Parenting Teens & Tweens

Modern Life: Naomi Mathis

Written on April 1, 2015 at 2:31 pm , by

Carmen, 21, Maurice Mathis, 31, police officer, Daniel, 9, Naomi Mathis, 38, Transition Service Officer, Sabrine, 15. Not pictured, stepdaughter Raelyn, 8. Gulfport, Mississippi

By: Suzanne Rust
Photography by: Patrick Molnar

Looking for a career that would provide security for her kids and give her a sense of doing something worthwhile, Naomi Mathis, then a 23-year-old single mom, left her job as an administrative assistant and enlisted in the air force. But after three deployments—two to Kuwait and one to Baghdad—the realities of war, including an ambush in which she lost a fellow operator, shook her to the core. Six months after returning home, it became apparent that she was suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder, and in 2007 she was medically retired from the military. Since then, Naomi has married, grown her family and joined a church. She now works as a transition service officer for DAV (Disabled American Veterans), helping men and women who’ve served return to civilian life, both practically and emotionally. Naomi shares what it’s like to be a military mom.

Describe your family in three words.

Loving, compassionate, resilient.

What’s the best thing about being a parent? What’s the most challenging?

The satisfaction you get when you see that your sacrifices are worth it. For example, when your kids have the chance to make a decision on their own and, based on what you’ve taught them, they make the right one. Seeing them prosper and use the tools you’ve given them. The most challenging thing is negative outside influences: trying to make sure that yours is the only voice your children hear. Another challenge is getting them to understand that you’ve made mistakes and having them learn from the lessons you’ve picked up over the years.

What do you love most about your kids? Which of their qualities do you admire?

I love how fun my children are and the witty things they say at the most unexpected times. They’re all different. I admire Carmen’s respect for us, her resiliency and her ability to tell the truth in any situation. With Sabrine, it’s her wit, tenacity, loving spirit and ability to have fun. With Daniel, it’s his intelligence, talent and ability to excel at whatever he really puts his mind to. And I admire Raelyn’s loving nature, willingness to learn, compassion for others and candidness.

What do you enjoy doing with your family?

We definitely enjoy a good board game—we’re all very competitive. We’re also huge movie junkies! Our family likes to do community outreach, showing love to those who maybe feel they aren’t loved or haven’t heard the words “I love you” in a long time. We also enjoy taking trips together to see our extended family in Florida or even just visiting the zoo in New Orleans.

When are you the happiest?

In church, spending time laughing with my family and reaching out to the community.

What drew you to a military career?

I was looking for something different that would provide benefits for my two kids, and something that would make me feel that I’d made a difference at the end of the day.

What was it like being away from your family on such dangerous missions? How did you cope?

I disconnected myself emotionally from my kids when I left. I kind of went into robot mode. I would do whatever needed to be done to make sure the kids were taken care of while I was gone, and then I would solely focus on the mission at hand. Because of the nature of my field, I couldn’t focus on anything else. If I did, someone could get hurt, including me. When I deployed, I put a picture of my kids at the bottom of a backpack I carried, and I wouldn’t really look at it. I just knew it was there, so they were with me. I limited my calls to home. This detachment helped me cope.

How has being in the military shaped you as a person?

It taught me discipline, how to sacrifice and how to focus. I learned how to have a passion for something and really run with it. The military gave me a sense of camaraderie and taught me how to depend on others—to really trust them with my life. I gained a lifelong extended family. It taught me how to lead and how to follow, all at the same time.

What are you most proud of?

I am most proud of my kids: how resilient they are, their ability to accept change and make the best of a situation. I’m also proud of my husband: how he accepted me just the way I am, and his willingness to work through any residual issues from my military service. And I’m proud of how God has changed me and made me come so far as a person.

What do you want people to know most about the things you experienced in Kuwait and Bagdad, and about PTSD?

The things we experience in combat are terrible, whether it be the loss of a friend and colleague, such as Staff Sergeant Patrick Griffin Jr., or the bombs dropping all around you or the gunfire. However, except for losing Staff Sergeant Griffin, I wouldn’t change it for anything in the world. It helped make me who I am today. It helped me have a better appreciation for life, friends and family. When I signed on the dotted line, I knew I was making a life-altering decision. I was willing to lay down my own life for the freedom we have as Americans. Having to deal with flashbacks and other symptoms is a small price to pay. Every time I look at this family, I realize the sacrifices I made were worth it.

PTSD is like a wound. When you first get cut, you have to stop the bleeding. You seek aid, and if the wound is especially deep, you get professional help. Eventually, it will scab, and if you pick at that scab, it will bleed again. However, if you continue to seek help and treat the wound, the scab will heal and fall off. What you are left with is a scar, which will always be there. PTSD never really goes away. You figure out how to cope with it, deal with it and learn from it. It has helped me to help others—at work I can relate to those who may be dealing with the same issues. I’ve come to understand that I’ve got a PTSD diagnosis but PTSD is not who I am.

If you know someone who may be showing PTSD symptoms, please talk to them. If they won’t talk, there are resources out there where they can get help. Sometimes we veterans and military types feel most comfortable speaking with other veterans and military people. Have them reach out to their local VA Vet Center or VA Medical Center. No matter how far they push you away, stick it out with them. It will get better if they seek treatment.

So many people want to support the military. What’s the best way to do that?

For me the best thing was when someone would see me in uniform and say “Thank you for your service.” That always put a smile on my face no matter what kind of day I was having. Knowing that I was making a difference gave me satisfaction.

Reach out to an organization that is sending care packages overseas. We loved getting goodies in the mail! Maybe you don’t have access to many military people; then reach out to veterans’ service organizations such as the DAV, which are doing wonderful things. Lastly, vote! Make sure your legislators hear your voice. Push them to support the men and women who serve this country.

What do you know now that you wished you had known when you were younger?

Don’t sweat the small stuff. Be comfortable with where you are and take it all in. Find the lesson that you need to learn from any given situation, rather than giving in to your emotions.

