Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Is This a Playdate or Unpaid Caregiving? - by Cara Potapshyn Meyers

My son, as many of the regular readers know, is the epitome of eight-year-old social chairman. He regularly has playdates all weekend long. Sometimes with a couple different children on the same day. I enjoy having his friends over or him being invited to other’s homes. It takes a "do nothing day" and makes it into something a little more special.
Lately, I have noticed that a couple of the Moms of my son's friends seem to be slowly taking advantage of my generosity in having their child over for a playdate. As an example, one Mom begged me to have her son over for "a couple hours," which turned into six. Later, I found out that her "emergency" was a workout at the gym followed by a manicure!
A different Mom said she needed somewhere for her son to go because they lost heat in her home. I readily obliged to have her son over and extended the invitation to her as well. She said that she was able to go somewhere else. Where did the Mom go? Out to lunch and then drinks with some friends! I can't help but wonder...have playdates turned into unpaid caregiving?
I sympathize with with some of these Moms. They either work full-time or are working, single Moms and need a break. But a little reciprocation would be appreciated. Most Moms will have my son over for a couple hours, maybe three. Just enough time for me to do a good grocery shopping. However, I am using my time for an essential activity. It is not a haircut or a massage. Also, when I have my son's friends over, for hours, I end up doing marathon laundry or a massive clean up of an overstuffed closet. Certainly not the most exciting things in the world. In fact, my son has one of his friends over right now. I was told this kid's Mom was getting the spider veins removed from her legs. Not only did her procedure take hours, I had to drop her son home because her legs swelled up and she couldn’t come to pick him up! At least I'm doing something productive like writing this blog. She's having an elective cosmetic procedure!
When the weather is nicer, the kids can play outside, we can go to the park, visit local farms, enjoy the pleasure of the outdoors. It is just these winter months that are the most irritating. And a day without a playdate...let's just say I would rather deal with the monsoon of toys that get strewn around my entire house.
One Mom asked me to drive her child home because she was "exhausted." I've had a Mom text me that she was running late, would I mind getting a pizza for the kids, and she never even offered to reimburse me for the food! This was at the end of an almost 7 hour playdate!
I've also noticed that none of my son's friend's help clean up the monsoon they created when it is time for them to go. I always ask my son if he helped clean up before we leave a friend’s home. Most of these Moms just rudely sit in their warm cars in my driveway, blasting the horn until their charge appears. To the contrary, I always walk to the front door of the friend’s home, even if the weather is brutal. I inquire about how the playdate went, then make sure that my son helped to clean up. I also make sure to remind my son to say “thank you” for the playdate to his friend as well as his friend’s Mom.
With a couple Moms, I decided to put my foot down. When my dog was sick and needed rest, not two wild, rambunctious kids bothering him, I said to a Mom that I would give her money to take my son to the movies or bowling together with her son, but I just couldn't have the kids playing at my house. The poor dog hides from them when he is feeling well! He didn't need these wild kids piling things on him when he wasn't feeling his best. The Mom appeared a little affronted, but I had reached my limit.
Playdates outside the home will also need to be either paid for upfront or by the other Mom at the counter. I went to get tickets for a popular movie an hour before the movie started, dropping my son off at his friend’s house on the way. I paid $58 for 2 adult tickets, 2 child tickets and 4,  3D glasses (they are no longer free.) How did she reciprocate? By buying a tub of popcorn, which included free refills, and a drink. The second drink came with the popcorn. I told her how much I spent and when she said she would pay for the popcorn and drinks, my reaction was, “huh”?
So what's a Mom to do? I have enough on my plate than to take on the position of unpaid caregiver. I already scheduled an activity for my son on Sunday mornings, so that other Moms wouldn’t be able to just drop their child off at 11 am and pick them up at dinner time (or later!). I tell the Moms that there is a 3 or 4 hour playdate limit at my house. I certainly don't expect my child to exceed that limit on his playdates at other's homes either. More than a few hours becomes a burden and the kids end up spiraling out of control. My son needs to realize that a whole day does not purely revolve around him. There is now also a “clean up rule.” Fifteen minutes before the playdate ends, both kids put the house back in order. 
Maybe then, playdates will be something to be looked forward to by both my son and me!

Labels: , , , , , ,

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Here He Grows Again by Margaret Hart

It's that time of year again. The time when the perennial flowers start to peak through the ground in New England. When the birds start to chirp loudly outside my bedroom window at dawn. And when my son goes through his annual growth spurt. But this time, the spurt is more like a season of change.

For years I've been complaining that my son doesn't eat enough. He eats two peas and he's full. I can hear my mother saying, "Well, just wait until he becomes a teenager and eats you out of house and home." First of all, that's redundant. Second, since when has anyone literally eaten everything there is to eat in their house? I get it. Everyone says teenage boys eat like mad. I'm half Italian. I love food. Bring me your appetite.

