My guilty little secret turns out to have been a good thing

In Marin County, spanking a child is a very dangerous activity.  Although spanking is not illegal, it’s enough to entangle you with Child Protective Services and, from that moment on, parenting life as you know it is over.  Despite the danger, when my kids were little, I spanked them.  With two unguided missiles, sometimes the only way I could get control over the situation was a quick smack.  With a four year old, reasoning doesn’t work; taking away privileges is too time-attenuated; and my kids didn’t care about time-outs.  A quick spanking relieved my anger and gave them a very quick lesson in cause and effect (cause:  naughty; effect:  spanking).

It turns out now that my secret forays into old-fashioned discipline were a gift to my children:

Children who are smacked by parents often turn out more successful than those who have not, research has found.

The study concluded that children who had been physically disciplined when they were young, between the ages of 2 and 6, were performing better as teenagers on almost every measure that was taken into consideration than those who had never been smacked.

It was only in cases where it continued beyond the age of 12 that the children were found to be affected negatively, resulting in a dip on performance indicators.

The results of the US-based study undermines the efforts of various campaigners who have been trying to have physical punishment outlawed in the UK, who have claimed that it causes long-term damage to the children.

Read the rest here.

I only wish I could have been able to smack them on a more regular basis when they were really naughty little kids.  (Not beat, smack.)  As it was, because of the dangers inherent in corporal punishment, the situation had to be very extreme before I resorted to spanking.  I think my life would have been easier and, I think, they might have been more disciplined now.

Autism diagnoses and parenting problems

Back in November 2007, I wrote a long post talking about the fact that I see a lot of children who are labeled as having Asperger’s (a subset of autism) but who seem instead (or also) to be the victims of profoundly bad parenting.  I noted that I have known over the years children who are actually profoundly disabled, and whose disability has been given the Asperger’s/autism label.  These correctly diagnosed children are quite different from the problem kids I identified in my earlier post.  The children I identified in my post, the ones I thought were victims of diagnostic overkill rather than an actual disability, weren’t kids who lack language skills, or control over their bodies, or who have obsessive interests that impair their ability to function, or who fail to recognize ordinary human emotions.  The kids I know who fall into those latter categories of genuine disability are, frankly, doing wonderfully well and working vigorously to maximize all of their strengths.

Instead, in my November post, I was talking about the children who are prone to chronic tantruming and who get slapped with an Aspergers label as a sop to the parents.  Here is how I described these children, all of whom have on their “permanent records” labels that place them within the autism spectrum:

Where I’m about to get controversial is my sense that, in some cases, Aspergers is the diagnosis given to children whose parents are not parenting. I know three — count ‘em, three — children who are nightmarish behavior problems. What characterizes all three of them is the uncontrollable temper tantrums they have. And I’m not talking about 2 or 3 year olds lying on the floor hollering “No!” I’m talking about kids who are 7 or 8 or even 11 or 12 and who regularly engage in scenes that involve uncontrolled screaming, hurling insults and, often, physical violence against other adults or children. Because of the scenes — and only because of these scenes — each set of parents eventually took the child to a psychiatrist. That is, the parents did not take their kids to the psychiatrists because they weren’t socializing well or because they were obsessed with a single subject at school. They took them because of those off-the-charts tantrums. In all three of the cases I know, the psychiatrists diagnosed the kids with Asbergers.

But here’s what I didn’t tell you about those three children: In each of the three cases, the parents (in my humble estimation) earn an “F” for structure and discipline. The common pattern in each of those households is that one or both of the parents feels an almost excessive sympathy for the kid when he (or she) is frustrated or unhappy. What the child wants, the child gets. One of the children I’m thinking of ruled the whole household. She dictated what was eaten, what wasn’t eaten, where people went, what they did, what bed time was, what toys and games were bought and rejected, etc. The parents thought that they were making her happy, but to an objective observer, the child was miserable. It was way too heavy a burden to place on a 10 year old, and she was a frenzied, hysterical tyrant who was unable to cope if anything didn’t go her way.

What also characterizes all of these parents is that, when the child has a tantrum, regardless of how awful it is, and what havoc it creates, the parents respond, not with discipline, but with sympathy: “The poor little thing. He couldn’t control himself. He was so upset I didn’t have the heart to punish him.” And in each case, this sympathetic response to the child’s tantrums worsens after the diagnosis. Now the parent is not only sorry for the child, but he’s convinced that the child is “sick” and must be handled with ever greater care.

Apparently I’m not the only one who has noticed this diagnostic trend — that is, to reach a psychiatric conclusion that all tantruming little children have a disease — although I pointed it out tactfully and to a small audience.  Radio host Michael Savage apparently made the same point, but did so in way that managed to offend everyone:

Radio talk show host Michael Savage, who described 99 percent of children with autism as brats, said Monday he was trying to “boldly awaken” parents to his view that many people are being wrongly diagnosed.

Some parents of autistic children have called for Savage’s firing after he described autism as a racket last week. “In 99 percent of the cases, it’s a brat who hasn’t been told to cut the act out,” Savage said on his radio program last Wednesday.

Savage offered no apology in a message posted Monday on his Web site. He said greedy doctors and drug companies were creating a “national panic” by overdiagnosing autism, a mental disorder that inhibits a person’s ability to communicate.

On his radio show last week, he said: “What do you mean they scream and they’re silent? They don’t have a father around to tell them, `Don’t act like a moron. You’ll get nowhere in life. Stop acting like a putz. Straighten up. Act like a man. Don’t sit there crying and screaming, you idiot.'”

As I already demonstrated months ago, I think Savage is on to something.  While all of us recognize that there are genuinely disabled kids out there, kids whose behaviors span the spectrum from severe autism to geeky Aspergers, those of us who are honest recognize that there is also a major epidemic of bad, weak, inconsistent parenting out there, and that it is creating thousands of damaged kids who are treated, not with good parenting, but with bad medicine.  I’m only sorry that it was Savage who made this point, because you can count on him being so spectacularly tactless and inflammatory that the message gets lost in the ruckus.

Teaching kids how to lose *UPDATED*

All of us have noted a trend, one that is especially prevalent in public schools, to insulate kids from losing.  I know that my kids’ public school, as part of its master plan, has instituted a policy by which the kids don’t do any competitive sports on campus in order to protect them from dealing with loss.

I think this is an appalling idea.  As I frequently tell my children, they’ll lose way more often in life than they’ll win.  In order to succeed in life, they have to have a hunger for winning, coupled with the ability to deal with losing.  I tell them that when you lose, you’re sad, you try to figure out how you can do better next time, you suck it up, and then you get on with it.

I actually have a very personal reason for feeling this way.  My parents were very rigorous, demanding parents.  I did not grow up in a loosey-goosey home except for one thing:  If I lost or didn’t do well at something, my mother was so sympathetic that, if I wanted, I was allowed to walk away.  I can’t tell you the number of things, academic, musical and athletic that I abandoned along the way.

I understand and appreciate my Mom’s motives.  She’d had a really terrible life (the usual “terrible” stuff of divorce and dislocation, compounded by several years interned by the Japanese in Indonesia during WWII).*  She so wanted me to have the happiness and security that she had missed.  Part of that was wonderfully done, by giving me love and structure and fairly high expectations.  And part of it was too soft, and didn’t teach me to deal with adversity.

The end result is that my default mode is to be a whiny quitter.  It’s only by high effort from my adult brain that I’m not a whiny, quitting adult.  I do stick with things, but it’s not easy.

