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When a young child is up and down emotionally, he understands his feelings a lot less than you do and has no way of explaining himself. So, 'What’s wrong? How do you feel about that? Why are you so upset/angry/sad?' are the worst possible things you can say to an upset child. (Schalk van Zuydam/AP)

Temper tantrums, outbursts call for emotional support

By Contributor / 09.30.13

Did you ever have something really good happen that you had mixed emotions about?

Ever dip into a panic right before you got married or had a baby?

Have you ever been offered a job you sought only to wish you hadn’t gotten it?

Have you ever had times when you are very emotional but couldn’t describe what you were feeling or why?

Did you ever think you were just plain crazy?

Of course you did.

Now imagine being two. Or four, or six, or twelve. In an immature stage of development, confused, overwhelming emotions spin around inside a child’s head like a tornado, the child doesn’t know what is happening, and the result is unwanted, inappropriate, out-of-control behavior.

If you were not experienced enough to know that this is only temporary, you’d probably think, “Is this how I’m going to feel forever?” Face it. At age forty or fifty you think that.

So when a young child is up and down emotionally, he understands his feelings a lot less than you do and has no way of explaining himself. So, “What’s wrong? How do you feel about that? Why are you so upset/angry/sad?” are the worst possible things you can say to an upset child.

My two-year-old grandson has just become the big brother to twins. He shows genuine affection towards them, is playful with them, and seems proud to be a big brother. At the same time, he has fallen a lot, gotten bruises and scrapes and 8 stitches. He has screamed, “No babies” and “I want to punch the babies.” And he’s having a very hard time sharing any of his toys with any other child. To ask him why he is saying and doing what he is would be pointless. So why do we do it?

I often ask parents how much of the time they spend at their personal best. As you can imagine, I get a lot of laughs and self-deprecating remarks. So then, why do we expect our children to be at their best? We learn what they are capable of and then expect that all the time. If someone expected that of us (other than at work), we would probably not be friends.

We need to give our kids a break, allow them to make mistakes – a lot of mistakes – and never label them as failures. Our children need to know that we understand their crazy emotions, we understand when they just feel like vegging, we understand when they don’t want to talk and when they want their sibling to disappear.

When you tell your kids you get it, it doesn’t mean you allow it. It means that you can understand why they feel/think/wish for what they do. That doesn’t mean you’re going to fulfill their every wish or condone their desire to punch out their brother. We all just want to feel understood.

If you came home and told your partner about something hurtful someone said to you, you would want your partner to acknowledge your hurt feelings – even validate you by saying he would have felt hurt too. You do not want your partner to tell you what you should have said or that you shouldn’t let such a stupid remark get to you.

In the same way, young children who don’t yet trust their feelings want to know that you understand so they learn their feelings are always okay and we all have them. When big emotions feel overwhelming, it is very validating to hear a parent say, “You were really angry when I said you couldn’t have ice cream. You wanted to hit me and I stopped you, which made you even angrier. Then you cried really hard, and I got mad too. We both got really mad, didn’t we?” In this way, you mirror what happened for your child so he feels understood and accepted. In this regulated state, he can think clearly and learns to trust.

When someone names what is going on for us, it feels extremely soothing (that’s why people pay big bucks for therapy). I once had my favorite car stolen in New York City. One of my friends said, “It’s only a car.” I felt wrong for feeling upset and certainly unwilling to share anymore with her. I wanted and even needed to hear, “Oh how awful. You really loved that car.“

Have you ever said or done something you didn’t mean, and then later apologized and felt better when you were forgiven? Why don’t we give our children the benefit of the doubt, know that they reacted impulsively, and give them time to take it in – experience natural consequences. Instead we jump down their throats, treat them like budding criminals, punish, and force phony apologies. That’s what brings on defensiveness. When we feel understood, we are in a much better place to solve problems and make amends.

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Bonnie Harris blogs at Connective Parenting.

Alanis Morissette faces a lawsuit filed by former nanny Bianca Cambeiro, who claims the singer and her husband refused to pay overtime and confined her to the nursery, according to reports from People magazine. (Victoria Will/Invision/AP)

Alanis Morissette nanny lawsuit opens door to broader debate

By Contributing blogger / 09.30.13

Singer/songwriter Alanis Morissette faces a lawsuit from a former nanny who alleges work abuses including long shifts without breaks and a lack of overtime pay. The former nanny, Bianca Cambeiro, is seeking $130,000 ($30,000 in unpaid wages and $100,000 in damages), according to the Daily Mail in London.

