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The Home Front

Politics, culture, and American life — from the family perspective.

What French Parents Know That Americans Don’t



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Americans may have expressed their disdain last year for “Tiger Mom” Amy Chua’s child-rearing methods, but they didn’t have much to say about her child-rearing philosophy. That’s because the Tiger Mom’s message about perseverance, high expectations, and hard work struck a nerve. It wasn’t long ago that Americans taught their children these same values. “It’s funny we’re calling [my parenting values] Chinese values,” she said. “I always thought of them as American values. My book is about reclaiming some aspects of the more traditional Western parenting that maybe we’ve lost.”

This truth hit home with author and mom Pamela Druckerman, who lived in Paris and observed that French parents also put American parents to shame. In a huge spread in the Wall Street Journal about her new book Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting, Druckerman writes that what struck her the most was the fact that French moms know how to say no to their kids. Consequently, their kids are better behaved and more in command of themselves than American kids. “Authority is one of the most impressive parts of French parenting. Their kids actually listen to them. French children aren’t constantly dashing off, talking back, or engaging in prolonged negotiations.”

But they are over here. Indeed, American children run the roost — watching the dynamic between parent and child can be downright painful. Even more painful is listening to parents tell other parents that the reason Johnny is so poorly behaved — why he can’t sit still without a handheld device for more than two minutes, let’s say, or why he doesn’t look an adult in the eye when he speaks — is because he’s shy or has ADHD. (And before I get walloped here, I am aware that ADHD is real. But it’s also ridiculously over-diagnosed, which I can vouch for as a former teacher and SAHM who has spent the better part of 20 years in the trenches of children’s lives.) “In our view,” writes Druckerman, “parents either luck out and get a child who waits well, or they don’t.”

So rather than discipline or “educate” their children (as the French say), Americans coddle their kids. That our grade schools now offer parenting classes to teach parents how to say no to their children speaks volumes.

Where did this coddling come from? It was the inevitable result of a decades-long self-esteem movement that implies children are so fragile we should treat them with kid gloves. (No pun intended.) It has been a massive social experiment with severe consequences. Today’s parents are literally frozen in their attempt to discipline their children. They’re not the least bit commanding when giving instruction — on the contrary, they practically beg their kids to do what they say. 

Sadly, it has taken the Chinese and the French to set us straight. When Druckerman and her son Leo were at a park in Paris with another mother and her child, Druckerman couldn’t get her son Leo to listen to her — whereupon the other mother (who’s French) suggested Druckerman be “sterner” with Leo — make her “no” stronger and really mean it. Ms. Druckerman forced herself to do this — she admits it didn’t come naturally — and voila: after four tries, it worked. 

It’s time for a wake-up call to America’s moms and dads. We need to go back to the days when parents were parents and children were children. Our children are not our friends; and they will not go into a shell and never come out if they’re told they’re not good at something, or if they’re told they have to wait, or if — God forbid —  they’re told “no.” 

I’m just sorry it took outlanders to point this out.

— Suzanne Venker is co-author of the book The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know – and Men Can’t Say. Her website is www.suzannevenker.com.

Social Media Makes Adoption Easier



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Ever since I wrote “The Joy of Pretty Things” about my daughter Naomi, I’ve gotten many e-mails from you readers about adoption. So, I thought you might be interested in how technology is making adoption an easier option for mothers in crisis pregnancies.

Rebecca Hagelin writes:

One lopsided statistic easily overlooked in the abortion debate is this: 3700 abortions occur each day, drastically outnumbering the 68 adoptions that occur across all fifty states on any given day. It’s “a staggering gap,” says Thea Ramirez, a social worker and former adoption agency director.

What did Ms. Ramirez do about this disparity? She created this Facebook-like website called Adoption-Share, where all parties in the adoption process to meet to connect, network, and gather information about the sometimes way-too-complicated process.

Who can join this website? Rebecca writes:

Women exploring adoption as a solution to their crisis pregnancy may join Adoption-Share for free. The confidentiality of an on-line setting and the ease of a social network provide time, space, and privacy to seriously consider adoption.

Licensed agencies may join, for a monthly fee. They benefit because every prospective adoptive family in the network is already approved for adoption. (Families must have their home study completed and approved in order to join Adoption-Share.) Agencies can be transparent about the adoptive situations they offer and streamline the process.

And prospective adoptive parents enjoy the great blessing of communicating, networking, and gathering relevant information from licensed adoption agencies before they need to make a financial commitment.

Visit Adoption-Share here.

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Re: Will America Ever Be Ready for the Truth about Daycare?



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Commenters want a little more from me than, “Oh, please.

Okay, I’ll go point by point on the excerpts from Ms. Saubier’s book:

A baby who spends five years at one center will lose one-third to almost half of her caregivers every twelve months or so. At any given moment, a parent’s baby could be in the arms of someone they don’t know well, or someone they have never met at all. Children in daycare are frequently cared for by strangers.

My kids were daycare babies, and our experience could not have been further from this example. We experienced low staff turnover and always knew who was taking care of our children.

