If the modern mother lives anywhere near lots of other modern mothers it is likely that she has seen or will shortly be seeing the film Race to Nowhere.  She may have been excited to see it, based on what she had read and the fact that she has what are now considered non-conformist views regarding education.  Without spoiling the movie, it is about how stressed, depressed, over-scheduled, over-homeworked and under-slept today's youth are. It is also very emotional.

Yet, this modern mother might have found this movie disappointing.  As she reflects and attempts to put her finger on what bothered her, she knows it was not learning about an AP science teacher who cut his student's homework in half and found the AP scores for that class went up.  After all, this modern mother is a proponent of meaningful assignments that promote deep critical thinking and problem solving instead of busy work.  This modern mother is 100% in favor of more sleep.  She is also opposed to stress, depression and over-scheduling.  She furthers thinks it would be wonderful for teachers to be revered like hedge-fund managers and paid like doctors.  So really, one would think, she should have been a big fan of the film.

Maybe her beef is this: while the movie placed much of the blame on schools and government, this modern mother came away feeling that the problems these parents are complaining about are largely of their own making (for those who have seen it - this comment does not apply to the tragedy in the film).  After all, who is telling these children they need to get straight A's to succeed?  Who is driving these children to their myriad activities and asking the school for more homework, more honors and AP classes?  Who is so afraid that their children will not get into a top tier college that they start preparing their child's college resume in 6th grade?

Today's reality is this: the children of parents who attended top tier colleges have a much lower change of being accepted by a similarly ranked institution.  Of course this sounds scary.  All parents want what the best for their child.  But are parents taking the time to understand who their child is and what would be best for him or her?  Because statistically, if the majority of any population is gifted - doesn't that just make gifted the new average?

Ok, so it's good that these parents have woken up and are trying to stop managing their children, their children's activities and homework. It's good they want to tell the world that over-scheduling and constant pushing is taking a huge toll on the mental health of school children and young adults in college.   It's good they want to illustrate how these children are freaking out and failing out because really, it seems to this modern mother, you can only force someone to do things and pretend to be someone they aren't for so long.

So, a few days after seeing Race to Nowhere, this modern mothers finds herself thinking:  power to the people - yes, of course, stop the madness. Change the system, but in the meantime don't forget to change your own definition of a successful child.  How about embracing a child of average grades, with a real passion for something, someone you enjoy talking to at dinner, who works hard, knows how to get along with people and is not afraid to fail?  Accept that those attributes may not get her into a top college these days, but those are the skills that will get her far in life. 

So, go see this thought-provoking movie,  and please tell us what you think.  

Friday Frivolity - Winter Weather Humor

Keep your spirits up with some humor by New Yorker cartoonist Liza Donnelly. These comics are taken from her blog, When Do They Serve the Wine, which promotes her recently published book by the same title. It is filled with gems, and might make you laugh out loud. Wishing everyone a warm and wonderful weekend!

Could parenting advice from celebrities ever be a good idea?

At Manners for Modern Mothers, we might be slow to catch up with trends in celebrity culture. In fact, celebrity news might only come to our attention due to a long line at a “conventional” grocery store, a wait in a well-subscribed dentist's office, or, in this case, much chatter in the blogosphere. 

And so, we have only recently discovered a controversy surrounding Gwyneth Paltrow and her purported penchant for administering parenting advice via her blog, GOOP, specifically her recent advice for working mothers, which includes such recommendations as: (1) "condense" your appointments by having weekly spa treatments simultaneously (e.g., manicure, pedicure, facial all at once) (2) don't forget your hands free mobile phone device so you can return calls after dropping kids off at school. 

Since we are not celebrities, but nevertheless frequently share our own thoughts on parenting via this blog, we should probably be the last to ask why anyone would consider a film star a good source for parenting tips. Nor would it be mannerly to incite wanton celebrity criticism, but we are curious. Readers, do you find her annoying?  Do you support Gwyneth as a role model? Or, are you just wondering how people find the time to form such strong opinions of public figures? 

* image from

Clean up, Pick up, Tidy up

As she picks up a small pair of socks lying innocently on the family room couch, or pauses to scoop up a pair of snow pants strewn across the floor, a modern mother sighs. Is she sighing because mid-to-late January is supposed to be the saddest time of year? Or, is she simply reflecting on how monotonous it can be: the packing of lunches, the shaking out of jackets and mittens and hats, the lining up of the boots on the boot tray, the unloading and reloading of the dishwasher, the constant clean up, pick up, tidy up.

Yes, the wise mother knows the day will come when her children pick up after themselves. But it can be hard to see how, exactly, that will ever come about.  There are, of course, a multitude of strategies she could use to get her children to tidy up more, to help them help themselves, to create independent and responsible children.  