I long ago figured out that I needed to do things differently for my kids.  I found my role model about eight years ago when we were visiting some relatives with three very athletic children.  The kids were running around madly, when suddenly the youngest squealed, and ran up to his Dad crying, with a bloody nose and fat lip.  His Dad enveloped him in a hug, said some truly sympathetic words, cleaned him up and threw him back in the game.  There was no lingering over his physical injuries or wallowing in his psychic wrongs.  The boy is now both a basketball and a baseball star, as well as a very sweet person.

I was thinking of all of this today because, over the last couple of weeks, my daughter has had run-ins with a little girl, as well as with the girls’ mother.  I don’t think I’m being unduly partisan when I say that, while I can be as critical of my child as the next person, my child has the right of things here.

You see, both girls are competing in the same sport, at the same age level.  My daughter adores the activity and has gone from abysmally horrible to pretty darn good.  The other child went from okay to okay.  She hasn’t seen the improvement my daughter has, probably because she doesn’t love the sport as my daughter does.

When my daughter was at rock bottom in the weekly competitions, and everyone else she knew was doing well, she was sad about her own failures, but applauded her friends’ successes (and I know this is true, because I saw her in action).  As my daughter has improved, over-taking this other girl, the other girl has not been a good loser.  Every time she does less well than my daughter, she has a tearful tantrum.

If that were all, it would be just between the girls, and that would be the end of it.  Last week, though, when my daughter ran up, flush with her first success, the mother turned on my daughter for daring to be happy in front of her own psychically wounded little girl.  She then proceeded to spend the next hour lavishing her daughter with attention in an effort to cheer her up.  As for me, I was stuck trying to explain to my daughter why someone yelled at her for being happy.

I’m perfectly willing to agree that my daughter, glorying in her first win after weeks of big losses, probably was completely insensitive to the other girl’s anguish.  Part of that insensitivity, though, was that my daughter has learned, as I’ve taught her, to suck it up.  Acknowledge your loss, feel bad about it for a minute, and then move forward.  She was totally incapable of comprehending a family dynamic that rewards  sore losing with enormous attention — and gifts.

These people are good friends, and I’m not going to damage a solid friendship over this one — which is why I’m venting here and not talking to my friend.  It’s also good for my daughter to learn that not everyone is as tough as she is and to develop the compassion to deal with them, even if she believes there response to be excessive or bizarre.

Mostly, though, I feel sorry for the other girl.  As I know to my own cost (and my mother was not as solicitious as this mother), it’s terrible to go through life not knowing how to lose or deal with adversity.  Sooner or later, something bad is going to happen that you can’t walk away from, and you’ll be stuck trying to deal with it without having developed any coping mechanisms at all.

___________________________

*My Mom’s experiences at camp are one of the things that keep me from being quite as whiny as I could be.  For example, with today’s heat wave, when I was at the sports event today and temperatures were hitting 100, it was tempting to whine about how unbearable it was.  Then I remembered that, in camp, when the guards were feeling particularly malevolent, they’d impose a collective punishment on a camp filled with women (young and old) and children:  Everybody would have to stand in formation, in the tropical sun, for 24 hours.  Unsurprisingly, large numbers of them died where they stood.  I can therefore take a few hours under an awning with a cool drink in my hand.  If I whine, I keep the tone light.

UPDATED:  I am very, very happy to report that my friend herself figured out that her daughter needs to toughen up.  It turned out that, after today’s breakdown, she gave her daughter a good talking to about learning how to lose.  I’m so pleased.  These are good friends, and people I really value, and it was very hard dealing with situation involving our girls that had us using such diametrically different approaches to a common scenario.

Still, while this problem is resolved (Hurrah!), parents here continue to have a really sad inability to let their children deal with the fact that life is not fair.  On that same point, if you haven’t yet read Joseph Epstein’s The Kindergarchy, you really should.

Switching from a communist to a capitalist economy

I never thought about it, but I was running my house like a commune.  The kids had chores to do, of course, but the incentive was the greater good, my approbation, and an allowance that, in their minds, had no relationship to the tasks demanded.  The kids did not find these incentives inspiring, and the days and works tended to be a blur of my pushing, and pushing, and their pushing back.  I was frustrated, they were resentful, and the house chaotic.

Aside from the practical stalemate of a sort of general household chaos, the “incentives” of “the greater good” and punishment did not work very well at controlling behavioral problems either.  The kids fought like cats and dogs, whined more than one would have thought possible, and thought that interrupting me was an Olympic sport.

Believe it or not, they are nice kids, but life has been a day to day struggle to achieve things that, in the perfectly run “communist” household of my youth, worked well.  As to my youth, my sister reminded me that it probably worked well because my mother, who is a lovely woman, nevertheless carried a a very big stick.  Also, my sister and I were exceptionally biddable children (probably because of that same stick).

I decided this summer to switch to capitalism, aided by the fact that the kids have very strong commercial desires — he wants a Rip Stick and she (I blush to admit this) Abercrombie clothes.  Here’s the method I devised:

I have a lot of big tasks in the house that have been bedeviling me, mostly in the form of closets that badly need organizing.  There are also the usual things of dirty kitchens, clean (but full) dishwashers, and stacks of clean, unfolded laundry.  I told the kids that, on a daily basis, I will assign them a task with a good salary.  Not a piddling 50 cents or $1 per task, but $5 to $20 per child, depending on the task’s magnitude.

There are conditions, however.  First, they must listen well as I explain the task.  Second, while doing the task, they cannot fight with each other or come whining to me.  If they don’t understand something, they may interrupt me only if it brings the task to a dead halt.  Otherwise, they have to set aside things that confuse them and wait until they’ve reached a functional wall.  If they commit any of the bad employee sins — not listening, fighting, whining, or excessive interrupting — I dock their pay, to the point where they may find themselves doing the task for no money at all.

My husband, to my surprise, thought this was a wonderful idea.  He offered a further incentive.  If the kids could get through the whole summer without having their pay docked, he’ll double whatever they earn from me.

We put the system in effect yesterday and it was the first day ever that the kids cleaned their rooms, tidied the house, and organized a closet without fighting, whining or interrupting me every second.  The whole thing flowed.  They leaped from project to project with enthusiasm and good will.  At the end of the day, they eagerly counted their earnings, projected ahead to the time at which they’d be able to make their purchases, and expressed surprise at (a) how fun it had been to work well and (b) how nice it was not to fight.

I couldn’t resist, of course, and gave them a little lesson in the differences between communism and capitalism.  They completely understood how, with money as the hub, we were all able to achieve our goals:  they moved further towards their Rip Stick and Abercrombie clothes, and I got a tidy house, an organized closet, and two well-behaved kids.

I’ll try to keep you posted on this capitalist experiment.

Am I being insufferably self-righteous?

I would like your opinion. Mr. Bookworm thinks I’m taking “holier than thou-ness” to a nauseating (and hypocritical) extreme. I think he is on the verge of a parenting error. Here’s the deal:

Mr. Bookworm came across an opportunity to obtain some stuff for the kids without actually going through the shopping process. Indeed, early tonight, he was so strong in his belief that he will be doing this that he told the kids he might be getting a gift for them.

“But if I do, you can’t tell any of your friends about it,” he told. “You have to promise not to.”

“Why not,” I asked?

“Because, well, because it’s illegal.”

My daughter was instantly concerned that the police would be after her. After we assured her they wouldn’t break down our door (especially because this is all hypothetical right now), my husband and I took the discussion out of the kids’ hearing.

