December 30, 2017

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

For a year or two, dinosaurs were BIG in our house. Our daughter was very interested in books, television, and everything else related to dinosaurs, and several of her friends shared the interest. They all learned the word “hypothesis” and its meaning from the paleontologist on the children’s TV show Dinosaur Train. Some of the kids could rattle off scientific names for their favorite dinos.

Many children pick up an intense interest on a topic like dinosaurs, vehicles, or insects around ages two through six. After that it often fades away as school makes that kind of focus harder to sustain.

It’s been a few years since dinosaur talk and interest were commonplace in our house. For some parents, an intense interest starts out cute and then, over the years, gets borderline annoying or concerning.

I still remember discussing the best approach with my husband. Was there anything educational in our daughter memorizing multisyllabic words? Anything helpful to a young brain in knowing a lot about a subject, even if that subject is an extinct animal? It crossed our minds that we should try to redirect her enthusiasm and brainpower toward something more useful.

Instinct told me that digging deep into a subject was worthwhile, at best, and harmless, at the worst. Experts have declared the intense interests healthy. (Tell my husband I was right!) Kids get a little confidence boost when they know a little more about their favorite topic than some adults. Other benefits for the child are things like:

• More persistence
• Improved attention span
• Deeper information-processing skills
• Higher confidence

Looking back, the dinosaur days seem a little quaint. Like so many things in childhood, from mysterious knee pain to imaginary friends, kids just grow out of it.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

PAREN(T)HESIS — Caring For Pets

December 2, 2017

Jill Rothenbueler Maher

When I walk around our neighborhood, I occasionally see remnants of what seem to be former dog houses. (If I’m wrong, I cannot imagine how the concrete rectangles were used.) The attitude of Bay View residents and suburbanites toward dogs sleeping outside is one of the huge changes since I grew up. My parents’ dogs, a Black Labrador and an English Springer Spaniel, both slept in doghouses connected to our garage. I don’t think anyone found it strange at the time, but today it would raise eyebrows among neighbors.

The attitude toward pets has really changed since the 1970s. I noticed that a hand-me-down book from that era included the question, “Is loving a pet like loving a person?” The publisher’s answer reflected what was probably commonsense back then, which boiled down to, “No, you might love a pet but it’s not like loving a person.” In 2017 I think the answer would be different, or the publisher would eliminate the topic to avoid the negative feedback!

This month is a popular time to get new pets and experts say it is important to think through your situation before welcoming a new pet. The reality can involve allergies, the safety of the child and pet, and the ongoing cost of food and visits to the veterinarian. My husband and I held out until the age when our daughter could reasonably help care for a pet with things like feeding the correct amount and remembering to put the dog food bag away. We also thought about whether she knew how to control a leashed dog and safely cross intersections.

One thing that hasn’t changed since my childhood is children insistently begging for pets. Our daughter moved from turning the kitchen into an imaginary pet store to directly asking us to give her the odds, that is, the percentage of likelihood that we would get a dog. That percentage moved from 50 to 100 the day we visited a shelter and found the right match. Our work schedules meant that we couldn’t adequately train a puppy so we got a more mature, house-trained dog. Our daughter has been helpful with chores and has loved the dog more than I could have imagined.

We had to say goodbye to a cat a few years ago, and we dread the day when we will have to deal with the death of our dog, but experts point out that experience with the death of a pet can help translate to dealing with other types of loss.

Pets can also help children develop responsibility and give them time away from screens. An advantage I hadn’t thought about before researching this article is that pets can be trusted, safe recipients of a child’s innermost thoughts. Kids sometimes share thoughts with a pet like they do a favorite stuffed animal. On dark winter nights, a pet with the right temperament can be a great comfort.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

PAREN(T)HESIS — Raising Responsibility

November 1, 2017

Before we know it, snow shoveling season will hit Bay View.

Shoveling is a seasonal chore that kids can help with early in life, starting in small way that suits their ability and with adult supervision, and as they grow and mature, working up to taking on the whole task. This particular chore helps the household but also improves the neighborhood because passersby get to walk on a clear sidewalk, minimizing the risk of injury or wet feet. Spreading the love even further, some children help an elderly neighbor by shoveling their sidewalk.

When most of the homes in Bay View were built, kids shoveling would have been very commonplace. But across the nation, children’s chores have trended downward and have reached near zero in some families, where children do not put away books and toys or walk the dog or even hang up their own coats. The situation can reach a boiling point when parents “go on strike” and refuse to do any housework.