 

Four Truths About Social Media (That Parents Don’t Want to Hear)

Written on March 5, 2015 at 3:44 pm , by

Some questions about social media are an absolute breeze to answer: Why is my kid so obsessed with YikYak? What does PIR stand for? Then there are the queries that are a lot more complex: How much should I let my child use her phone? Should I monitor my child’s social life online?

I completely understand why parents want easy answers, like “Don’t let them sleep with their phones” or “Monitor their texts.” But it’s really hard for our children to take us seriously when we come up with strategies like that, and there’s a really good reason why: We’re hypocrites who often base our rules on anxiety instead of facts. Maybe you disagree with me, but before you do, consider the following four points.

1. We adults are as just as connected to our digital devices as our kids. Even as we’re nagging them to get off their screens, we don’t admit that we constantly check our phones when we’re bored or jump every time someone reaches out to us. And just like our kids, we convince ourselves that we always have a good reason for checking our email, Facebook, Twitter, etc.

2. Many adults post about the same things our kids do. Sure, lots of parents describe their children’s online social lives as meaningless and a waste of time. They could be doing something more productive, like going outside and getting some fresh air. Right? Well, then tell me this: Why is what our children post about the party they went to last weekend more superficial than what we posted about the party we went to last weekend? And why do we spend so much time online when we should be getting some exercise or some sleep?


3. Some of us stalk other children online.
Some folks think that being a responsible parent today means running surveillance as much and as often as possible about anything to do with their children. One of the best ways to do this is to get on the popular social networking platforms kids are using, such as Snapchat and Instagram, and ask kids to link or connect with you. The theory being that if they accept your invitation, you can see what these children are doing. I guess. But in my experience young people are highly incentivized to hide their personal lives from adults they know. So even if they do accept your invitation, if they’re doing something they don’t want adults to see, they’ll figure out a way to hide it. And lots of kids who get these “invitations” see them for what they are—a way for parents to spy on them. Not only do they blow off the parent but they know that parent is trying to infiltrate their lives so they know not to trust that person. Not a great way to build rapport.

4. Everyone our children meets online isn’t a dangerous predator. Can we give our kids a bit of credit? Our children are “meeting” people they don’t know online all the time—especially if they play games online. If they have a headset when they play games, they are definitely talking to other people. Some of those people are annoying; some of them say racist, sexist, homophobic or just rude things a lot. But they aren’t physically threatening to your child.

Here are the stats: The vast majority of young people who meet people online and then meet them in real life fit a very specific pattern. I’ll say it to you this way: In my many years of working with young people, every, and I mean every, young person I’ve known who met a stranger in real life they initially met online was a 13- to 16-year-old neglected and/or abused girl who desperately needed attention and love because she wasn’t getting it from the people she was supposed to. The reality is that a young person who is vulnerable to online predators almost always has something very wrong in their real life that makes them turn to strangers.

Bottom line: As a parenting “expert,” I can give you lots of rules for your children about their online lives—whatever device they’re using. But none of these rules will work unless you have a relationship with your child built on mutual respect and their seeing that you live your life according to the same values you’re holding them to.

Do you think there’s a double standard when it comes to kids’ and parents’ use of social media? Post a comment and tell me. 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.


Modern Life: Sheree Curry

Written on March 4, 2015 at 12:43 pm , by

Jared Levy,14, Josh Levy,12, and Sheree R. Curry, 47, journalist and marketing communications Strategist. Maple Grove, Minnesota.

By: Suzanne Rust
Photography by: Sara Rubinstein

Generally, we are born into a religion, but sometimes our faith arrives through thoughtful reflection. This was the case with Sheree R. Curry.
 Her family exposed her to various Christian practices, approaching them all with an open mind. But it was a comparative religion class in high school that introduced her to Judaism. She began studying with a rabbi at 17, converted at 18 and hasn’t looked back. Sheree now attends Adath Jeshurun Congregation, a large Conservative synagogue in Minnetonka, MN. Divorced from a Jewish man, the busy single mom is raising her two sons in her chosen faith and finding time to work with BlackandJewish.com, an online community she created for others to share their experiences.

Describe your family in three words.
Loving, funny, healthy and supportive—okay, that’s four words!

What religion did you practice growing up, and what was the appeal of Judaism?
I grew up exposed to various Christian religions through family, friends and schooling. My mother felt it was important that my sister and I explore religion and each choose one for ourselves. I took a comparative religion class as a teenager; we spent part of the year learning about what constitutes religions and how they are formed. We had to create our own individual religious doctrine for this course. Then we learned in-depth about various religions. I noticed more similarities in Judaism to the religion that I had created for myself at the start of the class. As a result, I began focusing on Judaism. At the age of 17 I began studying with a rabbi, and I ultimately converted to Judaism when I was 18.

How did your friends and family react to your choice?
Since I come from a very healthy and supportive family with a mix of religions, ethnicities and even nationalities, we are very comfortable in our differences. We are all steeped in faith and spirituality, thus my family remained quite supportive, but obviously curious. I was the first Jew in our family, so everyone had a lot of questions about customs, practices and differences. It was a learning experience for everyone. But because the process of becoming Jewish is not something that just happens overnight, it was gradual for everyone. I didn’t just spring it on them one day.

Have you always been made to feel comfortable in the Jewish community?
Well, I don’t think anyone has tried to make me feel uncomfortable in the Jewish community! But as with any convert, black or white or other ethnicity, one does tire of the question “How did you become Jewish?” I’ve been Jewish for more than 25 years now, so it gets a bit old. As does the assumption that because I am African American I must’ve converted, or converted to be with some guy. About 15 years ago I started an online community for Jews of color to share stories and experiences. Within the group you’ll find many African Americans who were born to a Jewish parent. We’ve shared stories of attending Jewish events and some others assuming we’re not Jewish and asking us to leave—it has happened.
Overall, I think most of us feel comfortable. But whether they are biracial Jews of color or identify as simply black Jews, I think one of the biggest concerns with feeling uncomfortable comes from the extended family of a white Jewish mate, and this can impact marriage and dating relationships. It’s one thing to befriend a black Jew at your synagogue; it can be totally different when your single, dating adult child says, “Guess who’s coming to dinner?”
I have found that the black-white combination within the Jewish community, for Jews who strongly culturally identify as Jewish, is still rare compared to a Jew who dates a white Christian, for example. A lot of these relationships, and even some of my own, have been impacted by the negative pressure the white Jewish mate may initially receive from their own extended family. The sentiment is often that they feel caught in the middle. That was something my own ex-husband said. At one point before we married my mate told me that his parents even said they’d rather see him marry a non-Jewish Asian than a black Jew. Imagine the kind of pressure that puts on a young couple starting out. I’d say overall during the marriage everyone tried to get along, but eventually our marriage ended in divorce.

