A drowning investigator's plea to parents about water safety goes viral

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[Editor's note: Natalie Livingston has been in the aquatics industry for decades, training lifeguards and investigating aquatic accidents and drowning deaths. She is passionate about preventing the kinds of accidents she investigates, and that is why a Facebook post she wrote is now going viral. The following post was republished with her permission.]

I investigate drownings. I understand the realities of what can happen, often so quickly and quietly. I read a lot about water safety and tips telling parents to pay attention to their children and not be distracted, which is so important. We see so many news articles about drowning during this time of year, but a lot of the advice isn't practical and just highlights the problems, so I decided to write my own list of tips to help.

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Here is a list of 10 random things I do to keep my own kids safe in the water.

1. Give safety briefings

This actually started with a swim lesson procedure of making sure they always asked permission before entering the water. I have expanded it by having a little meeting about expectations. My kids now know to wait (sometimes impatiently continually asking me, "Mom, what do we need to know…can we go yet?!?!?") until I give my briefing.

I outline where they can swim, jump in, how they can jump in and anything else safety-related. A great time to do this is while applying sunscreen. They also know the consequences if they don't follow the safety rules.

These meetings are a way for me to teach my kids respect for the water. They obviously know it is dangerous, knowing what I do for work, but sometimes aquatic centers, water parks, beaches and pools look so fun and enticing that it is easy to forget.

I think as parents we need to be just as concerned with the safety as we are with the fun, but that takes effort. I think some people may not want to ruin the fun by adding in rules, but I know rules create boundaries, which gives freedom in safety.

I also love including my children in the safety briefings. What do they think the rules should be? What do they see as dangerous? They have some amazing insights too and sometimes see things I didn't think of right away!

2. Depths of water vs. height

My kids know depths of water and how to read them on the pool deck, and they know what it means related to their height. My 6-year-old knows that 4 ft of water is over his head, and 3 1/2 ft of water is up to his eyes, which is still over his airway. My 8-year-old daughter knows that 4f t of water is at her eyes and she will need to tread and can't have her airway out at this depth.

This piece of knowledge helps them make good decisions and helps them understand how water depths are different for each person. Their taller friend may have no problem in the 4ft area, while they would need to tread or have trouble touching. Awareness of depth in relation to their body is important. This keeps me away from the, "But mom, Jayden gets to go over there…" Yes, he does, he is also 6" taller than you are, buddy!

3. How to get away

I jumped in last weekend fully clothed with my phone in my hand at my 8-year-old daughter's all-star softball hotel swim session after a tournament. It was instinct—a 5-year-old boy panicked and grabbed onto a 4-year-old girl and they were both struggling. He was holding her down and trying to keep himself above the water. In I went and scooped both of them out.

They were both naturally scared, and a little burping of water/air, but they were fine. We see this all the time in drowning events, swimmers who are okay on their own, have someone grab onto them because they are struggling and they can't get away.

I have taught, and I am still teaching my kids how to get away if someone grabs onto them. My daughter is a great swimmer, but I still don't think she can tread water and keep her and another kid above the waterline. I've taught them to suck, duck, tuck:

  • Suck in air if you can (get a breath)
  • Duck under the water (the struggling person doesn't want to go there)
  • Tuck (use your arms and legs to push away)—and then yell for an adult immediately to help the other person

I've also taught them to be very careful of who they touch/grab onto in a pool. Even adults can be weaker swimmers and may have a hard time with them hanging on. Personal space is key.

4. Distraction reminders

I ask my kids to keep me accountable. They know either myself or my husband should be watching them at all times. We have told them that if we aren't watching them, they need to get our attention and help us because as humans we get distracted naturally.

I try to stay involved in their activity and also tried to keep my phone away, but I was still distracted with other kids, food, talking, you name it…life is full of distractions. I changed my tactic and downloaded a reminder app, and I set reminders for every minute.

I turn my phone into airplane mode and then use the app. Every minute it alerts me and I have the notification say "Kids Breathing" so I confirm my kids are okay and then clear the notification. Obviously, my goal is constant supervision, but sometimes my brain starts to wander to something I am thinking about and the notification checks me back in.

There are tons of campaigns about designating a "water watcher" with a specific tag indicating you have the responsibility of watching the water. I think these are great tools, and we also need to make sure the water watcher is not distracted.

Alerts can keep you focused as long as you stay off your phone for all other purposes. I put my phone in airplane mode, but you can still have the tendency to look at. Be aware of your distractions both internal and external. If the phone is a distraction all together, maybe alerts aren't for you. Find what works to keep you focused and stick with it for the entire swim time.

5. Designate breaks

We swim for a designated time, usually 30 minutes, but it varies depending on where we are and the activity taking place. Regardless, we always have breaks. I need these breaks more than my kids. They would swim endlessly for hours if I let them, but they need to rest and so do I.

As a lifeguard, we would rotate every 20-30 minutes with the premise being to give our minds a break and so we could stay fresh. The same thing applies to parental supervision. I need to use the restroom, I need to do other things, I need a break too! So, we give time warnings and take swim breaks. Sometimes the breaks are also unscheduled, if I have to make an emergency restroom visit or answer the door, everyone gets out, every time.

6. Limited trust

This may sound harsh, but I don't trust other people to watch my kids in the pool. It is me or my husband, that is it. If they are swimming at Grandma's they have to wear a lifejacket. If they are going in the water at the beach on a board with their cousin, they have to wear a lifejacket.

