Archive for the ‘teaching’ 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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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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Parenting Disconnect

Of all the things that I thought I would need to teach my children, using a payphone never broke the top 500.

Why would I need to teach them to use a payphone? Doesn’t the phone have instructions written on it? Who doesn’t know how to use a payphone?

But then I read an article in the Wall Street Journal about how New Yorkers needed pay phones due to the spotty cell phone service and lack of power in the wake of Hurricane Sandy’s recent devastation. Apparently, many 20-somethings had never used a payphone before and they weren’t sure what to do.

I was appalled at first but the more I thought about it the more I realized that I have not needed to use a payphone in over 20 years so why would someone 20 years my junior need to?

And, more importantly, why would my kids need to use one?

In the time it would take my kids to find a working pay phone they could ask someone to use a cell phone unless, like the people in New York and New Jersey, there was no cell service or no electricity to charge their phones.  I know that my kids would figure it out but it made me realize that what I needed to explain was the finer points of making a collect call (because, really, who has change for a call anyway?).  I don’t think my kids have ever needed to call an operator or even know what an operator does.

To test my theory, I just asked my 12-year-old how to call the operator:

Me: “If you needed to call the phone operator what would you do?”

My Kid: “Why would I need to call the operator?”

Me:  “Humor me. What would you do?”

Kid: “I guess I would push ‘O’. But why?”

Me:  “What if you didn’t have any money but you needed to make a phone call?”

Kid: “Why would I need money to make a phone call?”

Me: “What if you didn’t have a charged cell phone?”

Kid: “I would ask someone if I could borrow theirs.”

Me: “What if you weren’t with anyone and you needed to use a payphone?”

Kid: “Where would I find a payphone? Couldn’t I just find a store that is open and ask them to use the phone? I’m a kid, they would let me.”

At least I know he’s thinking.

All of this made me wonder about all of the other things that I never thought that I would need to teach my kids. I don’t mean programming the VHS recorder or slicing a mango with just a knife,

I’m talking about skills that I never thought my kids would need given our technological advancements but maybe I should teach them anyway. Here are just a few:

  1. How to read a map. My kids think that GPS is all you need but there have been plenty of times when the very pleasant voice on my phone is telling me to turn left but doing so would land me in someone’s front yard. Besides, as we all know, cell service is not a given.
  2. How to use an encyclopedia (and do research) that is not on-line. I know this is something they should learn at school but I swear I haven’t seen my kids go to the library to do research since 2nd grade. Besides, I love encyclopedias. I used to read them for fun (seriously). Using a microfiche machine would also fall into this category.
  3. How to use a phone book. My kids probably don’t know where they are or why they would use one when they have access to computers, smart phones and tablets. But what if they are stuck at a diner/gas station/truck stop in the middle of nowhere and they need to use a payphone to call for a hotel room/ tow truck/food delivery? Yes, they can read so, yes, they could figure it out but forcing them to look up a number in the phone book might not be such a bad thing.
  4. How to use a fax machine. My 12-year-old and I were watching the movie, Air Force One, and one of the characters used a fax machine to send a message to the White House because the fax machine was on a separate line from the phones. My son asked whether anyone uses a fax machine anymore. My mother and father-in-law still have one but we don’t.  I just scan, .pdf and email. I have, however, needed to fax something so maybe the kids should know how…just in case they find themselves without the ability to scan, .pdf and email.
  5. How to start a fire without matches, a gas-powered cook top or a lighter. No power. No gas. Freezing temperatures. Enough said.
  6. How to sit at dinner without pulling out your smart phone. Ok, this one is not an actual skill (or maybe it is) but it is a necessity. I was at brunch with my kids the other day and neither one of them could sit still and have a conversation without texting or having a screen in front of them. Granted, the adults eventually pulled out their phones but I’m sure the adults could engage in conversation even if they didn’t have an app to fall back on (at least I hope we could).

What would be on your list of skills that you thought you would never have to teach your kids?


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