Over the years, I've been told by friends that I should be grateful my son is not a big eater. I am happy that I haven't had to deal with an overweight child, and my heart goes out to parents who have children who are struggling with their weight. It hasn't been easy, however, to raise a child who is a picky eater, and to worry that he's not getting enough nutrition. I remember my pediatrician advising not too long ago, after an annual wellness exam, to add a little extra butter and cheese to my son's food on occasion, and supplement his meals with Pediasure. She wasn't concerned, but said it couldn't hurt to sneak in a few extra calories. My son has always been consistent with his weight and height since birth. And my pediatrician also told me that she felt he was healthy, and was going to be tall and slender. And there's nothing wrong with that!

Somewhere along the way, he learned about healthy eating and good food choices. I like to think he got some of that knowledge from me. I also think the schools have done a really good job. Beginning with preschool. My son has never been one to eat a lot of salty snacks or sweets, and he didn't have his first ice cream cone until he was about 3 years old—he just wasn't interested. He eats a very small portion at every meal, and is full. He rarely finishes everything on his plate. This used to frustrate me until I figured out the secret: give him a small portion, he will usually eat it all, and it will make mom feel good seeing that he ate everything on his plate! And if he asks for more, mom will be even happier! And supplement his diet with vitamins and a daily "special milkshake"(aka Pediasure). This has gone on for the last five years.

The last few months, however, have been different. Even before he turned seven this past December, and more so since then, his appetite had increased dramatically. I began to notice that he was hungry more often, wanted to eat larger portions, asked for second helpings, and was "asking" for food—something he rarely did in the past. Now, half a sandwich for lunch is often not enough. He needs a whole sandwich! And despite the fact he gets less than 20 minutes for lunch, he manages to eat most everything in his lunchbox, which usually consists of a sandwich, a yogurt, a milk or juice, and a fruit (and sometimes a cookie). In the past, he'd typically come home with uneaten fruit and the cookie, but these days, the lunchbox is empty. And by the time he gets off the bus, he's asking for a snack.

Along with the increase in his appetite, there's been a noticeable growth in his height and shoe size—nearly two sizes in less than a year! The jeans I bought him in September are now good only for wading in ponds. And the expensive sneakers he "needed," are now too tight, and only slightly worn. Fortunately, there's a good consignment shop nearby where I hope to recoup a few dollars for the sneakers.
So now I wonder. Is it beginning? The "eating me out of house and home" thing? Maybe this is the first step in that direction. Tonight, the boy was really hungry. He ate an entire cheeseburger. For a child who eats two peas, and is full, this is big. It has only happened once or twice before. This is news I had to report to my husband right away. News flash: the boy ate an entire cheeseburger. Including the bun. Seriously. Can you believe it?

If my mom is right, and she usually is, forget the burger, next he'll be asking me for a side of beef!

Labels: , , , , ,

Monday, February 27, 2012

Looks Like We Made It—by Jamie Levine

There was no “break” in winter break for me this year. But it’s over now, and looking back on it, I have to admit it was worth every bit of exhaustion I withstood—because Jayda had one helluva good time. Together, we spent a day at the Long Island Children’s Museum with one of our favorite families, had several play dates with old friends and new, spent hours outside at the playground—as well as plenty of time at the frozen yogurt shop, went to a “Bake-Your-Own-Cookies” birthday party, got haircuts at the salon and went out to lunch, and even saw “Pinkalicious: The Musical.” And while every night was a battle to get Jayda to bed so I could write treatment plans for my clients, do freelance work, research material for a term project, and study for a midterm, every morning, I was greeted by Jayda bursting with enthusiasm, and asking, “Mommy, what are we doing today?” followed by a resounding “You’re the best mommy in the world!”

Fortunately, all of Jayda’s good friends have mothers who are my good friends, so at least I inadvertently enjoyed some socializing, too, this week. And thankfully, Jayda was great company—she’s almost always on her best behavior when we’re out and about or seeing friends, so she was pretty darn happy most of this week. And I was happy to be with her—and tried desperately to save my stressing out about school work until after she was asleep. But it was a tough week for me, too: The only time I had to myself was a little gym-time every morning (where Jayda went to the gym daycare) and when I was in front of my computer working at night…or passed out for six hours or less in bed.

Yesterday morning, when I left for school, Jayda clung to me for a bit—and told me she didn't want me to leave. The feeling was mutual: I was heading to a Speech Disorders midterm for which I felt ill-prepared to take. But Jayda and I finally said our mushy goodbyes to each other, and I felt secure that Jayda was going to have a great day with her babysitter. When I got to school, my fellow graduate students were out of control, ranting about how much they’d studied and stressed about the midterm—and how many of their days had been consumed by test preparation. And instead of feeling insecure about how I was going to do, because I’d spent much less time studying than they had, I felt relieved. Because my age has brought me wisdom and I know what’s important: I know that one test isn’t going to change my life—but the quality of time I spend with my little girl just might change hers. And when all is said and done, I did well enough on that test—and know I'll do even better when I'm working with clients who have those speech disorders. And most importantly, my little girl wakes up every morning with a smile on
her face…and this week, we made a lot of great memories together.

Sunday, February 26, 2012

We Make Human Capital – A Book Review by Maureen Eich VanWalleghan

Become a mommy and become a part of a phenomenon as defined by a fact, occurrence, or circumstance observed or observable...