I am asking parents to think about the amount of attention they pay their infants and toddlers when they are home with them on the weekends — then divide this attention by the number of children in your child’s daycare. At best, this is the amount of attention your little one can expect to receive.

New York State, where my kids spent most of their daycare days, mandated a 4:1 student-to-teacher ratio. So, my kids were always in a small group with a caregiver.

A day spent in daycare begins with abandonment. Staff members are prepared for this and employ many strategies to lessen the daily blow.

Yes. Our daycare providers were masters at dealing with “abandonment.” Their preferred technique was to hug the child at drop-off and then involve the child with his or her friends. Barbaric, I know.

When parents are told their children are miserable all day, every day, this does not speak well of the daycare center. That is why parents often hear a rose-colored version of how their child’s day is actually progressing.

Parents have responsibility to visit the daycare and see for themselves what’s going on.

“Socializing” in daycare fosters aggressive behavior because children are forced to go into survival mode. As a daycare child, if you want to play with a toy for any period of time, you must fight for it.

Nonsense. My children were taught the exact opposite at their daycare. If one child had a toy and another wanted it, the standard answer from the teacher was to discipline the student trying to take the toy. The kids were taught to respect each each other and each other’s property.

If you are a daycare child, many if not all of the following statements will apply to your life: You will not be fed a meal on demand when you are hungry. You will wait for your food while you sit in your seat. The meal will be plopped onto your tray or table. Someone will come around occasionally to help you, but you must wait. When you are finished, you will continue to wait. Eventually a wet rag will pass over your mouth and hands before you are taken out of your seat. Hopefully, at this point your bottle is ready. You will then be propped up on your pillow that has the spit up of several others on it. Then your hands will be maneuvered into position so that you may hold the bottle yourself. If you happen to drop it, you will wait again until someone notices.

“Many, if not all”? Not a single statement fits our experience.

My personal feeling is that there is no perfect answer to parenting. Daycare, stay-at-home-moms, relatives, nannys, etc. all have pluses and minuses. But to write that “the truth is that daycare is one of the greatest tragedies of modern America” is hyperbole that does nothing to help address the real reason kids are failing in this country, and that’s an epidemic of really bad parenting.

Re: Will America Ever Be Ready for the Truth about Daycare?



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While I agree with Greg that good parents will do their best to raise good kids, I also agree with Suzanne Venker’s observations about the state of parenthood in America. I haven’t read the book Venker recommends (though I’ll be ordering it right after I finish this post), but I think it’s pretty clear that parenting isn’t what it used to be. In fact, we have a whole generation of parents today that are doing a pretty darn good job of avoiding it.

I write on this site and others a lot about food, and I read daily about the new “it” thing to blame for childhood obesity. Blame Soda! Blame school lunches, trans-fat, sugary cereals, video games, toys in happy meals, whole milk, snack foods, Halloween, Santa, Chris Christie. . . . Hell, I’ve even read a study that blames the free market.

But what are rarely discussed among those seeking to help kids stay at a healthy weight are the absolute dearth of attentive parents these days and the fact that, increasingly, institutions (such as daycares and schools) are taking the place of parents when it comes to feeding kids.

When you consider that today a vast number of children get three meals a day at school and that some schools even provide summer feeding programs (yeah, when school’s out for the summer), it’s no wonder kids aren’t getting the messages about proper nutrition, portion control, exercise, and self-control. This role is being performed by daycare providers and lunch ladies, and they simply aren’t as effective as parents, as multiple studies have shown. Ergo, fat kids.

Those defending the continuation and expansion of school meal programs often object to criticism by reminding us that there are parents out there who just aren’t able to feed their kids. As such, this safety net simply must exist or children will starve. This line of reasoning always strikes me as absurd and vaguely racist. 

Two demographics are at a higher risk for childhood obesity: poor and minority children. To many who defend these government feeding programs, poor people just don’t have the time or money to pack their kid a lunch or make simple meals at home. I’ve even been told when debating this subject that the nutrition labels on food packaging are just too hard for poor people to understand (as if a poor person standing with a bag of carrots and a tub of ice cream, doesn’t know which is more healthy). To the food nannies and regulators, poverty is simply synonymous with irresponsibility and stupidity.

By encouraging the continuation of these programs, we discourage parents from taking on this role while simultaneously encourage reliance on the government for very basic parenting responsibilities: feeding your own kids. It’s understandable: Why would parents pack a lunch when the school is more than happy to feed your kid? (The sad fact is that schools have an incentive to increase the roles of children receiving these free and reduced-price meals because of government reimbursements for these meals.)

Another important sign that parents are checking out from parenting is that it isn’t just poor children receiving school meals. There are 16 million children currently living under the poverty line yet a whopping 32 million children receive school meals every day. What makes up for those extra millions of kids getting school meals?

Clearly this isn’t a matter of need; it’s simply a fact that many parents choose not to feed their kids. Along with daycare, feeding is just one more sign that parenting is becoming a lost art.

