Tag Archives: bad parents

Why I Prefer Parents With Messy Houses

mess

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.
fish

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.

***********

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

spellingwords

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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The Parents of Leelah Alcorn Broke the Cardinal Rule of Parenting

leelah

Love your kids unconditionally, keep them safe, and always be there for them.

Leelah Alcorn, born Joshua Alcorn, was a 17-year-old transgender Ohio kid who took her own life last week because her parents couldn’t follow that most basic and universal tenet of parenting. After telling her parents she has long identified as a girl trapped in a boy’s body, they responded by negatively judging her, removing her from school, taking away her online support network, and sending her to Christian therapists who reinforced her parents’ views that what she was doing was against God’s will.

And that, according to her suicide note published online (which cannot be linked to because her parents asked Tumblr to remove it), is what led to her throwing herself in front of a tractor-trailer last Sunday.

In the aftermath of this totally preventable tragedy, some have said it’s bad form to “bash” parents who have just lost a child. Others think making a big deal of this story in the press will only serve to cast Leelah Alcorn as a martyr, thereby legitimizing suicide as a viable solution for kids in similar situations.

I believe those people are wrong on both counts.

On the latter point, transgender kids are already at a heightened risk of suicide. According to the Youth Suicide Prevention Program, half of all transgender youths attempt suicide at least once by the time they turn 20. Thinking the media spotlight on Leelah Alcorn’s death will be the catalyst for heightened suicide attempts is a misguided attempt to brush off an uncomfortable conversation. After all, this is an important story and one that absolutely must be told, because it shines a light on a subject far too many people would rather leave festering in the shadows.

And finally, while I wouldn’t wish the loss of a child on any parent, it is vital to talk about the fact – and it is a fact – that the actions of Leelah Alcorn’s parents directly contributed to her death. Here she is in her own words.

“When I was 14, I learned what transgender meant and cried of happiness. After 10 years of confusion I finally understood who I was. I immediately told my mom, and she reacted extremely negatively, telling me that it was a phase, that I would never truly be a girl, that God doesn’t make mistakes, that I am wrong. If you are reading this, parents, please don’t tell this to your kids. Even if you are Christian or are against transgender people don’t ever say that to someone, especially your kid. That won’t do anything but make them hate them self. That’s exactly what it did to me.

My mom started taking me to a therapist, but would only take me to christian therapists, (who were all very biased) so I never actually got the therapy I needed to cure me of my depression. I only got more christians telling me that I was selfish and wrong and that I should look to God for help.”

She also described what happened when she came out as gay at school, which included a mostly positive reaction from friends, but non-acceptance from her parents. Leelah’s parents then removed her from school and took away her phone and laptop, which separated her from social media and online support networks. She spoke of “No friends, no support, no love. Just my parents’ disappointment and the cruelty of loneliness.”

As I watched this story unfold during the last few days, I held out hope for one final potential silver lining: Leelah’s parents ultimately accepting their daughter’s gender identity, and finally seeing how their actions contributed to her death. Unfortunately, after Leelah’s mother was interviewed by CNN, it appears that’s too much to ask.

“We don’t support that, religiously,” Carla Alcorn told CNN, regarding Leelah’s request to live as a girl. “But we told him we loved him unconditionally. We loved him no matter what. I loved my son. People need to know that I loved him. He was a good kid, a good boy.”

First of all, if your religion says it’s a sin to be a homosexual or for boys to live as girls, imagine what it says about parental intolerance that directly contributes to the death of your child. But second, and most disappointing, even after Leelah’s death and subsequent suicide note begging for her death to mean something and help other transgender kids, her mother STILL couldn’t bring herself to refer to Leelah as “she.” And aside from Leelah’s death, her mother’s reaction after the fact is one of the most devastating parts of this story.

The reason we need to criticize Leelah’s parents and shine a light on their behavior, is because it directly contributed to the death of a child. The two people who created her – the two people on this planet who should love and accept her the most – turned their backs on her. More than that, they yanked Leelah’s support network while she was depressed, which is exactly when she needed it most. And then they sent her to religious “counselors” who perpetuated shaming tactics and reinforced the idea Leelah was an affront to herself, God, and her parents.

As a parent, that is unconscionable. That is unacceptable. And that is the kind of abhorrent behavior that needs to be exposed so fewer people will repeat this mistake.

“The only way I will rest in peace is if one day transgender people aren’t treated the way I was, they’re treated like humans, with valid feelings and human rights. Gender needs to be taught about in schools, the earlier the better. My death needs to mean something. My death needs to be counted in the number of transgender people who commit suicide this year. I want someone to look at that number and say “that’s fucked up” and fix it. Fix society. Please.”