The Daily Mail story (ably illustrated by photos of Morissette in concert playing a sparkly gold guitar) lays out only the nanny's account of a grueling schedule: three to four overnight shifts a week (from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m.) confined to the baby's bedroom and the occasional seven-day stint without overtime.

This story is playing out in the media just days after California Gov. Jerry Brown signed a bill that requires time-and-a-half overtime pay for domestic workers – including nannies, but excluding baby sitters. The bill's sponsor initially pushed for "a requirement for meal and rest breaks for housekeepers, nannies, and workers who care for the disabled and elderly, but those provisions eventually were dropped from his measure, AB241" according to the Associated Press story on the measure.

This is far from the first time that nanny-related controversy has walked into the limelight. Nannies have gotten headlines for everything from sexual harassment allegations (actor Rob Lowe), to "stealing" husbands (Ethan HawkeRobin Williams), and to ending political careers when allegations of employing illegal immigrants and/or underpaying nannies come to light (most famously during President Bill Clinton's "Nannygate" series of scandals).

At the core of all the drama: the job of nanny is a uniquely powerful and powerless position. Some nannies work with some of the richest and most powerful people in the country doing one of the most vital jobs imaginable: caring for children. But they are often treated worse than other domestics (such as maids) who typically enjoy some sort of regular schedule and regulated wages and benefits. The job has its perks – it's a rare opportunity to earn money (sometimes off the books) by doing something that can be fulfilling and rewarding (sometimes with little or no formal training), but those same perks make the position easy to undercompensate.

And the public discussion over nannies tends to circle back to the bedrock, hot-button issues of race and class. It's entirely typical for nannies to be immigrants (legal or otherwise) who may have less knowledge of American laws, or no standing to invoke them in their own defense. And nannies are typically women employed by women, meaning that any oppression touches upon issues of gender conflict – and that when public backlash targets their rich bosses, the person in the cross hairs of the media is most typically the children's mother, not their father.

At its worst, being a nanny can be surprisingly similar to slavery – read this CNN report about a nanny who worked for a Fortune 500 company executive from 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. without a single day off in 15 months, earning $1.27 an hour. At its best, it can be a rewarding, fairly compensated career that comes with extraordinary benefits: the joy of raising and educating children and the pleasure of being part of a loving family.

The remarkable gulf between those two extremes – and the reliance on nannies by extremely busy, extremely wealthy, and sometimes extremely temperamental people – ensures that they won't leave the news entirely anytime in the near future, Governor Brown's law notwithstanding.

Today's Google Doodle celebrates 15 years of Google with an festive interactive game. (Google)

Google Doodle: All hail the post-Google parent

By Contributing blogger / 09.27.13

In the 15 years since Google was founded (you can see that momentous event commemorated here in today's cute Google doodle piñata game), the company has had a massive impact on the way Internet searching works. And by improving the Internet search from a largely ineffective random grab into a powerful precision tool, Google has also transformed a number of other massively broad spheres of activity, including commerce, government, and leisure.

Beyond that: Google has changed the way parents do their thing, too. We are now armed with the rapid ability to obtain knowledge on nearly anything we want, which makes us more effective (or more efficiently ineffective) parents than the world has ever seen.

In short: the post-Google parent is aware (possibly over-aware) of trends, ideas, and occasionally actual knowledge in a way that his or her pre-Google counterparts weren't. That includes ...

Keeping up with slang

Since time immemorial, language has changed and adapted, with hallowed traditions defended by increasingly scarce and embittered graybeards while young whippersnappers dish up hot dishes of new, nearly impenetrable slang seemingly for the sole purpose of confusing and annoying their elders. And then, of course, the students become the masters, confused in turn by the next wave.

Google may have helped to short-circuit this ancient ritual: nowadays, if you're trying to figure out what AFAICR means, or how to go ghost, it's a quick search engine query away.

Having some idea of who Drake is

And what good is having a crude, dictionary-derived understanding of slang terminology and usage without understanding the various horrible pop cultural influences who will be teaching your sons and daughters these desecrations of the English language? Again: Google to the rescue. From Arabella (from Teen Mom 3) to Zedd, the Internet oracle serves up a quick thumbnail biography so that parents can be roughly conversant in current events with their kids, if not actually fluent.

