A Letter to my future teenage kids

If you ever come asking: “Mom, how can I make my friends like me?” my only answer will be: “by never seeking their approval.” We are nice because being nice is an obligation, it’s something we, your parents and teachers, have worked day and night to instill in you. But to go out of your way just to fit in and be a part of a certain group: the cool folks, the elitists, the sports squad, the cheerleaders, the debate club, that’s never going to guarantee an everlasting friendship. Take it from your mother, the only friendships that have stood the test the time are those in which I felt loved, accepted and even celebrated for my individuality. Sure, they thought I was crazy at times, and literally had to pull me out of my shell at others, but we made it through the decades. At our time, nobody really cared whether you had thousands of followers and your social media content went viral. We saw the change each one of us could make, we wished each other well, we cheered each other on, we had each others’ backs, we were sincerely connected by the heart. We never needed an internet connection to maintain a friendship running that deep. Try to make at least one everlasting friendship, kids. Find friends whom you can connect with spiritually and mentally. Don’t melt in a crowd and wonder why you’re constantly feeling anxious, dissatisfied and depressed. Be people connectors, not just people collectors. Someday you’ll understand that rebels don’t spend their time at middle and high school breaking rules and having parties. It takes more to be a rebel. It takes a person who’s not afraid of being called crazy or weird for trying to live by their own terms. That’s a spirit that can’t be tamed.

~Z.

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5 things that parenting is NOT

Ah, parenting…the most exalted, most exhausting job ever. Bringing a child into this world is perhaps one goal we all seek to achieve at some point in our lives, but once we have this child our whole existence is changed. It’s very normal to feel frustrated, overwhelmed and even shocked at how parenting is nothing like what we had imagined it to be growing up. Who would have thought that dinner time, bath time and bed time would be so nerve-wracking at times? In our imagination we only pictured our little ones to be perfectly-behaved, obedient, sweet angels (not that they are not). Reality hits hard sometimes, doesn’t it? But wait, we’re NOT heading down desperation lane with this post. There’s hope, there’s always hope when it comes to how much we love our children. After all, when we are tired, wired and at our wit’s end, it’s only because we want things to go our way and they’re not. Those expectations of an ideal parent-child relationship are simply standing between us and our kids, keeping us from bonding with them the way we had hoped. 

What are we doing wrong? Why isn’t parenting as rewarding as the media portrays it? Why are some parents more fulfilled than others, you may think? Because we often conceive parenting as a set of rules and theories that apply to ALL children. We’ve been socially trained to follow the footsteps of our predecessors in raising our young disregarding the ever-changing environment we expose them to. As a mother of both a boy and a girl living in a modern city, under normal circumstances, I can’t help but observe those fast-paced changes and worry about my children’s future. Will I be able to raise healthy, kind, loving, well-rounded individuals? Just thinking about this grave responsibility makes me hyperventilate! But I know one thing I had to learn the hard way. Parenting doesn’t come with a manual, it comes with a child, a unique child whom you’ll learn to understand as much as you’ve already loved. It takes time. And you’ll get there. In this post I’d like to share what I’ve learned so far in my 8-year-long motherhood journey. I’ve summarized all the irksome, worrisome, troublesome parts of my parenting experience, which you may pretty much relate to. So here are 5 things which are NOT parenting. 

1. Parenting is not a race or a competition: I know, it’s tempting to compare notes with other parents, gather experiences and share advice but once you feel that you’re really failing at this thing called parenting because you’re not doing what other parents are doing, you need to stop. We’re not competing. We’re in this together. And if you ever feel that you can’t handle any more braggers, just keep your distance, there’s no guilt or shame in choosing what’s best for your kids, AND your well-being. 

2. Parenting is a means not a goal: you know that cheesy proverb that says “happiness is not a destination, it’s a way of life.” Well that also applies to parenting. Instead of worrying about accomplishing milestones and checking off lists, just enjoy every moment you get to spend with your kids. Your presence and role-modeling is enough of an accomplishment. So if you don’t get them to stick to a routine within a week, that’s really OK. Be consistent, yet flexible. Firm yet understanding. The last thing your kids want is to feel their home is more of a military camp than a cozy atmosphere to learn, grow, and just be themselves. 