The stereotypical well-heeled, well-educated suburban mother might pursue those strategies with the vehemence that the now notorious Tiger mother puts into piano practice.  But after early experience with baby books touting specific plans to achieve specific results (e.g., Baby Wise), this mother is wary of overly prescriptive advice and ambitious efforts to re-engineer her children’s behavior.

So she will have to be content to nudge her children along as best she can, attempt a select few strategies gleaned from those advice books, keep trying, and remain confident that these small individuals with a penchant for strewing stuffed animals, small toy parts and articles of clothing throughout their homes will likely grow into responsible, kind and trustworthy individuals. 

Besides, if a recent Wall Street Journal article is to be believed, any parental orchestration of the “home environment pales in comparison to the power of genes and peer group.” Guess it’s time to go start meddling in friendships or, at the very least, fretting over who might be a "bad influence." That should keep her busy until around June 17th, which is thankfully forecast to be the happiest day of the year.  

Frivolous Friday - Ommmm

If the Tiger Mother has got you down and you really don't want to hear any more about the sacrifices mothers need to make to have a career, try this book by Claire Dederer,  Poser: My Life in Twenty-Three Yoga Poses.    Instead of getting jobs, getting divorces and getting out, like many women did in the 60s and 70s this book is about how our generation of 40 somethings is looking inward and seeking perfection through yoga.

Or at least this is what Judith Warner hypothesizes in the  January 9, 2011  NY Times Magazine.  And she should know having kicked off quite a debate herself in 2005 with her book Perfect Madness: Motherhood in the Age of Anxiety. 

Bye, Bye, Baby Gear

It is with great satisfaction that a modern mother might clear her house out when her youngest child turns 2 (or 1, or 3). She will gladly wave good bye to the bouncy seat, the gymini, and baby swing. She will cheer as the exersacuer exits. And when she surveys the soon-to-depart pile of molded plastic and colorful fabric, she might wonder, what could she possibly have seen in all this junk? At the time, it seemed necessary for maintaining her sanity, but was it?  Is it possible that keeping things simple, putting a 7 month old on a blanket with a few spoons, might have been a more satisfying arrangement for both mother and child? Didn’t the greatest generation spend their pre-verbal years sitting on the kitchen floor, banging a pot with a ladle and making hats out of newspaper?

While she lifts and hauls and divests herself of these baby-related contraptions, this modern mother might wonder if baby gear is making us all dumb. Perhaps all this gear primes mothers, fathers, all of us, to be dependent on a fix, the "perfect" piece of equipment to bring on the next developmental milestone, an app, a device to keep a child busy, a device to teach a child what we could teach them ourselves. For babies it might be standing or fine motor skills, but it quickly moves on as children get older: the alphabet, numbers, addition, reading. No doubt the list goes on.

Since she has definitively and happily closed the door on the family building stage of life, this modern mother/budding social scientist will not have occasion to test out a pared down approach with a baby, but perhaps she can re-think some of her strategies with her older children.  

Friday Frivolity - When the weather outside is frightful...

To survive what is shaping up to be a snowy 2011, we discovered these mittens from local  Olive Green Apparel.  This mother daughter team recycles old sweaters and turns them into gorgeous, soft and very, very warm mittens.  We have it on good authority that it is much easier to be mannerly when your hands are warm.

Picture courtesy of

Will 2011 be the Year of the Tiger Mother?

Brace yourselves, modern mothers. Brace yourselves for another round of debate about parenting styles, children’s achievement, and how to raise happy and successful children. With Tuesday’s publication of the new book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother by Amy Chua, “western” suburban mothers will once again be called out. Who is “too soft” and who lets her children quit too soon? Who demands and expects success and achievement? 

In a recent excerpt in the Wall Street Journal, “Why Chinese Mothers are Superior” Ms. Chua recounts her own extreme parenting practices, in which her daughters are never allowed to “have a playdate, be in a school play, complain about not being in a school play, not be the #1 student in every subject except gym and drama, play any instrument other than the piano or violin, not play the piano or violin.” She argues that her “Chinese mother” style “assumes strength” in children and produces achieving children while western style parents give up on their children too soon, failing teach them the value of sticking with something that might not come easily at first.

For many modern mothers, these comparisons may be a bit intriguing but mostly horrifying. The prospect of bringing up a tuxedo wearing, soul-less virtuoso through relentless hounding might be disturbing and yet the prospect of sending Beavis and Butt Head to college on the 8 year plan will doubtless be equally unappealing. Clearly, there must be some middle ground: one can encourage children to achieve their potential while also allowing the freedom to make mistakes and learn from them. Yet, it would be difficult for any parent reading Ms Chua’s excerpt not to contemplate her own parenting, however briefly. 

