We Are Both Right

Our Two Cents: The Fine Line Between Grandma and (Live-In) Nanny

Grandparents babysitting

When Grandma babysits 24/7, what should Grandpa do? ©Jenny Erickson@stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

My granddaughter Leila will turn 3 in a few days. Since she was born my wife has been the happiest grandmother anyone could imagine. Our son only lives a few miles away so we can pretty much see Leila anytime we want. My problem is that it seems like we see her too much.

My wife has agreed to watch her a few days a week, Mondays and Tuesdays and some Fridays. She also offered to watch her on Friday nights or through the weekend if the parents want to go somewhere. Of course, my son and his wife (who are in their mid-20s) are quite pleased with this arrangement, and often bring their daughter over to our house on Friday night and then pick her up on Saturday afternoon. Despite my opinion that this is happening too frequently, my wife still agrees to watch her anytime they ask.

All of a sudden, I’m the bad grandpa. The fact is that I love my granddaughter, but I just don’t want to raise her. We raised our own children and now this should be “our time” to enjoy.  The only one who somewhat understands is my daughter; she thinks that my son and his wife need to understand that there are no “days off” from being a parent.

At this point it seems like everyone is getting their way but me: my wife gets to dote on her granddaughter, my son gets free babysitting and our granddaughter is getting spoiled by grandma. I only wish they would understand my point of view and respect some of our free time. Any suggestions?

– Off-Duty Grandpa

Suzanne: It doesn’t sound to me like you are a bad grandpa, just one with a life. So go ahead. Carry on. With your life that is. Buy a boat, a motorcycle, an old car to restore, anything to keep you busy while your wife busies herself with full-time grandparenting. It sounds like you enjoy quality time with your granddaughter, but nothing says that you have to confine yourself to the house for every babysitting engagement.

Even if grandma can handle the childcare duties on her own, your absence could be the wake-up call she needs to realize that it’s probably not healthy for anyone that she has become a crutch of sorts. Of course she might think you are being spiteful at first, by making yourself unavailable. But if you take a sincere approach to scheduling in your own hobby time and also creating some “can’t miss” activities that include your wife, she might be inclined to curb the babysitting – to some degree at least.

Start with a scheduled brunch with friends on a Saturday morning, or a class that you both would enjoy. Your son and daughter-in-law shouldn’t be the only ones having fun on the town. Once your calendar starts filling up, it should become clear to everyone involved that babysitting should not be taken for granted.  And if she sees no reason not to continue the “always at your service” routine she has now with your son’s family, you should go on these “dates” anyway. It might just take her friends to start asking why she’s never around to drive the point home.

And don’t underestimate the opportunity to speak with your son about this situation (even if you already have). Tell him that his mother would never say no to helping out with Leila even if they asked her to let them know when she’s had enough. Instead, maybe they should take it upon themselves to consider limiting the weekend visits to once a month.

Your wife will probably need some encouragement once she comes around, so remind her that grandmas have a knack for making up for lost time whether they see a grandchild once a year or every other day.

Good luck and let us know how it works out!

Amanda: This is one of those times where Suzanne and I are in full agreement. You won’t be able to talk your wife into seeing your point of view, so stop trying to. That doesn’t mean however, that you can’t take (subtle) action.

I like the idea of scheduling activities in advance — months if you have to — for you and your wife to do together. If she balks and says she doesn’t want to go in case your son and his wife need you to watch Leila, be pleasant and continue on with your plans.

My one caution would be to not go overboard with your social calendar — be sure to continue to spend time with your granddaughter when she is at your home (or you are at hers) for babysitting. It’s nice that you are in a position to help out your son and daughter-in-law, whether your granddaughter realizes what is happening or not. Some of my best memories of childhood are the times I spent at my grandparents house. I didn’t know then (and I don’t know now) if I was there because I was being babysat or simply just because. I just remember being loved — I was so happy to be with them and they with me. That’s the takeaway here. Not every grandparent has the opportunity to spend so much one-on-one time with their grandchildren, view it as the blessing that it is. I promise in the future, Leila will.

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Your turn readers. What should “Off-Duty Grandpa” do? And if you have a sticky situation that needs a double dose of advice, remember we’re always here to help at advice@wearebothright.com.

Our Two Cents: Advice for a Mom Who Wants Her Fair Share

When you are finished using second-hand baby gear, should you return it? nerdluck©/stock.xchng

When you are finished using second-hand baby gear, should you return it? nerdluck©/stock.xchng

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

Nearly two years ago, I gave a whole bunch of my baby gear to a friend who was about to give birth. Even though this was her fourth baby, it was a “surprise,” so she didn’t have much in the way of a stroller, high chair and other assorted equipment. I’m not planning on having any other children and the stuff was taking up room in my attic, so I was happy to pass it on and see someone else get use out of it (I told her as much). The stroller and high chair were two “big ticket” items, the rest of what I gave her included a nursing pillow, a whole bunch of clothing and some toys. Everything was in really good shape.

