Parents, will you be judged as you venture out of the house with kids? Take the test!

I see you have decided to leave your house with your children, you foolish, foolish person.

Do you think you can avoid comments, judgmental stares, or eye rolls from friends, family members, and complete strangers as you exist in the world with young humans? Take the test and see! 


First up: getting somewhere.

I see you have a baby in tow. Do you…

Take a stroller?

Oh, I’m sorry, your baby will always feel neglected and pushed away, because you are literally pushing them away. Your child will never know what it is to feel loved. 

Wear the baby?

Ugh, guess you’re one of those parents, then? Can’t cut that umbilical cord? Do you need your baby close to you? They’ll never grow up to be individuals capable of making decisions now. 


Next, an activity.

Phew! You made it to the park! Now while you’re here do you…

Sit down and watch your kids play?

You’re a neglectful parent who probably allows their kids to *gasp* go up the down part of the slide. Your kids will become criminals who can’t operate successfully in society. 

Go around the park playing with them? 

You’re a hovering, overprotective helicopter parent who makes your child’s life too easy and are too involved with their lives for them to operate successfully in society someday. 


Deciding where to eat

Uh oh, you’re out and need to eat somewhere other than your own home. It’s time to make some decisions on where to eat. Do you… 

Opt for a kid-friendly fast food place? 

Seriously?!? You’re going to feed them that junk? It’s 2020! You’ve gotta be kidding, right? That stuff is so gross for them! It’s. Not. Even. Organic. 

Go eat at a real (not-too-fancy, but sit-down) restaurant? 

Restaurants are for adults, not for children. It doesn’t matter that in order for children to learn how to eat at restaurants they have to actually practice eating at restaurants, which means going to restaurants. It doesn’t matter if the restaurant has a kids’ menu. There are other adults there without children, and your children’s presence there will ruin their day. 


Actually eating out

You sit down at your food establishment of choice, are seated, and the kids are getting a little antsy in their pantsies after they’ve doodled with crayons on the paper placemat. Nothing too raucous, but they’re starting to get bored and the food hasn’t arrived yet. Do you…

Hand them your phone? 

You’re not even going to engage with your kids?!? Ugh, what are you teaching them about human interaction? Have you not read the millions of articles about limiting screen time? What is wrong with you?? 

Not hand them your phone? 

Can’t you keep your kids quieter?!? Why can’t they behave like adults? Isn’t there some sort of screen you can hand them? 


Riding on the train

You need to get across the city? It’s time to take the train! Do you…

Sit next to them and read them a book of poetry at a reasonable, conversation-level volume*? 

Eye roll. Ugh. Can’t you be quiet? Do I have to hear you speak, to your child, no less? What is this, some sort of public space where people are allowed to engage and talk to each other? 

Hand them your phone/electronic device?

Seriously? Seriously?! Can’t you connect with your kids? We just went over this. Have them look out the window! Play games with them! It doesn’t matter that if you were on the train alone, you would be looking at your phone. That’s entirely beside the point for some reason. 

*This is not hyperbolic. This literally happened to me. 


Feeding your kid a snack

It’s a long time between your meal and the next one, and your kids are hungry and tired from all the activities they’ve been doing. Plus, they’re usually fed a snack at school around this time. Do you…

Hand them a snack? 

You know, the French don’t snack at all. Why can’t you be more like the French, despite neither being French nor living in France? Shouldn’t they be eating something healthier? Why are you feeding them junk? 

Not hand them a snack?

Can’t you see they’re hungry? Kids need to eat more regularly! They’re growing! Now they’re angry and hungry and getting whiny. Why didn’t you plan ahead more? You should have known they would get hungry! 


Breathing

You need to take a breath of oxygen in order to stay alive as it is a basic function of human existence. Do you…

Breathe?

That is now one breath of oxygen on this planet your children cannot inhale, you selfish cretin. 

Not breathe?

You have passed out and possibly died. However, you will still be responsible for all snack and beverage requests from your children, regardless of the status of your consciousness.


So, how did you do? Did you avoid getting judged? You didn’t?!? Wow, it’s almost like the game is rigged against parents or something.


My House Looks Like Two Young Children, Two Tired Adults, and a Dog Live Here.

