Category Archives: Appropriate Behavior

Raising white men in America

I mentioned in passing yesterday that I think there’s a special responsibility when you’re raising white boys to be men in America. (Maybe in other countries, too, but I can only speak to America as here and Mexico are the only places I’ve ever lived.) A couple people asked in the comments and by email for me to expound on my thoughts.

As with everything, I’m not an expert. But when my first child came out and was a boy, I started thinking about what my job was in raising him. I’d been prepared to raise a strong girl, but hadn’t put as much thought into how to raise a truly strong boy. Once I started thinking about that, it occurred to me that I also had the responsibility to raise a child who was going to have some understanding of race and ethinitcity in America and wasn’t going to take undue advantage of the system.

The first part of this is raising kids who are happy with who they are, who know what makes them special, and who are willing to work hard but also know their own areas of competence. If you really know who you are, then you don’t need to think less of anyone else. You all have seen it on the internet–the people who attack (obviously or passively) are the ones who aren’t sure about themselves.

With the next step, I have a huge advantage. We live in New York City, so we bump into (literally) people of all races and ethnicities all day long every day. We ride the subway and bus, and interact with people wherever we are. When you have the chance to see people who look different from you and from each other, it’s easy to show your kids that people are people. Knowing people of other ethnicities is the best way to lessen interpersonal racism, because you know they are people, not just  categories.

I’m not sure how I’d work it if I lived in a place in which there wasn’t as much opportunity for one-on-one interaction with people who didn’t look like my kids. I grew up in a neighborhood that was overwhelmingly white but my parents had a variety of friends from different backgrounds. And they had the idea that we should know about more places and people than just the ones on our street. That openness informed the way they chose books and toys and TV shows for us to watch and helped us navigate things later on.

I think the bigger challenge than helping your kids avoid interpersonal racism is dealing with institutional racism. In my opinion, institutional racism is far more evil and hard to fight. The biggest problem is that, for white people at least, it’s invisible. It just looks like The Way It Is, and unless someone talks about it with you, it can be hard to understand that the status quo isn’t necessarily fair or just, and is putting some people in a position of superiority to others. Then once you know that, it’s even harder to figure out what you can do not to reinforce that system.

So, what’s the best way to smoke something out? Talk about it. And talk and talk and talk. In an age-appropriate way, of course, but when you see any kind of bias going on, talk about it with your kids. This election cycle is a bonus of teachable moments if your kids are 5 or older. (Both on women’s history and on race and ethnicity in America.) The news (at least here in NYC) is also an unfortunate object lesson if you’re willing to talk about why a kid with a candy bar gets shot for being in the “wrong” neighborhood.

I sometimes worry about saying the wrong thing. But then I think, as long as I’m keeping my eyes open and listening to what’s going on and helping my kids learn to distinguish appearances from reality, whatever we say is part of the process. It’s not like you can just swallow a Don’t Be Part Of The Problem pill and everything’s fixed. Human beings are born to make classifications and divisions, and unpacking that takes a long time and a willingness to keep up the conversation even when it’s not happy.

I learned a heck of a lot about institutional racism from reading blogs of people who write a lot about race (some of them are about transracial adoption):

Anti-Racist Parent

American Family (and her entire blogroll)



Peter’s Cross Station

If you start with any one of these blogs and start reading and following links, you will read some important stuff by some thoughtful people. And if you’re white like me and my kids, you will probably read somethings that make you feel uncomfortable at best. That’s part of the process. You need to know. So do your kids. I know they have more practical suggestions than I do, but then, I’m still trying to find a path through it myself.


Q&A: special needs child

Katie writes:

“I have a 3-year-old son with autism and figure at least some of your readers have experience with special needs. My boy was diagnosed as having moderate autism just before he turned 2, and I am so proud of how far he has come. (I could write a whole separate e-mail about all of the therapies and interventions he has endured.) He is very verbal now and, though he is in a special preschool class, I believe he will be mainstreamed into a regular classroom by elementary school and be almost indistinguishable from his typical peers.

My dilemma is whether I should ever tell him about his autism. He hears me speak of it often now; I have no qualms about telling someone he is on the spectrum, partly because it explains some of his behaviors that new friends may find odd, and partly because I am so proud of all the progress he has made. But he is getting closer to the age when he will really pick up on what I’m saying when I speak to others about him.

I don’t want to completely ignore it or act as if it never happened or make it into this big secretive talk–“Son, let’s sit down for an important talk about something terrible about you.” It is a part of who he is, a part of his past and present. I guess what I’m looking for is wisdom from others who may have gone through this before. Do I stop mentioning it so much? Do I wait for him to ask me something down the road? Do I phase out the word “autism” as his symptoms show up less and less?”

Hmm. On the one hand, I feel like he’s going to know there’s something different about him. On the other hand, you don’t want him to grow up thinking there’s something less about him. So how do you balance the two–acknowledging that he’s got some things that are different about him but also letting him know that he’s great the way he is?

I wrote that first parapgrah three weeks ago, and have been sitting on this post ever since, trying to figure out what to write. The fact is, I don’t know what it’s like to have a special needs child. It would be disingenuous of me to talk about it, I think, because I’ve never had the experience of parenting a child who isn’t always going to be received easily by the world. (I definitely think I have a special responsibility in raising two white men in America, but that’s a different post.)

I’d love to hear from moms and dads of kids who don’t fit neatly into the boxes that we expect kids to fit into. Not just kids who have autism, but kids who have any other kind of developmental issue, kids who have chronic illnesses, kids who look different.

How do you manage their “issues” (treatments, therapies, medical inteventions, etc.) while still loving and respecting them as people? How do you straddle the line between living your experience as the parent of a special needs child and honoring their experience as a special needs person? What if the “special need” is something that isn’t recognized by the larger world (like being a highly sensitive or spirited person)?

Please talk about it. If you want to link to other supportive areas of the internet, please do. (If you type in the http:// before the www part of the address it’ll automatically hyperlink so people can just click through your comment.)

