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.
From left, guest Castiglia with the Pump and Dump moms
Social media has made humor a constant undercurrent in the average mom’s day, but it can be beyond therapeutic to get together with real friends “IRL” as my kids would say and watch something funny happen right before your eyes. That’s the beauty of The Pump and Dump show, which a few of us from Parents caught in New York City not long ago. There is something about seeing other moms (and a few brave dads) laughing uncontrollably at the same crazy stuff that you’ve noticed happening in your own life that is very freeing–and more powerful than getting your laughs watching YouTube.
The PND team, Shayna Ferm, a comedian and mother of two, and MC Doula (aka Tracey Tee), mother of one, host an evening packed with inappropriate lyrics set to live music, games (such as a motherhood-themed version of “Never Have I Ever”) and other audience interaction, and often a local guest comic who is also a mom. In New York it was the hilarious Carolyn Castiglia, whose riff on dating as a single mom was upstaged only by her own freestyle rap to audience members’ anonymously contributed confessions of “The Most F—-d Up Thing My Kid Did This Week.” (See a sample of mom confessions here.)
Ferm and her “coach” MC Doula are on tour now, leaving their kids at home in Denver, so join their audience of “breeders” (their words) if you can. Songs include “Eat Your F—ing Food,” and “When I Die, I Want to Come Back as a Dad.” Yes, the F word features prominently here. I was counting the number of times it was used but was laughing so hard I lost track. Underlying the irreverent lyrics is a message of acceptance for all our many mommy shortcomings and an embrace of all kinds of mom. “We have placenta-eating moms and moms who’ve never even tried a cloth diaper. We just all have to remember that we are doing the best that we can,” Ferm said at one point. Or, to quote her lyrics: “You’re an awesome mom and you’re not alone. You’re doing fine. Just pour yourself a whiskey during bath time.”
Last night I asked my tennis partner, whose daughter is a junior at a private college in the Northeast, how much he was spending on her education. He estimated around $60,000 per year. If that sounds like a shocking figure, just imagine what college will cost in 18 years, when your baby is ready to attend. It’s enough to freeze many new parents into inaction. That’s natural: If you can’t envision saving enough to pay for college, why even try—especially when there are so many other, more-pressing expenses? Besides, you can always worry about college later.
Well, that thinking is wrong. College savings needs to be a priority as soon as your child is born. Socking away even $100 a month could add up to almost $50,000 (assuming a healthy 8 percent return) by the time your newborn is ready to leave the nest. Granted, that’s still only a small chunk of the big bill, but it could make all the difference to your child when the time comes. Keep in mind that you don’t have to fund college entirely on your own. Your could be eligible for financial aid and your child could earn scholarships and be eligible for student loans and work-study programs. So opening a college fund—early—is a vital first step.
That’s the idea behind National 529 College Savings Day, which is set for May 30. It’s designed to raise awareness about the importance of saving for higher education and the many advantages of 529 plans, which are the best way to save for college. This map shows what’s happening in your state. One example: Virginia is offering a $50 match for new accounts as well as a drawing to win a $2,500 bonus for your child’s future.
• Pick a plan with tax advantages. Granted, not every state offers a credit or a deduction. But if yours does, trust me, you’ll be grateful come April 15.
• Set up an automatic deduction. You won’t miss the money as much if it’s being taken out of your paycheck and will be less likely to forestall a contribution from your checking account if you’re forced to budget for it.
• Get Grandma and Grandpa to help. Your parents and in-laws want their grandkids to go to college. So don’t be shy about asking them to contribute to your account or open their own in your child’s name. And at birthdays and the holidays, suggest that they give a small present and write a check for his 529.
I’m lucky: My parents believe strongly in education and have been contributing to my kids’ accounts since they came into the world. Even with their efforts, and ours, it’s unlikely our 529s will cover more than half of their tuition. Still, that’s a darn good start.
Editor’s Note: This post was written by LeVar Burton, co-founder of the award-winning Reading Rainbow digital library, host of the original PBS series, and lifelong children’s literacy advocate. Burton is also known for his distinguished TV roles as the young Kunta Kinte on Roots and Geordi La Forge on Star Trek: The Next Generation. Follow LeVar (@levarburton) and Reading Rainbow (@ReadingRainbow) on Twitter.
People always ask me, “What is your favorite book?” I always give the same answer: “The book that I am reading right now!” From the moment I first cracked the code, it has always been the power of the word made whole in my imagination that has kept me coming back for more.
My first real love in reading was comics. I come from a military family, and for a young American growing up on an Army base in Germany, comics were treasured items from back home. Comics were not only a connective thread to American culture; they were the currency that dominated our social interactions. Every Saturday morning, I would take the box of comics I had finished and was willing to part with, and join the sea of kids on base, trading comics with one another. It was always a thrill getting something brand-new to read, even if the book was already thoroughly used! Science fiction became my genre of choice as a teenager and it still is to this day. Sci-fi invites us to contemplate what I believe are two of the most powerful words in language: what if. It also encouraged me, as a young man faced with the realities of racism, prejudice, and tremendous social upheaval, to imagine a future as I hoped it would become. My reading diet now runs the gamut from biographies to history to mysteries to the occasional Marvel or DC comic title of my youth. It all depends on my mood. It really is the experience of reading that brings me pleasure.