(And I just can’t be sorry about that anymore.)

Hello! It’s so good to talk to you! Would you want to come over here some time and hang out while the kids play? I can offer you tea, water, fizzy water that may or may not ruin your teeth depending on which article came out last week, coffee, and wine while we chat. You would? WOW! This is great news! 

There is one thing, though, and this is hard for me to admit. You’ll see it when you walk in. The thing is… 

My house looks like two young children, two tired adults, and a dog live here. 

There’s really a good explanation for it, I promise. You see, it’s because two young children, two tired adults, and a dog live here. 

I’ve been to many, many houses where there are more children or more dogs and just as many tired adults who live there, but it does not look like it. I marvel at houses like that. I want to live in those houses. 

But the thing is, my house is not those houses. And right now, it will not be those houses. My house looks like two young children, two tired adults, and a dog live here. 

I might have piles of unfolded laundry surrounding the dryer. In fact, I will definitely have piles of unfolded laundry surrounding the dryer. Sometimes they’ve been there a day. Other times they’ve been there a week. I’ll get to them tonight, I’ll say to you. They’re now a fixture of the house tour. And no matter how long I spend folding clothes, the piles of laundry keep growing and changing, and that is just how it is. 

My chairs look like people have sat and eaten Goldfish crackers in them for years. The throw pillows for my couch have a 30% chance of still being on the couch from the time I get up to let you in to the time you walk in the door. My children apparently have declared throw pillows an enemy of the sofa, and have waged war on them with a dogged determination I can only see as impressive at this point. My dog will most certainly have climbed into the exact spot you will want to sit in this opening-the-door-to-walking-in time as well. 

There are strollers in our living room because we use at least one of the strollers every day. I could spend time hiding them somewhere else in my home, but I could also spend time…not doing that. 

Every flat surface over the height of 5 feet has something fragile placed on it, not because they look good, but because otherwise they would most certainly be broken by now if placed anywhere else. 

I don’t say these things to frighten you away. I say these things because I have spent too much of my time worried that my house looks like two young children, two tired adults, and a dog live here. And I refuse to let myself miss out on the connections I would otherwise make because I’m actually embarrassed by the fact that my house looks like two young children, two tired adults, and a dog live here. 

If you’re here, know that I want you here. I want you to come in and be part of my life, so I can be a part of yours. I want to laugh with you, commiserate with you, learn from you, and discuss the terrible television I watch instead of making my house look better. I can bring over the boxed wine, schlep the throw pillows back onto the couch, and talk until it’s time for you to leave. 

I would love for my house not to look like two young children, two tired adults, and a dog live here, but the fact of the matter is: it does. And I wish I could be sorrier about it. 

That’s all I wanted you to know. 

So…how does next Saturday sound to you? 

Step right up, folks, and witness the horror of a mom trying to get her child into preschool

Step right up, folks, don’t be shy! You are about to witness a true marvel of the modern era! The breathtakingly terrifying Mom Trying to Get Her Child Into Preschool!

No, no, don’t be afraid! She won’t hurt you! Well, I mean, maybe be a little afraid. She might actually hurt you. She is quelled only with the soothing sounds of terrible ‘90s jams and wine. Watch her as she scours her meticulous spreadsheets, school websites, local parenting forums, and notes from open houses as she descends slowly into madness.

…this is the story of me.

…you don’t want to be like me. Continue reading

Everything’s under control. Situation normal.

I have some parent friends who make parenting look relatively effortless. And not in a, “my life is a curated series of Instagram stories but I’m actually hiding a mess in the corner you can’t see” kind of way. I’m talking effortless more in the, “we have bumps in the road and move forward productively” kind of way. These parents have incredibly funny conversations with their kids they can transcribe to social media to make us laugh with them. They laugh about how their kids always want to eat pasta, but you also sort of know their kids eat the asparagus, too. These parent friends are kind and empathetic when you’re struggling as well. I love these friends.

I have other parent friends who make parenting look not quite as effortless. They joke with me about what the tipping point in the day of switching from coffee to wine is. They have their meltdown stories to swap with you on a bad day. Generally, though, these friends tend to have incredibly useful pieces of advice to give and also seem to have their stuff together. These parent friends are also kind and empathetic and I love them, too.

