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Modern Parenthood

Heidi Klum saves drowning son: The supermodel saved her son from a riptide on vacation in Hawaii and, in doing so, set the bar impossibly high for other parents just trying to be good to their kids. But hey, being good to your kids is good enough. March 2013. (Chris Pizzello, Invision/Associated Press)

Heidi Klum saves drowning son: Supermodel supermom vs. the good enough mother (+video)

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / 04.02.13

As parents we strive to be great at the job, but seeing a flawless, sun bronzed Heidi Klum wade into the surf in a bikini and save her son, plus two nannies from a riptide would give David Hasselhoff an inferiority complex. How often do we believe we need to be supermodel supermoms and is being a good mother ever good enough?

Heidi Klum and her family were on vacation in Oahu, Hawaii, Sunday when her oldest son Henry, 7, was caught in a dangerous riptide, as were two of his nannies, reports Entertainment Tonight.

The photos are a cross between a dramatic Disney movie moment and a Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue.

Vundermom just made lifting a bus off your kid — via hysterical strength (that supposed superhuman strength rush parents get when offspring are in mortal peril) — passé by lifting an ocean off her child.

"We got pulled into the ocean by a big wave. Of course, as a mother, I was very scared for my child and everyone else in the water,” Ms. Klum told ET. “Henry is a strong swimmer and was able to swim back to land. We were able to get everyone out safely."

I love it. It’s the most inspiring story of the day, but then I had a look in the mirror, at the unfolded pile of laundry and the fact that last time I took the kids to the beach I ended up in the hospital after being hit by a longboard.

I was able to find some solace in little paperback I’ve been reading called “Good Enough Mothering,” by Elaine Heffner, a psychotherapist and parent educator in New York City and senior lecturer of education in psychiatry at Weill Cornell Medical College. Her blog is full of answers.

“I see mothers trying to be perfect. ‘Good enough’ doesn’t feel good enough. How did that happen?” Heffner writes. “Perhaps, deep down inside we all wish life could have been perfect for us as children, and so we are too ready to agree with our children that we should be able to make life perfect for them. But we can’t — and that makes us feel guilty.”

I am pretty certain that the day I first became a parent, along with those magical mommy instincts that hit my system like a freight train, came a bigger freight train, loaded with guilt.

“Feeling guilty seems to be a normal condition of motherhood. So let me assure you that feeling guilty does not mean you are guilty,” Heffner writes. “Those feelings do not mean you are not doing a good enough job.”

I wish I could have gotten this woman on the phone because I suspect I could talk to her all day. I know I’m gonna have to sit down and finish her book.

Although, I admit, seeing all the books out there on how to do what’s “right” as a parent can make us feel like the ways to do something “wrong” have us beaten before we start.

I think that Klum and I actually have a lot in common, none of it in the bikini department. We both adore our children and want the best for them. OK, her best is Oahu and mine is the lawn sprinkler, but I would battle the most savage hose leak to save my son.

Being a great parent isn’t about how you look while saving your child, or even your ability to do so, but the fact that you would, without hesitation, do all you were able to make that save. Sometimes our “all” entails watching our child like a hawk and shouting for the Baywatch look-alike to run into the riptide.

I’m fine with that because ultimately parenting is not at all about me, or how I feel about it. Parenting, good parenting, is about raising a child who feels loved, safe, provided for to the best of our ability, and is educated.

A perfect example of a parent with nothing at all tangible to give is the mother of Chess Phenom Phiona Mutesi who is raising her kids in the slums of Kampala, Uganda, with no running water or electricity.

She is an amazing mom because she is doing all she can for her kids. While her daughter walks three miles to school daily with her few books in a blue plastic bag and has missed years of primary school education due to lack of money, this is still a great mom. Why? Because this mom, despite all odds against her, has continued to give her kids hope and spiritual support — and she has fed their ambitions.

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Let us not praise our children, at least, not all the time for every little thing and especially when it's not appropriate, says Judy Bolton-Fasman. (Photo from 'Let Us Now Praise Famous Men' by James Agee.) (Walker Evans/Wiki commons)

Let us not praise our children: Well-intentioned puffery won't boost school success

By Guest blogger / 04.02.13

My name is Judy and I am a praise junkie. That is, I blanket my children with lavish compliments like, “You are the smartest, you are the best, you are second to none.” It turns out that I haven’t been doing my kids any favors with these endearments. In fact, there’s a raft of research over the past couple of decades that shows that unfocused praising of children puts a significant dent in their self-esteem.

Carol Dweck, a psychologist at Stanford University, has been at the vanguard of studies about kids and praise. Dweck’s research grew out of a pattern that has been tracked for over 20 years — gifted students (those who score in the top 10 percent on aptitude tests) were very unsure of their academic abilities. This perceived lack of competence caused them to lower their standards for success and to underestimate the importance of putting in effort towards a goal.

But I’m not the only parent out there praising away. According to a survey conducted by Columbia University, 85 percent of American parents think it’s crucial to tell their kids how smart they are. My highly unscientific poll puts the number of fellow parental praise junkies out there at closer to 100 percent.

Why the constant praising and what do we do about it? I suppose we praise to reassure our kids and ourselves that they are not only wonderful, but also resilient — able to handle any challenge that comes their way. But in truth constant assurance has the opposite effect. The proof is on the ground. Ten years ago Dweck sent four research assistants into fifth-grade classrooms throughout New York City. The assistants administered a series of puzzles to two control groups randomly divided. The children in one group were praised for their intelligence as in “You must be smart at this.” The other group was lauded for their efforts as in, “You must have worked really hard.”

