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Archive for the 'Growing' Category

Is Spongebob killing our kids?


It seems this issue has been around forever. In 2006, a group of parents and advocacy groups threatened to sue Kelloggs and Viacom, Nickelodeon TV’s parent company, over the peddling of unhealthy food on commercials during shows like Spongebob Squarepants. In 2007, Kelloggs agreed to get more health-aware, and the suit was dropped.

But with Spongebob still flipping greasy crabby patties, and sugar-laced cereal still being plugged on the tube, it seems a lot of parents and advocates are still up in arms. The current issue of Best Life, put out by Men’s Health Magazine, takes issue with corporate cartoons and lists how to fight back. In October, the Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood took issue with the whole health thing as well. And I understand the concern, as kids’ waistlines are growing and growing. But aren’t we missing the point?

I mean, isn’t this whole thing about parenting? It seems to me the best thing I can do to make my son healthier is to buy him healthier foods to eat, and perhaps to eat healthier myself — something my girlfriend has had an incredibly positive influence on. If the kids want fruity-sugar cereal, you just say no. Am I off on this?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, January 23rd, 2009 at 12:27 pm |


There’s that recurring fear that I’m a bit too old to be a first time parent. Last week, there was one such moment.
We took my son for a playdate at a preschool we hope to send him in September. He had just turned 1!!! When I was a kid, I didn’t go to school until a few days before I was 4. There was nursery school and then there was kindergarten and then you started all those grades with numbers. Yes, my younger brothers went to 3-year-old nursery and I think I had heard of pre-nursery. But my son will be three months shy of his 2nd birthday when he starts.
In the Toddler class he tried out, all the kids were at least 10 months older than him. And they were still so little. 
My first reaction was – he’s just not ready. But then I had to remember how much further along he’ll be once September rolls around.
Some kids sat in the corner listening to stories, others played with toys. There were two tiny kids with hands and faces covered with paint, standing in front of easels doing their best Jackson Pollack imitations. 
He kind of stood around taking it all in, not joining them but not shying away either.
I was pretty confident things would go well when the kids all sat down for a snack a little while later. My son will eat anything. 
He waited very nicely as the plate of rice cakes went around the table. I was nervous, though, because he had never had one and I worried they were too big. I’m the parent who cuts things into tiny pieces for him. So much that my wife is worried I’m going to give him a complex – that maybe he’ll end up sitting in the middle school cafeteria 10 years from now still cutting his PB&J into small cubes. 
But he chewed away, eating the rice cake quietly as he watched the other kids. He wasn’t as polite once he’d finished that first one — he soon grabbed the cake sitting in front of the girl next to him.
Yesterday, the envelope came from the “school”. There was a moment of panic when I saw how thin it was. Then I remembered, this wasn’t a college telling my son whether he was in or not. Just pre-school – and the news was good. Now we just have to come up with the tuition.

Posted by Jon Bandler on Tuesday, January 20th, 2009 at 3:27 pm |
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Do we have to tell the kids?


It’s hard to miss the sad state of our economy right now: Layoffs everywhere, furloughs here and throughout the working world, etc. But do the kids really need to be in on it all? Granted, I hope I don’t get to the point where I have to tell my son that times are going to be hard because dad’s out of work. But until then, I wonder if we need to go there. Or am I naive?

Let me back up a sec to the more dire situation. I appreciate that there’s advice out there to help parents talk to their kids in the worst-case scenario. A couple of good ones come from Parents Press, as well as from Kiplinger .com and a good one for parents of teens from Businessweek

Fast-forward to where we are. I think we should all be telling our kids to be frugal anyway, and teaching them that a dollar wasted is, well, a waste. And my 11-year-old son sees the news, so the has a mild sense of it. But I think some worries belong largely with the parents until its unavoidable. Or am I wrong?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, January 16th, 2009 at 2:28 pm |


Being the ‘parent’


At 11, my son is pretty well accustomed to the house-swap that occurs as a result of the custody agreement between his mom and I. That’s not to say he wouldn’t like it differently — I don’t think the desire to have your parents together in one home ever disappears. But after more than six years apart, his mom’s remarriage and my own blended family, he’s pretty much accepted that this is how it is. And he’s a happy kid.

