Category Archives: Parenting

Becoming a Disco Ball: (Yeah, That’s My Kid)

disco ball costumeThe big excitement around here with my children and their friends is “What are you going to be for Halloween?” This is an important question. After all, there is the school parade, the town fall festival (and parade), the church’s Trunk or Treat event (and parade), and the annual “get candy from your neighbors” ritual (with spontaneous rush-to-the-next-house parade). I count at least five chances to dress up for Halloween, and we aren’t even talking about any private Halloween parties.

The choice of costume is a big deal. While hoards of Disney princesses, pirates, cheerleaders, zombies, zombie cheerleaders, and a superhero or two will descend upon our town in October, this group will also include a disco ball. Yup, my kid wants to be a disco ball.

I’m cool with that.

It is going to take a lot more work on my part, this disco ball thing, and my initial reaction as I gazed longingly at the vinyl and fabric ready-made costumes on the rack was, “Wouldn’t you want to be Jack Sparrow instead?” But, I swallowed that thought and that comment, and put it away fast, because I am secretly proud of my child. He is showing his independent spirit.

The youngest of three, Henry has always been one to go with the crowd, padding along behind his brother and sister, sometimes stepping painfully on their shadows, sometimes getting the benefits of an ice cream half finished, or a fuzzy Buzz Lightyear shirt that has been washed a hundred times into softness. More often, though, this easy-going child gets dragged about where everyone else wants to go, sometimes literally and with a sigh.

So, if my guy decides to exert his independence as something involving mirrors and spray paint, something most of his peers have never heard of, something that may well be a literal chance to shine? Yeah, this mama is going to make it happen.

Because, I think we have to look for these moments. The ones where our kids don’t go along with the crowd, where they are thinking out of the box. There are those little creative moments, when a toddler puts his underwear on his head because it is different, or a second-grader decides to dress herself in something resembling Rainbow Bright, because they have the freedom of trying it out, of anticipating the reaction with joy. When those moments happen, we adults better not disappoint them.

Will encouraging one lone disco ball in a sea of cartoon characters mean that I will never have to worry about Henry making the wrong choices due to peer pressure? Of course not, but I hope that by encouraging his independent, slightly quirky choices, he will feel confident in his creativity, his instinct, his internal compass of who he is and what he will or will not do; how he can choose to live his life.

We have to give them those moments to be reflective. We have to let them shine, even if that means in the guise of a disco ball.

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Is There Such a Thing as Too Modest?

modest girls clothingI just returned from an outgrown clothing sale at a local church. My good friend, Amy and I, along with my littlest boy had a good time hunting for bargains. I think we moms both made out well, especially for our girls, but even at this church-sponsored event, there was quite a bit of immodest or inappropriate clothing, I thought.

When did our little girls go from pretty dresses in pastel colors to belly shirts of dark purple and black or from rolled up jean shorts to booty shorts with attention-getting sayings on the behind? When did the boys start wearing T-shirts with leering and suggestive writing on them? I know it is an old rant.

Sorting through some girls dresses, I narrowed down my selections and decided to put two dresses back. They were pretty dresses, one a white eyelet and the other with pink ribbons sewn at the hem. As I passed one of the tables on my way to return the dresses to their rack, I stopped to offer the dresses to two moms who were sorting through girls clothing of the same size. We had chatted earlier for a bit about our daughters. “Oh, no,” the one mom replied. “My daughter is too old for those styles.” Her little girl is eight. The other mom just shrugged and went back to sorting.

Later, while I was sorting through some boys jeans and chatting with some other moms that were browsing through the same sizes, I examined and put back one pair of jeans. It had a number of strategically placed holes, and I thought they were immodest. “I can’t believe someone would sell something like this,” I muttered when I should have been quiet. The lady next to me snatched up the jeans and proceeded to tell me that this was the style, and I must not have any style. She talked about how she used to work in the fashion industry and knows these things. “I think you are right, I muttered,” and then made my excuses to move on. I don’t have much style, admittedly, but…Dejected, I left the piles of clothing with a sense of ickiness.

