SPONSORED FEATURE

The Best Gift Parents Can Give

12/15/2015 08:00 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

This holiday season, Guin and Nate are giving a very special present to their baby and Guin's two older children, who they raise together: themselves.

It used to be that this young couple from rural western Washington state wouldn't spend much time with the kids. They would hide in their room with the door locked, each of them says.

"We'd come out to give them their food or whatever, and then we'd just tell them to go play," says Guin, 24. "We just shooed them on pretty much. That's what my parents did to us, and that's what hurt so bad. That's what I never wanted to do, but that's what we ended up doing anyways."

Inside the locked room, Guin and Nate would do drugs. That was their escape, their means to cope. It was a strategy they both learned early in life.

"My parents were always gone, or when they were home, they were loaded," says Guin. "So, we didn't have bonding time, unless it was a loaded time. Like they were loaded, or just being crazy."

Nate, 21, says his mom was also always gone or drinking, and that his older brother was the only father figure he ever knew. Together they raised their younger brother. Holidays were especially tough.

"There were presents under the tree and everything, but there weren't any parents around. It was just my two brothers," he says. "It was hard."

As Guin and Nate struggled with their pasts and trying to scrape together a living and a future, they turned to drugs and then each other for comfort. But when the two older kids, 3 and 7, got taken away by the state temporarily last year, they knew something had to change.

Getting clean wasn't easy, but in some ways the regimented recovery program made the path clearer than knowing how to become a good parent -- something they desperately want. They say having Hollie in their lives is making a huge difference.

As a home visitor in Save the Children's Early Steps to School Success program, Hollie visits with pregnant mothers and families of babies and toddlers in economically depressed communities. The idea is to teach parents to be their child's first teacher through reading, talking, singing and playing -- and to serve as a resource and support for families struggling with many different challenges.

"If Hollie wasn't here every week helping us with our daughter, I don't think that we'd be improving so much with our child. She's helped us be better parents," says Guin. "I'm grateful for Hollie all the time. Books, man, she brings so many books. My kids are so grateful for the books."

mother and child

Children growing up in poverty tend to fall developmentally behind other children long before they ever reach school. Then they struggle to catch up and many never do, making it very difficult for them to break the cycle of poverty. Yet, despite the many risk factors their families face, more than 80 percent of the children in Save the Children's program go on to score at or above the national norm on pre-literacy tests.

Guin and Nate's baby is only seven months old, but Guin can already see how she's ahead of where her older kids were at that age. She started rolling over, sitting up, crawling and making her first word sounds much sooner. All the floor time, reading, talking and playing is really working, Guin says.

floor time

And, she says, the bond she's building with her baby is so much stronger from the very beginning.

"Hollie has told us that face-to-face play is really important at this age, because they're learning facial expressions and feelings and all that stuff," Guin says. "Babies have the coolest facial expressions. They have happy in their eyes is what I say. Happy eyes. I love that."

"I think I beat you in facial expressions," Nate cuts in.

"Yes, he has," says Guin. They laugh and then reflect on what lies ahead.

"Our goal is to make life better for them," Guin says.

"Hopefully, we're able to achieve that for them," says Nate. "It's hard, but we're getting through it."

"It'll all be worth it in the end," says Guin.

I can only imagine how difficult it must be for these young parents to turn their lives around, given the rough start in life they both had. It's wonderful to see the pride Guin and Nate are taking in their parenting and to see their children get the loving attention they themselves missed.

This holiday season, I'm grateful for the amazing home visitors like Hollie, who are helping parents be the best they can be.

Together with Save the Children, JOHNSON'S® is bringing awareness to the importance of early childhood development (ECD) programs, so that every child can reach their full potential.

This holiday season, if you select Save the Children through the Johnson & Johnson Donate a Photo app and donate a baby photo using #SoMuchMore, JOHNSON'S® will triple its donation in support of early childhood education programs.