10 powerful ways we can help immigrant children separated from their parents

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[Update: If you're reading this in June 2019, there is a current article here.]

Their parents couldn't hear their cries, but now, America has. On Monday Propublica released heart-wrenching audio reportedly recorded inside a U.S. Customs and Border Protection detention facility, which captured the cries of young children separated from their parents after coming to the United States from Central America. The children are believed to be between 4 and 10 years old, and their desperate sobs are harrowing.

The haunting audio documents a practice a majority of Americans are against. A recent poll by CBS News found 67% of Americans say it's unacceptable to separate children from their parents after they cross the border.

Across the country mothers and fathers hear the voices of their own children in those of the immigrant children on the recording, and so many are asking each other 'what can we do?'

It may seem like an overwhelming situation, but there are powerful actions any parent can take to create change for the children who are crying for their parents in a scary new place. We can't hug them and hold them close, or reunite them with their moms and dads right now, but we can do the following:

1. Donate to The Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES)

A non-profit that aims to reunite families and help kids feel safe, the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services (RAICES) needs funds to fulfil its mission. The Texas-based nonprofit aims to "directly fund the bond necessary to get parents out of detention and reunited with their children while awaiting court proceedings" and "ensure legal representation for EVERY child in Texas' immigration courts."

2. Call your representatives

As much as many parents wish we could tear down those chain link walls and put babies back with their mothers, we, as individuals, don't have the power to do that or to stop it from happening in the future. The U.S. government does have that power though, and the American people have the power to elect them. You can call your senator and let them know that you will not stand for this.

If you don't know what number to call, you can punch your zip code into the ACLU's website and it will route your call to the appropriate representative. If you don't know what to say, the ACLU has prepared a script. Just say hello to the congressional staffer who picks up the phone and tell then you want to see

3. Encourage others to call their representatives

Tell your friends that you've made that call and ask them to call, too. A lot of people have never called a politician's office before, so let those in your circle know about how the ACLU will route their call and pass on the short script for those who get flustered on the phone.

4. Find a local protest

When we stand together our voices are amplified. If you're looking to join in a protest of immigrant family separation policies, check out Families Belong Together. The organization has created a growing list of rallies and vigils in support of the families.

5. Organize your own protest

If there is no protest or rally organized in your area, you may want to organize your own. Father-of-two Ron Piovesan organized a protest in the Bay Area. "There's a lot of people who are very angry with what's going on; they're feeling helpless," he told NBC of his Father's Day protest.

According to NBC, "Piovesan passed out slips of paper encouraging people to take action, to call their representatives and donate to legal aid groups trying to help immigrant detainees."

The Community Toolbox at the University of Kansas offers an in-depth guide to planning a public demonstration. The guide's authors note the most important part of organizing a planned rally, vigil, march or sit-in is planning. Call your City Hall to find out if you need permits for the space you plan to use and let the local police know where and for how long you will be protesting.

Communicating with your fellow protesters is also important. Start by inviting anyone you think may share your passion for reuniting children with their parents and stopping future separations. Then figure out an effective communication system, like a group text or Facebook group, to keep participants in the loop and allow you to delegate responsibilities and coordinate times.

If you're trying to reach legislators, consider protesting outside the State House, but a protest in your own neighbourhood can also be of service by educating the public. Be prepared to give people practical information, like the ACLU phone script, and the number for your local representative. Picket signs let people know that this isn't just a gathering, it's a protest, so bust out the Sharpies and cardboard and get creative.

6. Donate to the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

You may have seen mom-of-two Chrissy Teigen tweeting about this recently. She and husband John Legend called for concerned fellow parents to donate to the organization which is raising money to defend asylum-seeking immigrant parents who've been separated from their children.

7. Volunteer

If you've got experience in immigration law of translation, organizations like the Texas Civil Rights Project can put you to work in the fight to reunite parents and children. They are reportedly in need of translators who speak "Spanish, Mam, Q'eqchi' or K'iche'" and people with have paralegal or legal assistant experience in McAllen, TX.

