Do You Invite The Whole Class To Your Kids’ Birthday Parties?

Do You Invite The Whole Class To Your Kids’ Birthday Parties?

Children’s birthday parties aren’t always easy to plan, especially the guest list. Do you invite the whole class or not? Rudri Patel thinks that you should, because promoting a philosophy of inclusion is the most important thing for young kids. Stacey Gill believes every family should be able to throw the party it wants, even if that means handpicking only a few friends from school.

 

I Invite the Whole Class to My Kid’s Birthday Party

By Rudri Patel

manycupcakesMy car slides easily into the designated school lane. I watch a set of girls and boys interact, laughing, swinging their arms, the boundary between innocence and knowledge still a blur. Third in the carpool line, I turn around and glance at the back seat as my ten-year-old daughter climbs in, maneuvering her backpack as she lands in her favorite spot.

My daughter’s words start to spill. “Momma, I didn’t get invited.”

The air is contaminated by her sadness.

“Invited to what, honey?” My voice is calm, though I cringe at the thought of her being excluded from anything.

“Jenny invited all the girls in the class to her birthday party except for Heather and me. I’m so sad. I thought I was her friend too.” She crinkles her nose, a sign—one I know well—­­­­­that tears will soon overpower her.

“It’s fine, sweetie,” I say. “I understand you are upset, but don’t let it get you down. It’s only a party.” I hope to distract her by turning on the radio, as Taylor Swift’s anthem of positivity, Shake it Off, blares from the speakers.

But she is immune to Taylor’s battle cry, and I feel powerless as tears run down my little girl’s face.  

*   *   *

As an introvert, I often breathe a sigh of relief when I am not invited to a large social gathering. I prefer connecting with a few friends who get me, rather than bulldozing through a crowd of people who may not remember my name.

However, what works for me does not always gel for my daughter and that’s the reason I don’t extend my preferences to her social life. Since the age of four, I’ve invited all of her classmates to her birthday parties, instead of handpicking just a few, because I am sensitive to the need for young girls and boys to feel included. To keep parties from being cost-prohibitive, I may choose to have them at home or I may select a venue where fun doesn’t necessarily mean expensive. I also might budget in other areas—having a less costly cake, for example, foregoing on goodie bags or incorporating simpler decorations. Teaching my daughter the philosophy of inclusion matters more to me than accessorizing a party.

Parties where everybody is invited allow girls and boys to play, talk and learn from one another. This act of inclusion might get a more introverted girl to stop hiding behind her mother and take a shot at the birthday piñata or it may give the boy who moved to a new school mid-year a chance to get to know his classmates. Inviting everyone to the party offers girls and boys the possibility of making new connections, of meeting a special friend they wouldn’t have met otherwise.

Our children spend the bulk of their time at school, interacting with their classmates for at least eight hours a day. When one of them chooses to exclude a few children from a birthday celebration, the message being conveyed is “you are not good enough to come to my party.” This does nothing to further an atmosphere of kindness in the class and only creates unnecessary negative feelings among students who will most likely be exposed to each other for years through the same school system.

When only a few kids are singled out from a birthday party, it is also likely the chatter about the upcoming event will infiltrate the classroom. This kind of exclusion may cause a climate of bullying, one that has the potential to intensify as children grow older. I want my daughter to understand there is room for all of us in her schoolmate’s lives, at least for now. Of course I know it won’t stay this way forever. As children mature, they will naturally gravitate toward certain friends. But at this young age, they are still forming their personalities, opinions, likes and dislikes—so why not include all the kids so they can have the freedom to get to know one another better outside the school?

I understand the view that at some point all of us are excluded from something and that this is a lesson children will eventually learn. But why does it have to happen when they are so young? Why not preserve some of their innocence and build our children’s self-esteem? A stronger foundation in their youth might teach them to be more inclusive in day-to-day interactions in the future, whether this means refraining from gossip, protecting another classmate from bullying or saying a kind word to a friend.

*   *   *

As soon as we get home, I hug my still distraught daughter and wipe away her tears. As I embrace her, I envision her own upcoming birthday party in my mind.

The invitation will go out to all of her classmates.

One of the best gifts a kid can get, whether it’s her birthday or not, is feeling wanted by her peers. This is why there is much value in learning how to make room at the party for everyone.

Rudri Bhatt Patel is an attorney turned writer. Her essays have appeared in The Washington Post, Brain, Child, Role Reboot, The Review Review and elsewhere. She writes her personal musings on her blog, Being Rudri. She is working on a memoir which explores Hindu culture, grief and appreciating life’s ordinary graces. Connect with her on Twitter or Facebook.

 

I Do Not Invite the Whole Class to My Kid’s Birthday Party

By Stacey Gill

fewcupcakesWhen my kids were in elementary school I had a conversation with a friend who was planning her daughter’s birthday party. She wanted a simple party at home but lamented that she couldn’t fit all the kids in class in her house. She’d have to come up with something else. When I asked her why she was inviting the entire class to the party she said, “Well, you have to invite everybody.”

I looked at her pointedly and said, “No, you don’t.”

An entire class of first graders is a lot of amped-up six-year-olds to corral, keep track of and contend with, to say nothing of the cost. I understood the impulse to be inclusive and while inviting everyone is perhaps “nice,” throwing an enormous, extravagant party, especially for a six-year-old, was something I had no intention of doing.

This birthday party conundrum continues to be the source of much parental angst, but I’ve never particularly felt conflicted by it. To me the answer is pretty clear. Your party, your terms. No one has the right to dictate whom you can or can’t invite to your own kid’s birthday party.

Although recently some have tried. Schools are now stepping into the fray in an attempt to placate parents and avoid hurt feelings on the part of the students. Some are issuing policies that require everyone in the class to be invited to a student’s birthday party. I find this intrusion into family life not only rather unbelievable but completely out of line.

Of course I understand the desire to protect children from getting hurt, but a child’s birthday celebration is a personal, family matter, one no school (or any other entity) has any business insinuating itself into. The school is certainly well within its rights to set rules about distributing invitations on school grounds during school hours, but to tell parents how to run their personal affairs is overstepping its authority.

That’s not to say these matters shouldn’t be handled delicately or responsibly with consideration for others. But including everybody isn’t the priority above all else. The fact of the matter is children should be free to invite whomever they’d like to attend their celebration and not everyone is a friend. Not everyone is a pleasant child (or person). And, not everyone gets invited to everything. Pretending otherwise doesn’t protect or in any way serve our kids.

Back in preschool, my children’s school policy was that every classmate was referred to as a friend. At that young age the policy was understandable. It enforced the notion that everyone should be kind and treat others as you would a friend, even if not all children abided. But as my kids grew I didn’t feel the need to maintain the charade. I knew better and so did they. Kids are pretty perceptive creatures. They may not articulate it, but they are keenly aware of the social situations around them. The insistence that everyone is a friend despite actions demonstrating otherwise doesn’t fool them, and I’d rather speak honestly with my kids and help them work through any difficulties with classmates than gloss over problems or pretend they don’t exist. I’ve always taught my children they don’t need to be friends with everybody—not everyone has the same interests or shares the same views—but they do need to be polite and try to get along with the people in their class. That’s just solid life advice.

So when it came time to throw parties for my own kids in grade school, we planned the parties that made sense to us. Typically, they were small affairs. Both my children have winter birthdays so I’ve never had the luxury of throwing a backyard party or one at the town pool, where space and cost wasn’t much of an issue. We planned what I thought were appropriate, manageable and affordable parties, and my children invited the kids they were truly friends with, some kids from the block, some from school and some relatives. I made it clear that they were not to discuss the party at school. We never distributed invitations there: I didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings.

