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After her divorce, Father’s Day gifts – the handmade cards and gifts – weren't about her kids’ father anymore, they was about her. Then the kids became teens and said, "We got it."

Father's Day gifts in a divorce: Who buys? Who makes the cards?

By Correspondent / 06.05.12

It’s Father’s Day No. 3 since my marriage ended. Thing is, the hoops I jumped through to get my kids to properly acknowledge their dad while I was married stayed the same after marriage. I still cajoled them to make a card and orchestrated the creation of an endless parade of paper weights, pencil holders and hand-decorated coffee mugs.

This year my kids are both teenagers, 13 and 15, and last week as we walked through the mall we passed a store window with a kitchen gadget in it. My son said it was something his dad might like.

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I said, “Should we get it for him for Father’s Day?”

Both kids let out a long whining “Noooo.”

My son said it was Father’s Day, which meant the children – e.g. he and his sister – would figure out what to give their dad. No moms needed.

Really? I thought. No car, no money, and without me, I thought self-importantly, no direction.

Last year I had them make little “ode-to-daddy” themed collages on canvas. Original works of art you could hang! Try and top that, I thought. And what would their father think, if they forgot to make a card? That’s when I realized Father’s Day wasn’t about my kids’ father anymore, it was about me. 

In fact, it raised a whole lot of issues I would never have connected to Father’s Day – like my own parenting insecurities, old resentments (how come he never has the kids make me Mother’s Day cards? Or buy me gifts??) and, probably hardest of all for me, the fact that I have a lot less control over my children than I once did.

At first it was a slow erosion of control, as they pushed against my decisions about what they should wear to school, eat for breakfast and whom to invite to their birthday parties. Then my marriage ended and the three of us kind of dove back in toward each other, holding on tight while the world spun out of control, looking for comfort and protection. But that was almost three years ago. This past year my children have both been pulling away from me. (I’m not allowed to touch my son in public, for instance.) Letting go has been harder than I ever imagined. I know if I’m doing my job right that’s what is supposed to happen, but it’s not easy. And there’s no “What To Expect” book to help with this phase of child rearing. 

When my kids say they’ll handle the Father’s Day cards, and that they will decide what gifts to make or buy, my first instinct is to protest, to supervise the card-making and gift-creation. It’s not only on Father’s Day that I do this – it’s everyday.  I realize on some level I want my ex-husband to see me as competent,  efficient and organized, still the one who, of course, has the cards made and gifts wrapped, who – despite divorce and its generally sad, angry fallout – can still get her kids to make their father a popsicle-stick pencil holder.

But the truth is, we’ve changed, all of us, and not just from divorce (or lots of yoga) but from the sheer force of time passing, of soul-searching, of children moving from tweens to teens. 

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So this year, I’m not having a Father’s Day card-making session at the dining room table just to prove to my kids and my ex-husband how extraordinarily magnanimous I am! Look at me, I’m so healthy! This year I won’t roll out the crayons, paints, colored pencils and glitter glue, I won’t suggest what they should write. 

That day at the mall last week, when I offered to buy the Father’s Day gift, my daughter glanced over at her brother and then put her arm on my shoulder. “Mom,” she said, with an infuriating hint of adolescent condescension, “We got it.” 

I started to object, then stopped.

“Okay,” I said tentatively, looking at both of them. “You got it.”

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On May 15, 2012, Kensy Vaquez, left, Morgan Taylor, center, and Tyasia Spencer, walk under a bridge formed by parents at the close of a Stafford County Head Start graduation ceremony in Stafford County, Va. The bridging ceremony is an age-appropriate ritual for kids graduating from preschool and kindergarten. (Peter Cihelka/The Free Lance-Star/AP)

Pre-school graduation: Sad symptom of accelerated childhood

By Guest blogger / 06.05.12

When Frederick Froebel invented kindergarten, in early 1800s Germany, he pioneered the idea of early childhood education — of reaching children during a period of dramatic brain development and introducing a holistic style of learning through play, music, movement, paperfolding and games. He recognized that children learn differently from one another (the precursor to Multiple Intelligence theory), and that one child may learn best by sorting objects, another by talking with peers, and another through sensory experiences like physical movement and touch. He influenced Maria MontessoriRudolf Steiner (whose work led to Waldorf Schools), and the Reggio Emilia approach to education, all of which are popular and well regarded today.

