Parenting Jen and John Speak

Category Archives: Parenting

Disney Can Do Better for Girls

Disney Can Do Better for GirlsThe other day I was sitting at the table with my upper-elementary school aged daughter. She started to tell me about how you knew it was time to break up with a boy, how hard long distance relationships were, how to choose a good boyfriend, etc. Now my daughter has never dated a boy (goodness no!) and I realized, these were all storylines from the Disney television shows she has been watching.

Now I have been tolerating a select few of the Disney shows because she really enjoys them and all her friends watch them. But after this conversation, John and I realized it’s time to put the brakes on. Almost every Disney show targeted towards girls my daughter’s age is based on the same formula…girl who can sing/dance/songwrite has situations in high school that often involve boys. They actually kind of make my head hurt.

But you know what? Disney can do better! Where are the shows about girl detectives, girl scientists, girl computer programmers, girl adventurers? Why does every show have to be about the same thing? Aren’t girls so much more than that? And haven’t the Disney writers proven themselves capable of writing about plenty of entertaining themes that have mass market appeal?

Now I understand that the Disney machine’s formula makes them a lot of money. Their little stars do a lot more than just act on the show…they go on tour, sell records, etc, and Disney gets a cut of everything.

But Disney owes our girls more. They are more than capable of making entertaining shows that don’t have 9 year old girls processing what makes a good boyfriend. There is more than enough time for that! Why not focus on showing girls the possibilities. All the many things they are capable of. Skipping the boyfriend conversation entirely. These are kids, after all!

What shows do you let your girls watch? Where are the shows that encourage girls to be all they can be and to embrace the possibilities? Would love to read your thoughts in the comments!

Smile For Success


My kids are growing up so fast. I find myself trying to put their childhood in slow motion sometimes. What I’ve noticed most lately is their unbridled laughter and joy.

Recently, while doing some research for work. I found a lot of data supporting the idea that highly successful people are positive people. Even more interesting is that they were positive people before acquiring material success, and that being positive helped them become more successful. It also showed that positive people had more passion, hope and worked harder overcoming challenges.

It all boils down to how one perceives the world and the concept of gratitude. In an effort to help my kids develop this skill, I have them write down three positive things that happened during the day, and then pick one thing to explain why it was positive and/or made them happy. This also helps them practice their writing skills during the summer.

It’s only been several weeks of doing this. And I can already see positive results. I think it’s common sense: I’ve asked my kids to look for positive things in their lives and now they seek out positive and happy events. I can see how over time they will view their world through a positive filter and feel more grateful for all they have, thus feeling happier and achieving success more quickly.

What are you doing to help your children succeed? Do you think it’s a skill you can teach? Please share your thoughts. I would love to get some feedback.


Survival Instincts

By John

I grew up in some pretty tough neighborhoods in New York City. By the time I graduated Elementary school I had dodged a bank robber, gotten away from muggers, lived through a riot during a blackout, and learned how to avoid drug dealers.

When I was ready to start a family, I wanted my kids to have the perfect suburban life. And they do. From time to time, like a kid again, I share in their wonderful, safe, carefree childhood that I didn’t have. It’s a wonderful feeling to laugh, be silly and live innocently in their world.

But now, as my oldest son is about to graduate from elementary school, I wonder what kind of survival instincts he possesses. Is he ready for middle school? Still to this day, I have my spider sense to alert me to danger. I’m really good at avoiding all kinds of trouble. I know how to walk down the street and not look like an easy target, and know when and how to puff up my chest when I’m confronted by a bully. My kids are peacemakers, something that the schools have taught them and a theme that’s reinforced at home. I don’t think my kids have the spider sense to warn them of danger.

So I decided to help my kids develop some survival skills. Yet as I began to develop my plan, I couldn’t stop smiling as I visualized my kids having fun and enjoying life. I realized that my kids have many friends, possess great social skills, have good manners, are very happy and love the world. They have their own set of survival skills.

• They may not know how to get away from muggers, but they know how to make friends and respect others.

• They may not know how to dodge a bank robber, but they know how to deal with a school bully and be involved in school.

