Category Archives: Families

Why You Can’t Cook Your Way to a More Enjoyable Family Dinner

From Huffington Post

BY: Charity Curley Mathews

Sometimes people say to me, “you must be such a good mom.” They think I’m rocking this parenting thing, probably running circles around them, because I make such a big deal out of cooking for our kids. Guess those people have never seen my laundry room.

Cooking dinner, like every single part of parenting, is just a choice. It takes time, money, equipment and a bit of know-how. Like working out or saving money, it’s not easy and you have to make it a priority or you probably just won’t do it. But there’s also the diplomatic part, which can either make or break the whole thing. A recent study about the stress of family dinners conducted by sociologist Sarah Bowen, spurred a particularly vexing Slate article, titled no less than “Let’s Stop Idealizing the Home-Cooked Family Dinner”. “The main reason that people see cooking mostly as a burden is because it is a burden,” complains Slate’s Amanda Marcotte. “It’s expensive and time-consuming and often done for a bunch of ingrates who would rather just be eating fast food anyway.” Sound familiar?

After Slate covered it, many others agreed, picked up where she left off or rebutted. Then The New York Times came out with their own version. But each piece danced around the same issue: “Everyone dealt with what Ms. Bowen called the “burden of pleasing others,” says NY Times writer Anna North. “Middle-class mothers felt that offering new foods was crucial for developing their kids’ palates — even if the process sometimes leads to food fights. But the process was time-consuming and stressful. Ms. Bowen and her co-authors write that “we rarely observed a meal in which at least one family member didn’t complain about the food they were served.”” Bingo!

It’s so emotionally charged, this idea of making dinner. “Good moms” cook dinner, right? But when you don’t feel appreciated in your own home, by your own people, it’s so discouraging. Have you ever felt so fed up with the whining that you just couldn’t stand to make one more chicken dinner? I sure have. Sometimes I wonder, worry really, if using so much energy to cook takes away from other parts of our family life, like you know, making it through bath time without screaming at anyone. My husband isn’t a big eater and he’s not even home for weeknight dinners most of the time anyway. There have been times when it’s just me and three fussy kids pushing their plates away or yelling, “BUT I DON’T LIKE PEAS!” the second I set their food in front of them. Don’t forget the baby, who may or may not be crying her way through dinner prep on any given night.

When I heard myself saying things like, “Maybe I just won’t cook anymore if no one is going to appreciate it!” I knew I needed to revamp the way we do dinner. I enlisted my husband’s help to make these kids understand how much work this is, and why I do it for them. To the oldest three, I’ll ask, “What would you say if I crinkled my face when you showed me your drawing earlier? If I said, ‘Oh, gross! I hate red flowers on pictures. You KNOW I don’t like that. Make me something else!'” They laugh, but the point is taken. Complaining about the food is simply not allowed at our table anymore. Consequences are going to one’s room until they can come back and join us again, with a kinder attitude. It’s a pain to enforce because the result usually involves a kid yelling even more but in the end no one has ever, not once, missed dinner altogether.

The new family rule is the first thing anyone says at dinner if they want to say something is, “Thank you!” We also introduced a thumbs-up, thumbs-middle, thumbs-down policy and now leave all criticisms at that. But under no circumstances is it OK for anyone to say something is bad, gross, yucky… Not from kids, not from parents. Not OK. Figure out a better way to express what you want for dinner NEXT TIME and see if that’s doable.

Not cooking because of time or expense is one thing. Not cooking because everyone is rude about it is another — and something you really can change. Even if you’re totally worn out. Especially if you’re totally worn out. This can be turned around.

Take heart, moms, if you are cooking dinner even a couple nights a week, you are doing the right thing. And dads, please help. Even if that means you always clear the plates, or always unload the dishwasher, just do something that moms can count on every day, especially moms who are preparing and serving dinner without you on most nights. Got a dad who cooks? Please reverse this advice.

Making dinner and eating it together is important and it does produce great results. The reasons why I make cooking real food a priority are many. From nutrition to simple Home Ec principles (how to shop, cook and budget) to something at least as important: eating this meal together gives us the chance to check in with each other, to talk, laugh, sing, and pray together. You can’t do that if everyone’s too busy complaining about dinner. Like biting or wetting the bed, talking smack at the table is behavior that needs attention. Teaching our kids to eat nicely (an ongoing lesson if there ever was one) has been at least as hard as doing the actual cooking, but at least as important.

