Archive for the ‘ Parenting ’ Category

Digital Helicopter Parenting 101

Helicopter parenting: It’s one concept I firmly believe I avoid. Or at least I thought I did.

As a parent, I’m a big fan of promoting independence and attempt to foster situations that allow my sons to figure things out on their own as much as possible.

Right up until it comes to schoolwork. I blame this on the school as much as on myself. Now that parents and teachers have a much more direct and near instantaneous line of communication we, as parents, are expected to be far more involved with managing our kids day to day school work and study habits.

This all stems from a recent struggle we’ve had with Big Bit. Now in the 6th grade, the workload and expected responsibility level are intensifying. Teachers update grades and homework expectations online daily. It’s great in that I know immediately when my son skips an assignment. We have time for a course correction and at least partial credit.

It’s not so great when a teacher ninja posts a new project after school has released on a Friday afternoon.

So, there we are – helplessly staring in frustration at a small series of zeroes due to yet again, missing assignments – and we ask ourselves, “How do we help him be more responsible for this?” At this point, we’re all exhausted by the daily routine:

  1. Check his completed assignments to what’s listed in his agenda.
  2. Check each teacher’s website to confirm he’s actually written it down properly and that there are no ninja assignments.
  3. Have him complete the at least one inevitably missed assignment.
  4. Check the school’s website that has the posted grades to see what’s missing from previous days. They’re still always at least one. Have him complete that assignment too.

Rinse and repeat daily. Now, despite the zeroes and 50% grades from missing and late work he still has an even split of A’s and B’s for his cumulative grades.

Then it dawned on me. In 6th grade I missed homework. I didn’t have a teacher’s website to check; if I didn’t write it down in class I had to phone a friend or deal with the consequences. My grades slipped and I spent the next quarter grounded. Funny thing happened next, I improved.

In this case, all these wonderful tools are preventing my son from just dealing with the consequences of not keeping track of these things himself. It’s time for him to sink or swim on his own. Time for a skinned knee or two. He’s going to falter and fall down, but he’ll get up, grow and learn. And I just need to step aside and let it happen.

Good Time

Warm tears streaming down my face, my body shaking with sobs I drove away from my boys. I’d just dropped them off for two weeks of fun filled summer camp and the bittersweet moment was hitting me full force.

This was the very same summer camp I attended as a child. Completely unplugged from technology, sticky summer days were filled with horseback riding, swimming, tennis, roller skating and a myriad of other activities. I did a lot of growing up there. I learned how to share a cabin (and one bathroom!) with 11 other girls. I had my very first kiss there. I helped younger kids overcome their fear of horses and reaped the rewards of their love and admiration. I mucked stalls. I fell off horses far more often than I care to admit. Huge capture the flag games, watermelon seed spitting contests, dances – all these amazing happy memories.

Driving away, I couldn’t imagine how my parents did it. I was only leaving my boys 2 weeks, but every summer I begged to stay a full 8 weeks. My parents only caved once and every year after told me they missed me too much to let me stay the entire time. I never believed them until the moment I watched my two little boys shoo me away so they could begin their fun.

This year, the camp has a new feature. Every day they upload photos to a secure website and every evening I race home and faithfully stalk the new photos. It’s my new evening ritual, scouring the albums for my boys’ faces. Seeing these photos has helped me cope with leaving them. I can see the happy glow emanating from them.

This proud mama oohs and aahs over a photo of my Little Bit, confidently standing at the top of a zip line, ready to jump! A few days later I puzzle over which critter Big Bit has trapped with a net. I’m not a helicopter parent, but I treasure these glimpses into their daily lives while away. I’m thankful that technology helps connect me to them without intruding on their independence and fun.

Then one evening something unexpected came in the mail:

I lost it. These two simple words meant more to me than all the photos combined. Clearly Little Bit was too busy having his “good time” to do anything more than scratch out these two little words.

I love technology. I love how amazing it is at making distance meaningless. But, sometimes it’s the simple things that mean the most.

Digital Footprint?

My 6 year old son, Little Bit, steps into a cardboard boat he’s just made with the help of my sister’s boyfriend (The Ginger). As The Ginger steps in, the boat begins to capsize and hilarity ensues. I’ve captured the cardboard boat races, complete with sinking boats, family cheers and heckling on my little waterproof sport camera in crystal clear definition.

The race concludes and I ask The Ginger for his permission to upload the video to YouTube. After a brief moment’s consideration he replies, “Sure, as long as you don’t use my name. I’ve managed to keep my digital footprint pretty invisible so far and I’d like to keep it that way.” Not a problem, I have no issue keeping his name private!

