Apparently, Je ne sais pas Jacques-Sh*t.

Well French women, you have done it again. As if it isn’t enough that you stay slim while eating cheese-filled puff pastry and you can pull off short fringe bangs – now, according to Pamela Druckerman, you’ve bested us Americans at mothering as well. Merde.

In the book Bringing Up Bebe, American Journalist Pamela Druckerman makes the case that French women enjoy parenting more than American women do. This is not to say that French mothers love their kids any more, but rather that they find the task of parenting to be more pleasurable and less stressful than do most American women. Druckerman contends that the image of the “harried mom” so common in America, doesn’t exist in France. It would seem that French mothers parent the same way they smoke in public, handle marital indiscretions, or drink wine mid-day – with a restrained casual elegance that smacks of confidence at its best; indifference, at worst.

Here are some of the differences Druckerman noted between American and French mothers during the years she spent raising her kids in Paris:

  • Where Americans orbit around our kids rushing in every time junior needs anything; French women set firm boundaries, but provide kids great autonomy within those boundaries.
  • Where we construct elaborate “play dates” suffering through the indignity of places like Chuck E Cheese’s or Pump it Up!; French women sip coffee and chat at home or in the park while the kids play. By themselves.
  • Where we kill ourselves trying to navigate the desires of our “picky eaters;” French kids eat what they are served during the 3 daily mealtimes and one 4pm snack. Because they are hungry.
  • Where American children collapse into tears at the slightest disappointment; French children rarely throw tantrums or even whine.
  • And my personal favorite: French mothers do not carry around the heart-stopping, soul-crushing guilt that American mothers do when we – gasp – do something for ourselves that has nothing to do with our kids.

I’m not saying I buy all of it, but Druckerman’s hypothesis is intriguing. In her essay in the Wall Street Journal she outlines some of the key points her book explores in more detail. The one that caught my attention most was the idea of delayed gratification and how ingraining the simple ability to wait can produce children who do not interrupt, whine, nag, kvetch, noodge, or otherwise pester parents the instant their needs are not met.

This is a problem in my house. My oh-so-very American children have to be reminded on a daily basis not to interrupt when I’m talking. At dinner, sometimes it is hard for my husband and I to have a conversation consisting of more than 2 consecutive sentences without one kid or other popping off on some unrelated note. Their non-sequiturs seem to scream “Hey! Did you forget about me! How dare you discuss something that doesn’t relate to ME!” It drives us nuts. And we always respond with some sort of impotent admonishment that is promptly forgotten and/or ignored.

So, what’s the secret to French women’s ability to not only teach their kids patience – but teach it so the kids actually learn it?

According to Druckerman: You have to mean it. Like, really mean it. When you lay down the law you have believe to your core that the limit you are setting is the actual limit. Not the “If you do that one more time…” limit. But the actual End. Of. The. Road. If you deem a behavior unacceptable, it must be unacceptable the same way it would be unacceptable for your 5-year-old to drive a car or crack open a bottle of Cabernet. In other words, it is not just something you frown upon; it is something that is not possible.

She says that French mothers divide things into 2 camps: possible and pas possible. When a kid wants to eat a brownie at 9am in America, a mom might respond with a reasonable, rational, 5-minute discussion about how, “We don’t eat sweets at 9am because it isn’t good for your belly. We eat healthy things like eggs and toast and soy milk! So you can grow up big and strong!” In France, the answer is “Ce n’est pas possible.” (It is not possible.) That’s it. End of story. And something about the way mothers deliver this line – their conviction, their certainty, their fortitude – conveys to children that it really is pas possible. In other words, “No means no. And don’t ask again.”

I’ll admit, I fantasize about having that kind of authority.

But here is America, I suppose we have our own way of doing things. Maybe it doesn’t lead to quiet dinners out or leisurely afternoons spent sipping coffee with friends – but I like to think it leads to kids who have spunk, if nothing else. Besides, Americans look downright French when you compare us to the Chinese Tiger Mothers, right? So, maybe the takeaway here is that there are thousands of ways to screw-up parent your kids, and you just have to find the way that works best for you.

For me, any parenting model that involves more puff pastry is worth a second look…

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Temper Tantrum? Buh-bye!

