By Ann Brown, Parenting Consultant
There are some really uncomfortable moments while raising kids. There are moments that embarrass you – when, say, you’ve run into an old flame from high school and you’re holding your two year old in your arms, thinking you look pretty darn fetching, and your kid says, “Mom! You have a really big bloody booger just hanging in your nose! Are you going to pick it out? Are you? ARE YOU?”
And there are moments of physical uncomfortability – balancing the rain-soaked grocery bags on your hip as you lean into the back seat of the car to unlock the $%#@ car seat which is held in the locked position by a cement made of Nutri Grain crumbs, apple juice and spilled Go-Gurts while holding your keys in your teeth. And you have to pee really badly.
Those moments – though they take years off our lives – are to be expected. And we commiserate with each other, and we live through them.
There are other awkward moments in parenting, however, that are not so easily laughed off.
They occur when our friends (or cousins, or neighbors…) do not share our style of parenting, and it becomes very difficult to get the families together. I’m not talking about benign differences – you use organic mild cheddar cheese in your enchiladas and your friend serves your kid enchiladas with organic medium cheddar, or, say, you hate country music and your friend plays country music in the car when you and your kid are there.
I’m talking about the bigger differences in parenting styles. Yelling. Spanking. Allowing kids to be disrespectful. When you’re in your friend’s house for a play-date with the kids, and your kid comes running down the stairs, crying because the host child won’t let her play with any of the toys in the house. And then the host child pushed your kid. And spit on your kid’s apple.
And your friend shakes her head and says to you, “well, you know how kids are. Best to ignore it and let them work it out.”
And the host child come running down the stairs and says, “I won’t share my toys. She can’t have any of my toys.”
And your friend laughs. And pours herself more wine. And she says to her child, “say you’re sorry. Then go back upstairs and be nice.”
And you know that’s about the worst advice she could give her kid, who is clearly not sorry and who clearly will not be nice when they go back upstairs.
And your kid looks at you with wide eyes as if to say, “Do something. “
And you just stand there. Because you aren’t really sure what to do.
So you mumble something about, oh, having to get home, and traffic, and needing to get to the airport, and war, and impending diarrhea. And you beat a hasty retreat to your car. And go home and change your phone number. And switch preschools. And leave the country. Because what are you going to do the next time your friend calls and invites you and your kid over to play?
Here, parents fall into a few disparate categories:
The Avoider – you pretty much just stop answering your phone. When your friend corners you about scheduling another play-date, you feign a fainting spell and collapse on the preschool parking lot. Every time.
The Ulcer-Developer – you continue to do play-dates with your friend and hope for the best. You tell your kid that you will buy him any toy he wants on the way home from the awful play-dates. You lose sleep and feel like a terrible parent.
The Bold Liar – you say to your friend, “we are quarantined. Forever.” Or you tell your friend you are allergic to her carpet. Or that your religion disallows play-dates.
The Earnest Truth-Teller – “Your child is awful. We hate him. I can’t believe you don’t hate him, as well.”
None of these strategies end well. And that is the bad news. There really is no one perfect way to extricate yourself from a situation where you don’t want your child to hang out with the child of someone who is/was your friend.
But there is some good news.
You can be very clear with yourself about where your loyalties lie. (They lie with your child. Please tell me you already knew that.) And in that clarity, you will realize that it doesn’t matter if the result of what you tell your (soon to be ex, perhaps) friend is that you are un-friended on Facebook, or trashed to the larger community, or kicked out of the book club or looked askance upon by the friends of your ex-friend. Because what matters is that you do the right thing by your child.
Your children need you to validate that you share the same values with them. So if a child grabs a toy from your kid and doesn’t give it back, or treats your child disrespectfully, and you keep going back to that child’s house for play-dates because you don’t want to jeopardize the relationship with the parent, the message you’re giving your child is that it’s okay to be treated badly.
Finding the exact right words to say isn’t as important as just getting the message right. And kids can understand that we sometimes flail for a while when we’re trying to deal with a sticky situation. But remembering that you are not there to change the other parent, and remembering that using the “I” message always saves the day (“I am not comfortable with the way the kids are playing together. I want to take a break from play-dates”), and – finally – remembering that the values you hold for your child are your guiding lights, you’ll find your way through it.
And if you don’t, I have a wig and sunglasses you can use around town.
Photo Credit: Sharon Mollerus
By Ann Brown, parenting consultant
I’m sitting on the living room couch as I write this column. My twenty-month old puppy, Phila, is snuggled next to me, her head on my lap. She is snoring happily. I am petting her, completely content. I’m also watching out for Robin because as soon as I see him coming up the stairs, I need to push Phila off the couch and pretend she was never there.
Phila isn’t allowed on the couch. She also isn’t allowed to chew on my shoes. Or get her own treats from the drawer. Or be off-leash in the park. Or do most any of the things I let her do. I don’t like upsetting her so I pretty much just say yes to everything she wants to do.
This is very bad parenting on my part.
I love to point the finger at all of you when I feel you are afraid to draw the line with your kids, or stand by your convictions or when you allow yourselves to be held hostage by your child’s emotions. One of my favorite soapbox rants is the one about teaching your kids that it’s safe to feel sad or mad or bad or frustrated or disappointed. If you are in my classes or groups, I don’t have to tell you this because it’s all you hear from me – blah blah blah let them feel their feelings, blah blah blah, let them be mad, blah blah blah, don’t give in to whining. Sometimes you roll your eyes at me when I get going on this topic. Yeah, I see you.
I really do believe what I say to you, believe me. If we give in to our kids because they have worn us down or because it hurts us to see them so upset, we are teaching them that life is not worth living unless we get everything we want. Not to mention that we are also teaching them that crying – or yelling, or whining, or arguing, or sulking – is power.
The “yes” given by a parent to a child that has within it a long-suffering sigh of “Fine. You’ve worn me down. I hate you. Eat the stinking cookie “ is not a satisfying “yes” to either the child or parent. It is a “yes” that is steeped in dysfunctional manipulation. And teeth-rotting sugar.
Kinda like the “yes” I just gave Phila when she – wet and muddy from the river – jumped up on the couch next to me and put her adorable head in my lap.
“Phila,” I said sternly, “No. You are not allowed on the couch. Off!”
Phila didn’t hear me, evidently. I probably said it too quietly. My fault.
