Category Archives: The Parenting Squad

Retro Baby: A Back-to-Basics Book for Parents of Infants


Raise your hand if you’re a sucker for all the toys marketed to parents of infants. Yeah, me too.

If you’ve got a baby, you’ve probably got stuff. Lots of it. Carriers, seats, music machines, push toys, pull toys, toys that light up, talk back, and roll away. As parents, we have thousands of electronic gadgets and colorful products to choose from on our quest to help babies move, roll over, sit up, show interest, look, see, and talk.

Dr. Anne Zachry was also a sucker. But after three children, and a realization that her children had more fun with the box her children’s toys came in, she retreated from the toy store and got back to the basics.

Her new parenting book, the latest from the American Academy of Pediatrics, helps moms and dads reject the overuse of too many toys and take a step back.

Retro Baby: Cut Back on All the Gear and Boost Your Baby’s Development With More Than 100 Time-tested Activities is a simple, fun resource for moms and dads who could really use a back-to-basics approach with babies.

And it lets parents off the very expensive, often unnecessary hook of feeling like they have to stock the playroom with fancy products.

Dr. Zachry, who has served has one of Parenting Squad’s ProSquad experts, brings 20 years of experience and whole bunch of research to parents with her book. She takes families from birth to 24 months of age, explaining the importance of development along the way.

She includes helpful information on:

  • Tummy time
  • Vision development
  • Setting a solid foundation for a natural course of development
  • The importance of talking to your baby for language development
  • Hand plays and rhymes and how they help infants and young children
  • The importance of your baby’s interaction with you — and other people
  • Motor development and activities
  • Feeding and safety issues
  • Building a solid sensory-motor foundation


Dr. Zachry is able to explain medical terminology in easy-to-understand language, and helps the reader make the important connection to the kinds of every day activities that are appropriate for infants. She also offers flexible suggestions and strategies for parents, allowing families in different situations to help meet the developmental needs of their babies — without all that stuff.

Anne H. Zachry, PhD, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist, child development specialist, and assistant professor of occupational therapy at the University of Tennessee Health Science Center. Her research on this subject has been published in national peer-reviewed journals and her profession’s trade magazines as well as a number of parenting magazines. Her blog,Pediatric Occupational Therapy Tips averages 50,000 hits monthly.

I received a free copy of Retro Baby. As an educator and early childhood specialist, I am thrilled to recommend this book to parents and families.


Rhonda Franz is freelance writer and editor, A city girl at heart, she is raising three boys in the Arkansas woods with her husband. She has a graduate degree in education, and spent ten years teaching and working with other people’s children before raising her own. Her work has been featured in Chicken Soup for the SoulMSNBC’s Today Show mom blog, and in parenting magazines around the country.

6 Opportunities for Quantity Time With Your Teenager


Teenagers are busy people these days. And they may not want to spend their free time sitting at the table while parents try to engage them in a near-perfect episode of Let’s Have Some Quality Time. Add into the equation other children in the family, demanding jobs, parents who travel or are on-call, and it’s hard to find time for in-depth conversation on a daily basis.

So, scrap the idea of what that has to look like, and take the opportunities, regardless how small, to spend the time you’ve got with the teenager you love.

1. In the Car

Your teenager might be driving (with you as the chaperone), or maybe you’re the one schlepping her to and from events each day. Regardless of who is behind the wheel, it’s an opportunity to talk and catch up on what’s going on in their lives. All that time on the road adds up.

2. Out to Lunch

Or supper. Either one. Brandi Sharum, an Arkansas mom of five says her husband used to pick up their oldest child and her friends from school and go out for supper before Wednesday night church activities. Their oldest is now in college, and still meets up with her Dad for an occasional lunch. Connection is always better with food.

3. Shopping

Whether it’s grocery shopping, just scanning for bargains, or choosing an outfit for a school dance, just doing something with your child that she likes to do makes the time well worth it. One of Sharum’s daughters enjoys shopping, so that’s what she does with her. “It’s different with each child.”