I told my husband I strongly disapproved of his going ahead with this project. I’m not worried about the cops breaking down the door. I also conceded that, yes, in the past and in small ways, I too have deviated from the straight and narrow. Heck, I’m willing to bet that each of us has in our possession a CD a friend made for us, filled with songs the friend copied from various albums, and that we’ve made, and given, identical CDs to friends. In other words, I wasn’t fool enough to claim the moral high ground on this one.

My really big problem was that I thought the message my husband sent to the kids, with his warnings about silence, was that it’s okay to steal, as long as you don’t get caught. He responded with long, convoluted arguments about the fact that we weren’t really stealing because, because, because, because, each of which I was able to shoot down. (They were all self-serving sophistry, if you ask me.) He also said I never would have taken this position if it weren’t for my blogging. (Apparently blogging conservatively gives you abnormally heightened sensitivities about honesty and how children perceive parental behavior.)

I really didn’t want to argue about the merits of obtaining the stuff, though, since I thought that was a distraction from the main issue. As far as I was concerned, the whole thing came to a screeching halt, without any further room for discussion, when my husband told the kids that he was thinking about giving them something “illegal” (his word), so they couldn’t tell anyone. The unspoken statement there was that, if they keep mum about it, it’s okay. (The funny thing was, when I asked him why he told the kids the stuff would be illegal, he announced that it was because he was being “honest.”)

In my mind, if we go down this path, we’re paving the way for our kids, when they get older, to believe that they can engage in any type of forbidden activity, as long as they keep it secret. That’s true whether they promise me they’ll go to one friend’s house but, instead, sneak off to another’s; or they take drugs or alcohol; or they have sex; or they cheat; or any of a number of activities parents don’t want for their kids. The fact that, as adults, they may actually do those things, and that many adults commonly commit little crimes and lies (“No, really, that skirt is darling on you!” “Honest, officer, the light was yellow.”), doesn’t mean it’s okay for that message to come from the parents.

So, back to my original question: Am I being an insufferable prig when I say that a parent is setting a terrible example by telling the kids that something they’re getting is illegal, so they better keep it secret?

Child Protective Services, police and prosecutors run amok

Do you recall that, a couple of months ago, I wrote a lengthy post about the fact that the apparently benign sounding Child Protective Services has become a vicious scourge assaulting good parents because they’re easy targets? If you don’t recall that post, I recommend that you read it either before or after you read this news story about a good, middle-class Chicago Mom who did nothing wrong by any normal standards, and who certainly didn’t do anything tons of us haven’t ourselves done because we know it’s not the wrong thing, but who is nevertheless being dragged through the criminal justice system, with all the horrible threats that entails:

Treffly Coyne was out of her car for just minutes and no more than 10 yards away.

But that was long and far enough to land her in court after a police officer spotted her sleeping 2-year-old daughter alone in the vehicle; Coyne had taken her two older daughters to pour $8.29 in coins into a Salvation Army kettle.

Minutes later, she was under arrest — the focus of both a police investigation and a probe by the state’s child welfare agency. Now the case that has become an Internet flash point for people who either blast police for overstepping their authority or Coyne for putting a child in danger.

The 36-year-old suburban mother is preparing to go on trial Thursday on misdemeanor charges of child endangerment and obstructing a peace officer. If convicted, she could be sentenced to a year in jail and fined $2,500, even though child welfare workers found no credible evidence of abuse or neglect.

The hysterics who support her prosecution are waffling on about the fact that there are kids who are abandoned in cars and who are kidnapped or die as a result. The problem with that kind of “logic,” if you can dignify such nonsense with that term, is that the facts of this case show that the child was not abandoned and quite manifestly was not at risk:

On Dec. 8 Coyne decided to drive to Wal-Mart in the Chicago suburb of Crestwood so her children and a young friend could donate the coins they’d collected at her husband’s office.

Even as she buckled 2-year-old Phoebe into the car, the girl was asleep. When Coyne arrived at the store, she found a spot to park in a loading zone, right behind someone tying a Christmas tree onto a car.

“It’s sleeting out, it’s not pleasant, I don’t want to disturb her, wake her up,” Coyne said this week. “It was safer to leave her in the safety and warmth of an alarmed car than take her.”

So Coyne switched on the emergency flashers, locked the car, activated the alarm and walked the other children to the bell ringer.

She snapped a few pictures of the girls donating money and headed back to the car. But a community service officer blocked her way.

“She was on a tirade, she was yelling at me,” Coyne said. The officer, Coyne said, didn’t want to hear about how close Coyne was, how she never set foot inside the store and was just there to let the kids donate money, or how she could always see her car.

Coyne telephoned her husband, Tim Janecyk, who advised her not to say anything else to police until he arrived. So Coyne declined to talk further, refusing even to tell police her child’s name.

When Janecyk pulled up, his wife already was handcuffed, sitting in a patrol car.

Crestwood Police Chief Timothy Sulikowski declined to comment about the case. But he did not dispute the contention that Coyne parked nearby or was away from her car for just a few minutes.

He did, however, suggest Coyne put her child at risk.

“A minute or two, that’s when things can happen,” he said.

These self-righteous, self-serving busy-bodies are evil, super-duper idiots who are using vague ideas about societally achievable perfection to prosecute and persecute the good guys. I’ve talked before about the ridiculous trend of “legislating to the fringe,” by which I mean enacting far-reaching legislation that hampers people and business severely, and that is enacted merely because of a story about something bad that happened to (or could maybe have happened to) a handful of people.

The Coyne case is a perfect example of arresting and prosecuting to the fringe: people with the power of the government behind them have taken some extreme and unrealistic scenarios of bad behavior and applied them to a manifestly different situation. This is the gross tyranny of petty bureaucrats and power-mad prosecutors, wannabe Spitzers in the making. I am, as you might have guessed by now, disgusted, angered and, as a good and loving parent, very, very afraid.

Words to my daughter

My daughter is a tween and is just starting to think that she is smart and I am stupid.  We therefore had a little talk this morning.  Or, rather, I gave her a short lecture.  I explained that, when I was young and my mother, like me, was in her late 40s, we used to do Israeli folk dancing together, a very popular activity amongst Jews in the early- to mid-1970s.  I learned dances in an instant, remembered them forever and was as light as a feather.  My mother learned dances painfully over days and weeks, forgot them quickly, and moved stiffly.  My teenage mind reached an instant and absolute conclusion:  I was much smarter than my mother.

It’s only now that I’m my mother’s age, of course, that I see what was actually going on.  When we’re young, our fairly empty minds absorb information like sponges.  When we’re old, and our brains have hardened, we throw information at ourselves and hope that some of it sticks.  Confusing memory with intelligence, however, is a mistake.  As I explained to my daughter, while I may be slower to learn now than I was 30 years ago, I still know infinitely more than she does based upon those 30 years of experience, both in terms of hard facts and life knowledge.  My last words to her were that, as she grows older, she should never confuse my slow learning ability, which is a product of age, with a lack of intelligence.

Surprisingly, rather than appearing hostile, my little bookworm seemed rather impressed by this speech.  We’ll see how it goes as time goes by — but she certainly now has more insight than I did into the difference between age and wisdom, on the one hand, and youth and memory, on the other hand.

Parenting puzzle

A few months ago, I did a post about out-of-control children who seemed to be the product, not of biological pathology, but of boundary-free parenting.  A couple of weeks ago, I did a post about parents who were afraid to exert control over their children because of their fear of Child Protective Services.  And last night, I finally got around to watching a Frontline that’s been sitting on our TiVo, which discussed the huge increase in children diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder (which is the new ADHD), after their parents and their teachers failed to control them.  These children are then given a whole pharmacopoeia of drugs.  The show’s focus was the fact that the drugs haven’t been tested on children, but I couldn’t help wondering whether many of these children were being mistreated by being given drugs in the first place.