So I said, a little bit louder, “Phila, no! Off the couch!” I made sure Robin could hear me from downstairs since he’s always on my case about being too soft with Phila and letting her get on the couch.
Phila stared intently out the living room window from her perch on the couch.
“Okay,” I said, “I see you’re busy right now guarding the street. One more minute, though, and then you have to get off the couch, okay?”
Then I laughed to myself because I am always telling you guys to stop saying “okay” at the end of a sentence in which you’ve told your kid to do something. It completely invalidates the instruction you’ve just given; it turns it into a choice.
I said, “okay”, however, to Phila because she is so stinking adorable. And I didn’t want to make her sad. Which is a totally valid reason for making bad parenting choices. Also, I have a headache and it’s too much work to follow through with what I expect her to do.
Also, I am so comfortable right now on the couch and I have a deadline of, like, yesterday to get this column in and if I have to stop what I’m doing to get Phila off the couch and keep her off, I’m not going to finish this article until waaaaaay past midnight. And then I’ll have another headache tomorrow.
And so it goes.
It’s so much easier to just give in. Even though I’m going to have to rent one of those supermarket upholstery cleaning machines tomorrow for the couch because Phila has deposited about half of the Willamette River water, mud and funk on my couch. And then I’m going to hope the couch dries before my Monday night parenting group comes over. And then, during group on Monday nights and Wednesday nights, I’m going to have to stop facilitating the parenting discussion to remind Phila about a zillion times not to get up on the couch to cuddle with the people in group. And I’m going to have to pretend that I am shocked that Phila keeps jumping up on the couch, you know, because she isn’t allowed to. And Phila will give me That Look, the look that says, “Please. We both know you’re going to give in, anyway. Let’s stop the charade.” And I’ll be embarrassed and exhausted and I’ll feel like a bad dog parent and after everyone in the group goes home, I’ll have A Stern Talk with Phila about her bad behavior.
And then I’ll finish off the cookies from group. And the wine. And the Ferrero Roche in the freezer from Valentine’s Day. And I will look longingly at the cranberry walnut bread from St. Honore’s that I am supposed to bring to school the next morning. And I will think to myself, “I should never have let Phila get up on the couch in the first place.” I will be riddled with shame and self-loathing.
The only thing harder than making bad parenting choices is making good parenting choices. Well, actually, they’re both hard. It’s just that one (good choices) is harder to do at the beginning because it’s so much remediation and reminding and re-doing. But the other one (bad choices) is harder later because you hate yourself for having been weak and giving in and now you have a fifty-eight pound puppy who does whatever the heck she darn well pleases to do.
I’m lucky. Phila doesn’t whine or argue with me. She doesn’t throw her cup at me because I gave her the blue cup instead of the green cup. She doesn’t throw a fit at Trader Joe’s because I won’t buy the ten- gallon tub of chocolate covered almonds. And yet, I still hate to say no to her.
Which means that I’m going to be buying a lot of new couches. Which I cannot afford. Unless I start more parenting groups. Which I can’t, because all my furniture is funky from Phila and there will be nowhere for them to sit. Because I cannot say no to my dog.
But there’s a hole in my bucket, dear Liza…
Next week: Phila will give her rebuttal.
Photo Credit: Greg Westfall
By Ann Brown
On the agenda at this week’s faculty meeting was the book, How Children Succeed. The director had given us each a copy of the book at the back-to-school faculty retreat and we all agreed to read it and discuss it together. Because we are an erudite, intellectually curious, book-discussing kind of faculty. Plus, everyone is in a “yes” sort of mood at the beginning of the year. As opposed to the end-of-the-year faculty retreat when we tend to table everything on the agenda until the back-to-school faculty retreat and spend the day gazing at the beauty of the sun on Teacher Elizabeth’s pool and promising that by next year’s b-t-s faculty retreat we will be courageous enough to wear a bathing suit. Oh wait. Maybe that’s just me.
Frankly, however, I don’t remember agreeing to read the book at all, but I believe that it happened. The back-to-school retreat is generally when I resolve to be A Better Teacher and I probably answered with an enthusiastic affirmative when Sheila asked if we wanted to do a book discussion this year. Or – a more plausible theory – when that dialogue happened, I was in the kitchen, loading up on the feta and Kalamata olives and squinting deep into the pitcher to see if all the sangria was gone. We take food very seriously at our faculty retreats. In fact, last month we spent over forty minutes discussing the menu for our faculty holiday party and subsequently had to table the discussion on How Children Succeed until after Winter Break.
Even with the extra weeks, however, I came to last Friday’s meeting still not having read the book, wholly unprepared to discuss it. Which – if you know me even a little bit you will not be surprised to hear this – did not stop me from expressing my opinions about it. Evidently, I don’t really have to have read a book to be able to talk about it for an entire ninety-minute faculty meeting.
Despite just making up stuff, I found myself really getting into the discussion. During a particularly lively conversation about fostering qualities of grit and perseverance in children, I even volunteered to write an article about it for the school newsletter. In fact, I would write an article about the whole book! So you could all learn from what I read!
I was so carried away with my awesome offer to do this that it kinda slipped my mind that I haven’t, ahem, read the book yet. Though I sincerely intend to. Right after I finish reading that Maria Semple book, whatsitcalled? Bernadette or something. It’s due at the library on Tuesday so I really have to read it this weekend.
But there is good news.
As it turns out, a point in the book that we were discussing – and about which I volunteered to write – is a topic dear to my heart. It is a topic about which I have done quite a bit of research. And by “research”, I mean I have spent a lot of time on a sunny chaise lounge, drinking white Sangria during summer vacation thinking about it.
The topic is: coping skills.
As with pretty much everything in raising kids, it all begins with us – the parents – modeling the quality we want to see in our child. This can be confusing and difficult in a world that tells us our kids need high self esteem to succeed, and to be an involved parent, and to validate, validate, validate. It can feel as though fostering coping skills is in direct conflict with our “everybody wins” culture of parenting.
The way I see it, we have to offer our kids appropriate opportunities and doses of frustration, sadness, anger and – yes – failure in order to foster their coping skills. I mean, if you never feel failure or disappointment, with what, exactly, are you learning to cope?
Let’s say, for instance, that your four-year-old comes home from school and says to you, “my teacher is so MEAN! She made us come inside from the yard just when we were in the middle of our game! It made me sad the whole afternoon.”
