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May 16 2012

Dr. Sears Made Me Cry

By at 10:42 am

I yelled at my daughter this morning. She’s not even 2, and I yelled at her. More than once. Even as I was doing it, I knew that I shouldn’t be raising my voice, that I didn’t want to be responding to her that way. I knew that my yelling was not only ineffective, but it was hurtful, and not the way I want to parent my daughters.

And yet, I couldn’t help myself.

I have all sorts of excuses, reasons, whatever you want to call them.  My husband is traveling for work this week, and I’m stressed out by solo parenting and my own work demands. I’m getting over a cold. It’s raining. I was up three times in the middle of the night with her sister, before being awakened at 5 am for the morning. My new diet is stressing me out. I hadn’t had my coffee. She wasn’t behaving well, and I did ask nicely several times. Blah blah blah. Read the rest of this entry →

May 14 2012

I’m a Failure… and So Are My Kids!

By at 2:47 pm

failed stampI didn’t sell any books last week. This may not seem like such a big deal. Except for the fact that I’ve pretty much bet the house and staked my reputation as a writer on the brand new, as yet untested notion that readers are ready for enhanced ebooks, i.e. my previously published novels “pimped out” with video, audio, and other multimedia features. Guess not.

In addition, a magazine pitch of mine was rejected as being too much like something they’d just assigned to someone else, while a completed piece was more or less re-written prior to publication.

I can’t wait to tell my kids about it. Read the rest of this entry →

Mar 21 2012

Should You and Your Kids Be BFFs?

By at 9:57 am

care bears bff forever“Daddy, you’re my best friend,” our 2-year-old told Scott a few weeks ago. So. Freaking. Cute. But was it good? I wondered.

I know Ellie is only 2 and that her concept of “best” might not be fully developed yet. But the notion as a whole got me thinking about the parenting books and articles I’ve read that state it’s more important to be your child’s parent than his or her best friend. The reason, according to the publications–my favorite among them being The Blessing of a Skinned Knee by Wendy Mogel, which draws on the Torah, Talmud and Jewish traditions–is that children need structure, boundaries and a reliable support system. More simply: your best friend doesn’t send you to time out. Read the rest of this entry →

Feb 15 2012

Following Through with Threats, and Feeling Guilty

By at 10:09 am

shrekUntil recently, my husband worked nights, so I was on my own for the girls’ bedtimes. What I worked out was this: Penny watches about a half hour of TV while I put Abby down, then Penny and I lay down and read and she falls asleep. Judge me not, ye women of only kids: you, too, will pray to the demon-god television when you’ve got two toddlers.

Anyway, the other day, Penny was really acting up. I knew she was just kind of worn out and frazzled after a too-active day, but Abby was very, very tired and having trouble falling asleep. I needed her room silent and dark, just for a quick 10 minutes. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 30 2012

Just Another Afternoon Watching Sex and the City with the Kids

By at 2:03 pm

Even before the separation, I was a free-wielding mama. I used to let M and Little Homie color on the walls of her room with a crayon. I let my kids stand on chairs next to me and slice bread with a butter knife on the kitchen counter. Crumbs on the floor can be swept up. Stains on their clothes means that they had a good time. Bedtime is a fluid concept in our house, and if we’re all having a hard day I’ve been known to break out the Ben and Jerry’s. I (still) don’t censor myself, even though I know it means that one day the preschool director will probably call me because one of my kids said “shove it.” But, I love loyally and loudly. Mess with my kids, and I’ll cut you. Read the rest of this entry →

Jan 11 2012

Mama’s Dinnertime Rules

By at 2:29 pm

home cooking that will please youI love it when other parents pull back the curtain and expose their parenting style, and not just so I can indulge in a little schadenfreude. It provides me with an opportunity to gaze inward, question, and perhaps modify my own parenting choices.

Cara recently wrote a post about her life as a Laid Back Mama, and it got me thinking about meal time at our house. I’ve written before about feeding toddlers, but that was about the food, not the manners. I’d like to think of myself as pretty mellow, but as my husband, my daughters, or anyone who has spent at least seven minutes with me will tell you, I’m just not. Especially not at dinnertime.

