Last Night’s Adventures in Bad Parenting

25 01 2011

Last night was a rough night in the parenting corner for me, though it began innocently enough. We received an email from the director of my daughter’s school play asking that all of the little munchkins, of which she is one, practice their little munchkin, the witch is dead songs and dances for at least 15 minutes a day. It went a little like this:

Tiger Dad stroked his beard. 15 minutes? Hah. We’ll do a 2 hour practice marathon! She’ll be great!

A single, chilling glare shot at me from the kid who would have no part of that.

1 hour?

Another glare, with a smirk this time, as if to say, “Dad… you’re so cute, but no.”

No? No… okay, how about the 15 minutes that your director says he wants?

Grudging acceptance on her part as she launches into the whole, the “house began to pitch” part and when she gets to the high note, “which was not a healthy situation for the wicked witch,” she invokes a glass-breaking falsetto voice. Now, I was in choir in high school. I was even in choir my first year in college. I won’t claim to be a great singer, because I’m completely not, but I get the principles and have a better than average appreciation for technique. Again, not saying a lot, but I know she can hit the note if she supports it with enough air.

How was I, however, to convince her that she could do it? I tried to reasoning with her and just explained how air can support higher notes and how she could work on her breathing. Her response was a big, “why bother?’ because she thinks she sounds great. Her words, not mine. My response and why I’m a horrible person, father, man and creature: “No, it sounds like you’re stabbing me in the ear with a dead cat.” I do like to mix my metaphors but even though that one clearly got away from me, the message struck her like I had just brutally sacrificed a puppy on the dinner table.

Then came the tears. I felt about 3 inches tall, but I tried to explain that I knew she could do it and if she’d just try, she’d be very proud of herself when she did do it. More tears. Had to bring the wife in for extra support. I tried guilt-tripping her. Nothing was working, except finally our promise to sit there and patiently work on it just a few minutes longer.

So, when she finally calmed down, I patiently did scales with her, just so she could get a feel for her own range. You know the type if you’ve ever been in a choir or had a voice teacher, where you stand there and sing numbers up and down ad nauseaum. During these, however, she actually did hit the “witch” and “sitch” notes on her own, so I made her hold it for a second, which she did. Then when she stopped, I calmly told her that that was the note that she was saying that she couldn’t hit and now she could.

So, we took it once more from the top and you know what? She hit the damn note. Clear as day. Even has a cute voice. It’s not going to win any voice contests (yet! For she will be a star!!!), but it’s cute and doesn’t make anyone want to cry. And I leaped out of my seat and did a B.J. Raji in the endzone dance, and she laughed and was, in fact, very proud of herself and super happy the rest of the evening, content in having learned the magic of working on something until you get it. Yay for me, but even much more so, yay for her. Success, but at the price of just my soul.

Telling your kids they suck

21 01 2011

I had started writing a post yesterday about the debate surrounding Amy Chua’s Battle Hymn of the Tiger Mother, but I ended up scrapping it. As it turns out, I have more things to say than would neatly fit into a single blog post, so after I rambled on and on for a few pages, I decided to toss the whole thing in the bin and get a little more focus.

I don’t agree with the notion that Chua is abusive towards her children. I don’t think that by being strict and mean and pushing her kids as hard as she does that she’s got all the answers either, but if all of the American mommies out there can chill out a bit, she does point to a real flaw in the way that the Western obsession with self-esteem is abusive.

The idea that we’ve been raising a generation of praise junkies who treasure their precious self-esteem more than anything else has been pretty well established, despite warnings that all of the “good jobs” and “you’re so perfect” and “you’re a unique snowflake of awesomeness” were going to do harm. Don’t even get me started on a great many of the college students I’ve taught in recent years. Many have been fine, bright and hard-working. A great many more have had this sense of entitlement that has had 18 plus years head start over anything I could do with them, interestingly, to their ultimate disadvantage. They learned less, wasted more time and were often just too into themselves to realize it.

I was watching American Idol on Wednesday with my daughter and I started to tell her about American Junior, the spinoff that enjoyed one season back in 2003, right when she was born. I think I learned so much about parenting from that show. I certainly learned that a parent’s love can make them blind and that being uncritical and dishonest about your kids was doing them a disservice. I told myself I wasn’t going to be that kind of dad, for damned sure. Then, I started to explain all of this to my daughter, but then backed off. Singing just happens to be a skill that she doesn’t really have, but I’ve never praised her for it either. I’ve always said that she should practice more, work on it more, same as with everything else she has to do. Shockingly, she doesn’t enjoy it any less.

