Solo Momma: Features/Tips
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Solo Mom Features & Tips

Great ideas to help make your solo parenting more rewarding and meaningful!

Scroll down to read all, or click on ... Successes of Single Moms .. Family Reunion Cruise ... Kids Say Funny Things! ... How to Choose a Puppy ... Where to Live for Top Schools ... When Your Kids Fly Solo ... Pinocchio in Tuscany ... 6 Tips for Single Moms ... Stats on Single Moms & Dads ... Spa for Kids ... About Autism ... Help Your Child Manage $$ ... Less TV! ... Great Birthday Party Ideas ... 7 Reasons to Take a Family Cruise ... Discipline Confessions ... Is Your Child Gifted?... Dealing with Teachers ... Part-Time Gigs ... Arts & Sports: When to Begin? ... Games to Play Together ... Stay Home & Make Money ... One Kid, Two Homes ... Romance & the Single Mom ... Bully? What to Do! ... Stress-Free Get-Togethers ... Year-Round Gifting Ideas

(For past Solo Mom entries, please click here for archives)

 

Successes of Single Moms

Michael Phelps isn't just a living legend in swimming. He's also a product of single mother.

Psychologist Carl Pickhardt, Ph.D., said: "In the process of having to do twice as much as an actively partnered parent, many a single parent becomes doubly dedicated to their children's growth, exerting an extremely powerful motivating influence in their lives. Some of the very best run families I have seen have had a single parent at the helm.”

"Michael Phelps’ mom should win a Mother of the Year award," said therapist Dr. Gilda Carle. "She single-handedly raised three kids, and since Michael had learning disabilities, she gave him one thing on which he could focus and call his own — his swimming.

 "This certainly disproves the myth about kids having trouble when coming from broken homes," Carle said. "It’s all in the parenting and direction we give our children -- whatever their immediate surroundings. Each individual should have a skill s/he can nurture and develop. I think this is one of the most inspiring American stories we have! And this mom did this by not “betting on a prince” for help. She took on grad school, ran a school, and nurtured her family — and played up their uniqueness. She can be very proud."

3 Tips For Parenting Success: Dr. Goulston M.D., clinical psychiatrist and author offers these tips for parenting, single or otherwise, to help your children be successful at the Olympic games of life.

1. Help them identify and achieve goals.  Help your child discover and develop their goals for themselves versus your goals for them, and then help them figure out the steps on how to reach those goals. 

2. Find mentors to help. When you can find mentors/coaches in the world who care about your children, shower those authority figures with appreciation and offer what I call a "Power Thank You" to them. 

3. Teach them your core values. Core values are not what you say, think or believe, they are what you do in your day to day behavior that you resist changing. If you words match your actions, children will trust and respect you; if they don't, they won't.

Entire article and graphics here: http://www.divorce360.com/articles/1261/michael-phelps-single-moms-success.aspx

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A Family Reunion Cruise

For families looking for an alternative to the traditional reunion, the cruise specialists at CruiseCompete.com say a gathering at sea will surely make a splash with everyone.  There are still cabins available for family gatherings on popular cruises scheduled to set sail this summer and fall, as well as the holiday season.

“For a memorable vacation, there’s no better value than a family reunion or holiday gathering on a cruise ship, with plenty to do for grandparents, parents, teen-agers and the younger ones,” said Bob Levinstein, CEO of CruiseCompete.  “It’s a party nobody in the family will forget."   

Following are the top reasons family reunions at sea are more popular than ever:

1. Superior Value – The all-inclusive pricing of cruise vacations includes a family’s accommodations, meals, 24- hour room service, most onboard activities and top entertainment.  Groups often receive special amenities. Cruise ships offer families a variety of staterooms to fit any budget and travel needs. Some cabins have been specially designed to sleep four or more guests. Special suites also are available for the disabled and folks who want more room and luxury amenities.

2. Convenient Departure Points - Traveling to board a cruise ship has never been easier. Ships depart from more than 20 ports throughout North America. Today, cruise ships are located within driving distance or a short flight of many U.S. cities, including Miami, Tampa/St. Petersburg, Baltimore, Philadelphia, New York, Galveston, New Orleans, Boston, Los Angeles and Seattle, among others. 

3. No Worries – On a family reunion cruise, there is no cooking or cleaning to worry about – just relaxation. Plus, the weather is usually warm and pristine. Once everyone’s bags are unpacked (some lines may offer to do that, too), the ship’s crew does the rest.

4.    Floating Fun – There's never a dull moment on a modern cruise ship.  Guests enjoy swimming pools and water slides, rock climbing walls, surf riders, ice-skating rinks, roller blade tracks, spa services, kids programs, nightclubs, gambling, shopping, dining, libraries, Internet and video arcades, enrichment seminars and guest lecturers, yoga and plenty more. A highlight for many families is the visit to the cruise lines’ private islands that dot the Caribbean - full of fun and relaxation.

5. Food Galore – There are more food and dining choices on cruise ships than ever before, catering to people of all ages and tastes. Cruise ships still have their formal dining rooms, but most also feature more casual restaurants, grills and poolside dining options – plus 24/7 room service. Specialty restaurants, founded by some of the world’s most famous chefs, also are found on many cruise ships. 

6. Spa Sensations – Solo women who want to be truly pampered are invited to enjoy an incredible spa experiences.  Cruise ship spa staffs make relaxation and rejuvenation the focus of one’s visit, from the time one’s spa robe is slipped on to the sad moment of leaving the serene and peaceful Eden.

7.  Children’s Programs - For solo moms who may want a break from their children – and vice versa – most of today’s cruise ships offer plenty of structured and supervised recreational programs for kids ages 3 to 17. In addition, special lounges and nightclubs for tweens and teens abound for the younger generations of families to hang out in supervised settings – no parents allowed.

“Cruises provide families of all sizes a truly unique and fun opportunity to gather throughout the year,” Levinstein said.  “The hardest part of the planning process may be determining where and when to go.  Your CruiseCompete cruise specialists help families with planning the details of the reunion at sea to make sure everyone comes home with plenty of fond memories.”     

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Kids are Funny: Some Comic Relief for Single Moms

A first grade school teacher had twenty-six students in her class. She presented each child the first half of a well-known proverb and asked them to come up with the remainder of the proverb.

Their insight may surprise you. Keep in mind that these are six-year-olds, because the last one is a classic!

1. Don't change horses
until they stop running.
2. Strike while the
bug is close.
3. It's always darkest before
Daylight Saving Time.
4. Never underestimate the power of
termites.
5. You can lead a horse to water but
How?
6. Don't bite the hand that
looks dirty.
7. No news is
impossible
8. A miss is as good as a
Mr.
9. You can't teach an old dog new
Math
10. If you lie down with dogs, you'll
stink in the morning.
11. Love all, trust
Me.
12. The pen is mightier than the
pigs.
13. An idle mind is
the best way to relax.
14. Where there's smoke there's
pollution.
15. Happy the bride who
gets all the presents.
16. A penny saved is
not much.
17. Two's company, three's
the Musketeers.
18. Don't put off till tomorrow what
you put on to go to bed.
19. Laugh and the whole world laughs with you, cry and
You have to blow your nose.
20. There are none so blind as
Stevie Wonder.
21. Children should be seen and not
spanked or grounded.
22. If at first you don't succeed
get new batteries.
23. You get out of something only what you
See in the picture on the box
24. When the blind lead the blind
get out of the way.
25. A bird in the hand
is going to poop on you.

And the winner and last one!
26. Better late than

pregnant.

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A Great Tip to Help Choose a Puppy

Want to select a puppy for your family but have no idea of which one to choose? Here's a great tip for a single mom when you first meet the puppy:

Gently roll him over on his back. Hold him there with one hand on his chest for a full 30 seconds.

