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What It’s Like to Parent From Behind Bars

I met Lisa at the Denver Women’s Correctional Facility on an unseasonably warm, sunny November day. The first thing I noticed about the cement building was the vibe. The guard who checked me in seemed genuinely happy to be there.


Stacy, the prison librarian and my host for the morning, led me through a maze of locked hallways to meet Lisa, stopping intermittently to chat with colleagues and wave at inmates. Stacy later told me the facility prides itself on creating genuine opportunities for vocational training and rehabilitation.

I’m ashamed to admit that when Stacy left and shut the door behind her, I took a deep breath and tried to stop thinking about the possibility that Lisa was hiding a sharp object in her baggy prison uniform. I’d seen a few prison movies, after all.

Given the way Hollywood portrays sex, love, childbirth, and practically everything else, I should not have been surprised when Lisa bore little resemblance to the inmates in the movies.

Here’s what she had to say:

On ending up in prison

My mom passed away from lung cancer, and that was what brought me to a very dark place in my life. I was 16 at the time and had just given birth to my son, Michael. After that, I moved to Denver for a guy, who I had two kids with. It turned out to be a very bad, abusive relationship.

I came home from work early one day and found him cheating on me. I scooped up the kids, left the house, and stayed with friends. All the bank accounts were in his name. I had to literally start from scratch. After about four months couch surfing and hotel hopping, knowing that the kids could be home with Johnny, I was like, “I can’t do this to the kids anymore. I have to make a choice.”

I sent the kids back to stay with their father and stole a vehicle so I could sleep in it, which was a really hard decision. But when you’re homeless and dragging your kids around on the streets, you have to make that decision. A shelter wasn’t an option because I was employed at the time, and most shelters won’t take you if you’re employed. I was charged with aggravated motor vehicle theft.

Once I got to prison, Johnny (not being Michael’s dad) decided he didn’t want to be responsible for Michael. There was no family to take him, so I got charged with child abuse and neglect due to incarceration. I had no control over the situation, but that’s what DHS charged me with. They ended up sending him to a group home, which is typically a punishment.

On motherhood

I have a journal I plan to give each child that I write in every single day so that they’ll know they were in my heart every single day. I write how I feel, what I’m doing, what I wish I was doing with them at that moment. Maybe I had a dream about them. It’s always something positive.

I got approval from the courts to see my kids, but I haven’t seen them once. I thought the case manager or someone from the group home would bring Michael, but they won’t. I’ve heard a thousand excuses. And Johnny hasn’t answered a single call from me.

It’s really hard to parent from prison. You can say everything on the phone, but how do you enforce anything? My son Michael got in trouble. He threw a plastic stopwatch at a vehicle. It’s not appropriate and needs to be addressed, but it’s typical 13-year-old behavior.

In the group home, they came and they arrested him. They charged him with destruction of property, and he’s going to court for it. I didn’t find out about this until three weeks later. No case manager notified me. They don’t tell you anything.

I get a 15-minute phone call twice a week. That’s the maximum amount of time I’m allowed to be on the phone with my son. Pretty much on the phone, it’s just, “I love you,” or “Oh my gosh, I’m so glad I get to hear your voice today,” or “How was your day?” That kind of stuff.

But he’ll share absolutely everything with me. We have a really amazing relationship. That’s one thing that makes the case managers really want to return custody to me.

On counseling

I’m all about counseling. A lot of people are like, “Ugh, I don’t want to go to counseling.” But there’s a counselor for everybody. I’m not saying every single counselor is right for every single person. You have to take the time to go through the process.

When my mom died, I smothered my son so badly because I was so worried about losing anyone else close to me. I really had a hard time letting him out of my sight. Slowly, after going through parenting programs and going to counseling, I realized he needs some room to breathe. I also realized I had a lot of grief I needed to address.

On addiction

After I left my kids with Johnny, I dove into methamphetamines. I never used heroin or any opiates, and I’m very thankful for that. But I struggled with meth really hard. I wasn’t an IV user. I smoked. And I turned to alcoholism. Then I beat the alcoholism but only by increasing my meth use.

I would not be high around my children. So when I came to visit my kids, I’d have to spend a week completely sobering up, and as soon as that visit with my kids was over, I’d get back to using again as quick as I could because that pain of not being able to take care of my kids…I just wanted to make that pain go away. It was really hard.

Now I know, I can go to AA or NA, and there’s no harm in saying, “Hi, I’m Lisa, I have these issues. It’s very nice to meet you. Let’s talk about our issues together.”

On the next leg of her journey

I just found out I’m getting out on parole five days before Christmas. I will have been here one-and-a-half years of my three-year sentence.

