I’ve been working on a piece for the Arts issue of the magazine I write for, and it got me thinking about an issue that all artists- and parents – have to deal with at some point: rejection. As a writer, I am rejected on a daily basis. Please do not mistake that for hyperbole. I literally receive rejection letters almost every single day for work that I have spent hours and days and months creating. I’m not going to lie, it kind of sucks. But art is a subjective business, and if you’re going to work in a creative field you have to realize that rejection is just part of the gig.
I did not, however, anticipate how much rejection was going to be involved in the parenting gig. Maybe because when you have a baby, rejection seems impossible. After all, your helpless little creature couldn’t possibly reject you because, for starters they can’t even talk, but more importantly they need you for fundamental things like food and shelter. As newborns grow into babies and then into toddlers, need is still a prime component of your relationship. They need you to change their diapers. They need you to get them dressed. They need you to give them your iPad. They need need need to the point that a little rejection would be a welcome change.
And then somewhere toward the end of elementary school, subtle changes set in. “No, mommy, you don’t have to volunteer for my field trip.” “You don’t need to walk me into school.” “You don’t have to hug and kiss me goodbye when you drop me off at Timmy’s house.” Okay, you think, my child is becoming independent. That’s a good thing, right? And during this phase they still need you, of course, because they can’t reach the top shelf in the pantry and that’s where you keep all the candy.
But then somewhere during the middle school years, their needs change again and begin to center around two things: transportation and money. These are not their only needs, but they are certainly the only needs they want to talk to you about. So that means that the other things you offer your children—your values, hopes, dreams, wisdom— are often rejected. And let me tell you, rejection from an 11 to 14 year-old who has not yet perfected the art of constructive criticism can be… severe.
No joke, my daughter asked me last week why my face was “like that.” She literally rejected my face. I wasn’t sure how to respond to this, as this is the only face I have, so I just gave her my most sympathetic look and said in a loving tone, “I don’t know, honey. We’re just going to have to get through this together.”
And I think that is the key to rejection— treating it with one measure of acceptance and two or three measures of perseverance. Because rejections will happen in every aspect of our social and professional lives whether we choose to become artists, or parents, or lawyers, or athletes, or anything other than a giant pile of cold hard cash. It kind of sucks, but there it is.
So I try not to let my kids subtle (and sometimes not so subtle) rejection bother me too much. I don’t let it stop me from parenting. I don’t let it dictate how and why I make decisions about their well-being, nor do I take it too personally. I also use my own stories of rejection to help them become comfortable with the idea that they, too, will one day face rejection, despite what all their “participation” ribbons have taught them. I tell them about all my writing rejections. I tell them how sometimes it makes me feel bad. I make jokes about this or that editor’s lack of vision. And in the end, I show them how I go back to work and try to improve. Because to quote every successful artist—and parent— ever, “Rejection doesn’t equal failure. The only way you fail for sure is if you stop trying.”
Because I am both lazy and an opportunistic multitasker, I like to work on my parenting skills while doing something decidedly more fun, like watching a movie. Movies are way better than hours of self-reflection. And who needs to spend time agonizing over how to impart good values to our children when Hollywood has already done it for us?
In perhaps the most perfect movie of the 1980s (which is saying something since it’s the decade that brought us Weird Science, Die Hard, and The Goonies), The Princess Bride offers parents all the information we need to raise competent, well-adjusted, thieves, pirates, and princesses. Here are ten of the best pearls of wisdom and how to adapt them into your parenting routine.
- “Who said life was fair? Where is that written? Life isn’t always fair.”
Granted, this bit of advice has been a parenting mainstay since the beginning of time (or at least since the beginning of whining), but it remains relevant today. Because it’s true. Life isn’t fair. And fairness is overrated anyway. Next time your kid bites you, take the opportunity to point that out.
- “You rush a miracle man, you get rotten miracles.”