Will America Ever Be Ready for the Truth about Daycare?



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Oh, please.

Suzanne Venker writes:

The truth is that daycare is one of the greatest tragedies of modern America. We’ve become immune to its reality because we have to. When something becomes a bona fide trend, sanctioned by the masses, what else can we do but succumb to it. So rather than face the truth, politicians and pundits talk about ways to improve it — as if it could be. “America suffers a growing national epidemic of parental absence and disconnection. ‘Quality’ in day care cannot solve the problem. It doesn’t even address it,” writes Dr. Fisher.

Daycare is a fine option. Are there crappy daycares out there? Of course. Just as there are bad parents, bad nannys, bad priests, bad policeman, etc.

Good parents will raise good kids, regardless of whether daycare, a nanny, or a stay-at-home mom is the caregiver.

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Will America Ever Be Ready for the Truth about Daycare?



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Besides abortion, no subject in America is more divisive than daycare — that’s why it’s rarely discussed in the media. That, and the fact that most of the women in the media rely on substitute care for their babies and toddlers in order to do what they do every day; thus, they’re hardly in a position to address the matter in an unbiased manner. Even FOX won’t touch the subject. When and if the media do offer the rare segment on daycare, the only people they call on are daycare advocates – or people who talk about daycare but have little or no experience with what goes on inside these centers. When was the last time you saw a daycare employee interviewed on television?

That’s what I thought.

“Academics, pediatricians, and other experts have learned to keep a prudent silence about the risks of day care, and so it is the daycare advocates — and only the advocateswe hear from on our television screens and in our parenting magazines,” writes Diane Fisher, P.D. Which means one would have to do serious research to learn the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth when it comes to daycare. And most people just aren’t going to do that.

The media aren’t the only guilty party — the publishing industry is just as bad. That’s why authors such as May Saubier won’t get her excellent tome, Doing Time: What It Really Means to Grow Up in Daycare, published in the traditional manner. Heck, she won’t even get it past an agent. Not just because she has no “platform”– a fancy term for a ready-made audience — but because Ms. Saubier, who has a master’s degree in Special Education and has worked in daycare since she was 16, shares information we’re not supposed to talk about. One of the agents to whom she submitted her work had this to say in response: “Though there are some promising elements to the proposal, we are not convinced the major publishers would support it. Try addressing some alternatives to daycare in order to give your book a more constructive outlook.”

Alternative to daycare? Um, that’s kinda obvious: It’s called staying home with your kids. Provide a constructive outlook? Um, well, that would mean lying. Lying to get a book sold. Thankfully, some authors write for the right reasons — May Saubier is one of them.

The truth is that daycare is one of the greatest tragedies of modern America. We’ve become immune to its reality because we have to. When something becomes a bona fide trend, sanctioned by the masses, what else can we do but succumb to it. So rather than face the truth, politicians and pundits talk about ways to improve it — as if it could be. “America suffers a growing national epidemic of parental absence and disconnection. ‘Quality’ in day care cannot solve the problem. It doesn’t even address it,” writes Dr. Fisher.

Even one of America’s premier child psychologists, Dr. Stanley Greenspan, says America has struggled to improve daycare for 20 years — to no avail. The only way it can be improved, he says, is for parents to provide most of the care for their children. That way, there would be fewer people using daycare and perhaps then the system could have a fighting chance. The smaller a business is, the more effective it will be. And make no mistake: Daycare is a business.

And it’s far from harmless or beneficial to children. If you think it is, if you’ve bought in to the new American lexicon that says children in daycare are better socialized or, like President Obama suggests, better prepared for kindergarten, you’re burying your head in the sand in defense of someone you love. You know it. I know it. Why don’t we just say it? If Ms. Saubier has the chutzpah to write the truth, the least we can do is admit it.

Some highlights of her new book, which can be ordered on Amazon as an e-book, include:

A baby who spends five years at one center will lose one-third to almost half of her caregivers every twelve months or so. At any given moment, a parent’s baby could be in the arms of someone they don’t know well, or someone they have never met at all. Children in daycare are frequently cared for by strangers.

I am asking parents to think about the amount of attention they pay their infants and toddlers when they are home with them on the weekends — then divide this attention by the number of children in your child’s daycare. At best, this is the amount of attention your little one can expect to receive.

A day spent in daycare begins with abandonment. Staff members are prepared for this and employ many strategies to lessen the daily blow.

When parents are told their children are miserable all day, every day, this does not speak well of the daycare center. That is why parents often hear a rose-colored version of how their child’s day is actually progressing.

 “Socializing” in daycare fosters aggressive behavior because children are forced to go into survival mode. As a daycare child, if you want to play with a toy for any period of time, you must fight for it.