Initially, I didn’t know where I’d go when I got out because I’d lost touch with my family. After my mom died, one of my brothers committed suicide, and I just ran away.

But I got in touch with one of my brothers, and he said, “This is crazy, but Dad’s staying by himself because his wife just passed away, and he needs someone there to take care of him. I think that would be a great place for you to parole to.”

So he gets me Dad’s phone number, and I get a hold of dad, and he’s like, “Of course you can parole up here. You can still cook, right?” and we cracked up.

I could see myself volunteering in the correctional system. In five years, hopefully, I’ll be getting a masters degree and living in the country, off the grid. I’d like to see my son in college at that point.

On staying positive

You can either choose to change or you can choose to stay the same. But the choice is yours. My belief is perception equals projection. What you perceive around you is what you’re going to project outside of you. If you think, “This is a horrible place and I hate it,” that is what you’re going to project. But I don’t see it that way.

My mom taught me that everybody around you is impacted by everything you do. If you sit in the middle of a field cross-legged and you think about happy things and put love out into the world, that is going to impact the next person around you. That is going to impact the next tree around you. That is going to impact absolutely everything around you.

If I smile at a stranger, it’s going to brighten up their day. They’re more likely to pass that smile on to the next person. If I walk around with a scowl on my face and slam the door, that’s more likely to have a negative impact on the next person, and they’re gonna pass that on as well.

* * *

It’s not every day you get to enter a prison and leave an hour later with an inmate’s story imprinted on your heart. I’m grateful to Lisa for the candor with which she shared her journey and to Denver Women’s Correctional Facility for granting me an interview with her.

This interview was edited for clarity and length. Names have been changed due to privacy concerns.

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Anyone who has had a baby with colic knows: It's not easy. But despite how common colic is, the causes have stumped researchers (and parents) for generations. Yet, the fact remains that some 5 to 19% of newborns suffer from colic, or excessive but largely inexplicable crying spurts.

Parents of colicky newborns are often eager for something, anything, that will give their baby comfort. The good news is that while we don't have complete confirmation on what causes colic, we do have generations worth of evidence on how to best manage and treat colic.

1. Use bottles with an anti-colic internal vent system that creates a natural flow

One of the most commonly cited culprits in causing colic is tummy discomfort from air bubbles taken in while bottle-feeding—which is proof that not all bottles are created equally. Designed with an anti-colic internal vent system that keeps air away from baby's milk during feeding, Dr. Brown's® bottles are clinically proven to reduce colic and are the #1 pediatrician recommended baby bottle in the US

Distractions and a supine position while feeding can cause your baby to take in additional air, leading to those bubbles that can bother their tummies. If you notice an uptick in crying after feeding, experiment with giving your baby milk in a more upright position and then keeping them upright for a while afterwards for burping and digestion.

2. Offer a pacifier

If your baby is calm while eating, it may be that they are actually calmed by the ability to suck on something—a common instinct among newborns. Offering a pacifier not only can help soothe colicky babies, but is also proven to reduce the rate of SIDS in newborns, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Some babies have strong opinions about their pacifiers, which is why staying with the Dr. Brown's brand can help you avoid the guessing game: Designed to mimic the shape of the bottle nipples, Dr. Brown's HappyPaci pacifier makes for easy (read: calming) transitions from bottle to pacifier.

3. Practice babywearing

Beyond tummy troubles, another leading theory is that colic is the result of newborns' immature nervous systems and the overstimulation of life outside the womb. By keeping them close to you through babywearing, you are helping ease their transition to the outside world as they come to terms with their new environment.

During pregnancy, they were also used to lots of motion throughout the day. By walking (even around the house) while babywearing, you can help give them that familiar movement they may crave.

4. Get some fresh air

Along with the motion from walking around, studies show that colicky babies may benefit simply from being outside. This is one thing for parents of spring and summer newborns. But for those who are battling colic during cold, dark months, it can help to take your stroller into the mall for some laps.

5. Swaddle to calm their nervous system

Unlike the warm, cozy confinement of the womb, the outside world babies are contending with during the fourth trimester can be overwhelming—especially after a full day of sensory stimulation. As a result, many parents report their baby's colic is worse at night, which is why a tight, comforting swaddle can help soothe them to sleep.

For many parents coping with a colicky baby, it's simply a process of experimenting about what can best provide relief. Thankfully, it doesn't have to be as much of a guessing game now, due to products like those in the Dr. Brown's line that are specifically tailored to helping babies with colic.

This article was sponsored by Dr. Brown's. Thank you for supporting the brands that support Motherly and mamas.

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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