Never has a generation been more invested in the concept of immediacy than the kids we are raising now. Instant gratification has become the norm. But patience is a virtue (another pearl of wisdom gleaned from pop culture – thank you Trix Rabbit!), and kids need to know that there are things worth waiting for. Like love and success and a really good marinara sauce.
- “Death cannot stop true love. All it can do is delay it for a while.”
When the day comes that you have to look into your child’s eyes and explain to them a painful loss, these words will come in handy. Whatever your religious or spiritual beliefs, the idea that love transcends all is universally comforting.
- “When I was your age, television was called books.”
To update this for today’s world, you can say, “When I was your age, texting was called actually talking to people.” Or something like that. This quote illustrates how every generation feels like the next is being ruined by technology, and how they are both wrong— and right— about that.
- “Rodents of unusual size? I don’t think they exist.”
Westley says this a moment before he is mauled by, you guessed it, a rodent of unusual size. This illustrates why you should teach your children to expect the unexpected. It is also a handy thing to remember when you are in Mexico. Ever seen a capybara? I have, and it haunts my nightmares. . .
- “Cynics are simply thwarted romantics.”
I think this is true. Behind every cynical snipe or jab, is a person who has been hurt and is afraid of being hurt again. Knowing this may help heal your romantic’s soft heart, or help your cynic become more self-aware. Either way, it bears repeating because everyone lands on one side of this equation or the other. Often times, both, depending on how well-fed, well-rested, and well-chocolated one is at the moment.
- “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”
Inigo Montoya says this to Vizzini when he keeps using the word “inconceivable” to describe things that are completely conceivable. Today, we can use this comment when our kids say “literally.” When a person under the age of 21 uses the word literally, it literally never means literally.
- “Get used to disappointment.”
This is another parenting mainstay, but one that bears repeating. If there is one problem I see over and over again in children today, it’s that they have no capacity for disappointment. This is because we, as parents, shield our kids from disappointment like it is an incoming Tomahawk missile. Medals for everyone? No keeping score? Let’s not pick a winner? Please. When we take away disappointment we also take away the hunger for achievement. It’s ridiculous. It isn’t fun to watch our kids be disappointed, but it is absolutely essential to raising a human being who doesn’t feel entitled. And I promise you, there is no greater disappointment than getting out into the world and realizing you are not the brightest star in the sky, as you were led to believe your whole life.
- “There’s not a lot of money in the revenge business.”
This is my personal favorite. (Mostly because Inigo Montoya says it in his fetching Spanish-tinged-with-Jewish-New-York accent.) But if there is one thing I hope I’ve taught my kids, it’s that old adage about how holding a grudge is like drinking poison and expecting the other guy to die. Which leads me to my last piece of advice. . .
- “Never go in against a Sicilian where death is on the line.”
I’m not exactly sure what parenting application this has, it just seems like good, solid advice.
NOTE: This is a reposting of a piece I wrote a few years ago. Consider it a public service announcement on how to steal candy from children…
There is only one thing that tastes better than free candy. And that is candy you steal from your children. Candy you take out of your child’s Halloween stash somehow tastes sweeter, lasts longer, and seems less caloric than candy begotten from other means. I rationalize stealing my kids candy in two ways:
1. I think of it as a luxury tax. I bought the costume. I took them around from house to house. And I will most certainly have to deal with the consequences of their massive bellyaches once they’ve snarfed down eleven pounds of candy in half an hour. The way I see it, I deserve a percentage of net sales.
2. I tell myself I’m doing it for them. No responsible parent would allow their children to eat triple their body weight in sugar, would they?. By dipping into their supply, I am actually protecting them. I am being a good parent. I am acting righteously. (Refer to earlier post on How to Feel Righteous Everyday: A Cheater’s Guide).
