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The Madness of Parenting Toddlers and Teens at the Same Time

My youngest child – nine years younger than her closest sibling – is that kid with whom I would have NEVER let my oldest children play.


By age two, she was singing inappropriate song lyrics. Her older brother thought it was really funny to teach her the words to Kesha’s “Tik Tok.” By five, she had some familiarity with the main plot points of the “Walking Dead” (although she’d NEVER seen an episode, I SWEAR). By six, she was pretending a 19-year-old was her boyfriend (said boy was actually her sister’s boyfriend).

According to the Centers for Disease Control’s National Vital Statistics Report, the birth rate in women aged 40-49 has risen over the past decade. Sociology-types list things such as education, career, finances, and a desire to travel as a few of the reasons that women are having kids later in life. 

Aida Vazin, MA, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Newport Beach, California, says blended families are adding to the trend of having older children and younger children in the same household.

“I have noticed a larger population of blended families and a new budding trend of a large age gap between siblings – however, not as high as blended families,” she says.

My youngest, Ginger, was born when I was 40 and my older kids were nine and 12.  She was not an “oops” or the result of a second marriage, but a planned baby that I decided I wanted because I felt older and wiser and wanted to do the baby thing one more time. I tell people she was my 40th birthday present to myself. (How I got my husband on board with this is the topic of another post).

However, regardless of the reason for having a child later in life, raising siblings with large age gaps between them, while full of joys, also has its own unique set of challenges.

Culture

By the time Ginger was hitting her stride with language and beginning to look at the world around her for social cues, I also had a teen and a pre-teen. And they shared – sometimes intentionally, sometimes unintentionally – all kinds of things from their teenage culture with their baby sister.

Conversations around the dinner table about things like relationships, drugs, teenage pregnancy, alcohol, were providing an education for the baby that we didn’t necessarily want her to have. Even though we tried to be careful about what was said in front of her, it quickly became evident that she was more worldly than her older siblings had been when they were her age.

Wendy O’Connor, a licensed marriage and family therapist and relationship coach in Brentwood and Encino, California, says that’s a natural phenomenon. Her words helped me stop beating myself up over the fact that Ginger was so culturally savvy at such a young age.

“At some point children have to grow up. Kids will be exposed to older teens/young adults and inappropriate topics,” Dr. O’Connor says. “Often they bump into inappropriate, damaging, and traumatic topics through technology and especially from the news via television and radio. The coping strategy for parents is to not avoid but to educate.”

Christina DiBartolo, LMSW, Clinical Assistant Professor, Department of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry, at NYU Langone Medical Center in New York, agrees but suggests setting aside one-on-one time with older kids to reduce the exposure.

“As long as there have been siblings, there has been a transfer of information from the older to the younger child,” she says. “And the maturity level of the information increases as children age. 

“Parents can set up . . . time with their older children to discuss matters on their adolescents’ minds without interference from younger siblings. That way, when older siblings introduce a mature topic of conversation during family time, parents can ask them to defer until the pre-determined discussion.”

DiBartolo also recommends that people who are simultaneously parenting older and younger children, “Take advantage of technology and insist that older kids use ear buds to listen to music that has more mature content.”

Also, set parameters about adult language that has begun to creep into adolescent vocabulary.  “When younger children overhear their older siblings using language you don’t approve of, handle it just as you would if your child overheard it on the street. Explain that while some people sometimes use those words, you expect members in your family to find different words to express themselves,” DiBartolo says.

Fairness

Another difficulty is the idea of fairness, according to DiBartolo. “Parenting different ages has inequality built in,” she says. “Of course your five-year-old does not have a 10 p.m. curfew, just as you wouldn’t tell a 16-year-old to just have one more bite of broccoli.” Older siblings also can resent that younger siblings get away with behaviors while they have higher expectations placed on them.

Embrace the inconsistencies,” DiBartolo says. “Your children are different; you are right to treat them differently. Hear your kids out if they have complaints. That doesn’t necessarily mean changing what you’re doing.” She adds that encouraging discussion models good interpersonal communication skills that children can use for the rest of their lives.

Roles and relationships

Siblings who are far apart in age are not immune to sibling rivalry, but the age gap can make it hard to address, according to Vazin. “There will be a clear sense of differential treatment between siblings with big age gaps, which may result in acting out behavior from either sibling.”