Q&A: Controlling Toddler Meltdowns?

Sarah writes:

“I discovered a few days ago that if I yell, sternly, ENOUGH!!!, when my18-month old starts spiraling into a tantrum, he stops, stunned by my
loud and stern voice, and returns to a calm state.  On the weekend, he
was about to meltdown in his stroller, and I yelled ENOUGH and it
stopped him dead in his tracks, I have to admit I was quite pleased.
Today he started to melt down because I wanted him to stop playing with
something that was dangerous and so I yelled ENOUGH again, and again,
it worked.  But today instead of being pleased I started to wonder if I
was scaring him into submission, or “training” him like one might train
a dog.  I have no idea how to deal with tantrums.  I have read your
posts and I understand that it’s ok to comfort an 18-month old through
the tantrum without giving into their “want”.  But if I can stop it
before it becomes full-blown, isn’t that preferable?  Or, am I using
old tactics that we’ve learned since are harmful to a child’s

This is part of a broader issue, which is that I just want my boy to be
happy, and I know my husband feels I am on the verge of spoiling him by
rarely saying no to him.  Do (good) parents yell at toddlers, as I’ve
started to do to halt bad behaviour, or is that a total no-go?  I feel
at a total loss.”

I’m going to say that this is not a good thing. On the one hand, it is kind of just a distraction method, right? You’ve shocked him into being quiet. But really what’s happening is that you’re yelling at him to get him to stop yelling.

I absolutely appreciate the urge that made you yell ENOUGH! in the first place. And I think we’ve all been there with the kneejerk, instinct-level reactions (your preschooler smacks you and you reflexively smack him back, your elementary schooler calls you a name and you respond with “it takes one to know one!”, etc.) because none of us are perfect and it’s just human nature to react when you feel attacked, even by a little kid. However, the goal is that you make discipline policies that are well-thought-out and are going to help your kid (and yourself, too) learn mastery of themselves and increase connection with you.

So, as a policy, yelling is a no-go, because it’s just punitive (and is experienced as violence, for sure). It’s not teaching anyone anything good–it’s teaching your kid to be afraid of you and it’s teaching you that brute force is the way to run the situation with your child. And in the long-term it’s not helping you guys individually or as a pair.

Honestly, I’m really starting to feel like toddler tantrums are just another developmental blip for us to ride out, like the 4-month sleep regression or that stage when they only want to eat things they can feed themselves. I think tantruming, on a kid-by-kid basis, is “normal” behavior and no matter what we do it’s going to pass. And maybe for some kids there’s something simple you can do to get them to stop having tantrums or to get them through that stage faster, but not for all. Which means that you try some stuff, but not with the goal of finding The Cure, just with the goal of helping you all deal with it in a way that honors all of you as people.

The bigger thing I think you need to look at is how you and your husband are approaching discipline. At all ages, but especially at this age, it’s about setting boundaries, not about getting kids to obey. (I really hate that word obey.) When kids obey, they’re doing it because they fear punishment, not because they’re making the choice themselves. I think we can all (or most of us) agree that the goal is to raise adults who have an internal sense of right and wrong and the power to make good decisions for themselves and others.

This young toddler age isn’t about having them make good choices, because their ability to actually choose and then carry out an action is limited, and when they get an urge it’s super-hard for them not to do it. But it is about getting them used to boundaries, and that they aren’t going to be allowed to do certain things (like hurting a pet, running into the street, sticking forks in electrical outlets, etc.), that they are going to have to do certain other things (like brushing their teeth, having their diapers changed, etc.). Another aspect of boundaries is learning that they will be loved, that no one is going to hit them or yell at them (which is why kids who are abused have problems with boundaries later), that their opinion matters, that they’re part of a community.

So it sounds like your husband sees setting boundaries as “saying no to him,” while saying no sounds too punitive to you. So maybe sit down together and talk about setting boundaries and how you want to do that. Three great references to get your head around the concepts of setting boundaries are Haim Ginott’s Between Parent and Child, Lawrence Cohen’s Playful Parenting, and Faber and Mazlish’s How To Talk So Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk. (If you can only get one, get the Ginott.)

For practical, minute-by-minute tips on boundaries and dealing with tantrums at this young toddler and preschooler age, I don’t know anyone else better than Sharon Silver. I’m hoping she’ll drop in and comment on this post. (OK, I just clicked over to her site to find the URL to link, and started laughing because her current headline is “Stop Reacting – Start Responding – We’ll Show You How. Do you find yourself yelling at your toddler or preschooler because you’re frustrated and you don’t know what else to do?” Ha! So yeah, let’s hope she drops in.)

Q&A: Chopped liver?

Meggimoo writes:

“My 2-1/2 year-old son adores my husband. I’m happy about that. I’m ok with taking the back seat since the 1st year of his life he only wanted me (and my breasts). But for the past 6 months, and with no end in sight, it’s not just that he prefers my husband. He actively does not want me to have anything to do with him if my DH is within 500 feet. I can’t put him to bed, I can’t sing him songs at night, I can’t change his clothes, ad infinitum. Of course, I still do these things when necessary, but they’re met with the utmost protest. If my DH is not around, my DS will grudgingly allow me to be in his presence

I’m trying to be mature about this (ahem) and not feel hurt. That works most of the time. But sometimes I just wonder when/if this stage will end. Is this it? Am I just not going to be a preferred member of his posse forever more? I had always heard that boys adored their mothers. Has anyone out there gone through this and come out the other end? Did their sons (or daughters) begin to gravitate toward them again? I guess I’m just thrown by the suddenness of how this all occured. I feel like the new wife my DH just married, trying to win over his toddler. But, hello! I pushed you out with no drugs, dammit. (Hmm, I’m beginning to sound like MY mother.)


So you know it’s normal, but it still hurts. I remember it vividly, and it hurt me, too. Heck, it still hurts now when they see their dad and run off to him and leave me hanging. (Of course that may also have something to do with the inherent weirdness of our co-parenting in a completely different–and probably healthier–way than we did while we were still together.)