What do you say? If you try to reference all the parenting books, you can find yourself saying everything from, “that teacher DOES sound mean. I am so sorry you were sad” to “never question a teacher” to “bring Mommy her beer, please. My day was no fucking picnic, either.”
Fostering coping skills in our kids allows us to keep The Big Picture in mind when responding to our kid’s frustration. We can say, “Yeah, nobody likes having to stop their game in the middle’” and give our child a sincere look of validation. And then we can move on to a new topic of conversation.
Or, let’s say your child starts crying because the blue cup he wanted was chosen by his baby sister. It can be tempting to belittle or dismiss the kid’s crying, especially at the end of a long day (“IT’S JUST A CUP. A STUPID, #%&^%^ CUP, DO YOU HEAR ME? THERE ARE CHILDREN WHO HAVE NO WATER!!!”) or to sink to The Stuff We Swore We’d Never Do (“you want something to cry about??? I’ll give you something to cry about!”) or – and I admit to doing this more than once – just take the stupid blue cup from the stupid baby and give it to the whiner. Because life is short and you will put your head in the oven if you have to listen to your child cry one more stupid minute.
And then you say to yourself, “what did that blowhard Ann Brown write about that book she never read that talked about fostering coping skills in my child?”
And you remember what I wrote. And you say to your child, “Yeah, I get it. You are really disappointed about not having the blue cup today. Some days are like that.” You try very very very very hard not to sound sarcastic when you say it because your goal is to validate the child’s feelings without buying into it.
If you are an aging hippie like me, you might call this: COMPASSIONATE DETACHMENT. And it will set you – and your child – free. Not to put too dramatic a spin on it or anything.
Kids need to know what disappointment feels like. Because if they experience it, that’s how they trust that they are capable of living through it. Kids need to know what sadness feels like. And frustration. And anger. And failure. And the myriad feelings that we think we are supposed to protect them from feeling.
The trick, as a parent, is to find that sincere balance of compassion and detachment. Personally, I think it starts in the eyes. Really locking eyes with your child and transmitting a message of “I hear you”. If you have a strong visual connection that reads compassion, then your words of detachment from the issue won’t sting as much.
“You are really angry and sad because we took the Christmas tree down. I remember when I have felt like that.”
And then you give your kid a little hug or a nice lovey kitty gaze, and you move on. You don’t give it any more energy than that.
Raising kids with strong coping skills is pretty much numbers one, two and three on the list of stuff that’s really important to do. People who can cope with the vicissitudes of life, people who see failures and disappointment in perspective, people who believe they can weather a storm, are generally optimistic, resilient and adventurous people. Even if they have melancholic, hand-wringing Eyeore type mothers like me.
Raising kids with strong coping skills also requires the parents to get through hearing a lot of crying (their child’s. Well, and their own, I suppose, as well). Because your child is allowed to feel what s/he feels. You cannot be the feelings Nazi (“That’s not a good reason to be sad”). But you can make sure your child’s feelings don’t rule and define the entire household. (“I get it that you’re really sad about the Christmas tree. But we are eating dinner now, and if you’d like to join us, you will have to pull yourself together.”)
(Also, the example of the Christmas tree is just conjecture. I’m Jewish. I have no idea what feelings arise from taking down a Christmas tree. Personally, when it’s time to put the Chanukah menorah away after eight nights, I am happy and relieved and sick of candle wax on the dining room table.)
Please don’t hesitate to continue the dialogue about this great book, How Children Succeed. I’m happy to talk to you about it. Right after I read it. Or not.
By Parenting Consultant, Ann Brown
As I write this article, we are already encroaching upon 2014. Because I am an old crone compared to you who will be reading this, I can remember, back in the 1960’s, the awe I felt when I imagined what the new millennium would be like. The idea of the year 2014 was mind-blowing to me. It still is.
The world your children will grow to inherit is already so much different than the world I inherited. My world had the first color TV, a man on the moon, polio vaccine on a sugar cube, the Pill. My childhood was filled with wonder, not only at the marvels of the time but also at the natural, almost magical happenings around me. I was five years old when my childhood cat had kittens. My sister and I sat on the kitchen floor while Gigi delivered nine gooey, red and white striped babies (Moses, Hebsibiah-Tzipora*, Pegasus, Penny, Fluffy, Sarah, Rebecca, Piñata and Pierre) onto my favorite Lanz nightgown with which we’d lined a cardboard box from the grocery store garbage bin.
Karen and I watched silently as Gigi did what ancestral knowledge guided her to do. She hadn’t read What To Expect When You’re Expecting Kittens, or gone to Lamaze class or sat in a crowded primary school auditorium with the rest of the fourth grade girls in her class to watch the 8mm movie about menstruation; the movie from which I gathered that when you are around twelve years old you get your period and continue to get it every day until you are fifty or so..
Witnessing the miracle of Gigi’s delivery and the birth of the nine kittens incorrectly answered as many questions in my young mind as it created new ones, and my sister and I spent years afterwards jumping to some alarmingly wrong conclusions about how species procreate, including, but not limited to, my sister’s insistence that babies are made in the shower (my sister recently explained to me that she was pretty sure people were naked when they made babies and the only place she could fathom anyone would be naked would be in the shower) and the belief that if a cat and a dog made babies, half of them would be kittens and half would be puppies. Our homegrown information about the miracle of life also reached, tragically, to the miracle of death where in the process of our extensive research, I am sorry to confess, many innocent pet turtles with painted shells, purchased regularly on Los Angeles’ famous downtown Olvera Street, gave their lives in such heroic ways as being lost behind the living room couch and being abandoned in the blazing LA sun when we grew tired of turtle races in the tall grass of our front lawn, only to be discovered days or weeks later by my mom and flushed down the toilet. I fully expect to see those turtles, their backs brightly painted with the colors of the Mexican flag, waiting for me at the Pearly Gates with a major chip on their shoulders. And well I deserve their wrath. Although I might point out, just fyi, that the paint those poor turtles were covered in was probably toxic and they weren’t destined to live a long, healthy life, anyway. Not that I am trying to worm my way out of my own accountability.
My world still has sources of wonder that are beyond my understanding: installing apps into my i-phone, using the hashtag correctly; things that have turned me into an embarrassment, a dolt, a technodinosaur; someone who, say, would have tried to play a vinyl record on her Polaroid One-Step camera. I kinda like that. I like knowing that every day, if I wanted to, I could find something unbelievable in this ever-changing world.
