In the Parenthood

Avoiding the pitfalls of step parenthood

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse September 16, 2010 02:51 AM

Note to readers: As of Sept. 29, 2010, will be syndicating content for In the Parenthood from my blog, Write. Edit. Repeat. You can find my older In the Parenthood and Child Caring posts (and comments!) here and here; more recent posts are archived at Looking forward to continuing the great parenting discussions there! -- LMA

September 16th is National Stepfamily day, a great opportunity to honor your non-traditional family while acknowledging that parenting in general -- and stepparenting in particular -- is no easy gig.

With as many as 36 million stepmothers in the United States (when adult stepchildren are taken into account), some studies project that 40 percent of all women will be part of some type of blended family (married or not) at some point in their lives. If you're a step parent, it's unrealistic to pretend that your family is identical to a traditional family in every way. But you can still accept it as normal and celebrate what you have.

"Spending time with your stepfamily and fostering meaningful relationships is the best way to honor and celebrate it," says Dr. Rachelle Katz, "The Happy Stepmother" and founder of Steps for Stepmothers online forum. "Setting aside time for fun activities -- or even just mealtime -- with the whole stepfamily will give you the opportunity to celebrate your blended family."

Wednesday Martin, author of "Stepmonster," points out that even calling a stepfamily "blended" sets stepmoms, in particular, up for disappointment. "The metaphor of blending is a unrealistic expectation that makes normal stepfamilies feel like failures," she points out. "And it doesn't describe stepfamily experience accurately." (In an article in today's Globe, I've asked Martin, Katz, and author Joanne Pedro-Carroll what they think is the biggest mistake stepparents make -- and how to fix it. You can read my entire interviews with all three experts here.)


Easing back-to-school transitions -- for you and your child

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse August 26, 2010 04:08 PM

At the end of the summer, almost everyone is facing some sort of transition. Parents have to adjust to juggling work and home and school-related responsibilities; kids may be worried about having homework for the first time (or, at least, for the first time since June). Whether your child is off to kindergarten or off to college, going to a new school or returning to the one she's always gone to, it's important to leave time to cope with the change that back-to-school time brings.

"You spend so much time getting your child ready for school, there's so much excitement, and you?re trying to help your child feel good about the transition," Amy Gold, director of curriculum and instruction at the Rashi School in Dedham and the mother of a second-grader, told me in an interview. "Parents forget what it means for them, that their child is going to school, some of them for the first time."


Is childhood obesity more than a parenting issue?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse July 26, 2010 12:35 PM

Though the majority of weight-loss and anti-obesity initiatives emphasize exercise and healthy eating, a seminar last month at The Children's Museum in Boston made me wonder if childhood obesity is more than just a matter of too much junk food and TV time. Is it -- along with crime, education, and access to medical care -- a social justice issue as well?


The Jessi Slaughter videos: Cyber bullying or parents in denial?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse July 23, 2010 06:19 AM

Last Friday, 11-year-old Jessica Leonhardt of Florida -- who goes by "Jessi Slaughter" and "Kerligirl13" online -- was taken into protective custody for a few days after being harassed when her profanity-laced YouTube video "to the haters" went viral.

"You know what? I don't give a f---. I'm happy with my life," she says in one of the video's tamer moments. "And if you can't realize that and stop hating, I'll pop a Glock in your mouth and make a brain slushy."

It goes on for four more minutes, during which she shows off her new lip piercing ("My mom made me take it out, 'cause I'm getting new ones"), talks about how perfect she is ("Nobody else can be this pretty with no makeup on!"), boasts about her boyfriends ("I have three. Jealousy, much?"), and urges "haters" to perform certain sexual acts and "gets AIDS and die."

The video went viral. Someone posted her real name, address, and phone number online. And then the pranks -- and, according to her parents, threats -- started pouring in.


Car seat safety: Is your child using the right one?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse July 21, 2010 12:23 PM

When I was a kid, my brothers and I used to ride unfettered in the "way back" of the family station wagon. We rarely used seatbelts back in the '70s, let alone cushy car seats with five-point harnesses and cup holders.

