Archive for the ‘kids’ Category

It’s Not Personal. It’s Parenting.

For a long time if one of my kids looked at me with disdain, snapped at me, or rolled his eyes, my blood would boil. How could they? I would wonder. I do everything for these kids and this is how they treat me?!?

It wasn’t until recently that I realized most of the time their bad attitudes have nothing to do with me; I’m just a safe target for my boys’ frustrations. Is it fair? No way. But at least it’s not because they don’t love me or appreciate me it’s because they trust me that they lash out.

Seems like a raw deal, I know.

This phenomenon – of lashing out at one person because you are mad at someone or something else – isn’t something that only happens between parents and kids. Often when we feel powerless or stressed or overwhelmed by something, we lash out at someone we know won’t fight back, like a parent or a spouse. Psychologists call this phenomenon “displaced aggression.” I admit I have displaced my aggression on someone else. Like my husband. Thankfully he ignores me or, when I’m really being a bitch, he calls me out on my bad behavior and I can take a step back to figure out what is actually going on.

I gotta say, though, I am not as good as my husband is at ignoring crappy behavior.

Especially from my kids.

It’s really hard not to take it personally.

For instance, just yesterday, as my 17-year-old sat at the kitchen counter enjoying a breakfast of eggs and bacon that I made for him, I asked him if he was cold. Before the words, “Do you need your sweatshirt?” were even out of my mouth, he snapped, “I don’t need anything.”

I’d like to tell you that my first thought was, maybe he misunderstood? Maybe he thought I said, “I am going to dump every single item that you treasure in a big pile on the front lawn and set it all on fire.” I mean, why else would he snap at something as innocuous as an offer to bring him a sweatshirt?

But, in reality, my first thought was actually: Fuck this. Let him freeze.

Thankfully those words did not escape from my lips. See, I’m a grown up (sort of), with a filter (sometimes), and many years of learning how to bear the brunt of my children’s displaced aggression (this part is 100% accurate). There was a time when I would automatically assume that my children were reacting to me – personally – and I would be upset. I remember when my oldest was two or three years old and refused to take a nap. I was POSITIVE he was doing it to spite me. Seriously. I finally figured out that he was just being a two-year-old (besides, he didn’t do things to spite me until he was at least 5).

Now I know there are definitely times when my kids’ anger and stress are absolutely, and properly, directed at me. The difference between those disagreements and displaced aggression, however, is that one situation has context and one comes out of the frickin’ blue. For example, if I say to my son, “No, you can’t sleep at a friend’s house tonight,” I expect an argument and the possibility of a slammed bedroom door. But when I say, “Do you want a sweatshirt?” I don’t expect a normally reasonable and respectful 17-year-old to be so salty.

Which is how I know it had nothing to do with me.

The sweatshirt fiasco took place about 90 minutes before my son’s AP Calc final. Was he stressed? Tired? A little bit of both? Probably. Does that make it ok? Ah, no.

Normally I would have said, “Let’s try that again with a different tone, please,” and possibly thrown in a short lecture on displaced aggression because I can’t help myself. This time I decided to let it go, for that moment at least. (Finals, stress, yada, yada…)

I waited until he came back home – when he was all happy and relaxed – and said, “Hey, remember when I asked if you were cold earlier and you acted like I asked if you wanted me to pour boiling water on you to warm you up? Well, your response was snippy and disrespectful.”

Blank stare.

I pressed on because, you know, it’s my job to teach my kids to be better people. “If something else is bugging you,” I explained. “Please don’t take it out on the wrong person.”

“Sorry. I don’t remember saying anything snippy.” he responded, genuinely perplexed. “I was really tired…and cold.”





Do you take your kids’ actions personally? How do you deal with it?


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When Your College Kids Come Home for Winter Break: Expectations vs. Reality

The anticipation was high. I hadn’t seen my baby (i.e. my 18-year-old college freshman) in two (2!!) months and he was finally coming home. I expected family dinners and family game nights, trips together into the city to see a play, late night conversations and laughter.

And then there was reality.

Ok, it wasn’t that bad – there were plenty of moments of togetherness – but my Norman Rockwell reunion was not to be. My son had friends to see and sleep to catch up on. Treks into the city were not on his “to do” list unless, of course, they involved his girlfriend.


I’m on my 4th winter break (my baby is now a senior in college) and I can tell you it’s much the same as it was when he was a freshman. And, although I know better, I can’t help but hold out hope that every break will be a little different. So here are the top expectations I have every year for my college kid’s winter break and what I should know by now but clearly don’t:

Expectation 1: The first night that my son is back home we will have a long family dinner where he will tell us stories about school and his friends and we will all stare at him with adoration and laugh at all of his funny tales.

