Monday, December 21, 2009

Mojo Mom on The Parent's Journal with Bobbi Conner

I love good radio, and last spring when I did my radio tour for the new edition of Mojo Mom, the nationally-broadcast public radio show The Parent's Journal with Bobbi Conner became one of my favorites. Bobbi invited me back on the December 16th episode to talk about "Everyday Routines and Strategies for New Moms." And Dr. Michele Borba is on the same show too, so it should be a good one.

You can download the podcast from The Parent's Journal website.

The Parents Journal 120909-One Hour Show

The Parent's Journal Broadcast 12-09-09 One Hour Show

The Parent's Journal Topics & Guests (start times in parentheses)
Clever Ways to Get Toddlers and Preschoolers to Share – Dr. Borba (01:00)
Everyday Routines and Strategies for New Moms – Dr. Tiemann (06:00)
Parent’s Notes - A Practical Parenting Tip from a Mom or Dad (25:13)
Promoting Healthy Habits/Lifestyles – Joseph Califano (29:00)
What Expectant Moms Can Do to Help Prevent Premature Birth - Dr. Cole (51:15)

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Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Practicing The Art of the Possible

We're entering the final stages of Courageous Parenting manuscript editing, and I have to say that there are few things that will make you (ok, not you, I mean me) as crazy as book editing. You start to try to divine meaning in every comma, versus dash, versus parenthesis. For a really good illustration of how meticulous the process can be, look at this photo of my Mojo Mom manuscript from last December, as we went through the final edits. This was after many rounds of work, when you would think it was already done, but each post-it tab represented another change that still needed to be made.

But, as we've gone through this stressful process together, my 14 anthology contributors, my editor Lacey, my project manager Patty, and myself, I have hit upon a really useful concept. To fight back against perfectionism and stress I am telling everyone that we are practicing the art of the possible. What we already have is good and solid, and we only need to work on it to the best of our ability. We can get it as polished as we can in the amount of time we have to work with, and we can then sit back and be happy with what we've created, and not worry about whether we could have moved everything 1% closer to perfection.

Part of the fun of this book is that we are drawing from blogging experience--we're writing quickly and getting the book out there while the ideas are fresh on our minds. The book won't sit in pre-publication for a year or two as books often do! In March, you'll be reading ideas that we are still putting on paper today.

And as we know, blogging doesn't have to be perfect. It's value is that it is timely, fresh, original, and opinionated. It's a contribution to a dynamic conversation that keeps going online, and we hope to do that with Courageous Parenting as well. We know that a book captures a snapshot of opinion and events, but through online conversation, blogging, and podcasting, we can keep the dialogue fresh and evolving.

But the idea of practicing the art of the possible resonates with me as a mother as well as me as a writer. I think we tie ourselves up with unrealistic expectations of ourselves from day one. And believe me, those expectations can evolve for years and still manage to stay unrealistic! We Moms can be very hard on ourselves, focusing on the things that we aren't doing well and lose sight of our generally successful big picture. The problem sticking out like a sore thumb and capturing our attention can obscure the fact that we still have nine perfectly healthy and happy "fingers" that are doing just fine.

I was talking to PunditMom Joanne Bamberger yesterday about Courageous Parenting and we both grooved on this idea, The Art of the Possible. It was so soothing and reassuring. It felt like a soft place to fall, a reminder that if we give it our best shot will be great even if it's not perfect, and we should celebrate that.

So, I posted this note on my computer monitor. What's amazing is that even as I am finishing up this book, and thinking "why did I get myself into this?" (which, I am convinced, every author/editor says at some point during every book's creation!), I also started thinking, hmmmm, maybe there is another book idea in there....

See what becomes possible when writers collaborate when the new anthology "Courageous Parenting" comes out in March 2010. Sign up on and we'll send you a free copy of the e-book version when it's released. A paperback edition will also be available from

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Friday, December 11, 2009

Mojo Mom Podcast will return in the New Year

This week we are rocking and rolling with the final edits of the new Courageous Parenting anthology, and I am putting the finishing touches on the parts that I have to write.

