Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Death Grip on Summer

Ten years ago with five kids, summer seemed endless, and not in a good way. By the beginning of August, I was done with making chicken nuggets three times a day, done with breaking up fights, done with “what are we going to DO today,” done with barricading myself in the bathroom to do a conference call, futilely hoping that everyone wasn’t wondering why it sounded so “echoey” and what were those shouts and pounding noises. Stick a fork in me, I was DONE. 

By the time we navigated the Buying of the Shoes (why are you always sold out of kids’ sneakers, Target? I’m looking at you), the Finding of the Non-Branded, Non-Pink, Non-Mini-Streetwalker clothing, the purchasing of the dry erase markers that are still on the school supply list even though the school has had smartboards for what seems like a decade, I was extra-crispy done.  I brushed the kids’ hair and took photos and waved the kids around the corner on the bus, then did the happy dance in the driveway and usually had a thank-God coffee with friends. Or a nap.

Now, I’m dreading the end of summer. I look at their backpacks which are still stacked in living room, untouched since June 8, with last year’s papers (and hopefully not last year’s lunch) inside, and I don’t wanna. I don’t wanna. Why is that? Really, two reasons.

I don’t wanna monitor or help with homework. Dang, but it’s nice in the summer to just “be” with the kids without having to make them do too much of anything. It’s nice never to have a four-hour bombshell dropped into my day because someone needs help with a paper or project. Pretty soon, I expect to begin having my recurring nightmare where, after graduating high school, I decide to go back and repeat my senior year and I can’t do the work suddenly and they strip away my diploma. I blame you, kids, and you, school, for this anxiety dream.

I don’t wanna do extra-curriculars. I don’t wanna have every evening and weekend booked for some lesson or activity for somebody, including me.  Our kids are homebodies and don’t play sports, and it’s still nuts. This is the insane suburban life many parents lead.

As usual, though, just writing this out is therapeutic for me. I know that summer and school are just seasons of life with kids. I’m truly grateful that summer actually exists for me now as a time of relaxation. That’s all because the kids have gotten older and more independent and require less and less assistance with what senior caregivers call “activities of daily living.” I can see the light at the end of the tunnel where in addition to making their own lunches, they’ll be able to handle all their own homework without zero oversight, drive to their own activities, and do their own shopping. One day, if I’ve done my job, my main job as a parent will just be to enjoy the kids’ company whenever I can get it – the Reign of Perpetual Summer. I’m gonna savor the degree of Perpetual Summer I already have with kids. It’s gonna happen. And how sweet it will be.

Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Authoritarian Parent, Or???

If you’ve been around the parenting block once or twice, you’ve probably seen the standard Four Parenting Styles. As usual for parenting advice, there’s a minefield of errors for you, with three errors and only one right way. Your choices are Authoritarian (bad, sure to turn your child into a sad, depressed sheep-robot), Permissive/Indulgent (bad, will make your kid an entitled jerk), Neglectful (bad, will bring Child Welfare down on your you-know-what) or Authoritative (the magical balance that produces great children).

I’ve never been happy with these quadrants. For one thing, I never like it when there’s only 25% of being right and 75% of doom and disaster. For another, I don’t like how “authoritative” and “authoritarian” sounds like practically the same thing. I would never in a million years describe my parenting as “authoritative.”  Raising kids who blindly submit to authority is my nightmare. Freedom!  America!

Still, “how much do you emphasize authority?” is a real thing in parenting. I happen to think there’s a lot of good parenting all along this continuum. It just depends on what values are the most important to you as a parent. I found some insight on this topic in a very weird place this week while discussing a political psychology paper with one of the kids. 

Turns out, for a couple of decades now, political pollsters have been using a simple four-question parenting quiz to measure something they call “authoritarianism.”  With each question, respondents are asked which of two traits were more important in children: independence or respect for their elders; curiosity or good manners; self-reliance or obedience; and being considerate or being well-behaved. Score yourself: you get one point for the first choice, five for the second, and three if you think they are truly exactly equal in importance.

Political psychologists use these questions as a shortcut way to identify people who are disposed to favor hierarchy, loyalty and strong leadership — those who picked the second trait in each set — what experts call "authoritarianism." But I think it’s incredibly interesting just in itself as a parenting question.

Picked choice two? I’m guessing “authoritative parent” feels great to you. But there doesn’t seem to be a good name for “choice one” parents: the ones that prioritize independence, curiosity, self-reliance, and consideration in our children. It sure ain’t “Permissive” or “Neglectful.” It takes a ton of parent engagement to develop these traits in children. What’s the opposite of authoritarianism: the word for favoring collaboration, skepticism and shared initiative?  

I asked Mr. Online Thesaurus and racked my English major brain, and I’m not sure there’s a word for this in English. The Anti-Authoritarian Parent?  I sure like that better than Authoritarian, Authoritative, Permissive or Neglectful, but it’s not very satisfying either. I will have to revisit this in another column. We need both kids of kids in society to make the world go round. Which kind are you raising? 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Kids Cook

Imagine if you will, a paradise wherein you limp through the front door after a long day at work, and your child has prepared dinner for you.

Most of us are a long way from that ideal, but I see glimpses of this paradise when I visit other homes. It might look like a high school senior who is browning ground beef to get dinner going when I stop by to drop something off for her mom, or a 9th grader making Chinese scallion pancakes for the family breakfast when I’m there as a guest.  It’s starting to happen at our house where one kid can make waffles just about start to finish, and another has become the king of Jeb Bush’s secret guacamole recipe.  Cooking is one of those tasks that when only one family member does it, it risks becoming a burden or something taken for granted, but when many participate, it becomes a gift. So how can you start this process with children?

Start with family favorites. Think about what your child most loves to eat, and start there. For most kids, this is treats, and baking is pretty simple with minimal chopping or guessing how much to add of something. Plus, the ingredients aren’t “gross” (sorry, raw chicken, but every cook finds you disgusting at first). Move on from baking to a favorite family breakfast, snack, or traditional food. Watch for readiness to learn.

Allow two to five times the time. Don’t underestimate the power of culinary experience. Even an older teen or young adult is just not going to have the knife skills or coordination that a primary family chef has developed in twenty years of cooking. They’re going to have lots of questions that they need answered, more than once, to get a recipe down. Teach kids to cook on the weekend or whenever you have more time.

Make your kid your sous chef. Just having your kid in the kitchen is great. They’ll learn from you just by being there and it makes cooking less boring for you.

Use recipes with photos to branch out. Kids can’t tell from reading a recipe if it will be good or not and benefit from photo instructions. The FamilyFun Cookbook is a good one for kids. Many online food blogs also have sequential instructions with photos.

Host a kids’ recipe swap. Try having a couple kids (and parents if kids are younger) bring copies of a family favorite recipe to swap, and make them for each other. Use these recipes to help your kid start a personal recipe file of things they know how to make. I still have “World’s Best Cornbread” from my childhood friend!

Overall, it’s wonderful for children to have the chance to be the givers, not just the receivers of the gift of cooking. Cooking is an adult skill that kids can feel empowered about mastering, and someday, hopefully sooner than later, you can sit down to a meal your kid cooked for you.