Adoption, bullying, homework and more

  • Article by: JULIE PFITZINGER , Special to the Star Tribune
  • Updated: December 29, 2012 - 1:01 PM

During the past year, the Family Time page has explored many issues. Here are some highlights.

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Tricia Cornell, author of "Eat More Vegetables."

Photo: Kyndell Harkness, Star Tribune

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It's rarely quiet on the home front with families. During the past year, the Family Time page has explored many issues that parents, grandparents and children of all ages address. From adoption to bullying, from eating healthier to better homework habits, from dads at home to grandparenting a special-needs child, relationships take thought, work and action. Here are some of the highlights from 2012, with resources for family members.

Parenting Across Cultures: St. Paul Early Childhood Family Education (ECFE) offers classes on cross-cultural parenting. The goal is to help immigrant parents integrate their children into a school environment while also addressing their parenting concerns. The classes are structured similarly to a typical ECFE class, with parents and children together for the first part and separate for the second half.

"Immigrant and refugee parents are less likely to have their kids involved in lots of different activities where they might meet other parents," said Jill Chisholm, parent educator at Highland-Homecroft site in St. Paul. "In this class, they want to get to know other parents better. They want to share ideas about how to solve parenting issues."

Korean adoption: Minneapolis author Kelly Fern wrote "Songs of My Families" about her own adoption experience as both a child and adult. After a few months in a Korean orphanage, she was brought to Minnesota, where she was adopted by a Rochester family. (Kelly later learned her family never intended to place her for adoption and she was reunited with them in 2008.)

At age 18, when she herself was overwhelmed as a single mother, Fern made the difficult decision to place her 6-month-old daughter with Lutheran Social Services, the same organization that her adoptive parents had worked with 14 years earlier. In early 2010, Fern reunited with that daughter, Suzie Juul, now 26, who had been adopted by a Bloomington family.

"The hardest thing for me to think about was wondering if my daughter suffered the same turmoil I did," Kelly Fern said. "Did she wonder, like I did, if her mom was ever going to come and get her?"

Bullying via social media: "Bullying has always existed, but we're paying more attention to it now than ever before. Social media have opened up new avenues for cruelty that didn't exist -- girls have more opportunity to hurt one another. They can do it in person, and through technology. I also think kids are less supervised by parents who are having to work longer hours, so teens have much more time to spend online," said Rachel Simmons, who has written "Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls."

Healthy eating: Tricia Cornell, author of "Eat More Vegetables: Making the Most of Your Seasonal Produce," started planning all of her family's meals around vegetables they were getting from a local community-supported agriculture share each week. In the process, she accumulated more than 75 recipes, which was the launching point for her cookbook. "My job ends when I put good food on the table. It's the kids' job to eat it or not," said Cornell, of Minneapolis. "The rule we do have in our house is that if something is not on the table at mealtime, it's not on the table. That's the way we've always done it, and I don't think it would ever cross their minds to ask for an alternative."

Family relationships: A new study by the Minneapolis-based Search Institute focuses on family relationships rather than family structure. The new Family Assets Framework highlights five main areas that contribute to thriving families: nurturing relationships, establishing routines, maintaining expectations, adapting to challenges and connecting to community. The higher the level of assets, the more positive the outcomes for all family members. According to the survey, the most common family asset is "clear expectations."

"Parents are setting expectations that kids are hearing. Kids know and understand what is expected of them as members of the family on some key points," said Gene Roehlkepartain, vice president of research and development for the institute. "We tend to talk a lot about structure, but families are taking a lot of control over the ways they can make their family strong, whatever their family looks like."

Grandparents and autism: After autism was diagnosed in Sylvia Grubb's grandson Micah at age 3, she wanted to learn everything she could about the condition, but her search for helpful books for grandparents left her empty- handed. She and her son, Stuart Grubb, Micah's father, began collaborating on "Grandparenting a Child With Autism: The Joy, Frustration and Growth of Living With Autism." Sylvia Grubb, of Stillwater, said she has been overwhelmed by the number of grandparents who have contacted her about their own families. "A therapist once told me to do everything we could to bring him into our world, since it is easier for him to be in his own world," Sylvia Grubb said. "As Micah's grandmother, I have a much better understanding of that now."

Dads and kids: Mark Abraham launched Minnesota Dads at Home (MDAH) in Golden Valley in 1997, when far fewer dads were stay-at-home. "The mothers at the park with their kids would look at us like, 'Who are you, why are you here and aren't you supposed to be working?'" Times have changed: In 2001, there were 81,000 fathers nationwide who identified themselves as the primary at-home parent. In 2011, that number had grown to 176,000, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Zachary Moore, current MDAH director, is a former sales manager now home full-time with his two children in St. Louis Park. It was a few months after Rossalyn was born that he and his wife decided he would be the at-home parent.

"We both worked odd schedules, and I was at a place where it really was the right fit for me," said Moore, who noted that he loves getting to know his kids better every day. "Not being burnt out from a day at the office means that peak energy and focus time of the day goes into building our relationship."

Eyesight issues: There has been a rise in reported vision fatigue among both kids and adults who spend hours in front of computers, says Dr. Mrunalini Parvataneni, a pediatric ophthalmologist at Northwest Eye in Maple Grove and Wayzata. "We do not know enough about the long-term effects of constant screen time, but that is why I counsel my families to just be cautious," she said, adding that due to the inherent ability kids have to focus their eyes, smaller screens, like those found on smartphones, don't necessarily cause further strain.

Homework sanity: Roger Wilkerson, author of "Homework Sanity: Insights for Parents From a Private Tutor," stresses the value of kids and parents forming a partnership when tackling homework. If a parent and child are out of sync about homework, it's because the parent is taking the parental tone, rather than working as a partner, said Wilkerson. He says the worst homework mistake parents make is doing the work for the child. "The No. 1 problem I think kids have with homework is slowing it down. No matter what age they are, 20 minutes at a time on one subject, followed by a break, is the best way to approach it."

Julie Pfitzinger is a West St. Paul freelance writer.

  • RESOURCES

    • Parenting Across Cultures: ecfe.spps.org

    • "Songs of My Families: A 37-Year Odyssey From Korea to America and Back," by Kelly Fern (Lantern Books, $15), www.songsofmyfamilies.com

    • "Odd Girl Out: The Hidden Culture of Aggression in Girls," by Rachel Simmons (Mariner, $14.95), www.rachelsimmons.com

    • "Eat More Vegetables: Making the Most of Your Seasonal Produce," by Tricia Cornell (Minnesota Historical Society Press, $27.95)

    • Search Institute: www.search-institute.org/familyassets

    • "Grandparenting a Child With Autism: The Joy, Frustration and Growth of Living With Autism," by Sylvia Grubb (Quill House, $14.95), www.autism-grandparenting.com

    • Minnesota Dads at Home: www.mdah.org

    • American Association for Pediatric Ophthalmology and Strabismus; www.AAPOS.org

    • "Homework Sanity: Insights for Parents From a Private Tutor," by Roger Wilkerson (Fast Pencil, $22.95); www.homeworksanity.com.

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