Then in the parent world…there’s me.

Though I’ve never conducted a formal poll, I would place a good Vegas wager that none of my friends would place me in either the, “has her parenting thing together” or the “sort of, kind of, possibly has her parenting thing together” categories. 

I got pregnant with my daughter when my son was 1.5. As fate would be so kind to show us, this happened to be when the already near-impossible task of parenting inched much closer to the “impossible” category. This wasn’t because I was tired or sick. Things just started going…sideways. My son wasn’t speaking like he should have been, even allowing for a bit of a delay for “being a boy.” His toddler tantrums were getting worse and more intense than other kids’ his age. We started monitoring and waiting, thinking that one day he’d just start spurting out words like an avalanche and things would calm down.

Then we kept waiting.

And waiting.

Months went on. My son continued to struggle to say anything but a few words here and there. His tantrums continued to worsen. His fear of anyone who wasn’t either me or my husband was paralyzing. Hitting started. The screams were ear-piercing. There were days I almost forgot I was pregnant because my son took up so much of my time and mental energy.

We started him in speech therapy and enrolled him in a preschool two days a week, hoping the combination would help him socialize and talk more with peers and professionals.

Things didn’t get better. My belly was getting bigger and things just kept going more sideways. Hitting, yelling, screaming, tantrums were in abundance but there were so few real words from my son.

The hard part, of course, was that I thought I was doing all the things. I was setting firm, realistic boundaries while practicing kindness. I was being consistent. I was trying to make my son use words for things instead of just pointing at them. The things didn’t work.

It all kept getting worse.

His peers were having real conversations with adults and each other and yet we were elated when he used 3 words to tell us he wanted something instead of pointing or yelling (or, more often than not, just going to get it himself). His tantrums were so intense and long-lasting there were periods I wondered if something was seriously wrong. I had been so proud of raising a child who was independently motivated – he could find activities to play on his own and didn’t need me to entertain him 24 hours a day – but what if that independence and self-motivation was the exact reason he wasn’t talking? What if I was the reason our life was insane?

Mom guilt was at level one million percent.

I knew my son was smart – he could figure out any puzzle, lock, climbing structure, and yet he wouldn’t – couldn’t, rather – show it to anyone other than us.

I cried a lot.

I couldn’t imagine bringing another child into our life. My husband was working about 70-80 hours a week and was appropriately exhausted and unable to help the way he wanted. My world felt like it was collapsing and I had never felt so alone – both figuratively as a parent with a child struggling and literally with no other adult around the house.

Whenever someone asked me how things were I felt like Han Solo in Star Wars after he had raided the detention area and the enemy command was calling over the radio asking for an update. In the scene he looks around at the smoking wreckage, frazzled, and hastily says, “Everything’s under control…uh..situation normal…we’re all fine here…how are you?!

Nothing was normal.

Things were certainly not under control.

We weren’t all fine here.

How were you?

After six months at the preschool we came to the conclusion a Montessori environment wasn’t right for my son. While he was incredibly self-motivated, the classroom was too quiet and he retreated into his own world, never speaking. We chose a different play-based school that had availability starting in a few months and we were counting down the days to everything. Days until I gave birth. Days until we could switch schools. Days until my husband could go on paternity leave. Days we had survived since we last counted.

“Everything’s under control…situation normal.”

It’s not that there weren’t sunny days. It just seemed like our cloudy days always brought storms.

My daughter was born in late March as my son turned 2.5. My husband had an almost unheard of 6-week paternity leave. Much of the progress on my son’s speech stalled, but he never actually regressed. Heartbreakingly, though, he rejected me completely. He didn’t want to spend one-on-one time with me. He didn’t want to come home after being out with my husband. The screaming, hitting, crying, and all-out tantrums continued.

We switched my son to the new play-based school and he started to open up more. His speech still wasn’t where it needed to be, and his fear of adults other than basically my husband, me, and my in-laws was still almost paralyzing for him. Play therapy was helping the anxiety a little bit, but there still seemed to be a piece missing from the puzzle. The speech delay was a symptom of a bigger problem, we knew, but of what?