Fast forward to the present. My friend no longer has a baby girl, but a toddler and apparently doesn’t need the gear any longer. A few weeks ago I was surprised to see that she had posted a note on Facebook saying that her fourth was truly her family’s last baby and that she was selling off all of their gear. She included a list of all the items (with pictures), as well as a description and a price. I was horrified to see that a lot of the stuff on her list was what I had given her!

I was really mad that not only had she not asked me if I wanted my stuff back, but that she was selling it and hadn’t asked me if it was OK. I called her and asked her if she was planning on giving me a cut of the money she made off of my baby gear, and she point blank said, no, that I had given her everything not “loaned” it to her and she was well within her rights to sell it. Now we aren’t speaking.

What do I do? Honestly, if she had just told me her plans in advance, I probably wouldn’t have been mad, although I still would have wanted her to give me a portion of what she was selling it for. Also, there were some outfits that I wouldn’t have minded holding on to (for sentimental reasons) and now they are gone.

–I Should Have Just Had a Yard Sale

Amanda: I keep going back and forth on my answer. On the one hand, if you had given your friend a baby gift that was new, you wouldn’t expect it back. On the other hand, I agree that since she was selling the items and profiting off of your generosity, she probably should have run it past you first, if at the very least to find out if there was anything you wanted before it disappeared into another baby’s nursery. (And this would be true too if she was donating the items or passing them along to someone else.) So I guess the question is, was your baby gear a gift or a favor? Clearly, you and your friend have different opinions.

Since you’ve talked to her and she “disagrees” with you (part of me wonders if she’s embarrassed by the situation), I think I’d try one more time, maybe in a non-confrontational way. Write her a letter or an e-mail telling her how disappointed you are that she didn’t check with you first to find out if there was anything you wanted back, because there was. If she responds, then maybe you can once again try to discuss her giving you a portion of what she made from the sale of the gear.

If she doesn’t respond or is once again angry, I think letting it go is the best option. And in the future if you pass something along from your attic, be sure to let the recipient know if you want something back.

Suzanne: At this point I would just let it go. Sure you gave her things that maybe you could have used again, but if you didn’t mention that upfront as part of your agreement, then you really couldn’t expect her to comply.

When you give something away you just can’t expect to get it back. What if one of her older children accidentally stained the stroller seat with permanent marker — would you have expected a replacement?

Just last year I gave my sister-in-law whatever I had left of my children’s newborn clothes (being sure to keep a few of the outfits that were special to me) as well as a portable baby crib. When her twins outgrew everything she called to ask if I wanted it back. While it was very nice of her to ask, I replied that it was now hers to do with what she wished, whether that was pass it along to another mom who could use it, donate it, sell it, trash it, whatever.

She never told me what she ended up doing with the stuff and I have no reason to want to know. Because when I handed it over, I considered it her property.

And that’s why I think you might want to let this one go, in the interest of maintaining a friendship. But next time you decide to help a friend out, just be sure she knows what you mean when you loan something to her.

What do you think about what Yard Sale’s friend did? What do you do with used baby gear?

If you have a problem that needs two points of view, e-mail advice@wearebothright.com.

Our Two Cents: New Mom, Old Friends

new mom friends

When old friends don't fit a new life, do you hang on or let go? ©Hilde Vanstraelen/stock.xchng

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

With the exception of me, my closest friends from college are still very much single and unattached. And ever since I had my son in March, I feel left out.

I just can’t keep up with their nights out anymore and it seems like everything they do is a bad fit for me now. It’s not that I expect them to hang out in my living room for late night feedings. At the same time I can’t gear up for a weekly bar crawl either, nor would I consider that time well spent away from my baby.

If they would just do dinner or something easy I would be happy to join them once and a while for two hours and feel connected. I still consider them friends but I feel like we’re living on opposite poles.

What do you think? Have we grown too far apart, or is there still a way to find some common ground?

–New Mom, Old Friends

Suzanne: I can understand why you don’t want to give up on these friends so easily. They’re your girls — the ones who probably saw you through lots of ups and downs, relationship dramas, road trips, apartments, etc. But the reality is that sometimes friends just grow apart, for reasons exactly like you explained. You are at different stages of life and the pieces just don’t fit. No matter how hard you try.

