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How Joining a Rock Band Made Me a Better Mom

Sunday, September 7th, 2014

I “Clark Kent” my way through volunteering at the Home & School and my day job, with my dark-rimmed librarian glasses and my sensible shoes. But for the past couple of years, I’ve spent many a Monday evening sweating in my friend’s basement—and more than a few nights playing out at local bars—as the bass player for Whatserface, an all-girl (all-mom) cover band.

It’s never going to be my career (unfortunately)—I won’t be the next Gwen Stefani rocking out with a baby on my hip. But my girls and I have a ball whenever we’re playing, and we’re getting better with every practice. (Which is very good, as I hadn’t ever picked up a bass guitar until I was asked to join the band. The first few practices were pretty ugly, at least on my end!)

There are a few aspects of moonlighting as a rocker that aren’t going to earn me Mom of the Year awards. We’ve been known to overindulge occasionally when we get together, which leads to pretty evil wakeup calls the morning after. It took me a while to finally invest in some good earplugs, so when I’m old and senile, I’ll be contending with hearing loss, too. And of course, there’s the fact we spend some Saturday nights in darkened bars while our kiddos are home with the sitters.

But taking time out of my week to be something other than mom, wife and writer helps make me better at all three of those roles. Here’s why:

I’m building new friendships that have nothing to do with my kids or my work. Once you become a mom, it feels like the only places you make new friends are on the school playground or in the office. Granted, I was close friends with Kara, our drummer, before she asked me to pick up the bass and join the band, but I had only met the other gals once or twice before our first practice. And now, I count them all among my closest friends.

I’m getting some of that much-exalted “me time.” When I’m playing music, I don’t have much time to mentally run through my to-do list or worry yet again about how we’re going to afford college for my kiddos. For just a few hours, it’s just me and my music. And I come home refreshed, re-energized, and ready to scale that mountain of laundry sitting by the washing machine.

I’m learning something new. Studies have shown that music education can boost IQ, increase the brain’s neural activity, and improve language skills in kids—and I can only believe that I’m getting some of those benefits myself. Playing bass challenges my brain in ways that nothing else does. And I’m hoping that if I keep on playing until I look older than Keith Richards, I might actually keep my mind sharp later in life.

I’m discovering new music. Deciding which songs to learn can be a bit challenging for our band, as we have six members with wildly divergent taste. Band members have suggested everything from old-school grunge to country to current pop songs. And yes, we’ve had some really out-there suggestions, like “The Lion Sleeps Tonight.” (That was met with resounding nos!) I’m at an age where I could contentedly listen to classic rock stations or stick with my favorite bands, who have mostly reached Hall of Fame eligibility, but I’m now constantly on the prowl for something new and interesting to bring to our next listening party.

The kids love it—mostly. It’s inspired some of the other band members’ kids so much that they started their own rock band, and I’ve started teaching my own kids piano. And the girls really enjoy going to our occasional kid-friendly gig. Still, once in a while I get grief on a Monday night when I’m heading out to band practice. But after I told them I’d quit if they quit all their extracurricular activities that take them away from me—their ballet and tap and Girl Scouts and gymnastics, the complaints magically disappeared.

My husband loves it—mostly. Yeah, it means he flies solo a few nights, and he’s probably had to sit through the same setlist a few too many times. (His musical taste tends more toward obscure Scandinavian metal bands than the White Stripes.) But I think he’s proud to say his girl’s in the band, judging by the gifts I’ve gotten over the past year (which included cool black boots and a gorgeous new Gibson bass).

And I love it. Playing bass makes me happy. And playing bass on stage with a few of my best friends, with your friends and family in the audience? There are few things in life better than that.

Tell us: What do you do in your life that makes you happy?

Mom Confessions: If I Could Spend a Day Without My Kids I Would¿
Mom Confessions: If I Could Spend a Day Without My Kids I Would¿
Mom Confessions: If I Could Spend a Day Without My Kids I Would¿

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Which Age Is Hardest to Parent?

Saturday, August 23rd, 2014

I used to think that babies and toddlers were the hardest to parent, with all the sleep deprivation, bodily fluids and baby proofing that come with that age range. It felt like my children were trying really hard to get themselves killed, and we spent our waking hours standing sentinel and worrying that all that stood between my daughters and certain doom was a flimsy plastic cabinet lock. Those were the days of guacamole in the hair and 3 a.m. wakeup calls, but at least we got nap time to recover and get our groove back.

