Random Parenting Points and the Irrelevant Judgement of Others

RandomParentingPointsOn Tuesday we went to the library and Target. We were returning books and picking up some new shoes for Keenie whose feet undergo pretty regular growth spurts. The kids were pretty severely off-routine because I had been sick over the weekend. I was off-routine too. The kiddos tend to have a hard time after they spend time with people other than me because they tend to be so distracted by the novelty of all of the different-than-routine activities and foods that they get to have that they build up their stress levels instead of dealing with each little thing as it comes.

When it was time to leave the library Alexander did not want to go. He sat down with his back against the wall and refused to budge. I was tired and rushing so I picked him up and carried him out. A random stranger caught up with me to award me +10 Random Parenting points in the form of an enthusiastic compliment and to tell me “Right on! Teach him not to throw tantrums in public.” I was disconnected from my four year old at that moment. I was not trying to connect. I was just using my bigness to pick up his smallness and to move him against his will. He was not screaming. He was not behaving poorly. He was just expressing strong feelings about being rushed around.

But here we were with a stranger practically high fiving me for my moment of impatience even as I was telling myself “I am going to regret this.” Yeah, it feels nice to be told “good job”. But… I wasn’t doing a good job. I was blundering through the prickly and bee-infested undergrowth on the side of the parenting path that I am trying to follow. I had just been awarded +10 Random Parenting Points for a moment that I was not particularly proud of. And it struck me how irrelevant it was.

At Target Keenie got upset because she dropped her boot. She did not use her words the way she normally would. She immediately launched into distraught and frantic screaming. I pulled over to the side of the aisle, squatted down and responded with empathy. She managed to point to her boot, and I gave her the boot back and I squeaked out some words that she can try to use to alert me to the plight of a fallen boot. “Mommy! Mommy! Oh no! My boot, it fell!” She hiccuped down her sobs and smiled and echoed “It fell!”

As luck would have it, we were being watched again. This time I was very comfortable with my response, very understanding of Keenie’s upset and why it was happening. And I was very on-target with parenting in a way that meets my larger parenting goals. I was penalized -10 Random Parenting Points by a lady whose eyes could not possibly roll in a more obvious fashion.

It struck me exactly how nonsensical these Random Parenting Points are. The judgement simply doesn’t matter. I’m not completing some weird gymnastics routine in the Parenting Olympics where after it’s all done I stand in front of the judges anxiously awaiting the scores that pop up on the board and hoping that I’ll win the Random Parenting Points Olympics.

I have parenting goals. Parenting philosophies. Parenting beliefs. My Parenting Score is based on how I feel I am handling situations, not based on the thousands of random strangers whose paths may cross mine. Not based on how my parents or in-laws feel I should parent. Not based on my best friend’s sister’s cousin. Not based on some random dude that thinks being disconnected is an excellent parenting strategy. (Sorry, random dude. I appreciated the compliment, I truly did. You were super-nice. I just disagreed with the scoring.)  And certainly  not based on some lady whose eyeballs possess the ability to turn in complete circles in her eye sockets.

Parenting doesn’t have a standardized scoring system, just like the world doesn’t have a standardized currency. Random Parenting Points have an exchange rate between parenting philosophies. And the exchange rate across incompatible ideas is zero.

So next time you are judged positively or negatively ask yourself what the judgement really means in terms of your parenting philosophies. If someone is trying to grade you based on ideas that you don’t subscribe to? The exchange rate knocks the value of their judgement down to Zero Random Parenting Points. Carry on as you feel is right.


Do As I Say! Or Else.

DoAsIDoDear Kids,

There are phrases that we hear that stick with us in one way or another.

“Do as I say! Or else”.

It means that there will be consequences, usually. That the child will face punishment unless they follow directions. But then there’s also the saying “Do as I say, not as I do.” Adults often see themselves as people to instruct, not to model. But when an adult does that, they ARE modeling. They are modeling how to be impatient. They are modeling how to bark orders. They are modeling how to /really/ live behind the words that they try to get a child to follow. And when I say “they”.. In all honesty, I mean me, too.

But I am trying to change. Just as I tell you, “learning does not look like doing it perfect the first time you try”. I make mistakes and I keep trying. You will make mistakes, and you will keep trying.