On yesterday’s Today Show, I watched a segment about the family who was thrown off of a JetBlue flight because their two year-old daughter was throwing a tantrum.  Apparently, shortly before takeoff, their two year-old daughter threw a humdinger of a fit because she didn’t want to be buckled into her seat. Crew members reported to the pilot that the family could not get their child seated, and the pilot made the decision to turn the plane around and have the family removed. However, in the time it took for the pilot to make that decision (about five minutes) the tantrum was over and the little girl was seated and buckled properly.

But the family was still thrown off the plane–even though the situation had been resolved – the crew telling this family that “the decision has been made.” Since the flight was the last of the day from Turks & Caicos to Boston, the family had to spend the night in a hotel and were re-routed, costing them over $2,000. That’s a pretty expensive tantrum.

As I watched this Today Show story, (and ignored my own daughter’s Where is my hairbrush? tantrum) I was stunned. Kicked off of a flight because your kid threw a fit? Does this seem reasonable? Apparently, to 71% of people who fill out surveys on the Today Show’s website, it does. Yes, that’s right. Seven out of 10 people who responded to a poll online, said they sided with Jet Blue. Of course, if you have time to respond to online polls at 7 o’clock in the morning, chances are you don’t have young kids and are perhaps a bit less sympathetic than those of us who do.

But still, I was shocked that so many people thought this was a reasonable course of action for the airline to take. JetBlue airline said in a statement, “Flight 850 had customers that did not comply with crew member instructions for a prolonged time period. The Captain elected to remove the customers involved for the safety of all customers and crew members on board.” As a fairly nervous flier, I am the first person to stand up for airline safety. I happily wait in mile long security lines, I put my lip gloss and hand sanitizer in little plastic bags without being prompted, and don’t even mind walking through those x-ray vision scanner that can tell what brand of underwear I have on. If it makes flying safer – I’m all for it.

But a tantrum from a twenty-five pound little girl hardly seems a safety risk to me. Annoying? Yes. Loud and unpleasant? You bet. But a threat to customers and crew members safety? I don’t think so. The little girl in question wasn’t smuggling a shiv in her tiny little Stride Rites, nor was she hiding hazardous chemicals in her sippy cup. She was tired. She was hungry. She was hot. She was irritated because she didn’t want to be strapped down into a seat. Basically, she was two. If the airlines want to be certain to avoid tantrums all together then might I suggest they don’t sell tickets to kids under the age of five. Or rock stars. Or certain Emmy award-winning actors.

The little girl’s mom, Dr. Colette Vieau, a pediatrician, said on the Today Show, “We weren’t belligerent, drunk, angry, screaming … We’re having a hard time struggling with our children. A little bit of humanity in the situation was really all I was looking for and apparently that doesn’t exist.”

I sympathize with the parents on this one. I’d love to know what you think…

 


Fitted Sheets & The Human Genome Project

My parents raised me to believe that I could do anything I set my mind to. As it turns out, however, this is not true. In reality, there are lots of things I can’t do. A few that spring to mind are: the splits (Chinese or regular); making out the hidden image embedded in one of those 3-D art posters; and properly folding a fitted sheet. Since I am neither a member of Cirque-du-Soleil nor a collector of 1990’s mall art, the first two don’t cause me much consternation. But as the keeper-of-linens in my house, it really chaps my ass that I can’t fold a fitted sheet no matter how hard I try. And believe me, I’ve tried.

In an effort to shield my delicate ego from this particular failing, I have developed a hypothesis that allows me to absolve myself of any responsibility for it. I have concluded that the ability to fold a fitted sheet is a genetic – something as out of my control as the color of my eyes or being able to roll my tongue into a hot dog. One can either do it, or not. No amount of practicing is going to help. Have you ever seen someone who doesn’t have the gene try to hot-dog their tongue? It’s just sad (and by sad, I mean hilarious). It’s the same with fitted sheets.

As with so many of my shortcomings, it is comforting when I can deflect responsibility and blame my inferior genetic wellspring (and by inferior genetic wellspring, I mean my Mom and Dad). My mother, who theoretically is responsible for at least half of my genetic material, can force a fitted sheet into a crisp, perfect rectangle just by giving it a stern look. She is the Darth Vader of folding fitted sheets.  So obviously my problem can’t be her fault. My defect must come from my father who, as far as I know, has never even attempted fold a sheet -fitted or otherwise. This scientifically (and by scientifically, I mean arbitrarily) proves my hypothesis that the FFS (folding fitted sheet) gene must be recessive, passed down through the father’s side. Kind of like baldness is on the mother’s side.

