Kids Behaving Badly = Bad Parenting?



As a kid I marveled at how two words like shut and up, harmless when they stand separately, could join up to become so hurtful.  Like when hydrogen and oxygen come together, these words become something very different from their component parts.  And when my son bellowed “SHUT UP!” to an acquaintance, mortification didn’t begin to describe our reaction.  It seemed the world stopped spinning.  Proverbial crickets chirped so loud that our ears were ringing. The stunning paralytic effect of those two words kept us from swooping in and immediately rectifying what had gone terribly wrong.  Our reaction, or lack thereof, did not go unnoticed by the adult targeted by my son’s ire.  Her daggered look implied we must be the worst parents ever for raising a child to be so rude.

Of course we didn’t teach our son to scream “S.U.!” at people anymore than we raise him to make obnoxious armpit farts in public.  But the woman’s reaction got me thinking about how easy it is to judge parents by their children’s (bad) behavior.  I know I did so regularly before having kids and admittedly, even after I had them.  And I know better!  But it’s a tough habit to break.  Recently, a friend “shared” on her Facebook status a post from the blog (If you haven’t checked out this funny, crass site couched in reality, do.  But please read PulseonParenting first!) called “10 Things I Thought Were Caused by Bad Parenting…Before I Had My Own Kids” by Annie Reneau.**  This essay spoke right to our “S.U. incident” and the reality of kids’ behavior, despite our best efforts as parents.

And it serves as a great reminder:  when I find myself beginning to critique, say, the parent whose child is kicking her brother in the butt at a post-music recital reception, I reflect upon two personal experiences.  My additions to Ms. Reneau’s list:

#11  Mouthing off.  It could be a raging “Shut Up!”.  It could be worse.  It could be less worse.  But mouthing off is The Queen Mother of all infractions.  This one is bad enough that even other parents look at you like WTH?!  It’s bad enough you yourself thinks WTH?!  and become paralyzed with shock, unable to respond.  Which leaves the impression you are a terrible parent for not moving in with an “APOLOGIZE THIS INSTANT!!”  But here’s the thing:  just because kids revert to impulsive, primal behavior doesn’t mean we parents should do the same.  Our anger in the heat of the moment doesn’t accomplish one positive thing.  Try as we might to teach our kids (good) manners and respect, kids still lose it.  They get tired.  They get hungry.  They get overstimulated and the rest is history.  If we blow up, it sends the message this behavior is perfectly acceptable, which of course, it’s not.  Know what we did in this situation?  We let the incident simmer down.  Over the next week we helped our son write and practice an apology.  Then he read it out loud, in person, to the individual he insulted in his fit of poor self control.  I’ll tell ‘ya, the adult smiles of approval leave a heck of an impression on a child who owns up to his behavior.  No better teaching moment than that.

#12  Peeing in public

Yup.  There was my oldest, at age three, producing an arched stream of urine from the bridge atop a castle-like play structure.  Thank God “it” didn’t shower anyone.  Shamefully, it never occurred to me to be mortified.  In fact my close friend, also a mother of twins, and I shared what we hoped was a stifled giggle (gotta love my bestie!).  Now I don’t know if other moms would agree with our reaction but I do know this:  if  before-kids me had witnessed a child urinating in a public place, I would have wondered what kind of parent wasn’t supervising her child well enough to take them to the potty.  But as a mother of boys I’ve quickly learned there is something innate that makes young males think the entire world is a urinal ( except for an actual urinal of course).  But it’s not like I told my boys, “Hey, take a wee off the jungle gym.  I’m too lazy to to care about common decency and public health.” The best I could do was tell my son not to do that again (although he would in some form or another) and make sure I pointed out the actual bathrooms…just in case.

12a:  public exposure.  My other son, for many years, would drop trow en route to a public restroom.  We had to explain to him over and over he needed to pull his pants down WHEN HE WAS STANDING BY THE TOILET.  We didn’t care if he thought he was “saving time.”  Maybe he finally heard us, or his nervous system finally caught up to his constantly lengthening body, but he is ten years old now and keeps his trousers up until he reaches the toilet.  Thank God.

My own dad used to tease me by saying, “It’s tough being a kid!”  But it’s so true.  There’s lots to learn, even more to remember.  So many rules.  So many different situations in which to apply those rules.  And we parents try to teach them all this socially acceptable behavior before they have achieved full cognitive ability.  We parents can talk ’til we are blue in the face about good manners and responsibility but to have all that info cross over for every place and time and circumstance, well, it can’t happen.  As Annie Reneau says:

There’s a reason it takes 18 years (at least) to raise responsible, socially adept, non-disgusting humans.