Otherwise, I agree with the folks at Slate. Why do it?

Charity Curley Mathews is the founder of Mini Foodies in the Making…Maybe, where this post originally appeared.

To view the original article on Huffington Post, click here.


Monroe Foster & Adoptive Parent Town Hall Meeting

The Town Hall Meeting for Monroe Parents will be held on Saturday, June 14th at Hawks Cay Resort in the Keys.

 Please join us for an informative and exciting day that has been developed especially for foster  parents in Monroe county. Immediately following the meeting, we are hosting a networking poolside reception for all attendees. We would also like to extend an invitation for foster parents to stay at the hotel on Saturday night at no charge to you. Foster Parents will be asked to select a hotel room type in the registration process.

Child Care will be provided onsite for children ages 3 month to 13 years old.

Start: 06/14/14 at 11:00am
End: 06/14/14 at 4:00pm

The Keys Town Hall Meeting: A Meeting of the Minds and Hearts

Guest Blog from Denise Beeman-Sasiain, Foster and Adoptive Parent

Last month, Our Kids hosted a Town Hall Meeting for foster parents.  Representatives from Wesley House case management, Children’s Legal Services, the Department of Children and Families, the Guardian Ad Litem office, and Monroe Circuit Court were all in attendance.  (Since Xavier, our 2 1/2 year old, is from the Keys, my husband and I were invited to attend).

My family and I are grateful to all those at Wesley House, the Guardian Ad Litem office, DCF, Children’s Legal Services, and the Circuit Court for the work they have done over the past years on Xavier’s behalf.

When Xavier was first placed with us, over 2 1/2 years ago, I took my first trip down to the Key West Court House.   It is vividly etched in my memory:  As I exited my car near the courthouse, I felt like I jumped out of my skin when I heard an aggressive animal warning.  As my adrenaline kicked into overdrive, a glorious rooster with feathers in spectacular hues of amber, purple and black, jumped down from its low perch, and let out another distinctive warning call to protect its nearby contingency of hens and chicks. Then, to make the moment even more surreal, a four-foot iguana slowly crawled out from under the bush, and started crossing the yard in my direction.  At this point I thought to myself, “Where in the world am I?”  I mumbled under my breath, “I am Alice in Wonderland,” and I quickly made my way through this fantasyland called the Keys and entered the Courthouse doors.

This first encounter with the Conch Republic was a fun and uncanny experience, which I find indicative of the real life differences between the mainland and the Keys.

Each year, hundreds of thousands of tourists make their way down to the Florida Keys.  In the last decade, the Keys ever-growing tourism industry and the resulting higher cost of living have contributed to an 8.2 percent decline in inhabitants, with only 73,000 locals.  Services that we take for granted here in Miami, like medical specialties, Dyadic therapy and other developmental therapies (like Occupational, Physical and Speech therapy) are not readily available throughout Monroe County.

In the Keys, there are several hundred children under Wesley House’s care, but there are only 14 foster families.  Many of the children are now with relatives, yet there is still a significant shortage of beds. Those children who cannot be provided for locally often come to foster homes in Miami, and those children with significant medical needs are also placed in Miami-Dade County, as there are no medical foster homes in the Keys.

Fran Allegra, CEO at Our Kids, had the foresight to bring together the Keys system of care professionals to meet specifically with the foster families to identify their concerns.   By opening the communication lines through a team building activity, everyone present had the opportunity to introduce themselves and express what they hoped the meeting would accomplish.  As everyone shared, it became abundantly clear that those in attendance had the same overall goal:  to make a difference in the lives of the children and families that we serve.

blog fireplace

The Sasiain Family: Pierre, Isabella, Denise and Daniella

In the afternoon, the meeting broke up into small groups to focus on those ideals and circumstances which would signify an enhanced system of care, and many solutions and hopes were identified:  more quality foster parents, better communication, streamlining the paperwork process for both fostering and adopting, increased funding and children finding permanency within one year.

But it was this last concern – the length of time that it generally takes for children to find permanency in the Keys – that was the prevailing, most relevant issue expressed by almost all the foster parents present.

Bart Armstrong, the Regional Director of Children’s Legal Services for Miami Dade and Monroe Counties, and Christy Lopez, Managing Attorney, gave an overview on transitioning children out of care and also on Chapter 39.  The Chapter 39 discussion gave foster parents some legal understanding as to under what conditions parental rights can be terminated.

