In Which I Learn My Thirteen-Year-Old Has Better Manners than Some Adults

Posted by on Aug 27, 2015 in Parenting on a Daily Basis, The World We Parent In | 0 comments


Adults love to complain about kids’ lack of manners—about kids’ rudeness, their selfishness, their refusal to think of anyone other than themselves. These complaints are sometimes valid. But from what I’ve seen lately, some adults need to think about the messages they’re sending to kids via their own behavior. In fact, I’ve discovered that my thirteen-year-old has better manners than many adults. (And that’s not a commentary on my son’s fantastic manners. This is the same kid whom I just scolded at the dinner table for grabbing his pancake with both hands and stuffing it into his mouth.)

Let’s take a few examples from our recent family vacation. We began a day at breakfast in a restaurant, where, upon exiting, a man twice let doors slam in my son’s face. Yes, this was a minor infraction. But we’ve taught our kids to hold doors open for people immediately behind them, so thirteen-year-old “Jack” found the behavior rude. As he should.

Then we moved on to mini-golf, which is something of a raison d’être for Jack. We were playing a few holes into the wilting hot course, ahead of two couples by a hole or two. I took my turn before my son, so I didn’t see what he noticed, which was a large leather purse sitting by itself at a hole adjacent to ours. He pointed it out to my husband, who recommended that my son take it to the course office. “Jack” picked up the purse and started walking with it toward the office.

I heard a high-pitched, wordless scream behind me. Then: “Stop, stop, stop! That’s mine! It’s mine! Stop! It’s mine!” One of the women who had been playing behind us ran at Jack full-speed, arms waving.

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How to Be a Good Sports Parent: a Real-Life Example

Posted by on Jun 17, 2015 in Education & Learning, Parenting on a Daily Basis | 0 comments

A shout-out for the parents of the U13 boys from this soccer club!

A shout-out for the parents of the U13 boys from this soccer club

Sports parents. Ugh. If you have a kid who plays sports, you know who I’m talking about. The guy who screams at his son from the sidelines because his kid didn’t make the play dad thought he should have. The woman who, during the game, scolds the kids on the other team for their rough play, the parents who fling loud condemnations at the ref, who hover as close as possible to the bench—and the coach—during the game, who call other parents obscene names, who drink alcohol during games or show up drunk, who talk about how bad the kids on the opposing team are as they stand right next to that team’s families, who yell at their seven-year-old kids to defend their f*&#%! goals, who threaten fistfights…shall I continue? No, that’s enough.

Obviously, most sports parents are not like this. But I didn’t make up any of these examples. We parents of kids who play competitive sports often catch glimpses of this behavior, and we witness some of it on a regular basis. It’s unfortunate, it’s appalling, and it diminishes what ought to be a positive experience for kids and adults alike.

This is why I want to tell you about the parents from the Central Maine United Soccer Club from the Greater Waterville area of Maine. My son’s club soccer team played one of their U13 (under age thirteen when the fall season began) teams a few weeks ago in a tournament, and watching that game with these Maine parents offered the most enjoyable sideline experience I’ve had since my son began playing competitive soccer.

For those unfamiliar with youth soccer sidelines, the spectators all sit or stand in a line down the length of one side of the field. (The players and coaches are on the opposite side of the field.) Spectators often organize themselves so that they are grouped together in the line by team, either on opposite sides of the center line or in small clusters up and down the field.

From the start of the game, the Maine parents near me kept their commentary on the game positive. When one of their boys made a mistake, they talked about it, but they didn’t yell or belittle; they mostly laughed it off. They called out encouragement to their boys rather than criticism. And when the ref made calls with which they disagreed, they noted it, but they didn’t become incensed like a five-year-old whose cookie had just been taken away.

Then there was their approach toward our boys.

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If You Give a Cat a Ribbon*

Posted by on Jun 3, 2015 in Domesticity, Miscellaneous, Parenting on a Daily Basis | 0 comments


If you give a cat a ribbon…oh, don’t bother. She will find one for herself—most likely when the rest of the household is absent, or asleep.

Then she will eat the ribbon—all eighteen inches of it.

How will you know this? Suspicions will begin at approximately the fifteenth hour of cat vomit, when there isn’t anything else to see but a houseful of puke and a very sick cat.

Your suspicions will be confirmed when the x-ray at the emergency veterinarian identifies a “stringy thing” in the cat’s intestine.