I’m not so sure that your kids will be as mystified by life as I was and am. Your children live in a world of instant information, of explanation, of empirical evidence. Parents today need to work hard to protect the gift of wonderment for our children. The world is so scientific, so informative, and so little is left to the imagination. Children are expected to learn the way adults do, and adults are expected to learn like machines. There is a dearth of acceptable opportunities for learning by experience or apprenticeship or just plain passage of time. Learning by experience leaves room for misinformation, to be sure but it also makes room for imagination, hypotheses, confidence, perseverance and acceptance of occasional failure. It also makes room for something even more important – the space to not know something until the time is right to know it.
What leaves with wonder is a sense of possibility that lives outside our realm of control – a sense that we might be surprised by life! There’s not much today about which your young children cannot access information. Computers tell them that teeth fall out because of physiological readiness, TV commercials tell them that Christmas toys are made at the Mattel or Nintendo factory, not in Santa’s workshop. Our kids are woefully sophisticated these days about the ways of their world.
I think that’s a shame.
Granted, maybe I am woefully uninformed about certain things – I still say “i-pad” when I mean “i-pod”, and vice versa– but I believe that if we crowd our young children’s minds with facts and information, it will be at the expense of leaving no room for magic and wonderment.
When my children were little I used to cut their apples in half in a way that the seeds made a star shape in the center. Now, certainly there is a botanical answer to why that is so (or so I presume) but my kids thrilled to believe it was magic their mom could summon by saying, “apple, apple from the tree, make a star that we can see!” before she cut into it. I imagine that my cerebral, brainiac boys figured out the scientific reason for the seed placement long before I did (uh, I still haven’t….) but they still enjoyed the flourish and pomp with which I cut their apples. In fact, even though they are both grown up, out of college and out of law school, I cut apples that way every once in a while, just to remember the old days. When I knew more than they did. A long, long time ago.
Children have a way of figuring things out. True, they are usually wrong. But they need the opportunity to be wrong and later discover a new answer. They have a lifetime to learn what they need to learn. The Information Age offers us a tempting buffet of learning everything now, quickly, all at once. It takes willpower to hold back, to give our kids factual information and experiences slowly, in appropriate moderation. It is hard because today there is a sense, in our culture, that we can know, and thereby control “it all.” That we can “fix” life. Yet…there is so much in life that you can’t muscle your way through – tragedy and joy alike. Our culture steps a bit roughly on the hope of the unexpected. In grooming our kids for success from infancy, we squash the “Gee, I wonder where life might take me?” that earlier generations had. At age 6, my son hated for people to ask him what he wanted to be when he grew up. He shed tears of frustration over kindergarten career day. He felt like they were asking for too much of a commitment. And I don’t blame him. I think it shows great wisdom – not wanting to open that present yet. Why ruin the adventure?
The tradition of misinformation being passed from sibling to sibling was continued when I had kids. One day, I overheard my then-four year old son telling his nine-year old brother about menopause.
“It happens to all of them and it takes a really long time,” my four year old explained.
“How long?” my nine-year old asked him.
There was an awed silence. Then the nine year old spoke. “Explain it to me again,” he said, “because it really doesn’t make sense.”
The four year old sighed with an exasperation I’ve recently recognized when he’s had to explain to me for the gajillionth time how the Electoral College works and why we have the Iowa caucuses.
“Okay,” he said evenly, “it’s called menopause. And she stays in the cocoon for a whole, long winter and that’s where it happens.”
I was rooted to my hiding place behind the door. This was something even I didn’t understand about menopause. Guess my big sister didn’t tell me everything, after all.
“In a cocoon?” asked the older one, “are you sure?” He was beginning to sound alarmed. Frankly, so was I. I had to break in.
“What are you talking about?” I asked them. My younger son eagerly shared his knowledge with me.
“Menopause,” he said, “you know, how the caterpillar goes into the cocoon and comes out a butterfly.”
I was slightly hindered by a weak high school background in science and a college degree in Ethnomusicology but even so, I felt capable of asserting my educated opinion.
“Do you mean ‘metamorphosis?’” I asked him.
He considered my question for a moment. “Oh yeah”, he said brightly.
Albert Einstein said, “there are two ways of looking at the world: that everything is a miracle, and that nothing is a miracle.” I choose to keep some wonderment, some miracles in my life.
Especially when it comes to installing apps on my i-phone.
Ann Brown has a private practice in parenting consultation
By: Danny Thomas
here I am…
sitting on the end of the bed
with a pile of laundry
over my computer.
Everything is looming right now;
Jennifer and I
are occupying the land of loom…
it seems to happen with us a lot.
are we those people…
with the drama,
and the constant crises?
all of us are.
the last six days,
have been intense.
How many parenting and family blogs have that line in them?
How self reflective can I be in one blog?
I started my new job full time.
I haven’t had a full time job in ten years…
The whole time Jen was in grad-school
we got by with me
being a home maker
and bringing in a little extra dough for
beer and wine and whatever recreation..
and food stamps.
I am not one of those people who claims to have put my spouse through
I have very much been in
that’s a big shift.
But that is only one aspect
of our intense week…
all three children
got a stomach flu.
And it lasted for the entire week in ‘Zilla’s poor little belly…
Another reminder how they are all unique,
not just in how they look
with the world…
but even down to their chemistry
and how their guts work…
that the same flu
can sit with one kid for 4 days
and be through the system of the other two
over the course of 36 hours.
But that’s a blog for a different day.
So that’s two aspects…
and a third
it’s the last week of school for Jen
stuff like that…
my point is
We. Made. It
We made it through the week,
and here we are, enjoying the weekend.
We had a great,
special adventure yesterday
celebrating free comic book day.
And we watched a movie together…
And we are
who loves each other,
and who eats well…
gets sick together too
and props each other up
these big shifts in life…
who guide each other
through the looming future.
And sometimes it takes the crucible of hard times,
or the catalyst of big changes
to see that
or be reminded of it.
We are a team
and we do well together
more often than we fail
and that’s worth noting.
It’s worth celebrating.
As a matter of fact,
as often as possible.
I have talked about this blog
being a vessel of positive
that when I started writing it
I made a conscious decision
to use this as a place to
Knowing that there are plenty of trolls on the internet,
and more than enough depressing pessimism.