The parent-child struggle over chores must be a perpetual frustration because I remember the mom Marmee doing something similar to a strike in the novel Little Women, which is set during the Civil War.

Achieving a family life where chores are part of the routine, not something to be objected to or fought over, does carry a short-term cost to harmony. Children will try to subvert the parents’ attempts. Our daughter has come up with some pretty creative objections to putting away silverware and other chores. (She has also complained that the weekend should be renamed the “workend” because we have the heaviest cleaning and chore burden on Saturday and Sunday.) When instituting a new expectation that children will help, parents will lose some time enforcing chores or punishments. After a few weeks or months, they will gain back time when children consistently help run the household. Over the years, they will be rewarded with children who are more self-sufficient. Some parents even look forward to their children having more harmonious marriages because their own childhood chores led them to share and balance housework with a future spouse.

In the book Parenting Without Borders, Christine Gross-Loh reports that the way we ask our children to do something matters. Ideally, the parent and child are engaged in something together (like sitting near one another to read a book) and then the parent gives a brief, clear direction for a chore and works with the child to get it started. The intentional approach makes sense and is backed up by research.

Two thorny issues about chores are whether to pay an allowance for them and gender equality, balancing the amount and type of chores between boys and girls. In the end, getting some help is most important.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

PAREN(T)HESIS — Access to Books

October 1, 2017

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

I think the Bay View neighborhood must have one of the highest densities of those small book giveaway spots called Little Free Libraries. If you aren’t familiar with the concept, think of a glorified birdhouse mounted on a post near a sidewalk, but filled with books. Once you know to look for them, you’ll spot them all around our neighborhood, including the fire station on Kinnickinnic Avenue. The “take a book, leave a book” concept fits the mindset here of neighborliness and the belief in thoughtfulness and literacy.

Little Free Libraries are open around the world and I was delighted to learn that the idea started in Wisconsin. Todd Bol of Hudson built a structure to trade books as a memorial tribute to his mother. He eventually teamed with Rick Brooks of Madison and Little Free Libraries began to spring up. The ones dotting Bay View are fascinating because the style and shape of them are unique — some even tricked out with interior lighting. Many include children’s books, and at least one has a dedicated children’s section. The Little Free Library site has a map with registered libraries, but it isn’t a true guide to those in Bay View. You’ll find many unregistered ones if you explore our streets.

Another popular way to get free books in our area is, of course, to use one of our traditional libraries. Bay View and Tippecanoe are within reach for most of us, and St. Francis and Cudahy are close. And Tippecanoe is now open on Saturdays! One of my favorite “mom tricks,” when our daughter was younger, was to visit the library website and use my card to request books be held at Central Drive-Up. This technique avoided getting a little one out of the car and then carrying her through a parking lot into a building, especially in winter. Children can also use their school library.

Next Door, a Milwaukee nonprofit that supports Milwaukee’s central city, reports that the number of books available to a child may surpass all other variables in predicting their long-term success in school. They operate a long-running Books for Kids program.

Given the abundance of books in Bay View and the importance of reading for scholastic success, it’s heartbreaking to know that the situation is very different in other neighborhoods. The creator or “steward” of a Little Free Library on North 45th Street mentions that she is in a desert of Little Free Libraries and that the public library is over a mile away and getting there requires crossing busy streets. The situation makes me want to send her a check or help in some way, even though I know it’s not a long-term solution.

Here is a list of a few of the area’s Little Free Libraries with ample
children’s books or with a children’s section.

  • Humboldt Park Elementary School, 3230 S. Adams Ave.
  • Milwaukee Fire Department, 2526 S. Kinnickinnic Ave.
  • Private Home, 2785 S. Wentworth Ave.
  • South Shore Park (near playground), 2900 S. Shore Dr.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

PAREN(T)HESIS — Money Talks

August 1, 2017

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

Last month, I shared thoughts around talking with kids about how babies are made.

Next up, money, another subject that is sometimes taboo. More specifically, I’m thinking about kids knowing the basics of personal finances.

Many grade schoolers have to pause and think to remember how much a quarter is worth. Ask them to guess how much is paid for rent or a mortgage, and they may throw out what they consider a really high number, such as $100. As they get older, they might grasp these values and concepts but know little about using a budget to help prepare for the future. Older children should learn things like how credit works and even compound interest.