If you are a daycare child, many if not all of the following statements will apply to your life: You will not be fed a meal on demand when you are hungry. You will wait for your food while you sit in your seat. The meal will be plopped onto your tray or table. Someone will come around occasionally to help you, but you must wait. When you are finished, you will continue to wait. Eventually a wet rag will pass over your mouth and hands before you are taken out of your seat. Hopefully, at this point your bottle is ready. You will then be propped up on your pillow that has the spit up of several others on it. Then your hands will be maneuvered into position so that you may hold the bottle yourself. If you happen to drop it, you will wait again until someone notices. 

I don’t know about you, but this sounds an awful lot like jail. Ms. Saubier’s title, Doing Time, is inspired. Lord, I love a courageous writer.

— Suzanne Venker is co-author of the book The Flipside of Feminism: What Conservative Women Know – and Men Can’t Say. Her website is www.suzannevenker.com.

The Joy of Pretty Things



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In 2008, we decided to adopt. At first, like many couples who hear of the dreaded “one child” policy, I wanted to adopt from China. However, when we contacted our agency, the wait for a Chinese baby was four years. Instead we decided to go the quickest and most affordable route.

And so, several months — and a lot of paperwork — later, we got our referral photo from Ethiopia. She was a 14-pound two-year-old with a large head and twiggy arms. She was wearing camouflage, and it was noted on her file that she had experienced “extreme starvation.”

In retrospect, she wasn’t that cute, but we were blinded by love and adoration. My son, who was eight at the time, printed off her photo and took it proudly to school.

“Is that a girl?” a classmate asked. “Are you sure?”

On the way home from school, my son was devastated. “Why does she wear boys’ clothes if she’s really a girl?” he asked, his pride pricked by his friends’ doubt. “Are we sure?”

We weren’t. As with everything adoption-related, it’s hard to know much with certainty. Information is hard to come by. Language barriers and other factors make it hard to really figure out the truth. It’s an exercise in trusting God’s sovereignty.

A year and a half ago, my family traveled to Africa and met two-year-old Konjit, an apt name which means “beautiful.” My blonde-headed kids were amazed at her rich, brown skin and her dark-brown fuzz on the top of her head. The orphanage had shaved her hair off almost completely. It was probably a good thing — so much was changing in our family. I cannot imagine actually getting a new kid and learning how to feed, bathe, and take care of her exotic hair without sharing the same language.

I’ve always been the type of mother who resists pink for girls. When my first baby was born, I dressed her in greens and purples. I didn’t love the smocking and the frilly diaper covers. I didn’t tape bows to her bald head.

But when I first saw Konjit, she was wearing a Batman T-shirt that had come from America’s refuse pile. Although the orphanage was well-run and clean, my time in Africa sobered me. I’d never seen “absolute poverty” and couldn’t imagine that my daughter had almost starved to death. I’ve said that thing before (“I’m starving!”) when my meal was delayed by a few minutes. But I’d never really thought about the hyperbole that so easily came from my mouth. And I’d never seen the inside of an orphanage. I’d never seen people who literally didn’t even own the ugly clothing on their backs.

Suddenly, I wanted her to have something pink. Something clean. Something expensive. Something stunning.

I went out to the various stores that the city had to offer. I couldn’t find anything that would really work. The only shoes I could find — to replace the generic Crocs all of the orphans wore — were these gorgeous floral Swiss clogs. They were so beautiful — yellow flowers with greenery around them. They were also tall and dangerous for a little one to walk in. Not having another option, I bought them and presented them to her at our next meeting.

“Ah!”

That’s the sound she made when she saw them. She didn’t know English, but that one gasp spoke volumes. The bright colors, the shape, the sheer beauty of the shoes thrilled her.

That’s when Konjit discovered the joy of pretty things.

Since then, she’s doubled her weight, grown five inches in a year, and learned English. But the one thing that has never changed is her absolute love of clothing. Every day when she comes home from school, she asks, “Can I go change clothes?”

It’s not uncommon to see her in four or five different outfits a day. She loves her skirts depending on how they twirl. She zips her sweaters only to a certain point, to reveal just a smidge of the shirt underneath. She has a favorite pair of boots that clip-clop on our new hardwood floors with every step — something that recently almost drove me to insanity.

“Naomi,” I said sternly. This is the new first name we chose to go with her African name. It means “pleasant.”

“You’ve either got to stand still or take off those boots.”

She stood still, right in that spot for a very long time, motionless.

As I looked at that little brown girl trying too hard to maintain the style and beauty of those little brown boots, I smiled. And I finally said, “Okay, go ahead and run around.”

My reluctant permission was like a gunshot at a race. She smiled and ran around the house with even more joy. And with every clomp, she drove poverty and death a little further back into her past.

Nancy French is the editor of the Faith and Family portal at Patheos, where this article first appeared.

Child’s Play



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In today’s Wall Street Journal, Lenore Skenazy, author of Free Range Kids, laments the lost art of play for American kids. The fear of injury and the desire to make every moment academically enriching discourage parents and daycare centers from letting kids just run around and play. Skenazy points to research documenting the decline in active play and discusses how this phenomenon could be making kids less safe and healthy as they get less exercise and develop fewer physical skills.