The modern mother who teaches manners is also teaching standards of behavior. She expects her child to learn to greet others with more than a grunt, to say please and thank you, to approximate appropriate table manners, to write thank you notes and more. Is it such a stretch to extend standards and expectations to academic performance? Perhaps a well mannered mother might re-double her efforts to ensure minimum daily practice of a musical instrument; perhaps she will begin expressing expectations for grades or even household chores; perhaps she will sit back and feel confident in the status-quo. Whatever she may choose, we hope it won’t involve any of the denigration and deprivation Ms. Chua describes in her thought-provoking piece.  

Are Good Manners Putting Our Daughters at a Disadvantage?

 This video turned up on the WSJ's blog  The Juggle and is above all else thought provoking.  Sheryl Sandberg is the COO of facebook and has a lot to say about why there are not more women leaders in the world.

From a mannerly mother's perspective it is interesting to think about how our treatment and expectations of daughters may impact some of the behavior by which Sandberg suggests women are sabotaging themselves.  A couple examples she gives of things women do are: not keeping one's hand up after a speaker has said no more questions,  being modest and saying things like "it was a team effort" or "I had great help." when praised.   Conversely a man might keep his hand raised until he is noticed and when  praised a man may say 'Thanks, glad you liked my work' (in other words good for you for seeing how awesome I am).

The HBS case study she discusses is particularly telling.  In 2002 a professor took a case about  Heidi Roizen a venture capitalist and changed her name to Howard.  He then gave the Heidi case to one group of students and the Howard case to another.  While students found Heidi and Howard equally competent  the students described Heidi as abrasive, out for herself and political.  The group that had read the exact same case with the character named Howard found him to be likable, 'a great guy', someone you would want to work for.

Sandberg points out that this result is just one more example of the positive correlation between success and likability for men and the negative correlation between success and likability for women.  No doubt a few readers have first hand experience with this paradox.

Is it possible that those qualities that make a woman likable also make her incapable of successful leadership?  Yet, when a man is both successful and polite he is considered 'quite a catch'. The question of how we as mothers embolden our daughters in business while at the same time helping them navigate the world socially is a tricky one.  "Be polite, don't brag, be kind, think of others, don't correct your elders, always work hard, do your best."  Is this how Jack Donaghy got to be the Vice President of East Coast Television and Microwave Oven Programming for General Electric?  Hardly.

Can old dogs can learn new texts?

There are times in a mother’s life where she recognizes that she has fully traversed the great divide. As an urban, stroller-pushing mother of a baby and/or toddler, it might have been easy to deny, but sooner or later, the modern mother will have to confront the fact that she has crossed completely to the other side; she has become one of “them” – the middle aged, the mini-van drivers, the parents.

For some, a 40th birthday might invite reflection on how her life has changed. For others it might be happily going to bed before midnight on New Year’s Eve, stone cold sober.  And for this particular modern mother, it might be the moment when she realizes she has been perusing the website, When Parents Text for pointers. No, she is not there to laugh at the expense of an anonymous college student’s anonymous parents. (O.K., some are really funny.) She is there to discover what NOT to do when texting with babysitters, or nieces and nephews, or her child’s guitar teacher. Could she pull off an LOL? Or sign off with G2G? Will she need to throw in a POS when the in-laws visit?  The last thing she needs is a MIL involved.

She may have graduated from college when email was a novelty, but she can master new tricks. Convincingly. To preserve her dignity, she might want to steer clear of “c u l8ter” and just stick with sprinkling in a few emoticons. On second thought, scratch the emoticons too :( After all, her goal here is to retain some small smidgen of self respect. Maybe better to just text like it's an email; who is she kidding anyway? Besides, some of the posts on When Parents Text are really funny:

Chain Message pt. 2

Home Alone

The snow has melted, the trains and planes are running again, school is back in session and the well mannered modern mother has at last either returned home or gotten her home back.  The blizzard of December 2010 will surely be remembered as the holiday that wouldn't stop.   Whether one's family was stranded away from home at Granny's or hosting relations with no knowing when they would be getting out of your hair - one might have felt a bit of a strain.

 How might the mannerly modern mother best deal with  extended guests?  What dear reader, did you do?  Does the hostess-with-the-mostess who has been flawless for 4 days straight break down in tears as her in-laws get off the phone with the airline?  Or can she hold it all together for a few more days?  Does the facade of the perfectly executed visit dissolve into pizza, red table wine and free movies passes for everyone?  And would that really be so bad if it did?  Because maybe if this snafu teaches the well mannered modern mother anything it is that things don't have to be spectacular and well organized.  Maybe (just maybe) the best time of all is some unscheduled time devoid of holiday pressure and expectations.

Nonetheless, to most modern mothers it still probably feels nice to be home.  Alone.
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