So, I am not doing too much blogging right now...but I am writing behind the scenes!

I have also had to take a break from podcasting for a few weeks, but the plan is to come back with new shows on Fridays in the New Year.

You'll give me January 1 off, right? Look for a new episode of The Mojo Mom Podcast to post online on Friday, January 7th.

Thanks for reading and listening!

Find out what the fuss is all about by signing up now to receive the new book free when it comes out! Sign up now on the home page to receive a free e-book of the new Courageous Parenting anthology when it is released in March 2010. You'll receive a PDF file that you can read on any computer, or print out. No dedicated e-reader is required.

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Tuesday, December 08, 2009

The Happiest Mom interviews Mojo Mom about Work & Money

I am in the editing zone this week as we put the finishing touches on the Courageous Parenting manuscript. It is a lot of work and we are trying to make sure we give everyone time off for the December holidays. So I am behind in my blogging. But--thankfully I have a great guest post for today. Meagan Francis of The Happiest Mom blog recently interviewed me on the topic of Moms, Work & Money. I think the interview turned out really well, if I do say so myself, and Megan has given me her blessing to repost it here.

Meagan is definitely an empathetic mojo sister, and I hope you'll check out all of her writing on The Happiest Mom.

Meagan Francis' interview with Amy Tiemann:

Since Amy’s an advocate of moms empowering themselves with financial and career security, I figured she’d be a great person to interview as a follow-up to my [Meagan's] post on moms and financial security. Here are Amy’s thoughts on work, money, and how moms can–and why they should–take steps to protect themselves.

Meagan: Moms and their career/financial security is something you’ve written about quite a bit. Why do you think it’s such an important topic?

Amy: Whatever our best-laid plans are, Moms always need a backup plan. The current economic crisis has highlighted this reality. Any of us could be called on to increase our earnings or become the primary breadwinner for our family, on short notice. And in the long run, women need to plan for long lives, and the safety nets in place do not give women credit for their caregiving years. For example, my mother was a stay-at-home Mom until she and my Dad divorced after about 20 years of marriage. That was 25 years ago, yet now that she has become a Senior, the echoes of that are coming back into play. Because of her pattern of employment and lower lifetime earnings, her monthly Social Security check is about half of what my Dad’s is. And that will continue for the rest of their lives.

Life is long and a lot can happen! None of us can afford not to think about our present and future security.

Meagan: I think sometimes it’s hard to think too much about our financial security as moms. We don’t want to seem as though we don’t trust our spouses to do right by us, or live as though we’re waiting for the rug to be pulled out from under us. Any words of advice for moms who are hesitant to advocate for their own needs and futures?

Amy: That’s a great question. We need to be full and active parters when it comes to financial planning. It’s the responsible thing to do and it’s good for the whole family. If a husband gets laid off, it’s good for him if his wife has a job to go to. If a father dies, of course he would want his family to be taken care of. We don’t like to think of the things that can go wrong but as parents we have to be adults who are willing to prepare for all situations.

Also, I have encountered sexism within the financial planning and estate planning industries. You cannot assume that lawyers or financial planners have your best interests at heart. You have to get in there and know what is going on, challenge assumptions, and advocate for yourself. I have had estate planners try to set up trusts that would have put our family’s assets totally under my husband’s control. I trust my husband, but it’s just not fair to set it up that way. The lawyers had been doing what seemed expedient and convenient, and it would have been a huge mistake for me to let that happen. I put the brakes on the process and made the lawyers create two trusts, one that we each controlled. And after that, we got new lawyers.

So make sure that all the advisors in your life see you as an active participant in the process. And if they don’t do so, find a new advisor or lawyer.

Meagan: Any practical tips to help at-home moms stay engaged and connected to the working world?