If you have been genetically blessed with the FFS gene, you are probably thinking that I just haven’t tried hard enough. Or that I’ve just never had someone teach me how to do it. But I assure you this is not the case. I’ve been given at least a dozen lessons by my mother, plus I’ve watched countless helpful women on YouTube (and by helpful women on You Tube, I mean pretentious ninnies) who make me feel bad about myself by suggesting ‘it’s so simple everyone can do it!’ in their upbeat voices as they swish, flatten, and press their fitted sheets into folded perfection. Dutifully, I follow each step. But in the end, my sheet looks like something I’m using to smuggle contraband into the linen closet (and by contraband, I mean my pride).

But now I don’t have to feel bad about myself anymore. Knowing (and by knowing, I mean blinding believing) that properly folding a fitted sheet is a genetic trait, takes away all the guilt and shame that I’ve felt for years. And now when I open the door to my linen closet and it looks like a three-fingered pirate wrapped his booty in old sheets and stored it in there for safe-keeping, I am comforted by the fact that it isn’t my fault. After all, I am only a collection cells encoded with pre-determined genetic material. In other words, I am only human (and by human, I mean a superior being capable of rationalization). (And by a superior being capable of rationalization, I mean a person willing to believe my own bullshit.)


Things I Sometimes* Wish I Never Taught My Kids

  1. To talk.
  2. To crack the eggs into the batter. (Pancakes are not supposed to be crunchy.)
  3. Sarcasm. I just love it when the kids do as I do, not as I say…
  4. To play games on my cell phone.
  5. To read. (If you’ve ever seen a billboard in the state of Missouri, you’re with me on this one.)
  6. To say please. (See When Good Words Go Bad.)
  7. To expect that meals will be prepared for them. Everyday.
  8. The words ‘mine,’ ‘no,’ ‘jiggly,’ and ‘bottom.’
  9. To tell knock-knock jokes. (And expect me to laugh.)
  10. To spell.  (It’s total b-u-l-l-s-h-i-t that my husband I no longer have a covert means of communication.)
  11. To listen to the radio. (Thankyouverymuch, Katy Perry, for teaching my seven-year old what a menage-a-trois is.)
  12. How to tell time. (I sometimes* ache for the days I could say “It’s bedtime!” at 5:30.)
  13. To use the word ‘really’ as a question.
  14. To use the DVR. (I now have approximately 97 hours of Phineas & Ferb available for my viewing pleasure.)
  15. That there is no such thing as a stupid question. (As it turns out, there is.)
* Varies by hormonal levels, how much chocolate I’m depriving myself of, and hours of sleep logged in any given 24 hour period.
Author’s Note: I apologize for the abundance of parenthesis in today’s post. (I guess I was just in a parenthetical sort of mood.)

 


Beyond Helicopter Parenting… How About Rickshaw, Limousine, and Ice Cream Truck Parenting?

We all know a Helicopter Parent when we see one. They’re the Moms and Dads obsessively bug spraying, sun-blocking, or hat-n-gloving their kids while shouting at them not to climb too high, swim too far out, or touch anything in the bathroom. However much we may judge these parents, (even when we see them in the mirror) we feel a sense of satisfaction being able to put a name to their neurosis. They are Helicopter Parents and we know this because a doctor and a parenting guru (Foster W. Cline, M.D. and Jim Fay) coined this useful term in 1990. Since then, the expression has been firmly entrenched in our vocabulary.

As far as I’m concerned, Helicopter Parenting is the best kind of term – descriptive, memorable, fitting, and kind of funny. But it’s limited. It only describes one parenting style. And since most of us employ multiple parenting methods throughout the years, perhaps even throughout the day, I feel the list of parenting metaphors can and should be expanded. So, though I am neither a doctor nor a parenting guru, I’ve taken a crack at it myself.

See if you can identify your parenting style in the list below. Or tell me if you know of one I missed. I’d love to hear which kind of parent you are because hearing about other parents not being perfect makes me feel better about being so alarmingly far from it myself. Plus, I love comments on my blog. Plus, I’m just generally nosy.

So, Are You a…

Tandem Bicycle Parent: These parents attempt to get their children involved in the parenting process with questions like, “What do you think your punishment should be?” and “How much do you think you should get for allowance?” Much like the tandem bicycle itself, this kind of parenting sounds like it would be fun, but isn’t. If you choose to parent this way, keep in mind that although the tandem bike may have two sets of pedals, only one person can steer it.

