Friday, April 28, 2006

The Birthday Gift

Another guest article from Jayne Martin-Dressing

Last night our family used for the first and last time the unforgivable birthday present my daughter received from my husband’s sister, the CHOCOLATE FOUNTAIN. I’m sure that you all saw these mysterious boxes lining the shelves and the Wal-mart ads over the holidays, but no one ever really thinks about buying one. I mean, c’mon, its right up there with the S’MORE MAKER. I thought I had tucked the Chocolate Fountain from Hell safely away in the closet out of reach, and therefore out of mind. But a recent decision to clean the hall closet unleashed all sorts of forgotten birthday and Christmas gifts that didn’t quite make mommy’s ‘A’ list. My children immediately spied the possibility of a chocolate syrup bath and began to wear me down in earnest (okay, I did say if they didn’t totally trip out at the grocery store, I would consider the fountain experiment).

The CFFH is a syrup filled plastic contraption that aims to be some sort of ghetto version of a fondue maker. As the directions instruct, you simply “fill with your favorite flavored syrup”, crank up the four ‘C’ batteries and let her rip. What the directions don’t tell you is that your children will be covered from ear to ear in Hershey’s syrup, and that your deck, table, back door, shoes, pets, hair, and clothing will also be covered with high fructose corn syrup(with added calcium!). Thank Goddess I had the foresight to do this activity outside.
This was a gift, albeit a hateful one, from my sister-in-law (a.k.a. Satan in law) who almost had a spell when her son played at our house and I allowed the kids to have fun in the sandbox that still had last summer’s sand (horrors!). I think he gets a Clorox dip and a flea and tick check every time he leaves our house. This is a child who didn’t know how to use a fork and spoon until he was nearly 4 because he “just got too messy.” I can’t tell you what sort of slime-filled, play dough funhouse, 1,000 bead, and 800 piece puzzle-type of toy I’m dreaming of for his next birthday.

Who invents these contraptions that are garage-sale-items-waiting-to-happen? I know that I need to give it to Goodwill or some charity, but it almost feels like trying to give away a cat that pees on everything. Who wants that mess? But this item has got to be so far away from my children’s collective conscious that they never entertain fantasies of cranking up the ole plastic fountain again. At least if we are going to smother strawberries and apricots in chocolate, it might as well be the really good, rich, melted dark chocolate that I like to eat too.
So if you are having trouble getting your little ones to stick to the five a day plan, why not try the chocolate fountain approach. I know where you can get a good deal on one…

Thursday, April 27, 2006

Princesses, Barbies, and other "Must Haves"

My daughter and I attended a birthday party for a 6 year old a little while back; at this event I had a very interesting conversation with a handful of the parents. It all started when, at the birthday party, my daughter came downstairs dressed up as a princess. Turns out, the birthday girl has a large selection of princess dress-up clothes, and a bunch of the partygoers decided to put them on. Wherever we go, my daughter Beatrice is a magnet for this sort of clothing. Must be the pink and purple lacy outfits I wear most days influence her more than I thought. (Can you read my sarcasm?)

So I was having some nice adult conversation with the other parents (none of whom I'd met before), when my daughter showed up in a flowing pink gown a la Disney Store. I dutifully buttoned the back of the dress for her, and she flew off to be with her friends. I then mentioned to the parents I was chatting with that it bummed me out to no end that Beatrice loves anything princess. I told them of Halloween last year: "Beatrice, what would you like to be for Halloween?" Her reply? "Oh Mommy, can you make me a princess costume?" We reached a compromise on this one: I made her a Queen Bee costume (yellow and black stripes with rhinestone tiara). Okay, I had to go one step further - I promised her that I would make her a fancy tutu once I finished her bee costume. You see, I'll do just about anything to nip this princess crap.

So anyway, back to the birthday party. I don't know why I'm so against princesses, but I am. (Could it be the repressed lifestyles most of them lead? The fact that it's the men in their lives, not themselves, who allow these gals to live happily ever after?) I was chided by a couple of the parents, reminded that dress up time is prime imagination time. Yes, I understand this. But can't she pretend to be something different? Then, out of the blue, one mom suggested to me that I buy Beatrice an American Girl doll. If I wanted to avoid Barbies and princesses, these dolls are the way to go. She then launched into her pitch: these dolls teach history. They each come with their own story, have period clothes - some outfits even come in little girl sizes, so your daughter and her doll can match. These dolls are not cheap, she tells me, but you can buy the clothes on eBay for less.