I promised my little guy that we would look at the toys, and he had been so good through the clothes shopping. As we walked to a different section of the sale, up the stairs and into a different room, it was easy to see the excess out there. That is the topic for a different rant.

Anyway, we made our way over to the toys, and my child selected a small blue teddy bear that he insisted on paying with his own money. Thinking back to the many, many stuffed animals we have at home, I almost said no. I did sort of try to talk him out of it, but I am proud of the fact that I stopped myself. It was one stuffed animal. How could I deny him the chance to embrace and hold on to his childhood, when society will want him to grow up before his time?

So I ask you…am I making too big a deal over the clothing choices that are out there? Am I dooming my kids to always look old-fashioned with longer skirts and plain shirts? Is there such as thing as being too modest?

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Three-Cups a Day

3539053509_f64da7a86d

All three kids home from school for a teacher-in-service day, plus a nasty storm that is keeping us all inside? I think today is a three-cups-of-coffee day.

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Note to the Teacher

Note to the Teacher

Dear Mrs U__,

No, I am not a bad mother. My daughter did not spend the entire summer eating chips. I believe she is talking about our visit to the potato chip factory, one of several fun and educational outings we took as a family during the summer.

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February 8, 2013 · 9:31 am

The Mommy Wars

by Mary Ann Romans

Originally appeared in Parents Express Magazine January 2006

mommy warsHave you heard that working mothers neglect their children, raise children who are overly aggressive thanks to daycare, and contribute to global warming by driving to work when they should be home? Or really, stay-at-home mothers are lazy and uneducated, raise children who are not socialized, and negatively affect the economy by not working?

From television to the Internet, these are just some of the statements that can be heard in our modern society, uttered by self-proclaimed experts and moms alike. Although motherhood is fraught with cliques and camps based on parenting decisions: breast versus bottle, spanking or not, public, private or homeschooling, nothing seems to be more controversial that a mother’s decision to work or not to work. Welcome to the mommy wars.

Feeding the mommy wars

“I think there is a lot of hype [about the mommy wars] in the media, because it is easier for many reporters to report the same old story rather than promote what is good for mothers,” says Miraim Pesokwitz, a mother from Philadelphia who works outside the home, and the author of the best-selling book, The Truth Behind the Mommy Wars, an examination of the topic based on research data and interviews with many mothers. “Instead of wondering why there are so many mothers are struggling with work issues, instead of looking at the reasons behind how hard it is, the media focuses on creating a controversy. It is so hard to get at the real problem and solve the real issues.”

Take for example, the recent Dr Phil show which divided the audience into two warring factions, working and non working mothers. Titled “Mom vs. Mom,” the show’s guests hurled inflammatory statements against each other with encouragement of the host who called it a “cat fight.” Mothers who earn money working at home or working part time were not represented in the episode. The show earned the first ever “Apple Pie in the Face Award” from Mothers and More, a national nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of mothers through support, education and advocacy.

Anjali Enjeti-Sydow, co-leader, Mothers & More of Delaware County, Pa, also believes that media hype about the mommy wars is intended to divide mothers. “The media, in my opinion, has to shock, anger, or divide in order to attract attention. Motherhood has become a prime target recently.” Although Enjeti-Sydow has been a working mother, currently she does not work outside the home. When it comes to mothers being pitted against each other, she says, “It doesn’t help that every few minutes the media flashes a study that concludes that the way mothers currently do X, will negatively affect their children for the rest of their lives!”

Jen Singer, is an “at-home” from New Jersey. She is also the creator of http://www.MommaSaid.net, a website for stay at home mothers and the author of “14 Hours ‘Til Bedtime,” a humorous look at the life of a stay at home mom. She says, “The media hype is just that: hype. When mothers fight, it makes for good TV, and print and radio. When you get down to the grassroots level, you’ll find that all mothers are darn busy.”

What moms are really saying

“The only places where I have seen true “Mommy Wars” — battles between two factions of women – ‘working moms’ vs ‘stay at home moms,’ with each side flinging judgmental statements at one another, are forums which initiate and foster such ridiculous cat fights – internet message boards, and talk shows,” says Enjeti-Sydow.

