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Chock-full of truth. Universal. Timeless. “It takes a village to raise a child.” It does. It really does. Now so more than ever.

The crushing, shocking, heart-ripping disaster that is the deaths of 16 members of the Humboldt Broncos junior hockey team and its staff this month following a bus accident, has further underscored this important, enduring truth.

Community is a cornerstone in parenting.

Community shaped how they became who they were.

It took a small army of people with varying perspectives and experiences — teachers, coaches, mentors, neighbours, classmates, friends, acquaintances, relatives and others — to raise those 15 boys and one girl, the team’s athletic therapist who also perished.

Their parents, undoubtedly, led that community effort to raise each child.

But it takes so much more than a mother and/or father to help an individual grow, develop and prosper.

COLLECTIVE COMMONNESS 

The concept of community and a village in child-rearing cuts even deeper in this story.

The commScreen Shot 2018-04-14 at 10.09.59 AMunity of Humboldt, Saskatchewan — smack dab in the centre of Canada’s endless-sky prairie landscape, numbers around 6,000 people.

A modestly tiny community where it seems just about everyone knew everyone.

Face-to-face interactions were the norm and not the exception for people who lived here. 

They saw each other and built relationships over time at the hockey rink, other public places, as neighbours, members of the same faith group, co-workers, grocery story acquaintances, etc.

How critically important that community, that village and those relationships have always been and even more so since the events of Friday April 6th.

A PATCHWORK OF PERSPECTIVES

For parents who live in urban areas within bustling cities armed with smartphones and social media networks, and perhaps even a nanny or babysitter — what does your village look like as you work to raise your child?

Do you even have a tribe to turn to?

Or, as is increasingly the case these days, in my opinion, are you so ‘busy’, rushed and stressed that you are more apt to use technology to text your next-door neighbour than walk over and have a conversation with them.

Are you of the belief that ONLY you know best when it comes to your child — along with google, perhaps?Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 10.19.52 AM

Is surrounding yourself and your child/children with tangible, meaningful relationships within your immediate community important to support you in your role as a parent?

Do you expose your child to different people within your village, from whom they can learn and grow and from whom YOU as their parent can do the same — share experiences, engage in honest conversations, exchange both good and bad real-life stories?

Would any or all of the above help shape your perspective and approach as a parent?

THE EVOLVING VILLAGE

In a world of:

1. Growing and well-documented ‘social isolation’:

Britain named a “Minister of Loneliness” this year — to tackle the ‘epidemic of social isolation’ in the UK, following findings by the Cox commission, which stated: “Young or old, loneliness doesn’t discriminate. Throughout 2017 we have heard from new parents, children, disabled people, carers, refugees and older people about their experience of loneliness.”  According to an article on this subject in the New York Times, “Government research has found that about 200,000 older people in Britain had not had a conversation with a friend or relative in more than a month.

2. Widespread access to the most powerful communication tools technology has birthed, in the history of the world:

What is technology and social media’s role in parenting and what should they be?

Consider DVD players in mini vans, iPads in the hands of toddlers, youth hunched over and mesmerized by smartphones, the almost-fanatic voyeurism that ensues through videos, photos, that sometimes vanish as quickly as they are posted, but always leave a message behind.

And then, there is this brazen admission — “Former Facebook executive: social media is ripping society apart” — captured on YouTube.

3. The emergence of the modern family:

The growth and evolution of society has broadened and shifted landing at what is dubbed today’s ‘modern family’ replete with decidedly distinct characteristics including: single parent, double income, divorced, blended, co-parented, etc.

Those of us who grew up with the term ‘nuclear family’ are on the cusp of entering the jurassic era, though the term — which is used to describe two parents (mother and father of opposite genders, who are married with dependent children and living under the same room — was not THAT long ago.

A ‘SELFIE’ WORTH TAKING

Throw all of this into a pot and where do we land?

One question. What does your real-life, physical and tangible community look like and how are you using it to help nurture Screen Shot 2018-04-14 at 11.15.48 AMyour growth as a parent and that of your child.