When I heard this spiel, I was flabbergasted. This was coming from a very PC mother. Next thing I know, other parents started in on their American Girl stories. "Oh, my daughter loves hers - You know, you can go to the store in NY or Chicago, and have the doll's hair done at their special salon..." Are they all secretly American Girl Doll salespeople? Is this some pyramid scheme I don't know about? Shocked, I just listened. Stood there and passively listened.

Here's what I thought: Great. An elitist Barbie. Anatomically correct, I suppose, but just as bad. A fancy name-brand doll, that's expensive. At least most families can afford Barbie. I have a real problem with toys that cost a lot of money, toys that show status. What does that teach our children? So these dolls teach history. History and materialism, if you ask me. Why not take the kids to Sturbridge Village in MA, or Greenfield Village in MI, or the library, for goodness sake, to teach history?? Why do we let our children get caught up in the "collect them all" mentality?

And in retrospect, this is the saddest part of this story: What did I say in response to the sales pitches of the princess clothes and American Girl dolls? Feeling shocked and horrified (no exaggeration), I said nothing. I smiled, and let the conversation end. Rather than stir up some controversy, and get the parents to see my perspective, I stood there mute. Diplomatic to a fault. I really really really need to work on this.

Monday, April 24, 2006

Chore Buster

Check out this website. It's brilliant. I really wish my husband and I had discovered this while we were both working since we argued so much about chores. (I know I did over 75% of the chores- he claims it was 50/50) But I went ahead and filled this out for all of the household chores we currently have, just to keep myself on somewhat of a schedule. I gave my oldest daughter less than 25% of the chores, along with my husband (I mainly gave him the chores he currently does, with a few extra) We've been at it for a week, and it's been fun. My husband asked me how to mop the bathroom floor, since it came up on his chore list! This alone was worth the time filling out the info. I've already had to go back and edit some of the chores- I forgot so many since the preset options don't include laundry, and grocery shopping, two big ones! Enjoy.

Friday, April 21, 2006

Kids and Materialism

This posting dovetails with the previous one...and here's a link to a somewhat unsettling yet interesting article on marketing to children.

I was given this article back in 2001 by a sister of mine (StuntMom, to be exact). Its ideas still stick with me, years later. I looked for a copy of it online, to no avail. So I've retyped my printed version for you to read. I hope you enjoy it as much as I have. Reading this again, after so many years, I embrace a lot of her ideas, just not all of them to the extreme that she takes them. It's a long one, so persevere! And if you like some of the ideas, here's another article, with a few more interesting suggestions on how to avoid the trapping of consumerism.

Kids and Materialism, by Terri Tvrdy

Children today have more gadgets and toys at their disposal than ever before. According to the advertising firm McCann-Erickson, advertisers spent more than $230 billion in 2001, or $2,190 per household, much of which effectively targeted kids. It's a strategy that seems to be working; kids aged 9-12 spent a record $155 billion of their own money in 2001, up from $63 billion just four years earlier.

The Center for a New American Dream (CNAD) reports that a majority of American youth buy things in an attempt to improve their self-esteem. "As a result of unprecedented marketing aimed at kids," says Betsy Taylor, executive director of CNAD, "our children feel intense pressure to bolster their sense of self-worth at the mall." Being bombarded with so many of the latest gadgets, designer trends, and in-your-face advertising, it's no wonder that kids follow suit with the "nag factor," wearing their parents down until the coveted item is purchased for them. Many parents, weary from working long hours and raising children, give in. The problem is particularly difficult for parents of adolescents. The result of a new national survey of youth commissioned by CNAD reveals, "The average American child aged 12-17 who asks their parents for products they've seen advertised will ask nine times until their parents finally give in."

