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Modern Parenthood

The trailer for the new Disney show 'Girl Meets World' shows the character of Cory Matthews (played by Ben Savage) as he talks with his daughter Riley (Rowan Blanchard) and her friend Maya (Sabrina Carpenter). (Screenshot from YouTube)

'Girl Meets World': Trailer nails 'Boy Meets World' nostalgia

By Correspondent / 04.11.14

If you were a tween or a teen in the 90s, you remember 'Boy Meets World' on ABC in all of its coming of age sitcom glory. You followed the life and love story of lead character Cory Matthews (played by Ben Savage) and his girlfriend (later wife) Topanga Lawrence (Danielle Fishel), and you laughed along with antics of his best friend Rider Strong (Shawn Hunter) and their families and friends.

The show lasted seven seasons, from 1993 until 2000, and earned a legion of fans, who filled up Facebook and Twitter feeds Thursday with a collective "SQUEEEE!!!" at the release of the trailer for "Girl Meets World," Disney's new spin-off of the popular sitcom. There was much rejoicing online, similar to this:

As BuzzFeed describes, "The trailer features a very fatherly Cory Matthews (Ben Savage), scolding his daughter Riley (Rowan Blanchard) and her best friend Maya (Sabrina Carpenter), aka the new Shawn Hunter."

At the end of the trailer, mom Topanga (still played by Ms. Fishel) walks in to join Cory at his side as his wife and Riley's mom.

I watched the trailer and I will admit I was a little nostalgic (I was in eighth grade when "Boy Meets World" launched), but I was more amazed at the brilliant marketing behind the spin-off. As a generation of new parents watch characters we watched as teens become parents themselves, Disney is perfectly targeting adults and teens with this new show, playing the nostalgia card and hoping to strike gold again by playing the two audiences together. 

Whether you watch it or not, the trailer is enough of a flashback to give you a little taste of the shows you loved to watch as a teen.

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A 16-year-old student wielding two knives wounded 22 people in the hallways Franklin Regional High School near Pittsburgh on Wednesday. People hold candles during a prayer vigil for victims at Mother of Sorrows Roman Catholic Church in Murrysville, Pennsylvania on April 9. (Shannon Stapleton/Reuters)

School stabbing: Are parents desensitized to school violence? (+video)

By Correspondent / 04.10.14

When a high school boy in Murrysville, Pa., stabbed and injured 22 people, many of us reading the news may have expressed the post-Columbine world view of, “At least it wasn’t a gun.”

Reports says Alex Kribal, a sophomore, used two kitchen-type knives in the attack, which started shortly after 7 a.m. on Wednesday.

By late Wednesday afternoon, I began to see postings by parents on Facebook and Twitter, not expressing fear, outrage, or support, so much as dark humor.

One mom on Facebook actually commented on the incident, “Well they don't say ‘he brought a knife to a gun fight’ for no reason.”

As I watched the news and read reactions on Facebook and Twitter, I began to see a pattern emerge which suggests that, culturally, we have become more desensitized to this kind of mass school attack by a student.

This morning, Twitter was already a place to find mock reactions of concern for school violence, rather than a place to pour out fears.

Michael McClead, a Twitter user from Chicago, tweeted, “In light of yesterday's school stabbing, we must ban all sharp objects including eye glasses as demonstrated in Godfather III.”

I did find at least one concerned tweet from a non-media account that lamented, rather than mocked, those who are still sensitive to school violence.

Sammi Milheiser of Mankato, Minn., tweeted, “There was another school stabbing?! Why does this keep happening and who actually wants to send their kids to school anymore?!”

It seems as if parents nationwide are becoming more desensitized to this kind of school violence, and the National Parent Teacher Association, headquartered in Alexandria, Va., has noticed the cultural shift as well.

“We hate to say ‘desensitized,’ but from a cultural perspective it does seem like people just aren’t having the same kind of reaction they did to Columbine,” says Heidi May, National PTA media relations manager. “This is still a very key national issue for us, even if, culturally, many people are tending to react to it as a localized event.”

Ms. May adds, “I remember when Columbine happened, my whole world changed. Kids weren’t allowed to carry backpacks any more, there were metal detectors, and any time an incident happened anywhere in the country, all others schools went on alert and heightened security.”

As a journalist and mom living in New Jersey when the Columbine High School massacre took place in the suburbs of Denver on April 20, 1999, I remember the immediate fear of copycat attacks triggering lock-downs and higher security at our local schools.

Our oldest son was just 5 years old when high-school seniors, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris, walked the halls of their high school with guns, knives, and homemade bombs, killing 12 students, one teacher, and injuring 21 others.

For days, parents were in a state of what I called “horror hypnosis” and could not get enough news on what had happened.

For years afterward, every time something happened at a school, no matter where it happened in the country, my phone didn’t stop ringing as friends, neighbors, and relatives called to talk about the news.

Schools were awash in metal detectors, guards, and new policies designed to keep our kids safe.

Now, nearly 15 years later to the day, it seems that parents were over this school stabbing news faster and with less debate than an incident involving a pop star’s indiscretion.