Perhaps turning that mirror to peer inwards may inspire important reflection.

Despite what it may yield, is a parenting selfie not worth taking?

Perhaps it’s the journalist in me, wired and trained to ask questions.  To question everything. Analyze. Ponder. Reflect. Then ask more questions.

In no aspect of my life have I ever asked more questions of others and myself, than as a parent.  And thank goodness for that. I would not change a thing about that strategy.

Thank you Humboldt for giving all of us food for thought and an example to learn from as mothers, fathers, sons, daughters, grandmothers, grandfathers, relatives, etc.

Raising a child is hard work.

Community counts.

The village, while it may look and feel different today, is still absolutely necessary.

Before, during and after you bring a child into this world.

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Originally appeared in HuffPost Canada

Mental illness, mental wellness, mental health — whatever your preferred reference — is increasingly on society’s radar. (And, yes, the subject in general is less taboo. We’re talking about it more, which in turn leads to it seeming more prevalent.)

Health-care professionals, governments, academia, socially-responsible corporations, social service institutions — have heard the alarm being sounded and are scrambling to do their part to address this veritable “epidemic.”

Research, education, increased support service offerings, budgets and fundraising are all areas of intense focus when it comes to addressing the onslaught of mental illness — be that in the young or old.

And as this machine moves forward, there appears to be one question that isn’t grabbing the attention it likely deserves. What is the root cause of this incredibly sharp increase in mental illness?

There certainly must be many people studying the question from a clinical perspective and lay people who have endured the clutches of mental illness who have their own reasons for why it happened to them, their spouse, partners, or children. And there certainly are those individuals for whom mental illness was borne from a clear medical diagnosis.

But the core questions remain — where is it coming from? Why seemingly all of a sudden? What is at the heart of the issue? Mental illness is most certainly not a new construct or concept. Why so prevalent now?

One of the most striking things about this subject matter is how far this serious issue has evolved in a relatively short period of time.

As a young journalist in the mid-90s and 2000s, my colleagues and I were NEVER allowed to use the ‘S’ word. Even if the police, the fire department, the family, yourself — even if the entire world knew that the cause of a death was suicide — reporters were never permitted to utter the word in their script, stories, voice-overs — in anything. It was an unwritten but well-understood rule. There are parts of me that wish this was still the case, truthfully.

In the era of ‘everything being out there’, of 13 Reasons Why, of citizen journalism, infotainment and sensationalized pseudo-journalism, unfiltered and raw social media — the ‘S’ word is no longer sacred. It’s in your face and mine.

Pinning down the root cause or causes of mental health is/are pivotal. It/they will ultimately enable a more proactive, deliberate approach to addressing the issue, rather than what we seem to be living now — scrambling in reaction — once the damage is already done.

Some of the potential root causes of mental illness — from anxiety, panic and eating disorders to depression, addiction, etc., — that are NOT diagnosed as a clinical medical, deserve our attention.

As a keen observer, concerned citizen, colleague, friend and mother, I have my own theories on what some of these root causes may be:

1. Questionable parenting.

Parents need more help and support now more than ever. And that has been case in the last 10-15 years. Yet, many of them don’t realize it. They often don’t know what they don’t know until it is a full-blown dilemma, crisis or catastrophe. Asking for help is not a crime. Neither is implementing discipline in child-rearing or saying ‘no’ to a child. Helicopter parenting is certainly one culprit. Don’t do for a child what they can do for themselves. These children will become adults one day. Why would anyone want to raise an entitled adult, by enabling them as a child. (Not all parents fall into this category, but many do. Parenting is hard work. Signing up for it means committing to working hard, in my opinion.)

2. Devices aren’t humans.

The increased lack of face-to-face communication and human connections mean fewer outlets to have meaningful conversations with, share feelings, exchange ideas, read body language. see signs, relate in ways only humans are capable of. An increased reliance on devices and less on human contact in turn tends to fuel greater isolation, less self-care and more time online surfing or skimming, rather than discovery about oneself or the people around them and a subsequent evolution.