8. Donate to Together Rising

Motherly previously reported on the efforts of "Love Warrior" author Glennon Doyle and her charity, Together Rising, in raising funds to help these children get the legal support they need. The organization has already "funded the Florence Immigrant and Refugee Rights Project for an angel team of four lawyers and 3 legal assistants to represent children detained in Arizona detention centers and their families; and the Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights in order to cover the costs of a lawyer and social worker who will be operating around the country and on the border to provide advocacy and healing to unaccompanied, detained children."

Now, Together Rising is helping other organizations dedicated to helping these kids, including Kids In Need of Defence and RAICES.

9. Keep talking about it

According to CBS News, 90% of Democrats polled find the practice of separating kids and families to be unacceptable. Republicans are "more divided" with 39% saying it's unacceptable and 1 in 5 saying they have not heard enough about it to say either way. If someone in your circle hasn't heard about this, tell them, and tell them that you're not standing for it.

10. Teach your children empathy

With this story pouring out of every smartphone, television and radio in our country, our children may be worried about the idea that kids are being taken from their parents. Parents may need to reassure their kids that they are safe, but there are other topics of conversation that can help our kids keep future children safe. By talking about empathy and kindness with our kids we can raise kind, empathic people who won't let this happen to the next generation's children.


[Update: June 20, 2018, adding additional links to charitable organizations]

Additional organizations currently accepting donations:

American Immigration Council: Tells Motherly it has "staff on the ground at the Dilley, Texas family detention center helping families, and we are documenting the terrible conditions of detention and bringing lawsuits to challenge them." Provides pro-bono lawyers to people in detention through the Immigration Justice Campaign.

Asylum Seeker Advocacy Project: Provides "emergency legal aid to refugee families".

Diocesan Migrant & Refugee Services: Provides "free and low cost immigration services".

Justice for Our Neighbors: Provides low income families with "affordable, high quality immigration legal services".

Kids In Need of Defense: According to its website, KIND "partners with major law firms, corporations, law schools, and bar associations to create a nationwide pro bono network to represent unaccompanied children through their immigration proceedings."

Las Americas Immigrant Advocacy Center: States it is "dedicated to serving the legal needs of low income immigrants, including refugees, victims of crime, and families seeking reunification."

Lutheran Immigration and Refugee Service: The faith-based organization "works with refugees, children, and migrants to ensure they are protected and welcomed into local communities throughout the United States."

South Texas Pro Bono Asylum Representation Project (ProBAR): A joint project of the American Bar Association, the State Bar of Texas and the American Immigration Lawyers Association, ProBAR "is a national effort to provide pro bono legal services to asylum seekers detained in South Texas by the United States government. "

The Young Center for Immigrant Children's Rights: Provides independent Child Advocates to stand up for unaccompanied immigrant children and "champion the child's best interests".

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When infectious diseases make headlines parents naturally get a little worried, and this week coronavirus is in the news constantly. The coronavirus has infected more than 600 people worldwide, though mostly in China. As of Jan. 23, Chinese authorities have reported 17 deaths from the virus so far. Only two cases have been confirmed in the U.S. and officials are monitoring 63 suspected cases.

Here's what you need to know, mama.

1. Don't panic.

According to the World Health Organization the coronavirus outbreak is not an international public health emergency.

"CDC believes the immediate risk to the U.S. public is low at this time, but the situation is evolving rapidly," Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said on a conference call with media on Friday. "We have our best people working on this problem," Messonnier explained, adding that we will likely see more cases in the coming days.

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2. There have been no fatalities in children.

The youngest victim of a confirmed case of novel coronavirus is 36 years old. Most of the fatal cases in China have been in people over 60 and more men than women have been impacted.