We’re interested in motive and heroes, but parents I have seen on Facebook and Twitter are already on to the next topic of the day.

The National PTA says that safety in schools is still a top priority.

“Our country has experienced far too many of these tragedies, and the threat of violence has grown in schools across the country," writes National PTA President Otha Thornton in a statement released Wednesday. "The protection of students is of utmost importance, and it is critical that parents, teachers, administrators, community leaders and Congress work together to make meaningful changes and find the most effective ways to ensure that all children have a safe environment in which to thrive and learn.”

In addition to the statement, the National PTA is providing resources to help students, families, schools, and PTAs in coping with and preventing violence that can be accessed and downloaded at PTA.org/SchoolViolence.

While I don’t want to be alarmist, I believe we need to take the time to absorb and react to these ongoing acts of violence in our schools.

My kids often read my Facebook news feed containing posts by my friends and others.

Today, however, I am making a point of waiving them off my wall in order to avoid affecting them with the casual response I am seeing from some parents in regard to this incident.

Gallows humor may be some people’s way of coping with this kind of shocking violence by a student, but when it comes so close on the heels of an attack, perhaps we need to reevaluate the ripple effect these kinds of posts have on our culture and our kids.

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Parents of a visiting school group to the State Capitol in Jackson, Miss., use their smart phones and tablets to photograph their children on the stairs by the rotunda, Friday, Feb. 7. (Rogelio V. Solis/AP/FILE)

Could you parent like it's 1986?

By Correspondent / 04.09.14

What was life like in 1986? Do you remember? Well, I don’t, because I hadn’t been born yet, but I got a glimpse of it in The Globe and Mail’s piece about a family who lived like it was 1986 for a month. 

Blair McMillan and his girlfriend, Morgan Patey (and their two kids), banished all modern technology from their home – including laptops, cellphones, and cable TV – as an experiment to see how their lives would change. Ms. Patey commented that without distracting modern technology, when they’re playing with the kids, “Nothing can take us away from the moment.”

Sounds absolutely wonderful. I wish I could do that too, but since I work from home as a writer and editor, I need to stay plugged in, on top of trends, and always send in my work each week. Unplugging for a whole month isn’t feasible right now. 

Plus, it would be really hard. I imagine the house would feel really quiet without Pandora music playing, my phone pinging with text messages, or cozying up to watch “Game of Thrones after the baby goes to bed. Besides, setting the baby up in front of a couple Elmo YouTube videos makes it much easier for me to switch the laundry in the basement real quick. 

Without technology, nothing would take me away from the present moment, which sounds so zen and peaceful, but it’s also rather daunting. Sometimes, the present moment isn’t all that pleasant, honestly, with the monotony of chores, disciplining my child, and not having anyone nearby to strike up a conversation with. 

That’s the thing about life before the digital age – weren’t people lonely without all the connection the Internet and cellphones provide?

More likely, people were less lonely. They stopped by to see each other on Sunday afternoons or even popped by for dinner on a weeknight. Most knew the names of their neighbors and what ages their kids were. Kids played in the street and in each other’s yards, not online video games with some random kid they didn’t actually know. People had time to stretch out the phone cord and chat for a good hour with a relative who lived far away.

It sounds lovely. It sounds connected.

That’s the contradiction of all this technology. It promises at-your-fingertips information, hundreds of Facebook friends (only 1 percent of whom you ever actually talk to), and the siren call of 24/7 notifications streaming in – and it means we rarely actually connect with each other.  

Sure, we connect with our cellphones – waiting in the grocery line, making dinner, even while brushing our teeth – but what is the point of all this if we’re losing our relationships with each other? I’ve already noticed that my 1-year-old daughter has started competing for my attention when I do a quick e-mail check as she plays beside me. It's awful. What is the point of all this technology if it takes us away from the most important moments of our lives, in this case being 100 percent present while playing with my daughter?

These days, I keep trying to make plans to meet up with friends and family members, but they almost always fall through. Most of us just don’t make face-to-face interaction a priority anymore. Yet almost everyone posts to Facebook every day. 

Completely unplugging isn’t realistic, but I could take some steps in that direction. One is keeping my phone away from my bedside table, so I won’t be able to look at it right before going to sleep or right when I wake up. Cuddling with my husband and daughter will take precedence, as it should be. 

I'm often tempted to turn a TV show on the iPad while I'm having breakfast or lunch with my daughter. It feels as if it's filling a void, since we can't really have a conversation yet. But leaving it off is important for her development – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV time before age 2 because kids learn best interacting with other people, not screens. 

She can learn valuable social skills by just sitting quietly with me. I can make conversation on my end, and I bet pretty soon she'll be able to chortle back some replies. It's a little awkward – all that silence – but it's my duty as a mom to look out for what's best for her, not what's most pleasant for me.

Cutting down on evening TV time could also bring us closer. We can take more walks to the park, play more games, even sit together and read instead.

Maybe we could even figure out a way to meet our neighbors! Now wouldn’t that be good old-fashioned fun? 

