to Use Up Unwanted Halloween Treats

by Loralee Leavitt and Elaine Bassett

Also see our article, Candy Experiments, for more great ideas on using up unwanted Halloween candy.

Candy is a traditional part of Halloween. But since it contains so much sugar, corn syrup, and artificial dye, many parents don’t want their children gorging on Halloween loot. Whether you’re planning a Halloween party, or using up candy after Halloween, these activities will help your children enjoy their Halloween candy without eating it.

Candy Mosaics

With so many colors and textures, candy makes perfect art supplies. Turn it into mosaics with a stiff piece of white cardboard or foamboard, and some nontoxic glue. Make an airplane by crossing two pieces of taffy, or turn it into a dragonfly with Skittles eyes and licorice antennae. Lollipops become colorful flowers or balloons, and long lines of candy corn become caterpillars. Your children will come up with their own ideas, and you’ll start seeing landscapes, or alien cities, or many-legged monsters.

Magic Melting Candy

Candy melts into shining puddles and surprising shapes. To try some magic melting, let your children choose different pieces of candy to melt. Place the experiment candy on a foil-lined baking sheet, heat it in the oven at 300 degrees, and check back frequently to see what happens. Translucent candies like Jolly Ranchers melt into puddles like stained glass. Chocolate bars melt to reveal ingredients like peanuts. Licorice softens but doesn’t melt because it contains flour.

Since melted candy can be hotter than boiling water, don’t let children touch it with their fingers. Instead, use chopsticks or spoons to poke the melted candy. Never melt a jawbreaker, because they can potentially explode and cause burns.

Halloween Potions

Halloween’s a perfect time for potions, and kids love to mix and stir. Let them stir their Halloween candies into mad scientist potions. Set out spoons or colored straws for stirring, and give each child a clear cup of water. You could also use test tubes, small vases, or other containers with crazy shapes.

You’ll need a mix of candies with different shapes and colors (a bowl of M&M’s is especially useful because it contains the primary colors). To add some floating letters to the potion, let M&M’s or Skittles sit in water for awhile without stirring, and let the m’s and s’s peel off. If you want to add a little “snap, crackle, pop,” throw in some Pop Rocks.

As the children mix their potions, point out the new colors and smells they’ve created. They’ll also love naming their concoctions if you inspire them with ideas like “mad scientist mix-up,” “Halloween pumpkin potion,” or “zombie milkshake.”

Sour Acid Bubbling Potions

With the right ingredients, you can make Halloween potions that bubble. All you need is some water, baking soda, and Warheads. Give each child a clear cup of water and a little baking soda to stir into the water. Then unwrap some Warheads to drop into the solution. The baking soda in the water reacts with the sour acid in the candy to create bubbles.

This also works with Pixy Stix. Tear open a Pixy Stix tube and empty it into the baking soda water. It should bubble and fizz immediately. Experiment by swirling the Pixy Stix while dumping the powder in, to make spiraling, bubbling candy trails.

Jack o’ Lanterns

Don’t be scared by your Halloween candy. Instead, turn it into scary or smiling jack o’lantern faces. Cut stiff orange cardboard or cardstock into pumpkin shapes, or let children cut their own. Glue the candy on with tacky glue, or have a parent help with a glue gun. You can also soften sticky candy and press it on without glue. Use candy corn for glowing eyes, or black licorice for stretched-out smiles.

Sticky Candy Sculptures

Take advantage of candy’s bright colors by turning it into modeling clay. Use sticky Tootsie Rolls or Laffy Taffy to construct candy sculptures. Try buildings with translucent Jolly Rancher windows, or cars with Smarties or Lifesavers for wheels.

Keeping Halloween Candy Art

When you make candy crafts, be sure to use nontoxic glue, and display the final projects out of children’s reach. If the projects contain soft or sticky candy like taffy, they won’t last long: sticky candy gets stickier the longer it’s out, and taffy sags and slides down. So admire the artwork and take some photos, and tell the kids they can do a replacement art project soon.

Whether you turn candy into science experiments or art supplies, your kids will love these new Halloween activities. When you’re done, they’ll be begging for more fun, not more candy.