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

**[As of this posting, I had not yet received permission to link up to Ms. Reneau’s musings.  But do check out scary for the full article.]


An Argument in Favor of Chemical Sunscreens


A few years ago, I tried a new sunscreen.  Not just a different brand from the drugstore, but something completely different.  The active ingredient was titanium oxide  but it was formulated in a tinted powder and applied with a brush, much like foundation.   The person who recommended it was a fair-skinned pediatrician who loved to sail, and with that kind of multifactorial endorsement, I bought a jar (at a rather hefty price tag).  I liked the idea of a non-greasy, lightweight sunscreen that wouldn’t appear smeary-white if we didn’t get applied evenly.  Certain it would be the best thing since well, regular sunscreen,  I was eager to give this seemingly remarkable product a test drive.  On a hiking trip in the desert of New Mexico.

Boy was that ever stupid. Continue reading

It’s Time to Return to School: Should I Vaccinate My Children?

It’s hard to believe it’s time for our kids to return to school.  Today was “Fall Check-In Day” (aka Registration Day)  for my kids.  Not being Kindergarteners, or otherwise new to the school, our paperwork process was pretty straightforward.  But for new families, registration can be a seemingly insurmountable pile of blank forms and information.  I remember those days…especially when I had three sets of vaccination records to dig up and then transcribe to official school documents!  But I’m taking a long time to get to my point.  Given it’s that time of year to get school health records in order, and given our community, and our elementary school in particular, is way under the acceptable vaccination rate for herd immunity, I decided to repost this essay from a few months ago on the importance of vaccinating our children: Continue reading

Physical or a Feeling. What is Truly a Home?

I am a clean freak.  Thus this is hanging on our mantle.  I read it 100 times a day.

I am a clean freak. Thus this is hanging on our mantle. I read it 100 times a day.

Your house is small and dirty.  (So there.)  That statement was the trump card another child played in his argument with my oldest son (apparently over legos).  The six-year-old couldn’t have understood the “grown up” interpretation of his words, the comparisons made by adults in attempt to “win” in the material world and therefore life itself.  But neither could my 10-year-old son comprehend such craziness.  He was, not surprisingly, hurt by the critique.  Small and dirty implied his world was inadequate, that the place his father and mother provided for him was, well, small and dirty.

When my son told me about this, I recalled apartment #319 in university family housing, my husband’s and my first home.   It had sweaty floors when spring warmed the air quicker than the concrete. Cockroaches made a barracks out of our kitchen cupboards.  And it was about the size of a two-car garage.  That was small and dirty.  But fast forward to the present.  Our home has a two-car garage but it’s certainly not a McMansion.  It is mold- and roach-free. Yes, there are legos strewn about, in a perplexing but perfect order that only my son understands.  I’m told that good homes have sticky floors, dirty ovens and happy kids, which is reassuring as we have the sticky, dirty and (most of the time) happy down-pat.  There may be grit on the kitchen floor from making cookies and some toothpaste dried in the bathroom sink but that’s just life.

However my son, upset and with hurt feelings, didn’t need to hear my from-whence-we-came real estate story.  My “Roach Approach” wouldn’t do squat for the emotional lashing my son felt.   And he was sophisticated enough that the easy answer of kids-can-say-mean-things-sometimes would not comfort him.  At age ten, especially at age ten, my son needed to hear something more, a basic life lesson.  Something to help him work through the frustrated words of someone much younger, but felt at a much higher level.  So I said to him:

“Kiddo, it’s not how a home looks, it’s how a home feels that’s important.”

It won’t pass a white glove test.  It doesn’t contain exquisite furnishings.  But our house is a home.  Cushy pillows and a dog and loads of legos.  There is fun, there is love and it is a safe place.  The place where my son and his brother and sister can always be themselves and be accepted for the great kids they are.

I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t a bit rattled by small and dirty.  I wondered why this child didn’t choose a more six-year-old-like insult and hurl a “You stink and your legos are yucky!” my son’s way.   But it doesn’t matter.  Because as the wall in Jimmy John’s sandwich shop said so well:


The Holly Story and Nothing But the Holly Story


It came in an oversized white rectangular box.  I was ten, maybe twelve, and beyond the tradition of hunting for Easter eggs.  And I was certainly “over” my belief in the Easter Bunny.  But my grandparents, who held the secular rituals of Easter dear, still gave gifts.  Thus the rather simple box laying in my lap that morning several decades ago.