A normal puppy will resist you at first, but then accept it. A dominant dog will struggle the whole time. A submissive puppy won't resist but might lick your hand. An independent dog will resist and avoid eye contact.

That test determines how the dog accepts stress when socially and/or physically dominated.

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25 Places to Live, When Schools are Important

Relocate-America.com, a website that provides relocating consumers access to resources for their upcoming relocation has released its 2007 list of "America's Top 25 Places to Live to Go to School." 

This year's main nomination and selection process factors ranged from school spirit to the number of students going on to higher education and the involvement of teachers in the lives of their students."

In order to make the list, a school must first be nominated by someone familiar with the community's benefits. Relocate-America's editorial team reviews the nominations for compelling reasons that make the community stand out for schools. The top 25 towns were chosen because they offered specialized programs, unique offerings and non-traditional curriculum. Other considerations included communities with strong public schools, private institutions, charter schools and other specialized training schools.

Anyone can nominate a town by visiting RelocateAmerica.com and completing the questionnaire.

2007 America's Top 25 Places To Live to Go to School:

Mountain Brook, AL
Little Rock, AR
Chandler, AZ
San Jose, CA
Colorado Springs, CO
Wilmington, DE
Jupiter, FL
Sarasota, FL
Johns Creek, GA
Naperville, IL
Winnetka, IL
Olathe, KS
Cape Elizabeth, ME
Birmingham, MI
Troy, MI
Eagan, MN
Columbia, MO
Asheville, NC
Cary, NC
Las Vegas, NV
Spartanburg, SC
Nashville, TN
Arlington, VA
Bellevue, WA
Shoreline, WA

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When Your Kids Fly Solo

Does your ex live far away and the kids fly to visit him? As a single mother, you may not be accompanying them on flights. This comprehensive article -- which first appeared in Independenttraveler.com -- will be of special interest.

If you are allowing your children to fly alone, be sure to take every necessary precaution to ensure their safety. Millions of children fly alone each year, the majority without incident. But be sure you and your child are prepared for the trip.

Unaccompanied Minors

Children ages 5 - 12 who travel without a parent or guardian are known as "unaccompanied minors." Many airlines will not allow children who are under seven to make connections at all, but in the event a minor is old enough to change planes, they will probably be assisted by airline personnel and a fee of $40 - $75 will be charged. Some airlines, Southwest for example, will not allow any minor (5 - 11) to change planes. On US Airways, a child must be at least 15 years old to take a flight with a connection.

If you intend to send an unaccompanied minor by plane, you will be required to fill out a form detailing the child's name, age, medical considerations and other relevant information. Upon arrival, children will be escorted from the aircraft by a flight attendant and released to the person named by you prior to departure.

In addition, you will have to agree that the airline is not taking on any special responsibility of guardianship during the flight. Legally, an unaccompanied minor is treated in the same way as an adult passenger.

What It Will Cost You

Most major airlines will charge you $40 - $99 each way for an escort fee. The exact fees will depend on the airline and the age of the of the child.

Here are the fees charged each way for domestic flights on some of the major U.S. airlines:

Airline Nonstop Connecting
American $60 $60
Continental $50 $95
Delta $50 $75
Northwest $50 $75
Southwest No Charge Not allowed for children under 12
United $99 $99
US Airways $40 Not allowed for children under 15

Airline rules vary, but here's a good idea of what to expect on domestic flights:

  • Children ages 1 - 4 may fly only when accompanied by an adult. A child must be at least 5 to fly alone.

  • Kids ages 5 - 8 can take a direct flight to a single destination but not connecting flights.

  • Those over 8 may change aircraft. If they're ages 8 - 11, they will be escorted by airline personnel to their connecting flight. A significant extra charge for this service is likely. Older kids -- ages 12 through 15 -- may not be routinely escorted, but you can request this assistance.

  • Anyone under the age of 17 who is flying alone on an international flight must have a signed note from a parent or responsible adult giving permission, destination and length of stay.

  • Minors must be met at the destination by another parent or responsible adult.

    Editor's Note: As these guidelines vary slightly by airline, be sure to contact your carrier for specific information.
    \
  • Other Considerations

    Although many airlines offer discounts for minors under normal circumstances, if your child is flying unaccompanied, it is practically a certainty that you will pay a full adult price for the ticket. The good news? The fee you pay for an escort covers an unlimited number of children traveling in the same party (except on Alaska Airlines, which will charge for more than three children). Hence, if you are sending your three children together, you pay only once. On international flights, the age restrictions are more stringent. Additional fees may apply if a flight is longer than six hours in duration.

    Due to new post-9/11 security measures, you won't be able to accompany your child to the boarding gate. The airline will provide an attendant to escort your child through security and accompany them through the boarding process. Policies vary by airport, so be sure to check ahead of time if this is a concern. Special arrangements may be made.

  • Never wait until you have reached the airport to inform the airline that you have a minor traveling unaccompanied. Always provide this information to customer service over the phone, and have them inform you of all your options, all fees involved, and so forth.

  • If you can help it, buy your children nonstop tickets only. If a change of planes is necessary, use a small, less intimidating airport for the transfer, if possible.

  • When you send your child, make sure that he/she is traveling with emergency information. For example, leave instructions on how to handle flight delays or cancellations, including emergency contacts and a means to pay for necessities, such as overnight accommodation.

  • Familiarize your child with the plane ticket and have him/her keep it in a safe place. Upon departure, the child will need to retain the ticket for the return flight or as a receipt. We recommend utilizing e-tickets whenever possible, so the information will be stored in the airline's computers in case of emergency.

  • Try to book a morning flight. If it is delayed or canceled, you have the rest of the day to make alternate plans.

  • Small children may have trouble with checked baggage. If it can be avoided, don't send them with excess luggage. If not, when checking luggage, make sure to check the stubs yourself, to be sure that the luggage claim ticket and luggage tag match your child's final destination.

  • Get to the airport early to ease check-in and get children accustomed to their surroundings. If possible, show them where help desks are located, and get them to recognize uniformed employees.

  • Give them a picture of the person meeting them -- with the full name, address and phone number written on the back. You will need to provide this information to the airline as well.

  • Make sure the adult meeting your child at his or her destination is carrying photo identification.

  • Pack some snacks for the child: juice boxes, chips, sandwiches, trail mix or other finger foods like grapes or berries.

  • Make or buy young children a travel pack to keep them entertained while in-flight.

  • Give your child a little cash to cover incidental expenses and phone calls in the event of an emergency.

  • In addition to being sure your child knows how to place a collect call, you may want to give him/her a calling card before she travels, as well as a list of numbers to call if necessary.

  • Just because a five-year-old is permitted to fly solo, does not mean that your child will be able to handle flying alone, especially if it involves a connection and/or a child that hasn't flown before. Parents should use common sense and make a decision based on if they feel the child is mature enough to handle it.

    Reading Recommendations

    The Department of Transportation, with the National Child Safety Council, offers a free brochure, "Kids and Teens in Flight."

    Contact the Office of Consumer Affairs, Department of Transportation, 400 7th Street SW, Washington D.C., 20590

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Can't Tell a Lie: Pinocchio in Tuscany

The Collodi Park is entirely dedicated to the little wooden puppet who so wished to be a little boy and all the wonderful characters of Collodi's classic fairy tale. The town of Collodi in Tuscany is the birthplace of Carlo Collodi, the literary creator of the world's favorite wooden puppet. Born Lorenzetti, the writer paid tribute to its hometown by adopting Collodi as his last name.