Obsessing over baby milestones

Once upon a time, parents needed to buy tedious parenting books in order to worry about the minutiae of evolving sleep patterns or the potential implications of being three days late to start crawling. Thanks to Google, we're guaranteed democratic access to literally dozens of sites that let us track, quantify, predict, and otherwise dissect every move and sound made and uttered by our poor, over-interpreted offspring.

Being hyper-aware of baby-naming trends

Naming your baby used to be easy: You picked a well-known name held by an elder family member and/or inspirational figure from your faith, and you went with it. Now, the challenge is to be more original than anyone you know, for fear that your son or daughter might suffer if given a name that can be easily spelled and/or pronounced.

Fortunately there is a host of Google-accessible websites dedicated to the sole purpose of helping you find a name for your kid, citing naming trends going back to the 19th century and coughing up diamonds like "Isla" or "Bentley" for parents racking their brains for the new hotness.

And if you're agonizing over whether to name your little girl Leighton, Kieran, or Brinkley, agonize no longer - other parents are talking about it, and you can learn from their thinking, or, at times, what passes vaguely for thinking.

Knowing it all

When I was growing up, I considered myself fortunate to have a father well-grounded in science. His oracular knowledge (Why is the sky blue? How do fish breathe water? How do you make a Molotov cocktail? Can we make a diamond in the backyard if we bury coal for long enough?) seemed darn near magical. Having a dad who could explain the mysteries of life was exciting and, more importantly, it put me ahead of the game vis-a-vis other kids with less knowledgable parents.

Now, any parent with a smartphone or laptop or tablet computer can enjoy that same sense of knowledge and power ... until their son or daughter turns four and is able to out-Google them.

Knowing too much

Knowledge can be enlightening, empowering, dangerous, or worrisome, and that extends to parents' knowledge (or "knowledge") of what kids are up to these days. That can include the rough stuff that kids face: bullying (particularly cyber bullying) and the horrors of sexting (which, sadly, can sometimes feed back into a particularly nasty and damaging form of bullying.)

It can be hard not to fuss and worry when handed this dizzying array of intel about what can go wrong with kids. But then, there's also nothing to stop you from Googling a decent massage, a vacation at a cabin – or well-rated child-care.

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Sextortion photos: A California teen was was arrested on charges stemming from his alleged hacking of webcams to extort women, including Miss Teen USA Cassidy Wolf. (AP Photo/Miss Universe L.P., LLLP, File)

Sextortion photos of Miss Teen USA: Parents, we need a Cyberhood Watch

By Correspondent / 09.27.13

Seeing the headlines on “sextortion” photos of Miss Teen USA it’s easy to assume that someone got hold of photos taken by someone she knew, but in this case it was her computer’s webcam that betrayed her when it was remotely controlled by a hacker.

It’s time for parents to form a Cyberhood Watch. We need to get the word out to parents that our kids need our protection not only when they are online, but when cameras in their laptops, tablets, and smart phones might be watching them without their or our consent.

The new cybercrime is dubbed “sextortion.” While this is a case of a teen being spied on it made me realize that it could also be used by pedophiles capturing images of younger kids who use our tablets, smart phones, and computers that have built-in cameras.

In the case of Cassidy Wolf, Miss California Teen USA, who won Miss Teen USA last month at the pageant in the Bahamas, it was nude photos.

According to The Associated Press, last month, Wolf told the website of NBC's "Today" show she received an anonymous email in which the sender claimed to have stolen images from the camera on her home computer.

“The sender of the email threatened to go public with images captured from Wolf's webcam unless she would provide nude pictures of herself,” the AP reports. This type of crime is commonly known as "sextortion."

Wolf went to authorities instead.

The AP reports, “An FBI agent's affidavit, included in the complaint, contends that Abrahams used malicious software to remotely operate webcams to capture nude photos and videos of at least seven women as they changed clothes — some of whom he knew personally and others he found by hacking Facebook pages.

The agent alleged that Abrahams, when interviewed, acknowledged controlling 30 to 40 hacked computers and extorting some women.”

George Orwell would have had a field day with the fact that while our webcams let us stay in touch with friends and family, they also pose risks of people hacking into them and spying on every action.

It also made my husband, who is ever distrustful of technology and webcams in particular, right about unplugging or covering the webcam when we are not using it.

There are numerous makers of webcam covers including a little tiny sticker called a “camjamr” that goes over the camera lens on your phone to prevent hackers from using it.

Think of every time you handed your child a device that contained a webcam. Consider all the places your smartphone or laptop have access to in your home as if you were on live TV.