Additionally, older siblings may at times may feel the burden of having to co-parent the child, according to Vazin. “And a younger sibling may feel too controlled because of having to answer to too many authority figures.”

Again, open and honest communication is key. “It’s best to discuss the expectations and role of each family member in the home,” she says. “It’s important to set activities that may be more inclusive and can bring more connection and bonding between different age groups.”

The joys and benefits

DiBartolo emphasizes that a large age gap also brings some big benefits. “Anytime children are exposed to a variety of experiences, it’s an opportunity for learning,” she says. “As for older children, younger siblings can provide them with the excuse to let themselves relax and play.”

Thankfully, for me, the joys of having Ginger at age 40 far outweighed the challenges, even the embarrassment of her singing about brushing her teeth with a bottle of Jack. Now that I’m just months from my 50th birthday, most of my friends are already empty-nesting or preparing to do so. 

I, on the other hand, got one more “at bat” with “Goodnight Moon,” Santa Claus, and trips to the zoo. And DiBartolo added, that a “later in life” baby who follows older siblings gets to enjoy parents who have more perspective.

That was certainly true for our family. While we weren’t perfect and had many moments that we failed to embrace, we sometimes managed to enjoy her in a way that many parents don’t experience until they are grandparents.

One memory stands out for me: When Ginger had croup for what seemed like the fifth time, I was sitting in the bathroom, cradling her sweaty, feverish body against me. While a hot shower filled the room with steam to give her some relief, I realized I was actually enjoying the moment – not her being sick, but the privilege of holding her – thinking, “Before I know it, this will pass.”

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Breakfast is often said to be the most important meal of the day, but in many households, it's also the most hectic. Many parents rely on pre-prepared items to cut down on breakfast prep time, and if Jimmy Dean Heat 'n Serve Original Sausage Links are a breakfast hack in your home, you should check your bag.

More than 14 tons of the frozen sausage links are being recalled after consumers found bits of metal in their meat.

The United States Department of Agriculture's Food Safety and Inspection Service announced the recall of 23.4-oz. pouches of Jimmy Dean HEAT 'n SERVE Original SAUSAGE LINKS Made with Pork & Turkey with a 'Use By' date of January 31, 2019.

"The product bears case code A6382168, with a time stamp range of 11:58 through 01:49," the FSIS notes.

In a statement posted on its website, Jimmy Dean says "a few consumers contacted the company to say they had found small, string-like fragments of metal in the product. Though the fragments have been found in a very limited number of packages, out of an abundance of caution, CTI is recalling 29,028 pounds of product. Jimmy Dean is closely monitoring this recall and working with CTI to assure proper coordination with the USDA. No injuries have been reported with this recall."

Consumers should check their packages for "the establishment code M19085 or P19085, a 'use by' date of January 31, 2019 and a UPC number of '0-77900-36519-5'," the company says.

According to the FSIS, there have been five consumer complaints of metal pieces in the sausage links, and recalled packages should be thrown away.

If you purchased the recalled sausages and have questions you can call the Jimmy Dean customer service line at (855) 382-3101.

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Flying with a 2-year-old and a 5-year-old isn't easy under optimal conditions, and when the kids are tired and cranky, things become even harder.

Many parents are anxious when flying with kids for exactly this reason: If the kids get upset, we worry our fellow passengers will become upset with us, but mom of two Becca Kinsey has a story that proves there are more compassionate people out there than we might think.

In a Facebook post that has now gone viral, Kinsey explains how she was waiting for her flight back from Disney World with her two boys, Wyatt, 2, and James, 5, when things started to go wrong, and the first of three kind women committed an act of kindness that meant so much.

After having to run all over the airport because she'd lost her ID, Kinsey and her boys were in line for security and she was "on the verge of tears because Wyatt was screaming and James was exhausted. Out of the blue, one mom stops the line for security and says 'here, jump in front of me! I know how it is!'" Kinsey wrote in her Facebook post.

Within minutes, 2-year-old Wyatt was asleep on the airport floor. Kinsey was wondering how she would carry him and all the carry-ons when "another mom jumps out of her place in line and says 'hand me everything, I've got it.'"

