Tag Archives: social issues

Merging families without marriage

Sound off: Is an unmarried merge of families setting a bad example for the kids?

Two weeks ago I wrote about moving in with my boyfriend, Mr. W.  This was a decision we did not take lightly in our 2 ½ years of being in a relationship with each other, and I’ll be moved out of my own place and into his by this weekend.  By moving in with each other, we are each giving up our total independence of having a space to call all our own – something that became very sacred in each of our single lives.  We’re giving up the separateness of our families as we combine them into something new.  But these are no longer sacrifices as we gain so much more – more time with each other, a shared life, a break in the financial obligations, and all the other perks of living with the one you love.

There was plenty of discussion before we finally came to this stage of feeling confident enough (and out of shellshock from our previous divorces) to be able to live with someone we love once again, plus going through the complicated process of combining families.  We’re making a bunch of decisions that are solidifying the permanent status of our relationship – but without yet being married.

Understandably so, several readers took issue with this – questioning the example that is being set for the kids, as well as feeling that “it’s a slap in the face” to those who are married.  I had originally written this article as a story of hope for those just starting their single parent adventure, feeling pulled apart by the financial hardships and lack of time that go along with that role.  But I realized there is a whole other issue at hand that needs to be discussed –

Merging families without marriage.

According to a survey conducted by the Census Bureau in 2007, 6.4 million couples chose to cohabitate before marriage – making up roughly 10% of all opposite sex coupled Americans, and rising almost 1.5 million since 2006.  And of that number, 45% of them had children living in the household that were related to at least one of the cohabitating adults.  And while past research showed a higher percentage of failed marriages in those who chose to live together before marriage, the present research shows there’s virtually no difference.

I have several friends who chose to live together before marriage.  One couple in particular just recently tied the knot, and is now in the final stages of an adoption process that will make their unified family complete.  Another couple, who has no children, is showing no interest in ever getting married.  And yet it’s unthinkable that they would ever split up despite their lack of marriage license.  My sister (also no kids) is in the process of planning a wedding with her fiancée while also living with him.  And one couple that swore off marriage yet raised a whole family together for 30+ years finally bit the bullet and exchanged rings a few years back – after their kids were raised, finished college, and making lives of their own.  Heck, even the royal couple, William and Kate, are setting their own cohabitation example for the world while in the spotlight by “living in sin”.  And another couple I know are raising their two children together and are unmarried.  In fact, they weren’t even allowed to marry until recently, being that they are also lesbian.

I have friends who did not move in together at all until their wedding night – planning a life together in separate homes, yet letting the reality of it be a mystery until they were legally joined. One I wrote about here, her marriage 6 months ago also symbolizing a sacred promise to her new husband.  My own parents just celebrated 34 years of marriage last week, starting their new life together on their wedding night.  And another couple I know who waited until marriage to cohabitate has been married for 40 years – yet are now living in, not only separate beds, but separate homes, just so that they can remain happily married without killing each other. 

And then there are my single mom friends who choose NOT to live with someone else while raising kids.  One in particular has only been divorced for 4 or so years, has a steady boyfriend, and promises she will never marry nor cohabitate again.  She enjoys her personal living space too much, and she’s adamant in her unwillingness to ever give it up – especially while raising her kids.  This same mom lived with her ex-husband before they got married and had children, and shared a wonderful marriage with him before they grew apart and divorced.  

So here’s your chance to sound off – no judgment.  I’d love to hear your point of view about living together before marriage in general.  Do you see a problem with it?  Does your view change if there are no kids involved?  Do you think relationships suffer from living together before marriage, or suffer if a couple does NOT live together before marriage?  Do you have a personal story to share?  Let me know.  And as always, anonymous comments are welcome, but mean comments are not.

Tackling Bullies

If you’ve been reading my stories for any length of time, you’ll notice that a common theme I discuss is in regards to bullying (like here, and here, and here). It makes sense. I’m a parent of kids who are only growing older. And as they grow older, the issue of bullying is becoming more of an epidemic in their schools. I worry about it. I worry that my kids will be targeted. I worry that any action or inaction I take will only make things worse for them. And with the way bullying can take any shape or form – from violence to mere teasing to using their Facebook pages as the ultimate tool in gathering the masses – I worry that my own kids will become guilty of bullying others as well.