Amy: Keep networking in your public persona! I have gotten jobs that resulted from friendly schmoozing with people in the preschool parking lot because I was enthusiastic about my work. Moms are natural networkers but sometimes we forget to include our professional identity in our self-presentation. I recommend staying in touch with your professional contacts, and setting up lunch at least once a month where you show up dressed for work and ready to talk about your field. Of course, you should also keep up to date on any professional reading you need to do. The same strategy can apply if you are trying to break into a new field. Start studying, learning, and connecting. I am a big fan of continuing education programs offered by local colleges, which might meet once a week in person, or even online.

Meagan: What about working moms who feel the need to rein in their careers for a while–is it possible to still have the career you dreamed of, even if you take a year or three off or scale way back?

Amy: You have to be prepared to take your career into your own hand. We’re in a tough position because there is only so much we can do as individuals to ensure that enlightened employers will be willing to create a path back for us. We don’t have the social supports that would really help, starting with paid parental leave for Moms and Dads. So this is why I do two things: I support, which advocates for the family-friendly policies I believe we need, and I also encourage all women to learn about entrepreneurship. If the traditional working world won’t accommodate you, how can you create a role for yourself? One of my friends is a mother of three young boys and a veterinarian. She created her own mobile veterinary practice that allows her total control of her schedule, reduces her overhead because she has a van and makes house calls, rather than running a traditional practice, and serves her clients extremely well. That’s the kind of creative solution we need to explore.

Meagan: What are some vital ways moms can take care of themselves financially, even if they aren’t currently earning an income?

Amy: Become involved in your family’s financial planning as I mentioned above. Research your own Social Security credits and know the long-term implications of taking time out of the workforce. Make sure your family is saving up for a six to eight month emergency fund. That is urgently important in this recession, especially as access to credit is being cut off.

Meagan: In your book MojoMom, you share advice on “creating a lifelong career path”. Can you share a little about your own lifelong career path, and the role motherhood has played in it?

Amy: I have been very fortunate to be able to take my skills and apply them to new areas. I used to do brain research, which might sound worlds away from being an author, but writing my Ph. D. thesis taught how to research a complex topic, and proved to myself that I could follow through on a very difficult project. I taught high school for three years, which was excellent experience in public speaking to a general audience. Now, when I talk to Moms’ groups, someone often asks, “Do you get nervous speaking to big groups?” and I can say, “Hey, my job used to be to convince sixteen-year olds that chemistry was interesting–at 8 am! You are here because you want to be, so this is fun!” For the record, I really liked teaching, too, but I chose not to keep up that schedule after my daughter was born and my family moved across the country. Women reinvent themselves all the time. So for the lifelong career path, don’t peg yourself too closely with one role of job title. Learn to value the skills you have and think about how to use those skills in a variety of job settings.

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Thursday, December 03, 2009

What the Party Crashers Can Teach Us About Personal Safety

Everyone is abuzz about the White House Party Crashers Michaele and Tareq Salahi. Some of the media coverage has been way overblown--former FBI Profiler Clint van Zandt just about blew a gasket on The Today Show last week talking about the unlikely, extreme things that could have happened. But whether you write this off as a reality-show publicity stunt, or consider it to be a serious breach of security, this incident does provide a great example that we can learn from in order to prevent real-life wrongdoing "party crashers" from crossing our own personal boundaries.

You see, the Sahalis got in by acting and dressing and acting the part--dressing to the nines, in fact. Michaele looked gorgeous in her formal bright red sari. I think that the fact that she had on such a specific dress for the state dinner to welcome the Indian Prime Minister really helped them get in. Most Caucasian, American women would not have such an outfit already hanging in their closets, so she clearly looked like she belonged at this specific event. By dressing so appropriately and distinctively, she was hiding in plain sight!

What else helped them get in? Today Maureen Dowd's column says:

"The Washington Post reported the Secret Service guard waved in the Salahis, breaking the rules, because he 'was persuaded by the couple’s manner and insistence as well as the pressure of keeping lines moving on a rainy evening.'"

This is how gate crashers and boundary crossers operate. If someone means you harm, if they came running at you with a gun, you would see them coming from a mile away and get out of there.