And it really feels like you spent so much of your life giving and giving and giving and now he doesn’t want anything to do with you. It would be one thing if he was ready to go out of the nest completely, but the switching alliances to his dad while you’re still there just stings.

Two thoughts (and then I’m leaving for the airport):

1. I think it’s a biological thing. At this age, many mothers are having another child, so it makes total sense for the child to be programmed to prefer the dad at this point, so the mother can focus on the new baby. Even though there’s no new baby, his developmental stuff is still going on as programmed. Maybe you could get a cat, or take up a new hobby to keep yourself busy until he comes out of this phase.

2. It does change. At some point in the future he’ll want you again, and may even tell your husband, “No, I want Mom!” and refuse to let anyone else touch him.

I don’t want to miss my flight, so I’ll turn this over to the readers. Anyone else feels just hurt and insulted by this phase? When did it end?

Getting along with your parents as an adult, part 5: Four ideas about parenting your kids better than you were parented

1. Parenting in reaction to the way your parents interacted with you means their failure still controls you.

It's tempting to look at the things your parents did that hurt you and vow to do the opposite. But when you do that, it means your parents are dictating the way you parent your own kids. So they (and the things they did or didn't do that hurt you) are still controlling you.

One of the running themes I've noticed is parents who didn't seem to see who their kids were or what they really needed. Parenting the opposite from the way your parents did puts you in prime position to do this to your own kids, because you're not focusing on your kids as individuals–you're reparenting yourself instead. My mom laughed about this when I was maybe 6 or 7 and we were at the shoe store. She wanted me to get black patent Mary Janes, but I wanted the brown lace-ups. Finally I broke down and wailed, "Mo-om, I don't want the fancy shoes!"  My mom stopped, thought, and realized that when she was that age, she'd always wanted the fancy shoes, but her mother had always made her get the sensible shoes (she already had 2 or 3 younger siblings by that point, so the shoes had to last). So she was forcing me to get the fancy shoes because those were the shoes she'd always wished she'd gotten but could never have.

That's obviously a trivial example, but it does show how you can do this stuff without even thinking about it. But once you do think about it, and expose it, you're not held hostage by it anymore.

Instead, by identifying and releasing what happened to you, you're saying "This wasn't healthy." Then you can calmly figure out what is healthy and start there with your own kids.

2. Giving your children what you didn't get from your parents won't make up for what you didn't get and it won't make it OK. But it's better than repeating the cycle, and it gives you a good relationship with your kids.

If your parents aren't capable of it, you will never get what you need/ed from them. There isn't anything you can do about that. Let yourself grieve/rage/sob.

Even being the best parent you can possibly be won't bring back what you lost from your parents. But at least you know you're not doing to your kids what was done to you. And you're also creating the connection, space, and boundaries necessary for a healthy relationship and closeness with them for the rest of their lives (even though they'll eventually leave you physically).

3. There is no such thing as perfection. But you can do better than your parents did. And you'll hope your kids do better than you did.

My mom is not a perfect mother. From her point of view, she yelled too much. (She pretty much did. Although sometimes we deserved it.) She had other imperfections, too. But she parented me better than her own mother parented her, and my grandmother parented my mom exponentially (truly miraculously) better than her own parents parented her.

That's what's supposed to happen. It is absolutely not possible for you to parent your children perfectly. No matter what you do, they're going to be screwed up somehow. But if you can do better than your own parents did, you're honoring your children. (Those of us with parents who are pretty healthy have probably already heard them say some version of "I know you'll do a better job with your kids than I did with you" and mean it.)

So good news for those of you who got a truly raw deal–you have plenty of room to make some huge mistakes and still have your kids come out of it saying "I have no idea how my mom was such a great mom, especially considering how she was raised."

4. You have the ability to get a reality check.

Something our parents, isolated in their houses and apartments, never had. The internet is here so we can talk to each other and say things like "I freaked out on my toddler in the middle of the night and am afraid I've ruined everything" and there will be people there to tell you to apologize to her and start again in the morning. Or, conversely, to let you know that it's not a realistic expectation that your 4-month-old be able to entertain himself for an hour at a time.

A friend of mine grew up with a mother who never quite recovered from her divorce and was quite bitter about it. My friend said she wanted a healthy marriage and family, so when she was in high school she started spending time at the homes of friends with together parents and happy home lives. And she paid attention to everything and filed it away. She knew she was going to need to see it modeled if she wanted to replicate it. Super-smart cookie, my friend. She knew the danger of being stuck in a feedback loop with only yourself, so she started building a file of reality checks for herself long before she needed them.

Ok, what am I forgetting?

Getting along with your parents as an adult, part 4: More on expectations and hurt

Sorry for the late posting today–I’ve got a nasty head cold and fell asleep last night when the kids did. I had the amazing realization this morning that I can actually take cold medicine, though, as I’m not nursing anymore. I’m about to pop some cold meds for the first time since 2001 (Last time I was neither pregnant nor nursing). Woo-hoo!

Anyway, I should have predicted that we’d need 5 days instead of just 4 to deal with this topic. I’m not sure we’re done with the parents part yet and are ready to go to implications for parenting our own kid. At least I’m not. So I’m going to hit some of the topics that came up yesterday. Then tomorrow (a Saturday post!) I’ll put up my thoughts on parenting your own kids. I’ll leave that up all weekend, and post something kind of short and light weight on Monday so we can still chew on it.

Yesterday enu and hedra were saying that they don’t use the word “owe” in terms parents and adult children. While i absolutely see their point, I disagree and definitely use the word “owe” to talk about the relationship in the parent-to-child direction. For me, the bottom line is always going to be that the parent chose (inasmuch as there was an actual choice possible) to have and raise the child. No child ever chooses to be born or who its parents are. Which means there’s automatically a huge imbalance, and that sets up an obligation on the part of the parent to provide certain things for the child. Respect, food, shelter, love, clothes, education, socialization, and cultural values are what I think the absolute basics are.

