Doing the Dirty Work: My Approach to Cleaning Messy Rooms

Written on March 10, 2014 at 2:09 pm , by

By JM Randolph, the Accidental Stepmom

The same sense of self-preservation that keeps me from shouldering the responsibility for regularly cleaning the kids’ rooms mandates that, eventually, I do have to go in. Go in as in, “Cover me, I’m going in.”

There will inevitably come a moment when I can’t ignore it anymore—usually because the door won’t shut. There will have been a blowup over a critical piece of sports gear or homework that has been unlocatable due to the mess. By this point, the room makes Hogwarts’ Room of Requirement look positively organized, and I am convinced there’s a camera crew from Hoarders lurking outside in the bushes.

There are two ways to approach Going In: with the kid and without the kid. Both have merits. There are some things that you truly need the child for—clothing, for instance. Does this still fit? Are you ever going to wear this without me forcing you to?

That leads to its own battles: If it takes you five minutes of contortions to get the pants on, they don’t fit anymore. There are more holes in your favorite shirt than there are in my favorite dust rag—how about we swap?

When you get the boo-boo face for throwing out jeans that are held together only by the belt loops and one pocket, take the opportunity to remind the children they are welcome to do this themselves without help. Leave out the part about how you’ll never let them leave the house wearing that.

With an overly sentimental child, or one with pack-ratting tendencies, you’re better off making some of these decisions on your own.

When #5 went to scouting camp this summer, I took the opportunity to Go In to his room. He had created two piles the size of furniture as high as his desk. I lost count of the trash bags full of actual trash that I sifted out of them, including the remnants of his lunch from the last day of school, approximately four weeks earlier.

He’s the youngest of five, the only boy. He’s also the youngest in his class, and on the cusp of everything changing at age 11 and the sixth grade. I know if I ask him, he will never let go of a contractor-size bag full of Webkinz that have long since met their electronic demise from neglect; I also know he’ll forget about them if they are no longer in his room. The big plastic fire truck with the electronic siren he got for Christmas when he was 4, tucked under the far corner of the bed? It’s going to bring a lot more joy to some younger boy who comes by it through donation. Broken toys from Happy Meals? Don’t get me started. Shoe box full of rocks collected one afternoon two summers ago? Perhaps it’s time to set them free.

It took me an entire day and night to get his room in order. Through it all, I second-guessed everything.

In the end, I felt happy to clear his space for him. He’d be able to find things and have room to breathe. I kept the Lincoln Logs and Legos; I kept the Matchboxes and exactly one bed-perimeter’s worth of stuffed animals. I rearranged the furniture.

When we picked him up from scout camp, his dad told him we had a surprise for him at home, and that he owed me. Now, I don’t operate under the illusion that a clean room qualifies as a “surprise” for an 11-year-old boy, but it was definitely noticeable, different and an unpleasant task he didn’t have to do.

By the time we got home, he’d forgotten there was supposed to be a surprise. He dropped his stuff in the living room and immediately went for the TV remote. When we redirected him to put his gear away, he picked up his backpack and went into his room. Ten minutes later he wandered out and went again for the TV remote. I peeked into his room and saw the contents of the backpack scattered all over the floor.

His dad asked, “So what did you think of your room?”

He replied, “What about it?”


JM Randolph is a writer, stagehand and custodial stepmom of five. She lives in New Jersey with her family and blogs at

High School Basketball Team Shows Touching Display of Sportsmanship

Written on March 10, 2014 at 1:17 pm , by

Here’s something to start your week right. Watch this display of admirable sportsmanship by the basketball team at Desert Chapel High School in Palm Springs, California. We tip our hats to these generous athletes and their terrific coach. #ftw


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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on March 10, 2014 at 11:14 am , by





Bacon + Chocolate? Yes, please. Instagram user @sarahluvsjoy did an amazing job recreating our Bacon Chocolate Cupcakes for a birthday party—and even came up with the perfect caption for them! Get more creative recipe ideas here.