With my girlfriend’s 4-year-old, it’s still a work in progress. We have a good relationship and he thoroughly enjoys my company — he seeks me out when he gets home from school, is sad if I’m not home yet. But, as I said, it’s a longterm process that we’re still going through. His dad is actively involved with him and spends every other weekend with him, as well as some nights when he visits us for dinner.

One of the things we’ve focused on in making the transition for him is coming up with a title for me. Obviously, I’m not his dad, and I’m only sort of his friend, as I am an adult. My girlfriend has decided to refer to me as his ‘parent,’ or his ‘other parent.’ On Christmas, the little guy’s gift to me was the framed text of a discussion he had with his mom, which concludes with, ‘Jorge is my parent.’ It was a transitional thing for me, and it’s now prominently displayed in our home.

But I have no illusions: This will be a longterm process, and one you can’t push. It’s also a process that more and more parents are increasingly dealing with. According to “this blended family website,”:http://blendedfamily.us about 50,000 people become members of stepfamilies in the U.S. every single month, and 1 out of 4 children live in a stepfamily by the time they reach 18. According to U.S. Census data, these kids end up in stepfamilies for various reasons, but most — about 55% — become stepchildren when their biological parent remarries after divorce. Overall, about 80% of divorced adults remarry, and 60% of them have children from a prior marriage, according to the statistic

The comforting part of all this for me is that the more stepfamilies there are, the more ‘field research’ there is on the issue. No one wants their kid to be a guinea pig, but the reality is there. So far, I’d have to say that I think our approach is the best and most organic: Love and nurture your stepchild, but be aware of the existing and vital relationship the child has with their biological parent. Doesn’t sound like rocket science.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, January 14th, 2009 at 12:28 pm |

A death in the family


I felt fortunate this year that my son’s holiday season was a happy one. In fact, he made out like a bandit. In my book, that’s as it should be. As we do every year, we also bought gifts for needy children, something he has come to appreciate and we enjoy doing as a family.

His happiness was particularly important to me this year. That’s because he suffered his first significant loss with the death of his grandmother just before Thanksgiving, and two days before his birthday. This was his mother’s mom, with whom he was particularly close. Although she had been ill for some time, it was a very difficult process for him to go through, and one that he — and I — were a little unprepared for. It was, after all, his biggest loss since his mom and I split up, something I’m still learning to navigate in one form or another, albeit on a less frequent basis.

It was helpful for him to mourn with his mother, and the two of them shared their grief in significant and helpful ways. My initial concern was that he tried very hard to be a “big kid” about it, and did not want to be overly sad about it. He appeared more concerned about his mother’s wellbeing than his own. I credit him for that, but tried to assure him that he needed to mourn also. During the memorial service he started to break down, and was visibly overwhelmed by all the mourners who kept assuring him that his grandmother loved him dearly. I took him out of the room and we took a long walk together before coming back to the room.

I eventually realized that I needed him to mourn in his own way, and that perhaps I was projecting my expectation that he should be more broken up. He was, but in his own way, and it would happen slowly over time. The break-down moment for me came a couple of weeks before Christmas, when he was assigned a tribute poem for school. Of course, he wrote it about his grandma. It was therapy for him, and it was the outpouring of emotion that I feared he was bottling up inside. I felt it healed him to a large degree.

But the entire experience left me doubting myself, and how I dealt with it. Horrible as it sounds to say, he will suffer the loss of those close to him in the years to come, and I wonder how I would handle it differently if that comes to pass. I consulted several online resources for advice, and “found this at kidshealth.org”:http://kidshealth.org/parent/emotions/feelings/death.html and also “this at hospicenet.org”:http://www.hospicenet.org/html/talking.html for suggestions. Still, one learns from experience, and I think the best lesson for me was to let him be while reassuring him that it’s okay to be sad and it’s okay to express yourself when you’re ready.

It’s not something you want to plan for, but you do need to be ready. That was my biggest lesson.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, January 5th, 2009 at 11:46 am |

Halloween and my long absence


Actually, there’s no link between the two, but the Internet overlords here pointed out today that I’ve been incredibly bad about posting regularly here — and it does happen to be Halloween.

First, on my shoddy blogging habits: Guilty as charged. Work has been busy, life has been busier, but there are certainly no shortage of issues to blog about. Either way, I’m told today that the site will be “on hiatus” for the time being, largely because of inactivity. I’ve argued that we still get more hits than other blogs on here, and that we can recommit to posting more. But it proved not to be a convincing argument. Hopefully we’ll get some renewed interest after Election Day and can come back or reshape it. It can’t hurt if you guys make some noise, and I also intend to get more active with my single-parent network folks on Facebook.