Imagine my thrill of anticipation as I eagerly upload the video….perhaps this could be my very first viral clip!

As any seasoned poster knows to do, I took a moment to review the video again and make sure I’m comfortable with the public content share. Then it dawns on me, we’re repeatedly calling out both The Ginger’s and Little Bit’s names. Am I labeling them on the video? No. Last names? No. But their names are there, nonetheless.

The Ginger’s privacy aside, I’m faced with a connundrum I’m sure many parents face. I have a strong desire to publicly share the video, partially out of pride for my amazing child and partially for the ease of spreading the video to my friends and family. Too tired at the moment to edit out the use of their names, I set the video private and give myself a day or two to ponder the rammifications of posting it, both with and without the use of their names.

I’m accustomed to sharing pictures, videos and events of my son’s lives through my private and trusted core list of friends I have on Facebook. Outside of Facebook though, all videos of my children are set to private and any pictures I’ve posted of my kids are referred to only as “Big Bit” and “Little Bit”. Far beyond the issues I’ve already considered of my own personal privacy and my ability to teach my boys how to filter themselves online, I now have to think about their individual privacy preferences.

My boys may very well grow up to be as comfortable being public as I am. Or, they may grow up to be intensely private . Perhaps they’d like to have a high security clearance job someday or maybe they’d just like to keep future stalker girlfriends from discovering every little moment of their childhood. Either way, they’re too young at the moment to fully understand this decision. As their Mama, I have to take that extra step to provide them with the chance to  make that choice for themselves.

So, my decision at the moment is to keep it private until such time that I can edit out their names. Busy as I am, I may or may not get to it. I’ll continue to keep videos, names and most pictures behind a privacy wall, carefully selecting which content I’m comfortable being available for public consumption.

My blogger parent friends, what is your take? Where do you draw the privacy lines for your children?

In the mean time, here’s a pic of Little Bit in his boat:

Mother’s Day

Last year, the dawning sun on Mother’s Day was not a happy one for me. As a matter of fact, I was feeling very, very sorry for myself. I’d spent the night on a hotel room couch while my boys sprawled out on each of the queen beds. It was the last day of a corporate retreat and I’d been feeling very pressured to manage my two rowdy boys around my coworkers and boss (and their families). I’d put undue pressure on myself, they are good kids and they didn’t do anything completely outrageous…at least within ear shot of my boss and his family.

But, I was alone. I was tired. I didn’t feel like anyone was especially celebrating me as a Mother. It was supposed to be my day where I could relax and soak in the adoration of my children, a day the world celebrated me being a Mom. Instead, I was facing yet another trying group meal (imagine e a 5 year old and an 8 year old boy at a buffet), a 4 hour drive (again two boys!) and my back had a decided kink to it after spending 4 nights on a rather lumpy couch. Let’s just say my attitude was less than my usual sunny self.

Boys still snoring away, while my coffee was brewing I picked up my phone and went through the usual suspects of my morning newsfeeds and forums. And then, I stumbled across this poem:

Dear Mr. Hallmark, I am writing to you from heaven, and though it must appear
A rather strange idea, I see everything from here.
I just popped in to visit, your stores to find a card
A card of love for my mother,as this day for her is hard.
There must be some mistake I thought, every card you could imagine
Except I could not find a card, from a child who lives in heaven.
She is still a mother too, no matter where I reside
I had to leave, she understands, but oh the tears she’s cried.
I thought that if I wrote you, that you would come to know
That though I live in heaven now, I still love my mother so.
She talks with me, and dreams with me; we still share laughter too,
Memories our way of speaking now, would you see what you could do?
My mother carries me in her heart, her tears she hides from sight.
She writes poems to honor me, sometimes far into the night.
She plants flowers in my garden, there my living memory dwells
She writes to other grieving parents, trying to ease their pain as well.
So you see Mr. Hallmark, though I no longer live on earth
I must find a way, to remind her of her wondrous worth.
She needs to be honored, and remembered too
Just as the children of earth will do.
Thank you Mr. Hallmark, I know you’ll do your best
I have done all I can do; to you I’ll leave the rest.
Find a way to tell her, how much she means to me
Until I can do it for myself, when she joins me in eternity.
Paige and Landon

The poem was signed: Rest in Peace Landon Michael and Paige Neichole. Born sleeping February 26, 2006. Mommy loves you.

Then I cried, much as I am crying now just reading it again. And then I went over to my boys, woke them with fierce hugs, threw open the curtains and let the morning sunshine come streaming through the sliding glass doors. I hugged them again and kissed their chubby little cheeks, felt their small hands around the back of my neck and cried some more. I still remember the very first time my older son truly hugged me. Tiny hands clasping around my neck and face nuzzled into mine.