Reality: We eat dinner together. It takes about 10 minutes then his friends come over to pick him up and he leaves with promises to tell us stories when he comes home (and that doesn’t happen because I am old and asleep by 11).

Take away: But at least we shared a meal!

Expectation 2: We will all gather together to watch a holiday movie, snuggled up on the couch sharing a bowl of popcorn.

Reality: Everyone agrees to watch a movie but no one will agree on what movie. I feel dissension in the ranks so I demand that they stop bickering and watch Elf/White Christmas/Bad Santa and like it – damn it! About 30 minutes in I notice that my husband is asleep and the two boys are watching something entirely different on their respective computers only glancing up once or twice to watch the movie.

Take away: But at least we are in the same room!

Expectation 3: We will decorate the Christmas tree together – sipping hot cocoa and reminiscing as we pull out ornaments.

Reality: I tell everyone we are putting up the tree. Everyone says they can’t at that moment and I have to wait. So I wait. About an hour later I ask again and get the same answer. I insist we put the tree up NOW, reminding my family that it only takes 15 minutes – tops – to pull out the tree and hang the ornaments. I am met with more resistance. I threaten to cancel Christmas. Everyone begrudgingly walks to the living room to put up ornaments and I am sad because this was NOT what I wanted.

Take away: I should put the tree up by myself. Of course that would result in whining from my family that I didn’t wait for them so basically it’s a no win situation. Maybe I should invite friends to help and offer wine?

Expectation 4: I love going out for breakfast and he loves to eat so I will take him to this great breakfast place I used to go to in college that has the most amazing, over-sized, gooey, iced cinnamon buns.

Reality: He sleeps until at least 1:00 pm. every day and the restaurant closes at 2:00.

Take away: Take him to lunch or dinner.

Expectation 5: We all go Christmas shopping together!

Reality: We buy everything online because after one trip to the mall I remember how much I hate being at the mall around Christmas.

Take away: Start shopping around Halloween?

Expectation 6: We will head to the city to see a play/ eat dinner/see the Christmas lights and it will be magical – just like when they were little.

Reality: When the kids were little heading into the city to see a play/eat/see the decorations was usually a nightmare and did not improve when the kids became teenagers who would rather have been hanging out with their friends.

Take away: Let them bring friends and give them LOTS of advance notice and constant reminders or you will be met with: That’s tonight?!?! when it’s time to leave.

Expectation 7: I will miss my kid when he goes back to school.

Reality: I will miss my kid when he goes back to school and I will forget all about my failed attempts at togetherness which is why I repeat them Every. Single. Year.

Take away: Look for the spontaneous moments of togetherness and don’t worry if your plans fall off the rails.


Wishing you all a very Merry Christmas, the happiest of holidays and a wonderful New Year!


The Last First Day of High School


When I first quit my job to stay home with my kids I had big plans. Being with my kids was my only job and I was going to make the most of it. Those warnings about “appreciating the time with your kids because it goes by so fast” were not going to be lost on me!

I learned, rather quickly, however, that it’s really hard to appreciate EVERY moment, like the ones when, sleep-deprived and delirious, I would curl up on the floor of my younger son’s bedroom, praying that my mere proximity to him would help him drift back to sleep at four in the morning. I wasn’t trying to wish away his babyhood but, at that moment, while he giggled and babbled at me through the slats of his crib, clearly not going back to sleep, I would silently repeat the mantra, this too shall pass.

Then there were those mind-numbing days when we would make our daily park/library/grocery store circuit, desperate to fill the hours before bedtime. Soon they will start school full time and I will finally be able to get things done, I would think.

Once they were in school I longed for the days when they would be able to do their own homework without my nagging, take care of their own things, and eventually be able to drive so I could skip the carpools and late night pick ups. Just this summer, for instance, as I waited up—again—for my youngest son to get home, I caught myself thinking, once summer is over and he is back at school I can finally go to bed before midnight.

This too shall pass…

And then it did.

And now summer is over and it’s my youngest son’s last first day of high school and I’m wondering what happens when this passes??

What happens to me when my nest is empty?

When I dropped him off for the first day of his senior year of high school I thought I was simply sad because it had all gone by so quickly; he would be heading to college next year and, given his uncommunicative nature, I would probably rarely, if ever, talk to him. But then, when I realized that at this time next year I will have no one left to drive to school (or pick up after or make dinner for or dote on…), my unease grew rapidly. Suddenly I was faced with the prospect of doing whatever I want with my time and I wasn’t sure what that was supposed to be.