As I grow as a parent I am starting to see things very differently from how I used to see them. As I kid I saw adults telling kids what to do, even if they never did it themselves. So I thought that was the privilege of a grownup. I think differently now. “Do as I say” has come to mean to me that *I*  must do as I say. *I* must model what it is that I am trying to teach you. I cannot tell you “say please!” when I never say it. I cannot tell you “Say good morning” to a person that I never say good morning to. I cannot tell you to use your words when I fail to use mine. I cannot tell you “I cannot read your mind. You need to work with me so that I will understand.” If I do not work with you when your understanding falls short of what I imagine it should be. I cannot ask you to help me clean while refusing to ever help you clean. I am ultimately what you copy as you learn how to be.

So now I ask myself, and I ask others in your lives this:

“Did he invent that behavior or is he copying something that he has seen?”
“Do you behave the way that you are asking him to?”
“Do the adults in this house do those things and use those words that you want to hear her say?”

And I try to do as I want you to do. I try to let them know that they are right. That is how people should behave. And I make the commitment to them and to you to try and model the behavior that they are asking from you. I also ask them to do just that. Model the behavior that they want you to copy. Be more of the person that they hope for you to be.

<3 Mama

What the HECK is up with my 2-3 Year Old? (A Quick Compendium of Toddler/Preschooler Behavior Blogs)

I’ve been getting a LOT of emails recently about the 2-3 year age groups. I’m not surprised. This age range is pretty famous for its “terrible” twos behavior, tantrums, etc. Add in the fact that we’re coming out of the holiday season, kids and caregivers are sick more often during the colder months, and it being cold and yucky outside can throw a monkey wrench in outdoor playtime. In case you haven’t realized yet… Outside playtime is pretty important to children, especially little ones.

Here’s a quick list of articles that talk about the behavior of two and three year olds including boundary testing, tantrums over strange things (“MY TOAST IS BROKEN, PUT IT BACK TOGETHER!”), etc. If you have any other articles you think would fit well in this list, comment below and I’ll add them. :)

Why Your Toddler Isn’t Misbehaving- Understanding Age Appropriate Inappropriate Behavior
Excerpt: “There are a TON of rules for small human beings. Rules have to be tested to be understood fully. “Does mommy mean no hitting the dog” (this ball is red) or does mommy mean no hitting the dog hard? (this ball is a shade of red) Does mommy mean no hitting the dog with my hands or does it also mean I can’t hit the dog with this toy? (this ball has red on it)”

Broken Expectations 
Excerpt: “You’ll have a mental picture in your head of a potato roll. You’ll ask for it using the words you know. “Mommy I want some bread!” and I’ll say “Of COURSE you can have some bread.” and I’ll go to the table and get the oat bread that I know you like, and I’ll give it to you and your little heart and brain will break in the upset and disappointment that I broke the promise to “get you bread” by trying to give you something you did not ask for. In your mind you understand deeply that “bread” is that potato roll that you had pictured in your memory.  Your upset is bigger than it would be if I simply told you “No. No bread.” because I PROMISED YOU BREAD and I BROKE THAT PROMISE.”

Crying for “Stupid” Reasons and the Emotional Fire Drills of Childhood
Excerpt: “I think that as parents we all have these “goals” for what we want for our relationships with our children, and for the most part we don’t have any real idea on how to get there. We want our kids to feel safe talking to us when they are teenagers. We want them to come to us if they have heartbreak, if they make mistakes, if they need medical treatment, if they need advice. We want to be trusted and we want to be kept in the loop.

But at the same time our culture pushes us to miss the opportunities for those things.”

How to Discipline a Tantruming Child. Wait. What? Discipline Feelings?
Excerpt: “I still read a variety of pretty traditional publications, though. And so I see tantrums being talked about in terms of manipulation, “getting their way”, breaking the tantrum, disciplining the tantruming child, isolating them, ignoring them, training them to not tantrum.

It’s odd for me to read because I start asking “Is anger manipulative? Is sadness manipulative? Frustration?”

Truth is, many adults throw tantrums too. They curse. They throw things. Some even punch holes in walls. Some yell. Some storm away.”