It’s possible word might have gotten out about the party at school, but I did everything in my power to minimize that risk. My goal was to be realistic and practical and do what was best for my family, which I believe is every parent’s aim. If some of the children’s feelings were hurt in the process, that’s unfortunate, but it’s also a part of life. I don’t believe in shielding kids indefinitely from reality. Disappointments and frustrations are a part of that reality. We need to help our children learn how to deal with it.

Stacey Gill is an award-winning journalist, the mastermind behind the humor blog, One FunnyMotha, and co-author of I Still Just Want to Pee Alone, the third book in The New York Times best-selling series. Her work has appeared on such sites as The Washington Post, The Huffington Post, Good Housekeeping, BlogHer, Babble, and Scary Mommy. For a good time, find her on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

Do You Invite the Whole Class to Your Kids' Birthday Parties?

 

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silhouette 1B w wordsChildren’s birthday parties aren’t always easy to plan, especially the guest list. Do you invite the whole class or not? 

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The Physical vs. Cognitive Stage of Motherhood: Two Perspectives

The Physical vs. Cognitive Stage of Motherhood: Two Perspectives

Motherhood has different stages. The early months and years are dominated by physical interaction: feeding, cuddling, carrying. At a certain point, however, this changes and new parenting skills are required: answering questions, playing games, negotiating. Tanya Slavin prefers the former phase; Christine Organ the latter. What about you?

 

I Prefer the Physical Stage of Motherhood

By Tanya Slavin

IMG_1630“Mom! You’re not listening!!!” My six-year-old pulls at my sleeve in frustration. He is right. I tuned out mid sentence, when he was telling me something about his new favourite dinosaur. It’s not that I’m not interested, I really am, but we’ve spent the last several hours together, and I just need some personal space. Some personal space to think. Now that he is bigger, I require more frequent breaks from him than I did when he was a baby (or than I do from his baby sister now). Not only that, but the typical challenges of parenting a six year old—setting boundaries, discipline, and so on—are much more of a struggle for me than any of the physical responsibilities tied to parenting an infant.

A friend of mine recently revealed that she often resented breastfeeding because she perceived it as an invasion of her personal space. That made me think: I am very much the opposite. Breastfeeding felt wonderful to me, while too much talking and playing with an older child is what becomes an invasion of my personal space. I suppose the physical-emotional side of mothering comes more naturally to me than the cognitive—thinking, reasoning, communicating—one.

I absolutely love and crave the physical closeness that is inherent in a baby’s first year of life. I welcome the near non-existence of boundaries that is part and parcel of breastfeeding, co-sleeping, carrying her on me. In those moments, I don’t have to say anything, and don’t have to make a conscious effort to connect with my child. My presence is enough. My body is enough. My smile is enough. My touch is enough.

I never tire of holding a baby, and I rarely feel that her needs are intrusive. That’s because while I can be physically there to comfort her, my mind is free to drift in and out of the situation as it pleases. I realize now that this is why I nursed my son until he was two and a half, and co-slept with him until he was at least four years old (and even now, at six, he still sometimes sleeps in our bed). Because being physically close is the easiest way for me to say “I love you,” to fix any rifts between us, to strengthen our bond.

Now that he is six years old, my interactions with my son revolve mainly around playing buses, talking about Minecraft, and getting him to brush his teeth every morning. I can enjoy an occasional board game, I love our conversations about life, and dinosaurs, or whatever his most recent interest is. I consider him one of the most interesting and engaging people I know. But too much talking and playing wears me out. Pretend play often feels like torture to me. My ideal is to sit side by side with my son in a cozy coffee shop or at the dinner table at home, each doing our own thing. We would have an occasional chat, be there for each other for a hug or a cuddle, but would mostly give each other space.

At the same time, I’m not too bothered by a transgression of my physical boundaries, even with an older child. I don’t mind it when my son climbs onto my back as I’m nursing the baby on the couch or if he wants to snuggle when I’m busy talking on the phone or working on my laptop. I still let him slip into our bed for a cuddle towards the morning, or even spend the whole night there, especially if he is sick or distressed.

I sometimes wonder how my introverted ways affect our relationship in this regard. I tend to withdraw into my own world when I’m concerned or upset. I also tend to need a lot of mental space. I often worry that these traits of mine will contribute to a disconnect between me and my son in the future. But understanding my own strengths and needs has helped me find different routes to connect with him. Even now that he isn’t a baby anymore, I often rely on the physical to mend things between us.

That’s how it is in difficult times, after a rough day at school or at home, after I’ve screwed up and want to make amends. I know that something needs to happen before the day is over, if not to fix things, then to smooth them out a bit. I open my mouth to say something but the right words don’t come. I feel awkward with words, they never come easily to me. So, I simply sit him on my lap, press his head against my chest and hold him like this for a few minutes, breathing into his neck. I say nothing, just breath, breath, and watch the invisible threads of our broken connection weave themselves back together again with every exhale. After that, we can talk. Or maybe we won’t even need to.

Tanya Slavin is a freelance writer and a recovering academic who was born in Russia, grew up in Israel and spent most of her adult life moving around North America and documenting a Native American language. She now lives in the UK with her husband and two kids. You can find her at her blog Invisible to the Eye where she writes about the challenges of parenting and growing up, and on Twitter @invisible2the

 

I Prefer When the Physical Stage of Motherhood Is Over

By Christine Organ

99308365This morning I did what was once unimaginable. I lay down on the couch and closed my eyes for a few minutes while my son played quietly on the other side of the room. Just a few years ago, the idea that I could lie on the couch without a child crawling on me would have been impossible. Heck, the idea of simply going to the bathroom alone seemed like a pipe dream.

Motherhood, for many years, blurred the lines of personal space between my children and me. The early stages of motherhood—from infancy into toddlerhood—are inevitably defined by its physical demands and constant contact. Feeding, rocking, bouncing, and cradling are the cornerstones of a mother’s role in the early years —not to mention the physical and emotional toll sleep deprivation takes on a mother. Even in the toddler years, motherhood involves a significant amount of crawling on the floor, carrying children, and feeling the tug of little hands on pant legs.

As an introvert, personal space is absolutely essential to my peace of mind. Though I like to cuddle as much as the next person, I can only take so much physical closeness. At some point, if or when an indefinable threshold is crossed, physical contact begins to feel suffocating.

After the birth of my first son, the loss of autonomy and control over my body and self was staggering. Due to undiagnosed postpartum depression, my mind didn’t feel like my own. And in light of the physical demands of mothering a newborn, my body didn’t feel like my own either. As the stay-at-home parent, the physical demands of motherhood were so all-consuming, so pervasive, and so relentless that I sometimes feared that my life had been taken hostage, that I would never feel like meagain. I felt smothered by their needs, like I was being swallowed whole.

Exacerbating my frustrations with early parenting were the relentless messages that motherhood—especially early motherhood—is defined by physical closeness and affection. Everywhere I looked, I saw images of mothers serenely smiling at their nursing baby. Grandparents clamored to hold babies and pouted when they surrendered the little bundle. Other mothers talked about how they instantly fell in love with their baby.