I was startled to find what was inside; it appeared to be a dismembered stuffed animal.  I was startled, and am afraid I let out an “Oh!” or some similar exclamation because the sight was a bit disturbing:  long, velvety tan ears in direct juxtaposition with equally soft stuffed feet.  But upon further inspection, I found a sweet-expressioned, large-eyed rabbit with disproportionately long legs.  It had been arranged into an enviable forward fold in the tissue paper, thus the distorted appearance.  It wasn’t cute, in my opinion.  In fact, I thought it a weird gift.  But of course I didn’t say anything but a sincere and grateful thank-you to my beloved grandparents who doted on their only grandchild. Continue reading

Don’t Get Burned by the Sunscreen Controversy


Everyone notices when someone sports that gorgeous sun-bronzed skin from a sunny vacation.  But my family?  The people who get sunburned through car windows?  We return from a week away and people look at a quizzically and say, “Where did you go, again?  Submarine cruise?”

I honestly could kick myself for not buying stock in a sunscreen manufacturer before we had kids…given their genetic legacy I knew they would be more sun-sensitive than a field of solar panels.

Most of us use more sunscreen in the summer than any other time of year.  And most of us don’t think twice about slathering it on our kids or ourselves because the jury has been out on the topic for a long, long time:  sunscreen, when used properly, not only prevents sunburn but reduces the risk of skin aging and skin cancers (notably melanoma).  Despite the difficult-to-pronounce ingredient list few of us give the exposure to such a second thought, especially given the alternatives: painful, blistering, aging skin and possibly the big “C.”  Not to mention no one wants the papier-mâché appearance of titanium or zinc-based (“physical”) sunscreens unless limited to the noses of their children (which is darn cute).

But what about all those chemicals?  Their safety has been a question mark in the back of my brain, and perhaps yours as well.  But given few viable other alternatives, I just keep a-slatherin’.

Until my husband emailed me this link: Continue reading

The State of Disconnect

Goodbye, Cabin #53, thank you for the memories.  And the humidity that fogged my camera lens for one final pic.

Goodbye, Cabin #53, thank you for the memories. And for the humidity that fogged my camera lens for one final pic.

Our family spent a recent vacation at a state park in Nebraska.  Unexpectedly, we found ourselves without wifi and also without cell service.  And in order to get to our destination we made a painful several-hundred-mile drive across the western part of the state.  Feel the obvious joke coming on?

Maybe instead of calling it the Cornhusker State, Nebraska should be called the Disconnected State.

I have heard and made many jokes about Nebraska (having spent lots of time there I can… right?).  But I make this (barely humorous) zinger out of the pleasant inability to reach the outside world from our remote getaway.   Yes, we had to jog up the road to find one bar of service, which was a necessity only to text directions to friends and family coming to the cabin to visit.  I love the irony of this.  We only needed the barest minimum of worldly connection to truly reconnect. Continue reading

Video Games, the Priming Effect, and Kids

A step in the right direction:  they are outside!

A step in the right direction: they are outside!

When my husband told me that video games are good for hand-eye coordination (and therefore improving his career skills), I figured he was just vying for a Wii (or was it an Xbox?  I’m pretty clueless on the difference).  I didn’t buy it, literally or figuratively.  Because I still can’t tie a sailor’s knot despite my hours of playing Pong and Pac Man back in-the-day.  And yet, yet, despite that skepticism on the positive value of playing video games, I allow my kids to have daily access to their iPods.  Is there guilt?  Yes.  Do I allow them more time than I intend?  Oh, yes.  Hypocrisy, which just spawns more guilt.

Great.  I’ve heard too much MInecraft lingo and just used the word spawn. Continue reading

Why We Need to Read


It’s summer.  The local library has reading programs for toddlers, high schoolers and everyone in between.  We parents know our kids should practice their reading skills for  cognitive development, vocabulary expansion, and fluency .  But the people who, believe it or not, study, the benefits of reading have much more to say about why not just our kids, but also adults, should indulge in a good read.  Real Simple published an article in 2014 about this very topic, just in time for those summer reading programs.  Some of the details may surprise you:

1)  Ahhh, Oohhmm.  Reading for just six minutes a day can be a real stress reliever, according to a study conducted by Mindlab Intelligent Insights.  Have a case of the Mondays (on any day)?  Pick up a page turner. Continue reading

Moms Get Your Mammos (With a Clarification)

A reader brought to my attention an error I made in my post Moms, Get Your Mammograms.  The letter you receive with your mammogram results should come from the imaging center where you had your mammogram done, not from your practitioner (physician, etc.) who ordered it.  That said, you may still receive a phone call or a letter from your physician’s office with the results.

I apologize for the mistake!