We Are Both Right

Watch a little TV to encourage reading?

Reading books ranks right up at the top of my priorities along with fulfilling basic needs and good oral hygiene. My husband and I enjoy all media and so my children are exposed to practically every form of entertainment that is available and age appropriate. With so many entertainment options – apps, books, magazines, movies, music, newspapers, television, theater, video games and websites – I have to use every creative angle I can to make books stand out from the glitzy competition.

Public enemy number one in my household always seems to be the ever-present television. It’s not just cartoons or shows. It’s the Wii or our collection of 400 plus DVDs. When this topic arises while chatting with other moms, it is apparent that we all struggle to find the right balance for ourselves and our children. Some moms say no TV on school nights. Others have removed the offending device from their homes altogether. Still others place no restrictions at all.

In my house we have a few basic rules when it comes to either television or reading: No Wii after dinner, no movies on weeknights after 7 p.m., no TV until homework is completed, Thursday is reading night, Sunday is library day, and so on.

Surprisingly, I find that other forms of media, and in particular television, don’t necessarily compete with reading but rather inspire it. As a toddler, my son would gravitate towards a book with a cover that featured a character he was familiar with. You know, one of those many licensed characters from PBS or Disney movies? In marketing this is called brand extension: movies, toys, games, tv shows and books. Each cross promotes the other using one common theme. And, while it feels predatory to me at times (as in toys or non-educationally based tv shows), I have found it helpful when introducing reading to my son. My son will watch a movie, play the video game and then…READ the book!

Rather than one form of media cannibalizing the other, I find that one actually reinforces the other. If a TV show or website helps my son get past his hesitation to read a book, I’m all for it. After all, he already knows and loves the characters. He may even know the plot. He seems to take comfort in the familiar content and this gives him the motivation to tackle the words he doesn’t know.

So, while striking a healthy balance between all the different media for myself and the entire family is a daily struggle. I tend to think of it like a diet: moderation and variation is key to a healthy lifestyle. In this case a movie, some game time and a bit of reading does the trick.

tracey

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.

***********************************************

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.

Best Of: Advice on Being a Mom

What motherly words of advice were like a life saver for you? © Arjun Kartha / stock.xchng

Whether it’s your very first Mother’s Day or your twentieth, you have undoubtedly received some great advice that helped you along the way.

You know the kind we mean. The few words that picked you up when you needed it most. Or the detailed instructions that got you through those first few days home with baby.

Whatever they were and whoever uttered them — those words of wisdom made you realize that you were not alone in the sometimes overwhelming world of motherhood.

We’re sharing ours and we hope you will too:

AMANDA: One of the best pieces of advice about motherhood came, from all people, my husband. Now while he’s a great dad and the best father for my children that I could ever want or hope for, he is undoubtedly not a mother, nor will he ever be.

Still, I will always be grateful for his words of wisdom.

Start a blog.

I know, it’s not a sentimental pearl. Heck, it can’t even be classified as practical. But it was what I needed at the time and personally and professionally changed my life.

For years I had been writing professionally. Writing. Writing. Writing. My dream right? I thought so. Except I wasn’t happy. I was in a total rut. Because for all the words I was churning out on a daily basis, none of them were mine really. It’s not like I was plagiarizing or anything, but I wasn’t writing for me. I was writing what other people wanted me to write. And I was tired.

And then I found out I was unexpectedly pregnant with my youngest. We were freaked to say the least. I mean, we had talked about maybe having a third, but I think we were just about over it. My elder two were in elementary school, I had just lost about 35 pounds (all the baby weight!) — we were happy with our little unit just the way it was. And then two lines.

Big picture I was excited, but acutely, I was overwhelmed. Totally on so many levels. T. and I decided to keep the pregnancy under wraps for a while — we wanted our kids to be the first to know and before we told them about their new little sibling, we wanted to be sure everything was OK. The problem was, I was having trouble not talking about the pregnancy to my family and friends, especially under the surprise circumstances. I was hormonal. I was having mood swings. And I had no outlet, except for one person. And I think he was tired of hearing me talk.

So in his infinite wisdom, or maybe it was desperation, my husband suggested I start a blog.

The thing was, blogging definitely helped me work through my feelings, but it did other things too. Because suddenly I was writing again. Really writing. Like back in high school, dear diary, writing for myself writing. My voice was there all along, I just hadn’t been using it.

It felt so good to write what I wanted and how I wanted to write it. Not the repurposing I was doing in my paid jobs — press releases and stories on parenting that had been written umpteen times. But the funny thing was, the more I wrote about the soon-to-be-S., the more relaxed I became with my other projects. Everything improved. It was amazing.

So short term, the blog was helping me professionally and emotionally. But as time went on, I realized it had a much greater, valuable purpose. It’s S.’s history — his life and my pregnancy with him.