Anyway, as for Halloween, my son is 10 now and, while clearly still into it, his interest is starting to fade as far as the traditional trick-or-treat ritual with us. We’re entering the hang-out-with-friends to do it stage. Nonetheless, we’re doing what we did last year: Getting our two blended families together and hitting the neighborhood. This year we’re in my ex’s neighborhood, as we alternate year-to-year. It’ll be my son, my ex and I, my girlfriend, her little boy and her ex, plus my ex’s husband and his son. That’s some crew.

And while we’re at it, here are some Halloween facts thrown my way by my colleague Cathey O’Donnell, who does a lot of the data number-crunching here at the paper. Enjoy:

The observance of Halloween, which dates back to Celtic rituals thousands of years ago, has long been associated with images of witches, ghosts, devils and hobgoblins. Over the years, Halloween customs and rituals have changed dramatically. Today, many of the young and young at heart take a more light-spirited approach. They don scary disguises or ones that may bring on smiles when they go door to door for treats, or attend or host a Halloween party.

Trick or Treat!
36 million
The estimated number of potential trick-or-treaters in 2007 — children 5 to 13 — across the United States. This number is down about 38,000 from a year earlier. Of course, many other children — older than 13, and younger than 5 — also go trick-or-treating.

110.3 million
Number of occupied housing units across the nation in 2007 — all potential stops for trick-or-treaters.

Percentage of households with residents who consider their neighborhood safe. In addition, 78 percent said there was no place within a mile of their homes where they would be afraid to walk alone at night.

Jack-o’-Lanterns and Pumpkin Pies
1.1 billion pounds

Total production of pumpkins by major pumpkin-producing states in 2007. Illinois led the country by producing 542 million pounds of the vined orange gourd. Pumpkin patches in California, New York and Ohio also provided lots of pumpkins: Each state produced at least 100 million pounds. The value of all pumpkins produced by major pumpkin-producing states was $117 million.

Where to Spend Halloween?
Some places around the country that may put you in the Halloween mood are:

— Transylvania County, N.C. (29,984 residents).

— Tombstone, Ariz. (population 1,562).

— Pumpkin Center, N.C. (population 2,228); and Pumpkin Bend, Ark. (population 307).

— Cape Fear in New Hanover County, N.C. (15,711); and Cape Fear in Chatham County, N.C. (1,170).

— Skull Creek, Neb. (population 274).

Candy and Costumes

Number of U.S. manufacturing establishments that produced chocolate and cocoa products in 2006, employing 39,457 people and shipping $13.9 billion worth of goods. California led the nation in the number of chocolate and cocoa manufacturing establishments, with 128, followed by Pennsylvania, with 116.

Number of U.S. establishments that manufactured nonchocolate confectionary products in 2006. These establishments employed 18,733 people and shipped $7.2 billion worth of goods that year. California led the nation in this category, with 72 establishments.

24.5 pounds
Per capita consumption of candy by Americans in 2007.

Number of costume rental and formal wear establishments across the nation in 2006.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, October 31st, 2008 at 1:47 pm |
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The working-parent dilemma….and a single-mom victim of it


Don’t people work? You would assume with all the working parents out there and the growing number of single parents around that you’d find more after-school activities for your kids that accommodate a busy work schedule. But try to find a broad range of after-school activities that fit that criteria and see what happens.

My girlfriend recently got an education in this. She sought new weeknight activities for her energetic 4-year-old, only to find that many after school programs run roughly from 2 to 5 in the afternoon — hardly designed for working parents. He already plays soccer on weekends, but extensive weekend activities are difficult because she splits those days with her ex as part of the custody agreement. So, a weeknight activity was the goal. She ultimately settled on a gymnastics program that runs from 6:30 to 7:30 once a week. She would have preferred something a tad earlier in the evening that fit both her schedule and met her desired goals for a program. And this place is hardly around the corner from our home. But she was lucky: It’s a good program despite the long day it results in.