That's a lot to take for parents who must constantly tell their child "no." Parents who want to raise their children to appreciate a simpler, non-materialistic lifestyle, or even parents who just want to minimize the nag factor, would be wise to analyze the situation and control the problem while their kids are still young. Where are children learning to crave things they don't even want for very long? A penchant toward materialism comes from three main sources: parents, advertising and peers.

With this knowledge in mind, there are several things you can do for your children to minimize their potential craving for material goods. The basics - including telling your children "no," minimizing television time, and encouraging your kids to befriend others with values similar to yours - are a good start, but they may not be enough to keep your children from participating in excessive consumer culture. What more can you do to teach your kids the value of a dollar while not letting them feel deprived?

Indoctrinate Early
Children absorb ideas much faster during their formative years than they will during adolescence. That's why it's so important to teach kids about the dangers of a consumer culture while they are little. Once they have reached the "tween" ages of 12 and 13, kids will be more resistant to change. It's like learning a new language when they are in their teens as opposed to hearing it spoken as a toddler.

Guiding your children at a young age to believe that self-esteem comes from places other than material fulfillment will help them become brighter, more creative individuals. Of course the phrase "Better late than never" definitely applies here. If you decide to indoctrinate simple living skills into kids when they are older, the challenge is definitely greater, but well worth it.

Be an Example
If your kids see you coming home with the latest designer clothes and baubles for yourself, you can't expect them not to ask for the latest and greatest toys for themselves. "Materialism starts at home," says Sue Avery, a mother of three in Tulsa, Oklahoma. "Peer pressure is just as prevalent for adults as it is for kids."

So the next time you hear a mom say that she wouldn't shop at a thrift store, say something like, "I wouldn't shop in expensive department stores. I care more about my money than to spend 80 percent on markup." Your kids will hear more of what you say by your actions and statements to others than they will if you speak directly to them. Even if they profess to disagree with you profoundly, your opinions and messages are in fact influencing them over the long term. Parents who resist consumerism for themselves are the ones who teach their kids to resist it.

Avoid Over Stimulation
I remember how overwhelmed I felt receiving presents as a kid at Christmas. I wasn't able to comprehend or appreciate all those gifts at one time. This is how kids often feel walking into a toy store or receiving a lot of things at once. "We live in the country," says a mom of a 5-year-old from rural Nebraska. "But when we go into town and visit a store, my daughter falls into this almost trance-like state. I think she's over stimulated by the number of items available and the fancy displays, colors, sounds, and artificial lights."

Kids will not feel deprived unless they know something is out there they cannot have. Unless exposed to media and others telling them they "have to have it," children do not know that they are "supposed" to want expensive sneakers, trendy clothing, or highlighted hair done in a salon.

Certainly one way to avoid too many commercials, toys, or activities is not to expose kids to them. Going into toy stores with your children is like begging them to employ the nag factor. Avoiding Saturday morning cartoons and their commercials geared toward kids will also help keep them from finding out about every new toy under the sun.

Sue Avery uses another technique to avoid overstimulation for her kids. "My kids have very limited after-school activities," she says. "I only allow them one activity per child per year. I don't drive myself crazy trying to 'enrich' them with every possible activity available to kids. Limiting their activities allows them to make choices about their true interests."

Practice Delayed Gratification
If kids see it, they will want it. If you were to buy your child every item he wanted, you would be inundated with endless clutter and a mountain of debt. On the other hand, you don't want to deny them everything. The trick is finding out what your children truly want versus what they say they want.

"When my kids say they want something, I tell them to put it on 'the list,'" says Avery. "Then when Christmas or the holiday gets closer, I'll check with them to see what they still want. Usually by then, they have forgotten about most of their desired items."

"Most passing fancies are just that - they pass," writes Joe Dominguez in Your Money or Your Life, a book geared toward curbing consumerism. "If the child doesn't have an allowance and asks for something, suggest that you talk about it in a few days." Another strategy is to emphasize the importance of saving for bigger wants down the road, such as summer camp, a family vacation or college, rather than focusing on the denial of the current want.

Show Rather Than Tell
Kids learn more by doing than by being told. Letting them learn to curb consumerism may mean letting them make a few mistakes on their own. Getting kids involved in decision making is necessary for teaching them to decide for themselves whether the work performed for their earnings is worth the gotta-have item.

