Category Archives: Parenting

For your enjoyment, I present this, the best idea I have ever had in my entire life.

grocery shopping, kids, families, teaching responsibility

Problem 1: My kids (Theresa and Paul) always complain about the dinners I cook.

Problem 2: My kids have a poorly formed understanding of money.

Problem 3: My kids are looking for ways to assert their independence.

Problem 4: Our bank claims that we need to be better about budgeting — and eat out less.

Enter the best idea I’ve ever had in my entire life:

Solution, Part 1: Give the kids an allowance. Not like a huge allowance or anything. Let’s say $5/week.

Solution, Part 2: Take the kids grocery shopping every week. Go with a shopping list and a meal plan that takes every night of the week into account. Have the kids help find all the items on the list.

Solution, Part 3: Have the kids decide whether they want to use their allowance to buy food to replace any meals that they don’t want to eat. For example, if I’m making eggplant parmesan (which they’ve decided is awful for some reason, in spite of it being one of Wendy’s and my favorites) and they decide they don’t want it, they can get a box of mac and cheese or whatever they want — as long as they can buy it themselves. They can even have their own grocery cart and go through the line on their own. The catch, of course, is that $5 won’t buy meals for every night of the week.

After the novelty of buying their own meals wears off, they might even decide they want to use their allowance for something other than avoiding eggplant parmesan! Maybe they’ll decide they want to save up for a new game or something … and just buckle down and eat the eggplant parm, thus learning an important life lesson about making tough choices now for a future benefit.

So, what am I missing? What have I forgotten that makes this a bad plan?

Image: climbingcrystal/Flickr

Good Quote for February 27, 2014

“All too rarely do I hear people asking just what it is that we’ve done to make so many children’s hearts so hard, or what collectively we might do to right their moral compass – what values we must live by.”

― Barack ObamaDreams from My Father: A Story of Race and Inheritance

I’ve never bought the idea that people are just born good and then are corrupted by an evil society. That said, I’ve also never bought the idea that we are naturally depraved and have to have all of our horrible impulses tempered by constant vigilance either. I’ve spent a fair bit of time with kids and I’ve seen them display as wide a range of moral thoughts and behaviors as most adults I’ve known.

Instead of a black and white style “good” or “evil”, I think we’re all born with a drive to get our needs met. Good and evil actions come from how the situations we’re put in interfere with our ability to meet those needs and from the tools (i.e., coping skills) we have access to when the situation isn’t ideal.

So, in that sense, I like the way the question in this statement is framed (“what collectively we might do to right their moral compass”), but I think the answer is pretty straightforward: We have to shape the world, from our individual families on up to society as a whole, so that it meets everyone’s needs. That includes obvious physical needs (food and shelter), but also emotional needs (love, a sense of fulfillment, justice, security, etc.). The latter is just as important as the former.

In other words, we have to create situations that minimize conflict over needs.

That’s a tall order though. An impossibly tall order. That’s why we have to look beyond that. We have to teach our kids how to use their own physical, intellectual, and emotional tools to cope with times when the situation they’re in isn’t up to muster. I think in general that means modeling the way we use those tools ourselves. That’s the other reason I like this quote so much. He begins with a question that points at kids and the ways in which their character seems lacking. That’s where a lot of people stop, but he continues by pointing at us as adults and as a society asks us to consider the values we model.

Good Quote for February 24, 2014

“The supreme happiness of life is the conviction that we are loved; loved for ourselves—say rather, loved in spite of ourselves.”
― Victor HugoLes Misérables

Yesterday, I got really angry at my daughter, Grace. I had told her to stay on the sidewalk and not keep walking on the berm of snow. Which apparently meant it was a good time to walk on the berm.

That’s the part where I got angry and told her she was going to write lines about doing what she’s told when she got home.

We were actually parting ways — she and her brother, Liam, were heading back home with Wendy and I was going to meet them there later. When I finally got home, she had finished her lines. I was able to go give her a hug and a kiss on the head. She was able to tell me something funny she had just read.


She should have listened. I should have reacted more calmly than I did. It’s nice to be able to show Grace that I love her even when she makes mistakes. And it’s nice to know that she loves me when I make them.

It’s easy to love Grace and Liam when they’re impersonating the happy kids from Currier & Ives prints. If Victor Hugo was right, and it feels like maybe he was, it’s even more rewarding to experience the way that love continues even when they don’t listen and I overreact.


On Giving and Not Giving Children Life

“First your parents, they give you your life, but then they try to give you their life.”
― Chuck Palahniuk

I dropped my mother off at the airport this afternoon. She’s probably waiting at her gate right this second.

She’s been visiting for the last 11 days; playing grandmother games with the Melissa and Rob and visiting with Wendy and I.