I had a minor taste of this myself with my son. He’s in sixth grade now and, as he did last year, he plays the saxophone in the school band. Also like last year, he was invited to join the jazz band, which practices after school. Normally, there’s a late bus to take him right to his after-school program. Only that doesn’t start until the end of this month, which means that either his mom or I would have to pick him up by 4:15 p.m. or he takes the early bus and  misses band practice. Well, we have jobs.

The end of the world? Not by a stretch, especially with what’s going on in the world these days. But if you’re a working parent who wants an active, involved kid, it’s certainly frustrating — and occasionally unfair. It’s also proving costly for at least one single mom.

Here’s her story: Seeking a martial arts program for her young child, this working single mom signed up for a late class in Pleasantville, N.Y. The child has auditory processing delays, so he is occasionally unable to follow some verbal commands. She met with the martial arts instructor, explained this and was assured that the classes would be small in size — no more than five kids — and that his teaching method was designed to accommodate children with mild to moderate development issues. He required a contract and would not accept cash or checks: Only a credit card number. So, they were off.

Well, the class quickly rose from three kids to 12, and the teaching method changed by the second class, with the instructor suddenly facing away from the children and using increasingly complicated commands, moves and sequences that the kids were require to quickly learn and replicate. Needless to say, the single mom’s child was unable to keep up. It became a very frustrating and difficult process, and was certainly not going to build up the self-esteem she felt her child needed and would gain from the classes. So, she phoned and told the instructor she would no longer be able to attend because her child would have difficulty continuing, coupled with a change in her work schedule that made attending the classes on time very difficult. She said she received a follow-up online newsletter from the instructor, and thanked him for it but reiterated that the child could not continue.

This particular martial arts program stipulates that you must give notice if the contract is to be terminated. Nonetheless, the instructor billed the mom for an entire first month of lessons two weeks later, although her child only attended three classes. To make matters worse, when she politely asked if he could halt the billing, he mailed her a statement announcing his intent to bill her more than $700 for a three-month set of classes which she initially signed up for but, as he was now aware, the child would not be attending — not to mention that he had already billed her for an entire month’s worth of classes for just three actual sessions.

This borders on criminal. Obviously, the mom needs to take action to halt payment and report the school for misrepresentation or even fraud. But I think what irked her most — and what most bothers me about it — is the idea that she is being taken advantage of, if not outright being robbed. She had limited options for martial arts programs because of her work schedule and her child’s developmental needs. And, as a single mom, she is limited financially as well, and plopping down that much money is an indication of the sacrifice she was willing to make for her child’s wellbeing and happiness. And then this.

It doesn’t help when your schedule as a working single parent limits the extra-curricular activities you can treat your kid to in the first place. It helps even less when someone finds a way to make an extra buck from it.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, October 15th, 2008 at 4:01 pm |

The little bully


I wanted to beat up a 3-year-old this weekend. And boy, would he have had it coming.

Frankly, I would’ve been okay with my girlfriend’s 4-year-old taking the kid out. But that’s where she and I differed, and where it makes for an interesting discussion on bullying. It’s been on my mind lately anyway, since my 10-year-old son is now in middle school. In our district, the middle school is grades 6-8, and since he’s the youngest in his grade because of his late-November birthday, he’s also one of the smallest kids in the new school. So, it’s been on my mind.

Back to the weekend: Our blended family was out and about in the sunshine yesterday, and took time out to hit the playground at Croton Point Park. All is going well, until a 3-year-old boy (I’m guessing on the age) punches my son in the stomach. Now, he’s bigger, so he just laughed it off and let it go. But then the kid punches my girlfriend’s 4-year-old in the gut — three times over the span of maybe 5 minutes or so. Hmm.

So, our boy runs back and complains that the kid kept hitting him. One point: Our little guy is amazingly strong for his age. He has remarkable arm strength for a kid his age, and is big for his age. However, he’s also very, very mild mannered. In other words, he has the strength to be a bully, but nowhere near the demeanor. Therefore, he keeps trying to go back to the play ground but runs back in fear each time the little bully kid starts running towards him.

At one point the bully kid actually pulls down his pants and urinates on the playground equipment as if it was second nature. No, there was no sign of a parent. Anyway, my girlfriend takes matters into her own hands. She walks over, does official introductions for her son and the bully kid. They shake hands, and off they go to play like old buddies — until the smaller boy kicks our boy in the face.

