Category Archives: gentle parenting

It’s Not Me, It’s You

Not a lot of things make me angry.

A lot of things make me react, for sure, but I tend more towards melancholy, hurt feelings, depression.  But anger isn’t generally one of my bigger go-to’s.  Having said that, I have spent a VERY large portion of the past 18 months being extremely angry at my therapist.

At least I thought it was anger.

What I realized somewhere along the way was that 98% of the time, it wasn’t really anger at all.  I was uncomfortable because he’d challenged my core beliefs.  I was defensive because deep down I knew he was right.  I was embarrassed because he’d brought things to light that I’d have rather kept hidden.  I was frustrated because he’d put the onus on ME to examine, to question, to choose whether or not I was willing to change something that wasn’t serving me, or wasn’t serving the people I loved.

None of those things are the same as anger.  It’s just that it’s So. Much. Easier. to blame someone else than it is to do the uncomfortable, messy, hard (soooo freaking hard) work of actually doing a little bit of self-reflection.  If I blamed HIM, then I got to completely let myself off the hook.  I didn’t have to admit, or change, a single thing.

But the thing is … it wasn’t him.  It was me.

I’ve been thinking a lot about anger the past few days, ever since I read the comments on my “Can We Stop Being Jerks At Christmas” post when it ran on Scary Mommy.  I stopped reading after the first couple hundred, because after awhile they all honestly sounded the same.  I’m judgmental, I’m arrogant, I’m sanctimonious, and screw you, you-can’t-tell-me-what-to-do-with-my-kids.  Ad nauseam.  By the way, while I’m on the subject, the not-really-a-word word, “Sanctimommy,” is THE silliest, most ridiculous word to come out of the internet, and the idea that I’m supposed to be offended or feel bad to have it hurled in my direction is…. laughable, at best.

The one big theme I saw though, the one that ran through nearly all the comments, was anger.  Dear Lord, so much anger.  Anger directed at me, for…. daring to suggest we be nicer to our kids.  Does anyone else see the irony in that?  Nothing makes people angrier faster than proposing a little more respect.  A little more grace.  A little more understanding.  Nothing makes people angrier faster than challenging the status quo.  Challenging the idea of punishment, of spanking, of time-outs, of manipulation.  Nothing makes people angrier faster than bringing up the idea that YES, children can learn discipline, and self-control, and empathy, and personal responsibility without being shamed and threatened into it.  Nothing makes people angrier faster than the assertion, that yes, gentle parenting is not only possible, but is in fact preferable, for all parties.

But I don’t actually think it’s anger.

There’s always much ado about the fact that “there’s no right or wrong way to parent”, and that to suggest otherwise is arrogant and judgmental.  Well, sorry (except I’m not), but I do believe that kindness is always the right choice.  I do believe that respect is always the right choice.  I do believe that treating our kids the way we’d like to be treated, that treating our kids like HUMAN BEINGS instead of second class citizens is always the right choice.  Always.  Every time.  And it’s a hill I’d be willing to die on… any day of the week and twice on Sundays.

And I wonder, if you’re so confident in your own choice, why on earth would it make you so angry if someone else suggested something different?

It’s likely because you’re not really angry.  You’re uncomfortable, you’re defensive, you’re frustrated, you’re embarrassed.  Your toes have been stepped on.  But you’re not actually angry.  And you’re certainly not angry at me.  You don’t even know me.  But just like with me and my therapist, it’s easier to be angry at me than it is to actually think about anything I said.  To actually ponder it.  To actually wonder if I made any sort of point worth listening to.  It’s easier to make it my fault.  To call me names.  To call my kids names.

It’s been a long time since I’ve gone to church with any regularity, but I have some very strong memories of some sermons that really affected me.  And they were never sermons that were sunshine and rainbows, never sermons that patted me on the back for what I was already doing.  No, they were the ones that called me out, the ones that challenged me.  The ones that stepped on my toes.  The ones that made me want to hide, red-faced, under the pew because surely he was talking directly about me.

So I get it.  I actually do get it.

But I think that parents – ALL OF US as parents – should be nicer to our kids.  And no negative comment will ever change that.

So call me names.  Call me judgmental.  Call me arrogant.  I can take it.  But some day, at some point, you might want to admit the fact that it’s not actually me you’re mad at.


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Can We Stop Being Jerks At Christmas?

Why do the holidays seem to bring out the worst in people?  Don’t answer that yet.

And why, WHY, do people insist on treating their kids like they’re not even people?  Don’t answer that yet either.

Christmas depresses me.  I mean, don’t get me wrong.  I love Christmas.  I love making it special for my kids, love giving presents, love making cookies, love the food, love the festivities.  This year is a mellow year for us.  We just came off the nine-year-old’s play, which was taking a lot of time, especially during that final tech week.  And my semester just ended, the same week as her play.  So right now, I’m exhaling.  Exhaling and getting ready to enjoy the holidays, but not freaking out about getting anything in particular done in time.  What will be will be, and it’ll be nice.

But it still depresses me.

Mainstream parents tend to go a little crazy this time of year.  I’ve never made any secret about the fact that I disagree with mainstream parenting in general… but never do I disagree with more fervor than at Christmas time.

I don’t have the vocabulary to express how much I hate some of what goes on during Christmas.  (And by the way:  Like they say in the movie Stepmom, hate isn’t a word I use often.  I think it’s a “perfectly acceptable word, but only to be used when I truly detest something”)  I truly detest what some parents do this time of year.

I wrote about the Santa Cams a few weeks back, but the latest thing that’s been brought to my attention is the idea of “present jail.”  In a public post that is getting praised up and down on Facebook, one mom posted a picture of a cardboard box with some presents in it, and writes:

So….we started this yesterday because one little girl refuses to listen and behave. Any present still in the box at Christmas goes put up and can only be EARNED back by good behavior. If they can follow the rules and be good for an entire day, they can return a jailed present back to the tree. Sometimes having a visual helps a lot more than just telling them. And they have to put the present in there themselves. Presents are a privilege not a right, naughty children do not get gifts for misbehaving. #meanmom

The first time a friend showed it to me, I said, “I should write about that.  But how many times, and how many ways can I say, “BE NICE TO YOUR KIDS?”  I’ve said essentially the same thing dozens, if not hundreds, of times.

And I’m saying it again, I think in the hopes that someone, somewhere will read my words, and say, “Oh.  I hadn’t thought of it that way.”  One person.  That’s all.  And maybe it’s you.  Maybe you’re the one I’m talking to.