I, on the other hand, prickled with anger when I nursed, was more than happy to let someone else hold my baby, and felt dazed rather than in love most of the time. Lack of conversation about this uglier side of early motherhood made me feel like something was wrong with me. But as a child grows, candid conversation about the challenges of parenting becomes less taboo. Complaints about difficult threenagers, homework battles, and sassy teenagers are not only common, but accepted and almost celebrated, whereas admitting that you don’t want to hold your baby is akin to blasphemy.

Little kids, little problems; big kids, big problems, they say. As a new mother, I found this phrase to be both condescending and depressing. It seemed to imply my problems as a new mother were insignificant, my struggles were just whiny naiveté, and the dilemmas I faced were inconsequential in the long arc of parenthood. What’s more, this cliché made me feel hopeless. You mean it only gets harder?!, I wanted to cry. You mean I might never feel like me again?

And yet, somehow, I did start to feel like me again. I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened, but eventually the smothering sensation abated when the physical demands of parenting lessened as my children moved through infancy and toddlerhood and into the school-age years.

Parenting is still hard, confusing, and demanding. Parenting will always be hard, confusing, and demanding. But the parenting challenges I face now are less physical and more cognitive in nature—something I am far more suited to handle.

Now there is whining, bickering, and negotiating. But while these challenges are frustrating and have more long-lasting consequences, they don’t feel as suffocating as the physical demands of early motherhood. I can ignore the whining, discipline the fights, and listen to the pleas (or not). I can talk to my children about the problem, resorting to logic when possible, or simply dole out a firm response. I can take the time to gather my emotions, if necessary, ponder a response, consult with my husband, and find the much-needed space—both emotional and physical—when I am pushed to the brink of frustration, fear, or confusion. And even my parenting mistakes can be teachable moments about the importance of grace, humility, and forgiveness. Paying attention to my own needs doesn’t feel as selfish anymore, but an opportunity to teach my children about respecting others’ needs.

People also like to say parenting doesn’t get easier, you just get better at it, and having been a parent for nearly ten years now, I can say without a doubt that parenting, as a whole, does not get easier. As my kids have grown, the issues have also grown in complexity, with more nuances and deeper ramifications. Having the sex talk is more awkward than a diaper change in a Target bathroom. The decision to let my son play football (or not) could have repercussions more far-reaching than whether to give him a pacifier. And I can only imagine the perplexing challenges we will face as we move further into the tween and teenage years.

Yet despite the “bigness” of the problems, they somehow seem more manageable simply because I am better equipped to handle them. Parenting didn’t get easier, but I got better at it—and I finally got that much needed personal space.

 

Christine Organ is a freelance writer who lives in the Chicago area with her husband and two sons. Her work has appeared on The New York Times, Washington Post, Huffington Post, Brain, Child, Redbook, Good Housekeeping, Country Living, Mamalode, and Scary Mommy, among others. She is the author of Open Boxes: the gifts of living a full and connected life and writes at www.christineorgan.com.

Photo: gettyimages.com

Join us on Twitter Thursday, January 14th at 1:00 EST to discuss the issues. Do/did you prefer the physical stages of motherhood or the cognitive ones? Remember to use the hashtag #braindebate.

 

Is it Okay Not to Invite Young Children to Your Wedding or Special Event?

Is it Okay Not to Invite Young Children to Your Wedding or Special Event?

Is it acceptable to have a wedding or special event and not invite the young children of a close friend or family member? Debi Lewis says that excluding kids from an event sets a certain tone and has consequences for your relationship with the hosts. Lisa Sadikman argues that it’s the hosts’ choice full stop, the world doesn’t revolve around your children.

 

It’s Not Okay That You Didn’t Invite My Baby to Your Wedding

By Debi Lewis

images-2In the swirling cold of a winter fourteen years ago, my husband and I called all of our closest family members to announce joyfully that we were expecting our first child at the end of May: the first baby on both sides.

After the news sunk in, I received a phone call from my brother’s fiancé. I liked her and the way she and my brother had fallen for each other. Their romance was lovely, and their engagement quick. I’d only met her a few times, but my brother sounded so happy and talked about her so much that I felt like I knew her. Their wedding was planned for the end of June, and she’d asked me to be a bridesmaid.

She called me at work and asked if I had time to talk about something.

“I want to offer you some help,” she said. “When you come for the wedding, I know the baby will be so little…I wanted to offer to help you find a good babysitter.” In the moment, I didn’t understand. It was my first baby; the idea of a babysitter had not even occurred to me, and so, at first, I considered it: did I want one? And then, I had my very first intense parental instinct, and it whispered insistently inside my head: hell no.

“That is so sweet of you, Carrie*,” I answered, “but I can’t imagine wanting a babysitter. The baby will be nearly brand new! My brother said you’ll be inviting my mother-in-law, which is fantastic. I’ll just ask her to hold the baby during the ceremony. I think that should be fine.”

Carrie paused, and then said: “Well, we’re not really having children at the wedding.”

I know now, years later, that the topic of whether babies or young kids should be allowed at weddings has been debated ad nauseam. There are dozens of articles that take each side of the question, and then hundreds more that analyze the merits of setting a cut-off age, hiring a babysitter, inviting children to the party but not the service or the service but not the party, and every other permutation of making a wedding work for families that include children.

When Carrie told me that they weren’t having children at their wedding, my stunned response was that I wouldn’t be bringing a child, I’d be bringing a baby. That baby would not be able to cry loud enough to be heard from behind a sanctuary door, or run up the aisle and grab flower petals, or throw food at the reception. That baby would be nestled against me in a sling or sleeping in someone’s arms. I could not for the life of me understand how that newborn baby—who would be whisked away by my mother-in-law if she made any noise—posed a threat to the success of her wedding. But after a while, the real reason the baby wasn’t invited emerged: the bride did not want to “compete” with it.

While I believe that the bride and groom are the stars of the day, the idea that a baby might usurp that stardom says much more about the wedding couple than it does about the baby in question. There are many solutions to the concern about interruptions and distractions potentially posed by a child at a wedding: a frank conversation with the parents about the amount of noise the bride and groom will tolerate; a relative or friend poised to take a crying or fussing kid out of earshot; or, if none of those is possible, the suggestion that the child only be present for portions of the celebration where their noise won’t be noticed. If distraction is the main concern, that is easily managed.

To be clear, I accept that it is the wedding couple’s prerogative. If the question under consideration is, “Does etiquette allow for a couple to invite only adults to their wedding?” the answer is yes. It allows for a bride and groom to invite only the people they want to invite. If, however, the question is, “Is this decision likely to affect your relationship with the parents whose children you are excluding?” the answer is also, unequivocally, yes.

There are as many acceptable ways to get married or stage an event as there are people who stage them, but none is without consequences. The consequence of not inviting a guest’s children is that the guest is likely to feel their children are unwelcome—both at the event and, to some degree, in the hearts of the hosts. Parents might welcome an opportunity to leave their children at home, but an invitation for the entire family allows the parents themselves to make that choice. Being forced to decide between an occasion and one’s children is something a parent will never forget, and that parent will remember the hosts as the ones who forced the decision. For more casual relationships, maybe this doesn’t matter. For close family, it probably does.

No matter how acceptable the decision made by my brother and his wife was according to the rules of etiquette, there is no getting around the tone they set. This applies to any couple at their wedding; when they choose to exclude the children in their extended family, the wedding ceases to be a celebration of their two families joining together. It is not the prelude to a life of messy beauty and generosity. While it is a performance that they have every right to choreograph, the way they do so sends a message about their priorities.