“However, there are, and will always be, mothers who judge one another for their choices. I believe that the root of all mother judgment is the lack of support that women receive as mothers, particularly new mothers,” Enjeti-Sydow says. If mothers had supportive social systems, whether that be family, friends, moms groups, understanding employers, and/or excellent child care, mothers would feel confident and secure in their decisions regarding their families, and would not feel the need to judge others.”

“I don’t think that the Mommy Wars are as black and white as the media make them out to be,” Singer says. “While I’ve certainly heard criticism of working moms by at-home moms (and vice versa), I think most mothers these days are struggling to find a balance of work and home — and they’re helping each other find it. In my neighborhood, many mothers consider themselves at- home moms, but work part-time. We often cover for each other, watching each other’s kids or carpooling to let one another get to work.”

Singer comments on her experience with the mommy wars. “A mother once said to me, ‘I wish I could stay home and do nothing all day.’ Yeah? Me, too. Some working mothers assume that we at-home moms sit around and watch Oprah and get our nails done all day. But we’re volunteering in the schools and more. Conversely, I’ve heard at-home moms criticize working moms for not being at school for various events. I think these kinds of comments feed from our own insecurities. Maybe in some ways, we’re jealous of the perks of each other’s situation. I know I would have loved to have a lunch hour when my kids were little and I was home with them 14 hours a day. And I’m sure many working moms would love to have lunch with their kids.”

“Women in general judge each other very harshly,” Peskowitz says. “Mothers tend to be defensive about their choices; we feel vulnerable. We often blame each other because it is harder to figure out how to make those changes and make a difference for mothers.” Peskowitz says that the real issue for mothers is changing society to improve the lives of mothers and offer them positive choices.

The real issue: employers

The real issue, Pesokwitz says, is getting employers to accommodate mothers and recognize their value. “I think we are in danger of losing a whole cohort of women,” she says. “Women who are highly educated. As a nation, we are losing them. We are losing all of this knowledge, skill and creativity, because our family policies are short-sighted.

“How do employers treat caregivers? What are our traditions for paying women? I don’t think anyone wants to solve these issues,” Pesokwitz says. “There is maternal wall discrimination.” Pesokwitz says there is a wage gap wherein mothers tend to make 15 percent less than childless women, or 40 percent less than men regardless of male parental status. “There is also a general discrimination,” Peskowitz says. “mothers are seen as less competent and are passed over for less interesting work.” Those who choose to work part-time, according to Peskowitz, are given an even lower status with a depressed wage and no benefits. “All of these things wear on mothers and they wind up quitting or being squeezed out,” she says.

“I think employers have failed to accommodate the needs of mothers and fathers, and that as a result, mothers, who are more often than not the primary caregiver, feel that they must leave the work force completely,” Enjeti-Sydow says. “I was surprised that my supervisor automatically assumed that I wasn’t capable of doing the same type of work, or the same type of workload, as I did before I had children.”

“The mommy wars make it out to seem that most mothers have a choice when they don’t,” Singer says. “For many at-home moms, they’ve made drastic changes to their lifestyles in order to be home with the kids. Meanwhile, they’re putting themselves at risk by not working in an age when the divorce rate hovers at 50 percent. It’s not an easy decision to stay home with your kids.”

“People don’t realize the economic effects of a mother’s decisions,” Peskowitz says. “We talk about it as lifestyle, but we rarely link it to the economics. It can be really hard to find an onramp [back into work] when you are ready.”

What we can do

“One thing we can do to solve this is to stop judging each other and ourselves,” Peskowitz says. “Be more empathetic,” Peskowitz advises. “We tend to divide from each other. Banding together to make a change is a good step. We tend to think of motherhood as a solitary issue, but to the extent in which we can talk together and act together, well that will help all of us.”

“Peskowitz says it is important to raise these work-related issue to the public, such as writing a letter to the editor of a newspaper. “We need to make more of a fuss,” she says. “We’re letting [society] get away with old fashioned discrimination.”

Enjeti-Sydow says, “Women can support each other, for one. Women can demand what they need from those in charge. And women can act on their anger, instead of suppress it, by becoming activists in their local communities.”

