Something to Make Moms Smile

As the saying goes: Babies don’t come with instruction manuals.

This is tough on all new parents — but particularly on low-income families. Lower-income pregnant women receive less prenatal care, experience higher levels of stress and are more likely to deliver premature babies.

That’s why I’m a fan of Text4baby, a free texting service that gives expectant and new mothers tips on keeping their babies and themselves healthy. Text4baby is reaching women in high-poverty areas. A large percentage of women who sign up for the service live in zip codes with the highest levels of poverty in the United States. Most mobile providers will not charge women for receiving the texts, which are available in Spanish or English.

Moms learn things like how to get help to stop smoking, what vaccinations their babies need and how to get a good night’s sleep with a big baby belly. It’s a project of the Healthy Mothers, Healthy Babies Coalition. The texts are timed according to a woman’s due date, so she gets appropriate information. Ivory, a Text4baby user, explains:

They sent me text messages with things I was going through that day. For example, during my 7th month of pregnancy, I thought I was feeling contractions and I was a little nervous. That same day text4baby sent me a text message about Braxton Hicks contractions, and that helped me a lot because I knew that that was what I was feeling and it kind of eased my anxiety.

Low-income moms are often stigmatized. Moms who use the service can arrive at appointments with increased knowledge and confidence. This I find very significant. The lesson of Text4baby is that parents want to do what’s best for their kids — but first we have to know what’s best.

There’s a mythology around “maternal instinct,” the idea that we innately know all about taking care of our babies. We don’t. There’s good research that we can use to guide us on everything from what medicines to give our children to how we should lay them down to sleep at night. When it comes to parenting, knowledge is power.

An empowered parent is a mighty force for good, in the life of a child, a community or a nation. My colleagues empower parents by helping them get basic necessities like diapers. Text4baby empowers parents with information. There are lots of ways we can all get involved to help parents do the most important job in the world.

This article was first published in The Huffington Post on January 23, 2013

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Is It Luck?

I received an e-mail the other day that broke my heart. The young woman wrote that she cared for three children in diapers, one of whom was the niece her sister couldn’t take care of anymore. This woman did not work because daycare for three children cost more than she made. This arrangement worked while her fiancé was working, but he had recently, unexpectedly, lost his job. And now they couldn’t pay for diapers.

The young lady who sent me that e-mail describes both luck and choices. She and her fiancé were doing well enough that they chose to take in her niece so she could keep her niece from entering the child welfare system. That shows generosity — she was lucky enough to be able to help someone else. Then bad luck hit. Her fiancé, who had a good job, was laid off. Now she has three children under three years old, all in diapers. She thought she had made good choices and that she and her family were financially set. Turned out bad luck got in the way.

The trajectory of our lives is determined by a series of choices and luck, but it seems to me that many people discount how big a role luck plays. From the perspective of a baby, the family the baby is born into is a matter of luck. The child has no choice in this matter, and has done nothing one way or another to deserve one family more or less than the other. The child’s only action to this point is being born. As a studyreleased by the Urban Institute found, children born into wealth tend to live life as wealthier adults.

Children born into poverty are more likely to live in poverty as adults than people who were not born into poverty. Among children who are never poor, only 1 percent spent half their early adult years living in poverty. On the other hand, 32 percent of persistently poor children go on to spend half their early adult years living in poverty.

Sometimes this luck translates into an ability to make choices. For example, according to the Social Science Research Council, if you were lucky enough to be born to educated parents, you are more likely to pursue a college degree.

Children whose parents have at least a college degree enter college at more than twice the rate of children whose parents did not graduate high school.

Although pursuing a college degree involves making a choice, it also involves luck. If there are simply too many obstacles — the cost of tuition is prohibitive, you can’t afford to pay the application fee or the fee to take the college board exams, or your family cannot afford for you to quit your afterschool job — you will in effect not have the opportunity to make the choice.

Our lives are certainly shaped by our innate qualities as human beings — raw intelligence, mechanical aptitude, the ability to relate to others, and so on — but our ability to capitalize on those qualities depends in large part on luck. Were you lucky enough to have a stable family life that allowed you to focus on schoolwork and training to perfect these qualities? Were you lucky enough to have the opportunity to exercise these qualities and turn them into an asset for future earnings or opportunities?

