Tag Archives: kids

Debbie, the reason I can now focus on what I love – #2

It was the culmination of two years of tiny, incremental steps — of conflicting emotions, of learning to let go, of recognizing my own limitations and finding ways to compensate for them, of doing what I knew in my heart was best for my “baby.”

Isn’t that what mothers do? We spend a couple of decades nurturing, feeding, supporting, losing sleep in worry, loving with an ache that is both exquisite and unbearable. And then, because it’s what is right, we step away.

I took one of those steps yesterday, the first business day of this new decade. And my “baby,” the magazine that grew up with me and my now-adult sons, is taking its first bold steps away from me.

At our staff meeting yesterday, I made an announcement. It wasn’t a great surprise to anyone who has seen me laying the groundwork. But I felt it was time for the demarcation — a formal declaration that we have crossed a line and won’t be going back.

“As of today,” I told my staff, “I am no longer the person running the business side of Raising Arizona Kids.”

My voice was shaking. Though I am confident about this new direction, it’s hard to admit you can’t do it all. Wearing the many hats required of a full-time editor and publisher is exhausting. For 20 years I have been in triage — always making tough decisions about which aspects of my job would get my full attention.

I have loved running my business. For someone who played “office” as a little girl instead of “house,” it has been the culmination of a dream. But I had other dreams when I first got into this — dreams that have gone unfulfilled as I’ve done what mothers do when raising their children: make time for everyone but themselves and their own creative fulfillment.

So I have turned over the business operations to longtime staffer Debbie Davis. And Debbie, who has run our circulation department since the fall of 2000, is turning over her duties to Community Relations Manager Katie Charland. The shift will create more time for me to focus on what I love best: content development for the magazine and raisingarizonakids.com.

It’s been two years since I first brought Debbie into the process of business and financial operations for Raising Arizona Kids. We started out gradually, working together on budgets and tracking. Debbie has a long career history in publishing, a good head for business and better business instincts than mine. I am not sure we would have survived the difficult economic downturn in 2009 were it not for her perspective and foresight.

Bit by bit, I taught Debbie what I’d learned in 20 years of making decisions, making discoveries and making plenty of downright disastrous mistakes. Sometimes it was really painful for me; it is easy to feel vulnerable and defensive about something as laden with emotion as money (or lack thereof). Sometimes I’d find myself feeling territorial as she gently probed for explanations or reasons. When she sensed my back was up, she backed off. We waited for another day.

Ultimately, I had to accept two things in order to make this work: (1) that Debbie was not judging anything I’d done and in fact was full of admiration for self-taught systems I’d created from years of trial-and-error and (2) that you must embrace the fear of letting someone in if you want the relief of letting go.

A few days ago I stared a list of “1,000 people to thank before I die.” Today, I’m adding Debbie to that list. Thanks to her patience, her perseverance and her sincere desire to improve the quality and stability of both my life and my business, I am looking forward to new adventures. — Karen


No black-and-white answers

It wasn’t at all what I expected.

Brittney Walker and I attended Monday’s “Safe Sleep Symposium” at Scottsdale Stadium. The educational event, organized by the Arizona Department of Health Services, pulled together professionals from many fields — medicine, social work, emergency response, child protective services and more. Their goal? To figure out what kind of educational outreach would be most effective in reducing the incidence of infant deaths from Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS) and tragic, sleep-related accidents.

Remember the Back to Sleep campaign? That effort has been hugely successful in reducing the number of SIDS deaths from suffocation. Moms and dads were told that it’s safest to put babies to sleep on their backs, rather than their tummies. The overall rate of SIDS deaths has declined dramatically since 1994, when the Back to Sleep message was first promoted. But now another, just as devastating, statistic is rising: child deaths that occur in adult beds.

It goes by many names — co-sleeping, co-bedding, “the family bed.” And it’s practiced in many cultures around the world. Here, it’s practiced by parents who seekĀ  convenience (for breastfeeding moms) or a strong, loving bond with their children.

It’s a very personal choice, and one that clearly comes with risks. An emergency responder who spoke at the conference described finding a child who’d been suffocated by the weight of an adult who rolled over onto him in the middle of the night. Children have suffocated from loose or heavy bedding in an adult bed — or from becoming wedged between the bed and the wall. So I was expecting the professionals at the Safe Sleep Symposium to be adamantly united in a message against co-sleeping.

But they weren’t.

Brittney (an admitted co-sleeper who began the practice out of desperation when she was pushed to her limit by a baby who would scream for five and six hours each night) was part of a panel of woman who’d made the same choice and were there to explain it. I was sitting in the back of the room during the discussion, waiting for my turn to talk during lunch about “Messaging for the Media.” I was astonished, as I listened and watched, to see many of the heads in front of me nodding in agreement as Brittney and the two other women defended their co-sleeping practice.