More recently, I talked about a friend of mine who was potentially going through her own bullying situation. Her son was being challenged to a fight by a kid who was bigger and stronger, just to see who the winner would be. Basically it was a battle of brawn with an obvious outcome. As an update, nothing came up about it. The fight talk ended up being just that – talk. But in the meantime, my friend was suddenly faced with needing to know how to react to a kid who was threatening other kids, even just through empty threats. And the comments received on the blog (and any other blog that I have discussed bullying) were mixed. Some said to let the kids fight it out. Another said that school officials needed to be alerted immediately so that the bullying could be quashed. And another said to teach our sons and daughters to walk away.

The truth is, it’s hard to know how to handle a bully situation as a parent. Remembering what it was like to be a kid, the common feeling was that if a parent got involved, we were toast. Not only were we completely mortified, we were afraid of being more of a target for being a narc. So it was pretty much a given that any teasing we endured was kept from our parents so that we could at least save a little face.

And the bullying I witnessed in school was truly mean-spirited. One girl who was on the awkward side had an obvious crush on a popular boy in school. A group of girls created a love letter to her from him, with his knowledge. The girl was floating on Cloud 9 – until the boy broke up with her in front of everyone, making everyone laugh. Another girl had rumors circling around school about her solo bedroom behavior. And then there was the group of kids who thought it was funny to pants other students in gym class, thanks to the convenience of drawstring shorts (apparently these kids never graduated; my 7th grade daughter says this still happens in gym class). There was teasing about body parts thanks to the absence of modesty in the gym locker rooms. And there was peer pressure to try things we never would have done on our own, like drinking hard liquor in between classes or smoking pot behind the school or cutting class.

In truth, the bullying of yesterday was not better or less than the bullying of today. It was just as much a reality then as it is now. But now it has become much easier to target others thanks to the advances in technology. This is why schools have stepped up their efforts to stop bullying in their tracks, even including consequences for “cyber-bullying” done inside and outside of school hours in their rules.

And some schools have adopted a new anti-bullying program called SSA – Safe School Ambassadors.

I learned of SSA when my daughter was recently nominated to take part in it. The program targets the escalating problem of bullying by tackling from within – training a group of influential students to work amongst their peers to help alleviate negative situations more effectively. Note, it does not train kids to break up fights or to take on violent situations. Nor does it set them apart from their classmates by making them wear vests or badges. But it instead gives them tools to handle situations on the spot within their own group of friends so that circumstances involving bullying can be easily diffused. Due to the “narc problem”, adults are more likely than not to be ignorant of what students are really going through. At one point in the training program, the students discussed the things they had witnessed on school grounds. As they mentioned the weapons they had seen, the drugs kids their age were taking, and other scary situations that were taking place, my daughter told me that the teachers were holding their hands over their gaping mouths in shock. We just don’t know what kids are going through. We don’t know what kinds of peer pressures they are being faced with. We can be the best parent in the world and still be unaware that our child is being tormented by others or that they are guilty of being the tormentor. So a peer based anti-bullying program makes sense.

But as parents, what is within our realm of power to protect our children from bullying? First, forget the narc problem. If you learn of something going on, discuss it with the principal or the teacher so that it can be handled quickly and effectively. If your kids are targeted more, speak up more. Send the message loud and clear that your child is not a victim, and any negative action against your child will reap a world of hurt in consequences.  Get to know your children’s friends and their parents, creating a network of people to fight this battle together. Go to PTA meetings and school events to broaden that network. If your children are on social networks, be a presence on there too. It is not infringing on their privacy to be their Facebook friend. It is being aware of their online activity. In fact, in my household my kids are only allowed to be on social networks if I am not only their “friend”, but if I also know their password to log on. It is common knowledge that I check up on them by accessing their accounts and knowing what they are up to – including their “private” conversations and viewing their friends’ pages. The same rule applies to my daughter’s cell phone.  It is not being nosy.  It is not snooping.  It is ensuring that my kids are safe, and that they are engaging in only safe and respectful activity.  And if I see something that goes against that, I bring it out in the open with them.

Do you have an opinion on handling bullying? Are there things you have witnessed that shock or anger you? What are some things that we as parents can do to help our kids, or that the schools should be doing to tackle this problem?