That was the moment that I decided Mother’s Day wasn’t about me at all. It was a day to celebrate the gift that is my children. A day to celebrate that I am lucky enough to be mom to these beautiful, delightful little beings. I’m honored to have their love.

Sure, the day was filled with ups and downs. We still had a buffet breakfast and 4 hour car ride ahead of us but I knew that I was fortunate to have the day with them – no matter how trying the circumstances.

I write this post a few days before Mother’s Day.

First, I want to honor the women out there who have lost their children. I cannot begin to know their loss, but my heart hurts for them. The anonymous redditor that posted the poem has since closed the account, but I will think about her every Mother’s Day I celebrate. In her loss, she’s given me the most important Mother’s Day gift I’ll ever receive.

Second, my boys were so excited for the gifts they have made for me they simply could not wait another second to present them to me.

From Big Bit, a cake he decorated:

Happy Mother’s Day

From Little Bit, it is a drawing of me and two of our cats, it reads “My mother’s name is Stefneye (Stephanie). My mother is 29 years old. My mother’s favorite food is soop (soup). My mother likes to bey wif pasha (be with Pasha-the cat).:

Card from Little Bit


Deep down, I think all any of us really want is to connect to someone around us.  Albeit to varying degrees, we all want to have a sense of belonging, a sense of being understood, a sense of being cared for and a sense of being listened to. In return, we want to reciprocate and mirror these feelings to at least one other human being out there.

Recently I’ve been deeply touched by an outpouring of positivity on a newer project of mine. I’ve been organizing a group of people who want to come together and discuss how technology affects the modern family; both good and bad. What’s amazed, flattered and moved me isn’t just how many people were interested in the project. What has stood out the most is how many have thanked me for my efforts.

It is in that moment that I’ve realized how much this simple connection means to us. I know that many parents, children, teachers, relatives and mentors struggle with similar questions about how to integrate and prepare for this world that insists on evolving at light speed. There’s no right answer, but the discussion seems to be an important one for an increasing number of families.

With a simple idea, we reached around the planet and connected so many separate people questing for the same answers. Our problems, families and issues are all different but at the root of it all, we’re all intrinsically the same. No matter what type of tech question or challenge came up, I keep hearing the same solution: build a good foundation and be open to communication.

It’s such a basic human need. To understand and be understood, to love and be loved, to listen and be listened to…

…and sometimes it’s the internet that fulfills that need.

Through this electronic connection, I find so many communities and they all fill different roles for me. Facebook connects me to my close friends and family, Reddit fulfills my inner geek and need for debate. With Skype I maintain friendships face-to-face, even when they move away. And Google Plus gives me the chance to discover new people, both in text and through face-to-face communication.

These interwoven webs of people are driven by common ideas, regardless of location. The world begins to shrink.

A Single Mom’s Tech Survival Guide: Tips & Tools for Busy Parents

As a busy, connected single parent it can be hard to keep track of all the things in my life and my family’s life. Doctor appointments and dentist appointments for 3 people, birthday and holiday gift wishes, important documents are hard enough to track solo. Add in the mix of coordinating with a parent in a separate household and BAM!

These are a few simple and free applications I’ve started using the past year. There are more eloquent systems out there; these are just the first, simplest and easiest ones I found. If you’ve found more advanced and comprehensive solutions, please comment below and share!

I’ve said it before and I’ll say again, sometimes the simple things escape me.

For managing life, think cloud.

This was the first hurdle for me to overcome. I had always saved my contacts and calendar directly to my phone. It took me several months to grasp that saving my contacts and my calendar to my Google account presented me with several simple, productive tools:

  1. Losing or resetting my phone does not mean loss of data. Also, for longer edits I can use the web interface and full keyboard from my computer.
  2. With Google Calendar, I can schedule and share appointments easily with my ex-husband. Adding him as a “Guest” to the event sends him an email invitation. When he accepts, the appointment and all pertinent information (address, reminders) are also added to his calendar. I cannot express how much simpler it is to coordinate schedules through shared calendars.
  3. Tools like Google Docs and Dropbox are simply amazing for storing and sharing school projects, important family documents and even sharing photos. With Google Docs, students can collaborate on group projects and track changes.  With Dropbox we can keep a synced family folder of any file type: scanned report cards, family photos, important school documents and access it anywhere from a web browser or phone app.

Time for some fun! Recently, I’m in love with Amazon.