But if they follow a cultural script, they can not only get close to you, they can also get you to commit to the early stages of interaction. Once you have committed to the interaction, it's harder to reject the person later. Think about the steps leading up to a date-rape scenario. If a woman accepts a man's invitation to go out on a date, has dinner and drinks, maybe he's even paying, when they get to her door at the end of the night and he wants to come in and she doesn't want him to, it's harder for her to say "No" to him if he's persistent about coming in, because through her actions she's already committed to being with him up to that point. It's more difficult to turn him away, but not impossible, and this is exactly why we each need personal safety training, because predators count on their ability to twist cultural scripts and use them against us. We have to be prepared to abandon the "polite" script and ditch our previous "commitments" to change course when someone wishes to harm us.

Irene van der Zande, founder of Kidpower, says “In our Kidpower personal safety workshops, we tell our students that they already know how to be nice and polite, but that they are safest if they make being nice a conscious decision rather than an automatic habit. We have them practice imagining that they are not sure a situation is safe even if the other person is very friendly, and then leaving or setting boundaries rather than getting involved with this person.”

Then there is what I think of as the moment of confusion, which the Salahis created by showing up looking so good and insisting that they belonged, all while there were many other people waiting in line behind them. So the Secret Service waved them in. When we are busy, distracted, emotionally triggered, inconvenienced, or not sure what to do, that moment of confusion can leave us vulnerable to doing things we ordinarily wouldn't do. Most of the time, when we aren't sure what to do, it serves us well to do the nice and polite thing and go along with what everyone else is doing. But this convenient mental shortcut can be used against us, as predators deliberately create the moment of confusion to create an opportunity to hurt a victim.

If I asked you whether you'd go to a private location with a stranger who approached you in a parking lot, what would you say you would do? You wouldn't go, right? Not in a million years, you might think. But what if a man came up to you, frantic, pleading, "Help me! My baby isn't breathing!" and ushered you to his car in a remote area? This is a powerful lure. In the moment of confusion, you respond to the idea of an emergency and the emotional trigger of a baby in distress, and if you don't stop to think about it, you might immediately follow him, especially if he emphatically and convincingly rushes you into it.

Now I am NOT saying that you should not ever help a person in distress, but I am saying that you should be aware of your surroundings and never lose sight of the context of what you are doing. In a moment of confusion, think about hitting a "pause" button in your mind. It can be a brief pause, but it can allow you to collect yourself, analyze the whole situation, and think about your response. You have choices: Can you call 911, or go to a populated store for help, or get mall security, rather than blindly rushing into a potentially dangerous, isolated situation? You can assess the environment: is this day, night, near other people or sources of help? What are your potential vulnerabilities and options? For young kids, by the way, I stand by the idea that adults should not ask kids for help. If this parking lot situation happened to a kid they should go find safety, such as a store, and tell the store employees what has happened. Then those adults can follow up and call 911 either because a baby really needs help, or there is a man luring people with a false story.

The moment of confusion does not always look so dramatic. It can be simple and fast. When I traveled to France this fall, I kept my awareness about me, especially when visiting major tourist sites that are known pickpocketing venues. We were in Notre Dame Cathedral one day, a crowded environment full of people milling around, and a situation where I knew to keep a firm hold on my purse, when a French woman approached me and asked me in French whether people had to pay to tour the church. I answered her quickly and kept moving to make sure I didn't get separated from my family. Later, I realized this could very likely have been a pickpocket set-up, with her working to divert my attention while someone else went after my purse, or my husband's wallet as he was distracted, too, making sure we did not get separated in the crowd.

Why do I think this was a deliberately staged moment of confusion? Because why would a French person ask an American tourist what to do in this situation. I was the one who should have been "lost." Also, everyone else in Paris took one look at me and immediately addressed me in English (even though I was trying to speak French!). In Notre Dame we were not in a situation where there was a ticket taker visible, and we weren't even near the entrance; we were well inside looking up at the stained glass windows. I'll never know for sure what this nice-seeming woman's intentions were, but I do know that her actions evoked that moment of confusion feeling in me. Fortunately, I did not allow myself to get too sidetracked, and I stayed with my family and we all held on to our belongings, too.