Kindergarten, as recently as many of our own childhoods, was a laboratory of discovery and social skills, as well as the preparation for grade school.

Fast-forward 150-plus years since Froebel and we arrive at a time in which online parent message boards are crammed with questions from anxious parents: “Is my child ready for kindergarten?” There are scores of kindergarten readiness tests and commercial kits, which denote and teach precise skills one should know before starting kindergarten, such as the ability to count from 1-10, identify colors, cut with scissors, create rhyming sounds, and skip. (The last includes the especially ridiculous coda that  preschool children around the country are being taught to skip, in order to prepare them for kindergarten. Sadly, many children do not have enough outdoor play and free time to develop this skill on their own and are now taught it, not as a joyous life skill, but as part of the readiness curriculum.)

Of course, if a child is not ready for today’s kindergarten, by all means, have the child wait a year. My issue is with the sped-up nature of education. The rush toward school and academic curriculum robs many children of the age-appropriate experience of learning through play, discovery and activity. Given the fact that early childhood has accelerated to the degree that my kindergarten has become my daughter’s pre-K, is it any wonder that the ritual of graduation has also trickled down, from high school and college to pre-school?

I don’t believe I had a preschool or kindergarten graduation. I remember a ritual of autograph books when moving from elementary school to middle. I’m pretty sure there was no middle school graduation either. High school graduation was exceedingly special. I wore a mortarboard cap and gown and screamed with excitement in the school quad, and I actually got to attend a Grad Night at Disneyland that ended at dawn.

Perhaps, then, a blend of personal history and a feeling that childhood has dramatically accelerated leads me to think that elaborate preschool graduations that imitate high school and college graduations are silly (not to mention possibly expensive). Don’t get me wrong: I think it’s wonderful, and even helpful, to have an age-appropriate ritual for young children to help them note the fact of their moving on and perhaps address some conscious or subconscious grief and fear. The trappings of diplomas and caps and gowns do none of those things, however, and are another example of a culture that views children as miniature adults (when convenient). Fortunately, there are some simple rituals that might have more meaning for a child and help them ease and celebrate their transition.

This is a ritual that Anna did at her preschool to mark summer and winter solstices. It can be altered to mark a graduation. Have children stand in a circle and hold hands. An adult leader can then lead children to walk around the circle, or can break free and lead them in a spiral to form smaller circles. The children chant:

We circle around,
We circle around,
We circle around the universe,
Wearing our long tail feathers
As we fly.

I find this a gentle ritual that is symbolic of the movement of time and of change. Because small children make the circle with their bodies, I believe that act has more meaning for them than receiving a piece of paper (that many can’t even read).

Another ritual can be taken from Girl Scouts: The bridging ceremony is typically done when scouts “bridge” from one age-group level to another. They symbolize their passage by walking over a bridge (footbridges work well), under an archway, through a path or over stepping stones. Symbolic bridges can also be created with rows of ribbons, chalk or flowerpots on a lawn or in a driveway. Archways can be created with people’s arms. Sometimes older children greet the ones who bridge over. Bridging is a simple, lovely and meaningful ceremony.

What do you think of formal graduations from preschool? Do you have a favorite alternative?

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 Sachs Lipman blogs at Slow Family Online.

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Disney plans to junk the junk food ads on children's programming. Michelle Obama endorses the move. Here, potato chips cook in a bath of oil in a Hyannis, Mass. factory. (Melanie Stetson Freeman/Staff/File)

Disney: No more junk food ads for kids; and Mrs. Obama backs it

By Correspondent / 06.05.12

No more Cheetos for Cinderella.

Walt Disney Chairman and CEO Robert Iger says he is planning to announce later today that by 2015 his company will advertise only healthy (or at least healthier) foods on its kids-focused television programming.

