One Letter Makes All the Difference

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

One little S. That’s all you have to add to “mothering” to make it “smothering.”

The “s”mother is a close cousin of the helicopter parent.

But what do you do you’re not the smotherer?

I didn’t take it so well, myself.

There’s a teacher aid at the school – not my son’s aid, but in many of my son’s classes – who has that heavy-handed “I know best” personality.

She brings out the grrr in me.

First, it was little things. Parker carries a 3-ring binder with him to write song lyrics in when he has free time. Mrs. Smother decided it was keeping him from focusing on his Social Studies class, so rather than talk to his teachers or us, she forbade Parker from carrying the notebook, even making him take it back to his locker when he brought it to class.

We intervened, touching base with the teacher, who said, “Parker is my best student. He has a 99%. His lyrics notebook is not a problem and he is welcome to bring it to class.”

I was nice that time.

Then, she thought maybe Parker’s hair was too long. That one didn’t even have to come to us because Parker’s school counselor intervened on our behalf.  Parker has since had his hair cut, but it was his decision, and we let him get their on his own. He discovered that long hair was a pain because it got in his mouth when he was eating, and that rock stars can have short hair.

But when Parker came home from school frustrated because even after telling Mrs. Smother that he didn’t want to organize his things in a certain she took his property and did it for him anyway, I wasn’t quite as nice, although I did manage to edit the cussing that was occurring in my brain from the email I sent to Parker’s teaching team.

Kids in middle school are trying to learn independence. They won’t do everything the way we want them to. They won’t do everything perfectly. But we absolutely should be supporting them in their budding independence, respecting their space, and valuing their individuality.

As a parent, you can help your child by teaching him or her be respectful but to have the power to say NO. No thank you, even. But NO. And the younger you allow your child a little bit of personal control over his or her environment, the better. Empowered kids are independent thinkers with a strong sense of self-esteem and the self-confidence to say no to other things – like peer pressure and bad choices.

So whether you’re adding the “S” to mother or someone else is for you, take it back.


Raising Kids with High Self-Esteem – No Mini-Mes Allowed

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Growing up, I never had a lot of confidence. In fact, during middle school and high school, I was pretty much a social failure. It came down to a lack of self esteem and self confidence. It made it difficult for me to be comfortable in my own skin or do the things I wanted to do.

My kids have the self-esteem that I lacked. It comes from the way we’ve raised them, I guess, in celebrating their individuality. It’s not that my parents did anything wrong; they just came from a different generation when it was all about respecting authority and chasing the American Dream and conforming to society. Dave and I have raised our kids to question everything, think for themselves, and be actively involved in change (and yes, we do wish we were in New York City right now, Occupying Wall Street, and being part of this amazing social movement). We’re outspoken, and so are the kids.

How does this pay off? Well, our kids are comfortable speaking their minds on issues they feel strongly about (even if their opinions differ from ours). It also pays off in ways that allow them a better experience in life. We’ve seen it come to fruition with the older kids, but we’re finally seeing the impact of the effort with the younger kids.

The kids are capable of standing up for themselves in the face of adversity; they are confident in who they are. We often get comments from teachers and school officials that our kids have such personality. It’s because we let them. They’re not mini-mes. They are individuals. Parker wants to be a rock star, grow his hair long, and models his singing after groups like Metallica, Green Day, and Slipknot (not that we actually let him listen to it all yet). Anika dances through life, determined to be her own person, set the tone for fashion without worrying what others think, and be the first female president. Not bad aspirations.

Are they strong-willed and sometimes control freaks who cause a little bit of stress with their determination? Sure. But while that sometimes means we butt heads and come to the end of the day exhausted, I’m thrilled to know that they will go through life more comfortable in their own skin than I ever was.

Trying To Be Cool or Cruel? Protecting Our Daughters

Getting Real With Jennifer Poole

A friend of my daughter’s has been saying she knows the stars of a popular Disney show. She has told my daughter that she video chats with them and has even given my nine year old a T-shirt signed by the cast and a personal letter from one of the male stars. I know the friend has entered a contest to be on the show as a guest but I know she does not know these people personally.