The age of the boomerang

Art by the talented Gina Boyett

I posed a question recently: “Would you move back in with your parents if you had to?” and I received several very emphatic answers on the SR Mom Facebook page:

“H*** NO!”


and my personal favorite…

“Rather my mom, than my in-laws!”

Almost 7 years ago, I was faced with the same decision. I was packing up all the belongings of my house and consolidating them in the smallest amount of boxes possible. My father came and loaded everything into a trailer and the van. And the kids and I took our seats and were driven to our new home – or rather, a home that was very familiar to us.

The home of my childhood was about to become theirs too.

We are in the age of the boomerang, when grown-up children are moving back in with their parents, mostly for economic reasons due to job loss, divorce, and myriad different situations beyond their control. It was definitely an economic choice on my part. Having spent the past year as a stay-at-home mom, I had no means to support myself or my kids now as a divorcing woman. My parents were more than willing to take the kid and me in, putting us up in the largest room of the house. They had cleared it out completely, making room for my King size bed and their bunk bed.

Moving home definitely made life easier at a time when life was at its hardest, and it just made sense. But in doing so, I had to bite back a lot of pride. Now don’t get me wrong, when I made the decision to move back home I pretty much had nothing left. Pride was the last thing on my list of worries. But as I settled in, it became embarrassing to admit, as a mid-twenties woman with two children, that I was living at home with my parents. There is a prejudgment that goes along with an adult who moves back home with his or her parents. I felt like a failure already because I wasn’t instantly capable of being the head of our household, and I needed my family’s help to make it. And I knew that without them, I would be homeless.

The second part of the equation is that while I love my parents immensely, living with them totally changed the dynamics of our relationship. Suddenly I was a child again, and my kids were also like their children. There were different rules to abide by, stricter than what would have been in my house. And it became my parents’ say that ruled over mine. Of course, being that it was their house, their rules should be the ones to follow. But it blurred the lines over who was the parent of my kids. And it left me feeling powerless, and much like a rebellious teen. Not only that, you can imagine the frustration on my parents’ part with having to share their home with three other people, two of them being noisy kids who tend to leave messes wherever they go. My parents had raised their kids. And suddenly here they were, parents all over again. All of this caused a lot of strife between the folks and me.

As I neared the time of independence, the need to stretch my legs and have a space of my own was overcoming me. That need became so overwhelming that after 2 years in their home, I finally made the jump to start looking for a place to live. 6 months later, the kids and I were on our way out the door, moving on to a life brand new to us. We didn’t have a lot, but we had enough thanks to wonderful friends and my family who made sure that we were set to start off on our own. As a housewarming gift, one of my friends painted me a picture that said “Home is where your story begins.” The “home” she spoke of was the home I was moving into, the very first place I had ever lived as the sole adult. But now when I look at that painting, I see something different. My story began long ago when I was a child. Home was where I was taken care of by the two people who would have done anything to ensure my comfort and safety. And later in my adult years, that devotion didn’t change. They took me and my two kids in so that we could heal from something very traumatic, and get back on our feet. My parents’ home will always be my first home, the place where my story began.

Would I move back home now? “H*** NO!” Well, that’s not entirely true. I love my parents very much, but we get along much better when we have our own separate places to go home to. I can say with assurance that they agree with this sentiment. But there is no shame in biting back pride and boomeranging back into your parents’ home. For me, if the only choice were homelessness (after I had exhausted every single option – such as applying as a live-in deckhand on a cargo ship that bent the child labor laws), then yes, I would move back home again and share one cramped bedroom with my two tween kids.

As you can imagine, this has forced me to be extra, extra careful with paying all of my bills and rent on time.

How about you?  Would you move back in with your parents if you had to?  Has this decision already become a reality for you?  How’s it going?

No Kids Allowed

“They just lifted the ban on kids in hospital,” my friend, a local nurse, informed me. “And let me tell you, it’s madness.” She went on to describe situations where people were crowding hospital rooms, bringing the whole family to visit their loved one who had the misfortune to end up in the hospital. “With this economy, there are no private rooms,” she went on. “Families are coming into a shared hospital room, crowding up the whole place. And that person’s neighbor has to also share a room with all these strangers. People are trying to get better, attempting to get some rest, and there are screaming children in the rooms.” Just this past week, a mother had left her crying baby in the hallway while she visited. A patient in another room pulled my friend aside, pleading with her, “I just need to get some rest.”