4. Homework

Maybe it doesn’t have to be such a battle after all. Shari Brookins lives in Kansas and is the mom of four children. She and her teenage daughter both love math, so when her daughter brings home math homework, they work on problems, each trying to be the first one with the correct answer. Homework wars demolished by homework peace.

5. Watching TV

You heard me. Wendy Jackson, the mom of a ten-year-old and a fourteen-year-old, said she sometimes just sits with her teenager during one of his shows, asking him questions about the plot and characters, which he loves explaining. “You might have to try it,” she advises parents, “even if you don’t enjoy what they’re watching.”

6. Just…Anything They Are Already Doing

As long as you take the opportunities often. Deb Bonner has raised two sons. She said that anything from showing interest in their friends, to going to their events, to just talking (even for only a few minutes) lets kids know you love them and want to be involved in their lives. “Do these things repeatedly throughout the teen years for lots of memories — for you, and them.”

Mobile Birthday Parties: Bringing the Fun to You


Throwing a birthday party is always an undertaking. Your child may be begging for a birthday party at an art studio or a laser tag arena, but you may not be up for lugging the cake, the gifts, and the favors to the location. But these days, you can bring the fun to your house, and host a fantastic birthday party for your child and her friends. Just add cake.

Video Games

Does your child want to hit the arcade for his or her birthday but all you can think of is the giant headache you’ll end up with? Companies like Game Truck will bring a video game theater to your door equipped with HDTVs, gaming systems including Xbox, Wii, and PlayStation, as well as a variety of games. As long as you have a place to park, a video game truck can entertain the kids while you relax.

Spa Day

If you’ve got a child who loves to be pampered you can make her wish come true while avoiding the actual spa. Spa Partyz will bring the spa to you including manicures and pedicures, nail art, facials, and a candy buffet.

Laser Tag

Yes, even laser tag can be played without leaving your home. They set it up in your yard and for around $200 you’ve got a laser tag arena for about 20 kids.

Art Truck

Give your little artist the party of her dreams with a mobile art truck. All of the art supplies are included and instructors are there to guide and watch over the children. You can even add on extra fun like cupcake decorating and party favors.

Pony Rides and Petting Zoo

Bring the ponies and the petting zoo to your home. Perfect for you animal lover, (and your newly-fertilized grass).


For your creative child, consider a jewelry party. From clay art beads to traditional beading, it’s a jewelry party that’s just right for kids ages 4 and up. There are even additional options including tie dye t-shirts and magnet clips.

No matter what your child’s current passion is, there’s probably a mobile party that’s just right for her and for you too. There’s less planning, less clean up, and more time for you to have fun.

Nancy Flanders is a part-time writer and a full-time mom to three little girls, one with cystic fibrosis. Hands-on experience raising a child with a chronic health condition has taught her a great deal about patience, persistence, and what it means to advocate for children. Nancy is a contributing editor for, and contributes to several sites, including and

Out the Door: 4 Tips for Home Base Survival With a Parent On Call

Pilots, clergy, law enforcement, doctors, reporters — these professions tend to require some kind of on-call work, often unpredictable. When Mom or Dad has to head away from home and back to the job, it can be a difficult gig, not just for the one who had to leave the soccer game, but for the spouse and young children left behind as well.

Giving up a job isn’t usually an option, but changing up the way house and home are managed on a shifting schedule is doable. With a pilot for a husband, our weekly (and sometimes daily) schedule changes at a moment’s notice.

1. Plan with lots of flexibility, and perhaps backup, in mind.

It’s difficult to plan fun family outings when you know that plan is subject to change. Is the outing something easily handled if a parent is left on her own? Would it help to have a backup babysitter or family member available to keep the baby? When we’re able to have that option, it opens up a whole new possibility for sticking with the plan.

2. Add special occasions to the traveling schedule.

When Daddy is gone for a few days, it helps us to break up the monotony by tossing an event that’s out of the ordinary. I might grab a pizza at a place the children have been begging to go, call friends and meet at a park for a supper picnic, or work on homework together at the local playground. Anything that adds even a little variety to our week is a huge help.