Singer adds, “Have you ever wondered why there are no Father Wars? Because they don’t need each other as much as mothers do. They have wives to back them up. We have each other.”

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Work at Home Mom

Work at Home Mom

To keep a little one occupied while you work, set up a small desk in your office. Keep your child busy creating his or her own office space. A small piece of card stock can be folded in half to create a name plate, a tin can covered in white paper can be turned into a decorated pencil holder, business cards can be designed, etc. Your child will feel important, and you can get your work done!

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January 30, 2013 · 10:21 am

How to Deal with Your Children’s Fears

This post originally appeared on eFoods Direct

How to Deal with Your Children’s Fears

by Mary Ann Romans

From the state of the economy to the Mayan calendar, from zombies in popular culture to deadly diseases, our children get exposed to a lot of negativity and hysteria. Here is how to quell the fears and leave your children confident and prepared.

Understand the Fears

Children, especially young children, view the world very differently and often with limited understanding. That is why it is so important to take the time to discuss and understand any fears that your children might have.

For example, after hearing about the US heading toward the fiscal cliff, a young child may envision the entire country or world physically falling off an actual cliff. Pretty scary.

For children with limited verbal ability, ask them to draw what they are afraid of. Make sure you are in a well-lit room and you stay by their side as they do this. Not only will a discussion or drawing help you understand the fears, but it can also be cathartic to the child.

Strongly Remind and Reassure Them

Explain to your children that it is your job to take care of them and protect them, and that you will do everything in your power to keep them safe no matter what. Most children need to be reminded of this at least once in a while. Explain that you are taking steps to make sure that their fears never come true. Obviously, this will depend on the particular fears, but a general statement should reassure them now and in the future.

Address fears of the fictitious with sensitivity. Even though you know the walking dead don’t exist, your children may be firmly convinced otherwise.

Empower Them

My youngest son read a book in school about the polar ice caps melting and the polar bears dying. An animal lover practically from birth, this greatly upset him, and he feared that there will be no more polar bears left. In this case, we talked about energy conservation. He now is in charge of shutting off unused lights, reminding his siblings not to leave the water running, and thinking about ways to reduce energy usage in our home.

Other ways to empower a child might be to let them help you with food storage and preparation or other prepping tasks. For an older child, learning a new skill, such as animal husbandry or carpentry may make them feel empowered to tackle anything.

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Overwhelmed with Goodie Bags

goodie bag

This article originally appeared in the Minimal Mom column in Western New York Family Magazine.

After a sometimes frustrating but ultimately positive week of de-cluttering several areas of our home, including the play room, one of my three kids came home with yet another goodie bag. That makes seven goodie bags in the past week so far. School, church and other activities are all wrapping up for the summer, and apparently each seasonal good-bye requires not only a party, but a goodie bag as well.

These goodie bags are filled with a number of small toys and things that will either break within a week, get lost under the couch or wind up crushed underfoot in the car. We have enough rubber bracelets, bouncy balls, plastic rings, sticky creatures, fancy erasers, pencils, trading cards, noisemakers and stickers to fill a typically large grocery store vending machine or a piñata made in the image of Paul Bunyan.

The little gifts are appreciated by my kids for maybe an hour or two before turning into clutter. In spite of this, once a goodie bag item is given to a child it is owned by that child, who swears heartbreak, if I even suggest that the plastic spinning top with the sharp edge gets tossed.

How on earth did we parents get into this madness? Why is it that every event requires a bag full of colorful junk that costs a small fortune?

Someone I know well, who AHEM shall remain nameless, considered moving out of the neighborhood after she dared to throw a birthday party for her daughter that did not include goodie bags. After several guests asked where the goodie bags were, she caved and sent her husband out to the store to scour the aisles for something appropriate. He came back with some plastic clothes pins and leftover Fourth of July decorations. clutter

Sigh. Poor guy was raised during a time when there was no bling at birthday parties. Cake and ice cream maybe, but no bling.

I worry that these goodie bags are reinforcing the message to our children, from a young age, that they cannot be happy unless their personal spaces contain a large quantity of stuff.

