Stepmonster – A Book Review

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Stepmonster

Angela talked about one aspect of children and marriage in her post this morning. When you and your spouse have children together, it becomes far more challenging to balance your priorities and give your marriage the attention it needs. There’s another place where children and marriage intersect: step-parenting. When you fall in love with someone who is already a parent, or when you’re a parent who falls in love anew, the stepparent role is a difficult one to navigate.

About Stepmonster

Review of Stepmonster from a mom trying to help her kids with their father's remarriageWednesday Martin’s book Stepmonster: A New Look at Why Real Stepmothers Think, Feel, and Act the Way We Do can help. As you can tell, this book is targeted at women. There’s a real reason for that. While being a stepfather is no walk in the park, stepmothers are burdened with impossible cultural expectations and tropes. Our children grow up thinking of Snow White’s as the archetype of a stepchild, the witch-queen as the model of a stepmother. That’s a hard narrative to overcome. The title of the book is a reference to this perception of stepmothers. When we hear “stepmonster” we often can’t help but envision a stepmonster.

Martin is herself the stepmother of two who has managed to make it work, although it hasn’t been easy. As she writes in the introduction to Stepmonster, “Step-hell was for stepmonsters, and I wasn’t going there. Until I was.” She talks about how integrating a stepmother and stepchildren is inherently disruptive. The husband/father will get caught in the middle, especially if the children had been accustomed to having his time and attention to themselves.

Martin points out that most research and writing on integrating existing children into a new marriage focuses on the children. The effort to make things work is expected to come from the stepmother. Little heed is paid to the stepmother’s needs and challenges. Any failure in a stepmother/stepchild relationship is blamed on the stepmother, although I think all of us know that our children are not always angels. A stepmother is not a mother. Yes, there are occasions in which a stepmother fills the role of adoptive mother, but these are rare compared to the stepmother who doesn’t quite have the right to discipline the children, the stepmother who is expected to love her stepkids as her own even though there’s no expectation that they should love her in the way their love their own mother.

Possibly my favourite passage from the book is this one. It captures so well the unrelenting complexity of divorce, children and remarriage.

Though well-intentioned, the increasingly widespread belief that remarriage with children should be child-centric and change-free as possible can lead to stress for everyone involved. It is easy to see how it might be stressful for the woman with stepchildren. But research also shows that high levels of closeness and involvement between exes are as confusing and counterproductive for children as are high levels of conflict. Children are likely to wonder, “If you like each other so much and get along so well, why did you get a divorce?” and feel profoundly perplexed about what exactly makes a good relationship.

Why I Read Stepmonster

I wasn’t the target audience of this book. It is intended for stepmothers and stepmothers-to-be. I picked it up, however, for insight into how I could ease my daughters’ relationship with their father’s new (and now ex-) wife.

My kids hadn’t really even begun processing the reality of my divorce when their father remarried. We divorced in June of 2012, he moved in with his new girlfriend in September, and they were married in February of 2013. I needed to make this okay for my kids. I had reached out to my ex’s then-girlfriend, mother to mother, she having two young daughters of her own. We needed to put all four children first in this messy family reorganization. She was wonderfully receptive, but I didn’t feel like I could talk to her about my kids’ treatment of her without disrespecting my ex’s boundaries. So, I did what I do, looked for blogs and books that would help me understand the other side of this story. Stepmonster was the answer.

What I Learned from Stepmonster

Stepmonster has a lot of lessons for the brand new stepmother or the woman considering getting serious with a partner who already has children. A stepmother is not the stepchild’s mother. It’s okay not to have the unconditional adoration of a mother. A stepchild is not a stepmother’s child. It’s okay for the child not to have the love and trust in his stepmother that he has in his mother. The father/husband has a role to play. It’s not fair or appropriate to expect stepmother and stepchild to figure out where the boundaries lie. A father/husband has an active responsibility in making things work, respecting his new wife’s need for respect and boundaries, understanding his child’s misgivings about this replacement of her mother.

What I took away from this book was the role I could play. Martin didn’t really spell it out, but reading between the lines, I could see that I needed to do everything in my power to avoid feeding the stepmonster image of stepmotherhood.

I talked to my ex’s girlfriend, letting her know that I recognized that she would be an important part of my children’s lives, asking how I could help. I thanked her for every gesture she made to bring my children within her family, and she made many. She even went toe-to-toe with my children’s father, insisting that they needed to feel like they always had a place in their home, even if they were there only rarely. She insisted that they be allowed to have toothbrushes at their apartment. She set up a second bunk bed in her daughters’ room with my daughters’ names on it. She took my daughters to visit her parents at Thanksgiving, and her mom treated them no differently from her own granddaughters.

