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.

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

The Marks of Children

Pinterest has ideas about the exact ways in which you should let your kids make their mark on your house. They are to draw on the walls within their tastefully framed whiteboard. Their artwork is to be suspended from custom display rods using clothespins that match the room’s color scheme. Their height is to be measured using a hand-crafted wooden sign affixed to the side of a door frame.

Now understand me, I am in no way saying those things are not cool. Primarily I do not have the artistic talent to do those things. But I also think they miss some of the inherent charm of kid-driven marks on the house.

I still remember many of the marks we made as children. Those are some of my strongest memories of our childhood houses. The pencil-marked heights written next to the kitchen door jamb with the name and year for each child. My not-to-be-outed-here sibling’s scrawl of his/her name in permanent marker on my parents’ 1970s-era basement bar (used only as a puppet theater). The large assortment of holes in the drywall of my cousins’ narrow staircase, each with its own story of when Duane fell down the stairs, or when Ellen stuck her foot through the staircase ceiling because we were playing in the crawlspace above it, and the rest of us scrambled out onto the staircase to stare up at her sneaker and sock protruding, and how she refused to pull it back up because it might “make it worse.”

Now in the current generation, I see the marks my own children and their friends have made on this home. We also had a fall-down-the-stairs drywall incident. (Like my aunt and uncle, we did repair that one).  During the one short year I did daycare for a friend, a not-to-be-outed kid wrote his name on the wall of the kitchen, the bedrooms, the wall behind a couch -- eight different places, so far. But my favorite has to be the sticky eyeball. Yes, it got tossed up into the ceiling of the stairwell, the one place in the house that’s about 16 feet high, and there it remains, stuck to the wall over the years, slowly shrinking as the passage of time evaporates its gooey gelatinous mass.

Could I have taken it down? Well, maybe. But I’m used to it now, just like I'm used to how when I finally move a piece of furniture away from the wall to vacuum, I see that kid’s name written again. The sticky eyeball represents youth and craziness and children. Just like the eyeball, all those things are receding now. The eyeball reminds me that time with kids is short.  Someday, that eyeball is going to completely evaporate or fall off the wall. I will see it fallen onto on the kid-stained carpet of my stairs and feel wistful as I pick it up. Maybe then it’ll finally feel right to repaint and remove some of the marks of children from the house.  Till then, though, I kind of like them --Pinterest-worthy or not.