“And hospitals are dirty,” my friend continued. “It’s not that they aren’t sanitized regularly, but you have to figure it’s full of sick people. Some of these people have diseases that are very contagious. In fact, when nurses get off duty and go home, we strip out of our clothes and don’t let them touch anything else.” While nurses are diligent in making sure that none of the bacteria and germs from the hospital are making themselves comfortable in their homes, families are bringing their children into this environment and letting them play on the floor, sit on the hospital beds, and be in the presence of patients who could very well pass on something serious. They are basically rolling around in all of the sick germs that are crawling all over everything in the hospital. And then, when the family comes home and their kids settle in, the germs are also settling in. They are basically inviting these germs to inhabit their homes.

“And what of the kids themselves?” my friend asked. “Kids are full of ailments as they pass colds and the flu between each other. If there were a cancer patient going through chemotherapy, or a patient who had just suffered a heart attack, their health is being compromised by a child who might be sick.

“Why do families insist on bringing their kids to the hospital?”

After hearing her describe the conditions that exist in a hospital, I was seriously questioning whether I even wanted to enter a hospital again. Thing is, without working in a hospital, it’s easy to miss the fact that it is a building full of sick people. And it’s easy to overlook the opportunity for germs and bacteria to multiply and attach themselves to every healthy person that enters, including children.

Listening to Heather Irwin of BiteClubEats.com on KZST this morning, she and Brent discussed the appropriateness of kids going to fancier restaurants with their parents. Heather was a little more lenient on the idea that some kids can behave themselves in a nicer restaurant (I’d love to see her reaction after bringing the Taz, a kid who was famous in his younger years for rolling around on the floor under the table and picking at leftover gum some classless person had left behind). Brent, on the other hand, was adamant that kids do not belong in a nicer restaurant at all. In fact, even moderate restaurants were questionable. (Note: Heather is wondering about restaurants that have the best kids’ menus, and the conversation is taking an obvious slant towards the inappropriateness of kids in restaurants. Check it out, and chime in)

And then there are the people going wine tasting, and even the bar, toting kids in strollers….

In an area where there are so many families, Sonoma County is generally really kid friendly. There are countless events going on that are geared specifically for families with children of all areas (for example, the ones that are right in the Events Calendar on SantaRosaMom.com). But that still leaves some events that are not geared for families, ones that many claim shouldn’t be. Yet there are still families that will push the envelope and let their kids accompany them to events and places where other adults might not be too pleased to see them. Not to mention, these days it is hard to go out anywhere without a kid on a leash. Hey, babysitting is expensive! And then, of course, there are the families with children who are so well-behaved, and a large part of that is because they grew up going to fancier restaurants and museums, taking part in events that require them to be quiet and still.

Do you think that there are some places that should be strictly off limits to children?
Have you raised your kids going to fancier events where children are usually scarce?
As a parent of a small child, do you ever feel discriminated against when visiting an event or business with your child?

Feeling Clingy

Over the summertime, my son started becoming extra clingy.  I would be in the next room, and he would call out to make sure that I was still there.  He wouldn’t go to his dad’s house without a fight because he didn’t want to leave me.  He was constantly worried that I was going to abandon him, or that I might die.  So I wrote an article about it, and got a lot of feedback from other parents that were going through the same thing.  And it appeared that it was going on with kids around the same age as my son. 

Here’s one comment in particular:

My 8 year old daughter seems to be going through this. There was no event that seemed to have caused it aside from turning 8. She refuses to go to her dad’s house, and hasn’t been able to have a sleep over. She has tantrums about going to her father’s a week in advance. She constantly asks to sleep in my bed. She can’t be on the second floor of the house without someone else being there unless she is somehow preoccupied. It’s hard to help her cope because I feel suffocated. I’d love to hear some advice.
by Kim

It appears that this really is just an age thing.  Maybe this is the age that they suddenly become more aware of the world around them and realize that things aren’t always safe.  That can be a scary thing for a kid to become aware of.  It seems like they magnify the negative parts of the world that they are not only worried about their own safety, they are worried about the safety of their parents.  For kids of a single parent, they worry about what will happen to their main parent if they leave them.  My son has actually said this to me, that he is afraid that I might die while he’s not with me.  So it makes him nervous to go to his dad’s house.  And he is also afraid that I might have left him if I’m not right around him.  He’s 9 now, and he still does the periodic check ins to make sure I’m still in the house.  But it has definitely decreased since I wrote this blog.  And while he will call me about 5 times on average when he’s at his dad’s house, he now feels comfortable going.