I’m not a jealous type, so that came easily. I know that some mothers fear that a close bond between children and their stepmothers threatens the mother-child bond. I just don’t see it that way. My kids have plenty of love for both each other and me. Why couldn’t they love their stepmother too?

In part, I’d learned from my own experience as a stepchild. Well, I’ve never knowingly met my stepmother of 20ish years, so perhaps it’s overstating it to call myself a stepchild. But I do know that the bitterness and venom that my mother spewed about my father’s girlfriends and the woman he eventually married did nothing but make me resent my mother and perceive her as being petty and selfish. It certainly didn’t make me love or trust her more.

I promised myself that I would not allow myself to feed into what Martin calls the “typical stepmother conundrum”: “the husband’s ex who wants it both way, giving us responsibility but not granting authority.” It was easy to keep boundaries with my ex; I was accustomed to taking care of business without his help, since he’d been deployed overseas for half our marriage. I was always the one who fixed plumbing issues and sealed the countertops, so I didn’t look to him for that stuff, although there was one time while we were waiting out the 90 days for our divorce to be finalized that he helped me look for my keys. (The cat had decided that they were toys and shoved them under a stool.) Our boundaries weren’t without issue, however. Our elderly neighbours were irate on observing me packing up my house to move without my ex helping watch the kids or lift some of the heavier boxes. I didn’t know 80-year-old Hispanic women possessed the colourful language I heard on that subject!

When There’s Another Divorce

Martin cites the following statistics: the divorce rate for couples in which one partner comes in with a child or children is 65%. When both partners already have children, it’s a depressing 70%. Only 5% of survey respondents considered stepchildren to be an asset to their marriages.

Stepmonster gives some advice on beating those odds. Just as in our post Finding Time for Romance When You Have Kids this morning, she argues that the marriage has to come first. Time alone is essential. Convincing your partner of this isn’t easy, but it’s critical. Having a child together is a wonderful thing, but it won’t decrease tension at all. It will increase it. A stepchild might adore his half-sibling, but that doesn’t mean he won’t resent what that sibling represents.

Unfortunately for me and my daughters, there wasn’t much in Stepmonster to help guide me on how to handle Daddy’s second divorce in less than 2 years with my kids. When J expressed her disappointment at the loss of her stepmother and stepsisters, Daddy told her, “You just need to forget them.” I knew that wasn’t the answer. I didn’t need a book for that! I reached out to my ex’s new ex and asked her if she’d be willing to maintain casual contact between her daughters and mine. She agreed.

On the bright side, post-divorce isn’t nearly as much work as a good marriage!

Any stepmothers out there? Does this book sound like something you’d want to read?

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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We Love Each Other, But… – A Book Review

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Review of We Love Each Other, But from hdydi.comI’m divorced.

It’s a little awkward to be recommending a marriage advice book when my own marriage failed. Clearly, I’m no example of how to make a marriage successful, so perhaps my endorsement itself makes you swear to never look to this book. I hope not, though. We Love Each Other But… Simple secrets to strengthen your relationship and make love last is an easy-to-read book chock full of practical and effective ideas for making your partnership the strongest it can be, despite the challenges that life brings.

I feel like I’m the exception the proves the rule when it comes to the effectiveness of the approaches discussed in We Love Each Other But… I believe that implementing some of Wachtel’s advice gave my marriage an additional two years we wouldn’t have otherwise had. Over those two years, I saw my husband abandon the positive practices described in the book, one by one. I suppose his desire to leave the marriage was making itself apparent, but I didn’t see it until he said those words. “I want a divorce.”

but

What’s in We Love Each Other But…

When I read the book, I was embarrassed to look at the chapter headings and realize how typical I was, having allowed my marriage to grow weeds through neglect:

  • We Love Each Other But … Every Decision is a Tug-of-War
  • We Love Each Other But … We Get into Really Bad Arguments
  • We Love Each Other But … We Don’t Have Much of a Sex Life
  • We Love Each Other But … But I Have a Hard Time Dealing with my Partner’s Emotional Hang-ups
  • We Used to Love Each Other But … Now I’m Not So Sure
  • We Love Each Other But … Life with Children Isn’t Easy
  • We Love Each Other But … Is This It?

Wachtel’s advice is straightforward. Her writing is very readable. My ex, who is NOT a self-help seeker, read the book from cover to cover and recommended it to anyone who would listen. We read it together, each with our own copy, while he was deployed in Iraq. We wrote to each other with our thoughts and reactions.

