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5 Things I Wish I Knew About Parenting—Before It Was Too Late

Monday, July 27th, 2015

A couple of weeks ago, my daughter, Katie, became a teenager. Amidst all the good-luck wishes and sentiments about “where has the time gone,”  one friend with a child just about to go to kindergarten and another in diapers asked me what would I do over if I had the chance. While I wouldn’t change my daughter (I think she’s pretty great), I’m sure we could have taken a more mellow path to the teen years. Here’s my hindsight:

* Milestones are overrated. As long as it’s within the large range that docs have established as “normal,” don’t read too much into the timing of achievements. While Katie was an early talker and still has the gift of gab, she’s not any more chatty than her friends are now—or what they were at age 3. And even though she was a late walker who liked to be picked up and carried around, let’s just say that she does fine on her own two feet.

* Friendships are underrated. There’s no escaping friend drama—and it really ramps up around second or third grade. I’m sure that I was way too apathetic about the plethora of friendship problems, “She doesn’t like me anymore! She called me a name. I have no one to play with at recess.” Treat it like it’s a big deal—because it actually is to your kid.

* It’s easy to over-schedule. (And hard to pull back.) Everything sounded exciting to Katie when she was a preschooler—at one point, she had lessons for swimming, theatre, dance, violin, and gymnastics. And that wasn’t counting the drop-in arts & crafts and music programs as well as the weekly story hour at the library. I wished I had limited it to two activities so we weren’t constantly rushing.

* Your memories will fade. When Katie was 6, she was in 23 performances of A Christmas Carol. Because of copyright laws, parents weren’t allowed to record the show—the same goes for a lot of music and dance recitals too. I didn’t buy the DVD because she was on stage for less than five minutes, I had already spent a small fortune on tickets and costume fees, and I thought after 23 shows, I’d never forget it. Um, I pretty much have. Snap away and record as much as you can because, trust me, you’ll be blubbering about “how little he/she was” later.

* Mistakes are healthy. Once your kid gets her first at-home school project, you’ll be tempted to jump in and help. At Katie’s third-grade invention fair, I saw a bed frame with a pulley, supposedly built by an 8-year-old, in the classroom. While I never went anywhere near that far with my help, if I had a do-over, I would have let her handle every project entirely on her own. Why? Because she has learned her mistakes much more than her successes.

Now if you have any advice for parenting teenagers, I’m all ears!

How to Make the Most of Playtime
How to Make the Most of Playtime
How to Make the Most of Playtime

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Is Your Child Too Busy?

Thursday, July 2nd, 2015

I’m not sure why it took me so long to realize that my 12-year-old daughter was way over-scheduled this spring. The empty seat at the dinner table, extra miles on the car, and longing for a day to “do nothing, go nowhere” should have been obvious clues. She was spending at least 20 hours a week in after-school practices or performances for various activities. My sister-in-law and I compared calendars and realized that we couldn’t find a single weekend afternoon in the spring (with the exception of Easter) to get my theatre-loving daughter together with her kids who play soccer on a traveling team and compete in dance.

But it was all worth it, right? If you had asked me in mid-May when she shined on stage, I would have told you 1,000-percent yes. As the weeks go by though, I question whether I’d do it all again. Part of the reason I and so many other parents spend a ridiculous amount of time on our kids’ activities is to foster their passions and build friendships. And, wonderfully, the fellow kids in my daughter’s last play—most of whom didn’t know each other when rehearsals began—ended up being the most tight-knit cast I’ve ever seen. Every show started and ended with hugs. Even so, I’ve realized that the birthday parties and so many other hang-outs we turned down because they conflicted with practice could have easily fostered friendships too—without chipping away as much into family time.

My doubts grew a few weeks ago when I read an article in a local newspaper. High school musicals are such a big deal where I live that the local theatre hosts a televised award show for them—complete with red-carpet interviews, celeb presenters, and college scholarships. Many of the teens who won had notecards full of names to thank—their acting coaches, dance teachers, voice instructors, and so forth. The cast of the high school that snagged the most of the awards didn’t have these “advantages.” Some of its cast members had never been on stage before—yet they beat out kids who had lessons practically their whole lifetime.

I’m not sure what I’m going to do about next year yet. For the summer at least, we have four weeks with no camp, vacation, or other planned activity. I don’t think I’m going to regret this. But I’ll tell you what happened in the fall. In the meantime, here’s to the lazy days of summer!

 

Karen Cicero is Contributing Travel and Nutrition Editor at Parents. Follow her on Twitter @karencicero.

 

Patriotic Pinwheels
Patriotic Pinwheels
Patriotic Pinwheels

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The Real Photo Bomb: How To Manage All Of Your Pictures

Thursday, June 11th, 2015

I have 2,507 pictures and 193 video clips on my iPhone. Tens of thousands more pics on Shutterfly. And a folder filled with “keepsake CDs” and even negatives (remember those?) from my daughter’s baby years. The challenge: How to organize everything so when I try to find an image for something fun (like Throwback Thursday) or important (a photo collage for a family reunion), it doesn’t become an hour-long ordeal. That’s why I was excited to try Google’s new free photo app, which is available for both Androids and iPhones.