When Kinsey thanked the second woman and the first who had given up her place in line they told her not to worry, that they were going to make sure she got on her flight.

"The second woman takes evvvverything and helps me get it through security and, on top of all that, she grabs all of it and walks us to the gate to make sure we get on the flight," Kinsey wrote.

Kinsey and her boys boarded, but the journey was hardly over. Wyatt wolk up and started "to scream" at take off, before finally falling back asleep. Kinsey was stressed out and needed a moment to breathe, but she couldn't put Wyatt down.

"After about 45 min, this angel comes to the back and says 'you look like you need a break' and holds Wyatt for the rest of the flight AND walks him all the way to baggage claim, hands him to [Kinsey's husband], hugs me and says "Merry Christmas!!" Kinsey wrote.

👏👏👏

It's a beautiful story about women helping women, and it gets even better because when Kinsey's Facebook post started to go viral she updated it in the hopes of helping other parents take their kids to Disney and experience another form of stress-relief.

"What if everyone that shared the story went to Kidd's Kids and made a $5 donation?! Kidd's Kids take children with life-threatening and life-altering conditions on a 5 day trip to Disney World so they can have a chance to forget at least some of the day to day stressors and get to experience a little magic!!"

As of this writing, Kinsey has raised more than $2,000 for Kidd's Kids and has probably inspired a few people to be kind the next time they see a parent struggling in public.

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Ah, the holidays—full of festive cheer, parties, mistletoe... and complete and utter confusion about how much to tip whom.

Remember: Tipping and giving gifts to the people that help you throughout the year is a great way to show your appreciation, but it's never required. Ultimately, listen to your heart (and your budget) and decide what's right for your family.

Here is our etiquette guide to tipping and gifting everyone on your list.

Teachers

You can decide if you'd like to do a class gift.

  • Ask people to contribute what they can, if they'd like to
  • Sign the gift from the entire class—don't single out the people that weren't able to contribute
  • Idea: a small gift and then a gift card bought with the rest of the money, and a card signed by all the children

...or a personal gift.

  • Amount/value is very up to you—you may factor in how many days/week your child is in school and how much you pay for tuition.
  • Anywhere from $5-$150 has been done.
  • Idea: a personalized tote bag and gift card, with a picture drawn by your child

Babysitters, nannies + au pairs

  • Up to one night's pay for a babysitter
  • Up to one week's pay for a nanny or au pair.
  • Homemade gift from the child

Daycare teachers

  • $25-70/teacher and a card from your child

School bus driver

  • A non-monetary gift of $10-$20 (i.e. a gift card)

Ballet teacher/soccer coach

  • Consider a group gift or personal gift (see teacher gift above)
  • Up to $20 value if doing a personal gift

Mail carrier

  • A gift up to a $20 value, but they are not allowed to receive cash or a gift card that can be exchanged for cash.

UPS/Fed Ex

  • A gift up to a $20 value, depending on the number of packages you get. Avoid cash if possible.

Sanitation workers

  • $10-30 each
  • Make sure you find out if the same people pick up the recycling and the trash—there may be two different teams to think about.

Cleaning person

  • Up to one week's pay

Hair stylist

  • Up to the cost of one haircut/style

Dog walker

  • Up to one week's pay

Doorman

  • $15-80 each depending on number of doormen

Boss/Co-workers

  • You are not required to give your boss a gift. In some instances, it may be inappropriate to do so—so you'll have to think about what seems right for you
  • Never give cash
  • Consider giving an office gift—bring coffee or donuts to the office for everyone, buy an assortment of teas for the staff lounge, replace the microwave that everyone hates, etc
  • Organize an office Secret Santa—it's a great way to boost morale and have fun, without needing to decide who to buy for. (Hint: We love Elftser for easy Secret Santa organizing!)

Neighbors

Hey mama,

It's the time of year again.

You know what I'm talking about. From Halloween to New Years Eve, where all the sweets and treats come out in full force, and it seems like the universe is plotting to take you down.

You may feel overwhelmed by the weight of it all. After all, history has taught you that you can't make it through the holiday season successfully.

Maybe you can't get by without eating all the holiday treats and feeling like a failure. Maybe you end the holidays vowing to be a better person and start the New Year on the latest detox diet. You are all too familiar with the guilt and shame that comes with holiday eating cycle and how this robs you of joy of the season.

