Mommy Mob

 

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We all know that a thousand voices are much louder than just one; even two voices together make more of an impact when combined. When I think of Mommy Mob, I think of a group of women gathered, banging their strollers on the pavement (sans babies, of course), stomping their feet, demanding a change for the better. In this very special section of LiveMom, we can use our voices and standing in the Austin community to make changes that are essential to raising kids and keeping mama happy. If there is something that you think needs some attention from the Mommy Mobbers, please email mommymob@livemom.com. We promise to read every email, but cannot guarantee that we will feature all that is sent our way. Not sure if your issue is something for the mommy mobbers? Send it anyway!

Check out our previous Mommy Mob posts.

Mommy Mob Motivationals

We think raising your voice alongside fellow mamas ought to feel good. It ought to be about community and sisterhood, about feeling empowered to really make a difference. When speaking out for your kids, family, and self starts to feel like one more item on the old to-do list, it’s a sign something is dimming the fire in you, instead of lighting it up.  To keep that from happening, we regularly post here new “Mommy Mob Motivationals.” It’s so you can get a new tip, warm-fuzzy, or spark every now and then–to keep the fire in you burning and to help it spread.

Listen to Lady Bird


Consider children’s mental health.

In our culture, a child acting out in public often prompts an unthinking response. Many are more likely to wonder about the discipline that child receives at home than to step back and think. Could it be a developmental disability that’s making the child behave that way? How about a mental illness?
As many as 1 in 5 kids under 18 are believed to have a mental health challenge. Troubling behaviors and even depression can start at a very early age. These kids need compassion and all the support they can get. And the great news is, when they get it, children are so resilient, their odds of overcoming a mental health setback is a lot better than ours.
Motivate yourself to remember that, just as all children have nutritional, physical, and emotional needs for love and acceptance—they have mental health needs, too. You can offer your help to a family whose child struggles with mental illness, and be willing out to end the stigma that still clings to mental illness. Also, because Texas children are the least likely in the country to receive mental health services when they need them, you can let your elected officials know you want Texas to do better.

Get fired up about the early years.

Did you know 80 percent of the growth that happens in the human brain occurs in the first years of life? That’s why it’s so important for moms (and dads and grandparents) to pay close attention to what their kids are exposed to, as all those neural networks are getting built. That means not just times with you, but with other caregivers, as well. Look for a child care environment that stimulates growing minds with plenty of interaction between little ones and caring, attentive adults–preferably consistent ones from one day to the next.  That way, your baby, toddler or preschooler develops trust and can feel at ease to play and learn, when he’s out of his element and away from your care. Books, learning toys, and safe places to get active all matter, too–just not as much as that all-important relationship with the teacher.

Disheartened by what you find out there, and looking to make some noise about it? Consider joining the Texas Early Childhood Education Coalition, a network of activists devoted to making early care and education better.

Help build a legacy of healthy children.

Something as simple as having health insurance can make a giant difference in a child’s life. It ensures that kid can see a doctor when he or she needs to, whether for preventative care to stay healthy or for treatment, if there’s ever a broken leg, case of the flu, or something far more serious. Health care also provides parents with peace of mind:  those whose children are uninsured may be just one trip to the emergency room away from bankruptcy. Even we taxpayers are better off when kids around us get health care. Having health care keeps kids healthier and in school, and brings down costs overall for our communities, which would otherwise have to pay for expensive emergency room care. 

Most (though far from all) uninsured children qualify for coverage through the Children’s Health Insurance Program (CHIP) or Children’s Medicaid. That’s why, if a child in your life doesn’t have health care, the first place to check for help should be chipmedicaid.org. Not everyone can get help there, though, and plenty of us who do have coverage for our own children worry about Texas having the most uninsured kids of any state. To join the movement working for a solution that will let all families see a doctor when they need to, visit TexasWellandHealthy.org.

Consider taking a spider’s advice.

Another week brings another inspirational message from your child’s bedtime reading. This one comes courtesy of E.B.White and Charlotte’s Web. It speaks to one of the best reasons of all to get involved in making your world a better place: sometimes that feels like what we are here to do.

There will always be messes in life. For Charlotte, it was handling what flew into her web. For moms, it’s juggling chores and children’s tantrums, dinners to be fixed and report cards to be signed, relationships and errands and a hundred competing rivals for your attention and focus. To make it all meaningful, we are given a gift: the glorious chance to help one another through life:

“Why did you do all this for me?” he asked. “I don’t deserve it. I’ve never done anything for you.”