I’ve written before about the startling differences between playgrounds in the United States and in Europe, as well as how the specter of litigation harms American culture generally.

American parents, however, can feel justifiably frustrated about the mixed messages that they get about how to help their kids thrive. Skenazy notes how parents mistakenly assume that trading playing time for reading time is a way to help prepare preschoolers for school, when play itself is actually an important way for kids to development necessary skills.

Yet American parents can hardly be blamed though for feeling pressure to do everything possible to get their kids “ready to read” as quickly as possible. It’s a focal point of just about all media geared to concerned parents.

Europe seems to have a very different philosophy when it comes to what preschool is about and how best to prepare kids to learn. We lived in Austria for two years and are now in Brussels, with a one-year stint in Virginia in between. In Austria, my daughters were in preschool, and there was absolutely nothing an American would consider academic about their school time. No letter recognition or push toward naming shapes or counting for counting sake. At the German school in Brussels (where my kids are currently enrolled), kids start learning to associate sounds with letters and ultimately to sound out words and read in first grade.

My three-year-old was receiving similar instruction at her preschool in Virginia. My five-year-old took part in a rigorous reading program during her kindergarten in a Virginia public school, and I would have felt like a complete failure as a parent if she hadn’t been able to make it through basic books by the end of that year.

Intellectually, I appreciate the European model that seems to be more relaxed about skill acquisition at this young age. Yet I struggle as a parent not to panic about the need to keep up on the faster academic track that I know their U.S. peers are following.

Bombarded with messages about the need to protect kids from potential dangers and to use every tool possible to give them a leg up academically, it’s hard for parents (and other caregivers) to know when to draw the line. Using common sense and letting kids be kids is easy advice to give, but a challenge to embrace.

Carrie Lukas is the managing director of the Independent Women’s Forum.

Roe of Roe v. Wade to Appear in Movie Doonby



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Norma McCorvey will play a character who tries to talk her neighbor out of an abortion in an upcoming film:

No stranger to controversy, McCorvey, 64, has had a colorful life since being the focal point of one of the most controversial decisions in American history. After living for many years as a lesbian, McCorvey in 1994 reversed her opinion on abortion and became an activist to overturn Roe v. Wade. She later converted to Catholicism and says she is no longer a lesbian.“I wasn’t seeking out an acting role, but after I read the script I knew I had to play Nancy because it seemed to have been written especially for me,” said McCorvey in a press release, “I understand the role that I’ve played in history in my first act and this is my second act. The message of the film is something we can all agree on: every human life has value, promise and meaning.”

Watch the clip here.

Down with Birthday-Party Egalitarianism



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On Saturday, my kids got excited for the afternoon birthday party to which they were invited. Then, they got excited for the other afternoon birthday party they were invited to. And they were even more excited for Sunday’s birthday party.

That’s right: three birthday parties this weekend. But that’s just the beginning.

Now, you may think I’m bragging that my kids have all sorts of friends who are dying to have them at their parties — as if my son were a six-year-old George Clooney. But he isn’t. Our weekend calendars were booked solid because of a rule at my kids’ school: If a kid brings birthday-party invitations to disseminate in class, every kid must be invited.

This is, of course, to make sure kids don’t feel left out. But much to my consternation, my kids are now being left in. Both my son’s kindergarten class and my daughter’s second-grade class have about 18 kids, all of which have the temerity to celebrate birthdays. And that doesn’t count kids they meet at summer camp, kids who live in our neighborhood, and kids they knew from pre-school.

As such, my kids are now pawns in a costly self-esteem experiment. Because the school won’t recognize that my kids might be better friends with some kids than others, they treat all the kids as if they’re best friends. (This is further reflected in their compulsory Valentine rule: If you bring Valentines to school, everyone must get one — even the kids who eat glue. But if everyone is your Valentine, isn’t no one your Valentine?)

This is beginning to stretch both my schedule and my wallet. My two kids could easily end up attending 25 birthday parties this year — apiece. They should name a wing of the local Toys “R” Us after me once I spend a month’s salary on gifts for kids I barely know. (Although one parent said in lieu of a gift, we could make a donation to buy a goat in an impoverished nation. I said no once I found out I don’t actually get the goat.)

Of course, there is a caveat — a parent can invite a select few kids if he does so outside the classroom. But it seems few parents are willing to address all the envelopes or make all the cold calls necessary to do so — it’s just easier to send their kids to class with a stack of invites. Plus, I’m not so sure a lot of parents don’t like running up the numbers on their kids’ parties, to make their children feel as if they have more friends.

Naturally, having all these kids at a birthday party changes where these parties are held. Nobody has birthday parties at home anymore. They’re all held at these warehouse-sized snot palaces where kids dive around in ball pits and wipe their noses on gymnastics mats. Gone are the days when your house was populated by a few kids from the neighborhood, your grandma, and a couple tank-top-wearing, beer-drinking uncles. Now every birthday has to be a destitute man’s “Super Sweet 16” style event. (And I have it on good authority that Corey Hart will show up and sing “Sunglasses at Night” to your daughter for a pitcher of High Life and a carton of Marlboros.)