3. Put together a jar full of fun.

Write down several activities or fun events — each on its own small piece of paper. Place these in a jar and pull it out when a parent has to leave. Ideas to include: children get to skip a chore that day, one sibling gets to “be in charge” for the bedtime routine, or everyone gets an extra 20 minutes of outside play before supper. Being able to skip a chore in our household is a huge hit.

4. Keep tabs.

Whether you put it on a post-it note, write in a journal, or take a bunch of photos with your phone, capture special moments the traveling parent may have missed: a field trip, a recipe children helped with for dinner, or just a favorite bedtime story they read. My children love sending photos to Daddy and drawing pictures about what they did while he was gone. Would yours?

Interview With Tracey Beckerman, Author of Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir

Tracy Beckerman began writing, after she moved with two young children from New York City to the suburbs of New Jersey, as a way to find herself and share a few laughs about the endless sea of “mom bob” haircuts, minivans, and coordinated tennis outfits. What started out as a single column for a local NJ paper a few years ago turned into a hit and is now nationally syndicated to hundreds of newspapers and millions of readers all over the country.

Tracy talks with Parenting Squad editor, Rhonda Franz, about her new book, Lost in Suburbia: A Momoir, and how moms can de-stress and find the funny in the everyday situations.

Reclaim Your Inner Cool With Lost in Suburbia

Other than the obvious factor that humor can totally distress stressful situations, what were your other reasons for writing the book?

I had always assumed I was the only woman on the planet who had ever felt like she’d lost her identity when she became a full-time mom. But after I started to meet other women who’d left the workforce to stay home with their kids, I found out there were lots of other moms who were also “Lost in Suburbia.” There were many of us who defined ourselves by what we did for a living… so when we didn’t do it anymore, we were really lost. I thought if I shared my story, other moms who felt this way would realize they weren’t alone and have the confidence to take steps to reinvent themselves!

Of course, the other reason I did it was to show all the cool girls from high school that I was a big deal. Not that I have a chip on my shoulder, or anything.

Is it always easy for you to see the humor in parenting situations? Or at least in other people’s parenting situations?

There is a formula for comedy. It goes Time + Tragedy = Humor. Not everything is funny when it first happens. And some things are never funny, no matter how much distance you give them. But I think most people can find the humor in the small stuff, especially kid things and dog things and house things that seem like a nightmare when they happen, but are pretty hilarious once the dust settles. Of course other people’s parenting situations are funny immediately. Just not to them.

Of course moms have to laugh at themselves. What makes us feel so guilty (about ourselves and our “mom performance”) and so judgy (about other moms)?

I think on some level, most of us feel pretty insecure about our parenting skills, at least in the beginning. You could have zero parenting experience, but when your kid is born, you just have to jump in and wing it. You have no idea if you are doing it right and then you read one of the “experts” out there who say “this is the right way to parent” and it’s usually not the way you are doing it.

When people feel insecure, sadly, they often put down others and judge them to make themselves feel better. I’d love to see more women supporting other women… building them up instead of trying to tear them down.

I remember the first time I had my son in a stroller. I forgot to buckle him in and when I tilted the stroller to get it over a step, he rolled out the back. I was horrified. I felt like the worst mother in the world. I didn’t tell anyone for a week, and then when I confided in a friend, she told me she accidentally dropped her son three times when he was an infant. Fortunately babies bounce.

What’s the big deal about moms “losing themselves?” Isn’t it okay to make sacrifices for our children and our families?

Clearly when the baby is born you have to put the baby first. There’s no other way. They need to be fed when they’re hungry, changed when they are wet, and put down for a nap when they are tired. (The same is true for husbands, by the way.) There’s none of this, “I’ll feed you in a sec, honey, Mommy’s checking her Facebook now.”

But I think that after a while, it’s OK to start taking back some time for yourself. My husband’s old Russian barber used to say, “Happy Wife, Happy Life.” Once you have kids, it should be “Happy Mommy, Happy Family.” (Yeah. I know it doesn’t rhyme, but you try rhyming something with “Mommy.”)

The point is, you’re a much better mom if you treat yourself well and you’re happy.