We kept trudging along. My son improved, slowly but surely. We felt more and more that his speech therapist wasn’t a good fit, but we also started to suspect that maybe he had some sort of sensory processing issues too. He couldn’t handle any “goop” on his hands, lights started being too bright for him, and if he was in a busy environment he could barely function and would just shut down entirely.

I should probably mention that having a newborn in the mix to care for made this trudging along that much harder. I felt like I could never give any of my children the attention they deserved or needed. Mom guilt was now at level two million percent.

“We’re all fine here, how are you?”

My son was struggling. There was progress, yes, but he was struggling. He would feel something, the words wouldn’t come, he would get frustrated, and then melt down. I just wanted to make it better. I just wanted the words to come for him, so I could understand what would make his world a better place.

The words wouldn’t come.

I read books about spirited children, late talkers, and attachment philosophy to try and get a better grasp on the situation. There were more sunny days, but still lots of storms.

After my son turned 3 we scheduled an appointment with a neuropsychologist who also does something called “brain mapping,” where the doctor performs the typical cognitive tests, but also goes one step further and actually measures brain wave activity between various regions of the brain, seeing if any areas of the brain are under-or-over-performing by more than a few standard deviations. This way if children won’t perform up to their abilities in the cognitive assessments (*raises hand*), it can help paint a better picture of what’s actually happening inside the brain.

The process of brain mapping involved sitting my son down in a chair, putting a cap with electrodes on his head, and having him watch a movie of his choice (Star Wars) for 15 minutes. There was nothing invasive, and it was probably the best part of our day that day. He dazzled the technician with this ability to tell me every starship and character in the movie.

My husband and I went in for the results about a week later. As we knew would be the case, my son was only willing to perform about 30% of the tasks assigned in the cognitive tasks (note that he said willing, it was very clear he was able to do them if I happened to be in the room or he liked the task). It was immediately evident brain power was not the problem. The neuropsychologist also confirmed he wasn’t autistic; the “problem areas” in his brain were completely well-defined, and autism shows up completely differently.

There were, however, three areas of my son’s brain that were performing abnormally by a few standard deviations.

First: expressive language. The neuropsychologist explained his expressive language area like this: imagine you’re trying to jump up, but have your knees locked rigid. The brain waves are so tight and at such a high frequency there was hardly any flexibility for him to talk. However, his receptive language brain power was absolutely fine. My son understood everything we said, but just couldn’t get any of his words out. I imagined what it would be like to have my jaw wired shut as I was trying to communicate, but nobody knew why I couldn’t talk. My heart broke for my son all over again.

The second area of concern was emotional regulation. Three-year-olds are not exactly known for their emotional regulation skills (and neither are most adults these days), but my son’s lack of emotional regulation went well beyond that of a typical three-year-old. “If you were to assemble 50 parents of 3-year-olds in a room together and ask them who was the most tired,” the neuropsychologist said, “everyone would raise their hands. You guys would be the only ones telling the truth.” Ah, so that wasn’t just in my head.  

Finally, the third brain area we talked about was sensory processing. While my son was in speech therapy for speech and play therapy for emotional regulation (we had just been calling it “anxiety” to that point), this was the piece we hadn’t been addressing. Essentially, my son’s experiences to certain “sensory inputs” (touch, sight, sound, etc.) were amplified compared to someone with neurotypical brain patterns. Where we might see a light in the house as maybe a little bright, it would be like shining a spotlight in my son’s eyes. Where there might be a design pattern on the front of his shirt sewn in and we think it’s a little bit scratchy, that would feel like sandpaper scratching the surface of his skin off. He experienced the world at volume eleven. No wonder he was overloaded.

It’s a tough combination. Once one of the areas starts going really haywire (for instance: too much sensory input, too much frustration, or needing to get words out that won’t come), the other two get drawn in and overreact as well.

If my son experiences something that overloads certain senses (say, perhaps, shaving cream on his hands), it puts his sensory processing area of his brain into overdrive, which then pulls in the emotional regulation, and then shuts down any expressive language. This means that any ability to calm down is out the window, as well as any ability to express the words to tell us what is wrong. If he’s frustrated and his emotional regulation is overworked, he becomes more sensitive to sensory inputs, and then his expressive language piece shuts down, too. He can’t actually tell us what’s wrong, which then frustrates him more, which heightens the emotional regulation piece…and, well, you can see how this can spiral.