That means items such as Kraft Lunchables meals or Capri Sun drinks – existing advertised products – may no longer be promoted on the Disney Channel, Disney XD, Disney Junior, Radio Disney, Disney.com and Saturday morning programming for kids. (Disney owns ABC.)  Also on the outs will be any number of sugary, sweet, nutritionally vapid candies, cereals, and fast food items, although “healthier” versions of these items may still make the cut.

The company will also reduce the amount of sodium by 25 percent in kids' meals served at its theme parks, according to press reports, a move that puts it in line with other public health efforts targeting American sodium consumption.

First Lady Michelle Obama is expected to be on hand for the announcement. Ms. Obama, whose “Let’s Move!” campaign works against childhood obesity, has partnered with Disney’s healthy living efforts in the past, and says she hopes this latest step will be a model for other US companies.

“This new initiative is truly a game changer for the health of our children,” she said in a statement. “With this new initiative, Disney is doing what no major media company has ever done before in the US – and what I hope every company will do going forward.  When it comes to the ads they show and the food they sell, they are asking themselves one simple question: ‘Is this good for our kids?’”

Well, perhaps not just that one simple question.

While he told The New York Times that “companies in a position to help with solutions to childhood obesity should do just that,” Mr. Iger added: “This is not altruistic. This is about smart business.”

Disney markets health food for children, and says consumers have purchased billions of servings of its fruits and vegetables.

But so it goes. Better than Disney fries, right?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, obesity affects 17 percent of all children and adolescents in the country – triple the rate of a generation ago. Most of the CDC's recommendations for helping the problem revolve around access to either better food or more activity.

Many children’s health advocates, though, say advertising is also a big problem. Companies have long targeted poor nutrition products at children. 

In 2005, nine out of 10 advertisements shown during Saturday morning children’s television programming were for unhealthy foods, according to a Center for Science in the Public Interest survey, and 74 percent of these ads used cartoon characters to sell the products.  (One hundred percent of the cereal ads also pushed their products as part of a “complete” or “balanced” breakfast, the group found.)

And it’s not just cartoons. The Campaign for a Commercial Free Childhood, for instance, is petitioning PBS to end a collaboration between the children's show “Martha Speaks” and fast food purveyor Chick-fil-A. The group noted that in 2011 some 56 million Chick-fil-A Kid’s Meals were distributed in “Martha Speaks" co-branded bags.

“PBS deserves a ton of awards,” the group says. “But not for selling kids on fast food.”

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Facebook might lower age restrictions, allowing under 13 children to have their own pages, according to the Wall Street Journal. (AP)

Facebook lowering age restriction? Will your toddler friend you?

By Correspondent / 06.04.12

Ah, Facebook. There are always fun news tidbits for parents swirling around the massive social media site.  Cyber bullying, drunken party pictures, prom dress “dibs” ... you name it.  

Now, we hear, parents of younger kids can start to get worried, too.  (Or excited, if you fall in the “social networking is good for children” camp.  Which we respect, also.)

The Wall Street Journal reported today that Facebook may do away with its (poorly enforced) age restrictions, allowing users to be less than 13 years old. 

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With parental consent, of course.

According to sources at the social networking site, the Journal reported, Facebook is exploring technology that would connect younger children’s profiles to their parents’ accounts, allowing mom and dad to control Junior’s applications and to approve (or reject) his “friends.”

It would also let Junior buy games and other services and link those charges back to his parent’s account. 

Awesome.

Clearly the social good in mind there.

Anyhow, a lot of people who study social media say this expanded access is a smart move. A 2011 Consumer Reports study found that 7.5 million people younger than 13 already use Facebook, and often with parental knowledge. It would be far easier to apply proper privacy settings if Facebook knew its users’ true ages.

And for better or worse, many technology-watchers say, people today communicate over Facebook. That’s true for adults, teens, and, increasingly, younger children. Rather than bury one's head in the sand, they say, it's better to embrace the reality and encourage safe online communication.

But there are others who worry that Facebook is simply trying to expand its marketing audience and that this will open yet another avenue of unregulated electronic advertising to kids. 