While it’s comforting to keep money concerns in the realm of adults, eventually kids will need to handle money without an adult over their shoulder. I remember my first purchases without a parent were 10 or 25 cent candy at a store near our school. (Peach was my flavor of choice.) Today kids might buy a cookie at a coffee shop or use a vending machine without their parents, or even rent a movie or juice up an online game.

It’s reasonable to think that they will make better decisions, both large and small, if they have been given some guidance.

On a small scale, I try to show our daughter receipts for things like groceries and have her look at the total so she gets a grasp of the cost of food. On a Target or Walgreens receipt, I point out the line indicating tax.

To help her become comfortable with money and to have a little independence, we’ve started to let her make some small purchases on her own, such as muffins at a coffee shop or farmers market.

Wisconsin legislators are considering requiring public schools to include financial literacy for kids from kindergartners to high school seniors. Like the discussions over the birds and the bees, in my mind financial discussions should start at home and be reinforced at school. This helps make sure a family’s culture is respected while all kids get the basics. It helps society at large when they graduate with a solid knowledge of financial topics.

The Wisconsin Assembly passed the Financial Literacy bill in late June with no opposition. According to an article in The Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, the State Senate may consider the bill this fall.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

PAREN(T)HESIS — Wider perspectives

June 1, 2017

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

Raising children can take us to unexpected places. A friend surprised me when he told me that he resorted to hiding books from his own kids. He took this unusual step because they got obsessed with the Harry Potter series, and for years, they wouldn’t read anything else for fun.

“Read what you like” is a good guideline. The popular Super Reader program available in the Bay View library and other MPL branches has children promise, “I will read things I like,” when they register for the free program. Most parents generally agree, but my friend thought his kids took Harry Potter books to an unacceptable extreme. He wanted them to get exposure to a wider world.

This spring the National Ambassador for Young People’s Literature, Gene Luen Yang, helped encourage young readers to expand their perspectives by either:

• Reading about a character who doesn’t look like them or live like them

• Reading about a topic they don’t know much about

• Reading a format they don’t normally read for fun (chapter book, graphic novel, or magazine)

The endeavor is called the Reading Without Walls campaign and I learned about it in the excellent children’s magazine Cricket. The magazine itself exposes children to a variety of styles and topics in every issue. The May/June issue includes a page about the history of the umbrella. This everyday object started as a parasol to provide shade from the sun and became a symbol of wealth and prestige among various cultures across the globe. It was used on various continents but not for rain protection until an English man carried an umbrella to keep dry and he was considered eccentric. This usage caught on and that English man’s ‘repurposing’ of the parasol is the main reason Americans and people everywhere carry umbrellas. There’s more to the story than I can summarize here. That article piqued my own interest and it will surely make some kids look at umbrellas differently, too.

Another part of the current issue retells the story of the ancient Indian Hindu epic Mahabharata. An endnote gives perspective, including that it’s a story more than 2,000 years old and reflects a time when Indian culture allowed far more independence for women than in later centuries.

Allowing children to explore new things through reading takes a bit of courage for the parents, especially for those with controlling personalities like mine! Our neighborhood abounds with Little Free Libraries where neighbors exchange books but I’m a little uneasy about what she will grab from them. It freaks me out for reasons that are hard to articulate but I get concerned that she will read something upsetting or topics that are too mature. Of course we try to scan them as she brings them home.

Reading is a great way to get out of one’s comfort zone from the comforts of home.

More info:

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

Paren(t)hesis — All friends aren’t the same

May 1, 2017

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

A new kid joined Sesame Street on the public television show produced by the nonprofit Sesame Workshop! The new character has autism, and you can watch her on YouTube by searching “Meet Julia” to view the Season 47, Episode 15 clip.

Big Bird learns that Julia does some things differently, like:

Not answering right away

Not doing what others expect (may ignore requests to give a high five)

Doing things that might seem confusing to others (might flap hands when excited)

Getting upset around noise like ambulance sirens

The other characters, including the adult Alan, explain to Big Bird how to interpret Julia’s behavior and they agree that all friends aren’t the same. They break into a cute song together.

People with autism don’t all act the same, so it’s difficult to have just one character represent them all. To reach the best portrayal, the nonprofit Sesame Workshop brought in autism organizations in addition to the educators and child psychologists they regularly consult.

