Slingshot or Boomerang? Your Choice

Dear Mr. Dad: Our 15-year old son is still a few years away from college, but my wife and I are already thinking about when he’s going to move out and begin a life on his own. A number of our friends have kids who have already graduated from college and one after another, those kids are moving back home. We love our son and would be happy to have him visit anytime—or move back for a short time in case of emergency—but we really want him to be self-sufficient. What can we do now to make sure he can make it on his own out there?

A: The fact that you’re asking the question at all gives your son a better chance than other kids his age of thriving in the real world. Too many parents cross their fingers and hope for the best; you’re actually taking steps to make it happen. For everyone else, finger crossing and hoping aren’t terribly effective strategies.

A recent report from the Pew Research Center found that the percentage of young adults living at home has more than doubled over the past three decades or so. Back in 1980, about 11% of adults 20-34 spent some time living with their parents. Today, it’s nearly 30%. Young men are a bit more likely than young women to be sharing a roof with ma and pa.

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Sometimes Being “Good Enough” Is Plenty

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m a newly divorced single father. I hear a lot about how children in divorced families have all sorts of behavioral problems, do worse in school, abuse drugs, are depressed and anxious, and on and on. It’s scaring the heck out of me and makes me think that no matter what I do, my kids are doomed. I want to be an amazing dad and give my kids the best possible life. Isn’t there something I can do?

A: I get this question a lot and wish there was some way to get the media to quit portraying children in divorced families as self-destructive, failure-bombs waiting to explode. The reality is that kids whose parents have split (whether by divorce or the breakup of a never-married couple), can do just as well as any other kids. There are definitely some obstacles, but they can be overcome. Here are a few ideas that will help.
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Pay No Attention to That Program Behind the Screen

Dear Mr. Dad: My baby just turned one and I went to pick him up a little early from his daycare to celebrate. When I got there, the kids were crawling around but the TV was on and tuned to some kind of reality show. I asked the sitter why, and she said “So what?” and told me that the TV is often on in the background and that it’s no big deal. My gut says she’s wrong. But before I fire her, I need something to back me up. What’s so bad about TV?

A: Honestly, do you really an excuse to fire a sitter who shouldn’t be caring for kids? But since you asked—and since you’re not the only parent out there who’s not sure whether it’s okay for babies to watch TV—here goes.
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Stop Telling Your Kids How Much to Eat

Dear Mr. Dad: My son, age 8, is very overweight. We’ve talked about how he has to start eating less and get more exercise. But he doesn’t want to play sports because the other kids make fun of his weight. And even though I’m trying to change his diet—by making him eat more vegetables and taking away his dessert privileges—his weight isn’t changing. Just the other day I found a bunch of candy wrappers in his room. What can I do?

A: It’s obvious that your intentions are very good: Trying to get your son to exercise more and eat differently is an excellent strategy. The problem is in your execution.

Let’s start with the physical activity part. I completely get your son’s reasons for not wanting to play on a sports team. Exercising in front of others can be humiliating. A recent study from Brigham Young University found that being bullied and teased is one of the main reasons overweight kids don’t exercise. And the problems don’t end there. Being bullied/teased also negatively affect overweight kids’ grades and relationships with their classmates.
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Bumping Into Breastfeeding

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is breastfeeding our new baby and when I look at them, they’re so connected and I feel completely useless. I try to do other stuff like baths and diaper changing, but feeding seems so much more important. One of my projects was to set up the nursery. I got the crib and changing table all set up and my wife told me we needed crib bumpers so the baby wouldn’t bang her head on the slats of the crib. A friend told me that crib bumpers are a bad idea. So I’ve got two questions: What can I do to feel less useless when my wife is breastfeeding? And should I get bumpers for the baby’s crib?

A: Let’s start with the second one. For readers who don’t already know, crib bumpers are soft pads that run along the inside of the crib and are designed to do exactly what your wife says: keep the baby from running into the slats or bars and getting hurt. Bumpers sound like a great idea, and millions of people—including me—have used them for decades. But new research shows that bumpers could actually be more dangerous than the injuries they’re trying to protect against.
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Inflexible Flexibility: What Happens When Dad Gets on the Mommy Track

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is due with our first in about four months, so I though now would be a good time to talk to my employer about taking time off under the Family Leave Act and possibly making some more permanent changes to my schedule so I can be a more hands-on dad. I mentioned this to a friend who used to work with me, and he warned me to be very careful. He said that after he took paternity leave, he was passed over for a promotion and got a smaller bonus. He eventually quit. I find that hard to believe, but he insists it’s true. Are companies really allowed to do that?

A: Theoretically, no. Under the Federal version of Family and Medical Leave Act, your job is protected and your employer isn’t allowed to penalize you in any way. (Some states have their own Family Leave programs and the rules may be different, so I encourage you to look into both very carefully.) Unfortunately, there’s sometimes a big disconnect between what companies are allowed to do what they actually do. And even if the company itself does everything exactly by the book, individuals within the company—meaning your managers and coworkers—can always find a way to skirt the law.
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