Loralee Leavitt destroys candy for the sake of science at Her book, Candy Experiments, has more wonderful ideas to inspire you.

Elaine Bassett is a long-time preschool teacher who designs art and science projects for the classroom.

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Pregnancy in Pictures: Mothering Members Show Off Their Beautiful Bellies!

Beautiful, unique, and tons of fun…just a few of the words we would use to describe the wonderful submissions to our annual Pregnancy Contest!

This year, we asked members of our community to show us their greatest pregnancy shots and announcements for a chance to win some awesome prizes from Sacred Pregnancy, Nordic Naturals and Vitalah, and the winners are in!

Here’s a roundup of just some of the submissions, with the lucky winners listed first. You can also look through all of the images in the original contest thread. Enjoy!

First Place Winner: Chapsie!
Second Place Winner: BeachyMama
Third Place Winner: amberskyfire
Fourth Place Winner: BobKat
Fifth Place Winner: iamkateiam
Submitted by mother adventurously
Submitted by BeachyMama
Submitted by honeybunmom
Submitted by wild4animals
Submitted by BeachyMama
Submitted by Jaclyn Downs
Submitted by Chapsie
Submitted by mommamia2014
Submitted by ceewiggles
Submitted by mommamia2014
Submitted by Chapsie
Submitted by BeachyMama
Submitted by obxbound
Submitted by honeybunmom
Submitted by mommamia2014
Submitted by BeachyMama
Submitted by fayebond
Submitted by BobKat
Submitted by Chapsie
Submitted by PVaillette721
Submitted by PVaillette721
Submitted by PVaillette721
Submitted by Melodee
Submitted by mothera dventurously
Submitted by MommyRuth
Submitted by Momma2Merrell
Submitted by taters
Submitted by Chapsie
Submitted by Jaclyn Downs


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Lowering the Bar: How I Learned to Slow Down, Do Less and Enjoy My Family


I’ve always been a type A personality.  I was born almost a month early, and I tend to think it’s because I figured I had been gestating long enough and figured it was about time to get out into the world and get doing.

Type A I may be, however, but I’m not very good at it.  I have ridiculous standards and even more ridiculous ambitions, and because of it, I tend to find myself cowering in a corner, overwhelmed by all there is to do and be.  I might believe I should be scrubbing my windows every day, but truth be told, even putting away the laundry can be difficult.  I just get stifled by my expectations.

My oldest daughter was born six and a half years ago.  I gave my last final on a Friday morning, had a long three day weekend with my husband, and had my labor induced the next day.  In that short time frame I went from teaching multiple classes at multiple colleges, tutoring, working in a writing lab… basically being always on the go… to sitting in my living room all day every day with the most amazing little human I had ever seen.

I had no idea how to compose myself during those early years.  I had no idea how to even be myself during those early years.  So I did what many people of our generation do – I searched the web for kindred souls.

What I didn’t know, however, was that the absolute last thing a hormonal postpartum mother should do is read the comments in online articles.  Day after day, I would read through them, and day after day I would read criticisms about stay-at-home moms.  I read about how we are lazy and uneducated and unambitious.  Sure there were good things, but our eyes always veer towards the negative, don’t they?

And so I made a vow to myself.  During my tenure as a SAHM, I would not sit around all day watching television.  I would not have a messy house.  My days would be organized and productive, and I would defy those stereotypes the internet trolls so viciously shared.

And that’s how I lived my life.  I never reconsidered those standards I set during such an emotionally fragile time.  I took them for granted. They represented the gold standard of how parenting should be.

It is now six years later, and I find myself almost constantly frustrated and overwhelmed.  I spend my entire day berating myself for not being more productive.  If my kids are awake and home, I feel the need to constantly be enriching them, either by reading or creating intricate activities or by teaching them something.  Every time my sink would fill with dishes, I would silently beat myself up.  Every time the laundry would pile up, I would just add one more reason to the list of why I just was not good enough.

And when you have standards like that, it’s almost impossible to stand up in the face of them.  Instead of always being productive, the opposite happened.  Over the last couple of months, I started to notice my standards slipping even further.  Our standard no television rule was swiftly being overturned.  My housework was nonexistent.  As an escape, I would sit on my couch and turn on my phone and let myself get lost in it.  Reality was just too overwhelming.