The park includes a workshop where one can follow the creation of a puppet from beginning to end, as well as shows, exhibits and entertainment. Picnic areas are available throughout the park as well as the Osteria al Gambero Rosso. The park which centers around the Italian Pinocchio imagery and not the Disneyesque version of the character is a fun activity for fans of the puppet, big and small alike and a pleasant way to spend a few hours wondering in the peaceful Tuscan countryside.  http://www.pinocchio.it/

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Six Tips for Single Mom Survival

by Angela Thomas


As a gift to our children, we can become healthy single moms who are strong and amazing women in spite of our circumstances. Maybe you will get a head start on some of the things that make single motherhood a little easier, and find encouragement for every place you feel weary or discouraged.

1. Go to bed early. It cuts out some of the lonely.
I realized I am inclined to feel the most lonely and sad at the end of the day after the kids are in bed, usually between 9 and 11pm. A few years ago, I decided to just cut out those hours from my day and go to bed right after the kids. It's amazing what going to bed early did for this lonely girl. Lonely is still present sometimes, but it doesn't taunt me late at night. It doesn't play with my weakness. It doesn't tempt me to choose poorly. Maybe one day I'll have a reason to stay up, but for now my best "lonely" avoidance is just going to bed.

2. Be the mom. You are in charge.
We have to remember that we are grown-up, and they are little, even if their "little" is packaged inside tall teenage bodies. We have been given the authority to parent and being a single mom doesn't take away that authority or diminish our responsibility to protect, guide, discipline and lead. It gives our kids a deep sense of security when we stand up in strength and lead with love and compassion.

3. Do the very best you can with their dad.
For the sake of the children, figure out the best, most sane modes of interaction with your kids' dad. This man is the father of your children. They want to love him, and it's your responsibility to encourage and facilitate a healthy love. Forget about what's fair. That's all over. It's about the kids now and the most right way to interact with him for their sakes.

4. Talk to the children as though you are fascinated by their lives.
Greet the children just like you do your best friend. Go to them every time they come home. Hug them. Look into their eyes with intention and love. Track with their conversations. Spend a few minutes every date fascinated by their details and heart.

5. Never stop being affectionate.
I try never to let one of my children walk past me without touching him or her in some way. I touch his head or pat her back or kiss my baby on the cheek. Why? My kids are getting older, and I don't want them to forget being touched by their mom. Even if they are grumpy or we've had a disagreement, I touch them tenderly. They have to believe that my love for them is consistent and without condition. I don't sulk at them or reject them or ever move away. I am always moving in. Holding and snuggling. Pushing through the inevitable pouty days and stiff hugs to give a mother's love.

6. Ask a family friend or neighbor like Rick or Dave to be the tough guy sometimes.
I've asked these guys to help me with my sons: Frisbee golf around the neighborhood, coaching their baseball teams, taking them to practice and skate parks and the pool and camping. Maybe you need to ask someone too. Someone with a heart of love. Someone cool. Someone who can say the same thing you just said, but different enough to be heard.

Angela Thomas is author of My Single Mom Life: Stories & Lessons for Your Journey

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Stats on Single Moms & Dads

Are single moms eligible "dating material"? Does the Internet make it easier for single mothers to meet potential dates? Are "Momma's Boys" a turn-off? When do you tell your romantic interest about your children? Here are some of the highlights from the survey of 1,000 singles from okcupid.com:

- 69 percent of single men said they would be okay with dating a single mom

- 89 percent of single mothers are "up front" about their kids, telling romantic interests right away about their children before the first date

- only 18 percent of single mothers include their kid's pictures in their profile

- 92 percent of single mothers find online dating equally as or more useful than offline methods for meeting potential suitors

- 56 percent of singles said that "Momma's Boys," on the other hand, are a turn-off

Does the Internet make it easier for single fathers to meet potential dates? Would singles date someone who reminds them of their dad? Do men approach dating differently once they have children? Who is Hollywood's Hottest Dad? Here are some of the highlights from a survey of 1,000 singles

- 53 percent of the respondents said they would date a man who reminds them of their father

- 71 percent said that single dads are still eligible "dating material"

- 51 percent said that Brad Pitt is Hollywood's Hottest Dad,

- 82 percent of single fathers find online dating equally as, or more useful than offline methods for meeting potential suitors

- 65 percent of single dads said they prefer to take things slow in new relationships now that they have children

- 62 percent of single fathers said their children will always be their highest priority, regardless of who they happen to meet in their dating endeavors

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Spa for Kids: a New Idea in Midwest

Having a chocolate-covered strawberry pedicure might not be everyone's idea of a great time. But it's become quite a hit among the 6- to-12 set at the Great Wolf Lodge Resort in Traverse City, Mich. For that matter, so have manicures and pedicures that smell enticingly like caramel apple, peaches and cream, coconut cream pie and - believe it or not - gummy worms.

 Those are some of the services on tap at Scooops -- a "spa for kids" developed this spring at the Traverse City Great Wolf. Youngsters who sign up for the service can have their nails buffed, get facials and even have a light bit of makeup done while soaking their feet in fizz baths flavored like their favorite ice cream combinations - while their moms relax in the nearby adult spa.

Based in Wisconsin, Great Wolf Lodge is best known as a chain of indoor waterpark resorts aimed at families with younger children. In the past year the company has been adding other amenities, from miniature golf to high-tech fantasy role-playing games, to attract new customers.

While its network of Aveda spas welcomes customers of all ages (they've had a long-standing "Mother-Daughter Escape" package for years) there haven't really been spa services specifically geared to the preteen set. It was MacDonald's own daughter who first gave her the idea of designing a spa for youngsters.

With the addition of some ice cream parlor themed furniture and decor - retro swivel stools, for instance, and a pedicure bench shaped like an enormous ice cream sundae the first Scooops opened in the chain's Traverse City location in March - and was such an instant success that Great Wolf has already opened branches in four of its existing spa locations (Williamsburg, Va.; Kansas City, Wisconsin Dells and Mason, Ohio) with plans to start branches in two others later this year.

Prices for the Scoops Kid Spa range from $35 to $45 for treatments and include a voucher for ice cream at the resort's cafe. Customized birthday packages are available from $120 to $240, based on the number of kids attending. Birthday party packages include: the choice of ice cream pedicure/manicure or a facial/makeup touch-up; a birthday crown and ME! Bath products for the birthday girl; an ice cream fizz ball for all birthday participants; a group photo, and a voucher for ice cream at the resort's confectionary cafe.

For more info: www.VisitTraverseCity.com

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Identify (and Cope) with Autism

The Child with Autism Learns the Faith strives to enlighten readers about how autism affects children and equally important, how to include them in lessons and group activities that we take for granted. "People need to understand that first and foremost, autism is a physical disability of the brain," says author Kathy Labosh. "Autism affects the brain in the same way that blindness affects the eye or deafness affects the ear."

Although people with autism have physical abnormalities in their brain structure, the effects are behavioral.The first thing teachers, caregivers and families must understand is that autism can not be disciplined away. Here are some more key points from the book:

  • Children with autism have trouble processing information.
  • Books with intricate pictures and rich language are overwhelming for children with autism.
  • Children with autism take in everything at once- no special importance is attached to characters or objects in pictures.
  • Children with autism often have trouble distinguishing consonant sounds, so they tend to lip read, making it important to speak slowly and clearly.
  • Noisy rooms are stressful for children with autism because they can not filter out the background noise.

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Help Your Child Manage Money

Teach them the following:

---They Have Choices. Save, spend, donate or invest. A savings bank should offer them all four options.

---They Need Goals. Have them draw a picture of what that goal is; for example, a bike, or donating to an animal shelter. Put the picture by their home bank.