If Will or Sam came to me and told me they were gay or transgender, then I’d be the proudest damn father of a gay or transgender kid you’ve ever seen. I might not fully understand it and I’d probably have some reservations, but we’d talk about it. And I’d support them. And I’d let them know no matter what happens, they are loved by their mother and me to the max.

Parents, love your damn kids unconditionally. Real unconditional love, not love that’s dependent on things like sexual orientation and gender. It’s your main job and it’s your most important responsibility. It’s also the best way to honor Leelah Alcorn’s last wish, and give transgender kids in this country the love and support her parents couldn’t provide her.

If you’re in a similar situation and contemplating suicide, please reach out. To a friend, parent, teacher, or a professional at places like TransLifeline.org.

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Why I Hate Playing with My Son

playwithson“Dad, do you wanna play?”

This sounds horrible, but lately those are the words that strike fear into my heart. And before you get all bent out of shape about the headline of this post (which is definitely linkbait to get you to click on it and elicit that exact reaction — sorry), it’s not that I NEVER want to play with my son. It’s just 1) I can’t stand the kind of playing he’s talking about and 2) I’m terrible at it.

This is all my fault. You see, the whole concept of “play” to me — even as a child — has never been like most kids. I have absolutely no imagination. I know that’s odd for a writer, but it’s true. Even as a kid I never understood all my friends playing “imagination.” Pretending to walk on the moon? Sorry, there’s no gravity and you’d need an astronaut’s suit or else you’d die. Traveling back in time? Not without a DeLorean. Playing with dinosaurs? Sorry, but I learned about fossils and preferred not to harbor any delusions about an extinct species coming back to life.

But seriously, to me “playing” was always well defined, and never nebulous. Usually it was sports. If someone wanted to play then it was baseball, basketball, soccer or tossing the football around. There were defined rules, plenty of structure and always a winner and loser. And if it wasn’t sports, then it was a board game or (when I got older) a video game.

I was just a peachy little kid wasn’t I?

Will, however, isn’t anything like me. And while that’s probably a good thing, I’m having a really hard time figuring out how to relate to him when he wants to play with me. At first I tried to redirect him towards sports. So we tried playing catch and kicking the soccer ball around outside, but I could tell he wasn’t into it. Then I’d break out one of the many games we have, but it’s just not his bag and he got sick of it after a few minutes.

Then he’d start making all these weird requests that not only didn’t make sense to me, but also annoyed me. Stuff like:

  • “Dad, pretend you’re a Parasaurolophus (yes, he actually differentiates between this and other dinosaurs) and I’m a space monkey.”

and

  • “Dad, I’ll be Spiderman and you be Batman and we’ll fight the Transformers but we’ll ride on dragons that poop eyeballs on the bad guys.”

MJ loves it and encourages it. She supports his creativity and imagination, seamlessly adding to it and fostering it in a way that just mystifies me. It’s not that I’m some heartless and uncaring jerk, I really just don’t get it. I don’t understand why people want to pretend when truth is so much stranger and cooler than fiction. I don’t get how MJ’s first reaction isn’t to correct his misstatements and set him straight. And I don’t get how living in a fantasy world of kooky imagination is any fun at all.

But after awhile, the one thing I knew all too well was that he could tell I wasn’t into it and his feelings were hurt. And making my son sad is the truly unacceptable thing in this whole scenario. So, I decided the next time the opportunity presented itself I’d switch gears.

“Dad, do you wanna play?”

The game consisted of a tennis ball and two Velcro circles you wear on your hands that are shaped like frogs. You throw the ball to the other person and it sticks on the Velcro, as if the ball is being caught in the frog’s mouth. But after a few minutes of straight catch, Will was bored. And that’s when I stepped outside the box.

Instead of standing up and playing catch, we’d lay on the floor. I’d throw the ball straight up at the ceiling and try to have it land on Will. If he caught it he’d give a loud “RIBBIT!” and then try to hit me with the ball. From time to time there would be a zombie attack (?????) and we’d have to use our frog paddles to fight the zombies and save the world.

And suddenly, “Frog Ball” was born.

Honestly I still don’t get it. It’s silly, nonsensical and ridiculous. I made the game up and I don’t even understand the rules. Thankfully, what my son has taught me is the rules don’t matter. The only important thing is letting him know I care about him. That I’m interested in what he’s doing. That his happiness is far more vital to me than anything else. The most difficult yet rewarding parts of parenting continue to be the unexpected surprises taught to me by my boy, who is wise beyond his years.

“Dad, do you wanna play?”

Absolutely.

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