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Archive for the 'Motherhood' Category

My Jewban kid and his Cubish dad

January
21

Ethnic identity has been sort of a complicated issue for my son. He’s always known that his mom is Jewish and I’m Cuban, which makes him half Jewish and half Hispanic. But a Cuban guy with an Irish last name always has another story to tell, so he’s got the Anglo thing mixed in there from a few generations back, and his mom’s family is originally from Eastern Europe. The Jewish end has mostly dictated his faith, as his mom has been more observant of her faith than I have been of mine. At least we’re all white, so there’s no confusion with race.

Obviously, most of us are mutts these days anyway. But the real complication has always come in how my son is to refer to himself. He had to choose a culture to write about for a recent school project and he chose, with my encouragement, to report on his Jewish heritage. But what exactly is he when you mix it all in?

Well, thank God for the Urban Dictionary, which points out that my son is a Jewban. We even got confirmation on this from Wikipedia, just to make sure we were on the right track. Armed with our new resource, we were able to take it one step further and determined that I’m not just Cuban: I’m Cubish.

Now, we don’t really subscribe to labeling people as a general rule, but it’s just nice to know in a pinch. If only we can get the U.S. Census up to speed we’d be good to go.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Wednesday, January 21st, 2009 at 12:22 pm |
| | 9 Comments »

The ragged edges

January
16

So, my New Year’s resolution was to get busy blogging again and write an essay about why I fell off in my frequency so badly. But then life struck. We have been sick in my house for the past two weeks. It’s hard to express how miserable we’ve all been first with the stomach flu and now with nasty colds. I’ve had lots of good blog fodder coming into my head, though, at 3 a.m. when the child wakes up miserable. Sadly, though, so far no energy to write it up. Some thoughts:

• I can’t help but feel a bit like a failure as a mother because I just CAN NOT deal with vomit. Sorry. Can’t do it. During the worst vomit days, my husband bore the brunt. Fortunately for me, Pumpkin did her sick-making in the evening primarily, so I was off the hook when it came to cleaning up. Who does the dirty job in your household?

• Who doesn’t like Saltine crackers? They are the least offensive food I can imagine. But Pumpkin is turning her nose up at them and about 30 other foods as she slowly recovers her appetite. Worst of all, she is wishy-washy about what she wants. She says, “I’m hungry.” I say, “What do you want?” She says, “You pick it.” Then we go through every food in my fridge and pantry and I try and tempt her taste buds. Tonight, after turning down almost everything when I was ready to put her to bed even as she kept insisting she was hungry, I finally asked if she wanted peanut butter on bread. She ate three slices — crusts off. Go figure.

• She refuses to let me use saline to clear her nose or ChapStick on her lips, which are cracked and dry from the runny nose. My mother thinks I let her get away with too much. I dunno: Does your 3-year-old have autonomy? Mine seems to.

I realize this isn’t exciting stuff, but it’s my life these days. I have other stuff I will get into as soon as I’m not in a sick fog, like the awesome talent show we had on New Year’s Day with Pumpkin’s cousins. Pumpkin sang “Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer” by heart. I also want to talk about having had the quintessential parent experience: Staying up until 2 a.m. Christmas Eve putting together a toy, in our case a play kitchen. I also want to put in some time trying to explain why blogging about being a mom got a little bit painful when I felt I wasn’t having enough time to BE a mom. Now I regret all the entries I didn’t post because I’ve missed out on sharing all the common and wonderful experiences I’ve had. I’ve also missed out on your reactions, dear blog readers, which is the best part of this gig.

So, here’s to a year of blogging. I’ll be here if you will … after I get over this darn cold, that is.

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Friday, January 16th, 2009 at 3:28 am |
| | 1 Comment »

Being the ‘parent’

January
14

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 |
| | 2 Comments »

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A death in the family

January
5

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 |
| | 2 Comments »

Halloween and my long absence

October
31

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.

93%
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
1,170

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.

473
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.

2,077
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 |
| | Comments Off on Halloween and my long absence

The working-parent dilemma….and a single-mom victim of it

October
15

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 |
| | 13 Comments »

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The little bully

September
8

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 |
| | 6 Comments »

The discipline game

August
12

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 |
| | 7 Comments »

Lost memories

July
22

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 |
| | 2 Comments »

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Why it’s still nice when your mom is handy

July
1

Sunday night, my husband and I spent about four hours at the emergency room of Northern Westchester Hospital in Mount Kisco to rule out appendicitis as the cause of the severe abdominal pains he had been experiencing. (He’s OK. Just sick.) We were there from about 9:45 p.m. until about 2 a.m., thankfully without the Pumpkin. That’s because when we spoke to the doctor on the phone, and she told us to go to the emergency room, I called my mom and said, “Can you come?” And, of course, she agreed. My mom moved to this area the year my daughter was born, first living with us while she looked for a place of her own and now renting an apartment. It has been unremittingly wonderful for us. My mom takes care of Pumpkin while I work — which is why I was able to keep my job after my daughter was born. If I hadn’t had my mom, I would have quit because I couldn’t have imagined putting my tiny little preemie in day care. The best part is I have every confidence that Pumpkin is in hands that are almost as loving as mine. The second best part is that my daughter is forming a relationship with her grandmother, not a stranger. But for my mom, there have been significant sacrifices. She left behind friends in Niagara Falls, her bowling league and the city she lived in for 70-plus years. She also left behind an affordable lifestyle. Her rent is double what she would pay in Niagara Falls — and takes almost half of her pension and Social Security every month.