The neuropsychologist recommended keeping the course with speech therapy, putting him in school as much as possible because he was more comfortable speaking with peers and the more speech he can practice the more those brain wave patterns would “loosen up”, keeping with the play therapy, and adding in occupational therapy to help with the sensory processing.

I probably should have felt dismayed, but instead I felt…better. I felt relieved.

My son’s brain was literally wired to take longer to talk than his peers. His brain was literally wired to throw more extreme temper tantrums. His brain was literally wired not to be able to handle different sensations on his hands or feet. I didn’t do this to him. I wasn’t wrong in thinking his reactions were more intense than other kids’ his age. Maybe I wasn’t even the worst parent in the world.

(Maybe.)

I felt like I could finally tell people I trusted the situation wasn’t under control and was most definitely not normal.

We found a new therapy clinic where he can do speech and occupational therapy together, back-to-back, with an integrated team approach between the therapists. The clinic has an enormous sensory gym (complete with ball pit!) and his therapists quickly became his favorite people in the entire world. What I came to understand that while his wiring might have been a bit different, it could be changed. These wires could be reconnected with the help of therapy.

This isn’t to say things were immediately easy. For a while I was taking my son to 3 hours of therapy a week, not including travel time. When you added in my personal therapy as a remnant of my postpartum depression I was probably logging in around 7+ hours a week dedicated to therapies alone.

It was a lot. But, here’s the kicker: he started improving.

Things started getting under control. The situation actually became more normal.

It’s been about six months since we took my son to see the neuropsychologist (two years since we started down this long, patchworked road). His speech has started exploding recently, and his therapists are amazed at the improvements he makes weekly. His play therapist has said that he’s been doing so well we can go to every other week instead of every week. He talks to us, he answers questions, and, as a bonus, it turns out he’s actually really funny. When he laughs, he doesn’t ever just giggle, he laughs with his entire soul. When he hugs, he doesn’t give a light tap, he runs up as hard as he can, and squeezes you as if to make sure you know just how much he loves you. He’s still spirited, but his spirit is being put into his sense of self instead of lashing out at us (well, more often, at least). We’re learning how to set him up for success, and which situations will simply overwhelm him and are nonstarters.

He’s blossoming on the outside to the boy I knew was trying to get out from the inside.

I have no idea how much longer we’ll need to take him to therapies, or if this is all something he would have grown out of eventually on his own. I don’t think there will ever be a way to know those things.

I do know, though, how truly and completely alone and confused I felt over the past two years. How I didn’t know if there were other parents trying to figure out why their child was the only one screaming because they didn’t want to get off the train, even though they were going to go get ice cream. How I didn’t know if there were other parents who wanted to help their child if only their child could tell them what was wrong. I didn’t know if there were other parents who were watching their child’s tantrums asking themselves if this was normal, or if they were just the worst parents in the world. How I didn’t know if there were other parents whose only wish was just one normal day. I didn’t know.

It took almost two years to figure out where all the puzzle pieces were, let alone how to put them together into a plan to help my son. But I do want other parents to know this: if you’re standing in a pile of smoldering wreckage desperately telling everyone that everything’s under control, and insisting the situation is normal to everyone while you know it’s not, there are others in your shoes. There are others willing to listen. And, more than likely, there are others willing to help.

As a parent everything will never truly be under control. The situation certainly will never be normal. But maybe we’ll all be fine here.

How are you?

You parent like an American.

In recent years one fact has emerged as a base assumption in all parenting literature: Americans are terrible at parenting.

Luckily for us American parents we can take comfort that apparently so are Canadians, Brits, Aussies, and Kiwis. Sorry to say it, guys: overwhelming politeness and/or endearing accents aren’t enough to get by this go-around. Chances are, according to the parenting literature of books, pamphlets, parent groups, and whispers in the wind, if you’ve given birth and are in the process of not-letting-your-progeny-die (also known as “raising children”) as an American, Canadian, Brit, Aussie, or Kiwi, you’re doing it wrong.