After reading The Price of Motherhood, Why the most important job in the world is still the least valued by Ann Crittenden, I realized that the place I call Mommyville is real. The location where I feel tremendous love for and by my child, but where I am completely invisible to the outside world is in fact created by the culture I live in.

In chapters like “How Mothers’ Work Was ‘Disappeared’: The Invention of the Unproductive Housewife,” Crittenden discusses things mothers know intuitively, but don’t want to talk about, can’t quite put their finger on or sadly, think is just a personal issue, like getting a divorce with children is a sentence of poverty. Or that moms are directly impacting GDP (Gross Domestic Product) and yet in the United States the contribution of raising children is not calculated into the formula for the creation of our economic health. Throughout the book, Crittenden uncovers the history, politics and phenomenon of how mothers’ work is unvalued in our culture.

Now lest one think I just picked this book because I am feeling crabby, let me say that this book has so turned my head around and spotlighted what I have been feeling from the moment my daughter was born, which was that I had somehow become irrelevant. This was acutely more distressing since I came to the marriage and baby-making party quite late. Being a single career woman till after 40 means that the shock has been tremendous. But, after reading this book, I don’t feel crazy anymore. Crittenden discusses money, how it’s spent, and who has control of it in the context of marriage, being a stay-at-home mom and raising children. What’s eerily fascinating is that those fights I sometimes have with my husband are actually the same fights many women are having...because really husbands’ attitudes are shaped by the larger culture as well.

I am reviewing this book—which is not new, it was originally published in 2001, though it did get new preface from the author in 2010—because I want to contribute to the mommy revolution...we are in one right now. I want to remind us that it is mothers who make the big changes for the good in this world. Consider the film The Race To Nowhere, which is challenging America’s push for excessive achievement in school or a more recent film, Miss Representation, that considers the limiting images of women in the media. What’s so wonderful about these films is that the writer/directors are mothers, who embrace their motherhood role to champion change. Put their work together with The Price of Motherhood and one finds a potent mix of information and empowerment.

Read The Price of Motherhood and discover why “feminism” or even conservatism have an investment in keeping the work of mothers invisible. Read The Price of Motherhood and discover why wealthy women have a tough road in marriage and divorce. The truth is that divide and conquer has always kept women from finding their voices. See what Crittenden reveals about the most important work on the planet: raising kids. It will give you a whole new prospective about the phenomenon of being a mother in the 21st century.

P.S. Definitely check out Crittenden's website, linked above. In Contacts there is great information about improving the economic status of mothers.

Labels: , , ,

GUEST BLOG POST: Authentic Parenting and Living by Kathleen McIntire

52 Weeks of Authenticity: Practical Ways to Make 2012 the Year You Finally Get Real and Start Living the Best Life for YOU
Authenticity. It’s a word that gets tossed around quite a bit these days. (In fact, it’s in danger of becoming a bit of a cliché.) Sure, we all think we’re authentic in our words and actions. But are we really? I think that, consciously or not, most of us let the expectations of others drive the decisions we make every day—from the major we choose, to the kind of house we buy, to where we go on vacation, to whether we stay in and relax on Saturday night or go out and party.
So many of us live out our lives as slaves to the tyranny of should. Year after year we strive to become what others—parents, partners, experts, society—tell us we should be. And then, one day, we wake up and realize we never got to let go and just be our real selves.
The start of a fresh new year (okay…give or take a week or two) is the perfect time to resolve to live more authentically. Problem is, you may not be sure where to even begin. Heck, you may not be sure what an authentic life looks like! That’s why I have put together some practical tips—52 of them, in fact—for “getting real” in various areas of your life.
Each week, choose one suggestion from this list to focus on. No need to tackle them in the order they’re listed or to do all of them. They’re just meant to get you thinking—and to get you started down the path to a more authentic life.


We need to find the courage to say NO to the things and people that are not serving
us if we want to rediscover ourselves and live our lives with authenticity.

Come to terms with what really matters to you. Get comfortable with it. Maybe you’re okay with a smaller income and more free time. Maybe you’re okay with an extra 20 pounds. Never apologize for not “fitting in.” The minute you find yourself worrying about how others perceive you is the minute you abandon authenticity.

Whatever you decide to do (or not to do), own your decision.  If you find you can’t own it—if you feel wracked with guilt or compelled to hide the truth from those around you—it’s time to rethink what you’re doing. 

If in your journey to authenticity you decide a lifestyle change is needed, be realistic in your goal-setting. Let’s say you decide your diet, heavy in fats and processed foods, isn’t serving you well. If you know you aren’t going to grow an organic garden in your backyard, set a goal to prepare a body- and soul-nourishing meal (heavy on the veggies and supplemented with organically raised meat) two days a week at first. It’s best to take “baby steps” and plan to make more dramatic changes when you’re ready. In this way you’ll build the confidence you need to succeed.

Break an unwritten “rule” made by others and reject any shame. Allowing others to shame us keeps us living on the treadmill and trying to fit in by doing it the “right way.” Authenticity is inner directed. Inauthenticity comes from caring what others think and letting the external dictate how you live.

Ask yourself, What am I hiding? Make the choice to reveal something you’ve been fiercely protecting. Chip away at the armor by sharing a secret with a partner or a friend or maybe just your cat or your journal.