Although our daughter is out of the target range for the show, I’d like to show her the clip. I think it’d hold her interest long enough to get the point across and shows like this are a great way to ease into discussing other topics, such as autism

It’s on a different level but when I was a child, I remember Count Dracula being the first person I encountered with an accent. I suppose the character was meant to share math skills but I mostly noticed the “Transylvania accent.” Having heard it repeatedly probably helped me relate to people who would become our family friends, Spanish ex-patriots. The mother could not pronounce the “j” sound and always called me Yill instead of Jill. Being from another country seemed totally exotic to me and I was always a little afraid of the mom.

I’m sure kids with autism (or from other countries) don’t want to be feared. Hopefully Julia will help kids be a little more receptive to their potential new friends.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

PAREN(T)HESIS — Clothing conundrums

March 31, 2017

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

Many Milwaukee Public School students will be wearing uniforms starting this fall due to a new policy. At some schools, parents and guardians voted on filing a school-wide exemption. If a certain percent of the adults vote against uniforms, the whole school will not adopt the new policy. Regardless of the vote, individual students can be exempted.

The uniform topic brings me back to my Catholic grade school and its dress code. We had to wear collared shirts and avoid logos and denim. As I remember, the overall attitude among students was that we were thirsty for the occasional denim day and that we accepted the rules, probably because they were our norm. Leaving the house dressed according to rules was common in our house. The school dress code my sister and I followed was significantly less restrictive than the police uniform my dad wore every workday.

Decades later, I can clearly remember the flare-up when a seventh grade classmate wore Guess brand jeans with a white triangle label on the back pocket. It caused a few remarks amongst our close-knit group of about 60 kids. The focus on a brand and the potential for other students to beg for the same expensive clothes was exactly what the dress code was designed to avoid. A few years after I graduated, that school’s policy changed and implemented uniforms for its students.

Clothing debates tap deep into our emotions, as evidenced by the Guess jeans incident I remember 30 years later. Friends have similar stories, harbored in their craniums for decades, about what they and their peers wore to school and what type of jeans they coveted. In my childhood, the dress code I had to abide until eighth grade, combined with my penchant for outdoor play, meant I had school clothes and I had play clothes. I got off the bus, walked to our house, and immediately changed into more casual outfits that could get stained.

Back then I never heard of a child who couldn’t tolerate wearing certain types of clothing, but zoom ahead 30 years and now there are many kids with mild sensory issues that can be triggered by some garments.

Some kids don’t like, or cannot be comfortable wearing clothing like pants with buttons or cotton blend pants without any stretch. Luckily, knit clothing options reign supreme now for both kids and adults.

What we wear involves a lot of emotion, but I think the biggest issue with clothing is its comparison among children. It’s safe to say that whatever route a particular school takes on the uniform policy, today’s kids will grow up and survive a few crazy fashion trends, and as I did, eventually harken back to the clothing of their childhood days.

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

PAREN(T)HESIS — Greeting grandma

December 1, 2016

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

NEW Jill Maher Headshot Dec 2013Many of us are heading, in the words of a song, “Over the river and through the woods to grandmother’s house” for the holidays. All the family gatherings make me wonder, who is this modern grandma? Does she fulfill the stereotype by meeting us at the threshold, sporting an apron dusted with a bit of flour?

The grandmother of 2016 may be an older member of Generation X or a Baby Boomer. She may be spending holiday time with her children, grandchildren, and even her own parents. Geographic separation may require that some of her interactions take place by phone or video chat with Facetime or Skype. Instead of greeting us at the doorway in her apron, she may greeting us on the holiday via her phone when she gets home from work.

She may love her family but might not love to bake cookies for them, that tradition that we still associate with the older generation. In fact, grandma (if she even permits herself to be addressed as such) may be too busy working to bake or partake in other traditional ‘grandmotherly hobbies’ like quilting and preserving applesauce. A majority of grandparents are still working.

People don’t always conform to stereotypes. I remember when I became aware of my stereotype when I interviewed an elderly woman for this newspaper and assumed she would enjoy cooking and baking. She surprised me when she informed me that wasn’t true for her.

Grandma of 2016 has far fewer grandchildren than a grandma who was alive when most of Bay View’s homes were built in the early 1900s. The number has decreased from a dozen to about six grandchildren, and the trend line keeps heading down. In my own family, my maternal gram had four kids and my paternal gram had five, while my parents and my in-laws each had two children. My husband and I have one, making our extended families an example of the shift toward smaller families.

Here’s hoping that I get to be a grandma and that I am done working at the office by then!