"With the growing concerns and pressure around Facebook's business model, the company appears to be doing whatever it takes to identify new revenue streams and short-term corporate profits to impress spooked shareholders," said the CEO of advocacy group Common Sense Media, James Steyer, in a statement.

"But here's the most important issue: There is absolutely no proof of any meaningful social or educational value of Facebook for children under 13. Indeed, there are very legitimate concerns about privacy as well as the impact on the social, emotional and cognitive development of children. What Facebook is proposing is similar to the strategies used by Big Tobacco in appealing to young people – try to hook kids early, build your brand, and you have a customer for life.

"What's next? Facebook for toddlers?"

Indeed, why wouldn’t there be?  There is an explosion iPhone and iPad aps for toddlers, why not a profile page, as well? 

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I can see it now. 

 Status update: Mom tried to get me to nap. LOL!!!

I wonder whether my one-year-old would friend me. 

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Breastfeeding moms largely don't fulfill their goals of nursing the their infants for at least three months, a new study shows. Camie Goldhammer, chairman of the Native American Breastfeeding Coalition, with her daughter Johanna, 6 months, testifiied in April before the Seattle City Council which was weighing whether to specifically make it illegal in the city to ask nursing moms to stop, cover up, or move to a different location. (AP)

Breastfeeding goals: Over half of new moms miss the mark

By Correspondent / 06.04.12

This in from the American Academy of Pediatrics:  Although the vast majority (85 percent) of new moms say they intend to breastfeed their babies for at least three months, two thirds of them (or half of all moms) fail to meet their goals. A full 15 percent of these breastfeeding-intentioned moms stop nursing before they even leave the hospital.

The stats are part of an article in today’s “Pediatrics,” the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and are based on monthly questionnaires completed by thousands of moms between 2005 and 2007 as part of a joint Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Food and Drug Administration study. 

While there are a number of trends that one can sift out of the data – mothers who were married were more likely to achieve their exclusive breastfeeding intentions while moms who were obese or smoked were less likely to do so – some of the biggest indicators of breastfeeding success were connected to what happened at the hospital.

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New moms who began breastfeeding within an hour of giving birth and those whose babies were not given supplemental feedings or pacifiers were a lot more likely to achieve their breastfeeding goals.

Which takes us back to what breastfeeding proponents see as a really big problem in the United States: a hospital and commercial system that is set up to hinder, rather than help, nursing.

Despite a lot of hype about women breastfeeding (hello, Time Magazine), the US lags well behind other developed countries (and a lot of undeveloped ones, too) when it comes to nursing. It ranks last on a recent Save the Children “breastfeeding policy scorecard,” with only 35 percent of moms exclusively breastfeeding at three months. 
 
And although there’s a lot of talk in the medical world about the benefits of breastfeeding – the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends six months of exclusive nursing – there’s also a lot of contradictory behavior. 

That Save the Children report on global motherhood, for instance, found that only 2 percent of American hospitals are “baby friendly.”  The “Baby-Friendly Hospital Initiative” was launched in 1991 by UNICEF and the World Health Organization, and designates a hospital as “baby friendly” if it does not accept free or low-cost breast milk substitute and has implemented a number of breastfeeding support measures, such as having lactation consultants on staff and encouraging moms to nurse their babies soon after giving birth.

In a lot of ways, these seem that they’d be pretty basic steps. According to the all the information about breastfeeding out there, it’s clear that nursing soon after birth – preferably with the help of someone who knows how the whole thing works (not as obvious as you might think, I tell you) – is hugely important to establish a successful breastfeeding relationship. So is avoiding formula. 

But that’s not the way it often works in maternity wards.  According to the advocacy group Public Citizen, nearly two-thirds of US hospitals still give out free formula samples to new moms. That goes along with stories that I’ve heard from friends (totally scientific, I assure you) who have come home from giving birth in a hospital with “goodie bags” packed with formula and bottles.  I remember seeing formula pamphlets in a doctor’s office that compared the nutritional component of “milk” unfavorably with the advertised products. (The advertisement noted in tiny print on the back that it was talking about cow’s milk, not breast milk.) 

