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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, Boston.com/Moms 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 WriteEditRepeat.blogspot.com. 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.)

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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."

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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.

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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?

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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?

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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:

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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.

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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."

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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?

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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?

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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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