This whole idea of earning gifts is archaic and cruel and the exact antithesis of what gift giving should be.  Gift-giving should be unconditional.  That’s the whole point.  Gifts should be something that come from the heart of the giver, with no strings, and no expectations.  Buying a gift, and then taking it away as punishment?  It ceases to be a gift … even if they “earn” it back.  You took something that should have been an expression of love and turned it into an ugly and void commodity.  Congratulations.

And why just the kids?  Why do kids need to earn their presents?  If you buy your husband a new watch, and he comes home from work grumpy one day, do you hold it ransom?  Do you tell him you bought him a present, but he doesn’t get it unless he “behaves.”?  That is not a way to treat someone you love, no matter their age.  It seems kind of ludicrous to think about doing it to a spouse or a friend or another adult loved one, so why, WHY would anyone think it’s okay to do to kids?  As horrible as I think it’d be to do to an adult (and I do indeed think it’s pretty darn horrible), I think it’s a million times worse to do it to your kids.  Your kids are still learning.  Still figuring things out.  Still working out how to deal with their feelings, and how to to navigate a world that is nuanced and tricky and at times extremely complicated.  They need parents who are going to love them through it, to be by their side, to model appropriate behavior.  And at this time of year, they need parents to show them what giving really means.  Can you imagine the sad and confusing message it sends to them about generosity to be told that they have to earn their gifts?   That their gifts can be taken away at a moment’s notice if they’re “naughty?” Naughty, by the way, is a word that should never be used for a child, or anyone, especially one who is just trying to deal with something difficult the best way they know how.  They need our HELP, not our punishment and our shame.

I’ve had a few moments over the past month or so that I’m not proud of.  I’m a human, and I’m not perfect.

Guess what?  Your kids are humans and are not perfect either.

They deserve your love, your compassion, and yes, they deserve your generosity!  Whether it’s in the form of your time, of an experience, of something handmade, of something they’ve been wanting from a store.  It feels good to give to people we love.  At least it’s supposed to!  I can’t imagine it feels good to hold presents hostage, unless it honestly makes you feel good to do something unkind, which…. isn’t right.  It’s just not.  We’re not designed that way.  We’re designed to love unconditionally, to give without expectation, to show our kids (through our words, through our actions, through our time) that they matter.  That we love them.  That we are, in fact, their biggest fans.  Their biggest supporters.  Their biggest role models.  The ones they can count on when life gets squidgy, and the ones who will stand beside them when they’re scared, telling them, without a moment’s hesitation, “Don’t worry, I’ve got your back.”

It feels good to love with that kind of love, because IT IS GOOD.

Nothing about buying and withholding gifts (and being so dang proud of it) fits into this model of true, unconditional love.  In fact, it downright perverts it.

Kids need and deserve our love and compassion all year round, but especially during the holidays.  Schedules are messed up, sleep is spotty, there’s extra excitement and stimulation and fancy foods, and it’s no wonder a child – or an adult – would be out-of-sorts.  LOVE THEM THROUGH IT.  Help them.  Don’t punish them.  Don’t turn gifts, something that should be fun and loving and happy, into a gross display of power and intimidation.  Don’t teach your kids that gifts should come with strings attached.  Don’t teach your kids that other people are theirs to control and manipulate.  Don’t teach your kids that the way to solve a problem is through shaming and scare tactics.

Please, please don’t.

This Christmas, be nice to your kids.  Please.  Treat them like people.  Treat them the way YOU would like to be treated.

And I’m pretty dang sure you wouldn’t want your new iPhone taken away because you were a little snippy one day.

Be nice to your kids.

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This post was also syndicated and appeared on Scary Mommy, and was mentioned on The View!


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6 Rules I’d Never Use For My Toddlers

  1.  I have evil friends who send me links to articles that they know I’ll want to refute, especially articles that are in list form.  I can never resist them.  They just make it too easy.  And,
  2. My obligatory disclaimer: This post is about ideas, concepts, and philosophies.  It is not an attack on an individual.  I don’t know the author of the original article.  In fact on a second look, I couldn’t even find an author credited.  It was published by a Montessori School.  They gave their point of view;  I’ll give mine.  It’s kind of how the internet works.

Having said that:

The article in question is one titled, Six Unusual Rules For Disciplining Your Toddler That Are Effective.  The author and I…. disagree.  🙂

I don’t have a toddler anymore (at the time of this writing, my youngest is 9), but I remember the toddler years very, very well.  The author and I do agree on one thing:  toddlers definitely require a very specific type of parenting.  But we part company on what that specific type of parenting might entail.  Toddlers need a ton of patience, a ton of understanding, and a ton of grace.  It is HARD to be 1. 2, 3 years old.  Their list, unfortunately, takes none of this into account.

Here are their six rules, and why I’d do things differently.

Rule #1: “If you’re in the room while I’m working, you need to work also.”

What’s the goal? As you complete your chores, your children should stop bothering you or help ….  Tell her she doesn’t have to help you, but she can’t just sit there and watch you; she must go in another room. She’ll have the option to help you with your chore and be with you or be by herself.

Oof.  This genuinely makes me sad.  First, kids (and toddlers especially!) love to be with their parents as they work, whether it’s on laundry, sweeping the floor, or making dinner.  They also generally love to “help” – help is in quotations only because a 12 month old unfolding your freshly folded laundry to put it in a new pile isn’t technically helping… but she sure feels proud about doing it!  As they get older, more able to follow directions, and more dexterous, they’ll enjoy helping in more and more ways.  And if they don’t want to help?  Maybe they just want to be with their parent.  Maybe they just enjoy your company.  Maybe they want to chat.  Good grief, let them!  Don’t banish them to another room. Life is short.  Time with your kids is precious and fleeting.  For real.  In a couple of months, my oldest “baby” is turning 21.

Perhaps one of the most disturbing parts about this point is when they say that this rule works because “she’s given a choice so she’ll feel as if she’s in control of the situation even though she’s really not.”  What’s described in this sentence is manipulation…. and manipulation of someone we love is never, ever a cool thing to do.

My alternative rule:  If you’re in the room while I’m working, you’re welcome to help.  If you don’t want to help, you’re welcome to just keep me company.

Rule #2: “You get whatever you get so don’t get upset.”

What’s the goal? It ends the bargaining over such things as the color sippy cup he gets, which kids TV character is on his paper plate, which sheets are on his bed, etc.