Now, what you owe your kids when they’re adults completely varies, depending on the culture you’re raised in, but also on how you parented when your kids were younger. There are some families in which kids are expected to leave the house when they’re 18. That may sound harsh to some people. But if the parents in those families taught the children how to financially support themselves so that by the time they were 18 they were able to leave without falling into poverty, then the system completely works. (Some of the most resourceful people I know were lovingly kicked out at 18, but they were also raised to be independent thinkers who land on their feet too often for it to be luck.)

If, however, you do nothing to prep your kids for the world and kick them out at age 18, then IMO you’re not fulfilling your responsibilities as a parent. (remember a few years ago when the media was all over the “boomerang generation” of 20-somethings who were living with their parents? It wasn’t the logistics that bugged people–it was that the adult kids either weren’t technically equipped to live alone or were lacking the drive to separate that bugged people.)

So again with the paradox–the more completely your parents fulfilled their responsibilities when you were young, the less they “owe” you as an adult. Or at least the less difficult personally it is to provide what they owe you.

But, and this is a big but (oh, yeah!), if the parent doesn’t have good emotional reserves when the kids need them, it’s really hard for them to give it to the kids. I’ve experienced this myself over the last few years. There was a time in which the only thing I had going for me was my kids (and this blog) and I could put all my focus on them, but it wasn’t the focus of a healthy person with good self-esteem. It was the pure and complete love of a broken person. And then when I made the move to get out, I just felt so free! It was like everything was technicolor. I was giddy all the time. And I started figuring out all these things about myself, who I am, what I like, what I want from life. And I realized that it would be really easy to lose that intense connection to my kids if I went with the urge to flip myself inside out to start rebuilding my life. But I was so lucky in that I’ve never associated my children with the misery of my life. So I was able to keep that connection while also stretching out to find my new life.

I think women who maybe were ambivalent about having kids in the first place and who had fewer choices than I do and don’t analyze everything that comes down the pike the way my mom trained me to and who felt like the kids were part of the Great Sadness, well, I think it feels to them like a choice between themselves and their kids.

But let’s move on to knowing why the behavior is there and setting boundaries and still being so, so hurt by it. I absolutely love what Sharon Silver said in this comment:

“Dealing with parents, now that you are a parent, may mean that you have to share:

• I am adult and I need my boundaries to be acknowledged and respected.
• I know this may/will hurt you, but I can’t be near you if you choose
to treat my children in a way that is not in alignment with the way I
am raising them.
• I need a break from you while I feel my feelings about this and the
moment I am clear about my feelings I will share them with you.
• My choices and behavior have nothing to do with you, even if it makes you feel like I’m making you wrong in some way.

And if your choice to draw a boundary results in them rejecting you for a while, know this:
• All you’re doing is taking responsibility for your choices, words and actions, it is YOUR life now.
• Realize they are responsible for their choices, words and actions too, even if they don’t know or take that responsibility.
The choices people make speak volumes about them. Their choices are
THEIR statements about a situation and you can’t change it even if you
want to.”

Notice that none of what she said means that it doesn’t hurt you anymore. There’s a big gaping mom-sized wound some of you are carrying around. Or dad-sized wound. I will never be “over” my dad’s illness (lifelong clinical depression that he’s never really been able to get on top of despite oodles of meds) and how that’s affected our relationship. It still makes me cry sometimes, and wish I could fix everything for him and us and myself as a kid and him as a kid and just all of it.

But knowing that you’re giving yourself what your parents owe you by caring enough for yourself (and your kids!) to draw some boundaries, even when the hurt is still there like a rock in your shoe, well, that’s more than many people ever get to. And, it means that you get to spare your kids this same hurt.

Hey–the cold meds are working! But now I’m crying again about my dad. Please keep talking. Am I full of it? Does anyone have a step-by-step plan for moving through the pain? Do you feel lucky to have your parents? (I do.) Why are all the smartest, most sensitive people on the internet commenting on my site? Who needs a brownie right now?

Getting along with your parents as an adult, part 3: The adult child’s responsibility

Some notes about Num-Num and my mom’s posts: Let’s remember that they’re posting these things now, in hindsight. So they’re summaries of all the things they tried to do over the years, not a daily To Do list.

(3 am: Be thrilled to see preschooler when she screams “Mama! I had a nightmare! Can I come sleep with you?”
6:30 am: Wake up and tell husband joke, just to show you haven’t lost yourself and the sense of humor that attracted him.
9 am: Laugh. Then laugh some more.
9:10 am: Share faith and values. Use finger puppets.
10 am: When you accidentally break off side mirror on car while handing sippy cup to kid strapped into back seat while backing up because you’re late to doctor’s appointment, be sure to say “Well, that was a good experiment, wasn’t it?” instead of “Fucking fuck!”
1 pm: Perfect brownie recipe.)

I read somewhere that with parenting, 70% is perfect. Hitting your ideals and goals 70% of the time means you’re doing everything right. That’s something to think about as you step on a Matchbox car or Polly Pocket in your bare feet.

Oh, and that Brenda lady who wrote about entertaining your kids can bite me. Hard. Twice. I can’t imagine my mom “entertaining” me. What she did was do a lot of writing with her manual typewriter on the end of the dining table. And when I came to talk to her she’d get me to dictate and then she’d type up my poem or whatever I’d told her. (She wanted me to understand that my words were worth writing down.) Num-Num told me that she wasn’t a down-on-the-floor-playing kind of mom, but fortunately she was raising her son in the city, so they’d go out and walk, and she’d go as slow as her son wanted to go, and she’d answer all his questions to the best of her ability.

There are all sorts of ways to let your child know that s/he matters. Most of them don’t require being perfect, or even all that competent.

But on to the promised topic for today: Your responsibilities as an adult child.

I think there are two things that adult children have a responsibility to do to/for/with our parents:

1. Try to understand as much as possible what’s motivating them, and
2. Figure out where our boundaries are and enforce them.