In the next round, the two groups were asked to choose between a difficult or easy test. The results were astounding. Ninety percent of the children who were praised for their efforts chose the harder test. The majority of kids praised for their intelligence chose the easier test. Commending a kid for his intelligence not only made him shy away from exerting effort, it also made him risk-averse.

The phenomenon of praising a child too often goes back to the 1969 publication of thePsychology of Self-Esteem. That landmark book asserted that high self-esteem was essential to a person’s well being. The notion trickled down to our kids; criticism was out and praise, even if it was undeserved, was now in vogue. I can remember soccer games that my children played when they were little where goals were not counted and every kid got a trophy. I was thrilled for my children, but was I and the other well-meaning adults around them doing the right thing by eliminating competition?

Dweck doesn’t think so. Her research has uncovered that high self-esteem is not necessarily connected to good grades or career success. It doesn’t reduce alcohol abuse or reduce violence. But Dweck isn’t advocating to jettison praise altogether. She found that fine-tuning praise, so that it’s specific and sincere, was very effective. To that end, her research further demonstrated that kids over 12 were suspicious of general praise from a teacher and took it as a sign that they weren’t doing well in class.

Fear of failure is another conundrum that results from overpraising. A well-meaning parent may gloss over a child’s failure by encouraging her to do better next time. The subtext of that message is that failure is so unacceptable it can’t be acknowledged. A lot of the psychology literature shows that responding to failure by trying harder instead of walking away from it suggests that there is more than willpower at work. Encouraging a child to do better next time can rewire a brain to respond more positively to failure. And a brain that learns to try harder instead of giving up is not as dependent on instant gratification. Nothing will short circuit the brain’s response to failure faster than frequent rewards—it’s a sure fire way to set up a kid’s brain for an actual addiction to constant incentives.

So what have I done about my own praise addiction? It seems to be less toxic than I thought.  My praise and criticism of my children’s performances in school has always been nuanced. But yes, in the long run I think almost everything they do is great. For example, the other day Anna asked me what I thought of an article she wrote for her college newspaper. I told her what I specifically liked about the piece. But I’m not completely cured. I didn’t have the heart to tell her that she forgot to insert a couple of commas.

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Joan Rivers, left, and her daughter Melissa Rivers in New York. Ms. Rivers' humor oftentimes comes at another's expense. How are kids supposed to pick up the subtle differences between a barb and a tease? (Dan Hallman/Associated Press)

Joan Rivers and April Fools: Teach your kids the difference between funny and hurtful

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / 04.01.13

Society encourages wicked little untruths to make fools of others on April Fools' Day for the sake of a laugh, but attacks comedian Joan Rivers for telling the unvarnished truth and hurting the feelings of wealthy public figures. Today is a good day to take a moment to examine the mixed messages we send children about truth, it’s temporary suspension, and when jokes go too far.

This is the day, April Fools' Day, when little kids try to pass off Cheerios as “Donut Seeds” and foolish employees lose their jobs because they thought it hilarious to advertise the boss’ job in the local newspaper. It’s what I like to call Judgment Day, as in good or bad, your judgment is put to the test. It’s also an important day to fine tune parenting on truth, lies, and what’s not funny and why.

For Ms. Rivers, and comedians in general, Judgment Day is every day because they judge the world and their remarks either make us laugh, or want to throttle them. Dealing with very young kids isn’t so very different from working with comedians because kids are straight shooters and hilarity often is the result.

I recently stumbled across three vital questions, first asked by comedian Craig Ferguson, that I now ask myself regularly in order to keep out of trouble. I keep a printed copy taped beside my computer, by the phone, and on the white board in the kitchen. Yes, I need it that much and so do my kids.

It reads:

Does this need to be said?

Does this need to be said by me?

Does this need to be said by me, right now?”

For comedians, the answer is always a resounding “Yes!” to all three questions. For kids, we need to tell them that the answer will generally be, “Nope.” Now I’ll tell you why that is.

Art Linkletter made his early career by asking children basic questions and getting funny, honest, politically incorrect answers on the show “Kids Say the Darndest Things.” Yet, we really don’t celebrate honesty when a child tells grandma on the phone, “I really don’t feel like talking to you right now because I’d rather play with the cat.”

I was raised in New York City under the code of, “If you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.” However, I now live in the South where you can verbally kill someone with kindness and a smile. As author Isaac Goldberg once said, “Diplomacy is to do and say the nastiest things in the nicest way.”  

Of course, the vital difference here is the intent of what’s said. Is it mean, or does it mean well? Rivers has always claimed her japes are well intentioned and that the celebrity victims aren’t bothered by the attacks. That seems unlikely. Maybe they’re just telling that socially correct little white lie and need to tell the truth about how celebrity bullying makes them feel.

It really does become a vicious social lie-cycle as people hide the truth about hurt feelings in order to avoid further conflict with the one inflicting the emotional pain. If you are a celebrity and someone says you’re “fat” and justifies it by adding that your wealth and celebrity make you “fair game,” perhaps it’s time to let the truth set you and others free. What is the real tangible difference between a kid in the school yard calling a girl “fatso” versus one wealthy celebrity doing so to another?

When my neighbor, also my doctor, sees me out jogging and says, “Good to see you finally addressing the weight issue. Good for you!” she gets points for honesty, but now I jog in the other direction, away from her house. That actually happened. Ultimately though, I know the doc means well and since I’m her sole audience, I take it in stride. In fact I stride a bit harder, and it makes it that much easier to avoid the next donut.

I love Adele and wince every time Rivers skewers her or anyone else on weight issues. I’m not laughing, but I must admit she’s telling the truth, even if it is with what feels like a malevolent spin.