My advice for Kim?  Humor your daughter and let her do her check-ins.  If visits with her dad are too much for her, maybe decrease some of the overnights, or stick around (if you and your ex get along) for a little while before leaving.  Let her call you as much as she wants at first, and then start setting appointments for when she can call you so that you are sure to be available for her when she calls, and are still able to enjoy your kid-free time.  For nighttime, maybe set up one night a week that she can sleep with you so she has something to look forward to.  Give her a night light if she doesn’t have one, and maybe a “lovey” – a special stuffed animal to keep her safe.  Reward her when she has slept in her own bed at night.  I know it’s suffocating, but this really is just a phase.  And the safer she feels, the faster she will move through this phase…and then move onto another phase that is equally frustrating. 


The difference between moms and dads

Growing up, I was fortunate to have both my parents in the home. My dad is a real estate appraiser, and though he worked a lot, we were often able to accompany him on local road trips when he went to look at houses. Sometimes we’d ride along with him, fascinated by the beauty of some areas that we never would have seen otherwise. Other times he would drop my mom and us three girls off at the park so we could have a picnic. He’d join us when his appointment was done.

Dad was the one who had the ideas for fun places to go and things to see. Who knew that sitting in the lobby of a fancy hotel, as if we were guests, enjoying hot chocolate by the fire could be so much fun. But with Dad, it was his way of instilling make-believe in us. It wasn’t because we were poor, mind you. But because my dad was so busy all the time, he was sharing with us his way of coping – a one hour vacation from reality. Our favorite place to go was to the Sonoma Mission Inn (now the Fairmont) in Sonoma. The waitresses knew him by name, he visited so often. “Go wash your hands in the bathroom,” he’d whisper to us. “The soap is amazing!” And we would. (note: he’d offer us vacations in a bottle every year for Christmas by presenting us with our very own Sonoma Mission Inn Soap to use in our bathroom. It was one of our favorite gifts) Without fail, we’d all order hot chocolate and Crème Brule, taking the smallest bites possible after breaking through the caramelized crust of the pudding, mulling it over our tongues as we tried to make it last as long as possible.

In the winter we’d take weekend trips up to the Sierras. The 4 hour drive was broken up in two parts, always a stop in Lodi. We were creatures of habit. We had our favorite Carl’s Jr. that we stopped at in the evening. And whenever we hit the town in the morning, we had our favorite little diner, ordering our breakfasts by the number. And thanks to my dad, I can’t even think of the town of Lodi without humming a few bars from “Stuck in Lodi Again”. The drive was also peppered with us girls taking turns singing our favorite songs in the backseat as if no one were listening, then making each other giggle uncontrollably, and my dad yelling to keep it down – every 5 minutes. We’d argue with him, thinking that he was being ridiculous since we were having a good time and not fighting. Now with my own kids giggling in the backseat of a small vehicle, I think I understand. Once up on the mountain, it was dad who went skiing with us, putting us in a ski class while he ventured out to the more experienced slopes, and then joining us later to take a few easy runs with us. When we graduated to snowboarding, he stayed with his skis. But he took pictures with us and our snowboards just to be a part of the fad.

But there was more to Dad than just offering us a fun time. He was also the heavy hand in the family. If we got in trouble, sooner or later we were going to have to face Dad. And there is nothing worse than being the brunt of Dad’s anger. And let me tell you, as the oldest, I was there quite often. If I stepped out of line, my Dad was right there to pull me back in. “We didn’t raise you this way,” he’d glower, as I suffered the repercussions of sneaking out at night, or being caught with a cigarette, or when I’d “borrow” the car and not return until the wee hours of the morning. Wash my mouth out with soap? Time outs in the corner? Bah! Dad wouldn’t bother with that. In my younger years, every infraction was met with a couple hard swats on the bottom. And it was worse to be spanked by my dad than by my mom because Dad made sure we remembered it. “Wait till your father gets home,” is all my mom would have to say for us girls to stop in our tracks. And even though our infractions were committed hours earlier, Dad would stop by our rooms and let us know that our misbehavior was not going to be ignored. As I got older, there were times when he’d be so angry that he’d offer up the silent treatment. There was nothing worse than knowing I had stepped out of my dad’s graces, that he was so disappointed in me that he couldn’t even speak to me. Every morning we had a ritual of waking up early and reading the paper over coffee while everyone else still slept. During the silent treatment, he’d be in his office, avoiding me at all costs. But inevitably, one morning he’d just be there. We’d sit for an eternity of minutes in silence, both mulling over what we want to say in our minds, but afraid to speak first. At least I was. But the silence would eventually be too much to bear, and I was most likely the one who would offer up my apology first for being such an ass. And he’d accept my apology graciously, and would then talk about why it was so upsetting when I acted a certain way. There would be tears and frustration on my part and a level emotion on his as we worked it out. And then he’d invite me over for a big hug that he knew I needed more than anything. Once again I was Dad’s girl.