Trying to figure out why they’re acting like they do

Figuring out what’s motivating a parent can benefit both of you if the relationship is basically healthy. If the relationship isn’t essentially sound, figuring out what’s motivating your parent will help you far more than it’ll help the parent.

It’s important to note that understanding why your parent acts the way s/he does toward you (and your kids and everyone else) doesn’t mean that you either blame them or absolve them of responsibility. It just means that you allow yourself to see your parent, the behavior, and your interactions as part of a system instead of just as random events. It’s unbelievably freeing to realize that it’s not just something about you that makes your parent act that way.

I think some a good examples of this from the comments is hush’s comment on Num-Num’s post about her aunt faking illness to get away from hush’s mom and how that made hush realize that it wasn’t her fault but was something her mom was dealing with instead. And that she couldn’t change it. Knowing is at least half the battle.

It’s also possible that when you figure out the motivation behind the behavior you can figure out how to switch things up so the issue disappears. I think that tons of the critical words parents level on their adult children about parenting decisions are because the parents feel indicted by the different decisions their children make. I mean, think about it–when our parents were raising us they were told to take speed during pregnancy so they didn’t gain too much weight, to start rice cereal at 2 or 3 weeks, and that crying was important because it “exercised our lungs.” If now they’re being told that the things they did with us were bad, then a certain number of them are going to end up feeling guilty or bad about that, and like we’re judging them. Even the idea that now we put babies to sleep on their backs can seem like we’re judging our parents! If your mom is already having a hard time figuring out how she feels about being a grandmother (because being a grandmother means she’s old, right?), and is conflicted about your taking the ultimate step toward independence and also replacing her, then how crappy is she going to feel that apparently now everything she did with you was wrong?

Obviously that doesn’t give her license to be a jerk to you.  But it’s possible that you could increase connection between the two of you by treating her as just another mom who was doing the best for her kid with what she knew at the time, and specifically asking her what they were told to do back then. Then discuss how experts have changed over the years. Keeping it on the level of “of course we all do what the latest research tells us to do because we want to do the right thing” makes it less personal and more about how science and research have advanced over the years. It wouldn’t hurt to bring up the idea that when your baby is grown they’ll probably do things differently than you’re doing them now, too.

Or you might realize that knowing why it’s happening makes it not bother you so much. In the case of a parent who is having problems with the idea of being a grandparent because it means getting old, just knowing that might be enough to make it not bother you so much. After all, it’s hard to be shoved into a new role, but most people grow into it eventually. If it’s bugging you but not really hurting your feelings irreparably, maybe knowing it’ll pass eventually is enough.

The kicker here, of course, is that all this figuring out, making connection, and cutting slack is easier for the people who already have good relationships with their parents. So for pete’s sake, don’t feel guilty if you can’t even conceive of what it would be like for your mom’s problem with becoming a grandmother not to bother you. If your parents didn’t lay the groundwork for an open, healthily-connected relationship with you, then there’s not much you can do about it, except for…

Setting boundaries

Holly commented yesterday:

“I find the recurring theme of “boundaries” interesting from bothyesterday’s and today’s post. Probably someone who is able to “give up
her own self” for her children (or spouse), will later not respect the
“self of the adult child.” If you don’t have boundaries for yourself,
how will you help create and allow boundaries for your child?”

So by choosing and setting boundaries not only are you giving your parent a shot at at least one normal healthy relationship, you’re also helping reestablish a baseline for yourself. Which, in turn, is going to help you be a better parent and help your children as well. Because when your kids are adults, none of you will be in distress about the boundaries, because you did all the heavy lifting right now.

Again, this is going to be easier if you already have a good relationship with your parent. (Which means your parent understood or worked on developing healthy boundaries, and was able to communicate that to you in at least some part.)

For those of you that are basically working alone and starting from scratch, here are some questions I’d start asking myself to help sort out where to start:

  • What can I reasonably get from my parent?
  • Is that enough?
  • If not, is there someplace else I can get that so I’m able to let go of the need to get it from my parent?
  • What am I willing to give up to get something from my parent?
  • If I take steps to setting some boundaries, do I have a way to check myself so I don’t get guilted or manipulated into abandoning those boundaries just to keep peace or win approval?
  • Am I prepared for short-term anger and hostility when I start to draw some boundaries?
  • Is there anyone else who knows my parent who can help me troubleshoot and back me up in my plan?

It sounds kind of stark and non-organic to have to look at it as a transaction. But as Kenny Rogers says, “You gotta know when to hold ’em, know when to fold ’em, know when to walk away, and know when to run.”*

I’m imagining it wouldn’t hurt, if your relationship with your parent is seriously labyrinthine, to read some stuff about negotiating, like Getting to Yes: Negotiating Agreement Without Giving In. (OK, this is hilarious: When I went to get the Amazon link I searched “getting to yes” and the book right under the GTY book is entitled Are Your Parents Driving You Crazy? So you’re not alone, apparently.)

This may mean limiting the amount of time you spend with your parents, or limiting the location. A friend recently hit upon the brilliant idea of doing a Family Vacation with her in-laws every year to someplace like Disneyworld because then the jockeying for superiority over who was hosting is lessened. Her in-laws are still horrible, but not having them in her house or being held hostage in theirs is enough to make visits bearable. And her kids get to spend time with their grandparents while making happy memories. (We’ll talk about protecting your kids from your parents’ bad behavior tomorrow.)

Since you’ve already figured out why your parents act the way they do, you’re released from the idea that you “should” do one thing or the other. It’s all part of a system, right? Not you being a Good Daughter. So you can make decisions about what you can accept based on reality instead of living up to an unattainable ideal.

Of course it may also mean that you give up on what was your dream for a close relationship, and maintain perfunctory contact, but get your emotional needs met someplace else. You are a worthwhile person and your kids are amazing–there are plenty of people who would be thrilled to become your extended family. Sometimes the idea of walking away to save yourself is worse than actually doing it.