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The formula onslaught is even worse outside of the hospital, with Enfamil samples showing up on your doorstep after you buy a carseat, and formula coupons printing out at the drug store every time you buy a nursing-related item.

A lot of people in the new mom world talk about the need for breastfeeding mothers to “have support.”  And sure. A supportive partner, a flexible employer – these are important for nursing success. But a lot of women might simply not have these. 

Which brings me to another statistic in the Save the Children report, taken from a University of Michigan study. 

We know that a lot of moms who plan to breastfeed don’t meet their goals. But among low income moms the situation is even worse.  Almost none of them – only 2 percent – nurse according to plan. 

Those are the moms who are least likely to have “support” at home, and more likely to be influenced by the policies at a hospital.

And for this, say breastfeeding proponents, there is no excuse.

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High school graduation lauds the 4.0 students, but most successful people never crossed the stage for awards. An ode to the average student praises their potential. Here, the Joplin (Missouri) High School class of 2012 listens to President Obama, their commencement speaker in May. (AP)

High school graduation: Ode to the average student

By Guest blogger / 06.04.12

Graduation season is here. Soon millions of students will be leaving for college or other pursuits. But I wonder how some of them will be affected by the speeches and awards at their commencement ceremonies?

I, along with other relatives and friends, have listened to hours of speeches and watched dozens of the 4.0s come up to the stage for award after award. As I've watched the faces of those not called, I've wondered what it must be like to be a solid "C" student, or one who struggled to hold on to a "B." Did those "average" students feel that, after all the hoopla for the award winners, their fate of mediocrity was sealed?

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As I sat through one of the longer events, I started composing an address for those "other" kids:

Ladies and gentlemen, distinguished guests, congratulations to the valedictorian and the 4.0s. I wish them well, but this is for the rest of you.

You're not off to Stanford or Harvard. Maybe you're going to community college or state college, or your second or third choice. Or maybe you're going to try something different. Good for you! You are all about to do great things. Ahead of you are opportunities for success that you haven't even imagined yet. Maybe success by worldly standards; maybe success by your own standards.

I have one piece of wisdom to share. Much more of our future than we sometimes realize is a matter of chance, and a lot is what we make of those chances.
You might, for example, get a part-time job with a landscaper, find that you love it, and go on to create beautiful environments that bring joy and pleasure to others. Your college roommate's dad might own a business that gives you a summer job, and you might end up running the company. Or you may find the only class that meets a requirement one semester is "Geography of Water" — and you get hooked and eventually design clean-water systems for developing countries.

One of my favorite sayings is, "God laughs, when man makes plans." I don't mean don't plan. But some of those perfectly planned 4.0 lives may take unexpected turns and so will yours. Be ready to make the best of them. The doodles that always got you in trouble may be the groundwork for a cartoon series, the design for a new building, or might enhance the lessons for your future students.

One of those 4.0s might find a medical cure for cancer. But you might find a cure for loneliness. One day you might comb an old woman's hair into a neat little bun, push her wheelchair to a spot next to her favorite rosebush, and listen as she tells you about her garden.

Whoever you were on Commencement Day, whatever others expected of you – well, that's done. Now you get to reinvent yourself. If you were always the super-neat one, you get to loosen up. If you were the class clown, you get to try being serious.

Treat every class as if it's important. You never can tell. Even if you don't become an astronomer, that astronomy class that filled a requirement may turn out to be valuable. You'll acquire study skills that will help you in the next class. Or some star-filled night you may lie on the grass with your children and teach them about the wonders of this universe.

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Have faith in yourself. Most wonderful, successful people never went to the stage for an award. Many were a lot like you. They kept their minds and hearts open, found a niche, and made the most of it.

So can you. Congratulations.

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.

