Saturday, April 30, 2011

Book Review: Parenting with Love & Logic

Finally carrying out my threat to review this book:

There are two parenting books that I'd heard a lot about before I actually read them. The first was What to Expect When You're Expecting. That could have been titled What to Freak Out About When You're Freaking Out. I didn't like or value that book so much. Paige and I dismissed it pretty quickly. The second was Parenting with Love & Logic.

After hearing about it for so long, I didn't know whether it would live up to the hype. It did. The last time I said that all parents must read a book, it was Nurtureshock. I stand by that assertion. I saw a relative stranger reading that book this week and dove into conversation about it.

Love & Logic has evolved from a book to a whole industry of workshops and counseling. The book offers a system and a framework for approaching parenting that can be used universally. Parents need workshops and counseling in that framework, though, because it's rather counter to how many parents approach parenting. Notice that the title is not Parenting with Command & Control. In that alone, we realize that this book applies to parenting children who have reached a certain level of logic.

I valued some things in the book and would argue with other things. First the pros:

  • Giving kids choices in which you can accept both options. Giving kids autonomy within bounds both helps them not to fight against us as authority figures and reminds them who's in charge. As intuitive as this concept is, parents fail in doing so every time. Example later in this post.
  • Making problems the child's problem, not the parent's problem. I find this far less intuitive and have to try to retrain myself to it. If we give up control and let our kids experience natural consequences, they'll learn a lot faster than if we constantly nag about rules and enforce rules with constructed consequences. When we do the latter, we become the problem, and the problem gets forgotten. Example of this later, too.
  • The flipside: responsible kids feel good about themselves. It's not really possible to build childrens' self-esteem through praise and trophies and all the ways we try. Kids believe more in themselves when they accomplish something.
  • I find it interesting and helpful that the authors recommend being empathetic with your children when they have made choices that end up less than good for them. It's not natural for me to respond to a problem presented by my kids with something like "Wow, what a mess. Let me know what you come up with." I could see, however, that it might be really awesome if I could discipline myself to do that.
  • Finally, Fay and Cline talk about failing when it's affordable. If kids learn responsibility and how it feels when they fail to show responsibility when they're young, they fail at low risk and low cost. Forgot to bring your trumpet to school? Oh well, no trumpet for you with your band friends today. Forgot to file your taxes? You get it.

So much of the helicopter parenting we see today results when parents fail to teach their children responsibility. They mop up all of the messes with teachers and coaches and nowadays - no lie - employers. Reading Love & Logic has reinforced a simple fact that is so easy to forget when kids are little: they'll live with me for less than 20% of their days on earth. Each day, I can either prepare them for that or pretend it's not true.

Now, the book is far from perfect.
  • Oddly enough, the example dialogs fall flatter than the principles. Often, a book that presents a framework only gets better when the authors delve into practical examples. Here, the examples have two problems: First some of them include a note of psychological cruelty that doesn't make me think of healthy relationships. There are scenarios in which kids face consequences and Fay & Cline would have us say "I'll have to think about what the consequence is going to be later. Try not to worry about it too much." The first sentence I'm fine with; the second sentence features a sadism I try to keep out of my parenting. Second, the dialogs only contain pretty perfect responses on the part of the kids. We're to believe that phrases take on a hypnotic power when used as the authors recommend.
The book opens my eyes to my own parenting foibles and (of course) helps me see how all kinds of other parents fail like crazy. It's a lot more pleasant to be around Love & Logic families. With the new lens, I rejoice when I feel like I got it right in a situation, and I'm dismayed when I do it wrong. A success while reading the book:
  • Charlie's supposed to put his backpack away in the coat closet when he finishes his homework. I walked past his backpack in the dining room once in the evening and again in the morning. Before Love & Logic, I would have called him on the spot to come get it (to follow the rule). I steeled myself and walked past it. The next school day, it was still there when I left the house a few minutes before Charlie walked himself to the bus stop. Three minutes after the time he should have left, my cell phone rang. In tears, he told me he couldn't find his backpack. Full-on Love & Logic might have had me keep quiet even then, but on that day, I needed him to catch his bus. I told him it was in the dining room. He thanked me with feeling and caught his bus. That night, I asked him what he'd learned that morning and he said "put away my backpack".