When I was young, I would pretend to know famous people to try to be cool and win acceptance from others, and I hope that is what this ten year old girl is trying to do. In this day and age of bullying and mean girls, I worry that this girl might be doing this to eventually try to humiliate my daughter. The friend has encouraged my daughter to write back to the cast, and I am concerned that if she does that anything she says might be used to embarrass her later on. I have seen girls spin these kinds of tales and then publicly embarrass the innocent child who believes them.

They say things like “How stupid you must be to really think I knew famous person and even if I did what makes you think she would write to someone like you!”

So I had to very gently burst my daughter bubble. I told her I did not want her writing any letters to the cast because I did not think her friend truly knew them tell enough to get the letters to them. I told her I did not want anything my daughter wrote to be used against her later. She agreed and admitted that the stories her friend had told her didn’t really make a lot of sense and she is probably making it all up. I love children’s imaginations, but as a mom I need to make sure they are using it for good and not to harm others.

Tween Attitude – The Ride of Your Life

by Shadra Bruce

Tween attitude is frustrating to say the least. It’s the mouthy responses that get to me the most. When I’m feeling sane and calm, I can see that my kids are simply trying to be clever, exert their personalities, and express their opinions. When I’m stressed, tired, up against a deadline, or just need them to LISTEN FOR A MINUTE, tween attitude makes me look forward to lemon drop martinis and wine in the glass that holds half a bottle.

Unfortunately some are more disrespectful than others. Disrespectful teenagers need to be taught not only what you as parents expect of them, but what society expects as well. If you are at your wits end with your child, do not give up just yet. There are many parents going through the same predicament and there are simple remedies for your teen’s unsatisfactory behavior.

I’m 40 now but it hasn’t been so long since I was a tween – a term they hadn’t yet coined – that I can’t remember how much it sucked. I remember the awkward discomfort of not being sure of who I was, where I was going, or how to get along with the people around me. I was socially inept, and to this day I would never go back and repeat the experience of middle school or high school.

I try to remember how much I struggled through that period of my life. It helps me be slightly more sympathetic with my kids when they’re displaying their tween attitude like little peacocks. They may make me want to tear my hair out sometimes, but all I have to do is think about being back in junior high and I’m ready to forgive.

Have you noticed, though, that tweens have more attitude  these days? It’s like they wake up at age 8, realize they’re only a decade away from freedom, and start racing toward it full speed. Tweens know more at an earlier age; they want more independence at a younger age, and have access to more information than we ever did growing up. As the parent of a tween, it’s like riding a bucking bronco – you have to grab the reins, keep as much control as you can, and go along for the wildest ride of your life.

With any luck (and I’ll be able to let you know soon, as the first of ours will be there next year) by the time your kids are 25 or so, you’ll be able to hop off the wild ride and catch your breath for a minute (if you’re not starting over by helping to raise the grandkids, but that’s another story)!

Why It’s Ok NOT To Be Popular

Getting Real With Shadra Bruce

Each night, I take 5-10 minutes to tuck in the kids. At 11, I suspect Parker may decide soon enough that he is too old for such nonsense, but for now, bedtime is something we both look forward to as a bonding moment. Sometimes, we simply talk about what happened that day; sometimes, we talk about what he’s been reading or a shared experience. Every night, we end with talking about our favorite part of the day; it ensures that the kids end each day with positive thoughts and the knowledge that they are loved and important.

Our just-before-bed talks also end up being the time when Parker opens up and talks to me about things that might otherwise go unsaid. Recently we’ve been giving him a bit of a hard sell on cutting his hair. We’ve tried every angle – it’s going to be really hot this summer, it looks kind of messy, sometimes he doesn’t keep it brushed nicely – to no avail. A bed time talk ended my desire to encourage Parker to cut his hair.

“Mom,” he said. “I have had my tail since kindergarten, even when my hair was really short.” It’s true, even when he kept his hair buzzed, he faithfully worked on growing a tail, even through my accidental thinning of the thing when buzzing off his hair. He went on: “I used to get teased about my tail, and now I get teased at school about my long hair. But I like it. I like who I am. And I like who I am going to be. Rock stars look good with long hair, and hair only grows about an inch a year, so I need to keep working on it.”