“You have been my friend,” replied Charlotte. “That in itself is a tremendous thing. . .  After all, what’s a life, anyway? We’re born, we live a little while, we die. A spider’s life can’t help being something of a mess, with all this trapping and eating flies. By helping you, perhaps I was trying to lift up my life a trifle. Heaven knows anyone’s life can stand a little of that.”

Donate to a cause – it’s good for you!

We’re living through some crazy times, when it’s easy to feel stressed and like you have no control. Now a post on Psychology Today’s Minding the Body blog has a tip for improving both your mental health and your community’s wellbeing at the same time: give to charity. Turns out, people who donate to community causes feel a little more empowered, connected, and happier for it. Stress hormones fall and confidence rises with even a modest effort to use your dollars to make a difference.

For most nonprofit organizations and causes, every contribution counts. Whether you give $500 or just $5, you can do more than feed the proverbial man a fish; you can help ensure the doors stay open at organizations teaching people to fish, so they better their lives and their communities, too. Your support fuels a cause and helps the people behind it keep going.

Need ideas of where to give? LiveMom partners with Texans Care for Children, whose members are all organizations that help improve the lives of children and families, including in Central Texas. For a full list of these member organizations or to support Texans Care’s work directly to fulfill the promise of every child in Texas through improved laws and decision-making, click here.

Seek better school discipline policies.

It may be one of the better examples of good policy intentions run amok: when parents and schools nationwide panicked after the Columbine shootings, the response was to put more police officers in schools. Today, with safety the norm on most campuses, these officers spend their time not so much on crimes as on routine discipline that used to be handled by teachers and principals.

Kids in Texas schools routinely get criminal tickets for things like making noise in class or chewing gum in violation of school rules. More kids than not n Texas are suspended or expelled at some point in their middle or high school years.  Serious reactions to routine misbehavior leads to some truly frightening consequences: schools send tens of thousands of kids into the juvenile justice system every year for minor violations of the rules.

You can make a difference by letting school officials know you oppose school discipline that treats children like criminals. Visit with the school administrators at your kids’ school to learn how they handle discipline, and don’t be afraid to tell them your expectations. Bring it up at a school board meeting, too. To learn more, check out resources about the “school-to-prison pipeline” from Texas Appleseed.

Take a cue from Dr. Seuss.

Maybe there’s a hidden lesson for grown-ups in Horton Hears a Who. Remember the story about the city of tiny Who people who live on a dust speck and the elephant who’s the only one able to hear them? Naturally, the Whos’ minuscule size makes them vulnerable. Horton wants to protect them but can’t do it alone. His jungle counterparts think he’s crazy, and the kangaroos in charge want to destroy the clover that holds the dust speck. In the end, the Whos’ only hope for salvation is coming together to raise their voices loudly enough, so the kangaroos, too, can hear.

If this were an advocacy tale, our elected leaders might be the kangaroos. Some of them, after all, find it hard to hear when it comes to the smallest among us—not Whos but children. Some of them don’t understand either, and seem all too ready to get rid of the things our own small people truly need.

But the moral of this story isn’t about the characters who disbelieved or even the elephant protector. Instead, the lesson rests with the the individual Whos who came together and were able to make a real difference. Like any one of the tiny people in the story, each of us has the power to be that one extra voice–the person whose added contribution is exactly what’s needed–so that an important truth finally gets heard. When that last person pipes up, the Dr. Seuss story concludes:

That one small, extra Yopp put it over!
Finally, at last! From that speck on that clover
Their voices were heard! They rang out clear and clean.
And the elephant smiled. “Do you see what I mean
?” . . .
“How true! Yes, how true,” said the big kangaroo
.
“And, from now on, you know what I’m planning to do
?. . .
From now on, I’m going to protect them with you!”
And the young kangaroo in her pouch said…
“…ME, TOO!
From the sun in the summer. From rain when it’s fall-
ish,
I’m going to protect them. No matter how small-
ish!”

When you add your voice to a movement and encourage others to speak up, you can tip things in the right direction. You do make a difference, and one that’s not small-ish!

See things from a child’s point of view.

Many of us feel like we know a thing or two about child development, having once been children  ourselves. Yet time and again scientists and educational psychologists discover new breakthroughs, improving our understanding of how children’s minds work. Bottom line? It’s really differently from adults’—and we need to work toward a world that understands that.