And that’s what I think is important about what Chua’s saying. There’s a lot of value in practice. I think our culture forces to place too much importance on talent. We like the idea that someone can be a born singer, a born athlete and we celebrate that effortless talent and we heap praise on it. I’ve seen it first- hand in the number of times I’ve been beaten out despite my talents by someone that just plain worked harder. There have been more than a few tough lessons of that.

The danger of excessive praise then is that it’s dishonest. It does build self-esteem junkies and it does limit potential and that, itself, makes it abusive. It’s narcissism that hides behind being done “out of love.”  I’m not saying we shouldn’t love our kids, obviously. We should want more for them. We should also not celebrate mediocrity. We should be prepared every now and then to tell them that they suck at something and need to work to improve. Get kids to actually accomplish something through effort and their self-esteem will easily take care of itself (and more deservedly so).

So, okay, maybe Chua’s a bit excessive there, but certainly not abusive. Neglect is abusive. Limiting potential is abusive. There’s a middle road there between what Chua did with her kids and the self-esteem obsession that I think we should shoot for.

What Chua is guilty of is the same as every other parenting pundit: they’re very good at trying to tell other people how to raise their kids and nothing starts a fight faster than that. If someone questions my parenting, believe me, I get defensive. She challenged some norms. Them’s fightin’ words. Them’s also some good “I’m gonna sell me some books and get on Oprah by pissing everyone off” words.  And now I’m going to rush out and buy this book so I can get angry about it (p.s. not really). Gives me an idea though… I bet I could sell more than a few copies of an ebook explaining how to use waterboarding techniques to influence your toddler’s behavior. Hmmm. (p.s. also not really).

So, I think a lot of the furor right now is just a defensive snap reaction to the book and the article and it’s exacerbated by Chua’s abrasive personality. The good news is, like this article says, we’re really all too busy and cash-strapped to carry on with this current buzz for long. A few more talk shows and editorials and we’ll be on to something else next week, easily.

UPDATE: This Time Healthland article just came out a few minutes ago (I’m adding this at 5:45 pm) and contained this gem:

Yet we remain in denial. The economic and emotional stress on working parents that results is overwhelming, but rather than concede that we have a big social problem on our hands or look for national solutions, we spend our time debating whether moms are doing their jobs right and seeking answers (or blame) in individual parenting styles.

Research shows repeatedly that low-quality day care can harm children, particularly infants, over the long term, leading to academic and cognitive deficits in adolescence and greater risk-taking and impulsivity. But as a country, we are still ignoring the issue: we don’t require companies to provide paid parental leave, for instance, and we do little else to support quality early child care. Instead, we endlessly debate the Tiger Mom.

Bingo. The rest of us can have all the expectations we want, but the debate is really about those with the economic means to go Tiger. The vast majority of us do what we can to enforce our philosophies.

Hangin’ with Devin

20 01 2011
Devin Hester of the Chicago Bears

Image via Wikipedia

Just came across the announcement by Chicago Parent magazine that Bears wide receiver Devin Hester will begin writing a parenting column in their magazine starting in April. I find this fascinating, but should make for interesting reading. That is provided, of course, this doesn’t end up to be another athletic self-destruction in the public spotlight kind of thing. That is my worry. See how I worry? But, anyway, I know nothing of how Hester lives his off the field life aside from the fact that he has a 1 year old son.

Regardless, can’t be worse than an Amy Chua column, could it? (BTW, I don’t share the opinion that she’s abusive, just really stricter than necessary. I started writing something about my thoughts on it, but it’s going to take more to unpack than I thought.)

Also, I think the Packers are going to hand it to them on Sunday, so maybe he can get started writing sooner rather than later.

Men’s Work in a Kid’s Class

12 01 2011

Real short post today, as I’ve not much to write about, but I did want to share this little experience. I got an email this afternoon from my child’s class asking for volunteers among the parents to do things for their class play. I do try to be an active and involved parent and my schedule at the moment thankfully affords me the time to do so when needed. This past Fall, for example, I volunteered for every practice and meet for my daughter’s cross country team. I’m going to be helping with the set of the lower school play, in which my kid’s playing a Munchkin in the Wizard of Oz. I’m happy to give my time and labor when I can and would love to be involved more.