Rivers is called “mean,” but when you take a closer look, she’s being just as shockingly, flatly rational, and straight in her observations as any child.

“Mom, that kid on TV told his mom she’s fat,” My son Quin, 9, said with indignation. “I would never tell you that even if you are fat now because it would hurt your feelings. That’s why I never tell you.” That little feel-good moment happened over a month ago, but it was both unforgettable and motivational.  

Quin, while unintentionally funny, is not seeking a career on the stage and needs the three question guide so people outside our home don’t think he’s being intentionally unpleasant.

On the one hand, I like it that comics don’t have a three-question axiom, because I think there's a place for honest people who annoy us with their candor, keep it real, and get us to lighten up. While we may dislike honesty about our body image, it is necessary in small doses.

Just watching Rivers and her daughter Melissa, on their We TV reality show “Joan & Melissa: Joan Knows best?” gives insight into a no-holds-barred approach to parenting, grand parenting, and life in general. Rivers is true to her own unvarnished style with her own family.

We get angry at Rivers and those like her because they tell us the Emperor has no clothes, or that the ones they’re wearing make them look like something the cat dragged in. And in doing so they remind us just how much we like to fool ourselves and others.

What Rivers really does is work toward freeing us of our lying addiction with a spoonful of lemon rather than sugar. Hearing the truth isn't always sweet, yet it does make others laugh when we make a face at the bitter taste.

Rivers forces us to recognize and deal with that truth through the lens of humor. Reality check: That’s what comedians do, but perhaps as society has evolved, we are outgrowing the pleasure we once took in meanness.

When the host of HLN’s Showbiz Tonight took her to task about making a Holocaust joke about an Oscar night dress worn by Heidi Klum, Rivers, who is of Jewish ancestry as was her late husband, answered, “That’s how we get through life. If you laugh you can deal with it. Done!”

In the final analysis we get the same conclusion that comedian Steve Martin came to in the movie "Cheaper by the Dozen" when his daughter pulls a nasty prank on Ashton Kutcher’s character by soaking his underwear in meat and then releasing the dog on him. “Funny, but wrong!”

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Pedro Quezada, a New Jersey man, holds a $338 million check above his head March 26. Quezada owes $29,000 in child support. (Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

$338M Powerball win shows odds stacked against kids who need child support

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / 03.29.13

What are the odds that New Jersey's $338 million Powerball lottery winner and father of five, Pedro Quezada, turns out to be wanted for failure to pay $29,000 in child support? While it was a 1 in 175 million chance of being the only winner of the massive Powerball jackpot, there’s a significantly greater chance of being one of the 11.5 million cases of custodial parents reportedly in need of child support from former a partner who is in arrears.

The Passaic County Sheriff's Office told CNN that an arrest warrant was issued for Quezada in 2009. He has five children ages 5-23 and owes a total of $29,000 in back child support, spokesman William Maer said. It is not clear which children the payments are for. Quezada's son, Casiano, said his father has hired an attorney and is "working through it." 

By owing $29,000, Quezada is just $1,000 away from being part of the top 11 percent of arrears delinquents in child support owed, according to information gathered from the Department of Health and Human Services

In fact, for 13.7 million custodial parents on child support, there are 11.5 million cases of non-custodial delinquency. As of 2011, 12.5 million custodial parents with child support orders are owed more than $100 billion in the United States, according to the Department of Health and Human Services and the Office of Child Support Enforcement. Around 70 percent of arrears owed nationwide is owed by noncustodial parents who have little or no reported income and thus is largely uncollectable, OSCE data shows.

My worry is that Quezada’s win, against all odds, will reinforce the fantasy deadbeat parents may have of winning back a child’s respect and trust after years of non-support. 

Again, CNN reports Quezada’s child support situation came to light after a routine post-win debt check by state officials. The fact that he can now afford to support his child should not be considered a happy ending or an excuse to gamble with dollars that should be given to care for our children.

We have no idea if this father was able to pay and chose not to or if he was a victim of the bad economy, struggling to make ends meet. However, it does make me worry that deadbeat dads will continue to gamble away their money on a 1 in 175 million chance, rather than make payments in meager sums with cash that comes with 100 percent federal backing. 

This is about more than money because support comes in intangible forms too. A dad who isn’t able to pay for his child’s upkeep, but offers even as little as the $2 he might otherwise spend on a lottery ticket, becomes an instant winner to his child. 

On the other hand, a child who frequently sees a parent pumping dollars into a lottery or other form of gambling gets the message “Dad is playing games with my future.” The lottery is after all, advertised as a game, colorful, themed, and non-toxic to society. 

I do not see any of the aforementioned as true in the case of deadbeat parents slapping money on the counter for tickets on the 1 in 175 million chance they might someday win their child back via money. 

Even if a child never sees a deadbeat parent buying a ticket, or laying cash on the table for a bet, the perceived absence of moral support and constant wrangling many endure to try and get that aid from the other parent affects a child’s sense of worth. We’re not talking about buying affection, but rather showing that a child is the priority for that parent. 

As a child of my dad’s second marriage and a part of his second set of kids, I grew up in such a household of scrimping, anger, bitterness, and doubt.   

My mom struggled to support two kids after a divorce from a man who already had two children before that marriage and who never paid child support. I remember him calling, and my mother taking the phone away and telling him he could talk when he had paid. Also, I remember his fury at her transferred to his kids and he'd tell us we “cost too much.” When he didn’t get custody he felt we were “her kids” and thus “her responsibility.” 

I wonder how many children hear those kinds of bitter words, driven by a bad economy and a broken love? My estimate would be even more than 3 in every 25 children.