What are a few things we can do as moms to be taken seriously by others not take ourselves too seriously, and still come out sane, or mostly sane?

I think moms actually have to stop trying so hard to convince everyone that what we do is important. I use to tell my husband every single thing I did during the day to prove to him how busy I’d been. He would say, “Honey, I really don’t think you’re sitting around eating bon bons. I know you’re working hard.”

But I felt I had to justify my hard work since I wasn’t out there earning a paycheck. My kids are doing great, my house is moderately clean, and everyone is happy — there’s the proof that I’m doing a good job. Of course I can’t keep a goldfish alive for more than a week, but you can’t have everything.

As for not taking yourself too seriously, that’s pretty easy to do when you have kids around to remind you that you’re really not as cool as you think you are.

Tracy has appeared on The Today Show, CBS Early Show and Better TV. Her latest blog posts and column articles on marriage, funny family anecdotes, and being a “cool mom” in the suburbs can be found on her LOST IN SUBURBIA® blog (which won her the title of “America’s Top Blogger” by Lifetime Television’s hit TV show, The Balancing Act in 2010). You can purchase her new “momoir” from the Lost in Suburbia book website.

Squad Roundup: Helpful Hints for the Home and Family

We have gathered up current, handy resources for our readers and their families today!

Everyday Hints

There’s nothing like a great list of helpful advice for common problems, and USA Weekend realized that readers know best. Problem Solved! 22 Simple Solutions for Everyday Jams at USA Weekend shares how to warm a baby bottle on the fly, preventing ice particles from forming on ice cream in your freezer, a completely free, environmentally-free material for packing items to mail. The weekly magazine published some of the best helpful hints passed along from readers of their publication. Tips include everyday practical ways to reuse, reduce, and save money, as well as household tips about painting and unclogging stopped-up drains.


Getting laundry done is one thing. Making sure it’s clean, out of the dryer, and into its proper place when you need it is quite another. Conquer Chaos in the Laundry Room by Organized Home treats the washing-clothes gig as the big job it is, and breaks down the steps required to process mounds of dirty socks, shirts, and pants. Sometimes, all you need is a system.

From Clutter to Clean

Are you spring cleaning your house? You probably know it’s important to have donation bags and trash bags ready to haul your stuff out the door. Thanks to Clear Out That Clutter: 15 Places to Sell Your Stuff, you can add a “to sell” bag. Going far beyond eBay, Wise Bread has collected a whole bunch of ways to come up with new cash for your old stuff.

Post-Easter Eggs

Dealing with dozens of post-Easter eggs? Some people consider those little bargains the ideal food. Check out nutrition information and recipe ideas with Eggs—One of Nature’s Most Perfect Foods by Lifetime Television’s The Balancing Act.

Are You Ready for Some Summer?

Summer sunshine will soon be here. It’s time to start thinking about how the household will run with children out of the classroom. Read through sound advice with Be Mindful When Making Summer Plans from Simple Kids.

6 Smoothies for Super Nutritious Mornings


Photo: Nomadic Lass

Experts and parents agree that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. With hectic morning routines, it can be difficult to serve up wholesome and nutritious choices. Convincing pre-teens and teenagers to sit down for a hearty meal before 8 a.m. may be impossible — “grab and go” is often the only solution. If you’re looking for a way to move past frozen waffles and toaster pastries, consider using your blender to make your mornings smoother and healthier!

To ensure easy mornings, prep all ingredients ahead of time.

Slice ripe bananas onto cookie sheets covered with waxed paper, freeze, and then store in a freezer bag. Cut up fresh fruit and freeze, or opt for pre-bagged frozen fruit. Pour greek yogurt into ice cube trays for a simple way to add protein. You may even want to prepare single serving bags — toss all solid ingredients into a freezer bag to make it simple for older kids to blend on their own.

Add protein for morning power.

Ensuring that your child gets a healthy dose of protein in the morning will give them the energy to tackle their school day. Milk and yogurt based smoothies are a great option for a morning boost. Nut butters, whey powder, silken tofu, and soy milk are excellent non-dairy options.