Another area where I’ll disconnect from technology is when I’m putting my baby to sleep. I'm ashamed to admit it, but I often put on some classical music, rock her, nurse her, and scroll through my e-mails or Facebook feed on my phone. 

What’s wrong with a little silence as my baby drifts off? It’s always so tempting to fill the time and be endlessly entertained. But I’m realizing that entertainment comes at the cost of real, genuine connection.

I know I’ll look back at these moments and wish I could rock her to sleep one more time, but she’ll be too grown-up for that soon. I need to cherish this time and be present, as against the grain as that feels sometimes.

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National Name Yourself Day: In this file photo, Bramlett Elementary teacher Dana Briscoe, puts a name tag around the neck of kindergarten student Jacarizis Hutchins on the first day of school in Oxford, Miss. (Bruce Newman/Oxford Eagle/AP/FILE)

On 'National Name Yourself Day,' what's in a name?

By Correspondent / 04.09.14

April 9 is “National Name Yourself Day,” when Frank Zappa’s daughter can opt-out of being Diva Thin Muffin, and boys with more traditional names can call themselves Batman Robot Gerbil, or whatever they want for 24 hours.

It’s also the day parents have the opportunity to find out how their kids think they performed one of the biggest parenting tasks – that of naming the baby.

This morning, I asked parents on Facebook what went into choosing their children’s names.

Ginger Graham-White of Norfolk, Va., answered in a chat that the main influence was a lifetime of being called “Gingersnap.”

“What rhymed with it or 'went' with it,” she says, was her first concern when naming her daughter. “I was Ginger snap Graham cracker for many, many years. Reality is Hayley [her daughter] will NEVER have her name spelled right.”

Theresa Parker, also of Norfolk, had the exact same naming guideline as Ms. Graham-White: “What does it rhyme with” for potential taunting purposes.

Ms. Parker’s maiden name is Carey, so she was “Terry Carey.”

“When choosing names for my kids, I wanted to be sure they didn't rhyme, weren't cutesy alliterative (Peter Parker), etc.” she explains in a Facebook comment. “I also wanted them to have names that weren't too diminutive or wacky and would serve them well in adulthood and in any life or professional circumstance. It was my first lasting gift to them, I suppose, so I took it seriously.”

Rest assured, even if names appear frivolous to some, naming a child is very serious business.

Some online forums I’ve found actually have open discussions running on “the most hated baby names.”

I still marvel at the fact that my husband never worried when naming our kids or over their middle names (or lack thereof).

Our boys are Zoltan (no middle name), Ian Tucker, Avery Danger, and Quinten Coltrane Suhay.

Because my husband felt stripped of individuality by being named after his father, he vowed his sons would have the power of unique names.

Perhaps my greatest worry was that they would need the power of Kung Fu to survive elementary school.

Zoltan was named for Zoltán Kodály, a Hungarian composer, linguist, and philosopher.

Our Zoltan has no middle name because when my mother-in-law learned what we named her first grandchild, she flatly replied, “I will never call him by that name! I’ll call him by his middle name.”

Zoltan, 20, tells me he loves his name.

“Because nobody else is me,” he explains. “A name says who you are, makes you an individual, but you’re not very individual if you share the same name as a billion other people.”

Ian, 18, was named for our friend, scientist, and world traveler Ian Jones.

His middle name “Tucker” comes from a small island which appears off the coast of Long Beach Island in New Jersey. The island was in view when he was born.

“I’m good with Ian,” he says. "Nothing else defines me."

Avery, 15, was named because I was either delusional, or experiencing a spiritual visitation after delivery.

I heard a man’s voice tell me, “His name is Avery.” Everyone in the delivery room swears no such words were ever uttered.

Danger is his middle name because, as boy number three, we felt he needed a little extra oomph.

While Avery loves his middle name, I have gotten a call from every teacher he has ever had on the first day of school saying something along the lines of, “Your son claims Danger is his middle name!”

“And so it is,” I reply each and every year to a stunned educator.

We chose Quinten after the song “Mighty Quinn” by Manfred Mann. Coltrane was a compromise between my love of the sound of the nearby Norfolk Southern Railway coal yard and my husband’s liking of musician John Coltrane.

I’m surprised Zoltan, Ian, and Avery wouldn’t opt to change their names, even for a day, because I come from a line of re-namers.

Naming a child was considered a matter of life and death to my ancestors in Poland, who actually renamed my great-grandfather on my dad’s side after he nearly died in infancy.

When Moshe Jacob Alter “cheated death,” his parents harkened to an ancient Eastern European tradition of changing his name, “So that Death could not find him,according to his biography.

Therefore, as an adult in New York, my great-grandfather was Morris Rosenfeld, the Yiddish poet of the Jewish ghetto.

My mother changed her name from “Gladys” to “Glen” and made up the last name “Kristi” instead of her maiden name “Kapinos” when she moved from Passaic, N.J., to New York City to become a fashion designer.

“I suffered an entire childhood being called ‘Happy Bottom’ because kids said Gladys sounded like Glad-something-else,” my mom tells me. “Nobody should name their child something that can lead to teasing.”