3. Parenting is not self-sacrifice: We’re always told that fully-dedicated moms are the best moms. Can you imagine how depressing this statement may be for working moms? Why is motherhood always portrayed in such an overly idealistic light? Please stop feeling constantly guilty for excluding your kids in some activities you pursue on your own or with your spouse. It’s perfectly acceptable to want some time for yourself to recharge. Your kids will thank you the most for being a happy, well-adjusted, and outrageously creative parent.  

4. Parenting challenges don’t get easier with time: you know what we parents don’t need along the way? Illusions. But negating the statement that things won’t be getting easier is not…”negative” (does that make sense?)  Actually, it’s not the parenting challenges that will get better, but you’ll be a more equipped parent to handle those ever-increasing challenges. Yes, sadly every phase of parenting has its glitches, but trust me, you’ll nail them. There will be tough days, tear-jerking incidents, and lots and lots of self-doubt along the way, but you’ll be ok. Really! Negativity, busted! 

5. Parenting is not all what you are: when they placed that bundle of cuteness in your arms, you instantly realized that nothing in your life will ever go back to the way it was before. But this doesn’t mean you’ll have to adopt a new personality as a protective, superheroic parent. Regardless of whether the kiddos believe mommy and daddy have superpowers or not, mommy and daddy are (Your name) and (Spouse’s name) first and foremost. Your interests, needs, likes and dislikes should never be affected by your responsibility as parents. In reference to point 3, keep those parts of you alive – for sanity’s sake at least. Avoid falling into the trap of begrudging the single life. 

So whether you think you’re doing this parenting thing all wrong and can’t help but feel lonely and isolated at times, you’re actually never alone in this. Loving someone who is totally dependent on you in their first few years can be quite scary. But have faith in this love and your strength as a caregiver, mentor and protector of this child. You were made for this, and this child is exactly the way he or she is supposed to be. If you can remember to parent the child you have, not the child you always wanted, you’ll succeed in every level of this parenting game, with a little help from them, believe it or not 🙂 

Happy parenting! 

~ Zeina

On raising happy daughters

Every night when you tuck your daughters in, tell them how much you love them. Tell them they’re amazing. Tell them there’s nothing in the world they can’t do if they put their minds to it. Tell them they can count on your acceptance and trust you with their problems. If they come crying to you, listen to them, validate their emotions. Silly things don’t make people cry. If they think their noses are too big, their hips are too wide, their lips are too thin, they’re fat, they’re ugly…hug them tight and tell them everyone is beautiful in their own way and that what matters most is the beauty of their minds and the gratitude in their hearts. Never ever tell them that if they don’t like their features they can have plastic surgery when they’re older. A nose job never made anyone happy. There are many beautiful women out there with the most broken hearts. Mothers, your words are of great influence on your little girls. As role models, you need to put your own insecurities aside when you address your daughters’ insecurities. Let your strength reflect on their thoughts and behavior. Let your kindness embrace their sweet tender hearts. The hardest part about raising a daughter is convincing her to just be herself in a world that seeks to teach her otherwise; nurturing her self-esteem is challenging indeed in an age where the fashion brands you wear define how likable or cool or rich you are. There will be days when she’ll feel so alone, confused, and indecisive. Be that someone she runs to. Your daughter would never choose anyone else over you if she knows you’re the only one who will understand. So make every moment count. Enjoy those little talks, the endless questions, the laughs, giggles and yes, the power struggles that never seem to end. They will be merely memories in a few years. Be sure that she will be as happy as you ever liked her to be by just carrying the best of those memories, and upon recalling those encouraging words you once said. The best way to raise a daughter is not to tell her she can be just as good as any boy, nor that she needs one to grant her happiness. Raising a happy girl always, always starts with a happy mom.
#to_my_daughter 

#my_happiness_for_theirs

#bonding
Love, 

~ Zeina

To those who can’t relate

It’s been a while since I’ve last written a parenting blog post. I don’t know why I always feel unfit to give advice or share my views on parenting. Oh, yes, I actually do know why. Because as a mother of a special needs child, I often feel that I can’t relate to the parenting styles that most people around me have adopted. Or, perhaps, it’s the other way around? Aha… that’s it! It’s mostly people with “normal” kids who can’t relate to my views and experience raising a different-slash-special-slash-unique-slash-amazing child.

