Weekly Parenting News Roundup

Cross-posted at Daily Kos.

Good morning fellow moms, dads and caregivers! How are you this morning?

I am about to run errands in preparation for Ari’s birthday party. He turned 6 on Monday, but we are celebrating with our closest family and friends today.

In the meantime, here is some news we discussed here at MotherTalkers:

When is it appropriate — if ever — to stop hovering over your children’s finances? Excellent financial columnist Michelle Singletary wrote about this topic over at the Washington Post.

I recently asked for advice on potty-training. Eli is 2.5, will start preschool in the fall and I am unsure when or how to start. A father over at the Daddy Dialectic blog used stickers as an incentive.

Newsweek published a couple of studies on parenting. One had to do with how reasoning with your children as opposed to barking commands gives them cognitive advantages. The other one showed that children do indeed make married couples happy.

Our brave reviewed the memoir Lucky Girl and interviewed author Mei-Ling Hopgood.  

If you can stand another tawdry health insurance story, a toddler was denied healthcare coverage because she was too small, according to the TODAY Show.

We had a long discussion about the mom who was booted off a Southwest Airlines flight because of her rambunctious toddler. The airline later apologized to the mother, but many commenters in threads across the blogosphere were sympathetic towards the airline.

Disney is offering a full refund for its Baby Einstein DVDs. It has been accused of overselling the products as “educational.”

Finally, we checked in with each other to see how the school year is going. Ari likes kindergarten most of the time so no complaints on my end. How is the new school year going for you?

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Midday Coffee Break

What’s up?

The American Association of Retired Persons (AARP) will endorse the House Democrats’ plan to overhaul the U.S. healthcare system, according to the Associated Press.

Jeremy Adam Smith over at Daddy Dialectic wrote about using stickers as an incentive for potty-training. I am starting to think about it now that Eli will start school next fall. I hear girls are quicker to potty-train than boys, but I am still unsure when to start. Any ideas?

Are you a jewelry person? NaBloPoMo over at Crazed Parent wrote about the wonderful jewelry she received from her godparents in El Salvador. While I could go without bracelets and necklaces, I am crazed over hoop earrings, too — even when they are out of style!

In celebrity gossip break: the Daily Beast had celebrity photos of guys who have dated women who eerily look like their mothers. The photo spread of the similarity among girlfriends was interesting, too.

What else is in the news? What’s up with you?


Great Discussion on Outliers

Jeremy Adam Smith over at Daddy Dialectic had an excellent review of Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers: The Story of Success, which raised all kinds of questions on red-shirting — how advantageous it is — and what really is the key to academic and economic success in this country. (Hint: It isn’t hard work alone.)

You might think this educational arms race would actually come to nothing, just a lot of overeducated “helicopter parents“ wasting their time and turning their kids into neurotic whiners. You can probably point to lots of people, perhaps even yourself, whose parents followed the “natural growth“ path and “turned out just fine.“

But one of the interesting things about Gladwell’s book is how decisive concerned cultivation seems to be when it comes to later success in life; through many examples, Gladwell shows how the difference between the successful and not-successful is early cultivation and opportunity. This is confirmed by quite a bit of research, and it’s how social class plays out in America.

The comments were interesting, too. My husband just finished the book so I will have to pick it up.

For those of you who read it, what did you think of Gladwell’s arguments?


Day Care Centers, Families Squeezed by Economy

These are some scary times. The number of Americans filing new claims for unemployment insurance surged to its highest levels last week since 9/11, according to CNN. The number of people continuing to collect benefits have hit a 25-year high.

Even daycare centers are starting to feel the pinch as recently laid off parents must scale back hours or cut them altogether, according to the Associated Press.

Financial strains prompt one mother to pay with a postdated check. Another chooses to work in the middle of the night — after putting her kids to bed — because of the extra dollar per hour that shift brings. And the stress shows on the faces of the children who can’t understand why their friends, without explanation, stop coming.

“They act out more, cry a lot more,” said Diane Kesterton, director of New Horizons, where a 38-child enrollment has been halved to 19 in just three months. “They don’t know what’s happening, they’re confused.”

Parents nationwide are telling day care providers they must scale back or abandon their services. Instead, they keep kids at home with grandparents or upend their work-life balance because gas and food prices have become prohibitive and average child care costs outpace rent and mortgage payments — even for those drawing salaries.