When I remember my brother’s wedding, I don’t remember the beautiful ceremony, the joy on the bride’s face, or the love with which my brother must have given her their first kiss as husband and wife. I remember the bride’s grandmother coming to me at the reception and grabbing my hands. “Where is that new baby?” she demanded. “Why didn’t you bring her!?”

I steeled myself, my breasts aching, and answered. “She wasn’t invited.”

*This name has been changed.

Debi Lewis is the mother of two daughters and blogs regularly at swallowmysunshine.com. You can find her essays at Brain, Child Magazine, RoleReboot, Mamalode, The Mighty, Kveller, and ChicagoNow. She is currently at work on a memoir about her younger daughter’s journey through medical mystery.

 

It’s Okay If You Don’t Invite My Children to Your Wedding

By Lisa Sadikman

imagesMy husband and I sat in the front row nervously holding hands as the sanctuary filled with family and friends. In a few minutes, an emotional year of learning and planning would all come together as our eldest daughter chanted from the sacred scrolls to mark her bat mitzvah. Our two younger daughters, ages ten and four, were sitting with us. Well, the ten-year-old was sitting. The four-year-old was squirming around as she set up her miniature princess dolls. At least she wasn’t making too much noise—yet. Ten minutes into the service, however, she decided to crawl under the seats to look for the sparkly silver flats she’d immediately shucked when we came in.

“Here they are Mommy!” she yelped, flinging them excitedly in my lap.

“You have to sit down honey,” I whisper-yelled. “Your sister is about to start.” She gave me that classic you-can’t-make-me grin and took off up the main aisle. My husband and I looked at each other, exasperated, the decision made. I followed her out the double doors and took her down to childcare. She’d lasted all of 12 minutes.

Not every event, be it a bat mitzvah, wedding or run-of-the-mill party, is meant for children of a certain age or children at all. While excluding kids, even babies, from grown-up events may seem harsh or selfish, hosts have every right to invite whomever they choose. Maybe they’re on a tight budget. Maybe the venue isn’t kid-friendly. Maybe they simply don’t want kids at their event.  

This is not a popular stance to take, especially if you’re a parent. In a culture that encourages us to include our kids at every turn, it can be difficult to be okay with leaving them out. From the moment we give birth, we are urged to wear our babies, sleep near them, nurse them and be in physical contact with them as much as possible. When my first daughter was born, my worldview altered dramatically. Instead of wondering how to get a reservation at the latest hotspot, I wondered whether or not she’d nursed enough. Instead of logging hours at the gym, I logged the color and time of day of each dirty diaper. Waking and sleeping, showering and eating, my ability to carry on a coherent conversation all depended on the needs and demands of the baby.

Without question, my world revolved around my child and then two children and now three, to varying degrees. Whether we mean to or not, we often place our kids in the center of our universe, at least for certain periods of time. That doesn’t mean everyone else has to, though.  

While I wasn’t ever invited to an event without my girls while they were infants, if I had been, I’m sure I would have been indignant and angry: How could so-and-so expect me to leave my newborn at home? If they really wanted me there, I figured, they would understand that I have to bring the baby with me. These are valid feelings and arguments. But just as the host has the right to include whomever they choose, I have to right to opt out of the event. As a parent, I think you have to be willing to swallow your disappointment and, in some cases, outrage and RSVP “Will Not Attend.” If it’s an event you really can’t miss, such as the wedding of a close family member, you might need to find another solution: shell out for a babysitter or bring a caregiver with you.

Depending on their ages, having kids present at a grown-up party, performance, service or ceremony is stressful and distracting. They can change the dynamic of an event with a cry, a giggle or an ill-timed potty break. Just the act of having to walk them out of the venue can shift the atmosphere. I’ve learned that no amount of cajoling or bribing guarantees that they’ll behave “nicely” or even semi-appropriately simply because they’re at an adult event. Even if by some miracle they do, my attention is quietly divided between whomever I’m talking to, tracking their whereabouts and keeping an eye on the clock so we don’t totally blow their bedtime. It’s exhausting.

The boundaries between parent and child often feel almost nonexistent. We tote our kids on every errand, take them to our appointments with us and dedicate entire weekends to watching their sport games and recitals. They hang out with us while we pee and interrupt our phone conversations with snack requests. We eschew Date Night for Family Time, or, if we’re desperate, we take them with us on a sort of hybrid Family Date. We’ve given up on relaxing, grown-up vacations instead opting for hyperactive family trips that include amusement parks, water slides or both.

My parents had no problem leaving me and my younger sister at home while they went on vacation or to an event or even over to the neighbor’s house—and we were fine with it too. Whether it’s financial or time constrains, the lack of safe and caring support systems, or a parenting philosophy that says we must spend all of our waking—and sometimes sleeping—hours with our kids, most of us simply don’t indulge in adult-only time.

The truth is, I’m relieved when my kids aren’t invited to social occasions with me. Having permission to leave them at home without feeling guilty is a gift. It’s an opportunity to reclaim myself, collect my scattered parts and recharge in ways only possible in the company of other adults. I think it’s also healthy for my kids to see me and my husband as individuals apart from them and for them to develop relationships with other caregivers, like older siblings, grandparents and babysitters. It’s okay for them to realize that the whole world is not actually their oyster—at least not just yet.

 
Lisa Sadikman is a writer living in Northern California with her husband and three girls. Her work has appeared in The Huffington Post, Scary Mommy, Club Mid, Brain, Child Magazine, Mamalode and others. You can read more about her adventures parenting a teen, a tween and a preschooler, managing marriage and living a grown up life on her blog, Flingo and by following her on Twitter @LisaSadikman.

 

Join us on Twitter this Thursday, 11/5, at 1:00 EST for a discussion on this issue. We welcome your thoughts and perspectives. Please remember to use the hashtag #braindebate.

Having Kids Strengthened My Marriage/Having a Kid Strained My Marriage: Two Perspectives

Having Kids Strengthened My Marriage/Having a Kid Strained My Marriage: Two Perspectives

Having children together is a big step in any couple’s relationship and one that will invariably affect the dynamic between them. For some people, like Zsofia McMullin, the arrival of a baby can put a strain on the marriage. For others, such as Carinn Jade, the joint act of childrearing can pull a couple closer together.

 

Having Kids Strengthened My Marriage

By Carinn Jade

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My husband and I met in law school, both of us on the clearly marked path to becoming lawyers. We built our relationship on equal ground, walking parallel and in the same direction. With a healthy chemistry, complementary personalities and a similar vision of marriage, careers and kids, we felt confident as we moved swiftly towards our future together.

We were in sync, but we never learned to operate as a unit. This reality set in only after the outpouring of love and support that held us up during our engagement celebrations fell away, and everyone else moved on with their lives once the wedding was over. We knew we were expected to do the same, but we didn’t know how. We felt unsure and alone as the new entity of “married couple.” We dealt with those feelings of isolation in very different ways, causing our parallel paths to hastily diverge.

We broke the vows we’d made—love, honor, cherish, for better or worse—like naughty schoolchildren testing boundaries, and no one came to save us. When we arrived at the point of collapse, we faced one another with the daunting choice to stay together or divorce. On paper, it would have been easy to leave: we had been living apart, we had no children, we had absolutely no idea how to fix us. Yet neither one of us could do it. That visceral knowledge has proven powerful beyond measure. Surviving that period created some sort of invincibility shield that has protected us from everything else life throws our way.

