A Very Brief Guide to the Hottest New Parenting Styles

Despite being a seemingly modern concept, the term “helicopter parent” dates all the way back to 1969.

In “Between Parent and Teenager” author and psychologist Haim G. Ginott quotes an over-parented teen patient as saying, “Mother hovers over me like a helicopter and I’m fed up with her noise and hot air.… I’m entitled to sneeze without explanation.”

And here I thought mom bloggers made it up.

Since then we’ve seen the dawn of the self-described “Tiger Mom” who rules with an iron fist, pushes hard, and over-schedules with the intention of raising academically competitive offspring. Then there’s the “Snowplow Parent”, who allegedly clears their child’s path of obstacles, preventing them from experiencing challenge and hardship at any cost.

It seems parents are desperate to define the different ways we approach the role. Let’s throw a few more options on table.

Goalie parent

A goalie parent is a pro at keeping their head in the game while reserving action for the moments it’s truly necessary. They know there’s no reason to be involved in every play, and that eventually the ball/puck/need/complaint will head their way. These parents are always on their toes, but keenly aware of boundaries.

Children of goalies are agile and surefooted, yet confident that when things are out of their control or too slippery to manage, mom and/or dad are willing to swoop in hard. (These kids also have deft smack talk skills.)

Hot air balloon parent

With a few precious resources, hot air balloon parents pile it all in one basket and take to the skies. They know there’s only so much they can fully control, yet head fearlessly into uncharted territory. They’re adventurous and willing to go with the flow. Despite outwardly appearing jovial and confident, they take the job seriously. Additionally, their children may develop a penchant for fire.

The Al Roker parent

(Not to be confused with Al Roker’s parents, whom I’m sure are lovely people.)

For better or for worse, these parents are completely oblivious to the fact that a storm is raging all around them. You’ve seen them at coffee shops sipping lattes and chit-chatting away while their sticky tornadoes nearly trip every third patron and dive under tables knocking over everything in their path.

They calmly prepare dinner while a house full of kids dump a jar full of marbles down the stairs and stage WWE matches on a pile of couch cushions. They’re barely rattled until they get taken out at the knees and start bleeding from the head. While this type can occasionally appear irresponsible, their one-track mind and ability to focus on the task at hand is enviable. (This is a video of Al Roker falling.)

The roadkill parent

You want to feel bad for these guys, but it’s sort of difficult to muster the sympathy. They’re the ones who walked out into traffic and didn’t even look first. They allow their kids to run roughshod over every weakly-defined rule they attempt to establish. Despite starting out with high aspirations and plenty of motivation to do the job well, it all seems to have fallen apart. Children of roadkill are often rude, demanding, and unlikely to be invited on playdates.

What type of parent are you?

Your Aging Parents Just Want to Be Heard

As we grow old and our world becomes smaller, the most precious gift we can be given is the attentive ear of the ones we love.

Spending four days visiting my father-in-law at his assisted living residence in D.C. was not exactly the Spring Break I had envisioned.

Fidgeting on the plane ride next to my even-more-antsy children, I figured the “Break” part of the trip would surely be missing from the things we’re all generally trying to escape: stress, fatigue, sadness, guilt.

Turns out the “Spring” part would be missing as well, since 30-degree weather with rain and snow was the gloomy forecast for the week. Instead of parked with a fruity drink on a beach somewhere, I’d be taking shelter from the cold, sharpening my listening and empathy skills for a man in need of a little warmth, too.

Several years ago, my father-in-law fell and broke his hip, and at just 75 years old, could no longer care for his basic living needs on his own. He now lives in a two-room unit of a lovely, albeit “depressing” and “lonely,” high-rise with 100+ other seniors, most of whom are far worse off than he. While his long-term memory seems to be intact, his short-term memory, along with some nutrition and mobility issues, prove to be a challenge. There are times he can’t recall a doctor’s visit from just a couple of days before.

My kids have been to his residence enough to know the drill by now. And though they are temporarily distracted by puppies and cookies in the lobby, the sights and smells of old age are hard to ignore. Residents gaze out with a faraway look from oversized armchairs, or sleep hunched over in wheelchairs parked in the café. Those who are alert stare down my youngsters with wide eyes and even wider grins, overjoyed to see the beauty and promise of youth in their midst.

A yearly visit to this place, I realize, is the least I can do. I’m one step removed from the decision-making and caretaking that my husband and in-laws are doing their best to manage. I see how they, like so many other families, often give more than they sometimes have to ensure his continual care and comfort. And I know I couldn’t do a better job.

But I found on this trip that one small thing I can do is take the time to listen. To sit in presence with a man who is sometimes depressed, often lonely, and always eager to talk — and listen with an open heart.

