Smart melds old-fashioned parenting with modern times

3/3/2017 | Chris Maza

Category: March 2017

Valerie Smart with her daughters Eden and Faith.
Reminder Publications submitted photo

Like many parents, Valerie Smart wanted to be the textbook definition of a “perfect mom.”

The 20-year resident of Agawam admitted it was easy to get wrapped up in approaching parenting like a competitive sport.

“I had gotten wrapped up in the whole mentality of ‘one more class, one more activity, one more enrichment’ for my own kids and trying to be the superstar mom,” she said. “You get caught up in this feeling that you have to do it all. You can’t do it all and when you try, nobody wins and that’s when family starts breaking down.”

Eventually, the mother of two daughters, Eden, who is now 10, and 4-year-old Faith, learned that sometimes it’s better to just simplify life.

“Sometimes we have to take a step back and parent like a generation ago,” she said.

Now while applying the principals of valuing family time and using that time to enrich each other’s lives, Smart is passing on her message to parents in the Pioneer Valley through her blog,

“It’s been fun to make that shift with my children and to share how that’s working for us,” she said.

Since 2015, Smart has utilized the website, which she updates regularly, as well as social media, to encourage this approach to parenting and family building through a mix of community events listings, suggestions for do-at-home projects and reviews of local venues, activities and occasionally products.

“I feel like there are a lot of distractions in parenting today and I try to provide folks with some simple ideas on how to combat that to have more quality time together,” she said. “I think it’s that time together that really strengthens our families.”

Screens in particular can be a major distraction for the family dynamic if they are allowed to become one. In an age where not only television, but smartphones and tablets are becoming increasingly popular among young people, striking a balance is important, Smart said.

“We make sure to have screen-free times throughout the day,” she explained. “For example, the TV isn’t on before school in the morning, we don’t have it on as soon as we get home so we can come back together in the afternoon and we don’t have TV on during dinner. We watch plenty of TV, but we stretch those periods of time when TV isn’t an option.”

Television and computer time can also be used as opportunities to connect.

“We have a television, we have computers, our daughters each have a tablet, but we never had a videogame system in our house,” Smart said. “We watch programs as a family because I think it’s important to watch with your kids, play the computer game with them and stuff like that so you’re a part of it and it’s something you can share.”

But more importantly, Smart said it is important to ensure children have the opportunity to be creative, play and spend time outside. Living in Western Massachusetts provides a perfect opportunity to put this into practice.

“I think we’re so blessed to live in Western Mass. with all of the colleges, all of the museums and all of the cultural events that we can take advantage of,” Smart said. “We’re also hugely blessed that a lot of the stuff is free or really inexpensive.”

The cost of parenting is something Smart said she keeps in mind anytime she blogs and does not include anything with which she does not have personal experience as some activities might be much more expensive than they appear.

“I try to break down the free and low-cost events,” she said. “Parenting is so expensive. Sometimes you might only have $20 for the whole weekend to keep the kids busy.”

Smart specifically pointed to the area’s many museums as resources that most parents either might not think about or feel comfortable exploring. The blog, she said, is a tool that can help.

“Mount Holyoke, Smith College and Amherst have great museums. I think a lot of people feel they can’t go to a museum on a college campus because it’s not for their kid, but that’s why they’re there. They want families to come and take advantage of these resources,” she said. “I try to take away that intimidation factor and review these places so people can have confidence that they can go and have a good time.”

One of the greatest resources the area provides, however, is the outdoors.

“I always encourage people to get outside. It’s a great family thing to do,” Smart said. “I’m very interested in all of the research that shows how just being in nature can cure a lot of our illnesses, stress, attention disorders and sensory disorders. Being outside can lessen a lot of those impacts.”

In addition to family excursions and time outside, Smart features crafting and science projects that can be done right at home and at little expense.

“I try to always find things you can do with stuff around the house,” she said. “Doing science or crafting together is great family time, but not necessarily if you have to go to Michael’s and spend a ton of money getting supplies.”

She also emphasized that it’s OK if a project isn’t perfect; that’s not the point.

“In this Pinterest era where everything has to look pretty and perfect, it really doesn’t have to be. That’s not what your time together is about,” she said. “When you craft with your kids, it’s not about the outcome, it’s about the shared experience. Just spend some time together and make some memories.”

In addition to the website, parents can connect with Smart through Facebook ( and Pinterest (, as well as Instagram and Twitter (@the413mom).

“I think the most fun in starting this has been connecting with people in the community,” he said. “I love that other people can come to the page and share their ideas in a forum in which we can all pool or resources.”

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