I had a different relationship with my mom than I had with my dad. With Dad, I was able to share things at face value – favorite songs on the radio, places I’d like to go one day, how much fun we had doing something or other, how I was doing with my studies, needing $20 for the movies with my friends… With my mom, I was able to confess the contents of my heart. A boy at school likes me, and I’m nervous about going to the school dance with him. A different boy, who I had liked for 3 years, kissed another girl in front of me and I am heartbroken. My friend just had to go through something really traumatic, and I don’t know how to be there for her. All the kids are wearing this certain kind of style, and I don’t think I’ll look good in it. There’s something wrong with my body and I don’t know what’s going on. It was mom who talked to us about the birds and the bees, and who told us that we could come to her if we became sexually active so that she could get us on some birth control. And when we did, she kept our confidences, much to my father’s disappointment in later years, never telling him what was going on. With her, the things that we couldn’t speak out loud to many people could be told to her. And she made it safe to do so, even bringing up certain things that might be too embarrassing for us to talk about first. If we just couldn’t talk about it, Mom always knew the right book we could look through to answer our questions, and maybe spur some dialogue once we became more comfortable. When I experienced the first dealings of mortality after a childhood friend died of brain cancer in 7th grade, it was Mom who held me when I could finally cry three days later. And she was the one who went with me to the wake so I could say my goodbyes. When my own infant son died of a stillbirth, my mom held my other hand as I gave birth, not leaving my side once even as scary as the situation was. And it was my mom who taught me how to attack the ground and make 6 inch holes in rock hard dirt so I could plant a daffodil garden in his honor. She knew I needed to get the aggression out on a life that is so full of things that aren’t fair. She knew I needed to do something for him since to everyone else he never even existed. And she knew that I needed to get some sunshine and fresh air instead of laying on the couch day in and day out, as I would have rather done. She got me to open up to grieving, and to eventually be able to see the day as something new, rather than just life after my baby died.

Growing up, it was a lot easier to get into fights with my mom. My mom was a yeller. That was her main punishment. And we’d yell back. It would be World War 3 in our house as we fought back and forth at the top of our lungs. To this day, I wonder what the neighbors were thinking. Getting our mouth washed out with soap was her favorite way to discipline. And secretly, it was ours too. It tasted awful, but it was over in a moment. And it was nothing that a little toothpaste couldn’t fix. But sometimes she’d get so angry that she’d bring out the wooden spoon and paddle our behinds. We learned not to put our hands in the way to cushion the blow. A wooden spoon coming down hard hurts a lot more on the knuckles than it does on the soft cushion of our derrieres. But the thing with Mom, if she had to resort to a spanking she would feel awful about it later. A screaming and yelling match happened because Mom was so angry she could think of nothing else to do. If she got so angry that she had to take out the wooden spoon, the incident would be followed up an hour later with an apology.

Dads and moms are very different when it comes to raising kids. In general terms, dads are the ones who initiate all the fun things. They are the ones who come down hard, and teach us to mind our steps if we don’t want to suffer the consequences. And they are the ones who will be there if you need help. Moms are the ones who nurture us by making sure we are fed and bathed. They make sure we have the skills to take care of ourselves when we are older – teaching us the right way to wash a dish and load it in the dish rack so it dries, how to create buttermilk using only milk and vinegar, and how to fold the towels correctly so that they all fit in the cabinet. They get to our hearts by talking about the things we hold close to us. They are a lot gentler in their approach, and not as intimidating when they are screaming at us than our dads are when they throw down the gauntlet. Kids growing up in two parent homes get the benefit of both parents’ personalities. And where each parent is lacking, the other is able to pick up and be the strong suit.