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Buying a grill for Father's Day, the author thought she would surprise her husband. It turns out that is what he wanted anyway. This grill was a popular Father's Day gift in 2010. (Courtesy of General Electric)

Father’s Day gifts: Mom’s dilemma – to surprise or get a list

By Contributing blogger / 06.04.12

Every year, just after Mother’s Day (and I totally base it on just how much of a fuss was made for me) I start thinking about what to do for my husband for Father’s Day. I’ll be honest and say that I usually come up with some great ideas for gifts but my efforts are always thwarted by him.

Two years ago, I had planned to buy him a nice package at a local barber shop that promises an “exclusive gentleman’s barbering experience.” A straight razor shave, with facial treatment, beard trim (he has a goatee) and a “precision hair cut.” Sounds nice, right? Instead, a few weeks before he said, “I was thinking about getting a thingamabobber (can’t remember what it was now) for my motorcycle…it could be my Father’s Day gift!”

Sigh.

Last year, since I didn’t get to treat him to the “exclusive gentleman’s barbering experience” the year before, I had again planned to get him the gift card/package…sure enough, he had his own idea. “I was wondering if I could get some ice climbing tools as my Father’s Day gift this year.” Fine.

This year, I was walking around the grilling section of Lowe's and saw smokers. Knowing he has always wanted one, I planned to pick one out and surprise him for Father’s Day. I made a mental note and went about my day. I kid you not, later that week, “Hey, I was thinking about picking up a smoker…it can be for Father’s Day!” At least I was on the right track?

Every year before Christmas, my birthday and Mother’s Day, he asks me, “What do you want for (insert holiday here)?” If I have an idea, he usually just tells me to go ahead and buy it/order it. The bottom line is that he wants me to get something I really want, that I wouldn’t normally buy for myself. I feel the same way – so maybe I should try his approach instead?

How do you shop for Father’s Day? Do you let them pick out their own gifts or do you try to surprise them? 

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. Lauren Parker-Gill blogs at Spill the Beans.

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One mother wants the "perfect" nanny to have the most up-to-date expertise on babies. Has caring for children changed drastically in the last few years? In May, nanny Becky Katafiasz and twins Barrett and Alyssa Moretzon, 2, attended story time with Chesapeake Children's Museum founder Debbie Wood in Annapolis, Md. (Matthew Cole/The Annapolis Capital/AP)

Looking for the 'perfect' nanny: Experience or up-to-date 'expertise?'

By Guest blogger / 06.01.12

Our  beloved nanny who worked for us for five years – Joan – recently called to say she’s on the job market again. She’s been working for the family after ours for the past decade, and they’re helping out in her job search, of course, but could we help, too?

With pleasure! I put a notice on a local parenting website: “Our extremely kind, smart, warm, funny, organized nanny seeks new full-time job.” I got a call from a woman who had been tasked by her pregnant daughter-in-law to help out in the nanny search.

Great! I told her how I’d met Joan when I was home on maternity leave and hanging out at the same playground where she took the kids she was babysitting at the time. We became friendly, and I dearly wished she could be my kids’ nanny – that’s how much I liked her. Then, lo and behold, the family she was working for moved away, just as I was getting ready to go back to work. Such serendipity! Joan came to work for us, and I got to be a happy, non-stressed mom going back to my job, because I felt my kids were in such capable hands.

The lady on the phone was listening to all this but finally interrupted: “So you say she hasn’t worked for you for 10 years?”

That’s right.

“Well, then she hasn’t worked with a baby in that long?”

No, I explained. The “new” family she went to work for eventually had three kids. The youngest is 4 or 5, so she worked with a baby about three or four years ago.

“I’m sorry,” said the caller. “This isn’t going to work. My daughter-in-law wants me to find someone with recent baby experience.”

“Well, four years is kind of recent, isn’t it?” I swallowed and tried not to let my voice go shrill. “I guess I should have mentioned that Joan didn’t only help raise my kids, she’s raised four of her own. The youngest is in college now. So it’s not as if babies are something new to–”

The woman apologized again: “I see what you’re saying. Believe me, I understand. But my daughter-in-law made me promise to find someone who is up on the latest baby information. You know, so much has changed in just the past few years. She wants a person who’s up-to-date on all the new things. This is such a crucial time for the baby’s development.”