So how do we get out from under all of this goodie bag clutter and teach our children to go against the cultural message of more is best? It is really up to us, the parents, to stop this clutter and commercialism from overwhelming our homes and our kids. Here are some options:

  • Instead of handing out goodie bags, choose gift cards that can be redeemed for experiences, such as an ice cream cone at the local shop, or a game of laser tag or mini golf. As a bonus, you’ll probably wind up spending less money overall. A single game of mini golf costs approximately $2. A goodie bag averages $8-15.
  • Get the goodie bag stuff out of your home. Donate the better quality items. Consider Samaritan’s Purse or another organization that collects shoeboxes filled with toys and clothing to distribute to poor children around the world. I’ve found that my kids are much more likely to part with something if they picture another child loving it. It is an important lesson for them to learn. Those who have too much should bless those who have too few.
  • Petition your home and school association, church and other organizations to skip or replace the goodie bags with something more meaningful, such as a mini yearbook of photos or a personal letter from a teacher. When you child is a teenager or young adult, which items will be the most valuable? Which should be?
  • You serve as a model to your children. Consider thinking twice before loading up on samples and freebies whenever you can, just because they are free? Do you have a purse full of lipsticks or a desk full of the latest gadgets? These are your own versions of goodie bags. Ask yourself if they really add significant value to your life.

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The Changing Face of Learning Disabilities

This post has appeared in MetroKids Magazine and Pediatrics for Parents.

by Mary Ann Carrado Romans

The Changing Face of Learning Disabilities

learning difficultiesLast year, when Sahara Peti of Delaware County, PA was looking forward to kindergarten last year. Her big sister attended school, and Sahara couldn’t wait to do homework and read. “We didn’t think she would have any problems at all,” her mother, Sarah Peti says. “She loves stories, and I read to her every night.”

Enrolled in a school that stressed academics, Sahara started to struggle. “She would complain that school was too hard and bring her class work home for me to sign,” Peti says. “Her ‘esses’ were all backward, which I thought was typical of a five year old and kind of cute.” While Sahara’s beginning printing might have been cute, the notes from the teacher that soon followed weren’t. During a parent-teacher conference, Peti learned the truth: Sahara was showing all of the signs of a learning disability.

What are Learning Disabilities?
According to the Learning Disabilities Association of America (LDA), learning disabilities are neurologically-based processing problems that can interfere with learning basic skills, such as reading and math. Other higher skills, such as the ability to organize thoughts and think in the abstract, can also be affected. In other words, the brain has trouble processing information, and that trouble can lead to difficulty in learning.

There are four areas, or types, of processing that can be affected in a learning disability:
1. Input: Difficulties in processing information received through the eyes and ears. A child could have a hard time recognizing the subtle differences in letter or word sounds, or shapes, such as letters. He might reverse letters and numbers, skip or read the same words over and over, or even misjudge distances and bump into things.

2. Integration: Difficulties in making sense of information. A child could have difficulty putting things in order, such as the alphabet, the months of the year, or the times table. She might have trouble understanding that the same word has different meanings in different situations. He also may have trouble organizing everything, from thoughts to his room.

3. Memory: Difficulties in remembering information. A child could have trouble understanding a sentence because the brain can’t hold all of the individual pieces of information and blend them together for a full meaning. She could also have trouble with short-term and long-term memory, making test taking difficult.

4. Output: Difficulties in getting information communicated whether through language or motor skills. A child might struggle to organize his thoughts in order to respond correctly to a question. She might have trouble with fine motor skills, such as cutting, writing, buttoning or tying her shoes.

What has Changed?
Even in just the past year, we know so much more about learning disabilities and how the brain learns. Continuing research strives for a better understanding of the ways in which children like Sahara learn, and new teaching techniques based on this research have been successful.

In the past, the lack of understanding about learning disabilities was staggering. A diagnosis may have left parents baffled, wondering where it came from and how to “treat” it. Many parents never sought a diagnosis or treatment at all, embarrassed by the stigma attached to the “learning difficulties” term. A study by Roper Starch Worldwide for the Emily Tremaine Foundation, conducted in March of 2000, revealed that two-thirds of Americans linked learning disabilities with mental retardation, despite the fact that most people affected by a learning disability are of average or above-average intelligence.

