One of things I despise about parenting in the Internet-age is the vast amount of “research’ we moms and dads have at our fingertips. Research that says our baby will have a third arm growing out of its back if you don’t breast feed; research that says your kid will never get a job if you are a helicopter parent; research that says your kid will be a thug if you don’t eat dinner together as a family five times a week.
As parents, we devour this research and feel determined to adhere to it. We feel smug when we achieve this lofty goal, and deflated when we can’t.
That’s how I felt about dinner time this year. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get my busy brood together around the table at the same time. I read the research, and I knew the benefits of eating together as a family — teens who stayed off drugs, achieved higher grades, and were just, well, better.
I imagined my kids smoking cigs under the bleachers and skipping school because we didn’t break bread on a regular basis. I was failing them.
And then I started digging deeper and realized it’s not so much about dinner as it is about dishing. Family dinner time is often the only time families are spending together, which is why it is so important. Spending time together. Now that is something I can work with. I also forced myself to take a long, hard look at my kids and I remembered that these girls are happy and healthy. We are doing okay.
I am excited to write about my dinnertime dilemma further on one of my favorite sites: Lies About Parenting (LAP). LAP debunks popular parenting “advice” that may not work for everyone in order to raise happier healthier kids — and parents.
Find my article here (http://liesaboutparenting.com/family-dinner-bonding-alternatives/).
A few months back, I was hanging out with an old friend who let her eight year old son have a coke.
“Don’t judge me,” she said with squinted eyes. “I know what you are thinking. It’s only one soda.”
“Okay,” I replied.
“Seriously, he never gets it and I told him he could have one,” she said.
“Okay,” I replied.
“One coke is not going to kill him,” she went on. “I know how you feel about it, but I already told him he could have it.”
“Absolutely, let him have it then,” I said trying to hide the smile on my face.
“Crap. Now you made me feel guilty. Now I can’t give him the (expletive) soda. You suck,” she said.
“Okay,” I replied.
It’s no secret to my close friends and family how I feel about kids and soda. Even though I don’t talk about it often, my kids will tell you they are not allowed to have it, unless it is a special occasion. It’s just not something I believe in, but I haven’t started a national campaign against it. I would love to say that I don’t judge you if I see you giving your kids soda, but I’d be lying.
That being said, I have a gaggle of friends who I think are fantastic parents that let their kids drink it…some by the liter. I don’t agree, but guess what…not my kids, not my dental bills. So I keep my mouth shut and my opinions to myself.
As moms, one of the things that rattle our cages the most is the feeling of being judged. Breast feeding, day care, c-sections, co-sleeping, organic, home school — the list of things that start the Mommy Wars goes on and on. I would go so far as to say it is the single pervasive issue that limits Girl Power.
But I do think there are two different types of judgment. First, there is the mom judgment that is self-inflicted, as illustrated above by the conversation with my friend. This is the type that is often proliferated through blog posts that say things like “Ten Reasons Why Co-Sleeping with Your Baby Makes Him Smarter.” It is that insecure feeling we get knowing that someone parents differently, and maybe that way is better.
And then there’s JUDGEment. I mean that of Judge Judy-like quality. Like when your kid pitches a fit at Target and the mom with four perfectly dressed, well-behaved children leans over and says, “Did someone miss his nap today?” Or like when another parent says, “Wow, your two-year old really knows how to use your phone. She must be on it a lot!” Or even when that stay at home mom says something in a group of women like: “I could never leave my kids with strangers all day.” And of course, the working mom in the group feels judged. Yep, I’ve seen all these things first hand.
One of the funniest truths about parenting is that we all feel we are “experts” yet at the same time we are all worried we are screwing our kids up (or if we don’t profess it, we certainly think it!) If you look at it from a macro perspective, being a “good” parent means providing for the child’s basic needs on both an emotional and physical level. For most of us, that involves developing a bond with our kids in a warm, nurturing environment.
While there are “bad” parents — those that are abusive, neglectful or choose to abandon their children altogether — most of us just want the best for our kids. So where is all the judgment coming from?
The details. The little things. Stuff that seems important to us in our every day life, but really are just a matter of personal preference. Bed times, breast-feeding, day care, co-sleeping, and yes, even allowing soda. It’s the choices we make for our own families because they are important to US, but may not be for others.