---They Should Pay Themselves First. They need to learn to save a portion of every dollar.

---They Need an Allowance. Pay them in cash. They will learn when the money is gone, it's gone.

---They Need Good Role Models. Pay bills on time, use cash when possible, and take them with you to the bank to make deposits.

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Five Quick Ideas for Turning off the Tube

Most kids watch TV about three hours a day. A few basic reminders, especially useful for solo moms:

-- Keep Track.

-- Eliminate Background TV.

-- Keep TV Out of the Bedroom and Dining Room.

-- Limit TV on School Days.

-- Offer Fun Alternatives.

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The Scoop on Birthday Parties

As a solo mom you may be responsible for all birthday party responsibilities, so use this guide to help:

Party Rules
Make your child feel special.
Plan more activities than you need
Simple, Safe, Short
Let invitations reflect excitement
Add themes or wacky elements to old games
Go with the flow (especially if something is working)
Let your child have the final word
Enlist help
Have fun, relax and take photos!

A Basic (90 minute) Party Format
1- Welcoming activity related to theme, such as an arts and crafts project. (15 min)
2- An active game (15 min)
3- A quiet game (15 min)
4- Serve cake and other food (15 min)
5- Open presents (10 min)
6- Play a cooperative game or hunt (15 min)
7- Distribute goody bags or favors, and thank guests (5 min)
8- Later, help your child write thank yous.

First party -- Whatever makes you happy!

Ages 2-3
Water and Sand Play, Riding Toys, Simple Musical Instruments, Balls, Blocks, Pretend Play, Food Decoration, Circle Time, Supervised Crafts, Dancing

Ages 4-6
Treasure Hunts, Team Competitions, New Twists on Classic Games, Dramatic Play, Arts and Crafts, Food Activities, Bubbles, Collaborative Games, Musical Games, Active Games

Ages 6-10
Memory Games, Games of Chance, Dramatic Play, Sports, Action Games, Relay Races, Cooking, Arts and Crafts, Scavenger and Treasure Hunts, Problem Solving

Tweens and Up
Dinner with Friends, Laser Tag, Paper Chase (clues to send around town, or mall), Surprise Party, Breakfast Party, Classic Movies, Night of Beauty, Cooking (maybe the cake!)

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Seven Top Reasons to Take a Family Holiday Cruise

Less Stress  The hustle and bustle of the holidays, accompanied by plenty of stress, can bring out the worst in single moms. Rather than worrying about family visits, feeding everyone and keeping crowds entertained, persons taking a cruise vacation during the holidays can simply relax and let the cruise line take care of it all.

Unique Gifts  Just how many toys does a child need, not to mention jewelry for mom. If someone is looking for truly memorable gifts for loved ones over the holidays, a cruise vacation is a nice break from the norm.  Plus, the gift giver usually gets to go along on the trip.      

Family Memories  When does a teenager actually want to go on vacation with his or her family?  Usually when a cruise vacation is planned.  There are plenty of activities to do as a family or group on a cruise, as well as plenty of opportunities for children and teens to spend time on their own or with their peers.  Family moments are captured in special memory books, offered by many of the cruise lines.

Value  An all-inclusive cruise vacation, featuring accommodations, food and most entertainment, can save families hundreds, sometimes thousands, of dollars versus many land-based resorts and getaways over the holidays.  A number of seven night voyages on many popular cruise lines can be booked now through early January for well less than $1,000 per person. 

Kids Entertainment  Children and teens have little time to sit around on a cruise ship and complain about being bored.  Spending the holiday break on a cruise means swimming, rock climbing, beach combing, water sports, games, music, exploring, dancing and more fun for kids of all ages.  Age-appropriate, supervised children's programs keep them busy.  On-board teen clubs on many ships give older kids a break from their parents  and vice versa.

Tropical Weather  With no snow on the ground and plenty of blue sky above, a sun-soaked Christmas or New Year's holiday on a Caribbean or Mexican cruise is unlike any other.  Parkas and snow boots can stay packed a little longer, but be sure to pack the shorts, bathing suits and sunscreen.     

Picturesque Ports  White snow is replaced with secluded, white sand beaches at many Caribbean ports of call and the cruise lines' private islands.  In addition, various ports throughout the region celebrate the holidays in grand style, providing cruise guests with different holiday scenery to remember. 

For more information, visit www.cruisecompete.com.

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Discipline Confessions from Parenting Magazine

Every solo mom has some too harsh tried and true tactics. Topping the list: 49% of you tend to use your child's full name when you're ready to reprimand. Also popular at 36%: "I'm going to count to ten!"

Are you a tyrant or a pushover? 60% think you've been too harsh on occasion, but even more (78%) think you've been too easy!

How often does your child act up? 58% say: About as much as other kids; 24% say: Less than other kids; 17% say: More than other kids

It's unanimous! The bad behavior you have to deal with most often is...Kids resisting when told to do something-- more than hitting, tantrums, talking back, and sibling fights combined!

When you lay down the law you...Worry that you should have done it differently: 46%; Feel like you're teaching a good lesson: 26%; Don't like it: 19%; Feel guilty: 9%

Out in the world versus the privacy of home -- is there a difference? 69% of you say your child is better behaved in public than at home. A whopping 56% of you don't discipline any differently at home than in public. Let's hear it for consistency!

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Is Your Child Gifted?

Without proper assessment, which includes a professionally administered IQ test, it's hard to know if you have a little genius. Some clues: Look at your child in the same context with other kids of the same age. Are there consistent, noticeable differences? Do others comment on the same things you are observing? Notice especially:

Language Skills: Most kids talk by two; gifted kids often talk earlier, and by school age show special language skills.

Learning Abilities: Does your child show ease and joy in learning? Is their brain a mental sponge, absorbing ideas and info?

Emotional and Behavioral Traits: Gifted children are often more emotionally intense. They may show lots of sensitivity and empathy.

Motor Skills: Is your child advanced in skills involving balance, coordination and movement? How about fine motor skills, like putting puzzles together?

If you feel your child is being overlooked, talk to a teacher, then follow up with an administrator involved with the gifted program. Write your concerns and copy to the district coordinator of gifted education, the school principal, and the teacher.

And if your child isn't deemed "gifted" take heart. Neither were Albert Einstein, Isaac Newton, Thomas Edison or Winston Churchill, who were all "late bloomers." They did just fine!

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Lesson Plan for Single Moms: Early Weeks of School

As a solo parent you want to interact early with your kids' teachers and school, to head off problems. Here are some do's and don'ts.:

DO:

-- Introduce yourself to the teacher in the first weeks.

-- Meet supervisors, teachers --even the principals --immediately if you find your child is being bullied.

-- Meet the teacher early is you disagree with teaching methods.

-- Speak to the teacher if you're concerned with reading or math placements.

DON'T:

-- Bring up personal concerns at open-house or back-to-school nights.

-- Commit to frequent events, such as PTA, if you can't follow-up

-- Bother teacher's if you see them out of school.

-- Break rules, such as sending snacks with your kids. Check 'em out first.

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Part-Time Perks, Bonus Bucks for Single Moms

by Angelique H. Caffrey

Don't want to spend full-time away from the kids, but want to make some money? Think part-time! These jobs regularly come with perks to entice you. So pick and choose, considering all the benefits of employment and not simply focusing on the advertised salary. The following popular half-time positions offer employees plenty of advantages beyond a paycheck -- and time for solo parenting!

Retail Sales Associate (Clothing)

The job: At a clothing retailer, you'll help customers purchase and return merchandise, usually 20-30 hours per week depending on the season. You may also be expected to keep track of inventory, handle large amounts of money, or be on the lookout for shoplifters.