Now, before I share with you my own brand of Mama Crazy, you should know I come by it honestly. My father’s heritage is German, and even though our family has been in the States for over a century, we’ve still got the obnoxious last name and the anal-retentive obsession with manners and punctuality to prove it. My great-grandfather used to bark out numbered rules at the dinner table; my father remembers that 1 meant “sit down,” 2 was “shut up,” and 7 was “elbows off the table”. I think my Dad has blocked the rest from his memory, and understandably so.

I haven’t numbered our mealtime rules (yet), but like a good yekke, I do have expectations for how my daughters (ages 3 and 18 months) should behave at the table. Yes, it’s probably genetic and cultural (my husband is also half-German, and he and his parents also appreciate good manners), but I do believe that teaching your children how to act at the table is important. Most social gatherings and Jewish holidays include meals–prime opportunities for family and friends to judge you and your parenting abilities get to know your kids (and vice versa), which tends to go a lot better for everyone if the kids behave. Even when you’re home alone, you’ve still got three meals a day to get through, and there’s no reason why they can’t be enjoyable for everyone. Read the rest of this entry →

Oct 31 2011

No Fighting! No Biting! A How-To Guide For Discipline

By at 10:18 am

father disciplining childThe biggest challenge most parents of young children face is how to effectively discipline in a way that stops bad behavior, encourages good behavior, and creates a conscience.

When I was a kid, my mother slapped me on my hand, arm, or tush. And I was a good kid! The worst thing I ever did was “be fresh” (aka talking back) or fighting with my younger sister. I distinctly remember putting a book in my underpants–I might have been good, but not too smart. My mother removed the book before potching (Yiddish, slapping) me.

My husband, by his own account, was pretty mischievous–he shot his sister’s canary to death with a water gun, tried to flush his friend’s snowsuit down the toilet so she wouldn’t leave the play date, got stuck on top of the garage, and frequently heard, “Wait ’til your father gets home!” His dad then took him into the den and slapped him with a belt! It is impossible for me to imagine my lovely and loving father-in-law doing that, but he did. So did a lot of dads in those days. (In my case, my father never hit any of us. He never even raised his voice to me.)

Long ago, our friends spent Shabbos with us. We each had two small kids at the time. Their young son (probably about 2 years old) was angry at his older sister and hit her. His father, a psychologist it should be noted, took the little boy across his lap and spanked him several times, all the while saying, “We do not hit!” This is a true story.

As a parent, I was absolutely philosophically opposed to any kind of corporal punishment. But I did slip up and recall giving a potch when daughter #2 broke a bottle of nail polish all over the bathroom after being warned repeatedly, and a slap on son #2’s tush when he broke an expensive doll after being similarly warned, and a big yell and zets (Yiddish, more than a potch) on son #1′s tush when he ran into the street–I was very pregnant and didn’t get to him fast enough to prevent his sprint. I think I must have hit daughter #1 at least once, but neither of us recall when. I regret these times when I was so out of control that I physically hurt my child. It was wrong in my scheme of things. Their provocative behavior was never repeated–partially, I think, because of the shock of my reaction. Read the rest of this entry →

Aug 19 2011

News of the Week: Hot sauce or time out?

By at 4:27 pm

All the parenting news you probably missed this week.

-European or child abuser? That’s the question Jezebel asks about this mom who dared to leave her 1-year-old outside a coffee shop on the mean streets of Amherst, MA while she ran into to pick up food. As it turns out, she’s Swedish and in many parts of Europe parents are much more relaxed (and don’t get arrested) for that sort of thing.  (Jezebel)

-Women at Bloomberg LP lost a major lawsuit that accused the company of discriminating against pregnant women and women and moms. In issuing the decision the judge added, “In a company like Bloomberg, which explicitly makes all-out dedication its expectation, making a decision that preferences family over work comes with consequences.” (New York Times)

-A mom in Alaska (no, not THAT mom!) was arrested after it was discovered that she put hot sauce on her 7-year-old’s tongue as a form of punishment. The mom’s disciplinary tactics came to light when she went on Dr. Phil to talk about the disciplinary problems she  and her husband, a local police officer, were having with the twin sons they adopted from Russia. (The Anchorage Daily News via WSJ)

May 25 2011

Spare the Rod, Spoil the Child?

