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An awesome dad explains the 5 revelations he's had raising 2 girls.

'I didn't want to raise girls … until I did.'

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Recently, someone asked me if I wished I had boys instead of girls.

Of course the answer was an emphatic, "NO." But did I always feel that way? I'd be lying if I said yes.

First, let's rewind a few years back. When my wife showed me the positive pregnancy test for our first baby in 2009, I blurted out, "Awesome! I just hope it's a boy!"


Fail.

I figured that if I had a son, I could teach him how to play basketball, throw a punch, and play in the dirt. With a girl, I'd be stuck playing dress up and other "girly crap."

Epic fail.

After a few weeks of “I want a boy so badly" talk, our world came crashing down. If you've followed my blog, Daddy Doin' Work, you'll remember that our first pregnancy didn't end well, and it was pretty devastating for us. After months of grieving, I realized that the only thing I ever wanted was to be a dad — not just a dad to a little boy. I cursed myself for being so stupid and immature, and I prayed for redemption — which I fortunately achieved. As the story goes, we got pregnant again in 2010, and there was no “I hope it's a boy" nonsense this time. As a matter of fact, tears of joy streamed down my face when the doctor told us we were having a little girl.

Since January 2011, my oldest daughter has introduced me to a brand of love that I never knew existed.

Me with Reiko (my 2-year-old) and Emiko (my 4-year-old). All photos here provided by me.

I truly believe that having two little girls has transformed me into a better, stronger, and smarter man than I would've been without them.

Here are some reasons why:

Revelation #1: Everything I could do with a boy, I can do with my daughters.

I can play basketball, teach them how to throw a punch, and play in the dirt. Yes, I know that's a big fat "duh" for many of you, but I'm a recovering knucklehead with minimal relapses, so please humor me. And yes, I'm going to teach them much more than those three things – but I promise you that I will teach them those three things.

Revelation #2: My daughters will use me as a benchmark for how men should behave.

The best dads I know (and I know plenty of them) view their day job titles as what they do, but their jobs never become who they are. They are dads and husbands first and foremost.

When I worked a full-time job in corporate America, I remember that after a day of sitting on conference calls, attending project meetings, and hitting aggressive deadlines, the only thing I wanted to do was rest when I get home. Then I thought about my daughters. I'll be damned if they looked at me and thought, “Daddy doesn't cook, give us baths, read bedtime stories, or change our diapers. He just sits around while Mommy does everything. Maybe that's how all men should act and that's what I should expect from a future husband."

Please know that I'm not a robot. Oftentimes I feel like grunting myself into unconsciousness after reading "The Cat in the Hat" for the ninth time in a row, or sometimes I'm so tired that I'll mess up a batch of chili so badly that it could fertilize your front lawn. But I do it anyway because I want my baby girls to expect their daddy to be actively involved – always.

Revelation #3: Being "girly" is just a myth.

Nothing better than a daddy-daughter pedicure date.

What does girly even mean, anyway? Would my kid be less girly if she dressed up as Spider-Man for Halloween instead of a princess? (That's exactly what she did, by the way.) Would she be less girly if she wanted to tackle little boys on the football field instead of taking ballet classes? Not to me.

That would be like saying a dude who can bench-press 250 pounds is more manly than a guy who sings songs to his kids before bed. I've learned that being a girl can be whatever the hell a girl wants it to be, and I will never limit my daughters when it comes to that. Additionally, I want to introduce my daughters to other women who are crushing it in male-dominated fields (executive leadership, sports journalism/broadcasting, coding, law enforcement, etc.) so they'll understand that it's possible to do anything their little hearts desire.

Revelation #4: Being loud is a good thing.

And by loud, I mean believing in something so deeply that they'll shout from the rooftops about it without worrying about what haters, naysayers, and other clowns have to say about them.

In a world where women are still fighting for equality, I want my girls to speak up in the living room, classroom, and board room in order to be heard. Forget the foolishness about being viewed as "pushy," "bossy," or "bitchy" for having an opinion or for taking a stance. Closed mouths don't get fed.

Revelation #5: I'm built for raising girls in today's society, or at least I think I am.

We couldn't resist a Disney moment.

Let's be real — girls have to deal with a lot of challenging things today. Pressure to be liked by others, pressure to have sex, body image, mean girls, teen pregnancy, rape ... I'm sure I missed some, but I'm getting depressed listing them out. I can't protect them from all of the ills of society, but I can ensure they'll have the confidence and smarts (both book smarts and street smarts) to thrive in this crazy world we live in.

Just like I'm fighting for dads to get a seat at the table when it comes to parenting issues, I want women to have a seat at the table when it comes to issues that affect them — and not just for my daughters, but for your daughters, too.

Yes, I'm sure I'd be just as happy if I had boys instead of girls. But there's something special about the bond between a dad and his daughters that cannot be explained, and I wouldn't change that bond for anything.

Now if you'll excuse me, the mall has a half-price sale on toddler jeggings.