My 10-year-old offered to take the little bully out, but, of course, we’re not going there. Now here’s where my girlfriend and I differed: Her solution was to just leave and to congratulate her son for not hitting back. I also commended him, but felt that, at that stage, we should have instructed our 4-year-old to, A) Tell the bully kid to stop and, B) If he didn’t stop, to clock him in the head. That’s me.

Years ago, when my son was in pre-K, he had a bigger kid push him around regularly. The kid was bigger and the staff at the place did little about it. I complained several times, and finally told them after a few weeks that if it happened again I would instruct my son to defend himself. They said they would do something. Needless to say, it happened again. My son got pushed down, got up and clocked the kid in the nose. The bigger kid went down, started crying and ran away. They ended up being friends after that.

Is that the best option? Maybe not. I saw it as a last resort. And I’m not sure how I’d handle it if he has a similar problem in middle school this year. My fingers are crossed that it doesn’t happen.

With my girlfriend’s 4-year-old, there’s another component: He is, as I said, a very strong kid, and we don’t want him to hurt anyone and we don’t want him to learn to solve his conflicts with his fists. But isn’t there a breaking point, where he should learn to stand his ground? When is that point?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, September 8th, 2008 at 12:26 pm |

The discipline game


How many shared-custody situations are out there where the child prefers one parent’s home to the other because “it’s more fun?” Particularly for younger children, this usually means that one parent’s home is all about play and the other involves actual parenting — rules and restrictions and doctor visits and doing homework.

I can think of several single- and divorced-parent situations where this is the case. In one friend’s case, the dad’s house has tons of toys and the child is routinely treated to milk shakes, donuts and sweets, and is allowed to fall asleep on the couch watching TV. Because the dad routinely has the child on weekends, there are few situations where the child has to be woken up early, dressed and prepared for school. The child gets up when the child gets up, and then it’s usually a day of fun in the sun.

Then there’s the mom. She has to get the child to school, has to be more conscious of dietary needs and is constantly trying to include vegetables and protein in meals. There are plenty of toys and play time, but with school, doctor visits and other utilitarian tasks built in, it pales in comparison to the nearly limitless play time at dad’s house. The end result is the parent trying to do the right thing for the child is the “less fun” parent, and has to regularly hear her child ask to go to daddy’s house.

She’s not alone. Another friend’s teenagers see their dad’s house as a refuge and a “safe place” when the mom tries to set curfews and limits on this or that. She’s forced to instill discipline. The end result is that one of her teens finally moved in with dad, who has provided little financial support for his children’s needs and close to no emotional support. The teen now lives with few rules.

And this is gender neutral. I’m highlighting two of the situations I know of personally, but I — of all people — don’t want to sound like I’m beating up the dads. I had friends in a single-parents group I once belonged to who were dads in similar situations. One dad who lives in the Carolinas was raising his children almost entirely on his own, carting them to school, tutors and the doctor while constantly hearing from them how mom never made them do these things. The mom primarily showed up to blame the dad when there was a problem at school. He, like my two other friends, have been forced to do the hardest thing of all: Keep quiet. They refuse, to their credit, to set the record straight for the children. They refuse to put the kids in the middle. They shouldn’t.

But what does one tell a parent in that situation? My advice has been to keep doing the right thing and ultimately the child will appreciate it — or at least one can hope so. The pessimist in me realizes that poetic justice only happens in plays and novels, not in real life. My more optimistic side clings to the notion that good intentions and actions are ultimately rewarded, if not with appreciation then certainly with the satisfaction of knowing you made your child a better and healthier person in the end.

Because it would just be nice to know that it’s a game where there are no real losers.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Tuesday, August 12th, 2008 at 3:17 pm |


Lost memories


There are only so many memorable moments in a child’s life, and only so many “firsts:” The first time mastering a two-wheeler, the first fireworks display, the first time on a plane, and so on. The hardest part of being a dual-custody parent is losing some of these moments. The child’s time — and thereby, his firsts — are routinely divided between the two parents.

My ex and I generally break even in that regard, since our custody situation is a 50-50 split. But how many moments have I lost out on? I got the first trip to Disney World and his first pro baseball game; She got his first trip overseas and, last month, his first visit to Niagara Falls, which, while it’s no Disney World, was a huge success with our son. And there are other, smaller moments that I’ve been able to share with him: I took him to his first rock concert and made it to his school talent show, where he played Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man” on guitar. My ex has her share of those moments she was able to share with him.