Nobody’s going to stop selling lottery tickets any time soon, it's not going anywhere. However, parents who are in arrears of child support aren’t going anywhere positive either by buying tickets when $2 could at least be a down payment on a child’s trust and hope. 

We owe it to our children to stop playing the odds by showing them we’re trying our best to take care of them, one dollar at a time.

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'Bright Young Things', Victoria's Secret's ad campaign, received unwanted attention after a dad's critique went viral. Here, Alessandra Ambrosio poses during the launch of the company's swimwear line, March 12. (Mario Anzuoni/Reuters)

Victoria’s Secret ‘Bright Young Things’ ads make parents ask: Just how young?

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / 03.28.13

In the United States, Victoria’s Secret is emblazoning girls’ bottoms with salacious phrases, while in Japan an ad agency is enlisting young girls to wear temporary tattoo ads on their thighs. Both are advertising campaigns by nature and the bottom line is that parents are talking about the need to take this issue much more seriously.

Victoria’s Secret may say publicly they are not purposefully advertising to young girls, but as parents we are pretty adept at spotting a falsehood, and this is one of those times that we need to agree with the characters in HBO’s Game of Thrones and repeat their stock phrase, “Words are wind.”  After speaking with the dad who prompted a boycott of the stores I realize the bottom line is we don’t want people writing on female’s bottoms at any age.

The company posted on its Facebook wall, “In response to questions we recently received, Victoria’s Secret PINK is a brand for college-aged women. Despite recent rumors, we have no plans to introduce a collection for younger women. 'Bright Young Things' was a slogan used in conjunction with the college spring break tradition.” 

The furor began March 22 after Rev. Evan Dolive of Texas posted an open letter on his website chiding the lingerie retailer for its “Bright Young Things” line. He believed that no matter what the company line may be, the undies are aimed at tweens with phrases like “Wild” across the butt. Dolive is the father of two, one is a daughter age three.

Dolive wrote: I want my daughter (and every girl) to be faced with tough decisions in her formative years of adolescence. Decisions like should I be a doctor or a lawyer? Should I take calculus as a junior or a senior? Do I want to go to Texas A&M or University of Texas or some Ivy League School? Should I raise awareness for slave trafficking or lack of water in developing nations? There are many, many more questions that all young women should be asking themselves … not will a boy (or girl) like me if I wear a "call me" thong?"

Meanwhile, in Japan,  a PR agency called Absolute Territory PR is enlisting young girls to wear temporary tattoo ads on their thighs. The service launched in July 2012 and immediately boasted 1,300 walking billboards. To become a paid human thigh billboard requires: being a female over 18 with more than 20 connections on an SNS (Twitter, mixi, Instagram, etc.). To get paid, you have to wear a temporary tattoo for eight hours or more and post pictures of it to your SNS in at least two different places.

When I spoke with Dolive on the phone about the Facebook posting by Victoria’s Secret he said, “I’m not surprised. That’s really what I would expect them to say. But they’re talking out of both sides of their mouths here since their CFO made it very clear what he’s after.”

Dolive is referring to a Business Insider report that quoted Victoria’s Secret Chief Financial Officer Stuart Burgdoerfer as saying at a recent conference "When somebody’s 15 or 16 years old, what do they want to be? They want to be older, and they want to be cool like the girl in college, and that’s part of the magic of what we do at Pink."

“That’s the magic of PINK,” Dolive repeated in disgust. “Fine, let’s say 'Bright Young Things' is aimed only at college girls and then start the discussion from there about why we should not pressure girls into unattainable standards and believing that their worth is defined by their underwear.”

He adds, “I‘m getting calls and letters from parents who tell me that their middle school-age daughters come home asking for underwear from the PINK line because when they get changed for gym class they realize the popular girls are all wearing that line.”

Since posting the letter, Dolive says he has been deluged with responses from every nation, “I’d say that over 95 percent were fully in support with only a few telling me if I didn’t like it I just shouldn’t buy it.”

Dolive agrees that not only will he not buy it, but according to the emails and reactions to his letter, many other parents are going so far as to call for a boycott. That’s because his argument jibes with that of many parents who feel children are pressured to grow up too fast and it’s up to the parents to boycott, write letters, and put the brakes on marketing panties in candy colors and elementary school typefaces.

Amanda Cole Hill, mom of a daughter and local PTA activist in Norfolk, Va., saw and then forwarded Dolive’s posting to me. When I wrote back and said I’d be blogging the topic and asked for a comment she was quick to respond. “From what I have read they changed their tune when the backlash occurred and said it was meant for college girls,” Hill said. “But initially it was for high school. Nonetheless, I don't think anyone needs underwear that says ‘Call me.’  Seriously? Call me?

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Cinderella's fairy godmother, played by Victoria Clark in the Broadway production, comforts Cinderella, Laura Osnes. Ms. Clark flies around at the end of a cable for the role, despite a fear of heights she's tempered, somewhat, through roller coaster outings with her son. (Carol Rosegg/Cinderella)

Cinderella fairy godmother, Victoria Clark, on how to mom-up and ‘let go’

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / 03.27.13

As parents we often wish we had a magic wand, but Cinderella’s fairy godmother, played on Broadway by Victoria Clark, says that even with a magic wand, the job’s not all that easy. The actress is petrified of heights but overcame them for the role, largely as a lesson to her son about pushing our boundaries and to show him that parents really can feel joy, despite all our complaining and bossing.

Ms. Clark stars as Marie, the fairy godmother in the Broadway musical revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s "Cinderella." She told me during a phone interview from her New York apartment that the first time a stage technician suspended her from the cables at the Broadway Theater he told her, “Just let go. Don’t touch the cables. You HAVE to LET GO or you can’t really fly!”

