How this mom survives the ‘suburban jungle’

Lisa Barr, center, a former journalist for the Chicago Sun-Times, started her blog “Girlilla Wafare” with the aim of sharing parenting advice from “moms in the trenches.”
Photo courtesy of Lisa Barr

Lisa Barr has been in the trenches when it comes to parenting.

The mother of three and former single parent took notice of just how warlike parenting can be after watching episodes of “Desperate Housewives,” a television show that followed the lives of several women living on the fictitious Wisteria Lane.

“These women were beating each other up, and there was a winner at the end of the show,” Barr said during a phone interview from her Chicago home, recalling the series that ended in 2012. “I wanted to do something that was the opposite, and bring out the real issues.”

And with that, Barr, an author and former journalist for the Jerusalem Post and Chicago Sun-Times, started her blog “Girlilla Warfare,” in which she writes about parenting, marriage, sex and drama from the perspective of “moms in the trenches.”

With Mother’s Day on Sunday, Barr, who will speak May 22 in Potomac at an event hosted by Jewish Women International and Israel Bonds, offered five lessons she learned while “surviving the suburban jungle.”

Kids can be cruel. So can adults.

One of Barr’s first viral posts hit on how some parents can become bullies. In her post, Barr recalled a story of a mother boarding a bus headed for her daughter’s summer camp and roped off several seats for a group of her daughter’s friends. When a girl who was not a part the group tried to sit there, the mom told the girl to sit in another part of the bus.

Barr said stories like that “really out a lot of these moms” who were getting involved in things they shouldn’t have and causing kids pain.

The post, which received 5 million views and was republished in various outlets, started conversations among parents about what to do when kids get left out, said Barr, who received thousands of reader responses,

“What we see is that a mean mom creates a mean kid who becomes a mean adult. We want to stop this” cycle.

Everything is a click away.

The advent of the Internet has revolutionized society’s access to information. Unfortunately for parents, children aren’t always prevented from gaining access to inappropriate websites.

“Anyone can get on Facebook, and it’s scary as a parent because you don’t know what your kids are downloading,” she said.

The answer to this, she said, is vigilance.

“I think it should be clear that your kids know that you are watching in the background,” Barr said. “There has got to be accountability.”

Barr added that she knows some parents who check their children’s social media accounts.

Vigilance is not always enough.

“The other day a friend shared a disturbing story about her friend’s two little boys on their camp bus being indoctrinated into the porn world by two older boys who showed them blatantly inappropriate nude” pictures, Barr wrote in a recent blog.

So what is a parent to do when their child asks about a sensitive subject? Everything has to be individualized to the family and the age of the child, Barr said.

“I think the best thing a parent can do is lay [the answer] out clinically, and take some of the emotion out of it,” she said.
Barr has broached difficult subjects with her three daughters so the first thing they hear is from her.

“They can hear the message the way I would tell it as a parent,” she said. “I think it’s more important to be honest with your kids because they are going to hear it anyway.”

That philosophy of being the first to talk about it has applied to sex, terrorism and politics.

You can’t be in two places at once.

While working for the Chicago Sun-Times in 2005, Barr was assigned to do a semi-exclusive interview with then-star of “The Apprentice” Donald Trump.

Barr was a single mother and by unfortunate coincidence, Trump’s team scheduled her interview at the same time Barr’s daughter was going to perform in a school play.

Barr was already being watched by her supervisors because tending to her kids often forced her to take off from work.
“I’m thinking, I am so screwed,” she said. “If I canceled the interview, I’d be fired from my job.”

After thinking it over, Barr decided her kids were more important and explained her situation to Trump’s people.

Trump, according to Barr, not only agreed to reschedule, but was sympathetic to her situation as a parent himself.

Everything worked out for Barr that time. But, she said, she has had family members attend school events and other big moments when she was unable to be there.

“Sometimes as a parent you have to stop what you’re doing and see what [your children] need,” she said. “It’s not easy at all, and there were many nights I tossed and turned over those decisions.”

Sometimes a parent makes the mistake.

While it is often the parents requesting apologies from their children, sometimes the adults owe apologies. When this happens,

Barr said, it is important not to overlook it.

Parents who hold themselves accountable are more successful, she said. “If you mess up, and you take accountability for your actions,” then kids will always accept an apology and move on. n

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Lisa Barr will speak at 7 p.m. on May 22. For information and location, call 240-479-7922 or email [email protected]

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