Illogical Logic and your Three Year Old Scientist
Excerpt: “When my oldest was three I was cutting up some food for him. “That piece is too big!” So I cut a smaller piece. “That piece is too small!” so I cut a piece in the middle. He pondered. He looked at it. It was not right. He looked for words. “That piece is too… tooo… MEDIUM!”

Ahh.. The illogical logic of a three year old. Everything is wrong. Harry and Mary Contrary were clearly three years old and going through that divine time of frustrated declarations that things are just too darned medium.”


Playing together requires trust.

Consequences and Punishment

Playing together requires trust.
Playing together requires trust.

At the breakfast table. Isaac is back from a weekend away. He is not integrating easily back into the way that we do things.

“Isaac, if you yell at Alexander and Keenie, what are the consequences?”
“I’ll be in trouble?” he asks.
“Isaac, that would be the punishment. That is not the consequence.”
“What’s the difference?”
“Well.. What if I thought that you did something but you really didn’t? I could punish you anyway, right? You have been punished before for something that you said you didn’t do, right?”
“Well the consequence of the choice to punish you was that you missed recess unfairly, right?”

The cogs start turning in his head.

“Why did you get punished when you didn’t do what the teacher thought you did?”
“Because another kid said I did it.”
“So who did the wrong thing?”
“The other kid.”
“The teacher also accidentally did a wrong thing. She punished the wrong person.”

“Isaac, why did the teacher believe the other kid when he said that you did something?”
“Isaac, does that teacher trust you?”
“Isaac, if that teacher trusted you and didn’t believe that you were the type of person to do that thing.. What do you think would have happened?”
“I don’t know.”
“Do you think that the teacher would have punished you if she trusted you?”
“I don’t know.” He’s thinking.
“I don’t know, either.”

“So. Isaac, if you yell at Alexander and Keenie, what are the consequences?”
“You won’t trust me?”
“I will think that you yell before you try to talk.”
“But I do try to talk!”
“Did you just try to talk to them?” I don’t actually know either way, I just know that Alexander ran into the room upset and saying that Isaac had yelled at him.
“…No.” He tells me the truth reflexively. We’re not trying to figure out if he’s going to be punished. I’m trying to help him understand how things work.
“And what will Alexander and Keenie think about their relationship with you?”
“That I yell at them?”
“Right. That’s not good for your relationship with them.”

He doesn’t look like he likes that idea. He looks over at his brother and sister who are building with blocks in the other room. He’s quiet.

“Isaac, I want you to think about something today, okay?”
He waits.
“I’m not punishing you for yelling at Alexander and Keenie this morning.”
He doesn’t look any happier than he did a minute ago. I’ve just told him that he’s not going to be punished for yelling, but he is knee deep in the consequences anyway.
“Can you think about the difference between consequences and punishment?”
“Okay.” he says.

“Can I give you a hug?” I ask.
He agrees.
“You’re a good kid.” I say. “I love you, and I hope you have a good day today.”
He runs back into the other room where his brother and sister are. He says something to them that I can’t hear, gives them a hug and comes back to wait by the door for his bus.

When children are fixated on the idea of punishments… They often forget about consequences.

Activity: Color Hunt with D, P, and B

Activity: Color Hunt with D, P and B.
Materials Needed: Printer, printer paper (8.5×11), Bingo Dauber in 3 colors (substitute: clear bingo chips, markers or crayons)
Printable File: BPDbpdHunt.pdf   (Requires Adobe Acrobat Reader)
Activity Goal: This activity helps a child recognize the differences between three frequently confused letters.
Activity Suggestions:

  • Adult can start activity by demonstrating on the Dd, Pp and Bb at the top of the worksheet.
  • The child can use a three bingo daubers to color code each letter. So B and b would one color, P and p would be another color and D and d would be the third color.
  • The child can use a marker or crayon to trace over letters, using a different color for each letter.
  • The child can use two colors to color code which letters are uppercase and which letters are lowercase.
  • The child and adult can talk about what each letter looks like. “a little b is the bottom part of a big b!” “The Big D and the little d like to sit and talk to each other!” “A Big P and a little p look alike but the little p is smaller.”

More Than One Way to Help a Child Past Fears

She watches the “Loud Sound” from the safety of my arms, and SHE chooses curiosity over fear.