The New York University Child Study Center recently found an easy, effective way to help children is simply educating parents about how kids think, grow, and learn at various developmental stages. Kids whose parents had received education like this exhibited lower levels of stress and aggression, were less likely to be obese during childhood, and had higher standardized test scores later in life than similar kids whose caregivers did not receive the training.

Lots of new moms and dads in Texas receive A Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy, Happy Children, a developmental “calendar” that takes adults through each stage of a child’s development from 0-5, with tips from the child’s point of view. The guide with all of its free pointers is also available as a PDF download to help you learn about a growing young child in your life.

Know who represents you.

Elected officials work for you. They represent the voters who helped get them there, and the people who never vote, too, including kids. Although they’re too young to vote, organize, or finance a campaign, children have a lot at stake, more than most of us, in fact in what leaders decide.

While all of us are affected by decisions on things like water systems, roads, libraries and parks—the public underpinnings of a good quality of life in a community—kids are often more affected by public structures. The schools where kids learn are just one example. Think about how environmental toxins are more dangerous for tiny growing bodies, or how a park that provides a grown-up with a nice place to exercise provides many kids with one of the only places they can exercise.

So do you know who represents you and children in your area, if you have a problem with the public structures around you? The Your Texas Leaders page in Texans Care for Children’s online Advocacy Center offers some information. Another site helps you find your representatives directly. See who’s who, get to their websites, and find contact info for those behind the community decisions that affect your kids’ lives.

Urge leaders in office to stand up for children.

Compared to just a few decades ago, more children today grow up with what they need. More escape dangers, like lead paint and preventable diseases, compared to earlier generations. More attend quality child care programs. More can see a doctor when they need to. All those things happened, not by accident, but because people who cared worked  together to hold elected leaders accountable to a vision of something better.

From the school a child attends to what he eats in the cafeteria, from what happens when a child is abused to how she is treated if she breaks the law, policies can either help put kids on a path to success, or they can contribute to worse conditions. Thousands, even millions, of young lives are at stake when elected leaders make decisions on your behalf. Let your elected representatives know that children’s issues matter to you. This online advocacy center provides tips and tools to get you started in sharing what’s on your mind today.

Teach a child compassion.

Life begins with an interesting paradox. At a time when we are most dependent on other people, as little kids we sometimes act incapable of thought beyond ourselves. In fact, science tells us that even infants have the seeds of empathy necessary to have some stake in what their caregivers are feeling or experiencing. One of the best ways to help build a world that is more caring and compassionate  is to nurture a child’s natural concern for others and make him or her remain attuned to what other people need.

There are whole books, websites, and classes for teaching children compassion, but maybe it isn’t as complicated as all that. Instead, it begins with us, the willing adults, simply modeling the care and kindness we wish for in future generations.

When you really listen to a child, you teach her how to listen to others. When you talk about an injustice or a bully within earshot, your children learn how harmful violence and intolerance can be. When you make volunteering a family outing, children gain new insight about the experiences of others. All of these are small but meaningful steps in creating a legacy of kindness and justice.

Envision a more family-friendly village.

In 2004, a widely publicized study of working mothers in Texas found the women ranked “caring for their children” as their 16th-favorite way to spend their time. . . somewhere after cooking and housework. It was one of many studies over the years that suggest a trend. Parenting, despite its unparalleled rewards and joys, is proving increasingly stressful for a lot of us.

But a less publicized study found a clue about what can be done. In countries where families receive more support—where there are longer maternity leaves, better access to quality child care, reliable health care for every kid who needs it—parents are happiest. It turns out it doesn’t just take a village to raise a child. Instead, the village can raise up whole families when it tries.

The time will come when mothers (and fathers!) in the United States get more of the support they need. Each of us can do a little bit to bring about a more family-friendly world for our children, so that when they become parents, today’s stressors are but a memory. We can extend support to—and accept it from—one another.  We can seize opportunities to socialize, to provide a kind word to a fellow parent, to believe that each of us is doing our best and the key to doing better is growing our “support” bandwagon. We can spread the gospel that the benefits and responsibilities of raising a new generation rests not with parents alone, but with parents together. And with the village as a whole.

Learn how the sausage gets made.

Mark Twain isn’t the only one to compare laws with sausages—and advise against watching either getting made. Legislating gets a bad rap as being all about deal-brokering in back rooms and unseemly alliances, rather than real people and rational processes that anyone can be a part of.