Now that I’m the mom of a tween and an almost tween, I find myself dreaming of those days. Because while the really physical days of parenting are done—no more bending in half and hunching my back for hours over a struggling-to-walk-toddler—parenting an older kid requires tremendous mental fortitude. And I’m not sure I have the skills necessary to survive the next few years. Here’s where I’m falling short:

Scheduling Prowess I need military-level precision to keep track of all the school projects, teacher meetings and extracurriculars—something a girl once voted most disorganized by a jury of her peers simply can’t muster.  I used to be horrified when I read stories of moms using their minivan as a traveling office/dinner table/living room, until my daughters began to fill every day with their various extracurricular passions. And now, my car comes stocked with paper towels, an array of snacks (and used wrappers), and is my regular conference call spot (thank God for Bluetooth!).

Mind Reader My daughter has developed a split personality, as she straddles the precarious line between childhood and adulthood. One minute, she’s begging me to let her watch The Fault in Our Stars—the next, she’s saying that she’s not too old for Sophia the First. And I’m never quite sure whether I’m talking to the grownup or the kiddo, which makes it hard to determine whether any suggestion I make is going to be greeted with a dramatic eye roll and sigh or excited exuberance. It’s hard to find that happy medium, where I’m allowing her to learn and grow, but not learn too much, too fast. So, despite the fact that I hear that every other parent in the fifth grade lets their children Snapchat on cell phones and watch Walking Dead marathons, we’re sticking by our guns.

Peace Maker I simply don’t have the negotiation skills necessary to get my girls to stop the battles and bickering and actually be the loving sisters I know they are, deep, deep (deep) down inside. I’d love to just tell my children to work it out themselves, but that often leads to tears and pain (and not just for me).

Book Smarts I was a straight A student when I was in school, but apparently I killed a lot of brain cells between then and now, or they decided to rewrite the curriculum just to make me look like the village idiot. Either way, there were things in fourth grade math that had me stumped, and I’m frankly a bit nervous about what comes next. I hope my daughters can teach me.

I’ve talked a bit about my struggles with tween parenting with my mom, and she just chuckles. “Wait until they hit the teens,” she says, ominously. “That’s when parenting really gets tough.” I hope I can survive it.

Tell us: Which age was the toughest for you as a parent? Why was that? Keep up with your kiddo through every age and stage through our Parents.com newsletters.

Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail
Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail
Mom Confessions: My Latest Parenting Fail

Image: Busy mom by Angela Waye/Shutterstock.com

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Companies Need a Lesson on What Kids Really Want

Thursday, August 7th, 2014

Even though I’m the mom of two girls, I find myself shopping in the “boys’” aisles an awful lot. And that’s because it seems like most of the cooler toys and t-shirts (at least according to my girls) show up in that section. First it was Thomas the Tank Engine, then Star Wars, dinosaurs and robotics components.

It’s disheartening in this day and age that companies still cling to these old-school beliefs that all girls like pink sparkly princesses, and all boys want dinosaurs and sports. That’s what got Lands End in trouble earlier this month, as a mom started a campaign against the hearts-and-flowers motifs on girls shirts, for more realistic depictions of science. (I may just have to pick up one of the solar systems shirts for my science-loving youngest.) Lego finally decided to throw us a bone by offering girl scientist figures, after making loads of money off the pink-and-pretty Lego Friends, who seem to spend an awful lot of time on fashion, cuddly animals and talent shows. And Disney seems to have actually taken their latest acquisition, Star Wars, back to the stone ages, by stocking a single piece of Princess Leia merchandise—an “action” figure of her dressed in the revealing slave costume.

But I feel even worse for the boys who don’t fit into the trucks-and-sports mode. Because it’s a lot harder to make things from the girls’ side of the aisle, where there’s a plethora of pink and sparkly, work for a boy. On Lands End’s Facebook announcement of their science shirts for girls you could see a whole slew of comments from moms of boys, requesting shirts with “non-threatening animals” and hearts and flowers for their not-so-stereotypical boys.

Of course, there are some ways to circumvent the marketing powers that be. Etsy and other internet retailers seem to be built on people making more gender-neutral crafts that kids that fall outside the stereotype might actually love.

Maybe we need to get the marketers to make it easier for all kids to find their passions—whether it’s a girl who loves robots, or a boy who loves horses.

Want to know if your kid’s destined to be a scientist, a chef, or President? Try our future career quiz.

Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting
Parenting Style: Positive Parenting

Image: Courtesy of Lego

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Should You Let Your Kids Drink Alcohol?

Friday, July 18th, 2014

It’s been 30 years since the U.S. raised its legal drinking age to 21, a rule that’s led many a college student astray of the law. And it’s often broken in homes across the country, as kids get their first sips of beer or wine from a parent’s cup.