It is crucial for foster parents, who are the front line warriors that daily deal with the emotional components of fostering children, to recognize and understand the laws and regulations that guide the legal and case management professionals who tirelessly work in the system of care.

The open forum in which foster parents were able to express their concerns fostered a much-needed platform for discussion.  Moreover, the voiced willingness and commitment of both Our Kids and Children’s Legal Services to look into the foster parents’ concerns was both reassuring and encouraging.

This first of four scheduled town hall meetings in the Keys was a concrete step in identifying and promoting change for all parties in their system of care.  By sharing information, points of view and experiences, all those involved grow emotionally and intellectually.  The end result:  An enhanced system of care that will more effectively meet the needs of the children that we serve.

Kudos to Our Kids for promoting open communications lines as a key building block in achieving further transformation and change!

Progress is impossible without change, and those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.    George Bernard Shaw 

Foster Parenting: Our Eureka Moment

by Carlos and Claudia de la Cruz, Guest Bloggers for Our Kids

“You have to take risks. We will only understand the miracle of life fully when we allow the unexpected to happen.” Paul Coelho
Unexpected moments in life are often the most rewarding. May is National Foster Care month and it is also a time when our family reflects upon one of the most unexpected and rewarding times in our lives.

Education and improving the lives of abused and neglected children have been
the focus of our family’s community service. For the past several years, Carlos has served as a volunteer board member and the immediate past chair of the Board of Trustees of Our Kids of Miami-Dade/Monroe, Inc., the lead agency for Community-Based Care in Miami and the Keys.
For years our family believed that serving on boards and volunteering to support charities was the best and most effective way to give back to our hometown community. This thinking all changed abruptly last August when we received a call from Our Kids about a teenager attending school near Key Biscayne, where we live, who needed a temporary home. Our Kids’ staff wanted to ensure that she would not need to be moved from her high school and they contacted us to see if we knew of a family that lived nearby that might be willing to consider becoming foster parents.
Halfway through the conversation we had our eureka moment, and before the call ended we knew that by calling us, the staff had already found the family they were seeking for this teenager.
Although Carlos was very knowledgeable about Florida’s foster-care system as a result of his years of service on the Our Kids Board, the thought of becoming foster parents had never occurred to us — until that instant, during that phone call. Without hesitation, we said we would love to be considered as her new foster family. That was the day our journey to become foster parents began. Without warning or planning, and only with our instinctual desire to help a family in need, we jumped in headfirst. We soon met with the young woman and we all knew that we immediately clicked. Our adult
children and our extended family were enthusiastically welcoming and supportive everyone was on board.
Our Kids’ staff visited our home, conducted the necessary background checks and we immediately began attending the training classes so that our new foster child could come live with us.
While we had been involved with Our Kids for years, this was the first time we had experienced firsthand, the amazing support, training and protections Our Kids and its network of case-management agencies provides for hundreds of foster children and families in Miami and the Keys.
That was almost a year ago, since then we have worked diligently to earn our foster child’s trust and the trust of her biological family. In between, we have attended many court hearings and staff meetings with her and for her.
This year we will celebrate her 18th birthday and we plan on having her remain with us after she ages out of foster care. We have already begun the planning to help her to transition to college and we will continue guiding her toward a fulfilling and rewarding life.
Our home has been a perfect fit, matching her needs with our strengths.
We created a home for her that allows her to complete an impressive and competitive high school education without interruption or disruption. We are doing for her exactly what we did for our own children when they were teenagers: helping her prepare for SATs; supporting her preparation for AP tests; taking her on college tours; and otherwise preparing her for life as a responsible adult.
Many people tell us that our foster daughter is lucky to be with us, but through this fortuitous and very unexpected turn of events, we discovered that we’re the lucky ones. She is a brilliant child, blessed with many talents and gifts. The greatest gift of all is the joy that she has brought into our lives.
Despite all the years we’ve spent helping to positively impact the lives of children through our charitable work, we never could have imagined how personally rewarding it could be to serve at this level — as foster parents.
By becoming foster parents, our lives have been forever changed for the better.
If you live in Miami or in the Florida Keys and are interested in learning more about becoming a foster parent, contact Our Kids by calling 1-855-786-KIDS or visit us at
Carlos de la Cruz Jr. is immediate past chairman of the Our Kids Board of Trustees and the ex-president of Eagle Brands, Inc. Claudia de la Cruz is president of Centro Mater.