The author mixes advice with case studies of real couples.

An example of her advice is the author’s recommendation of turning potentially explosive arguments into productive discussions by walking away from the conversation when either partner gets emotional or defensive, returning to it after 10 minutes or an hour. Agree to accept it when someone calls a time out. Equally important, don’t forget the point of contention when tempers cool; find a mutually agreeable solution after the emotional component has been removed. When my ex and I were practicing this take-a-break-then-deal approach, we pretty much eliminated unproductive disagreement. After having found a space in which to think, not feel, about the conflict, it often seemed less important to have our own way. In many cases, a creative compromise became apparent.

A Criticism

Wachtel’s claims that her practices can be used effectively even if only partner chooses to use them. I disagree. When my husband and I agreed to discuss points of conflict after we’d overcome any initial emotional reaction, communication was stellar. We had fun together, looked forward to our time together, felt loved. When he abandoned that practice, things fell apart.

In the most extreme instance, we were in disagreement over something. I don’t recall the topic of contention. I determined that the escalation of emotion was unproductive and decided to take a shower to take a break from the conversation. My husband waited a few minutes, but then couldn’t wait to address the issue any longer. He came into the bathroom, shouting. Let me tell you, cornering a rape survivor naked in the shower is a great way to trigger a paralyzing flashback.

That whole rape issue was addressed very well in the chapter in emotional hangups.

Applied to Parenting

There are a couple of ways that the content of this book speaks to parenting. First and most obviously, there’s a chapter devoted to making room for your marriage in light of the demands of raising children. Secondly, I think that it’s worth noting that there are a number of parallels between sibling relationships and marriage, especially if you have particularly close multiples.

We Love Each Other But… Life with Children Isn’t Easy

Wachtel starts this chapter by confronting the guilt that we parents feel for any feeling of frustration or resentment of the changes and challenges that our children bring. She reminds us that our children need their parents to project feeling fulfilled as much as they need our time and attention. It’s okay and important to spend time and energy on your partner and marriage. After all, as my ex used to say, ours was the relationship that would still be there after the kids had moved onto their adult lives. (Oh, the irony.)

The author’s tips from this chapter are:

  1. Develop a ritual for you and your spouse to spend fifteen to twenty minutes alone together every day.
  2. Go out together.
  3. Have romantic “dates” at home.
  4. Break the rules.
  5. Steal a sexy moment.

She also addresses the anxiety we often feel about leaving our children in a babysitter’s care, resolving conflict over the division of child-care responsibilities, the stress of kids’ bedtime in particular and family time in general and other common concerns.

Relationship Advice that Applies to Siblings

You may have seen me write about the parallels between marriage and the twin relationship. I think that a lot of the same conflict resolution techniques work in both types of relationships.

Three of We Love Each Other But…’s basic truths about lasting love apply to siblings:

  1. We love those who make us feel good about ourselves.
  2. Most of us know what will warm our partner’s heart.
  3. Criticism erodes love.

I encourage my daughters to communicate the positive things they see in both each other and their friends. It’s so important, I think, to communicate those things. Both my girls make daily gestures to bring joy to Sissy’s heart. For instance, M spent half her saved up allowance to buy her sister a stuffed toy she fell in love with at the store as a Valentine’s Day gift. We don’t do gifts in Valentine’s Day. She has no expectation of anything in return beyond the joy in her sister’s heart.

We talk often about choosing what points of criticism to raise with Sister. M struggles more with this that J. J is very protective of M’s feelings, but M is more likely to be on a mission to help everyone find their best selves, which can include some brutal critiques. We’re working on it.

The fourth truth Wachtel identifies, “There is no such thing as unshakable, immutable, affair-resistant love,” is only partly true of siblings. The “affair” part isn’t really relevant, although I do recommend talking with your multiples about sharing their sibling’s affection with friends and other family members. Fortunately, my kids see no conflict between loving their friends and each other. However, my daughter M did once find herself calling a friend to task when this friend asked her to choose between J and the friend. Sibling love is as strong as it comes, but it cannot be taken for granted. I think often on a coworker of my ex-husband’s who hasn’t spoken to her identical twin in years because she felt that her sister was unable to accept her as she was.

For most of us, our multiples will have each other long after we are gone. We must teach them how to nurture their relationship for a lifetime. This book’s techniques can really help.

Great Wedding Gift

I give copies of this book as wedding gifts. Love isn’t what makes a marriage work. Love is why you do the work that makes a marriage work, and We Love Each Other But… helps make that work more manageable.