In classroom lessons on “how a bill becomes a law,” children learn what we grown-ups forget: the policy-making process moves slowly and deliberately for a reason. One reason is that, all along the way, there are opportunities for We the People to shape what comes out. We are the caretakers of this process, these laws. We can make our voices heard, and let those representing us know what their actions mean to our lives.

In about 5 minutes, you can review this primer on how laws get made in Texas and when your actions matter most. It doesn’t take much to learn the basics of the sausage-making process. And you may find the ingredient you bring at the right moment in the process makes all the difference.

Ask often: “Is this good for kids?”

It can be overwhelming how many competing demands for our attention and priority-setting are out there. When something is on the news about some new idea or offering, wouldn’t it be helpful to have one filter, a lens for decision-making, that cuts through the clutter to get at what’s really important?

The Partnership for Children, a Kansas City-based group, offered up one such litmus test in their city. In a public awareness campaign, they asked all residents to weigh decisions by asking “The #1 Question”: Is it good for children? Today, the vast majority of Kansas Citians report having heard of the campaign and say they use it in their day-to-day decision-making.

Imagine the difference, if everyone whose life touches that of a child—neighbor, parent, teacher, business-owner, voter, elected official—applied that same filter to some basic choices. It wouldn’t require any extra work, not any more time. It would be simply a reminder not to waste our energy on that which offers nothing good for our children or other children. Making communities, workplaces, and schools child-friendly in the most honest sense means deciding to do what’s good for kids and families. The bonus of  keeping that commitment top of mind is, if we all do it, we’re making the world around us better, too, for years to come.

Believe you can make a difference.

Ever catch yourself thinking, “I want to help, but the problems are just too big”? Most of us can feel a little immobilized when we think of all the unmet needs out there. We lose sight of how small actions can make a big difference.

Now the cliché story to tell here is about a man throwing stranded starfish back to sea. You’ve heard it: Thousands of starfish wash ashore and die on this beach, so someone says, “Why bother? It makes no difference.” The man holds up the starfish in his hand and replies, “It makes a difference to this one.”

As advocates, we imagine a different ending to the story.* In ours, the starfish thrower looks up and notices two other people down the beach, also tossing starfish in the water. He talks to them about working together, and they come up with a better way. They get their friends to join them. Soon they’re on the news, getting still more attention, more of people’s energy, time and dollars, for their cause.

One day,  somebody who’s an expert sees their work and says, “I don’t think starfish need to wash ashore like this. I think this is caused by fishing boats, dredging the ocean floor and disrupting these creatures’ lives.” The starfish throwers go to a lawmaker, who says, “I’ll meet with the fishermen, and pass a law to keep their boats a little farther out to sea.” The law passes. Soon, the once-vulnerable starfish are thriving.

There is plenty out there that tells us what we can do, so children and moms can thrive. We must decide, though, which impact we prefer: that of the lone person on a mission, or of us as a community, working together to solve a problem, once and for all.

*Thanks to Robert Egger for the inspiration.

Take advice from a red hot patriot.

Austin’s own “red hot patriot,” the late Molly Ivins wrote something that still rings true:

We Americans are heirs to the most magnificent political legacy any people has ever received. . . Don’t throw that legacy away out of cynicism or boredom . . . You have more political power than 99 percent of all the people who have every lived on this planet. You can not only vote, you can register other people to vote, round up your friends, get out and do political education, talk to people, laugh with people, call the radio, write the paper, write your elected representative, use your e-mail list, put up signs, march, volunteer, and raise hell. All your life, no matter what you do–butcher, baker, beggarman, thief/doctor, lawyer, Indian chief–you have another job, another responsibility. You are a citizen. . . . The first job of the informed citizen is to keep [her] mouth open.

 

 


 

More posts from the archive:

Special Limited Time Offer

By Christine Sinatra

February 3, 2011

Psst. You.

Yes, you, the state with all the bluebonnets and longhorns. Mr. Lone Star.

I’ve got a deal for you, Texas. Rumor has it, you’re a little short of cash, is that right? Twenty-something billion, you say? Well, I might have just the thing…

See, it says here you’ve got yourself some kind of girl trouble. Well, girl and boy trouble. It’s your kids.