Personal safety expert and author Gavin de Becker talks about developing one's intuition and the key is to not only listen to your intuition, but to also ACT ON IT. If you don't have a good feeling about your date, the time to draw the line is early on, before you get in a private, more vulnerable setting. Gavin de Becker's books talk about early warning signs of trouble to watch out for. For example, if your date fails to hear the word "No" in any situation, that person is trying to control you. Knowing that, if your date pressures you to accept a drink you said you don't want, you can see that not only should you refuse the drink, but you can take that as a sign to end the date early.

As parents, the action part is incredibly important. If you have a bad feeling about a babysitter, coach, or any person who has a major and controlling role in your child's life, it is really important to take those intuitions seriously and follow up on them by getting more information about what is going on, if possible, and removing your child from that situation if necessary, even if it's embarrassing or inconvenient for you.

Most people are good and most of the time acting nice and polite serves us well and keeps us on the right track. But the White House party crashers remind us that just because someone looks the part, acts nice, and insists that they belong, that does not automatically mean that they deserve an open door into our lives.

Sign up now on the home page to receive a free e-book of the new Courageous Parenting anthology, edited by Amy Tiemann and featuring a chapter written by Kidpower founder Irene van der Zande, when the book comes out in March 2010!

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Wednesday, December 02, 2009

I feel like Forrest Gump walking through the history of Overparenting

Remember how Forrest Gump walked through famous scenes in history, perhaps not even realizing it at the time? That's how I feel after reading Nancy Gibb's Time Magazine cover story about The Case Against Over-Parenting.

I was happy to see the article since I am hard at work editing the forthcoming anthology Courageous Parenting that aims to give parents the background and skills they need to reverse the tide of overparenting. I agree with some of Nancy Gibbs' analysis, but disagree with other significant aspects of it. Since I have a lot to say on this topic I'll write a series of blog posts. But I want to start by considering my relationship to the recent history of overparenting.

A theme that has defined and will continue to define my life is that I am on the leading edge of Gen X. Born in 1968, I have come to accept my fate playing Jan Brady to the Baby Boomers' position as Marcia: the Boomers are older, more popular, and certainly more powerful. They get there first and set the trends, and we Gen X often get caught in their wake. Overparenting may look largely like a current Gen X phenomenon but I think it has roots in Boomer parents due to their incredible power as a market. When Boomers were teenagers, being a teenager became not only cool, but the lucrative youth market was born. When Boomers started having kids, the market for new baby products and parenting advice took off as well.

Pamela Paul's book Parenting Inc. does a great job of shining a light on the billion-dollar baby-industrial complex, but you only have to walk the aisles of any baby store to see how many gadgets and safety devices there are.

Hard to believe that thirty of forty years ago we didn't even have car seats!

My encounters with modern parenting started even before I had my daughter. From 1996 to 1999, I taught high school in San Francisco, and many of the kids were children of high-achieving Boomers. Teaching was a fantastic experience, but there were definitely signs that parents expected the best for their kids. I was pretty surprised to see that seniors were applying to a dozen or more colleges, when ten years earlier, we typically applied to a handful. The goal went from getting in somewhere good to having a huge array of options to choose from. Some parents were also clearly overinvolved with being their kids' friend and didn't always know how to set the necessary limits for their teens.

Even before then, I had a near-brush with one of the burgeoning trends in parenting. As a Stanford neuroscience graduate student, I was doing research into brain development and I was very interested in critical periods of learning. This became popularized in "zero to three" interventions. Around 1995 I even considered creating a video series that would have predated Baby Einstein. Inspired by the very cool work of neuroscientist Patricia Kuhl, who investigates early language acquisition, I thought about trying to create a video series that would teach babies and kids languages that were very different from their own, such as Japanese for English speakers or vice versa.