This is just being controlling for the sole sake of being controlling.  I ask you, seriously, WHY can’t your child have the sippy cup he wants, or the paper plate that he wants, or his preferred sheets on his bed?  The answer to that question generally lies somewhere in the vicinity of, “Because they need to learn that they can’t always get what they want!” And/or “Because they need to learn that life isn’t fair!”  Yes, sure.  We can’t always get what we want.  And life isn’t always fair.  But guess what?  These are lessons that life and circumstances will, unfortunately, teach them… ideally with you as the parent at their side to help them navigate.  You don’t need to actually CREATE harsh lessons for your kids just because you can!  On the contrary, home should be the safe space, the soft spot to fall, the place where you can drink from your favorite cup.  I have a favorite cup (actually I have several of them, depending on my mood, what I’m drinking, etc) and I always make sure to use it.  Am I so inflexible that I literally can’t muster up the emotional fortitude to drink out of another one if need be?  Of course not. But you guys:  we all have likes and preferences.  A favorite cup is such a simple, simple way to honor your kids’ likes and wishes and show them through that one small gesture – which feels like a BIG gesture – that you love them.

My alternative rule:  I will always try to listen to your needs, respect your requests, and YES… you can have the purple sippy cup.

Rule #3: “We aren’t going to argue about money.”

What’s the goal? Prevent your toddler from pleading and begging for things.

Here’s the thing about money (and I have been married for nearly 25 years and we have run the full gamut when it comes to our money situation):  There are three general scenarios when it comes to requests at the store.  1) Sometimes you simply don’t have the money for something.  You just don’t have it.  In which case, it’s entirely appropriate to tell your child, “I’m sorry, we can’t buy that today, but we can put it on your wishlist/get it next payday/save up for it”, whatever.  This is both honest and fair.  Might your child still be upset or disappointed?  Sure!  I’m sometimes upset and disappointed when something’s out of my price range too.  But you honor their feelings, you help them through it, and you move on.  2) Sometimes you do have the money, and you don’t want to part with it for some reason.  Maybe you’re judging how they want to spend it.  Maybe you want to spend it on yourself.  Maybe you just feel inconvenienced by the whole thing and saying “no” seems the simplest option.  If that’s the case, I’d gently suggest doing a little work to find out why you’re saying no.  Maybe you have a perfectly valid reason.  Or maybe you’re being a hypocrite who’s telling her child, “We’re not buying extras today,” at the very moment that you’re paying for your overpriced Trenta caramel iced coffee with an extra shot of espresso.  (True story) Getting at the “why” is important, for both of you.  3) You do have the money, and you say, “yes!”  This is honestly one of my simplest pleasures as a parent.  I love being able to be in the moment, and gift my kids with something that will make them happy…. whether a pack of gum, a cake pop from Starbucks, or more slime supplies from Hobby Lobby.  There is nothing wrong with saying yes to your kids.

Learning to say yes more often to my kids was one of the simplest, single most life-changing parenting decision I’ve ever made.  We are designed to want to give to those we love (in both tangible and non-tangible ways)  It feels good to give because it IS good to give!  It is a win-win for both parties.  The author’s takeaway from this point is, “The way this works is if she asks for you to buy, say, a toy then you say “yes” or “no” and nothing more.” I think my kids, even as young kids, are always deserving of honestly, the right to ask questions, and the right to a discussion.  (P.S.  A discussion isn’t the same thing as an argument.)

My alternative rule:  If we have the means, I will try to say “yes” to your requests as often as possible.  If I say, “no”, you are absolutely welcome to ask why, and I will always give you an honest answer.

Rule #4: “There isn’t any such phrase as ‘I’m bored’.”

What’s the goal? This teaches your small fry to entertain himself.

So, first of all, I have taken some long (LONG), required history classes in college with really, really dry teachers.  BOREDOM IS REAL.  Let’s just start there.  It’s not a bad thing to be bored (some great ideas sometimes manifest themselves out of boredom), nor is it a bad thing to help your child think of something to do to alleviate said boredom, if he desires that help.  We all get bored from time to time.  As adults, we’ll often say, “Hey, I’m bored.  Want to go for a walk, go see a movie, go get some frozen yogurt?” This rule is another example of expecting your child to be a robot, rather than a human being… AND expecting more of him than you do from adults.  People get bored!  It’s okay!  Your “small fry” will learn to entertain himself all on his own, all in his own time.  It’s controlling and cruel to tell him 1) that he’s not allowed to feel something 2) that the something he reports feeling doesn’t even exist, and 3) that you refuse to help him with the problem – if he does in fact, view it as a problem.  If one of my children announces that they’re bored (which they honestly don’t do all that often, mostly because they do know how to entertain themselves, despite my not having ever implemented rule #4) I’d ask if they wanted some help thinking of suggestions.  Oh and by the way, making your kids do chores when they’re bored – a popular suggestion in mainstream parenting – is also controlling, and cruel, and completely counter intuitive to actually helping them learn to navigate boredom in a healthy way.

My alternative rule:  If you’re feeling bored, feel free to ask me to help brainstorm.

Rule #5: “I’m not working after 8 pm.”

What’s the goal? It creates established bedtimes as well as time for yourself …Tell your little ones that a new rule has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor that states you must not do any “mom” work after 8 pm. But hold firm to your conviction and pretend that it’s out of your control.

From the “It should go without saying” department:  Parenting is a 24 hour job.  I hate to break it to you.  Yes, time for yourself is important, and yes, as kids get older you’ll be able to have more flexibility in this area.  But when kids are little, especially when they are toddlers, they might need you at 9:00.  Or at midnight.  Or at 2:00 in the morning.  I’m really glad that this was a rule we never implemented in my family, because some of my favorite memories of the kids were snuggled up on the couch watching TV together, sitting around the kitchen table for endless amounts of time, piling in bed to watch a movie.  Chatting. laughing, having deep conversations.  I wouldn’t give any of it up, for any amount of missed sleep.  I’M THE MOM.  I’m always the mom, and I don’t stop being the mom just because the clock strikes a certain hour.

Also, telling “your little ones that a new rule has been developed by the U.S. Department of Labor that states you must not do any “mom” work after 8 PM” is a flat-out-unabashed lie.  Like manipulating, lying isn’t something you should do to people you love.  It’s just not.

My alternative rule:  I’m your mom 24 hours a day.  Full-stop.