A recent Pennsylvania lawsuit accused a school district of using webcams on school-issued laptops to spy on students and their families. Also, in China, hackers known as GhostNet cracked 1,295 webcams in 103 countries, according to the Norton Security website.

While this is deeply disturbing news, the one thing we have over cyber criminals is the fact that we, the parents, were here watching our kids long before they were. We’re better at it, more relentless, and much more dedicated.

If cyber criminals want to mess with a network they had better realize that one composed of angry, protective parents is the wrong one to target. It’s time to get a Cyberhood Watch up and running by blacking-out the view for these peeping-cyberToms.

Fair warning to hackers, we’ve got you in our sights now.

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Religion apps such as Pray!, Confession, and Life of Jesus offer a high-tech take on faith. (Staff photo)

Religion apps put faith in the palm of your hand

By Correspondent / 09.27.13

Believers with cell phones – have I got an app for you: The Book-of-Leviticus-put-to Fruit-Ninja-like graphics. No? How ‘bout the Bible Shaker – shake your phone, and see what verse appears. Or, no, wait here’s a Last Supper animation, leading you through the books of the New Testament. Gaming apps are perhaps the newest and fastest growing segment of the religious app market – melding the technology of gaming with the religious imagery of tradition to make faith, well, fun. And if slicing animals ninja-style seems hardly holy, some have faith that such apps serve to introduce children to their religions’ icons and culture. 

Gaming is but the newest addition to a marketplace of religion apps so large and fluid that experts can’t even estimate how many are out there. Storytelling apps are also popular, especially with children, with varying degrees of interaction involved, according to Rachel Wagner, associate professor of religion at Ithaca College, and author of “Godwired: Religion, Ritual and Virtual Reality.

Social media apps published by specific congregations are emerging as religion app leaders as well, she explained. They feature denomination-specific content and often include streaming video of sermons, member comments, scriptures, worship, prayer materials and podcasts specifically packaged for a congregation’s membership. In an atmosphere of anonymous app sponsorship and dubious content, these church-specific apps offer congregants some familiarity and quality control: I know this conforms to my faith tradition. I trust this.  

Many apps want to invite you into a ritual or faith practice via phone, the most notorious being the Confession app, which ostensibly allows Roman Catholics to receive the sacrament of confession via cellphone. The notion of participating in religious rituals alone, electronically, raises questions among believers of what, indeed constitutes legitimate worship, said Professor Wagner. Less controversial are the many and varied “prayer” apps, with Pray! being a favorite of hers. You type in a prayer and hit “send,” a prayer mindset activator akin to the more familiar prayer posture of kneeling or folding the hands, she said.  

Sacred text apps are perennial favorites, and e-familiarity brings comfort. You can search your Torah, email your BhagavadGita, get commentary on that Gospel. Searching the apps stores using terms as specific as possible increases the likelihood you’ll unearth something designed not by an 18 year-old in his basement, says the professor, but by a someone who knows your own faith. Just because an app has 5 stars doesn’t mean it is meaningful. “Some religious experience isn’t popular at all,” she said.

Praying done, you can trim up your mobile prayer space with Jesus Christ Wallpaper, or screens showing Buddha, the Star of David, prayer beads, and such, and can hear anything from church bells to Christian pop and beyond on your ringer.

If all this leaves you wanting to clear your head, meditation apps like the Zen Garden come up big, as do others inspired by Eastern traditions. Some sites help you focus by locking out your email, phone, and other functions while you meditate. Guru Meditation makes you hold the device with both hands, thumbs not moving, in order to keep your distractible self from surfing. Om…amen.

Oracle Team USA skipper Jimmy Spithill holds up the Auld Mug as they celebrate in the podium after winning the America's Cup sailing event over Emirates Team New Zealand, Sept. 25. (AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez)

America's Cup: Winning at all costs

By Correspondent / 09.26.13

The USA managed the greatest comeback in the 162-year history of the America’s Cup, beating New Zealand with grit, determination and all the brilliance in sport Americans are known for making Australian, New Zealand, and Canadian moms proud because it was mostly their sons and not ours captaining and crewing the boat.

There was only one American-born citizen on the winning 24-man American boat, Rome Kirby, 24, trimmer/grinder. A grinder is the guy winding the winches to pull in, let out, haul up, or bring down sails. It is the most physically punishing job on a yacht.