So what does that mean for single parents who only have one side or the other?

I got an email today from a man who is in his own single parent household, raising an 11 year old boy. And because I have been having so much focus on my son lately as I deal with his behavioral issues, he offered to supply me with his own wisdom about raising boys from a male perspective. He hasn’t been the first male to offer such wisdom.  And it got me thinking about my role as a mother, and my lacking role as a father.

I have two kids – my almost 12 year old daughter, and my almost 9 year old son. If you’ve been reading along, you’ll notice that not much is written about my daughter. Partly that is due to the fact that as a pre-teen, any mention about her would embarrass the living daylights out of her. But also it’s because I get her. A long time ago (no, not that long…), I WAS her. So when she gets mouth and sullen, or when she had a hard time saying anything without a heavy dose of attitude, I get it. And we give it back and forth to each other until we reach a “White Flag” moment, hug, and move on. But my son? I don’t get him. I am not a boy. I didn’t have brothers. The things and feelings he’s going through, I just don’t understand them. When he looks me in the eye and tells me that I obviously don’t care for him because he isn’t getting his way, and he tells me this after I’ve just spent the whole day working, doing errands on my lunch, grocery shopping, making sure his homework is done, fixing him his favorite food, making sure that his pajamas are clean by throwing in a quick wash, balancing my checkbook to find that I have nothing left after paying all of the bills and signing him up for baseball…. When he claims that I don’t care about him, after everything I do, because I’ve told him that it’s bedtime and he can’t play video games, I see RED. When he tells me that I’ve ruined his day, or that he wishes he had another family, or something else that he knows will go straight to my heart and leave a black hole, I am at a loss. And the way I deal with it when my emotion is on my sleeve does not strike fear in his heart. It only leaves him with more of a reason to insist that I don’t care about him. And being a single mom, it makes me wonder how I can do things differently so that he is raised up to be an extraordinary man – as if he had both parents in the house.

This last week, things came to a head between my son and me. And I want to get to that soon. But for now, I have several questions for you:

Were you raised in a single parent home, or a home with two parents?
What does your own family look like now?
Do you see differences in the way moms and dads raise their kids?
Is it possible for a single parent to be both the mom and the dad?

Teenagers and Technology, pt. 2

Matthew Gollub of Tortuga Press wrote me this morning in response to Teenagers and Technology, the article that ran in the newspaper today.  Here’s what he had to say:

I read with interest your article this morning, “Are teens in tech overload?” I’m a local children’s author, performer and reading advocate. (I’ve spoken at over 900 schools and continue to visit around 60 schools a year.) Tech overload is a topic about which I speak during my school assemblies. Here are some suggestions which may help your readers:

*Tell your children from an EARLY age that too much screen time is not good for their growth. (By the time kids hit the teen years, it’s late and that much more difficult to get through to them.)

*Keep the media games, computer and TV OUT of the child’s bedroom. Studies show that kids spend LESS time on electronic media, and less time on questionable content, if the media equipment is in a central location where people (like parents and siblings) may walk in at any minute and see what’s going on.

*Place books in the bedroom instead of media equipment.

*Limit electronic media to, say, 30 minutes per day, maybe 1 hour on weekends. Or as Gov. Schwarzenegger’s family does, ZERO time during the week, to ensure plenty of time for school work and healthier activities. Again, the limits should start from an early age, like 5 or 6; a teen who already spends hours on electronic media each day has long since been allowed to make a wrong turn.

*Give kids healthy options to electronic media like sports, board games, outdoor games, etc.

*Model moderation! As parents, we need to limit TV and the time we spend ourselves on digital entertainment.

*Stage excursions to bookstores and libraries; de-emphasize the importance of places like the mall and Best Buy.

*Buy books for children as presents and rewards; make kids use their own money to buy video games, etc. (Making them figure out a way to earn money alone will make them spend time away from the screen.)

*Don’t allow your adolescent to have games rated beyond their years. (The rating industry exists to take the “blame” for young teens not being allowed to play M-rated games, etc.)

*Talk often and in depth about the games your teen play, exploring the games’ format and appeal. This will train them to view their games objectively. At times they’ll cringe at having to “de-brief” their fascination with a game, but communication works to de-mystify games and analyze the sway they hold over our kids.