Now I want that on a T-shirt with a fairy pointing a magic wand at a kid whose helicopter parents are keeping him/her grounded by doubt and worry: “You HAVE to LET GO so they can fly!”

I digress. Back on Broadway, Clark was eyeing the technician and telling him flatly, “I can’t do this. No. No, I really can’t.”

However, this is the mom who, in order not to disappoint her son Thomas Luke “TL” Guest, now 18, took him on rollercoasters each summer, riding them with her eyes closed. She and her husband divorced when TL was four years old, leaving the child to “commute” between parents. Therefore, time together doing “normal family things like going to the amusement park” as mom and son became mission critical. She wasn’t going to spoil it by grounding them both.

Despite her rollercoaster ride experiences, the prospect of being suspended by cables above the stage, while saddled with a massive pair of wings, was nearly too much for Clark to cope with.

Add to that the stress of the mom of an only child seeing her son is about to graduate from high school and head off as one of the top NCAA soccer drafts. It seems her entire life, personal and professional, seems to have come down to “letting go.”

Clark had come to a crossroad in the middle of a Broadway stage. “I really wanted to be this particular fairy because she’s so temperamental,” Clark mused. “In this production, the fairy godmother is rather emotionally challenged, coping with wing issues, transportation problems to solve, and the disappointment of clients who are stubborn and deny help.” Sounds like kids to me.

Because she’s been burned before, the fairy godmother actually tests Cinderella before she decides to give her the gift of her help. She comes to her in disguise as a bag lady to see if Cindy will really be kind and deserving. “Also, since the fairy has been around as a bag lady, she knows what it is to be overlooked and discarded.”

The part was just too good, and Clark knew her son was aware of just how badly she wanted to keep it. While the prop wand held no real magic, her passion for showing her son how to fight fear to win a dream must have some special power, because she decided to mom-up, put on her big girl wings, and get flying.

Clark even learned to enjoy flying, but only after several weeks and occasionally flying into trees on stage. Clark explained, “I just realized that I really can’t do anything about it. If a cable breaks there’s a backup cable and after that there’s nothing I can do but hope for the best and enjoy the experience.”

She said her son is delighted. “The first time he saw me he laughed himself right out of his seat in the theater,” she added. “He and his friends come to numerous performances just to see me enjoying something that scared me.”

“I think children love to see their parents have fun and be happy,” Clark said. “Being happy in front of your children is such a good example because too often we are just saying we’re tired.”

She added, “I try to set an example that if you love what you do and are persistent you can succeed.”

It would seem that despite divorce, a latch-key life for her son, odd hours, and her job hanging by a wire, Clark has managed to rewrite the fairytale of motherhood to give herself and her son a long run of happy endings.

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A New Zealand mom left her child in a car with a note to contact her if a passerby saw the child in distress. No matter where you're from, this is bad parenting. (Facebook)

New Zealand mom vs. Norway mom: Who leaves a child unattended?

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / 03.26.13

A new mother in Porirua, New Zealand causes global uproar by leaving her baby in a locked car with a note pinned to the blanket telling people to ring her cell if the baby was in need. Meanwhile, parents in Sweden routinely leave children outdoors to nap in strollers without a second thought. Both stories have sparked debate on child endangerment, judgment calls, cultural differences, and parental education.

Vibe Magazine reports

“After a photo of the baby and the note was published in The New Zealand Herald, people of course got riled up. Leaving a child unattended can lead to severe consequences in any country.”

That statement is almost true, however the definition of “unattended” does vary from nation to nation.

In the United States and, judging from news articles, New Zealand as well, the sight of a baby left unattended results in police being called immediately and the word “abandonment” figuring in headlines. Such is not the case in Sweden where long tradition has babies napping in their prams in the snow from birth to age two, according to BBC News. This occurs in busy shopping areas as well as less trafficked areas.

The BBC reports that while daytime temperatures in Stockholm have regularly dropped to -5C (23F), “it's still common to see children left outside by their parents for a sleep in the pram. Wander through the snowy city and you'll see buggies lined up outside coffee shops while parents sip on lattes inside.”

A poll in Norway asked parents how many let their babies sleep outdoors/outside a café and 84 percent say yes, they do.

My friend lives Norway, an hour from Oslo, and is one of the best mothers I have ever met and her job is to work with children ages one and two at a kindergarten there. She asks that her name not be mentioned so as not to upset her employer, but she told me just now, via Facebook chat, “Yes, babies sleep outdoors in Norway, privately and in day care and NO they are never ever unattended .”

She explained, “There are 14 babies in my section ages 1-2 and they all nap outside during the daytime for 1-2 hours they wear wool and then another layer on top of that and then they are in a sub zero sleeping bag. The fresh air is very healthy for them and they sleep better.”

“They sleep outside as long as it is not colder than minus 10 C colder than that some parents still request outdoors sleeping but our general rule is that unless really cold winds. There is ALWAYS an adult watching listening for breathing constantly checking that everything is ok. and when people do this privately, as everyone does, they put the stroller by a window so that they can check and it has never ever happened that a baby has been kidnapped here for this. In denmark they do the same. One danish woman was arrested in NY city for doing this outside a café.”

I am fine with the sleeping outside in the cold part after a pediatrician had me bundle fhe first of my first of four sons in his stroller on the front porch of our Medford, N.J. home for naps when he was suffering the croup while snow piled high on the ground. I have done so with every sick baby since and healthy ones as well, taking care to bundle them and myself as I sat on the porch with them or sat by the window and watched like a ninja mom.