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef? 

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.

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Discounts for Foodies

Written on March 7, 2014 at 12:08 pm , by

Welcome to our weekly roundup of the best deals on the Web! We love a bargain as much as the next person, so check back every Friday for our favorite family-friendly discounts. 


Turns out there is such a thing as free lunch—and dinner or dessert, too. Just click for a Krispy Kreme freebie, breakfast on the house at IKEA and six more whet-your-appetite deals. Don’t wait—there are hot offers that expire soon.

• In honor of this weekend’s switch to Daylight Savings, head to Krispy Kreme for a FREE Doughnut on Sunday, 3/9.

• Pick up Arby’s new Reuben Sandwich and you’ll score a FREE Small Fries and Small Drink until Tuesday, 3/11.

• Take the night off from cooking on Tuesdays—you’ll get a FREE Kids’ Entrée with every Adult Entrée purchased at Bob Evans through 4/18.

• Grab a FREE Breakfast at IKEA on Saturday, 3/8, before 11 a.m.

• Indulge in a spring and summer full of FREE  Wendy’s Jr. Frosty Treats when you purchase a $1 Frosty Key Tag, which will benefit the Dave Thomas Foundation for Adoption.

• Get a great deal on your daily sandwich or salad with $2 off any $7 purchase at Au Bon Pain until Tuesday, 3/11.

• Consider your weekend dinner plans solved. Head to LongHorn Steakhouse, buy two adult dinner entrées and receive a FREE Appetizer or Dessert through Monday, 3/10.

• Go ahead, grab a starter before dinner. Your Appetizer is FREE when you order any two Lobsterfest Entrées at Red Lobster until Sunday, 3/9.

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#LoveYourSelfie: How One Snap Can Build Self-Esteem in Kids

Written on March 7, 2014 at 11:00 am , by

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If a picture is worth a thousand words, then your selfie should be an epic story. And it doesn’t have to crash Twitter to be worth a read. I’ve been watching with interest the recent campaign by NBC’s Today show, #LoveYourSelfie. The campaign began with the anchors, faces without make-up, openly discussing their perceived flaws. Viewers sent in their own pictures, spanning a range of ages, actions, body types and expressions. Priceless.

I applaud the viewers who were brave enough to share their photos. However, it begs the question: Do we need a campaign that reminds us to love ourselves?


Girls as young as 6 report being dissatisfied with their bodies, which is shocking but understandable. Media images promote thinness as perfection and seemingly place a higher value on models who are white, blonde and slim. Rarely are the concepts of beauty and goodness from the inside out adequately displayed.

The Cast of Today show

Low self-esteem and a negative self-image can lead to risk-taking behaviors in children and teenagers. Having a positive self-image, a healthy body image and good self-esteem are critical factors as children and teens work toward self-acceptance.

That’s where our important role as parents comes in. We have an opportunity to empower our children when it comes to how they feel about themselves. Doing that requires understanding how they view themselves and, more important, how we view ourselves. Our children listen to the words we use to describe our bodies and our feelings of self-acceptance. Our children listen to the comments we make about their friends as it relates to appearance.

Here’s a suggestion: Have everyone in your family take a selfie that they’re willing to share. Sit down and ask each person talk about their photo, explaining how they felt taking it and how the photo represents one of their strengths, then caption it in three words that describe what they like about themselves. Parents can use this opportunity to share their own experiences growing up and how they dealt with issues of self-esteem and self-acceptance.

Telling the story of your wonderful, beautiful, individual self is a click away: #LoveYourSelfie

Have you taken a look at your kid’s selfies? What do you think they say? Post a comment below and tell us about them.


Janet Taylor, MD, MPH, who took this selfie, is a mother of four and a psychiatrist in New York City. Follow her on Twitter @drjanet.