As with the out-of-control children in the first mentioned post, where I freely admitted that I’m sure a number of them have genuine organic problems, I’m equally sure that many of the children diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder or ADHD have true organic disabilities.  But all of them?  The millions suddenly getting these diagnoses?  I do wonder whether, if one did a Venn diagram of the issues raised in my three posts, one would discover that there’s a substantial overlap between parents who are afraid to parent, parents who have children who are out-of-control because they have no boundaries, and parents who put their children on drugs, which is now a socially acceptable way to control otherwise wild children.

Causes Parental Suffering

Its official name is Child Protective Services (and most parents recognize its acronym, “CPS”), but I have to think that my post title more accurately describes it, especially when it’s aided by busy-bodies — people who don’t really want to help a situation, but who do want to cause a little excitement in their lives. I have a collection of CPS stories — all of which happened to friends, family or neighbors — and they’re a reminder of what happens when you set up an agency that exists only if it can ensure that a sufficient problem exists to justify its mandate. With details changed to protect people’s identities, here are the CPS stories of people I know well:

In the era before digital cameras, a young mother had her baby asleep in the car. She wanted to drop film off at one of those parking lot photo booths, so she drove to a parking space immediately adjacent to the photo booth. She got out of the car, locked the car, walked the few feet to the photo booth, and conducted her business. What she didn’t know is that, during the few minutes she was away from her car, a busy-body had seen a baby inside, written down her license plate and then reported her to CPS. Based on this witness’ testimony, CPS went after her with a vengeance. I never heard how that one ended up, but I assume it did the way so many of these stories do: with CPS guaranteeing itself the right to look over the parents’ shoulder forever.

Last year, a mother with a 5 year old and a 3 year old went to pick her 5 year old up from preschool. The 3 year old was napping in the car, so she parked the car in front of the school where a bunch of other parents were milling about, locked the car, grabbed her 5 year old and hustled back to the car. Total time gone: about 4 minutes. When she got backed to the car, a woman grabbed her, announced a citizen’s arrest, and reported that she’d already called the police. The police showed up, arrested the mother, and she’s now negotiating with CPS for custody of her children. I know her well and can guarantee you that she is in all respects an exemplary and loving mother — nor is CPS saying otherwise.

A mother had a running battle with her 13 year old about the fact that the latter liked to leave her plugged in blow-dryer next to the bathtub. The teenager refused to believe that this was an electrical hazard. Eventually, one morning, the mother took the blow dryer away. The daughter left the house in tears, bewailing the fact that her mother was cruel for leaving her with un-styled hair. A neighbor called CPS. CPS stormed in and informed the mother that, henceforth, she was not allowed to take away any of her daughter’s possessions or interfere in any way with her daughter’s grooming, or discipline her in any way. Doing any of those things would give CPS justification to remove the child. No one — including CPS personnel — claimed that the mother had done anything other than remove her daughter’s blow-dryer, making her cry.

A mom got into a fight with her 10 year old son about household chores. The 10 year old went to school and, aided by his friends, told the teacher he was being abused. The teacher called CPS. CPS arrived, and the 10 year old son, when pressed, stated that the abuse consisted of the fact that his mother sometimes forgot to buy milk. There were no other allegations against her and, again, every indication was that she was an attentive, loving mother (as attested by her other three children). CPS required her to go to child-rearing classes and kept up surprise inspections for over a year. She was told “comply or lose your child.”

Parents of a newborn took their child into the pediatrician about a spot on the child’s arm. The pediatrician found nothing wrong but over-worried parents. The next time the mom saw the pediatrician, she complained that she and her husband were sleep deprived and their tempers were fraying. The pediatrician called CPS. Solely on the basis of the one doctor’s visit and the mother’s statement about frayed tempers, CPS arranged with a prosecutor to have the father charged with child endangerment and threatened him with the loss of his green card and deportation.

I had my own little run-in with a busy-body the other day. I had some books to return to the library, but my kids, 7 and 9 at the time, elected to stay in the car and play with their video games. While I was in the library, an elderly couple came running and told the librarian, “You need to call the police. There’s a [describing my car] car out there with two infants in it.” I listened into disbelief and then announced to the librarian, “That’s my car, and Bookworm 1 and Bookworm 2 are playing their Nintendos in there.” Within a second of receiving this information, the librarian relaxed completely and hustled the couple away. She knew my kids and knew this was a ridiculous charge. However, if I hadn’t been right there, I’m sure she would have called the police and I would have had to answer to charges of child abandonment.

Those are just stories I know. I bet all of you have stories.

By telling these stories I am not denying that there are terrible cases of child abuse going on around us. Nor do I deny that affluent communities can have child abuse too — although I’d be willing to bet that, no matter how politically correct you want to be, child abuse is going to be more prevalent where people are dogged by poverty, crowded housing and substance abuse. In each of the cases I’ve described, the problem was that a busy-body went off half-cocked, and CPS came in with all guns blazing, using its massive power — mostly in the form of a threat to remove children — to charge parents with criminal acts, to entitle CPS to free run of a home, and to remove from parents any ability reasonably to discipline their children.

It’s this last that has always gotten to me. When I was a kid, my mother had two weapons in her arsenal to deal with naughty behavior. When I was very little, she put me in a playpen. In there, I was safe, I was near her, and I had to learn to entertain myself. When I got older, my Mom spanked, with her hand. She didn’t beat me, she didn’t whip me, she didn’t strike out randomly. She made a rule and, if I broke it, there was a quick “whap!” and it was over. I usually didn’t break the rule a second time, and I never broke it a third. In my house, we all knew the rules, and my Mom could trust us a lot. My Mom didn’t have a lot of residual anger, either, because the house ran like a well-oiled machine. It was very peaceful.

My kids are lovely human beings but, when they were little, they were distinguished by being exceptionally headstrong, impulsive and independent. My kids had no off switch, nor was I able to provide one. Because I was afraid of CPS, I didn’t put them in play pens (instead, I cordoned off my entire house) and I tried never to use even mild corporal punishment. When they broke a rule, the response was “time outs” and “removal of privileges” and “long talks” — all of these with children under six. My spirited children couldn’t have cared less. Time outs didn’t affect my energizer bunnies in the least. Removal of privileges? Who cares? Talks? Great.

What all this meant was that, for me, parenting was unbearably frustrating. I had enormous responsibility and no power whatsoever. I ended up doing what any reasonably intelligent person would do under those circumstances: I put them in preschool. Having them around was too much work and too little pleasure. Preschool made their behavior issues someone else’s problem. And because I had a good preschool, and because my kids are great people, and because I love them very much, things have turned out pretty darn well. I do wonder, though, if I would have kept my children home more if the threat of CPS hadn’t made me such a passive parent that it was easier not to have my children around at all.

What do you all think? Do you have CPS stories? Can you defend CPS — not in its role as defender of genuinely abused children, but in its role as bully of the middle class?

A parenting question for all of you

We just discovered that one of my daughter’s “best” friends has been lying about her computer use to her parents. She tells them that she’s going to an approved kid website, such as Club Penguin, and then, when they’re not looking, goes surfing for sex sites. (Did I mention that she’s ten?)  My daughter, bless her heart, told us what’s going on, because she was made very uncomfortable when shown a website with “naked people.” My daughter has no problem with our decision to limit her contact with that friend so that their out-of-school interactions (which my daughter hopes to see decrease in frequency) happen only at our house.  So that’s not the issue.

