Tag Archives: bad parents

Hey Judgmental Parents, It’s Not Always What It Looks Like

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***I received compensation for this post courtesy of Similac, but all opinions are my own.

What do you see when you look at this picture?

Do you see how the boy has slipped? Do you notice his white knuckle grip as he struggles to hold on and avoid falling? Can you see the slight blur of his feet as he kicks his legs profusely to avoid dropping to the ground below?

If you’re like many people, this picture probably makes you think about more than just the boy dangling from a piece of playground apparatus. After all, someone is behind the camera and that somebody is probably a parent. Do you find yourself thinking of all the playground parents you’ve seen “ignoring” their kids in favor of their cell phones? Is the voice in your head judging the parent and saying “PUT DOWN YOUR DAMN PHONE AND HELP YOUR KID?!?”

Pictures can be worth a thousand words, but words said absent knowledge are folly.

The boy is my son and the photographer is me. It was taken a couple of years ago on a playground when he was 5 years old. And just a few moments after I took it, a mother I never met before decided I was a bad parent. She made it her business to step in and “save” my son, even though I was standing close by in plain sight and watching him intently. Not content to helicopter her own child to the point of absurdity, this snapshot of my more hands-off parenting style was apparently too much for her to bear.

You see, I believe in calculated risks.

In this instance, Will was struggling with a climbing structure and not trusting his abilities. I knew he could do it, but he hadn’t proven it to himself yet. So I took stock of the situation, which included a safe place to climb, being no more than a couple of feet off the ground, and a mulch surface that would provide a soft landing should he fall. Knowing all this, when he slipped and yelled for help I simply told him he could figure it out himself if he didn’t panic and just used his head a bit.

Unfortunately, that’s when Captain America Mom decided it was her job to come to the rescue. Mainly because she saw the snapshot and not the bigger picture.

I believe kids are far more capable than we give them credit for, and not nearly as fragile or helpless as we think. Do I like watching my son struggle and fail repeatedly when trying to master something? Not particularly. However, I believe failure is necessary to achieve and appreciate success. I believe kids are stronger when they overcome their obstacles instead of snowplow parents always clearing the way. I believe just as many lessons are learned in defeat as in victory.

So when Will politely declined her offer, righted himself, and made it across the platform by himself, I smiled that much bigger.

The bottom line is there’s always more to consider and more to the story. This wasn’t a situation where he was in danger or being ignored/abused, but the mom on the playground wasn’t interested in seeing past the snapshot. She didn’t consider the possibility that a different parenting style other than her own could possibly be effective.

If she had, she might’ve seen the importance of parents knowing their kids and acting accordingly. She might’ve noticed there is more than one way to successfully raise a child other than her own. And maybe, just maybe, it would’ve dawned on her that not all risks are bad and letting kids experience a bit of failure helps them in the long run.

So next time you see a snapshot frozen in time that looks bad, make sure you consider the context.

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ABB_SIM_BloggerBadge_250x151I was compensated by Similac for the “Sisterhood of Motherhood” campaign, which aims to unite all parents in a judgment-free zone. But as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. Check out:

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Parents at Playgrounds on Phones Are the Worst People Ever

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I’ve been waiting for a chance to use this picture for three years!

There are some bad people out there.

The world is full of liars, cheaters, serial killers, rapists, pedophiles, and New York Jets fans. Unfortunately, the derelicts are living next to us, conversing with us, and subversively poisoning our way of life as they chip away at society’s common decency. They’re right under our noses, yet because there’s no readily identifiable mark of evil to witness, it’s impossible for us to tell the good guys from the dregs.

Until now.

If you’re not familiar with the worst people on Earth, I’m not surprised. No one has ever actually seen what they look like, because their faces are perpetually pointed down. Yup, that’s right — we’re talking about parents at playgrounds who use their smartphones!

I know. Savages, right? I mean, these are our children. Our babies. Our future. But sadly, you can’t throw a dead Angry Bird on the Internet these days without coming across another heartbreaking tale of innocent children being shamefully neglected by smartphone wielding monsters. Seriously, it’s an epidemic.

And you thought ISIS was bad news.

I’m sure you’ve run into their ilk at the local playgrounds. It’s always the same horrid scene. Kids happily cavorting and scampering around the playground, instantly making friends with other kids as only children can do. They climb the climbing walls, slide down slides, and cross the monkey bars while enjoying some exercise and the outdoors. On the surface, everything seems fine until you see the parent sitting on the bench tapping away on a phone.

Make no mistake, these people are what’s wrong with society.

