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In this undated image originally released by Nickelodeon, a scene is shown from the animated show "SpongeBob SquarePants." (File photo | Nickelodeon | AP Photo/File photo | Nickelodeon | AP Photo)
In this undated image originally released by Nickelodeon, a scene is shown from the animated show "SpongeBob SquarePants." (File photo | Nickelodeon | AP Photo/File photo | Nickelodeon | AP Photo)

Top showdowns at the parenting corral of 2011 Add to ...

It was a prickly year in the world of parenting. A look at some of the top parenting showdowns of 2011.

Science vs. working moms

Social scientists may have just been trying to help, but most of the research on working moms has been a bummer this year. One study found that while men are helping out more at home, working women still do more multitasking – about 10 hours more each week. Another study found that when working women take work calls or read e-mails at home, it stresses them out more than it does men. At least one of these studies had a silver lining: Women who believed in the super-mom myth fared the worst. So, messy house and after-school television it is.

Safety vs. fun

It was not a banner year for kids and sports. With concussions and headshots sidelining NHL stars like Sidney Crosby, hockey parents were left debating at what age – if any – kids should be allowed to check. Canadian pediatricians issued a missive against kids’ boxing. And schools in the U.K. and North America drew ire for banning “hard balls” from recess – even tennis balls and volleyballs were included in the sweep. Old-school sports fans blew their top. Experts waved evidence of the long-term damage of concussions. A draw.

SpongeBob vs. Caillou

Research into just how worried parents should be about TV and computer time for kids got down to the nitty-gritty this year with a study about which kinds of cartoons might be bad for kids. It turns out that fast-paced shows like Spongebob SquarePants get the thumbs-down – as little as nine minutes of viewing time negatively affected preschoolers’ scores on tests taken afterward. Kids who watched a slow cartoon like Caillou fared better. Food for thought when you send the kids downstairs to watch TV on Saturday mornings.

Gender police vs. princess culture

The pink princess juggernaut shows no signs of losing steam. And boys who want to toss the superheroes aside and pick up a doll still face awkward questions about gender. But many of the well-meaning folks who tried to scrub gender from childhood sparked enormous debates. In May, a Toronto couple drew fire over their decision to not reveal the gender of their baby, named Storm. Next we heard about a Swedish daycare using a gender-neutral pronoun instead of he and she. And just this month, a London toy store scrapped its boys’ and girls’ sections. Some people cried foul, but others cheered the break-up of all that garish pink.

Tiger mom vs. most parents

Worst. Mother. Ever. There’s no question that Amy Chua took parenting squabbles to an extreme this year. “Tiger mom” is now firmly entrenched in the lexicon.

Ms. Chua’s book, Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, sparked a global debate about how she parented her two daughters: hours of piano and violin practice, harsh language, no sleepovers.

Or at least that’s how she parented her daughters until the youngest one rebelled and she caved. In the end, though, Ms. Chua got North Americans talking about whether we’re too soft; and she got Asian countries taking about whether they’re too strict. She thrust the very personal matter of how to parent into the public domain and it was fascinating to watch.

Tina Fey vs. dumb comments

Working moms got some relief from all those studies when TV star Tina Fey penned a piece about the worst thing you can ask a working mother: “How do you juggle it all?” (Yes, it’s followed closely by “Are you going to have more kids?”)

In a New Yorker magazine piece called “Confessions of a Juggler,” Ms. Fey explained how the juggle query implies that we're not, actually, juggling it all and that you've noticed. (See also: I Don’t Know How She Does It.)

Earnestness vs. irony?

Tired parents made the lullaby parody Go the F to Sleep, by Adam Mansbach, a bestseller before the book hit the stores because it captured the agony of trying to get a busy toddler to sleep. But not everyone thought it was funny. To some, it revealed an ugly, barely-below-the-surface rage aimed at toddlers who want one more snuggle, one more cup of water, one more book.

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