Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why feel guilty about it if it helps you cope?

I was outside chatting with friends as we watched our 5- and 3-year-olds carom around the playground, when one of them mentioned that she'd been watching the SciFi channel lately, and it was her guilty pleasure.

"Oh, that's not a guilty pleasure," I quipped. "A guilty pleasure is a 'Real Housewives of Where Ever" marathon or watching multiple episodes of 'The Girls Next Door.' While drunk. SciFi is science plus fiction. That's multitasking." We all laughed, and the conversation took a turn and went elsewhere. But still, the ridiculousness of my quip made me wonder: What makes a guilty pleasure a guilty pleasure?

Friday, June 25, 2010

Is dropping out of high school a good option?

A few weeks ago, Ericka Lutz wrote an intriguing piece for Parent Dish, about her daughter dropping out of high school -- and how she supports her teen's decision to do so:


Parenting a teenager is all about trust. I can't force Annie to go to school, though I tried. I can't force her to want to be in school, and unless she wants to be there, she won't go. I trust my daughter's instincts, and I know that a path is not always linear. And she comes from a strong family tradition of alternate paths. It took me nine years to get my BA and I ended up with a successful and creative career. Her father didn't start community college until he was 24. By the time he died, he was the special adviser to a head of state.
I see her point, but I'm not sure I agree. There's more to high school than just academics, in my opinion: There's self discipline, perseverance, collaboration, cooperation, and basically learning how to learn. Not every child is able to gain those skills on his or her own.

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Miley Cyrus and her changing image: How to help your kids cope when their icon remakes herself

What do you do when your child's role model grows up too fast -- and your child wants to try to catch up? In the Parenthood is in the pages of today's Boston Globe, with a story about kids and parents who are disillusioned about Disney star Miley Cyrus's transformation from goofy tween-age Hannah Montana to Britney-Madonna-Lady Gaga-like sexpot. (You can read the story here, and also view a slideshow of how her image has changed since 2006.)

I turned to Dr. Robyn Silverman, a child and teen development expert, for some advice on how parents can help their kids cope with the change. Here's what she had to say:

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Dads have a harder time with work-life balance, study says

A newly released Boston College study called "The New Dad: Exploring Fatherhood Within a Career Context" points out that career-minded fathers may be facing an issue similar to that which working mothers know all too well: the difficulties of balancing career and parenthood.

“Men are facing the same clash of social ideals that women have faced since the 1970s -- how do you be a good parent and a good worker?” Joan C. Williams, the director of the Center for WorkLife Law at the Hastings College of the Law at the University of California, told the New York Times on Sunday. “This is a pretty sensitive indicator of the rise of the new ideal of the good father as a nurturing father, not just a provider father.”

But there's a twist: Part of what's making it harder for modern men to be good fathers is the fact that their wives often discount the work these dads do at home (check out the discussion going on about this at my In the Parenthood blog at Boston.com).

I'll admit it: I know I do this sometimes. In spite of the growing acceptance of fathers in the workplace who put their families first, the overwhelming assumption is that dad can work late because mom's there to pick up the slack at home. And that breeds resentment. It's easy to fall into bed after a long day of juggling work and parenthood and housework and start thinking of all the things you did that he didn't have to do -- without considering the things he does that you don't.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Kid tracking via microchip: An invasion of privacy or better safe than sorry?

The search for 7-year-old Kyron Horman, who disappeared from his Portland, Oregon, elementary school on June 4 and is still missing, has been reclassified as a criminal investigation, and some parents are wondering whether it's worth revisitng the idea of implanted tracking devices for kids.

The question of whether or not to implant microchips in our children isn't new. In 2002, CNN reported that parents in the United Kingdom were asking for microchip tracking devices for their kids after two 10-year-old girls were abducted and murdered. And Wired magazine wrote about it back in 2003, when Solusat, the Mexican distributor of VeriChip, launched its VeriKid program in Mexico.

What is new is that, in spite of the whole "Big Brother" aspect, and in spite of the obvious privacy issues (not to mention health risks), the microchip may be making a comback.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

When "green" isn't eco-friendly at all

I was reading a story about eco-friendly finishes for new homes when I was suddenly struck by the ridiculousness of it all. How is gold-gilded bamboo flooring still eco-friendly? What’s environmentally conscious about spending $125 for a single roll of wall paper made from old newspapers? (Really. I’m not kidding.)

There’s a huge difference between going green and, well, going “green.”

As I’ve mentioned before, I’m not so much crunchy as I am crispy when it comes to healthy, eco-friendly living. But even to my not-at-all-trained green sensibilities, isn’t it better to go green by using as few resources as possible, rather than by spending bundles for something uber-processed that claims to be eco-friendly? If you’re spending $42 on a single tank top, you’re not being green, even if it’s made out of organic cotton or sustainable bamboo. It’s like investing in special, BPA-free bottles and then using them to feed your baby Coke.

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Should we be unitasking instead of multitasking?