Here’s the issue:  I think I should tell the girl’s parents.  My daughter is, of course, worried that her friend will figure out that she is the source — even if the parents claim to have discovered the problem through browsing the computer’s history.  I appreciate my daughter’s concern, and I certainly don’t want to turn her into a social pariah, but I still find unnerving the thought of a child, too clever by half, wandering around alone in the big, ugly world of the internet.  Do you think I’m right to want to tell the parents?  And if you do think I’m right, how would you broach the subject?  Should I recommend to the parents a strategy (such as saying that they discovered the problem by checking the computer’s history), so that my daughter doesn’t get nailed as the stool pigeon?  Or do I just reveal the problem and hope that the parents don’t disclose my daughter’s identity?  I’m worried that, if I just ask them to keep my daughter’s identity secret, without giving them a strategy, they’ll do something stupid such as saying, “One of your friends told us that you’re checking out bad places on the computer.”  The other girl would have to be a complete nincompoop not to figure out that the friend is my little bookworm.

See — parents can serve as role models for their children

For those of you who worry that pop culture, and not the parent, serves as the role model for children, think again.  This bizarre story shows that at least one Mom is helping her daughter achieve the mom’s goals:

A Petaluma woman and her 16-year-old daughter were arrested on suspicion of shoplifting clothes together at a department store in Corte Madera. Sandra Lorraine Berg Martin, 43, and the teenager were detained by Macy’s security after they were observed smuggling clothes out of a fitting room Friday, said Twin Cities police Sgt. Jim Shirk.

After being confronted by security, the two were taken into a store office, where they produced three stolen dresses, three shirts and a jersey from their shopping bags, Shirk said. The items were valued at $1,006.

Sigh….  Really, what can you say about a story like this?  One hopes that this is one child who does learn to rebel against parental influences.  She’s with her grandparents now.  We can only hope that the grandparents weren’t the ones who taught her Mom the shoplifting skills.

See — parents can serve as role models for their children

For those of you who worry that pop culture, and not the parent, serves as the role model for children, think again.  This bizarre story shows that at least one Mom is helping her daughter achieve the mom’s goals:

A Petaluma woman and her 16-year-old daughter were arrested on suspicion of shoplifting clothes together at a department store in Corte Madera. Sandra Lorraine Berg Martin, 43, and the teenager were detained by Macy’s security after they were observed smuggling clothes out of a fitting room Friday, said Twin Cities police Sgt. Jim Shirk.

After being confronted by security, the two were taken into a store office, where they produced three stolen dresses, three shirts and a jersey from their shopping bags, Shirk said. The items were valued at $1,006.

Sigh….  Really, what can you say about a story like this?  One hopes that this is one child who does learn to rebel against parental influences.  She’s with her grandparents now.  We can only hope that the grandparents weren’t the ones who taught her Mom the shoplifting skills.

Unwitting little brownshirts

One of Hitler’s most evilly inspired ideas was to go after the young people, and turn them into spies in their own parents’ homes.  It’s so much easier to grab children’s minds, and parents never assume that, not only are their children watching them, they can be co-opted, innocently, into ratting them out to people with a political agenda that has nothing to do with good parenting, or privacy, or freedom.

Why am I going on about this?  Because I finally caught up with Michael Graham’s post from October about the spies among us, and we’re not talking about little Al Qaeda-philes following us in the park.  Instead, he’s talking about the Massachusett’s pediatricians’ official policy of interrogating children about their parents’ lives.  After describing the grilling his daughter underwent during a routine visit to the pediatrician (“I send my daughter to the pediatrician to find out if she’s fit to play lacrosse, and the doctor spends her time trying to find out if her mom and I are drunk, drug-addicted sex criminals.”), Graham sums up the bigger issue:

Thanks to guidelines issued by the American Academy of Pediatrics and supported by the commonwealth, doctors across Massachusetts are interrogating our kids about mom and dad’s “bad” behavior.

We used to be proud parents. Now, thanks to the AAP, we’re “persons of interest.”

The paranoia over parents is so strong that the AAP encourages doctors to ignore “legal barriers and deference to parental involvement” and shake the children down for all the inside information they can get.

Of course, it makes perfect sense in a Nanny state.  Since the State views itself as ultimately responsible for the children, parents get marginalized as breeding machines and full time babysitters, who must prove themselves to the State as appropriate employers.

One woman Graham spoke to, who switched pediatricians after being offended by the questions asked of her daughter, tried to explain away the pediatrician’s conduct, but Graham would have no truck with excuses:

“I still like my previous pediatrician,” Debbie told me. “She seemed embarrassed to ask the gun questions and apologized afterward. But she didn’t seem to have a choice.”

Of course doctors have a choice.

They could choose, for example, to ask me about my drunken revels, and not my children.

They could choose not to put my children in this terrible position.

They could choose, even here in Massachusetts, to leave their politics out of the office.

But the doctors aren’t asking us parents.

They’re asking our kids.

Worst of all, they’re asking all kids about sexual abuse without any provocation or probable cause.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has declared all parents guilty until proven innocent.

And then they wonder why we drink.

Birth control pills for little girls

I’m still irked about the middle school in Portland, Maine that had the bright idea to bypass parents and give birth control pills to little girls. My irritation goes beyond the fact that the school district is using a very small number of pregnancies and bad situations to usurp parents’ control over and relationship with their children; and it goes beyond the fact that the school district is encouraging sexual activity in younger and younger children because of its decision to enact an overarching policy that actually responds only to the needs of a few. That is, as to this last point, while the policy may be a response to a small number of pregnancies, children now understand that it’s okay to have sex in the school district because there’s a policy in place. Bad, bad, bad. So, those factors are irritants.

But what really, really bugs me about this new decision is the nature of the pill itself. This is not like handing out condoms, which are a barrier method and don’t mess with biology. This is about giving significant hormone doses to children who are still working their way through puberty — and doing it without the parents having any say in the matter. (And I am so willing to bet that the approving parents are the same parents who buy organic so their children don’t have to get hormones in their milk, a problem that is nothing more than an urban legend.)

By the way, if you think you’ve heard this rant from me before, you have, but I’m at it again because of yet another study showing that the pill is not just an innocuous substance that coincidentally stops pregnancy. Instead, it is a powerful actor on a woman’s (or girl’s) body, that can have dangerous side effects outside of preventing conception. Here’s today’s news about the pill:

Women who use oral contraceptives are at increased risk for developing hardened arteries, a condition that can lead to heart attack or stroke, according to a study released Wednesday.

Belgian researchers found that women who had used this hormone-based form of birth control were more likely to have plaques, or a buildup of fatty tissue, on their arteries than women who did not.

Atherosclerosis, the medical term which refers to a build-up of plaque inside the blood vessels, typically occurs with age.

Complications include heart attack or stroke, which occur when unstable pieces of plaque break off and block a blood vessel leading to the heart or brain.

The findings do not mean women should abandon this form of birth control, the authors cautioned.

“The implications are not that women should stop taking the Pill. They should look at reducing other risk factors for cardiovascular disease,” said Ernst Rietzschel, a cardiologist at the University of Ghent in Belgium.

The last bit, about women being informed consumers is all well and good, but your average 12 year old is not an informed consumer, and the Portland, Maine policy removes from the information loop the one set of people who almost certainly care about her more than any other people in the school:  her parents.

By the way one of the other serious risks of being on the pill is cancer. Again, your average 11 year old isn’t going to think that one through.  And about just the problems of being on the pill.  Most women complain about unpleasant weight gain, but a few unlucky ones get genuinely ill, with chronic nausea and vomiting.  That’s not good for a growing child either.