I mean, look at them. Twice as likely as other states’ kids not to be able to visit a doctor’s office? Most likely in the country to miss out on mental health care? Your kids are dropping out of high school, getting pregnant, gaining too much weight, getting in trouble with the law, and being abused—all at rates other states wouldn’t stand for. Frankly, I’m a little afraid, those other states might soon pass you by.

The good news is it’s your lucky day. I know you don’t think you have enough money to walk out of here today with a population of thriving children. (You think that’s for the Vermonts and Minnesotas of the world, am I right?)

But I’m here to tell you, our finance people took a look at your situation, and they figured out you could be saving money. Right now, your kid troubles represent a lot of lost potential, and that is costing you big time. Child poverty hurts your bottom line to the tune of $67 billion. That’s per year, my friend! A single graduating class of drop-outs costs you another $9.6 billion a year. All those teen births are expensive, too—amounting to another $1 billion out of your pocket annually.

What would you say if I told you, you could start saving $25.5 billion per year, just by getting that child poverty rate, dropout rate, and teen birth rate back down to the national average? Throw in keeping more of your kids out of juvenile lock-up facilities, protecting more of them from child abuse, getting them fit and healthy, and ensuring their mothers get prenatal care—and I’m telling you right now: you will see ridiculous savings, Texas. Those savings will show up in the higher productivity in your workforce, in the lower costs in your criminal justice and health systems, and in your improved competitiveness. Plus, you’ll get those great results for kids I know you want.

I’ve got the full report right here, on how you can do it—not just the policy recommendations, but what your every-day people can do to roll up their sleeves and be a part of making things a little better for children.Advertisement
But the clock is ticking, Texas. Every minute you put off this deal, you risk paying more in the end. Nobody wants that, right?

Who wouldn’t make decisions that are good are for kids?

By Josette Saxton

January 13, 2011

“What exactly is your job, Mom?” my daughter asks.

Well, broadly speaking, I encourage state leaders to make policy and program decisions that will be good for children. But I have a hard enough time getting some adults to understand what it is I do, let alone a second-grader. She knows that my work is about helping kids. She knows I go to a lot of meetings, that I type a lot at my computer, that I have lots of what she calls “sloppy copies” (I refer to them as my notes) floating around on our dining room table, and that I spend some time at the Capitol. My signature line reads “Policy Associate”, but that’s not as nice and tidy as saying I’m a dentist, teacher, or plumber….or a scientist, astronaut, Olympic gymnast, or cashier at H-E-B, which are the current aspirations of my daughter.

So I tell her, “Some people’s jobs are to make rules we all must follow. I’m not one of the people who make the rules, but I try and help the people who make decisions, so that the rules are good for kids.”  Surprisingly, she seems to understand this. When she asks about what types of decisions those are, we’ll talk about things like kids being able to go to the doctor, having healthy food choices, going to a school where they can learn and feel safe, and about having somewhere safe to live with a family to care for them.

It’s at this point in our conversation where she looks at me like I must have the easiest job in the world, because it sounds like such a no-brainer. “Who wouldn’t want to make decisions that are good for kids?” she asks.

There are very few policymakers out there who intend to set our children up for failure or harm. And there will probably always be some valid differences in opinion on how to best lay the foundation for children to grow into healthy, successful adults. (Thankfully, there are also some evidence-based guides, like this and these, that offer roadmaps to what actually works.) But I think competing priorities often get in the way of some policymakers making the best choices when it comes to kids and families.

This, I find, is a lot tougher to explain to a 7 year old.

And it’s a shame, since what’s good for kids is pretty often what is good for society. So while I wait for my daughter to progress through Piaget’s developmental stages until she can better appreciate a discussion about the nature of politics, I’ll continue to encourage decision makers to make choices that are good for kids.

Single moms don’t need this

By Eileen Garcia

 

December 10, 2010

Stuff happens. About two months ago, I was rushing out of work to pick up my two cuties, spilling my coffee on my lap as I threw a stack of mommy-helper resumes to the passenger seat, when **CRACK!** One of the cement poles in our office parking garage jumped out and viciously attacked my driver’s side mirror. (Okay, okay, so perhaps it happened a little differently than that.) My insurance covered the repairs, but not the cost of not having a car for ten days. Within the same week, my health insurance carrier let me know a pre-authorized service I secured for my son, wasn’t covered in our benefits after all, and I would owe our provider, in full, out of pocket. Ouch.