The perks: Clothing stores usually offer a significant discount off regular and sale items. For instance, Talbots gives part-timers 40% off, The Gap 30%, Ann Taylor 40% (25% off sale merchandise), and JC Penney 20% (10% off furniture items). Some may also offer minimal medical coverage options for part-timers.

The "in": The U.S. Department of Bureau and Labor Statistics (BLS) estimated that there were over 4.5 million retail jobs in America in 2004. However, they are not always advertised in the paper; it's better to go to their Web sites or just drop by for an application.

The bottom line: If your personal or family clothing allowance is around $200 each month and you work at Talbots, you'll save almost a grand annually.

Retail Sales Associate (Other)

The job: These retailers sell books, home furnishings, arts and crafts, pet items, electronics, or a whole host of other items. Thus, you could find yourself doing everything from customer relations to stocking shelves.

The perks: If you work at Williams-Sonoma, you'll receive a generous 40% off merchandise; at Michaels, a popular craft store, you will get 25% off purchases. Lowe's gives associates 10% off; Tower Records, 15%.

The "in": These jobs are advertised periodically, but you're better off going to the store and getting an application in person.

The bottom line: When you buy items for yourself or others (if that's allowed; sometimes, it's not) for everyday use or special occasions, you could save thousands per year on top of your modest hourly salary (the mean is $11.14/hour as reported by the BLS).

Waitress/Waiter

The job: As a server, you will be expected to take orders and bring food and drinks to customers' tables. You must also generate a decent rapport with other staff members, cooks and bartenders. Depending on the restaurant, you may also have to "bus" your own table, vacuum the carpet, or perform other custodial functions.

The perks: The most important benefit to waiters and waitresses are the tips they receive. If you work at an upscale bistro, those could translate into 20% of the total bill; at other eateries, 10-15% is more common. Most restaurants also offer waitstaff at least one free meal a day. At a national chain such as Ruby Tuesday, you will also have the opportunity to sample (for free) any new menu items.


The "in": The National Restaurant Association estimates that there are just under one million eateries in the United States, translating to plenty of work for the part-timer who wants the flexibility and variety of a server job. Therefore, stop by your favorite restaurant and ask if they are hiring, as server jobs are usually not found in the newspaper classifieds or on CareerBuilder. You can also ask friends in the industry about any openings.

The bottom line: First, your gratuities can add up to hourly wages of $10-15/hour; thus, even though you have a low base salary, your "commissions" can boost your income substantially. The free meals are also a money saver; for instance, $5 in free food for four nights a week adds up to over $1,000 per year.

Bartender

The job: In this position, you will be expected to prepare drink orders, mix beverages, and take customers' money. You will probably also have to keep an eye on your stock of drink items, clean the bar and call for taxis.

The perks: Like servers, bartenders can receive some amazing tips. In fact, a good bartender can expect to make several hundred dollars in one busy evening (such as a Friday or Saturday night). He or she may also get free meals.

The "in": Stop by your local pub or eatery that serves alcohol and find out if there are any bartending jobs open. You can also ask your friends who are servers at local restaurants to keep their ears open for any opportunities. Finally, if there are any tourist hot spots or casinos nearby, try to snag a position there; the buyers are usually more generous.

The bottom line: Obviously, the more tip, the bigger take-home pay. Thus, it behooves a bartender to keep the drinks flowing to up his or her hourly wage to $40/hour or more.

Child Care Provider

The job: As a part-time child care provider, you will generally work with preschool age kids and infants. Expect to change diapers, give bottles, deal with parents, and clean toys.

The perks: If you work half time for a facility like Gold's Gym or the YMCA, you'll be eligible for free membership. And if you have a child of your own, you may also get onsite child care as part of your employment.

The "in": You might find these jobs advertised in the paper or you could just ask at your local health club or gym. (One caveat - don't apply for this job if you cannot pass a clearance because of a prior criminal record.)

The bottom line: Health club memberships can be expensive; by working as a part-time baby sitter for a gym, you could save over $1,000 a year. Plus, if you have an infant or youngster, you'll save additional money in child care costs.


Movie Theater Employee

The job: If you work at a movie theater such as AMC Theatres, you could find yourself running the projector, cleaning up aisles after patrons leave, handling tickets and money, or running the concession stand.


The perks: Most movie theatres allow their employees to view new releases for free. They may also provide workers with some gratis food items, such as popcorn, nachos, soda or candy.

The "in": These part-time gigs are highly coveted by people who love to "stay up" on entertainers and movies. Therefore, your best bet is to walk right into the theater and ask to see a manager for an application.

The bottom line: Movies are expensive. If you tend to go to at least one show each weekend, a job as a movie theatre attendant could be worth over $500 a year in tickets alone.

See Who's Hiring:

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When to Start Arts and Sports Activities?

As solo moms, we're used to making decisions. But when should our children begin arts and sports activities? We went to the experts to find out the right time to start kids in programs. All of them stressed the importance of enjoyment without pressure. (These are general comments, so if your child is a prodigy, factor that in!)

Piano- Between five and seven years old, when children are able to comprehend how things are put together. Some sense of discipline and responsibility needed.

String Instruments- As early as three, like a play class. By six, discipline is emphasized. Kids have to be able to use fingers. As for the Suzuki method, which starts kids at two, there's controversy. (Check www.suzukiassociation.org/parents.)

Wind Instruments- Recorder at six (good starter instrument), flute and clarinet at eight, saxophone at nine. Children must be physically and emotionally ready.

Ballet- Start at eight, when kids are able to concentrate for an hour, and perform movements. Creative movement classes can begin at three or four.

Modern Dance- Six or seven for modern or tap basics, and structured dance. Jazz and hip-hop can begin around nine.

Gymnastics- Tumbling and unstructured activities can begin as early as 11 months; true gymnastics at four or five.

Martial Arts- As early as three; five to eight can be more focused. By nine, children are able to move on to more disciplined levels.

Swimming- No forcing, but the earlier the better. From six months on, with parents.

Soccer- Four or five, for recreational, non-competitive play.

Our arts/sports experts include Alexander Fleitman, Gary Bratt, Donatas Stanciauskas, John DeBlass, Kathleen Yiannoudes, Carolyn Eaton, Jennifer Pollack, Jennifer Dell, Renata Celichowska, Anne Lederfeind, Melissa Lenz, Jodi Levine, Sensei Gustavo Larrea, Steven Sciandra, Fran Clifford, Rachel Peikes, Vinnie Falci

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Four Fun Yard Games to Play Together

When you want to get the kids off the couch and into the fresh air, set up any one of these favorite classic yard games, collected from weightwatchers.com. We've gathered the rules as reminders for you (though your kids could probably teach you), and rated their exercise and "cool parent" potentials. You'll be the most fun mom on the block!

Capture the Flag
What you need: Two pieces of fabric that can function as flags. A big yard or park space.
Players needed: Enough to form two teams (six or more).

Divide into two teams and separate the yard into two parts. Determine an amount of time (usually five minutes) for each team to hide its flag in its part of the yard. When the time is up, each team's mission is to get into their rival team's territory and find and capture the flag. If you're "tagged" by an opponent while in their territory, you're put in a "jail," from which you can only be freed if one of your teammates tags you to release you. The team that captures the other team's flag first (and, optional, brings it back to their own territory) wins.

Exercise rating: 8 of 10.
Cool parent rating: 10 of 10.

Duck, Duck, Goose
What you need: Enough yard or park space to form a roomy circle.
Players needed: Preferably more than three.