I am not always jolly
and I don’t always write about easy stuff,
or good feelings…
but I think we can
lead an examined life
that is also a positive one
and that is a goal,
vision of mine…
That my better self
has a sense of humor
about being self-critical
and can be gentle about being critical of others…
and knows it’s necessary,
but also knows…
there is a way
to do it
and a way to reflect
that is helping us to know
we are okay
as much as it helping us
to be our better selves…
I was inspired and reminded of my
commitment to optimism
when I read this blog by Steve Wiens….
I am inspired to start
patting my parent self on the back
I hope you join me.
we are both students of theatre
so that has to be a factor
on some levels,
like many arts,
if you’re doing it right
is a vocation
in my music
and my writing
I work at playing too
and I play at working…
I was in the kitchen…
cleaning the thing
which we can’t decide
whether to call
a griddle or a skillet
so we call it a skiddle…
I was cleaning that
and I heard Jennifer say to the girls.
“You guys are working really well together…
you are playing nice.”
to the older girls
who were playing some math games
on the iPad.
I am just grateful that
I have partnered with
and get to co-parent
who, like me,
sees these things; “work” and “play”
as intertwined or symbiotic, if not actually one and the same…
who takes playing seriously and sees the fun in work.
Not long after Maya was born
I was talking with an acquaintance,
a guy who modeled at the art gallery where I worked.
(I got to meet some interesting characters in that job!)
I was talking about the idea that as much as I had wanted to be a dad
for nigh on 10 years
and that as much as we had prepared
by reading books
and watching movies
and talking to parents
our minds were still blown…
by becoming parents
and the responsibility…
the work of parenting
was particularly mind-blowing
in that it is work… it is Work.
but it is different than any other kind of work
i’ll ever do.
and the difference is ineffable
here I am trying to eff the ineffable…
but these are the places
my mind occupies
when I sit down
or maybe I should say
these are the things
that occupy my mind…
It is a unique work, and a work that relates to art making
in that it is creative
and born out of love,
at least under the best circumstances.
it is a work that most of us who do it
we feel obliged to or inspired to
It is a unique kind of
not free of resentment
but an commitment that comes with a tender reward
that can only marginally be expressed by the joy I feel watching the flicker of an eyelash and last final sigh before the rhythmic breathing of deep sleep settles in… or the ecstasy on the face of a mudcovered child… or the profound fear of watching a ball roll down the driveway, child in tow… knowing that I can’t get there in time and hoping that my voice does the trick… and the relief I feel when it does.
back to the story…
I was talking to this guy
who was not a parent…
But definitely was a dude
with an interesting perspective
a model, working on a degree
in ecology… sustainability in particular…
our previous conversations had ranged from
Carlos Castaneda, to Kurt Vonnegut…
and Pink Floyd to Complexity Theory…
This was in Eugene, Oregon, mind you,
a place where chances are high that your bartender has a PhD in Physics…
or is high on psilocybin…
So this shaggy, brainy male model and I were having a conversation on parenting and he recommended a book to me… the book was The Continuum Concept by Jean Liedloff…
A book not originally intended as a parenting book… but over time was adopted as one…
Many, many ideas from the book resonated with me, and as I have mentioned in the past, I don’t believe any book or author is a panacea, there is no magic recipe for any family, relationship or person… however… there are certainly lessons to be gleaned and important ideas to share and think about in so much of what is floating around…
So, of the many ideas that struck a chord with me – one of the prominent ones that applies to the ideas bouncing around in my brain today – is the notion that these indigenous tribes that Jean Liedloff spent time with had no concept of a distinction between work and play… they all just did what they could, with the faith that everyone was making a valid and significant contribution…
I should probably go look up that section of the book,
I may be characterizing it incorrectly
but it was something along the lines of they had no separate words for work or play…
We don’t live among the tribes of the Yequana Indians in the jungles of South America, so the reality is we can’t exactly mirror their lifestyle… but there certainly are lessons to be learned, and that knowledge can inform how we approach our work, and our play, and the work/play of raising kids.
By: Ann Brown
Sadly, once again, we have been faced with terrible and frightening incidents in the news. The bombings in Boston came has a huge shock to all of us and many parents learned about it, or had to process it, in front of their children.
It can be difficult and confusing to navigate how, when and if to tell our children about the scary things that can happen around them. There is no one formula for this, of course, but there are some foundational and philosophical guidelines that can help.
Young children need to know, first and foremost, that the world is a good and safe place. They need to have that bottom layer be built of trust, security and predictability. When our kids are babies, that’s pretty easy. When they are preschoolers and older, it gets trickier because they are exposed – inadvertently, at times – to the realities of life. We can find ourselves in the position of having to explain the inexplicable to our children: that bad things happen.
It’s my opinion that we do not need to discuss terrible current events with children. This, of course, is different from how to respond when personal tragedies happen in a child’s life – for example, if a child says to me, “my dog died” or, “my grandma is very sick and is going to die soon,” I express compassion and validate how that might feel. If other children want to participate in the conversation, I carefully allow a conversation that focuses on validation and appropriate emotional literacy.
If your child had heard about what happened in Boston, there are ways to help him/her process it.
Endeavor to answer only the question asked. When a child asks us a question for which we were not prepared, we can fall into the habit of giving them the entire story. This is rarely what the child is asking, or what s/he needs to hear. For example, if you child asks, “what happened in Boston?” You can say, “there was an accident” (to a young child) or “people got hurt during the Marathon” (to an older child). Then wait. Sometimes that is all the answer your child needs because s/he had heard buzz words about it and wanted to know what it was all about.
Stress the idea that people were there to help. If your child has heard enough about it to ask specific questions, be sure that you include in every statement something about the fact that this is why we have police officers and fire fighters – to help us when there is trouble. You can also add that many people came to help who were not necessarily official first responders. It is comforting to children to know that when there is a problem, there are people who know what to do about it. In the same way we tell them that if they get sick, doctors know what to do or if there is a fire, firefighters will come, we need to reassure them that they are not on their own in a disaster.
Do something constructive with the fear. If your child has heard about the bombings (or the fire in Texas, or any of the many tragedies…) suggest doing something that helps the victims, like sending care packages or drawing pictures to send them. It is amazing how therapeutic it can be to take our own fear and sadness and help someone else.
And finally, be vigilant about keeping media away from your young children. Having the news on TV or the radio while your children are playing nearby can affect them. Kids pick up on ambient sounds, on seemingly mindless noise, and definitely on our reactions to something we see or hear on the news. They don’t always come to us for explanations so we often have no idea they are grappling with something unfathomable to them.