3. Keeping up with the Joneses.

This could easily be classified as a chronic condition for many. The increasingly competitive, bottom-line-driven society we live in can infiltrate even the most rationale of minds — which can suddenly find themselves fixed on what others think of them, comparing themselves and their ‘stuff’ to those around them and simply losing sight of their priorities.

4. Lack of a shared common goal.

This insight was shared with me by a fellow parent, recently. And it’s so true. Society today, lacks a common goal. By and large, people seem to be in it for their own personal gain, rather than working together as neighbourhoods, communities and a shared voice. It makes a difference when one is able to think of others before themselves. Suddenly kindness, empathy, compassion and humility enter the equation.

5. An inability to prioritize within priorities.

Yes, we are all busy. We seem to derive pleasure in comparing “busyness.” What are we busy doing, exactly? Prioritizing within a never-ending list of priorities is challenging but necessary in order to stay focused on and potentially achieve one’s goals. Somehow, each of us can and do find time for things that are important to us, don’t we? Knowing what is the most important of those important things, however, can make a marked difference.

It would be great if governments, using our hard-earned tax dollars to create a society they think we want — could think proactively, rather than reactively. Rather than constantly opening up the vault to support the result, how about proactively supporting society up front — eg. new and expectant parents, would be first on that list for me. Then maybe, just maybe, we wouldn’t need to increase budgets for crime-fighting, mental illness and the like.

These societal issues certainly wouldn’t disappear, but perhaps they would not increase either.

Are you in a crisis? If you need help, contact your local crisis centre. If you know someone who may be having thoughts of suicide, visit suicideprevention.ca to learn how to talk about suicide with the person you’re worried about.

Originally appeared in HuffPost Canada

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Originally appeared in HuffPost Canada.

Not ONLY because she is Canadian. But because of the way she died. How she chose to spend her short life. And the tangible way her family wants everyone to remember her.

christine archibald

Christine Archibald. (Photo: Twitter)

The 30-year-old from B.C. died in her fiance’s arms — struck down by a careening van on the London Bridge — presumably the work of terrorists.

Chrissy, as she was commonly known, was a social worker, caring for the homeless and people with addictions.

Compassionate and empathetic.

Two words that appear repeatedly in quotes about her. Two traits that are so lacking in the world today. Two important characteristics that parents should be teaching and modelling to their children — for their own lives and for the communities in which they live.

In the midst of unimaginable shock and pain, Chrissy’s family released a statement whose message should move us and be seared into our psyche as individuals and as a society that continues to reel from brazen acts of outright hatred and the wanton disregard for human life.

“She had room in her heart for everyone and believed strongly that every person was to be valued and respected.”
– Archibald family statement

A society that is increasingly focused on individual pursuits and less on the common good:

A society that is increasingly focused on individual pursuits and less on the common good:

“She had room in her heart for everyone and believed strongly that every person was to be valued and respected,” the statement said. “She would have had no understanding of the callous cruelty that caused her death.”

The family asked that people honour her memory by making the community a better place. “Volunteer your time and labour or donate to a homeless shelter,” the statement said. “Tell them Chrissy sent you.”

Value. Respect. Community. Volunteer. Time. Labour. Donate.

These are all important principles that children need to be exposed to from a young age, that should come automatically as they get older, because it is part of the fibre of their being. That’s because their parents — who are their first, most important and life-long teachers — have taught them these important lessons.

At the same time, parents should be seeking these very values and striving to embody them in their children.

 

Why parent from the sidelines?

Too many parents in 2017 are on the sidelines, in my opinion. Pointing their fingers, judging others, offering their opinion when it is not requested, worried about what other parents might think. Letting devices, nannies, televisions, social media and others play a key role in raising their children — rather than rolling up their own sleeves and doing the hard work that is raising empathetic, compassionate, humble, respectful children.

Yes, that’s right, it is HARD work, so if you are planning to have children and want to raise solid human beings, get ready to work for it.

Just like professional athletes spend countless hours training, sacrificing, practicing, disciplining themselves.

Just like physicians spend countless hours training, sacrificing, practicing and disciplining themselves.