Form a seated circle and call one player "it," or "goose." That player walks around the circle, tapping each seated player on the head and labeling them a "duck" or a "goose." When "it" labels somebody "goose," "goose" gets up and chases "it" around the circle. If "goose" cannot tag "it" before "it" can get all the way around the circle and seated in "goose's" spot, "goose" is the new "it." This game is great for younger kids.

Exercise rating: 5 of 10.
Cool parent rating: 6 of 10.

Red Light, Green Light
What you need: A reasonably spacious yard or park space.
Players needed: Three or more.

One player is deemed "it" or "red light." He or she stands a good distance away from the other players. "It" calls "green light" and turns around with his or her back to the other players; when "green light" is called, the other players can move toward "it." But when he or she calls "red light" and turns around, the other players must stop moving and be perfectly still. If any of the other players are still in motion when "it" turns around, they're out. The first person to make it all the way to "it" becomes the new "it."

Exercise rating: 7 of 10
Cool parent rating: 7 of 10.

Tag
What you need: Lots of yard or park space.
Players needed: Two or more.

Tag has dozens of variations. In freeze tag, any player touched by the "it" player is frozen until another player crawls under the frozen player's legs. TV tag is the same, but in order to unfreeze someone, you must also shout the name of a TV show. In hook-up tag, all players except the "it" player and one other hook elbows to form pairs — to avoid "it," the one lone player hooks onto a pair; the person on the other side of the person hooked onto is now released, and has to run away to avoid "it." There are all sorts of ways to play tag — if you like, use your imagination and come up with your own rules.

Exercise rating: 10 of 10
Cool parent rating: 8 of 10

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  Stay at Home, and Make Money!

Do you dream of being a solo mom at home with your kids whenever they need you, and earn some money?

There's a great way to do it, according to an article posted on abcnews.com. Nowadays, when you call an 800 number to place an order, the voice that answers is probably sitting at home. Telecommuting allows you to work from home, full or part-time.

In 1999, only 18 of Fortune's list of best companies to work for offered telecommuting. Today, 79 do. (In fact, all 100 of Working Mother magazine's best companies offer some form of telecommuting.)


New companies now focus on home-based customer service agents. This is legitimate employment, not envelope-stuffing scams that promise big bucks for minimal effort.


Alpine Access, LiveOps and Working Solutions are three leaders in employing or contracting such agents. They provide telephone support services to catalog retailers, financial service institutions, airlines and even the IRS.

More than 100,000 home-based phone representatives live and work across the United States. By 2010, the research group IDC predicts that number could reach more than 300,000, as more companies recognize the financial savings of using home-based agents instead of operating costly call centers to handle customer service inquiries.


Agents set their own hours, averaging about 20 to 25 hours a week — whatever works. Compensation ranges from $8 to $20 an hour.

What do you need to qualify? High-speed Internet access, a land line to handle calls and a quiet work space. Barking dogs, screeching cockatoos, ringing doorbells and crying babies in the background are obvious no-nos. Training is provided, but paid versus unpaid training varies by company.


For stay-at-home moms there aren't too many other legitimate ways to earn steady money and maintain flexibility. You can be home when the kids get on and off the school bus, and add hours to your schedule during the holidays to help cover increased expenses. Or opt to be on during irregular hours — late nights, midday or any combination. The choice is yours. Plus, you'll save money on commuting and sitters.

Info: www.womenforhire.com

Ten Home-Based, Full-Time/PT Jobs Great for Single Moms

The number of employed Americans who worked from home, from as little as one day a year to full time, grew from 41.3 million in 2003 to 44.4 million in 2004. In fact, 7.6 million employees conduct work from home every month. Even if the job is advertised as office-based, these positions are telework-friendly and could be in your future.

Administrative Assistant
Also known as virtual assistants, home-based administrative assistants use office experience and computer skills as support personnel. Many skills easily transition into this position which offers many part-time and temporary opportunities.

Advertising Sales Agent
It's said that Americans are exposed to more than 3,000 ad messages a day. Advertising sales representatives sell or solicit advertising space in print and online publications, custom-made signs, or TV and radio advertising spots.

Computer Software Engineer
Computer software engineers are projected to be one of the fastest-growing occupations over the 2002-2012 period. Duties include design, development, testing and evaluation of computer software, and continual training is suggested for the quickly evolving industry.

Corporate Event Planner
Employed by a private company rather than a hotel or convention facility, a corporate event planner coordinates staff activities including group meetings, client presentations, special events, conventions and travel.

Copy Editor
Copy editors mostly review and edit a writer's copy for accuracy, content, grammar and style. This is a competitive field; however, the growth of online publications and services is spurring the demand for writers and editors, especially those with Web experience.

Desktop Publisher
Desktop publishers use computer software to format and combine text, images, charts and other visual elements to produce publication-ready material. Duties of this fast-growing profession include writing and editing text, creating graphics, converting photos and drawings into digital images, designing page layouts and developing presentations.

Data Entry Clerk
Like administrative assistants, job prospects should be best for those with expertise in computer software applications. By typing text, entering data into a computer, and performing other clerical duties, these workers ensure companies keep up with information and technology.

Insurance Underwriter
Insurance underwriters serve as the main link between the insurance carrier and the insurance agent. Underwriters analyze insurance applications, calculate the risk of loss from policyholders, decide whether to issue the policy and establish appropriate premium rates.

Market Research Analyst
Market Research Analysts gather data on competitors and analyze prices, sales, and methods of marketing and distribution. They often design surveys, compile and evaluate the data and make recommendations to their client or employer based upon their findings.

Paralegal
While lawyers assume ultimate responsibility for legal work, much of their work is delegated to paralegals. Paralegals not only assist in preparation for closings, hearings, trials, and corporate meetings, they also perform a number of other vital functions including draft contracts, mortgages, separation agreements, trust instruments and may assist in preparing tax returns and planning estates.

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One Kid, Two Homes

by Dian Larkin

The real fall-out from break-ups fall directly on our kids. Statistics place divorced kids in a higher risk group for destructive choices. How can we avoid that?

We have to let go of our own issues long enough to look at theirs, and often enough to address their tender needs effectively. For example, your one child is now divided between two houses. Use these guidelines to help make it an advantageous situation:
 
If you’re moving: Divorce can mean uprooting not just family, but home; friends; school; church or temple – community. A new life can be an adventure, but kids need lots of help to see it that way. Visit http://kidshealth.org for detailed direction, and review our extensive list of companion resources in momma links.

Holidays, special days, vacations: Don’t do the Solomon thing and try to split your child in half, ruining the day for everyone. Devise a rational strategy, in advance, so your child has the security of planning. For example, you get Thanksgiving this year, and dad’s family feast is the weekend before. You’re watching the ball drop on New Year’s Eve with her, and he’ll do something special with her on New Year’s Day. The goal is to give yourself and your child more special times, with less stress, rather than fewer memory-making days with more stress! Even with care and planning, however, expect emotional ups and downs on ‘special’ days – grief is like that. Focus on the fun, the positive, and minimize chaos.

Every day: The long haul can be tough. Keep your eyes on the prize – that is, happy, well-adjusted kids, with minimum “baggage”. Avoid subtle sabotage of these long-range goals as your child shuttles from your home to dad’s and back again.

Be Happy. My daughter loves her weekend home and its amenities – room to spread out for homework and entertaining; tickets to Lincoln Center; 5-star travel. I stifle a “they get the glory and I get the drudgery” impulse, and my precious daughter thrives in the combined love, comfort and opportunity her two families give her. I’ll take whatever she can get!

Keep Out. You may feel a need to ‘fix’ problems between your child and your ex, or his new family. Unless you’re asked, or your child is being harmed, keep out! Their issues in their home are theirs, just as your issues in your home are yours.