Paul Yellin, MD, FAAP, the National Director of the Student Success Program for All Kinds of Minds, a non-profit devoted to research and education concerning learning difficulties, wants to change that. However, the term he prefers is “learning differences,” a key point in the new thinking.

“‘Learning Difficulties’ made it sound like all of these things they couldn’t do,” Dr. Yellin says. “A label of ‘disability’ can affect the self-esteem. But, kids that struggle can be very successful.” He adds that many parents are reluctant to seek assistance for their children because of the stigma. “When people surveyed parents, 44 percent had con-cerns about their children, but many don’t seek help. They worry [the diagnosis of a learning disability] would have a negative impact.”

Dr. Yellin prefers to look beyond traditional methods of teaching and educational standards. “In normal human development, there is a wide range of learning,” he says. “For example, we know that adolescents have difficulties with some elements of abstract thought.” He says having a different way of learning can be normal and expected. “People have different experiences as they grow up, and so there are differences in how they learn.”

“There are a lot of kids who have normal intelligence but are really struggling in school,” he says. “What we know now is that teachers and parents who do the research can help them develop specific strategies to learn more effectively.”

Dr. Yellin says that the new thinking about learning struggles is that education should be tailored to the student. “School used to be like a shoe store that only sells size nine,” he says. “There hadn’t been a lot of focus on how the brain develops.” New research con-tinues to be promising. According to Dr. Yellin, the way children learn appears to be a collaboration of what they’ve inherited and what they’ve experienced. “It is a complex interaction, but we are learning more and more about how valuable this interaction is. There is a tremendous opportunity as we learn about the brain, and there is more and more reason to be optimistic,” he says.

How Parents Can Help
“There is a lot parents can do to help kids be successful no matter how they learn, regardless of how they started out,” Dr. Yellin says. “One of the most powerful predictors of success [for children] is having an adult that believes in them, supports them, has high expectations of them and accepts them for who they are.”

Judy Winter, an award-winning writer and author of Breakthrough Parenting for Children with Special Needs: Raising the Bar of Expectations, agrees. “There is true parenting power in a parent’s unconditional, unwavering love and commitment to their child; I’ve seen the results time and again, including in my own life,” Winter says. “It’s the kind of power that can and does change the lives of children with special needs and the lives of their families.”

Winter says that parents should educate themselves and be prepared to be an advocate for their child. “Parents need to have a solid understanding of their child’s diagnosis, the laws protecting the rights of children with special needs, and their own clear goals for that child,” she says. “And they must believe in the value of that child and their right to a better life. That belief helps fuel more effective parenting advocacy and solid decision making.

“The most important thing that a parens should do if he/she suspects their child of having a disability is to trust their gut instincts and get that child a professional assessment as soon as possible,” Winter says. “Early intervention is a key for a child’s disabilities because the sooner that child receives a correct diagnosis, the sooner the family can seek out the necessary support and important services, including early intervention and special education, services that can help that child achieve greater life success, regardless of the diagnosis.”

As for Sahara Peti? Her mother says she is now enrolled in a program that recognizes her different style of learning. “She is enjoying being at school now and has even begun reading,” Peti says. “The teachers there know that she is just a girl who needs to be taught differently.”

Organizations That Can Help

All Kinds of Minds – http://www.allkindsofminds.org
The Center for Learning Differences –
http://www.centerforlearningdifferences.org
Council of Parent Attorneys and Advocates –
http://www.copaa.org
SchwabLearning.org
http://www.schwablearning.org
Advocate for Children of NY –
http://www.advocatesforchildren.org
Learning Disabilities Association of America –
http://www.ldanatl.org

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January 7, 2013 · 8:06 am

Bigger Than Twilight

writing a book

My six-year-old child has decided that he wants to write a book called H Words with Henry. Good title.

The future holds a guarantee of prequels and sequels, too. There are the remaining 25 letters of the alphabet, of course, and then after that, there are foreign alphabets as well.

Æ words with Ægir has a ring to it. The kid is a genius.

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