On the one hand, maybe I missed out on a multi-gazillion dollar industry, but considering the fact that the Baby Einstein videos didn't actually work, I am not too sorry about taking a different path. I will say though, that being a scientist I would have tested the results to make sure that the products worked! In the meantime, if you want your baby to learn another language I'd recommend hiring a babysitter who is a native speaker.

So, I do believe that marketing is an underlying root cause of overparenting. As our lives were actually getting safer, we were being sold new "problems" in order to sell us new "solutions." By the time we were being sold the BabyPlus Prenatal Education System, I started to pull my hair out, as I wrote about on my CNET blog, (Parent.Thesis) This marketing of overparenting is not only ridiculous, it's offensive to me. There are so many true problems facing families that it is a shameful waste of time, money and attention to try to give your kid a "head start" in the womb. Hopefully one good outcome of the current recession is we can let the most ridiculous stuff go.

In addition to overt marketing messages, this decade's rise of 24-hour news media on cable and online meant a rise in selling fear. is one of the worst major news offenders in my experience, in that they sometimes post a story in a headline position which is not new news at all, but rather a scary story from the archives that they are revisiting. I am talking about stories along the lines of this post from yesterday, with Nancy Grace talking about a cold case from 1989, Cold case: Toddlers vanish from park. But sometimes posts this type of story in a headline position on the home page without clearly labeling it as a cold case. Doing so is irresponsible. Child abductions are fearful occurrences of mythic proportions. They can't help but pus the anxiety buttons and get any concerned parent's adrenaline flowing. But the truth is that THANKFULLY, these incidents are much rarer than you would think based on how heavily they are reported. With genuine new tragedies such as Shaniya Davis' recent rape and murder shining a light on human trafficking, I really wish the news media would stop dredging up decades' old cases for sensational purposes. When I think about web site clicks I can't help but think of lab rats conditioned to push a lever, and I will admit that I am as conditioned as anyone!

So we have consumerism and the marketing of problems and solutions, news sensationalism, and what else...oh yes, the Decade from Hell. Let's face it, the past ten years have been scary and anxious. Terrorist attacks, resulting wars, the economic meltdown...we haven't had much of a break from fear and anxiety. And for eight years, the Bush administration manipulated our fear as consciously as any marketer or news producer.

We're only now waking up from that nightmare, if we're lucky, and as parents it's crucial that we wake up. We need to become conscious of the effect that we have on our children. If we are fearful people, our parenting is going to get out of whack. I believe we're seeing that already, as we limit our kids' exploration of the world to the point where they are missing out on important developmental experiences. I want my kid to be able to walk the neighborhood, to go to a slumber party and summer camp, to spend time with other families and get to know other people. [For ongoing conversation on this topic, check out Lenore Skenazy's Free-Range Kids blog.]

Now in order to do so, she'll need skills, and I need the skills to teach her, and that's what we're addressing in Courageous Parenting. In the meantime you can check out the websites of Kidpower for real-world safety training and resources and for online safety training that I highly recommend.

As far as waking up and being conscious of our effect on our children, I have been blessed with a daughter who has been my greatest teacher from day one. When she was a baby I swore she was a Yoda-like Zen master (but much cuter). Then, she taught me how to be in the moment. Now that she's older, she has an almost psychic sensitivity to what is going on in my mind, what I am thinking about and worrying about. When I am stressed and worried, it is mirrored in our relationship and her behavior. It amazes me that she will often voice worries that are currently on my mind even if she and I haven't talked about them yet. So my personal experience has shaped my world view on parenting. There are challenges to face and things to be fearful about. True fear requires attention and action, as author Gavin de Becker has taught so well. But unfocused worry is toxic static that pervades our lives.

It's time we start thinking about the costs of overindulging ourselves and our kids even as we overprotect them, and adopting worry as a destructive habit. My hope is that in our new decade we can turn a fresh page in parenting. I'll be doing that both metaphorically and literally and I invite you to join me.

Sign up now on the home page to receive a free e-book of the new Courageous Parenting anthology when it comes out in March 2010!

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