“Tell me a story!” she says, the lights off and her little face barely visible in the nightlight-lit room.

“Once upon a time…” I begin. “There was a little kitten.”
“AND A MONSTER!” she interjects, her face rapt with imagined terror that she already knows she will resolve in her telling of the tale that she has taken over. Her fear is somehow empowering rather than powerless.

I go silent and I let her tell the story to me. I cannot understand all of it, her words blend together when she rushes and in the dark room it’s harder to lipread than it usually is. Her face is animated as she experiences fear, revelation of a solution, and a triumphant victory over her fears. At the end of it she smiles and snuggles into my side and falls asleep. I have said very little.

What a strange and kind of wonderful take on the classic childhood fear. Monsters in the dark at bedtime.

This isn’t a place that she and I came to out of some plan that I had. I could never have imagined this. It’s too different from all of the stories that I have heard. It’s not something I could intentionally create, either. It is a place that she and I have come to across the two and a half years of her life through the moments of fear and uncertainty that she has experienced.

I have told her that monsters are imaginary things and not real ones like the rabbit or the cat, but I have never told her that she should not be afraid of the things that she imagines. I have never told her that she should not be afraid of the things that she fears in real-life either. I’ve honored her fears of loud noises as we have watched them from the distance. I’ve honored her when she has shown me that it’s time to leave a place where she does not want to be. I held her near when she had separation anxiety, and I’m a safe place to snuggle up to at night if she has the need.

I’ve done all the things that I’m “not supposed to do” if I want an independent resourceful child that has the ability to be fearless. I have not done the things that I am “supposed to do”. I have not forced her to confront her fears. I have not tried to demonstrate that they are a petty nonsense of childhood.

But here she is, this child of mine. In my arms, telling me stories about the monsters and how she triumphs over her fears.

She is two and a half years old, only thirty pounds of a whispy little human.

How did we get here?

I think back on the moments that she has been uncertain and afraid. Where her body has been rigid and quivering as she has clung to me in fear. The times that I have forced the “should” thoughts out of my head and have simply been there for her while she was afraid and needing a safe place to work out her fears.

The day before she turned two…

April 2014
She startled and scrabbled into my legs, I swept her up to my hip and smiled. “What’s wrong?” Her little face crumpled in worry and her eyes scanned my face and saw my calm. “Noise!” She said, full of curious worry.

“You hear a loud noise?” I ask, calmly. She is scared, that is fine. She is small and the sound is new. I am not afraid, it is a sound I know and expect. I can honor her fear without echoing it or agreeing to find it fearful myself.

“Yes! Noise! Loud! Ears!” She says, earnestly.

“Are you scared?”

“Yes”, she says, looking down, lower lip quivering.

“Do you want to see what it is?”

And we go to explore. The loud saws trimming the bushes outside, the leaf blowers.

Her tense body slowly relaxing into my calm.

These are the patterns we are building for her. Her fear, our comfort and safety.

She is learning that fear is not to be feared, that it is accepted and that I will help her understand the things for caution, for acceptance, for fun, and the things to truly fear.

… At the end of her second summer when the days grew shorter and the darkness came earlier and earlier, she feared this darkness that seemed so new.

August 2014
Keenie is suddenly afraid of the dark having not seen it much over the summer. “Too dark!” She says, pointing out the window.

“It is dark.” I say, sitting next to her at the head of the bed. She clings to my shoulders.

“Oh! Look! The moon lives in the dark.” I say. “And the stars do, too.” She looks. “Where’s stars?” She asks. “The light in our room is too bright to see them. Can I shut it off?” she says yes, and so we shut it off together to see the stars that sprinkle the sky with dots of white.

“And look.. trees live in the dark. All in rows along the street.”

“Houses!” she says.

“Yes, houses live in the dark.”

“What’s that sound?” She wrinkles her nose.

“Can I open the window to hear?” I ask.

With the window open the sound of crickets fills the room.

“The sound is crickets and peeper frogs.” I say. “They live in the dark and they sing at night. Isn’t it peaceful?”

“Yeah..” she says.

“I love the dark.” I say. She echoes me. “It is my favorite part of the day. It is when we snuggle and when we sleep.”

“Out! Dark!” She says, wanting to go out into the darkness that she had just feared.