If you decide to pick up this book or have already read it, stop by and tell me what you thought.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Finding Time for Romance When You Have Kids

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Marriage. Complicated at best even before you have kids. Add some multiples in the mix, and hey, let’s just say ‘ain’t nobody gettin’ lucky for awhile ’round here’.

LifeHacker.com recently posted an infographic with some interesting statistics on what makes a marriage happy, so this is definitely a hot topic. In fact, they said that the happiest couples are the ones without kids and that satisfaction levels in marriage drop for 67% of married persons.

Ouch.

So, when you have multiples (or kids in general), how do you keep your marriage relationship healthy? How do you find the time for romance? Well, with today being Valentine’s Day, we here at HDYDI figured we’d offer up some advice.

Before we dive into the juicy tips, I want to share a few resources we’ve found that can help in spicing up your marriage (did you see our giveaway today!?!) and having a healthy marriage after kids.

Healthy Marriage Resources

Books

{affiliate links}

Internet Resources

Alright, let’s get to the tips!

Romancing the Marriage…

Ldskatelyn was sick of not going on regular dates with her husband, and tired of asking the question “what should we do?” when the opportunity for a date night did appear, often resulting in the super over-done dinner and a movie date. So, for Christmas 2012 she planned out a year of date nights for her husband – 24 dates, 1 date night in and 1 date night out each month. All he had to do was pick the day! While some of the planned dates didn’t happen on schedule, or were switched with other dates, or included the kids, she ended up having way more date nights than she would’ve had otherwise. She especially found that date night ins were a great thing to have planned, especially since you can’t always afford the time or the cost of getting out, and it sure beat just watching movies or TV shows every night. For a look at what date nights she planned over the course of her year and how you can make your own ‘year of dates’, check out this post.

Not having family close-by, or a budget to hire a sitter very often, MandyE and her husband enjoy date nights “in” to stay connected with each other. For inspiration, they often think back to what they enjoyed together before their girls were born. While they haven’t made it to a college football game in the past five years, one of their favorite “dates” is to set up a tailgating event, complete with all their most-loved appetizers… even if it means watching the big game on tape delay. They find it’s a meaningful way to relax and remind themselves how much they enjoy each other’s company. See more of her date night ideas here.

SarahP understands that some people have a hard time leaving new babies. She says you should take people up on their offers to watch your kids and get out with your spouse (she’s really big on regular dates). Hanging out at home is great too, but actually leaving your home to do something together is also really vital. She encourages parents to change up their dates too. Do you want to be adventurous by exploring food you’ve never had before? What odd-ball Groupons are available? If you always go out to eat, maybe do something like ice skating or bowling. Do things that help you get to know the area you live in better. She’s very adamant that married couples should be spending quality time with their spouses, and it’s made a big difference in her marriage.

DoryDoyle shares an article on her blog about Love and Marriage and Parenting Twins. This is her first year of marriage with babies in tow, and she wanted to reflect on how to keep her marriage strong while raising twins. She shares that the statistics for couples raising multiples isn’t encouraging, and that it’s important to keep an eye on your relationship-meter. She gives 9 great tips on things she and her hubby do to have both a solid marriage (including romance!) and have fun parenting.

Marissa explains that because of her situation (complex medical needs), she and her husband really couldn’t both be gone that first year. So they did the next best thing – had a sitter come over and stay upstairs while they enjoyed take-out and a movie downstairs. No baby monitor to distract them either, because they were still right there in case of a medical need.

One of our newest contributors, MariTherrien says it’s the little things that matter. A quick backrub or playing with her hair the way she likes. Remembering your first date-iversary with a card, getting your partner’s favorite coffee or little treat at the store. Romance doesn’t always have to be movie-like grand gestures. When you do the little things you send the message that s/he matters!

They’re right. Going out on dates with your spouse – finding that time time bond – is pretty important. But, today is Valentine’s Day already, so how are you going to put together something that will show your spouse you’re serious about this romance thing?

Here’s what I did this year (see pic below). I made mine on HeritageMakers.com, but I also designed some free printable coupons where all you have to do is fill in the blanks and give  it to your spouse. It’s a cute idea that will start getting you on the right track towards adding that romance back in.

valentines gift love coupons

More Than Just Romance…

Now, romance is great and all, but let’s face it, there are other things that are also important to keeping a marriage healthy, like communication.