Don’t approach them, as they probably won’t notice you anyway. Because hell, they’re already missing every single precious moment of their baby’s life and clearly prioritizing technology over their own flesh and blood. Instead, just make a mental note of everything they’re doing wrong, and shame this abomination on your blog as soon as you get home.

These people are so dangerous because they’re not thinking about the children. I mean sure they could be a stay-at-home parents who devote every waking second to the kids all day long up until this point and now they’re searching Pinterest for a dinner recipe while their kids get exercise, but that’s beside the point.

And yeah, I guess this could be a working parent returning a quick email because she negotiated a flexible schedule and the ability to work remotely so she can see her kids more often instead of coming home from the office after they’re asleep, but that’s neither here nor there.

And yes, there is an infinitesimal chance the dad on the phone needs just five minutes to himself to check Facebook or read the news while his kids play, because he hasn’t had an adult conversation in more than a week and he fears his brain is turning to mush. But that’s hardly relevant.

What is important is shaming these parents without knowing anything about their personal circumstances.

After all, if your head is buried in your phone how can you ensure your kid’s safety? Didn’t you watch the incredibly frightening video about child abduction??? Anyone with a furry creature and a warm smile can steal your kid at any second. I mean yeah, technically that video uses erroneous statistics and only 115 “stranger abductions” a year are reported in the US. And it’s true the world is actually statistically safer now than at any point in recent history. But the point is, PAY ATTENTION TO YOUR KIDS!

Every mom and dad knows the only way to be truly great at parenting is to spend 100% of your time and energy on your kids and always put them first at all costs. That’s just science.

You need to follow them around the playground and be a shadow.

Is junior having trouble climbing the ladder? Help him immediately. Is your little girl in the middle of a nonviolent disagreement with another child? Step in as soon as possible and resolve it for her. Do your children have trouble playing independently and need you helicoptering around them at all times? Then congratulations, because you’re winning the parenting game.

In a world where the bad guys often look like good guys, it’s comforting in a way to have a common despised enemy. That’s why it’s not enough for you to parent your own kid and let other parents handle things in a more hands-off way. You have a responsibility to point out perceived shortcomings of others based on little to no actual information, and use it for blog fodder and just making yourself and others feel better about themselves in general.

In a world gone mad with terrible dangers like parents with smartphones and deflated footballs lurking around every corner, it’s up to you, super parent, to continue to fight the good fight.

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Why I Prefer Parents With Messy Houses

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How many times have you gone over to someone’s house for a play date and before you’re even through the door you get “Please excuse the mess in here. It’s been a DISASTER but I’ve been so busy I haven’t had a chance to clean it?” 

As a father of two precocious boys, I nod knowingly and walk in to find — nothing! Not only is there no mess, the place is freaking immaculate. Floors you could eat off, carpet freshly vacuumed, no crumbs on the couch, and not a speck of dust to be found. The throw rugs are all perfectly aligned, there’s no dirty laundry draped on the banister or hanging from light fixtures, and — wait a second, did they — yup, someone has put all the DVDs in alphabetical order.  The family has three kids and a 90-pound Labrador, and yet this house would pass inspection from even the strictest drill sergeant our fine Armed Forces could produce.

It’s like a museum, and I’m immediately uncomfortable because I’m wondering if anyone has ever sat on that white, pristine couch. And since there are no scuff marks or fingerprints on the walls, I start questioning if this is one of those rooms that no one is allowed in unless company is over. Then I wonder why anyone would have a room no one can go in! But mostly I’m afraid I, along with my rambunctious clan, will ruin anything we come in contact with.

Truth be told, I prefer a little mess because it puts me at ease.

I’m not talking about hoarders or people living in their own filth, I just mean I tend to gravitate toward parents with domiciles that — you know — actually look like a family lives there. And it doesn’t mean I automatically dislike or distrust the Mr. and Mrs. Cleans of the world, it’s just…I don’t get it.

The big things I realized when I became a parent included 1) how much STUFF babies come with, and 2) how messy life gets. Even with one kid, the mess factor is incredible. Little kids pull stuff out of cabinets and off tables. They spill drinks you forgot to pick up, and smear food everywhere but their mouths. Even older kids come with problems like leaving their clothes everywhere and littering the floor with an ungodly amount of toys.

So when families have more than one kid, the mess increases exponentially. Throw in a cat or a dog, and fuhgeddaboutit.

Honestly, even a stay-at-home parent would have trouble keeping up with cleanliness on the immaculate scale. That level of squeaky clean can only be maintained by constant vigilance and an unimaginable force of will. It would have to entail either not letting your kids and dogs outside, or wiping them down each and every time they come into the house. It means you’re following them around with a Dustbuster (did I just date myself??) and tailing them to put everything back into place once they’ve blown through like a hurricane. I just can’t see any scenario in which the highest levels of cleanliness can be consistently maintained without sacrificing time to actually parent and enjoy what’s happening.