What does Passover mean to you and how do you celebrate? Do you have any personal traditions?
For my oldest son’s first Passover, when he was just a few months old, I created a family Haggadah that we still use today. The Haggadah is the booklet we use to tell the story of the slaves’ freedom from Pharaoh, but in our booklet we also tell the story of the freedom of American slaves. Although this is a holiday that lends itself well to the merging of our family’s two histories of being black and Jewish, this should not be limited to just the households of black Jews. All of us should remember and celebrate the freedom and right to freedom of all people.

What do you think is the biggest misconception about Judaism?
The biggest misconception about Judaism is that it is a race of people. It is not. It is a religion and a culture. A lot of the culture stems from the regions of the world where certain Jews are concentrated. Most people are more familiar with Ashkenazi Jewish culture, consisting primarily of Eastern European traditions. But there are Sephardi Jews, with more Spanish culture, and Yemenite Jews, who stemmed from the Mideast and African regions. A lot of the culture of each of these sets of Jews will be more similar to the culture of those around them who are not even Jewish. Hummus is not a Jewish food. It is a Middle Eastern dish. Knishes are not exactly a Jewish food. They are basically pierogis, all stemming from cultures in Eastern Europe. Sure, different sects of people may put their own twists on a recipe, but that does not make us Jews a race of people. If people started thinking of Judaism more as a religion instead of as a race of people, they would be less shocked that there are Jews native to India who look just like other Indians. And Jews native to Ethiopia who look just like other Ethiopians. And there are black American Jews too.
But the world is becoming more and more aware that Judaism is a religion, not a race, and one that comes in many different flavors and colors. More people know of a black or Asian or Hispanic Jew, even if it is just a celebrity, like Drake or Rashida Jones.

What do you love most about your boys?
My two boys are very inquisitive and loving, and they care about others and they really care about each other. I hear stories of people who are at odds with their teens and tweens, and I am blessed that my boys inherited a lot of my family’s mild temperament and solid values.

What are the biggest challenges of being a single parent?
My challenges may be different from those of a single mom whose kids’ father is not in the picture. We have shared custody, so the biggest challenge, in some ways, is the same as it would be in any two-parent household: making sure that both of us, as mom and dad, are on the same page when it comes to major decisions for our children and finding ways to compromise when we disagree. Another challenge is just knowing that it does take a village. Since we don’t have other immediate family living in town who can pitch in when the boys have to be at different events or activities at the same time in different parts of the metro area, I often turn to friends who can help carpool the kids to activities. Or in some cases the boys know that they’ll have to do a joint activity or pick ones in the same facility, in order to make coordinating schedules a lot easier on everyone.

What’s your spin on finding that perfect work-life balance?
I am very devoted to my kids and their activities. I was a Cub Scout den leader, for example (not a den mom, which is different). So sure, a lot of nonworking hours were spent still being a part of my children’s lives. But again, since I am a coparent with their dad and the boys spend part of the week living at his house, I try to plan more of my personal professional development activities or fun activities for the days that the boys are with their dad. It might mean occasionally missing out on something the boys are involved in, but I am still like many other moms: My kids come first.

What’s the best part of your day?
Coming home to my two boys at the end of a workday. Honestly. It’s nice when your kids are happy to see you come home or when you pick them up from school. Since they don’t spend every day and every night with me, we all treasure the time that we do have together and the moments we are not running from activity to activity.

As an African American Jewish woman, you must have some curious anecdotes. Any funny ones you’d care to share?
There have been several occasions when I’ve met someone and they’ve assumed that I am some other black Jewish woman they’ve met before. “No, that’s not me, but I do know her,” I say. And it’s often true that I know the person. That’s not so much a testament that all blacks know each other, as it probably is that Jews play what we call “Jewish geography.” The Jewish community is small and we often know each other or know someone who does. Now, given the limited size of the black and Jewish community, and that I am involved on a national level in several groups for Jews of color, it is not so surprising that I know other Jews who happen to be black.

 

What Every Parent Should Know About the Growing Trend of Slut-Shaming

Written on February 17, 2015 at 12:02 pm , by

Leora Tanenbaum, author of the newly released I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internetsheds light on some dark and dangerous behavior. By APRIL MCFADDEN

While boys are often encouraged to explore their sexuality, girls must usually toe the tricky line between being alluring but not lewd. These days that sexual double standard is more difficult than ever to navigate. In this Q&A with Family Circle, author Leora Tanenbaum, who coined the term “slut-bashing” back in the 90s, helps us understand the struggles girls encounter today and explains how every parent can more responsibly raise a kid in the Internet age.

You break down the difference between slut-bashing and slut-shaming in your book. Why is it important for parents to know the difference?
Because the effects of each get played out differently. Slut-shaming isn’t necessarily repeated—it could be a one-time thing and the intent may not even be negative. I haven’t met any female in the United States under the age of 25 who has not been called a “slut” or a “ho” in some context, usually more than once. But slut-bashing is a very specific form of harassment that takes place over time and the intent is to hurt. Slut-bashing makes life horrible for a girl. What they have in common is that regardless of the intent, at the end of the day female sexuality is being policed and the sexual double standard is being reinforced and hammered in. We need to pay attention to both experiences.

How can parents allow their daughters to experiment with femininity without letting them fall into harmful categories?
You don’t ever want to tell her or make her feel that she is a slut. You want her to feel good about her body, her sexuality and her clothing choices. If you strongly believe that her clothing is inappropriate for her age or for the occasion, you need to talk with her about it. Say something supportive that gives her space like, “Wow! You look fantastic in that outfit, but there are so many people out there that aren’t as enlightened as we are about girls revealing their bodies. And unfortunately there are people who may treat you like a sexual object if you wear that outfit.”

