The Questions All Parents Should Ask Themselves After the Tragedy in Charlottesville

Charlottesville Canva

This blog is not political. It is about being a hopeful, loving, flawed human being in a broken world. It is about being a mother, a teacher, a woman, and a friend who wants things to be better.

And it is as a mother that I can’t, in good conscience, quietly ignore the uprising of hate in our country or turn a blind eye to the tragic events in Charlottesville last week.

We HAVE to bring this train to a screeching halt right now. This very minute. We MUST stop ourselves in our tracks and ask ourselves some tough questions. ALL of us.


Even though we have a hundred more things to do as our kids go back to school this month, we need to stop. NONE of that is as important.

Because whether our children have the trendiest shoes or the right color of highlighter or the college ruled notebook with exactly 100 pages is NOT AS IMPORTANT as preparing them to save a world that seems to be going back in time.

It’s time for us to be honest with ourselves and make the decision to do better. Tragedies should shake us to the core. They should hurt our hearts and affect our parenting. When innocent people die defending basic human rights, we must ask ourselves if we are raising a generation who will be uncompromising in standing up for others. So here are the questions that I am asking myself, as a mother, right now, today.

What am I saying to my kids IN PRIVATE, when it is just us and nobody else can hear, to show them that I believe that we are all equally and wonderfully made?

What am I saying and doing IN PUBLIC, when my kids and other people are watching, to prove that the mistreatment of others, and that means anyone, is not okay?

Am I sharing the ugly events in the world with my kids in an age appropriate way and letting them ask honest questions and giving them truthful answers? Am I creating teachable moments, or am I trying to pretend this is not the world they live in?

Do we talk about the WHY and the HOW – why people become angry and hateful, why divisions exist, how to guard your our hearts, how we as a society can make things better?

Am I sharing with my kids that goodness, mercy, love, grace, and maturity solve problems, or am I teaching them to become angry and vengeful when the actions of others are cruel or unjust?

Am I preparing my kids to be leaders, or am I teaching them never to ruffle anyone’s feathers?

In my conversations, do I model how to respectfully stand up for what is right, or do my kids see me smile and nod because I am too busy, too afraid, or too polite to disagree?

Do my kids understand that if they do not speak up when something wrong is happening right in front of them, that they are complicit, whether the law says so or not?

Do they realize that it is not only okay but also morally right to call out people of influence, even people we like, when they are promoting anger or hate?

Do my kids see me admiring others who model strength, strong virtues, and sacrifice, or do they see me glorifying people based on their talents, income, or level of fame alone?

Am I asking my kids questions about school, about bullies, about who is being treated unkindly and why? Am I helping them navigate the waters of social division where they are right now and encouraging them to be the hands and feet of God everywhere and all the time?

If my child got in trouble at school for sticking up for someone, would he expect me to respond with pride in his choices or frustration that he broke a rule?

Are my kids confident enough in their personal value – which is not based on appearance or achievements – that they will not need to make others smaller to make themselves bigger?

If I asked my kids what they believe controls me the most, would they say the fear of what is evil or the love of what is good?

Am I spending enough time with my kids – at the dinner table, in the car, before bed – for me to continue to influence them as they become teenagers and even adults?

These are the questions I’m reflecting on today as we, as a country, mourn.


And our mourning cannot compare to the deep sadness of the families who have lost loved ones.

I’m tired of this, America.

Let’s start fixing it, one family at a time.


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Pretty Please?

Hey, Fireflies!

I have a brand new post that I can’t wait to share with you next Tuesday.  It’s a letter to my son on his 13th birthday . . . Let’s just say that you may want to throw a box of tissues in the cart when you are at Kroger this weekend.  Don’t say I didn’t warn you . . .

Until then, I’m asking for a HUGE favor!  Please click here to visit the Today Show Parenting Blog where my recent post “How to Influence Your Kids When They Keep Getting Smarter and You Keep Getting Dumber” has been published.  I feel like this post has the potential to get some attention, but the more that it is “Voted Up,” the more likely it is to get noticed by the editors.

You can visit the post on the Today Show Parenting Blog and click “Vote Up” to help me.  The “Vote Up” button is right ABOVE the post.  Please feel free to share the post on your Facebook page if you feel compelled to do that, too!  I will let you know if anything exciting happens!

Thanks, as always, for sharing in this journey with me!  You have no idea how grateful I am.