There's a really interesting piece over in our articles section at Work It, Mom!, about unitasking instead of multitasking, and I'm taking a closer look at it over at The 36-Hour Day.

It's often said that multitasking is how working moms manage to get it all done. But researchers say that our ability to do so may just be a myth. And unitasking is kind of at the root of the whole Fly Lady way of cleaning and decluttering -- focus on one task, do it for a set amount of time, and then move on to the next thing. We know that unitasking works -- at least, I can see how easily it works in terms of doing the laundry or tidying up the house. But could I apply it to my to-do list? Or, better still, my hours at the office?

Monday, June 14, 2010

Putting your marriage first may be better for your kids

Many parents feel that they don't have time for their spouse because they're so busy taking care of their children -- and that's just the way it is once you have kids. But family coach and Episcopal minister David Code disagrees.

"Here's the biggest myth of parenting: The more attention we give our kids, the better they'll turn out," he says. "Where are the results? Studies show today’s parents spend more time with their kids, and yet today's kids don't seem happier, more independent or successful. They seem more troubled, entitled and needy."

The solution? It's the title of his new book: To Raise Happy Kids, Put Your Marriage First.

"You might say that today's parents seem to be marrying their children instead of their spouses. The truth is, we often find it easier to be with our kids than our partners," Code points out. This seems child-friendly, but we don't realize we're using our kids as an escape from our spouses."

Code took the time to chat with me recently for a post at Boston.com's In the Parenthood column. He lives in State College, Pennsylvania, with his wife and two children, ages 10 and 8. "I've been a full-time writer since 2007, but at 3:08 when the kids get off the bus, I'm a full-time dad as well," he says. "I'm so glad this shift in roles has become socially acceptable, because it fits my career-oriented wife and me to a T."

Here's our entire Q & A; scroll down to the bottom for Code's four tips for making a good marriage even stronger.

Friday, June 11, 2010

Coping with stress at the office

We're not supposed to be fed up at the office. Not with our coworkers, not with our workloads, not with our bosses, not with our companies. Especially not in this day and age of shaky economies and downsizing and unemployment and shrinking budgets.

But guess what? It happens. We all have red stapler days, days when we want to chuck the TPS reports in the trash and tell Lumbergh to his face that he represents all that is soulless and wrong. At The 36-Hour Day I'm offering up some tips on how to cope -- or, at least, how to minimize the damage:

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Are you crunchy granola, or just a little crispy?

I often tease my husband, telling him that he's skipped over "conservation" and gone right to homesteading.

One of the first things he did when we moved in to our current home is rig up a massive composting station out back, at the edge of the woods. A year later, he built raised beds and planted a garden (and I learned how to can and make jam and pickles).

A couple of years ago, we set out fruit trees and expanded our garden -- or, rather, he did, given that I kill plants just by looking at them. We both plan out which vegetables to buy, but he plants and tends them and I pick, cook, and can. He runs his Suburban on a combination of diesel and waste vegetable oil (no, it doesn't smell like french fries) and fantasizes about having a wind turbine on our property. (Not going to happen, though. Two reasons: We don't get that much wind, and we don't particularly want to piss off our lovely neighbors.) And, this year, he's rebuilding the old chicken coop out back, with an eye toward raising up his own flock of dinner. I've assured our lovely neighbors that we won't have roosters (they crow all day, not just in the morning, you know), and I've vowed to name each chick after a different recipe. ("Heeeeeeere, Homemade Stock! Bok bok, Sweet-Potato Curry! Where'd you hide your eggs this time, General Tso?") While I kill plants effortlessly, I'm not sure I could kill a chicken, but I'm positive I could cook it up just fine.

And that pretty much sums up the disparity in our crunchy granola green-ness as well. He'll bike 40 or so miles to work to save on gas; I'll roll down the windows and turn off the AC. He spent years as a vegetarian; I'll buy organic milk but let the kids stir Strawberry Quik into it as a treat. "You're not crunchy, so much as you're just a little crispy, aren't you?" he asked, laughing as I wrecked the wholesome nature of the homemade, corn-syrup-free lemonade by stirring Red No. 40-laden grenadine syrup into it (to make it pink! It tastes better when it's pink!)

He knows me so well.

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

More proof that time flies

My 3-year-old woke me up one recent morning, saying he was hungry. Which would have been OK if

1.) I hadn’t gone to bed at nearly 2 a.m.
2.) I hadn’t gone to bed at nearly 2 a.m. because I was working
3.) My husband hadn’t gone to bed at 9 p.m.
4.) My husband had regained consciousness quickly enough to offer to get up with him (Hahaha! No. He sleeps like he's made of concrete.)
5.) My 3-year-old hadn’t trotted in at not-quite-6 a.m.