Once our marriage was on solid ground, we dove headfirst into starting a family. While we waited for the baby to arrive, I soothed my anxiety with knowledge, reading dozens of parenting manuals. When our son was born, colickly and high maintenance, the books went out the window and we operated in a constant state of emergency. Our strategy was nothing less than all hands on deck. Our teamwork was shoddy, our interactions tense. But as our son grew, we grew, and soon the parenting machine ran without mechanical failures.

Our second child completed our transformation from individuals into a team. With a toddler and a newborn, we quickly learned to operate not only with efficiency, but with gratitude for the other adult in the room. My husband’s extra pair of hands provided the relief I needed after a long day at home, his office stories kept me sane amidst a sea of cartoon theme songs, his sense of humor kept me laughing when I wanted to cry.

Despite the fact that I’ve held full-time positions during my six years as a mother, our division of domain always remains shockingly traditional. I’m the lead parent and he’s the lead provider, but we manage careers, money, childcare and household chores together. It’s never easy or simple, but it’s part of our lives. We do all the cooking and cleaning and childcare by ourselves. We don’t have a bankroll to fund tropical island vacations. We are mired in the unsexy, mind-numbing details of domestic life, but our marriage thrives because we work as a team to set and achieve the goals for our family: we debate approaches to discipline, we budget for Legoland, we squirrel away money for higher education.

We do not share all marital responsibilities equally, but we maintain tremendous respect for one another. We treat each other with as much kindness as we can muster. We make no space for contempt and bitterness. We put all our effort into empathy and communication. At the end of the day, I suspect our marriage looks like so many that are strained. Many an evening we’ve gone to bed angry, exhausted and frustrated. But by morning’s light, we shed the tension like the cloak of night. We begin the day in the same bed, as part of the same team.

It helps that I think my husband is as interesting and entertaining as the day we first met. We love doing the same things, we enjoy the stories the other brings to the table, and our vastly different perspectives offer a wider view of the world than we could ever have alone. Do we annoy each other? Yes. Consider the other’s ways of doing things mildly infuriating? Of course. But after eleven years of marriage our initial chemistry has deepened into an unshakeable rapport. I’d rather spend my days with no one else.

Friends often want to know our secret to having a stronger marriage after kids. Sometimes I dip into my well of possible answers: live in close physical proximity to one another (think: Tiny House, or a 1000 sq. ft. apartment), find someone who shares your interests, pick a partner that makes you laugh. If you’ve got nerves of steel: bend your marriage until you find its breaking point and work your way back. But the truth is I don’t have a single ingredient that ensures a relationship will thrive, with or without kids; I only know the magic recipe is one you have to make together, even when the kitchen is a mess.

Carinn Jade is a mother, lawyer, yogi, writer and habitual non-sleeper. She tweets @carinnjade and publishes parenting essays on Welcome To The Motherhood, both in an effort to distract her from the novel her agent has in submission.

Photo: Somin Khanna

 

Having a Kid Strained My Marriage

By Zsofia McMullin

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The story I like to tell about how having a child strained my marriage takes place on the third day of our son’s life. We had just arrived home from the hospital with our tiny, precious baby. My parents were waiting for us with dinner and a house warmed against the snowstorm winding down outside. All I wanted to do was eat a bowl of soup and go to bed.

But we had bills to pay. As in, some of our utility bills were due soon and when my mom offered to help us, my husband immediately accepted and asked her to take them to the post office. But first, I had to write those bills—we’ve always done it this way, because my husband has horrible handwriting and is distrustful of online payment.

So there I was, ripped and bleeding and sore and so, so incredibly tired, writing checks to the electric company. I remember sitting there, thinking that this was absurd, that I should really just tell my husband to cut me some slack and deal with the bills on his own while I took a shower. But I think I was even too tired to do that.

Five years later, I am sort of able to laugh about this. But at the same time I know that first moment at home has come to symbolize how our marriage changed almost instantly when our son was born. All of a sudden, I had needs and wants and priorities that were completely different from what they were just mere days earlier. My husband’s world jiggled a little with the new arrival, but then it settled right back to where it was before.

I don’t want to paint my husband as insensitive, nor do I want to suggest that keeping our marriage strong is his responsibility alone. Clearly, there are two of us in this relationship, and if there is strain, we are both at fault.

But still, that discrepancy between how my life has changed since our son arrived, in the mind-blowing way it can for mothers, and how his life has stayed the same continues to be a fault line in our marriage. And yet, I have come think of it as a gift, as something unique that I carry as a mother, along with my stretch marks. My husband didn’t get those either, that’s just the way it is.

Before kids I was able to be more tolerant of my husband’s eccentricities and whims, I had patience for whatever “typical male” behavior would surface and just roll my eyes and then roll with the punches. I was a lot more forgiving with him—and with myself. Once our son was born, however, whatever grace or patience I had left me. What was once a cute, quirky personality trait that made me smile during our dating days, became a huge annoyance, a problem. My husband didn’t really change—I did.

Having a kid was not the first strain on our marriage. There was the usual tension during our newlywed years caused by not being used to living together, by not having enough money, by moving around for jobs and constantly compromising about careers and where to live. “We made it through those all right,” he said. “Having a kid is just another one we have to get through.”

But to me, this is not some kind of a race to clear hurdles. This strain feels more abiding. We will always be parents, our son a permanent fixture in our relationship, the third point in our triangle. We will always have differing views on how to raise him—we are getting better about negotiating those differences, but the conflict is there nevertheless. And frankly, I will always be a mother first, and a wife second.

We married pretty young—we were both 26. Looking back I realize I was too young to be able to determine what I would need the father of my child to be. At that point, there was just no way to imagine us as parents. The roles were too unfamiliar, too open to interpretation and circumstances. Sure, he is loving and tender and gentle and flexible and caring and understanding. But how could I possibly have known how he would react when I thrust a baby in his arms? I was surprised, for instance, that even bleary-eyed with exhaustion my husband loves order, that he is a disciplinarian and says things to our son like, “not while you live in my house.”

The truth is, we don’t know what life would have done to us without a child. The arrival of our son strained us, but it hasn’t broken us. We have good weeks and bad weeks, days when we can be patient and kind and forgiving and days when we can barely look at each other through our resentment and anger. It has been hard work to get to this point where we know that, although the way we express our commitment to our family is different, we are both motivated by love.

Our marriage has changed—I don’t know if I would call it a rift, but there is a separation there, a distance between who we used to be, how we used to be together, and how we are now.

Zsofia McMullin is a writer with recent essays in The New York Times, The Washington Post, The Butter, and several other publications. She blogs at zsofiwrites.com and she is on Twitter as @zsofimcmullin.

 

Should Young Girls Be Allowed to Wear Bikinis?

Should Young Girls Be Allowed to Wear Bikinis?

Yes!

By Daisy Alpert Florin

485204867-1My nine-year-old daughter, Ellie, is going to sleep away camp this summer, and the packing list calls for four bathing suits, but “no two-pieces.” While I understand the likely reason for this rule—one-piece suits might be more appropriate for active play—it still irritates me because it seems to imply that there is something shameful about young girls wearing bikinis, so much so that they are forbidden.

In our house, bikinis and one-pieces are both suitable choices for swimming. I have purposely not drawn a line between the two because I don’t want Ellie to think there is a big deal about choosing to show more or less of her body. Granted, a string bikini might not be the best choice for swimming or cannonballing into the lake. But a well-fitting two-piece suit that gives her room to play and can easily be pulled down for bathroom breaks—well, I don’t see anything wrong with that.