Is it really a correct diagnosis?

I’m about to write something provocative, so feel free to beat me up on it, provided that you do so politely. It’s about the increasing prevalence of Asbergers diagnoses amongst children. Asbergers is a rather amorphous condition, although it’s considered to be part of the Autism spectrum. Here’s the definition from one medical website:

Asperger syndrome (AS), one of the autistic spectrum disorders, is a pervasive developmental disorder characterized by an inability to understand how to interact socially. AS is commonly recognized after the age of 3. People with high-functioning autism are generally distinguished from those with AS because autism is associated with marked early language delay. Other characteristics of AS include clumsy and uncoordinated motor movements, limited interests or unusual preoccupations, repetitive routines or rituals, speech and language peculiarities, and non-verbal communication problems. Generally, children with AS have few facial expressions. Many have excellent rote memory, and become intensely interested in one or two subjects (sometimes to the exclusion of other topics). They may talk at length about a favorite subject or repeat a word or phrase many times. Children with AS tend to be self-absorbed, have difficulty making friends, and are preoccupied with their own interests.

In my day, we all knew kids like this and we were cruel to them and called them geeks. There’s a lot to be said for recognizing the symptoms, accommodating the children’s needs and, especially, teaching them social skills so that school, a place where they often excel academically, is not a living hell. In other words, I have no doubt that Asberger’s exists and that identifying it is beneficial.

Where I’m about to get controversial is my sense that, in some cases, Asbergers is the diagnosis given to children whose parents are not parenting. I know three — count ’em, three — children who are nightmarish behavior problems. What characterizes all three of them is the uncontrollable temper tantrums they have. And I’m not talking about 2 or 3 year olds lying on the floor hollering “No!” I’m talking about kids who are 7 or 8 or even 11 or 12 and who regularly engage in scenes that involve uncontrolled screaming, hurling insults and, often, physical violence against other adults or children. Because of the scenes — and only because of these scenes — each set of parents eventually took the child to a psychiatrist. That is, the parents did not take their kids to the psychiatrists because they weren’t socializing well or because they were obsessed with a single subject at school. They took them because of those off-the-charts tantrums. In all three of the cases I know, the psychiatrists diagnosed the kids with Asbergers.

But here’s what I didn’t tell you about those three children: In each of the three cases, the parents (in my humble estimation) earn an “F” for structure and discipline. The common pattern in each of those households is that one or both of the parents feels an almost excessive sympathy for the kid when he (or she) is frustrated or unhappy. What the child wants, the child gets. One of the children I’m thinking of ruled the whole household. She dictated what was eaten, what wasn’t eaten, where people went, what they did, what bed time was, what toys and games were bought and rejected, etc. The parents thought that they were making her happy, but to an objective observer, the child was miserable. It was way too heavy a burden to place on a 10 year old, and she was a frenzied, hysterical tyrant who was unable to cope if anything didn’t go her way.

What also characterizes all of these parents is that, when the child has a tantrum, regardless of how awful it is, and what havoc it creates, the parents respond, not with discipline, but with sympathy: “The poor little thing. He couldn’t control himself. He was so upset I didn’t have the heart to punish him.” And in each case, this sympathetic response to the child’s tantrums worsens after the diagnosis. Now the parent is not only sorry for the child, but he’s convinced that the child is “sick” and must be handled with ever greater care.

As it happens, I know a child who was diagnosed with autism, although it’s not entirely clear that this is an accurate diagnosis. What is apparent is that his speaking skills are extremely limited, to the point where only those closest to him can understand him, and his body often doesn’t respond to his brain’s signals. With a child like this, you might excuse the parents for treating him as something other than an ordinary child. But they haven’t. Instead, in addition to all the work they do to get him beyond his disabilities, they also treat him like a real child: the expect certain behaviors from him (good listening, good manners, etc.), and if he doesn’t live up to those behaviors, he gets the same consequences any other child would (loss of privileges, time outs, etc.). The result is that this child has turned into a delightful human being. The rigorous structure has also enabled him to blossom at an intellectual level, and he’s demonstrated an over-the-top IQ and the academic abilities to match. Had his parents let him turn into a screaming monster because “they felt sorry for him,” he never would have been able to develop this potential.

Now here’s the question for you: Do I sound like a smug parent who (blessedly) has developmentally normal children and lacks compassion for those who are not so lucky? Or have I spotted a trend where parents who cannot create boundaries between themselves and their children are aided by a therapeutic community that either cannot bring itself to call parents on their behavior or that has itself lost a sense of a child’s need to be treated like a child?

“Because I said so.”

Not only is this Anita Renfroe video both funny and clever, wait ’til you see the spontaneous audience reaction at its conclusion:

Hat tip: Lulu

“Because I said so.”

Not only is this Anita Renfroe video both funny and clever, wait ’til you see the spontaneous audience reaction at its conclusion:

Hat tip: Lulu

Parents, you continue to be unnecessary

When the Progressive state is done, parents will have become obsolete, with children being created in test tubes and raised by the Government.  How else to explain this, which again uses a fringe group of examples to legislate away the average person’s (and, in this case, the average parent’s) rights.

Hat tip:  Drudge

Catch ’em being good

I used to have the worst children in the world. Truly, I did. And I knew that they were the worst children in the world because the evidence came out of my own mouth. I had to criticize them constantly because of the way they ignored instructions, the way they broke rules, and the way they fought with each other. I knew in my mind that I loved them — they were, after all, my children — but my heart had doubts, because they were so very difficult.

I was complaining about them one day to a wise man and he stopped me in my tracks by asking, “Do you ever catch them being good?” My instantaneous response: “Huh?” He explained to me that most people have a bit of a problem with giving praise because good behavior is considered normative and that it therefore slips past them, unnoticed. We see when our children hit each other, but we take as ordinary, and unworthy of comment, the fact that they had spent the previous half hour playing peacefully together. He told me that a good rule of thumb with children — indeed, with anyone — is that for every negative thing that comes out of your mouth, at least four positive things should also come out of your mouth. As to the latter, you shouldn’t lie or make up things, but you shouldn’t let the ordinary dissuade you from making a positive comment.

For the first week, it was I bit of struggle. “Oh, Little Bookworm, I’m so proud of you. I know you wanted to, but you didn’t hit your brother.” (Normally, I would simply have commented on the yelling that took place.) “Look at you, Little Bookworm. You’ve eaten much more neatly than you did yesterday.” (Previously, I would have pointed out the mess on the floor.) By the end of this week of mental effort, I discovered something wonderful: I actually had — and continue to have — great children.

Now, many years later, my heart and my head are in synch — I love my kids, because they are lovable. Sure, they can be naughty, but isn’t that true for everybody? And yes, when I’m in a bad mood, the criticisms definitely amp up, and I have to remind myself, still, to catch ’em being good. But after so many years, catching them being good is mostly automatic, with manifest benefits for us all.

Believe it or not, this bit of parenting advice (and it’s the best advice any parent will ever get), has a political purpose, but I’m taking my time getting there. Part two of this story is the conversation I had the other day with my sister, who was reminiscencing about the fact that she always found my Mom rather frightening. She acknowledged that Mom was constantly professing her love for us but, when it came to my sister, every “I love you” was followed by a criticism. “I love you. Your room is a mess.” “I love you. Stop slouching.” “I love you. Why aren’t you doing better in school?” As an adult, my sister knows that my Mom truly adored her, and felt that the best thing she could do for my sister was to improve her with a constant, bracing storm of criticism. As a child, though, my sister came to a different conclusion: Either my mother was a fool, for how could anyone but a fool profess love for a creature as imperfect as my sister obviously was, or my mother was a liar, and did not love her at all.