This from the woman who nearly named me Rima after the Jungle Girl comic book series.

I was saved from decades of taunting by the fact that the new edition of the comic came out days before my birth in 1965 and Rima died in a burning tree as she battled poachers.

Rima comes back in the next issue, but the die was cast and I was named Lisa, a variant of my cousin’s name, Alisa.

The only child I have who has never asked about his name is Quin.

“Well, I’m thinking something like Mage Archer,” said Quin when told that today is National Name Yourself Day. “I’ll be that until tomorrow. OK?”

When it comes to the name game, the power or problem may ultimately lie in how the child, not the world, views the name.

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Children displaced by fighting in Bor, South Sudan, rest upon arriving in Mingkaman refugee camp March 24. (Kate Holt/Reuters)

The youngest babysitters: African youth aptly care for baby siblings

By Correspondent / 04.09.14

I travel overseas frequently for work. My most recent assignment took me to East Africa for several months of human rights research in South Sudan. When I got back, my 8-year-old daughter asked me what children are like there. 

I told her that children in South Sudan loved to run around outside and play. I’d seen them climbing mango trees and pulling toy cars made from discarded milk boxes and plastic soda caps. I’d seen them playing soccer and swimming in the River Nile. One big difference, I told her, is that children in South Sudan were often responsible for caring for even younger children, without adults around.

My daughter looked up from her iPad Mini. I nodded, and asked if she remembered how old her first babysitter had been. 

“I think she was 12,” she says.  

How young is too young for one child to care for another, without an adult around? And how long would our own youngsters last on their own (non-Apple) devices, whether in East Africa or North America? 

My wife and I weren’t sure, but we talked about it after I told her how South Sudanese children as young as 5 and 6 years old seemed at ease caring for their toddler or even infant siblings. While visiting villages there, I’d encountered children alone at home, in front of their thatched-roof houses, called tukuls, tending fires and watching younger ones. I’d seen small girls walking alongside roads, lugging jerry cans of water with babies strapped to their backs – again, no adults to be seen. And I recalled the time I stopped at a roadside stall for a quick meal.

My South Sudanese driver had pulled off the dirt road suddenly. Two very small boys were walking nearby; one looked to be 4 or 5 years old; the other, barely big enough to stand on his own. I saw the look of alarm on the older boy’s face, and how quickly he stepped in front of the younger one as our truck came too close for his liking, shielding and swinging the toddler up to his hip with practiced hands while backing warily away. 

Later, I queried some of my East African friends – university-educated, working professionals – by e-mail about their experiences growing up. Each said that they had taken on caregiver roles at young ages.

“An African child becomes responsible right from childhood,” writes Levi Yona, a South Sudanese pastor at an Episcopalian church, from Juba, the nation’s capital. “Most of the time their parents leave them alone at home while running to find food, either through farming or trade, or pastoralism. As the kids are left alone, they have no choice other than the older ones to assume taking care of the younger ones.” Mr. Yona recalls that as an 11-year-old boy, he was expected to cook for and bathe his 6 and 4-year-old siblings while his parents were away. 

Judy Oduma, a governance consultant in Nairobi, Kenya, writes, “In African settings, taking care of siblings is a common thing. Kids therefore become more responsible at early ages. They know how to feed and carry the babies, either in their arms or tied on their backs. In the West, there are options – taking small ones to day care centers which are not available in Africa.” Ms. Oduma adds that African children are “hardened to tough situations and have to understand that to have something put on the table, parents have to go out and work.” 

My wife and I talked about different expectations of children between cultures. We recalled trying to decide a few years ago whether our two girls – then ages 6 and 4 years old – were “ready” to be left with a not-quite-teenaged babysitter so we could enjoy a dinner out, without having to cut food into little pieces, or argue over desserts. We engaged in a lengthy discussion about whether a responsible-seeming adolescent down the street was old enough – and more important, capable enough – of doing a good job watching our kids. 

The prospective sitter was only 11 at the time. In South Sudan, she might have been a veteran caregiver by that age, yet we felt the need to screen our hypothetical surrogate as thoroughly as we could without running official background checks on her. Yes, she seemed young, but she was bright, respectful, well groomed, and had always been friendly to our girls. When we learned the potential sitter had recently passed a local Red Cross babysitter certification course, we were cautiously optimistic about her chances of success with our girls. 

On the big night, the sitter arrived punctually at 7 p.m. toting her own first aid kit. Before we could even greet her, she requested emergency cell phone numbers from each of us and wrote them down carefully in a small notebook. 

When we got back later, we asked the kids nervously how everything had gone. Nobody was limping or crying, and nothing was on fire – all good signs.

“When can you and mom go away again?” my eldest daughter asked. The younger one was actually mad at us for coming back “too soon” (her words). 

Maybe they’re onto something in East Africa. Maybe the children can survive without us, if only for a few hours.