And then I started talking to other moms, and I was talking to one mom in particular.  She has multiple kids.  She has every external stressor I do.  But for some reason, she just never sounds as stressed out.  She constantly speaks of enjoying time with her kids.  And as I let that sink it, it made me really sad.  What was I doing wrong?  I have these three absolutely amazing little girls.  Daily I am brought to tears by my love and affection for them.  They make me laugh.  They bring me so much joy.  And yet I was finding so little happiness in my day to day life.

And then last week happened.  I am participating in a craft fair in a little over a week, and I have a lot of hats to crochet.  So after school one day, I gave myself permission to sit down and work on them.  It wasn’t laziness after all – it was work.  At least that was my rationalization.

So I sat here on my couch making up some hats, and my girls played around me.  They ran in and out of the playroom to get dress up clothes. They created skits and fashion shows to put on for me.  My oldest two kept making up new lyrics to old songs.  And Mae, the one year old runt of our litter, just followed them around dancing, singing, not really having any clue as to what they were doing but enjoying it nonetheless.

Occasionally they would ask for a snack.  Frequently someone would bring me a book to read.  But basically, we were all sitting in here, sharing a room and sharing our lives.  I let go of the pressure to be doing something.  I reminded myself that they need this free time.  That I didn’t constantly need to be orchestrating some big production.  That their childhoods would still be amazing even if every day wasn’t filled with homemade cloud dough and sensory activities.

And that afternoon was amazing.  Amazing in the way that I always dreamt motherhood would be.  We were enjoying ourselves pure and simple.

I’ve done this now every afternoon since, and my whole perspective has changed.  I no longer dread the chores.  I no longer get quite as lost in the to do list.  Because now I’m learning that life and parenting is every bit as much about joy as it is about duty.

I’m sure I’ll stumble.  Knowing me I’ll stumble a lot.  But I desperately hope I am able to cling on to this perspective as we move forward.  After all, parenting is about teaching and molding and modeling and helping and guiding, but it’s also about just being there.  Sometimes that is what is most needed.  Nothing more, nothing less.

It might have taken me over six years to learn this lesson, but if I can really keep it in focus, it will have been worth every ounce of stress that led up to it.

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Malnourished by a Western Diet: Simple Solutions from Dr. Sears


By Dr. William Sears

Thank you to Attachment Parenting International for sharing this helpful article. Check out their magazine, The Attached Family, for more great stories.

Oftentimes, parents bring their child to me for consultation on learning or behavioral problems at school. They typically open their concern with, “We and our child’s teacher believe he has Attention Deficit Disorder.” After taking a nutritional history, I often reply, “Your child doesn’t have ADD; he has NDD.”

Obviously, they look surprised. They don’t know what NDD is, but it doesn’t sound like something they want their child to have. I go on to explain that what I mean by NDD is a Nutrition Deficit Disorder.

In my experience, many children described as having ADD lose this tag once their NDD is treated. Here’s how: Since the brain is 60% fat, it stands to reason that growing brains need high-quality fats. Smart fats make the brain grow and perform better. Smart fats are the omega-3 fatty acids found in high amounts in seafood. Omega-3 fats are also found in some plants (for example, flaxseed oil, canola oil, nuts and seeds), but the omega-3 fats found in plants have to be converted from shorter-chain fatty acids to longer ones before they can be used in the brain. Seafood and supplements are the most direct source of long-chain omega-3s, including the most important omega-3, docosahexaenoic acid (DHA).

Smart vs. Dumb Fats

Research shows that omega-3 fats make brains healthier, especially the brains of young kids and older adults. Researchers believe that the high levels of omega-3 fats in breastmilk help to explain the differences in IQ between children who received human milk in infancy and those who did not.

The body uses omega-3 fats to make cell membranes. Omega-3 fats are also needed to make myelin, the insulation around nerves, and to help neurotransmitters function at the optimal levels. Omega-3 fats are known as essential fatty acids from food. Other types of fats can be manufactured in the body, but the body cannot make essential fatty acids. That is why it is important for growing brains to get adequate amounts of these “smart” fats from food.