But our kids are not us—and as parents we all know this all too well. The subjects that interest us may not interest them. When our kids are young, the best way I know to encourage them to read is to allow them to pick the subject, the format, and the way in which they experience the written word. Most kids love it when their parents read to them, so I encourage you to read to your children as much as possible. Snuggling up and reading together not only provides comfort and security, but it also emphasizes the value we place on reading. The more your kids see you with a book, the more a message is delivered that reading is an essential part of the human experience. As they become old enough to read themselves, help them find material that is appropriate for their age and reading level, but don’t worry about the subject. Of course we would like them to pick the best literature out there, but that will come with time. For now, trust me, a former comic book addict: If they enjoy reading, they will expand their literary horizons in their own time. If they’re forced to read what doesn’t interest them, you run the risk of extinguishing the spark of excitement for reading that’s so important to their becoming life-long learners and fulfilling their potential.
When you and your child are looking for books to read, sometimes the classics are the best choice of all. There is a reason they are classics—they’ve already stood the test of time. They tend to have familiar themes and they deliver quality life lessons. One of my favorite examples is the story “The Tortoise and the Hare.” It’s believed that Aesop wrote this fable more than 2,500 years ago, and yet it’s hard to find any child today who doesn’t know the story of the hare’s unlikely victory or the timeless lessons of hard work, steadfastness, and the moral that “Slow and steady wins the race.”
So tonight, perhaps you and your child can walk over to the bookshelf, close your eyes, and choose at random what I hope will be, at least in the moment, your favorite book.
In March, blogger Joe DeProspero shared his thoughts on things kids can get away with that adults never could, like refusing to change out of their PJs, for example. The story made me realize that I’m actually jealous that I can’t just go to work in my jammies when I feel like it (or refuse to go, period). In fact, I often find myself looking at pictures of my adorable three-year-old niece, Averie, on Facebook with envy. She’s got the entire world eating out of the palm of her hand and she doesn’t even know it.
1. She doesn’t know what her Christmas presents are.
As a three-years-old, opening presents is so exciting! Christmas comes and you can’t wait to see what Santa brings you. And the best part, Christmas morning is always a surprise. The toys she wants may be under the tree, but a three-year-old doesn’t expect them to be there. As I’ve gotten older, everybody texts me at the beginning of December, “Hey. What do you want?” Where’s the fun in that? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m incredibly appreciative that anybody would buy me a present. I just wish there wasn’t so much pressure for me to pick out my own gifts.
2. She doesn’t have to pay for anything.
Ah, to not have any financial responsibility. That’s the dream! Averie knows what money is, and she knows mom and dad are in charge of it, but that’s where her money issues end. Wouldn’t it be nice if we had somebody else pay our bills, even just for a day?
3. Everything is still magical to her.
Seeing a magic trick or special effects in a movie are not the same when you are old enough to understand that there is a logical explanation as to what just happened, even if you don’t know exactly how it was done. A three-year-old doesn’t think like that yet. To her, there is still magic in this universe and that’s a feeling my grumpy-old self wishes I still felt. When I was a tyke, I wanted to be Doctor Dolittle. I just knew I could understand animals. Well, that didn’t work out for me. For Averie, though, there are no limits to her dreams. Little ones still believe they can fly, run as fast as lightning, or, like me, talk to animals. It’s a sad day when you realize that’s not the case.
4. She can be whatever she wants.
Right now, Averie can aspire to any career. She can be an astronaut, teacher, president, or an actress. She can do it all at the same time if she feels like it. As she gets older, her dreams and goals will start to change and slowly become more “realistic” on their own. We adults suffer from this condition known as logic. I’ve heard there is no cure.
5. Her mom is always there to take care of her when she’s sick.
I’m a 27-year-old adult living on my own in New York City, but when I’m really sick, I still want my mom to take care of me. There is something so comforting in knowing she will go with me to the doctor’s office and buy me some chicken soup. I don’t need her around all the time, but when I’m vulnerable, it would be nice to have her nearby.
6. It’s OK for her to color outside the lines.
How old were you the first time somebody made fun of you for not staying inside the lines of your coloring book? As we get older, our culture leads us to conform and think inside the box or color inside the lines. What’s wrong with being on the “outside” of things?
7. She sees the world with rose-colored glasses.
Recently, Averie’s momma and one of her Facebook friends had a discussion on how to teach “stranger danger” to their kids. Now as an adult, I’ve seen enough crime stories on the news and violence in movies to know the world isn’t as safe as Averie thinks it is.
8. She gets to start school from the beginning.
If only I had realized how amazing school was when I was in it and how much I would miss it now. Especially the high school and college years. I miss going to class every day to learn, work on projects and mingle with friends. Plus, she’ll get to go through the process of picking a college and (potentially) living on her own for the first time in her life.
9. I don’t look nearly as good in a princess costume as she does.
I love princesses, just like Averie does. But would everybody think I was adorable if I walked through Disney World wearing a Tinker Bell costume? The answer is no. On a similar note, why are little girl clothes so much cuter than adult women’s? Averie’s clothes have playful colors in bright hues and patterns. Why don’t we get anything that adorable?
10. She can sing as loud as she wants without judgment.
I love to sing. It’s one of my favorite activities, but as I’ve gotten older, less and less people are willing to tolerate my constant Fa-La-La-ing. And like most kids, I’m totally obsessed with “Let It Go.” Unfortunately, my roommates are not.
Tell us: Have you ever been jealous of a child? What did they do (or get away with) that made you long for the days when you had no responsibility?