This whole concept came up on our recent vacation, when my girlfriend stood back and observed as her little boy, clutched to her own mother, watched the July 4th fireworks display overhead down in the Carolinas. At 4, it wasn’t his first view of fireworks, but it was certainly a memorable moment. He covered his ears and looked up with a mixture of wonderment and fear. She later told me that she was hit with the notion in that instance that she was missing that moment, so she walked over to her mom and asked to hold her boy. She both soothed him and shared the display with him for the remainder of the show. It was a shared moment she’ll certainly remember, as will he. And it made us think of the firsts and the moments we’ll inevitably miss with both our boys.

Ultimately, the boys benefit from having the experience at all, whether it’s with their mom or their dad. That’s comforting. But it carries a tinge of sadness, that there are times when we won’t be the ones to share the memory. It makes me hope that those parents out there who share all those moment appreciate the value of it.

For me, there’s no doubt how much it’s worth.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Tuesday, July 22nd, 2008 at 3:04 pm |

Getting happi-er


Here’s a milestone: Pumpkin just discovered the suffix. Now, instead of saying something is “big, big,” to add emphasis, she can now say that it’s bigg-er. Other things are long-er. She feels happi-er. It’s a neat feat to witness. And a bit of a “told you so” to a pediatrician who scoffed that a couple of months wouldn’t make a difference in Pumpkin’s speech abilities. All around, we’re hearing a lot more full sentences and combinations with vocabulary I didn’t even know she possessed.

I bring all this up because I think parents shouldn’t devalue their own knowledge of their child just because an authority figure, like a doctor, has a conflicting point of view. As I mentioned in <a href=”http://parentsplace.lohudblogs.com/2008/06/07/what-if-you-cant-stand-your-childs-pediatrician/” target=”_blank”>an earlier post</a>, I saw a similar speech blossoming last year after Pumpkin passed her second due-date “birthday.” Now, as my growing preemie approaches her third due-date “birthday,” she is having another burst of speech development.

I would invite you to share your own tales of times where mom or dad were right — counter to the prevailing wisdom. (I’m thinking this could apply to anything from advice to hold back or move a child up a grade to whether to continue or discontinue lessons.)

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Friday, June 27th, 2008 at 3:42 pm |
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The sensitive dad


The stereotype suggests that dads are great for playing ball with the kids, but are reluctant to change diapers. It suggests that the more “manly” parenting duties are left to dads, while the more “nurturing” tasks fall on moms. Well, a single dad has to assume both roles, just as single moms find themselves having a catch with the kids on the front lawn. But how reluctant are some single dads to assume the more traditional mothering tasks?

I came across an excerpt on this issue on the home page of the “Dr. Spock Company,”:http://www.drspock.com/home/0,1454,,00.html a group of parenting and child care experts who subscribe to the philosophies of the late uber-pediatrician Dr. Benjamin Spock. Here’s what they wrote on this:

“Everything I’ve said about a mother raising a child alone applies to a father raising a child alone. But often there’s an additional problem. Few fathers in our society feel completely comfortable in a nurturing role. Many men have been brought up believing that being a nurturing person is “soft” and therefore feminine. So, many fathers will find it hard, at least at first, to provide the gentle comforting and cuddling that children need, especially young children. But, with time and experience, they can certainly rise to the task.”

Personally, I’ve never worried about societal stereotypes as a father, and changed plenty of diapers while I was still married. I’ve also always been very warm with my son, and we exchange “I love yous” on a regular basis — something I never got enough of from my own dad. But I have to wonder if I’d feel limited in what I could offer as a parent if I had a daughter. And, generally, I feel there’s more acceptance of a mom playing catch with her son than there is for a dad braiding his daughter’s hair.

The issue is somewhat moot for me now, since I am building a blended family and we have both a father and a mother figure in the house. But I know my girlfriend worried early on that her little boy lacked male role models, as his time with his father was limited. And as a divorced dad, it was something I dealt with when I was single. For instance, when boys reach a certain age their dads seem reluctant to hold their hands while they’re out: Moms do it as a matter of habit.

The wisdom of Dr. Spock suggests that, with time, dads can learn to provide the additional nurturing children need. But is there a line that even the most nurturing dads won’t cross, whether it’s holding hands with an older son or shopping for an American Doll with a daughter? And as for societal stereotypes, what is your reaction if you see a dad holding a 12-year-old son’s hand at the mall?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, June 27th, 2008 at 9:38 am |


The blended family phenomenon


 I don’t know if this is good news or bad news, but it’s certainly reality.