 

What critical lessons should parents teach their sons about this?
Talk about consent with your children, boys and girls, and explain that consent is never present unless it has been verbally communicated. I think that’s really essential. It’s probably the most important thing many parents aren’t doing that we should be doing that better. It’s never ever too soon to talk about sexual consent.

What is your opinion about the recent campus sexual assault movement, including It’s On Us, Know Your IX and Carry That Weight?
I feel invigorated by the movement. It ties into this culture of slut-shaming where so many people—including women—believe that it’s acceptable to have sex with a girl even if she hasn’t actually said yes. They think, “Well, because she’s a ‘slut’ or a ‘ho’ it doesn’t matter what she says.” And this is certainly true in high schools too.

What can parents learn from stories like Jada’s from the #IAmJada campaign?
I do find those individual examples of girls talking back and raising awareness really great, but they’re kids and that should not be their responsibility. That should be our responsibility. We need to be the ones orchestrating that and helping the young people in our lives.

What is the most shocking thing you discovered while writing I Am Not a Slut?
How people hate the “slut” so much—even if she’s somebody they don’t know—that they will tell her she should kill herself or that she shouldn’t be alive.

What is one thing you would ask parents to change when it comes to slut-shaming?
Never, ever use words like “slut” or “ho,” even in a lighthearted or joking way. Just never use them, because our kids look to us as role models and if we make it acceptable then it becomes acceptable to them.

 

Leora Tanenbaum is the author of the newly released I Am Not a Slut: Slut-Shaming in the Age of the Internet. She is also senior writer and editor at Planned Parenthood Federation of America and a mom of two boys.

 




When It “Takes a Village,” Here’s How to Create Yours

Written on February 10, 2015 at 10:03 am , by

It’s one of the most common parenting slogans we hear, affirmed by everyone from politicians to pediatricians: “It takes a village.” On the face of it, that’s true. But when you really think about it, there are a lot of assumptions going on here. Like, that everyone in the village agrees about the way to raise children. Or that everyone in the village is a mature adult who knows how and when to get involved in children’s lives.

I don’t know about your village, but in mine there are all sorts of people. Some of them I definitely want helping me out with my kids. Some of them…not so much. Plus, I’ve seen countless times when we actually have a problem involving our kids that also happens to involve other people (teachers, coaches, other parents, other kids) in our village.

At the end of the day, you have to ask yourself: Do you trust your village or not? Why do so many of us assume the worst of our village’s intentions? And how do you define your village? The first two questions you’ll have to answer yourself. But the last I can help with. Here are the top three ways to create your village.

1. Identify the most important characteristics of your “villagers.” Mine are:

* treats kids with dignity,

* is comfortable calling children out when they do something boneheaded,

* is warmhearted (they can still be tough on the outside) and not a pushover

* laughs when kids make “foolish” mistakes

* and—most important—knows my children and still likes them.

2. With these characteristics in mind, try to identify two people who have most of these attributes in each of your smaller villages: at your child’s school, in your neighborhood, among your friends, your family and adults in your children’s extracurricular activities (that includes coaches, of course).

3. Make a list for yourself. You don’t have to go up to each of these people and tell them they’ve officially made your list, but write it down so you don’t forget it when you need it most.

The next step in the process is considering how you’ll use them when the moment comes. Read this letter from a mother who recently emailed me and see how her village worked.

Just as my 15-year-old son was supposed to get out of the car to go to school (already 5 minutes late), he mentioned he was being bullied there. He went on to school. I watched him walk in so he couldn’t ditch. Then I called his counselor at school, who checked on him today. When I picked him up I asked if he wanted to talk and he said, “Not now.” In the past I would have pushed him to talk right away, but I gave him space and he came to me later in the afternoon and we talked.

This is a difficult moment for any parent. Her 15-year-old son (a group not known for talking about their problems) drops a bomb as he’s getting out of the car. He did that on purpose. He wanted to tell her, but he didn’t want to talk to her about it.

She could have run after him. She could have run into the school assuming that the school would do nothing about it unless she broke into the principal’s office. But she didn’t. She thought about what would work for her son. She didn’t let her emotions get the best of her. She reached out to her (and, most important, her son’s) village by contacting his counselor and asking him to check in on her son. She trusted that the process would work. Then she gave her son a little bit of space, and her son reacted by telling her what happened—when he was ready.

Who’s in your village? And do you trust them? Post a comment and tell me. 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

 

 

Modern Life: The Joys and Challenges of a Three-Generation Household

Written on February 3, 2015 at 9:55 am , by

Photography by Amy Postle

Necessity is the mother of reinvention. Jennifer Conlin and Daniel Rivkin, foreign correspondents with posts in Europe and Africa until 2010, felt it was time to return to the States with their children. But after two decades of living abroad, they realized that the transition would be tricky—especially in the middle of a recession. A move to Michigan with Jennifer’s parents and brother turned out to be the winning solution. Jennifer shares her multigenerational you-can-go-home-again experience.

Describe your family in three words.
Hilariously thriving together.

How did your living arrangement come about?
The simple answer? It was a combination of being homeless refugees dodging a revolution and returning somewhat jobless to America to ensure our family’s safety.

We moved in with my parents full-time in late August of 2010, having lived in Cairo, Egypt, the previous year. We sensed the country was about to go through a difficult transition by the increasing restrictions being imposed on journalists working there (our livelihood), and decided to leave at the last minute before the next school year started. Six months later, the first revolution occurred.

My children knew Ann Arbor well, having spent part of every summer of their lives at my parents’ rambling colonial home, so they felt comfortable in the house and already had bedrooms here, as did Daniel and I.

Harriet was starting her first year of college in England, so she didn’t move in with us. Daniel didn’t arrive until late October, since he had to move us out of our home in Egypt and finish up his job there.

How do most people react when you tell them about your situation?
Shock. They tell me that if they lived with their parents there would be a homicide within months. But then, after they come over and see us all together they get very jealous. They see the wisdom in it, the love, and what a great time we all have together.