(Incidentally, I had a different experience. Since I was the younger child watching these “loving” harangues, I made sure to clean my room, stand up straight and do well in school. Mom happily praised me for doing well in these areas, in contrast to my sister. It speaks well for the enormity of my sister’s goodness that she loved me then and loves me now.)

And now I’ll get to the political point:  Don’t the ordinary Progressives, not the dyed-in-the-wool Marxists masquerading as Progressives, but the ordinary, man-in-the-street Progressives, remind you of the parenting style that professes love but only voices criticism?  Though they claim to be patriotic Americans, everything they say about America is critical:  America is too racist, too classist, too rich, too greedy, too abusive of the environment, too religious, too conservative, too xenophobic, and on and on.   Never, never, do the Progressives catch America being good.  So perhaps, the ordinary person, the one who is not politically engaged, might be excused for thinking that Progressives are either fools, for how could anyone but a fool claim to love such a dreadful society, or they’re liars, and don’t really love America at all.

Catch ‘em being good

I used to have the worst children in the world. Truly, I did. And I knew that they were the worst children in the world because the evidence came out of my own mouth. I had to criticize them constantly because of the way they ignored instructions, the way they broke rules, and the way they fought with each other. I knew in my mind that I loved them — they were, after all, my children — but my heart had doubts, because they were so very difficult.

I was complaining about them one day to a wise man and he stopped me in my tracks by asking, “Do you ever catch them being good?” My instantaneous response: “Huh?” He explained to me that most people have a bit of a problem with giving praise because good behavior is considered normative and that it therefore slips past them, unnoticed. We see when our children hit each other, but we take as ordinary, and unworthy of comment, the fact that they had spent the previous half hour playing peacefully together. He told me that a good rule of thumb with children — indeed, with anyone — is that for every negative thing that comes out of your mouth, at least four positive things should also come out of your mouth. As to the latter, you shouldn’t lie or make up things, but you shouldn’t let the ordinary dissuade you from making a positive comment.

For the first week, it was I bit of struggle. “Oh, Little Bookworm, I’m so proud of you. I know you wanted to, but you didn’t hit your brother.” (Normally, I would simply have commented on the yelling that took place.) “Look at you, Little Bookworm. You’ve eaten much more neatly than you did yesterday.” (Previously, I would have pointed out the mess on the floor.) By the end of this week of mental effort, I discovered something wonderful: I actually had — and continue to have — great children.

Now, many years later, my heart and my head are in synch — I love my kids, because they are lovable. Sure, they can be naughty, but isn’t that true for everybody? And yes, when I’m in a bad mood, the criticisms definitely amp up, and I have to remind myself, still, to catch ’em being good. But after so many years, catching them being good is mostly automatic, with manifest benefits for us all.

Believe it or not, this bit of parenting advice (and it’s the best advice any parent will ever get), has a political purpose, but I’m taking my time getting there. Part two of this story is the conversation I had the other day with my sister, who was reminiscencing about the fact that she always found my Mom rather frightening. She acknowledged that Mom was constantly professing her love for us but, when it came to my sister, every “I love you” was followed by a criticism. “I love you. Your room is a mess.” “I love you. Stop slouching.” “I love you. Why aren’t you doing better in school?” As an adult, my sister knows that my Mom truly adored her, and felt that the best thing she could do for my sister was to improve her with a constant, bracing storm of criticism. As a child, though, my sister came to a different conclusion: Either my mother was a fool, for how could anyone but a fool profess love for a creature as imperfect as my sister obviously was, or my mother was a liar, and did not love her at all.

(Incidentally, I had a different experience. Since I was the younger child watching these “loving” harangues, I made sure to clean my room, stand up straight and do well in school. Mom happily praised me for doing well in these areas, in contrast to my sister. It speaks well for the enormity of my sister’s goodness that she loved me then and loves me now.)

And now I’ll get to the political point:  Don’t the ordinary Progressives, not the dyed-in-the-wool Marxists masquerading as Progressives, but the ordinary, man-in-the-street Progressives, remind you of the parenting style that professes love but only voices criticism?  Though they claim to be patriotic Americans, everything they say about America is critical:  America is too racist, too classist, too rich, too greedy, too abusive of the environment, too religious, too conservative, too xenophobic, and on and on.   Never, never, do the Progressives catch America being good.  So perhaps, the ordinary person, the one who is not politically engaged, might be excused for thinking that Progressives are either fools, for how could anyone but a fool claim to love such a dreadful society, or they’re liars, and don’t really love America at all.

Men! Help out at home — for your kids’ sake

To toot my own horn, I am a very competent person.  I’m not overwhelmingly good at any one thing, but I can do most things fairly well.  My kids get to see this competence in action.  I do a lot of my legal work from home, so they see me in professional mode.  I also do all of the household stuff:  I cook, clean, do laundry, maintain the pool, help with homework, run the carpools, volunteer at their schools and extracurricular activities, and am still knowledgeable enough to have an answer to most of their questions.

Mr. Bookworm is also a very competent person, a competence he brings to bear on his professional life.  In fact, I’d go even further and say that he is extremely good at what he does, and is very respected by his colleagues for his work.  On the home front, however, he embraces incompetence, a tactic I think he purposefully employs to avoid any type of house work.  “I don’t know how to clear the table.  You do it.”   “I don’t know how to put leftovers in the fridge.  You do it.”  “I don’t know where the dishes go.  You empty the dishwasher.”  “I can’t fold this.  You do it.”  And I do it because he works extremely hard, because I work out of the home anyway, and because, if I push him into doing whatever “it” is, he does it so badly I have to do it again anyway.  When the children were young, this helplessness infuriated me, because I really could have used the help.  Now that the kids are older, and I’m less exhausted, I’m perfectly capable of doing everything without him, so his inability (whether real or feigned) to help around the house doesn’t bother me at all.

It did occur to me, though, that Mr. Bookworm is making a mistake by using incompetence to avoid helping out around the house.  As a I noted at the start of this post, not only am I a competent person, but my kids get to see me being competent.  The same can’t be said for Mr. Bookworm and the kids.  They do not see him at the office, where he is incredibly good at what he does and holds a position of power and respect.  Instead, they only see him at home, flapping his hands ineffectually and complaining bitterly when asked to recover something from the fridge or tidy something up.  In other words, the Dad they see is someone helpless.

Nor can Mr. Bookworm fall back on larger cultural paradigms to elevate his status in the children’s eyes.  It’s true that, in the pre-feminist era, men didn’t help out at home either.  Back then, though, the dominant culture conspired to present men as powerful, effective, knowledgeable beings.  Whether the kids were watching The Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, or Ozzie and Harriet, they were given to understand that, in the world outside the home, father was a very important man, too important to spend his time at home engaged in frivolous domestic tasks.  That cultural cushion doesn’t exist anymore.  In pop culture Dad is, as often as not, an idiot, frequently put in his place by his hip, clever children or much put-upon wife.  We don’t let our kids watch these demeaning (to parents) shows, but their ethos is the air, and the kids hear about them from other children.

As it is, I regularly try my best to make sure that my children understand that Daddy has an important job, and that he works long and hard for them.  I remind them that, although I contribute to the family economically, it his mostly his labor and time that enable us to live the quality suburban lifestyle we enjoy.   That’s very abstract, though.  They hear it, but what they see is a Daddy who does nothing — and in this way distinguishes himself even from the other neighborhood Dads, many of whom enjoy cooking, gardening, or other more visible domestic activities.