If there are not enough smart fats available to make brain cells and other key substances, the body uses lesser-quality fats and produces lesser-quality cells. The “dumb” fats—known as replacement fatty acids—such as the kind that come from the trans fats in hydrogenated oils, clog the receptors in the cell membrane and the brain cell does not function well.

Neurotransmitters, the biochemical messengers that carry information from one brain cell to another, fit into receptors on cell membranes like a key fits into a lock. The keys and locks must match. If the cell membrane is composed of the right fats, the locks and keys match. But if the receptors are clogged with the wrong fats, the neurotransmitter keys won’t fit and brain cell function suffers. Omega-3 fats keep the receptors open so the neurotransmitters fit and the brain can function optimally.

Eat Smart Fats: Learn and Behave Better

In the past few years, several studies showed that growing children diagnosed with ADD who were given omega-3 supplements, especially DHA, improved their attention and learning.

In order for kids to learn, they have to be able to concentrate. Studies show that omega-3 fats help the brain pay attention and make connections. Researchers at Purdue University found that boys with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD) had lower levels of omega-3 fats, especially DHA, the main omega-3 fat found in fish. The boys with the most abnormal behavior had the lowest levels of DHA. School-age children with the highest levels of omega-3 fatty acids in their blood had the fewest learning problems. In addition, students who were given DHA supplements prior to exams showed less hostility and aggression during this time of stress.

Feed Your Family with Smart Carbs

Around 50% of the energy from the carbohydrates children eat goes to fueling their growing brains. Muscles can store glucose, the body’s main fuel extracted from digested carbs, but the brain can’t store much glucose. It depends on a steady supply of glucose in the bloodstream. If the blood sugar dips too low, brain function can deteriorate within minutes.

The brain is very selective about the carbs it craves, and it prefers that you eat the right carbs with the right partners at the right time. If brain cells could comment on the best ways to give them carbs they need, here’s what they would request:

–Partner carbs with fiber and protein – The brain prefers carbs that are naturally packaged with protein and fiber. These two partners slow the digestive process and steady the rate at which glucose enters the blood. Without protein or fiber in a food, the carbs are digested quickly and rush into the bloodstream so fast that they cause a sugar high followed by a sugar low, as the body releases a large amount of insulin to handle the sugar. Unstable blood sugar levels lead to unstable brain chemistry, which makes it hard for kids to pay attention and control their behavior.

–Graze on good carbs – Kids and adults don’t think well when they’re hungry. Frequent mini-meals throughout the day are good for the brain.

–Eat protein for brain power – High-protein foods perk up the brain by increasing levels of two “alertness” neurotransmitters, dopamine and norepinephrine. A high-protein meal really is a “power breakfast” or a “power lunch.”

–Add more protein to each meal and snack.

–Avoid fiber-less carbs (for example, candy and soda) – Instead, choose the fiber-filled carbs in fruits, vegetables, nuts and whole grains.

–Feed your child a brainy breakfast – Since proteins perk up the brain, send your kids off to school with a high-protein, healthy-carb and healthy-fat breakfast, such as whole-grain cereal and yogurt.

Brain Food Suggestions

·         Smart foods: blueberries, nuts, salmon, spinach

·         Dumb foods: excitotoxins (for example, monosodium glutamate (MSG), aspartame, food colorings, preservatives), fiber-poor carbs, hydrogenated oils, sweetened beverages

You might also enjoy the other articles in our National Nutrition Month series:

Kids in the Kitchen: An Interview with Sally Sampson, Founder of ChopChopKids

Feeding the Whole Family: An Interview with Cynthia Lair of Cookus Interruptus

Strengthening Secure Attachment Through Food by Kelly Bartlett

Image: Rob_Rob2001


The post Malnourished by a Western Diet: Simple Solutions from Dr. Sears appeared first on Mothering.