• They may not know how to puff up their chest when confronted by a bully, but they know how to do well in their classes and help with the food bank.

• They may not have a spider sense to warn them of danger, but they’re kind, caring, helpful, and as one teacher described my oldest, he’s really comfortable in his own skin.

Yes, I learned how to survive in the big bad city, but my kids are developing instincts beyond fear that give them a future to engage in a world of hope, peace and justice. And even though usually I still have a plan, its much water-downed.

What kind of survival instincts do your kids possess? And what kind of survival skills are you teaching your kids? Please share your tips and thoughts. As a parent you know you’re always looking for a better way to help your family.

Great and Now I Feel Guilty…

I am a bad mother.

As much as I love my children, there are some things that other mothers think are SO fun and are so delightful that make me want to run and hide.

Case in point, a couple of weeks ago my daughter received a letter in the mail. It was from one of her friends. It told her she was now part of the “Sticker Club” and all she needed to do was mail a pack of stickers to the girl listed on the letter, then add her own name to the letter and mail it, along with a blank copy, to 6 other friends. Within 2 weeks she would apparently receive 36 packs of stickers!

Shoot me now.

The letter sat on the hall table for a week just staring at me before my husband started badgering me about it. Pointing out the fact that good mothers had probably already gotten on the ball and sent theirs out.

What he didn’t understand was that first, I had to figure out what copies I had to make, what addresses I had to find, how many stamps I had to buy, and also run out and buy a pack of stickers. Then I had to set aside time to hand write all the addresses, make all the copies, etc.

I barely have time to wash my dishes.

I finally sucked it up and mailed out the letters with my daughter last night. She was of course clapping her hands in delight the whole time. (insert mommy guilt.) I’d also like to point out the fact that I was a week late in sending these out. Which means there will be other disappointed girls who don’t get their stickers on time.


Now I feel guilty about all the other moms we probably stressed out with this project. (If you get one and you’re reading this, I’m sorry!)

How do supermoms do it all? Because I sure can’t figure it out!

Your thoughts?

Conquering the Math Beast

I know exactly when I started hating math.

It all started in 4th grade. I got Mrs. Potter as my math teacher. I hated her and she hated me. I was a kid with lower than average social skills and she couldn’t stand me. I returned the favor. It was a miserable year. And then she moved up to 5th grade and I got her again. That pretty much ended any chance that I could have a positive view of my ability to do math ever.

And the unfortunate thing is that I carried that through for pretty much the rest of my life. And it has affected my ability to manage finances. And I think I’m not the only one. So many women have been led to believe that they are not good at math, and that has carried over into finances. (Barbie says “Math class is tough,” remember?) And that’s a big deal, because I believe that it’s part of the reason our economy tanked. We’ve spent too much because we weren’t looking closely enough at what we were doing.

Budgeting is not that hard. You look at how much you make, figure out what your fixed expenses are (mortgage, car, groceries, etc.) Whatever is left over is saved, donated, or spent. Don’t spend more than you make and you’re in good shape. Spend more than you make and you’ll never be able to retire. It really is pretty much that simple.

But how many of us avoid looking that closely at our finances because instinctively we’re afraid to? We’ve been so programmed to think that this is beyond us that we make bad financial decisions? And then WE PASS THAT ON TO OUR CHILDREN.

I’m not saying you have to be good at higher math. But adding, subtracting, and multiplication can be done on a calculator. It’s not that hard. And if you want to be a good parent, you have to teach your kids financial responsibility. Heaven knows the schools aren’t doing it.

So conquer your own math beast and get over your fear. The math required to make good financial decisions is not beyond you. And your kids need your good example if they are going to be financially secure one day themselves. Don’t spend more than you make. Save some. Delay gratification when necessary.

Conquer the math beast.

Your thoughts?

Communicating with the Working Parent

With all this technology, you'd think it would be easy to send messages to working parents.

Communication has changed drastically since we were kids, but I’m pretty sure that a lot of schools and kids’ after school activities failed to get the memo.

As a working parent, I feel the brunt of this on a weekly basis.