The cat will then have emergency surgery.

The cat will not offer to pay the thousands—yes, thousands—of dollars for the surgery herself. She will expect you to come up with the cash.

When you ask about what the vet found in your cat, the vet will ask if you’d like to see it. You will decline.

You will reminisce about that time in February this same cat ate foam flooring, leading you to dislocate a kneecap and spend several weeks on crutches. You will consider how lucky this cat is that she is adorable and sweet, because, apparently, she came into this world utterly unequipped with Darwinian survival instincts of any kind, and you will have to make up this deficit for her.

You will announce to your family that while this cat is at the vet overnight, the house must be cleaned of “all the things.” When the family groans and rolls eyes, you tell them that if they do not do as they are told, “the cat might die.” Cleaning will commence.

Three nanoseconds after cleaning is completed, you will find a hair elastic sitting on a bathroom counter. You will wonder how many lives cats actually have. You will wonder how many lives your kids have.

You will pick up your cat at the vet the next day. When you see her, she will be shaved in three places, still under the influence of painkillers and sporting the “Cone of Shame.” She will mew pitifully. You will apologize to her, though you will not be able to think why.

The vet will tell you to keep your cat isolated for ten to fourteen days in a room with no furniture and nothing she can jump on or from. You will stare at the vet as you try to picture the kind of house she lives in.

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Is Your Child Special?

Posted by on May 13, 2015 in Parenting on a Daily Basis | 2 comments


Of course he is, you say.

Okay, let me ask you the question in a different way: Is your child different from every other child? Does he deserve special treatment? Is he better than other children?

Does he believe he is the center of the universe? Are you encouraging this belief?

I have now led you to the middle of an ongoing debate in the parenting world: are we, as parents, raising a generation of narcissists?

We are of a parenting generation that has been taught (by books, by articles and talk shows, by experts in every form) that positive parenting is the only way to go. So we praise our kids. We tell them not only that we love them, but that they are beautiful, smart, strong, kind, sweet, thoughtful and more. We tell them that they are special. We tell them that they are the best.

And we show them we mean it. We struggle to spend every minute that we can with them, sacrificing our work hours–or even our careers, our sleep, our time with our spouses, our hobbies (wait, what are hobbies?), time with friends, workout time, etc. We are present when they want us, and even when they don’t, because we know that secretly, they do. We run our lives around their whims.

A much talked-about study recently concluded that too much praise can turn kids into narcissists. The study indicated that parents who overvalue their kids by telling them how exceptional they are don’t build kids’ self-esteem. However, they do build their kids’ sense of superiority and entitlement.


I’ve seen a lot of other discussion in this vein lately, much of it also suggesting that we ought to spend less time with our kids to show them that we have other priorities. Stop always putting their various events before our own.

I agree with the goal of raising kids who know they are not the center of the universe. The self-centeredness that was cute in my pre-school children is not at all attractive when I see it crop up sometimes in my tween and teen—even though I know all of us exhibit a little sometimes, and this is especially true for teens.

But…let’s make a crucial distinction. My kids should know that they are the most special people in the world—to me

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To Tell or Not to Tell Your Child?

Posted by on Apr 22, 2015 in Parenting on a Daily Basis | 0 comments

4012904148_ddded1b10d_oWe are all flawed beings.

Those of us who have been on the planet a few decades or so have presumably identified at least a few of our individual flaws and, hopefully, have taken some steps to ameliorate them. It’s a well-known benefit and irony of age that years bring wisdom that would have helped us in our youth. Oh well, at least we can employ our wisdom in our own lives going forward, and we can pass on what we’ve learned to our kids.

But what about the independent flaws we see in our children?

Our kids are as human as we are—as we once were. They possess flaws and weaknesses, some tiny personality quirks, some significant shortcomings, that interfere with social interaction or academic success or some other life skill or function. I’m not writing here of diagnosable disorders or disabilities, but rather of individual personality traits we all must learn to manage—once we identify them. Everyone has strengths; everyone has weak points.

What should a parent do when he believes he has identified something in a child’s emotional makeup that his child needs to work on? Should the parent tell the child (in a constructive, loving manner)? Or should he work around the edges, continually suggesting ways to handle one situation after another whenever he has the chance without tackling the underlying characteristic head-on?

Rather than subject any actual child to public scrutiny to illustrate my question here, I’ll pull an example from my own life.

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