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A screenshot from the 'This is Your Brain on Engineering' video from toymaker GoldieBlox. The company has released its own 'public service announcement' in time for the Easter holiday, encouraging parents to fill their daughters' Easter baskets with tools that encourage innovation and creativity. (Screenshot from YouTube)

GoldieBlox latest video shows 'your brain on princesses' (+video)

By Correspondent / 04.08.14

GoldieBlox, the toy company focused on getting more girls to build and grow as engineers, has released another video taking a jab at the princess toys targeted at young girls. 

In a hat-tip to the classic 1980s public service announcement that warned kids "this is your brain on drugs" as an egg (the brain) fried in a pan, GoldieBlox aims to show girls "this is your brain on princesses" as a plain white egg gets a makeover and hair extensions before heading down a conveyor belt (made of GoldieBlox components) to its fate.

While a squashed egg seems soon to follow, a more inspiring ending awaits, but we won't give the spoiler here, you can find the video below.

Along its way, the egg passes hand-written signs with stats to help bolster the case to get more girls interested in science and math and into career paths such as engineering. Here are a few of the stats and their sources:  

  • "At age 7, girls start to lose confidence in math and science" –The Girl Scouts' report
  • "At age 13, over half of girls are unhappy with their bodies" – The American Psychiatric Association's task force on sexualization 
  • "Engineering jobs are growing faster than all other jobs in the US" – Congress' Joint Economic Committee's findings 
  • "Female engineers earn 33% more than women in other fields" – Congress' Joint Economic Committee's findings

In a statement from GoldieBlox, which is targeting parents filling Easter baskets, the company hopes parents "fill baskets this year with tools for innovation and creativity, reminding girls that they’re more than just princesses."

The statement also mentions that the video "hints at fun and complex new pieces planned for the GoldieBlox collection this year," which could point to solid growth for the company, which earned its seed funding through a Kickstarter campaign in 2012.

When asking about partnerships with schools and youth centers to get the toys into the hands of those who might not get Easter baskets, representatives from GoldieBlox assure that partnerships are a priority area for the company as it grows.

That is good news for future female engineers and their parents hoping to find an assortment of toys for girls that don't include a castle or an all-pink wardrobe.

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A Pew Research Center report released Tuesday notes that the number of stay-at-home moms has risen over the last decade. In this file image, Nikki Wright lifts her son Liam in the air while participating in a Stroller Strides fitness class for moms and children at Jarvis Creek Park on Hilton Head, S.C. (Theophil Syslo/The Island Packet/AP/FILE)

Stay-at-home moms on the rise (+video)

By Correspondent / 04.08.14

A new analysis of government data released Tuesday by the Pew Research Center shows the number of at-home moms has increased 6 percent over the past dozen years.

What hasn’t changed is the fact that parents read reports like this and, instead of finding the common ground, may become divided by the results.

As I read the Pew analysis, with pie charts and graphs all over the computer screen, my math-loving son eyes the screen and says, “So, it’s stay-at-home moms vs. working moms. Who’s winning?”

While this made me laugh, it also made me think that these studies tend to divide parents over “who’s winning” a life experience that should be a journey and not a race.

“For a variety of reasons – from a tough job market to changing demographics – we’re seeing an uptick in the share of mothers who are staying at home,” says D’Vera Cohn, one of the report’s authors, in an e-mail. “Stay-at-home mothers are a diverse group. They are younger and less educated than their working counterparts, and more likely to be living in poverty. Many are staying at home to care for family, but some are home because they can’t find jobs, are enrolled in school or are ill or disabled.”

Over the past 20 years of mothering four sons from home, with some full-time jobs in between, I have felt as if I was fighting a losing battle to earn money, feel like a good parent, retain my identity, and remain in love with both my husband and my choices.

While my children have now reached the age where I can go back to work full-time, jobs are still scarce and gaps in a resume are often frowned upon by employers, even if for a good cause, like parenting.

Perhaps it would help prospective employers to know that according to the Pew researchers, Americans report they still feel that having a parent – mom or dad – at home is best for a child.

In a recent Pew Research survey, 60 percent of respondents said children are better off when a parent stays home to focus on the family, versus 35 percent who said children are just as well off with both parents out of the house.

However, choice does not really seem to be the main reason more moms are at home instead of on the job.

“A growing share of stay-at-home mothers (6% in 2012, compared with 1% in 2000) say they are home with their children because they cannot find a job,” the report concludes. “With incomes stagnant in recent years for all but the college-educated, less educated workers in particular may weigh the cost of child care against wages and decide it makes more economic sense to stay home.”

When it comes to work considerations, my husband and I have had to balance the factors of both childcare costs and the lower income I will bring in, since staying home with our sons has left some gaps in my resume.

Also, my working outside the home provides just enough of a bump to put us into a higher tax bracket, at which point all benefits of my earnings are almost entirely negated.

The largest share of women who are at-home mothers consists of “traditional” married stay-at-home mothers with working husbands, according to the report.

Married, at-home moms like me made up roughly two-thirds of the nation’s 10.4 million stay-at-home mothers in 2012.

Around half (51 percent) of stay-at-home mothers care for at least one child age 5 or younger, compared with 41 percent of working mothers.

An issue of concern to be found here is that 49 percent of at-home moms hold only a high school diploma or less, compared with 30 percent of working mothers. 