We should stop pretending all friends are created equally. From now on, for birthday-party purposes, my kids get five friends apiece. Those kids that don’t make the cut? Well, they better step up and learn to be better friends. (Unless they buy me a goat, in which case they make the list automatically.)

— Christian Schneider is a senior fellow at the Wisconsin Policy Research Institute.

Science: ‘Tiger Parenting Tough on Kids’



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Well, duh. That’s the point, no? Live Science:

“Tiger mom” and Yale professor Amy Chua caused an uproar last year with a Wall Street Journal article about the superiority of her strict, Chinese-style version of parenting. Now, research suggests that critics of the piece may have had a point: High-achieving Chinese-American children do, in fact, struggle more with depression, stress and low self-esteem than their equally high-achieving European-American counterparts, and the reason involves parenting style.

Chua’s piece, excerpted from her book “Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother” (Penguin Press, 2011), extolled the virtues of strictness, blunt criticism and an unyielding insistence on academic perfection. In the essay, she tells the story of making her 7-year-old daughter sit at the piano without food or bathroom breaks until she mastered a difficult piece.

Strict parenting and stellar academic achievement are common in Chinese immigrant families, according to Desiree Baolian Qin, a professor in the department of human development and family studies at Michigan State University. But unfortunately, so are depression, stress and other so-called “internalizing” disorders.

“If you’re doing well, you should be feeling good,” Qin told LiveScience. “But what I’ve found persistently in my research is that that’s not the case.”

In a new study to be published in the Journal of Adolescence, Qin compared 295 Chinese-American ninth graders with 192 European-American ninth-graders at the same highly competitive U.S. school. This high school, in a northeastern U.S. state, accepts only the top 5 percent of applicants by test scores. Thus, all the children in the study were academic all-stars.

The rest here.

Why Newt’s Answer Was Wrong



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The kids and I gathered around the television set, eager to watch the debate and see the next step of this South Carolina drama. So much had happened yesterday. Santorum claimed victory in Iowa, Perry dropped out, and — oh yeah — Gingrich’s second wife gave a supposedly explosive interview that was going to blow the lid off his candidacy. She claimed that Newt asked her for permission to have an affair with his current wife in an “open marriage” arrangement.

When moderator John King began the debate by asking Gingrich about these allegations, anger flashed across his face. He was ready.

“The destructive, vicious, negative nature of the news media makes it harder to . . . attracted decent people to run for office, and I’m appalled you’d begin a Presidential debate with a question like that.”

Yes, of all the complaints we have against the media, our main beef with them is that reporters are making it hard to attract decent adulterers to become candidates.

Newt continued to roar, “In fact, that CNN would choose to begin a debate with this tawdry question . . . I can think of nothing more despicable!”

My 13-year-old daughter turned and said, “Well, I can think of one thing more despicable. . . . it’s not as bad to ask the question as it is to actually be the one breaking marriage vows.”

The crowd, however, had a different reaction than my family. On its feet, the audience thundered its appreciation for Newt’s righteous indignation.

The substance of the answer was preposterous, of course. This is the man who was calling Clinton to resign because of lying over his sexual indiscretions. He also accused the Clinton administration of lacking moral standing and gravitas. I bet every one of those audience members screaming for Newt mostly likely called for Clinton’s resignation even before it was known he lied under oath.

Why was his terrible answer widely and uncritically received as “hitting it out of the ballpark”?

Because the answer was not about whether he asked his wife for an “open marriage,” it was about managing the political fallout from the accusation. 

As David Frum tweeted: “It’s manifestly true that Gingrich wanted open marriage. He had one! Only dispute is whether he told his wife about it.”

Disclaimer: My husband and I are co-founders of Evangelicals for Mitt.

Must a Captain Always Go Down with His Ship?



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The captain of the Costa Concordia, which crashed into rocks off the Italian coast and capsized, has been criticised for allegedly leaving the ship while passengers were still on board. Is a ship’s captain legally required to be the last one off?

The BBC answers this question.

Big Brother Tells Mom and Dad to Stand Aside



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The Daily Mail reports that a school district in Long Island, N.Y. will start monitoring students’ heart rates, exercise routines, and sleep schedules via electronic bracelets in an effort to tackle the obesity epidemic. School districts in New Jersey and Missouri have similar programs.

Hm . . . monitoring kids’ health, activity level, and sleep habits . . . I thought those things used to be behaviors parents monitored.

If you’re keeping track, kids now get breakfast, lunch, and dinner in schools. And now, thanks to government nannies, their home life is going to be monitored. Nope, that doesn’t seem creepy at all. 

Justin Bieber’s Biggest Fan



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It’s hard to keep up with pop stars who might be relevant to my kids’ lives. For a time, my children liked Miley Cyrus because of her catchy songs and her fun Disney sitcom Hannah Montana. When she filmed her movie in my hometown of Columbia, Tenn., we were even extras. (In the carnival scene, we were the hot, sweaty people in the crowd of hot, sweaty people. Please, no autographs.) Her life’s trajectory has been quite a “teachable moment,” as we talked about faith, family, and the high price of fame.