Reach for fruits AND veggies.

Fruit smoothies are sweet and familiar — they often taste like a slightly healthy milkshake. You can bump up the nutritional value even more by blending in vegetables! Greens such as spinach and kale are almost undetectable in smoothies, other than by color. Harder vegetables — carrots, raw beets, broccoli — may need to be juiced before adding to your blender.

Experiment with creative combinations.

Options for smoothies are virtually endless! Don’t limit yourself to the usually berry blends. Challenge your kids to come up with creative combinations on their own! Try these tasty combinations:

  1. Monkey Butter — almond milk, bananas, 2 tablespoons peanut butter, and a ¼ cup of dry oatmeal.
  2. Taste of the Tropics — coconut milk, pineapple, mango. Add a tablespoon of coconut oil for an extra dose of healthy fats.
  3. Mint Chocolate — almond milk, chocolate protein powder, a drop of mint, and a handful of spinach.
  4. Orange Dream — orange juice, carrot juice, mango, and plain yogurt.
  5. Very Berry Banana — strawberry, blueberry, banana, soy milk.
  6. Peachy Keen — vanilla almond milk, peaches, mango, and vanilla yogurt.

For more smoothie ideas, check out It’s Not Easy Being Green.

By:Katrina Simeck is a mom, wife, friend, business woman, poor housekeeper, decent cook, photographer, and writer. By day, she works as a project manager in a cosmetics manufacturing company. By night, she purses a quest for balance, simplicity, mindfulness, and good wine. Her writing and scrapbook work has been published in Memory Makers Magazine, Creating Keepsakes, and Scrapbook Trends. If you’re longing for more, you can find her at

6 Tips to a Happy Life With Your New Pet


Photo: Cia de Foto

It’s just about springtime, and with it comes baby animals. All the cute little baby animals with their little wet noses and big eyes begging you to take them home. And then there are your children with their sad little faces, also begging you to take that cuddly puppy, kitten, or bunny.

If you decide to bring home an animal, keep in mind that each year 5-7 million pets are abandoned either because they become an inconvenience or too much work. If you’re going to make an animal a part of your family this spring, make sure you are prepared.

1. Spay or Neuter

People who don’t spay or neuter their pets end up with more pets, and those little babies are at a high risk for abandonment and death. Spaying and neutering is the best thing you can do to ensure that fewer animals are put to sleep because no one wanted them.

2. Train

Your puppy and kitten aren’t going to train themselves. If you don’t do it, you are the one at fault when Fido pees on your carpet. Make sure to properly train your pets to avoid accidents that will frustrate you and your pet. If your pet has frequent accidents, ruins your belongings, or barks and runs away constantly, you’ll be more likely to give your pet to a shelter. Just as you are responsible for your young child’s behavior, you are responsible for your pet’s behavior too.

3. Decide Who Is Responsible

Before getting your new addition, have a family meeting about who will be responsible for what. Every family member can take part in actively caring for an animal. Young kids can help with feeding, older children can be responsbile for taking dogs out for a walk, and you can handle the vet appointments. It’s a team effort and everyone must be on board and willing.

4. Be Pro-active With Pet Care

Certain things trigger unwanted behavior from your pets. If you don’t cut your cat’s nails, she’ll probably shred your furniture. If you don’t scoop the litter box, she’ll probably pee outside of it. If you don’t take the dog for a walk, he will have an accident in your house. To avoid having fur on everything, brush them properly with a product like the Furminator, recently featured on Lifetime Television’s The Balancing Act. I tested it myself, and it made a huge difference in the amount of fur my cats shed. You know what needs to be done — so do it. It’s the best way to avoid any mishaps.

5. Know Your Budget

Pets are expensive. Make sure you know what you are getting into financially. Sit down with a calculator and figure it out. A small dog will cost $1300 for the first year alone. If it isn’t in your budget, it isn’t in your budget. Better to know that now than when you’re faced with a $500 vet bill and contemplating getting rid of your beloved Fido.