Rule #6: “When you talk that way, I can’t understand what you’re saying.”

What’s the goal? It helps to stop screaming, rudeness and whining.

This is the only rule that I (kind of, sort of) agree with, only in the sense that it’s okay, and preferable, to set boundaries for yourself, and for how you’re treated.  But – and it’s a big but – just like adults, kids are allowed a full range of emotions, of feelings, and of opinions.  Sometimes strong feelings come out sideways (this does not just apply to kids).  Sometimes we whine when we’re upset (this does not just apply to kids).  Sometimes we say things in the heat of the moment that we might not otherwise say (this does not just apply to kids). And sometimes we take things out on the most convenient target, even if it’s someone we love (again… this does not just apply to kids).  We are HUMAN BEINGS, and we possess a giant array of feelings, of behavior, and ways of expressing ourselves. In a perfect world, we’d all behave politely and communicate maturely every second of every day.   But it doesn’t always work like that.  Which is where grace comes in.  Sometimes heaping amounts of grace.  Yes, setting boundaries is important, and yes, it’s absolutely okay to talk to your child – in much the same way you’d talk to an angry spouse or friend or family member – about their delivery (for lack of a better word).  But their feelings, like ALL their feelings, have validity.

Finally, the author says, “When toddlers do any of those things, they’re only looking for drama or attention.”  Maybe so.  But if they’re looking for attention in such a volatile way, perhaps it’s because they’ve failed to get it elsewhere.  Perhaps their “screaming, rudeness, and whining,” is in fact, a literal cry for help.  Behavior never exists in a vacuum.  Find out why it’s happening, and you can address your issue.   Ignoring your child, shutting him down, or insisting he stay quiet will ultimately only make the situation (and your relationship) worse.

Children are to be seen AND heard.

My alternative rule: Come to me when you’re upset, and we’ll figure it all out together.

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The article closes with this:

We’re sure there are more fantastic rules like these out there—or perhaps you can create some of your own. Yes, it’s true that some of these (or maybe all) aren’t really rules but rather an announcement of policies in your home. Either way, whatever you call them, they’re sure to make your life (and your toddler’s) go a bit smoother.

Sure, it’ll make your life go a bit smoother if your goal is to have quiet, compliant, obedient children.  But if you want to have…. REAL children?  Children who feel valued, and confident, and loved?  Children who know who they are, who own their feelings, who stand up for what’s right? Children who are capable of healthy and genuine connections with their parent/s and with the people around them?  You might consider doing the exact opposite.


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9 Reasons I (Still) Refuse To Be The Meanest Mom

Someone recently asked me when I was going to stop writing about not being the “mean mom.”  My answer?  As long as people keep writing articles glorifying being mean, I’ll keep writing about the alternative.

This one, published by Scary Mommy, was the latest one to come across my desk, but there is no shortage of others.  Be the mean mom, they tell us, not the nice mom.  Not the cool mom.  Not the friend.  In reading this one for a second time, I see and understand that it was written in a sort of tongue-in-cheek, humorous style.  And please understand, it’s not that I don’t have a good sense of humor.  I do.  (Ask my dog.  He thinks I’m freaking hysterical.)  I just don’t happen to find humor in disparaging kids, and in treating them as less than …. which is exactly what articles like this do.

The other side deserves to be heard.  The other side needs to be heard.  Here then are the author’s 9 reasons for being the mean mom, and my response from the other side.

1. I’m not your friend.  Not even close.

I say:  I will always be your friend… the best friend you could ever ask for.  I’ve written about being friends with my kids again and again.  And I’ll continue to do so.  For me, it’s pretty simple.  Friends are going to come and go, for a variety of reasons.  But as parents, we have the unique opportunity to be the friend that’s always there.  The trusted rock that our kids can count on… not just now, but for the rest of their lives.  I will proudly, unabashedly, always be that friend for my kids.  In fact I strongly believe that it’s one of my most important jobs when it comes to being a mother.

2.  I’m not here to be cool.  I’m here to raise cool kids.

This is one thing we may partially agree on.  Anyone who ever accused me of trying to be cool wouldn’t get very far.  I’m pretty much a big dork.  I’m socially awkward, I trip over air, and I laugh way harder than I should at “That’s what she said” jokes.  But I’m perfectly me, and I encourage my kids to be their own best selves too.  It’s not a zero sum game, where I have to be “mean mom” in order for my kids to be raised right (or whatever version of “right” that society deems appropriate).  I do my best to be kind, and respectful, and a person with integrity.  And guess what?  My kids are kind, and respectful, and people with integrity.  Who cares about cool?

3.  Because nagging works. 

Lots of things “work”, especially in the short term.  But that doesn’t mean that anything that works is the best choice, or the kindest choice.  Being a mom should be about the relationship.  Nagging doesn’t tend to be a great thing for relationships, and rightly so.  No one likes to be nagged.  Bottom line:  if I wouldn’t like it said – or done – to me, I don’t want to say or do it to my kids.

4.  I married a cool dad.

I think this is meant to be a take on the antiquated good cop/bad cop paradigm, where one parent needs to be the soft one, and the other the “heavy.”  But it doesn’t have to be that way.  My kids have a cool mom and a cool dad (or, at least, uncool in equal measure).  We are different, to be sure, because we are vastly different people.  But good and bad?  Nice and mean?  Nope.  We’re partners; both on the same team.

5.  It just plain works.

Didn’t we already do this one?  Sure, it works.  Know what else works?  Being nice.

6.  It takes a village, except when the villagers are all too nice.

The author feels that a trip to the playground should carry with it a mandatory contract that reads, “If you see another kid being an asshole, don’t hesitate. Say something.”  Gah.  Again with the calling kids assholes.  So here’s the thing:  There seems to be a false dichotomy that states that there are exactly two ways for parenting (and by extension, society) to operate.  1) Parents are “mean”, children behave, and there is order and harmony in all the land.  Or 2) Parents are too nice (ie: pushovers) children run wild, and chaos and bedlam reign supreme.  But there are other options.  Yup, sometimes it really does take a village.  And yup, sometimes a trip to the playground does require intervention involving another child and/or another parent.  I have been there.  But I’ve never met a situation that couldn’t be at least a little more quickly diffused, a little more softened, a little more pleasant for all involved… by being nice.  I don’t care who you are, young or old.  God knows we could use a little more “nice.”