What was the transition like?
Enormous. We were used to living overseas, as we had for 20 years (the children had never lived in the States and were mostly raised in London). As a result, we were accustomed to having zero family nearby. Suddenly, we were all under one roof, my older sister was just down the street, and I also have dozens of cousins in town. At first it felt rather smothering because we were so used to being fiercely independent. But we needed family.

Our transition was harder outside of the house, where we were all trying to adjust to living in the U.S. for the first time as a family. Inside the house, we could break down when we faced difficulties. My parents and brother gave lots of hugs and advice during those first months when we all felt like complete foreigners despite all being American.

Have you reverted to old family dynamics now that you’re living with your parents and your brother?
Yes, but in a good way. I have always been close to my mother and father, and we never argued much when I was growing up and still don’t. Also, because I lived so far away, our visits usually lasted about a month, whether they were coming to visit us overseas or I was going to stay at their home with the kids. But I do find myself tiptoeing into the house if I come in late, like a teenager, not wanting them to know I stayed out past midnight. My brother and I were close growing up, but we also always teased each other a lot and still do—I tease him about women, he teases me about staying in shape because we were always very athletic together.

Photography by Amy Postle

What is the biggest reward you get from your arrangement? What is the most challenging aspect?
By far the biggest reward is that there’s always someone here to help out, whether it is cooking, babysitting, dog sitting or helping with homework. My mom and dad both still drive, so they helped pick the kids (now just Charles) up from after-school activities when I had to work. I never have to turn down a work trip with them here to watch the children, and they have us to help them take care of the house, get to doctor’s appointments and entertain. They love having people over but it was getting too tiring for them, as was keeping up the house. My husband and I love to entertain, so we have a lot of multigenerational parties and dinners now. 

The most challenging part is that we ended up buying their house three years ago, since we decided our living situation made us all better off economically. But Daniel and I would really like to make some decorating changes. Given that my mother was an interior decorator, she has a lot of opinions on how the house should look. She is pretty classic in her style and a lot of our things are fairly exotic because we’ve lived all over the world, so we don’t always agree. We only finally got our belongings out of storage six months ago, and a lot of them went straight to the attic. It still looks more like my parents’ house than our house.

How do you divide the household duties?
My brother always takes out the trash; my father orders all of us around the garden, telling us what to cut back and weed; my mother is obsessed with vacuuming the house and dusting. I do most of the cooking and shopping, and my husband is like Mr. Clean. He sweeps through the house every night, putting everything away and making sure the house is spic-and-span for all of us in the morning. The kids do next to nothing, I hate to admit. But they have zero time. One of the biggest shocks we had moving to the States was how full-on American childhood is: sports, extracurricular activities, community service and then huge academic pressures. They clean up their rooms….once in a while.

What does dinnertime look like?
This year we’re eating together less often, with everyone busy, but we still sit down at least twice during the week for dinner—and nearly every Sunday night. My mother acts as sous chef for me, chopping things and setting the table. I love to cook so we eat very well, but it’s not always to everyone’s liking. We have serious food issues here. My dad thinks every meal should be meat and potatoes, Florence is a vegetarian, Charles hates tomatoes, my mother has lots of allergies (including garlic!), and my brother is slim but eats a TON of food (though, thankfully, anything). Daniel and I like grains and fish and eat lots of trendy health foods, like quinoa and farro, that my father thinks taste like dust. But I don’t cater to anyone—what you’re served is what you get!

How are your children benefiting from living with their grandparents? And how do their grandparents benefit?
The children are now so much closer to their grandparents, obviously, but they are also wiser for the experience. My dad is a World War II history buff and my mother was an English major (she won the same fiction writing prize at the University of Michigan that Arthur Miller won while he was a student here). Between them they are great homework helpers. They also love to tell stories of their childhood to my kids. Charles, an avid piano player, has learned to play Cole Porter, Gershwin and a million musical theater songs thanks to my parents, who bought him a book of their favorite tunes. My mother has had her granddaughter, Florence, in town and learned all about modern feminism from my activist daughter. She will soon have her other granddaughter, Harriet, here direct from England, as she is moving into our home in January. My mom is a huge Anglophile, so having Harriet around to watch Downton Abbey with her will be a treat. My parents have little time to feel old with so many of my kids’ friends around all the time. And their friends love my parents. I came home the other day to find two of Charles’ friends sitting watching football with my father. Charles wasn’t even here! They stayed anyway to hang out with my dad. It was the cutest thing ever. And my parents have 24-hour tech support, since they can barely operate a television, let alone the computer.

What is your advice to others for making it all work?
You have to have a sense of humor, lots of patience and be able to compromise. But you also have to communicate well and say what you feel when you feel it so things don’t boil over into an explosion. You have to really love each other but also give space when it’s needed. Sometimes we need time alone with our kids, and my parents have to leave so we can have our own family time. And sometimes they need time alone and need us to go out so they can relax without chaos.

Privacy can be the hardest part. As my kids say, they will never be able to throw a party we don’t know about. For that to happen they’d have to have five adults out of the house all at the same time. Good luck with that!

What is the most surprising thing that you’ve discovered about living in a multigenerational household?
How economical it is—we can all live so much better together, sharing costs, than apart. And how mentally helpful, not harmful, it is—all of us are there for each other if someone has a bad day. Plus we have lots of different viewpoints on how to solve problems if someone is facing something difficult.

Please share a funny moment that has come out of all this.
When we first moved in, Florence had a new friend over and her mother came to pick her up from our house. I answered the door, having never met her before, and could see her looking around at all these antiques, floral couches, chandeliers, etc., wondering about my old-fashioned taste. But it was my mother’s taste, of course. I’m more Pottery Barn than Laura Ashley.

Then my brother suddenly came up behind me. She assumed it was my husband, and I had to tell her it was my brother. Then my parents waltzed into the room and she was even more confused.

“Whose house is this?” she suddenly asked.

My face went red and I had to say for the first time, “All of ours.” She soon became a great friend and we laugh now at how awkward I was admitting for the first time that I was living in a multigenerational home.

 

Is It Ever Okay to Cheat?