Sadia emphasizes that a marriage takes two, and it’s about more than just romance (although, that certainly helps!). She gives these tips:

  • ALWAYS say “I love you.” And always mean it.
  • Listen to understand, not just to respond.
  • Acknowledge your partner’s efforts, no matter how small.
  • Choose to be in love every single day.
  • Nurture your partner’s values, even if you don’t share them.
  • Don’t try to be everything to your partner. It’s okay for them to have friends to share certain interests with.

RebeccaD has one add-on to Sadia’s list above: figure out how to manage your own stress. Raising twins is STRESSFUL, especially the first year. If you don’t know how to manage it positively (or if you’re in need of new strategies now that time for workouts, spa dates, and sleep is nil), it will come out negatively at the nearest available adult—namely, your spouse.

I agree with them. Ever flown before? In the event of an emergency, you’re supposed to put on your air mask first, then help your children. Why? Because if you pass out while trying to help them, then you’re both doomed. And that’s the thing. The biggest piece of advice we can give you today:

Take care of your marriage first (or at least make it a strong priority), and parenting will fall into place.

When Romance & Marriage Just Aren’t Working…

This couldn’t go without saying, so here’s a side note from us HDYDI moms that have had a marriage end: We realize that not every marriage is a happy one, even if you’ve tried the above suggestions. So, if one spouse decides that they want out and has no interest in making things work, it’s time for both of you to put the children first and minimize the anguish of what is an unavoidably heartbreaking situation. Don’t get vindictive. Don’t get mean. Help your children know that they will never have to choose between their parents. You can’t convince someone to stay in a marriage after their commitment and heart have left it.

How do you keep your marriage strong and your romance alive? Tell us your tips and let’s all have a happier Valentine’s Day!

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Raising Your Spirited Child – A Book Review

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Spirited

There is plenty that I don’t like about Raising Your Spirited Child, a classic of parenting by Mary Sheedy Kurcinka. My greatest annoyance with the book is its tone. Much of the content is targeted at the parent who has already labeled his or her child “difficult” — a label the author rejects — has reached the end of their rope, and is looking for some hope that they can survive until their child leaves home. At times, I feel like the author is simply showing parents how to avoid meltdowns, which I don’t believe is much related to the goal of parenting.

Still, much of what Kurcinka says has rung true over the years for my 7-year-old daughters, M and J, as well as a number of their friends. The author’s central point is that some children (and adults) are simply more. They are more intense, persistent, sensitive, distractible or perceptive and less adaptable than the average child.

spiritedKurcinka suggests ways of working with these traits to allow both the child and the parent-child relationship to flourish. One of the biggest realizations for me was that many people, adults and children alike, are not spirited. Since our entire family falls well within the parameters of “spirited”, it hadn’t occur to me before I read the book that other kids didn’t have the same sort of observations, insights, and endurance as my daughters.

Chapter 3 of Kurcinka’s book contains a questionnaire to help identify where on the spectrum of “cool”, “spunky” and “spirited” your child falls. At age 3, M scored deep in the spirited range. J was a point shy of spirited, and measured spunky. Over time, J has waffled between scoring spirited and spunky, whereas M has always, always, always been deep in the spirited zone.

Here are some of the points from Raising Your Spirited Child that were the biggest eye-openers for me as a mother.

Kurcinka spends some time discussing introversion and extraversion. At age 3, M’s explosion of talking and J’s thoughtfulness have made their differences in this area particularly obvious. Spirited children can fall anywhere on the introvert-extrovert spectrum, and I found the author’s discussion of how to work with our different energy sources very helpful. I allow J her quiet time and opportunities to develop a few very deep relationships, while giving M plenty of opportunities for interaction. J certainly enjoys large social gatherings, but she needs the intimacy of close friends and mentors. M enjoys having some friends who “get” her, but she’s energized by hanging out with lots and lots of people.

As LauraC points out, it’s helpful to remember that my daughters experience the world intensely, and that is why their reactions are so intense. I hardly ever give half-answers to their questions. I know that both my daughters are persistent and curious enough that it’s not worth the effort to explain something to them unless I’m going to do it right. In return, they have learned to trust that when I say we’ll discuss something later, I will come back to it in the best way I know how, under more convenient circumstances.

It was worth reading Raising Your Spirited Child to learn about myself, too. Kurcinka provides tips for the spirited parent to reduce the intensity of their interaction with their spirited child. I continue to remind myself to choose my battles. Before I read the book the first time, I’d go toe-to-toe with my daughters about everything. Everything. I have worked long and hard on my patience with the girls and I’m pretty good at redirecting their energy. I’m drawn to children others find difficult. The techniques that make communication with my daughters successful often work wonders on their peers whose intensity may not have been understood in the past.