7.  Kids will suck the nice right out of you.  Let them. 

We’re not born with a finite amount of “nice.”  If we are treating our kids kindly from a genuine place of love and respect (and not, for example, from a misplaced sense of martyrdom or insecurity), we literally never run out of niceness.  No one can suck it out of us.  No one can take it away.  In fact, it’s one of those emotional muscles that actually increases the more we use it.  I’ve been a parent for over 20 years, and I still manage to be nice to my kids.  I think I’ll even be able to be nice to them tomorrow.  Crazy! (But true.)  Even crazier?  My kids are nice to me, too!

8.  I refuse to raise little manipulators.

Oof.  Listen, it’s not that I think kids are perfect (they’re human), and it’s not that I don’t think kids – past a certain age – can’t manipulate (again, they’re human).  It’s just that 1) being nice to your kids doesn’t turn them into manipulators; 2) being mean doesn’t preclude it – in fact I think it increases the odds exponentially; 3) children, like all of us, tend to behave as well as they are treated; and 4) calling kids manipulators (and brats and assholes etcera) is tired and uncool and contributing to the problem.  Not solving it.  Look at it this way:  if someone was assuming the worst about you and calling you a name, would you be more or less likely to act pleasantly toward that person in the future?

9.  Still want to be cool?  Just wait until you’re the grandmother.

Nope, it’s not about being cool.  Not even a little bit.  It’s not about being liked.  It’s not even about being nice.  It’s about something far simpler.  It’s about treating my kids the way I’d like to be treated.  At the end of the day, I wouldn’t like it very much if an important person in my life measured their relational success against how mean they were to me.

In fact, I’d actually appreciate the opposite.

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Saying “Yes”, And Why I’ll Always Be Their Friend

One of my patrons on Patreon recently pointed me to this video that touts itself as the only parenting advice you’ll ever need.  I watched the video, and I disagreed.  🙂  The following video is my response.


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Sometimes I’m An Asshole (But I Don’t Advertise It On My Car)

A friend recently sent me this photo she came across, I think in equal parts because it irritated her, AND because people like to send me things that they think will irritate me, as an impetus for a new blog post.  (Irritated Jen = Writing Jen)

And she was right, because the photo did irritate me.  I sat on it for awhile though, and looked at it again, and looked at it through different perspectives.  And…. yeah, it still irritates me.

I get it, I think.  I don’t actually think the intention is a bad one.  I think it’s likely an antidote to the “Proud parent of an honor student, blah blah”  (I have my beef with those stickers too).  I think it’s likely just saying, “Hey, my kid’s not perfect, but that’s okay, and I love him anyway.”

But here’s the thing:  Aside from not being particularly nice, stickers like this promote childism in the biggest way.  When was the last time you saw a bumper sticker saying, “My wife sure is a bitch sometimes, but I love her anyway?”  Most rational people would see something like that and recognize that it’s not cool.  Or kind.  Or productive.  But we live in a society where it is not only accepted, but celebrated, to treat kids as lesser than.  To treat kids with less respect and less kindness than we’d treat other family members.  To treat kids with less consideration for their feelings than we’d extend to other loved ones.  To treat kids as less than human.

Are children – any children – perfect?  Of course not.  They’re human beings.  Are adults – any adults – perfect?  Of course not.  They’re human beings.  We all have our moments, to be sure.  I’m sometimes less than kind to my husband, and he’s sometimes less than kind to me (Ask us about the recent nearly knock-down drag out fight about asparagus…. except maybe don’t, because I’m not sure all parties are ready to joke about it yet) Everyone has their ugly (re:  HUMAN) moments.  The difference is, in real life, we accept this and work through it and deal with it in a healthy way.  We don’t make announcements about it on our cars.

Stickers like this may seem completely innocent, and funny even.  But in order to accept them, we need to be honest with ourselves and recognize that while sure, it’s dealing with a genuine human condition, it is also unfair and childist, and singling children out in a unkind and hurtful way.  We need to be honest with ourselves and recognize the fact that very few people would be okay and/or humored by this if it singled out wives, or girlfriends, or husbands, or parents.

Until we, as a society, can do that, maybe it’s a message best left off our cars.

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Want To Stop Nagging Your Kids To Do Chores? Then Stop

A few inevitable facts of housekeeping:

  1. If you want to have clean dishes to eat off of, you’re going to have to wash them.**
  2. If you want to have a bathroom – and floors and kitchens and bedrooms – that are at least relatively sanitary, you’re going to have to occasionally make time for some sort of cleaner and a swoop of a mop or a sponge or a paper towel.
  3. If you want to wear clothes that are clean and odor-free, you’re eventually going to have to throw in a load of laundry.

They’re maybe not your favorite things to do – they’re not mine – but they don’t have to be unpleasant drudgery either.  They’re just a part of life, and a part of keeping a nice home.  Viewing them as a voluntary act of service for yourself and your family goes a long way towards making them, at a minimum, more tolerable.

Chores should never be an area of contention between you and your children. 

I see article after article with mainstream advice about how to stop the need for nagging and get your darn kids to just do their chores already.   They may suggest any number of variants of charts or stickers or rewards or punishments, but they all essentially say the same thing:

The answer lies in control and manipulation.

Bribe your kids, punish your kids, reward your kids (which, by the way, are all sides of the same coin).  Just get them to dutifully do what you want.  Then the chores get done, you don’t have to nag, and the problem is solved.  But is it?

Using manipulation or coercion – and make no mistake, that’s exactly what these tactics employ – is a lose/lose proposition.  Sure, it may “work” in the sense that the chores get done, but it comes at a price.

No one likes to be manipulated.  Let’s just start there.  It will cause your kids to resent cleaning.  Or you.  Or both.  And isn’t that the exact opposite of what you want?  Both when it comes to your relationship with your child, and with the harmony of your family working together as one cohesive unit?  Mandating chores, especially in an authoritarian manner, will only make your children view them as, well… chores.  Something unpleasant.  Something that they’re doing simply because they’re forced to do it, and not because it’s nice to have clean floors or clean clothes or clean dishes.  Something that they’re doing because their little sticker chart says it’s time, and not because it feels good to take pride of ownership by taking care of your things and of your space.

And there’s a larger problem.  Children are not second class citizens who are here to do our bidding.  They are human beings who are deserving of the same care and respect and mindful communication as any other loved one.  If I have a problem or a frustration or a concern with my husband, I don’t make him a chart.  I don’t lay out a list of things he needs to do differently to make me happy.

I talk to him.  And I give my kids the same consideration.