Now I haven’t been as good as I used to be as writing in it, but when I go back and look, I can not only read about S.’s “firsts” in great detail, but incidents and milestones that I would never think to record in a baby book. Funny yarns like the time C. lost S.’s exersaucer and all of his funny nicknames, as well as things from my pregnancy like how I was a childbirth class delinquent.

When I look at C.’s and A.’s baby books I see a lot dates and grasp at fuzzy details at the edge of my memory. When I read the blog about S., I remember.

SUZANNE:  It was my first job out of college and I was an assistant in the public relations office of a hospital. At the helm was this vibrant woman in her forties who was the best mentor you could want. She was a Fulbright Scholar. Be it in the Board Room or on Broadway, she had stage presence. She spoke as passionately about breastfeeding as she did her career. She was a fabulous cook, a gardener and looked as put together in Chanel as she did a barn jacket. In other words, you could say she knew a little about doing it all.

And even though I worked for her years before I had my first child, there was one piece of advice from her that I never forgot.

Superwoman. Stupid woman.

Yes, that was her advice. The woman who seemingly did it all said you were stupid if you thought you could do it all.

Which means a lot more to me now than it did then.

By nature, I’m the consummate multi-tasker. I feel accomplished when I fill my days to the max. But lately it seems to have reached a crescendo. My mind is now racing around the clock. My children are seeing way too much of a harried mom who is short on energy.

And I’m beginning to realize that if I keep pushing the limits, instead of having it all, I might actually lose it all. How I wish she was still around to ask her what to do next.

But I guess that’s the thing about advice. It’s like someone coming along and cleaning the eyeglasses you didn’t even know were dirty. And then it’s up to you to find your own way.

Or meet someone with some more great advice.

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What’s the best advice you’ve received since becoming a mom? What advice would you give to a mom-to-be? (Besides telling them to visit We Are Both Right!)

Our Two Cents: Is It OK to Skip School for Vacation?

©www.zazzle.co.uk

Maybe a postcard would smooth things over with your child's teacher? ©www.zazzle.co.uk

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

From the looks of things, you are both used to traveling with your children. But I have to ask, do you ever let them miss school to go on a family vacation?

Next week (in 8 days to be exact, but who’s counting?) we are leaving for a cruise with our two children and my parents. For a number of reasons, including the fact that it was less expensive, we chose to do this the week before their school closes for spring break instead of during the actual week they are off.

My husband and I didn’t think it would be a big deal for them to miss five days (at least not in first and third grade). So I was surprised when one of my friends told me that she couldn’t believe I was doing this. She happens to be a teacher and so I guess she has more insight on it than I do. But are they really going to fall that far behind by missing a few days of school? Would you ever pull your kids out of school for a vacation?

–Totally Truant

Suzanne: I’m probably the wrong one to ask, because in my mind an ideal education is the biggest, longest vacation you could imagine. If I had my choice (and the funds to back it up) I would take my two children on a trip around the world, teaching them about history and different cultures first hand. We would learn math in miles and time zones. All that foreign vocabulary would mean something. We might even meet a nice monk who could teach them meditation and then they would become zen little children. But enough about my fantasies.

What you are asking is a valid question, and one which deserves an entirely realistic answer. By taking your children out of school for a few days and bringing them on a family vacation, you are just exposing them to a different type of learning experience. And you shouldn’t feel guilty in the least (even if your vacation is more about portholes than rose windows).

The last time we took a vacation — and took the kids out of school — my son filled 16 pages in his journal without being asked. He wrote furiously as we drove up the southern Californian coast. He sketched his own versions of the 18th century European paintings we saw at the Getty Museum. In the back of the San Diego Mission, the architectural ruins captivated him. We even fit in his first college tour — to USC — as if that wasn’t inspiration enough to keep getting good grades. And in the end, he returned to school with great stories to share with his teacher and the class (but it still didn’t get him out of all of the class work and homework he had missed).

If I were you, I would reassure your teacher friend that of course you have the best interest of your children at heart and that nowhere does it say that the only way a child can learn is within the four walls of a school building. There are endless benefits to a change of scenery, not to mention in spending time with those who are closest to them. Tell her how much you are looking forward to them trying out new things and creating memories with their siblings, parents and grandparents — something that doesn’t get much priority during the school year when there’s homework to do and a full slate of activities. And if she’s still not convinced, you can always invite her to come along.

Amanda: Whatever you do, please don’t pass my contact info on to your friend because she’d probably give me a hard time too — in a few short weeks my family is going on a week-long vacation to DisneyWorld and  like you, we are taking our two older kids out of school for the duration (don’t tell them though — it’s a surprise!).