So I got up, coughing (I’ve got a cold. Yes, of course I went to work later that day) and struggled to find the sleeves of my robe and found socks for my feet and stumbled downstairs with my youngest boy, who was clutching both a small stuffed leopard that he insists is a baby jaguar, and a large stuffed border collie that is nearly as big as he is. He requested “Cimmanin Tohst.” Which I made. Which he, sitting at the table, then didn't eat, preferring to chatter on about super heroes and puppies and whether maybe there could be a super hero who actually WAS a puppy and wouldn’t that be so, so, so cool Mama?

When I am under the weather, or stressed, or, in this case, both, four hours of sleep is nowhere near enough. I was cranky and resentful. I had so much work to do. I made coffee and sat down at the table with him and nodded and coughed. And realized: Someday, sooner than I think, I’m going to look back on this moment -- sleep-deprived, borderline sick, to-do list already long -- and I am going to miss it.

Monday, June 7, 2010

Winning the witching hour: Dinner in 15 minutes

I call it The Working Mom's Witching Hour: 6 p.m. or so. The kids are ravenous, I'm cranky, we've all just gotten home from work and school and childcare. It's tempting to hand them a snack just to keep them from gnawing on the furniture, but then they won't eat dinner. The food-o-sphere is rife with meals that you can make in 30 minutes or less, but what if you don't even have a half hour to spare?

In our family, take-out isn't often an option. Aside from the fact that our budget is tight right now, three of our five kids have food intolerances or allergies, which means anything with gluten is a no-no. That rules out pretty much anything that's ready-made.

Over at The 36-Hour Day, we're sharing the ways that we cope with the witching hour. Here are my five go-to meals that can be made in 15 minutes.

Saturday, June 5, 2010

Do dads experience postpartum depression?

A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10 percent of husbands experience depression sometime between their wives' first trimester and the end of the baby's first year, and 25.6 percent of new dads are depressed during the first 3 to 6 months of the baby's life -- in other words, 3 to 6 months postpartum.

That number is way up from a study reported in the Lancet in 2005, in which four percent of new fathers were found to have symptoms of postpartum depression.

When my first baby was born, my husband called me a semi-new mom, since I'd been a step mom for several years by then. My first was his fourth and, even though every child is different, of course, he was an old hand at the new-parent game by then.

New fathers generally don't have a wealth of information to fall back on. Pregnancy books are usually aimed at women, obviously, though there are a few notable exceptions, like Christopher Healy's Pop Culture: The Sane Man’s Guide to the Insane World of New Fatherhood and Dad's Pregnant, Too by Harlan Cohen. But dads-to-be and new fathers need help as much as moms do, and that's what we're talking about at Boston.com's In the Parenthood column right now.

Friday, June 4, 2010

Why go to reunions? To see how far you've come

I was back in my hometown last month for my high school reunion. Not just any nostalgia-fueled reunion weekend, mind you -- my 20th.

A lot of people don't go to their high school reunions. I went to my 10th, and was on the fence about this one. I had my excuses: I didn't feel like I could take the time off from the office (or get enough work done in advance to cover myself while I was gone), I spend plenty of time socializing on Facebook, so I was already in touch with the people I cared about most... why make the trip?

In the end I was glad I went. But the fact is, there's nothing like a milestone reunion to make you feel both 17 and, well, old at the same time.

Thursday, June 3, 2010

Helping kids with end-of-school transitions

Regardless of whether she goes to kindergarten or first grade in September, my 5-1/2-year-old will be coping with a new school and new friends this fall. Her very best friend is zoned for a different elementary school, in fact, and the two of them are already trying to find ways to spend as much time as possible together, not just this summer, but next school year as well.

It might not seem like that big of a deal to us now, as adults, but for little kids, "graduation" from kindergarten or preschool to elementary school can make for some serious stress. There's some great advice out there about getting your child ready for her next academic adventure, but what about easing the transition out of the setting she already knows and loves?

At Boston.com's In the Parenthood, I'm not talking about finding ways to celebrate, per se. Graduating preschool may be a milestone, but it's not a major accomplishment, as far as I'm concerned. (High school? Absolutely. Middle school? Maybe... depends on the child and whether he's overcome academic obstacles. There's something to be said for recognizing achievement and setting the stage for more of it, I think.)

So I'm not looking for ways to mark the end of Pre-K as much as I am trying to help a young child understand that these types of endings are a normal part of life, and that you can hold on to old friends while also making some new ones.

The experts at ChildAware.org suggest helping your barely school-age child cope with the transition by giving them a chance to have some input. Involving them in some of the decisions, when possible, planning ahead and giving them more details, listening to their fears and concerns and accepting their feelings can go a long way toward helping them feel comfortable about the change.

When it comes to maintaining their preschool friendships, the onus is on the adults. Follow your child's lead: If the friendship seems to be petering out, consider that it may have run its course, and let it go, but if the kids miss each other, make an effort to arrange playdates away from preschool, so that meeting in a non-school setting becomes their new "normal."

Parents, please share your wisdom: How will you (or how did you) help your child manage a transition to a new school?