It’s okay to do things for yourself. Honor your own needs. Sometimes we all need a massage or a new handbag or just a couple of hours alone while our spouse takes the kids to a movie.

Give yourself permission to have feelings that you think you “shouldn’t” have.  Should and shouldn’t have no place in an authentic life.

Get real about money. Spending what you can’t afford to spend is another way of pretending to be who we aren’t. It’s also a disaster in the making!

Take a break from the need to DO something. Simply BE. Simply show up as you are and love.

Know when you’re at your best and when you’re not. (When you’re not, it’s almost always the perfect time for a bath or a nap!)

Call a moratorium on victim talk. Authentic people don’t blame others. They recognize their own power and use it to create their own reality.

Own your emotions. If you can’t help crying in confrontational situations, let the tears flow. If you’re devastated when a pet dies, accept condolences without apologizing or minimizing. You feel what you feel…let go of the label of being “too sensitive.”

Each week, spend some time outside. When we disconnect from Nature, we disconnect from Source. We’re creatures of the Earth and it’s hard to thrive in an artificial world.

Declutter a little (people and “stuff”). When you’re too busy trying to manage chaos, you can’t relax enough to even know who you are and what you need and want. (Do you really love Grandma’s china? If you don’t, give it to someone who does. Are you really going to fit into those size 8 jeans ever again? If not, get rid of them!)

• Give yourself a makeover. Do you dress in a way that truly expresses who you are? This question has nothing to do with what’s hot or stylish or what label is attached to your garments. It has everything to do with feeling comfortable in your own skin (and what’s covering it) instead of vaguely ill at ease or like you’re playing an expected role.

Seize every opportunity to say, “I love you”—to yourself. Until we can fully love ourselves, we can’t fully love the others in our lives.


We need people in our lives with whom we can be as open as possible.
To have real conversations with people may seem like such a simple,
obvious suggestion, but it involves courage and risk.

Learn to say no. Sometimes it takes an authentic no (to something you don’t want to do) to say an authentic yes (to something you long to do). Unless you’re the clown or the balloon maker, does it really matter if you don’t go to the party? If you see it as an obligation, bow out lovingly and stay home and rest—ah, rest!—instead.

Also, learn to say yes when your heart guides you to. Be flexible and fun. So what if you “should” (there’s that word again!) stay home and clean? When a good friend invites you to dinner on the spur of the moment, drop everything and go. We rarely regret heart-inspired action!

Gently tell the truth. Of course you don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings, but don’t withhold crucial insights to spare them, either. (“I think you have a drinking problem” may hurt her feelings, but if you believe the words are in her best interests, don’t you have to say them?)

Be vulnerable. Show your insecurities. Admit that your house is a wreck, or your marriage is struggling, or you don’t know how to roast the turkey. People will be more willing to open up and be authentic with you because they’ll see that you’re human.

Allow your friends to be vulnerable, too. Let them feel their feelings. When you argue with them or try to “fix” it for them, you deny the authenticity of their experience.

If it makes you uncomfortable, say so. If your friends never bring money to dinner and you always end up paying the tab, confront them (lovingly) with the truth.

Be sensitive to what is convenient to the other person. Sometimes what’s convenient for you doesn’t work so well for them. (If a busy working mother lets you borrow a hundred dollars in cash, pay her back in cash—don’t write a check. When is she going to have time to get to the bank?)

Practice and expect reciprocity. We’re all in different cycles at different times, so this should be measured in terms of years, not weeks or months. However, if you find that a friend seems to only take, limit the time you spend with her.

It’s okay not to be “nice.” Real friends would rather you speak your truth than pretend or deny or try to please and impress. Little girls are not sugar and spice and everything nice…and neither are grown women.

Surround yourself with authentic friends. If you don’t have any, set an intention to find your tribe. Join a reading circle or a knitting group or a hiking club or a food co-op. Volunteer for a cause you’re passionate about. Be open to the people you meet. Likeminded people will find you as if by magic.

It doesn’t matter how long you’ve known each other. If the friendship isn’t meeting your needs, move on.

Lighten the load for someone else when you can. 

Seize every opportunity to say, “I love you.” One day it will be your last chance.


Truly loving another means letting go of all expectations. It means full
acceptance, even celebration of another’s personhood.
—Karen Casey

Ask yourself, Am I married to the right person…or am I just married?

State your intention. Do you intend to stay married and make it work? Then do what it takes to make it happen…or get a divorce.

End the blame game. If you’re blaming your partner for your unhappiness, you’re denying your own power. We can’t control what others do, but we can control how we respond to it and whether or not we’ll continue to live with it.

Tell the truth about something you’ve been stewing over. Tell it gently and lovingly, expressing what took place and how you feel: angry or sad or betrayed or conflicted. Make it an “I” statement versus a “You” statement. Own your feelings; they are yours. Then offer a suggestion on how to make the situation work for the both of you. This will turn the focus on a solution and keep you both from getting stuck on the problem.