In addition, the report also shows that a third (34 percent) of stay-at-home mothers are living in poverty. Based on a US Census Bureau measure, the official poverty threshold for a family of four was $23,283 a year. Only 12 percent of working mothers were below that threshold.

However, even with all that time at home performing childcare, household chores, homework duty, and all the other things that go into raising children, at-home mothers are harder on themselves than working mothers when asked to rate their own maternal job performance.

In a 2012 survey cited in the report, only 66 percent of stay-at-home mothers rated themselves as “excellent” or “very good” parents, compared with 78 percent of working mothers.

Could that also mean that absence in the form of a job really does make the heart grow fonder – and more tolerant of error – both on the part of the kids and the working parents?

Maybe that's because when time spent with family is precious and hard-won, it’s best spent dwelling on the positive.

A 2013 survey cited by Pew in the final analysis of the report finds that Americans are still worried about the effects mothers working away from home has on kids, despite the “clear economic benefits of having more mothers in the workplace.” 

About two-thirds of the adults surveyed (67 percent) say the increasing number of women working for pay outside the home has made it easier for families to earn enough to live comfortably. But at the same time, 74 percent say this trend has made it harder for parents to raise children.

As part of the current report, Pew points out that, on average, working mothers spend 36 hours per week in paid work, and so predictably have less time to spend on childcare and household chores.

Conversely, stay-at-home mothers spend only about one hour per week participating in activities that generate income.

Pew researchers referred to “time use diaries” kept by mothers, which show that overall stay-at-home mothers spend an average of 18 hours per week in childcare activities, seven hours more than working mothers. Authors point out that these numbers are for one child, and that the amount of time in these tasks increases with more children, especially with kids under the age of 5.

However, my favorite part of this survey is the mention that stay-at-home mothers “also have nine more hours per week of leisure time and five more hours per week of time to sleep (including naps) than do working mothers.”

It’s my favorite part of the study because “naps” are the common ground on which all parents can lay their weary heads.

Parental naps are not done in the sun after a dip in the pool, but rather are the result of total emotional and physical strain resulting from caring for a child, home, and family.

The research might not count it as a “nap” when a working parent returns home to hungry, messy kids and falls dead asleep on the couch after feeding their tribe.

For parents reading these kinds of reports, my advice is to remember that at the end of the day, no matter where or how you spent your time, your choices were the best ones you could make for your kids and not anyone else’s.

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Susan Polgar (front right) leads the Webster University chess team through the Lambert International Airport in St. Louis, Mo. From left to right behind Ms. Polgar: Anatoly Bykhovsky, Georg Meier, Ray Robson, Fidel Corrales Jimenez, Le Quang Liem, and Wesley So, carrying the President's Cup trophy. The team won its second national title on Sunday, April 6. (Paul Truong)

Chess grandmaster Susan Polgar is a model for kids in all sports

By Correspondent / 04.07.14

This weekend, a contentions “Final Four” battle took place – not on the hardwood, as basketball fans might think, but on the chess board. The Webster University chess team, led by coach Susan Polgar, earned its second consecutive national title, winning the President’s Cup at the New York Athletic Club in New York City.

As the team celebrates consecutive wins, Ms. Polgar, a chess grandmaster, goes down in the record books as the only woman to coach collegiate male sports teams to national titles four years in a row (she has won two with Webster, and two with Texas Tech University).

However, Polgar’s role in the achievement was barely a side note, let alone highly celebrated, by her peers in the chess world.

The President’s Cup is commonly referred to as the “Final Four” for college chess.

The four college teams in competition were: Webster University, University of Illinois, Texas Tech (Polgar’s former team), and the University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC).

“When my team at Texas Tech won ‘Final Four’ the first time, people in the chess community called it a ‘fluke.’ ” says Polgar. “Then we won again. It was ‘luck.’ Last year when I moved over to Webster University and we won, oh another ‘fluke.’ I guess, maybe, it has to be that way in the minds of some people in order to accept a woman’s success.”

At some point, the naysayers may want to redefine their terms, or risk being in the minority, as Polgar continues to rock the chess world with her team wins.

According to the Washington Post, the President’s Cup competition, “has been overtaken both in pizazz and talent by another Final Four participant — Webster University in St. Louis, which is led by Grandmaster Susan Polgar, a powerful, controversial and ultra-competitive figure in chess. She makes her players work out at the gym.”

I have known Polgar for the past five years, as both a chess colleague and fellow mom of boys – she has two sons, and I have four.

Motherhood is the only arena in which I can compete against a grandmaster.

Her teen sons, Tom and Leeam, are both accomplished chess players. Tom is also a varsity tennis player, and both play basketball and soccer.

I run a free children’s chess group for families in Norfolk, Va.

Over the years, I’ve marveled at Polgar’s ability to juggle motherhood, coaching, and traveling the world as a public speaker, all while suffering an ongoing battle with the mainstream chess world over the roles of women in chess.

Like many women in traditionally male-dominated sports, Polgar has chosen to repeatedly challenge the status quo, which has resulted in her upsetting the hierarchy of her sport.