According to this mountain of literature, you can tell you’re guilty of being a terrible American* parent if your child between the ages of 0 and 30 exhibits any of the following behaviors at any time: is a picky eater, cries too much, cries too little, doesn’t sleep well, throws temper tantrums, uses a pacifier, has too much independence, has too little independence, doesn’t exhibit expert conflict resolution skills, eats snacks, tests boundaries, likes to get dirty, doesn’t like to get dirty, talks a lot, talks too little, wants to go to school, or doesn’t want to go to school.

I feel his face says, "You are a terrible American parent and you are holding me back from my cool Eurokid potential."Do any of these sound like your child? Well then, the problem isn’t that your children are human beings, the problem is apparently rather their parents speak English. Simply put: you parent like an American.

I am the first to admit I personally first bought into the notion of “chic, generally northern European parents do parenting better” hook, line, and sinker with Pamela Druckerman’s Bringing Up Bébé, a book I have talked about many times before in this blog. I still reference back and re-read portions of this book when things aren’t going particularly well for me in the parenting department and I need to calm down and re-center my beliefs about independence and boundaries. Toward my due date and my nesting instinct kicked in I read French Kids Eat Everything and vowed never to allow my children to snack, eat on the go, or be picky about anything. Ever. (Please feel free to continue reading once you compose yourself from your laughing fit I assume you are throwing.) As my firstborn got older and I looked toward firming up my own “educational philosophy” I started devouring articles about the Finnish school system and their lack of pressure on young children – play-basedno forced reading until age 6 or 7! – all with better educational outcomes. I ripped through The Danish Way of Parenting and found many of the themes in the other books, but was fascinated by the idea of hygge, which as far as I can understand it translates to, “that feeling you get when you’re all cozy and happy with close friends and family.” It seems to be no coincidence that we English-speakers don’t have a word for this, n’est pas? I watched in awe of the slew of videos of young – 3 years old, sometimes! – Japanese children able to do things many American kids couldn’t even fathom doing at ages 8, 9, 10 nowadays, things like go to the corner grocery store and pick up a few items for the family, or walk to school by themselves. There is now a new book I have not yet had the chance to read – but it’s on my list! – about German parenting and highlights German children’s expert conflict resolution skills called Achtung Baby.

The theme of these books, articles, and essays is consistent: other countries have a generally unanimous view of what raising children should be, there are no “mommy wars” in these countries, and their children are better behaved, better eaters, better educated, and more independent than the dependent monsters we raise here.

Of course, there’s an inherent flaw with this literature I have yet to see addressed fully: those parents live there, and we live here.

Our children are supposed to eat like the French, argue like the Germans, be educated like the Finnish, love togetherness like the Danish, and be independent like the Japanese, all while their parents live in a society that in no way supports any of these endeavors.

It’s a question to which I have no answer for: sure, these books and articles about other ways of parenting are wonderful, and demonstrate the better outcomes for families as a whole. Yet, how does one actually go about implementing them on a day-to-day, non-conceptual level when you don’t live in these other countries, countries where you are not only supported in raising your children that way, but rather expected to? If I believe (and I do) that “hunger is the best seasoning” and that arriving at dinner without snacks filling my son’s belly will all but eliminate pickiness, how do I reconcile that when I am out and about and every other child’s mom whips out a delicious fruit gummy snack every hour? Yes, the books about French parenting tout that waiting is an important life skill, but if in France all the children are equally waiting for their meals without snacks it makes the entire experience infinitely easier. The temptation to beg for a bag of Goldfish crackers would simply never present itself. The problem of being a little bit hungry and watching every other child eat in front of you doesn’t exist in these other countries where children don’t generally snack. The lessons we are teaching children are fundamentally different when presented in different conditions.