Start by giving your kids a weekly allowance. Let them buy the Pokemon cards or latest junk item. Soon they will realize that they could have saved their allowance to purchase something more valuable, and they will likely regret the purchase of junk items. Once a child experiences a disappointment on his own dime he will learn a valuable lesson about making choices.

Courtney Smith, a mother of two, took her kids to a county fair. "Our 5-year-old wanted to ride the merry-go-round, which cost $3.50 for a two minute ride," she says. "I took her aside and explained that the cost was almost a whole month of allowance. Did she think the two minute ride was worth a month of allowance when we had a park with a similar merry-go-round across the street from our house that she could ride for free? She got it and opted not to do the ride."

Get your kids involved in other decisions, too. Bring them along when you shop for birthday presents for other children and ask them to think about whether a particular gift will have more than one purpose, if it will be interesting over a long period of time, and if it will break easily. By making choices, kids learn critical consumer skills.

Give Them Positive Alternatives
In teaching kids about critical consumerism, you should always send the message that buying less is based on principle, not poverty. Phrases such as, "we can't afford that," "It's too expensive," "You can't have," or "We're too poor," tell kids that the item is worthy of being purchased, but they are not worthy of owning it. Children who hear such negativity usually want material items more, not less.

Kids (and all people) respond to positive alternatives. Offer positive substitutes rather than negative statements, as illustrated in the example of the county fair. In that scenario, the child chose the positive alternative of a free merry-go-round ride near her home and getting to keep her allowance to spend on something else.

If you want your kids to watch less T.V., you'll need to keep the house well stocked with arts and crafts supplies, go with them on nature hikes, and encourage their interests in music, science, books, or theater. Expose them to other kinds of media, such as film, art exhibits, or local plays.

If you want your kids to spend less time at the mall, have them join a fun group like the school band (if they have an interest in music), Girl Scouts, a church youth organization, or sports team. Malls duplicate for them a big, fun family gathering; substitute this with a real group in which they play an active role.

There may be times when you take the easy road by saying "yes" to your kids when it comes to a frivolous purchase. The important thing is that they understand it is the exception, not the rule.

Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Kids Begging for the Golden Arches?

I don't know about the rest of you out there, but my husband and I try and limit exposure to fast food in our family. Until recently, my kids did not even know the names for these well known outlets of fat greasy foods. But on our last road trip, just this past month, we ended up eating a lot of fast food. When my husband and I make this annual trip, I usually pack sushi for us, and PB&J for the kids (their favorite). We have carrot sticks, graham crackers, apples, cheese, and lollipops for snacks. But this time, the kids and I drove out to the Midwest with my mom. And I didn't do any of the usual preparations. Why? I can't really explain. A secret part of me was thinking it would be fun to eat some fast food (my husband is very vocal about not eating it, so it's not an option on roadtrips with him). I know, shame on me. But it does taste so good.

By the end of the trip, I felt like a big ball of grease. I'm not exaggerating. And it was interesting to see just what the kids actually ate at these fast food joints. The happy meal toys were a huge success with the kids (as the marketing experts well know), but the food was mostly just picked over. I brought in carrot sticks, raisins, and other misc. healthy snacks, to supplement these fast food meals, and it turns out, that's really what was consumed the most. At the end of my trip, I decided to reread Fast Food Nation, by Eric Schlosser. I need to be reminded about the many reasons why this type of food is just not a good idea.

And, it turns out, Eric Schlosser, together with Charles Wilson, has come out with a new book, Chew on This: Everything You Don't Want to Know About Fast Food. "With kids aged 9-12 directly in the sights of these companies, the idea was to give them food for thought," said Eric Schlosser. "We were trying to write a non-fiction book that kids would want to read that isn't interactive, doesn't have anything electronic, to it. It's just a book." My oldest sister gave me her copy of Advertising Age (April 3, 2006), where this review was published.

Here are some tidbits from this Advertising Age article by Kate Macarthur (I'd provide a link, but you have to register for archive access):

[Chew on This] is being touted as a 21st century version of Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle," but with chicken nuggets instead of burgers and dogs. Written for preteens who are a prime target for the $300 billion fast-food industry, the 304 page tome focuses on mistreatment of animals in slaughterhouses and employees in restaurants; lays out how eating too much fast food can affect growing bodies; and chronicles the ways the quick-service-restaurant industry shapes schools, communities and the earth.