I probably should tell on my own failures, too, but I can't remember useful examples right now. That's not to say I don't notice and mark them and try to do better the next time. I do, however, have two observations of other parents examples this week:
  • Mom on the playground at the end of the childcare day. "We need to go. Give me a chance to be proud of you by coming over here right now." Exqueeze me? The child who'd been taught this kind of faulty logic did not comply. I didn't need Fay & Cline to know that she'd have succeeded better and been happier had she said: "We have to get home quickly. Do you want to walk to the car, or do you want me to carry you?"
  • Dad of the trailing sibling at a little league game. "If I see you put one more thing in your mouth [eating], you're going right home and straight to bed." The kid saw right through this threat. The sibling's game wouldn't be over for another 45 minutes. Dad was the only parent present. Would he pull his sister from the game to make good on his threat? Of course not. The child ate more snacks later, and that father had put himself in a position to do nothing about it.
A few interesting notes.
First, we read the book in a group at church that has both parents of young kids and parents of teens. The parents of teens read an edition called Parenting Teens with Love & Logic. The book energized and interested the parents of younger kids but didn't make as much of a dent in the parents of teens. Those parents seemed to think the situation was more hopeless and static. Second, both books end with sections of examples called Love & Logic Pearls. Reading that section, we found that we could skip some pearls because we're not there yet and others because we don't have problems with the issue (e.g. bedtime).

All in all, I conclude that this book will really help most every parent, taking what really helps and leaving that which doesn't do it for you.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Bass Ackwards Day

Am I the only one who believes that tomorrow's non-holiday has been bastardized beyond sense? It's Take Your Daughters and Sons to Work day. I don't have any daughters, but I'm annoyed on behalf of daughters everywhere at the fact that sons got plugged into a day originally devoted solely to them. As I understand it, they created TYDTW day in order to show girls that there were plenty of interesting careers they could choose. The day had a feminist impulse to undo an imbalance and shine a light on young female ambition.

Somewhere along the line, TYDTW day came to be seen as unfair, and they added the sons. While I suppose boys need exposure to career options as well, this expansion just undoes the balance repair impulse at the heart of the original idea. People have started to worry of late that boys suffer a disadvantage at school these days. I don't know exactly what to think, but I wish they would have left TYDTW day as it originated and sneak in some career exposure for boys some other way.

Friday, April 22, 2011

There's no Paternity Leave in Baseb...oh, wait

I heard a news story today that seemed relevant to Competent Parent. This season, for the first time, Major League Baseball players can go on a paternity leave. Granted, some players have been away from their teams for the birth of children before, but the new policy for 2011 means that players don't need permission from their teams to go. In that way, it runs parallel to MLB's bereavement leave policy. FMLA, this is not; players can welcome their progeny for 24-72 hours.

Interestingly, Colby Lewis of the Rangers, the first player to take advantage received some flak in the press. A Dallas newspaper bonehead moaned about how pitchers only start about 30 games a year and made fun of Lewis for having his priorities all messed up. Fortunately, in a sign that some sanity still reigns in sports, people inside the game - including Lewis's pitching coach, Mike Maddux - have defended his leave and the policy.

I think it's great. I think it's about time. I will not make a joke about Steve Garvey.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

Tell-a-Friend at Easter

If you're traveling this weekend and seeing friends and family you don't normally see, maybe you'd like to help yourself and a friend win some crackers. It might go like this:

"Pass the ham. Have I told you about this blog I read?"


"Mother, I don't want to talk about it right now. But I do want to talk about this blog I read."

Contest rules:
-You tell someone about the blog. Someone posts a comment, saying they heard about CP from you. You and someone win homemade crackers.
-All of this telling and commenting has to happen by May 15.
-Crackers will be sent within the continental US. (Don't know if I said that the first time around, but come on.)

Do it.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Is having kids worth it?

We had three childless couples over for dinner last Friday. By calling them "childless", I don't mean to imply anything about their stance toward having children. It so happens that one couple doesn't plan to have kids; another couple probably does but no time soon; the third couple, whom we know the least, may or may not want kids someday. I just don't know.

Anyway, the kids ate dinner in the kitchen while we ate in the dining room. We stayed around the DR table after the boys were done, and they would occasionally wander in, climb in one of our laps, chit chat and then go off again. After one of these visits, one of our guests asked "So, they're worth it, right?". If anyone has ever asked you this question, you know how hard it is to answer.