Settle In. Develop an overnight schedule that serves your child’s goals of bonding with both parents while maintaining balance. My daughter won’t stay at her dad’s on school nights; it’s too disruptive. Let your child be the primary guide for travel between homes.

Two Homes, One Life. Keep rules, structure and activities as consistent as possible in both homes. For co-parenting books, classes and advice from the experts, see our momma links resource section.

Emotional safety: Let your daughter be the child and you be the adult.

No Middle-Man. She doesn’t have to talk about one parent with the other, or communicate from one to the other – she’s not the middle-man in this.

Love and More Love. She knows this is not her fault because you tell her and show her that truth all the time; she knows she’s deeply loved by one and all, because you model that and tell her that all the time – I remind my kids constantly not only how much I love them, but how very much their dad loves them. Kids can’t hear this stuff enough.

Open door policy: My ex drops by the house when our college son is home – I run errands while they visit in the kitchen. Sometimes he spontaneously calls to take my daughter out – I adjust my schedule if I can. Impromptu visits can evolve into positive co-parenting sessions, structured flexibility serves your child and you. Rigid adherence to “custody rules” can hamper parenting, depress kids, even unnecessarily burden you!

And finally…possibly the most difficult….

Shut It!  It’s tough to resist ex-bashing; “explaining” how this is all his fault; even laying adult problems on your kids. Don’t do it. That’s what support groups are for. Still tempted to dump on your kids? Listen to the lyrics of the popular Kelly Clarkson song, Because of You, about a dysfunctional, selfish mom who dragged her kids into her suffering. If you can’t say something nice, zip it. I make a point of comparing my kids to their dad in positive ways ("…you’re so smart, like your dad"). Their faces absolutely light up.

Co-parenting is particularly important with a child who lives between two homes. For help with this critical dynamic, specific suggestions, tips, books, classes and expert advice, review our list of resources in our Momma links section.

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Single-Parent Dating: Ten Tips for Romance and The Single Mom

     Ready to jump back into the dating game, but not sure how, as a single mom, to manage it? Solo moms are different from our childless counterparts – we carry primary responsibility for our kids. Our schedules are tighter, our financial commitments heavier, we have more people to satisfy. Concerns about successfully juggling competing demands and relationships are real. That said, when you're ready to go for it, follow our ten tips for romance and the single mom.

1.     Let Go of Guilt. You're "allowed" to seek personal happiness. You actually owe it to your kids to model self-care and positive relationship habits. Also, sacrificing all for your kids doesn't make a happy or healthy home. That said, keep it slow, balanced and careful – read on!

2.     Put Yourself Out There! Dating is like the lottery, you can't win it unless you're in it. Gentleman callers typically don't just appear in your living room (believe me, I've tried). Say hello to that cute guy in line; tell your friends you're available; print up name cards with your cell phone number; join a gym; register with an on-line dating service; and always look your best (it sends a "notice me" message and boosts your confidence).

3.     Nice and Easy Does It. Resist the temptation to "just get it over with" and find Mr. Right immediately. One (childless) gal I know structured 28 dates in 28 days. She did meet her man, but marathon dating won't work for us single moms.

4.     Clear Your Calendar. You have a date! Exciting! Just make sure you know "who's on first" before you lock the door behind you. Thoroughly coordinate childcare schedules, avoiding an impression that your single- mom life is chaotic, and freeing you to fully attend to the business at hand.

5.     Clear Your Mind. This is your time. Don't fall into anxiety or guilt (see tip #1!). Relax. Don't talk exclusively about your kids, but don't avoid the subject. Keep it balanced and natural. Just be yourself – in fact, have fun re-discovering "yourself"!

6.     Meet with Resistance. Expect some push-back from your kids. Anger, anxiety or excited-to-get-a-new-parent are all possible reactions to mom dating. Help your kids through their emotions with open communication and respect, but be firm. Don't let them dictate whether you date (see tip #1) or whom you date (but see tip #7).

7.     Be Careful. No question, you deserve to date and fall in love again. But you're responsible for young lives as well. Find out as much as you can before you get serious. Background checks are advisable. Beyond that, watch, listen and ask. What are his other significant relationships like (with him mom, best friend, co-workers)? Is his life an open book, or a secret? Is he delighted to welcome your kids into his life, or is he avoiding them? Pay close attention to your gut, and be honest – if something feels wrong, it is wrong!

8.     Meet the Kids. Delay introducing your new friend to your kids, and when they do meet, keep it light and quick. Work up to an extended family outing gradually. Kids form strong attachments or strong dislikes quickly, resulting in unnecessary complications and possible traumas. Avoid both by avoiding a rush job.

9.     Time Marches On. Your date is now your boyfriend. You really like him. Your kids really like him. Great! Still, go slowly, carefully. Make conscious decisions about when he spends the night for the first time, how much affection to express in front of your children, how involved he becomes in your family's life. And keep your ex out of it – as long as the children are safe it doesn't concern him.

10.     Be Patient. With yourself, with your kids, with your beau, with your life. One small step at a time. You'll get there.

For more advice and support, review these resources:

     Single Parent Dating Sites: www.singleparentlove.com, www.singleparentmeet.com, www.singleparentsmingle.com, www.singlespouse.com, and www.singleparentmatch.com. And find more dating sites on our living links page, the largest dating sites cater to single-parent dating, as well as other singles matches.

     Check out dating on eHow (www.ehow.com) for lots of single-parent dating advice; pick up a copy of Mom, There's a Man in The Kitchen And He's Wearing Your Robe: The Single Mother's Guide to Dating Well without Parenting Poorly, by Ellie Slott Fisher (www.amazon.com); or visit www.tinatessina.com/single_parents.html and www.luvcube.com for expert advice on single parent dating.

     Do you have a dating horror, howler or hopeful single parent dating story to pass on to your solo mom community? Please blog about it, or start a conversation on our message board!

D.L.

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The Bully Problem :  What Can You Do?

Remember how awful it felt to be bullied? To have your hair pulled, or to be taunted with name calling? Or maybe, long ago, you were a bully yourself. One in five kids today is on one side or the other of this negative, painful and destructive issue. And as solo moms it's especially hard to deal with.

The National Association of School Psychologists (www.naspcenter.org) characterizes school bullying as "widespread," "anti-social," and "unacceptable." Horrifyingly, the NASP reports bullying is a factor in "most school related" deaths. In other words, precious children commit suicide, in part, from bullying. Thankfully, such extreme responses are rare. Nonetheless, bullying engenders deep emotional scars and severe long-term societal effects.

Bullying is a learned behavior, and can be unlearned. Influences include home, school, peers and media. Luckily, moms, including single-parent moms with jobs outside our homes, have significant input in all these areas. Despite often feeling powerless, we are not.

The four "at-risk" groups are bullies, victims, bully-victims and witnesses:

 Bullies:

Bullying is physical, verbal or mental aggression aimed at gaining power over others. Pushing and physical threats, name-calling, muttering against a child, spreading rumors, or encouraging others to shun a child all qualify as abuse. Typically, bullies are inconsistently disciplined at home. For some, bullying is a survival response – attack before being attacked. Recent in-depth studies, however, reveal that more frequently, bullies have enormous, power-driven, egos. In all cases, bullies lack empathy, compassion, often blame their victims, and derive pleasure from inflicting pain.

Ironically, many of the most destructive bullies are "cool" at school. Perhaps they rule by fear, but rule they do, and their terrible behavior appears rewarded.

If your kid demonstrates bullying tactics, address it honestly. One mom I know related stories of her son's aggression, but was offended by the term "bully." "My son doesn't know his own strength, but he's not a bully," she huffed. Not surprisingly, her son gets worse.