My thankfulness for her presence in my life really came alive last night during the crisis. While I am always grateful when she throws a load of my laundry in the wash, it’s the willingness of a parent to drop everything and come running that makes them so special. I feel for the families who don’t have extended family nearby. Imagine a 3-year-old spending four hours plus in an ER? Yikes. But if my mom were still living in Niagara Falls, we would have had no choice but to bring Pumpkin. It must be even more challenging for single parents without family nearby. What if you are the patient? How can you expect the ER nurse to be a babysitter?

I’d like to invite Parents’ Place readers to share their own stories of events where your parents helped you out of a crisis — and to share how you coped if your mom and dad don’t live nearby or aren’t with you any longer.

Posted by Julie Moran Alterio on Tuesday, July 1st, 2008 at 12:11 am |
| | Comments Off on Why it’s still nice when your mom is handy

The sensitive dad

June
27

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 |
| | 12 Comments »

3 lbs. of bacon

June
24

One of the advantages of having shared custody of your child is that there’s a limit to the number torturous school assignments you have to do for the kid. Obviously, my ex ends up with half of them because of our 50-50 custody deal.

And I don’t mean arts & crafts for art projects, or books to complete assignments, or visits to museums or zoos to complete written research projects. Those are concrete tasks that you can justify as advancing your child’s education and creativity.

But what’s the educational benefit to cooking three pounds of bacon?

I’m talking about the extra-curricular events like class picnics and holiday celebrations. You know, when your child comes home and tells you he volunteered to make six dozen blintzes, or hard boil 96 eggs, or cook french fries for 40 kids and teachers. A co-worker told me this morning that his daughter committed him and his wife to make fruit salad for 30 kids. She neglected to mention this until this morning, the day of the event. So take a swing by Super Stop & Shop and look for a mom frantically buying up all the fruit.

On my end, my 10-year-old volunteered to cook bacon for the class breakfast today. I’ll give him credit for telling me three days ago, so there was no last-minute shopping. Of course, I made it clear that blueberry muffins or orange juice would’ve been preferred. But the kid likes bacon. And that’s a good thing, because he’ll be smelling it around the house for weeks to come.

Don’t get me wrong: My ex has shouldered her share of these tasks since our divorce. It’s just that the time-intensive — and smelly — ones always seem to land on the days our son is with me. And the thing is there’s more to come, because my girlfriend’s 4-year-old will have to cook up his own batch of bacon sooner or later. Ah, parenting.

But such are the pleasures of a blended family. And it does make us a family, with all the annoyances, burdens and hurdles that come with any family. And that makes it seem less torturous, even if there are a few pounds of bacon here and there.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Tuesday, June 24th, 2008 at 10:03 am |
| | Comments Off on 3 lbs. of bacon

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The blended family phenomenon

June
20

 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

A breakthrough on Father’s Day?

June
16

I really don’t want to get ahead of myself, but I’m hoping I turned a corner with my girlfriend’s son. I think it’s the kind of thing any single dad in a new blended family looks for. At least my fingers are crossed.
Let me back up. Father’s Day brought all the expected rewards for me this year: I spent the day with my son, including a movie, a trail hike in the woods and a pretty lengthy X-Box session. Then the three of us went out to a nice steak dinner. My son also presented me with his present, which is a portable leather-bound notebook that I can use for work. He decorated it with some very clever arts & crafts, which will make it a keepsake I will never want to part with. The only thing missing was the presence of my girlfriend’s 4-year-old son, who, and rightfully so, spent the day and night with his dad.

The breakthrough for came with my girlfriend’s little boy. At the end of last week, he shyly presented me with a drawing he did at day care, which consisted of his hand print in blue on a sheet of paper. He also took a pen and tried to write his name for me, and presented it as my Father’s Day present from him. I was blown over.

Then, his dad called us over the weekend to let us know that his son had presented him with a “monkey” that he made in school for Father’s Day. He said, however, that the boy actually made two presents — one for me and one for his dad. Wow.

The significance for me should be obvious. The most important — and hardest — thing for a single parent going into a blended family situation is his or her relationship with their partner’s child or children. For us, it’s been progressing: My son genuinely likes my girlfriend and recently expressed to me, after she and I had a disagreement, that he wanted us all to stay together. It’s not something we contemplated, but I appreciated that he expressed the emotion. It meant quite a bit to both of us.

With her son, it’s been a big more tenuous. He’s younger and still confused by the dual roles that his dad and I play in his life. He understands I’m a dad to my son, and that I’m in a parenting role with him. I have never sought to replace his dad, of course. But it is important that he ultimately understand the nurturing and supportive — and occasionally disciplinary — role that I do and will continue to play in his life. That’s why his gesture on Father’s Day means the world to me.

So, I have no idea what this “monkey” present is, but I imagine it will be one of the most wonderful things I’ll see for some time. The hand-print drawing he made me is already on the fridge, alongside the many projects he’s given his mom, and that my son has given me. The “Green Day” fridge magnets my girlfriend gave my son last year are also there. The “monkey” will have a prominent place on our shelf, just as I will proudly use the leather-bound notebook my son presented me with.

As I said, I don’t want to get ahead of myself. But I’m feeling more and more like part of a family.

Posted by Jorge Fitz-Gibbon on Monday, June 16th, 2008 at 12:20 pm |
| | 1 Comment »

The prom date … revisited

June
12

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 |
| | 3 Comments »

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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



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