As moms, we are convinced that these little decisions will determine our children’s destinies, and if we don’t “help” others, they will live a lifetime of regret when their child is screwed up. Or, we feel so passionately about something that we believe we are actually “helping” someone by telling them that Twinkies will give their kid cancer.
But here’s the thing: at the end of the day, even an eight year old kid who is allowed to play his iPad until 10:30 p.m. while eating Cheetos and drinking a liter of Code Red Mountain Dew is probably going to turn out okay. That’s just the way the world works.
Unfortunately, as humans, we are programmed to judge others. Seriously, our brain is hard-wired for moral judgments. Add to this that parenting is the most personal and emotional task we can take on in our lives, and oftentimes linked to our self-esteem, and there really is no way we can completely eliminate the Mom judgment.
There are, however, a million different ways to respond to someone who is judging us. You can come back with a slew of retorts, you can ignore it, or you can confront it head on.
But the only way to stop judgment in its tracks is to simply not accept it. And we can do that by knowing our kids will be fine because we have done our job by loving them and making the best choices we can for our own families. Being confident in the decisions we make and keeping our eye on the big picture can allow that judgment to slide right off our backs.
Everything else we do for our kids — the breastfeeding (or not), the co-sleeping (or not), being a good role model by having a successful, fulfilling career or homeschooling — it’s all correct. Truth be told, we won’t know if we’ve screwed our kids up for another two decades anyway.
It’s also important to remember when you are feeling judged that it’s often not about you. When someone is projecting their issues onto someone else, it often speaks more to their own insecurities than it does to yours.
And what do we do if we’re the ones feeling all Judgey McJudgerson? Like when I saw that family at a nice restaurant all with their iPads out at the table or the kid who pitched a fit at the grocery store and his mom gave in by getting him a Snickers?
Well, when the judgment started coming out, I tried to change my thought process. Maybe that couple was just desperate to have a night out and their babysitter didn’t show up or maybe that Mom was just having a really bad day. Compassion can work wonders on judgment.
And I’m pretty sure those kids with their iPads and their snickers bar and even their soda, well, I’m pretty sure they will turn out just fine. Now if I can just stop screwing my own kids up.
Since my post “My 12 Year Old Was Blackmailed for Nude Photos” came out, I have had a lot of people comment and get in touch with me about issues their children — or children they know — have encountered online. For example, a friend got in touch about her nephew that was playing with another child that had a hand-me-down phone with the Wi-Fi code still on it and used it to access porn. They were six and eight.
And the woman who e-mailed me after reading the article to tell me that her 13-year-old daughter had been communicating with a sex offender for four months and was just about to meet with him when the mom found out. How did this happen when the child didn’t own a phone? Her daughter’s friend was kind enough to let her have access to SnapChat on her iPad, which her parents never monitored.
And the parent that contacted me telling me that her two sons had figured out how to connect their Xbox to the Internet and were innocently chatting with people all over the world. Based on the communication and the questions they were asking, she was convinced that these gaming players were certainly not the eleven-year-old boys they were pretending to be.
And the mother who told me the article prompted her to check out her daughter’s photo gallery where she found dozens of inappropriate pictures she had been sexting to some boys in her class. She had already blocked access to apps, but did not regularly monitor her phone.
And the grandmother who installed monitoring software — but did not set it up correctly — so her grandchildren were having unfettered access to the Internet. In her words: “Thank God I did not have a heart attack when I walked in and saw what that bull was doing to that goat.” Yes, I giggled at that one a little bit because I think I saw that video too, and I’m thankful that’s all that it was.
In today’s digital world where kids are often more savvy than the adults — and Internet access is everywhere — parents must use a combination of technology tools, conversations and education to protect our children. If nothing else, the examples above underscored one thing to me: the Internet is a battlefield and it is taking good parents down.
Our kids are on to us too. It’s not enough to just monitor, spy or control access. Don’t be fooled into thinking it won’t happen to your child.