But beware: Once children reach the age of four (or possibly a precocious three) they will protect their candy with their lives. If you are going to be successful in your quest, you must have a game plan. You must shut out all thoughts of selflessness and altruism. You must come prepared for battle. Here are a few bits of advice to help you along the way:
- When they dump their candy out on the floor to bask in its gluttonous glory, take note of any doubles and triples. Start with these items first. The earlier you can extract them, the better.
- Never, ever make the mistake of asking or worse, saying something like, “Let’s see, what do we have here…” This causes instant foodstress in kids and puts them on the defensive. You want them unaware.
- Tell them you have to check the candy for razor blades or other forms of tampering. The only way to know for sure is to test it out yourself. That’ll buy you at least a couple of pieces – but won’t work forever. Most kids I know would rather risk being poisoned than give away their Halloween candy.
- You can always pull the classic, “Look over there! Is that The Great Pumpkin?” and while their sweet little heads are turned, you swipe a bag of M&Ms or a Payday (if you roll with peanuts).
- Don’t be greedy. Never take the King Size Twix or the cute little homemade marshmallow pops the Martha-wanna-be down the street gave out. You’ll get busted for sure. Stick to the common stuff – your Hershey’s mini’s, your individually wrapped licorice, your Tootsie rolls, etc.
- Obviously, when they are at school and/or asleep, you have free reign to pillage at will. But be aware that some children take inventory and will know when something goes missing. You will pay the price in shame if you get caught. And possibly in actual candy as well. I’ll admit I had to do some re-stocking during the Reese’s Peanut Butter Cup binge of ’08.
- Kids fear the unknown food. Play upon their natural pickiness. You can pull out the lesser-known Skor bar and say, “You don’t like this, do you?” and before they even know what hit them you’re enjoying that rich toffee goodness.
Best of luck in your efforts tonight… Happy hunting and Happy Halloween!
Back in college, I had a friend who went on a blind date with a guy I’ll call Billy Bob. That was not his name, but could have been for reasons that will become clear in a moment. On the date, Billy Bob took my friend to the McDonald’s drive-thru for dinner and while ordering, he yelled into the speaker, “I’ll have a number 2… and while you’re at it why don’t you go ahead and super-size that son-of-a-bitch.”
The moral of this story is two-fold. First, things could always be worse. You could be on a date with someone who:
- A.) Takes you to McDonald’s for dinner.
- B.) Orders a “Number 2.”
- C.) Calls his Number 2 a son-of-a-bitch.
- D.) And wants that son-of-a-bitch super-sized.
The second moral of the story is that people love to upgrade. It’s true. Entire companies – hell, entire countries – have been built on this practice.
- “Would you like a mid-size instead of a compact?”
- “Would you like to add the protection plan?”
- “Would you like me to change the election laws to allow me a third term as President?”
Once a person has agreed to something, getting them to agree to a small percentage more is a piece of cake that’s just been upgraded to a la mode.
I’ve decided I’d like to incorporate this highly effective strategy into my parenting regimen. I think it’s a natural fit as I often have to sell the idea of certain household responsibilities to my kids. Loading the dishwasher is fun! Raking leaves is great exercise! If you help me wash the windows, you can spray the Windex!
The problem is that at 9 & 12, my kids aren’t buying it anymore. They are no longer taken in by my enticements, and household gadgets have lost their appeal. I remember the days when my daughter begged me to use the Swiffer. Now she runs away when I get it out. They have discovered that the scrubbing bubbles don’t really talk or have mustaches, the fabric softener teddy bear won’t hop off the label and give them a big hug, and that no matter how clearly they yell, “Accio!” that broom ain’t gonna fly ‘em to the Quidditch pitch.
The problem with trying to up-sell my kids into doing their chores, is that chores don’t really have much of an upside. Sure, there is comfort that comes from a clean house, but that doesn’t mean much to your average preteen. Their comfort comes in different packaging. For them comfort is knowing their mother won’t rap along to that new Eminem song when their friends are in the car, or take them with her go bra shopping. Rather than the satisfaction of a job well done, their comfort mostly lies in being left alone. Except when they need money or food or help with homework.