That’s not to say that you have to put a permanent end to these friendships. But maybe you just let them cool off for a while, staying in touch as much as you can but skipping the socializing. Then maybe some day, if you find yourself on more even ground (either they are less footloose and fancy free and/or you are more available for an occasional night on the town), you can pick up where you left off. For the time being, it would be good for you to branch out and find other new moms in your area who might turn into friends someday too.

Without knowing if you are in your 20s or 30s, I can’t say if you will take my word for it that this plan can work. But I have enough years and experience behind me to know that friendships (good friendships) can take a chill for ten years or longer and fall right back into place, like time stood still.

At the least, don’t feel like you have to confront your friends or beg them to accommodate you. Maybe the best thing you can do is let them continue at their pace, until you find a time when you see an opening to jump back on board.

Amanda: It’s an interesting phenomena — at least it was for me. As soon as I saw that first double line on the pregnancy test I suddenly became a homebody (not that I was this huge partier to begin with), content to sit on the couch and watch television. And once my son was actually born, I became even more interested in what was going on inside my house rather than outside of it.

I think this was partly because of all of my friends, I was the first one to have a child. If there were plans made, no one necessarily knew how to accommodate me and my son — myself included. Not only was I not yet comfortable nursing in public (I used to go into another room), I wasn’t confident in my abilities as a mom — not that my childless friends would have known any better, but any time my son would cry or spit up or do something that babies do I’d become super self-conscious that everyone would think I was totally clueless (and let’s face it, I was!).

Suzanne is right though, despite my self-imposed banishment, in time, when I got more comfortable being a mom and my friends caught up by having babies of their own, the playing field became level again and our friendships were renewed and stronger than ever.

Still, it sounds like you are missing your friends right now, if not the method in which they have fun. So be proactive. Instead of waiting for them to come up with plans that will accommodate you and your new little one, invite them over or out to dinner on your terms. Bring up the elephant in the room, acknowledging that while your socializing habits have changed, you’d still like to see them once in a while. Chances are if you miss them, they miss you too!

And in the meantime, start looking for other friends who are on the same plane as you family-wise. Check out your local library or community center to see if there are any programs for young children (many start from birth) where the moms are also encouraged to forge friendships. You could also try looking for online birth clubs — I know both Suzanne and I have made quite a few mommy friendships that originated through message boards.

Having fellow mommy friends will give you an important support group — these are people who understand how it is entirely possible that you haven’t brushed your hair or teeth since Wednesday and will completely understand your obsession with the contents and color of your son’s diaper and what they could possibly mean.

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How did your friendships change when you had kids? What advice would you offer New Mom?

Got a question that needs answering twice? Send an e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.

Our Two Cents: Regifting Etiquette

As tempting as it is to regift, make sure you read these rules of engagement first. © jaylopez/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

Last week, we had our office holiday gift exchange and while the cute scarf and glove set that I received was great in theory (and very thoughtful of course), I really don’t need it.

Besides that, I have quite a few other miscellaneous gift items that I’ve accumulated over the last year or so, still in boxes and taking up space. Some of the things are doubles that the kids got from their birthday parties but that didn’t come with a receipt to return or exchange.

I’m thinking of the money I could save and how easy it would be just to find a new home for these things by recycling them as holiday gifts. But how much of a faux pas is regifting these days? Would you do it?

–Regift or Buy New

Suzanne: There’s actually nothing wrong with regifting as long as you follow the same rules that apply to buying a “new” gift to begin with. Most importantly, make sure that the gift is a good match for its recipient. In other words, don’t regift just for the sake of regifting and to unload something you don’t want.

Sure you would like to free up some closet space, but if your child’s bus driver comes equipped with her own hat and gloves, then maybe a coffee and donuts gift card is really the better bet. Then again, if your friend’s child is a year younger than your own, and doesn’t already have the full collection of Thomas the Train cars that your son does, then why not pass along the doubles from that birthday party that you can only return without a receipt for pennies on a dollar.

Amanda: My name is Amanda and I am a regifter. (And to my friends and family who read this — clearly I didn’t regift to you, nor did I ever regift something you gave me or my family. Just so we are clear.)

I say go for it.

Look, money is tight all around these days. If you have something of value you can’t use, it makes perfect sense to pass it along to someone else who can. It doesn’t matter how you received the item in question (unless you’ve stolen it), it’s yours to do with what you like.

Like Suzanne says though, make sure the gift is a good fit for the person and not just a square peg you are trying to fit into a round hole. Particularly with gifts for children, double check the suggested age, being aware of little pieces and other hazards that aren’t appropriate for little little ones.