New things?

If there’s a spanking new version of the Diaper Genie or the car seat (and I’ll bet there is), I’m sure Joan could master it. But is there really a “new” way to raise a baby? Has human evolution taken a sharp turn in the past 36 months? Do nannies and parents really have to be up on the latest studies, products, programs, manias and mantras to do their job “right"? Does that mean anyone who raised her kids before 2012 did it wrong?

The grandma couldn’t hold out anymore. “I completely agree! But there’s no way I can tell her this. I promised I’d look for someone with recent baby experience, and I have to shut my mouth.”

That I understood. It is hard for anyone (especially a mother-in-law) to tell a new parent anything that isn’t in the latest book or magazine. And it is hard for a parenting magazine not to endorse all the new products and programs that grace (and pay for) its pages. And it’s hard for the media not to flog some new, surprising study as the most important stop-whatever-you-were-doing-before thing to do for your kids.

But the latest, greatest thing to do for your kids is also the oldest and boldest: Trust yourself; trust your kid. Babies do not need everything to be perfect. And besides, whatever is “perfect” today may be denounced tomorrow. (Remember when we were supposed to use trans fat-filled margarine instead of butter?)

Thank goodness that our kids are far more resilient – and brilliant – than pop culture tells us they are. Believe it or not, they don’t even need a black-white-and-red heartbeat-playing mobile above the non-drop-side crib.

The grandma apologized again, and we said our goodbyes. Off she went to find the “perfect” nanny. And even though that means Joan is back on the market, it also means she dodged a bully. Er, bullet.

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. Lenore Skenazy blogs at Free-Range Kids.

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The kids may graduate from high school, but the parents may never get over the homework load. Here, Secilya Tomplait, in November 2010 when she was 10, finishes homework at the kitchen table in the family at their home in Edwards, Miss. (Ann Hermes/Staff)

After graduation: Parents still lose sleep over kids’ homework

By Correspondent / 06.01.12

My daughter graduated from high school years ago, but there are still nights when a troubling thought suddenly pops into my mind: Did we finish all the homework?  

It's a lingering reminder of countless family tutorial sessions. At times when the combined assignments seemed particularly massive, an inner voice would call to me and say, "Don't you think we should be getting paid for this? Maybe it’s time for homework helpers to organize and take our grievances to Washington!" That notion always faded away by the next morning, which is fortunate because I would have been a terrible lobbyist.  

Our homework load reached its peak during the first decade of the new millennium, and I know my feelings were shared by many other families because the subject popped into the mainstream media a few times.

I still have a copy of Newsweek from January 2001 with a headline proclaiming, “The Parent Trap:  Is Juggling Your Kids’ Sports, Music, Homework, Etc. Burning You Out?”  My household did not experience burnout but we definitely burned a lot of midnight oil. 

From fifth grade all the way through 12th, I estimate both parental units spent several hundred hours each school year providing academic assistance to our student. My wife devoted considerable time to helping with Spanish, and I focused mostly on algebra. Having scored 670 on the math SAT back in the olden days, my confidence level started out high and quickly declined.  Whatever mathematical talent I possessed as a teenager had mostly vanished.

But all of us pressed on, and I like to believe that if we ever visit Spain, my wife can order our meals in restaurants and I will interpret the bill if it’s presented in scientific notation.

At one point during my battle with math I came to a dead end. It may have involved synthetic division of polynomials but I can’t recall precisely. Determined to regain some of my algebraic skills in order to provide reliable guidance, I went to the teacher and she let me attend her next after-school review session.  When I signed in at the office and asked the secretary if other parents had ever come in for similar reasons she said, “You’re the first one I know about.”

Is there any way to measure how much homework kids are doing?  

Perhaps some educational foundation can establish a national repository where all completed assignments from every school in the country could be archived and the total mass compared year by year.  The logistics would be tricky, and the building itself would need to be about 500 times larger than the Pentagon. One fact I can state with certainty is that parental caustic comments about homework have been part of American culture for at least 60 years.  