Written on January 30, 2015 at 11:00 am , by

One of the greatest lessons that parents try to teach their children is honesty. Winners never cheat and cheaters never win. There is no game or test or outcome that is worth going back on your word or compromising your integrity. So when I hear revered sports figures acknowledge or minimize their role in cheating, it’s disheartening. Winners never cheat? Try telling that to the New England Patriots and their fans. They’re going to Superbowl 2015 while still defending themselves in DeflateGate. For those of you unaware of DeflateGate, it basically involves a preponderance of deflated balls for one team that provided an unfair advantage. The situation begs the question: Is it ever okay to cheat?

Just the other day, in a BBC interview, Lance Armstrong was questioned about his infamous ban from racing after doping. When asked if he’d do it all again, in regards to doping, he said: “If I was racing in 2015, no, I wouldn’t do it again because I don’t think you have to . . . If you take me back to 1995, when it was completely and totally pervasive, I would probably do it again. People don’t like to hear that.” With all due respect to Lance Armstrong, I have a question: Huh? Did he actually say that he would cheat again? Yes, he did.

I have wiped tears from the cheeks of every single one of my four daughters because of a game that was hard fought but lost and other disappointing outcomes. As competitive athletes, they didn’t just learn to win, they learned to lose in spite of their best efforts. Cheating was not an option or part of the game plan.

To reinforce that message with our kids, it may be time to take another look at what cheating really is. One definition of being cheated is to be deprived of something valuable by the use of deceit or fraud. We often look at the victim with pity. Why not flip the script? Perhaps it’s time to look at what the cheater loses as we teach our children the lessons of playing and losing fairly. How sweet could that victory truly be? Let’s show our kids who the real winners are.

What lessons do you teach your children about cheating? Post a comment below and let us know.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

 

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

How to Avoid Your Kid’s Video Game Meltdowns

Written on January 22, 2015 at 10:15 am , by

Video games have come a long way since the days when we were just trying to gobble up dots and steer clear of four pesky ghosts. Now they’re 10 times as complex—just look at all the buttons on the joystick, ahem, controller. Story lines are far more elaborate. And a kid’s desire to play just a little bit longer? Infinite. So how do you get your child to put the controller down? Our parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman received an email from a concerned school official dealing with just such a dilemma. Here’s Rosalind’s advice for putting playtime in its place.

Dear Rosalind:

I am an elementary school counselor, and so many parents have asked me for guidance on enforcing rules about video games. They don’t have problems setting the rules, but with enforcing them without meltdowns. What’s your advice?

Maybe some of you reading this have kids who follow your rules about games. Maybe some of you have kids who never argue or, worse, pretend not to hear you, when you say, “Your game time is up.” But for those of you who don’t, this is what I try to keep in mind.

Meltdowns are going to happen when your child stops playing a video game. As a parent, expect it and don’t take it personally. Don’t get annoyed. Don’t think your child is insane. He’s going from fighting monsters or competing in a world championship sports event to… sitting on the couch listening to his parent nag him about going over his screen time limits. Come to think of it, maybe our kids get into fights with us in these moments to continue the adrenaline rush.

When my boys disconnect, I give them about 10 minutes to be grumpy, rude, butt heads. They don’t get a free pass to be brats or say something personally horrible to me or about me. (“I hate you” doesn’t count as horrible. That’s a standard thing for your children to say and also should not be taken personally.) You should expect that they will lie (or be in denial) about how long they’ve played or argue with you about how much longer their sibling has been playing and how unfair the whole thing is. This is because they truly feel that they have been playing for only a few minutes and that their sibling(s) has hogged the controllers. Their passion fuels their justification about how unfair the situation is, which in turn fuels their belief that they are justified in being obnoxious brats.

Here’s how I try to manage myself so they don’t drag me into their tantrums: When I come into the house and they’re gaming, I try not to greet them with, “How long have you been playing?” (which, to be honest, is not a question—it’s an accusation) or “You better get off in 10 minutes” or “Have you walked the dog yet?” (again, an accusation). Instead—and this is very hard—I go in, say hi and let them play for 10 more minutes. Then I come back, tell them to pause the game and ask them about homework, the dog, cleaning the kitchen, etc. If they don’t pause the game after one warning, I do turn it off because that’s in our rules. (Rule #7: “I’ll pause the game within one minute after being told my time is up. If I don’t comply, I understand that my parent will turn off the screen so that any unsaved progress I lose will be because of my actions, not because my mom turned off the screen.”)

I have found that no matter what rules I have about food, leaving dirty socks on the floor or placing the cushions back on the couch, my kids still violate all of them. I don’t think I have ever come into the room where they play games and not found several dirty socks lying around. But when they stop playing, they have to clean up the space. Nothing happens until they clean up that room.

Bottom line: Don’t take their behavior personally. Don’t think they’re insane or game addicts. And don’t let them get you into a bad mood, stomping around the house resenting them. Stay strong, keep calm, and when in doubt you can always hide the controllers in the laundry room.


What rules do you place on video games in your house? Post a comment and tell me. 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.

Learning from Loss: Why We Need to Embrace Goodness

Written on January 16, 2015 at 5:41 pm , by

 

Being blessed with four daughters means that I never had to have the “driving while black” talk. (For those who don’t know, that’s the conversation parents with black sons must have about the extra precautions you need to take should you be pulled over by a police officer.) Now, let me say up front, I respect, defer to and have admiration for the men and women who put their lives on the line every day to keep our citizens and communities safe. However, as a mother my heart has been broken over the recent events involving innocent black youngsters and black men who have died in police encounters in Missouri, New York and Ohio, to name a few.

Just because these events happened in 2014 doesn’t make them any easier to manage emotionally in 2015. Last month, on the second anniversary of the Sandy Hook shooting, my heart was broken again as I saw images of the sweet, innocent smiles of victims contrasted with video of the ongoing pain of their surviving family members. A brave mother who lost her outgoing, curious and beautiful daughter stated: “You have bad days and even worse days…but you go on step by step.”