We've come a long way since then, thank goodness, and today's parents are quick to make sure that their kids are strapped in before they even start the car.

But the best car seats out there still aren't secure if aren't being used properly and, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, 75 percent of car seats being used today are installed incorrectly. To help answer questions and demonstrate proper installation techniques, AAA and the Dorel Juvenile Group are hosting a car seat safety check in the Target parking lot at the South Bay Plaza in Dorchester (7 Allstate Road) from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Friday, July 23 (yes, that's tomorrow). If you can't make it to the event, you can still benefit from some of the tips Kimberlee Mitchell, National Child Safety Expert and Child Passenger Safety Technician, gave me to share with you.


Summer reading doesn't have to be a chore

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse July 20, 2010 08:42 AM

Reluctant readers are not uncommon. For those who struggle with processing issues, or for those who haven't yet discovered a literary niche that suits them, reading can be a problem rather than a pleasure. For these kids, that summer reading list casts a long shadow.

Nancy Traversy, CEO of Barefoot Books in Concord, has dealt with reading issues with her own four children. She remembers when one of her daughters, now 18, was about 9 and a teacher told her that she was too old for the beautifully illustrated fairy tale book she enjoyed, and should be reading chapter books instead. "She actually hid my book under her bed because she was so embarrassed by it, and she was being forced to read something she didn't really like. She was getting put off reading."

Encouraging kids to read what they love can help foster an interest in reading in general. "If you force a child to read something they don't want to read, then I think that can have long term damage," she says. "Make sure your child loves whatever they read. You can get them to read anything and engage their imaginations."


The stars of "Ramona and Beezus" on family, fun, and facing down fear

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse July 16, 2010 10:10 AM

Ramonabeezus.jpg"Family" is a familiar refrain for actress and pop star Selena Gomez. What little downtime she has, she says, she likes to spend "sitting on the couch, watching movies, eating junk food, just relaxing with friends and family" or reading (current book: Sundays at Tiffany's by James Patterson. "I'm kind of a hopeless romantic when it comes to reading," she says).

When she's nervous or anxious, she turns to her mom for advice. She plays the serious and sweet older sister in her new movie, the supremely family-friendly Ramona and Beezus, (based on the classic novels by Beverly Cleary) which hits theaters on July 23. And she's not ready yet to turn away from the younger fans who still love her as Alex Russo on Disney's The Wizards of Waverley Place. "I'm still just a kid myself," she said in an interview yesterday. "I wouldn’t do a role I don’t feel comfortable doing or that my audience wouldn’t feel comfortable seeing."

Her co-star Joey King isn't worrying about reaching out to an older audience just yet, either. Her 11th birthday is at the end of this month, and she's reveling in the similarities between herself and her character, the pesky kid-sister Ramona. "I have a big imagination like Ramona, and the same personality like Ramona as well," she said over the phone. "And I have sisters, just like Ramona, and I have pets!"


New parents: Would you bring your baby to work with you?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse July 15, 2010 12:46 PM

When I went back to work after my first baby was born, I felt guilty and excited at the same time. Guilty because I'd fallen in love with my baby and wanted to spend more time with her. Excited because I'd be able to have conversations with actual adults again, and be productive in a pre-parenthood way. And guilty, of course, about feeling excited about being back in the office.

Being able to leave the baby at home with my husband made me feel better (here's how we managed that and how I dealt with the second-shift stress), but if my company had offered to allow me to bring her in to the office with me for those first few months, I would have turned them down. It was hard enough trying to concentrate on work once I was back in the office, I can't imagine trying to multitask with an infant at the same time.


Is it tattling, or is it something important?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse July 13, 2010 09:25 AM

"He took my toy!"
"She poked me!"
"He's in my seat!"
"Mom! She's BREATHING on me!"