The question seems to provoke joke responses. Yesterday's chart summarizes one direction in which my jokey responses might have gone. After the joke responses, the interrogated brain turns to cost-benefit analysis, which is a useful tool for deciding whether to expand a factory but falls a little flat here. How could one possibly articulate the benefits and weigh them against the costs? I wanted, though, to give my friend a real answer beyond the jokes and the impossibility of valuing human lives and relationships. In the end, I asked if she remembered what it was like to fall in love with her husband. Whatever relationships we've had before, we typically recognize that the love that's strong enough to commit to marriage feels totally different from any love we've experienced before. I can say the same about parental love for my sons. I feel about them differently than I feel about anybody else in the world. My relationships with them produce a variety of strong emotions that make for a different cost-benefit analysis at different times (were I to dare to undertake that).

Are they worth it? I don't think I can answer that. Would I want to go back to a world where these two boys don't exist? Absolutely not.

Have you been asked this question? Do you have any helpful responses to it?

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Sunday, April 17, 2011

Tell-a-friend Contest

According to Google Analytics, March was my best month yet for reader volume. Not content to rest on those laurels, I'm pleased to announce the Competent Parent Tell-a-Friend Contest. One or more winners will get a unique prize!

Up to now, I've known many of my readers in real life (RL). I'm terribly pleased about that, but I can't help but wonder how many people might read this blog if each of my regular readers told a friend or family member about it. I also wonder if this blog is merely a good way to stay in touch with family and friends or it it's relevant to a wider audience.

The prize is a batch of home-made, toasted sesame crackers that I will mail in RL to the winner(s). 2 ways to win, both by someone leaving a comment:
1. A friend that you tell about Competent Parent reads the blog and leaves a substantive comment telling me who referred them. The friend and the referrer both win crackers.
2. In order to reward the strangers already reading CP, if you leave a substantive comment, and I don't know you, you win a batch of crackers.

Contest deadline: May 5. Winners will be drawn at random from all commenters between now and then.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Parenting: Amenable to Study

A conversation on the sidelines of Charlie's little league game this week:
Teddy (coming up to where I was chatting with some moms from C's team): I'm hot. Can I take off this [long sleeve] shirt?
Me (thinking that it was just getting chilly): Well, my parenting book tells me I should let you, so yes.
Mom 1: Oh, parenting books? I threw those out in the first month.
Mom 2: My husband picks the strangest battles. I think "you just threw down the gauntlet about that?"

In my observation, Mom 1 doesn't parent all that well. Specifically, she asks too little of her children in terms of behavior and politeness. Mom 2 does a far better job and has charming, generous happy kids. And Mom 2 has somewhere learned some of the lessons that I've learned from parenting books.

In a quirk of timing, that conversation occurred one day after one in which I shared with our childrens' minister at church that I really believe parenting is amenable to study. Right now, with a group of other parents at church, we're reading and discussing Parenting with Love & Logic, a classic which I'm nearly ready to review in this space. It's one in a series of books that we've read and discusses in a parent & family Sunday school class. The book group style sharing and wrestling with topics has proven really valuable even when
the occasional book has been a dud.

When a parenting book really stimulates me, it tends to scare me because it presents approaches to parenting that run contrary to my intuition. Love & Logic, especially has got me wanting to shed some of my parenting control freak tendencies. When experts in child development present theories and propose practices based on kids' development, I find that they often make sense, and that I would never have come to them on my own.

Come to think of it, these parenting books have been more useful the older the kids have gotten. Baby instruction books tend to contradict each other too much. Maybe that's why Mom 1 flung hers aside so early. It's just a shame that she hasn't gone back to them because she and her kids might really benefit now. It feels like so much of my kids' future happiness depends on me working to be the best parent I can be. I want more confidence than comes from just winging it.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

HHHHHH: Removing Grease Stains

If they created a think tank for laundry management and stain removal, they'd hire my mother-in-law as the first expert employee. She knows very useful things about getting clothes clean.

Until recently, I had despaired about intractable grease stains on my clothes and my family's clothes. In fact, if they created a think tank for dotting clothing - especially shirts - with grease, they'd hire me as the first employee. Imagine my relief when my M-I-L showed me the magic of talcum powder for removing grease stains, even on items that have been washed. It works best if they haven't been washed and dried yet, as you might guess.