Since then, we haven’t really discussed many other celebs. (The kids don’t have a huge pop-culture diet, thankfully.) For example, they know who Justin Bieber is, but probably can’t name one of his songs. Nor can I. However, I read this article about a book by Cathleen Falsani (Belieber!: Fame, Faith, and the Heart of Justin Bieber) which talks about the young superstar’s faith. The article, written by Jean Yih Kingston, begins by describing his biggest fan:

Like many victims, she didn’t tell anybody about her years of sexual abuse. When she was a teenager, she resorted to drugs and alcohol to numb her pain. She left home at fifteen, lived in a house with a bunch of guys, became a thief, and skipped school. By the time she was seventeen, she was so desperate she tried to violently take her own life by running onto a busy street in front of a truck.

Fortunately, the driver swerved and the girl landed in a psychiatric ward instead of the morgue. A youth minister visited her many times and spoke to her about God’s love. Eventually, she felt God’s presence within her while alone in her hospital room. After this experience, she cleaned up her act and even went to church. But she was drawn back to her old lifestyle and drugging friends. At eighteen, she became pregnant.

Who was this fan?

Sometimes it’s easier to turn off the television and refuse to let our children know about pop culture. After all, we’ve seen so many stars and athletes who proclaim to have faith end up renouncing it to sell more records or to make more headlines. However, I’m using these stories to talk to my children about the pitfalls — and opportunities — of life. 

Against all odds, I always hope someone like Justin Bieber can keep fighting the good fight. Maybe, after reading the kids the story about “Justin’s Biggest Fan,” we might become fans too.

Dear British (and U.S.) Moms: Be More French?



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Jemima Lewis writes in The Telegraph:

British women need to toughen up to match the French.

Good Lord, is there anything French women don’t do better than us? First we’re told that French Women Don’t Get Fat; now another hit book, entitled French Children Don’t Throw Food, invites us to marvel at their parenting skills. Written by Pamela Druckerman – an American mother of three, who lives in Paris with her English husband – it examines why French children (unlike ours) commonly sleep through the night at two months, eat adult food without complaint and don’t behave badly in public; and why their mothers (unlike us) manage to look so chic and sexy.

The answer, it seems, is to toughen up. From birth, the French teach their babies self-discipline. A French infant is more likely than a British one to be left to “self-soothe” at night. Picky eaters are given no quarter. You don’t eat your tripes à la mode de Caen? You go to bed hungry. Tantrums are likely to be met with a smacked bottom (something the British middle-classes now regard with horror); schools favour learning by rote; and children are seen but not heard. Because their children are better behaved, mothers have more time to themselves in which to co-ordinate their lingerie and stay thin.

The rest here.

French mothers, “Tiger” mothers, it’s all so confusing. How about more common-sense moms?

Jay-Z & Fatherhood



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Forgive me, I was distracted with New Hampshire earlier in the week when young Ivy Blue Carter was born to Beyonce and Jay-z.

To welcome her into the world, Jay-z did what he does: Wrote and recorded a song, “Glory.” He describes the pain an anxiety of miscarriage. And the wonder and joys of new life and a whole new understanding of and appreciation for creative genius.

The most amazing feeling I feel

Words can’t describe the feeling, for real

Maybe I paint the sky blue

My greatest creation was you: Glory

False alarms and false starts

All made better by the sound of your heart

All the pain of the last time

I prayed so hard it was the last time

Your mama said that you danced for her

Did you wiggle your hands for her?

Glory! Glory! Glory! Sorry..

Everything that I prayed for

God’s gift, I wish I would’ve prayed more

God makes no mistakes, I made a few

Rough sledding here and there, but I made it through

I wreak havoc on the world, get ready for part 2

A younger, smarter faster me

So a pinch of Hov, a whole glass of B

The song — with child crying in the background —  has already hit the Billboard charts.

A warning: The song has harsh language. It gets dark, as he talks about his own father. 

The Nasty Politics of Parenting Research



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A reporter from CitizenLink asked me late last week to comment on a story coming from the University of Chicago Booth School of Business. It’s a straightforward family-research story; a helpful, but not surprising finding: the type of homes kids come from has a huge impact on their educational success. Larger even than type of school they attend. But findings like this have been understood since the celebrated 1966 Coleman Study and before.

So I commented that this finding “supports over three decades of consistent research showing that kids who grow up in a home with their married parents tend to do better in all measures of educational attainment than their peers being raised in single, divorced, and cohabiting-parent homes,” Then I concluded by explaining, “Moms and dads both matter here, as well as the type of relationship between them.”

Such a statement would not raise an eyebrow by nearly anyone, including most sociologists studying family form and child educational outcomes. But today such a statement is raising the hackles of a small but very vociferous group. The LGBT site of ThinkProgress had a fit on the story, saying I and the organization I work for are distorting the findings fueled by our blind opposition to “marriage equality” (a smooth euphemism for androgynizing marriage).