Tattling starts early, and is most common with 5- to 10-year-olds -- for different reasons and with different consequences, of course. (By the time your kid is in high school, you might wish he would tattle more often.) While some kids are tattle because they're frustrated or bored, others may be honestly trying to solve a problem or report a dangerous situation.

Bullying complicates matters; in this digital day and age, it's not a cut-and-dried physical issue anymore. There's cyber-bullying and its devastating social and psychological consequences, mean girl scenarios, and even situations where the bully himself is also a victim. Many kids are unwilling to talk about bullying because they're worried that telling will make the abuse worse or, if they're not the victim, out of fear that the bully may turn on them instead -- which means that a blanket "no-tattling" policy would actually do more harm than good.

So how do you sift through the chatter and figure out whether the tattling is worth your time?


Does having kids really make you unhappy?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse July 7, 2010 10:58 PM

Scores of studies over the years have shown that having kids doesn't make people happier. Ask any parent, though, and many will say that they adore their children, even when they're frustrated by them -- it's the parenting part that's a chore.

In the most recent edition of New York Magazine, Jennifer Senior explores these studies in a piece called "All Joy and No Fun" and makes several key points, including:

1. There's a difference between feeling happy and feeling rewarded.
2. In countries with strong support systems, like Scandinavia, parents feel happier.
3. The gulf between our familial fantasies and reality is huge.

All of which makes sense, but you know what? I think being able to consider personal happiness so carefully is a privilege afforded to those for whom the basic necessities -- food, clothing, shelter -- aren't an issue. And I also think that happiness is relative.


Jealous of the nanny?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse July 6, 2010 10:19 AM

One of the more difficult aspects about going back to work after having a baby is figuring out which childcare set-up will work for your family. Will you and your spouse work opposite shifts, so one of you is on kid-duty while the other is at the office? Find a small family daycare or go with a larger daycare center? Hire a babysitter or nanny?

And then there's the issue most parents don't want to discuss: What if you find yourself feeling jealous of your child care provider?


Yelling at kids in public: Is it discipline or abuse?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse July 1, 2010 01:39 PM

What would you do if you saw an adult screaming at a child in a public place? Talk to the adult? Call the police? Walk away?

An In the Parenthood reader wrote to me about an incident she witnessed recently and wondered what, if anything, she could have done to help.

There are some large playing fields near our house that are part of a public school complex. They are often used on weekends by soccer clubs and various leagues, both for children and adults, and that is a wonderful thing. On a recent Saturday morning, though, my friend and I were walking near one of the fields and heard some very loud yelling and screaming. I first thought that perhaps an adult male softball team had had some kind of dust-up and that things would get settled quickly. As we walked close to the field, we could see that it was a man and three children, ages maybe 6 to 12, and he was yelling at them as they helped gather up the bases and balls and stuff from all over the field.

Silly Bandz and the gimme gimmes

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse June 28, 2010 12:53 PM

sillybandz2.jpgSilly Bandz are the baseball cards of my kids' generation. They collect and trade them like they're going out of style. My 5-year-old likes to wear hers to school -- they reach half-way up her forearm -- where she and her friends compare and discuss them as seriously as I used to stickers and matchbox cars. At some schools they've become so popular -- and such a target for theft -- that they've been banned.
My friend Nataly's daughter has just gotten into the craze, and Nataly brings up a great point on her Work It, Mom! blog:

When it comes to requests that are heavily influenced by what her friends have at school, I find that I hesitate more than at other times. I want her to understand that just because others have something doesn?t mean that she has to have it -- silly bandz today, fancy jeans/cars/houses tomorrow. But I also don?t want to overdo it: Just because her friends have something shouldn?t mean that she can?t have it.

There's a fine line between giving your child what she wants and fostering an out-sized sense of entitlement. Are Silly Bandz a harmless trend, or a gateway to the gimme gimmes?


Kids are washable, remember?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse June 25, 2010 11:19 AM

Photos of 4-year-old Suri Cruise with her feet adorned with self-applied magic-marker tattoos are drawing more than a few mommy drive-byes from commenters who are taking Tom Cruise and Katie Holmes to task for being so lax with their little girl.