Rock the boat. It can be good to upset the status quo in your relationship—especially if the status quo is causing seething resentment. Go where you want to go on vacation for a change…or plan an outing with girlfriends on his “golf day”…or paint your office the shade of green that he dislikes (but that you love). Let the chips fall where they may.

Are you letting your partner live an authentic life? If you’re doing something to manipulate or control him or her, it’s time to stop. When people are allowed to be who they are, they often blossom.

It’s usually a mistake to expect people to change lifelong habits that you don’t like. They won’t. And anyway, who are you to insist they change to please you?

It’s not about winning. As the old saying goes, Would you rather be right or be happy?

Have you ever heard it said, “Don’t fight force with force”? It’s a MARTIAL arts principle that can also be a MARITAL arts principle! Sometimes yielding or flowing around the barrier like a river is the best way to get what you need.

Seize every opportunity to say, “I love you.” One day it will be your last chance.


A lot of mothers will do anything for their children, except let them be themselves.

Be as honest with your kids as you possibly can be without upsetting them with information too advanced for their ages. They can handle the truth when it’s expressed lovingly and in an age-appropriate way. Yes, Dad lost his job (but we won’t end up homeless). Yes, the shot will hurt a little (but only for a minute and it will be over).

Are you perpetuating the myth of parental perfection? When you screw up, admit that you screwed up. Kids will respect and respond to your honesty.

Pay attention to your child when he talks. Really listen. Tuning him out or humoring/half-listening sends the message that what he has to say is not important. Believe me, that’s a message he will hear loud and clear.

Every day, make a sincere effort to truly engage your child. Turn off the TV, walk away from the computer, set aside the bills—and talk. When you don’t make it a priority, days and weeks can go by without a genuine connection…and you wake up one morning to realize you don’t know your own child.

• Every so often ask your child “What would you like to do today?” Then just do it. While you’re throwing the football or having the tea party, don’t zone out and worry about the bills you need to pay or the report you need to write. Be in the moment. Enjoy your child. These days will not last forever.

Parent from the heart. If it doesn’t feel good to you, it doesn’t matter if it’s what the “experts” swear by. You are you and your child is your child…your intuition will tell you what’s right for both of you.

Pushing kids to be something they’re not hurts them and you. They need to live their dreams, not yours.

Look for ways to honor your child’s gifts. Post the short story she wrote on your Facebook account. Or proudly show guests the Lego fort he built in his room. Tell friends (in her presence), “Meghan taught our dog how to sit, stay, and fetch…she has a real gift for connecting with animals!” Acknowledging what makes your child unique helps her shape a strong sense of self.

Be truthful about your child’s shortcomings. Everyone has different strengths. If your child isn’t an academic superstar or a natural athlete, it’s okay. Focus on her strengths rather than trying to hide the truth about what you see as a weakness.

With everything you do, narrate the “why.” You’re helping your kids understand that you make the choices you make based on a set of beliefs and values that make you you.

You’re not Parent of the Year (whatever that means!) and you never will be. Let yourself off the hook. You might not make it to every school event but there is plenty you do right. Focus on those things instead.

Let the housework go. The struggle to maintain perfect order at all times is the ultimate denial of who we are: beautifully flawed human beings! Spend the time you would have spent mopping playing with your kids instead.

Seize every opportunity to say, “I love you.” One day it will be your last chance.
Kathleen McIntire is a transformational teacher, speaker, and healer who is dedicated to bringing forth truth, liberation, and awakening. She is the author and creator of Guiding Signs 101, a set of divination cards and guidebook using everyday road signs to tap into your intuition and own inner guidance.  

She is the steward of MoonBear Sanctuary, located on 28 acres in Northern California. The retreat center located there provides cutting-edge workshops as well as ceremonies, study groups, and symposiums. Kathleen, whose focus is on restoring the feminine power, also leads sacred journeys with women.

Kathleen is the producer of two upcoming Mayan films. The first, Mayan Renaissance, is being made by PeaceJam, an international education program for youth built around leading Nobel Peace Laureates. The other film is The Unification of Wisdom and 2012.  Visit and