  1. I can link all of our family devices and share books, movies and music between them. My older son is beginning to explore my extensive science fiction collection and we no longer have to dig through the boxes in the garage to pull out treasured old friends.
  2. The Wish Lists function allows me to create gift lists for myself and each child. When family members ask what the kids want for birthdays and holidays I can simply share the list with them. It’s an ongoing gift registry, but it helps me keep track of which boy wants what and when! A simple tool, but very effective for busy moms and dads – especially in separate households.
  3. Although not free, the $79 annual Amazon Prime account has been worth the upgrade fee. With this account we enjoy free 2nd day shipping (OH NO! The birthday party is THIS weekend?!) and a good library of free movie and book rentals. My son currently has the 2nd installment from the Hunger Games checked out. Three months through the year I calculate I’ve already come close to breaking even.

Hey, a girl’s gotta work….

Finally, here’s a couple of easy tricks that help me look like a rock star at the office. My coworkers have remarked more than once about how “on top of things” I am. They just don’t have all my secrets:

  1. I take advantage of the scheduling tools available within Outlook and my phone. A simple step to set reminders on emails keeps an on-going “To Do” list. When I’m on vacation, I set a reminder on my phone to turn off my work auto-responder at 5pm on my last day off. This saves me that embarrassing “out of office” message when I’m already back in the office.
  2. The Traffic Widget that runs of Google Maps. With the Traffic Widget, I can glance at my phone in the morning to see how long my commute will take. Sometimes, just a little warning of traffic problems is all you need to get a jump start on the day.

And finally….

Google Alerts. Essentially, Google Alerts is nothing more than a saved search that Google runs for you at a designated interval (daily, weekly) and then emails you any new results since the last search. Being able to identify news on important clients and competitors before my boss reads about it shows that I’m thinking, proactive and taking initiative.

What easy, free solutions do you use? What works for your family?

The Luxury of Being Anti-Social

I don’t have that luxury.

Was my reply to Mom’s announcement she was considering closing her Facebook account. “Of course you do!” was her response.

On the surface, she’s not entirely wrong. I can absolutely close my account. It has not replaced my interactions with my friends and family, although sharing family photos would require some rejiggering on my part. But that wasn’t really what I was referencing.

At the time, my cousin’s teenage daughter was living with my parents. My mom really only used her Facebook account to monitor her activity, but because she wasn’t a regular user my mom did not have the tools to fully understand what my cousin’s daughter was doing. Over time, the Facebook activity became such a bone of contention between the two that my mom eventually banned her from Facebook.

As you may have guessed, this strategy wasn’t exactly successful.

I adore my mom. She’s incredible and I often call her Super Grammy. Although there is an alarming and growing trend of grandparents rearing children, to take on your niece’s teenage daughter is matter for sainthood. On top of that, she’s there 100% for me with my children as well. Vomiting kid? No problem, get your hiney to work and I’ll mop up. You’re sick? Let me bring you some soup. Need a night out? Send the kids over, I can handle it.

On top of that, my mom is incredibly intelligent and tech savvy. She was the one to teach me DOS and introduce me to computers. She’s still the only one at her house that can setup and program their entertainment centers. She was the first to adopt ebooks in our family and the first among us to use online banking and shopping.

So let me make this exceptionally clear. Her problem with Facebook isn’t lack of smarts, caring or knowledge – it is lack of use.

First, without regular usage, Super Grammy was unaware that you could disable posts, pictures and your wall from people you still had friended. She didn’t know that she wasn’t seeing a complete picture and she didn’t know how to limit or control it.

Second, it’s impossible to model good social networking behavior if you don’t use the services. Until you’ve made a few online blunders yourself, it’s difficult to anticipate the specific problems, bullying and arguments that can arise from these platforms.

With the increase in frictionless sharing and interconnectivity it’s imperative that I remain fluent in the digital biosphere.  I’ve made a few of my own blunders and I’m learning how to mentor and model best social networking practices.

Frictionless sharing is the single most irritating part of Facebook and what almost had me quit. As the Maid of Honor in one of my best friend’s weddings, I was using Pinterest to explore all facets of wedding planning. Although I’d disabled the app from posting to my Timeline it managed to sneak back. Multiple inquiries about my upcoming nuptials had me steaming.

A small mishap like that one could really translate into major problems for the novice user. Unfortunately, this technology is changing at a pace that even the most seasoned social networker has trouble staying afloat. I will simply be an ineffective instructor for my children if I don’t keep my account, actively use it and seek out the newest changes each and every time.

My children are still young and they haven’t yet begun with Facebook  but I certainly see it glinting at me over the horizon.

What are your thoughts? How do you manage your children’s online social networking? What’s worked? What hasn’t?

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