Relax, people. Kids are washable, remember? And what little kid hasn't scribbled on his or herself before?


Let down by a role model: Tips for talking to your child

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse June 23, 2010 08:44 PM

In the Parenthood is in the pages of Thursday's Boston Globe, with a story about kids and parents who are disillusioned about Disney star Miley Cyrus's transformation from goofy tween-age Hannah Montana to R-rated sexpot. (Click here to read the article online.)

We've discussed whether Miley Cyrus has gotten too sexy, too soon, and whether that's just par for the course in Hollywood. But what do you do when your young child's role model is growing up too quickly -- and you don't want your tween to do the same?

I chatted with child and teen development expert Dr. Robyn Silverman, whose book about body image, Good Girls Don't Get Fat, is due out in October; she offers the following tips for talking with your child about role models and the hypersexualization of young stars like Miley Cyrus:


Do dads get short shrift at home?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse June 23, 2010 08:20 AM

A newly released Boston College study called "The New Dad: Exploring Fatherhood Within a Career Context" points to a sea change in the workplace: Fathers may be facing a bias similar to that which working mothers know all too well.

But there's a twist: It seems that their wives are also discounting the work these dads do at home.


Advice for new parents, from those who have been there

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse June 17, 2010 10:24 AM

There's an old joke about how your parenting style changes with each child. First-time parents are apt to sterilze the baby's toys each night and boil the binkie the instant it drops on the floor. Second-time parents wash the toys when they look a little grubby and rinse the pacifier with tap water. Parents with three or more kids? The toys get outgrown before they get cleaned and the paci gets wiped off on a clean corner of mom's shirt before being popped back into the baby's mouth. A little dirt helps build the immune system, right?

Kerry Colburn and Rob Sorensen's new book, "How to Have Your Second Child First: 100 Things That Are Good to Know... the First Time Around," is full of easy-to-read nuggets of wisdom and quotes from experienced moms and dads, as well as short "Second-Timer Tips" from parents who have been there, done that, laundered the spit-up covered T-shirt. It's the book I wish I had when my first baby was born.


Are you using your kids to escape your marriage?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse June 14, 2010 05:22 AM

David Code.jpgIt runs counter to our instincts as parents, but a new book suggests that making your kids your top priority may be doing them more harm than good.

An Episcopal minister and family coach, David Code suggests that parents who focus first on maintaining a strong marriage end up having happier, better-adjusted children than those who make their kids their top priority.

"The truth is, we often find it easier to be with our kids than our partners," Code said in an interivew. "This seems child-friendly, but we don't realize we're using our kids as an escape from our spouses."


In memory of Henry: A fund to help kids battling with addiction

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse June 11, 2010 02:11 AM

I didn't know Henry Louis Granju, who died on May 31 at the age of 18, after a horrible beating over an illegal drug transaction. I don't know his family, though I've been a fan of his mother Katie's blog, Mama Pundit, for ages. I can't fathom what his parents and step parents are going through right now -- losing their oldest son after watching him fight for his life for five weeks in the hospital, trying to help their other children cope, just weeks away from the birth of their youngest daughter.

But there are thousands of people who experience the nightmare of losing a child -- young or old -- to drugs. In order to wring something positive out of this pain, Katie Granju and her family have established a fund to assist others who are struggling with the costs of helping their children overcome drug and alcohol addiction.


Would you implant a microchip in your child?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse June 9, 2010 06:17 AM

With the search still ongoing for 7-year-old Kyron Horman, who disappeared from his Portland, Oregon, elementary school on Friday, some parents are wondering whether it's worth taking the idea of implanted tracking devices for kids more seriously.

The question of whether or not to implant microchips in our children isn't new. In 2002, CNN reported that parents in the United Kingdom were asking for microchip tracking devices for their kids after two 10-year-old girls were abducted and murdered. And Wired magazine wrote about it back in 2003, when Solusat, the Mexican distributor of VeriChip, launched its VeriKid program in Mexico.