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

PAREN(T)HESIS — Milwaukee tap water safety

November 2, 2016

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

NEW Jill Maher Headshot Dec 2013We often hear that children can drown in a very small amount of water. To help stay safe, parents take their children to swimming lessons at St. Ann Center or Milwaukee Recreation. But recently we’ve been reminded that water can harm children in a very different way: it can contain lead which harms children when ingested. Kids should have zero lead in their bodies and they should be tested for it as many as three times by age three.

Lead can enter our water through several sources, and a big concern is the pipe that runs from the water main into the home. For homes built before 1947, which includes mine and all my local friends’ homes, the pipe contains lead unless it was replaced. When water sits idle in that pipe, it can pick up the lead and carry it into our home and through our faucets.

Water concerns take me back to childhood. People who lived in the greater Milwaukee area in 1993 certainly remember the cryptosporidium outbreak that year. We heard about restaurants getting ice shipped from Chicago to ensure it was safe. Cryptosporidium jokes temporarily replaced ones about the Bears or Vikings.

At my parents’ home in an older New Berlin neighborhood, I was consuming water from a private well unaffected by the outbreak. But hearing about Milwaukee’s water issue from the nightly news on the kitchen TV meant that many of us looked at a glass of water in a different way. Then the fear waned and worrywarts got more concerned with things like BPA getting into food from can linings and plastic bottles.

Local Lead Concern

Now that I live in beloved Bay View, I was concerned when I heard Mayor Barrett warning residents about the city’s drinking water and recommending home filters. The concern doesn’t end at the doorstep. We received a letter that Milwaukee Public Schools is testing the water our daughter sips from the school bubbler, and my husband and I both drink tap water at Milwaukee workplaces.

Friends say they are very worried about the safety of drinking water, especially for their children. It seems reasonable that in smaller bodies, contaminants can have a larger effect. Infants drinking formula made with tap water may be getting constant doses of lead from their earliest days. The way I see it, kids’ health is more of a worry than our adult bodies, which aren’t doing the hard work of growing.

The attitude seems to be worry mixed with feeling overwhelmed, when they research filters. Despite the concern, being overwhelmed can lead to inaction. I myself wonder whether our refrigerator’s filter is adequate but haven’t taken the time to research it. Unfortunately we can’t just fill jugs at the Pryor Avenue artesian well and feel safe because it’s afflicted with excessively high strontium levels.

Recent concern about the quality of drinking water reaches beyond Milwaukee. We’ve probably all heard about massive problems in Flint, Mich., and I recently learned of less publicized problems with well contamination in Kewaunee County and Door County, Wis. There, the issue is not from lead pipes but from contaminants due to agricultural use of manure. As many as one third of Door County’s wells are contaminated according to the Green Bay Press Gazette’s reporting on comments made by State Rep. Joel Kitchens. Door County is typically considered a wealthy area so its problems illustrate that unsafe drinking water isn’t an issue that affects only impoverished urban areas.

Here at home, I plan to keep doing what our home inspector recommended when we purchased our home years ago — make sure we don’t consume the water that was lying stagnant in the main overnight. For example, upon waking in the morning I’m sure to flush the toilet and use water in other ways before pouring it into a tea kettle. I’m concerned that recent demolition in the area could shake lead loose. I’ve called the State Lab of Hygiene at (800) 442-4618 to get a bottle for a lead test. It’ll cost us about $30 and we’ll get results in 10 days.

What You Can Do

You can check whether you home’s water service line has been replaced with a lead-free pipe on the City of Milwaukee website: The page offers information that helps homeowners determine whether or not the previous owners changed the pipe.

Furthermore, the City of Milwaukee Health Department recommends any households with residents or visitors that include children under the age of 6, and women who are pregnant or breastfeeding should also:

Only use bottled water from a known lead-free source or cold, filtered tap water (use an NSF/ANSI Standard 53 certified water filtration device) to make formula, concentrated juices, and for cooking and drinking. If using water directly from the faucet, use only water from the cold water tap that has been well-flushed for a minimum of three minutes.

Test children for blood lead level. Follow the “3 before 3” guidance by testing children for elevated blood lead levels three times before the age of 3. 

More Steps to Consider

Purchase a home filtration system. Find a list of products at   or call Customer Service, (414) 286-2830. Drinking water filtration systems or pour-through filters can reduce or eliminate lead. Look for products certified by NSF/ANSI under Standard 53 for removal of lead and follow the manufacturer’s guidelines for installing and maintaining the filter. 