Got a question for Dr. Janet? Email her at





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E-Cigarette-Like Devices Change the Dynamics of Teen Smoking

Written on March 6, 2014 at 3:42 pm , by

Image courtesy of The New York Times

E-hookahs, hookah pens or vape pipes—call them what you will, but a rose by any other name still stinks, especially when it comes to teens and smoking. Subgenres of devices, virtually identical to e-cigarettes, are flooding the market, and with their array of rainbow colors and fruity flavors, they are appealing to a younger audience.

An article in this week’s New York Times highlighted this disturbing new trend.

A recent survey by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 10% of high school students across the country had tried e-cigarettes in 2012, double the number from 2011. However, because many teens do not group other electronic inhalers into the same category as e-cigarettes, the CDC is concerned that they cannot properly corral the data and may be underestimating usage.

Fortunately, my friends and I weren’t really smokers in high school. I hardly ever took a puff and the smell really kept me from forming a habit, but if everyone had been dragging on smoke-free tutti-frutti-flavored vapor, I am pretty sure that more of us would have been hooked.

These new inhalers are creating the illusion that this type of smoking is harmless, when in fact most of these gadgets do contain varying degrees of nicotine. I have never heard my 14-year-old daughter talk about vape pipes and the like, but it’s a conversation we are going to have tonight.

What do you think of this new trend, and how will you discuss it with your tween or teen? Please let us know in the comments below.

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SAT Test Prep? Yes, Please!

Written on March 6, 2014 at 10:45 am , by


Big news about the SAT was revealed today. Even though my oldest kid is just 9, quite a few years away from applying to college, I took note. According to the  College Board, the company that administers the SAT, the exam is being majorly revamped for spring 2016. More specifics and extensive sample items for each section will be released on April 16 of this year, two years before students take the “new” test. Some highlights:

• The essay portion will be optional.
• The math section will focus on three essential areas: problem solving and data analysis, algebra and passport to advanced math.
• Students in need will receive four fee waivers to apply to college, eliminating a cost barrier faced by lower-income students.
• Print and digital versions will be offered. (At present, the test is given only on paper.)

But perhaps most newsworthy to bottom-line-oriented parents is that the College Board is partnering with Khan Academy, a well-respected education nonprofit, to provide free (yes, free!) test prep materials for the redesigned SAT. (Critics have long insisted that students whose parents were able to pay for pricey test prep had a large and unfair advantage over poorer kids.) And we’re not talking workbooks here—the College Board and Khan promise sophisticated interactive software for extensive practice, plus how-to videos. This coproduced material is scheduled for release in spring 2015.

Seems to me these new test prep materials—provided they live up to the hype—could really help level the playing field for kids in lower-income families. What do you think?

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Teaching Your Teen to Drive Just Became Less Stressful

Written on March 5, 2014 at 11:43 am , by

My daughter recently got her learner’s permit. My son has been driving for about a year. That means when we go on a road trip, my husband and I can sit in the backseat, bicker, snarf down snacks (leaving Goldfish crackers all over the seat), watch movies and ask—every three minutes—“Are we there yet?” So you better believe we’re planning some road trips!

In fact, that’s my sneaky way of teaching my two teens some essential driving skills not covered in driver’s ed: budgeting, route planning and time management. And Google has stepped in to make those all easier, by completely updating the web browser planning tool Google Maps, which is now better than ever. Here’s how:


Is driving the best idea?

Teenagers don’t have a lot of life experience, which is why my son recently assumed the best way to go on a weekend trip with friends was by car. I spent 20 minutes calculating time, distance and cost with him before he understood that driving would be expensive and he’d spend most of the trip getting there and back. The updated Google Maps would have simplified this conversation. Ask for directions to your destination and it weighs all your options. If flying is a possibility, it will do a quick calculation—based on actual flights—and include the time and price in your directions. I would still have to calculate the cost of gas for driving, but seeing all that info spelled out quickly is an easy reality check for a teen.