Holy crap, that was long. But this is important. Comments?

* If you end up with that song in your head for the rest of the day, I apologize sincerely. If it makes you feel any better I probably can’t shake it either.

Getting along with your parents as an adult, part 2: More on the parent’s responsibility

Hold on–today's post is super-super-long. Grab a cup of coffee before you start reading.

Yesterday we heard from Num-Num on the parent's responsibility to an adult child. Today's guest is my mom, who, like me, is a little on thelong-winded side. I asked her to write the post because she and I have a great relationship and my adult brother and his girlfriend like and trust her, too. She's a Christian, and that comes out in the
piece she wrote for me, so beware if that'll offend you and skip over those parts. She writes:

How To Mother Your Child So You Can be Adult Friends
Four Easy Rules, Plus a Lot of Ruminations
by Moxie's Mom

1. Love your kid to bits. Unconditionally. 

2. Don't expect her to be an extension of you. Keep boundaries to let her be her own person. Respect her as a person. And take delight in finding out who she is, and how she is.

3. Don't be afraid of your kid's exceeding you. Take pride and pleasure in your kids' being better than you! 

4. Be selfish enough to want them to embrace your values and your faith. Work to achieve this, then toss it out there. Let them soar! And pray that they are better than you.

For the first, let me say that I did not set out to be my daughter's friend. I loved her to bits and was the best mother I knew how to be. In retrospect, the "method" went something like this:

Love Respect Share Care Treasure Thank Encourage Nurture Listen

Love 'em to bits.

Remember where parental authority comes from. We are stand-ins for God.
"The steadfast love of the LORD endures forever."

Steadfast Endure Do not expect an end.

Care for/love yourself in order to better do the same for your kids. For the "terrible twos" you need to get enough sleep and not over schedule yourself.

Never forget what it's like to be a kid.

Make/take time to do your favorite things. Allow your kids to know what tickles your fancy. Cultivate humor–family jokes.

Laugh with, not at. Laugh often. Laugh with abandon and delight.

Say "I love you." Say it again.

Be glad to see one another.

Light up when your child comes into the room.*

Show as much courtesy to your children as you would to your visiting clergyman! Yes, please. No, thank you. Here, I'll get that door. Do you need a hand? Oh, thank you; I needed that!

Be reasonably frank about who you are. Not Superwoman. But retain dignity.

Putting yourself down in front of your kids is dangerous. NEVER do it!

Allow yourself and others to make mistakes without losing face. Turn mistakes and wrong choices into learning experiences.

Analyze Discuss Evaluate Plan

Make extravagant plans. Make small plans. Plan surprises. Plan parties. Plan gifts. Plan projects for the good of the community. Build dreams. Acknowledge them for what they are: dreams. And then brainstorm what it would take to change them into realistic goals.

Indulge in "what-ifs."

Be creative. Ask open-ended questions. Experiment. Play word games. Challenge one another. Rent movies and share the Kleenex box! Cook for one another. Cook together.

Show consideration. Expect it in return.

Raising children to be selfish does no one any favors.

Let your children participate in your "good works." How many bouquets and loaves of fresh bread I delivered to neighbors and single schoolteachers throughout my childhood! How many Sundays I was sent to answer the door and entertain dinner guests until my mom was ready to call people to the dinner table (which I had helped to set)!

Give fair rewards. Praise when deserved. I still have a doll quilt Mom gave me as thanks for helping cut out forty-leven quilt blocks, which she sewed into doll quilts for the church bazaar. I was about seven, and took satisfaction from being entrusted with an important task, as well as knowing the pleasure of teamwork with my mom. I heard the bazaar lady exclaim over how pretty the quilts were, and I knew we'd done it together. But Mom decided to give me one for helping**. I remember being a little bit mystified. You see, I had already internalized her way of taking satisfaction from the doing, the giving, the anticipation of others' pleasure, the creative process, the Lord's work.

I think it's important to your relationship to keep on being yourself, even after your self becomes also "Mama." There is something unhealthy about "giving up" your life or "sacrificing" for your children. I don't mean you shouldn't make the child the center of your life at the appropriate time. But you rob the child, as well as yourself, of all those interesting talents, hobbies, foibles and quirks in your personality if you abandon your sense of self–humor, whimsy and all that attracted your spouse. Indulge your kooky side, don't pass yourself off as infallible–what a shock to the poor kid the day she discovers that lie!

Have a personality and allow your child to have one, too. Encourage and appreciate, applaud and chastise. But beware the urge to "mold." Especially when she's grown up and it's too late!

Share your faith. Practice it with your child.

Love Example Let go Pray Stand by

Never stop loving.

Have I said anything about respecting privacy? This is a touchy area, because there are some times and some topics where intervention is necessary–a breach of privacy, I suppose. Yet, even before the child has become adult, for a mom to honor her need to keep some things to herself–just may result in a smoother relationship because both sides "hold their tongues."

When it comes right down to it, to be a good friend you need to feed and nurture, love and respect. And if you want your child to grow up to be a friend, you need to start early with love and respect. Give as much freedom as is age-appropriate. it is far more rewarding to have your child come back freely than to come only out of guilt.

Guilt is one kind of obligation, a destructive one practiced by those working out of grasping and mean-spirited impulses. A better sense of obligation is the one built on love and gratitude, and a sense of duty to those with whom one allies. So a loved, respected child, by example, is likely to lavish love and respect back, and seek the company of that wellspring. Yet a child made to feel guilty and that he owes his parents can only struggle to pay what is due despite the crummy way he feels. He makes contact reluctantly. And that, too, makes him feel guilty. Controlling by guilt is a good way to drive your adult children away.

Be merciful. Apologize when appropriate. Forgive freely, yet uphold standards. Don't change the rules to make bad behavior "right." Your first job is to be a good parent, which means you teach the rules of living. You mustn't de-classify a sin for the sake of avoiding controversy, for being a friend. It doesn't work. In the end, it feels better to be called to account and forgiven. That is freeing.