"stomachs will turn and tempers will flare as the authors shine a light on the grisly conditions in a chicken slaughterhouse, explain how market-research firms study kids and learn how those delicious fast-food smells are manufactured off a highway in New Jersey," reads press-release copy for the book.

Not only does the book look at the often-seamy underbelly of the food industry, it encourages kids to take on activist roles in booting soft-drinks from schools and changing working conditions in food processing plants and restaurants.

Experts think "Chew on This" may resonate with kids. The target age for the book is one "where you can really have an important influence on them and they're old enough to be thinking more critically about all this and understanding the intentions of marketers and how things work in the world so they can make their own choices," said Kathryn C. Montgomery, professor of communication at American university. "It's also an age with a huge amount of marketing flooding every aspect of their lives."

Sounds like good stuff to me! I'm ordering a book today.

Monday, April 17, 2006

Take the 30 Day Challenge

Last week I did something I'd never done before: spent the night away from my three children. My oldest sister was in Portland, Maine on business, and I went down to spend some time with her. We went out to dinner, walked around town a bit, and then went back to her hotel room for the night. We ended up talking until the wee hours of the morning. What a treat.

How does this relate to StuntMom, you might ask - a stay at home mom and a working mom getting together for a night out on the town. Well, in the course of our evening, we talked about work ethic. One of the strongly held beliefs by some in our family is that my eldest sister, who happens to earn the most money, has the strongest work ethic of the five sisters. I related this to her, and she responded with surprise. She said that the work that stay at home moms do requires a much stronger work ethic than what she has. And no, I was not pumping her for a kind pat on the back.

She has firsthand experience. Last summer, when she was in between jobs, she was a stay at home mom by default. She did the shopping, the bill paying, and other monotonous jobs that stay at home moms do. She called oil companies, looking for the best oil price for the upcoming winter. She took care of the kids. By the end of the month, she was exhausted. She felt that working outside the home was a lot less work.

So to the mom in Sacto, whose friends think she is lazy and selfish for being a stay at home mom, ask your misguided friends to take the 30 Day Challenge. Have them arrange with their jobs to take some time off, and stay home with their kids for a month. It might do them a world of good. The kids would probably love it, too. My eldest sister's kids begged her to not go back to work. They loved having their mom around all the time.

And I must confess, when I first became a stay at home mom, I thought my life would be so cushy. I'd have a few hours a day, at least, to just do fun Rebecca things. I'd read the classics I'd been meaning to read for years, cook gourmet meals every night, work in my garden for hours on end, etc. etc. What a surprise I was in for. Where do these perceptions come from? I just don't know why I thought being a stay at home mom would equal leisure living. Turns out, I love the work involved in my job. Lucky me. So for those friends who think stay at home parents are lazy, have them learn for themselves that this is just not the case. Education is always a good thing!

Monday, April 03, 2006


I had to pull this comment out of an old post because I've been struggling with a response...

Interesting blog. The book sounds fascinating. I was looking up stay-at-home moms and read this entry.

Every experience I have had in the last year since I started staying-at-home would indicate that there is a great division between stay-at-home moms and working women (at least in my recent experience). I've had MANY working women say that if I weren't so LAZY or SELFISH, I would work(?) I'm not sure what exactly that means...

It seems to me that this area's value system is definitely "keep up with the Jones'" We (my husband and I) do not subscribe to that belief and for it, we are getting a lot of grief. We think this may be the reason people around here are not so accepting of me being a stay-at-home mom.

I thought you might be interested in hearing another perspective. I would like to get other people's take on this issue and see if it varies by region or if some other factor is influencing it.

Mother of two (1 year and 5 years)
Sacramento, CA

It's so sad that someone could call you selfish for staying home with your children--I always felt selfish sending my children to daycare so I could earn money that we didn't really need. California is much more expensive than the Midwest, so I see you wanting to spend time working for your family as a selfless act.

Hopefully you can find the support you need here.

Thank you for the letter, and enjoy your time with your kids.