Of course, I don’t want my BABY to get teased, and said as much. I admit, there was some eye-rolling on Parker’s part.

But here’s where the wisdom of youth lies, if we just let it have a voice. Parker explained, “Mom, there are different groups of people at school. There’s the people like ___ and ___ who are really popular and kind of jerks. There are ___ and ___ who are funny and cool. Then there’s people like me. I don’t really fit. But that’s ok. I don’t care if I’m popular, because to be popular, I’d have to change who I am. I don’t want to do that. Even if it means I get teased.”

Parker marches to the beat of his own drum, literally. He has a clear idea of who he is and who he wants to be. Dave and I have always fostered independence and individuality in our children, and somehow, let Parker’s long hair almost get in the way of that. I am so very proud of Parker for embracing who he is so fully and not worrying about what anybody – even his parents – think about his style and personal expression.

Is 10 the New 13?

Tiana and I both have 10 year olds. Actually, Tiana has 10-year old twins, I have a 10-year old son, and our baby sister has a 10-year old daughter. It was a good year for our parents. Comparing notes as we often do when it comes to our kids’ behavior, Tiana and I recently discovered that both of our 10-year old sons had recently given in to emotional outbursts.

Given that on the other end of the spectrum 40 is the new 20 and 60 is the new 30…could 10 be the new 13? From the evidence of our own two boys, it certainly seems possible. My twins are 19 and will shortly celebrate a birthday that will take them out of the teen years. I was actually celebrating the thought of not having teenagers in the house for three glorious years. Tiana’s oldest daughter just turned 13. If 10 is the new 13, we both have tougher roads ahead than we thought. I won’t get my break from teen attitude, and Tiana (and yes, there is part of me giggling at the thought) will have three teen attitudes on her hands at the same time.


Luckily, we have each other…and we each have cell phone plans that allow us unlimited minutes with each other. I have a feeling we’re going to need them!

Do you have a tween or teen question/issue/story to share? Let us know! Comment below.

Verbal Bullies Hurt Too

It happens at least once a year. We get a call from a teacher or the principal about Parker. He’s a good boy, but he is definitely not the typical student. In addition to his medical struggles – a seizure disorder that has him on meds that make him tired and sometimes sick to his stomach – he also struggles with his vision.

Born with a cataract in his left eye, Parker had to have eye surgery at 18 months old to remove and replace the lens. He has nearly perfect vision in his right eye and is nearly blind in his left. Seeing that differently from his two eyes makes everything – from success in gym class to reading notes off the white board – that much more challenging.

Overall, Parker has a great attitude about all of the challenges he has. Instead of crying about having to have his blood work done every three months, he looks forward to the milkshake reward he gets for going through it. Instead of giving up on learning when things get difficult, he spends extra time memorizing information that will help him get through his classes.

Occasionally, all the frustrations converge on him at once and he gets angry. This usually happens when some impatient, thoughtless act is directed his way from a child in his school, criticizing him for being “bad” at Volleyball or for slowing down the class during some inane competitive challenge. Most times, he just comes home to us with a broken heart and we boost him up and encourage him to try again. Sometimes, though, he lashes out.

This week, a girl in Parker’s class who has been verbally harassing him throughout the year made a comment during gym, yelling at him. Parker gave her a shove. He deserved to get in trouble. We do not condone violence as a reaction in any way. He deserved to sit in the hot seat in front of the principal, take responsibility for his action, and face the consequences.

What frustrates me is that the kids who manage to keep their bullying to verbal jousts are allowed to get away with it. Those words end up hurting a lot worse than physical pain sometimes. What’s funny is that Parker refused to tattle on the girl while he was meeting with the principal. He said it didn’t matter what anyone else did, he shouldn’t have gotten physical. His own attitude saved him from an in-school suspension, I’m sure.

I know that as a responsible parent, I’ll be sitting down and having that conversation with my kid where I tell him that he did something wrong, that I’m disappointed in the choice he made. I will require him to apologize to the girl. And I will make it clear to him that violence won’t be tolerated. He’ll probably even lose privileges. But I’d love to give a phone call to the parents of the girl who has decided Parker makes a great verbal punching bag and ask them to do the same with their child.