I can’t imagine any scenario in which I would ever intentionally leave a baby unattended outside.

However, in the New Zealand incident, a parking-lot witness told the Herald:

"It was written from the baby's perspective, and it said, 'my mum's in doing the shopping, call her if I need anything,’ and it had the cellphone number We waited there for a little bit, wondering if the mum was just going to be two seconds and come back. And my wife said, 'I'm not going in without someone being here with the baby.'"

According to Susan Pollack, curriculum and program director for Children’s Harbor of Virginia the dangers are not only physical but spiritual issues on trust in their care giver. “This is a big deal because think of not only a child possibly choking from vomit but also what if someone hits that car in the lot? What about the baby in the news who almost lost a pinkie because a hair got wrapped around it (in what’s known as a hair tourniquet) and there’s nobody there for who knows how long? Then we have the whole trust issue too.”

“I always tell new parents to imagine themselves as a quadriplegic in a chair with no means of getting words out, totally dependent for everything — that’s a baby,” Pollack said. “A baby’s signals must be read and they’re not asking for a new car here,” she added. “They’re asking for someone they can trust to respond to their needs. Leaving a child alone to cry until someone calls the mother’s cell phone? That is raising a child to know the person who counts the most can’t be trusted to answer their needs. They need that relationship.”

My Norwegian friend agrees that the case of the New Zealand baby being unattended makes it an absolute no-no in her country as well.

“That [a baby unattended or out of sight] never ever happens here,” she said. “Parents constantly watch the sleeping babies though not with thoughts of kidnapping, but more safety like crib death or temperature falling or waking.” 

So, despite the fact that cultural and climate differences may result in a baby being put outside, while getting some healthful fresh air is not a crime while under a keenly watchful eye, leaving a baby or child unattended in a public place or locked into a vehicle is never, ever right.

I have four sons and I have made scads of mistakes along the way over the past 19 years, and from those mistakes comes a certain amount of confidence in telling new parents and non-parents who are interested the following: We do not leave an infant or child in harm’s way, out of our reach or sight in public. In addition, we do not leave babies at home alone while we go out on errands because of the fear of a baby choking of reflux or crib death by other circumstance.

These are things that we, as parents, must pass on to our children so that when it’s their time to be sleep-deprived, they might make the bad judgment call of going to the store in their slippers, but their child will definitely be in that store with them. 

A group of Australian teens on sexting — laws seem unfair; inappropriate content — ignore it; parental monitoring — announce it.; a minimum age for social networks — 13. Here, a 19-year-old snaps a photo of her friend's puppy in Texas, Feb. 27. (Andrew D. Brosig,The Daily Sentinel/AP)

Sexting, parental monitoring, laissez-faire content approach: Aussie teens sound off

By Guest Blogger / 03.26.13

My visit to Australia for the World Congress on Family Law & Children’s Rights has been rich in hospitality and insight — I’ve had the privilege of talking with people in government, online-safety advocacy, industry, school (students!), primary and secondary education, research, of course many parents and grandparents, and even “Australia’s Dr. Phil,” as Michael Carr-Gregg has sometimes referred to himself (but the latter is still a clinical psychologist as well as media personality). I can’t possibly fit all that I’ve learned into one blog post, so I’ll be breaking it out into several posts). First anecdotal, next published research….

A panel of smart, candid high school students, moderated by Dr. Carr-Gregg, lasted for a mere 30 minutes. I could’ve listened to them for a couple of hours, so I sought them out afterwards, and they kindly shared more of their thinking. [Here they are, in uniform because most Australian students seem to wear school uniforms and they came right from school, thoughtfully formulating their answers to a question I'm asking. Between us is Dr. Carr-Gregg in yellow tie. The photo was taken and posted by Jeremy Blackman of the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, my gracious hosts.]

Here are some highlights from the panel (Ethan, Jon, Claire, Filip, Cameron, and Ashley):