So what do you do when you’re finding yourself frustrated with or yelling or nagging your kids about chores?  You stop doing it.  Seriously.  Just stop.  If there’s a chore that’s undone that’s bothering you, do the chore.  Then figure out why it is that you’re so stressed about it in the first place.  If you are yelling or nagging or otherwise being unkind, that’s a *you* problem, not a *them* problem.  It’s not your kids’ job to regulate your emotions or your behavior.

And I get it.  I do.  Sometimes things just get off-kilter.  I get stressed, my routine gets thrown off, I start to get snippy.  When it happens, it’s a sign that I need to 1) Take a step back and evaluate what’s going on with me that’s making me respond that way.  Is it just because we’ve been too busy?  Have I not been taking care of myself?  Am I worried or stressed about something that’s completely unrelated to my house or family?  And 2) Talk to my family about it.  A sincere and forthright, “Hey guys, I’ve been feeling a little overwhelmed lately because of xyz, so would you mind giving me some extra help with – {whatever I need help with} – this week?” is a lot more effective, and respectful! than trying to manipulate their behavior through rewards or punishments.  And you know what?  When I do need to ask for extra help, 99 times out of 100 they are more than happy and willing to give it to me.  (The one percent accounts for the fact that they are indeed humans and not robots.)

Finally, because it’s something that gets misinterpreted every single time I write about this:

Does this mean then that I just set myself up as a martyr, someone who does all the housework myself, even to my own detriment?  No!  We all pitch in.  I do do the bulk of it (and I’m happy to do it), just because I’m a stay at home mom and have essentially signed up for this.  But Mike does most of the cooking.  16 year old does the dishes.  20 year old usually takes out the trash and recylables.  9 year old and 12 year old step in with pet care.  And on those deep clean days – AKA company’s coming and things are looking a little squidgy around the edges – any one of us might be yielding that broom, or duster, or mop, or toilet brush…

Without ever having to create a chore chart to make it happen.

(**Or get paper plates and plastic silverware!  You do you.  I won’t judge.)


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My Summer To Do List For My Kids (And Myself)

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There’s 104 days of summer vacation
And school comes along just to end it
So the annual problem for our generation
Is finding a good way to spend it ~ Phineas and Ferb theme song

Ah, summer.

When you unschool, or even homeschool, summer means a slightly different thing than it does when your kids go to school.  If you’ve done it right, summer break doesn’t really a mean a “break”, because there’s nothing to take a break from.  And when you live in Phoenix, summer means a slightly different thing than it does in other places as well.  When everyone else is gearing up for lots of outdoor activities, we’re making plans that involve A/C… unless said outdoor activities include being covered in water of some sort.

Still, there’s something romantic and lovely about the idea of the lazy, hazy, carefree days of summer.  A time to be free, a time to play, a time to practice feeling good in your own skin.

For a lot of parents, there seems to be a temptation to see summer as a time to micromanage.  A time to prize structure over spontaneity;  control over freedom. There’s a post that seems to go around Facebook every year as summer approaches that highlights this fact, encouraging parents to print out cute little checklists to keep their kids on task all summer long.  There are many variations, but the general gist is usually something like this:

NO ELECTRONICS UNTIL YOU:

 

Brush your teeth, get dressed, and clean your room

Read for 30 minutes

Play outside for 30 minutes

Draw, build, craft for 30 minutes

Practice your karate/musical instrument/dance steps for 30 minutes

Finish your chores

Help your mother with her chores

etc

Obligatory disclaimer:  I have seen things like this posted by a LOT of moms, including several whom I really like and respect.  What follows is not about any individual people, but about concepts and ideas.  Having said that:

Lists like this really, really bother me, for a multitude of reasons.  First, I don’t think they accomplish what these well-meaning parents want them to accomplish. They’ve decided that video games/electronics/screen time are a less valuable pursuit than everything else. But by setting it up as a hierarchy in which kids have to perform certain tasks in order to earn it, they’re actually flipping the script and making the electronics MORE valuable, and grossly DE-valuing things like reading, being creative, and playing outside.  Those are all fun and wonderful things in their own right, and their system reduces them to nothing more than pesky little chores that they have to check off a list before they get to the real fun. Second, lists like these emphasize compliance over relationship.  And sure, they might “work” in the short term.  If your child is one who is motivated by electronics, he might very well do whatever it takes to earn them. But what’s the cost?  Mom has set herself up as more of a dictator or a boss than a partner, and all those things she wanted her child to do and like? The appreciation she wanted to foster for reading, for playing outside, for building things with their hands? Those things have become nothing more than tasks to endure in order to get to the elusive screentime.

Now I don’t make a summer-time – or any-time – list for my kids, because I don’t like lists (I’m totally lying.  I ADORE lists.  But my love affair with lists is just that – mine – and not something that I have the right nor the desire to impose on my kids)  But if I did make a summer list for my kids, it would be the same as mine, and it would look something like this:

Rest – No, we don’t pay any attention to the school year in our lives, but for some reason the first few months after the new year are always super busy ones in our household.  Tegan (age 8 at the time of this writing) just finished a play that’s been in rehearsals since January.  Everett (age 12) just had his final football game of the spring season.  And the last six weeks or so before the conference – starting around mid-August – are going to be insane with preparations.  So I’m all in favor of any and all of my family members using this time to take a much-needed breather.  To kick up their feet, to rest in both body and spirit, and to just BE for awhile before the next busy season is upon us.

Do what makes your heart happy – YouTube, Minecraft, video games? Jumping on the trampoline, reading, writing, playing with legos?  Visiting with friends? Playing catch in the backyard?  Researching, working, resting, figuring things out?….. It’s all there for the taking.

Travel – Our travel plans are different every summer, depending on any number of factors (finances, logistics, husband’s work schedule, etc)  but we all love a good travel adventure!   This year, Paxton (15) is flying out to Michigan for a month to visit, write with, and practice with his band, The Cringes.  A few weeks later, the rest of us are headed that way for a two week road-trip, visiting friends along the way, and ultimately bringing him home with us.

Try new things – I LIVE for trying new things.  Mine are usually of the creative sort, but I try not to shy away from learning anything that strikes my fancy. Spencer (19) has been applying for jobs lately, and has recently been talking about learning Spanish.  Everett has expressed an interested in trying soccer (I think the only sport he has yet to try).  Tegan wants to get back into gymnastics, and try some sort of martial art.  Summer is a great time to start thinking about that kind of thing.  I mean, why not??