Listen to the tales of his youth that he loves to tell, and re-tell, as if they happened just yesterday. Especially the one about the beloved summer camp he attended with a fine group of young boys from all over the world, each hand-selected to live with and learn from one another, and from their native cultures.

Or give an understanding nod about the latest drama in the building. Like his run-in with the lady down the hall when he went on his daily walk to reach out to someone new and encourage others to do the same. “Who cares about anyone else?!” she snapped at him.

Or just to sit and hold his hand when he tells us that he’s lonely.

I think sometimes we have a tendency, consciously or not, to dismiss the worn-out tales, these weary revelations of heartbreak and burden, as a part of growing old. We exchange knowing glances as we listen to our elders rattle off the same stories over and over. We snicker at their silly expressions, and roll our eyes at the neverending complaints. Oh geez, here Grandma goes again. Someone get her a scotch (or take it away). Things that really, for all of us, at one time or another, are just a part of living.

But the thing about our Dad and Granddad is that he’s just not that easy to dismiss. Thankfully, this loving, witty, and unconditional parent has not entered a clinical state of dementia, but pivots back and forth between crystal clarity and general fogginess.

I’ll tell him about a story I’m writing, and he’ll fire back a dead-on insight that blows me away, followed by a sweet sentiment about having me for a daughter and gratitude for all the blessings we share. You are as much a part of me as anyone here, he tells me.

And in the next breath, he’s back to how they took away his blanket, and he had to hunt it down from the laundry room on his own because no one in the place really gives a damn. But I keep listening.

He wants to talk about his work as a philosophy professor and author. He proudly recounts a piece of his writing and tells us, “That’s not me who did that, or wrote that. That’s my grandfather. And his father before him. I feel like the luckiest man in the world. I really do.”

He apologizes for his “craziness” as he collects old photographs from his room, many of which we’ve seen before. He wants to show us our heritage, and tell us more stories. It’s important, he says, that we know where we come from.

A nurse arrives to dispense his daily medication. He introduces us, then asks her to give the kids a fist bump. She throws her head back, letting out a deep chuckle as if she’s used to these sorts of silly requests from him, and kindly extends her fist. The mood in the room is lighter as we watch her gently place the many pills, one-by-one, on his tongue. In between, he feels compelled to give us bits of nurse trivia – her beautiful name, where she’s from, and some of the little jokes between them. We laugh, and take notice.

One day we go to visit and find he’s not in his room. “He’s making the rounds,” an employee tells us with a smile. Suddenly he appears at the door with a neighbor woman from one floor down. (He reveals to us later that she’s 99, though by her mobility and spunky personality, she appears a good 20 years younger.) He asks his grandkids to give her a hug. My seven-year-old willingly obliges, while my 10-year-old politely declines with a nervous look my way.

I give her an understanding wink, knowing that it’s just her Granddad’s way of connecting. He’s showing empathy for an elderly neighbor who has no family of her own, other than a nephew who lives 90 miles away, by offering to share his grandchild’s sweet embrace. Like a band-aid for the loneliness he feels so acutely on his own skin. Ever the giver in the midst of his own suffering.

So I sit back, and settle in to listen some more.

And somewhere between feeling sorry for myself that I’m not basking in the sun somewhere, and feeling adored by this gentle, generous man who has adopted me as his own, I see that our aging parents are not just a part of life that we are required to bear and usher through as best we can.

They are the reflection of an older version of ourselves – parents, people, who just want to know that their life has meant something. That there’s still time to share what they’ve discovered, and to leave something behind. And to know that we ducklings have been paying attention, and have learned a thing or two.

And though it’s not always easy, and sometimes painful, something as simple as a bent ear can provide a different kind of break — one we both really needed.

As we leave to make our way to the airport, my father-in-law says to his granddaughter, “You know we are connected, the two of us. I am you, and you are me.”

And then another fist bump.

Sometimes I think when we exchange those little glances and giggles about our dear old loved ones — even when they show us glimpses of brilliance — that the joke is really on us. Maybe when we reach the age of “old,” in between the crazy babbling and the far-off stares, we know exactly what we’re doing, and what we’re teaching. And one day, we know, our kids and grandkids will figure it out, too.


5 Things Parents are Told to Worry About (But I Don’t)

It’s possible that the issues parents are told to freak out about aren’t even the ones that make a real difference in the long run.

I’m often oblivious about what parents of young children “should” be doing.

It’s only when I read an article, and its many accompanying comments, that I realize how little value I place on the things that parents are told to care about.

Maybe I have different priorities, maybe I’m lazy, maybe it’s both.

Here are five things I just don’t care about:

1 | Screen time

There are so many differing opinions on screen time, and this controversy seems to conjure up more parental guilt than almost any other issue.