Thanks for Joining Us at Today’s Town Hall Meeting

Dear Judges, Colleagues and Community Partners,

 Thank you for giving up a Saturday and joining us today at our Town Hall Meeting. It was a great success. We had a full house with 100 foster parents.
So many of our foster parents told us that they appreciated the day and thought it was a great event. Special thanks to Judge Langer for being our terrific panel host. The discussions were important, at times lively and most of all, foster parents enjoyed the opportunity to meet you and learn more.
As most of you know, we are actively engaged in a foster parent recruitment campaign.
Today’s event was another opportunity for our community to come together and show our foster parents how supported they are.  I am proud of how much our Quality Parent Initiative is a part of our town’s child welfare culture.
As we discussed today, there is no better way to recruit and retain Quality Parents than having meetings like today’s that show our community’s strength and character.  We really have come a long way.
On behalf of the Board and staff of Our Kids, I would like to express our sincere appreciation and thanks to all of you and your staff for making today great.

Bringing Light to Sadness, All in a Day’s Work

Why do we do this work? What things do we all believe are important? A few years ago, Our Kids and our partners set out to answer these questions. The resulting document is something we call “Our Communities’ Values and Beliefs,” which are the fundamental concepts agreed to by every participant in our System of Care.
Once created, the challenge is to keep these “Values and Beliefs” alive, relevant and not relegated to the bottom of a drawer. What you are reading is my first attempt at blogging and is about witnessing these common values and beliefs in action.
Recently, the team at Our Kids was alerted to some awful and tragic circumstances that brought siblings into foster care. On a March evening in a home in Miami-Dade, a mother is accidentally shot and killed by her husband. The couple’s children witness the accident. Police respond and the shooter is led off in handcuffs. The mother, now deceased, is taken away in an ambulance. DCF (The Department of Children and Families) is alerted and the children are taken into foster care at an emergency shelter. An investigation commences.
The next day, in the fog of shock, grief and disbelief, the oldest child asks a shelter staff worker for his pets. Can he see them? Who is caring for them?
These innocent and reasonable questions set off an amazing chain of events that we now refer to as “Operation Doggie/Kitty Rescue.”
At Our Kids, we had never dealt with this issue. In my 18 years of child welfare work, I had never considered questions like “What about the family’s pets? What happens to them?” As an animal lover, it was an embarrassing, but important, revelation.
Within hours of the child asking about his pets, smart shelter staffers run the questions up the chain of command. Calls are made and pretty soon, emails and conversations are flying. Quickly, we learn some basic information. In Miami, when authorities remove all individuals from a home and there is no local family or support (as in this case), Miami-Dade Animal Services is called out to remove the pets. The animals must be adopted within a few days or risk euthanasia.
Maybe it was the awfulness of the tragedy or the pain these adorable and innocent kids were suffering or the stupidity of the parent’s gun play or the recently deceased’s spirit that was inspiring everyone to move mountains. The last thing these children needed was to suffer another loss…another tragedy caused by carelessness.
In what was an unprecedented move, Judge Cindy Lederman signed a special order authorizing the family’s pets to be released from Animal Services to Our Kids. The animals were then voluntarily placed in Our Kids’ employees’ homes, awaiting the return to their family.
Days later, three small pets were happily returned to an eagerly awaiting 7 year old and 9 year old. The counselor who was in the home at the time of the reunion described it as a moving moment for all. There was not a dry eye in the house.
At Our Kids, the children are always our priority. And in this case, the children – having suffered such a terrible accident and loss – needed extraordinary gestures of kindness and decency. They needed to know that the other members of their family – their pets – were safe. Of course, the family has a long road of healing ahead of them. But for a few weeks, we demonstrated how powerful some simple actions can be.
Today: Three small animals are safe and happy; and two young boys feel love and comfort. “Operation Doggie/Kitty Rescue” was a success. And in the face of tragedy, best friends – two young boys and three small animals – are reunited.
Thanks to the extraordinary team at Our Kids, Children’s Home Society, DCF, Knowles Animal Hospital, Miami-Dade Commissioner Sally Heyman, Judge Lederman and all those who made this possible.