My husband is responsible for going through the backpacks and managing the paper so I don’t see everything. And as a result, I find out about things like the fact that it was Crazy Hat Day when we arrive at the bus stop in the morning. Without our crazy hats, of course.

And then of course you have after school activities like ballet, where the preferred mode of communication is pinning up notices on the bulletin board. Which of course only works if you are the one dropping your child off and picking them up.

It seems like the entire world of communication around kids is geared towards the stay-at-home mom sitting in that waiting room, and going through the backpack after school.

But what about the rest of us? The ones who would be completely on top of things if they would just send a damn email? Or a text? Or a Google Calendar invite?

Gen Y considers email passe, and the schools haven’t even caught up to that yet. How on earth are they going to communicate with parents as communication ever changes?

I am a working parent. PLEASE send me an email if I need to know. So my kid arrives with the crazy hat on Crazy Hat Day. Thank you.

What do you think?

I Want to Be Supermom But My Cape Ripped (And I Don’t Know How to Sew)

My patch-less brownie :)

I am a working mother.

I have a husband who makes sure the household stays running smoothly so I can take the lead in running our company. (God bless him.)

Our roles are often reversed. Parents in town sometimes make the mistake of coming to me to make plans with our kids. After giving them a blank look, I send them to the master schedule keeper (John) who will also most likely be the one who shows up for the playdate or birthday party with kids in tow. He also does the laundry and the taxi driving of the kids. (God bless him.)

We really do like the way things have worked out, even though it’s rather non-traditional. But sometimes it’s hard, too. I’m on the road a lot and miss performances and things. I try to show up for things when I’m around, like caroling with the Brownies.

But I also sometimes think about moms in generations before ours. Those superwomen who cooked and cleaned and got the kids where they needed to be (in heels and pearls, God bless them.) The definition of supermom back then was a lot different than it is today when we’re balancing work and family and everything else we want to do.

Heck, they even knew how to SEW (a talent I simply do not possess.)

Case in point…brownies. I have written before about the stress the whole brownie patch thing has added to my life. I still haven’t added the last 2 patches to my daughter’s vest because I’m not sure where they go. When we went caroling with the brownies at the nursing home, I figured I’d check out the vests of the other girls and then do my daughter’s.  Only when we got there, EVERYONE’s patches were falling off. And it made me feel better. LOL Maybe it’s not just me.

So even though I try very hard to be supermom, there are simply things I’ll never be able to do like June Cleaver. I still haven’t attempted to attach the brownie patches. My husband doesn’t ask me to sew hems (he asks his mom.) And yes, I’ll miss the occasional child activity.

But you know what? It’s OK. It’s what we’ve chosen. It’s the life we created. The kids are happy most of the time.

Even if I don’t know how to sew.

The Kindness of Strangers

My daughter cried when I left for the airport this time.

It was understandable. This was my longest trip yet. A full week away from my family. I haven’t been on a plane since July. And lately I’ve been making a special effort to spend more time with her, as she’s been dealing with the challenges of girls and being social, which tends to rear its ugly head at about her age (boys are so much easier when it comes to the social stuff.)

Now I try to keep it all in perspective, in order to keep the mommy guilt from spiraling out of control. I know she’ll be fine. My husband is home full time (just like I am when I’m not traveling) so I know she’ll have a lot of attention. Travel is a necessary part of the job that I actually enjoy. And it’s what we have to do to take care of our family.

But I also wanted to cheer her up. So I promised to Skype. And send postcards.

So Monday morning I woke up on the opposite coast to discover the internet wasn’t working in the hotel. I battled it for hours but couldn’t get the Skype to work before she left for school. So we talked on the phone. It was OK.

I didn’t get to call her again before she went to sleep, because of the time difference.  By the time I was able to call she was already asleep. So I went in search of a postcard. Part 2 of my promise.

But then I found out that the Orange County airport doesn’t have a mailbox.

I asked a few different shop owners in the airport, just to be sure.