Which is why I prefer a messy parent.

Messy parents understand spills happen and a few stains are the price of doing business. They don’t follow their kids around with the vacuum, they chase them because they’re playing tag or pretending to be a superhero. They know muddy footprints in the kitchen are just evidence of fun times had out in the yard — at least they hope it’s just mud. And they’re OK with some pet hair on the couch because that’s where they cuddle with the dog after the kids go to bed.

Don’t get me wrong, I have my hang-ups. When Sam flings his food around it gets to me, because I have a weird thing about dirty hands. And I cringe a little when MJ paints with the boys in the kitchen, but then I get over it because I see how much fun they’re having. And I can only speak for myself, but the fun is fleeting so we’re going to enjoy it. Even if that means putting off some chores and letting the mess win for a while, it’s worth it.

I’m a proud messy parent, because I believe a home is meant to be lived in and enjoyed. After all, life is messy. And messy can be a whole lot of fun.

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Similac: Stop the Judgment Because We’re Parents First

***I have partnered with Similac for this piece.
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The first online parenting community I joined in 2008 almost kicked me out just for being a dad.

It was early 2008 and my wife was pregnant with Will. I didn’t even know what a dad blog was yet, and it would be several months before I’d become an official dad blogger. All I knew was I was about to become a dad and I had no information and a very small support network. So I went to BabyCenter and joined a birth board.

Finally I had a place to go online and talk with people going through the same thing due the same month. Some of them were second and third time parents as well, which allowed me to ask questions that would benefit me down the road. I jumped right in with both feet and asked questions and joined discussions, happy to have a place that finally made me feel like I wasn’t isolated.

Except I’d soon feel more alone than ever.

Suddenly there was talk of “spying” and other women who said they didn’t feel comfortable talking with a man in their presence. There was even a public debate about whether or not to hold a vote that would determine my fate in the group. Not only was I outraged, I was disappointed. The website catered to moms, sure, but it clearly said it was for “parents.” I was on the verge of telling them off once and for all and quitting the group before they could throw me out, when something pretty awesome happened.

A few of the moms contacted me privately and told me to hang in there. When I expressed how pissed I was, they said they understood but they also told me to take a breath and come at it from a different angle.

So instead of getting angry, I joined more conversations than ever. I started threads asking for help and advice, and I offered thoughtful comments when other people asked for help. In short, I made myself an active and attentive part of the community and soon most of the moms there saw that for themselves and came around to the idea of a man in their midst. Not everyone, mind you, but the overwhelming majority accepted me as an involved parent and I stayed in that group for several years.

So what’s the point? Sometimes parenting can feel like a judgmental contact sport played in the Thunder Dome.

“Oh you use disposable diapers? Well I just care about the environment too much to do that.”

“You know, most people who use formula just aren’t trying hard enough at breastfeeding.”

“I heard babies who use pacifiers have lower IQs.”

Look, this stuff is almost certainly going to happen at some point when you’re raising kids. And most involved dads can tell you more than a few stories about exclusion online, getting the stinkeye on the playground, and not being invited to playdates. But the trick I learned seven years ago still applies today, which is just keep plugging. Keep showing people you’re a dedicated parent. Keep being involved no matter what. Sure you could drop a bunch of insults and go nuclear (I’ve fallen down this rabbit hole in the past), but in the end the best comeback is killing them with kindness and making yourself look competent and positive. Eventually people will take notice and then they’ll take your side.

The proof is in the pudding.

Even seven years later, I’m still friends with a handful of moms from that birth board, and we’ve been there for one another as our kids have grown up.

And as far as dads making progress, if you watched the Super Bowl this year you probably noticed dads finally made the marketing big time and have worked our way into the larger conversation. How did that happen? Years of involved fathers publicly embracing the shifting landscape of modern masculinity, making fatherhood a priority, and positively speaking up until we began getting a seat at the table.

Take this very promotion. Similac has invited me (a dad) to take part in a campaign that’s ordinarily been mom-only. More than that, they recognized the importance of including dads by including the #ParentsFirst hashtag.

So when you find yourself in the crosshairs of parental judgment and you feel like lashing out, just remember you’re better than the people taking their insecurities out on you. And if you choose to highlight your positive traits, others will see you shine and join you.

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I was compensated by Similac for the “Sisterhood of Motherhood” campaign, which aims to unite all parents in a judgment-free zone. But as always, all thoughts and opinions are my own. I hope you enjoy this fantastic video Similac developed that shows we’re all #ParentsFirst when it comes to raising our kids.