So we go out to run barefoot on the grass under the moon and stars and streetlights.

“Goodnight, dark.” We say when we are done. And then we go inside to go to bed.

I did not force her, but she became unafraid nonetheless.

Bravery is something strong. We all want to be strong. It is a powerful thing to be.

There are many paths to many places. I believe firmly that bravery is not something that a child is pushed into, but something that they seize for themselves in a moment of empowerment.

Misidentified Feelings, Inaccurate Words, and The Lies of Toddlers

Nurshable“MOMMY, ISAAC PUSH ME!” she comes to me crying.
Isaac is at school. There is no way that Isaac just pushed her.
Keenie is two and a half.
What she told me is not true.
But is it a lie? Is she lying? Is she manipulating? Is she trying to get her brother in trouble? What is happening here?

“Keenie, when did Isaac push you?” I ask. Is she upset because she is remembering something that happened?
She can’t answer and just repeats herself.
“Keenie, are you sad about Isaac?” I ask.
She is.
She is sad about something. Some memory. She feels the sadness and the hurt inside but she doesn’t know why. But she knows that she felt this way when Isaac pushed her.
She is two and a half, the age where kids believe in monsters and fairies and invisible friends.
Where sequencing is not a very strong skill, but cause and effect is very firmly rooted.
She has a feeling that has just popped up from nowhere. She has a memory. She has an understanding that things happen that cause feelings. And she doesn’t quite grasp the flow of time or days. She has an intense imagination and a desire to explain the world around her.

“Keenie, Isaac is at school.”
“Isaac come home?” she asks.
“Isaac will come home later. After lunch and after snack.” I say.
Her lower lip quivers and she starts to cry.
“Keenie, do you miss Isaac?” I ask.
She nods.
“You are sad because you want Isaac to come home? You miss him?”
She melts into her sadness.
“I MISS ISAAC. COME HOME!” she says.

She was sad because of Isaac being at school. She was not lying to try and get him in trouble. She was not not sure what she felt. She was sad. Isaac. Sad. Isaac. Memory. Push. Push. Sad. Isaac. MOMMY, ISAAC PUSH ME!

Yes, little one. You are feeling something and you have words. So you try and tell me what it is that you are feeling. You need new words. More words. Not for me to get angry at you for “lying”.

If Isaac had been home would I have gotten angry at him?
Would I have confronted him?
Would I have assumed that he was lying if he told me that he had not pushed her?

If the context had been the same, if she had been trying to talk about some sadness that she had that he had not caused, what would have happened to her if I had reacted out of assumption? What would have happend to him, to their relationship?

Goodnight, 2014

Goodnight, twenty-fourteen and all that you have brought to my life. All the changes, personal growth, new friends and old and strengthened friendships. All the little moments that scattered themselves across the year.

Dark warm room that catches the heat rising from the rest of the house, ceiling fan spinning a breeze. The window across from me that lighter shade of black that manages a slight contrast from the darkness of the walls.

Keenie rises and falls with my breath, she fell asleep using my belly as her pillow. Alexander wiggles next to me, still. He falls asleep with me, too, these nights. Clinging close for extra snuggles after a long while of falling asleep on his own.

I am okay with this.
Better, I enjoy this.
Relish it.

Keenie taught herself to fall asleep without nursing this year. To sleep through the night. She has nearly weaned herself, but shall nurse for as long as she wishes. She no longer wears diapers and the cloth diapers will soon go in a bag in the basement for a future child that we may be trying for at this time next year.

Alexander has grown so much, learned so much.

Isaac, too.

Not the explosive growth that toddlers go through, but the growth that a child does. They are becoming even more of who they are. Even more capable. Independent. Thoughtful.  Communicative. 

I got my drivers license this year. I published my first two books.

And now I am saying goodnight to 2014 When the sun rises in the morning and wakes my two littlest alarm clocks.. it will be a new year.

2014 was a good one for me. I hope that it was for you as well.

Much love to all of you. See you in 2015!

Defiance Is Not Always

“Alexander, it is time to take a bath now.”

“I don’t want to take a bath now!” He yells and runs to his bed, bumping his head on the edge. He starts to cry.