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The C.A.R.E.-Code Alliance: Why Families Deserve Companies that Protect Healthy Infant Feeding


By Peggy O’Mara
Best for Babes Advisory Board

On May 21, 1981 the World Health Organization (WHO) adopted the International Code of the Marketing of Breast-milk Substitutes in an effort to protect breastfeeding from being out-marketed by the formula industry to the detriment of children’s health worldwide. Preventing the discouragement of breastfeeding is a part of the overall nutrition and maternal and child health programs of both WHO and the United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) and is a key element of primary health care.

Everyday, 4,000 infants worldwide die from lack of breastfeeding. Just 39% of babies worldwide are exclusively breastfed for the first six months even though an exclusively breastfed child is 14 times less likely to die in the first six months of life than a non-breastfed child.

According to a paper published in the Lancet in 2013, of all preventative interventions, breastfeeding of infants under two years of age has the greatest potential impact on child survival. In fact, it has the potential to prevent 13% of all deaths in children under five in the developing world.

Non-breastfed children in developed countries are also at higher risk of dying. According to UNICEF, a recent study of post-neonatal mortality in the United States found a 25% increase in mortality among non-breastfed infants. Black babies born in the U.S. are at an even greater risk – far less likely to be breastfed and 2.5 times more likely to die than white babies.

Making breastfeeding possible for as many mothers as possible is a public health priority and a societal responsibility.


The Code is intended to curtail the aggressive and insidious marketing of breast milk substitutes, which has been proven to undermine breastfeeding initiation and duration. It prohibits the advertising or promotion–not the sale –of the following products:

  • breastmilk substitutes, including infant formula
  • milk products, foods or beverages—including bottle-fed complementary foods—used as a partial or total replacement for breastmilk.
  • formula bottles and nipples

The Code is very specific in regards to the responsibility of health care facilities and health workers.

  • No facility of a health care system should be used for the purpose of promoting infant formula or other products within the scope of this Code.
  • Samples of infant formula or other products within the scope of this Code, or of equipment or utensils for their preparation or use, should not be provided to health workers except when necessary for the purpose of professional evaluation or research at the institutional level. Health workers should not give samples of infant formula to pregnant women, mothers of infants and young children, or members of their families.

Since 1981, 84 countries have enacted legislation implementing all or many of the provisions of the Code and 14 others have laws in progress. Just six countries have taken no action at all to implement this important health directive:

  • Central African Republic
  • Chad
  • Iceland
  • Kazakhstan
  • Somalia
  • United States


Because the U.S. has done nothing to formally implement the Code, formula marketing in the U.S. remains unchecked. The U.S. accounts for half of the $8 billion a year global formula market.

The formula industry spent $50 million dollars on advertising in one year to undermine the U.S. Health and Human Services Breastfeeding Awareness Campaign (June 2004 to April 2006). In 2006, the formula industry spent $100 million on advertising in the Philippines (nearly half of the Philippine Health Department’s entire annual budget of $239 million) to overturn new health department regulations that would have prevented formula companies from targeting children under two with advertising. Contrast this to the annual budget—$3.5 million—of La Leche League, the premier international breastfeeding advocacy organization.

Formula was originally prescribed by physicians for babies who were unable to breastfeed due to extreme circumstances such as maternal death or illness and until the 1990s was promoted only to doctors and not advertised in consumer publications.

Without government regulation, it has fallen to the private sector to help protect pregnant women and new mothers from formula advertising. The Best for Babes® Foundation(BfB) is a leader in helping expecting and new moms to avoid and overcome what they call “the booby traps®,” and one of these traps is the rampant marketing of formula. The organization has launched a powerful new tool to help make the world around expecting and new mothers safe, supportive and positive when it comes to infant feeding.


The C.A.R.E.-Code Alliance is the first alliance to recognize businesses of all types that protect healthy infant feeding by upholding the Code and by pledging to follow a short but critical set of criteria that support the BFB Credo.

All expecting and new moms deserve to know what businesses have their backs during the most vulnerable period of motherhood, just as they deserve to know which car seat is safest, which health care providers to trust, and which blogs or websites to turn to for accurate information.

Daily they are bombarded with information about infant feeding from every sphere of influence they encounter; not all of it is reliable, and much of it undermines infant feeding decisions, breastfeeding initiation and especially continuation rates, to the detriment of our collective health.   

