Family Reunions

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

There are times when I think I am really on target with the importance of families…then someone hands me the request to write a blog on “family reunions.” Hum…not really feeling on target anymore. Do you ever feel this way? The word, “reunion” can stir up a wide range of feelings, good, and bad, confusing, exhilarating and everything in between.

Now my dad, who is now 98, makes going to his family reunion one of his highest priorities. He makes sure he is driven across 3 states to attend his yearly family reunion. I try to put myself in his situation, to attempt to understand why this is such a priority to him. I understand he wants to spend even a short time with his only remaining sibling. I know he enjoys seeing the nearly 100 relatives who attend. I often hear him ask about the members who aren’t in attendance…almost like saying he misses their presence. He gets a big kick out of having the largest group in attendance from his lineage. He is obviously a proud member of this larger clan.

Do reunions make you happier, healthier? Probably…research shows that connecting with others is important in terms of having people feel happier and healthier. Connecting with a large group helps in a variety of ways… perhaps with getting a new job, place to stay, or just needing to know more about whatever! More minds know more. (Well, that’s true in most families!)

Family reunions may be the only place multiple generations meet, besides funerals or weddings. Generally they’re held at pleasant places, which tend to make for happy times (unlike funerals.) Family reunions can also be a place to heal old wounds. They can be a place to learn about one’s heritage, or medical genetic information. Reunions can be a place to share “brag stories” about our families. (I think all reunions should offer a “show and tell” table, where each family can place photos, old and new, or other memorabilia to view.) It can be a place to share e-mail addresses, making communication easier and hence making closer relationships. Closer relationships (or friendships) are the true blessings of families. With more and more families adopting, it can also be a great way for new members to meet and bond.

Think of the great lengths people who do not know their ancestry take in order to know their relatives. It’s just cool to know your history, as well as the history being made right now. You can think of each member being a story, plus taking time to share “your” story…who you are and what makes you interesting. Make time to attend yours, and take your kids. Do the same for your spouse/significant other, and they’ll be more likely to return the favor. Guess there are lots of good reasons to go to one’s family reunion. Go ahead and make it a priority…bet you’ll be glad you did!

Carol Cochard Pool, MSW

Cell Phones and Kids

Monday, July 18, 2011

A cell phone lets you stay in touch with your children at almost all times. In addition to being practical, having a cell phone can help you easily get in touch with your kids in case of an emergency. This extra sense of security and safety that a cell phone provides is probably the key reason that parents should even consider getting their younger children a cell phone. A cell phone can also be an important way to keep in touch with your older teen, especially if they are driving.

Although the increased independence that a cell phone might offer a child can be good, it can also be a negative thing. Consider that with a cell phone, your child will simply have another way to communicate with the outside world that you will have little supervision over. And keep in mind that most of today's cell phones offer almost complete internet access, with web browsing, email, chat, and instant messaging, that is much harder to filter and control as compared to your home computer.

Cell phones may even be a distraction to kids. We all know that they are a distraction for drivers, but one study has also shown that cell phones can be a big distraction for kids crossing the street and could lead to more accidents and injuries.

Cell phones also put your child at risk for getting in trouble for:

■sexting - sending or receiving nude pictures or classmates
■prank calls - which can get your child in trouble if someone starts pranking other people from your child's phone

Whether or not your child is ready for or needs a cell phone is something a parent will have to decide for themselves. Do make sure that your child can handle the responsibility for a cell phone though, before you buy one. Also remember that you can buy a phone that is just a phone; it doesn’t have to have internet access.

Source: “Kids and Cell Phones”

July is National Make A Difference for Children Month

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Some years ago I directed a jobs program for urban teens. Penny was one of our bright stars. Her appearance was a little startling at first. It was the mid-80s, and she embraced every 80s fashion trend short of the Madonna-wear-your-undies-outside-your-clothes thing. She loved bright blue eye shadow and wore tons of black eyeliner. Her hair was black and spiky, full of various mousses and gels. She looked hard and tough, but the truth is she was one of the sweetest kids I knew. She worked hard, helped her coworkers, stepped in to solve conflicts, you name it.