You may have managed to contain some element of self-control over the year. Maybe you carefully avoid those treats that you know you can't simply eat one of, or maybe you've skipped dessert and stayed clear from all the sweets. Maybe you've felt like you're doing well on your latest diet and are worried about how this incoming holiday treat wave will sabotage your success.

Whatever you're worried about, the fear is real and paralyzing, taking up that precious mental space as your thoughts are consumed about food and your body.

It may be hard to think about anything else when you mind is controlled by the rules that dictate what you should and shouldn't be eating. Maybe seeing your spouse or kids eat those holiday treats creates more anxiety for you and sends you on the brink of losing your mind as these food issues become all consuming.

But have you ever stopped to ask yourself, where is this fear coming from and why is it controlling your life?

Do you ever feel like a failure at eating because you inhaled that bag of fun-sized candy bars or scarfed through a dessert faster than anyone could say, "Trick or Treat?"

Are you embarrassed that something as normal as food feels like such a struggle?

Does overeating or an emotional eating episode send you on a downward tailspin in self-loathing?

How many times have you stepped on the scale, only to feel miserable about yourself for the rest of the day?

I want to let you in on a secret.

You are not failing, mama.

That desire to eat all the holiday foods or binge on sweets doesn't mean that you've screwed up or that you have no self-control.

You're not a failure for wanting to eat all the things you don't normally let yourself eat or for breaking all the food rules you've set in place to give you more "control."

You don't need more willpower, another diet or more ways to become disciplined.

What you need, sweet mama, is permission.

Permission to eat those foods that you crave every year, like a slice of your Grandmother's special holiday dish or the piece of pumpkin cheesecake everyone's eating at your office party.

Permission to decorate holiday cookies with your kids and actually enjoy eating one too, not pretend like you don't want one, only to eat a plateful once they've gone to bed.

Permission to actually keep food in its proper place, so it's not stealing your joy, energy and mental space.

And you know what?

When you've given yourself permission to eat, including all those sweets and treats that are normally off-limits, they suddenly lose their power over you. And when food doesn't have power over you, you will have freedom to live a life that isn't bound by what you can and cannot eat.

Let me tell you something else: feeling like a failure around food is NOT your fault. It doesn't mean you don't have enough self-control or will power. There is nothing wrong with you.

What's to blame are the abundance of food rules: unrealistic food rules that make you feel unnecessarily guilty for eating or shameful in your body. (i.e: "Don't eat sugar", "Don't eat carbohydrates", "That's not allowed on the diet", "Don't eat anything too high in fat", "Don't eat after 6pm", "Don't eat all day if you're having a big meal at night").

You are not the problem.

Food rules, diets, etc. THAT is what is wrong.

You weren't made to live or thrive under a list of rules of what you should or shouldn't eat. It's not an issue of self-control.

The truth is that trying to follow a diet or a rigid set of food rules is like trying to negotiate with your toddler—you just can't win. And it's not for lack of trying, it's that the rules of the game are created for you to fail. So why try to play a game where the odds are against you?

You can opt-out of diet culture NOW to enjoy a truly peaceful holiday season that doesn't end with self-loathing or a New Year's resolution to diet and start the cycle all over again. Because the truth is, there are no good and bad foods or rules you are have to follow. When you can let go of all those judgments and emotional hang-ups that you've attached to eating, you learn to trust yourself to make your own choices and view food for what is really is - just food.

So choose being present over being perfect with the way you eat (because no such thing exists anyway). Calm the food chaos by giving yourself permission to eat, taste, and celebrate.

Enjoy the treats, if that is what your body is craving. Take back for yourself what all the obscure food rules and dieting have taken away from you all these years. Take in the memories, the flavors of the season - because you deserve it.

This holiday season, commit to putting yourself on a new path, one that doesn't end in self-destruction.

Give yourself permission, not only to eat, but to embrace a new way of living that isn't defined by your body size or what you can or cannot eat.

You can choose food freedom over food rules, and by doing so, you are choosing to live. You are choosing to be present for your children and experience the moments and memories that might otherwise be missed when your mind is imprisoned by food rules.

It's never too late, mama. The time to start is now.

Remember—you are not failing. Start by giving yourself permission today.

Originally posted on Crystal Karges.

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