Carnival Cruise Parent: These parents want to have fun! They either can’t find a babysitter or feel too guilty to leave the kids at home, so they bring them along wherever they go. The parents continue to behave exactly as they would if their children were not there, stopping occasionally to feed and briefly converse with their offspring – usually uttering the words, “Not now,” and “When I’m ready to go.”

Rickshaw Parent (also known as Field Plow and Dog Sled Parents): These parents like to take it easy. They are perfectly comfortable to sit back and direct their children from afar. They tell their kids to take out the trash, rake the leaves, and make dinner – all from the comfort of the couch. This kind of parenting works best under a fear-based regime and only until the children grow weary and stage the inevitable coup.

Express Train Parent: These parents are in a big hurry all the time. Their constant refrain is, “Let’s go! C’mon! Let’s go!” They get things done. Lots of things.  They never sit still. They never chill out. They are always in forward motion. Their children often resort to lollygagging in a passive-aggressive form of protest, often causing the Express Train Parent to go “off the rails.”

Ice Cream Truck Parent: Almost everyone is guilty of being one of these parents at least once in a while. Ice Cream Truck parents get their child to do what they want them to do by promising them a sweet treat if they comply. Effective. To be used sparingly. (Admission: My daughter will do almost anything for a Hershey’s Kiss, so in my house this technique is grossly overused.)

Limousine Parent: These parents want to make sure their kids arrive in style. They want it known that their children are special and deserve to stand out. Limousine parents needn’t know the direction they are going, because they’ve hired someone to know for them. They only need to pony up the dough and sit back and enjoy the ride. Be aware: Kids parented in this way may become driven by a lavish lifestyle, but not know how to get there on their own.

Motorcycle Side Car Parent: These parents have a wild side. They like their adrenaline rush and want their kids to like it too. They travel in the fast lane and take the kids along as they bob and weave their way on down the road. These parents love high speeds and high drama. Note: This can also work in reverse, where the child drives and the parent goes along for the ride. Either way, best to buckle up. It’s usually a bumpy ride.

Southwest Airlines Parent: These parents are on a budget and know how to have a good time. So what if they’re not super-organized? Who cares if occasionally they take off without all of their passengers? They are fun! They are wild. They compose funny raps and make wry, witty puns about safety and cleanliness. They may not be the most refined parents around, but they get the job done and do it with a smile.

VW Bug Parenting: These parents don’t believe personal space; they like to be super-close to their kids.

EuroRail Parent (aka, Tour Bus Parent): These parents want their kids to see it all, do it all, and experience it all. They take their children from museums to galleries to monuments (whether they like it or not). These parents have a constant talk-track going about what they are seeing and why it will improve their kids lives. Note: Kids generally absorb only 5 – 7% of this information. Even less when they have access to an iPhone or a Nintendo DS.

Bulldozer Parenting: These parents know where they want their children to go in life and they will flatten anyone who gets in their way (including the children themselves). Best to get out of the way when you see a Bulldozer parent if at all possible.

Slow-Boat-to-China Parents (aka, River Boat and Barge Parenting): These parents believe that kids grow up too darn fast these days. In many ways, they are the opposite of the Express Train parents. They believe that all good things come to those who wait and that homemade fun is the best kind of fun. Their children don’t watch TV, eat microwave meals, or play with electronic/tech based toys.

Private Jet Parents (aka, Maybach Parenting): These parents want their kid to know that they have a lot of money and that they aren’t afraid to spend it.

Four-Wheeler Parents: These parents are looking to recreate the kind of fun they remember having when they were kids. Often times, they are remembering things from when they were an older child. But in their zeal, Four Wheeler parents will forget this and attempt to relive all their childhood memories when junior is about five years too young. You see them with their one year olds at DoraLive! Or off for a hunting trip before the kid can even read. Or with their American Girl whose face has been colored on with a sharpie. (Note: A mutation of this kind of parent is the GoKart Parent, which is the deep-fried version of the Four Wheel Parent. They function the same way, but are frequently drawn to guns, roadside fireworks, and yes, GoKarts.)

Wonder Woman’s Invisible Jet Parents: The worst kind of parents. These people have kids, but no one ever actually sees them parenting anybody.


Why Candy Tastes Better When It’s Free (or Stolen From Your Kids)

There is only one thing that tastes better than free candy. And that is free 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!

 

 


Family Game Night: A Survival Guide

Everyone talks about wanting more family time. But, let’s be honest -not all family time is created equal.  Just like sushi in the Midwest, family time can be surprisingly good or monumentally bad.

