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It’s a brisk Saturday morning when I meet Madison, age 10, and her Mom Robin, at a local breakfast place. Madison slides into the booth and starts talking about her latest anime drawing and the violin lesson she will go to after the interview. It seems like she is just a kid– a happy, carefree kid. The reality is a little more complicated though. You see, it has been almost a year since Madison’s Daddy was sentenced to jail. Her Dad’s incarceration turned Madison’s life on its head. However, despite the obvious challenges it has presented, Madison remains a cheerful, positive kid who fiercely loves her Daddy, mistakes and all. In an effort to help other kids with a parent in jail, Madison wrote Everyone Makes Mistakes: Living With My Daddy in Jail. Recently I sat down to talk with Madison and her Mom about their experience and their hopes for other families impacted by unavoidable separation.
I Thought a Person Like You Would Never Go to Jail
From Madison’s Point of View: What do you want kids to know?
- When a parent gets into big trouble, it is not your fault. They still have to deal with the consequences… but their consequences are not your consequences.
- Just because your parent is in jail, it doesn’t necessarily mean they are bad. It just means they made a mistake and need a time-out. Jail is like a time-out for adults.
- You can be mad at your parent, but that didn’t actually help me. What did help me was knowing that my Daddy loves me no matter what.
- You can’t fix your parent’s mistakes… but you can do a lot of things, even as a kid. I decided to love my Daddy no matter what.
- At first I didn’t want my Mommy to tell my teachers about Daddy going to jail. I was really embarrassed. She told them anyway and I ended up being really glad because my teachers helped me a lot if I was sad or having a bad day.
- There will be special events you will miss when your parent is away. When Daddy missed a special event at my school I was really sad that I couldn’t be with him. However, my family and I started a new tradition instead. You can always start new traditions and they can be a lot of fun!
- Don’t be afraid to tell your parent that you are sad or that you miss them. They will understand. It is important for you to let them know how you feel.
- No matter what, there is hope and you are not alone.
From Robin’s Point of View: What do you want parents to know?
- A few months before Madison’s Dad was incarcerated, he was injured in a really bad accident and had to go to shock trauma. At the time, we had been separated for about 6 months. I wanted nothing to do with him. However, I knew that I needed to do the right thing on behalf of Madison. I knew that I may not have to answer to Madison now, but I would definitely have to answer to her 20 years from now if I didn’t put aside my petty issues with her Dad. He could have died in shock trauma, and I would have been Madison’s only link to him. So, I forgave him.
- Sometimes the hardest thing to do is also the right thing to do. Forgiving Madison’s Dad was definitely one of the most difficult things I have done, but it was so worth it. Forgiving him after the accident laid a solid co-parenting foundation that was absolutely essential when he went to jail. I will never use my daughter as a pawn or a way to get back at her father.
- It was important for me to stress to Madison that none of this was her fault. She doesn’t own her Dad’s mistakes. She can’t carry the burden for them. At the same time though, his incarceration is a clear lesson that your present choices will have a very real future impact.
- Talk about a teachable moment– the day after Madison’s Dad went to jail, we were all so devastated. I knew Madison would be barely functional. However, I decided to stick to the obligations of our Saturday routine. Madison went to her violin lesson and we honored other obligations as well. I believed it was very important for Madison to learn that when you have a problem in life, you should not run away from it or try to hide from it. The best course of action is to be brave and let the problem make you stronger. This develops mental and emotional resiliency.
- At the same time, it was important for me to give Madison the tools she would need to protect herself. So, I gave her an out– if kids asked about her Dad, we made up a story that would explain where he was. Our story was that he was on a business trip.. which isn’t entirely false. The story wasn’t meant to deceive so much as to give Madison time to process what had happened, while still living a mostly normal life. This story also helped protect Madison from potential bullies (for the record, Madison has never been bullied). This was the perfect short term solution for our family.
Tell Us More About the Book!
- Fairly soon after her Dad’s incarceration, Madison started writing in a journal and writing letters to send to her Dad. Much of the book came from the journal and letters, including the illustrations.
- The reason Madison decided to write this book was because of the dearth of support available for kids whose parents are incarcerated. As Robin and Madison searched for support options, they found numerous support groups or books for the family, or for the parent left behind. However, they didn’t find anything specifically geared to the kids.
- Madison wrote this book to fill that gap and tell the story from a kid’s perspective. Adults often will make wrong assumptions about how kids feel. Madison thought is was important to tell her story.
- Madison wrote the book with disadvantaged kids in mind. She built in blank pages at the end of each chapter that serve as a space for the reader to write down their thoughts and ideas for how to cope. Madison realized that many kids with parents in jail might not have the means to purchase a journal. Journaling really helped her, so she included that space in the book itself.
- Other things that really helped Madison throughout this process have been a strong family support network, drawing (she is quite good at Anime!), playing the violin, and practicing Tang Soo Do. Tang Soo Do in particular has been great because one of its central premises is: Never Give Up.
- One of the most gratifying aspects of writing this book is that Madison has been approached by other kids who are touched by the book, even if their parent isn’t in jail. The central message of the book definitely would help any kid separated from their parent due to jail, living in a different place, long military deployments, or even if a parent has died.
Madison is such an amazing young woman and her Mom is pretty inspiring as well (check out her business, Life Changers 180)! This book is a great conversation starter for your kids, and if you know of a kid who is facing parental separation, this book would definitely help them process that pain.
To buy Madison’s book, click on this picture (Affiliate link included for your convenience):
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- Joy In My Kitchen knocks it out of the park again with her 8 questions to get your kids thinking about God.
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