So Dads, if you think you’re being clever avoiding household work by relying on domestic incompetence, think again.  As a short term strategy to increase your down time, it may be a good thing, but as a long term strategy, you may be harming yourselves irreparably in your children’s eyes.

(By the way, I only just had this insight, and am working on a tactful way to bring it to Mr. Bookworm’s attention.  He adores the children and I think that, not only will it distress him once he realizes the path he’s taken, he may also act to change his approach to the very small number of domestic tasks I sometimes request of him.)

Men! Help out at home — for your kids’ sake

To toot my own horn, I am a very competent person.  I’m not overwhelmingly good at any one thing, but I can do most things fairly well.  My kids get to see this competence in action.  I do a lot of my legal work from home, so they see me in professional mode.  I also do all of the household stuff:  I cook, clean, do laundry, maintain the pool, help with homework, run the carpools, volunteer at their schools and extracurricular activities, and am still knowledgeable enough to have an answer to most of their questions.

Mr. Bookworm is also a very competent person, a competence he brings to bear on his professional life.  In fact, I’d go even further and say that he is extremely good at what he does, and is very respected by his colleagues for his work.  On the home front, however, he embraces incompetence, a tactic I think he purposefully employs to avoid any type of house work.  “I don’t know how to clear the table.  You do it.”   “I don’t know how to put leftovers in the fridge.  You do it.”  “I don’t know where the dishes go.  You empty the dishwasher.”  “I can’t fold this.  You do it.”  And I do it because he works extremely hard, because I work out of the home anyway, and because, if I push him into doing whatever “it” is, he does it so badly I have to do it again anyway.  When the children were young, this helplessness infuriated me, because I really could have used the help.  Now that the kids are older, and I’m less exhausted, I’m perfectly capable of doing everything without him, so his inability (whether real or feigned) to help around the house doesn’t bother me at all.

It did occur to me, though, that Mr. Bookworm is making a mistake by using incompetence to avoid helping out around the house.  As a I noted at the start of this post, not only am I a competent person, but my kids get to see me being competent.  The same can’t be said for Mr. Bookworm and the kids.  They do not see him at the office, where he is incredibly good at what he does and holds a position of power and respect.  Instead, they only see him at home, flapping his hands ineffectually and complaining bitterly when asked to recover something from the fridge or tidy something up.  In other words, the Dad they see is someone helpless.

Nor can Mr. Bookworm fall back on larger cultural paradigms to elevate his status in the children’s eyes.  It’s true that, in the pre-feminist era, men didn’t help out at home either.  Back then, though, the dominant culture conspired to present men as powerful, effective, knowledgeable beings.  Whether the kids were watching The Brady Bunch, Leave it to Beaver, Father Knows Best, or Ozzie and Harriet, they were given to understand that, in the world outside the home, father was a very important man, too important to spend his time at home engaged in frivolous domestic tasks.  That cultural cushion doesn’t exist anymore.  In pop culture Dad is, as often as not, an idiot, frequently put in his place by his hip, clever children or much put-upon wife.  We don’t let our kids watch these demeaning (to parents) shows, but their ethos is the air, and the kids hear about them from other children.

As it is, I regularly try my best to make sure that my children understand that Daddy has an important job, and that he works long and hard for them.  I remind them that, although I contribute to the family economically, it his mostly his labor and time that enable us to live the quality suburban lifestyle we enjoy.   That’s very abstract, though.  They hear it, but what they see is a Daddy who does nothing — and in this way distinguishes himself even from the other neighborhood Dads, many of whom enjoy cooking, gardening, or other more visible domestic activities.

So Dads, if you think you’re being clever avoiding household work by relying on domestic incompetence, think again.  As a short term strategy to increase your down time, it may be a good thing, but as a long term strategy, you may be harming yourselves irreparably in your children’s eyes.

(By the way, I only just had this insight, and am working on a tactful way to bring it to Mr. Bookworm’s attention.  He adores the children and I think that, not only will it distress him once he realizes the path he’s taken, he may also act to change his approach to the very small number of domestic tasks I sometimes request of him.)

The scoop on poop

My mother was very happy as a young bride in Israel. She and my Dad had a wide circle of friends and were making a relatively good living. My Dad, who was a bit of a malcontent, was less happy and kept thinking that America would be a greener pasture. He nagged my mother to go and she resisted — until the tipping point. The tipping point began with the fact that, even though she and my Dad were earning good money, Tel Aviv had such a severe housing shortage that they were sharing a one bedroom apartment with another couple, and this other couple had an infant. The end of the tipping point was that the infant’s mother used the large kitchen sink to wash out the baby’s diapers, and everyone in the house ended up with worms. My fastidious mother, who had endured every parasite known to man during her years interned in a Japanese concentration camp, gave in to my Dad’s importuning, packed up, and came to America.

I tell the above story for a reason. Today I read about the “growing ‘Diaper-Free’ movement” (great pun there), which has parents closely observe their babies for signals that they’re getting ready to eliminate. If you get the signal right, you rush your child over to a potty or tree or whatever (more about that later), without the need for diapers:

Thirteen-month-old Dominic Klatt stopped banging the furniture in the verandah, looked at his mother and clasped his right hand around his left wrist to signal that he needed to go to the bathroom.

His mother took the diaper-less tot to a tree in the yard, held him in a squatting position and made a gentle hissing sound — prompting the infant to relieve himself on cue before he rushed back to play.

Dominic is a product of a growing “diaper-free” movement founded on the belief that babies are born with an instinctive ability to signal when they have to answer nature’s call. Parents who practice the so-called “elimination communication” learn to read their children’s body language to help them recognize the need, and they mimic the sounds that a child associates with the bathroom.

***

Experts at the Child Study Center at the University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center say children younger than 12 months have no control over bladder or bowel movements and little control for 6 months after that.

But some parents begin going diaper-free at birth, and the infants can initiate bowel movements on cue as young as 3 to 4 months, said Elizabeth Parise, spokeswoman of DiaperFreeBaby.org, a network of free support groups promoting the practice.

And unlike some methods of toilet training, there are no rewards or punishment associated with it.

Dr. Mark Wolraich, professor of pediatrics and director of the Child Study Center, said the practice essentially conditions young children to go to the bathroom at predictable times or show clear signs when they must go.

“To be truly toilet-trained, the child has to be able to have the sensation that they need to go, be able to interpret that sensation and be able to then tell the parent and take some action,” said Wolraich, who is also editor of the American Academy of Pediatrics’ book on toilet training.

“And that’s different from reading the subtle signs that the child is making when they have to go to the bathroom.”

Perhaps it’s a fine system if you have the time, energy, inclination and skill to monitor your child’s very itch and twitch.  I do see some problems with this “movement,” speaking from the perspective of a member of the public.  Aside from the fact that I’m no more thrilled about kids soiling a park or sidewalk than I am about dogs doing the same, some of these parents are engaging in behavior reminiscent of my Mom’s long-ago apartment-mate, only worse:

Isis Arnesen, 33, of Boston, has a 14-week-old daughter, Lucia, who is diaper-free. She said it can be awkward to explain the process to people, such as when she helped Lucia relieve herself in a sink at a public restroom.

“Sometimes I don’t know what’s gonna happen and it doesn’t work, and sometimes I feel a little embarrassed,” Arnesen said. “It makes her happy though, right? She smiles, she’s happy.”  (Emphasis mine.)

Yeah, I’m sure her baby’s happy, but what about all the other women in the restroom, not to mention the ones blindsided by a sink they didn’t even know was used as a potty?