Lately, instead of sharing what it’s like to have such a child, I sort of drifted away from my goals for this blog. I haven’t been able to write, and I’d like to say I’m sorry to my readers who feel inspired by my “courage” to share parts of my life. It’s been quite hectic and tough in my household, and I honestly started questioning this whole “raise awareness” approach that I was so enthusiastic about during my early months of blogging. Was I really helping others understand my son better by writing about how hard our life is or was I just arousing pitty?

People still give me this puzzled look saying ‘How do you know he’s autistic, he “looks” fine?’ To me, that’s just saying “we really don’t believe this ridiculous diagnosis, but hey if that’s your way of justifying his misbehavior.” It hurts when people ask if there’s a “cure” for autism or whether he’s getting any better with all those endless costly therapy sessions, and all I want to say is “if you’re nagging about how long it’s taking, try living a day in my home and experiencing this unpredictability and uncertainty yourself…oh yeah, and here is our therapist’s bill just in case you feel so bad for us that you’re willing to pay it.”

I have no spite for parents who don’t have special needs children, in fact I’m always willing to answer any question related to autism and my son, based on what I’ve read and experienced myself. Why would I blame someone who’s never had to deal with all the things I deal with if they wonder “what it’s like” and genuinely wants to help? However, I would blame someone who deems her/himself a parenting expert or an educational specialist if they “can’t relate” to my confusion or struggle as a special needs mother. You simply can’t justify this person’s “lack of knowledge” or “failure to empathesize”. You simply can’t allow this deliberate denial nor tolerate this disregard to your feelings and your child’s.

In this day and age, more and more children are being diagnosed with all sorts of learning difficulties and mental disorders. We can no longer overlook those children’s needs or write off their developmental delays as “phases they’ll get over oneday”. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. Until they do (and if they do) we must remember that special kids are no different, they thrive on love and understanding, they feed on support and affection. They need to be merged and mainstreamed, not left behind and isloted as if they were malfunctioning defected creatures. Yes, their lives are hard, but they won’t get any easier if we judge their parents or treat them differently, out of pure ignorance. So to those who can’t relate to my special kind of motherhood, I say: “Get a freaking book already.”

Stay awesome, special moms ❤

~ Zeina

FOMO? You’ve got to be kidding me!

Ready to hear something totally hilarious? Well, today I accidentally found out about FOMO from a local TV talk show episode I stumbled upon on Youtube. What is FOMO, you might ask? Brace yourself my introverted friend (extroverts, you can stop laughing now), FOMO is an acronym that stands for “fear of missing out”! But of course I’ve never heard of it before. As an introvert occasionally living under rocks, I have no such fears, nor do I comprehend them. Yet I do know a lot of people who have an irrational fear of missing out on things, and these fears are reflected as compulsive behavior, elevated anxiety levels, and low self-esteem. FOMO is like a new mental health syndrome (don’t we have enough of them already?) that could be triggered by our modern-day addiction to social media. Checking your social media phone applications over a million times day just so you won’t “miss out on anything important”; carrying your mobile with you everywhere, is well…an addiction. I have discussed some detrimental effects of social media, namely Facebook, on our daily life as parents in the post about my quitting Facebook. Today I discovered one reason why people  won’t deactivate their Facebook (or other social media) accounts despite their great dissatisfaction with them. It could be the fear of missing out on their “friends'” online activities, recent escapades, and photosessions with cats. That fear of feeling inadequate, isolated, or left out when everybody out there is doing something that they’re not. 

Apparently, that fear could be stemming from personal insecurities, and, although I’m not a mental health professional to make such claims, wanting to join every event, party or gathering out there does not indicate that one is happy with him/herself. The anxiety that arises at the slight chance of not being able to attend an event could be significant to some. Why is that important to make a presence, to become virtually popular or to know people’s whereabouts? I get that many people recharge their energy by being around others, I really do. I, too, often need to socialize to get a new perspective on things, to feel less of an outcast at times. What I don’t understand is why people choose flooding their schedules with activities, many of which are useless, over spending precious quality time doing the things they actually care about, being present for the right people or simply getting to know themselves better. 

When I quit Facebook several months ago, I knew I wasn’t going to regret my decision and, luckily, I didn’t. What constantly bothered me to the point of leaving was the growing fakeness that is celebrated on social networks as well as its users’ abuse of the “post” button. My life continued, I moved on, I missed out on birthdays, deliveries, engagement announcements, divorces and tons of pictures, but I moved on. My mind shifted focus and my priorities were finally set right. 