The point is that the rise in blended-family homes and situations is increasingly obvious. It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that this means more children are growing up having to make the adjustment, and dealing with a  whole host of emotional issues that come from juggling step-parent and biological parent, step-sibling and biological sibling relationships, etc. Lord knows my girlfriend and I spend a good deal of our time working on that transition for our two boys and discussing better ways to make that smoother. It’s an imperfect — and ongoing — process, and one that more and more other parents are evidently going through.

At least that’s what I found on “The Blended Family”:http://blendedfamily.us website, which cites the following stats, for which they credit the U.S. Census Bureau. At some point I’ll have to track down some research on the adaptability of children in blended family situations compared to traditional homes. I suspect it’s like anything parental: If the adults do the right thing, the kids benefit. The shocking thing to me is how often you hear of parents who don’t seem aware of the dynamics inherent in a step-family.

Either way, here are the stats:

  • About 50,000 persons per month become members of stepfamilies
  • 1 out of 4 children will live in a stepfamily before the age of 18
  • About 1,350,000 children will become members of a stepfamily this year:
    55% ~ because of remarriage after a divorce
    15% ~ because of remarriage after a spouse’s death
    30% ~ when a never-married mother weds
  • 80% of all divorced Americans remarry and 60% of these will have children from a former marriage

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Friday, June 20th, 2008 at 1:08 pm |
| | Comments Off on The blended family phenomenon

The prom date … revisited


Remember the prom date? “In this earlier blog,”:http://parentsplace.lohudblogs.com/2008/04/23/the-prom-date-debate I spoke about a mom who put her foot down when her 15-year-old son was asked to go to the prom by a senior girl in his high school. Her thinking was that he was too young, etc., etc. That sparked some lively debate.

Well, the prom came and went, and the 15-year-old did, indeed, attend with the older girl. It turns out that the boy’s mom ultimately had discussions with the girl’s mom, discussed it with her son, and they agreed to the ground rules. So she relented.

How’d he do? Things went smoothly. He was a gentleman, there were no after-parties, and he was home at the agreed-to time. By all accounts, the two had a wonderful — and safe — time together.

So, does this make the concern some of you had moot? Or did the mom dodge a bullet?

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Thursday, June 12th, 2008 at 12:35 pm |

What if you can’t stand your child’s pediatrician?


What if you can’t stand your child’s pediatrician?

I remember the moment my long-simmering (but still mild) dislike of my daughter’s pediatrician boiled over into actual antipathy. We were discussing Pumpkin’s milestones at her third birthday checkup when the doctor asked if she moved into a bed yet. I said no, and added that Pumpkin loves her crib and hasn’t even tried to climb out. (And this is a child who loves to climb everything else.)

The doctor’s reaction: “Most children have moved into a bed by age 2.”

My response, with an attempt at humor: “I can’t even imagine what her room would look like in the morning if she could get up whenever she wanted. Clothes and diapers would be everywhere, and she’d probably sleep on the floor or in her glider.” Said with a smile and chuckle.

The doctor’s response: “Well, she’s going to have to go into a bed eventually.” With zero (0) humor. No smile. She wasn’t trying to be funny. She was being sarcastic.

I should have replied with something like: “Oh, really? We were hoping to keep her in the crib until college to save money on a new bed and sheets.”

But that would have been the end of our doctor-parent relationship, and I am not 100 percent certain if it should be over. Now, let me say, if this was the first instance of us disagreeing, I probably would let it go, but it’s not. Just for instance, here’s another priceless exchange from the same visit:

Doctor: How much milk does she drink?

Me: About 9 ounces in the morning. She won’t drink milk later in the day, except chocolate milk, and even then, she’ll drink perhaps a half-cup. She really doesn’t like milk or even yogurt.

Doctor: She should be drinking three to four cups a day! (With a look that suggest she thinks I’m either stupid or negligent.)

Me (silently to myself): What do you want me to do? Have you ever tried to make a toddler eat or drink something they don’t want to consume? (For the record, we have this milk conversation every time we have a checkup.) Out loud, I offered that she eats cheese. To that, the doctor replied: “Doesn’t all that cheese make her constipated?” (I never said it was a lot of cheese!)

