We Are Both Right

Australian Company Offers Return to Work Bonus After Maternity Leave

Usually when we talk about maternity leave, it’s about what’s lacking about it. Especially in the United States. Well a new maternity leave policy implemented by an Australian company once again has me shaking my head at the dismal state of maternity benefits here.
According to The ABC, The Insurance Australia Group, one of the biggest companies in the land Down Under, has changed their maternity leave policy not only provides 14 weeks months of paid maternity leave, but a “back-to-work bonus” that doubles their salary for the first six weeks of their return.
“Basically this initiative came out of some discussions that we had with our people and specifically women on the difficulties and pressures that they faced upon returning to the workforce, and we think this welcome back payment is a good first step in helping them to address a number of those pressures,” IAG’s chief executive Mike Wilkins, told The ABC.
While the response has been overwhelmingly positive, the action is not without its critics. Detractors say that women are being rewarded to take time off to have a baby (which, if you’ve ever had a baby, you know it isn’t time off!). Still, for a woman who is trying to decide whether or not she should return to work, the bonus is a great incentive, one that benefits her co-workers and the company too.
Not to mention, if you are a parent or not, a company that offers a benefit like this obviously cares about its workers and is probably a pretty nice place to work.
Did you receive maternity/paternity benefits?

Encylopedia Brown: More than a Mystery?

Cuddling up with my seven-year old, lights out and flashlight in hand, we readied ourselves to dive into his first-ever detective mystery novel. He was excited about the flashlight. I was excited about passing on the joy of reading books filled with adventure and intrigue.

The book I selected to deliver on such high expectations was Encyclopedia Brown. Earlier in the day, my husband and I had picked this book while browsing the shelves at the local B&N. He spotted the Encyclopedia Brown series and recalled liking them as a child. I remembered Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys fondly. I had never heard of this series or character.

This being my first exposure to Encyclopedia Brown, I wasn’t sure what to expect.  Luckily, it became apparent after the initial well-constructed and neatly wrapped-up chapter that facts are presented, clues are given, and the reader is left to use their own deductive reasoning skills to sort out the mystery. Helpful answers are provided at the end of the chapter to help the novice detective along.

Beginning with chapter 2, my son and I were ready to do some sleuthing of our own. We could solve these mysteries with a bit of research.  Who won the battle of Waterloo?  No problem.  Then, I glanced over at my son and realized he hadn’t a clue as to how to find the answers.

An image of my childhood collection of Encyclopedia Britannica sitting on the top shelf of my closet, quietly awaiting the next social studies report sprung immediately to mind.  What to do? We have no such printed reference materials in our household today. We have the internet. We have…WIKIPEDIA!

The rest of our reading time was spent discussing technology and its impact on information. I explained to my son that today information is stored, shared and updated constantly on the world wide web. It is no longer the static, outdated facts on a printed page that I had as a child.

Coincidentally, I recently read an announcement that Encyclopedia Britannica will stop printing books. Turns out that the 2010, 32-volume set will be the last of its kind as the company focuses on digital.  They are betting that consumers will see the value and pay for vetted, expert information vs. Wikipedia: the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit.

So as new technology forces the old to adapt and compete, will Encyclopedia Brown be  renamed Wikipedia Brown? Which will resonate more with my son? What an unexpected twist to our evening. Thank you, Encyclopedia Brown!

tracey

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.

How Tight Are Your Apron Strings?

How tight are your apron strings? ©Adrian/stock.xchng

People watching. It’s a favorite pastime of mine.

So much so that you could send me to an airport right now, subject me to a five-hour layover and I would be more than happy to find a seat and watch the comings and goings of other people the whole time. (Of course, if my children were with me, the tables would be turned and we would be the people being watched.)

The way things have been lately, I have actually had a lot more time for people watching. You see, it’s an inverse relationship: lots of time waiting in lines, going to practices, and sitting in doctor’s offices means more people watching, less sit-ups and blogging.

Sometimes people watching is the only thing to do. Like in the gymnastics waiting room — my daughter is new to the class and I don’t know any of the other parents yet, but I do know who’s running a marathon and which moms and dads teach in the same school together. Last week, between S.’s turn on rings and her flips on the low bar, I picked up on two conversations that intrigued me. (OK, so it was more like public eavesdropping than people watching, but it struck me the same way.)

In one room, three moms were comparing sleep away camps. The conversation soon shifted to convincing another mom who was new to the concept that she would be fine with sending her second grader away to camp for the entire summer. I couldn’t see her reaction to gauge whether she bought it or not.

That’s because in my direct line of sight was a mother pressed up against the window, talking at the same time through the glass and to her husband who was half-listening with Blackberry in hand.