As children grow older, they will be exposed to more scary and difficult realities in life. With a strong foundation that the world is good and safe, they will more easily be able to handle the unfortunate exceptions.
By Ann Brown, Parenting Consultant
Poor, Poor, Pitiful You
Every once in a while I kinda wish we could all just sit down and discuss these parenting articles. Sitting together, maybe a little wine, talking face to face, instead of me sitting here all alone (with a little wine; it’s the weekend; don’t judge), so far away.
If you know me personally, you are rolling your eyes right now. It is no secret that I eschew most human contact outside of my job. I hide behind sofas and hit the lights when I see someone coming up my driveway. I look at my ringing phone and go through all the Kubler-Ross stages of grief. I am a wee bit protective of my solitude.
Still, this is one topic that warrants discussion because it can easily be misunderstood. Although as I sit here, it does occur to me that the clarity of my writing might be a factor in the misunderstandings. Hunh. Maybe I should have lain off that third glass of wine…
I want to write about rejection.
I am going to be stereotypical here by referring to the parent who is typically (oh wait. STEREOtypically) home with the kids. Please don’t give me any crap over this. I am not politically incorrect or misogynistic or chauvinistic or reactionary; I am merely lazy and it’s easier to just write “mom” instead of “mom or dad” or “mom or dad or grandma” or “adult caregiver who spends most of the day with the child” or even “ACWSMOTDWTC”.
First, a quiz:
1. When your child yells, “GO AWAY!” at you, do you feel:
C. Happy and FREE because the last thing you wanted was to have to deal with that obnoxious kid.
2. When your child prefers your spouse to you for bath time, bedtime, playtime, eating and everything else, do you feel:
C. Happy and FREE
3. When you walk in the door after being gone all day at work and your child looks up for a nanosecond, barely gives you a nod hello and returns to his/her activity, do you feel:
C. Happy and FREE
Are you beginning to get the picture? I want to talk first to those of you who answered either “Sad” or “Mad” to the three questions. The rest of you, those who checked off “Happy and FREE”, may be excused. You are not miserable so we don’t need to look at your happy and free faces right now. Shoo. Begone.
Okay. Let’s look around the room. You. The parent who is gone most of the day, the parent who only gets to spend quality time with your kids at night when they are exhausted or on the weekends, when you are exhausted. You. Les Miserables.
It can go like this: You finally get home from the cold, cruel world and you walk into your warm safe haven, brimming with love for your family, and you say to your four-year old, “I’m home! Give me a big hug and a kiss!” and your kid says, “GO AWAY!”
Or you make a huge Saturday morning breakfast for your child because you haven’t been able to spend much time with him/her and you make all his/her favorite foods, you even draw a picture with blueberries on the pancakes – a picture of Leonardo, your kid’s absolutely favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle – and you present it to your child with a flourish. And s/he says, “YUCK. I HATE pancakes. I like the breakfasts Mommy makes!” (Which, by the looks of the wrappers in the car is pretty much turkey jerky and Capri Sun) And then your kid adds, “Also? Leonardo is NOT my favorite Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtle, anyway! Go away!”
Yeah. Rejection blows.
But here’s the thing: it’s not exactly the same rejection as an adult’s rejection. I know that it feels the same, but it’s not. In fact, I wish there were a different word for it because the word “rejection” brings into it a whole lotta adult stuff that isn’t applicable.
Young children live close to their emotions. And they don’t have well- developed filters yet. They live pretty much in the world of archetypes – you are good if you give them a cookie; you are evil if you don’t – and not so much in the world of nuance and tact.
Plus, they are exercising their right to have some say in their lives.
This is so often where issues and hurt feelings happen, when imagine does NOT meet reality, and we get upset. In our minds, all the drive home, we are imagining a scene out of LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE, you know, Pa comes in from the fields and all the kids gather around him and shower him with affection.
Uh-huh. And they don’t want to stop what they were doing to get up and give you a hug. And you feel rejected. And pissed off because, let’s face it, what the heck did that kid do all day that was so hard that s/he can’t even get up off the sofa and hug you? Who appreciates you?
I hear you. I feel your pain. I – as my husband likes to say, – I am picking up what you are laying down. But I have some bad news for you: the kind of appreciation you are craving, the LITTLE HOUSE ON THE PRAIRIE kind? Yeah, it generally doesn’t look like that right now when the kids are young.
Please don’t get me wrong – I am not condoning alienation of affection. I am not suggesting we allow our children to ignore us or be rude or blow us off. I am, however, suggesting that we help our kids find a less disrespectful way to tell us what they want.
Saturday morning. You declined an invitation to do something fabulous for yourself because you want (need, feel obligated) to spend the day with your child. You walk into your child’s room and give him/her a big hug and you say, “Guess what? We are going to the zoo today! Just you and me! YAY!”
And your kid says, “Gross. Your breath smells yucky.”
And you bury the rejection and say, “Okay, get dressed for the ZOO! Yay!”
And your kid says, “Go away! I am playing with this piece of used dental floss and a wine cork and I am having fun. I don’t want to go to the zoo.”
And you think to yourself, “Do you know how much I wanted a day to myself? And that I gave it up to be with you? Why are you so ungrateful? Did your mother make you this way? Because I am gonna level with you, she doesn’t appreciate me, either.”
And you wind up carrying yor screaming kid into the car and forcing a happy Daddy day at the zoo on him.
Now, let’s rewind and reconstruct. We’ll go back to the statement about your morning breath being gross. Because, let’s just be honest, it probably is. Your kid isn’t lying. She might be lacking a certain, I don’t know, finesse in letting you know. But she might have a point.
You can say, “Is it gross? Sorry. I will not put my face so close to yours until after I brush my teeth.” And THEN you can say, “Also, can you think of a way to tell me that my breath is bad in a way that is nicer and not so rude?” This way, you are acknowledging her right to not have to smell your funky morning breath but you are also defining the parameters of HOW she says it to you.
Okay. Next. S/he doesn’t want to go to the zoo.
Now I know that you have been planning this. I know what you gave up to do it. But is it possible, just possible, that maybe you are putting a little bit too much on the fact that you planned the zoo trip? That you are letting yourself feel a bit too much rejection over it? I mean, if your wife surprised you by saying she had planned an entire day for you, might you want to have been given the option of being part of the decision?