But even these disagreements — and even her sanctimonious attitude — wouldn’t get under my skin so much if there weren’t a bigger problem: She doesn’t seem to “get” that Pumpkin is a preemie.

Our first pediatrician, who was recommended by the doctors at the White Plains Hospital NICU, was terrific. He seemed to really understand the unique needs of micro-preemies like Pumpkin, who weighed just 1 pound, 13.4 ounces at birth. He was extremely cautious when it came to Pumpkin’s health. He ordered her to avoid public spaces and to stay away from all children, even her cousins, until she weighed 15 pounds. (A milestone she didn’t reach until shortly before her first birthday.) She had monthly shots of vaccine for RSV during her first winter. For you non-preemie parents, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) is unpleasant but not an emergency. For preemies, it’s a big deal. I appreciated his personal attention. I liked the way he plotted Pumpkin’s growth on a preemie growth chart targeted to her week of gestation at birth. I was very sorry when we had to switch doctors because we switched insurance.

Our new doctor dismisses every attempt I make to talk about Pumpkin in the context of being a preemie. Last year on Pumpkin’s second birthday, she was unhappy with her speech development and suggested an evaluation, adding that we have to judge her by her birth date rather than her due date. The speech therapist disagreed and gauged Pumpkin’s development using her due date, which is a full three months later than her birth date. She turned out to be ineligible for services because although her expressive abilities lagged, her receptive speech was actually ahead of the curve. Perhaps not so amazingly, come August of last year, just after her due date birthday of July 27, Pumpkin’s speech blossomed.

So, this year again, the doctor was unhappy with Pumpkin’s speech, adding, “Most 3-year-old girls are chatterboxes, and she hasn’t talked to me at all.” Well, Pumpkin takes a while to warm up to strange people, and what kind of pediatrician judges people this way? She’s never met a shy child before? I shared the story of what happened with the evaluation last year, including the details of the speech boom in August. Her reply, given with obvious irritation: “Well, you can wait until July, but that’s only two months, and I doubt it will make a difference.”

Plus, she only charts Pumpkin’s growth on the regular chart, where her weight is in just the 10th percentile. I’d like to know how she measures up to other preemies born in her week of gestation, but I can’t find out at that pediatrician’s office. (Parents of preemies: Do you have this problem, too?)

So, what do you all think I should do. I started writing this post as a sort of “Can this doctor-parent relationship be saved?” Maybe it’s really a “Dear Joan” letter.

The hard part: How do you pick a new doctor?

Parenting books often have advice about choosing a pediatrician, suggesting that expecting parents interview potential doctors much like you are a boss hiring someone for a job. Has anyone actually done this? Are you expected to pay for the doctor’s time in these cases? Insurance sure isn’t going to cover it, and I’d be surprised if doctors are so eager for patients (especially the potentially cranky kind that demand pre-visit interviews) that they are giving their time away.

How did you choose your pediatrician? Do you like him/her? Has s/he ever said anything that made you want to wring his/her neck?

(Also: Out of curiosity: How old was your child when you moved him/her into a bed? And was it because of a new sibling? I find it hard to believe that “most children” are in their own beds by age 2!)

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Saturday, June 7th, 2008 at 2:20 am |


About this blog
Parents’ Place is a hangout for openly discussing the A’s to Z’s of raising a child in the Lower Hudson Valley. From deciding when to stop using a binky to when to let your teenager take driving lessons, Parents’ Place is here to let us all vent, share, and most of all, learn from each other.
Leading the conversation are Julie Moran Alterio, a business reporter and mom of a toddler, Jorge Fitz-Gibbon, a reporter and single father with joint custody of a 9-year-old son, and Len Maniace, a reporter and father of two sons.


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About the authors
Julie Moran AlterioJulie Moran AlterioJulie Moran Alterio, her husband and baby girl — “Pumpkin” — share their Northern Westchester home with three iPods and more colorful plastic toys than seems necessary to entertain one tiny human. READ MORE
Jorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-GibbonJorge Fitz-Gibbon has been a journalist for more than 20 years and a father for nine. READ MORE
Jane LernerJane LernerJane Lerner covers health and hospitals for The Journal News in Rockland, where she lives with her husband and two children. READ MORE
Len Maniace.jpgLen ManiaceLen Maniace is a reporter and father of two sons. READ MORE