Sure, the tone of the book irritated me, but the nuggets of wisdom were well worth it. I just wish I’d read it earlier, since the author addresses indicators of a spirited temperament in infants.

A caveat

Do not treat this book as your single guide to parenting. I cannot emphasize this strongly enough.

Kurcinka takes an approach in which she advocates adjusting the world around the child to accommodate his or her intensity. While some accommodations are appropriate, going too far down that road runs the risk of raising a child unable to function among people unwilling or unable to adjust to them. For instance, the author praises the parent who bought swiveling chairs to allow her child to wiggle and move at the dining table. That’s fine at home, but this child will need to be able to know when to sit still in a restaurant or school cafeteria.

There’s understanding that your child is intense, and then there’s giving into it. It is the solemn duty of those of us lucky enough to be raising spirited children to arm them with the tools and skills they need to manage and target their intensity.

Do you have a spirited child? Are you a spirited adult? How does the intensity manifest in your day-to-day life?

A previous version of this review was published on Double the Fun.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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The Foster Parenting Toolbox – A Book Review

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Foster

The The Foster Parenting Toolbox is precisely what it says, a collection of tools for parenting foster children. While the sections of the book are specific to foster situations, there’s a lot of parenting wisdom in this book that applies more generally to raising children.

Over 100 contributors wrote short pieces to contribute to this bulky tome of 446 pages. The style and tone of the pieces vary, from the first hand account from an experienced foster mother about her first foster experience to data-based treatises from academics and case studies from social workers.

A mother of twins reviews The Foster Parenting ToolboxThe book is divided into themed sections, most about 20 pages longs and each containing several related pieces.

  • Why Foster
  • Perspectives
  • Transitions
  • Teamwork
  • Birth Family Connections
  • Loss, Grief & Anger
  • Attachment & Trust
  • Trauma & Abuse
  • Family Impact
  • Discipline
  • School Tools
  • Parenting Teens
  • Nurturing Identity
  • Allegations
  • Respite & Support
  • Reunification, Adoption & Beyond

Obviously, some of these sections don’t apply at all unless you are a foster parent or are considering fostering. I’ll talk about those first.

Content Specific to Foster Parenting

I’ll admit that I wasn’t completely sold on become a foster parent when I picked up this book. There was a particular child I knew in need of foster care, and I hoped to foster, perhaps adopt him. It didn’t end up working out; he is instead in his grandmother’s custody. I figured that would be the end of any thought of fostering, but I leafed through the book anyway since I’d ordered it.

By the time I’d finished the 11 pieces in this “Why Foster” section, I was sold on fostering. It didn’t hurt that the tenth story was one of identical twins boys fostered because of neglect who were ultimately adopted by the author. That’s how you get to me: a story of a child in need with a happy ending, and twins at that.

I had a lot of questions about the financial realities of fostering. The articles that address this issue are refreshingly honest. Caring for a child costs far more than the stipend a family might receive for fostering that child. I would need my finances in order before I would want to register as a foster mother.

I had hoped for more guidance from the book on talking to the children I already have about the realities of foster care, but found myself going alone on that. Issues of sibling integration are woven into many of the first-person stories, but I would have loved a section devoted to this. The focus of the book is certainly on foster children, although it touches on life after foster care in foster-to-adopt situations.

General Parenting Advice

There is no section of the book intended to provide generalized parenting advice, but the anecdotes, recommendations and research on helping the most vulnerable children in our society can be brought to bear on parenting our forever children too. For instance, I find myself sitting quietly with a screaming child (my own and others’) just to let him or her know that I’m there for whenever they’re ready to talk. Before I read this book, I would have spent more effort to trying to reason and be heard over the screaming.

I found reading through parts of the Trauma and Abuse section very difficult, but still healing for the little girl inside me who still hurts from the emotional and verbal abuse of my childhood. I felt a little less alone and wanted to reach out to the children just coming out of those situations to let them know that there is happiness and security on the other side.

Overall

I haven’t read the book from cover to cover. This is another one of those resources that makes the most sense to approach from the index for inspiration in dealing with specific challenges. Having read selections, though, I feel more knowledgeable about what foster parenting would really be like. Of course, the proof will be in the pudding, if a foster child or children do enter our family some day. I hope they do.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs atAdoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children – A Book Review

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Book review from a mother of identical twins, both identified as gifted

By the time my children were born, I felt fully capable of raising two little girls, whatever their personalities, strengths, and weaknesses. When they proved to be rather bright, I relished the gift of being the one to guide and nurture their curiosity and insights. My daughters’ daycare teachers were wonderful, encouraging them to explore, providing them just the right level of challenge, and introducing academic learning in a way that made it fun.