For example…

  • Good family time: An hour spent taking the kids out for ice cream on a warm summer’s night.
  • Bad family time: An hour spent stuck in traffic while your four-year old plays a marathon game of “I’m not touching you,” with her unwilling older brother.
  • Good family time: An afternoon strolling around the zoo looking at animals, eating over-priced snacks, and riding the carousel.
  • Bad family time: An evening in the ER explaining to your children why throwing a belt over a ceiling fan, does not make it “just like the carousel at the zoo.”

But there is one family activity that usually falls firmly into Good Family Time territory and that is having a family game night. It’s easy, it’s cheap, and it’s not likely to end you in the ER.

Just follow the principal: If you plan it, they will come. Set a date, pick a game, and play. It’s pretty simple.

But sometimes, it isn’t.

Those of us who have children of an age where the art of sportsmanship is still being developed, know of whence I speak. For this segment of the population, I offer a few tips that may help avoid some potential family game night pitfalls.

Cheating will probably be an issue.

Look, I don’t know you and I don’t know your kids. Maybe your kids would never in a million years even consider withholding their 4’s in Go Fish or pretending they didn’t ‘understand’ what the Community Chest card said. But there are some kids out there who will. I’m not here to judge. But it’s best to decide beforehand what your policy on cheating is so that when it happens you are prepared to deal with it in such a way as not to ruin the entire evening.

And it isn’t just kids who cheat. We adults often bend the rules while playing games with our kids – not usually to win, but to either allow the kids to win or to make the game shorter. This is understandable given that a well-played game of Chutes and Ladders can last longer than a round of golf. Just be aware that if you decide to move your red plastic gingerbread man ahead a few paces down the candy trail, you may get caught. So have you’re answer ready for this one too.

If you insist on following the rules, you may have a nervous breakdown.

Children, especially those under the age of seven, don’t like to follow the rules. They forget. They misunderstand. They simply do not care. This is a battle you can choose to fight or you can wave your white flag and let them make up some creative rules of their own. You may even find a way to make the game more fun – or perhaps if nothing else, shorter.

Someone at the table will have a meltdown if they don’t win.

Try not to overreact. My blood pressure goes up when my son cries after losing at Sorry because I’m picturing the twenty-year old version of him doing the same after a game of intramural soccer (thus signifying my complete failure as a parent). Better to stay calm and use the opportunity to teach your kid that all games have a winner and loser. Painful, though it may be, sooner or later we all have to learn that lesson.

My advice is to let them have their little tantrum, but when it’s over, make them shake hands and say “good game.” This accomplishes two important goals: It helps build your child’s character; and it allows you to spend the rest of the evening feeling smug and self-righteous as you mentally check-off “Teach life lesson” from your day’s to-do list.

You will want to win.

Traditionally, this scenario presents itself as your kids get older (after all, there is no glory in beating your five-year old at Memory).  But there may come a day when you are playing Monopoly with your darling son or daughter and you will enjoy, a little too much, watching them go bankrupt as they land on Boardwalk with your three hotels. It may be ugly, but it’s true.  Yesterday, I won a game of Apples to Apples we were playing as a family. I’ll admit – I wanted that ‘W.” I worked for it. I deserved it.  And when it was over, I may have forced them to call me The Apple Queen. (But only for like 15 minutes.)

Monkey see; Monkey say, “Too bad, so sad – I sank your battleship!”

I am referring here to trash talk. I realize that not everybody feels compelled to taunt their child during a game of Connect Four, but my husband certainly does and I’m here to tell you – it’s catching. My husband has always engaged our kids in good-natured, G-rated trash talk during games and as a result, whenever one of my kids beats me in anything from checkers to the bathroom first, they instinctively look at me and say, ‘Wa-wa-waaaaaaaa.” I’m not gonna lie – it stings a bit. So be prepared: if you start with the trash-talk, your child will be rubber and you will be glue and anything you say will bounce off him and stick to you.

You will have more fun than you think you will.

I can practically promise you that. Sitting around a table playing a board game with your family is almost retro in its simplicity, but therein lies its beauty. It is good, simple, inexpensive fun that not only holds possibilities for teaching your kids life lessons, but it also brings the family closer in ways you might not expect. So silence your cell phone, turn off the TV, shut down the computer, and plan an old-fashioned family game night. There will be lots of laughter, there may even be a few tears – but the best part is that if you’ve done it right, there will most certainly be a re-match.