~Mary Ann

P.S. A few weeks ago, a producer from New York City contacted me to discuss my writing.  His company creates some pretty amazing shows for channels like TLC and National Geographic.  How cool is that?!?  Unfortunately, it wasn’t a perfect match, but I believe that all of this writing is going to lead to SOMETHING fantastic someday – I just don’t know what!


The Good, The Bad, and The Ugly Revisited

good bad ugly 2

Hey, Y’all!  This week, Still Chasing Fireflies is celebrating its FIRST BIRTHDAY!  That’s right . . . my baby is turning ONE!  (And, yes, I am still working on losing the baby weight, but that’s okay because I have more realistic  expectations than those celeb moms.)  The year has been an emotional roller coaster that ranks right up there with other important personal milestones like the year that I said “I do” and the two most incredible years when our family grew first by one son and then another.  It has been wonderful!  Watch for a full recap of Still Chasing Fireflies’ first year in the next few days, but first I thought we should revisit the FIRST BLOG POST that I ever shared, which was never even posted here on Still Chasing Fireflies.  It was originally shared on The Today Show Parenting Team blog, when that blog was just a newborn, too.  Enjoy!   Here goes . . .

My ugly parenting days were accidental at one point but have become more deliberate as my boys grow up.  I have become more accepting, even proud, of the moments of parenting that aren’t so pretty.  Why?  Because when I reflect on my own experiences, I have learned a lot more from the ugly than from the beautiful.  Because I see children every day enjoying seemingly idyllic childhoods while the toolboxes that they will need to be equipped for adulthood sit forgotten and empty.  (Their scrapbooks, however, will be AMAZING, and that does make me a bit jealous.)

The reality is that we aren’t raising children here, friends.  We are raising men at our house.  Men who will be fathers and husbands.  Men who will be your co-workers and your neighbors.  And, although we don’t like to think about it, we know that our children will face heartbreaking challenges in life – because we all do at some point.  The reality is that all of us parents are raising adults who will need to have the emotional and critical thinking tools to handle difficult situations with grace and, hopefully, come out stronger on the other side.  But many of us are working double time to prevent our children from having the very experiences that will prepare them for adversity later.  I, for one, am tired of working so hard to create a force field around my children while still feeling like my efforts never quite stack up to the efforts of my neighbors . . . or my Facebook friends . . . or the characters (because there really is no reality) on the television.

The truth is that good parenting isn’t always beautiful.  Every day cannot be a parade with my child as the grand marshal.  Children need to experience discomfort – loss, disappointment, pain, sadness, and frustration – to grow.  We aren’t doing our children any favors when we don’t let life happen to them.  We aren’t helping them succeed when we create an illusion (because it is always an illusion) of perfection.  We aren’t doing right by them when we intervene every time they encounter a normal life challenge.  And what kind of messed up kids are we raising if they never see that mistakes and weeds and failure and messy houses are just a part of REAL LIFE?

There’s a good chance that parenting that looks beautiful will create adults with ugly attitudes; I’m banking on the idea that the ugly side of parenting will pay off in beautiful outcomes, while also saving me some grief and, hopefully, taking me out of the competition.  Enough with the myth that every day should be sunshine and rainbows, and that if, God forbid, it should rain on my child’s parade, I should sweep in to create an artificial happiness with sweet treats, unwarranted praise, and meaningless (and often expensive) activities.  Enough with the idea that a child who has not tried EVERY sport and hobby has probably been robbed of all future joy.  Enough of the fear that if we don’t entertain a child 24/7 then we have failed at parenting on an epic scale.  It’s time to get real.

“No, I am not doing this assignment for you. Lucky for me, I graduated from third grade a few years ago.”

“Yes, I do find cleaning up dog poop to be disgusting. But if you love the dog, you scoop the poop.”

“No, I am not buying you the shirt that says that you are the best basketball player ever. If an adult wore a shirt that said “BEST THING EVER,” everyone would assume he is a jerk. And he probably is.”

“Yes, I do realize that your brother got a donut at school today, and you did not. No, we are not running to Tim Horton’s to make it right. I am feeling confident that you will survive. But if your vitals start to fade, we will make a trip to the ER.”

“No, you cannot quit because you are frustrated. You made a commitment, and quitting is not an option. Your dad and I are still married. Consider this an excellent example of perseverance.”

“Yes, I do have enough money to buy that, but I will never ever EVER spend that much money on a t-shirt. No, not even if we win the lottery.”

“No, I don’t enjoy grocery shopping either, but it is necessary for our survival, and if we had lived a hundred years ago, you would be hunting right now. Be grateful.”