Moderation is my mantra. We spend lots of time playing outside, and we love to read books. If I need to use YouTube so I can make dinner, so be it.

2 | Sugar Intake

I had a friend in high school who had very strict parents. So strict, in fact, that she wasn’t even allowed to cut her hair. Predictably, she went wild as soon as she got to college, spending too much time drinking, and not enough time studying. Within a year, she was back at home. She’d never learned moderation and self-control because her parents had never given her the chance.

This may seem like a circuitous way to explain why I let my kid eat sugar, but the idea is the same. My son will only learn how to regulate his eating habits if I actually give him the opportunities to do so.

Also, c’mon, sugar tastes good. Why would I deprive him of one of life’s greatest pleasures?

3 | Being Kindergarten Ready

Full disclosure: I don’t even know really know what this means. I just know I don’t care.

My four year old has never seen a flashcard, and I’ve never purposefully set out to teach him the alphabet. He has over a decade of school ahead of him; I see no reason to burn him out on formal learning before it’s even begun.

4 | Capturing Every Moment

I have an old hand-me-down phone. I don’t have any apps on it, and the camera is so scratched that all my pictures come out looking like I used a crazy filter. If I want to take high quality pictures, I have to dig my camera out of the junk drawer.

On the rare occasion when I do hunt down the camera, the battery is invariably dead. I rely on family members for pictures, and the rest of the time I try to just savor the moments in real time.

5 | If My Kid Looks Put Together

My kid has a crazy mop of hair and wears a lot of hand-me-downs. He’s never going to look like a model for Gap Kids.

This is in no way a reflection of how much I love my child or attend to his emotional needs. What is does suggest, however, is that I just can’t be bothered to worry about how dirty my kid gets, or how that makes me look as a parent.

Here are the things I do worry about:

Kindness

Some families value grit, others value intellect. What’s most important to me is to raise a child who exhibits kindness unapologetically and without prejudice. I hope to raise a son whose empathy and compassion inform his life decisions.

Emotional Intelligence

EQ (emotional intelligence quotient) is more indicative of success in school, business, and relationships than IQ. Being able to communicate effectively, identify emotions accurately, and express them appropriately are critical life skills that are seldom taught in school.

Connection

I don’t use punishment to shape my son’s behavior. I’ve never spanked him and he’s never had a timeout. Instead my husband and I work to maintain a close, meaningful connection with our son.

When he feels close to us, he naturally wants to cooperate. When we truly listen and give his thoughts and ideas the weight they deserve, collaboration becomes not only possible but also far easier than using punishments.

Consent

If my son learns nothing else from me, I hope he always understands the importance of consent. He’s never been forced to offer physical affection against his will, and I’ve spoken explicitly to him about appropriate and inappropriate touch since he was a toddler.

I can’t eliminate the risk of sexual abuse, but as a parent, I can respect my child’s right to consent. In that way I’m empowering him to set his own boundaries with confidence.

Play

I’m a fervent supporter of my son’s free play. Play is the way children synthesize new information, how they process difficult experiences, and how they make sense of their emotions.

Research confirms that play improves classroom focus, decreases disruptive behaviors, and is correlated with higher scores in reading and math. Play also enhances creativity, problem solving, social skills, and emotional intelligence.

As researcher Dr. Sergio Pellis states, “The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain…And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed.” In other words, play is necessary in developing self-regulation and reasoning.

I refuse to let anyone tell me what I should care about. We all have to decide for ourselves what aspects of parenting are crucial, and which we can let slide. 

So, if you need us, we’ll be over here eating cookies and watching cartoons.

Parents Swear, So WTF Does it Mean?

Parents, kids, and swearing. Yes or no?

It can be tricky to express our full range of adult emotions – especially as we navigate the eternal shitshow that is parenting – without incorporating expletives.

See? I can barely write a sentence without using one. And it’s trickier still when our children are within earshot. We walk the line between being reasonable role models using appropriate language and the actual truth of being a fallible human.

The car is a common battleground of language. Mostly because a lot of music – good, funky, rock-out with your kids music – is punctuated with the very language we might otherwise avoid using. But maybe that’s ok. As Jeff Vrabel (@jeffvrabel) writes in his Washington Post piece:

Look, parenting is a lot of work, and I don’t have the bandwidth to deal with bad words, because in addition to serving as primary male role model to two entirely separate humans I’ve apparently turned into the sort of indigestible twit who uses words like “bandwidth.” I have a lot to think about besides iTunes.