Labels: , , , , ,

Saturday, February 25, 2012

My Teen Idol by Sharon O'Donnell

Sometimes things we’ve dreamed about since we were kids can come true, even if you have to wait until middle age -- or later -- for it to happen. Back in the late ‘90s, I had a life-time dream come true when I finally met the teen idol I’d grown up adoring back in the early seventies. There I was at a concert in Myrtle Beach, a 37-year-old married mother of two, my hands shaking with nervousness because I was about to meet Bobby Sherman, the popular singer and actor when I was a pre-teen. I had read about the Teen idol concert featuring Bobby, the Monkees’ Davy Jones, and Peter Noone of Herman’s Hermits on Bobby’s website.
I was new to the Internet at the time and was a bit skeptical of using it until my husband Kevin told me, in hopes of encouraging me to use it, “Hey, I bet there’s even a Bobby Sherman site on there.” A few minutes later, a color photo of Bobby appeared on our computer screen accompanied by the sounds of “Little Woman”, his first hit song. I was immediately transported to my childhood, to the days of going swimming in the outdoor pool at Pullen Park and listening to Bobby’s records over and over with my best friend, Tina. To the days when the Vietnam War filled the nightly news, when drugs and casual sex were becoming ‘hip’; yet, I was protected from it all, cocooned in an innocence that is what childhood should be. My friends and I were aware of the current events, but we did not feel threatened by them. We felt safe, lost in a world of bike riding, spelling tests, and Bobby Sherman songs. He made being good ‘cool’; he was never arrested or in and out of rehab or even said cuss words on stage. I admired Bobby, a guy who in his 20s was suddenly catapulted to fame and fortune but kept a level head and was a good role model to his impressionable fans. As I scanned through the Bobby web page, I read letters from other fans, all remarkably expressing this same feeling: that somehow we wouldn’t have grown up the way we did, become the people we are, if Bobby Sherman had been a different sort of teen idol. I also found out that Bobby was volunteering as a trained emergency medical technician in Los Angeles – something he still does today at the age of 68 -- proving what his fans knew all along: he truly cares about people.
And then I saw the announcement of the Teen Idol Tour concert, and I knew I had to be there. I was destined to see this website and find out about the concert three hours away. My older sister Mary went along for moral support. I managed to obtain a couple of backstage passes to meet Bobby before the concert. Though I had met other famous people before, I had never felt this level of excitement. I think that’s because I had wanted to meet Bobby for so, so long; it was the culmination of a childhood dream.
When I was seven, I sent fan letters to Bobby but knew he couldn’t possibly read them since he received 30,000 letters a week. Then I had an idea I thought was ingenious at the time: knowing that Santa Claus went to everybody’s house, I wrote Bobby a letter and left it on the coffee table beside Santa’s milk and cookies along with a note asking Santa to deliver it (I also left one for Elvis Presley and ‘Rob’ on “My Three Sons”). Of course the letter was never delivered. So when I went to meet Bobby in Myrtle Beach, I took along a copy of that letter plus a newspaper column I wrote once about how grateful I was to Bobby for being such a wholesome teen idol and role model. I had both of these framed, side by side.
As my sister Mary and I waited backstage before the concert, the memories danced in my mind. There was the time in second grade when my mother took Tina and me to Bobby’s concert at Memorial Auditorium in Raleigh. He walked on stage, singing “Hey Mister Sun”, smiling and waving the peace sign while thousands of girls screamed at the top of their lungs. I sat in the balcony in stunned silence, waving the peace sign back to him and not quite believing that Bobby Sherman from the pages of Tiger Beat and the “Here Come the Brides” show was there on stage in front of me. (My mother let us ‘splurge’ and get the $2 color poster of Bobby instead of the $1 black & white.) And when the music stopped and the stage was empty, I remember I felt empty, too, because I knew he would never even know I had been there in the balcony.
Twelve years prior to the Myrtle Beach concert, I actually talked to Bobby on the phone after I had sent his manager some material I had written, and Bobby called to say thank you and that he liked my writing. I’ll never forget the day I came back from lunch to my PR job to find the pink phone message slip on my desk; ‘Bobby Sherman called’ it read. ‘Said he’d call back’. Which he did. When the receptionist realized it was THE Bobby Sherman she just about had to be resuscitated since she had been a big fan, too. Bobby asked me to send him some more of my writing, which I did occasionally, and once he sent me an autographed postcard. He also had given me his mailing address and I'd sometimes send him a Christmas card with photos of my sons.
So as I stood in a small back stage room of the Palace Theatre in Myrtle Beach, waiting with some other thrilled fans to finally meet Bobby, I wondered what I should say to perhaps trigger his memory about our past contact or if I should just start from scratch and introduce myself. I decided to start from scratch since he probably wouldn’t remember me at all. Suddenly, the door to the room opened and in stepped Bobby, dressed in a black shirt and silver pants (strategically tight silver pants, I might add), looking handsome and much younger than his 55 years. I backed up a bit, wanting to be the last fan to meet him, thinking I would have more time with him that way. But he took one look at me and stopped in his tracks.
“I know you,” Bobby said, looking perplexed, trying to figure out how he knew me.
“You do?” I asked, surprised. “I didn’t know if you’d remember or not, but we’ve corresponded before.”
He smiled and nodded in recognition. “I’ve read some of your articles,” he
I turned to Mary, who was nervously taking pictures of Bobby and me. “He
remembers!” I squealed, sounding like a starry-eyed groupie more by the moment. Bobby put his arms around my waist and hugged me. Crap, I realized I was taller than he was, and I suddenly felt like an Amazon oaf. I bent my knees so that I’d appear shorter in the photos, although later when I saw the photos, I looked like I had severe posture problems. Oh well. It was still a fabulous moment. If I had only known back in 1971 that one day this would happen.
Later, he made his entrance through the audience of screaming women, stopping to sign autographs on outstretched album covers. He passed by me and smiled. “Have a great show!” I yelled.
He reached over and briefly held my hand. “Thanks, Sharon,” he said. As he launched into one of his hit songs, I felt like I was seven years old again. But this time, I wasn’t sitting in the balcony. And this time, Bobby Sherman knew my name – if only for a night.
Mary, who is eight years older than I am, was never a Bobby fan because her peers were into The Grass Roots and The Doors and Robert Redford. But when I asked her on the drive home, what had been the best part of the trip, which had also included relaxing by the pool and great restaurants, she didn’t hesitate. “Bobby Sherman!” she shouted truthfully, grinning. Ah, yes, a convert.
As the years went by, I still sometimes sent a Christmas card to the address Bobby had so kindly given me in 1986, but I wasn't sure if it was still viable or not since it had been so long and I hadn't heard back from him in a while. But when my childhood friend Tina's 50th birthday approached early this month, I decided to write to the address and ask him a favor: to email or call my friend Tina, a fellow Bobby Sherman fan, for her 50th birthday. I sent the letter, and then didn't think any more about it because I really didn't think the letter would actually reach him. About a week later on Tina's birthday, I was at a movie when my phone vibrated, and I saw I had a text -- probably from one of my sons I thought. Then I noticed it was from Tina. It read, "OMG -- Bobby Sherman!! How do you pull such things off? Best present ever, girlfriend. I'm telling everybody!" I was so excited that Tina had finally received the phone call from Bobby that we used to dream about. And what a guy for following through for me!
My Bobby Sherman lunch box and my issues of Tiger Beat magazine are long gone; but, the memories he gave me are invaluable. In today’s world, the term ‘teen idol’ has been replaced by ‘sex symbol’, a shallow term that doesn’t measure up to the first. It doesn’t bring to mind the same depth of devotion of fans, the same extent of excitement. Bobby was quoted on the web site years ago, saying there aren’t any ‘teen idols’ any more because today’s pre-pubescent girls are too blasé about such things. He said, “Nowadays, you go from birth to puberty – there’s nothing in between.” The same is true for the female celebrities my sons hear about – Lindsay Lohan, Britney Spears. I think of how much I learned during that ‘in between’ time, about myself and about life; and, I ache for all those young people out there rushing to grow up.