So you can imagine how surprised I was one day when the kids were coming in after school and I overheard Penny outside my office. She was telling her friends about an argument she’d had with a teacher, and that she’d really stood up to him. In the vernacular of the day, she called him “everything but a child of God.”

Oh dear. Our program required kids to maintain good grades. If Penny was getting into it with teachers, her grades would soon reflect that. I knew better than to bring it up in front of her friends, so I waited. Just before quitting time, I took her aside and explained what I’d overheard. “Did this really happen?” I asked. “Oh, yeah,” she nodded.

“Penny, I don’t get it. Why are you being a hell raiser at school and you’re such a joy to be with here?”

She cocked her head to one side and smiled, as though I were a small child. “Oh, Maaaary,” she said. “C’mon. You know me.”

It took me a moment, but then I realized what she meant. I did know her. I knew her family. I’d visited their home many times. I knew about her absent father who never called, and about her mom who worked long hours to keep food on the table and a roof over their heads. I knew how on the edge they lived, and that an unexpected car repair or medical bill would bring down the delicate house of cards that was their daily existence. I knew about Penny’s older brother who’d been in trouble with the law. I knew all of this, and Penny knew I knew all of this and that I didn’t judge her for it the way some others did.

Penny could just be who she was when she came to the youth program. She didn’t have to be tough, she didn’t have to put up a front, because we’d created a safe place for her to be. She understood that the guidance we provided wasn’t an attack and therefore didn’t require any defense on her part. At the risk of sounding self-congratulatory, it is clear that what we did at that little program made a difference for Penny and for many other kids.

“You know me.” What human being doesn’t crave the sweetness of being known in a way that allows us to relax our defenses?

July is National Make A Difference for Children Month. This is a month often marked by family gatherings, picnics, reunions and vacations; it is a month when families get to spend more time together. Whether you have kids or not, I urge you to take some time to consider how precious our children are.

As adults, we have enormous power to affect the lives of children in positive ways. This month—and every month—let us dedicate ourselves to creating a world where they can flourish. For July, consider doing these three things:

1. Commit to do one special thing with a child in July—make some kind of positive difference for that child.
2. Support an organization that focuses on children—there are many from which to choose! Support them with what you have to give, whether that is your time, your talents or your treasure.
3. Communicate with your elected leaders to make children a priority in policy and budget issues they address.
It has been said that children are one-third of our population and 100% of our future. That future begins now. Small steps can make a huge difference!

Mary Armstrong-Smith, PCAIN Community Partners Director

Invest in Our Children

Thursday, July 7, 2011

This week, we all found out the fate of Casey Anthony. We were already painfully aware of the fate of her two year old daughter, Caylee. We will probably never know the truth of what happened to this child, but we do know the truth of what happens to so many children like Caylee: They die needlessly, and they usually die in a manner that could have been prevented.

During such high profile cases, we at Prevent Child Abuse Indiana are often asked what we think, or how we feel about the perpetrator, or what we feel could have been done to prevent such a tragedy. Since we weren’t there, we don’t know what could have been done in this particular case. We do know what can be done for the future to help promote the welfare of children though, and it’s very simple…we have to start putting children first…not just in rhetoric, but in reality. We have said before that it’s okay to feel angry, or sad, or confused when these unthinkable things happen to the most vulnerable among us. However if we get stuck in those emotions, we may not be able to respond in such a way that prevents those things from happening again.

When children are not being cared for, or not being provided every opportunity to thrive, then the toll on them, their families, their community, and society as a whole is immense. Polls show that people care what happens to children, and that programs that benefit children should not be cut. People understand that not investing in children in the short run, will be much more expensive in the long run. When we talk about investing in children, we are not necessarily talking about money. There are many ways in which people and communities can invest. They can invest time, interest, and their passion for doing what’s right for children. Scenes that show crowds outside of courthouses during trials are the scenes we want to see outside of playgrounds, parks, Statehouses, schools, daycares. If people can make the time to gather in outrage, they can make the time to gather to champion the rights of children…because the former will usually result in feelings of hopelessness, while the latter will result in a better future for everyone.