“Yes, well, I ask a lot of my players,” says Polgar. “I want them to pay attention; to focus on academics, team work; to win with grace and lose with dignity; plus, yes, I have them do CrossFit to be in shape.”

Polgar adds, “If that makes me ‘controversial,' then it is my hope more coaches of Division One teams of any sport will also become controversial as well.”

In addition to coaching a Division One team, Polgar is also the team's executive director and director of the Susan Polgar Institute for Chess Excellence at Webster University, which focuses on enhancing chess education, technology, and research.

“I suppose as a woman and a mother I have that multitasker ability,” Polgar says of her multiple roles at Webster.

Polgar has never shied from controversy, on or off the chess board.

In 1982, she took her first world title, winning the World Chess Championship for Girls under 16 at the age of 12.

In 1986, Polgar broke the chess gender barrier by becoming the first woman in history to qualify for the “Men’s” World Chess Championship.

However, she was not allowed to play in the competition. Because of Polgar, the world chess federation eventually had to change its policy to admit women players.

In the early 1990s, Polgar and her two sisters, Sofia and Judit, all emerged as dominant players on the world chess circuit. The feisty Polgar sisters avoided the Women’s World Championships and instead preferred to earn their titles by winning against men.

In 1991, she broke down barriers once again by becoming the first woman to earn the men's grandmaster title by achieving a rating more than 2500 playing against men instead of women. A player’s rating represents the strength of that player based on all the games played in tournaments over the course of a player’s entire chess career. Most grandmasters and international masters are rated between 2400 and 2600. 

When she did play against women in the Women's World Championship in 1996, Polgar won her fourth world championship title.

In the past, I have written about the difficulty of getting girls into chess, as well as the much harder task of keeping them there past middle school.

In order to encourage more girls to want to grow up to be in leadership positions, they need to see women in those positions.

When mavericks such as Polgar succeed, it is important for kids to read about those accomplishments.

Maybe this year President Obama will invite Polgar and her team to the White House to celebrate their national championship. If not, then perhaps parents can introduce the news of the other “Final Four” into sports discussions with their kids.

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Xavier Schmidt of Menlo Park, has his picture taken by his parents outside Facebook's headquarters in Menlo Park, Calif., May 17, 2012. (Beck Diefenbach/Reuters/FILE)

Baby Book 2.0: Oversharing. There's nothing to 'Like' about that.

By Correspondent / 04.07.14

Once upon a time, we pasted photos of our babies and kids into scrapbooks. The scrapbook has increasingly moved online – in many cases onto social media sites such as Facebook – and the ease of filling up virtual page after virtual page is hard to overstate. This is not without consequences, of course.

These days, parents need to develop a strategy – either through forethought or facts on the ground – in order to use social media services such as Facebook as a way to document and share the moments of their kids' lives. Err too far toward conservatism, and you lose a sense of community (and irritate the grandparents). Err too far in the other way, and some of your friends may view you as the equivalent of a polluter, clogging up their news feed with baby photo after baby photo.

"... baby pictures." says my friend Eric Oehler, responding to my query on Facebook. I was looking for comment about using the ubiquitous social media site as a way to share images of infants and older kids. 

"A few is fine," Mr. Oehler continues. "I get it, it's an important lifestyle thing. But essentially live-blogging your child does everyone a disservice... Go forth and enjoy your child, and stop obsessing about just the right Instagram filter for today's photo #15."

Oehler is not alone – a Web tool called getrather.com (formerly "unbaby.me") was originally launched for the sole purpose of evicting babies from people's Facebook feeds and replacing them with desirable images – such as cats or bacon.

On the other side of the spectrum are family members of the photographed children – notably the grandparents – for whom almost no amount of photos would be considered sufficient. 

So when parents post their kids to Facebook, they're working on creating a digital family album. They're appeasing their own parents. They're negotiating between celebrating a young life and protecting future privacy. And they're having an effect on their friends, with kids – and without.

"I don't mind seeing pictures of your kids. I just would rather not see ONLY pictures of your kids," says my (currently child-free) friend Lindsay Christians on Facebook. "Because, yes, your/her child is adorable. I love the little ear-flap hats and tiny shoes and goofy behavior as much as anyone else. But I also like YOU, the friend I made in college … and I would love a tiny bit of reassurance that after you put the kid(s) down for a nap, that person is still there, and might even want to hang out with me again. Someday."

Anthony Sansone, a new father at 42, works as a technical writer for a software company in Chicago. When his daughter was born two months ago, he and his wife instituted a veritable regime of online behavior designed to share their family's highlights while preserving their daughter's privacy.

"We try not to publicly identify her by name on Facebook and other public stuff like that," says Mr. Sansone. "It came from a combination of things. People who don't want to have their kids bothered give them pseudonyms online. I'm not proclaiming myself to be famous, but people do hassle me online. We've used her name once or twice online, but otherwise we refer to her as 'Kick,' which gives her some anonymity. She can always claim it wasn't her. She could lie and say it's a younger sister."