I know this because recently I was leafing through a book that belonged to my parents and a clipping from the Los Angeles Times fell out. It’s a one-panel cartoon called "The Neighbors," by George Clark and shows a dad sitting at a table helping his son, who is writing in a notebook. Papers are lying on the floor.   Mom is in a nearby chair, and the dad looks annoyed as he speaks in her direction. The caption says, “I wonder how I was spending my time when they were teaching this stuff to the rest of my class.” 

The clipping is dated Friday, Dec. 4, 1953.  So the déjà vu I experienced, that sensation of going back through various grade levels as an adult, is not a new phenomenon. 

The coping technique that worked best for me is fairly simple:

A) Try not to get angry (most of the time, anyway).

B) Don’t take it personally when you come up with an incorrect answer.  

C) Accept the fact that in the Classroom Of Real Life Parenting, helping your kids with homework will probably always be included in the curriculum.

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When addressing children's aggressive playtime behavior, parents must first connect with their child's feelings before they look at specific actions and reactions. In April, five-year-old Emma Knutter pushed Leonard Strobe, also 5, on a merry go round at Penguin Park on in Kansas City, Mo. (Jim Barcus/The Kansas City Star/AP)

Connect with kids' feelings first, then change aggressive behavior

By / 06.01.12

Q. My daughter turns five next month. I would describe her as an intense, spirited child. We attend a playtime twice a month with kids from birth to five years old. When we are around toddlers, my daughter often responds to them with pushing or hitting. Typically when another child has taken something from her. I wouldn't describe her as aggressive - just that she doesn't know how else to handle it. When we've talked about it, she says they don't respond to her words -- like if another child takes a toy she has and she asks for it back.

Recently the playtime facilitator approached me and said a couple of other parents were concerned about their children's safety around my child. If pushing or hitting occurs, the facilitator wants me to say, "That is not acceptable. We need to leave." The facilitator also recommended time-outs, which I don't like because they escalate her emotions and don't give my daughter a chance to try another approach.

Here is what I have been doing...
 
I have been trying to get her to say what happened or why she is upset, acknowledge if her behavior was inappropriate, brainstorm what she could have done differently, and help her figure out how to help the other child. For instance, "Pushing is not acceptable. What else could you have done to get your chair back when that boy sat in it?" She will eventually solve it. She can be intensely emotional with outbursts that include yelling, stomping or hitting herself. So I have been trying to help her learn to identify her feelings and how to calm down. My goal is to get her to calm down enough to figure out how to handle it differently whether that takes 20 seconds or 20 minutes. I do this by getting her to talk about what happened, take deep breaths or offer her a hug. I feel like this is working - she rarely hits herself anymore, the over-the-top outbursts are fewer and she calms down quicker.
 
My question is -- by not punishing her for the pushing or hitting or by giving her attention through it all, am I inadvertently reinforcing the behavior?
 
A. No, you are not reinforcing the behavior. Punishing her in any way WOULD be reinforcing the behavior. I think you are doing well and be sure you are validating how she feels. Instead of going right to the inappropriate behavior or asking her why she is upset, first name her feelings and let her know she is normal for having them. Try something like, "That must feel very unfair to you. You left your chair expecting to go back to it, and there was someone else in it." This is a comforting statement. So you connect. Connection to the feelings is the most important step and the foundation of any behavior correction. Perhaps in this case, just acknowledge how unfair it must feel (this way she comes to you with her feelings, instead of acting them out on whoever) before asking her what else she could do.

When she goes up to another child and hits or shoves, pick her up, take her to another room or outside, and very neutrally go through the same process. After her feelings are acknowledged, you can add, "I know you know it's not okay to hit. What else do you think you could do?" Then ask her if she's ready to go back in or leave. She gets the message that hitting is not the way but that she is not bad for wanting what she wants. When you sense that her intensity is building, I think it would be more helpful to her to say, "We need to go now." Then do all your work with her when you are home and she is calm. Nothing effective can be accomplished in the middle of a meltdown. Some of her intense reactions might be compounded by her embarrassment that she can't get it together in front of all the other children.

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.

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