Deciding what to do

We often spend a lot of time deciding on activities and restaurants when we get to our destination. Google Maps has stepped up to improve this conversation too. For example, if we’re planning a trip to D.C. and search for a museum, Maps quickly grasps what we’re doing and highlights all the museums in the area to help us make more informed decisions—and include the kids (who probably don’t know what the options are) in the discussion. Search for Indian restaurants and it will focus on those too.


Taking public transportation

When we ask for directions from, say, our hotel to the White House, Maps will display not only various driving routes but any public transit choices. Just choose the bus icon and click “List All Times and Options.” It will show you a grid of possibilities so you can see how far you’ll have to walk. This is a quick way to explain to a teenager that sneakers will be a necessity, no matter what the Pretty Little Liars are wearing.


What’s going on?

Want to make sure there’s a ballet or concert worth seeing while you’re in town? Locate a venue on Google Maps and click “Upcoming Events” to see what’s scheduled for the coming week. Quick and simple—so the kids stay focused on our trip planning instead of sliding headphones on and disappearing again.


Sharing plans

Once we come up with an itinerary, I can share it with my entire crew so they can’t claim I never tell them anything. The updated custom map section of Google Maps is super powerful. Learn how to use it by clicking “My Custom Maps” from Google Maps. Next, click “Create” and select the gear icon in the top right-hand corner. Then go to “Take a Tour” for an introduction to creating a map.


Map to go

After I’ve created a custom map, I only have to save it from Google Maps on the web and it will automatically be saved to my smartphone (as long as I sign in from my phone with the same Google email address I use for Google Maps online). So when we get in the car to leave, I can simply turn on Google Maps and tell it to navigate. Then my husband and I can put on headphones and watch True Detective till we arrive at our destination.


Christina Tynan-Wood has been covering technology since the dawn of the Internet and currently writes the Family Tech column for Family Circle. You can find more advice about buying and using technology at

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We Really Need to Just Stop Throwing Around the R-Word

Written on March 5, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

One of my college sorority sisters has a 12-year-old son named Jack with autism. (She also has two younger sons, ages 9 and 7.) In the years following Jack’s diagnosis, Shannon has become an incredible advocate for special-needs families, from appealing to her Connecticut lawmakers to spearhead insurance reform to guarantee coverage for therapies to cofounding a tennis camp where special-needs kids can learn the sport in a social setting and develop confidence. She is terrific and tireless, and I am proud to know her.

Recently, she posted on Facebook that March is the official month of a campaign called R-Word: Spread the Word to End the Word. Clicking on a link to the sponsoring organization, I learned that this important initiative was founded in 2009 by college students aiming to educate society about how hurtful and dehumanizing it is to casually refer to people with intellectual disabilities as “retarded.” Now, to those of us who grew up in the ’80s and ’90s, that word can be more or less a synonym for “stupid” and isn’t meant to hurt anyone’s feelings. I’ve certainly used it that way unthinkingly over the years. I know better now, and I’ve pledged not to do it anymore. Interested in helping to spread the word to end the word in your community? Visit the website to learn more about why the r-word demeans and to take this online pledge:

“I pledge and support the elimination of the derogatory use of the r-word from everyday speech and promote the acceptance and inclusion of people with intellectual disabilities.”

Bottom line: Language affects our attitudes, and attitudes impact our actions. Be part of the solution. I just joined over 420,000 in taking this pledge online. Will you?






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You Make It, We Post It!

Written on March 3, 2014 at 8:07 am , by


Instagram user @hilaryfrye’s husband, Dave, nailed the Creamy Lemon Chicken with Bacon recipe on our March cover. The delicious skillet supper was inspired by spring—something we’re all dreaming of right about now. And with only six ingredients, it’s super quick to fix. For more of our cover recipes, click here.

Want to be featured here as next week’s chef? 

Here’s how: Make a Family Circle recipe, take a photo and share it on Instagram by tagging @FamilyCircleMag and #FCMADEIT.

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Are You Cut Out to Care for an Elderly Parent?