“Mothers must take care of themselves” is another lesson with which I wholeheartedly agree in the pages of “Americans are parenting wrong” literature. Learning that parents exist outside of their children is a vital life lesson for children. It’s also a life lesson more easily learned with high-quality, free/subsidized** childcare available en masse. Back up even further and ensuring a maternity or paternity leave for parents is not something that is available in America, nor will it be in the near-to-distant future. (Non-American English-speaking parents of course can now sneer down at us as being with Papua New Guinea and Suriname as the only countries in the world without guaranteed parental leave.) Yes, self-care and healing are vital to all parents, we can agree after reading these books and articles. But doing so without spending an astronomical amount of money on babysitters or lost wages is very often not feasible in this country.

I keep coming back to this dialogue for almost every topic with which I completely agree in these books and articles. I want my children (and others!) to play and learn through interactions with each other for the first formative years of their life and early schoolhood, and yet our schools seem to be losing this concept. I truly believe in allowing children to attempt to resolve their own conflicts early and often as practice for later in life, yet actually allowing this to happen in America with other American parents can almost amount to getting Child Protective Services called on me. I want my child to feel comfortable and independent enough to walk to the park down the street by himself when he’s older, but I also would prefer not to land in jail.

For every time I find myself nodding my head in adamant agreement I also become baffled as to how to put these theories into practice in a different culture with different parenting norms, expectations, and support structures (slash, lack thereof).

What I find most infuriating, of course, is that for every article I see posted by my friends on social media about letting kids play freely, working out their own issues, and driving independence, I have struggled immensely to see this philosophy in action with other American parents. Of course we always talk bigger game on social media than our three-dimensional selves are ready to play, but I am nevertheless shocked every time I get a death glare when I don’t immediately jump in to mediate my children’s conflicts with others. “But didn’t you share an articles about not doing what you’re doing with no fewer than three touchdown hand emojis?” is a sad thought I have, quite literally, thought to myself on multiple occasions.

The issue of starting to think in the language of emojis aside, I don’t have a solution to this problem. In fact, I don’t even have a suggestion. (If you have any insight, please let me know.) The popularity of these “American-parents-do-it-wrong” books and articles is telling that I’m not the only one who is desperate for another way of doing things. However, at some point we have to call a spade a spade about parenting in America. The menus and food offered to children are almost universally tan and fried and I certainly have no idea how to change the restaurant industry. We have a culture where the expectation of running interference in children’s conflicts is simply expected. Finding schools that emphasize play and soft skills like interpersonal development rather than reading before age 5 is either impossible, next to impossible, or prohibitively expensive. Guaranteed parental leave, prenatal, and postnatal care is a laughable concept in 2018. Because we are unable to allow our children a free moment to themselves we have overpacked their schedules to such a degree there are articles talking about trying to figure out “one meal a week” where everyone can take 15 minutes to sit down together. Once a week! Our social trust is declining to such a rate that often children are not allowed to cross the street to walk to school, let alone down the block to go to the store.

As a parent I try to be the change I want to see in the world. My biggest phrase on the playground is yelling from afar, “You can do it, try it yourself first!” and not, “Oh my gosh, be careful, no no no, here, let me help you!” I stand back when my kids have a conflict to see if they can peacefully work things out. (Which, spoiler alert, they usually can. Next time you jump in watch how all the kids see a mediator come in and fall apart – you’ve taken the motivation for them to resolve anything internally because they know someone else will do it. The switch is immediate but palpable.) I let my kid go “up” the “down” part of the slide because I think playing is sacred and my adult rules and impositions have no place in his learning how to think outside the box and test limits safely. I am only considering schools that emphasize play in the early years, give children ample recess, and value independence and self-starting.

There are immense limitations to implementing these “other” parenting styles touted in the “look at other parents in other countries” literature, though. As much as I try to limit snacking I know that it’s part of our culture, and trying to put my kids on a “French” eating schedule in America isn’t feasible because at school they’ll snack and are annoyingly accustomed to it. I want to maintain some level of social acceptability among my parenting peers and so I do end up coming in to mediate conflicts much more than I’d like. Finding time as a family for hygge would quite frankly require a monumental shift in American work culture as a whole. We are losing an immense amount of social trust, which can at least partially explain why children in Japan are able to go out and perform tasks Americans cannot fathom.