“Fellow American, John Kostecki, a tactician, was replaced on the boat by Britain’s Ben Ainsle after Oracle lost 6 of the first 7 races in the series. Since then, Oracle has stormed back to even the series at 8-8,” according to The Wall Street Journal.

This win gives weight to the expression “to win at all costs” by America once again purchasing national pride.

It’s become a trend here in our nation that when another nation beats us in sport or technology our solution is not to make our own people better by investing in programs here that raise the level of American kids’ performance, but to import and re-label the success we import.

I watched this revelation come to my son Ian, 18, this morning at the breakfast table as we discussed the epic victory after a week of watching the races with his father. We are a sailing family. We lived aboard a 38-foot long Columbia Yawl rig sailboat and later a 37-foot Jim Brown design trimaran when Ian was little. His father is a Laser racer and Ian has spent summers and winters running the committee boat for various races locally.

“Wait, what?” Ian said when I showed him the WSJ story. “Did America just win by beating New Zealand with an Australian captain and mostly New Zealand crew?”

I had found this out from my husband who mentioned it last night after cheering the win. I felt completely had.

Like Ian, I was upset with the “national pride” paradox.

When Ian started asking breakfast table questions, his younger brother Quin, 9, sailed into the conversation.

“So how did America win in this situation if we only had one guy,” Quin asked. Then he answered his own question, “Oh wait, I get it. We win because we bought the best team, because Americans weren’t good enough.”

Ian and I looked at each other in a moment of horror. It was like watching a toddler tumble to the fact that Santa looks an awful lot like his father and the Tooth Fairy resembles mom.

We were watching one light go on and another one go out.

“Mom, seriously, don’t even argue this one because he’s pretty much right,” Ian said. “That’s the message.”

I agree that it’s the message but I do not agree that it’s the truth about our kids and nation.

You can’t convince me that American sailors and captains can’t do this job. The issue isn’t a lack of talent but a lack of investment in that talent.

Also, there is a wealth of technology, scientific, engineering, and sport talent of all kinds in our schools that is going un-tapped because we are not investing in the cultivation and exploration of this natural resource.

If kids were oil-rich land we’d invest in developing them.

Right now I have two sons on rowing teams, one in high school and the other in college and neither is funded by the state or school. The same goes for our sailing teams and many other programs in both sport and education.

We expect our kids to pass standardized tests by teaching to that test instead of investing in good solid education that engages our children in critical and executive thinking exercises.

Then we are upset that this cheap fix isn’t turning out the technology giants that other nations have. So we solve this by importing intellect and tech.

The problem with buying success and outsourcing our thinking and sporting wins is that you need money to do that. By not growing our own crop of talent in sport and business we are racing to failure on a global scale.

I want my kids to be proud of American achievements. More importantly, I want them to know that they can be the ones who will be on the playing field.

Emanuel Fuentes stocks shelves with 'girls' toys at the Toys 'R' Us store in Framingham, Mass. Toys 'R' Us has announced that aisles in the UK will no longer be gender specific. (Ann Hermes/The Christian Science Monitor)

Toys R Us in UK adopts 'gender neutrality': Do toys have a gender?

By Contributing blogger / 09.25.13

Is gender neutrality the hot new thing when it comes to toys?

Inasmuch as a term as abstract as "gender neutrality" can sweep to popular acclaim, the answer may be "yes."

Starting with a Swedish holiday campaign for Toys R Us last year that showed girls shooting a toy gun and boys and girls playing together in a kitchen, pressure has started to mount on the industry-leading toy store to abandon decades-old marketing conventions that segregate most toys into one gender or the other.

A British parents' group called Let Toys Be Toys has succeeded in persuading British Toys R Us stores to "draw up plans for how to make its marketing more inclusive, and remove explicit references to gender in store," as well as tailor advertisements to break free of traditional gender constraints.

The changes have begun to be felt on this side of the Atlantic as well, with local journalists picking up the story and a Change.org petition pushing for an end to gender-based toy marketing picking up steam (it's up to 2,912 supporters as of the morning of Sep. 25 – not much in absolute terms, but a concrete sign that the topic is sparking passionate discussion and even advocacy.)

The idea of completely removing gender when it comes to marketing (or enjoying) toys seems quixotic – anyone who has witnessed the spark of magic that occurs when a little boy gets his mitts on his first toy gun will likely suspect that there's something hardwired in there. (When I was a kid, my parents forbade me from playing with toy guns, which meant that I spent as much time as possible hanging out at my friend Tim's house. There we had access to an arsenal of Italian-made heavy plastic weapons that were darn near photo-realistic and perfect for us-versus-them role play: cops and gangsters, Brits and Germans, humans and zombies, you name it.)