“Yes, I know that some kids your age play video games rated Mature. Unfortunately, you came from this womb, and it’s not happening.”

Don’t get me wrong; we love our boys dearly, and we work hard to foster close relationships and to establish a home that provides a soft place to fall.  But I am trying hard to escape the parenting rat race by reminding myself that we are not here to protect them from reality but to support them as they actually face it.  Life is not perfect.  Children are not perfect.  Parents are not perfect.  It’s okay if our family doesn’t look perfect, because it isn’t.  But maybe, just maybe, allowing our kids to face the ugly realities of life will yield some beautiful results.

Don’t forget to watch for that birthday recap coming soon!  While you wait, I want you to think about two things:

  • What was your favorite post of the first year?
  • Do YOU have a personal story that you want to share with the Still Chasing Fireflies community, too?

Hold that thought!  We will have a fantastic conversation when the recap is posted!  As always, thank you for reading and supporting this community!

Teaching Kids Kindness in the Face of Fear

Paris (1)

For the first time in forever, I was able to savor a quiet, un-busy weekend at home, so I curled up with a blanket and a cup of tea on Saturday morning to catch up on my long-neglected newsfeed. Lucky for me, I stumbled upon this essay written by a talented mom who blogs at You Have Six Kids? In her post, she reflects on the question of how to teach kids kindness in a world where unkindness often feels like the norm. Her post caught my attention because she drives home the point that we, as parents, as people, cannot allow fear to seep into our hearts and erode our own values of love and generosity toward others. Recent events in Paris and Mali have fed into our darkest fears, fears that aim to manipulate and isolate us.

In her post, she explores the truth that when bad things happen in our lives, we are tempted to disconnect from others, to focus on self-preservation at the expense of what is inherently good about ourselves and our country. Helping people who need us can be scary. It can feel risky. It can even be painful. But that doesn’t mean that helping is any less right than it was the day before something terrible happened.

And these ideas really got me thinking about how my feelings do not give me a one-way ticket out of difficult situations. About how uncomfortable predicaments that test my convictions not only allow me to help others, but also promote my own personal growth. About how if I am able to help, and available to help, and especially if God has put me in the right place at the right time to help, then helping is not so much my choice as it is my responsibility. About how our children learn to do good by watching and participating when we ourselves do good, and about just how many opportunities to help others exist all around us every single day.

heart rock

Now, I don’t know the mom who wrote this article, but she has street cred, for sure. Her personal story is the epitome of faith in action. You can check it out on her blog. She is selfless. She is generous. She is inspiring.  I am grateful to have read her words this morning.

But there was something else that stuck with me after reading her essay, something that I just couldn’t shake from my brain. Here it is, in the second part of this statement from her post: “Teaching kids to be kind to one another can be difficult, considering we live in a world fueled by hate and evil.”

Teaching kids to be kind can definitely be difficult. Preach it, Sister!

But a world fueled by hate and evil?


That. Is. Depressing.

And I just can’t believe that it is true.

Now let me just say, based on the rest of this writer’s essay, that I’m not so sure that she and I disagree on this point at all. In fact, I have a feeling that we would actually be on exactly the same page here if we had a heart-to-heart conversation over lunch, like mom friends do. But this IS a scary premise that many people embrace these days, and it feeds anxiety, and it has influenced some smart people to do and say some crazy, hateful things, exactly the kinds of things that this writer challenges in her post.

Don’t get me wrong. There is hate and there is evil. We saw it in Paris. We have seen it on American soil. We have witnessed it through vile acts of international terrorism and through deplorable examples of domestic crime. We watch it on the news locally, nationally, and globally every day. It runs as a constant stream across our newsfeeds. It interrupts normal broadcasting. It screams for attention through “Special Reports” and “Breaking News.” Photographs of perpetrators of evil flash across our television screens and glare at us from the front pages of newspapers. We watch footage of bombers hiding their secrets in crowds at marathons and planes crashing into buildings over and over and over again.

And we start to believe that this is all there is outside our front doors. The world is hate. The world is evil.

Except that it isn’t.

Remember that fear we were talking about? Well, he’s a liar.

As the writer at You Have Six Kids? explains, we teach our kids kindness by showing kindness ourselves, especially when being kind is a difficult, scary, or inconvenient thing for us to do. She is so right! Let’s also teach our kids kindness, even when frightening things are happening all around, by helping them to SEE THE GOOD in the world outside of the bubbles that we have created for them.

Because it is everywhere.

Because it is powerful.

Because it is contagious.