Happy Halloween!

Our village had trick-or-treat last night, avoiding any complication of pagan holiday versus religious belief. For the first year of her entire existence, Anika opted not to be a princess. Last year, she was a Renaissance princess. The four years prior, she was some form of Disney princess.

Anika turned 8 two weeks ago, and apparently 8 is the new cut off for princess loving. She took all the Disney posters off her walls, removed all evidence that she’d ever been a fan of Cinderella from her room, and opted instead for Hannah Montana – for both her room and her costume, which she wore to school for her Halloween party on Friday.

When it came time to get ready to trick or treat, however, even Hannah seemed to juvenile for this pre-teen. Instead, she donned her older sister’s pirate costume (with some modifications to keep it a bit more modest) and off she went.

Anika is my baby, but she’s not a baby anymore. In her own words, she’s almost a teenager, and ready for her own cell phone any time.

Oh how they grow…

Loyal Friendship

Friendship is something that our children deal with on a daily basis. Children have very fickle friendships and relationships with their friends. One day they can be mad at each other and not even speaking to each other and then the next day they are back to being the best of friends. They have friends at school, friends in the neighborhood, and sometimes friends that they have had to move from and leave behind. Friendships can mean a lot of different things to different people, but being a loyal friend is an essential part of being a good friend.

This is one important aspect that we try to teach our children, how to be a loyal friend. Having friends that are loyal to you and being a loyal friend is a very important part of building meaningful friendships. It takes time to build a friendship and establish and maintain that sense of trust. It is important for children to understand and develop the skills for building and maintaining different types of friendships and relationships with their peers as well as other people in their environment.

Being loyal to friends can be difficult for children to understand and what it truly means to be loyal to someone. We have had a situation recently where our son had a very good friend and they got along great. And then along comes the new friend. This has been a difficult concept to teach to a younger child but a very important lesson, nonetheless. We have had to remind him that just because there is a new friend in the picture doesn’t make the other friend any less important. We have talked about the importance of valuing the friendships that we have already built while still being able to establish new friendships. It is possible for them to co-exist!

Thank You KISS!

Parker and Anika
Getting Ready for the Concert

My son loves the rock band KISS. He comes by his love naturally – his father has loved KISS since he was a child. Parker has been listening to KISS roughly for his whole life. When I was a child, I was not allowed to listen to the band. My mom condemned them as evil, and quite frankly, I was terrified of the faces I saw on my uncle’s album covers.

In dating and getting to know Dave, there was no alternative but for me to get to know KISS too. In addition to watching videos of concert footage and listening to the entire catalog of their songs, I watched numerous interviews of the members of the band. The makeup they wore as part of their stage show became much less frightening as I got to know the men behind the band.

KISS August 2010 Darien Lake, NY

Gene Simmons – in makeup and on stage – is a fire-breathing, blood-spitting demon. In real life, he is a former school teacher with a degree in English. Paul Stanley is an artist and has appeared on stage in Phantom of the Opera. Both men are dedicated family men and fathers, despite the image they may have in the media.

Most importantly, neither of these men use drugs or alcohol (as their former band members Ace Frehley and Peter Criss did). Simmons refuses even to touch a drop of alcohol and both men live healthy lifestyles and make the kinds of choices we encourage our kids to make.

On stage, KISS sings about a lot of things that other rock and roll bands sing about, particularly sex and rock & roll. But I

Parker in shock at the KISS show

could not in my life find better role models for my son.

However, at their concerts, they offered free general admission seats for kids. And for each paid ticket, the band donated a dollar to the Wounded Warrior fund – which ended up being over $400,000 by the end of their U.S. tour. What a way to send the message that giving back is a good thing – even for rock stars!

Thanks, Gene Simmons and Paul Stanley, for continuing to rock long after most predicted you would be done – and thanks for making it so easy for me to let my kids enjoy your music! I’m proud that you are role models for my son to emulate as he dreams of being a rock star!