Your ability to rebound from these turns of luck also depends on luck — how much good or bad luck you had before. Maybe you can recover from one unlucky break, for example, you get laid off, but can you recover from several unlucky breaks? You lose your job, your neighbor has a fire in their apartment so you must evacuate and then someone rear ends your car in an accident — can you recover from all of that at once?

People living paycheck-to-paycheck might have the cushion necessary to sustain a little bit of bad luck. But a long run of bad luck probably not. Indeed, unless you are really lucky most of us don’t have the resources to carry us through a really long run of bad luck. And bad luck tends to beget more bad luck. You don’t have enough money for gas, so you have to rely on the bus, which is late, so you miss the big interview. You do not have enough money to buy diapers so you cannot bring your child to daycare so you lose a day’s wage. You literally cannot afford to work.

It is both luck and choices in my life that have allowed me to be in a position to help the young lady I described above find diapers. But what if I were less lucky? Would I be asking for diapers now? And would someone luckier than me choose to help?

In my life I have met many people who have had a lot of luck — good and bad and made lots of choices — both good and bad. My point is, regardless of your situation in life — both luck and choices play a role. We should all keep that in mind as we judge those around us.

Today’s Dads Can Help Close the “Diaper Gap”

Today we have a guest blogger–Vincent DiCaro of the National Fatherhood Initiative

If you have any doubts as to how “involved” dads are in the world of diapers, just ask Huggies what they think.

Huggies, the founding sponsor of the National Diaper Bank Network, unleashed a torrent of complaints from dads in response to its current advertising campaign. Without rehashing the entire incident here, the ads seemed to imply that fathers are incompetent diaper changers; the online community of dads responded; and to its great credit, Huggies listened and made changes to the campaign, which now suggests that dads, just like moms, care about the quality of the diapers they put on their children.

Why is this story relevant to the movement to get diapers into the hands of needy families?  Because it is critical that half the population of parents – dads – are called upon to help fight this fight.

There is a temptation when addressing an issue of concern to infants and toddlers to think of it as a “moms issue.” Assuredly — and we at National Fatherhood Initiative know this from 18 years of experience — it is often easier to get mothers engaged in these sorts of movements. But put another way, it is hard but very rewarding work to get dads engaged, too.

The involvement of dads communicates something very powerful about the importance of an issue. The forces that suggest that dads are “less involved” are the same forces that suggest that when they are involved, you should really pay attention.

And frankly, we are relying on outdated information in assessing the kind of parenting practices that are taking place in homes today. For example, marketers rely on the statistic that 85% of family purchasing decisions are made my moms. The problem is that no one knows where that statistic came from. More recent research — which is just starting to be used — suggests that dads, at a minimum, share in most family purchases and are in the lead on many. This indicates that dads are much more involved in what happens in the home than they were even 10 years ago.

To this point, most of the dads I know in the 25-35 age range (myself included) change just as many diapers and spend just as much time with their children as their wives do.

So, how do we get dads engaged in the mission of closing the diaper gap? First, we have to tell them that they are welcome. Dads often feel that certain territories are “mom only” places and they best keep out. Let’s avoid that. Second, you have to call dads out as dads. If you say, “calling all parents” dads will just assume it is meant for moms. Let’s avoid that, too. Finally, bring partners on board that are not the “usual suspects.” If all of the sponsors and organizational partners are ones that only moms identify with, dads will not feel as though “this is for them.” Get distinctly male entities involved, and that will communicate something powerful to the dads out there.

It won’t be easy, but it will certainly be worth it. When dads are involved, everyone wins – dads, moms, and especially kids.

Vincent DiCaro
Vice President, Development and Communication
National Fatherhood Initiative
20410 Observation Drive
Suite 107
Germantown, MD 20876
Phone: 240-912-1270
Fax: 301-948-4325
Email: vdicaro@fatherhood.orgWebsite: http://www.fatherhood.org
Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/nationalfatherhoodinitiative
Blog: http://thefatherfactor.blogspot.com
Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/thefatherfactor
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