It wasn’t until kindergarten that it occurred to me that J and M’s intellectual gifts might present a challenge when it came to fitting into mainstream education. Thanks to their school in El Paso, I learned that their giftedness challenged the status quo. I was going to have to learn to be not just the mother of M and J, who happen to be smart, but to be a Mother of Gifted Children.

I confess that I fought the labels. Why couldn’t my kids just be kids? I could challenge them intellectually at home if the school couldn’t.

I finally gave in and bought A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children. It sat on my bookshelf for a while. When I finally cracked the spine, I wished I’d done so earlier.

My daughters, I learned early in the book, could be described as being at the lower end of the “profoundly gifted” category. As I read through dire warnings of teachers who don’t know what to make of gifted children, I was ever more appreciative of their teachers this year. While my girls have little to say about the research projects they’re working on with their Gifted and Talented teacher, they’re constantly bubbling with news of the extra lessons both their “regular” teachers teach them throughout the day, whether they’re done early with an assignment or seeking more excitement on a test than the basic instructions offer. Both teachers actually spend time with my daughters after school, while I’m still at work, giving them enrichment exercises, feeding their curiosity, and encouraging them to pursue their intellectual interests. I know, we are blessed beyond anything I could ever repay.

I was embarrassed to see myself described in early chapters of A Parent’s Guide to Gifted Children, the mother who underplays her child’s gifts, claiming that a child is merely a good test taker and not “special” in any other way. I find myself fighting for equity between my daughters by explaining away the small ways in which M is stronger in math and J in critical analysis. When my daughters’ teacher presented their test scores to me, I tried to explain away M’s slightly higher scores. I, proponent of treating all people as individuals, was trying to force my two children into a single mold.

In the early chapters of the book, it served more as a self-help book for me than a guide to dealing with my kids’ above average intelligence. I appreciated the very first words of the introduction: “The Importance of Parents.” I’ve never been one to believe that it is the school’s job to raise my children. Given my kids’ smarts, sending them to school is primarily to help them develop their social skills. I had high hopes for the school I chose for them, but I really lucked out in having several teachers in the dual language program who are committed to nurturing each child in the class as an individual. I’m glad that the girls’ teachers push them, but if they didn’t, filling in that space would be my responsibility, not the school’s.

Unlike some of the other book reviews I’ve written this week, I don’t feel like I can summarize the key points of the book in a way that’s helpful. The thing about giftedness is that it is unique every time. Realizations I had about J didn’t, for the most part, apply to M, or vice versa. I knew I was going to have to advocate for my girls’ academic opportunities and appreciate the guidance the book provides on those issues.

If you have, or suspect you have, a gifted child, I’d recommend reading through this book to find gems that help you be the best parent you can be to the little miracle in your care.

A mother of gifted identical twins reviews this book.

To give you a feel for what’s in the book, here are some chapter subheadings that stood out me:

  • What Exactly is Giftedness?
  • Is My Child Gifted or Just Smart?
  • Punishing the Child for Being Gifted
  • Why Wouldn’t a Gifted Child Be Motivated?
  • Avoid Power Struggles
  • Develop Rules as a Family
  • Types of Perfectionism
  • Depression and Suicide in Gifted Children
  • Peer Comparisons and the Gifted Label
  • Unequal Abilities among Siblings’
  • Does Common Wisdom Apply to Exceptional Children
  • When Parenting Styles Differ
  • When Scores Do Not Match Characteristics
  • Trust Your Own Observations
  • Can’t I Simply Trust the Schools?
  • Financial Support for Gifted Education

Any of these headings jump out at you? If they do, consider checking this book out of you local library.

Sadia (rhymes with Nadia) has been coordinating How Do You Do It? since late 2012. She is the divorced mother of 7-year-old monozygotic twins, M and J. She lives with them and their 3 cats in the Austin, TX suburbs and works full time as a business analyst. She retired her personal blog, Double the Fun, when the girls entered elementary school and also blogs at Adoption.com and Multicultural Mothering.

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Parenting Books about Raising Market-Savvy Kids

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A mother of two and marketing professional review three books that help her raise her children to resist the pressures of advertising

I’ve spent my career to date in the field of marketing.  While I don’t often think about it in these terms, I’ve devoted my professional self to convincing you how great is the latest THIS, and how much more you need of the super-awesome THAT.