So it makes finding the added-value in household responsibilities a bit of challenge for this age group. I’ve taken a stab at it and here’s what I’ve come up with so far:
- If you clean your bathroom you can avoid getting dysentery!
- If you clear the table, you will be offered food again at the next meal time!
- If you pick up your dirty clothes, you will get to keep them and thus avoid having to go to school naked!
- If you throw away your trash instead of stuffing it under the couch, you won’t have to share the sofa with rodents!
- If you check your attitude even when you’re grumpy in the morning, I won’t yell, “Mommy loves you!” at the top of my lungs when I drop you off at middle school!
Ok. So some of these are more like blackmail. But still. I think they might just work.
I like the concept of teaching my children that there are added, perhaps under-appreciated, benefits to even the simplest of tasks. Even if those under-appreciated benefits are really just me making up ways to torture them should they decide to be non-compliant. Now that I think of it, maybe this isn’t so much me up-selling them on chores, as me super-sizing my threats. Either way, if it gets them to take out the trash, I’m good with it.
The way I figure it, the 887 gajillion calories I took in on Thanksgiving have rendered the act of eating since that day-if not completely useless, then compulsory at best. I am fine with this. I have the memories of sweet potato pie and smoked turkey to keep me feeling satisfied and full. This is not the case for my children, who apparently practiced more moderation at the holiday table and still expect to be fed. Like every day. I’m not going to lie, it’s getting kind of old.
My kids, like many benevolent dictators the worldwide, love to ask the question, “What’s for dinner?” When they were younger, they used to ask me this as they sat down at the table. Fine. The answer was easy at that point. Then, as they got a little older the question popped up at about 4pm. Ok, that was reasonable. Dinner was in their very near future, and they wanted to prime their tummies. But gradually they started asking earlier in the day – like noonish -which was a bit of problem because at noon, I’m thinking about lunch or still full from breakfast, and usually don’t have a clue about dinner yet.
My lack of dinner-planning-zeal apparently triggered some sort of food-stress in my children, especially my daughter, because now she asks me “What’s for dinner?” first thing in the morning. And sometimes, as I am putting her to bed the night before.
This raises my blood pressure. It brings out the sarcastic, un-Mommy-like side of me that usually only comes out on girls-nights or when someone over achieves via Pinterest. I’m not particularly proud of this, but there it is.
So each night as I tuck my kids into bed, a mere few hours after eating that evening’s dinner, and they ask me, “What’s for dinner tomorrow, Mommy?” I dream of saying something snarky. Or covering their sweet little mouths with duct tape. Most of the time, I don’t. But here are my Top 10 Responses I’d Most Like to Give to the Question, “What’s for Dinner?”
10. Haggis. Go look it up.
9. Why don’t you tell me?
8. Your face.
7. What? I can’t hear you. What? I can’t hear you. (Keep repeating.)
6. You’ll get nothing and like it.
5. Ask your father.
4. No habla ingles.
3. Who can think about dinner at a time like this?! (And run screaming from the room.)
2. That’s what she said.
And the #1 thing I’d like to say when my kids ask me, “What’s for dinner?”
1. Who are you and why do you keep calling me Mommy?
Anyone else have any good ones? I’m taking suggestions… (for comments, but I’ll take dinner ideas too.)
Listening to a parent talk about how talented, smart, good-looking, entrepreneurial, kind-hearted, clever, and/or athletic their kid is is a lot like listening to a politician give a stump speech. You nod your head. You affirm enthusiastically. And you automatically discount everything they’ve just said. Indeed, if you are a cynic, you believe that the kid’s virtues probably lie in inverse proportion to how they are being described. And if you are a true iconoclast, you think the kid must be a total zero and you try to point this out to their gushing parents.