To save yourself some embarrassment, make sure what you are regifting is free of any tell-tale signs — a card tucked into the corner of the box or slight tears on the package from old tape for example. And never regift something you’ve already used. Also, make sure that the people you are regifting from and to will never find out.

I know the thought of regifting makes many cringe, but I think as long as the intention is pure — to give something to someone that they will truly like and not to just unload something we don’t want anymore — it’s perfectly fine.

It’s tempting to regift and in some cases, it makes a lot of sense. Do you do it? How often? What rules do you follow?

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For double doses of advice, all you have to do is send just one e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.

Our Two Cents: Less Gifts, More Cheer

Try these tips for trimming the holiday gift list without looking like Scrooge. ©Christy Thompson/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

In the last few years, my holiday gift list has multiplied exponentially. There are lots of little nieces and nephews to buy for now, and my siblings still insist on exchanging with each other and me.

I would be happy to not get a thing while trimming the list wherever possible. Any advice on how to scale back without coming across as Scrooge?

–Santa’s on a Budget

Amanda: I’m a big fan of the round robin method. Suzanne and I have done it with our group of friends from college and their kids and I’ve done it with my family. The important part of the round robin is that in order for it to work correctly, you need to set some parameters — how much will be spent per person (and people have to promise they will stick to that amount!), whether or not the children are a part of it (or maybe you have one round robin for the kids and one for the adults), will it be a secret process, etc.

In the gift exchanges I’ve done, every person buys for one other person. So if there are five members of your family, you buy five gifts (and will receive five in return). Deciding who gets to buy for who is part of the fun and there are many ways you can figure that out. I’ve employed a few:

  • Alphabetical — Anna buys for Craig who buys for Jennifer who buys for Sam who buys for Anna
  • Age — 2-year-old “buys” for 7-year-old who “buys” for 15-year-old who buys for 26-year-old who buys for 2-year-old
  • Random — pulling names from a hat or stocking
  • Use an online site like Elfster to handle the gift assignments

To really add to the fun, consider introducing a theme — maybe the gifts have to be a book or something that starts with the first letter of the person you are buying for.

Suzanne: Here’s how we did it in my family a few years back. My sister and I agreed that there was no need to exchange gifts among the adults when we each had a niece and nephew to buy for. So we focused on the kids and left it at that. My brother who is seven years younger than me and doesn’t have children wasn’t quite on board. Of course, I was still buying gifts for him and his wife since they didn’t have any little ones, which meant that he felt the need to reciprocate for me and my husband — in addition to buying gifts for my son and daughter. I think we finally got it straightened out last year and everyone is happy now.

Another idea for forgoing gifts is the tradition we started with my husband’s brother and sister-in-law. Instead of waiting for them to catch up to us with children (we just made it even this year) we agreed to pick a date between Christmas and New Year’s Eve to go to a really nice steakhouse — just the four of us — and enjoy a night of good food and conversation instead of exchanging token gifts.

So you might consider something along those lines to help in trimming your holiday gift list. And if all else fails, be brave and take the initiative to skip the gifts for a year even if there’s not a consensus. They’re bound to follow your lead next year.

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Has the gift-giving spun out of control at your holiday celebrations or is your thinking that more is better? How do you and your family handle gift exchanges?

Looking for advice two times over? Just drop us a note at advice@wearebothright and we will serve it right up.

Our Two Cents: Holiday Shopping on a Tight Budget

holiday shopping on a budget

There's still time to get creative when holiday shopping on a budget. ©Kym McLeod /stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

I’m already thinking (and fretting) about Christmas shopping for the kids because our budget is tighter than ever this year.

My husband’s been out of work since the summer, so we’re just getting by with the basics. Still, I can’t imagine not being able to make the holidays special for our kids (ages 3, 4 and 7).

Obviously, there will be fewer presents under the tree this year, but I still want all three of them to have a memorable Christmas and at least get some of what is on their wish lists.

Any tips on how to do that on a budget?

–Christmas on a Shoestring

Suzanne: Seeing how far we can stretch a dollar is almost a prerequisite for parenting in this economy, so where Amanda and I leave off, I’m sure our readers will pick up with tips of their own.

For starters, I’ve found that a lot of planning goes a long way. I can say from experience that last minute shopping is what really does me (and my budget) in. This year, I took about ten minutes to brainstorm one day and jot down some ideas and how much each item would cost. I have my target range, and as I’ve been spotting sales and finding coupon matches for additional savings, I’ve been pouncing on the opportunity to cross another thing off the list.