Here's what you do:
-Get some common talcum powder, most often sold these days as baby powder. if you have a baby laying around, you may already have some in the house.
-Shake the powder onto the stain. Don't be afraid to really pile it on there to cover the stain.
-Let the garment sit for a while - about 30 minutes should becgood.
-Flick the powder off the stain. You may see that it's already reduced. One time, in fact, the stain was gone after this step. Usually, though, you can still see it, highlighted by talcum powder.
-Reapply, wait and flick off again if stain still looks significant.
-Launder the garment normally. Check the stain before you put it in the dryer and repeat the talcum powder steps if it's still visible.
This trick has returned garments on which I had given up hope to our wardrobes.

Friday, April 8, 2011

Atta Boy, Drew Forster

If any blog post can right an injustice, I hope this one will. Last weekend, I attended the grand opening, ribbon cutting and dedication of the Salvation Army Ray & Joan Kroc Community Center in Boston. Joan Kroc, the matron of the McDonald's fortune left $1.5 billion (that's a lot of Big Macs!) to the Salvation Army to build about 30 of these centers around the country. In Boston, the Uphams Corner/Dudley Square neighborhood
View Larger Map had wanted a community center for at least 20 years. This part of Dorchester/Roxbury's recent history has been marked by gun violence and a lack of hope. In vibrant, often prosperous Boston, this neighborhood just couldn't catch a break from the economy or city hall. The spirits of its Dominican and Cape Verdean immigrant families were unbowed, and individuals and groups never stopped working and hoping even when it might have been easy to do so.

Now, they have a 90,000 square foot, beautiful and functional community center with a big gym, a climbing wall, a dance studio, a truckload of elliptical and stairmaster machines, a recording studio, an indoor water park and outdoor splash playground, performing arts space and a "peace chapel" in which to remember those whose lives were cut short by violence.

My brother Drew has been working on this project since it was no more than an idea on paper. After Drew's work five years ago on the proposal helped win a high stakes internal competition among Salvation Army centers in cities across the northeast US, they asked him to stay on as the first full-time employee of this idea. The injustice came this weekend when I read through the twenty-some page program for the weekend's festivities and saw my brother's name nowhere. They compounded the injustice when, in 3 1/2 hours of speeches and festivities by politicians and fundraisers and the Salvation Army muckety mucks from Massachusetts and the upper administration of the northeast US, no one said "Drew Forster" once. Not when recounting the history of the project. Not when they showed the beautiful video presentation he created. Not when they lauded lots of others who did less to make it all happen. The picture at the right is one of the only one
s I got of Drew on Saturday, and it's blurry because he virtually never stopped moving, working during the festivities.

I realize that tons of people played a role. I realize that when a billionaire gives you $80 million and you raise another $30 million locally, that there are Certain People to Thank. I just wish they had added Drew to the list.

Drew's daughter Sydney did tell him at the end of the day "I'm so proud of your work, Daddy." But she shouldn't have been the first to say that out loud.

Since the big wigs didn't give Drew an atta boy, I now shall. Drew may kill me, but here's what they should have said.

Tons of people contributed to this grand occasion. It's safe to saw, however, that no one has contributed more time, intellectual resources or passion to this project than Drew Forster. Some helped launch the notion; others contributed money and ideas and expertise. There were those who brought certain aspects to completion. But no one was present - as was Drew - from proposal to ribbon cutting. Drew attended over 100 community meetings. We've said there were 200 official community meetings, so let's conservatively put Drew at half of those. He consistently sacrificed evening family time to talk and listen in Upham's Corner. Drew listened to the community about what they wanted in a neighborhood asset unlike anything they'd ever had before. Drew connected with those who have labored with lesser resources on the goals on which hew as now privileged to work. Drew participated in architecture discussions, fundraising discussions, demographic analysis (56,000 people within a mile of this spot; 19,000 of them children) and program planning. At the end of the first week of operation, Drew knew who had been there five days out of five. Hip Hip Hooray!

Actually, one person said "Drew was here all along", but she said it to her friend in the hallway when she met me, Drew's twin brother, the guy freaking people out all day by looking - if not dressing - exactly like him.
Isaura Mendes said it. Ms. Mendes lost two sons in two years to gun violence in the neighborhood, and now she crusades for peace. She knew that Drew was there all along. She knows that Drew gets it. Drew helped plan for the Peace Chapel, an oasis of serenity in the busy hive of the Kroc Center. it's a place to remember those who tragically don't walk down Dudley Street anymore and to pray that fewer young people die this year than last. Ms. Mendes represents so many other parents grieving the worst possible loss. "Drew was here all along", she said.