According to McAfee’s 2014 study about Teens and The Screen, youth use social networking sites they believe their parents are not members of or are trolling. YouTube is the most frequented site, with 97% of respondents visiting the site or app on a weekly basis. YouTube was closely followed by Instagram, with 92% of respondents visiting the site or app on a weekly basis. That’s not counting that awful anonymous Ask.FM site or the Web-based messengers SnapChat and Kik.
So what should you do it you catch your child doing something inappropriate online?
- Don’t freak out. When our kids get deep into trouble, they often make poor decisions because of the fear they have of facing the wrath of their parents. So, most kids don’t confide in their parents about cyberbullying, Internet stalking, sexting or seeing inappropriate content online for fear of losing Web access or worse yet, their phones. Treat using a cell phone or the Internet like you would approach drinking and driving – there is no instance about social media where they should be scared to tell you what they have done or contact you to help get them out of trouble. If you do find out that your daughter is communicating with someone they shouldn’t, or your son is watching something inappropriate, it’s not the best time to go bat crazy, because you don’t want them to be fearful of coming to you again — when it could be really important. Take the access or device away, take a deep breath, and think about it.
- Make sure the punishment fits the crime. There is a difference between a nine-year old accessing porn and a young girl sending nude photos to a stranger. In the first example you may merely restrict access to the Net (or only allow access to Web-enabled devices when you are present) and the second obviously is much more serious with potential legal consequences. In any case, don’t overreact and say something like: “You aren’t allowed to go online until your 16!” We all know that’s never going to happen, so take your time to come up with a punishment that gets the message across. And remember, restricting access or taking a device away is not the only punishment option either. Treat it as any other broken trust issue. Regardless,I encourage you to sleep on it. Nothing makes a kid sweat like waiting to be punished.
- Continue the conversations. You may think that your kid just broke the rules and didn’t listen to you, but that’s not always the case. Sometimes kids get themselves into trouble online without even realizing it, particularly when they are younger. It’s important to continue having the discussions about online safety even after you have restricted access and hopefully solved the issue. And keep the tone open and concerned, not shocked and angry.
- Consider the overspill into “real life.” In the case of the young boy who was accessing porn, I think we can all agree that most kids are curious about sexuality and the body parts of the opposite sex. This is really no different from when a son finds his dad’s Playboy magazine hidden in a drawer. However, although we can’t quash their curiosity, we should channel it in more appropriate ways. When you catch your child doing something like this, use it as an opportunity to open a conversation, and more importantly communicate your opinions on the subject and values. “Do you have any questions you want to ask me about what you saw” or “I know you are curious, but I don’t believe that those sites treat women with respect.” In the case of finding out your child is sexting or communicating with a stranger, find out if she is trying to fill a void in her life or having problems socially. Predators often lure in kids who may be feeling insecure about something, such as their looks, social status or relationships.
- Consider a third-party. It’s often a tough pill for us parents — especially those of us who think we have solid relationships with our children — to swallow, but sometimes our kids cannot believe that we understand what they are going through in today’s world. It’s often helpful to have someone other than you or your parenting partner discuss issues related to online safety with your son or daughter. It can be a younger teacher, aunt, cousin, clergy, neighbor or even a family therapist, should you need to go that route, but the most important thing to remember is to get the message through to your child.
- Remember the point. There has to be a line between protecting our kids and teaching them to be responsible. It is irrational to think that restricting all access to the Internet will teach your kids how to be responsible digital citizens. Instead, we need to teach them how to be safe, demonstrate the dangers, communicate the rules and encourage responsibility. But these things do not have to be completed all at once. If your child runs into a problem online, consider going back a few steps. Allow them access to a cell phone that can only be used for phone communication (yes, they are still out there), put the computer in a central location, block access to apps and tell them you will be using monitoring tools until they earn your trust back.
Have you ever caught your child doing something inappropriate online? What advice can you give other parents?
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“Tell your sister you’re sorry!”
I’ve uttered those words what feels like millions of times. Say you are sorry for saying that mean thing, you’re sorry for hitting, you’re sorry for losing her headband, you’re sorry for killing your sister’s herd of sheep when you weren’t supposed to be in her world in Minecraft (tell me I’m not the only one?)
“Say it like you mean it,” I often say in my most stern voice after watching the eye-rolling, head-down, muttered apology my girls offer.