In any case, her visit reminded me of something that I’ve always appreciated about her. She certainly gave me my life, but she’s never tried to foist hers on me. The Chuck Palahniuk quote above is the absolute antithesis of everything she ever did as a parent and her presence is always a reminder to me to emulate her in that.

When you overthink parenting, and life in general, as much as I do, it can be tempting to build up a sort of ideological trellis. If, after all this thinking, I have decided that the right answer is A, then it must make sense that I should parent in pursuit of A. Rules grow up like vines around that trellis until no other approach to life has room to breath.

My mom has always been tolerant of my ideas and choices — even when they’ve differed strongly from hers. That’s a real gift and it’s one I want to give Melissa and Rob.

Good Quote for February 16, 2014

“Of course, everyone’s parents are embarrassing. It goes with the territory. The nature of parents is to embarrass merely by existing, just as it is the nature of children of a certain age to cringe with embarrassment, shame, and mortification should their parents so much as speak to them on the street. ”


― Neil GaimanAnansi Boys

Just one more to supplement the Rick Riordan quote from the last post.

On the Embarrassment of Parents

“Have you ever noticed how parents can go from the most wonderful people in the world to totally embarrassing in three seconds?”

― Rick RiordanThe Red Pyramid

There’s nothing like chaperoning field trips to gauge where kids are when it comes to being embarrassed of their parents.

Take my son, John. He’s in the second grade. I saw a girl in his class sucking her thumb the other day when I was picking him up from school. Sure enough, when I help chaperone his field trips, he’s right by my side, holding my hand. When I chaperone my daughter Beth’s field trips I get a more fourth grade treatment. Not unfriendly. Not overtly embarrassed. Just a little more wary.

The seeds of embarrassment have been planted.

As a human and a dad, it can be a tough pill to swallow. I mean, where do my kids get off being embarrassed about me?

A) I’m cool. I have shiny aviator sunglasses that make me look like an out of shape extra from Top Gun.

B) I spent multiple years handling their poop. That should preclude them from ever thinking that I’m an embarrassment.

Still, the fact remains. Kids spend an inordinate amount of time being embarrassed by the existence of their parents – even in the midst of realizing that we parents are actually the most wonderful people in the world.


It’s really, really, really normal. Kids are actually at the beginning of a grand experiment in becoming individuals, who are separate from their parents, around the same time parents begin to notice that their kids are beginning to be embarrassed by them. How are they supposed to develop into grown up, independent people if they are constantly reminded that their existence depends upon us? And yet, they do depend on us and that dependence is tied to an attachment that makes them feel safe and loved.

There can be a really powerful conflict in kids’ minds between those two impulses — feeling independent vs. feeling loved, protected, and safe.

It hurts to feel like my kids are ever really ashamed of me. But I know that what they’re really ashamed of is their own ambivalence about fear, dependence, and becoming a grown up. My presence is just a reminder of it.

So I let it go. And I let them know I’m okay with standing back. And it’s okay for them to be independent and try out being a big kid without me. And that I’ll be there ready to love and protect them as much as they need when they’re ready for it.

But I don’t tell them all that in front of their friends.

Good Quote for February 5, 2014

“I’m always amazed when adults say that children ‘just did that to get attention’. Naturally children who need attention will do all kinds of things to get it. Why not just give it to them?”

― Lawrence J. Cohen, Playful Parenting


So much of what we’re taught to value in parenting contradicts this! I remember hearing or reading something to this effect when my oldest, Melanie, was born and having an instant reaction against it. My thought at the time was that, if Melanie starts to act in an unacceptable way, even if it’s for something worthwhile, then I have to wait until I can divorce the actions from the need they were attempting to address or else I’d be reinforcing the negative behavior.

Here’s how I think about it now:

The idea that I’m going to reinforce a negative way of getting attention by giving the attention is missing two points.

First, it assumes that I’m only ever able to give that attention when things get to the point that my kids begin to act out in order to get it. In other words, as long as the parent has the ability to be proactive once they realize that they’ve not been giving their kids the attention they need, the problem (the kid’s feelings of being ignored) can be addressed 99% of the time without reinforcing anything negative – because the kids won’t have to escalate to that sort of thing to get the attention they need.

By giving kids positive attention regularly, parents can not only avoid teaching their kids that negative behavior is a necessary means of getting attention, they can build a relationship with their kids that’ll encourage positive behavior when they need things – including attention.

Second, I think my old skepticism of this approach overestimated the power of discipline and underestimated the power of the need for a strong, happy connection to family. In other words, kids’ need for attention from their parents is far greater than their need to avoid any reasonable discipline. So if a child is acting up for attention, doling out a punishment isn’t going to stop them. The drive for attention and interaction with parents is just too strong to be thwarted by a time out or the loss of a favorite toy or even a spanking.