My latest find is the Dora motorized toothbrush I scored as a stocking stuffer for my daughter (while she was sitting in the shopping cart in front of me) when it was on sale and before my coupon expired next week. And even though it’s just a toothbrush, it’s something she’s been wanting and will be excited to get — even though it’s a run-of-the-mill item I would have to buy for her anyway. And that can be another strategy that might work for you. If there’s an outfit or shoes your child really, really wants, maybe you can justify it as a Christmas gift and something that meets a basic need at the same time. This also works with gifts like “A Day with Mom” coupon where each child is promised a special day just with you doing their favorite thing (riding go-karts, ice skating or going to the movies — which means that it does triple duty, first as a Christmas present that doesn’t have to be paid for upfront, secondly as a special treat to look forward to over the winter, and also as a chance to do something that might otherwise not be in the budget).

Another favorite holiday shopping strategy I’ve been on top of this year (and again it requires some advance planning to accumulate items over time) is taking all of the $10 cash coupons that come in the mail from stores like Kohl’s and Bobs, and finding gift items in those stores — basically for free. I love crossing something off my list and writing a budget-friendly $1.97 price tag next to it. Just sign up for e-mails at any of those store’s web sites, and like the Facebook fan pages of shops on your hit list so that you can get deluged with special e-mail sales, coupons, and online codes that you can apply strategically as the holidays approach.

Of course, there’s more to life than shopping. So budget or no budget, the most important thing we can teach our children is the real meaning of the holidays we celebrate. Try to take some time in the weeks leading up to Christmas (or even on the holiday itself if you want to fill the time with something meaningful rather than focusing on what is or isn’t under the tree) and go with the family to a Ronald McDonald House or community center where you can all brighten the day of people who would want nothing more than to feel a little holiday spirit themselves. Have the kids bring a holiday book and read it to younger children or seniors. It might just be the most memorable holiday tradition of all.

Amanda: Suzanne’s got some great tips, some I already employ and some I’m going to have to start doing. Toothbrushes for everyone!

My big thing about shopping, aside from scouring the sales and using coupons is to see where I can get money back. It’s not a lot but it goes a long way, especially during the holiday time when I’m spending more than I normally would (even if it’s a little more). So whenever I use a credit card, I make sure it’s one that gives me cash back in some form. I always shop through sites like Upromise and ebates that give money back on every purchase (the former deposits the money in a 529 account for your kids, the latter sends you a check every quarter).

Keep track of what you spend too. If you shell out $19.99 for product A at store B and then a week later it’s $5 less, head over to their customer service desk and see if they’ll give you an adjustment. And don’t be afraid to ask if a store will honor competitors coupons and prices too.

Many stores now are offering layaway, a program that lets you pay off an item upfront for a small charge — usually around $5. If your child wants a toy that costs $30 and you just don’t have that to spend right now, you can give the store $6 a week for about a month — a lot easier on your weekly budget.

Good luck! I hope the new year brings you happiness and prosperity!

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What are your best tips for holiday shopping on a budget? We’d love to hear your advice, and if there’s an area where you could use double the help, let us know at advice@wearebothright.com.

Our Two Cents: When Should Kids Be Allowed to Trick-or-Treat Alone?

When should tweens be allowed to trick-or-treat without their parents?

When should tweens be allowed to trick-or-treat without their parents?

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

I knew this was coming, but I didn’t want to think about it so I kept putting it out of my head. Now it’s here and I’m wholly unprepared.

My 11-year-old son asked to go trick-or-treating alone with his friends. He’s a good boy and we live in a safe neighborhood. They’d go during the day and stay within a four or five block radius. (Once it gets dark, one of the dads is going to accompany them from a reasonable distance.) It’s all perfectly logical, all the other parents are on board and as a collective group the parents are going to talk to the boys about safe practices and what to do if they have a problem (two of the boys have cell phones). While they are out, I’ll be in the neighborhood with one of the other moms with our younger children so it’s likely we will even run into our kids.

It sounds like an ideal setup, so why am I still dreading the day? Am I making the right decision?

– Wishing He Still Wanted to Wear His Spider-Man Costume and Ride in the Wagon

Amanda: I’m actually facing the same situation you are. Our 11-year-old boy asked to go trick-or-treating alone with three of his friends this year and we said yes. My heart isn’t totally in it, but I recognize that he’s getting older and walking around the neighborhood with a brood of younger kids that include fairies, Elmo and ladybugs just isn’t cutting it anymore, no matter how many peanut butter cups he absconds from his toddler brother’s bag.