  • Sexting: For some reason, this topic — and what the minimum age should be for criminal responsibility in their country — was raised with the students first (more soon about it from a brilliant researcher here). Naturally, teens are as confused as are adults and the laws in many countries. “It depends” seemed to be the consensus, sensibly — because neither trust between friends nor a law is being violated in every case of sexting that even gets legal attention. “The law is unfair and needs to be altered,” said one panelist, in sync with what I’ve heard legal scholars say. They seemed to struggle with the age factor — one said that children need to be held accountable for their actions too — but the panelists agreed that children need education about the consequences, and “education is better than prosecution.”
  • Inappropriate content: When asked about whether pages depicting violence, hate, misogyny, etc. should be taken down, one student said, “Nobody’s forcing you to look at or like that page. You can block it too, so that you never have to look at it if you don’t want to.” Another said, “Free speech is important,” adding that it’s better to allow people to “express their displeasure” with and on an offensive page than to require a service to delete it. A third panelist said that, if it promotes violence, it should be taken down, “but people say awful things to each other in person, and [online] is just another place where that happens.”
  • They’re self-regulating. Bearing out a finding from MediaSmarts in Canada, they’re both aware of the need for balanced use of digital media and working on that in their own lives. One panelist referred to the “Great Friend Deletion of 2010,” so that, ever since, he only has FB friends who he actually knows offline (about 300). Another has her privacy settings set as private/friends only. But one panelist called on parents to help their kids strike a balance between online and offline. He made an important qualification, though (which I hope parents will hear): If parents go overboard and take social media away altogether, “you can become a social outcast and get bullied. That’s a concern.” Another panelist said that digital media are “enmeshed in and important to daily life.”
  • Great advice for parents: The students said their generation will “go online whether you say to or not and will do what they want,” so “teaching us why or why not is better than just saying no. You can’t take our technology away without a good reason.” But, hey, said one panelist, “it’s not bad online. We go online to talk about what we had for dinner half the time. Bad stuff happens, but that’s not what social media’s all about. People talk badly about others offline too — this is just another medium, and people should get used to that.” Another panelist agreed: “People are doing things on the Net that they do in offline life — it’s the same thing. People need to be more educated before they pass judgment on social media.” His comment is representative of a finding from Australian research I’ve quoted before, that “rather than sliding into a moral vacuum when they go online, young people draw upon the same moral framework that shapes their offline engagements.”
  • Of parental monitoring. There seemed to be acceptance of this, but not of secret monitoring. Panelists seem to agree that they should be notified by their parents if monitoring was going to happen. This was a finding in the Canadian study too.
  • Of “digital citizenship”: When I asked them about this afterwards, they didn’t seem enthusiastic about the concept. “You’re not a separate person online,” said one student suggesting that the term suggests something different from “citizenship.” Another simply said that it’s “a weird term,” and a third felt it sounded like someone was “rebranding” Internet safety. It’s the early days for this concept in Australia, it seems.
  • Socially very mobile: Like US youth, and bearing out the EU and AU Kids Online research, these teens seem to use social media mostly on their phones and devices of similar size and portability — whether it’s Facebook or Kik Messenger (Australian youth’s No. 1 texting app it appears). Remember how we’d pass notes in class? Texting — and in Australia, Kik, specifically — is the new note-passing, it seems (in elementary school too).
  • A minimum age? Yes, the panelists said. The minimum age for Facebook and all social media should be 13, because otherwise kids would grow up too fast, one said, suggesting that 12-year-olds shouldn’t feel pressure to “wear what 18-year-olds wear and go clubbing.” Another agreed, saying U13s “can be really irritating” to have around in social media, and — besides — they shouldn’t be exposed to inappropriate photos (he wasn’t given the chance to define “inappropriate”).

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The $338 million Powerball ticket was sold in New Jersey. Are kids losing out when their parents try to win big? Here, a clerk in Totowa, N.J., hands tickets to customer on March 24. (Tyson Trish/Associated Press)

$338 million ticket: When parents buy and lose, their kids do too

By Lisa SuhayGuest Blogger / 03.25.13

Somebody in New Jersey spent $2 on a Powerball lottery ticket and just won $338 million. As for the rest of the ticket holders, I hope they take home the valuable knowledge that gambling rarely pays a return and is a total loss in the parenting department.

Despite the probability of winning in Powerball being about one in 175 million, according to NBC News, people in 42 states, Washington, D.C., and the US Virgin Islands, bought tickets. We have a better chance of dying from a bee sting, one in 6.1 million, or death via lightning strike, one in 3 million. Indeed, sometimes lightening strikes lottery ticket holders. The Chicago Tribune reports that a 48-year-old “bought three lottery tickets, hoping to win the big jackpot which had grown to more than $600 million. After he bought the tickets, he jokingly said to a friend that he had a better chance of getting struck by lightning than winning. Unfortunately, he was right." 

Still, we build up hope, and the hope of our children, and continue to buy lottery tickets. 

Therefore, rather than risk the proverbial lightning strike from on high, I will admit right up front that in the midst of financial distress, I personally did not resist the temptation to buy a ticket for the monster jackpot that preceded the most recent Powerball lottery. 

I can count the number of times I have bought a ticket — twice— and both times at my husband’s urging due to our ongoing financial distress. That does not excuse my lack of judgment in the slightest. I realize that a penny saved is a penny earned and the $2 wasted on the lottery would have been far more effective in my youngest son’s piggy bank. How often as parents do we tell kids, “Do as I say, not as I do?” However, since I made the mistake twice and suffered the consequences, I feel like I have a bit more insight about a practice that has become widely accepted as a means of funding our public projects and even schools.

According to CBS News our dollars are baked into the fiscal pie as follows, “Revenue from that pie is divided in three ways: About 60 percent goes to prize winners; 15 percent to retailers, marketing and operations; and 25 percent, or about $14 billion, goes back to the states for government services.” That’s a huge chunk of change handed over to the country's coffers. It makes me feel as if we are sending the message to kids that government is run largely on a bet.

For my part I think that’s a poison pie. The sickness I felt at the loss of the ticket money and the destruction of my little fantasy that we'd win was magnified by the fact that my son, 9, was with me when I checked the ticket. You’d have thought I was smuggling drugs the way I sneaked over to the little scanner to see if the ticket was a winner while he was picking out a snack.

However, to a child, a sneaking mom is like a flare in the dark. He materialized at my side just as the machine lit up a phrase in blue: “This ticket is not a winner.” I instantly realized the massive, compounded error I’d made. 

My son asked me, “So how does this work actually? Do they just give you the ticket for free or something?” No, I told him, you pay for the tickets. Then, at that moment, I felt the utter misery a parent feels after realizing they've done a bad job must find a way to reverse the damage ASAP. 

Buying a lottery ticket is a parenting error. Some may disagree, but the reality is that according to the National Center for Responsible Gaming, “[A]nywhere from 2 percent to 7 percent of young people experience a gambling addiction, compared to about 1 percent of adults. An estimated 6 percent to 15 percent of youth have gambling problems that are less severe, while 2 percent to 3 percent of adults fall into that category. Boys are more likely to experience a gambling problem than girls.”

So I came clean with my son about the mistake I’d made, the money I’d wasted, and why gambling was a mistake I didn’t want him to make. He cheerfully replied, “Well derp! Who can’t figure that out if you give money and don’t get anything back?”