I am fortunate; I have a good job and a little savings, and I weathered this crummy spell feeling pinched, but still making ends meet. If I had lost my job, as many have during these lean times, my story would be quite different.

And driving home with my mirror temporarily taped on, I passed quite a few flashy store fronts offering to “help” in just such situations; payday loan businesses promising big money fast are littered throughout my neighborhood.  This is no coincidence. It turns out that the largest group of people who take out payday loans in Texas are, like me, single, working moms.

These businesses popped up about twenty years ago, targeting folks in need of money to float them between paychecks. These loans are due in full at the next paycheck, plus steep fees. The lenders make their money not by collecting timely repayment from customers, but rather by capitalizing on the fact that most people who take out a loan will need a repeat loan just to keep up with their payday loan repayment. If you don’t have it today, how likely are you to have it and then some in a mere two weeks? Texas payday loans carry annual percentage rates upwards of 500%. The average borrower pays $840 to repay a $300 loan. While the consumer gets caught in a nasty, downward spiral of debt, payday lenders make huge profits.

How do these lenders get away with it? Your local credit union and your local bank have lots of regulation and reporting that they must adhere to, but payday lenders banded together and managed to get a substantial loophole carved out for themselves. They were able to get themselves lumped in the category of Credit Services Organizations, businesses set up to help people clean up bad credit. Payday lenders worked to get Texas legislation passed that says they aren’t lenders at all, and therefore don’t have to play by lender rules.

This new industry preys on desperate folks and those who are unclear on their loan terms. With a substantial carve out from oversight, consumers are not given the protections that our other financial institutions must provide. Some local Texas communities have passed ordinances to keep payday lender storefronts from moving in and marring their neighborhoods. Sister states have taken action to rid their states of predatory lending practices altogether. Particularly now, as our state faces an enormous shortfall and our Texas families are still vulnerable from the recession, payday lenders need to pay their real share and families need to be given real protections.

Who’s up for a fight with the liquid candy-makers?

By Christine Sinatra

December 9, 2010

OK, moms, here’s something I bet you’re not doing with your free time on the internet: trolling around the soda companies’ websites for fun. Maybe I’m wrong, but I would guess that seeing the latest online games, video-sharing opportunities, and apps from the likes of, say, MyCoke.com probably doesn’t make the top of your to-do list.

Still, if you want to experiment and not just take my word for it, see for yourself what it is you miss out on. Here’s a site featuring music that (no offense) seems aimed for a younger audience. Here’s another with pictures of and by kids. This one has its own cute social network and a darling bear; this one a robot dog. This one has prizes and tuition giveaways for teens and young gamers.

These sites are not for you. They are targeted at your children. Teens, yes, but younger children, too. A few years ago, under threat of regulation, a lot of the sugary drink-makers and junk food sellers took a vow to police themselves. They said they would stop marketing to children, and what happened? It got worse. Now a whopping 72% of food and drink advertising to children falls in the category of the least healthy options on the market; less than 1% are actually considered to be for healthy foods. Keep in mind that children under 7 can’t decipher an advertisement from other content, and you see why in other countries marketing like this is off limits.

Yes, parents have a role in what their children eat, drink, and see on a computer. Still, most of us are not with our children every hour of every day until they reach the Age of Making Good Choices for Themselves (whatever that is). That leaves us, as parents, a little at the mercy of what’s out there in the world.

And what is out there includes this one category of products—the single biggest contributor of sugar in children’s diets—that stands alone. It isn’t food, because it doesn’t make you full or offer any kind of nourishment. And though its defenders can rattle off a number of contributors to childhood obesity and overweight, the facts are this one thing is a big, driving factor. You already know that Americans are burning fewer and taking in more calories than a generation ago, but you might be as surprised as I was to learn that 42% of the extra calories consumed today don’t show up on a plate but in a cup. As soda consumption has risen, so, in nearly perfect alignment, has child obesity. Today, an astonishing 1 in 3 Texas teens report having three or more servings of sugary drinks, every day. The bottom line: if we could reduce (not even eliminate) consumption of the liquid sugar alone, the average overweight kid would lose 4.5 pounds per year.

We don’t have to take this lying down. These are children, our children. We can stand up and say that they come before some big industry group’s profits.