But the idea that toys must be gender segregated without any thought or discussion seems to be going by the wayside, as are strictly policed gender roles. The recent fast-moving and powerful media discussion of Pvt. Chelsea Manning (formerly Bradley Manning) shows that questions of gender identity are increasingly up for public discussion and debate.

Perhaps the key incident over the past few years in this regard is Lego's increasingly aggressive marketing of Legos for girls called Lego Friends. The toys put less emphasis on construction and modeling, and more on doll-like social play, leading to criticism by some parents as reinforcing gender stereotypes: boys build and fight, girls talk and nurture. That criticism does not reflect a consumer backlash – the girl-tailored Legos have been incredibly popular.

In short, gender will likely always have an influence over what toys are enjoyed by girls and boys. But the way that society in general (and parents, in particular) discuss it will keep expanding and evolving.

Jeff Garlin, Wendi McLendon-Covey, George Segal, Troy Gentile, Sean Giambrone and Hayley Orrantia in a scene from 'The Goldbergs,' a new family sitcom that premiered on ABC last night. (AP Photo/ABC, Eric McCandless)

'The Goldbergs' tickles parenting's funny bone

By Correspondent / 09.25.13

There are people who become great parents because they were raised in an idyllic home, for everyone else who arrives at parenthood vowing not to create a family like the one we came from, there is the new ABC comedy "The Goldbergs."

"The Goldbergs" is a lot like "The Waltons," if they were completely dysfunctional, living in the ‘80s, and John Boy documented the clan using a video camera locked on target 24-7 instead of writing soulful observations.

The series’ creator, Adam F. Goldberg is a real person who experienced childhood in the 1980s with parents who kvetched, shouted, and malfunctioned to the maximum extent allowable by the laws of human nature. "The Goldbergs" is autobiographical, based on Goldberg’s old videos he shot of his family in suburban Jenkintown, Pa. when he was 11 years old, in the 1980s, according to his profile on IMDB.

The show stars Jeff Garlin, Wendi McLendon-Covey, George Segal, and Sean Giambrone as a young Adam.

As a bonus, parents may recognize the narrator’s familiar voice as that of the character Remy in Ratatouille, Patton Oswalt.

While critics have taken issue with the fact that the parents and their actions are predictable I think that reveals more about the childhoods of the critics than the show.

My guess is that the critics who don’t like the show survived this kind of family lunacy and failed to survive it by finding the humor in the insanity that is parenting.

Having become my mother on several dozen occasions since having kids of my own I can watch this show and laugh at her, myself, and my sons who document all my worst moments and will live them with their own kids no matter how hard they try not to.

I saw many of those moments in "The Goldbergs" which premiered last night on ABC.

It’s parent vs. grandparent, parent vs. teen with all the predictable mayhem that gets handled in ways that every imperfect parent has ever botched the job. That’s what puts the “real” in really funny.

The pilot that aired last night revolves around “The circle of driving” and explores the issues of parents teaching teens to drive, while also taking the keys away from their own parents who have become too dangerous on the road.

In one scene the dad takes his older son out for his first driving lesson could have been shot in the car with me and my son Ian. That was the disaster lesson of all time, and seeing the Goldberg version unfold I was weak with laughter.

That raving, borderline irrational father-son combo was me and Ian. Only in the Goldberg version there is the younger son in the back seat and the older son reaches back to swat him into silence during the lesson.

“No hitting the kid in the back seat!” the father bellows. “That’s way too advanced.”

In another scene the Goldberg dad is awaiting the return of a teenage son ensconced in his easy chair which has been dragged across the living room to face the front door.

Dad greets son in a bathrobe and a frown with arms folded. That dad is my mother. She did that. I lived it, only it was a loveseat in front of the door.

Don’t listen to the critics. Pull up a chair, perhaps the one currently in front of the door, and watch with the kids. The family that laughs together can survive anything life sends their way.

Sarah Filsinger of Orchard Park, N.Y., unloads her belongings as freshmen students move into the dormitories at Canisius College in Buffalo, N.Y., Aug. 21, 2013. While some parents may mourn the departure of their college students, others celebrate the extra room at home. (AP Photo/The Buffalo News, Derek Gee)

Empty nesters: Claim your extra room

By Guest blogger / 09.24.13

What do you do with the room, when the kids go off to college? A decade ago, when my children were going off to college, I wrote an article entitled, "How to gain space when your child goes off to college – without alienating the previous occupant" for the San Francisco Chronicle. Now the children of several friends are going, and the discussion arose again.  Here are my ideas.  