Despite your protests that you haven’t, it sounds like you and the other parents involved have put a lot of thought into your son’s afternoon and have tried to control as many of the variables as you can. That’s good. What you and your son (and me and my son) need to remember is that you can’t control everything. Not to freak you out, but he may encounter a group of older kids with eggs and shaving cream or a stranger who asks your son’s group to come for a ride in his car. What’s important is that you give your son the tools to help him make the right decision to remove himself from the situation. Making sure the kids have access to at least one cell phone is a great idea, and depending on your comfort level, you can also equip them with emergency whistles and flashlights (just in case they don’t make it back in time before dark). We are also setting some non-negotiable rules — he can’t eat any candy until it’s checked and no crossing any major roads, plus we have clearly defined what streets he needs to stay on.

Making myself semi-comfortable with the situation (and any activity that involves him becoming more independent) was all about telling myself that if I want my son to grow up healthy and well-adjusted, I need to start letting him do things that I might not be ready for him to do. He needs to practice being self-sufficient and I have to work on realizing that if I made him wait to do something until I was totally unworried, he would be married with kids of his own.

So send him out and try to relax. Soon enough he’ll be home and your next big parenting issue will be wondering if you need to ‘fess up for stealing some of his loot.

(And as an aside, on behalf of my husband, make sure you review the etiquette of trick-or-treating with your kids. Nothing drives him more bananas than kids who don’t say “trick-or-treat.” He’ll survive if they don’t say “thank you,” but if our Halloween visitors of any age [there are a couple of exceptions of course] who show up at our door don’t utter that famous phrase, likely aren’t getting candy from him.)

Suzanne: I wish I could be as open-minded about this as Amanda but it really makes my skin crawl. (Obviously you understand that!) It’s just that Halloweeen presents a very different set of circumstances than most other days that your child would be roaming the neighborhood with friends.

Granted there will be other groups around when they are making their way door-to-door but the concept of sending your child unattended up to a stranger’s door is a little too close for comfort for me. At least on a regular day, you could warn about staying away from strangers (and certainly not walking up to a strange home or car).

So if it were me, and my child was making their first foray out into the land of the unknown, I would want to follow along at a distance, just this once. Obviously give them a long leash and, for all the reasons Amanda mentioned, an opportunity to spread their wings.  But you (or another parent) should think about being there both before and after dark (even if undercover trolling along in a car).

And really, as overprotective as I sound right now, I do value experiences that guide a child toward independence. It’s just that while they’re still learning, a safety net can’t hurt.

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What do you think? What is a reasonable age to let kids go trick-or-treating without parental supervision?

If you have a parenting question that needs two perspectives, send an e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com. We promise not to steal any candy from your Halloween stash!

Our Two Cents: Is It Worth Saying Something to the Pregnant Mom Drinking (and Smoking)?

parenting advice

Cheers... or not. If a pregnant woman decides to drink or smoke, is it an open forum for comments? ©Jim Reilly/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne,

Usually I’m the type of person who keeps my opinions to myself, but last night while out with a group of mom friends I saw something that I wish I had spoke up about.

There’s a woman in our group of friends who is about four months pregnant. I’m not especially close with her, but I do see her when our extended circle of friends gets together every few weeks. Most of the time we take the kids to the park or meet up for lunch, but sometimes we’ll do a girls’ night out at a restaurant, etc.

Well last night we went out to dinner to celebrate two birthdays in the group and a few of the women ordered cocktails or beer — including this pregnant woman. Now I’m all for making your own decisions and obviously you would have to be living under a rock to know that drinking while pregnant is risky. But the kicker is that later on she went outside for a smoke!

When I got over my disbelief, I kept going back and forth in my mind over whether or not I should say anything. None of the other women seemed to bat an eyelash. Then again, maybe they were feeling the same hesitance as me. Should I have spoken up?

–Busting at the Seams

Amanda: In a word, no. I’m going to go ahead and assume that your friend has a brain with working cells. I’m going to assume that she has seen or heard at least one of the million news reports that says smoking while pregnant is a big no-no. And despite all of the information existing out there, study upon study upon study, news reports, PSAs and everything else, she still chose to light up. She knows the risks, she knows it’s selfish. Nothing you are going to say will change that.

If she were a closer friend I might consider talking to her at a different time, a few days after the fact, but not in an accusatory tone. I think I’d just come out and ask her if she was still actively smoking and see where the conversation went. But that’s it. I know it’s tempting, but I don’t think this is your place to play pregnancy police. And while I appreciate your concern for your friend’s unborn child, this is a matter for her. She’s a big girl, she knows what she is doing.

As for the drinking, I need a little more info before offering advice, although it would probably be along the lines of what I said above. I’m one that thinks it’s OK to have a glass of wine on occasion while pregnant. Now, you don’t say how many drinks she had or what exactly it was she was drinking (was it possible she had virgin versions of her cocktails?), so I’m going to stay out of it.