In my rising panic I turned to my good friend (who also happens to be a therapist) to help me deal with my immediate need to calm the f**k down. Christina Jones, LCSW, suggested that I view this new phase of my life as a time to figure out who I am today and who my “future self” can be.

“What if you see this as an opportunity to discover who you are now and accept that it might not be who you used to be, even as a mother?” she asked me.

I could tell this was not going to be a quick fix.

“You can never really go back,” she added, “But you can take who you’ve been – in every chapter in your life – and figure out who you are now. That can be exciting.”

Hmmm…exciting, terrifying, anxiety provoking, all of the above?

This isn’t the first pivot I’ve had to make. When I decided to go from full-time lawyer to full-time mom, I went into a bit of spiral, as well. I would joke that I was a “retired lawyer” instead of admitting that I was a stay-at-home-mom – I simply couldn’t let go of that persona even though it was my idea to make the change. It took me a while to let go of who I had been—or thought I was—and to come to terms with the idea that my focus had shifted and continued to shift with each new phase in my and my family’s lives.

And here we are again; new phase, new focus.

This time, as I plan my next act, I will try to be more mindful of the passing days and try to embrace even the moments that can’t end fast enough. In a year I will be a “retired stay-at-home-mom,” and who knows what else. Maybe “the mom who has to nag her college graduate son who moves back home for a year to save his money while he works before grad school”?

This is very exciting.



A Father’s Day Experience

The only thing I remember about Father’s Day  when I was a kid was struggling to come up with a gift for my dad. The gifts were never very original and I’m sure, if my dad was alive today, he wouldn’t be able to tell you a single thing I gave him (all of those red ties and boxed DVD sets blend together after awhile).

Gift giving became a lot easier when I had kids because there was no greater gift for my dad than spending time with his grandkids. He was content just eating a meal with the kids and laughing at their antics or taking them mini-golfing and out for ice cream. Time was all he wanted and I know he remembered every minute of those days until the last.

I’ve always preferred giving (and receiving) an experience as a gift because a trip, an outing, or an adventure is far more memorable than something material (and really, who needs more stuff anyway). Besides it has been scientifically proven that you will be happier if you spend money on experiences not things and who am I to contradict science.

So in that vein I’ve asked a whole bunch of dads to give me their Father’s Day experience wish-list. Feel free to steal the ideas for Mother’s Day because why should dads have all the fun.

We share the same taste in music and love small live concerts so doing that is a treat.”

“An afternoon playing frisbee golf”

“…all being together for a meal when [the kids] are home from college is great. Especially when we hang out by the fire with friends or extended family.”

“Go for a long bike ride together now that she’s older and doesn’t need me to pull her in a Burley.”

“Playing music together in the basement.”

“Get tickets to the bleachers at Wrigley Field for a Cubs game”

“Lagavulin Scotch. Two bottles. One to drink, another for investment or for my kids to drink at my funeral.”

“Golfing together. Not just another golf shirt.”

“Cooking a meal together instead of going out again.”

“Building something together. I need to build a fire pit and I would love for my kids to help.”

“Take a weekend fishing trip together.”

“I’d love to run a ‘mudder’ race with my boys” (


“Make our own beer”

“A night at a comedy club”

“Spend the morning hunting and the afternoon golfing”


“Go Kart racing and mini-golf”

Escape Room” 

“A day at the horse races.”

“Go to a music festival”

Now, go forth and plan your adventure.

As Dr. Thomas Gilovich, a Cornell professor who has spent 20+ years studying money and happiness noted, “We consume experiences directly with other people…And after they’re gone, they’re part of the stories that we tell to one another.”



Happy Father’s Day!




Who Needs “Siri” When You Have “Mom”


My family doesn’t have Amazon Echo or Google Home. They have me.

I, apparently, know everything. Just ask my family (oh, wait, then they will have to ask me so that wouldn’t work).

I am amazed at how much my family thinks I know. I should be flattered because – obviously – they think I’m brilliant. Why else would they ask me things they can easily find out on their own?

For example, recent requests included:

“Mom, what’s this flower?”

“Hon, when are the kids done with school?”

“Mom, how do you heat up a can of soup?”

I, like any good digital assistant, dutifully answered:


“May 4 and June 7.”

“Pour the can in the small pot and heat on low.”

The thing is, other than the last question (which, by the way, is a topic for another day) I had to look up the answers. I don’t know flowers (after a failed web search I had to ask a friend about this) and I seriously have not memorized my kids’ schedules so why does my family ask me questions when they know I will need to look up the answers? More importantly, why do I actually look up the answers??!