So, you reach deep into yourself to find the higher road, and you say to your child, “Oh. I thought you’d want to do that. Well, since I don’t have to work today, I want to spend time with you. What would you like to do?”
And then you have a conversation about it. And you share your ideas. And you come up with options and alternatives and compromises and finally, common ground. And you don’t take it personally that your child had initially said s/he didn’t want to go to the zoo with you. Because it really wasn’t a personal rejection. It was how a young child was learning to express his/her opinions.
Well, that brings us to a close. If you have questions or comments, please use the comment section below. You can try to come over or call me, but I will be hiding behind the couch.
By Ann Brown, Parenting Consultant
The topic this month in parenting group was crime. Lying, cheating, stealing, taking bribes, racketeering – you know, stuff your little kids do that make you wonder if instead of contributing to their college funds you really should just toughen them up for prison. Switch out “The Little Mermaid” for “Oz”. The HBO one.
I bet no one told you about this when you first had your baby. Oh, everyone is lining up eager to describe how much labor contractions hurt and how to use a breast pump and what the consistency of healthy infant poop looks like, right? Well-intentioned parents can talk forever about their children’s poops, to the point where you – newly pregnant with your first baby – are backing away as fast as you can to get to your car so you can barf, but do people ever tell you about the really scary stuff? That a four-year-old will smile at you with chocolate-covered teeth and swear he did not eat the candy bar? That your preschooler will steal, and not for noble Robin Hood-give-to-the-poor reasons? That your first grader will tell her teacher that the reason she forgot her homework is that her mother went into the hospital and is in an iron lung due to polio?
Oh wait, that was me.
Yeah, that was one of my best lies. And I think I really had my first grade teacher going for a while. I mean, how can you not believe a little girl who can describe in detail the pain of polio and the sound of the iron lung in which her mother is caged?
Well, unless you take into account that the teacher had seen my mother – healthy and energetic. And mobile – only the day before at a PTA luncheon. Oh, and also if you take into account that polio was eradicated, like, fifteen years before I told the lie.
My point is, kids lie. And if it is 1960 and the kids watched the movie, “The Five Pennies” enough times, they can even lie very well with amazing detail and pathos about polio. Especially if the star of the movie, Danny Kaye, looked so much like their own dad that they worried that they would get polio just like Danny Kaye’s daughter in the movie.
But enough about me.
There are a lot of reasons little kids lie. Most of them are benign and temporary. Still, it’s not enough to just sit back, hit the Cabernet and hope it will pass. Although generally, that is my advice about pretty much everything else in life.
The hardest thing to do is to not put your little liar on the hot seat. Picture this: You have just told your preschooler for the gajillionth time that the candy is going up into the very high cupboard because he is having a hard time remembering not to eat it when it is on the kitchen counter. You say this without rancor or threat. Because, you know, you are awesome.
You go to the bathroom.
You come out of the bathroom.
You sense something is wrong. You can’t exactly put your finger on it but the universe has shifted an inch.
You walk by your preschooler’s room. He is very quiet. Too quiet. He jumps up when he sees you. He smiles. Three-quarters of his teeth are covered in chocolate. As are his Leggos. And everything else he has touched in his room.
You say, “Did you eat that candy? The candy I told you not to eat?”
He looks at you as if you have just accused him of murdering kittens.
“NO!” He yells indignantly. “I didn’t eat any candy!”
Okay. Let’s pause here. There are two ways this deal can go down.
You: What do you mean, you didn’t eat the candy? I see it on your teeth. And your toys. Tell me the truth: did you eat that candy?
Perp: I said NO!
You: You are not telling the truth.
Perp: Yes I am.
You: No you aren’t.
Perp: Yes I am!
You: No you aren’t!
Perp: YES I AM!
You: (You can’t say anything more because your head has exploded.)
Now, granted, that scenario allows you the temporary satisfaction of interrogation when you know you are right. But the problem is, you cannot force a confession out of someone who is not gonna give it up. Plus, even if your kid does finally confess, what was the learning moment there? Other than never to let yourself run out of wine again.
So. Scenario Two
You (in a neutral voice, as if reporting a crime scene on local TV news): I see chocolate all over your teeth. And all over your toys.
Perp: I did’t eat it. I didn’t do it.
You: Uh-oh. Those Leggos are going to be ruined. And ants can come into your room. Hold on (and you exit the room).
Perp: I SAID I DIDN’T DO IT!
You return to his room with a towel. Or sponge. Or bowl for the Leggos.
You: I’ll start wiping these Leggos and you collect the dirty trains. Before the ants come (or substitute whatever reasonable thing might happen).
Perp: But I didn’t do it.
You: Mmm….(as you silently wipe down the toys)
Sounds weird, huh? But let me tell you, this way you are OPENING the pathway to communication. In a slightly devious, manipulative way – true – but it’s still better than putting your child on a hard chair, shoving a bright light over his face and demanding a forced confession.
Yes it is better. I see you shaking your head at me.
So, while you and your child are silently collecting the chocolate-covered toys and you are saying casually to him, “Wait, there’s some chocolate near your eye. Let me get it before it gets into your eye”, you do this:
You wait. You let the silence do its work. But silence can only do its work if it is silence without fear or threat in it. So be cool. Be patient. Trust. Do 25 Kegels to pass the time.
Later – maybe five minutes later, maybe five days later – the subject will come up again. Usually it happens during a cuddly moment. Your kid’s in the bath that night, for instance, and he says, apropos of nothing, “I ate the chocolate today when you told me not to.”
And it will be the space you gave him that allowed for his own moment of truth. And that will make it genuine. And meaningful.
And then you can say, “I am so proud of you for realizing that telling the truth was the right thing to do.”
And then you can talk about how hard it is to keep ourselves from eating candy. And how tempting things can be in this world. And how we all struggle with stuff like that. Which will bond you with your child. And model that we need to make a choice in everything we do, that doing the right thing doesn’t always come easily.
And THAT is a lesson well-learned. Honest. I’m not lying.