Labels: , , , ,

Friday, February 24, 2012

Cyma Shapiro Chats with Jennifer Powell-Lunder, author, Teenage as a Second Language

Jennifer, I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to read your wonderful book. Although my children flank the teenage years, your book had so many wonderful suggestions for how to cut through the daily tensions that I aim to employ many of these techniques right now.

Q: Please tell me how you came to write this book.
 As a psychologist working with teens and their families on a daily basis a few things were clear: First, that all parents love their children and want to find a way to effectively communicate with them. Secondly, that teens, too, love their parents and want to have positive relationships with them. While teens are using seemingly the same words to communicate with their parents, it is the meaning of these words as well as the context that can result in misunderstanding. While I penned this book, it is really written by the hundreds of teen I have had the opportunity to talk with.  These teens translated their language for me.

Q: What kind of teenager were you? What did your parents do about it? Did your early experiences compel you to write this book?
As a teen I was often in the role of listening to the concerns and dilemma’s of my peers and friends and offering advice. I was a Peer Counselor in high School, In college, at the University of Virginia, I was very involved in the Big Brother Big Sister Program as a volunteer and a Program Coordinator.
I had very caring and supportive parents. We communicated well. They were firm but flexible. They were willing to listen to my point of view when I did not agree with their decisions. I guess you could say they modeled well for me.  Of course there were the typical teenage disagreements. I think what compelled me to write the book was my early experiences as a confidant and my advice- giving. I guess I was often in the role of a ‘mini psychologist.’ I wanted to help parents not only understand what their teens were saying, but offer them tools  to build better communication.

Q: I know that I’m often reactively angry in many situations, esp. when my children exhibit what I believe are disrespectful behaviors.  Your book consistently outlines calm, diplomatic methods for responding to retorts or when trying to break through certain behavior patterns. How can a parent come to terms with these types of emotions?
The first step is truly self-awareness. I always tell parents it is easy for me to sit in my chair in my office, but as a parent myself, I rely on my own mindfulness to practice what I preach. As a parent it is important to know when you need to take a moment away from a situation to collect your thoughts and emotions. This takes practice. If you are feeling so overwhelmed or upset by a particular situation, it is also often helpful to step back and ask the co-parent (if there is one) to step in. Kids learn most through observational learning. This is why if you react calmly you gain so much. Your teens are more prone to listen to what you have to say, and you teach them how they should communicate with you and others. Remember, ‘anger begets anger.’

Q: in many sections, you note that children’s responses are often the result of learned behaviors and daily family-interactions.  However, as the years pass, more and more children are diagnosed with ADD, OCD, ADHD and a host of other chemical imbalances which don’t often point directly back to the parents or the family.  What can a parent do if his/her child struggles with these issues, and parental responses don’t change the fundamental dynamics?
Structure and predictability are especially important for these teens.  This is because internally these kids struggle. Parents should work with their teens to develop a set of boundaries and limits, a.k.a: rules and consequences. The key is to work with your teens to help them feel empowered and own the process which I outline in the book. Consistency is also extremely important. You have to “Say what you mean and mean what you say.” The only person who can control our behavior is ourselves. When parents provide a reliable and consistent environment, they help to shape their children’s behaviors. Because parents may feel especially overwhelmed by their teens if they struggle with an attention or mood disorder, it is not uncommon to give in to demands in the moment to quell the emotional response. In the long run however, this can contribute to future conflicts.