Once your kids are adults, hold your tongue until asked.

Thank you for making me examine the subject. I feel very blessed to have such forgiving kids. I wasn't always as exemplary as I would like to recall. I was a yeller. And I'm sorry.

I have been very blessed.



One of the things I've always liked about my mom is that she's very deliberate and specific about showing the process. It's all a learning experience. I know that's what's let me be so forgiving of my own parenting mistakes and helped me see it all as a process of continuous improvement. No failures, only data points.

Tomorrow we're going to talk about being on the adult child side of things. I'm not an expert on this, only having one mom to deal with, but I can tell you some of the things I've observed.

Did my mom's post strike anything with you?

* My mom is good at being delighted over the phone, too. Every time I call she sounds like I'm calling to tell her she won the lottery.

** I'd never heard this story before she wrote it here. But it doesn't surprise me–when I was about 4 I helped her lay out some quilt blocks to make a quilt for my older cousin. I didn't know that Mom was making a matching one for me, too. When I opened the package with my quilt in it I looked at her and said, "But that's Kimmy's quilt!" I was so surprised and so happy when she told me we'd made one for me, too.

Getting along with your parents as an adult, part 1: The parent’s responsibility

So I've been putting this off for years. Literally. Years. I get emails occasionally from people asking how to navigate the relationship with their parents (usually their mothers) and I haven't known exactly how to address it, because it's not like a simple three-step process and all of a sudden everything's good. So I'm going to devote the rest of this week to the parent-adult child relationship so we can really chew it over and maybe have some personal revelations.

It's my opinion, based on observation of my own relationship with my mother as well as observation of my adult friends' relationships with their own mothers, that there's only so much an adult child can do if their parent didn't/doesn't lay the groundwork for a good lifelong relationship. So today and tomorrow are going to be about reasonable expectations of the adult child's parent. I'm hoping some of my commenters with adult children of their own (Kathy B and Sharon Silver, in particular) will toss their own thoughts into the comments. (Thursday we'll talk about responsibilities of the adult child. Friday will be controlling the repercussions of your relationship with your parent to create an even better one with your own kids.)

For this week: parent = parent of the adult child, and child = adult child.

What's the responsibility of a parent to an adult child?

I called in two guests, since I'm not a parent of an adult child. Today's guest is my friend/mentor Num-Num (not her real name), who is the parent of an amazing, wonderful 40-year-old man* who voluntarily lives within walking distance of her (with his brilliant wife and their above-average preschooler). Num-Num says:

"I’ve answered the questionfor those of us who love mothering. For those who have felt burdened
by it, it’s a whole other story, and it’s more about responsibility
than love.

Mothering never changes. Boundaries
change, responsibilities change, resources and life circumstances may,
but mothering doesn’t.

There are few boundaries at
birth and each separation is a brick in a wall of independence, both
for you and your child. Long before adolescence, a child’s body has
been turned over to her to care for. (That’s when you might think
about the wisdom of criticizing her hair.)

After adolescence, her mind
and heart gradually separate from her mother’s. But just as your own
mother is more important to you than you might have imagined when you
were a rebellious teenager, your children will feel the same way. It
is shocking, sometimes, how much weight a casual motherly comment will
carry. (You’re using cloth diapers? All I can say is thank God for

At each major stage in your
child’s life, she goes through turmoil that resembles leaving the
womb, especially when she exits out into the world. For those of us
who have loved being mothers as much as we’ve loved our children,
the last is the critical time. You never stop being a mother, but you
back off, gradually, while she tests out who she is and what she wants
from life. You keep one hand lightly on the small of her back and send
brownies.  Be prepared for a certain disdain for your opinions
as she adapts to her own generation and a world that is new to her,
if not to you.

She ought to be able to count
on you to remind her of the constant thread of her gifts, of the track
record of her successes, and of how much you believe in her. Don’t
worry about setting her straight about her faults; she’ll encounter
others happy to do that.

Some common interests, developed
over the years, help you spend your time together without the need to
examine every inch of your personal lives, or chew your child’s small
and large decisions to pieces. Is there any decision anyone ever makes,
from when you start feeding a baby solids to which spouse or profession
to choose that can’t be challenged?

Recognize that as your child
becomes independent she needs you less, but when she does,  she
may startle you by turning into the ten-year-old you had almost forgotten
about. Unnerved as you may be, when you hear that desperate cry, drop
everything. It’s been said that soldiers call for their mothers in
the heat of battle. It’s primitive.

Children also have a duty to
establish their own families. Loving them often means waiting to be
called on to help; believing that if you figured out how to raise your
children, they’ll do the same; trusting that you’ve given them a
good road map and, even if they’re off on a detour, they know the
way back. Most important in families is for the grandparents to understand
(and to call on memory) that their grandchildren do not belong to them.
Parents get to decide when and how you see them. There is nothing to
beat the enchantment of grandchildren, but they are someone else’s

Mothers of adult children also
have some realistic expectations as well. Your children need to know
that you may not be able to help them in ways you could when you were
younger. You ought to tell them, really you should. When you need your
children, it’s also a natural thing for families to sacrifice for one
another and give each other love and comfort. There is no time limit
on that. But the hierarchy of needs that’s been mentioned should have
everything to do with the seriousness of the need, not the person who
has the need.

I haven’t talked about specific
situations. But I’d be glad to, if it would help make the principles
seem more real. If you have an endless series of conflicts with your
Mother, decide  what your self-respect requires you to do for her.
Then look for role models and semi-surrogates in your life. You have
only one Mother, but there can be multiple motherly influences.

With all my instructions about
holding back, mothering with a light hand, being positive and
rarely interfering, I have always told my children that I reserve the
right to pull them back if I see a Mack Truck coming their way. I get
to judge whether or not it’s a truck."  

I see Num-Num working constantly to get it right with her son and DIL, to be close enough without smothering them. I think this is particularly important: "the hierarchy of needs that’s been mentioned should have
everything to do with the seriousness of the need, not the person who
has the need."