Ann Brown is available for private parenting consultation. Please contact the office for her schedule and fees
By Sheana Ochoa
On the morning Adam Lanza discharged countless bullets on two rooms full of children and staff in Connecticut I was sound asleep next to my four-year-old son in Los Angeles. His grandpa was visiting and using his room so he slept with Mommy and Daddy. On the morning of the Newtown massacre, my son and I awoke, opened our eyes and smiled at each other. By then the children were dead. The rainstorm from the previous night had passed, but the temperature had dropped and my son and I stayed snug under the covers. “Will you scratch my back?” he asked and I did, reveling in the touch of his silky skin, still so much like a newborn’s. One day that baby softness will toughen from the elements and time. His heart will harden too as he learns prejudice and judgment and fear. This is the problem and there are solutions. It isn’t just my responsibility, though parents play the major role; it is this country’s obligation to help rear healthy, compassionate, and usefully whole human beings. But we need the resources.
As the investigation in Newtown ensued that day, I was still uninformed. My son and I dressed for school. He was excited that I’d be staying at school with him for the Christmas party. Christmas songs punctuated our play as children made paper and yarn stockings and heart-layered Christmas trees. Not all the parents came, and so I helped a couple kids make stockings of their own. We cleaned up, and after all the hullaballoo, the children were placated with plates of cookies and chips and juice. My son, content with treats, asked, “Aren’t you leaving, Mommy? All the other parents are going.” That was my cue so I left and if I had turned on the radio I would’ve heard what happened in Newtown and turned the car around to bring him home, but I did not listen to the news. As twenty bright stars lay extinguished in the classrooms where they fell I was gluing sequins and glitter onto Christmas stockings with my son. Yes, there’s guilt, which is unreasonable. But mostly there’s grief.
The day after the killings I awoke hoping it had been a nightmare, but when I saw the front page of the LA Times, I realized it really did happen. And now here were more pictures, more details to burrow into the recesses of my gnawing heart. I couldn’t remember the gunman’s name yesterday. But it rang like an alarm the next day: Adam. Original Man.
On the day of the massacre, it wasn’t until my dad and I were on the 10 freeway heading to UCLA Pain Management (the reason for his visit) that I turned on the radio and heard that 20 children and 6 adults had been slain. Eight and half hours had passed. The gunman was dead too. After my initial disbelief came incomprehension mixed with outrage: Why would somebody attack defenseless children? Then came a strange sympathy. Whoever did this, I thought, must be incredibly sick and in pain.
We don’t spend this country’s abundant resources on our children. On Monday, President Obama addressed Newtown at the high school saying, “This is our first task — caring for our children. It’s our first job. If we don’t get that right, we don’t get anything right.” I agree, but his words are mere platitudes if he doesn’t implement institutional change in health care, social services, teacher’s pay, school security, community awareness, resources for parents, and all the components that create the villages we need to rear healthy children.
If we spent as much money on our children -their empathic instincts, their emotional needs, their handicaps, their education- as we do on the war economy, perhaps Adam Lanza would have been given the tools to deal with his demons early on when he was as unblemished and vulnerable as the children he murdered. Our obsession and consequent immunity to violence has permeated the nation’s very soul. Mass murder doesn’t happen in other countries on this scale, and it’s escalating. The president is aware of this. Talking to the citizens of Newtown, he said, “There have been an endless series of deadly shootings across the country, almost daily reports of victims, many of them children, in small towns and big cities all across America.” Obama said we have to change, but again, how is he, as our leader, going to do this?
As I waited for my father in the doctor’s office on the day of the shootings I visualized picking up my son. At his preschool, the door is locked and there’s a buzzer. A staff member sees the person at the door on a monitor and unlocks the door. There’s a sign-in/out sheet at the entrance, more to track attendance than as a security precaution. When I first enrolled my son, I remember thinking how unattractive this system was -the gates, the buzzer, having to wait for someone to let me in. At Sandy Hook Elementary, the late Principal Hochsprung had just installed the exact same security measures. It didn’t prevent Adam Lanza from entering the school.
At my son’s preschool, a substitute or class helper can buzz someone in. To clarify: they don’t have to necessarily identify or recognize who they are letting in with the children. It isn’t monitored. This has to change. We must institute a universal security system in every school throughout the country.
When I enrolled my son I signed a release form listing the specific people that could take him to and from school. It should be required that the parent supply the school with photos of these people and when someone announces that they are dropping off or picking up a specific child, there should be a security guard whose only job is to man the door, verifying on his computer that the person standing at the door matches the photo of the people on the child’s release form. Software would have to be developed. Cameras would have to be installed with a 360-degree view of the entrance. Employees would be required to meet with a relative or associate outside the school premises. These are logical and reasonable precautions. It isn’t rocket science. It surely wouldn’t cost a fraction of what we spend on our defense budget.
Without a doubt school safety is an issue of national security. These are demands every parent in this country needs to make. How many times will we live under the delusion that our children are safe with evidence to the contrary? I realize this isn’t fullproof. A “gunman” could still attack children at play outside. Or in the case of Sandy Hook, he could force his way in through a window. But deterrents must be put in place if for no other reason than to buy time to call for help and secure the children in a bulletproof safe room out of harm’s way.
When I finally retuned home from the hospital, my son was watching a cartoon, happy to see me, but engrossed in the action hero. I hugged him, felt his baby smooth skin. As much as I wanted to hold him all night, I had to keep my distance, as my heart was in such turmoil, cycling between shock and fear and tears. I didn’t want to frighten him. I let him stay up after Daddy and Grandpa went to bed. We watched a Christmas movie and ate sweets, my gratitude overflowing. The parents whose children didn’t come home from school could not even say goodbye to their kids.
Before the first Adam committed the original sin of knowledge he knew nothing of fear. He lived in harmony with the world. Whether one believes that Adam’s fall was a fable or truth, it boils down to the same principle just like the laws of physics which we seem to have no problem following. That principle guides the spiritual, or moral, laws of our higher selves. The first Adam turned his back on his higher self when he placed self-will above that of the Universe. The moral of the story is that we all suffer when self-interest is placed above the greater good, that of the community and most importantly that of our most valuable asset, our children. Children in this country are not taught and have fewer and fewer examples of how to listen to their higher selves. Nor do they have the resources to get back on track when they lose their way. We have forsaken them. But we can change the destructive course we’re on. We can create the villages they need to thrive by investing in our schools and communities and by supporting parents.
A universal security system is simply one small measure of protecting our children, but it doesn’t resolve the root problem. The president has the majority of Americans supporting him. It is our job to let him know what we want him to do. It is our obligation to listen to our higher selves and prevent the massacre at Sandy Hook from happening again. Again, this is an issue of national security -not the war in Afghanistan, drones, or semiautomatic guns.