As should you.

Suzanne: It sounds like you are not the type of person who feels the need to weigh in on what’s in the grocery cart of the person ahead of you on line (and suggest that rice cakes are a healthier alternative to potato chips). Just the fact that you made it through the night without saying anything shows that you are aware of the consequences and the most likely outcome of sticking your nose where it doesn’t belong.

That said, I can feel your anxiety over this particular situation. First, there’s an unborn child who doesn’t have a say in what is going into his/her fragile body. Secondly, you probably can’t fathom why a woman carrying life would buck best practice and put her baby at risk.

And yet, for all the same reasons Amanda suggests, you might as well forget about saying anything. She is not committing a crime that is punishable or reportable to law enforcement. And no matter how gentle, subtle, or well-worded your input, it’s not likely to be the lightbulb that’s going to make this mom put out her cigarette or pass on a drink.

Our species is stubborn. We don’t like unsolicited advice. No matter how well meaning. And you were probably thinking a few steps ahead to what this woman would say when you pointed out the obvious.

So let it be. She’s going to have to make many more decisions in her child’s life in the years to come. And she will have the final say. As hard as it may be, all you can do is focus on giving the best to any children under your care and just hope for the best as far as everyone else is concerned.

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What do you think? Would you have spoken up?

If you have a question that needs two opinions, send an e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.

Our Two Cents: Advice for a Mom Who Would Like to Ground Another Mom

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Is it OK for a mom to cancel a playdate if her child misbehaves? ©hortongrou/stock.xchng

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

My children are close friends with my neighbor’s children. It’s a seemingly-perfect fit — we each have an eight-year-old girl and an 11-year-old boy. They go to the same school and ride the bus together. Even better, they all get along!

My problem is that my neighbor, Kate, often uses scheduled playdates with my kids as leverage with her kids. If her daughter acts out or otherwise gets into trouble, she won’t allow her to play with my daughter as punishment. Same with her son. It happens often enough that now that my kids know that until they are actually playing with their friend, they shouldn’t count on the playdate.

Last week my daughter was so upset. Ten minutes before Kate’s daughter was due at our house to play, Kate called and said her daughter was misbehaving and wasn’t allowed to come out.

I understand that she needs to punish her kids her way, but I hate that it always seem to be at the expense of my children. What should I do?

– Not Fair!

Amanda: Well, you could invite Kate to tell your children herself about her decision and let her deal with the aftermath.

I’m kidding of course, but wouldn’t that be nice?

Have you tried discussing it with Kate and offering your perspective? She may not realize how upset your kids get after she cancels. Tell her you understand that grounding her kids from a fun afternoon may be an effective punishment (although it sounds like she does this often, so is it really?), but that when she does it, she’s punishing your children as well. A talk mom-to-mom might do the trick.

The one good thing (if you can call it that) from all this is that it sounds like your kids sort of get what is going on. I’d remind them of what has happened in the past the next time they make plans with one of Kate’s children. You don’t want them to be cynical about the situation, but certainly you need to make sure they are realistic about it and know that they may very well not play with their friend as they hoped.

Not all life lessons are happy ones, hopefully your kids will be able to take something from it.

Suzanne: Up until about two hours ago, I would have echoed Amanda’s sentiments on this one. But around that time, I did something similar to your neighbor and vowed to cancel my daughter’s plans on Saturday with her friends.

Why? Because it was the most effective way to get her attention and recognize the consequences of her actions. Was I really going to carry out the punishment? No, not this time. But the warning was effective enough that I didn’t have to go that far. I realize it might not be so next time, which would leave me with a big empty threat. An big empty ineffective threat that would never hold water again.

Sounds like your friend has already been in that position and made the decision to put her money where her mouth is. It’s just too bad that your kids are caught in the middle. But hey, a parent’s gotta do what a parent’s gotta do. Respect your friend’s frustrations. Honor the solution that seems to work for her. And the next time she or her children suggest a play date, just let her know that you’d rather not make “official” plans until the time actually arrives when she knows she can go through with them.

Explain that you would be happy to have her children come over or vice versa, but you will have to play it by ear since you don’t want your children to be disappointed if anything changes at the last minute. That way, she has the choice to make and can decide whether there might be a better way to carry out discipline that doesn’t involve innocent bystanders. (Which is exactly what I need to do for next time).

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Have you ever cancelled a playdate or otherwise scheduled outing because of the way your child behaved? What should Not Fair do?

If you have a problem that needs two perspectives, drop us a line at advice@wearebothright.com.

