Monday, February 23, 2015


       I want to talk about raising kids. Yes, I know that, in today's world, unlike in my time, both parents usually work. And yes, I was a stay-at-home-mother to four children. But I think that some of the techniques we used are equally applicable today.

       One of our mantras to our children was: A household is not a Democracy. It's a Benevolent Monarchy. All things flow from the good will of the monarchs! I think too many of today's young parents have forgotten that. YOU are in charge. YOU are the adult. Your job is to give love, not expect or demand it back. (You didn't get it as a child? Go see a therapist. But don't expect your children to fill that empty space.) You're the parent, not the best buddy. And if there are two of you, you are a TEAM! Nothing makes it easier for kids to misbehave than knowing they can pit Mommy against Daddy, and vice versa.

       And you start early, as soon as they begin to understand language. Believe me, if you start early enough, you can snooker kids! You don't have to shout, but your tone of voice should indicate that you are in charge. I remember years ago being in a long line at the post office. Two very young children were running around, screaming, carrying on, disrupting everyone. Their mother, standing with an empty two-seat stroller, kept imploring them to behave, in a helpless, whining voice. They ignored her. I smiled sweetly to them, pointed to the stroller, and said (in a gentle voice that still expected no argument), "Please go and sit down. Now." Guess what? They did. (At my age, according to my children and grandchildren, I have advanced to the point where the sign on my forehead now says, "Don't f*** with me!")

       Another example? We had what we called "Family Rules." They involved politeness, tasting everything at every meal, specific behaviors we wanted to stress and correct. We started them early. That's important. And both my husband and I were on the same page. If a kid announced, "I don't want to do such and such a Family Rule," we would sigh and say, "I don't want to do it either! But it's a Family Rule!" (As though we had no control over it.) It seemed to work. I remember asking several of my kids, when they were grown up, why they never protested. The answer? "The way you and Dad put it, it never occurred to us."

       At the same time, you make the child feel important, though you are actually in control. You don't ask, "What do you want for lunch?" That might send you to the nearest McDonald's, in a panic. You say, "Lucky you! You get to choose lunch! What do you want? Tuna or PBJ sandwiches?"

       Another vital tool is the ability to remove yourself from direct conflict with the child. If you're always going head-to-head on every issue, you set up a constant adversarial relationship, which only gets more intense as the child gets older. He thinks it's all about you against him, and he feels he MUST win or lose his pride. Instead, pit the child against his own better nature. Among other things, we did it with Star Charts. Even before the child could read. We would discuss the behavior we wanted to correct, decide what the "prize" was, discuss how long we could hold the child's attention, based on his age (2 weeks or so, for a toddler). There would usually be four behavioral categories. 1. the errant behavior, of course, 2. something VERY easy, so the child would feel confident as he did it, and 3. something a little more difficult, but still fairly easily accomplished. The fourth item was subjective, and based on the fact that our finances were not always dependable at any given moment.  We needed to speed up the chart if we could afford the prize, and slow it down if we couldn't. So category 4 was always something we could control, like, "Be nice to your brothers." Then, using pictures, we would set up the chart. The children loved competing with themselves, and the errant behavior was corrected along the way.

        I found small charts helpful in other ways. Cleanup time? I would list each child's name, use a picture (or words, if they were older) explaining what needed to be cleaned up (toy box, floor, toy drawer, etc.), with a two-day deadline. I'd post the chart and simply say, "Here's what I want you to do. Just make an X when you've finished each job." And I left them to do battle with themselves, not me!

       Too often, battles with children involve the PARENTS' ego! (You against the kid, and you want to win.) Again, YOU are the grown-up! I remember years ago being in the backyard with my neighbor and her four kids and my three. She had yelled at her 8-year-old to go back into the house and get something. He grumbled, but went, after she had yelled some more. But as he went, he muttered something under his breath, probably something nasty about his mom. "What did you say?" she shrieked. I grabbed her arm. "Let him go," I said. "You've won. He knows you've won. He's going into the house to get what you want. Leave him his pride, at least. If he wants to bad-mouth you under his breath, so what? You've WON!"

       And one of the things I learned from my goofy Mom (see my JUST FOR FUN blog entry) was to make behaving fun. So, when she saw our clothes not hung up, and strewn around the floor, she didn't scold us and tell us to pick them up. She said, "Oh! I see you've found the sky hook!" (Picture hanging something on a "sky hook" and you'll understand!)  It was enough to get us to pick up our clothes without her scolding. And when it rained, and there was laundry on the line outside, she cheerfully shouted at my brother and me, "CBS! CBS!" That stood for Clothes Basket Squadron, and it was enough to send us racing outside to pull the clothes off the line.

      Another way we created distance between our immediate emotional involvement and our children was the Crying Corner. If a kid decided to have a tantrum, we would simply say, "You can carry on all you want, but we really don't want to listen to you. So could you please go into the crying corner until you're done?" And they took their tantrum out on the Crying Corner. (Of course, my husband had to repaint it every few weeks---from all the kicks and scuff marks!)

       That distance was even more important as they came into their teens, during an era when kids were first getting into drugs. We made it very clear how we felt about that, and that, ultimately, it was THEIR life, not ours. "If you screw up," we would say, "in ten years we will be unhappy about how you've messed up, because we love you. But OUR LIVES WILL NOT BE CHANGED a single bit! However, YOURS will!" Tossing the problem back to them.

       Finally, let me just touch on one more point. If you want your children to get along with their parent of the same sex, you must have a sign on your forehead that says, "I love you dearly, but your Mom/Dad is my #1 woman/man." If the child understands that, they don't spend their time trying to compete with the parent of the same sex. I've seen lots of unhappy families where the parent encouraged competition between the spouse and the child.

       Happy parenting, all! It's one of the most joyous and rewarding things you'll ever do in your lifetime!