What about letting it go entirely, just letting fly? Like the author of this excellent and hilarious Scary Mommy blog post by Kate Levkoff (@Nursingcursing), I spent a few months imprisoned in that special hell of owing my kids a quarter each time they heard a swear leave my lips. Besides the absurdity of handing over nearly all of my money, I was being policed by CHILDREN. Wait. WHAT? I’m an adult parent living a grown-up life. I’ve earned my swears. Dammit.

Source: washingtonpost.com

Who’s Your TV Parent Spirit Animal?

It’s possible that there are currently half as many children in the world as there are words written about raising them. With so much information being thrown at us, it’s easy to get overwhelmed. Sure, you can attempt to dissect the commentary on any given subject and boil down anecdotal versus scientific evidence to find the answers you’re looking for. Or, you can put those complex little creatures to bed and fire up the television.

For decades, we’ve used fictitious families to help take our minds off our own. Inserting ourselves into the day to day struggles, triumphs and fumbles of mothers and fathers with problems we have no ownership of, can be a welcome diversion from the ones we do. Yet if the subject matter is relatable, it’s impossible to step outside yourself completely. After consuming enough hours of imaginary people’s lives, I’ve realized I find it way more fun to take parenting inspiration from fake people I can see rather than real ones who write books.

The families I grew up watching in the 80’s and 90’s took on the tough stuff and tied it up with some cheesy music and a bow in less than half an hour. Danny Tanner, Roseanne Conner, and Clair Huxtable, were the sort of parents who really listened to their kids. Skipping school, sneaking around, getting caught with drugs, driving a classic car through the kitchen (listen, I never said these shows were completely realistic), it didn’t matter the offense. There was a baseline of mutual respect and admiration which proved believable no matter how far fetched the plotline.   For those of us who spent childhood alongside these kids, would it be so far off to suggest that maybe we are better parents because of it?

When I was pregnant with my second, I spent countless (pantless) hours on the couch watching Friday Night Lights. While Tim Riggins was reason enough to go on a Netflix bender, it was Tami Taylor, the series (almost sole) matriarch, who really ignited something in me. (Ok, fine. Riggins ignited something too. What am I? A robot?)

At the time, I had no idea if the tiny person robbing me of every ounce of energy would be a brother or sister to my 5 year old son. I always imagined having a little girl, and while I truly had no preference the first time around, I also had no plans of having more than two kids. I tried to maintain the attitude of not caring either way, though it slowly became less and less convincing. Until eventually, I shouted at strangers who gazed in my direction, “I’M FINE IF THIS KID IS A BOY, REALLY. THAT WOULD BE OK. I MEAN, I’D GET USED TO IT AND STUFF.”

I tried to mentally explore all the angles of why, should I go on to live a daughterless existence, that I would be totally fine. Maybe even relieved. For one thing, I’d never have to navigate the world of raising a teenage girl and from what I remember of being one, that alone should have been enough to close the case. And yes, I know I would have been thrilled/lucky/blessed, all of that, to have another boy, yet I feared for the rest of my life, I’d be haunted by a tiny nagging feeling that something was missing. And that’s the cold hard truth.

I never expected my desire would grow even deeper by becoming immersed in a show about high school football. Hell, I never expected to become immersed in a show about high school football, period.

However, there was no way to avoid being sucked in by the drama in Dillon, Texas. And with each episode, my love for Tami grew out of control. She didn’t always have all the answers, but was never afraid to admit it either. She threw out nuggets of wisdom like candy in a parade.

“The most important thing to me is that my daughter be able to talk to me. A girl is entitled to that with her mother.”

“Well… you’re gonna win… or you’re gonna lose.  Either way the sun’s still gonna come up tomorrow morning.”

“I would tell her to think about her life. Think about what’s important to her and what she wants. And I would support every decision she made.”

She imparted her glorious wisdom on an entire student body, in addition to her own kids, and in so doing, inspired and encouraged them to be the best possible versions of themselves. Tami saw in them the potential they often had yet to notice. I wanted that. I’m from the northeast, and she even convinced me that “y’all” was a necessary addition to my lexicon.

Because there’s clearly more to developing my own brand of parenting than watching tv, like, say, real world application and working without a script, I’ve developed a simple way of compartmentalizing this inspiration.

I think of the (fake) women I admire as my parenting spirit animals.

For me, it’s really a hybrid of Tami Taylor  and Clair Huxtable. They are authoritative yet loving and approachable. Kid comes home drunk? Stage a family drinking game, 10 year old sister included. Come ON! That’s FANTASTIC. This could have been one of my subconscious reasons for having my own kids 6 years apart. I have no desire to become the principal at my kid’s high school, but I’m going to hope that I’m the understanding mom my kids and their friends can trust to pick them up late at night, judgement free, when they’re in over their heads. I don’t have teenagers yet, but I’ll have these ladies in my back pocket when I do.

Who are yours?