But do they mean it? Do those simple words that are supposed to mean so much really mean anything at all? Is apologizing a lost art?
As a writer, I think words really matter and can convey exactly what I want in the manner I wish the reader to receive it. As a harried mom, however, I often find myself trying to do the right thing without making every squabble a “teaching moment.” This means breaking up a quick argument with a forced apology and then moving on to the next task.
But what happens when we teach our kids that empty apologies get you by in life? What happens when we don’t teach our children to have empathy or develop the integrity to admit they were wrong. What happens when our sons and daughters think three words — eight letters — can erase their behavior?
The struggle for us as parents is it is difficult to make our kids “feel” a certain way, so we go through the routine of an apology in hope that one day they will just “get it.” But that’s a pretty big risk to take.
So what’s a parent to do? Here’s a few tips:
+ Don’t tell them what to say. How can we expect our kids to be sincere if we are spoon-feeding them the words? Instead, ask questions to provoke them to understand their actions. For example, “Why did you tell Mary she couldn’t sit with you?” Or “Why did you chop all the hair off of your sister’s American Girl doll?” Find out what your child was thinking before forcing them to apologize, and acknowledge their feelings. It’s quite possible their behavior is motivated by an emotion they don’t know how to control yet. Additionally, this ensures they are processing what they did, not just how they can get out of getting in trouble.
+ Focus on empathy. Empathy is something that often is cultivated throughout your life. Some people are born with it, but most others must be shown (and encouraged) to be empathetic. Before you tell your child to apologize, make sure they understand why they need to be giving it. Help them understand how they made the other person feel. “How would you react if your sister cut your favorite board games?” or “How would you feel if Mary didn’t let you sit at her table?” Then help your child create an empathetic apology that acknowledges she understands how the other person feels. “I’m sorry I made you feel left out. I was just saving that seat for my other friend. I didn’t mean to make you feel bad.” Or if you live in my house, “I’m sorry I cut off your doll’s hair. I know you love doing their hair and she was your favorite. I was just mad that you wouldn’t play with me.”
+ No apologies under duress. Don’t threaten your child if he is hesitating on apologizing. There is no real lesson in forcing an “I’m sorry.” Once my daughter refused to apologize to a little girl at the park for dumping all the sand out of her buckets. I made a big deal about it and all the other kids were looking at her so she shut down and burst into tears causing the other mom to tell me not to worry about it. But I was relentless. No child of mine was going to be “the mean kid.” What started out as good-intentioned parenting turned into an embarrassing situation for all involved. Eventually my daughter uttered a barely intelligible “I’m sorry” that didn’t really mean anything. We should encourage our kids but not insist on an apology until we know it will be sincere. When you are in that type of situation — especially if you have younger kids — sometimes it’s okay if the parent offers the apology.
+ What to do next time. While it’s important to offer an apology, it’s even more important to give our children the tools to behave differently. Ask her how she could handle her emotions the next time or how she could change her behavior. For example, “The next time your sister doesn’t play with you (because you know there will be a next time), and you get angry, what could you do?” or “what could you say to someone who wants to sit with you but you’re saving the seat so it doesn’t sound so mean?”
+ Focus on forgiveness. Think of all the times you have received a passive aggressive, insincere apology from someone either in your work or personal life. Think of the damage it does to your relationship and the bitterness it creates. Now think of your child giving one of those apologies. Learning to give an effective apology — one that can restore a relationship — can have a tremendous impact on a child’s life. When your child does offer the apology, also encourage them to ask for forgiveness. Help them focus on a positive attribute of the other child, a reason to keep the relationship in tact. “I hope you will forgive me, as I really like having you in my class.” Or “I hope you will forgive me for cutting off your doll’s hair. I know she was your favorite. Mom says I can do chores to help pay for her to get some new hair.”
+ Model a sincere apology. No parent wants to admit they are wrong, but showing your son or daughter how to apologize can make a difference when the shoe is on the other foot. Make sure to stop what you are doing, look them in the eye, swallow your pride and let it rip. You can then use your apology as an example for when you need it.
What do you think about kids and apologizing?
Recently there was a gaggle of girls at my house. As it often happens, a dance-off ensued. Never one to shy away from getting my groove on, I jumped in with my signature move: The Running Man. Of course, I have my own take on it, but I think I killed it.