Q:  As I often write, new older mothers grapple with many other external issues not endemic to younger mothers – peri-menopause, aging parents, blended stepfamilies. What specific advice do you have for these mothers when it comes to the additional challenge of dealing with teenagers and this age group?
I think older moms have time on their side. They have lived more of life and have access to a whole host of wisdom and experiences younger moms do not have. That being said, it is important to be mindful of any limitations and work around them. If for example, you feel that your frustration tolerance is lower, awareness will allow you to step back from a situation in order to avoid conflict. Regarding blended families it is important that both teens and parents have a clear understanding of roles (e.g. does a step-parent have the same authority to parent as the parent). Conflicts in these situations often arise when there is a lack of consistency regarding roles and no or inconsistent rules. Older parents can also create opportunities to connect with their teens on a different level. If for example, you are not as savvy or up to date with the latest social networking technology, learn from your teens. By allowing them to teach you, you not only empower them, you create an opportunity to spend valuable time with them which is sure to enhance your relationship.

Q: Sometimes I see  what I believe are “perfect kids” in a “perfect family.” Although many times appearances are not what they seem, sometimes these kids are, indeed, smart, well-balanced, emotionally sound, with inherently high self-esteem – all things which make growing pains more palatable. What do you attribute this to? What advice do you offer these types of emotionally balanced families who have a troubled teen?
In general, the world has become a more complicated place. This means that our teens are faced with a multitude of pressures and challenges. It goes without saying that no one is perfect. Adolescence is about the search for identity, trying on different roles. Teens face pressure and controversy no matter how well adjusted they present (themselves to be). As a parent, it is important to be involved , flexible, yet consistent. Research reflects the importance of monitoring your teens’ behaviors even if they are “good kids.” In fact, when teens believe they are being monitored they are less likely to engage in high risk behaviors. Permissive parenting is the style of parenting most associated with teens engaging in higher risk behaviors such as substance abuse and promiscuity. It is also important for parents to be aware of ‘red flag behaviors’ which may include: changes in sleep or eating habits, changes in outward appearances, changes in peer group (i.e. do you suddenly not have a clue with whom your teen is friends?), changes in academic performance and/or school attendance, lower motivation to do things previously enjoyed, etc. Sometimes these changes can be subtle at first. Go with your gut, if you feel something may be off, it probably it is. It is important to sit down with your teen and discuss your concerns in an interactive manner. Talk with them, not at them.

Q: In your chapter on “Independence,” you write the following, “In Teenage, the difference translates like this: You promote autonomy by encouraging your teens to negotiate the world at large. This entails providing structure, support and guidelines on how to proceed…You promote independence while you encourage your teens to negotiate the world on their own….Your teens are supported in trying new things and managing situations on their own. If your teens experience you are too controlling, blaming or even rejecting they are at higher risk for difficulties including alcohol and substance abuse, eating, disorders, etc.” This would be eye-opening to many Type-A women who have succeeded professionally through control and order. In reality, they are, like me, just trying to combine a successful career with successful older Mommyhood; trying to draw from past experiences when faced with an ever-changing new world. Can you speak about this dilemma?
Parenting is about balance. Too much or too little control can result in concerning consequences. It is important to parent in a firm yet flexible manner. You need to work with your teen. Most important, you need to stop and really listen to what they have to say. When you talk at them, they tend to shut down. You are your teen’s best role model. They learn most from what you do, not necessarily what you say. If you are a successful person, the lessons you are teaching your teen are invaluable. What you are alluding to above, is that I highlight the difference between promoting autonomy and independence. Autonomy is about encouraging your teens to step out of the nest but ensuring their understanding that you are there to provide support and guidance when needed. Independence, is defined as pushing them out of the nest. It is important to encourage autonomy first.  As parents we can not do it for them (although at times we may want to). If you consistently communicate with your teen and work together to set up limits and boundaries you provide the best opportunity for a strong communicative relationship with your teen. Sometimes they do need to fall in order to learn better how to fly. As parent, your role is to be there to catch them. If you fly for them, they will not learn how to do it themselves.

Q: So much of what you clearly and repeatedly identify through body language and nonverbal cues, with simplistic, clear directives on how to respond to these, would require us to relax and stop moving long enough to “catch” these many clues. Drawing from the question above, how can we be effective with this information if we, as parents, already feel we have too much on our plate(s)?
Ah, you answered your own question! Stop moving, stop multitasking! While you may be able to do several things at once, your teens do not see it that the way. I learned this from my own kids. Typing on the computer and talking with them, sends the message that I am not fully attending! A few moments of your undivided attention will not only provide you with the opportunity to pick up on these important nonverbal cues but, it will send your teens an invaluable message, you always have time for them no matter what!

Q: What do you think is the most common mistake parents make when dealing with teenagers?
Parenting to extremes,  too controlling or too permissive. Everything in moderation should be the mantra. 

Q: Finally, what is the single best advice you can offer families or parents with teenagers?
Two things: Focus on what you can do, not on what you can’t. Parenting is  about interaction not reaction

Labels: , , , ,