6. Give them love

Animals need a lot of attention. Without proper love and care, your pet will become depressed, and just like depressed humans act out, so do depressed animals. Dogs will destroy your home and cats will pee all over. Make sure to pet them, walk them, and cuddle them to ensure they are happy and healthy.

Pets are a big responsibility. They take commitment, time, and caring. Don’t expect your children to be on top of caring for your pet even if they swear they will. After all, they’re kids. Know what you’re getting into when adopting a pet so that that dog won’t be put to sleep and your kids won’t be devastated when your cat has to go to a new home.

I received a Furminator to try out on my pets. My opinions here are my own, though I can’t speak for my cats.

5 Quick Dinner Ideas for Busy Nights


Photo: Quiltsalad

We all have those days when the clocks strikes 4 and we have no idea what we are making for dinner. But take-out can be expensive and unhealthy, and how much pasta can your family eat? There are better backup plans to have in place when you hit a dinner snag.

1. Sandwiches

They’re a kid favorite anyway, so break out the bread and let everyone make their own dinner. Cold cuts, peanut butter and jelly, grilled cheese, or even grilled Nutella can be perfectly paired with some microwaved veggies, canned soup, fruit, or chips for a quick, satisfying dinner.

2. Soup and Salad

A classic quick meal, soup, and a salad are quick and easy to prepare. Plus, if you have a variety of soups on hand, everyone can choose their own. You can create a salad bar for the kids to build their own salads too. It’s much more fun to eat a salad when you’ve designed it yourself.

For an even more satisfying soup meal, you can stock the pantry with prepackaged ingredients from Frontier Soups. Just add fresh ingredients to their dry soup mixes for a filling dinner.

3. Prepackaged Meals

Just because a dinner comes in a bag, doesn’t mean it has to be unhealthy. Kashi makes some great frozen dinners like their Steam Meal entrees, which are natural and filled with fiber and protein. You can also create your own “prepackaged” meals on a Sunday afternoon to save for a night like this.

4. Scrambled Egg Burritos

Quick, easy, and unexpected. Grab those tortillas or wraps and scramble up some eggs. Add peppers, onions, salsa, cheese, and whatever else you like on a typical burrito. Bam! Dinner is served.

5. Mix and Max

There’s probably enough leftovers in your fridge for everyone to create their own unique dinner. Tuesday’s leftover spaghetti, Wednesday’s BBQ chicken, and Thursday’s meatloaf can be paired with frozen veggies or salad for a complete meal in a jiffy.

Don’t panic when you forget to plan for dinner. Some quick thinking, a well-stocked pantry, and a little creativity can go a long way to make a great meal.

5 Out-of-the-Box Ways to Celebrate Valentine's Day

Valentine’s Day, unfortunately, tends to be more about selling greeting cards than about the genuine expression of heartfelt love. But we all hold the power to make the holiday whatever we want it to be, so this year, think outside the box and celebrate in a way that feels right to you.

1. Spread the love.

Love doesn’t have to be of the romantic variety. Maybe this is the perfect year to gather a group of your favorite girlfriends for a girl’s night in. Quality time spent together is one of the best ways to say “I love you” to all the people who really matter in your life — not just your significant other.

2. Help those in need.

Skip the fancy, overpriced meal this Valentine’s Day and, instead, volunteer to make the world a better place. Need ideas? Check out The Huffington Post’s round-up of Valentine’s Day Ideas: 7 Volunteer Dates.

3. Support your national parks.

The National Parks Foundation has developed an “I ‘heart’ parks” line of apparel, which makes a unique gift for the nature enthusiast. In addition, they’ve also compiled a list of romantic national park getaways — perfect if you’re looking for a bit of outdoor Valentine adventure.

4. Protect your heart health.

February is American Heart Month, so celebrate this Valentine’s Day by protecting yours. Take this opportunity to have your cholesterol and blood pressure checked, and make a commitment to a heart-healthy diet and regular exercise.

5. Commit random acts of kindness.

Did you know that Valentine’s Day falls during Random Acts of Kindness Week? Even small, random acts of kindness can be acts of love, and they have the power to brighten days — and sometimes even change lives.