Following in the footsteps of other trusted seals, the C.A.R.E.-Code Alliance seal steers consumers toward responsible businesses. The Alliance standards protect moms from the Booby Traps® of misinformation, negativity, unethical marketing, harassment, pressure, judgment, poor care, and lack of support. By putting positive pressure on businesses to do more to protect healthy infant feeding, the Alliance effectively helps to grow a more ethical industry, it raises awareness about the Code and the importance of accurate and positive information and support, and it creates a powerful network of businesses and nonprofits that can advocate on behalf of moms and babies.  

Specifically, C.A.R.E.-Code Allies pledge to protect healthy infant feeding by

  • Cheering on moms,
  • Accepting them without judgment, pressure and guilt,
  • Referring them to independently certified and qualified feeding specialists,
  • Providing evidence-based information, and
  • Upholding the WHO Code.

There has never been a better time for companies to come together to put positive pressure on the Booby Traps® that undermine moms’ feeding decisions. Powerhouse blogger, Annie Urban, of PhDinParenting calls the Best for Babes’ C.A.R.E.-Code Alliance the solution to making the marketplace safe for expectant and new moms. Plus, from the revenue generated by the Alliance, Best for Babes hopes to create an ethical funding source for health organizations in need of money.

The C.A.R.E.-Code Alliance accepts applications from companies, media outlets, employers, bloggers, mom outreach groups, nonprofits, and soon, health providers.  

Here is a list of the 2014 CARE Code Alliance Members. Please give them your support.

A Mother’s Boutique



AquaBelly Fitness

Balboa Baby

Breastfeeding in Combat Boots


Erigo Savannah

Fairhaven Health


Joie Milan Group

Juno Blu

Leading Lady




Melinda G

Milkin Cookies

The Milky Way Movie



Mother’s Lounge

My Brest Friend

Nancy Mohrbacher Solutions

Nursing Bra Express

Onya Baby

Palo Alto Software


Pretty by JL

The Shower Hug

Smile Sunshine Designs

Snugabell Mom & Baby Gear

Warm Milk



The post The C.A.R.E.-Code Alliance: Why Families Deserve Companies that Protect Healthy Infant Feeding appeared first on Mothering.

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In the Bay Area? Win a Family Photo Shoot and Album!


Special Note: In order to enter this giveaway you must live in the Bay Area or be willing to drive to San Francisco with your family for the photo shoot.

Looking for a truly unique way to create family memories this fall? Thinking about what adorable shot you might place on your holiday cards this year? You’re going to love this giveaway!

Enter below and one lucky winner will score a free 30 minute family photo session with Monica Semergiu, a Bay Area portrait photographer, and a printed book of memories with the best images from your special shoot, courtesy of Social Print Studio!

Social Print Studio is a small independent company that helps you make prints, photo books, posters and magnets using pictures from Instagram, your computer or your mobile phone.

For a chance to win, “like” Monica Semergiu Photography and Social Print Studio on Facebook and leave a comment on this post letting us know that you did. For a second chance to win, share this post with friends and leave a second comment.

Additional Info: The photo shoot will be taken on location in a public space near your house, like a park or garden. This is a great opportunity to have a set of professional images that you can use for the holidays. The images will be edited and uploaded on a private folder, where you can either download them or choose to purchase prints. Downloading the files is free of charge – and it allows you to either print them yourself at home or print them at a lab of your choice. The photographer will be in charge of creating your free photo book with Social Print Studio, where you can order other of their products as well, or order multiple books, should you want to.

Rules: One winner will be chosen randomly from all qualifying entries. Two entries per person, one for “liking” Monica Semergiu Photography and Social Print Studio on Facebook and leaving a comment on this page, and one for sharing this giveaway and leaving a second comment on this page. Limited to US residents who live in, or are willing to travel to, the San Francisco Bay Area for the live photo shoot. A replacement will not be provided to a winner who cannot attend the photo shoot. The giveaway ends on Monday, Oct 27 at 4pm PT.

The post In the Bay Area? Win a Family Photo Shoot and Album! appeared first on Mothering.

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