What resonates with you in what Num-Num says?

Tomorrow's guest poster is going to be my mom. Get ready, because it's a loooong post.

* Cute, funny, smart, a provider, does his share of night duty, enjoys being around women. He's not perfect, I'm sure, but she really did a great job with him.

Q&A: 15-month-old hitting and dealing with your mother

Amy writes:

"I have a 15 month old son who is such a love.  It has been love at first sight since the beginning.  We spend almost all of our time together.  My boyfriend has a very unpredictable schedule so we have days when it is all three of us but for the most part it is always me & child together (which i love so much).  Recently he has started slapping me or hitting me in the face.  Mostly it is when he is tired, at the end of his little rope… like on the final walk home from a morning out or before bed as we lie in bed together nursing and then if he isn’t going down he gets a little excited and slaps me or (this is great) when i am carrying him up 4 or 5 flights of stairs with grocery bags in each hand with him in an ergo carrier.  I do think it has something to do with unexpended body energy and tired state of mind for the most part but some days i really do have to go to the post office and the grocery store and he has to come with me.  Anyway, besides angering me to no end, it’s really embarrassing to be slapped in the face by a toddler and then hear laughing as I say NO.   Or try to catch his hands before he does it again and have him laughing the whole time.  I have experimented with different no’s:  Holding his hands down and firmly saying no.  He cries (because he hates to be restrained at all) and then hugs me. Which all feels bad.  Trying a surprise "NO!" in a louder, stronger tone which feels awful and is also really coming from an anger place and not something I believe in when setting boundaries for a baby.  He laughs.  I think its nervous laughter because I never use that tone or volume of voice with him but maybe he is just laughing at me.
To compound matters, I am out of the country for a bit and my mother came to visit.  It has taken a while for her to completely accept the way that i am raising the baby — extended breastfeeding, breastfeeding on demand, no CIO, no crib, no stroller until recently (one reason is just logistical, easier to navigate new york city with a baby on you rather than pushing a stroller but I also love having him near and up high with me), etc. etc. …Anyway, she is pretty much completely on board with me now as he has turned out to be such a happy, loving, independent, funny, wonderful person… there’s not much to fight me about.  But when it comes to the hitting me, well it makes me feel like a pushover in front of her, that my parenting is somehow too laid back or child centered.  She suggests growling "No" loudly and basically scaring him into behaving. 
What I really don’t like is reacting out of anger.  My mother really did get angry, angry at us when we were children.  She hit us (now she is horrified that she did such a thing), yelled & screamed at us when we pushed limits or broke rules and really we were very scared of her when she was angry.  It never stopped us from doing what we were going to do, I think, but it just made us better at not being caught.  I think she had a short fuse due to all of the turmoil that was happening in our lives.  I understand & forgive it all.   We’re really close and can talk about all of these things for the most part but her first instincts in terms of parenting advice always seem a little insane to me. obviously, having a child brings up all of these things for me.  How do I want to do it?  How do I set boundaries with out using FEAR and anger.  The baby is 15 months old.  He’s a baby.  Being angry at a baby is one of the worst feelings in the world.   I think I need a good plan to deal with this slapping so that I don’t allow it to fester and then blow up at him (which has happened a couple of times, my worst parenting moments to date) and also to set me on the right track for being strong and loving, setting boundaries with love."
There are three issues in this email: the hitting stage some toddlers go through, setting firm limits without being punitive, and negotiating your relationship with your own mother. Let’s do the first one and part of the second today, and then start a new topic about dealing with your parents tomorrow.
I don’t have an answer for the hitting issue. When there’s a clear reason a behavior is happening, you can address it, but I’m not sure the reasons young toddlers hit is always that clear-cut. If he were closer to 2 years old, he’d probably be hitting out of anger and frustration, so giving him another way to channel those feelings and at the same time helping him communicate better would probably curb the hitting quickly. But it’s not usually so clear-cut with a young toddler (under 18 months). Sometimes they hit out of tiredness, sometimes out of frustration, but sometimes they just hit because they like the way it feels, or think it’s funny.
I think the best thing you can do is try to keep him out of situations that provoke it (figure out if there’s a better time of day to do errands and a worse time, and try to avoid the worse time). At the same time, think about your feelings. What is it that makes you feel so embarrassed about being hit by him? Is this something that makes you feel worse than the other stuff he does that you don’t like? It seems like this hit (ha ha) a particular nerve. I’m wondering if maybe this was an issue your mom had particular problems with and was extra-punitive with you about. Or maybe this reverberates in you because you did get spanked as a kid. (That one sounds veeery familiar to me. Getting hit by my younger one shot right through to my psyche, and I think it’s because I felt so enraged when I’d get spanked as a kid.)
At any rate, it’s probably just a phase, so knowing that, it’s not a do-or-die situation to curb the behavior, as it’ll pass anyway. So you could use this time to figure out how you’re going to deal with misbehavior that sparks strong feelings in you.
The other thing is to figure out what’s going to work with him. I did do the roaring thing with my older son, and it stopped him in his tracks but after a quick hug he moved on (without doing the behavior I’d roared to stop). In other words, it worked the way it needed to, without making him feel bad (just startled!). My younger one, though, gets so upset if spoken harshly to, which makes it awful if he runs away someplace he’s not supposed to, because there’s no way to react except to scream "NO!"" BUt once we’ve talked about it, he does a great job with role-playing and pretending to be ä cat who stops at the curb" or whatever.
In other words, it’s all a process. And part of getting to know your child and yourself. And you’re going to make mistakes. And you’re going to have to do things that you don’t like (like making your kid cry when you scream "NO!" to stop him from running into the street). And your kid will piss you off, and your kid will piss you off. But you’ll work your way through it together.
I’m really hoping Sharon Silver has some comments about all this (especially the hitting), because I’ve never been good with figuring out what to do when the kid really does think it’s just fun.
Anyone else?