If this issue strikes a chord with you, please drop me a line. We are looking for volunteers to help us educate folks for an hour or two on the Capitol grounds, sometime next spring. (I’m picturing “make your own soda” demonstrations, showing the 55 packets of sugar in a 2-liter soda canister, but would love to hear your ideas.) And please check out www.txchildren.org/DrinkWell to learn more. We’re working to return to the days when sugary drinks for children were occasional treats, not every-meal staples—when good, old-fashioned water or milk were acceptable beverage choices for kids.

Shaken and Stirred about 2011
By Josette Saxton

December 6, 2010

There are two things in the news that get me stirred up these days: the royal wedding and the Texas budget. On that first item, I am excited, not just because Prince Harry’s bound to get some airtime in the all the media craziness (I have a big crush on the brother of the groom-to-be), but also because—and I hope I’m not alone here—I like having something light and fluffy to pay attention to. (What will Kate wear? Will Elton John really sing at the wedding? 3D glasses, seriously? You have got to be kidding me.) Mindless? Yes. Frivolous? Most definitely. I’m admitting it to the world – I will be following it, and I will be entertained. From the over-the-top pageantry, to the hats, gowns and gloves I know will be adorned on the big day, I completely welcome these kinds of distractions.

But the other item I’m following closely hits a lot closer to home, and brings on a whole different set of emotions. In case you haven’t heard, Texas is facing a huge budget deficit. The projected shortfall may top more than $20 billion for the next two years. To deal with this, our state leaders are calling for sweeping cuts across state agencies. The reality is, there isn’t really room for cuts in our state’s human services budget. Texas leaders have never been the big-spending type, and, in fact, we already spend less than any other state on our people. Big cuts can’t happen without affecting the health and well-being of our state.

While it is tempting to view these cuts and proposed policy changes as abstract numbers that won’t affect our lives, their consequences will be all too real. Babies and toddlers with developmental delays and disabilities will lose early intervention services, often crucial to preventing lifelong challenges. Tens of thousands of children will lose access to vaccinations, putting not only their health at risk, but the health of their peers, too. Facing loss of state funding, some schools may eliminate tutoring and pre-kindergarten programs. Parents in crisis won’t have access to programs that help them manage their stress and nurture their children—and you can bet when that happens, we’ll see a rise in child abuse and neglect cases. If our already bottom-of-the-barrel funding for public mental health services are cut even more, more kids will end up in the juvenile justice system.

I’ve heard some in the state warn about the major hurt that’s coming from these proposed cuts, likening it to squeezing a balloon. If we start squeezing one program or system, we are just going to cause an even bigger bulge in other programs or systems. When we underfund early childhood programs like Early Childhood Intervention (ECI) or pre-kindergarten, our schools will feel the pressure as kids enter school not ready to succeed, academically or behaviorally. Pressures build. As students struggle, schools find themselves with even fewer resources to help them. Pressures build. As programs that are in place to help families cope with stressful times are eliminated, more kids will kids end up in our foster care and juvenile justice systems—experiencing further rounds of personal trauma and tragedies, on top of the ones that brought them there. At what point does the balloon stop bulging and just completely burst?

These problems are real, and the consequences of ignoring them will be harsh. Those who control how we invest our resources can choose to look the other way and ignore the well-being of our kids—and we can let them do it without raising a fuss—but, in the end we’ll all pay the price as Texas children aren’t given what they need to grow into successful adults. We may not be able to stop all the harmful cuts and policy decisions that are coming, but we can make sure they don’t happen without our voices being heard. Our policymakers need to know our children are worth the investment. I’ll be speaking out, and I hope some of you will, too.

And, yes, before I go to bed at night, I’ll be checking the celebrity blogs for the latest royal-wedding dish. Come morning, I’ll be back to reading and strategizing about how, together, we can prevent Texas children from bearing the brunt of our state’s coming budget cuts.

 

Texas #1 for Businesses… #46 for Children and Families?

Christine Sinatra

November 29, 2010

A lot has been made lately of the fact that some groups rank Texas as the #1 place in the country to do business. (Some other pretty reputable sources also rank Texas behind several states on this, but Texas pride keeps those from getting mentioned as much.)

State Rep. Mark Strama of Austin mused recently about where Texas ranks for children, though. The answer isn’t pretty.

Here’s a publication from a national group that gives Texas an overall ranking of 46th in child well-being.  This one, from a different organization, is a little more generous, ranking Texas 34th.  Where I work, we sometimes put out research with national rankings and regularly keep an eye on the news about children. Here are some rankings I wish Texas leaders would start talking about a more.