“They’re not even watching her. She’s going to fall,” the mom said. (Just to set the scene: the room is lined in wall-to-wall heavy duty mats equipped to cushion an adult falling off the uneven bars and her preschooler was about a foot off the ground on another foam mat, while two instructors looked over a class of six.) She spent most of the class saying the same thing over and over again.

I was keeping my judgment-free cap on, and didn’t even react when I saw that her child was dressed in a zipped-up, velour track suit on a 60-degree day. As if she read my mind, she wondered aloud to her husband how some kids could be dressed in leotards on such a cold day — as my leotarded daughter jumped off the balance beam.

No offense taken. Because these are the observations I like best. They make me think. About how I make choices as a mom. How I view different approaches to parenting. And if such differences validate my way of doing things or make me feel inadequate.

This version of people watching, or parent watching, has made me question how tight the apron strings really need to be. Most people like to keep their kids close, others even closer. But where do I want to fall?

I always fancied myself a supportive and open-minded parent, one who would be happy to help my children find their wings and learn to fly. I can picture myself smiling (with a single tear on my cheek) as we pull up to campus on the first day of college. I want to be the mom who could not be more proud that her child becomes self-sufficient and independent.

I truly believe that I will feel fulfilled to see my children make a life of their own — and not feel the need to pick out their furniture, invite myself on the honeymoon or even into the delivery room for that matter.

Of course, my two are still young. And I still smother them with worry sometimes. But there are lots of times when I think that maybe there’s a motherly doting gene I’m missing.

I let a lot of things fly, like hats on a cold day. There are times I expected them to toughen up, even as toddlers, and stick out a long day without a nap at home or forgo the favorite sippy cup which hadn’t made it through the dishwasher yet. It doesn’t leave me panicked to let them go on field trips and ride school buses without taking the teacher’s cell phone number.

Nine years into the experiment and I haven’t made any fatal mistakes. So that’s a good thing. But I’m wondering if I should be holding them tighter, worrying more, and not wanting to let go.

Tell me, how tight are your apron strings?

Becoming a Healthy Mom by Following My Toddler’s Example

healthy moms

Thanks to her toddler, Amanda won't be needing these. ©stockxchng/pawel_231

I have figured it out. The secret to weight loss. And the best part is, you don’t need to join a gym or invest in some expensive exercise DVDs or starve yourself for weeks at a time. Nope. All unnecessary. All you need to do to lose some weight is to get yourself a toddler and then do exactly what he does. Voilá! Pounds shred!

(Hmm. I guess I should be clearer. Don’t do everything your little one does. Ignore certain aspects of common toddler behavior – no nose picking, wall drawing, crayon eating or anything like that. No, what I’m talking about is trying to emulate and harness all that energy tiny people seem to have.)

For example, take my son. He never walks. Never. Anytime he needs to go anyplace he’ll run. Or trot. Or skip. Or crawl. But he never walks (unless we are going someplace he doesn’t want to go. Then he’s Tommy the Turtle). Imagine all the pounds you could shred if you stopped simply walking and started moving. Really moving. It would be amazing. (And tiring.)

An optional add-on to this method is to make noises that correspond to the activity that you are doing. For example, if you are crawling, be sure to say “Bark! Bark! I’m a dog! Bark! Bark!” or if you are skipping, yell loud and clear “I’M AN AIRPLANE!” Note that these add-ons don’t really contribute to your weight loss, but they certainly help set the mood. Also, anyone in your path is sure to steer clear of you, so no more lines at the supermarket!

So you say, “Fine, I’ll start galloping around the mall and neighing and hopping on one foot while I’m on line at the post office while singing ‘If You’re Happy and You Know It’. But all that extra activity is going to make me want to eat more, right?” No! That’s the beauty of the Toddler Weight Loss Plan (patent pending). According to my research, apparently not! My son exists solely on apples, plain macaroni and two bites of frozen pancakes each day and his energy levels are still through the roof!

One of the best parts of this new exercise regimen is the clothing. Say goodbye to fancy workout garb and say hello to a superhero cape! (Or a princess dress, whichever you prefer!) Put them on, insist on wearing them wherever you go and you are good to go!

There are a few simple rules to follow if you want to make the plan work properly.

  1. No sitting still. Ever. Even if someone is reading you a book, after three minutes you need to start squirming in your seat.
  2. Be prepared to fall asleep at the strangest times in the strangest places. (Hey, you are using up all that energy after all!)

So that’s it! The easy-peasy, no fuss (unless you feel like throwing a temper tantrum, which is totally allowed) Toddler Weight Loss Plan. I’m starting it this week. Let me know if it works for you.

Preserving Memories – What’s Your Style?

old family photos

What are your family's memories made of? ©Jean Scheijen/stock.xchng

The other night, while I was rearranging the game closet (because it was about time) my daughter came up behind me and asked for her special pink book. “The one that’s all about me,” she said.