So obviously I don’t have a problem with it. This upcoming trip is the longest our kids will miss school for reasons other than illness, but we’ve done it before, with little to no repercussions. Maybe their teachers would beg to differ, but my position is, my kids (in the second and fifth grades) are doing just fine in school and although they will miss quite a bit, I’m confident in the abilities of myself and (mostly) my husband to catch them up.

What we’ll do this time (and it’s worked well in the past) is to ask the teachers ahead of time for any missed assignments. We’ll dedicate an hour or so each day to doing what we can to get done — the remainder will be completed on our return. We also try to keep a daily journal and incorporate learning into our activities. For example, the car ride from the airport to the resort may be spent observing and talking about the area we are visiting. Is the city bigger or smaller than where we live? Where do the people work? Where are the schools? What are the similarities and differences between where we currently are and where we come from (things like weather, forms of transportation, etc.)?

Having said all this, in booking our trip we were pretty cognizant of what was going on academically (as it sounds like you were too). The two weeks before we leave my elder boy has standardized tests — I wouldn’t pull him out during that time, nor in the weeks leading up to it. The same would stand if we were looking at a science project that was due or some other important assignment.

What it boils down to for me is knowing what your kids are capable of. If you are comfortable with letting them miss, by all means, sit back in your lounge chair and relax!

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Have you ever had your kids miss school in favor of a vacation? How did the teacher react?

If you’ve got a problem that needs twice the opinion, drop us a line at advice@wearebothright.com

Our Two Cents: Feeling Guilty About Hiring a Maid

©lusi /stock.xchng

Hiring a cleaning service should make you feel more relaxed, not hyper-stressed! ©lusi/stock.xchng

Dear Amanda and Suzanne:

Am I the only mom who would feel guilty hiring a maid? Just today another friend mentioned her cleaning lady in conversation and I started to think that I’m the only one still making myself crazy trying to keep up with the house and the kids and my job. Maybe it was my upbringing, because no woman in my family ever had a housekeeper. I can totally picture my grandmother and her sisters passing judgment on me if they even knew I was thinking about having someone else clean my house. But I’ve been tempted lately just to have someone come in every other week to clean the bathrooms and mop the floors. So tell me, am I really the only one having this issue? I’d love to know what your readers think.

–Messy Mommy

Suzanne:

We must be cousins. No really, check the family tree.

Maybe it’s just the generation we’re in — born to moms who could shoo us out of the house and spend the day scrubbing floors from the basement up while we roamed the neighborhood on our bikes. Now we’re lucky if we can manage a quick swipe of the kitchen counters in between soccer practice and gymnastics, scouts and piano lessons. And of course, we feel guilty because we’re not living up to standards of what a clean house should be (compared to what we grew up with).

Then just when you think you have found a solution, in the hopes that you can keep up both ends of the juggling act and most importantly be there for your kids, the guilt creeps in — again. Your mom or great-aunt or grandma or whomever catches wind of your plan, and asks you who you think you are to be living like a rock star.

I know how you feel.

And with that, I say go for it. If nothing else bothers you about getting some help with the cleaning (except maybe the cash you have to shell out) then you need to at least try it out. You will be able to decide if it works for you, in your specific situation. That way, whether or not anyone else understands, you can stand your ground.

And the matriarchs will get over it, especially when you invite them over for the homemade pasta you cut and cooked with all your extra time (just kidding).

Amanda:

After our son C. was born, my husband and I hired a maid for a few weeks, just to give us some time to focus on our new son. We didn’t know what we would be in for with a newborn and thought it would be a nice luxury. It was. Too nice. I think it spoiled me. It was so wonderful to walk through the house when they were finished — everything sparkled and shined. And the smell — it smelled like hotel (which I love). I was so sad when we decided that I was OK to start the house upkeep once more.

We never went that route again — not because we didn’t want it, but because from a financial standpoint it just wasn’t practical. But if I ever came into any kind of serious money, the first people I’d call would be a cleaning service. (Then the travel agent. And a chocolate delivery service that will import me all the Cadbury I could possibly eat.)

I remember feeling such relief that the house was one less thing I had to worry about. That I could “indulge” in sitting and holding our newborn rather than feel like I had to get up and mop the floor. I was able to relax. These days I don’t have an infant to hold, but I do have a toddler to play with and kids to read to and practices to attend and dinner to make and laundry to fold and — well, you know what I’m talking about. We’re parents. We’re busy. Help would be nice. And if we muggles aren’t going to get house elves anytime soon (Harry Potter! Woo hoo!) then it’s going to  have to come in another form.

So I have no guilt — none at all — about asking for and hiring help in that department. Although at the time, I do remember feeling funny about it and wondering what certain relatives would say, but now, a decade and three kids later, worrying about what other people think about how my house gets clean is not even on my radar.