Kick's adventures go out to a select group of the family's Facebook friends. "I created a group that's friends who are parents and most of the stuff is posted to that group," says Sansone. "They get it. And they might be able to throw out a comment that would be helpful."

"We're also aiming not to annoy people," he adds. He and his wife tried unsuccessfully to have a child for six years. During that time, "it was horribly painful to see anybody else put pictures of their kids online. We didn't say anything at the time, because they have the right to do what they want to. But we were both very sensitive on the topic."

I asked Sansone about the idea of Facebook as baby book – a repository for memories of the present, preserved for the future. He says he's put off by Facebook's proprietary approach to user-generated content. Instead, most of tomorrow's memories are being banked in file storage services such as Dropbox and Flickr – and in his daughter's e-mail address, which he obtained and "locked down six ways to Sunday." 

"I write her an email every night, just saying how she was that day, what she did, what we did," he says. "Sometimes we get into family history. That way when she gets older, we can just turn over the keys to her and say: 'You want to know what you were like? And what we were like? And what the family's about? Here, you can read this.' I started about a month before she was born.”

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'Darth Vader,' the leader of the Internet Party of Ukraine, looks at a child in a pram at a street market near the Ukrainian Central Elections Commission in Kiev April 3, 2014. (Shamil Zhumatov/Reuters)

Darth Vader runs for president, who's next?

By Correspondent / 04.04.14

The fact that a man calling himself Darth Vader wants a spot on the ticket to run for president of Ukraine may spark the imagination of kids and parents to discuss which favorite fictional characters would make the best leaders.

“Darth Vader, in full costume, announced his candidacy on Saturday,” according to the Monitor. "Another candidate, an ex-world boxing champion threw his support behind billionaire candy maker Petro Poroshenko."

I suppose if you’re going to run for president of a nation in conflict with Russia, and are searching for a suitably intimidating opponent to President Vladimir Putin, then Lord Vader is a strong candidate.

However, instead of going to the “Dark Side,” I think this also gives parents an opportunity to mix lessons about politics and role models.

I asked my four sons, their friends, and other parents I know which fictional character they would cast their vote for to run a nation and got a pretty eclectic pool of candidates.

My oldest son, Zoltan, 20, doesn't hesitate, “Captain America. Because he always has people’s best interests at heart and won’t be corrupted,” he texted me when I asked for his nominee. “He is intelligent. His weapon of choice is a shield.”

My son Ian, 18, picks Dr. Who (as played by David Tennant) for consistently saving the planet and universe from tyranny while being fierce and funny.

My third son, Avery, 14, chooses the hero of the “Metroid” video game series, Samus Aran, basically, “Because she’s a total…,” then used a word that refers to the “badness” of her hind parts in a complimentary way not suitable for print.

My youngest son, Quin, 10, has a tough time choosing his candidate, so he fills the entire presidential and vice presidential ticket. His pick would either be the “My Little Pony” character Fluttershy, who stands up for her friends, or the Hulk, who is both a brilliant scientist and not to be trifled with.

I also asked some parents I know to add their input via Facebook comments.

Felice Burns of Red Bank, N.J., casts her vote for "X-Men" leader Professor Xavier because, “He cares, primarily and foremost, for the good of the people and is brave, wise and eloquent.”

Lee Elia of Norfolk, Va., chooses Capt. John Yossarian, the protagonist in Joseph Heller's novel “Catch-22” and its sequel “Closing Time.”

“He gets things done and is crazy enough to be normal,” says Mr. Elia.

Another parenting pal from Los Angeles, Cliff Redding, dad to a teenage girl, chose the same pick I was leaning toward, “Iron Man” hero Tony Stark.

Ironman, is intelligent, rich, relatively handsome, and ... has some AWESOME weaponry,” says Mr. Redding. “The COOLEST part about Ironman is that when he's not Ironman, he's a relatively regular guy who can relate to the masses on their level, because he can walk among them ... without folks going, ‘Hey! You're Ironman. What are YOU doing at the 7-Eleven?’”

While Erin Cook of Norfolk isn’t a parent, I liked her Facebook response to my question in which she chooses Katniss Everdeen from “The Hunger Games.”

“She's tough, she can be ruthless, she sees a larger picture, she knows how to play the diplomatic game-currying favor, earning respect,” says Ms. Cook.

One of my former journalism students, Kathryn Brown, says she would choose the female character Death, from “The Sandman” comic books series by Neil Gaiman because, “She's fair and understands balance.”

As a second choice, I would probably choose Matilda from the novel of the same title by Roald Dahl. Matilda is well read and finds she can move things with her thoughts.

Matilda, like Captain America, has known what it’s like to be bullied and so respects power when it’s her time to hold the reigns.

Her father tells her, “I'm right and you're wrong, I'm big and you're small, and there's nothing you can do about it.”

When it’s Matilda’s turn to do something about injustice she sets things right without becoming mad with power.

I recommend asking your child who he or she would choose. Maybe have a little campaign at home and explore the qualities of each potential candidate.

It’s an opportunity to use the force of international politics for the good of your child’s education and a means of getting to know how your kids think about the world and who runs it.

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