I overheard a neighbor ask my newly graduated daughter, "Is your mother getting sad about you leaving for college?" Lauren's reply: "Nope, she's already decided on the new paint color for my room."

That wasn't entirely true. I hadn't decided yet. And I, like parents all over the country, have mixed feelings about this big transition.

For most families the departure of a youngster for college brings up all kinds of feelings, but it also presents some very practical issues. One is how to deal with the vacated room. There are moms and dads who, while mourning the passage, are thinking about the wonderful possibility of a home office, exercise room or guest room.

We already had a home office, so our goal was a guest room. The mother of one of Lauren's friends also wanted a guest room but planned few changes. That's because her daughter's room already looked like a guest room. My daughter's room, on the other hand, looks like a sari shop, inhabited by an origami expert who has traveled in Africa and collects bags of all kinds. So significant changes were in order.

My friend Mary Jo recalled how she consoled herself after the departure of her son by enjoying the luxury of a room where she could keep her sewing machine set up all the time.In contrast, another mother was feeling so sad about her daughter leaving that she hadn't even considered changing the room. Mourning in advance, she seemed to be planning the room as a sort of shrine to the departed college student.

I grew up in a little Midwestern town where we dealt with all emotional matters by doing chores. When someone passed away, we baked for the family; we shoveled the snow, mowed the lawn or raked the leaves. So it seemed only natural to address this emotional event with some practical action.

Negotiating change 

 My daughter and I decided to embark upon the adventure in a systematic way and to negotiate the changes so that she would feel comfortable when she returned and the room could be used in her absence.We did this by talking to other people who were going through this change, or who had already passed through this phase. We made our individual wish lists and compromised on changes. We considered the many issues involved, such as storage, furniture changes and repainting.

My wish list

 -- A palette that would allow me to use a collection of vintage linens

-- To use the beautiful antique bed from my mother

-- To repaint

-- Twenty-four inches of hanging space in the closet and two empty drawers in the dresser

-- The posters to come down

-- The 3-foot tall stuffed dog to be placed in storage.

Lauren's wish list

-- A place for Poppy to sleep (This is the resident of the room who will be staying and like most cats requires a place to take her 10-hour daily nap.)

-- My tall desk to stay

-- My room color sky blue

-- My goldfish to stay

-- Some of my artwork to be framed and hung

Work with each other

In surveying her classmates, Lauren found that the opinions were very mixed about what should be done with their rooms. Given this, it is important to make no assumption and to be explicit on both sides about how it will be done. From our research and our own process we came up with these suggestions and considerations:

-- Be aware of the temperament of the departing student. Some may not care what happens once they're out the door and others may need the comfort of a safe harbor.

-- Do talk about the changes each party would like and be specific. There may be little things that mean a lot.

-- A lot of important stuff is quite portable and can be stored in the room and brought back out during return visits.

-- If the student is going to school nearby, go slow on major changes.

-- Invest in lots of clear plastic storage boxes and label each in detail.

-- Have a "going to college" garage sale with a group of friends to thin out possessions.

-- If a younger sibling will finally be getting his or her own room, make specific provisions for a welcoming and personal space for the return visits of the college student. Be sensitive about this transfer of turf.

-- If the room becomes an office, include a daybed and keep a favorite comforter in the closet.

The mother of a son has always wanted a Laura Ashley/Country French guest room. She devised a plan to have that and still let her son return to his denim den. She has a new floral duvet cover and shams, a pretty lamp and framed prints.In his closet will be a space to store his comforter, sports trophies and NBA posters. She figures it will take about 30 minutes to switch the accessories when her son is coming home. That's my plan too. I can change the comforter, stick up some posters, throw a few stuffed animals on the bed, fill the laundry basket to overflowing, and my daughter will feel right at home.

It's still home

It's fairly common knowledge that people often create conflict to make parting easier. By talking about these things ahead of time, what could be a tumultuous departure can be made smoother. Most youngsters, like their parents,have mixed feelings. They are eager to go, but want a nest to return to.

As a devoted nester I believe it is important to provide our big kids with a sense of belonging. Most valuable is the care and acceptance that families give us, but it is also the comfort of the familiar, whether it's a Tim Duncan poster, a stuffed turtle or a Power Puff Girl lamp. If it's important to your child, it's important.