When Ellie was little, I dressed her in one-piece bathing suits simply because they fit her better. If she wore a two-piece suit, I discarded the top and let her run around in just the bottoms. Putting a bikini top on a pudgy toddler chest seemed impractical to me, but I didn’t have a problem with parents who did. For the most part, I think mothers (and it is usually mothers) have fun dressing up their daughters in tiny versions of their own clothing, be it skinny jeans or bomber jackets or bikinis. I did this to Ellie myself when she was small, but by the time she was four she would have none of that, and I had to respect her decision to dress herself the way that made her most comfortable.

I prefer a bikini to a one-piece suit because I like the way it looks on me, plain and simple, so why should I ask my daughter to do anything different? I trust her internal monitor to signal when something feels right for her, and when it doesn’t. I want Ellie to carry herself without shame, and telling her not to wear a certain article of clothing might suggest that there is something wrong with showing a part of herself. I think there is a fine line between modesty and shame.

When they were first introduced in the 1940s, bikinis—which take their name from the Bikini Atoll, a site of U.S. nuclear testing—were considered dangerous, explosive even. Early in their history, they were banned in several countries and declared sinful by the Vatican. This idea of female sexuality as wild and destabilizing might seem silly to modern sensibilities, but forbidding our young daughters from wearing bikinis seems to be an extension of that kind of thinking.

There is something about girls and their burgeoning sexuality that we as a culture—and as parents—still find threatening. We worry about our girls growing up too fast because we feel there is something scary about female sexuality, and watching them step into that murky landscape terrifies us, when it ought to be something to celebrate. But our daughters don’t stay little girls forever of course, so what’s the tipping point when wearing a bikini is suddenly okay?

Nine years old was the last time for a long while that I saw only the good in my body—its strength, beauty and possibility. At nine, I hadn’t yet started to judge my body against some external ideal. Puberty hit me hard and by thirteen, far from wearing a skimpy bikini, I went to the beach wearing an oversized t-shirt covering my bathing suit. Even then I can remember wanting to go back to the version of myself that still felt beautiful and powerful. Now, at 42, I wear a bikini all summer and try to do it with confidence; I hope it sets a good example for my daughter.

Watching Ellie move through the world without self-consciousness about her body brings me a bittersweet joy. I want to bottle that feeling so she can always access it, opening it every now and then for a whiff. Because I know it doesn’t last. The world is hard for girls that way.

But maybe if Ellie wore a bikini now, those two pieces would imprint on her somehow. Maybe by owning her body in all its glory now would help her bank some self-love for later on, for 13 and 25 and 42—for whenever she needs it. Maybe wearing a bikini now would help her love her body that much more for that much longer.

Daisy Alpert Florin is a writer, editor and mother of three. A native New Yorker, she lives, works and lounges poolside in Connecticut. 

 

No!

By Sharon Holbrook

159626626It was a beautiful, warm June day on our backyard deck, where we were celebrating my daughter’s birthday. She pulled a little flowered tankini out of one of her grandma’s gift bags, and Nana hastily announced, “It’s open in the back, but it’s not sexy!” I sure hope not. It was my daughter’s second birthday.

My mother-in-law already knew my feelings on this subject, and kindly respected them. I don’t care for bikinis, or any other “sexy” clothing, on little girls.

I’m usually hands-off about clothes, almost to an extreme. My daughters dig through their drawers and match or mismatch as they like. I don’t care if they wear pants or dresses or—as on one recent school day—a bandanna around the 7-year-old’s hair, an ankle-length flowered skirt over patterned leggings, and a brown velour bolero jacket inherited from her cousin. “You look like a fortune teller,” her older brother commented, not unkindly.

When I do draw a line about clothing, I like to have a good reason. Icy winter day? Must be warm from head to toe. Special occasion? Be respectful, and wear something a notch or two above the everyday. Dirty or damaged clothes? Just, no. Underwear showing, very short skirt, super tight leggings on the butt? Cover it up, because those areas are private.

Not surprisingly, bikinis don’t pass my modesty rules. Sure, we’re all wearing small, tightish clothes at the beach, because that’s just a practical reality if you want to move in the water. I don’t think anyone in their right mind wants to return to those awful bathing dresses of a century ago.

But a bikini takes it to another level, and its small size has nothing to do with practicality. A bikini is meant to emphasize the breasts, hips, and bare skin of a woman in a sexy way. That’s the whole appeal of it, and it’s why men are such big fans of the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, right?

That focus on and sexualization of the body isn’t appropriate for girls. One could argue that it’s innocently silly when a toddler’s little pot belly pops out of a teeny two-piece. Adults laugh and wink and say, “Isn’t that cute?” Amid the attention, the little one learns to vamp for others, to entertain them with her looks, her body, and the way she’s dressed.

Instead, the longer we can protect girls from focus on and display of their physical selves, the stronger and more mature they will be when they meet the full reality of a world obsessed with their bodies.

Their round babyish selves seem to turn lean and leggy overnight, then rounder again with the buds of breasts and the swell of hips and, before we know it, their bodies are womanly in every way. We owe them clothing and modesty rules that are consistent over the years and don’t fixate on or show off their bodies at any given moment—that let their bodies just be their own.

When she’s four, it means we can allow her a little girl body, instead of imitating sexy grown-up clothes and pointing exactly to where she’s going to have boobs someday. She can wear simple, practical clothes that allow her to run, jump, play, and swim with ease.

When she’s eight or nine, it means she can still be a little girl, even if she’s entering puberty early, an increasingly common reality. It means we don’t have to burden her with why she suddenly shouldn’t wear a bikini top that emphasizes her budding breasts, when it was okay before, a conversation that might make her feel her perfectly normal body changes are somehow shameful.

Even when she’s fourteen, though my daughter might argue otherwise, it means protecting her from her own sense that her body is all grown up, and therefore she is too. Just because her body has sexualized does not mean she has the maturity to take on all aspects of her brand-new sexuality. Sure, like all women, she’ll have to learn to sift through the admiration and catcalls and come-ons. But she needn’t come out of the gate into that reality wearing a bikini.

Through all those stages, her body is just as it should be, a beautiful thing, neither to be flaunted for attention nor covered up by shame. And when it comes time for bikinis, if she’s someday interested, it will be when she herself has the adult maturity and sense to know — and handle — what a bikini says: “Look at me!”

Sharon Holbrook is a freelance writer, who lives with her family in Cleveland, Ohio. Find more from her at sharonholbrook.com, and on Twitter @216Sharon.

Please join us TODAY, Thursday, 7/9, at 1:00 p.m. EST for our July Twitter party to discuss the issues. Remember to use the hashtag #braindebate

 

Photos: gettyimages

Join Brain, Child’s Great Debate!

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Please join us on Thursday, 7/9, at 1:00 p.m. EST for our July Twitter party, to discuss whether bikinis are suitable for young girls. Should parents limit bikini wearing because it attracts attention and focuses on a young girl’s sexuality or is allowing bikinis simply a form of self-expression we should support and encourage?

Remember to use the hashtag #braindebate.

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Please join us on Thursday, 6/4, at 1:00 p.m. EST at a Twitter party, to discuss the different approaches parents take when a young child doesn’t sleep through the night. Did you let your baby “cry it out” or did you “wait it out’? Remember to use the hashtag #braindebate. We would love to hear your views.Remember to use the hashtag #braindebate.

We would love to hear your views.

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Should A Parent Who Shares Joint Custody Be Allowed to Move Out of the Area?