This Fear of Missing Out is so real for some it’s threatening their real-life relationships. I’ve heard of so many marriages on the verge of demise due to the husband or wife’s preoccupation with excessive pursuit of a higher social status. Juggling personal interests, social  occasions, along with home and work responsibilities, both parents start tugging at their end of the family rope until it finally snaps. Life is hard enough. No family or child should have to suffer in such struggles. A family life is the life one shouldn’t be missing out on, everything else out there can wait.  

I believe the first step to dealing with FOMO is to acknowledge its presence and influence. The next step is to take a short break from social media and try to understand what it is that’s so scary about not being “there for everything”. Is it a feeling of loneliness one should address, or does it run deeper? Whatever the cause, it should be confronted and resolved before that fear bites away into every valuable relationship one has built, devouring one’s energy and focus on what truly matters. 

We are social creatures, we thrive on interacting with others. It’s only natural to seek others for help, entertainment, counsel and affection. But there’s a fine line between socializing and obsessing about being left out of the loop. So for those with FOMO, fear not. No matter how many places you’ll be, things you’ll see or people you’ll meet, you’d still be missing out in life. Whatever you do, don’t miss out on life.

An Open Letter To Moms 

Dear Moms, You must be excited that Mothers’ Day is just around the corner* wondering what crafts your little gems have been making you at preschool or how long your older kids have been saving money to buy you that extra special gift. You must be psyched that finally that one day when mothers are celebrated is here and you’ll get to have a “day off” (Breakfast in bed, anyone?) I know I’d be more than happy to have my family pamper me for the day but you know what would really, really make me happy? Watching my children smile and knowing that they are really happy! Ok, I KNOW we all want that, but sometimes I wonder if we want our children to be happy just to have a break from their nagging, demands and constant questions. Do we really take them out to the park to have fun or do we do that so they can release their inexhaustible energy and spare us all the bedtime agony? Do we buy them gifts to reward their good behavior or to bribe them to behave better all the time? Do we sign them up for karate classes for their physical and emotional development or just to fit in with other families who enroll their children in all sorts of extra curricular activities? 

I have been taking an honest look at my motherhood lately. I know for a fact that it is far from perfect, but you know what? It doesn’t have to be. I don’t have to do any of the things I mentioned to see my kids smile. Being a good mother isn’t really about what I do for my children but how I make them feel. I could be out all day with them, driving them from one playground to another, stuffing their tiny bellies with jelly beans and soda and all sorts of junk food they’re not allowed to consume everyday, buying them every toy they had ever wished for and they still wouldn’t be happy – not because they’re ungrateful, selfish or bratty but because they didn’t notice any happiness in my eyes while I was doing all those things for them. Kids are naturally inclined to seek their parents’ approval, they crave their undivided attention, they want to please Mom and Dad at any cost. Kids love to play and interact with their parents. They want to feel close, and they just want to feel loved. Unfortunately, this very simple fact of life often goes unnoticed with all the daily pressure and chaos in the background. We parents fall into the habit of buying to make up for all the lost time we don’t to spend with our children; That time which in their little minds is translated as love and caring. We are fooled into believing that our kids will be happier if they get that Xbox game or that new bike they’ve been eyeing for weeks. 

We complain about our toddlers’ restlessness to our besties, we hold mommy meetings to solve a friend’s “issue” with her rebellious teenage daughter, we are astonished at how tech-savvy this generation is as if we’re oblivious to all the hours they spend exploring technology – without our supervision at times. Whether mischievous, rebellious or overachieving, these kids may just be looking for attention or approval. How can we be so blind at times not to recognize their basic need for affection? I’m not writing this letter to condemn or patronize. I am certain that moms do what they do best: multitask and make things happen as they excitedly tick off items on their long to-do lists. I know they never miss recitals or forget vaccination appointments. I also know that I could use some advice myself on how to be a more patient and empathetic mother. But I think we moms are treating motherhood like a job at times, rather than a calling. We go about our days performing our duties so robotically that we rarely stop and think about what we’re doing and why we’re not doing what we should. We’re experiencing the ups and downs of parenting as if they weren’t even supposed to happen – with little understanding and loads of protesting. And the worst thing about it all is that we don’t restrain ourselves from publicizing our dissatisfaction – even in front of our children. I say it now with a heaviness in my chest; I am guilty of all of the above. I have sadly let my frustrations control me for far too long. I’ve allowed the fantasy of the “perfect child” ruin the life of my real one. That “perfect child” stood between me and my son, dictating the way I should raise and discipline him. I guess we all want our children to be a certain way. We’ve all had childhood dreams about how our life would turn out to be, including the tiny versions of ourselves. But children aren’t born to be our clones, they have souls and their very own dreams and ambitions. It is when we grasp the fact that we don’t own those little creatures under our custody that we truly begin to appreciate them for who they are. 