For more parenting ideas, I invite readers to check out my picture book for parents, “Give the Gift! 10 Fulfilling Ways to Raise a Lifetime Reader.” Copies are available at the Sonoma County library. On a personal note, I know these strategies actually work. My wife and I have a 14-year old boy. He’s an A student who also stays active with music and sports. But, like most kids, he would be all too happy to spend hours a day on videogames, if only we gave him the chance.

For more information visit Matthew’s site at www.matthewgollub.com.

Teenagers and Technology

“We had to take away the Xbox again last night,” a friend lamented to me. She had caught her son in the wee hours of the morning, plugged in with his headset on, chatting with friends across the country as he maimed opponents in his latest game. It wasn’t the first time, and she was aware that it wouldn’t be the last. And short of taking the game system and throwing it in the Russian River, she wasn’t sure what to do.

Like many teens, her son had been spending way too much time in his room lately. After homework, he would lock himself in his room and plug into the Xbox 360, playing until it was time for bed that night. Weekends were the same story. Except on these days he spent the whole day playing. He stopped spending evenings with his parents catching up on CSI or Fringe like he used to. He hadn’t been reading for fun, even though he used to be a big reader. And he hadn’t socialized with his friends in months.

Actually, I take that back. He had been socializing with his friends the whole time. But instead of going to their houses and hanging out, they were hanging out virtually, blowing each other up as they played the same games and talked smack through a headset.

This has become the norm for the society. The past decade has shown a steady rise in online activity and electronic game use. The fault lies behind the upgrades that have happened rapidly for both. Phones now plug into the internet with a tap of a key, making Facebook and other social networks the preferred way to keep up with friends. In a moment’s notice you can find out what your friends are up to, random trivia such as Prince Charles surname (true story), or the price of the next iPod you plan on purchasing – which you can also do by phone.

As for game systems, they keep coming out with a better model each year. When I was a kid, Atari was the craze. We could shoot little missiles into centipedes, shortening them before they got to us and annihilated us. It was very state of the art. Then came the Nintendo, and Mario and Luigi became the spokespersons of the 90’s. Times changed, and Nintendos became Game Cubes and then Wiis. Playstations made way for Playstation 2 and 3. And the simplistic Xbox became the Xbox 360. The game stations of today allow you to network with people all over the world, and the graphics have become so realistic that you have to shield the eyes of any wee ones who happen to be witnessing the carnage.

While the violence depicted in today’s games is definitely a cause for concern, another aspect of life that is being lost is the capability to socialize. The formative years for learning how to interact with others and develop interests outside of school and work are doomed to be lost as teenagers choose online socializing over hanging out at each other’s homes and places of interest. Parents, myself included, are guilty of letting the TV and internet occupy their child in the interest of getting things done around the house or even just having a few moments of downtime. I’ve even witnessed a couple with their young son enjoying a quiet meal out at a restaurant while their child was entertained by a portable DVD player showing episodes of Spongebob. Kids aren’t even able to endure a 20 minute car ride without being plugged into the car’s movie screen.

There is hope in society. An article that posted today in the New York Times told of teenagers who have sworn off Facebook for long periods of time so that it didn’t interfere with their quality of schoolwork or social lives. SSU students rose to the challenge of giving up TV and internet for one week, and realized how distracting the media can be to life. And my friend’s son? He told his mom the story of how one of his friends sold his Xbox so that he could get his girlfriend a really nice present for Christmas. But don’t count on my friend’s son doing that anytime soon.

“That’s crazy!” he told his mom. “I’d never do that!”

Give him a year or two and a really cute girl that has stolen his heart……

iPhones, Xboxes, personal computers, cable television that knows of no bedtimes…
A teen could be deemed a social pariah if they simulated living in a cave and distanced themselves from all forms of technology in favor of the simple ways of life. And with all the technology that is available, it almost seems impossible to live that way. So where’s the happy medium? Without throwing an expensive piece of equipment out the window, what can a mom do to appease her son’s need for technology while still encouraging non-electronic forms of entertainment? How can she keep him from sneaking out of his room at night to play, even when she has locked the game system away from the stealthy ninja teenager in her room? And is there anything out there that would capture a teen’s interest the way the internet and game systems have?