Connections Academy

Wylee Mitchell is a senior at Nevada Connections Academy who started a t-shirt company to raise awareness for mental health.

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Teens of today live in a totally different world than the one their parents grew up in. Not only do young people have access to technologies that previous generations barely dreamed of, but they're also constantly bombarded with information from the news and media.

Today’s youth are also living through a pandemic that has created an extra layer of difficulty to an already challenging age—and it has taken a toll on their mental health.

According to Mental Health America, nearly 14% of youths ages 12 to 17 experienced a major depressive episode in the past year. In a September 2020 survey of high schoolers by Active Minds, nearly 75% of respondents reported an increase in stress, anxiety, sadness and isolation during the first six months of the pandemic. And in a Pearson and Connections Academy survey of US parents, 66% said their child felt anxious or depressed during the pandemic.

However, the pandemic has only exacerbated youth mental health issues that were already happening before COVID-19.

“Many people associate our current mental health crisis with the pandemic,” says Morgan Champion, the head of counseling services for Connections Academy Schools. “In fact, the youth mental health crisis was alarming and on the rise before the pandemic. Today, the alarm continues.”

Mental Health America reports that most people who take the organization’s online mental health screening test are under 18. According to the American Psychiatric Association, about 50% of cases of mental illness begin by age 14, and the tendency to develop depression and bipolar disorder nearly doubles from age 13 to age 18.

Such statistics demand attention and action, which is why experts say destigmatizing mental health and talking about it is so important.

“Today we see more people talking about mental health openly—in a way that is more akin to physical health,” says Champion. She adds that mental health support for young people is being more widely promoted, and kids and teens have greater access to resources, from their school counselors to support organizations.

Parents are encouraging this support too. More than two-thirds of American parents believe children should be introduced to wellness and mental health awareness in primary or middle school, according to a new Global Learner Survey from Pearson. Since early intervention is key to helping young people manage their mental health, these changes are positive developments.

In addition, more and more people in the public eye are sharing their personal mental health experiences as well, which can help inspire young people to open up and seek out the help they need.

“Many celebrities and influencers have come forward with their mental health stories, which can normalize the conversation, and is helpful for younger generations to understand that they are not alone,” says Champion.

That’s one reason Connections Academy is hosting a series of virtual Emotional Fitness talks with Olympic athletes who are alums of the virtual school during Mental Health Awareness Month. These talks are free, open to the public and include relatable topics such as success and failure, leadership, empowerment and authenticity. For instance, on May 18, Olympic women’s ice hockey player Lyndsey Fry will speak on finding your own style of confidence, and on May 25, Olympic figure skater Karen Chen will share advice for keeping calm under pressure.

Family support plays a huge role as well. While the pandemic has been challenging in and of itself, it has actually helped families identify mental health struggles as they’ve spent more time together.

“Parents gained greater insight into their child’s behavior and moods, how they interact with peers and teachers,” says Champion. “For many parents this was eye-opening and revealed the need to focus on mental health.”

It’s not always easy to tell if a teen is dealing with normal emotional ups and downs or if they need extra help, but there are some warning signs caregivers can watch for.

“Being attuned to your child’s mood, affect, school performance, and relationships with friends or significant others can help you gauge whether you are dealing with teenage normalcy or something bigger,” Champion says. Depending on a child’s age, parents should be looking for the following signs, which may be co-occurring:

  • Perpetual depressed mood
  • Rocky friend relationships
  • Spending a lot of time alone and refusing to participate in daily activities
  • Too much or not enough sleep
  • Not eating a regular diet
  • Intense fear or anxiety
  • Drug or alcohol use
  • Suicidal ideation (talking about being a burden or giving away possessions) or plans

“You know your child best. If you are unsure if your child is having a rough time or if there is something more serious going on, it is best to reach out to a counselor or doctor to be sure,” says Champion. “Always err on the side of caution.”

If it appears a student does need help, what next? Talking to a school counselor can be a good first step, since they are easily accessible and free to visit.

“Just getting students to talk about their struggles with a trusted adult is huge,” says Champion. “When I meet with students and/or their families, I work with them to help identify the issues they are facing. I listen and recommend next steps, such as referring families to mental health resources in their local areas.”

Just as parents would take their child to a doctor for a sprained ankle, they shouldn’t be afraid to ask for help if a child is struggling mentally or emotionally. Parents also need to realize that they may not be able to help them on their own, no matter how much love and support they have to offer.

“That is a hard concept to accept when parents can feel solely responsible for their child’s welfare and well-being,” says Champion. “The adage still stands—it takes a village to raise a child. Be sure you are surrounding yourself and your child with a great support system to help tackle life’s many challenges.”

That village can include everyone from close family to local community members to public figures. Helping young people learn to manage their mental health is a gift we can all contribute to, one that will serve them for a lifetime.

Join athletes, Connections Academy and Upworthy for candid discussions on mental health during Mental Health Awareness Month. Learn more and find resources here.

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