It backs up your entire camera roll across all of your devices and has awesome sorting and searching features. Instead of just being able to sort by date, it will arrange your images by “people, places, and things” so that pic you took of your amazing dessert at a restaurant is not sandwiched between shots of preschool graduation and the first day at the pool. The search feature is epic: If I want to find a picture of my daughter with all the doggy friends we’ve visited, I’ll simply type “dog” into the search. When I type “beach,” gorgeous images of St. Pete, the Outer Banks, and Hawaii pop up. Typing “ice cream” yields more pics than I want to admit to!

For photos that aren’t on my camera roll, it gets a little more complicated. I would have to export them out of Shutterfly (onto a USB, for instance) and then use the desktop uploader on photos.google.com to get them all in one place. That sounds like a project for a rainy summer weekend! In the meantime, I’m happy that I’m on the right track. How do you manage all of your pics?

Karen Cicero is a contributing nutrition and travel editor at Parents magazine. Follow her on Twitter @karencicero.

Baby Shower Games: Baby Photo Game
Baby Shower Games: Baby Photo Game
Baby Shower Games: Baby Photo Game

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Would You Let Your Kids Choose Your Family’s Vacation? Or Maybe They Already Do!

Thursday, May 21st, 2015

Here’s a list of places my friends are taking their kids for summer vacation:

* Universal Orlando

* Walt Disney World

* Atlantis Resort

* San Diego Zoo

* Disney Cruise

Now, here’s a list of where my friends really wanted to go:

* Europe

* Yellowstone National Park

* Beach house in the middle of nowhere

* Costa Rica

* Hiking in New England

Guess who picked their final destinations? Yep—the kids. One of my friend’s daughters, who is Harry Potter-obessed, begged since last year to see new Diagon Alley (it really is incredible), another kid we know gave up a birthday party and presents so she could meet Anna and Elsa. Turns out, my friends fit right into the trend—85% of kids ages 6 to 12 play some role in choosing where the family goes on vacation, according to a new survey by HomeAway (the go-to site for vacation rentals). Granted, most parents don’t give the children the full say, but the majority either decide together as a family or took a few suggestions from the kids and made a final choice.

I confess too that I’ve often given in to where my 12-year-old wanted to go—that’s why on our last trip, you could find me screaming on a roller coaster rather than chilling out under an umbrella with a good book. (In the survey, 41% of kids wanted to visit a theme park on their vacation—twice as many as wanted to hit the beach. Figures.)

So are we being pushovers? Or are we trying to keep the kids are happy and occupied, so our lives will be easier? Six in ten parents in the survey thought their kids would enjoy their vacation more if they had input. Now tell me what you think.

Karen Cicero is contributing travel editor at Parents magazine. Follow her on Twitter @karencicero to see her latest roller coaster adventures. 

Walt Disney World: Ease Your Trip With Magic Bands
Walt Disney World: Ease Your Trip With Magic Bands
Walt Disney World: Ease Your Trip With Magic Bands

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The One Thing Your Little Performers Need to Hear from You

Thursday, April 30th, 2015

If your child is going to be in a preschool play, talent show, dance recital, music concert, or any activity that puts her in the spotlight (spring is the prime season!), I hope you’ll impart this one simple piece of advice: If she messes up, she should keep going. In the last two weeks, I’ve witnessed two tearful exits from the stage. And as I wrote in this story for Parents, there’s not much you can say to help your child feel better in the moment.

When you talk to your mini performers about how the show must go on, be sure to emphasize that the audience isn’t even going to know that she made a mistake. It’s not like the crowd is sitting there with the lyrics or the script. In both cases, I had no idea anything went wrong until the child bolted. You may even want to demonstrate this at home. Your child can test you on the lyrics, dance moves, or lines and see if you know what come next. You won’t even have to fail on purpose. Chances are you legitimately won’t know. I hardly ever do.

It’s also worth mentioning what to do if something goes wrong that’s out of her control. For instance, at a recent concert, my daughter’s microphone wasn’t turned on until she was a few lines into the song. I was hoping that she would just keep singing…and she did although I did notice the relief on her face once it was working! Microphone mishaps, missing props, and costume issues are part of the live arts. We saw Aladdin on Broadway last week and the show was stopped for 10 minutes due to technical difficulties. If Disney experiences technical problems every once in a while, your child’s school is bound too as well.

Once kids realize that a mistake isn’t the end of the world, they’ll be able to focus on the whole point of performing anyway—having fun! Hope all your little ones enjoy their shows.

Karen Cicero is a Contributing Editor at Parents. Her 12-year-old daughter is currently performing in a local production of Narnia The Musical. She welcomes moms (especially fellow theatre moms!) to follow her on on Twitter @karencicero. 

The Importance of Music
The Importance of Music
The Importance of Music

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