3. The family of coronaviruses is a spectrum of severity.

According to the CDC, most people will be infected with a coronavirus at some point in their lives. The common strains of coronavirus cause "moderate upper-respiratory tract illnesses, like the common cold" while more severe strains, including Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and Middle East Respiratory Syndrom (MERS) can be fatal.

The strain that is making headlines is a severe and novel coronavirus. It's new and the similarities to influenza make it difficult for experts to distinguish it from all the other respiratory illnesses floating around this time of year.

4. There is a test for it.

When public health officials suspect someone may have coronavirus they can send respiratory and serum samples to the CDC and find out if it's coronavirus or just the flu within about 24 hours.

5. There are steps to take for prevention.

To prevent the spread of the virus the U.S. State Department has issued its most severe travel advisory for the area of China (the province of Hubei, where the city of Wuhan is) most impacted by the coronavirus.

The CDC offers the following tips for protecting your family from the coronavirus (as well as other respiratory illnesses):

  • "Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds."
  • "Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands."
  • "Avoid close contact with people who are sick."
Bottom line: Don't panic, mama. The illness is likely to be in the headlines for months, but that doesn't mean we need to live in fear. We just need to be proactive and keep washing those little hands.
News

We often think of the unequal gender division of unpaid labor as a personal issue, but a new report by Oxfam proves that it is a global issue—and that a handful of men are becoming incredibly wealthy while women and girls bear the burden of unpaid work and poverty.

According to Oxfam, the unpaid care work done by women and girls has an economic value of $10.8 trillion per year and benefits the global economy three times more than the entire technology industry.

"Women are supporting the market economy with cheap and free labor and they are also supporting the state by providing care that should be provided by the public sector," the report notes.

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The unpaid work of hundreds of millions of women is generating massive wealth for a couple of thousand (predominantly male) billionaires. "What is clear is that this unpaid work is fueling a sexist economic system that takes from the many and puts money in the pockets of the few," the report states.

Max Lawson is Oxfam International's Head of Inequality Policy. In an interview with Vatican News, he explained that "the foundation of unpaid work done by the poorest women generates enormous wealth for the economy," and that women do billions of hours of unpaid care work (caring for children, the sick, the elderly and cooking, cleaning) for which they see no financial reward but which creates financial rewards for billionaires.

Indeed, the report finds that globally 42% of women can't work for money because of their unpaid care responsibilities.

In the United States, women spend 37% more time doing unpaid care work than men, Oxfam America notes in a second report released in cooperation with the Institute for Women's Policy Research.

"It's an economy that is built on the backs of women and of poor women and their labour, whether it's poorly paid labour or even unpaid labour, it is a sexist economy and it's a broken economy, and you can only fix the gap between the rich and the poor if at the same time you fix the gap between women and men," Lawson explains.

According to Lawson, you can't fight economic inequality without fighting gender equality, and he says 2020 is the year to do both. Now is a great time to start, because as Motherly has previously reported, no country in the world is on track to eliminate gender inequality by 2030 (one of the Sustainable Development Goals adopted by 193 United Nations member countries back in 2015) and no country will until the unpaid labor of women and girls is addressed.

"Governments around the world can, and must, build a human economy that is feminist and benefits the 99%, not only the 1%," the Oxfam report concludes.

The research suggests that paid leave, investments in childcare and the care of older adults and people with disabilities as well as utilizing technology to make working more flexible would help America close the gap.

(For more information on how you can fight for paid leave, affordable childcare and more this year check out yearofthemother.org.)

News

For new mamas back to sitting behind their desks at work some six weeks (or fewer) after their babies are born, the institutionalized parental leave policy in Denmark is the stuff of daydreams: Over in that Scandinavian paradise, parents are granted 52 weeks of paid leave to divide between them.

There's no denying this is much, much better than the state of parental leave in the United States, but it isn't quite as perfect as it seems from the outside. According to Denmark's Directorate of Employment, Labour and Social Affairs, women take an average 93% of leave allotted to couples. And when they do return to work, mothers' wages suffer both in comparison to men and women without children.