Often, as I’m looking for answers to one of their questions it occurs to me that my children and husband could be doing this themselves. It’s not like I’m hiding the electronics. But by the time I remember that I’m not supposed to be enabling my children (or my husband for that matter), I’m already three Google searches deep into answering their questions and I realize it will probably take longer to lecture them then to give them the answer. Besides, if I say, “See that mini computer also known as a phone attached to your hand? It has the answer to your question; just look it up” chances are they will NOT look up the answers to their respective questions; they will simply avoid the question.

Really, it’s true. I’ve tried it.

For instance, it took me a while to figure out the daffodil answer so by the time I responded my son had moved on. My husband’s request for the kids’ schedules was similarly ignored when he decided not to bother with a possible trip in June and just planned for July because no one is in school then. (Little does he know there’s an entirely different schedule for summer but he didn’t ask and like Google Home, I don’t volunteer answers).

As for the soup question, well, if I hadn’t reflexively given my son the answer or if I had told him to read the back of the can (like I should have!), he would probably have given up and eaten a cheese stick (which would have solved his hunger issue but, seriously, READ THE BACK OF THE FREAKING CAN!)

I think it might be too late to change our ways. I needed to nip this in the bud when they were little (or, in the case of my husband, when we were dating) but everything took soooooo long when my kids were young. If one of my boys asked, “Mommy, what kind of flower is this?” when he was six years old and I responded, “I don’t know. Let’s look it up,” the process of finding the answer would have taken a good 30-60 minutes of haphazard, child-directed searching and I am not a patient person.

This, my friends, is known as a lack of foresight…or stifling independence, or shitty parenting, whatever you want to call it.

But now, if I keep answering their questions will they ever learn to find the answers on their own? Will they care? Should I just buy them a Google Home and be done with it??

The thing is, unless we can use “Mom” as the voice prompt for the digital assistant I’m not sure my family will know how to get it to respond. Then they will just ask me to ask Alexa…

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Life Lesson: Teen Dating

Dear Sons –

I know we’ve talked a lot about dating before (even when you didn’t ask my opinion) but I wanted to give you your own handy-dandy written “Guide” in case you are ever wondering what I would tell you and I’m not around. Call it, Mom’s Guide to Dating.

Don’t roll your eyes.

Here goes:

  1. Don’t be an asshole. You heard me. If I find out that you are treating your significant other badly I will personally kick your ass.
  1. Don’t be a doormat. This is not the opposite of being an asshole. Don’t always give in to your significant other just to keep the peace. If she wants to see Star Wars and you want to see Inside Out make an argument for why you should pick the movie this time. Or compromise – there’s nothing wrong with compromise. If she insists that you always give in – move on. Don’t sell your soul.
  1. Move forward at a mutually agreed pace. No one should dictate how quickly a relationship progresses. Both parties need to be comfortable.
  1. Laugh – a lot. Not at her (or at anyone, for that matter), but with her. Remember, if you guys can’t laugh at the stuff that makes each of you smile – move on.
  1. Don’t let Hallmark be your guide for gift giving. I personally hate Valentine’s Day (as you know). Your father has not been allowed to give me a gift on Valentine’s Day for the 25 years we’ve been married. Sure, for a few years he tried to give me flowers the day after Valentine’s Day but, no…just don’t. One caveat: if the person you are dating LOVES Valentine’s Day or Sweetest Day or any of the other made up holidays (yes, I’m holding back a comment) you should acknowledge the day with something (just remember that the florists jack up the prices on Valentine’s Day so don’t blow a paycheck on a dozen red roses – especially if she is demanding them). Remember, it’s the thought that counts.
  1. It’s the little things that matter. I swear.
  1. Find someone who likes to do the stuff you like to do (but not necessarily everything you like to do – see #8 below). Your dad and I bonded over Chicago Blackhawks hockey, horse racing and eating out. It was a great place to start.
  1. Have separate interests (this is not the opposite of #7, above). Remember you are separate people. I do know couples who do EVERYTHING together and haven’t killed each other – yet. These are the outliers. It’s good to have separate interests – it gives you something to talk about and something to share – occasionally – with the person you are dating.
  1. DO NOT alienate your friends (make sure your girlfriend doesn’t alienate hers either). I lost many a friend over the years to the “I’m dating someone and I need to spend every waking moment with him/her because that’s what couples do.” Ugh. If your dad and I didn’t have our friends around I’m not sure if we could have been together this long. Sure, your dad and I do a lot together but I also like going to the theater (he only like musicals), running (he HATES running), dancing (he can’t dance), and overanalyzing just about everything (he has no patience). Similarly, I have zero interest in playing poker in Vegas, watching European soccer and skiing. That’s what our friends are for.
  1. Apologize when you do or say something stupid. No one is perfect and mistakes will be made. Just don’t make it a pattern of do-something-stupid-apologize-later. Then you are just being an asshole (see #1 above). Also, if you are dating someone who is stuck in that pattern – move on.
  1. If your relationship has run its course have a face-to-face conversation. No ghosting, no break up texts, no social media announcements – I don’t care what the media or your friends say is the norm nowadays. Anything short of a face-to-face conversation makes you a jerk. Yes, it will suck; yes, she may be really, really pissed; and, yes, you will potentially be hurting someone but eventually, when the scars have faded, at least she won’t be able to say you weren’t honest and respectful.
  1. Be honest, respectful and kind. Always.