I reached up two shelves and handed over a fuzzy covered photo album that contains about two hundred pictures of her first two weeks of life. Yes, I take a lot of pictures. And my kids love me for it. ;-)

Actually, I have archived so many pictures that my husband jokes around that when we’re both gone someday, our son and daughter will be sitting in our house, looking at a room full of photo albums and portable hard drives, saying: “What are we supposed to do with all of this?”

But hey, it’s my memory-preserving style of choice.

Kids grow up so fast. There are so many special moments that I’m always thinking, I wish I could bottle this up and take it out down the road. The color of my daughter’s hair as I put it into pigtails for the first time. My son as a toddler digging into his favorite vegetable — corn on the cob. The looks on their faces the first time each of them rode a pony. Family gardening days out in the yard. Trips to the beach. Visits with great-grandma.

All of the random stuff that makes our family’s world go ’round. And so I take pictures. Lots of them.

There are so many other ways to capture a memory:

Keeping a baby book (although most moms feel a slight tinge of guilt when they think about their unfulfilled wishes for their baby book).

Blogging. I’ve gone so far as to print out most of the blogs I’ve written about my children, but somehow I don’t see them paging through these as much as they will our photo albums.

Scrapbooking, whether digitally or traditionally.

Logging highlights on Facebook–which our kids will probably hate us for someday when their potty training progress (and hang-ups) is still on full display for their prom date’s reading pleasure.

Videos–which are probably the best way to go back in time, if we could just settle on a format that’s going to last a lifetime!

What’s your memory-keeping style of choice?

Moms, Time to Have “The Talk” With Your Daughters — About Math

How do your kids feel about math? While both my kids do very well  in math at school, my son will tell you he loves it, while my daughter says that only does she not like it, she’s not good at it to boot. As it turns out, her lack of enthusiasm for the subject could totally be my fault.

A new study from researchers at the University of Delaware’s School of Education and reported in Miller-McCune finds that moms are less likely to talk to their daughters about numbers at a young age, potentially setting them up to have less confidence about them when they reach elementary school.

The research is fascinating, if not troubling. Scientists recorded mothers talking to their children who were between 20 and 27 months old. The moms mentioned numbers twice as much to their sons as their daughters. The number rose to three times as much when the number was attached to a noun — for example, “Here are five raisins.”

Alicia Chang, the lead researcher told Miller-McCune, “By grade school, boys are very confident at math, and girls are saying boys are better at math. The issue isn’t actual performance but perception of competence. We hypothesized that by the time you’re in grade school, you might like math because your mother was more likely to talk to you about it when you were very, very young.”

The researchers don’t think that the omission is conscious, simply parents talking to their children differently. Still, it’s something to be aware of.

What do you think? Does your daughter like math?

Best Of: How to Make Time for Your Spouse or Partner

Even if you are married with kids, a (quiet) candlelit dinner is possible! cynthiab ©/stock.xchng

Even if you are married with kids, a (quiet) candlelit dinner is possible! cynthiab ©/stock.xchng

Being married with kids can sometimes give you tunnel vision. Wake the kids, feed the kids, play with the kids, get the kids to school, get the kids from school, get the kids to afterschool activities, feed the kids dinner, put the kids to bed and everything else that the kids need in between.

All important of course, but it’s also necessary to make time for your partner in all this — your spouse, boyfriend, girlfriend — it doesn’t matter what they are called, but it does matter that you get some alone time together, or at least a few minutes to talk uninterrupted. But how? Certainly you could hire a babysitter for an evening, but that often comes with extra cost and not everyone has access to a person they trust.

Instead, consider ways to make time within the confines of your busy life to find time. Take advantage of the few quiet moments or carve out some time by making your own (some are better advised than others). Even if the kids are with you, it is possible! Here are our suggestions:

  • Tuck the kids into bed early, rent a movie or play a game and bring in take out for a late dinner
  • Consider taking a break from dinner time being family time for a night. Let the kids eat in the living room with a movie while you have a quiet dinner in the dining room (or vice versa)
  • Wake up early and eat breakfast together alone
  • Pack the kids in the car and go for a long drive. If your minivan or vehicle is equipped with DVD player, utilize it. If not, let the kids bring books or portable game systems that will keep them occupied. (Make an exception if you usually frown upon such devices.)
  • If you both work (or if one of you does) while the kids are in school or daycare, consider taking a “goof off” day
  • When the weather is nice, go for a walk as a family at a local high school on the running track. Let the kids run ahead (staying in sight of course) while you two talk.
  • Invite another couple with kids over for dinner. Let the children entertain each other while they play, giving the grown-ups a chance to socialize.
  • If there is another family you are friendly with, consider setting up a babysitter swap arrangement where you take their kids for a night and they take yours.