Just like just about any other profession which requires constant training, development, and attention — so, too, does parenting.

Small acts of respect, kindness, compassion and empathy within each of our homes will go a lot further in stemming this ugly tide.

Why parenting is hard work

The HARD WORK of parenting involves teaching children that there is more to the world than just them and their needs. Thinking of others first is an increasingly foreign concept these days, as is putting oneself in another’s shoes.

Many parents find it burdensome to discipline their children, follow through on punishment, set parameters, say “no,” model respectful behaviour on a consistent basis, execute “tough love,” etc. But these are necessary and the very structure upon which raising good children is based.

Sitting on the sidelines is tantamount to a lot of nothing.

Getting up, being involved, taking action yields results.

 

While Christine Archibald’s family somehow tries to understand the heinous act that ended their daughter’s life, another family also mourns. Tyler Ferguson, Christine’s fiance, and his family.

“Last night in London my baby brother lost the love of his life on the London Bridge. In a split second his entire life was ripped away from him,” wrote Cassie Ferguson Rowe, Ferguson’s sister.

Defiance in the face of hatred has been the natural public response in the aftermath of many of these increasingly brazen and disturbing acts.

Small acts of respect, kindness, compassion and empathy within each of our homes, schools and our own communities will go a lot further in stemming this ugly tide.

It starts at home. It starts with how we raise our children. It starts with how hard we are willing to work as parents.

Preserving Christine Archibald’s legacy demands it.

Originally appeared in HuffPost Canada

Five-year old Taliyah Marsman in a photo released by the Calgary Police.

Reading about a child’s death is gut-wrenching as a parent.  The solidarity you feel with other mothers and fathers makes it virtually impossible not to weep for their loss and question your faith in the world.

You can’t help but imagine your own family experiencing such tragedy and reeling from the unthinkable heartbreak of losing a child.  You find it hard to look your own children in the eye because the very thought of going through what five-year old Taliyah Marsman’s family is going through in this moment is too unbearable to comprehend.

You feel helpless to protect your loved ones and though you try and tell yourself the world is filled with more good people than bad, you can’t help the sense of uncomfortable suspicion that washes over you every time a stranger crosses your path.

What is a parent to do when it feels like the world has turned upside down?  How do you move from one day to the next without feeling abandoned in a sea of more bad news than good?

I wish I had answers, but in this moment only questions.

Rest in Peace Taliyah Marsman and Sara Baillie.  May you find lasting comfort in the arms of each other.

Five-year old Taliyah Marsman in a photo released by Calgary Police.
Five-year old Taliyah Marsman in a photo released by Calgary Police.

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Maturity Matters When Explaining Tragedy to Kids

 

 

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The hotly-contested topic of work-life balance continues to fascinate me, in part because I’m likely one of the few out there who thinks IT IS POSSIBLE.  I speak from experience and over the last decade or so have discussed the topic with various newsmakers (see video interviews below) to learn about how they do it.

Getting a glimpse recently into the life of Canada’s Minister of Environment and Climate Change, Katherine McKenna, on this very topic is incredibly refreshing quite honestly, and LONG OVERDUE.

I’ve always believed work-life balance is possible with ONE important caveat. You have to be able to prioritize, and maintain a rigorous focus on those priorities.

For Minister McKenna, shutting down at 5:30 pm every day to spend the next 3 hours or so at home is a priority. Heaven or earth likely cannot be moved to change that sacred time.

Having worked shifts, weekends, stat holidays, evenings,  in the competitive, often-all-consuming world of television news and then sports for more than a decade — while having , growing and raising a family — was ONLY possible because of priorities my husband and I had outlined and to which we continue to maintain a razor-like focus.

One of our priorities has always been and continues to be — to eat dinner together as a family. Despite those ever-changing shifts, my husbands’ previous work travels (almost a month in Australia when I was 8 ¾ months pregnant with our second instantly comes to mind!) —- we can count, probably on two hands the number of times we have NOT been able to eat dinner together, wtih our three children.  A priority.   Immovable from the daily calendar.