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The good news is that it seems the solution to this gender income gap is something we—the mothers of today, even here in America—can do something about.

A new paper from the US National Bureau of Economic Research that examined Danish administration information from 1980 to 2013 found the motherhood penalty “creates a gender gap in earnings of around 20% in the long run," which is comparable to the gap in the United States.

What's more, the income discrepancy only increases for each child a family in Denmark has: If a woman has four children, her income is only $0.60 to every dollar a man makes—10 years down the road.

While this indicates paid parental leave alone may not be the panacea for the gender income gap, the researchers suggest that changing the way we think about roles in the workplaces and homes could help—at least when it comes to the next generation.

“As a possible explanation for the persistence of child penalties, we show that they are transmitted through generations, from parents to daughters (but not sons)," the researchers note, explaining that the more a daughter's mother worked while the girl was growing up, the less the daughter's income was affected when she became a mother.

“Women tend to adopt a balance of paid work and childcare that is correlated with the one they saw their mother strike when they were growing up," Henrik Kleven, a Princeton economist and the paper's lead author, tells Quartz At Work.

What this looks like in practice is splitting household responsibilities from the get-go and encouraging fathers to take more leave. (In Sweden, where fathers are penalized for not taking advantage of paternity leave, women's earning rose an average 7% for each month of leave that men took.)

According to the State of the World's Fathers' report, produced by Promundo (a non-profit organization dedicated to engaging men and boys in gender equality in partnership with Dove Men+Care) 85% of dads surveyed in the United States, the UK, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, Japan and the Netherlands want to take paternity leave, and yet less than 50% of fathers take as much time as their country's policy allows, and social norms, financial pressures and a lack of support from their managers are all factors.

The report also found that if fathers are able to do just under an hour of unpaid work per day, mothers can cut their unpaid labor time by the same amount.

"We need men to do our share. Fifty minutes more to relieve women of 50 minutes less would get us really close to equal," the president and CEO of Promundo, Gary Barker, told Motherly.

This may help shift us toward more income equality today—and, as the research shows, our daughters will really be able to reap the benefits.

[A version of this post was first published January 29, 2018. It has been updated.]

News

Each day, licensed clinical social worker Ofra Obejas has appointments with a number of parents—with the idea that this is a designated time for them to decompress, turn their attention inward and concentrate on the counseling session. Yet, Obejas says she has noticed a disappointing trend: Many clients don't disconnect for that brief period.

"Parents have sat in therapy session with me and checked every time their phone alerted them, 'In case that's my kid calling me,'" she tells Motherly. "The smart device allows parents to never be away from the child."

Unlike in generations past, today's parents can be always "on" due to everything from high-tech baby monitors to a stream of pictures and updates sent to their phones. That's what we at Motherly have termed "continuous parenting," and the risk is it not only sets parents up for fatigue, but also sends children unhealthy messages about their own boundaries.

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The answer isn't to erase our kids from our minds every so often—because that simply isn't possible. But we can benefit from making the effort to step back from actively "parenting" every now and then.

Parents spend more time than ever with their kids

According to a recent study from The Economist, American moms now spend twice as much time with their children compared with women 50 years ago. That works out to be an average of 125 minutes per day of devoted mom-child time. (Kudos to dads, too: Since 1965, they have tripled the time spent with their kids. It's now up to an average of 59 minutes daily.)

Experts credit this to increasingly flexible work schedules and options to punch in from home. Likely also at play is the fact that the newest generation of moms and dads are embracing the duty like few before, with 99% of millennial parents reporting they truly love parenting.

We're leaning into parenting—but are we overdoing it?

It's one thing to identify first and foremost as a parent and take pride in that role. It's another thing, however, to confuse our sense of worth with our children's accomplishments, which is something former Stanford University dean of freshmen Julie Lythcott-Haims says was commonplace among the parents she encountered.