By the time the panel ended, I was completely dumbfounded. You expect the pros to be very black and white about rules. Especially when it comes to safety. But they weren’t. They acknowledged that there are many positives to co-sleeping, and sometimes many economic reasons why it’s the only choice. (Some families, obviously, can’t afford cribs and separate bedrooms for their children.)

So it’s a tricky message they have to craft: that co-sleeping can be dangerous but there are ways to make it less so. Like never bringing a child to your bed when you’ve been drinking alcohol or taking sleep-inducing drugs. Like making sure you have a firm mattress (no cushy pillow top!) and there are no fluffy pillows or heavy blankets anywhere near the baby. Like positioning the baby near your waist, not your face.

One nurse I spoke to before I left told me that she thinks of it the same way she does many other safety hazards. Take ATVs. “I’ve seen so many accident victims,” she said. “But what are you going to do? Tell people they shouldn’t have ATVs? Or that their children shouldn’t be allowed on them? At least they’re out there pursuing a family activity that they enjoy doing together.”

If we wanted to keep our children 100 percent safe, we wouldn’t let them ride their bikes or roller blade or skateboard or cross the street, for that matter. Instead, we teach them the safest methods for navigating their lives. We make them wear helmets and we teach them safety rules. We take precautions on their behalf and we follow the safety rules ourselves. And we hope for the best.

Download the National Institute of Child Health and Human Development brochure “Infant Sleep Position and SIDS.”

Speaking up–finally

I used to work for the Arizona Republic. In fact, my husband and I fell in love while co-writing middle-of-the-night reports about homicides, fires and robberies. (He was in the field; I was at the night rewrite desk.)

We left the Republic to pursue graduate school (a law degree for Dan, an MBA for me). Seven years and two children later, I started Raising Arizona Kids Magazine.

I held my tongue as I watched what evolved at the Republic over the next few years. Raising Arizona Kids pioneered one project after another–comprehensive calendars of events, annual summer camp directories, birthday party resource guides and more–only to see our ideas duplicated in the larger and more efficiently distributed daily newspaper. I held my breath and suffered countless sleepless nights when the Republic (through its magazine division) started a monthly magazine for parents in the East Valley. (Our Kids lasted less than a year before it was yanked for failure to thrive.) And then came the final blow. The Republic claimed moms for its own, providing “new” resources online that we’ve offered decades–but with the advantage of huge teams of web-savvy professionals who could add all the bells and whistles (if none of the depth). Versus me and one part-time IT guy.

But now I’ve really had it. The Republic, in the Gannett model of market-research-driven, increasingly superficial and fluff-oriented journalism, has gone too far. In this month’s az magazine (which is devoted to “buzz, people, style and culture”), self-annointed parenting expert Karina Bland advocates a parenting strategy designed to put children “Ahead of the curve” by enrolling them in what she describes as “10 of the Valley’s best enrichment programs to help your child beat the competition.”

I felt physically ill as I read her describe how today’s parents will “do just about anything to help [children] get a leg up on the competition–even it if means instruction in Mandarin well before they’ve mastered English or college classes before they’re old enough to drive.”

It’s not that the 10 places she lists are bad places (although I know from receiving the same press releases she gets that the Bambini Language Immersion Preschool she recommends just opened on Nov. 17th, so how it can be the “best” with no track record floors me.) It’s her premise that the only way to be a good parent is to push your child to be better than everyone else.

The irony is striking as I proofread copy for our February issue. We have an article by Scottsdale early childhood education expert Melanie Romero, who through both education and experience is far more qualified than Karina Bland to tell parents how to best approach their parenting. In “Parenting on Overdrive,” Melanie rejects the strategy of trying to raise super kids (a concept, frankly, that was on its way out 23 years ago when I had my first child). To quote from Melanie’s article: “Parents who over-schedule their children or push them to achieve risk creating young people and adults with chronic stress, burnout, low self-esteem and lack of creativity.” She condemns “hyper-parenting,” a phrase first coined by Alvin Rosenfeld, M.D. and Nicole Wise in their book The Over-Scheduled Child: Avoiding the Hyper-Parenting Trap.

When I attended journalism school I was taught that professionalism dictates objectivity, despite your own innate preferences and choices. My staff has been trained to work this way. We believe that parenting is a serious and carefully cultivated skill enhanced by exposure to different professional opinions. We consciously choose to avoid recommending any one approach or hyping something as “best” because we know that all parents are different, all children are different, all families are different… and what works for one does not necessarily work for another. We strive to be a place for the exchange of ideas, rooted in a professional perspective provided by local experts we interview or whose articles we publish. We expect that our readers will ponder the options and strategies we describe and choose wisely from their own insights about their respective situations.

In this blog-eat-blog world, we increasingly accept as “news” and “fact” the opinions of people whose intelligence and personal experience often encompass no more than the ability to type and hype. It saddens me that the Republic has such a large and powerful platform on which to promote what their marketing department has determined will sell magazines.

I refuse to relegate my parenting — or my company — to that model.