Don’t waste your time. Most parents think that they know their kids better than anyone else in the world. And while most of us know on an intellectual level that we can’t be an impartial judge of our children’s behavior, we still think that our unique perspective gives us the ability to see our kids as they really are.
Most of the time, we are wrong. Some of the time we are right. But right or wrong, the one thing we never are is objective. Objectivity requires a certain level of distance and detachment. And it’s hard to be detached from someone who sleeps in your bed, opens the door while you go to the bathroom, and takes money out of your wallet. It just is.
So we start our sentences with, “Well, I know I’m totally biased but…” Because as much as we know that we’re not a fair judge of our children, that doesn’t stop us from judging. If you’re not a total doochebag, you at least give the appearance of a balanced view– you present the good, the bad, and the ugly about your child. But then there are those who stick to the good, the noteworthy, and the so-impressive-you’ll-start-to-question-your-own-childs-contributions-to-society. This is where the line between “objective” commentary and bragging gets blurred.
The Out & Out Brag
Some parents brag outright. “We suspect Jonathan has a true gift for painting. His paintings are a lot like Jackson Pollack’s early work.” Never mind that the diarrhea-brown mess of splats and drips they use as evidence looks like something your dog hacked up. You dutifully oooo and ahhhh because there is no use in pointing out that their son sucks at finger painting. He’s four and he sucks at an age-appropriate level. What’s the harm in letting them believe they are raising the next Picasso? Reality is the great equalizer and eventually they’ll be forced to see the light at the end of the color-blind tunnel.
The Me-Too Brag
Then there are those who like to work in a brag on themselves while talking up their kids, “Salman just got accepted into the gifted program. I mean, we’re not surprised, both Albert and I were in the gifted programs when we were young.” Or, “Yeah, tennis was always my sport. It’s so gratifying to see Venus showing promise at such a young age.” Puke. Not only do these people feel compelled to brag about their kid, but they also want you know that they too are exceptional.
The Brag in Sheep’s Clothing
Others are subtler. “I can’t believe I have to go in to talk to Simon’s teachers again. He keeps finishing all the books they give in record time! He is going to have to start on War & Peace soon!” This is a brag dressed up as a complaint. Totally annoying. No one is going to feel sorry for you that your son is so bright and is such a fast reader. Boo. We know what you’re doing. A brag in sheep’s clothing is still just a brag… or a braaaaaag. (I know. I’m sorry.)
The Force Brag
I recently had a friend ask me this about his daughter: “Don’t you think that Heidi is an extraordinarily beautiful girl? Like a transcendent sort of beautiful?” Ummm. I wasn’t sure how to respond. I mean I agreed – of course I agreed – she is a darling little thing and I’m not a total monster. But what choice did I have? I would have agreed even if his daughter looked like Quasimodo. What could I say? “No. She looks like she fell out of the ugly tree and hit every branch on the way down?” No one is going to say that. My friend committed the worst kind of brag. It was a brag-by-force – the bragging equivalent of holding a gun to my head. He forced me to brag about his kid. This kind of bragging is really only acceptable between parents of the same child, or if done by grandparents who live out of state, the older the better.
The bottom line is that we all brag about our kids. It’s okay. A little bit here and there is fine – it’s like parent catnip. Parenting is hard and if you find something you want to shout from the rooftops, I say go for it. Just don’t abuse it. And try to recognize that as much as you may think you are presenting an accurate assessment of your child, you’re not. You couldn’t possibly. Remember that sage advice from Carrie Fischer’s character in the movie When Harry Met Sally: “Everybody thinks they have good taste and a sense of humor but they couldn’t possibly all have good taste. ”
The same can be said about children. Everybody thinks that have an exceptional child and a sense of humor, but they couldn’t possibly all have exceptional children. Or a sense of humor.
Now excuse me. I have to go pick up my children from the Gifted program and take them to their Accelerated Pogo-Sticking course before we head to the soup kitchen so they can give back to their community in a meaningful way. (They are just so empathetic!)