What keeps me from doing so is mostly how cliquish other parents can be and how awkward a guy is made to feel at these sorts of things. It’s not so bad if I can keep my head down and concentrate on a task, but any other time, there’s this crazy power struggle among the alpha moms there and, again for a guy, it takes on an almost absurd character and, make no mistake, we’re clearly not wanted. It’s as if, by being involved, we guys are intruding on their sacred realm. This is their territory and they are going to pee on every tree they can find. At the same time, I’ve got to imagine these very same people would love for their husbands to be more involved. See where I’m going here?

Now, I know that stay-at-home dads are still not mainstream, but I categorically refuse to respond to any email that begins with the line: “Hello ladies!!!” They can work on their own props/sets, which is probably how they want it anyway.

Iron Monster

20 10 2010

I think it’s scary how well I interface with the things my son enjoys (and vice versa). This morning’s Sesame Street with Grover’s Iron Man/Iron Monster parody is no exception:

Kudos for today’s win.


13 10 2010

Sorry for the lack of posting the past couple days and this is bound to be a bit of a disappointment, too. I’m having some serious productivity issues around here right now, most of it caused by the never-ending Beatles concert that we’ve been having. It turns out you really, really can get too much of a good thing and, boy howdy, am I ever there. I’ve probably listened to a subset of about 3 songs (especially Help!) around 983,234.56 times in the last two weeks. Nobody needs help like I need help.

If it’s not that, it’s just been that there’s always being overwhelmed by all of the piddly shit and constant distractions to getting anything done, which makes me feel worse about what I’m doing (and failing to do) and it’s a bit of a vicious cycle. The answer is clearly to plan better, but there’s just not much time to carve out.

Putting aside the anti-Beatles sentiment for a second (and I’m sure it’s passing anyway, but damn these kids latch on to things), there’s this in my head:

Out of college, money spent

See no future, pay no rent

All the money’s gone, nowhere to go

Any jobber got the sack

Monday morning, turning back

Yellow lorry slow, nowhere to go

But oh, that magic feeling, nowhere to go

Oh, that magic feeling Nowhere to go

Except for the magic feeling kind of sucking right now, that’s where I live at the moment as I try to balance the parenting responsibilities with trying to contribute financially and still stay productive creatively.

So far on my watch…

7 10 2010

Nevermind that I successfully got one kid from infancy to school already and I’m halfway to school age on this one. This has been my week of fail parenting. Je suis le Faildad.

Monday, my first day back on the SAHD job, my son grabbed a pill lying on the counter which belonged to my father-in-law, who is on various medications for various ailments common to a person of his age. I learn about this from my son running up to me and telling me that he ate one of “Papaw’s gummies!” Oh crap. So, I track down the remnants of it and discover that it’s only a harmless Fish Oil capsule and we have a little talk about how we stay away from medicines because they can make you really sick. The rest of the day I spend mentally picturing my son being rushed to the E.R., his liver failing, the most horrific nightmarish scenarios a guy can imagine. That kind of thing.

Wednesday brought a confrontation with the in-laws’ dog, a 12 year old, 18 pound miniature schnauzer who is generally quite lovable, but does not really understand little kids well. At some point, the two were in the hallway together and he apparently tried to pet her, which she didn’t like and she bit his hand (not hard), but also scratched his face up with both claws. One set of claws didn’t really break the skin but left light marks across his right cheek, but with her right claw she narrowly missed his eye and left a small cut which caught on the skin and left a fairly deep gash about half a centimeter long. No doubt this was the result of her claws having been clipped the day before, but still, it’s a nasty cut and I cannot help but think how lucky we are she missed the eye. So he cries for a bit, naturally, but I get him calmed down, get it cleaned up and he’s a real trooper. To get that far, though, I had to resort to bribery. By the end of it, he had scored the following:

This morning, he looks a lot like he’d been punched in the face and the swelling hasn’t gone down yet. I thought there might be some infection there, but there’s no real sign of it, just light bruising and the beginnings of a nice shiner.

Yeah, so, guilt had NOTHING to do with these purchases at all. I am sucking this week, so I’ve got to figure out how to rebound and we’ve still got two days yet. What fresh hell awaits, I’m sure we’ll soon see, but I really can’t wait for the weekend to get here.