I wait. Until his head stops hurting from the bump we will not get anywhere.

He calms a bit as the hurting fades and begins to play with the Legos he was holding.

I ask, “Alexander, do you feel like I am not listening to you?” This is how many of our conversations go these days.

He nods. He is ready to listen and to talk now.

“Let’s try again. I am listening,” I say.

He answers “I just want to play with Legos.”

“I understand that you want to play with Legos,” I say. I pause. He looks at me. He waits. “Do you remember when I asked you to take a bath the first time?”

He nods.

“Do you remember you said you wanted to play with Legos first?”

He does.

“I listened. I had Keenie take a bath first. Then Isaac took a shower. Now it is your turn.”

“But I don’t WANT to take a bath,” he answers.

“I understand, but you are not clean. You are stinky and you need a bath,” I say.

He stares at me, his body tense. Defiant posture.

“Is there something bothering you?”

“Isaac said I could take a BIG bubble bath! I don’t want a big bubble bath! I just want one that is small,” he says, the words cascading out of him and his defiance melting. He does not have his walls up anymore. His body has relaxed. He is just small and upset. He has a picture in his head of a bath that does not happen in the way that he wants a bath to happen. He doesn’t want THAT bath.

“Alexander, does Isaac get to tell you what type of bath you will have?”

“No,” he says.

“What type of bath would you like to have?”

“A small bubble bath. With the blue, not the orange,” he says.

“Okay, we are going to make you a small bubble bath,” I say. “With the blue bubbles not the orange bubbles.”

He is on board now.

“If I make a mistake can you say ‘mommy, mommy’ and tell me what I did different so that we can fix it together?”

He nods.

And takes his bath willingly, prepared to communicate if needed.

I could have just resorted to a script, established firm limits, acknowledged that he did not want to take a bath but that he had to. He would have cried. I would have apologized but reaffirmed that a bath was necessary. At the end he would be more upset and he would feel like he had been forced into doing something.

I did not feel that would address the issue that we were facing.

He needed me to slow down. To listen. To try and figure out why it was that he was refusing to do something that he usually enjoys.

Defiance is not always defiance. Often it is a sign that the child has something that they need help communicating.

The Major Flaws in the Anti-Cosleeping Movement

If you enjoyed the STARTLING video of a woman sleeping with a doll that aims to make us all reconsider co-sleeping, then you’re really gonna love their next production which will be an EYE OPENING demonstration that will show men the danger of pants and sitting down. This video will contain time lapse footage of a man with a pair of specially designed boxer briefs that hold strategically placed chicken eggs that will demonstrate the amazing unseen damage that can be caused every day when men unthinkingly sit on chairs.

I’m just kidding. Sort of.

It takes a lot to annoy me, but every time that video pops up on my news feed the thing that pops into my head is this: These people have absolutely no clue what co-sleeping is. They have no clue what makes it dangerous and they have no clue what makes it safe.

When a drunk driver causes a fatal accident we don’t blame the practice of driving cars. But when a drunk parent sleeps with a baby, we blame cosleeping.

When a driver drives off the road because they are not following the practices of safe driving, we don’t blame the practice of driving cars. But when a baby dies in a situation where the parent did not have access to or did not follow safe cosleeping guidelines… We blame co-sleeping.

If a child inexplicably dies in a car when there was no accident and no reason for the child to have died, we don’t blame the car. We try to determine whether the child had a medical condition that caused the death. But when a child dies in the bed of an adult even if the adult has followed every single precaution and there is no evidence that the child suffocated? We blame co-sleeping. Even though SIDS happens in cribs as well.

There’s a huge problem with how the anti-cosleeping movement tries to address the topic of cosleeping.

They don’t understand it.

They don’t understand why parents are cosleeping.
They don’t understand what makes cosleeping safe.
They don’t understand what makes cosleeping dangerous.
They do not appear to have reviewed any of the real-baby and real-mother sleep studies done in places like the Mother Infant Sleep Laboratory of Notre Dame.

They just produce videos showing a lady sleeping with a doll.
They just make shocking images of infants sleeping with guns or with butcher’s knives.

They’re not out to educate. They’re out to scare people away from something that can be done safely. Because doing it safely requires a judgement call.

And they don’t trust us to make good judgement calls.