Should A Parent Who Shares Joint Custody Be Allowed to Move Out of the Area?

NO

By Stewart Crank Jr.

Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 5.48.59 PMYears ago, my children lived with me half the time, and I shared in the responsibilities and celebrations of their life. We ate breakfast together; I took them to school; I celebrated their birthdays (on their birthdays) with them, woke up every Christmas with them, packed their lunch, and knew their friends. Although my ex-wife and I were finished, I remained firmly planted in their everyday lives.

Then, for reasons of her own, my ex-wife moved with our children seventy-five miles away, to another state. My lawyer told me that there was nothing I could do.

That was six-and-a-half years ago. Now I see my kids about once a month over a weekend and have gone as long as two months without seeing them at all. I know their friends by name and some by face, but only from pictures. I have spent as much as two-and-a-half hours (with traffic around Washington D.C., the metropolis planted between the kids and me) driving one way to see a play. I’ve watched the play, seen my children for five minutes, and then turned around to come home. Attending their events like this is difficult at best, and between work and the drive, sometimes impossible. Stopping by and grabbing them for dinner has become a four- or five-hour event versus a two-hour event. None of their friends has ever stayed the night at my house. This unfortunate situation is only bearable because the kids and I are very close despite our lack of time together.

As parents, our children should be our first priority in life. And study after study—published everywhere from the Journal of Family Psychology to Psychology and Health—has shown that the best possible situation for children and parents of divorce is to retain as much of the support and access that was in place prior to the separation of the family unit. It should be the exception, if not illegal, to take the children more than a reasonable distance from a willing and able parent. Ideally, parents would live right around the corner from each other, a bike ride away for the child.

When one parent moves away from the children or one parent moves away with the children, it creates an environment that is painful and challenging for both the children and that parent who suddenly spends less time with them. For any child, it is bad enough that the parents’ inability to maintain their commitments as husband and wife has left that child with two homes instead of one—placing a great distance between these two homes adds insult to injury.

With the advent of e-mail, social networks, and text messaging, many people may feel that the connection to our children can be maintained at any distance—and believe me, it does help keep us in touch. Yet nothing beats a parent and child’s walking down the street, hand in hand, or the ability to share in the day-to-day activities of doctor visits, school pickups, helping with homework, eating meals together, or simply being in their presence.

Children who have a distant or absent biological parent are statistically more likely to develop social problems like violence, drug abuse, and unhealthy sexual relationships. No parent out there feels this would be in the best interest of his or her child. And still, every day, divorced or estranged parents make the decision to place distance between a child and a parent.

It’s a selfish act—whether you are the parent moving the child away from the parent or the parent moving away from the child. The children are the ones who suffer the most. They have no control over the situation. They don’t have the coping skills that grown-ups do. The parents may claim good reasons for the move—and there are good reasons. People find better job opportunities; they move closer to family; they remarry. But I’d argue that it’s rare to find a reason good enough to trump a child’s need for his or her other parent.

My own father and mother may disagree with this statement because a big move is exactly what happened in our lives. I still have the letter my father gave me at Dulles Airport when I was ten years old, on my way to live in California. His letter confirmed his unconditional love for me, despite our impending distance from one another. It still makes me cry when I read it, twenty-eight years later. My mother, stepfather, sisters, and I moved from California to London, and my father to Kitty Hawk, North Carolina. It wasn’t a bad life at all—winters in London, summers at the beach—but not a day went by that I didn’t yearn for a more consistent relationship with my father. I often wonder how different my life and my choices would be had he not lived so far from us and had we spent more time together. I compare my own life with those of my half brother and sister, who were raised full time with him, and see a stark contrast in our lifestyles and our viewpoints. It makes me wonder if I would have found a calmer path in my own life had he been more present.

In recent years, even the courts have started recognizing that equal access is best for the children. In Florida, for instance, the court is legally obligated to order that parental responsibility for a minor child be shared by both parents, unless it is detrimental to the child. In Alabama, the law states that both parents have an equal right to the custody of their children. As our society evolves, we should see more courts shifting toward default laws that support joint custody. Terms like “equal access,” “shared parenting,” and “proximity” are repeated through the thousands of words I have read on this very subject. Laws affecting shared parenting rights are being scrutinized throughout the country.

Regardless of the law, we should all try to keep our children close to both parents. We should do this because we love our children deeply and want to give them the best odds of flourishing. Is there a purer motive than that?

Stewart Crank Jr. is a father and editor who lives in Virginia.

 

YES

By Sarah Clayton
Screen Shot 2015-04-10 at 5.49.13 PMI handed my nine-year-old son’s violin over to his stepmother and, in that moment, felt my own heart slip out of tune.

“This is not a toy,” I said, knowing this sounded harsh, but I was too bereft to explain myself in any other way. I was delivering my two young sons, ages nine and eleven, to their father’s home in suburban Connecticut, five hundred miles from my own rural home in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia. They would be there for the next three years, and I would be the visiting parent, as their father had been for the first four years of our divorce.

In that short yet interminable moment of delivery and departure, I began to understand what the majority of fathers go through in divorces; in saying good-bye, they know they will see their children only in fragments of time, shards of days and hours. I had had the luxury of uninterrupted time with my sons since they were in utero. Now it was my turn to live with them in fragments.

And it was the right thing to do. After all, they are as much his children as mine, a fact often forgotten in divorce situations. Plus, my ex-husband was remarried, an event essential to my agreeing to let the boys go; I needed to know that someone would be there when they got home from school. The boys were also approaching puberty, and, unless a father is abusive or disinterested, boys need to cross that great bar into manhood in his presence. And all children of divorce, whether boys or girls, need to know their fathers as real people—complete with weaknesses and strengths and idiosyncrasies—and not just the Good Time Charlies children usually see during the short, weekend visit.

It wasn’t that I’d stopped loving the boys’ father when we separated; I simply couldn’t live with him anymore. We wanted different lives and couldn’t seem to find a compromise. But just because their father and I had different views on what we wanted didn’t mean the boys couldn’t enjoy both of us and both our worlds. It didn’t mean those worlds had to be around the block from each other, though.

Sometimes a parent’s needs trump a child’s when it comes to living arrangements. To be a successful mother at that time, I needed to regain my once imperturbable core of happiness. That meant getting as far away from my ex-husband as possible. To his credit, he was gracious enough to let me take the boys to England, the land of my mother.

The boys thrived there. By the time we left, three months later, my withdrawn older son, six-year-old Nicholas, sang a solo in the local school play. My younger son, Chris, renowned at four years old for his whiny nature, found his peace and became a delightful companion as we explored the fields and villages of Dorset. We all needed that break from the other world. And here on the banks of Chesil Beach, the boys got their mother back.

We moved back to Virginia, the land of my youth, when I learned that my father’s cancer was terminal. The boys’ father would come for a visit, and I’d fill my house with the food and wine he liked, then move out so he could have the boys to himself. It caused the least disruption in the boys’ routine and made it less stressful for him.

Then he got married, and it was time for them to leave me. I was eviscerated. They were thrilled. They loved their little stepbrother, and the minute we reached their father’s house, the three boys were off, overflowing with the joy of beginning life together. Heart unstrung, I was awash with worry: Would their father read them to sleep as I did? Would he keep Chris’s violin playing going, Nicholas’s running?

During those three years with their father, I saw the boys whenever possible. We’d head off to ski or to the beach, and once we slipped over the border into Canada to celebrate Nicholas’s thirteenth birthday. We had a ball, and I became Good Time Charlie. This was fun.