Victims:

"Victims" who repeatedly suffer peer abuse struggle with self-esteem, self-blame, and lack socially dexterity  – bullies spot these hapless lambs coming a mile away. Sometimes caught in over-protective environments, their coping skills may be undeveloped. Desperate for approval, some fruitlessly seek acceptance from their very tormentors.

"Walking away" and "telling" are difficult responses for victims to practice, but these kids must find a safe place for reassurance, protection and advice, ideally in school as well as home. Their very lives may depend on it.

Bully-Victims:

"Bully-victims" change sides – alternately the abused and the abuser. UCLA's Dr. Jaana Juvonen advises that this most dangerous group is a threat to themselves and others. Often disruptive in class, these kids may be the loneliest, the angriest, the hardest to reach. These are the kids who walked into Columbine High School – and other U.S. high schools – and opened fire.

If your child falls into this category, engage immediate, professional, whole-family help. Underlying issues can be resolved, and these disenfranchised children can end up better adjusted and richer for it.  

 Witnesses:

Typically overlooked, witnesses are in the powerful position of promoting or preventing bullying. Silence harms, and witnesses who do nothing – or even join in the torment (possibly agreeing to spread rumors about a classmate) can suffer feelings of powerlessness, fear, guilt, and shame, with damage to their own qualities of compassion and empathy. Often witnesses fear retaliation, and need to be trained on safe alternatives.

Following New York City's anti-terrorism policy: "if you see something, say something," kids need to learn that:

* Silence is complicity.

* Personal empowerment extends to protecting others.

* Safe intervention options exist.

Recommendations:

-- Discuss bullying openly and often at home – your safe attitude will encourage communication.

-- Model and expect consistent mutual respect; be aware of "messages" about inter-personal power.

            -- Monitor your kids' computer activities, video games, TV input – nix any entertainments that don't
               support your values.
            -- Review your school's "zero tolerance" policy. Ensure it covers all four at-risk groups, and that it's
               enforced and supported, including in-school training and web-based community information.

-- Watch carefully and honestly for signs that your child may need help.

For more on successful parenting, see "authoritarian parenting" developed by Dr. Diana Baumrind, Berkeley University, and discussed in our solo-mom problem, below. For more information and extensive bibliographies on "bullying,"  visit www.kidsource.com, www.eurekalert.org and www.naspcenter.org And for an example of a local web site supporting a community zero-tolerance policy, review www.colorado.edu.

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Ideas for Stress-Free Family Get-Togethers

In 1922, Emily Post recommended using a tape measure for proper spacing of the monogrammed china. Good God! Let's not do that for our get-togethers!

In my single parent household, informal – or close to it – means more fun and less stress.. Stress makes Jill a dull girl. Worse, stress makes Jill a hysterical wreck. Review our stress-less suggestions for great single mom hostings and get-togethers:

Plan ahead. Break the task into small chunks (whether your task is traveling en masse to Grandma's, or hosting 50 people in your family room). One step at a time will get it done much easier. Review our Great Party Planner for helpful schedule tips, great recipes and links for more. If hosting, consider a buffet, or coordinate potluck. Don't deplete your resources before the guests even arrive! Delegate. Delegate. Delegate. People love to feel involved – involve them.

Prioritize. There are 1,000 things to do and 100 ways to do them. When your head starts spinning – stop. Just pause. Focus on what must be done. Forget the rest. No one will notice what isn't done. No one!

Pretty, not perfect. "Informal" doesn't mean messy or everyday, but it does mean easy. Dress up your gathering up with a table cloth, fabric napkins and pull out all your special tableware, but don't search frantically for the perfect napkin-rings. Mix and match what you have at hand – whether it actually is monogrammed china, or it's flea market finds. Take it easy. Make it pretty. Forget perfect.

Keep it simple. Decorations help make get-togethers special, memory-making days. Children particularly value little touches and traditions. But again, easy is the key. Review our crafts links for some easy, fun and charming decorations the kids love making. Add flowers and garlands from the supermarket and craft store, and you're decorated. Visit http://homeparents.about.com, http://familyfun.go.com, www.child.com and www.kidsdomain.com for more ideas.

Get out of the kitchen. Enjoy the special people in your life on these special days. Don't hide in the kitchen like a serving girl (see our "Plan Ahead" tip, above).

Keep the kids corralled. Grown-ups can balance a conversation, a plate on their lap and a drink at their feet. Children can't. If you only have one table, put the kids there. This avoids a parade of children dragging themselves, their plates and their glasses of milk or juice around the house, and they're much happier together anyway. Be sure to organize games, videos and structured activities for them too.

Stay connected. Whether you have guests visiting your home, or you and your children are the visiting team, keep light tabs on your kids. The upheaval, extra people and excitement are fun, but hard, for kids. A daily family meeting will help your single parent family stay happy for the get-together.

Check your expectations. Over-inflated expectations are one sure way to deflate any family get-together. Is there someone in your family who always lets you down? Do your kids always argue? Do you always yell, overeat, or both? Is there always some part of this special time of year that disappoints? Chances are; family get-togethers are always less than storybook perfect. Be clear on what you can honestly expect. This removes unnecessary stress, and leaves room for honest fun and joy.

Ignore. There's one jerk in every family (at least one). Just ignore them (like your mom told you years ago about bullies). Do not engage; do not argue; do not react; do not fall into old, negative relating patterns. Excuse yourself for a brisk head-and-heart clearing walk, if necessary. Have fun and be happy. Keep it light, no matter what.

Take a deep breath. Deep and focused breathing eliminates tension and forces relaxation. Do it as often as needed (during family get-togethers, and always!). Before gatherings or events, take a candlelit bubble bath, or a nap, or both. Take a walk, meditate. Starting off relaxed puts you ahead of the stress curve. And don't starve in anticipation of a feast. Hunger makes us edgy.

Be thankful. For who you are, where you are and who you are with. Keep the things you love about these people, and your life, up front. Set aside regrets, gripes and grievances – even if only for the get-together.
Dian Larkin                          

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Savvy Single-Parent Tips for Year-Round Gifting
    by Dian Larkin

Making gifts is more meaningful for solo moms and kids, and usually far less expensive, than buying them. Warning: select your projects carefully. Once I attempted homemade cookies for my daughter's favorite teachers, only to learn – at 2 a.m. – that I can't bake. But take heart, even the least artsy of us can master a simple craft or two and produce uniquely appealing, inexpensive, gifts.

Collect materials throughout the year. Last year I scouted out an assortment of plain cardboard boxes and plates from craft stores and thrift shops, and had fun gluing on "pearls", gold yarn, scraps of lace, miniature figurines, cut-outs and decoupage. If you can locate a glue stick and a decoupage pot, you're in; this is such an "easy-make." Each gift took very little time, I saved a bundle, and recipients were pleased and surprised by the treasures created for them

Scoop up good buys for hostess, teacher and last-minute gifts. Buy them where and when you find them (often available as "overstock" in discount and grocery stores). These include: journals; note cards and address books; specialty soaps; bubble baths and moisturizers; exotic teas, cocoas, spiced cooking oils, jams and preserves; candles; paperweights; photo frames – basically any "light", generic-yet-striking, non-perishable item that catches your eye and your bargain hunting instinct

Stock your finds in a special "gift" cupboard until needed. And they're always needed, eventually.

Have your kids create birthday and holiday cards. Avoid the "card penalty" that can really hike gift costs (cards cost nearly $3.00 each!). Children's cards are personal, adorably creative, and – three kids and 10,000 birthdays and holidays later – I've saved lots of money which I can use for gifting, instead.

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Solo Traveler: Tales and Tips for Great Trips, 1st Edition (Special-Interest Titles)

 

 




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