I’ve been focusing on “fixing” my child for most of his tender years. Although I have been successful at ensuring better treatment outcomes through earlier intervention, I have failed to notice all the good traits he has. He’s such a talented creative boy on the inside, but we’ve been too consumed with the defiance, aggression and anxiety to help him achieve his potential. One might not blame me for being overly obsessive about chasing after a diagnosis. Perhaps my paranoia is justifiable after all, but if I had to do it all over again, I would have at least done it with his best interest in mind. I confess to being selfish sometimes for trying to change him so that he’d fit in with other kids – so that I, in turn, could maintain what was left of my otherwise incompatible friendships. But some relationships are just not worth saving at the expense of one’s most beloved. I’m sure that we treat our children as a top priority all of the time, but deep down are we just disgruntled parents who are fed up with compromising? I hope that all the questions I raised in this letter would inspire you to accept your children for who they are; to place a hand on your heart as you remember your purpose; to sincerely love your parenting game. These kids may be giving you a hard time more frequently than they should but nobody said parenting was smooth sailing. Parenting isn’t torture either! Relax and be easy on yourself. And if there’s one tip that has never failed me in this journey that I might share with you it’s to pray for your children everyday, pray for their safety, for their health and well-being, for their obedience and devotion, for their happiness and success. Always pray for God to fill your hearts unconditional love they’ll need to lead a fulfilled life. 

What advice would you like to share with other mothers to help them appreciate and enjoy their motherhood every day? Leave your survival tips in the comments below. I’m always thrilled to hear from you. 

Happy Mothers’ Day

~Zeina

* Mothers’ Day is celebrated on March 21st of every year in Middle Eastern countries

On the pressures to get published

“Hey, you should write a book about your journey with your son.”

“You write really well. Have you ever thought of getting published?”

“How is your book coming along?”

I might have mentioned wanting to write about this journey. True, I’ve always dreamt of seeing all my writings come to life in print. And yes, wanting to become a writer was one of my career goals. But I think I’m done with the pressure. 
Maybe I just want to be a good parent to my autistic son before trying to document my journey, telling others what worked and what didn’t, how we survived this together, and how we happily created  a special mother-son bond through all the trials, heartaches and tears. Maybe I just want to write and blog to relieve the pain. Writing was art and therapy before it started being marketed as a documentation of life experiences and lessons learned. At least that’s how I like it to be. At least that’s why I started writing when I was a teenager. Long before I had my own blog or a social media account, I had notebooks filled with bleedings of my soul. The poems did document the feelings I’d gone through as I dealt with personal and family issues. These notebooks never had any audience and I was completely content just emptying out my emotions on paper without receiving feedback or admiration. These notebooks ended up in the trash, I had to dispose of years of agony due to lack of storage space. It hurt to say goodbye but I had no regrets. They’d served their therapeutic purpose. 
That is not to say that I don’t appreciate receiving readership and encouraging comments on my writings. What use would having a blog be then? Sharing my experiences gives me pleasure, but learning as I go is even more enjoyable. At present, I’m hardly ready to celebrate achievements and milestones. How I can preach what I haven’t practiced or teach lessons I haven’t learned? I’ve got such a long way to go and I’m still low on fuel. 
Right now I’m simply trying to stay focused while I balance my own passions and my son’s needs. I’m simply trying to hold on as I get bombarded with school complaints and inner urges to give up. Wanting to become a writer involves some degree of self-doubt, but I believe it’s just the stress talking at times. I’m sure that the strength and determination within will eventually propel my ship of dreams to its desired destination. It’s mainly my desire to master the parenting trade that’s pushing me to hold off the publishing.
I would doubtlessly be happy to invest the time and effort one day to save some parent the trouble of searching for the right therapy or support system. My goal to inspire and educate is already being met in every post I leave here. 
So right now I just want to write to write. To unravel all the mysteries found on that broad spectrum. To untangle all the thoughts in my mind. To find my happiness and help my son find his. And, if I’m lucky, to spread that happiness like confetti in every parent’s home. 