Bingo. What a response. I will admit that as a parent I got lucky because there certainly wasn’t any skill involved in the way I’d handled that particular incident. In fact, I can probably credit the sheer, stone cold logic of Asperger’s for his quick reply more than anything he learned by my example that day. In fact, many parents could benefit from more stone cold logic when it comes to kids and fostering gambling habits. For example, an act as a simple as choosing to give a kid money for their birthday instaed of a lottery ticket.  

According to the Associated Press, in Dec. 2012 : “New Jersey's Council on Compulsive Gambling and the state lottery are advising people that they shouldn't give lottery tickets as holiday gifts to children. In a joint statement, the two groups say gambling at an early age can increase the risk of becoming a compulsive gambler. New Jersey law requires lottery purchasers to be 18 or over, but does not specifically prohibit giving lottery tickets to kids. A recent Yale University study found that youngsters who received instant tickets as a gift tended to begin gambling earlier in life.”

Perhaps the only good thing about scratch off tickets is they demonstated there is no skill to winning a lottery. There are news shows consistently dedicating air time to how to best pick the winning numbers in a lottery. Gamblers tend to have a system, culling numbers from their wedding anniversaries or children’s birth dates, or parsing through lists of previous numbers to avoid repeating a combination. 

These reports give an illusion that lottery requires skill when it’s really all just random chance. Even when a gambler’s “system” works, it’s just smoke and mirrors. The chaos factor will triumph in the end. Kids need to be told early and often to believe in themselves and their skills instead of luck. 

In this economy, with four kids (one in college and another headed there in the fall) I work three freelance writing jobs while my husband works full-time and still our home is in danger of foreclosure, our bills are often paid late and the stress wraps around my hope and strangles it.

In that moment when we stop believing in our skills and all that is left is a Higher Power to pull us through, realize that The Power to survive all this is not in a little white ball. The power is in our faith and our families. That’s a win-win.

Norway, while becoming a better fit, is a long way from home for Saleha Mohsin and her husband. The expatriates help each other's longing for family by role playing the characters they miss the most. The port of Svolvaer in northern Norway, March 4. (Reuters)

4,109 miles from home, expat couple in Norway role plays each other's family members

By Guest Blogger / 03.22.13

There are a lot of “love refugees” in Norway.

When I meet other expat couples, particularly trailing spouses like myself, we usually ask each other how we ended up in Norway. It always comes down to one thing: our partners. They are either Norwegian (who are great at falling in love overseas) or our partners aren’t natives but followed their careers here, bringing their families in tow.

There is an immediate camaraderie among expats. In leaving our comfort zones to see the world, we’ve all done something very brave.

Moving to Norway was a big decision for my husband and I. The opportunity popped up out of nowhere and it took a lot of research before we could make an informed decision to move to a place that we hadn’t even considered as a vacation spot.

Once you’ve landed overseas, the strength of your relationship is put to the test and you find that you have to rely on each other in ways that other couples don’t.

Autumn of 2011 was a tumultuous time for us. With each step that brought us closer to a life in Norway – putting our London flat on the rental market or giving notice at work – we wondered if we were making the right choice. If one of us became overwhelmed about what was ahead, the other would toughen up for the leap of faith that was taking us to Oslo.

One could say that it was faith in Norway that brought us here. Before we moved, we had a five-day reconnaissance trip during which we had to learn everything we could about the local lifestyle before the decision was official. We realized that there was no way to know whether it was going to work out unless we gave it a try, so that’s what we did.

That leap of faith was one that my husband and I also took in each other. Although we factored quality of life and cost of living into our decision to leave a comfortable home in Britain, a big part of that decision was whether we, as a couple, could make this expat adventure a success.

When you move abroad with your partner, both of you are stripped of your network of family and friends and the safety of familiar surroundings. Once you’ve landed overseas, the strength of your relationship is put to the test and you find that you have to rely on each other in ways that other couples don’t. Since moving to Norway, my husband is all I’ve got. When I had sinusitis last fall, we couldn’t count on my mom to come by with a big pot of food to help us get through the week. And when my husband was working 80-hour weeks last spring, I couldn’t pass the time by dropping by my brothers’ place to hang out with my nephews and gossip with my sister-in-law. All of those people are 4,109 miles away.

So while I’m in Oslo, my husband fills all of those roles for me. He plays Super Mario Brothers with me when I miss my nephews, and I in turn indulge him by watching the Batman movies for the third time around because he can’t watch them with his brother.

But if we’re all of a sudden getting on each other’s nerves (like all healthy couples should, every so often), there’s really no escape. If one of us tried to get some space, the other would be left in the lurch, so we don’t do this often.

It’s this precise aspect of expathood that people who are still in their comfort zones, surrounded by their usual support network, can’t understand. It’s the reason my husband and I don’t answer the phone when we’re watching a movie or exploring the rest of Europe, or when one of us is just having a bad day.

Only our fellow expats truly understand what it’s like to live in Norway, far from everything familiar (and warm). From this camaraderie a wonderful little community has emerged. Newcomers seek the wisdom of those who came before them. Those of us who have lived here awhile are finally able to ‘pay it forward’ and help those that are fresh off the boat. And then there are expats who have been here for 10, 15, or even 20 years. These are our north stars.

I’ve been in Oslo 16 months and I feel that I’m at a turning point. Without realizing it I’ve become a part of a community and have even been able to offer guidance to a few new arrivals. The most important advice isn’t anything I tell them, it’s simply that I’m still here and enjoying every day of it.

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. Saleha Mohsin blogs at Edge of the Arctic.

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