"When I ask parents why they participate in the overprotection, overdirection, hand-holding frenzy, they respond, 'So my kid can be happy and successful,'" she writes in How to Raise an Adult. "When I ask them how it feels, they respond, 'Way too stressful.'"

This constant investment in children's lives can take a toll on the parent-child relationship when the parent doesn't take time for him or herself, too. "The parents feel that they 'sacrificed' their own time for the benefit of the child, even though during much of that time there was no direct engagement with the child," Obejas says of those hours spent shuttling kids around town or waiting outside the doctor's office. "The parents' own emotional and mental cup becomes empty, and when the child asks for more attention, the parents feel like they have already given enough."

The expectation of constant contact 'is draining for the brain'

Even outside the category of helicopter parents, the expectation that we should constantly know what our children are doing is problematic. "'Always on alert' didn't start with children," says Obejas. "It started with devices and apps designed to be addictive. It overtaxes our fight or flight response and leads to toxic stress when levels of cortisol and adrenaline don't ever subside."

Compared with the days when it was the norm for kids to roam free until the streetlights came on, it's commonplace today for parents to expect regular updates of their kids' exact whereabouts either by texts or GPS tracking tools.

"While this can be a safety backup, it increases the type of hypervigilance we know is draining for the brain," says Urszula Klich, licensed clinical psychologist and president of the Southeast Biofeedback and Clinical Neuroscience Association. "[This] can also cause incredible anxiety as parents hear and read things they wouldn't normally be subject to, that is, let's face it, a normal part of kids growing up."

Roles have reversed

Not so long ago, parents would go to the store or out on a date only with the faith that everything was fine at home. Now? That's almost unthinkable—as we've instead shifted to the mentality that our children or their responsible caregivers should be able to contact us at any given moment. Despite the good intentions at play here, this comes at an expense.

"In what other job do you never get a break? It is truly exhausting to never get to turn off the parent brain," says LMHC Jasmin Terrany, author of Extraordinary Mommy: A Loving Guide to Mastering Life's Most Important Job.

Driving this is the trend toward maternal gatekeeping, which describes the subconscious desire to micromanage child care even when someone else is perfectly capable of holding down the fort. As uncomfortable as this may feel, it's healthiest for everyone when parents can hand over the reigns on occasion.

"We must have regular practices to refuel," Terrany tells Motherly. "We don't need to feel guilty about taking this time for ourselves—our kids will not only learn that self-care is essential, but when we are good, they will be good."

This is also how we let our children know another adult can attend to their needs, which is an important step in fostering their sense of independence and confidence. As Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity, previously told Motherly, "Let your partner actually figure it out on their own and know that the system survives even when you are not there."

Being 'always on' can degrade quality time, too

Much of being "always on" is a two-way street: Not only do we bring our children into our work days and social lives, but we also bring other obligations home with us in the form of emails sent to our smartphones and mid-playtime breaks to check social media.

"Our children need us, the parents to be 'there,'" says Tom Kersting, licensed psychotherapist and author of Disconnected: How To Reconnect Our Digitally Distracted Kids. "They need us to talk to them, play with them and be present with them. This is literally impossible if we are multitasking between the iPhone and our interactions with them."

As expert as we may consider ourselves at multitasking, there is also something to be said for setting boundaries. "In today's world it's become difficult not to carry that phone around you all the time, even more so when your job is tied to it," says Klich. "Set boundaries for yourself for when you will check, even if it's once an hour, and stick to that making it clear to the kids what you are doing and why."

And when we're away from the kids, remember this hack: Calls from favorite contacts can still come through when you're on do not disturb mode. So tell your partner or your babysitter or your kids to call if it's a true emergency—and then allow yourself to go off the clock. You'll be better for it.

[This post was first published June 25, 2018.]

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