None of these barriers really stack up to our biggest limitation, though: Americans’ intense desire to judge each other. That earlier example about kids going “up” the “down” part of the slide? It’s not hypothetical. This is a real life thing parents debate. I happen to fall on the, “If climbing up the slide will burn energy off, climb on, and if you have been warned about others coming down and get knocked down yourself, then that’s a lesson you’ll only have to learn once.” It has become abundantly clear over the years that other parents do not feel this way. What happens in America is then these differences come to define us, instead of our similarities. This isn’t limited to parenting, of course, as anyone with a pulse and access to the world around them can tell. But with every difference and camp we divide ourselves into, our village gets smaller. Our social trust erodes that much more. Humans love categorizing things and finding themselves in these categories. Dog or cat person. Tea or coffee person. Free-range or helicopter parent. Stay-at-home or work-outside-the-home. Up-the-down-part-of-the-slide or down-the-down-part-only. These ideas and theories make us feel part of a community, but our communities are growing further-reaching and, sadly, sparser.

I think there’s something deeper in our obsession with other cultures and their parenting styles. Maybe at the core of these books and texts about other countries is a sense that those parents are more supported, both by the culture and infrastructure at large and by each other. The books and articles almost always portray parents who go about the day-to-day parenting without the fear of wrath of other parenting cliques. A parenting choice is simply looked at as a choice, not a declaration of a side in the “mommy wars.” We read about what’s working in other countries not just to learn about what we can do and take into our own lives, but also to get a hopeful glimpse into what we wish we felt as a parent when we ourselves make a million little decisions every single day that amount to raising children. This doubt we impose on ourselves in parenting is lifted when we imagine ourselves simply existing in our family units as we see best fit. I think maybe that’s the true appeal in these parenting books, and maybe the hardest lesson of all to integrate.

Whether or not you agree with the premise behind the mountain of literature in the “here’s how other countries do parenting” category, I have personally found it intensely difficult to consistently reconcile my own beliefs with which I agree in these books with the realities of American parenting. I will never be the chic French mom who does not want a cupcake at snack time. Allowing children to fully self-mediate like the Germans results in my being barred from every parenting get-together known to mankind. My kids will go to school in America, not Finland, and finding a school that fits my educational philosophy has been a trial I can no longer think about without needing a glass of wine. My husband’s work schedule means I am lucky if I see him for half an hour at night, so our hygge is a wonderful theory, but sadly remains largely theoretical. If I allowed my children outside like the Japanese, even when they’re older, I would more than likely have the cops called on me.

The crux of the matter is, I find myself parenting like an American because I am an American. I think now that we understand what it is we like about these other societies we can frame American parenting into what we want that to mean. My hope is that it means more setting up a village, and less setting up war camps.

And maybe some wine with our cupcakes.

 

*For the sake of ease, I shall henceforth lump the native English-speaking parents into one group and refer to us as “Americans,” because, 1) I am an American and most of my readership is, too, and, 2) many non-English speakers automatically assume English-speakers are American, especially when they are doing something they don’t approve of, such as parenting in English.

**Yes, yes, yes, “free” means “taxpayer-funded.”

When are we going to admit we’ve ruined Halloween?

Just a little TIE Fighter, making his way in the world…slash, to his preschool Halloween party.

At its very premise, Halloween for kids is incredible. You get to dress up in a costume and be something else? Check. You get to show off said costume and everyone – everyone – tells you how amazing you look? Check. You get to go around the neighborhood while it’s dark? Check. You get to walk a few blocks in your spectacular costume, hold out a bag, mutter in any tone of voice three magic words and you are suddenly gifted with an inordinate amount of free candy? Check. Check check check check check. Halloween. Is. Magnificent.

At least, it used to be. Continue reading

Stumbling Through the Woods: A tale of my postpartum depression

Things were not all terrible. Not even a little bit.

I couldn’t find a pair of pajamas for Daphne that fit.

That was all it took.

Chris was changing her diaper, complained a little about the straps on the diaper sticking, so I took a diaper out, screamed as loud as I could, and proceeded to hit the diaper against the dresser over and over and over again until it had quite literally dissolved in my hands and I was covered in absorbent cotton diaper innards. I overturned the entire bin of baby clothes onto the floor until I found a pair of pajamas, all the while screaming word combinations I didn’t even know I knew.

Then I started sobbing. Continue reading