You can visit Similac’s website or go to its Facebook page to learn more.

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Parental Hypocrisy

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We’re pretty hard on our oldest son.

My wife and I push Will hard and expect a lot from him. Why? Because he’s very intelligent and more than capable of above average work. We’re not (completely) unbearable task masters or Tiger Parents, but we definitely crack the whip from time to time and set the bar high. Because you can’t assume you’ll get great results without expecting greatness at the outset.

So as you might imagine, we take Will’s performance in school very seriously.

Will, who is in first grade and turns seven in April, generally performs very well on his homework and weekly tests because he’s a bright kid. Unfortunately, he’s come to know he’s smart and that is his undoing.

In September at the start of classes, he realized homework consisted of reading at a level slightly below what he’s used to, and doing math he had already learned. And yet he struggled initially. It wasn’t that he couldn’t do the work, but because he thought he was above it all. As a result, he began making careless mistakes because he liked to rush through assignments and be the first one done. His letters were formed haphazardly, and his math suffered because he’d see “9 – 3= ?” and add instead of subtract.

We put a stop to that real quick.

We hammered home the need to take his time. With the help of his teacher, we worked tirelessly on reading and following directions. Forming his letters was the most difficult part, as he sees no reason not to make a lowercase “r” the same size as a capital “R.” Little things, but important things.

It took a few weeks, but it worked. Or at least we thought it had worked until yesterday.

When I got home from work I went through his homework like I always do, but his spelling words marked up with copious amounts of red ink stopped me in my tracks. Everything was spelled correctly, but his letters were all out of whack again. Having just let him have Minecraft on the iPad last week as well as Minecraft tutorial books, I came to the rapid conclusion he was rushing through his schoolwork to get to his new, all-consuming hobby.

And my wife and I were PISSED!

MJ and I put on our game faces and called him into the kitchen using his full name, which every kid knows is parent-speak for “kiss your ass goodbye.” We were unified. We were justified. And dammit we were going to make academics a priority in a BIG WAY!

“William,” I began, with a disappointed look on my face. “There is no excuse for this. What the heck happened here?”

Will threw on his “deer in headlights” look and flashed his innocent Bambi eyes our way as he took the paper. His eyebrows scrunched in confusion as he scanned the page, but then shot upright as if hit with a sudden realization. He started to talk but I cut him off because I was already rolling, and had no interest in that moment of listening to him.

And then the riot act commenced as I rained down the thunder.

“Will, this is unacceptable. Completely unacceptable! You worked so hard in the beginning of the year on your letters, and now we’re seeing this? What’s changed?? I’ll tell you what’s changed, you had Christmas vacation and then you got Minecraft. Well you can kiss that goodbye. We’re cutting down on TV, because you’re watching too much. But most of all, we’re saying goodbye to Minecraft. For at least a week. Because it’s clear you’re paying far more attention to that than you are to your schoolwork. Will, you’re better than this. We spent all this time talking about proofreading and checking things before you turn them in, but now you’re clearly rushing again. You’re not paying nearly enough attention and it has to stop. I’m sorry you’re going to hate us, but this is the way it’s going to be until you can prove to us that you’re responsible enough to do your school work the right way. Only then can you earn Minecraft back. Now, what do you have to say for yourself?”

I was SHOCKED to see he was calm and quiet. Usually if we threaten to take Minecraft away, he acts like we’ve just tasered him. But not this time. Instead, he was perfectly unaffected and — wait, is that — son of a bitch, I think he might have a faint, smug smirk. If my rage meter was already high, this sent it through the roof. But before I could rain vengeance down upon thee, he finally spoke.

“Mom, Dad…that’s not my paper. See? It has someone else’s name on it.”

Sure enough, he was right. I felt the blood drain from my body as the panicked expression on my wife’s face grew. To her credit, she apologized right away and said how sorry she was. As the self-satisfied grin spread across his face, I knew I’d also have to apologize. After all, I had just accused him of not proofreading and checking his work, while failing to make sure the test was even his. He had me dead to rights — and he knew it.

“Dad,” he chirped, with an aura of smugness. “Do you have anything you’d like to say to me?”

There was no way out, so I offered my apology and told him I needed to be more careful too. And I could tell from the look on his face it was sweeter than Christmas and his birthday combined.

And then, in an all-too-familiar tone known to those fluent in smartassery, he delivered his knockout blow.

“That’s OK Dad, we all make mistakes and I’m sure you’ll do better next time. I’ll be in the other room…playing Minecraft!”

Touche. Well played, son.

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