“I was paying more in day care than I was making in work,” Meredith Hartigan, a Rockford single mother of two, said in explaining her decision to pull her 4-year-old daughter out of day care in August and switch to working nights and weekends.

Hartigan said her $38,000 office-job salary couldn’t cover her bills and $6,900 in annual day care costs.

To make matters worse, Hartigan’s ex-husband’s salary as a roofer is set to plummet as it does every winter — and she’s increasingly concerned his business won’t pick up next spring as it has in years past.

As Jeremy Adam Smith over at Daddy Dialectic pointed out, the evidence in the AP story is largely anecdotal. Still, with unemployment rates as they are, he expects more parents to stay home with their children and make do with what they have. The tragedy is those families who must work and will rely on substandard childcare instead.

Are any of you dealing with unemployment? What are you doing about childcare?


Moving Essay On Obama’s Grandparents

I found this moving essay on Sen. Barack Obama’s white grandparents in Daddy Dialectic. Written by The Atlantic writer Ta-Nehisi Coates, the essay draws attention to the quiet courage of Obama’s grandparents who poured everything they had into him, despite a turbulent period in our history when interracial relationships and biracial babies were frowned upon.

But now, more than anyone, I am thinking of Barack Obama’s grandparents. One of the big mistakes we make when we look at the history of race in this country is to focus on big people and big events. What should be remembered is that, though our racial history is mired in utter disgrace, though the deep cowardice of post-reconstruction haunts us into the 21st century, at any point on the timeline, you can find ordinary white people doing the right thing. Frederick Douglass, himself a biracial black man, is a hero of mine. But arguably more heroic, is Helen Pitts, his second wife–a white woman, who traced her history back to the Mayflower, whose ancestors founded Richmond Township, NY, and who was cast out for marrying Douglass. Here is a white woman who spent the best years of her life fighting for suffrage and racial justice. After Douglass died, she dedicated the rest of her life to seeing him honored, when everyone else was on the verge of forgetting. Please read up on her. She was the truth.

Likewise, I was looking at this picture of Obama’s grandparents and thinking how much he looks like his grandfather. And suddenly, for whatever reason, I was struck by the fact that they had made the decision to love their daughter, no matter what, and love their grandson, no matter what. I’d bet money that they never even thought of themselves as courageous, that they didn’t give much thought to the broader struggles in the the world at the time. They were just doing what right, honorable people do. But the fact is that, in the 60s, you could be disowned for falling in love with a black woman or black man. There is a reason why we have a long history of publicly biracial black people, but not so much of publicly biracial white people.

We often give a pass to racists by noting that they were “of their times.” Fair enough, and I know Hawaii was a different beast, but still, today, let us speak of people who were ahead of their times, who were outside of their times. Let us remember that Barack Obama learned the great lessons of life from courageous white people. Let us speak of those who do what  normal, right people should always do when faced with a child–commit an act love. Here’s to doing the right thing.

I also agree with the writer that I am sad Obama’s mother and grandfather did not live to see him run for president. But I am thrilled his grandmother got her reward for investing so much in him.


The Candidates on Work-Life Balance

Via Daddy Dialectic: The Wall Street Journal covered a study, in which the campaigns of both presidential candidates were quizzed about the senators’ stances on work-life issues:

The transcripts pose some sharp contrasts. Sen. Obama supports expanding federal mandates for both paid and unpaid leave for employees, a spokeswoman said. He would move to require employers to provide seven paid sick days a year for employees who are ill, or who need to care for a sick family member. He backs expanding the Family and Medical Leave Act to cover more employees, including those at businesses with 25 employees instead of 50, as the current law requires. He’d expand allowable purposes for family leave, including more elder-care duties and children’s school matters. He’d provide some federal funds to encourage more states to mandate paid leave. Sen. Obama also backs setting up a formal process for employees to petition their employers for flexible hours, with employers mandated to at least reply.

Sen. McCain wants to make labor laws more flexible, to allow employers to pay workers for overtime in compensatory time off, rather than money. He advocates creating a bipartisan commission on workplace flexibility, to figure out how to overhaul and update labor and tax laws to promote flexible hours and telecommuting. He wouldn’t back expanding the family-leave law or mandating paid family or sick leave. “Sen. McCain has not been one to issue mandates on what a business would choose to pay“ for leave, a spokeswoman said. He does propose to bring down health care costs to give businesses more latitude to provide paid leave if they choose. The presence on the ticket of Sarah Palin, a working mother of five, would bring added perspective on work-family matters, a spokesman said.