I see so many events where trust was placed in another person, watch my kids while I go do XYZ, or grandpa took them to the pool, or a neighbor invited them over. I may love these people, and they may love my children, but I don't trust them, nor do I want them to have to own that responsibility if something were to happen to one of my kids in their care. It just isn't worth it.

Do my kids whine, yep. Do I care? Nope! They know the other option is they just don't go. Same goes for school pool parties and camps with water activities, it just isn't worth it for me. Same goes for lifeguarded swimming areas. I know I am my kids' primary source of supervision and the lifeguard(s) are there for back up and emergencies.

I do not rely on them for basic supervision. I only have two children and I can supervise them much more closely than a lifeguard who has divided attention between 25 or more people.

7. Life jackets are cool

Culturally we seem to have a negative attitude towards life jackets. I don't think there is anything wrong with life jackets, in fact, there are so many games and activities you can do with them. We just need to make them cool again.

If there are a bunch of kids I'm watching, I'd rather have everyone be in a life jacket. It can be a cousin life jacket pool party. Having everyone in one makes it much "cooler" and doesn't embarrass the littler kids or weaker swimmers. When I ran camps, even the counselors would wear them, be cool like them!

Having rolling log challenges in the life jackets, water balloon tossing contests, have relays to pass rings from your toes..the games are endless, and the safety is higher with everyone in a life jacket. Now there are times that my kids will even say they would rather just be in a life jacket. Awesome.

**Just an added side note that when referring to "life jacket" I am referring to a USCG approved life jacket (check the inside of the jacket or vest). Noodles, Inflatables, baby circles, tubes, and all other items are not safety-related and should not be used or trusted to keep your child safe.

We see countless videos of kids who flip over in an inflatable ring and can't right themselves and are stuck underwater upside down, or are in arm floaties and can't get their head out of the water because their arms aren't strong enough, or who lose purchase of a kickboard they were holding onto for floatation. Even in a lifejacket, you need to diligently and constantly supervise as children can get in positions that can still obstruct their airway especially if they are younger or weaker.

8. Educate

My kids know what drowning can look like. They know water is dangerous. They know good swimmers can drown. They know medical events can happen without warning. They know that drowning can happen quickly.

I talk about how events happen, about what their weaknesses are. They know they can't breathe in the water, they know why we take breaks from swimming, they know why they enter the water feet first, they know why we don't play breath-holding games or activities. It isn't just because I said so, I try to give them real reasons to my rules. A healthy fear of the water is a good thing.

9. "Hey, watch this…"

Phrases like "Hey, watch this…" usually are the beginning of something dangerous or a little crazy about to take place. This is a kid's way of announcing they are pushing the boundaries or are going to show-off, and I take these phrases as a time to talk about danger and pushing boundaries.

Are they just showing me something or are they about to do something risky? There is a difference and I try to talk about good decisions around the water. Phrases like "Hey, watch this…" are ways to cue into other people's behaviors and intentions. They now alert me when others use these types of phrases too. I always say we can have fun without being dumb.

10. See something, say something

My kids are part of my safety team. They are buddy watchers for each other and I ask them to look out for other kids. I'll often ask my son where his sister is, or what the other person is doing. I want to train them to look at others and make sure they are okay, to know what they are doing.

My daughter the other day said, "Mom, I almost called you…that boy was under the water and I counted from 5…5, 4, 3, 2, 1 but he popped up again before I got to 2." I asked her, what would you do if he was still underwater when you got to one, and she said "I'd say something to you or an adult until you responded". Perfect.

Kids are an additional layer of protection and they have good instincts. My kids know not to assume someone is playing. If they see someone underwater, they start counting. So often, in drowning investigations we see kids (and adults) swimming over or around someone who is underwater and they don't do anything.

They assume they are okay, they assume they are playing, they assume they are doing it on purpose. Don't assume. Teach them the 5-second rule (check out Mel Robbins book on the topic) and if they see something to say something.

Other Water Safety Tips:

I hope this helps and gives you some practical tips to improving safety during your water related activities. Share this information to hopefully prevent any more drownings. Stay safe and vigilant!

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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.)

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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.]

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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.]

News

When we buy baby gear we expect it to be safe, and while no parent wants to hear that their gear is being recalled we appreciate when those recalls happen as a preventative measure—before a baby gets hurt.

That's the case with the recent recall of Baby Trend's Tango Mini Stroller. No injuries have been reported but the recall was issued because a problem with the hinge joints mean the stroller can collapse with a child in it, which poses a fall risk.

"As part of our rigorous process, we recently identified a potential safety issue. Since we strongly stand by our safety priority, we have decided to voluntarily recall certain models of the Tango Mini Strollers. The recalled models, under excessive pressure, both hinge joints could release, allowing the stroller to collapse and pose a fall hazard to children. Most importantly, Baby Trend has received NO reports of injuries," the company states on its website.

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The strollers were sold through Amazon and Target in October and November 2019 and cost between $100 and $120. If you've got one you should stop using it and contact Baby Trend for a refund or replacement.

Four models are impacted by this recall:

  • Quartz Pink (Model Number ST31D09A)
  • Sedona Gray (Model Number ST31D10A)
  • Jet Black (Model Number ST31D11A)
  • Purest Blue (Model Number ST31D03A

"If you determine that you own one of these specific model numbers please stop using the product and contact Baby Trend's customer service at 1-800-328-7363 or via email at info@babytrend.com," Baby Trend states.

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