My nine-year old didn’t agree so much. In fact, her exact words were: “Oh my Gosh Mom, you are embarrassing me!”
This was a crushing blow. These words have never come out of my children’s mouths. I almost turned to go back to unloading the dishwasher, but about 45 second later I did what I had to do: a little MC Hammer “u can’t touch this” shuffle and even some moves I learned from one Vanilla Ice. I am one bad mutha on the dance floor. Luckily there was no more “embarrassment” comments, and I even got a few cheers. I ended on a high note.
Later that day I talked to a few other moms about how I finally got the embarrassing comment, and we lamented about how we were entering that difficult time with our girls. Surprisingly, one mom said that she did scale back on how she interacted with her teenage daughters. Her goal was to be more aloof and cool so her girls would talk to her more, since she had always thought her own parents were ‘lame’.
All I could think of the entire time she was speaking was did this mom not learn anything from watching the movie Mean Girls? Didn’t she see how ridiculous Amy Poehler played the “cool mom”, and subsequently how the girls disrespected her (because of course, Mean Girls is just like real life in my head.)
But in all honesty, when did we get so scared of our kids and what they think of us (I address this a bit in my article Does Your Kid Bully You?) And why do we care?
I think growing up with parents that embarrass the heck out of you truly makes you a stronger person. My dad was a lunatic. He would blast show tunes while I was hanging out with my friends in the pool growing up. He would do the moves to cheers when I was on the sidelines in high school. When I brought my very Italian boyfriend home in college, he asked if he could kiss his ring and call him “Godfather.”
It was mortifying. And hilarious.
I also was embarrassed at times by the rules my parents enforced. Curfews earlier than my friends, calling to make sure I was where I said I was, staying up until I walked through the door…how did I endure this behavior????
But even with all that embarrassment, I learned early on that people loved my parents. My dad was the entertainment and my mom would always feed them. Sure, there were times I wish they would dial it back a bit, but it taught me early on that anyone worth having as a friend thought my parents were cool, even when they embarrassed me. I still do.
And when I look at my friend-set, we’ve all shared the embarrassing parental unit stories. One of my besties told me about how her parents and her neighbors used to ride behind her school bus on mopeds. All the way to school. How awesome is that?
Or another friend talked about her parents who were overly affectionate to each other. Not in a gross inappropriate way like they needed to go to their bedroom, but in a way that I now realize is endearing. It used to drive her nuts, but now we admire it.
Now, I am not saying that I will purposely do things to embarrass my kids. I won’t show up to their school wearing my bunny slippers or chaperone a school dance wearing my old prom dress (well, probably not), but I’m not going to change who I am — or what I believe in — just to ensure they are not embarrassed.
Because where does it end? There is a limitless list of things kids can be embarrassed about: not arriving to school in the right car, not having the right shoes, mothers who don’t wear make up, too curly hair, having to wear glasses, a dad who dresses funny, and yes, even a mom who does the running man extremely well.
And I know that sometimes they will get embarrassed by what I don’t let them do: like wear make up just because the other girls are or go to a party where I know there is no supervision. Because I only get one shot with my kids, and I plan on making the most of it.
I remember growing up in elementary school and a friend telling me how embarrassing it was because her mom wouldn’t let her eat any processed foods while the rest of us stuffed our faces with twinkies and ho ho’s. That mom didn’t care that her kid was embarrassed….she was true to herself and her beliefs. And look at how smart she looks now.
I often think about that mom when I try to explain to my own kids why I don’t want them to drink soda or eat Lunchables. I’m sure they are a little embarrassed by my rules, but I hope one day they’ll get it.
It is a delicate balance when raising older children. I’m pretty sure that at some point in the near future just the mere fact that I exist will embarrass them. But I’ve already lived through those painful teenage years of trying to fit in, and I just don’t feel like doing it again as a parent. Being “cool” was never my forte, but I was always stellar at having a good time, and I like to think being kind is my version of “cool.”
My job as a parent is more about showing my kids how to enjoy life and be a responsible, productive member of society than being their friend. And if they learn a few super-cool dance moves along the way, then that’s just a bonus.
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