I say, if you have the financial resources, hire the maid and buy yourself a good pair of earplugs to drown out the protests of your envious relatives.

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Would you ever consider hiring a maid or a cleaning service? If you use one, how do people react when they find out?

Got a question you need more than one answer to? Send us a note at advice@wearebothright.com.

Our Two Cents: When Kids Outgrow Their Friends

Do these boys have to be friends for convenience? © homer_seav @ stock.xchng

Dear Suzanne and Amanda:

My best friend “Daisy” and I each have a son who is 10. We live around the block from one another, the boys go to the same school and are in many of the same activities. Daisy and I help each other out often. We both work part-time outside of the home and have come to depend on one another when we are in a bind childcare-wise — she’ll pick my son “George” up after school and mind him until I get home, I’ll drive her son “Fred” to baseball practice, etc. It’s a good, informal arrangement and has served us very well over the years.

The problem? My son doesn’t like her son. It wasn’t always this way — little kids seem to make friends with everybody — but as they’ve gotten older, Fred and George have made their own friends and cultivated their own interests. Fine. But they just don’t get along.

I’ve been trying to find other people for George to go home with, but I don’t think Daisy realizes that the boys aren’t best buddies and is hurt that I’m seemingly avoiding her. What do I do?

–Friends No More

Suzanne:

While that’s certainly an awkward situation to be in, I think that some honest communication all around would make it more comfortable for everyone. First, would it be so terrible if you could each still depend upon one other for childcare like you used to — maybe not as frequently — but once in a while?

If you’re not absolutely opposed to that, then you should start by having a conversation with your son. Explain that sometimes friends grow apart and even though he and Fred aren’t the best of friends any more, maybe there’s some common ground they can find for the hour that they are together. Tell him that you lost your good friend from fifth grade — all because she didn’t share your obsession with the boys of NKOTB — and that you regret it to this day. He’ll roll his eyes. But remind him that at least Fred hates Justin Bieber as much as he does.

Then, your next move should be to call Daisy. And don’t kid yourself — she may very well have noticed the disconnect between the boys herself. Just ask if she’s seen any changes between them and mention that when they’re at your house, they just don’t seem to be interested in the same things anymore. Be ready for her to say that everything seems perfectly fine, or that she really relies upon the arrangement to get by.

At that point, it’s your call — either make the best of it or be prepared to watch the relationship unravel.

Amanda:

Does your son George like going to baseball practice and after-school activities? Is he happy to not have to go home to an empty house when the school day is done? I’m guessing the answer is yes. And therein lies your answer.

Things can stay the way they are.

Yes, I understand as kids get older they sometimes outgrow friends from when they were super-small. But the reality is, it sounds like you and Daisy both need this arrangement in order to make certain things work. So George has a decision to make — does he want to continue to participate in programs and sports teams he likes to do with the stipulation that he gets to and from these events with someone who isn’t his favorite person, or does he want to sit them out altogether?

It’s not like he has to spend every second he’s at baseball practice  with Fred, they are just getting there the same way. As I remember, there are a lot kids on a team right?

And as for going someplace after school, for me that’s a no-brainer. Until you feel comfortable with him staying home alone (and it’s legally OK for him to do so), he needs to stay with an adult until you are home from work. If you are able to secure care that involves people other than Fred and Daisy, fine. But until you can (if you even choose to) feel no guilt about sending George to their home. I’m assuming at Daisy’s he’s well-cared for, fed and not forced to do manual labor. And like the activities, he doesn’t have to spend every minute he’s there with Fred. He can do his homework, read a book or find something else to entertain himself.

Lay it all out on the table. Address his concerns, but let him know where you are coming from too. That even if he isn’t a fan of the situation, life isn’t always fair and this is what you need to do in order to make your crazy schedules work. If it’s possible and not too much of a hassle, try to find another form of transportation for George — but realize you could be leaving Daisy out in the cold if she is depending on you to bring Fred places. Remind him that even if he and Fred don’t get along, he still needs to be kind to him and treat Daisy with the utmost respect. People can grow apart and still manage to behave civilly to one another.

Then you need to have a talk with Daisy. Chances are, if George has expressed displeasure and you’ve noticed the tension, she has too. But it might be she doesn’t want to say anything because she knows you guys have a good thing going and she doesn’t want to lose it either. Maybe the pair of you can brainstorm. Was there a specific incident that caused the boys to stop getting along or are they simply growing apart?

It’s definitely sad when a child outgrows a friend they’ve had for a long time, but it’s a reality of life. How you help your child handle it will set a tone that will accompany them into adulthood.

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What do you think? Should “Friends No More” find alternative care and rides for George or should he have to stick it out? Has your child ever outgrown a friend?

If you’ve got a problem that needs pondering and you need some outside perspective, send an e-mail to advice@wearebothright.com.