By at 9:08 am

The Torah commands us to “fear your mother and your father.”  When I came across this verse, I had to laugh. I don’t think it’s even entered my son’s head to fear us. And yet, it’s the foundation of all morality according to the Torah and the rabbinic tradition. If you don’t learn to fear and respect your parents, you don’t learn to fear and respect God. Or so they say.

But how to command respect? Turns out that it’s not won through amazing negotiation skills. Or kindness and understanding in the face of total preschooler meltdown. Nope, it’s all about the fear factor.

We don’t hit. My husband and I have long been in agreement about not using corporal punishment with our children. It’s not that I think that spanking is horrible, per se, I just find that the moments that I really WANT to hit my child are precisely the moments that I should not. Hitting a child out of anger is not about discipline—it’s about losing control. And I fear that once I gave myself permission to solve problems this way, it would be far too easy to lash out when the going got tough.

And yet it’s REALLY hard to keep a child in line without the element of fear. “Spare the rod, spoil the child?” Hell yeah. There’s only so many “natural consequences” you can come up with—on the spot, no less–for some of the crazy things that four-year-olds do.

We recently discussed this with close friends of ours and learned that their approach was surprisingly old-school. Like, wash your mouth out with soap for bad language old-school. And it made me realize that perhaps my belief that upper-middle-class parents “don’t do that” was completely delusional. I’d like to think that everyone’s as soft as we are—that we’re all stuck in this post-modern parenting trap together. But that might just be wishful thinking.

All of this talk of fear and respect has finally emboldened me to start demanding a little more from our 4-year-old. For now we’re focusing on the use of time out. Once reserved for clocking other children on the head type infractions, it’s now being used for things that were never time-out worthy before, like raising your voice at a parent. Things that are not about hurting someone, or breaking something, but simply a matter of respect.

More than anything, we want our son to be a mentsch, a good person. And we see so much good in him. But we also see so much 4-year-old boy selfishness and disobedience.  So it’s our job to show him how to love others, respect authority–human and divine–and be a positive force in the world. Rod or no rod, it’s messy work.

Feb 15 2011

No! No! No!

By at 3:26 pm

How often do you say that to your kids? How do you say it to your kids?

How hard is it to stand your ground?  Especially when “everyone else is doing it”?

I bet most parents would admit to having a difficult time disciplining. You have to be very secure in your position. And you need to decide before you say it that you really mean it. You can’t cave in to pressure, manipulation, and “everyone else is doing it.” Even if everyone else really is.

Once, while I was sitting outside on my stoop, very pregnant, my 2-year old child ran into the street. I screamed, “ NO!” and moved as fast as my body would let me. I did not believe in spanking, but I do seem to remember that I “potched” (Yiddish, spanked) that time. It was probably unnecessary, though, as the horror in my voice and face, so different from my customary tone and demeanor, scared the crap out of my kid. Which was precisely the point and the lesson that needed to be learned.

I, too, learned from that early experience. I learned that any time I said “no,” it had to be said as firmly (although not as hysterically) as if I were prohibiting my child from running into the street. “No” had to mean “no” in no uncertain terms.

On this blog, I recently referred to a spoof that our kids had done about our family life. They are not only really terrific people, but they are all hilarious and we spend lots of time laughing together. For our 25th anniversary some years ago, they put together the “Top 11 Septimus Family Top 10 Lists.” They did another one five years later. My husband and I got to know what they really thought.

One of the most revealing lists, because it really helped us hear ourselves and gave us insight into how our kids perceived our parenting style, was the “Top 10 Septimus Parent Reasons for Saying No.” I quote:

1-      It is not appropriate

2-      We are not everyone else’s parents.

3-      We do what we think is right for each kid.

4-      I/We don’t think it’s a good idea.

5-      That is not the way we do things around here.

6-      That is not the ben/bat Torah way (meaning: not religiously consistent with our ideals).

7-      I am not so and so’s mother.

8-      We are not comfortable with the idea.

9-      Because I/ We said so.

10-  No.

I think they got it. I really think they did. And I hope I live long enough to see what their kids write about them.

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