Keep doing “old” things – As wonderful as new things are, there is something to be said for familiarity as well.  I hope we keep working on, and playing with, and learning from the things we already know and love.

Step out of your comfort zone – I just realized I’m talking in a little bit of a circle now.  “Do something new”.  “No, do something comfortable”.  “No, do something uncomfortable”.  But a life well lived is a mixture of all the above, isn’t it?  A few weeks ago, I took a giant step outside my own personal comfort zone (someday I will share a little here on my blog) and it was at once horrifying and difficult and one of the most important things I’ve ever done.  I’m a big believer in the fact that if we want to grow, if we want to learn in deep and meaningful ways, if we want to be the best selves we can be…. sooner or later we’re going to have take risks, do the scary thing, and trust in the outcome that we can’t yet see.

Live and love deeply –  When you boil it all down, is there anything else more important?

This list is by no means a comprehensive one, but it’s a start.   This is the only kind of list I need to get me through this summer.  And if my kids’  lists looks totally different than mine?  That’s okay too. It’s their list to make.

Will we still do chores around the house?  Yup.  Will we still pursue our hobbies and/or creative pursuits?  Yup.  Will we still read books and play outside and build things with our hands?  Yup, yup, yup.   But because we’re doing those things of our own volition, when it feels right, when it makes sense to US, (rather than just as a means to an end) they will mean something.  They will be appreciated on their own merits.  They will be something we learn from, rather than something we endure.

Oh, and as for those coveted electronics?  We’ll use and enjoy those too…. without jumping through any hoops to get to them.


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I’m Not The Meanest Mom

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I realized something recently.  As adults, we like to hear stories of other adults performing some sort of kindness.  We like the feel-good stories of people helping their fellow man, standing up to injustice, or showing love to a total stranger.  It restores our faith in humanity.  It makes us feel good, and it motivates us to be kinder ourselves.  Kinder.  Gentler.  More compassionate. You know what we don’t see all that often?  People sharing about the times they weren’t all that kind, or respectful, or compassionate. And sure, we’re human. We’ve all done it:  We have a bad day, and we inadvertently and regrettably take it out on some poor nearby soul.  But we don’t rush to share those days, because we recognize – both on an intellectual level and on a heart level – that it’s not exactly something to brag about.

But when it’s a parent being unkind towards a child?  We* (as a society) not only tolerate this bad behavior, but we embrace it.  We actually cheer it on.

When it comes to kids, we glorify violence.  We celebrate cruelty.

So while we seem to have it right when it comes to adult on adult behavior, our collective treatment of our children is abhorrent, and getting more concerning by the day. Baby, we’ve got a long way to go.

I feel like it started with the laptop shooting dad, but it has multiplied at an alarming rate since then.  This trend of publicly parenting through bullying, shame, and intimidation is everywhere.  I feel like I can’t go a single day anymore without seeing another one.    Parenting has become a contest, but a sick one.  A contest not to find the sweetest mom, or the most competent mom, but the meanest mom. Everything is backwards.  Meanness is exalted, spitefulness is praised.   Parents boast about how mean they are to their kids, and instead of gently suggesting alternatives (or possibly better yet, denying them any attention at all), we put them on a pedestal.  We feed this very cycle of unkindness.  A quick perusal of the comment threads on any one of these public shamings tells us everything we need to know.  Hundreds, and yes, thousands of positive comments, singing the praises of meanness, shouting their rallying accolades, and devouring anyone who dare stand up for the children.

How can we do this to these little ones, the most vulnerable members of our society?  The people who need the most empathy and the most tender care, are being maligned, minimized and mistreated.

And we’re watching it happen.

I don’t know the answer.  I don’t.  I know we need to keep talking about it.  I know we can’t quietly sit back and accept it.

But it starts at home.  It starts with our own kids.

And listen, I’m the first one to admit I’m not a perfect mom.  None of us are.  I struggle sometimes with patience.  I sometimes let sleep deprivation get the better of me and am unnecessarily short with my kids.  I have to constantly remind myself to live in the moment.  I have to constantly remind myself not to sweat the small stuff.

Yes, I apologize to my children often.

But the big difference between me and the “meanest mom” supporters is that I’m saddened by mean behavior (by or towards anyone), not buoyed by it.  So no, I won’t pat you on the back for celebrating meanness.  No, I won’t be offering any “Atta girl!”s or “Way to go!”s or “Good job, mom!”s.  No, I won’t praise you for being unkind.

And I get it.  My opinion is the unpopular one.  The cool kids are all worshiping at the alter of childism.  Well, I opt out.  I don’t want to be a part of your club.  I don’t stand in solidarity with anyone who rallies around the idea of mistreating children.  I don’t care how loud your voices are.  I don’t care how many members you have.  I don’t care how good your cookies are.

I Opt Out.

In my life, in my world, I will celebrate kindness.  I will cheer for compassion.  I will stand up for grace, and forgiveness, and gentle communication.

Children learn from our actions.   Throwing away a child’s ice cream (because in his childlike excitement he forgot to say “thank you”) doesn’t teach him to say thank you, it doesn’t teach him what it means to be polite, and it doesn’t teach him gratitude.  It teaches him that if someone doesn’t behave in the way we want, that it’s okay to bully them, and that it’s okay to take someone else’s things.

Children learn from our actions.  Spanking a child for misbehaving doesn’t teach him right from wrong.  It teaches him that “might makes right”, that pain and fear are effective motivators, and that it’s okay to use physical force on someone who’s younger and more vulnerable than you.

Children learn from our actions.  Sending a child to time out when he’s having a hard time doesn’t teach him to think about his actions. It teaches him that mom is going to isolate him from her attention, her love, and her touch, at the very moment when he is needing them the most.

Children learn from our actions.  Publicly shaming a child a for making a mistake doesn’t teach him not to do it again.  It teaches him, again, to use bullying to solve his problems.  It teaches him that he can’t trust the one person he should be able to trust the most.  It teaches him to feel worthless, and ashamed, and humiliated… making him even MORE likely to repeat the behavior in the future.

Children learn from our actions.  Punishing a child (as opposed to kindly communicating, listening, and guiding) does not teach him respect.  Or responsibility.  Or accountability.  It teaches him to be bitter.  To be angry.  To be spiteful.  It teaches him to be extrinsically motivated by the fear of mom’s negative repercussions, rather than intrinsically and positively motivated by his own internal sense of right and wrong.