Replace your lead service line or interior plumbing using a licensed plumber. Call the Milwaukee Water Works, (414) 286-3710, for more information.

Have your water tested for lead from a source like the State Lab of Hygiene at 800-442-4618. Find a full list of laboratories at (click “L” in the alphabetized list) or call Customer Service, 414-286-2830. 

Flush your plumbing after any water utility work or internal plumbing work. Physical disturbance of the lead service line or lead plumbing by activities such as water main replacement, service line leaks, home plumbing repair, water meter replacement, or main breaks may release lead into the water.

List of water filters recommended. 

Source: City of Milwaukee

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

UPDATE: This article was updated to reflect that the water is piped to homes in Milwaukee from the water main, not the sewer, as was originally stated.


PAREN(T)HESIS — Rolling with eye rolls

September 1, 2016

By Jill Rotherbueler Maher

NEW Jill Maher Headshot Dec 2013Smiles were the topic of conversation at a recent dinner. My husband and I enjoyed our meal with friends whose newborn just began smiling for the first time. We shared their excitement over that important facial expression.

Another friend joked that little humans are preprogrammed to smile just when their parents are getting to wits’ end with caring for a newborn. She thinks it’s a “survival of the species” hereditary pattern.

Whatever the reason, little smiles are an adorable signal between adults and children. As they transition from infant to toddler, some children will be taught sign language so they can clearly make requests like “more food” or its opposite, “all done.” It’s worth the time spent training kids because wee ones can typically signal with hands before their speech makes their desires clear.

As children transition to preteens, their nonverbal expressions can be more difficult to interpret. Our daughter recently started rolling her eyes. Of course, we didn’t teach her that one! Then again, we probably did unintentionally teach it by doing it ourselves.

We likely ignored the first time she did it and now we typically take it in stride. Sometimes we tease her that she’s giving us “teenager eyes.” We certainly haven’t used the retort that I’ve seen advocated on parenting blog Motherlode, which is, “That’s rude. I’m trusting you’ll soon find a more mature way to let me know what you’re thinking.”

I might keep that line in the back of my mind and paraphrase it when she gets more aggressive. So far, she has used it in more of a “you’re so goofy” manner than a “you’re sooooo annoying” manner. As she becomes a true preteen, eye-rolling might become a way to camouflage deeper feelings. She may find it an easier way to avoid a topic she doesn’t want to discuss or fears she’ll cry about. Then eye-rolling could be a way to stop a conversation without walking out of a room.

It’s difficult to remember my own preteen years, but I would guess I invoked this communication technique behind my parents’ backs much more than to their face. It’s odd to use a nonverbal expression that nobody else sees, but I’m guessing it can help a young person establish a sense of self. Kind of like slamming a bedroom door but lower on the annoyance scale.

Slamming a bedroom door is another milestone, one we haven’t experienced yet. When it happens, we probably won’t brag about it at dinner!

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

PAREN(T)HESIS — Cooking with kids

August 1, 2016

By Jill Rothenbueler Maher

NEW Jill Maher Headshot Dec 2013I vividly remember as a child being sent with a bag of corn to the cement steps of our home. I would peel each cob, dropping the husks and silk into a brown paper Piggly Wiggly bag. If we had family or friends joining us for dinner, it seemed like a really big job and I resented it a little. Once in a while, one of the ears we bought from the roadside stands would be rotten and the surprise of finding brown ick instead of golden ears would gross me out a little.

Helping out with meal preparation was the norm in my family of origin, even though my sister and I didn’t always enjoy it. My husband and I have made it the norm for our daughter. Part of the reason we have her help out is that we heard it could help combat her minor case of “picky eater.” It really seemed to work since she enjoys a variety of foods now, as long as onions aren’t on the plate! We also wanted her to help make dinner so that she didn’t come home from daycare and plop in front of the TV, leaving the adults to work on the evening meal.

Kids’ contributions can begin with rinsing and drying raw vegetables or slicing anything soft enough to be pierced with a butter spreader. As they mature, they can progress to a butter knife and other knives. They can grate cheese and cut basil or other herbs.

In Montessori school, some children grate cinnamon sticks. Even young children can put a napkin at every plate.

Cooking and baking together can even involve a little math, like teaching how to double a recipe or to make three-fourths cup with one-fourth and one-half  measuring cups.

I think the very best helping hands are those that come forward after dinner to help clean up!

The author is a freelance writer and mother of one. Reach her with comments or suggestions at

« Previous PageNext Page »