Because it can change people.

Because it can build a bridge where there is only a divide.

Because it can speak English. And Arabic. And Chinese. And Russian.

And because last week, we all learned to speak kindness in French.

Good is always present, even in the dark places where evil lurks, even in the face of terrible atrocities. There are always some people who are choosing to do what is good. Always.

I want to help my children see them.

I want them to know that there were many, many more people praying for Paris than attacking it, that there were many people from many places sending resources to help, that there were many countries offering assistance.

You see, my goal is not to shield my children from the harsh realities of the world around them, but I do want them to see a world that is fueled by faith and hope and love, a world where evil, while it may threaten, cannot maintain a strong grip if the people who are working for good are working together. I want them to focus on the heroes. I want them to see the servants. I want them to know that in the battle of good against evil, the good guys outnumber the bad.

It is my goal, just like it is the goal of the mom at You Have Six Kids? and the goal of the other moms who are part of my village, to raise children who become the men and women who someday lead our communities and our nation in pursuit of what is right.

We can teach our kids to DO the good even when the work is hard or scary.

We can teach our kids to SEE the good even when the bad demands our attention.

And we can teach our kids to BE the good wherever in the world life takes them.

Paris (2)

photo credit: <a href=”″>gratuitous eiffel tower shot</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”″>Rock Hard Love</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;

photo credit: <a href=”″>Johann Wolfgang von Goethe A man sees in the world what he carries in his heart</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;




Lessons From Loss: Choose Joy


**It’s so good to be back, friends!  My head is still spinning from the start of a hectic school year combined with a tough few weeks for my family, but writing is doing what it always does for me – bringing me peace.  You can start reading my latest post here and then finish it over at The Today Show Parenting Blog, where I would REALLY appreciate your vote of approval!  Thanks!  And, please, start choosing JOY.** 

Like a shadowy veil, a dark cloud recently settled over my family, and the air was still, and so it sat there, making itself comfortable despite our cries that it was an unwelcome guest. On one of the darkest days of its visit, we lost a courageous aunt to a short battle with lung cancer, and a few days later, with that cloud still hovering above, we rushed to our beloved grandmother’s bed to hug her one last time, to say farewell. So much sadness. So much loss. So much pain in my heart for my children and my husband and his grieving family.

Now the gloom is lifting, the sky changing from a heavy charcoal to a dusty gray, but the shadow still looms. It hardly seems appropriate to write an essay about happiness. Not now. It just isn’t right.

Or maybe it’s perfect.

Grief is far from easy. It is the opposite of easy, actually, far worse than hard. It drills down deep, to the very core of our humanity, and leaves us with gaping hollow spaces that we cannot fill. It is real and it is heavy and it is slow. But this essay is not about healing after loss because those answers are not mine to give. I wish that I could write that essay, I wish that I could throw that lifeline, but I can’t. I don’t have enough experience. Not yet, and hopefully not for a long while.

So this essay isn’t about dying. And it’s not about healing.

It’s about living.

It’s about how experiencing loss can remind us to reacquaint ourselves with joy. It’s about how loss knocks down walls and puts everything into a new perspective. It’s about how, in an instant, my schedule and my task lists and my obligations, the homework and the sports games and the housekeeping, my urgent emails and my important messages and my top priorities – my entire life – all of it – can immediately screech to a halt with just one desperate phone call. It’s about how loss reminded me of some things that I knew once but forgot, like:

*Life is short. I want mine to be a happy one.

*I allow a lot of things to steal my happiness, and most of them aren’t really that important.

*In the big picture, most things, in general, aren’t really that important.

*We make happiness seem much harder to attain than it probably is.

*The greatest happiness comes from appreciating the simplest joys.

I’ve drawn a few more conclusions from these dark days, too. I want to live a life that overflows with joy because I focus on what matters most. I want to create a home that attracts happiness to our front porch and then invites it in to eat dinner and sit at the table with us. I want to instill an appreciation of the simple things in my children so that they experience peace, even when the air outside is still and dark clouds hang like a heavy curtain at their door.

So here is our starting point, some simple ideas to invite more happiness inside our home, and maybe yours . . .

**I know, I know . . .  Stopping in the middle is just mean!  But you don’t have to wait.  Just click here to finish reading this post on The Today Show Parenting Blog. If you enjoy it, I would be very grateful for your vote!  Thank you so, so much!**

photo credit: <a href=”″>smiley face stress ball</a> via <a href=””>photopin</a&gt; <a href=””>(license)</a&gt;