A happy side-benefit of this particular priority for us has been the growing body of evidence that points to the importance of family mealtimes on the nutritional, emotional, psycho-social and other aspects of a child’s life.  We can attest to this and we have never had it any other way.

Prioritizing often means saying yes to a few things and saying NO to many others. And you have to be at peace with that.  Not always easy for any of us, but the reward — while sometimes hard to see initially — is so well worth it.

Yes, your career may have to take a different course, you may have to turn down opportunities, it’s possible you’ll likely have to reinvent yourself several times — that’s what staying the course of priorities will entail.

In a world with a ton of white noise, the opportunity to get pulled in a million directions, to lose yourself, to completely forget what is inherently and ultimately important, setting and maintaining priorities — in my opinion — is the driver for establishing work-life balance.

In 2016, there are, thankfully, a few more companies who also now believe that a ‘happy employee is a productive employee’.  Telecommuting, part-time/freelance work, job sharing, technology have enabled many people to attain some kind of balance in their lives.  So much more can and should be done.

When I read, as I often do, that so-and-so has decided to step down, move on, retire, quit — to spend more time with family — an eye-roll usually still follows with the question — ‘did your family just become more important to you’?

Oprah once said it, quite succinctly, I thought:  “Women can have it all, just not at the same time.”

A ‘well-balanced’ mother or father is likely a more positive parent — because they prioritized it.

 

RELATED LINKS:

PODCAST: Work/Life balance with actress Cynthia Dale

VIDEOS ARCHIVES:

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Having a newborn is tough; there are no two ways about it. It’s a life-altering adjustment that you can’t fully prepare for beforehand and the feeling of being overwhelmed is almost constant. At one point or another, we all felt driven to our wits end by the demands of having someone rely on us 24/7 and we silently (or not so silently) prayed for the newborn stage to be over.

So you can imagine my surprise, when, as I turned the page on my daughter’s first year, I found myself reflecting on those harrowing first months with a sense of nostalgia. Maybe it’s the rose-colored glasses that go hand-in-hand with a full night’s sleep, but nonetheless, there are things I definitely miss about having a newborn.

Here are just some of them:

“Enjoy this time, it goes by so quickly”: As I wandered from shopping mall to grocery store looking like a zombie from the planet NeverGonnaSleepAgain, the last thing I wanted to hear were a bunch of clichés about cherishing this special time. Now, I begrudgingly accept that everyone was right as I realize how fleeting those few months really were.

My swollen…everything: Remember barely being able to sit down? How about the two engorged volcanoes on your chest threatening to erupt any minute? It felt like torture at the time, but looking back, those aches and pains were battle scars and a constant reminder of the tiny life that depended solely on you for survival.

Lack of Routine: Think about it. When in your later life will you ever be exempt from conforming to a schedule? In a warped way, having a newborn is like the loophole of adulthood, you’re basically encouraged to sleep in the middle of the day. Um, awesome?

The bucket car-seat: I used to curse that thing left and right! It was cumbersome and awkward to carry; I remember threatening to chuck it out the window at least twice. But now that it’s cold out, it would be SO nice to be able to fasten our daughter into the bucket indoors rather than pile her into a freezing cold car and attempt to secure her with frozen fingers.

Middle of the night feedings: There were nights I recall feeling like I was the only person awake in the entire world. The exhaustion felt relentless, like someone was forcing my eyes open with toothpicks. In retrospect, those overnights spent rocking my daughter back to sleep rank highly among the most special times of my life.

Pumping: Just kidding. Nothing to miss about that.

So you see, to everything there is a silver-lining and the newborn stage is no exception. It may take six-months and a trip to the day spa to realize it, but those challenging early days – and all the crap that goes with them – are unique and so incredibly rewarding that you might occasionally find yourself wishing for them back.

Cara Scholl lives in Toronto with her husband and 13-month old daughter.  Her passions include following politics, musical theatre and experimenting with her slow-cooker. She holds a Master’s Degree in Broadcast Journalism and enjoys documenting her parenting adventures on her recently established blog, The Mommy Brew.