What would you add? What do you disagree with? Let me know!


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Bad Parenting Behaviors to Let Go of in 2017

So, here we are, almost in February and I’m still contemplating what I want to work on this year. Not that I’m keen on resolutions. In fact, I don’t think I’ve ever kept a New Year’s resolution and yet, I can’t stop myself from making them.

I have a problem with someone telling me what to do or not to do, which is weird, I know, since I’m the one making the resolution. There is something about saying out loud, “I will not eat sugar,” that causes me to make a beeline for the candy drawer.


Finally, however, I think I’ve come up with a couple of things that I can get behind in 2017; two bad parenting behaviors that I can let go of this year and feel good about: not doing everything for my kids and not talking about them with other people.

Let’s start with the second one first.

I will not talk about my kids with other people.

You might think it’s odd that I have chosen not to talk about my kids with other people when I write a blog about my kids and share it with other people. Believe it or not, I write very little about what happens to my kids and when I do I tend to have their blessing. I’ve tried to make this blog about my bad behavior, because, well, I often suck as a parent and I want to be held accountable.

What I want to stop doing this year is sharing information about my kids that I know they won’t want me to share with anyone else but I do it anyway because I’m venting to my friends. Let’s face it, parenting is not easy and sometimes you need to talk about your failures or your kids’ bad behavior with someone else.

My advice? Choose your audience and your stories carefully.

How many of you have done this? Your kid is driving you bat-shit crazy and you run into a friend and proceed to offer too many details about your kid’s latest exploits thinking there is some sort of “mom code” that will prevent your friend from relaying the info to her kid who just happens to be your son’s or daughter’s good friend.

Next thing you know, your kid is pissed at you – as he or she should be – because the story you told has made it’s way back to your kid but with all sorts of embellishments.

It doesn’t matter if the story you told was totally benign or you thought it was just a funny story to tell your friend. It doesn’t matter if it was relayed exactly how you told it or whether the story made its way through a group with new and completely fabricated details (as these stories tend to do). Your kid feels betrayed and you feel like crap.

So, yes, I will be working on this behavior this year because last year I let my kid down and that really did suck.

I will not do everything for my kids this year

When my kids were little and I chose to stay at home with them I felt that it was my job to wait on them hand and foot and stifle their independence.

Oh, wait, that wasn’t the plan.

No, the plan was to stay at home to take care of them and be around to watch them grow. The problem with that plan was that I felt guilty about being a stay-at-home mom and I felt like the only job I had was to take care of the kids and the house. If someone else was doing those jobs what was I doing all day??

No one saddled me with this notion (except, maybe Hollywood and the media’s distorted images of women’s roles and my own upbringing, but I digress).

Every time I thought about passing on the laundry duty or forcing my kids to cook dinner I wondered what I was supposed to be doing in the void of activity. Eating bonbons? Watching TV with my feet up on the ottoman thumbing through magazines? Writing??

The problem, I realize now, was not with the job but with the job description that I had written.

Instead of thinking that my job as a mom was to cater to my boys’ every need, I should have recognized that my job was to help my kids become independent, capable adults who could handle their own cleaning/feeding/scheduling.


Nearly 21 years into this parenting gig and I finally figure it out.

Obviously, I didn’t start out wanting my kids to be needy and dependent and, for the most part, even with all my failings, they are pretty capable (if I’m not around, of course). But now it’s time to let go of the guilt and rewrite my role. I will call my new title: Director of Creating Independence. I’m sure my kids will call my new role: Tyrant.




What parenting behaviors do you hope to work on this year?



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