And then I asked the sweet old Asian man in the Hudson News (he reminded me a bit of my Father in law), explaining that I was on a long business trip and wanted to send a card to my daughter (in terminal B…shop there if you’re in the John Wayne Airport.) He told me that if I wanted, he would mail my postcard to my daughter on his way home from work. That there was a mailbox by his home. I thanked him profusely as I started looking for the stamps I knew I packed somewhere. He quietly fished in his pocket and brought me over a stamp for my card.

I finished my message to my daughter, and brought the postcard over with some money for the stamp, and some extra for his kindness. He took the postcard and refused the money. He told me in his broken English that many people had been kind to him over the years, and I should pay it forward. With tears in my eyes I thanked him.

There is kindness in the most unexpected of places.

Family Update, and Managing the Holidays

Our Family Christmas Card Photo

So since I wrote my last post about the sweet potato ravioli, we had a major snowstorm in October which wreaked havoc on the trees and knocked power out for days. My brother’s family (with their baby twins & adorable dog) moved in with us for a few days because we at least had a gas fireplace (for heat) and a gas stovetop to cook with. And since the power was out for days, we had no refrigeration and I wound up having to toss the rest of the sweet potato ravioli (sob).

So it’s been quite a time.

But now we’re back to normal, thank heavens, and I can’t believe it’s going to be Thanksgiving next week! This year, bucking all tradition, we’re celebrating the Chinese side of our family heritage, and going out to eat at the same Chinese restaurant where we celebrated our wedding banquet. The food will be amazing, if not quite traditional. It’s good when you have parents that are pretty much up for anything! :)

We’re also planning for Christmas. Now in our house, the kids are allowed to ask Santa for one large gift that costs around $100. Nothing bigger than that, and only one thing. We do give them smaller gifts as well, but they’re only allowed to ask for one thing. I make my kids write their letter to Santa in early November. Once I tell them it’s sent, they’re committed. Then they can enjoy the rest of the holiday season dreaming about their big gift, instead of constantly trying to make up their minds.

I also have this “thing” where I like to be done with my Christmas shopping by Thanksgiving. I HATE the crowds in the mall, and so do all my shopping online, with regular speed shipping, and then I can enjoy making memories with my kids during the holidays instead of battling for parking spaces. So pretty much everything has been ordered and is either here, or on its way. And that makes life a LOT easier.

I am doing the “Small Business Saturday” thing sponsored by American Express (although I’m not doing it the Saturday after Thanksgiving.) I am trying to purchase just about all of our gifts from small, local businesses and direct sellers, instead of big box stores. It’s a way that I can help jump start the economy. It all starts with small business.

So that’s pretty much our holiday season in a nutshell. How do you keep the stress of the holidays to a minimum? Would love to read your tips in the comments below!

Fighting the Germ-Fest

With the cold weather comes the germies!

This is that time of year when we begin battling the school germs in earnest. One son has already battled bronchitis, the drips from fall allergies begin, and I shudder to think about what those little hands do before they touch the things my kids touch. After a couple of years of constant sickness in the house, I’ve started to get pretty serious about fighting the germs. Here is some of what we do:

  • Hands get washed the second they get home from school. They’re not allowed to do anything else before that happens.
  • I wipe down the shopping cart handles, sides, etc. I love it when supermarkets provide wipes. But when they don’t, I have my own in my purse. I focus on more than just the top and bottom of the handle…I wipe anything on the cart my kids might touch.
  • I keep a bottle of hand sanitizer in the car. It’s in the pocket right behind the front passenger seat. That way I can reach it from the driver’s seat, and the kids can also reach it and pass it around. Whenever we’re out, the first thing we do when we get back in the car is sanitize.
  • All children have been trained to cough/sneeze into their elbows, NOT their hands.
  • Healthy diet. This is always, but especially during the cough/cold season, it helps.
  • Staying home. The second a child shows signs of illness, we pull them out of school. It doesn’t help their immune system or the rest of the kids at school to send my kids back as contributing members to the germ-fest. Instead, they stay home and get better first.

Do we avoid every illness floating around the school? No. But we definitely do better than if we didn’t take these steps. I never want that year of constant sickness again!

How do you avoid the germies passed around school this time of year? Would love to read your tips and hints in the comments below.