In the wake of heavy publicity about Ms. Palin’s decisions as a working mother and other personal work-life choices by the candidates, Ms. Galinsky says the conference calls were intended to re-focus attention on policy matters that would affect everyone.

Michelle Obama, by the way, wrote about this balancing act for BlogHer.


New York Targets Co-Sleepers

I read about this on Daddy Dialectic: The New York City mayor’s office and law enforcement officials across the state have set their sights on — co-sleeping parents!

A staggering 20 percent of child fatalities reported to the Statewide Central Register of Child Abuse and Maltreatment were newborn babies who had been sleeping with their parents (most likely their young moms), according to the New York State Office of Children and Family Services.

Co-sleeping is risky. If an adult or child rolls over on a baby, the baby can be hurt or even suffocated. Sleeping with a child can be dangerous, especially if you drink, use drugs, are overweight, or sleep on a couch.  To keep your baby close, put his crib or bassinet near your bed…

Three-quarters of the children in co-sleeping incidents were newborn to three months old. Adult co-sleepers involved in these incidents were most likely to be the child’s mothers, age 18 to 24 years old. Nearly 40 percent of these co-sleeping incidents occurred on the weekend.

To prevent further fatalities, the State, local counties, and the City of New York are joining together to launch a “BABIES SLEEP SAFEST ALONE“ statewide public education campaign, adapted from materials originally developed for Mayor Michael Bloomberg’s “TAKE GOOD CARE OF YOUR BABY“ child safety campaign.

Mothering magazine’s Peggy O’Mara wrote a thoughtful piece about the campaign. While she felt it was important to get this information to the public, she did not see it as a condemnation of all co-sleeping families rather some irresponsible “bed-sharers.”

When I first heard about this campaign, I was outraged. How dare the government encroach upon our personal lives like that? I was ready to hold a public event to protest the campaign, and immediately e-mailed pediatric anthropologist Meredith Small, and James McKenna, director of the Mother-Baby Behavioral Sleep Laboratory at the University of Notre Dame; McKenna suggested a cosleep-in in Central Park.

After some reflection, I realized that New York’s campaign wasn’t really directed at me. Like all public health campaigns, it targets everyone in order to reach the few who might actually need to hear the message. Instead of educating parents about the dangers of bed sharing when they’re drunk, stoned, medicated, or exhausted, or cautioning against bed sharing with caregivers and siblings, it’s easier simply to discourage the practice altogether. The recommendation, however, fails to differentiate between parents with limited resources who bed-share out of necessity, those who do so out of neglect, and those who intentionally bed-share in what they believe to be the best interests of their child.

Has the New York campaign changed your mind about bed-sharing?

Like Daddy Dialectic, I am an “accidental co-sleeper.” It was easier for me to breastfeed my babies in bed, although I definitely preferred that they sleep in their own cribs. Now, onto my personal campaign to get my four-year-old to sleep in his own bed…


Monday Open Thread

What’s up with our fellow beings in the blogosphere?

Congratulations to Feministing for celebrating its four-year anniversary. Keep up the good work, ladies.

Speaking of feminism, California Assemblywoman Karen Bass was just sworn in as Speaker of the California Assembly — the first African American woman to serve in this powerful role, according to MomsRising. She is also a mother who has advocated for, among other things, universal healthcare. MomsRising is floating around a congratulatory letter and petition reminding her of the importance of making sure all children in the state of California have health care coverage.  

Thank you to Daddy Dialectic for pointing out this fabulous rant by Knocked Up (and in Law School):

I have heard many women say that a father could just never love a child the way a mother does, and can’t take care of them the way a mother does either. I don’t believe that’s true at all, and I think it’s disrespectful to all the men who are spectacular parents. And I want to know why no one tries to make men feel guilty because they work outside the home? That’s the real question. Why does Law School Mom state that it matters whether she or a nanny takes her kids to school, but makes no mention of her husband in that scenario? Why do we as mothers put all of the guilt on ourselves (and on other women) instead of equally between both parents? Why is his career important, not to be inconvenienced by taking care of children, but hers isn’t? Why is she a bad mother for working, but he’s a good father for providing for his family? These double-standards are harmful for all parents, and perhaps the work environment for all parents, not just women, would improve if society expected men to take a more active role in all aspects of parenting, instead of viewing it as an abomination.