Our Two Cents: Advice for a Mom Who Wants to Put Dad in Detention


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When it comes to the first day of school, who puts the kids on the bus? ©tenneysmit/stock.xchng

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

My daughter Tess is starting her first day of kindergarten next week. She’s an only child and I’m viewing the day as a momentous one for all of us (Tess, her dad and me).

Her dad, my husband Frank, works quite a bit. He leaves early in the morning and isn’t home until late at night. He’s home on weekends, but he misses a lot of what’s going on in Tess’ world. I do my best to keep him updated.

I think it’s important for Frank to be around on the first day of school, if not for the whole day, at the very least to put Tess on the bus with me. Frank usually leaves for his office around 6 a.m., the bus is scheduled to come at 7:45 a.m. Frank says he wants to watch his daughter get on the bus for the first time but simply doesn’t have the time.

This is turning into a big issue for me. Now that Tess is starting school, I can no longer keep her up until her dad gets home from work. I know she isn’t going to see him a lot and it upsets me. I don’t see the big deal in Frank going into work a few hours late. How can I convince him that this is very important and he needs to stay home?

– Disappointed Mom

Suzanne: Feeling like you have to be in two places at one time is never easy, but in this case I suspect your husband might have a little more leeway than he’s admitting. It doesn’t sound like he is fearing for his job if he delays his start time by two hours. From what you say, he just can’t “make” the time. And in that case, I would say that there’s still more wiggle room in your argument discussion.

I know from my own experience that unless you are arriving late or leaving the office early every day, a morning appointment here and there is not scrutinized. And I’ve made it a point to be at every first day of school and other important parent activity in my children’s schools whenever possible. Same goes for my husband — who is in the minority among his peers in his status as a dad. (He’s someone who spent years wringing his hands over the prospect that he would probably have to miss his son’s first day of kindergarten because he would be in the classroom welcoming his own students to school. When the time came, he was working in a different field and was right there with us. He still talks about that day.)

But there was one year when an early meeting on my part coincided with the arrival of my son’s bus on his first day of second grade. My husband was still planning to see him off (and take pictures) but I was tearing my hair out trying to figure out a way to be there. It wouldn’t have been career-ending for me to skip that one meeting — except that I was on the agenda to make a presentation (talk about adding insult to injury since public speaking is not my favorite early morning activity). Then I got bumped. Then I got rescheduled for another topic. Ugggghhhhh! Turns out I did have to miss the first day of school fanfare and yet we all survived.

My frustration stemmed from the fact that there’s so much more to that first day of school than just walking your child safely to the corner and nodding your head at the bus driver. Pride. Excitement. A mental reminder of just how quickly you are moving through the years and why that drive to the college dorms is looming in the not-so-distant future. The first days of school are numbered.

So even though you don’t want to push to the point of resentment, it would be worth bringing up subject again with your husband in a less direct way. Ask him about his office culture and how he feels about what lies ahead when the first day of school gives way to chorus concerts, science fairs, field day and career day. Get a feel for how other people in his office handle family commitments, doctors’ appointments, etc.

And suggest that if there’s the least bit of flexibility in his day, he might want to save those precious slots for times like these because while he’s doing his job for the benefit of your family, his bonus comes in the form of working in some face-to-face family time wherever possible since that’s the stuff memories are made of.

Amanda: I’m trying to remember back to my first day of school. I think I wore a pink or a red dress with flowers on it. That’s about it. I’m sure it was a huge day and I’m sure my parents were proud, but some 30-odd years later, I’m scratching my head over the details.

Having said that, I do remember both of my school-age children’s first days of school very clearly, so I understand your concerns. The first day of school (especially the first first day of school) is an important one, especially to parents. I do my best to make sure that day goes as smoothly as possible. For you, that means having your husband there and I get that.

The thing is, I’m not sure it’s a good idea to presume that Frank can take off without any repercussion. It’s his job, I think it needs to be his call. I do think another conversation is in order. Try to be calm as you explain why it means so much to you that he is there for your daughter’s big day. If after your talk he still can’t make it, understand that given the choice, he’d probably rather be with you and your daughter. So do your best to make him part of the day. Suggest he write a note to put in Tess’ lunchbox and take plenty of pictures for him to view (you can even text him a couple on your cell phone). Maybe the three of you can have a celebratory meeting over ice cream over the weekend where Tess can share with both of you all the special moments of the day.

No matter what happens, good luck!

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O.K, your turn. What would you tell Disappointed Mom? Is she asking too much of her husband? Should he take a few hours off of work to put Tess on the bus?

If you have a problem that needs two sets of answers, send an e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.