On that fifth day of Kroc Center operations, Drew greeted a member of what he dubbed (on the spot) "the five for five club". When he inquired after the man's "better half", who had accompanied him on his first four visits, he first said that she wasn't feeling well. After a moment, he said that, actually, that day marked seven months since their son Matthew had died of a gunshot wound at age 30. His wife didn't come out that day because - naturally - she still grieves over their son's death and that day was particularly difficult. Drew asked the man if he knew about the Peace Chapel and took him upstairs and sat quietly with him on a pointed day of remembrance.

Drew has dreamed this place on paper and in meetings and in PowerPoint and in letters, and I can't think of someone better suited to now be opening all of its many ambitious programs. They should have said that on Saturday. Drew was there all along.

For more information on the Kroc Center or to make a gift in Drew's honor, please visit

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Goodnight, Saigon

This will be my last travelogue post from Vietnam and Cambodia. If you want to see all 800 pictures, come on over sometime. Bring your Visine.
We celebrated nephew Colin's birthday together. It was Sunday morning in Saigon/Ho Chi Minh City. Colin's grandparents joined us via skype; it was Sunday evening in Pittsburgh.

On Monday morning, we watched the Super Bowl. Kickoff at 6:30 am makes for a memorable Super Bowl experience. We watched at Boomerang, and Australian sports bar nice enough to show the game for the Americans. There was one woman in a Packers jersey, but the rest of the spectators lacked a strong rooting interest. They were mostly expats enjoying the American-ness of it.
Paige dutifully read the guidebook entry on the reunification palace, and the boys dutifully listened.
Signs curating the rooms and spaces in the Palace featured four languages and a very 1978 aesthetic.
Gotta love the trick horns photo with Charlie...
...and Paige.
Teddy will happily tell you that this is "Uncle Ho with no arms". Most every tourist group gathers for a picture with the bust of Ho Chi Minh in one of the principal rooms of the palace.
When Lauren and Mike decided they would teach in Vietnam, we started sponsoring a child through SOS Children's Villages. Founded in Austria, SOS houses orphans or children from families that can't care for them in houses arranged in a little village. Each house has children of different ages, and a house mother oversees a small psuedo-family. When we arrived, they had just gone to the market, and house mothers and children were sorting and distributing produce among the houses.
Our sponsor child's name is Son Thanh Nguyen. He's 16. When boys hit 14 years of age, they leave the village proper for a a youth home. Girls stay in the village houses with the younger children. Son's room is very spare, as you can see, but it's clean, and the boys seemed pretty happy there.
The courtyard at the youth home, with several of the boys and some of the staff.
We went for a drink at a neighborhood cafe (in the front veranda of the proprietors' home). After Paige scooped Teddy up to carry him, a staffer from the youth home pointed to Son and said he should carry Teddy. Ted was thrilled, as you can see.
At the "big Citimart", checking out the toys and other fun things on our last day in Vietnam. Citimart slots somewhere between a garden variety grocery store and a Target. Of course, it carries its own special Vietnamese zest and wackiness.
Finally, a little bit of Chinglish (Vietnamenglish just lacks a certain ring) for your enjoyment. The picture above and the next several were all taken in the toy department at Citimart.
A toy cow, part of "these exciting new set".
"Snow dance and flash" sounds a little bit risque. But what would you expect from the orgatron?
Finally, this collection box was near our gate in the Hanoi airport on our way home. Facing 20 more hours of flights, we wondered if we could make a withdrawal from the Charity Box for Especially Difficult Children. They boys did ok, though, aided by our upgrade to "Economy Plus", which doesn't sound as good as "Business Class". We had seven seats for the four of us, which we divided as follows: Charlie, 2, across the aisle from the rest of us with a long fantasy novel; Paige 1, on the aisle; Jeff 1, on the other aisle; Teddy, 3, between Jeff and Paige. Mercifully, he used his excessive resources to sleep for around nine of the 13 hours on the Beijing-Chicago flight. Not especially difficult after all!

We'll savor the memories of this trip. We feel very fortunate to have had this experience as a family.

Sunday, April 3, 2011