What is new is that, in spite of the whole "Big Brother" aspect, and in spite of the obvious privacy issues (not to mention health risks), the microchip may be making a comback.


Kids' parties that don't break the bank

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse June 7, 2010 11:48 AM

Gwen Stefani reportedly spent more than $15,000 on her son Kingston's 4th birthday party last month. The four-tier custom-made butterfly cake for Suri Cruise's 2nd birthday supposedly cost five grand -- and that was just for the cake. Her entire 2nd birthday bash cost approximately $100,000, iVillage reported at the time. And non-celebrity parents are also spending like crazy: California-based Over the Top Productions offers "couture kids celebrations" that can cost as much as $10,000 per themed, coordinated party, CNN reported.

The rest of us don't have such resources. Renting a party place gets pricey quickly, and while you don't have to contend with much clean-up, you are limited as to the number of people you can invite and the amount of time you can take -- and you're usually still on the hook for refreshments and goodie bags.

Is it possible to throw a fun party for your kid at home and on the cheap, even if you have to invite your child's entire class?


Dads can develop postpartum depression

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse June 3, 2010 10:24 AM

New fathers generally don't have a wealth of information to fall back on. Pregnancy books are usually aimed at women, obviously, though there are a few notable exceptions, like Christopher Healy's Pop Culture: The Sane Man’s Guide to the Insane World of New Fatherhood and Dad's Pregnant, Too by Harlan Cohen. But dads-to-be and new fathers need help as much as moms do: A new study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that 10 percent of husbands experience depression sometime between their wives' first trimester and the end of the baby's first year, and 25.6 percent of new dads are depressed during the first 3 to 6 months of the baby's life -- in other words, 3 to 6 months postpartum.


Would you encourage your child to drop out of school?

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse May 31, 2010 10:23 AM

Over Parent Dish, Ericka Lutz writes about her daughter dropping out of high school -- and how she supports her teen's decision to do so:

Parenting a teenager is all about trust. I can't force Annie to go to school, though I tried. I can't force her to want to be in school, and unless she wants to be there, she won't go. I trust my daughter's instincts, and I know that a path is not always linear. And she comes from a strong family tradition of alternate paths. It took me nine years to get my BA and I ended up with a successful and creative career. Her father didn't start community college until he was 24. By the time he died, he was the special adviser to a head of state.

I see her point, but I'm not sure I agree. There's more to high school than just academics, in my opinion: There's self discipline, perserverence, collaboration, cooperation, and basically learning how to learn. Not every child is able to gain those skills on his or her own.


Easing end-of-school transitions

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse May 28, 2010 11:24 AM

Regardless of whether she goes to kindergarten or first grade in September, my 5-1/2-year-old will be coping with a new school and new friends this fall. Her very best friend is zoned for a different elementary school, in fact, and the two of them are already trying to find ways to spend as much time as possible together, not just this summer, but next school year as well.

It might not seem like that big of a deal to us now, as adults, but for little kids, "graduation" from kindergarten or preschool to elementary school can make for some serious stress. There's some great advice out there about getting your child ready for her next academic adventure, but what about easing the transition out of the setting she already knows and loves?


Keeping summer brain drain at bay

Posted by Lylah M. Alphonse May 26, 2010 10:59 AM

My youngest kids are young enough that summer is merely an extension of their regular preschool experience, albeit with more sunscreen, field trips, and water play. But older kids who deal with academic testing and boatloads of homework during the school year are likely to be looking forward to a summer of, if not laziness and leisure, at least a little downtime.

And that's fine -- they've earned it. But can you give kids their downtime without giving in to the dreaded summer slide?


about the author

Lylah M. Alphonse
Lylah M. Alphonse is a member of the Globe Magazine staff and mom and stepmom to five kids. She writes about juggling a full-time career and parenthood at The 36-Hour Day, and about everything else at Write. Edit. Repeat. When she's not glued to the computer or solving a kid-related crisis, she's in the kitchen or, occasionally, asleep.

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