Category Texas’s Ranking
Children’s health care access 50
Child “food security”* 

*meaning their families have the resources to always feed them well

49
Children with housing/who are not homeless 50
Children who don’t become parents themselves (i.e., teen births) 48
Children who don’t do the above more than once (i.e., repeat teen births) 50
Access to children’s mental health services 50
Kids growing up free of poverty 43
Population high school completion rate 50
Children being read to regularly 50
Children growing up to enter the correctional system 1
Overall childhood obesity rate 7
Obesity among adolescent girls 1
Tax rate on the poorest one-fifth of families 5
Total number of children killed by child abuse or neglect 1

It is fine to discuss how public policies can and do benefit businesses. It’s true, too, that Texas still hovers near the national average in terms of median household income. Many of us are doing just fine, thank you, and would kindly prefer not to be told our state ranks with the likes of Mississippi or Arkansas on anything.

But we have to recognize that at least one group, kids and their families, are doing a lot worse here than in other states. That has a lot to do with our public policies, as well. Compared to businesses, this group is less vocal—many are too young to vote or work or give to political campaigns—but they matter.

And when we do right by them, some really important things improve. Texas used to have one of the nation’s highest rates of deaths among our teenagers, but we turned that around. Car accidents are leading killer for youth 16 and older, and Texas is ranked #1 nationally in reducing teen driving fatalities. The state and its schools put in place some common-sense measures to make teen drivers safer, and that saved lives. When someone says nothing the government does matters much, just think about those kids, the ones who could have been traffic fatalities but instead are here today, growing into fine young men and women.

There are more solutions like that, more proven strategies, that would turn around the rankings that hurt our Texas pride. We just have to be a voice for them and do what is in our power. Then where we live can become the #1 place to be a child.

Your voice matters –and a little action goes a long way

Christine Sinatra and Eileen Garcia

November 20, 2010

Sometimes, as mothers, it falls to us to speak out for what children need from the community, and, when that happens, it can be helpful to picture how the elected officials we’re calling on must feel something like new parents. In either role, you get a lot of advice, have to deal with competing demands, and probably get driven a little crazy by all the contradictions out there. “Have your child try everything on his plate.” “Don’t make your child eat what he doesn’t want to.” “Your baby needs a sense of security, so always go to her.” “That child really needs more sleep: let her cry it out.” “No new taxes.” “No cuts to services either.”

Like new parents, the people in elected office eventually make the tough call one way or the other. Sometimes they suss out the right choice, based on what they learn from people with more experience or information than they have. Other times they do what they see their friends in public office doing, assuming somebody must know the answer. Sometimes they go with their gut, or make a call based on some deeply held value.

But sometimes, they just do what’s easiest.

They do it in decisions about children even when the advice isn’t controversial at all—when it’s like the times we parents already know, clear as a bell, the answers. Of course, children need protection and love, opportunities to learn and play, and all the other basics: fruits and vegetables, coats in the wintertime, clean teeth, trips to the doctor, ample hours for the deep and blissful sleep that’s their trademark. And regardless of those items’ popularity in the moment, we tend to them—not just for our own family’s sake, but because someday our children will be out of our hands. Part of our job is to see that big picture: what a child would become if we started defaulting to just whatever’s easiest, versus doing what is necessary and right.

When it comes to elected officials making choices about children, this is where you, as a parent, come in. If our leaders need a compass to point them toward future-thinking, who better than a mom to show the way? These people work for you, so you can be who gives them the advice. Tell them an experience or two. Share your values.

But then, as a parent, you have a lot going on; you may feel life is complicated and time-limited enough without learning all there is to know about laws and policies that get made in your name. The beauty is that you don’t have to. Your role when you contact a public official is simply to know what you know and raise your voice. You are an expert in your individual, family, and community experience. Public servants owe it to you to hear that experience and give it weight.

Groups like ours are happy to help, with action alerts that say what’s at issue when, who needs to hear from you, and how to contact that person if you have even five minutes of spare time. Then it’s up to you. You decide what your experience has taught you about the issues and what you would like life to look like, then make the call and get your voice heard.

Recently we asked a state legislator how many calls were enough to make him know that an issue is getting a lot of attention. What do you think he said—250? 100? In a state of 21 million people, the answer was 6. Six calls. Sometimes we may think we have no voice in changing the world for children, but are we one of those six calls?

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