What they don’t tell you about Autism

They say autism is a spectrum of symptoms varying in severity and functionality. They don’t tell you about the spectrum of disappointments, exasperations, fears and worries that will always be a part of your parenting journey.

They say autism is a communication disorder. They don’t tell you about the disorder and isolation that will turn your life upside down. 

They say many autistic children like things in a certain order or made in a certain way. They don’t tell you how exhausting it is for you as a parent not to be able to do things spontaneously without facing a major tantrum. 

They say temper tantrums are very normal for individuals on the spectrum. They don’t tell you about the nights you’ll spend crying, wondering if there will ever be a stress-free day in your parenting life. 

  
They say children on the spectrum have certain fixations and rigid interests. They don’t tell you about the time, money, and efforts you’ll spend trying to fix what is seemingly unfixable.

They say ASD children need love and understanding. They don’t tell you you’ll need that same amount of love and understanding yourself to carry on. 

They say ASD children have trouble making and keeping friends. They don’t tell you you’ll start losing your own friends too. 

They say some autistic children can have attention and hyperactivity issues. They don’t tell you you’ll be craving 5 minutes – just 5 minutes – of peace and quiet a day.

Autistic children are special indeed, but autism is a very lonely and foreign place for a parent. Though there may be hope, that hope waxes and wanes very unexpectedly. As you seek to make every day as systematic and predictable as possible for your ASD child, the outcome is almost always unpredictable. 

But as parents, we never give up. We never stop believing things will get better one day. Yes, we accept destiny  with a full heart but we all (secretly) wish we could have just one “normal” day for a change.

#honestyissuchalonelyword

~Zeina

M.O.T.H.E.R.

MOTHER

M is for every “Moment” you cherished for me

O is for every “Obligation” you fulfilled with glee

T is for the “Time” you spent ensuring I’m happy

H is for the “Home” you built on love and mercy

E is for all the “Efforts” I can’t thank you for enough

R is for the “Responsibility” you have taken with love

MOTHER you’re a gift sent from Heaven Above

He’s Just A Child

This is an old poem I wrote when my child was around 2 years old… a little before we learned he had Autism. In his defense, he’s one awesome child, tantrums and all. He’s my child and I’ll never change a thing about him. If he hadn’t been the way he is, I would have never known how strong and capable I am to raise a child with behavior or communication challenges.

 

 

He’s Just a Child

With all the burdens I carry on my shoulders everyday

With all the worry and guilt, someone stops me to say

“How did your child turn out to be this way?”

I stare blankly as images in my mind start to play

I’ve held him in my womb and nourished him with care

I’ve watched over him day and night, I was always there

I gave him all my time, how dare you give me that glare?

I threw away all what used to matter, to me that’s just fair

For him I’d give my life, do you know what he means to me?

He’s the light in my eyes, the first fruit that grew on my tree

I don’t need to justify why he’s just a child

 

If I give him some space, people say I’m loose

They’d say I’m too strict if I lay down some rules

Sometimes I catch myself doing things I don’t choose

And eventually I end up regretful or confused

And as the tears roll down my cheek

They say I shouldn’t grow weak

Assertion is the key to tough situations

Do what’s good for him, be stern yet cool, be firm yet gentle

Oh please Lord, make them stop, that’s TOO much to handle!

He’s not a horse you can tame, he’s just a child

 

 

If a child hits, who do you think is to blame?

People think, “his mother ought to be ashamed”

If a child says something odd, some peculiar word

People think “it’s from his mother he must’ve heard”

His mother is bad, his mother is good,

His mother isn’t doing what she should

People love to reprimand, they can’t understand

The pains of motherhood

That only a weary mother would

Don’t judge a mother

If her million ways of loving don’t match yours

Parenting is not a competition or for keeping scores

You can’t love other people’s children more

Than their own parents ever could

~ Zeina