But even though I had my first taste of wine on a Christmas Eve long before I was legally old enough to drink, I haven’t yet let my own kids try it. And if you look at most of the studies about underage drinking, it looks like I might be right to hold off. Several studies have shown that allowing your children to drink when they’re underage may make them more likely to binge drink later on—especially if they’re girls. But as with anything, there are studies that contradict that idea—including a 2004 study that showed that children who drank with their parents were nearly half as likely to say they had drank in the past month and about one third as likely to admit to binge drinking in the past two weeks.

So what’s a parent to do? Right now, I’m sticking to my no-sips-allowed policy, and modeling responsible alcohol consumption for them (ensuring that you have a designated driver, and enjoying without overindulging). And since my 10-year-old was scandalized that the Catholic Church let her friend sip wine at her First Communion, I hopefully have a few more years before she’s really tempted to try it.

But there’s also a big difference between providing beer for your teen’s party and offering a glass of champagne to celebrate a special event. The studies that show the decreased rates of drinking in teens were in families where the teens were allowed to drink alcohol in family or religious settings. And if I decide to change my no-sips policy, I’d only be doing it in the context of a family gathering or special celebration—a sip of champagne at her high school graduation, for example. (So friends of my daughters—don’t be expecting a kegger in your honor!)

But I’m realistic. The odds of my daughters waiting until they turn 21 to drink are pretty low. And so I’m laying the groundwork now so that they’ll at least stay safe when they do it. I’ve already stressed the importance of not driving with someone whose drinking (and already told them I will always give them or a friend a safe ride home, no questions asked), and explained what drinking too much does to you—and why you may want to avoid that. (Hangovers and nausea = no fun!) And hopefully, they’ll heed my advice, and avoid a few of the mistakes I made along the way.

Tell us: Have you let your kids drink alcohol? Why or why not?

Alcohol During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?
Alcohol During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?
Alcohol During Pregnancy: Safe or Not?

Image: Child drinking a cocktail by RamonaS/Shutterstock.com

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Should a Mom Be Arrested for THIS?

Tuesday, July 15th, 2014

A mom is in prison, and her daughter is in foster care. And odds are, you (or your mom) might have done exactly what this woman did: She let her 9-year-old child play outside in a park, unsupervised.

The circumstances, however, might be a little different than your situation. Debra Harrell in North Augusta, South Carolina, couldn’t find any child care for her shifts at McDonald’s in a Walmart. So her choices were to let her daughter play in a park alone, leave her at home, or bring her to work, where she was forced to hang out for hours in McDonald’s with little to engage her. Debra picked the park. But when other parents noticed this girl by herself for long stretches, they alerted authorities, and Debra was arrested for unlawful conduct toward a child.

There’s so much that’s anger inducing here. There’s the fact that so many jobs don’t pay a living wage, which means that even though moms like Debra are working full time, they still need public assistance to get by. There’s the fact that affordable (or subsidized) child care isn’t available, even for people like Debra who are trying hard to earn their living, but may need a little support to make ends meet. There’s the fact that what she did doesn’t even seem to be illegal in South Carolina, where the laws say Debra’s daughter could have legally stayed home alone (kids younger than eight are the only ones who are legally required to have supervision). And it’s my opinion that it likely wouldn’t have been as big an issue if, say, it was a white middle class woman who left her child there (Debra is African American).

But really, what’s the appropriate age to leave your child unattended? And why has it shifted so seismically since we were kids? If you tell me about your childhood, odds are you were roaming the streets and hanging out in the park for hours at a time. I was. I remember leaving for the playground in the morning, coming home for a quick lunch, then heading back out until the street lights came on. (And I had a stay-at-home mom who in theory, could have come down to monitor us and make sure we slid down the slide properly until we turned 25. But she had better things to do.) I was definitely left to my own devices for hours at a time, at an age younger than nine—and likely for as long as Debra’s daughter spent in the park.

You have to start somewhere with giving kids independence. And despite the pervasive helicopter parenting in my neighborhood, I’ve worked hard to let go. For the past several months, I’ve let my daughters, now 10 and 7, go to the park unsupervised. (They go together, they’ve been instructed on stranger danger, and they both have brown belts in karate and jiu jitsu and wicked roundhouse kicks.) It’s been very hard for me to let go, but I know that they need some space to learn how to develop independence, leadership, empathy and problem-solving skills. And they won’t necessarily do all that if I’m hovering ready to solve any quandary that comes up. Does that make me a bad mommy—and a potential felon? I honestly don’t think so. And I don’t think it should make Debra a felon, either.

Tell us: When do you think is the right age to leave your kids unsupervised? Do you think Debra should have been arrested?

 

Are you too protective of your kids (or not enough)? Find out if you’re a hover mother!

What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?
What's Your Parenting Style?

Image: Girl playing the park by Zurijeta/Shutterstock.com.

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