Yes, you go on, but how? Maybe the answer is closer than we imagine. The same ability that allows us to feel our own and others’ pain gives us the power to recognize that hope is all around us. We just have to make a conscious decision to see it, believe it and state it out loud. Our children need to hear us talk about the good in our lives—good people, good actions, good hearts and good words. That goodness connects us. It connects the people of Sandy Hook and the diverse group of people who are marching together for justice.

The new year provides a prime opportunity to teach our children with renewed spirit about giving, loving and being kind…just because. We can teach our children that the most important aspect of the recent holidays were not presents but presence. Interact in a gentle caring way, share history, swap stories and dole out tight hugs. Grief and heartbreak are part of life, but so are hope, goodness, love. And love heals.

How do you move forward from losses you’ve experienced or watched others experience? Post a comment below and let us know.

Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, a mother of four, is a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet. Read more of her posts here.

 

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at askdrjanet@familycircle.com.

 

Modern Life: The Joys and Challenges of Raising a Child with Cerebral Palsy

Written on January 15, 2015 at 1:13 pm , by

Photography by Amy Postle

Flexibility is one of the cornerstones of sane parenting, especially when you have a child with special needs. 
As the parents of 9-year-old Sabrina and 12-year-old Max, who has cerebral palsy, Ellen Seidman and her husband, David, have become flex masters—they don’t let challenges dictate how they live their lives. This attitude keeps the family strong and acts as a source of inspiration for Ellen’s award-winning blog, Love That Max. We talked with 
Ellen about going with the flow.

Which three words best describe your family?
Down-to-earth, adventurous, fun-loving. 

How has having a child with special needs changed your outlook on life?
I’ve always been a person who likes to be in control, which has come in handy for making sure Max gets the services he needs. But having a kid with cerebral palsy, a condition for which there is no cure, has given me a roll-with-it sensibility. He can’t catch the softball? Okay, so we’ll just play a batting-only game of T-ball. Can’t get him to go into a restaurant because it’s too loud for him? Okay, we’ll try another one. You have to be flexible when you have a child with special needs, or you will drive yourself up the wall. 

How would you describe your parenting styles?
Me: Disciplinarian. Husband: Marshmallow-like—and he’ll readily admit it too. 

What is dinnertime like at your home?
First, I have to rip the kids away from the TV. At the table, we’ll talk about upcoming activities and how school is going; Max uses an iPad with a speech app to help him communicate. A lot of times, Max will try to get us to hold the spoon and feed him, but we tell him he has to do it himself—we’re all about encouraging independence. 

What is your family’s favorite activity?
Traveling of any kind—road trips, plane trips, train trips, wherever and whenever!  

How does Sabrina relate to Max and vice versa? Has being his sister made her a more empathetic person?
In many ways, my kids are typical siblings: They squabble, they’re competitive with each other, and they want to make sure they get the same size of birthday cake. But because Max has physical challenges, Sabrina has to help him sometimes—say, with holding the Wii remote or drawing something he wants. As the years have passed, she’s become more likely to instinctively help him without my asking. Ultimately, I can imagine that this will translate to her having a hearty sense of empathy for others with disabilities—but because she can also see Max’s abilities, she’ll know that even though people with special needs have their challenges, they are capable in so many ways.   

What is your pet peeve about how people treat Max?
The staring. It’s so rude. Hello, didn’t your mother teach you any better?! I’d much rather people come up to us and engage in conversation rather than gawk. Or even just say hi.

Photography by Amy Postle

Your biggest concerns?
They’ve changed over the years. When Max was a tot, I was anxious about his development and what he would and wouldn’t be able to do, and when. While he’s doing really well for himself (he walks and has some speech), I’ve come to accept him for who he is, keep hoping for progress, and keep getting him therapy up the wazoo! My biggest concern, which I’d venture to say is shared by every parent of a child with special needs: What will happen when my husband and I are gone?  

How has your blog, Love That Max, helped you?
I started my blog to inspire and inform parents of kids with special needs. I’d been through so much grief after Max was born, and I wanted to help others who were in that dark place. I know from comments and emails that parents find comfort in my writing, which does me good. But I also get so much in return: new perspectives on handling Max’s challenges and practical information too, like the best kind of sneakers to fit Max’s foot braces. It’s also been extremely satisfying to show people who don’t know anyone with special needs how absolutely awesome they are. I don’t want pity for my son—just inclusion and respect. When I hear that I’ve changed the way people view those with disabilities, I’m damn proud. 

What is the most important thing you’d like people to know about special-needs children?
It’s best for parents to explain to their kids early on that children with disabilities are more alike than different from them. They should teach them to not be afraid of those who don’t act, talk or move like they do. Please encourage your child to say hello to children with special needs at the playground, the park, a party, wherever.

What surprises you most about parenting?
How cute your kids remain, even as they get older! They are as yummy and adorable to me now as they were when they were roly-poly babies. I still can’t stop kissing them. Only now, they’re getting embarrassed about it. 

Any New Year’s resolutions for you and your family?
We don’t make formal ones, because the second you make them they are doomed to fail, so I’ll just say that our unofficial resolution is: Find more time for fun!  

Modern Life: A Dual-Faith New York City Family Juggles Christmas and Hanukkah

Written on December 4, 2014 at 12:45 pm , by

CATHERINE COPPOLA, 57, MUSIC HISTORY PROFESSOR, RIC FRANK, 63, LOWER SCHOOL MUSIC TEACHER AND BAND LEADER, AND CELIA FRANK, 15, HIGH SCHOOL STUDENT.

 

For this Manhattan family, December means a holiday double-header: Christmas and Hanukkah. Catherine Coppola, a Catholic, her husband Ric Frank, who is Jewish, and 
their daughter, Celia Frank, pull off this dual-religion feat by combining old and new traditions in “roll-with-it” New York City style. They treated us to a glimpse of their particular winter wonderland, where Christmas ornaments and a menorah mix and mingle.

Questions answered by Catherine unless otherwise noted.

What do you like most, and least, about raising a child in New York City?
It’s great to have the incredible opportunities available here, especially for music and arts education. But it can be difficult for a child to be surrounded by high-end stores and all kinds of food and products that may not always be affordable. The flip side of that disparity, though, is the learning experience of growing up among many different kinds of people and levels of wealth, and the awareness that we are lucky to be in the middle, which can give a kid a healthy perspective.