Although I know many of the tricks of the marketing trade, I am fascinated to read about the impact of our consumer-driven culture on our kiddos…starting before a baby is even born.

review2The first book I read on this topic is “Cinderella Ate My Daughter”, by Peggy Orenstein, published in 2011.  The book documents the birth of the “princess culture” in the early 2000’s and illustrates the proliferation of all things pink and sparkly.  When baby girls come home from the hospital wearing an “I’m the Princess” onesie, suckle a pacifier embellished with a tiara, and wear a tutu before they can walk, our mainstream culture paints a very early, and very narrow, picture of what it means to be a girl.

Orenstein follows the princess culture through toddlerhood and preschool, and discusses how it can prime girls for earlier and earlier sexualization.  She discusses the dangers of this as relate to the risk for depression and eating disorders, along with numerous other topics in today’s media-saturated world.

review1I reviewed this book on my blog a couple of years ago, and a fellow twin mom recommended another book, “buy, buy baby”, by Susan Gregory Thomas.  Published in 2007, the book has a broader focus than the “Cinderella” book, but it ultimately centers around the media influence over many parents.

Specifically, the book discusses the birth of “educational” videos and toys, and how companies use the insecurities of parents to manipulate buyers.  Frighteningly, Thomas points out it is often the video and toy companies who fund research in child development they then use to sell their products.  Evidence is presented that some of these “educational” products could actually impair development.

review3My most recent read is “Redefining Girly”, by Melissa Atkins Wardy.  Wardy hits many of the same points as in the “Cinderella” book, but her focus is on both boys and girls.  Yes, girls are faced with so much pink and lace and tulle…but boys are faced with equal amounts of rough-and-tough positioned toys.  The book opens the reader’s eyes to gender stereotypes on both sides of the aisle.

What I love about “Redefining Girly” is that Wardy provides so many wonderful dialogue examples throughout the book.  Yes, we know that marketing forces are pervasive in our culture…yes, we recognize that our children often see a narrow definition of what is “acceptable” for a given gender…but…this stuff is EVERYWHERE.  How do we navigate our children through the labyrinth of clothing choices, toy aisles, and birthday party themes?

Wardy has suggestions for how to talk to your children in many different situations.  Some of my favorite catch phrases are, “There are many ways to be a girl / boy,” and, “Colors are for everyone.”

I know there’s nothing wrong with fairy tales or dress-up play, and there are “educational” toys that have a place in many of our playrooms.  I love challenging myself to think about the motivations of the companies who sell these products and services to us, though.  Our culture is very media-driven, and I believe it’s my job as a parent to make the best choices for my children, and to educate them to begin to make good choices for themselves.

MandyE is mom to five-year old fraternal twin girls.  She blogs about their adventures, and her journey through motherhood, at Twin Trials and Triumphs.

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Giveaway: Must-Have Parenting Books

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Enter the hdydi.com Parenting Book Giveaway Feb 10-12 2014 for a chance to win a package of great parenting books!Another morning, another giveaway! (Skip to the Rafflecopter entry form.)

I don’t have a favourite child, but I do have a favourite giveaway. And this is it. These books are mainstays of a well-stocked parenting library. Trust me. You want these must-have parenting books. Even you end up not winning, please consider checking copies out of your local library.

The 7 Worst Things Good Parents Do: The 7 chapters describing these “worst” things are

  • Baby your child
  • Put your marriage last
  • Push your child into too many activities
  • Ignore your emotional or spiritual life
  • Be your child’s best friend
  • Fail to give your child structure
  • Expect your child to fulfill your dreams

Common sense? Sure. Nevertheless, it doesn’t hurt to remind ourselves to maintain balance in our lives and those of our children.

Both ldskatelyn and AngelaBickford3 have reviewed The Christian Parenting Handbook: 50 Heart-Based Strategies for All the Stages of Your Child’s Life. They both liked it and point out that you don’t have to be Christian to find useful content in the book.

I haven’t read The UnWired Mom – Choosing to Live Free in an Internet Addicted World (yet), but it appears to me to be a good fit for the thoughtful blogosphere-involved parenting community we have here at HDYDI.  From the book description:

The premise of The UnWired Mom is not that the Internet is bad; it is that we can enjoy it and use it without losing our lives to it. The UnWired Mom is about keeping our lives full and whole and allowing technology to be a healthy part of that life instead of an unhealthy, consuming one. The UnWired Mom, at its core, is about freedom.

Last, but not least, is the book that his influenced my parenting above all others, NurtureShock: New Thinking About Children. It’s… well, I reviewed it yesterday.

Win this package of great parenting books at hdydi.comTo enter, you just need to comment on any post from this week.

Enter

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Don’t forget that we still have two other giveaways underway!

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