If you want to raise kids that are polite, respectful, and kind, start by being polite, respectful, and kind to your kids.

It starts with you.  It starts with us.

Let’s stop glorifying bullies, and start treating our kids the way we’d like to be treated ourselves.

Kids are people too.

#NotTheMeanestMom


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When You Can’t Walk Into Their Room Without Tripping

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Photo Credit:  Matt Gromes

The newest parenting-related picture to go viral on Facebook is a photo of a huge stack of filled trash bags.  Mom captioned the photo with the explanation that her teenage daughter wouldn’t clean her room, so the mom bagged everything up, and was making her daughter pay her $25 a bag to get her stuff back.  It was hard to tell just how many bags there were, as they were all stacked on top of each other, but there were clearly enough for the daughter to owe her mother at least a few hundred dollars.

As is usually the case, the comments were overwhelmingly positive, and the mother was almost universally praised.    I’m always kind of amazed at the feedback on these things.  I’d like to think – really, I need to think – that there are people out there who don’t feel right about it, but who just don’t know what else they would do in that situation.   Or maybe there are people who want to offer some alternatives, but they are shamed into silence by the “Stop being so judgmental!!” crowd.  (By the way, when you publicly boast online about how proud you of are how you’re punishing your children, you are explicitly inviting feedback.   It’s the way the internet works)

Dialogue is a useful thing.  Lots of parents can relate to the struggle of kids and messes, but not every parent chooses punishment and/or shame as a parenting tactic.  There are alternatives to navigating even the messiest of messy rooms, that do not involve bagging up all their stuff and throwing or giving it away, or making them earn it back.

As with everything else, it all begins with relationship:

1. Recognize that everyone is different.  Personality and individual constitution play a big role here.  Some people are naturally very tidy.  Some make a mess everywhere they go.  I am very much the latter.  And while I’ve come to appreciate how much better I operate in a clean, uncluttered environment, it is something that I have to continually work on.  I am 42 years old, and I still have to make a conscious effort to keep things picked up.  Harping on me or shaming me would not only not encourage me, but would also make me angry, and even less likely to put forth the effort.  Kids are no different!  If you make them feel badly about themselves, they’ll live up to the negative.  Instead, help and encourage them, and see what a difference it makes, both in their behavior and in your own peace with the situation.   Accept them the way they are, and resist the urge to compare and pit one against the other. Comments like, “Why can’t you be more like Henry?” are hurtful, and leave scars that last well beyond childhood.

2.  Adjust your expectations.   I am not a big fan of the phrase, “Pick your battles,” but bedroom cleanliness is one area where it may apply.  It’s okay – and yes, even a positive thing! – for them to have the freedom to keep their own personal space the way they like it. Some things shouldn’t be negotiable, for good reason (for example:  leaving food or trash laying around can attract bugs;  too much clutter on the floor can become a safety hazard)  But there is a whole range of happy compromise in between hospital corners and things-are-growing-faster-than-bacteria-in-a-petri-dish.  Adjusting your own expectations and working with your child, rather than against him, go a long way towards both keeping the peace in the home and your relationship intact.

3.  Model taking care of your own things.   I have found, again and again, that when I’m in a good routine myself, the kids tend to magically follow suit. Show them what it looks like to take pride in your home.  Pick up after yourself. Put things away after you use them.  Don’t grumble about housework.  Treat it as an act of service for yourself, and for your family.  Your kids learn far more from watching you than they do from any speeches you may give them about cleanliness.

4.  Ask them to pick up before things get out of control.  I think we have a tendency … (and when I say “we”,  I mean “I”) … I think we have a tendency to let things fester and not say anything about them while they build.  Then, we inevitably get resentful, the situation gets blown out of proportion, and we finally burst.  We finally say something, or ask for help, and we’re not very nice about it.   It is a whole lot easier – and more peaceful for all involved – to say, “Can you please pick up these legos on the floor so I can tuck you in without hurting my feet?” than it is to deal with the fallout of a room that’s reached a level of “We need to rent a dumpster and fill 87 trash bags if we want to see the floor again.”   Getting into good habits, working together, and talking to your kids instead of barking orders helps the entire household run more smoothly and peacefully.  Plus, it is far less work to deal with little messes as they happen than it is to deal with giant messes that have been accumulating over time.

5.  When it does get bad, ask if you can help.  So, you’re thinking, “Picking up before things get out of control sounds nice in theory, but that ship has already sailed.”  I so get it.  Speaking as both a mom and as a person who has a natural tendency to let messes take over:  I think that when it gets to that point, it isn’t so much that your kids don’t want to pick up as it is that they are overwhelmed at the enormity of the project and don’t even know where to start. The struggle is real!  Ask if you can help.  Break it up into smaller jobs and tackle it together.  Do whatever works well to get the job done.  Make it a game, set timers, play some music.  If they don’t mind you touching their things (some of my kids would rather do it themselves, some welcome the assistance), you can even surprise them by doing it for them.  It’s a huge gift to give them, and my daughter in particular is always so thankful.  Then, once you’ve gotten it under control again, re-visit #4.  Repeat as necessary.

6.  Help/encourage them to periodically cull through their belongings.  The less “stuff” you have, the easier it is to keep it organized.   Every so often (ideally a couple of times a year, or at least before big gift-giving occasions like Christmas) help them go through their things to see if there’s anything they don’t want anymore that they can then sell, donate, or give away. Personality plays a large role here too.  Some kids have no problem giving up toys that they don’t play with anymore, even if they just got it a year ago. Others really like to hang on.    Respect where they’re at, and work with them on solutions.  Help them find new homes for the things they don’t want, and help them organize and store the things that are staying.

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It is a frustrating feeling indeed when messes get out of control.  But giving into that frustration and unloading it via yelling, punishing, or shaming your kids doesn’t help anyone… not you, and certainly not your child.   Instead, take a deep breath, – or 10 or 100 – take the emotion out of it, and work together on solutions.   You’re not going to change your child (and really, would you want to??!!), but you can help him with strategies he can use, both now and in the future.

And as for you as the parent?   Remind yourself as often as necessary that kids are all different, and that that’s okay.  Tell yourself that you’ll respect your kids where they’re at.   Work with your kids on keeping their rooms tidy, but recognize that the space is ultimately theirs, and that that’s okay too.  Decide what is non-negotiable and let go of the rest.

And if all else fails, just shut the door.

 

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