A Web survey of graduating college students found that 62 percent planned to return and spend some significant time living back at home. Depending upon the parents and child, that might prompt a more or less significant remodel of the room.

One mother of a college senior cautioned, "Just make sure that you take the bed out of the room." On the other hand, parents of a twenty-something son said that the time he spent back home after college was the most fun they'd had with him since he was a toddler.

All parents said that kids who come home after being away at college seem to appreciate home more. I'm going with that report and believe it will be true no matter what shade of blue we paint the room.

The follow up: It’s been almost 10 years since my daughter first left. The room now painted a robin’s egg blue has been well used. Sometimes by guests, sometimes by my daughter’s periodic returns and most often by a new cat who also needs the perfect spot for her daily nap. My daughter lives nearby and the room still serves as long-term storage for her. I think another article is in the works for how we will deal with that “transition.”

Her brother is back. Now in graduate school, the old room looks pretty good compared with the terrible rents in our area. Most of peers are in the same “boat”. His presence requires another kind of planning and the creation of shared expectations. It is currently a work in progress, but a common part of contemporary parenting.

(More recently many of us are experiencing the "joy" of our kids' return. I cover that in a work in progress titled "The birds are back.")

The Christian Science Monitor has assembled a diverse group of the best family and parenting bloggers out there. Our contributing and guest bloggers are not employed or directed by the Monitor, and the views expressed are the bloggers' own, as is responsibility for the content of their blogs. Susan DeMersseman blogs at Raising kids, gardens and awareness.

Bill Nye of Science Guy fame joins this season's cast of Dancing with the Stars. (AP Photo/ABC, Ida Mae Astute)

Bill Nye brings STEAM to Dancing with the Stars

By Correspondent / 09.24.13

Bill Nye (The Science Guy) has made Dancing with the Stars STEAMy in a family-friendly way by combining Science Technology Engineering Art and Science on the dance floor to make geek gold.

Mr. Nye has always raised the level of teaching science to an art form. This week he took the dance floor dressed as Beethoven, dancing to Beethoven’s Fifth symphony with a powdered wig that he cleverly employed to make a poofy cloud of powder during a moment of frustration in the dance. The theme for his dances so far have been rooted in science. He’s learning the math of keeping time and engineering a new way to win this show by being a fan favorite, if not the best dancer.

“Following last week's 14 out of 30-point cha cha, Nye ... and partner Tyne Stecklein showed a little improvement on Monday night with a 17-point Paso Doble, but it wasn't enough to keep them from the bottom of the leader board, with judge Carrie Ann Inaba critiquing his footwork,” according to People Magazine.

Here’s the deal where parents like me are concerned, we don’t care how many points Nye made with the judges. What counts with us is how he scored with kids who believe that you have to choose between being “the smart kid” and being “the popular kid.”

I have spent the past six years working with inner city kids who think that their only path to acceptance and success in life is to perform on a stage or a ball field, not a classroom.

The girls think they have to twerk their way to the top, and the guys see themselves in a limo that they got thanks to either gangsta rap, NBA, or NFL.

I’m not saying that Nye’s Beethoven is really going to compete with Miley Cyrus nude on a wrecking ball, a blunt-smoking rapper, or a former NBA star who is hob-nobbing with Kim Jong Un, but it’s a start.

Nye is a fan favorite, and to prove it the front row of fans were MENSA members (minimum IQ for members is 132).

Although I would have preferred they not be mocked by host Tom Bergeron for their lab coats. “Which only proves that you can be brilliant and have no fashion sense,” Mr. Bergeron added after introducing a line of people with the combined intellectual horsepower to launch a space station of their own design.

The thing nobody is laughing at is the fact that Nye and Tyne Stecklein’s week 1 cha cha set to “Weird Science” had a record-breaking 3.2 million YouTube views, according to People.

At the beginning of the video Nye meets his partner for the first time and hands her flowers in a glass container. He asks her, “Is that a beaker or a flask?” She is flustered saying, “Oh, gosh! I don’t know.”

True to the science guy kids and parents adore, Nye said, “A flask. A flask has a neck.”

Judging from the comments posted on YouTube I don’t think those record-breaking views came from the demographic DWTS usually attracts, but those who grew up watching Nye perform weird scientific demonstrations that inspired them to learn more.

While Nye may not prove to be the winner of DWTS his performance already seems to be a successful experiment in mixing smart into the popularity formula.

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