How would you describe your parenting styles?
I try to talk things through, and accept the fact that the talk may go south, in which case tomorrow is another day. Sometimes you just have to leave it for a while and come back fresh.

My style is changing and evolving. The main thing I do is pick and choose my battles, and try to stay supportive. —Ric

What are some of your family’s Christmas and Hanukkah traditions?

For Christmas, tree decorating includes a goofy version of “The Twelve Days of Christmas” to go along with a set of ornaments that was given to me by some very good friends, and then we’ll drink eggnog, attend church and have dinner with my extended family. For Hanukkah, we light the menorah and sing the blessing, which Celia knows in Hebrew.

Have you found any challenges to living in a dual-religion household? If so, how have you dealt with them?
I was a church organist for many years, and Celia attended many services with me while Ric practiced his music, so it was natural for her to become part of that community. It also allowed Celia to participate comfortably when we attended church on holidays with the larger family.
Ric was not raised with synagogue attendance except on high holidays, but he always reads the services at home on the holidays and has tried to engage Celia in that way. So for us it has always tilted more toward the Christian side, and that can be a challenge for Ric, whose extended family is not on the East Coast. The challenge is that even with the best intentions, exposing Celia to both traditions can leave her confused as to which religion she is.

How did your friends and family react to your marriage?
We were introduced by a friend of Ric’s, and both his and my friends were happy for us. I had been married before, and about my first husband my father had raised the very legitimate question of why was he divorced. With Ric, my dad asked, “At 44, why has he never been married?” Parents will always have some trepidation until their child’s mate proves that they are a good person who will share your essential values. Once it was apparent that that was the case, my parents were fine with Ric. The only objection came from my very traditional Italian uncle. When I visited him in Bensonhurst and told him I had met a good guy, he asked, “What nationality is he?” When I said Jewish, he put his head in his hands and just shook it back and forth. Once he got over the surprise he was fine. With Ric’s family there was really no issue—his parents liked my cooking!

What song best captures the spirit of your family?
“My Girl.” It was our favorite early in our relationship as a couple, and it captures our love for Celia.

What do you love most about Celia?
I love that she is able to assert herself when necessary but that she seems to know the difference between assertiveness and aggression. I’m actually a little jealous of the way she is able to make her needs and feelings known—and this is true whether they are feelings of anger or of love, with which she is very generous. I also admire the way she can hold her own in conversation, whether with peers or adults, and I am very proud of her honesty and her work ethic.

In addition to Cathy’s thoughts, I really love how Celia stands up for equality across the board whether related to gender, age, race or religion. —Ric

What’s the biggest challenge for your family?
We need to remember how good our life is and keep the trivial things that we argue about in perspective so they don’t weigh us down. And when it’s not so trivial, we need to put a priority on communicating clearly what we feel and need from the other person in the situation. Sometimes that seems even more challenging in a family of three, where the triangle of emotions can be very intense.

Any tricks to keeping sane while trying to do the whole work/life balance juggle?
Yoga and meditation for Ric, Pilates for me and creative work for both of us in performing and writing; it’s also important not to be too hard on yourself. Allow yourself some shortcuts, like a take-out night. Eating together feels good even if you didn’t cook the meal!

When Friends Turn to Foes

Written on December 3, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Two’s company and three can be a crowd when it comes to tween girls and friendships. So how can a mom help her daughter smooth things over when an expanding circle of friendship starts to wreak havoc? Our parenting expert Rosalind Wiseman received an email from a worried mother dealing with just such a dilemma. Here’s Rosalind’s advice for keeping the peace.

Dear Rosalind,
My 8-year-old daughter (I’ll call her Alexa) has known another 8-year-old girl (let’s call her Becky) since they were 4 and they’ve gone to the same school. Last year a new girl (let’s call her Jamie) came in halfway through the year and my daughter befriended her. Jamie has a difficult home situation and lives with her great-grandmother. Sadly, Becky is one of several people—including Becky’s overprotective mom—who don’t like Jamie and are giving my daughter a very hard time over the friendship. They’ve begun excluding Alexa. Becky used to cling to Alexa like glue and Alexa never pushed her away. I can’t understand why this girl has become so unkind to my daughter.

As hard as this is to believe, I’d bet any amount of money that the overprotective mom thinks she’s in the right—that in her mind she has a perfectively justified reason for supporting her daughter (Becky) in excluding your daughter’s (Alexa’s) new friend. So let go of “understanding” this woman’s perspective or why her daughter can’t accept the new friendship and focus on supporting your daughter and her new friend.

The only time I would talk to the nasty mom is if she confronts you or something happens between the girls that necessitates you speak with her. If that does happen, I’d say to her, “My daughter likes this new girl and we support the friendship. Our daughters don’t have to be friends, but I would like your support in allowing the girls to go their separate ways without being hurtful to each other.” Then get ready for this woman to be defensive or tell you the reasons why the new girl is a bad influence. Don’t get sucked in. The most you should say in response is, “That’s not been my or my daughter’s experience with this girl and I hope you would respect that.”

You also need to talk to your daughter. Tell her that you’re disappointed that her old friend isn’t being nice to her or the new girl. Maybe she’ll turn around one day but for right now, ask your daughter to give her some space until she can be a good friend.

If the old friend continues to be mean to her or the new girl, she needs to tell you and/or the person she thinks is the smartest adult at school what’s happening. But at base, this is an opportunity for your daughter to learn an important lesson from you: Sometimes good friends do things that make it impossible to continue the friendship for right now. Maybe later things will change. But in the present, it’s important to have friendships with people you actually like who allow you to be friends with others as well.

How would you handle a girl (and her mom) putting friendship pressure on your child? Post a comment and tell me. 

Rosalind Wiseman is the author of the new best seller Masterminds and Wingmen as well as Queen Bee Moms & Kingpin Dads. For more info, go to rosalindwiseman.com. Read more of Rosalind’s parenting advice here

Do you have a parenting question? Email askrosalind@familycircle.com.