Amen, sister. To be fair, the fathers I know are very hands-on parents so this is changing.

Fellow MTer Dana wondered in her blog Mombian if lesbian moms watch sports they otherwise would not watch in order to expose their children to them.

The Mom Salon shared a powerful tip with bloggers, although this lesson can apply to anyone. Apparently, Oprah Winfrey has lost seven percent of her viewership, her magazine readership is also down and her reality show will not be renewed. Some are speculating that her public support for Sen. Barack Obama has alienated some fans.

Here is what Mom Salon’s Jennifer James had to say about it:

We can take Oprah’s current numbers scenario and apply it to our lives. Every time we write a blog post, we have to understand that everyone is not going to fully agree with what we’ve written, particularly if something we’ve posted is rather controversial or highly opinionated. We may even lose readers and our blog stats may begin looking a little unfruitful.

The lesson we can all glean from Oprah is to always stay true to ourselves and stick to our guns as bloggers. Without question, it is a blogger’s authenticity and confidence that fuels readership, even if that means some readers will defect along the way.

The Los Angeles Moms Blog, brought to you by the founders of Silicon Valley Moms Blog and New York Moms Blog (both in this site’s blogroll), are looking for writers. FYI.

Thank you Offsprung for this reminder: In case you missed it, New York Gov. David A. Paterson has asked all state agencies to revise their laws to recognize gay marriage from other places, according to the New York Times.

In response to the childhood obesity epidemic in this country, Kelly Mills over at Strollerderby offered five exercises to do with your baby/toddler/child. Strollerderby also ran this ancient Chinese gender chart to determine the sex of your baby. I admit, it worked for me and some of my friends, although there are many charts like it floating around.

On her blog Trees And Flowers And Birds, fellow MTer Christine posted a review of John Grisham’s non-legal fiction novel, Playing for Pizza. (BTW, loved the picture of you with Mike Piazza! Very cool.)

How often does your spouse tell you you are sexy? An inquiring mind on UrbanBaby wants to know.

Our condolences to fellow MTer Kay, who lost her grandfather and is trying to get back into the swing of things. We are sorry for your loss — and we miss you!

What else is on your minds, MotherTalkers?


Is a College Degree Worth the Money?

Thank you to Daddy Dialectic for highlighting this piece: David Leonhardt at the New York Times wrote a column examining whether people are indeed better off graduating from college. As it turns out, it is women more so than men who receive that coveted piece of paper and we have made gains in the workforce.

During the late 1960s and early 1970s, about one out of every three young men got a bachelor’s degree. In the years that followed, the share fell somewhat, both because Vietnam War draft deferrals were no longer an issue and because college became more expensive. In the 1980s and 1990s, the share rose again.

But the shifts have been fairly small. For the last four decades, somewhere between 30 and 35 percent of men have graduated from a four-year college by the time they turned 35 years old.

The story is quite different for women. In the 1960s, only 25 percent received a college degree. Among today’s young women almost 40 percent will end up with one. At one commencement ceremony after another this month — be it at Boston College, San Francisco State University or Colby College — women in caps and gowns outnumber men…

Armed with college degrees, large numbers of women have entered fields once dominated by men. Nearly half of new doctors today are women, up from just 1 of every 10 in the early 1970s. In all, the average inflation-adjusted weekly pay of women has jumped 26 percent since 1980.

And men? Their pay has increased about as much as their college graduation rate — it’s up just 1 percent since 1980.

Leonhardt attributed education and less discrimination against women for the progress — although he did concede that women earn 75 percent of what men do for the same work. He also dismissed the notion that women were succeeding at the expense of men.

By becoming more educated — and able to do more productive, higher-wage jobs — women have increased the size of the economic pie. The economic growth in a country like South Korea, which has made much more educational progress than the United States, clearly demonstrates this. “If you look across countries,“ says Lawrence Katz, a labor economist at Harvard, “education is the strongest predictor for how quickly the pie grows.”

But here is where Leonhardt’s premise that a college education is good, gets complicated. Yes, a college education helps graduates score higher wage jobs. But the cost of living has also gone up: healthcare, education and retirement.

He believes more federal dollars on preschool and college financial aid as well as more accountability of universities will make a college degree worth it for everyone. What do you think?