How do you make time for your marriage?

Why Yes, I am a Terrible Person

weblux/stock.xchng

This place looks pretty quiet and remote, but I bet the second I sit down my kids find me. ©weblux/stock.xchng

This is how desperate I am for some alone time. (And please, don’t take offense, I’m at my wit’s end here.)

Today, my husband will be attending the wake of a colleague’s father. A solemn occasion honoring and remembering a good man that I have never met (I was introduced to my husband’s fellow worker once). It will be a room filled with this man’s family and friends, all mourning his death and celebrating his life. And what am I doing besides writing out a sympathy card?

I’m begging my husband to let me go with him. Begging. Think the last piece of chocolate cheesecake begging.

“We’ll get dressed up!” I told him as I plead my case yesterday afternoon while our children zoomed around our house, high on an energy that can only come from a Friday that leads into a week off from school. “We’ll have an hour-long car ride alone together — we can finish our sentences without being interrupted! Maybe we can grab a bite to eat after!”

My husband raised his left eyebrow at me and gave me a look of semi-disbelief. “Are you trying to turn the wake of a man into date night?”

At that moment, my 9-year-old daughter ran through the kitchen with her 2-year-old brother on her back, both of them shrieking at the top of their lungs, their 11-year-old brother  (brandishing a light saber, naturally), not far behind.

“Please,” I implored. “Think about how quiet it will be.”

And that my friends, is what it has come down to.

I had lunch with an old friend and colleague recently who relayed  a story about her younger sister. When her sister’s children were small — probably around the age of my brood — she used to “joke” that even going to the dentist and getting a root canal was enjoyable, because it meant she had a moment’s peace.

Show of hands, how many of you are nodding your heads and saying to yourself, “Well, that sounds reasonable.”?

I thought so.

I love my children. More than anything else in the world. I never thought my capacity to love and care about someone else (and that’s three someone elses) could be so vast and deep. When they are happy, I’m ecstatic. When they are sad, I’m inconsolable. I have never laughed as hard as I do when one of my children is doing something silly. They keep me active and awake and engaged.  My smile is bigger because of them.  They are my light and my life and I’m a better person for them.

But they are loud. Oh, so very loud. And they like to interrupt a lot. And spill things. Also, yell. And I never get to watch my shows. (Seriously, I’m like four episodes back on Revenge.)

In any case, I’ve come to my senses and restored my sensitive gene. I will not be attending that wake. But I do go to the gym a few times a week. And if you knew me from days of yore, you’d know that my sudden interest in exercise is less about maintaining a healthy lifestyle and more about something else. (Hint: no one asks me to put the straw in their juice box while I’m on the treadmill.)

Still, even while I’m rolling my eyes and breaking out the earplugs when the herd of oxen I live with comes trampling through the living room, I tell myself that it won’t be like this forever. In fact, it won’t be like this for very long at all. And while quiet sounds like heaven right now, I bet ten years from now it will be deafening.

OK, let me have it. I’m an insensitive clod. But ‘fess up. What measures have you gone to to secure a moment for yourself?

11-Year-Old Willow Smith Shaves Head, Internet Explodes

Earlier this week, Willow Smith, the 11-year-old daughter of superstars Will Smith and Jada Pinkett Smith tweeted a photo of herself with a shaved head.  Ironic when you consider Willow became a “household name” for her song and video, “Whip My Hair,” not surprising if you’ve ever encountered a tween and their mood swings.

In any case, once the photo was posted, the uproar was immediate and loud. Everyone in the blogosphere, from mommiesto celebrity reporters (to hairdressers) had opinions, all varied and all speculative. (Willow hasn’t indicated the reason behind the bold move yet.) The big question seems to be though, is it appropriate for an 11-year-old girl to shave her head? (Although in my opinion, the question should be is it appropriate for an 11-year-old to be on Twitter?)

For me, this is a “choose your battles” situation, both for myself and my child. Hair is not a permanent fixture on our bodies, and if my daughter decided she wanted to shave her head (ha, not likely) then I’d probably sit her down and have a serious discussion about why she wanted to do it. Had she considered the ramifications of her decision? What will happen when she walks into school that first time? Certainly you don’t want to tell your kids to chart their lives based on what other people think, but in the pressure-filled world of tweendom, it’s certainly an important consideration.

It’s tough because I want to let my kids to learn that their choices, both good and ill-advised, shape who they are and who they are going to be. But at the same time, as a parent, sometimes you need to know when to step in and say “No, you aren’t doing this,” offering them guidance as they turn into the person they will become.

Having said that, hair does grow back.

What do you think of Willow’s new hair style?