August 2008

Tips for supermom and superdad

By Rev Run Simmons
By Rose Rock
By Jen Singer
By Olivia Gardner
By Betsy Block
By Tom Sturges
By Diane E. Levin
By M. Gigi Durham
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Not your Run-of-the-mill parent
Run DMC is humming a different tune these days. The rapper turned preacher and father, once famous for singing "Walk This Way," now preaches the parenting gospel, or, as we like to think of it "Parent this way." Rev Run and wife Justine Simmons, the stars of MTV's hit reality show "Run's House," share their advice for raising grounded kids in Take Back Your Family. They know a thing or two about this subject considering that they have six. Sure, there is the obligatory fancy crib that all celebrity-reality-TV families have (as in "Hogan Knows Best" or "The Osbournes"), complete with pool, tricked-out cars and electronics galore. But Rev and Justine have made it their top priority to bring their kids up with the right values and without a sense of entitlement. Rev issues a challenge to American parents with his title, and then shows you how to do it.

Solid as a rock
Rose Rock, mother of actor/comedian Chris, must have a lot of energy. She certainly has a lot of sound advice, having raised 10 kids in addition to 17 foster children. In Mama Rock's Rules, Rose discusses boundaries, discipline and how to keep it real in today's crazy culture. Helpful throughout are sections labeled "Mama's Mojo," in which Rock distills bits of wisdom into easily digestible bites. This supermom doesn't mince words, but she does suggest mincing an onion for her "Rock Style Beans and Franks" (the recipe is included along with a few other Rock family favorites). Maybe the secret to a happy childhood isn't fried chicken and biscuits, but, let's face it, comfort food helps. Both Rock and Rev Run stress an attitude of gratitude and a strong spiritual foundation. We shouted a big amen to the chapter "Reading Is Righteous." That applies to Mama Rock's book, too.

Blog baby
There's a trend afoot, or underfoot depending on your perspective, and it is this: the blogosphere and the world of publishing are beginning to overlap. Mom bloggers, and there are a lot of them, who've birthed and raised their little blogs, are now seeing them grow up into books. One of these blog babies is Jen Singer's You're a Good Mom (and your kids aren't so bad either): 14 Secrets to Finding Happiness Between Super Mom and Slacker Mom. Tips like "Don't answer the phone when the class mom calls" and "Your kid's birthday party isn't your coming-out celebration" are right on target. In the section "Wedding Vows You Wish Your Husband Had Made" we find this: "I will never pretend that I can't hear the kids at night. I'll even start to get out of bed long before you sigh angrily and throw the blankets off." This guide is for both the perfectionist mom, laminated flash cards at the ready, and the mom who genuinely believes that Pop-Tarts are a healthy breakfast choice.

The good fight
Letters to a Bullied Girl, subtitled "Messages of Healing and Hope: One Bullied Girl, Two Sisters Who Cared, and Thousands More Who Opened up Their Hearts," is both a heart-wrenching and heartwarming story. Today's bully isn't just the punk who steals your lunch money on the playground; the contemporary bully is a lot scarier, and armed with technology. Olivia Gardner, a young girl from Northern California, was relentlessly harassed by classmates, online and otherwise, for more than two years. Her story became a sort of rallying cry for anti-bullying advocates nationwide. What's uplifting about this story is what happened next – two sisters, Emily and Sarah Buder, began to write to the traumatized Olivia in an effort to help her. Though sometimes painful to read, this collection is for teachers and parents who have been touched by what has become an epidemic in schools across the country.

The food fight
If you can relate to the following insight from food writer and mother of two Betsy Block, you just might have a picky eater yourself: "I'd always thought food was pretty straightforward: you're hungry, you eat; you're not, you don't. Then I became a mother." Block's book The Dinner Diaries: Raising Whole Wheat Kids in a White Bread World provides humor and hints for the mother who's feeling disheartened about her family's eating habits. Block tries to fight the good fight when it comes to healthy eating, and to do that she has to get creative, and we don't just mean cutting sandwiches into enticing shapes. But it's an uphill battle with a son who thinks candy is a food group and a daughter whose dietary repertoire consists only of white bread. Block's tone is casual and her writing accessible. With The Dinner Diaries, she's dished up a funny, candid portrait of a family trying to eat, and live, more consciously.

Father knows best
Parking Lot Rules & 75 Other Ideas for Raising Amazing Children by Tom Sturges reads like an informal letter to fellow parents, just one dad sharing a "lot" of advice with another. Sturges lost his father, filmmaker Preston Sturges, when he was a child, and writing this book was a way for him to heal old wounds as well as share his own experience of being a father. Rule #1 is, no surprise, The Parking Lot Rule: whenever you are in a parking lot – or any dangerous place – yell out "Parking lot rules" indicating your child should come immediately to your side. (Wouldn't "Heel!" be shorter?) This directive encapsulates Sturges' overall message, namely that remaining closely connected to your kids is of the utmost importance.

Sex sells, and kids pay the price
On a recent trip to Target I picked up what I thought was a pair of plain shorts for my six-year-old daughter (the only ones I could find that weren't obscenely short) only to discover the word "Rockstar" written in glitter across the bottom. No, thank you. I prefer clothes that are all cotton, preferably organic and made of 100-percent non-tacky material. Am I the only parent who doesn't want her daughter to look like a Poison groupie? Then why all the Bratz dolls, age-inappropriate outfits and disturbing TV images? Barbie is starting to look wholesome by comparison.

Thankfully, there is So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood and What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids. This is the must-read parenting book of the bunch. In it, the authors explore how sexuality in mass media affects our children. They also offer strategies for counteracting the negative messages our kids are receiving – and not just girls. One of the many laudable things about So Sexy is that it explains how boys are targeted, too. Written by two internationally recognized experts in early childhood development and the impact of the media on children and teens, Diane E. Levin, Ph.D., and Jean Kilbourne, Ed.D., So Sexy So Soon is an invaluable and practical guide for parents who are alarmed by the media's assault on girls and boys. The authors understand that we can't escape our commercial culture, but, they argue, we can be agents of change. Here they provide strategies for a counterattack, like encouraging more imaginative play and setting limits on TV and other media when your children are at one another's houses.

The Lolita Effect: The Media Sexualization of Young Girls and What We Can Do About It, by M. Gigi Durham, cites pop culture – and advertising in particular – as the cause of multiple societal ills. She offers helpful strategies for empowering girls to make healthy decisions about their own sexuality.

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