As ThinkProgress correctly points out, the Chicago study “did not, in fact, address same-sex parenting.” That is exactly right. Not everything is about same-sex families. But as Jennifer Roback Morse kindly and correctly points out at the Ruth Institute blog this week, “neither did Glenn Stanton [n]or the [Focus on the Family] editor. They just made the very sensible point” that the study speaks to children doing better educationally when raised by “intact families” (which the study defines on page 15 as those being raised by “two biological parents”).

You see, if you make a point that mothers and fathers matter for healthy child-development — something Focus on the Family and lots of others have been doing for quite some time — some assume that you must be speaking against them personally. It’s not always about them. But they assume that all family research would naturally include their new kinds of families. It doesn’t.

This is exactly the same kind of trickery that Sen. Al Franken pulled (and ThinkProgressive crowed about) with my friend and colleague Tom Minnery, when he testified before the Senate Judiciary Committee in July of last year. Mr. Minnery cited a major 2010 government study showing that children in “nuclear families” did better in a host of important well-being measures.

Senator Franken asked Minnery how the study defined “nuclear family”.

Minnery responded in a most reasonable and intelligent way, “I would think that the study, when it cites nuclear family, refers to a family headed by a husband and wife.”

Senator Franken responded,with chuckles from the gallery following, “It doesn’t.” And then read how the study defined the term: “a nuclear family consists of one or more children living with two parents who are married . . . and are each biological or adoptive parents of all the children in the family.”

So, would that include same-sex homes? The author of the government study, when asked by Politico after the Franken/Minnery ruckus, whether same-sex families were included in the study, interestingly explained same-sex couples “were not excluded” from the study” provided their family met the criteria. But in research, “not excluded” is quite different from “included and analyzed.” Do a word-search in the PDF of the study itself. See if it makes any conclusions or comments about same-sex, gay, lesbian, whatever families. You will only find that, on page 4, it defines “spouse” as “husband/wife”.

But the main point for Senator Franken, ThinkProgress and others who think “Franken eviscerated Minnery” must realize three facts.

One, no major government study to date has examined same-sex headed homes. None.

Two, since same-sex families are such a new and academically interesting development, it would be publishing malpractice (or just plain dumb) if your study included same-sex couples as part of the meaningful analysis, but the author did not tell the reader of the inclusion, which this study did not. Such a fact would add great value to the study.

Three, given the study sample was collected from 2001-2007 (which is explained in the title of the study), it would allow only married same-sex couples from Massachusetts (the only state allowing such marriages in those years) who had children in their home and in which both adults were either biological or adoptive parents. This was the stated criteria for inclusion in the study. But there are very few same-sex homes where both married parents are the adoptive parents. And confine that small number to only those in Massachusetts, and you could probably fit them in a mini van. As Greg Scott of the Alliance Defense Fund explains, that means Minnery was indeed correct about 99.9999 percent and Franken caught him on a snarky 0.00001 percent technicality that he turned into a laugh-line.

But that’s how some people operate. And for a topic as important as how different family forms either contribute to or distract from child well-being, we need a more serious national discussion than the political carping, name-calling, and cheap shots we are seeing far too much of today.

Books, Movies, and Mythical Innocence of Children



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Some of the most contentious discussions with parents usually begin with one of these sentences:

“Well, I just don’t let my kids watch . . . ”

or

“My children aren’t allowed to read . . . ”

You name it, there are parents who have drawn the line just shy of it: Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, the news, Lord of the Rings, even Spongebob.  (Okay, that last one was me.)

There’s a certain very commonly held viewpoint that children are blank, pure slates. Our job as parents is to maintain their innocence and keep them from the filth that the world throws at them.

Rev. Paul Joiner, a reformed southern pastor, has been writing about these issues lately, to get parents to think clearly about how to raise our children in the modern world. Here is his three part series:

Why Read Literature, Watch Movies, Listen to Music, or See Plays

Why We Should Be Reading and Watching the Stories of the World.

Are You Raising Cultural Gluttons or Cultural Anorexics?

In a related conversation, Rebecca Cusey discusses this very issue as it pertains to movies in this article called:

Recognizing the Danger Within, Not Without

Both of these individuals frame the issue not as one of innocence lost but as vulnerabilities exposed. Our kids, after all, aren’t innocent; they’re vulnerable. We all are, but in different ways. The wisdom in choosing movies lies in understanding those vulnerabilities, not in preserving mythical innocence.

Do you have your lines? I certainly do. But these articles encourage us to consider carefully the reasons why we’re drawing them.

iPad Meets Coke Dispenser



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Are you a parent who doesn’t want all the sugar and caffeine in regular soda and isn’t sure what beverage to order your kid when grabbing a fast bite?

Prepare to be impressed!

Introducing the most awesome fast-food development since McDonald’s started taking credit cards and Chick-Fil-A started using those enormous ketchup packets. Have you seen this?

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