Written on February 28, 2014 at 10:00 am , by

Sometimes the role of caregiver is one we plan to take on. Other times, it’s unexpectedly thrust upon us when a family member falls ill or can no longer care for herself. It’s a noble endeavor, but not one we’re all good at. Take our quiz to test your skills and read what guest blogger Molly Carpenter, a caregiver advocate at Home Instead Senior Care and author of Confidence to Care, says are the four secrets of what it takes to excel.

Just as a good teacher must be extraordinarily patient and an artist has to channel deep creativity, there are a few characteristics every caregiver needs to care compassionately and effectively for others. Knowing what it takes to be a strong caregiver will allow you to decide if you are the best person for the job–or if you need to look for support. Here are a few things to consider.

Temperament. Do you handle unexpected changes well? Are you able to adjust calmly when others are uncooperative? No? That’s perfectly okay. Patience, empathy and flexibility are some of the most difficult personality traits to cultivate, but they’re also the most important for successful caregiving.

Being a caregiver means giving selflessly, always taking the high road, having a solution-focused attitude and constantly maintaining positive body language. It might take some time to get comfortable embracing these traits. Or you may realize that you can best support your loved one by staying true to your original role, whether that is daughter or granddaughter, and enlisting the help of a professional caregiver.

Training. No matter your natural predisposition for being a caregiver, there are many aspects of eldercare that nobody innately understands. The many physical and mental difficulties people face as they age are challenging and require unique ways to address them. A variety of training classes exist to help you improve your understanding of the caregiving process. Explore what resources are available for family caregivers in your area or look online.

Time. Caregiving is a 24/7 job because even when you aren’t with the person you’re caring for, you’re thinking of them. Having the ability to manage emotions is critical, as is giving yourself breaks to recharge. You’re a better caregiver if you are rested, physically and mentally. The most successful caregivers take time for themselves. This may mean bringing in someone to help periodically so you can get a much-needed break.

Trustworthiness. A good caregiver is honest and accountable. You can create the strongest relationship with the person for whom you are caring by showing him or her that you can be trusted and relied upon in every situation. Trust is built over time, so if you are bringing in someone new to care for a loved one, provide an opportunity for the trust between your loved one and that person to grow. Time can be invaluable to the development of a rewarding caring relationship.

What are some important lessons you’ve learned as a caregiver? Post a comment and share below. 

Molly Carpenter, MA, is an author, speaker, trainer and family caregiver. She currently works at Home Instead Senior Care, where she is part of a team devoted to providing resources and training to Home Instead’s 65,000 CAREGivers™. Carpenter was instrumental in developing a person-centered approach to Alzheimer’s care that has since been adopted globally by the company. She is the author of Confidence to Care, an essential handbook to help caregivers provide the best care for people with Alzheimer’s disease or other dementias. All profits from Confidence to Care go to the Home Instead Senior Care Foundation and are distributed to dementia-related organizations and causes.

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School Community Unites to Help 510-Pound Teen Get Healthy

Written on February 26, 2014 at 4:00 pm , by

According to a study published yesterday by JAMA, The Journal of the American Medical Association, obesity rates in children 2 to 5 years old have decreased significantly over the past decade. While that news is certainly positive, there ‘s still a very long way to go.

Obesity and bullying have sadly become epidemic in the lives of so many American children, yet the plight of a 510-pound freshman became a teachable moment for his whole Indiana high school.

After a tough year in which 14-year-old Erik Ekis lost his father suddenly, then had to undergo surgeries that left him bedridden, the teen’s life and weight spiraled out of control. He was bullied at school and miserable. Teacher Don Wettrick decided to take the time to really work with Ekis, motivating him to diet and exercise. Wettrick even managed to engage the rest of the school, and something wonderful happened: The bullying stopped and some classmates formed a walking group with Ekis.

Wettrick implemented methods that combined practical solutions and compassion on a community level, and helped create valuable lessons for both Ekis and his classmates.

Share your thoughts on this inspiring story in the comments below.

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