But it wasn’t necessarily easy. I went up for Chris’s first violin concert when he was nine. “Chris is an excellent violinist,” his conductor/teacher said. “But he would be even better if he remembered to bring his violin to school.”

I despaired. Why didn’t his father remind this uprooted child to take his violin to school? And why wasn’t Nicholas running? But I couldn’t deny it; the boys were thriving. I realized it didn’t matter that things weren’t done as I would have done them. They were happy to see me and happy to be with their father. In one great exhalation, I let go of my worries. Mothers, it seems to me, tend to think only they can raise the children. But fathers have every right to share their vision and talents, too.

When the boys came back to me three years later, they once again took to the mountains, swam the rivers, and reveled in the freedom of country life.

When their father called, they slipped back into their Connecticut world. They’d come to know their father as a three-dimensional person, just as they knew me, with all our faults and strengths. They had been immersed in and enriched by both worlds and both parents in a way they might not, had we lived closer.

Many people criticized me for taking the boys so far away from their father; many were in awe that I’d let them go live with him for that great length of time. But it seemed the right thing to do, and I’ve had to conclude, watching the boys turn into fine young men, now twenty-seven and twenty-five, that it is okay for parents to move away from each other after a divorce as long as they honor the other’s role as viable parent.

I’ve also realized that after divorce—after ripping apart the fabric of the family—it’s important for parents to first regain themselves. As they say in the airplane safety instructions: “Put on your own oxygen mask before helping others.” Sometimes, it takes moving away to give both of you, ex-husband and ex-wife, time to put on your own oxygen masks and begin to breathe freely once more.

And, in the end, it was the boys, in growing up, who moved away from both of us.

Sarah Clayton, the mother of three sons, lives in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia where she writes travel pieces and essays for The New York Times, The Washington Post, San Francisco Chronicle and National Public Radio, among others. She also writes romance books.

Brain, Child (Fall 2010)

Should You Let Your Teen Have Sex In Your Home?

NO!

By Patricia Stacey

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 9.29.06 AMShe was balm wounds, soul of sweet comfort foods, backrubber, and confessor. Yet, one day in fourth grade, as my class marched into the auditorium to see our first sex-ed film, everything in my being shrieked: “No No No! It can’t be!” What was my mother doing there?

I wonder why as a kid I was so excruciatingly embarrassed to expose my own sexuality to my parents. The answer, I think, lies in the mysteries of nature and instinct itself: Sex and parents simply don’t mix well. They aren’t meant to.

When we talk about teens having sex in the family house, we’re talking about two distinct messages. The first is that sex, adult sex, full blown going-all-the-way-with-a-cigarette-and-a-shower kind of sex is a healthy choice for a teen. I disagree. The second message is pushing it even further—that it’s okay to have it around your parents. Double disagree. For one thing, we are not supposed to be hotelier to our kid’s sexual fantasies. To do so is to overstep the boundaries of the parent/child relationship.

Yes, it is our job to educate our kids about sex, to both arm and grace them with truths about sexuality, to discuss the joy of loving, committed communion and the importance of birth control, but beyond that I believe it’s important to provide our children with a boundary around their sexuality that we don’t often cross. The sexual boundary between children and their parents is a sacred one; crossing it, we intrude in a place we have no business being.

One day when I was about six years old, during a visit to my cousin’s house, I overheard my aunt and mother talking in my aunt’s bedroom. “I’m bored by sex,” said my aunt. “It was so much more fun when we did it secretly in our folks’ basement.” And she swept her hand around her room in a dismissive way to indicate that her queen-sized bed was a total downer.

My aunt’s confession reveals an important fact about sex, identity, and individuality. Sex is about privacy. If you offer your kids a place to do it you are co-opting their sexuality, taming it, and implicating yourself into it. That is a huge disservice to your teen. Let’s face it: Sex is our first exploration of who we are as a budding individual separate from our family. Sexuality, if it’s really going to be good, isn’t something your mother offers you as a mid-day snack: It’s strange and beautiful, mysterious and deeply personal. Whatever else it is, it is something that you steal for yourself, you take for yourself, and you do by yourself. We need to give our kids direction, a strong sense of self, a thorough knowledge of the emotional and physical dangers of sex, but then we need to stay away. By staying away from our kid’s sex life (and not unwittingly pushing them into anything), we protect their privacy.

Sex in the home blurs boundaries. Psychologists say that it’s important to let our teens argue with us; they want and need to dispute. Teens are unwittingly longing for something to push against. It’s the parents’ job to stay firm—not rigid, not inflexible, not unwilling to negotiate—but standing strong as, say, an old tree. As teens push to get away from us, they hone their personalities, their egos, their sense of independence. But teens also live in emotional flood zones; they need a solid, standing structure to swim to when things get too turbulent. In offering a boundary we paradoxically offer a safe haven. The home should be a place where teens can retreat from the world, including the world of boyfriends or girlfriends. By normalizing sex, we are not providing the boundary that teens need. Instead, we could be pushing them into high water by effectively telling them that they are ready to handle more than they may be able to.

If adults let teens have sex in their homes, they are ignoring perhaps the most dangerous aspect of sex: its potential to do emotional damage. Sex can be fire. Given the proper amount of oxygen, it can and will consume everything in its path. Most young couples—even if they think they want that—are not ready for it. I would argue that most teens are way too immature to handle a full sexual relationship and all the emotional hazards implied.

When I was in high school, my good friend Anne’s mom was a rebel. She had a messy apartment with a poster hanging near the kitchen that said “Fuck Housework.” She took Anne to the OB/GYN, procured her the pill, and encouraged Anne’s boyfriend Jake to come over any time he wanted, whether she was at work or home. For weeks, every day after school, Jake and Anne walked the block from school to Anne’s apartment, and had intercourse. So why weren’t they ecstatically happy? They had everything that we all wanted. Still, they walked around the quad together at lunchtime and seemed to me to be diminished, haunted, miserable. I had the sense that their sex had reached a bored complacency even only after a few weeks. It was almost as if suddenly sex wasn’t theirs anymore, as if Anne’s mother had somehow taken sexuality away from them rather than offering a safe place for it.

But worse, I also saw how tortured Jake was when Anne went to India for a year with her father on his sabbatical. Endocrinologists explain that orgasm creates vast amounts of oxytocin, a hormone that, like a mythical love potion, can fiercely bond us to the individuals we are with when we experience them. In fact Jake was so devastated by Anne’s leaving—and her distancing herself in other ways—that he still talks about his hurt every time I see him. And he and Anne broke up thirty-five years ago.

Do we want our teens to bond so completely? Should this part of our lives be about lightness, experimentation, getting our feet wet? Or about jumping into the deep end?

I can well imagine parents deciding that letting a teen have sex at home will keep their teen’s sex safe. Doing so might be necessary for a small handful of wild kids, but not for the garden-variety teen. We need to arm them with important information about pregnancy and STDs, meaningful dialogues about the ways that they can be hurt emotionally, and then stand back and give a decently wide berth.

I would go so far as to argue that the American spirit requires a frontier—that for teens that frontier may be sex. But I mean small sex, slowly building—kissing and petting in a car—not hot and heaving sex on a luxury Posturepedic. That’s adult sexuality, with all its delicious gifts and thorny penalties. There’s plenty of time for that in coming years.

Patricia Stacey is the author of The Boy Who Loved Windows.

 

YES!

By C.J. Snow

Screen Shot 2015-02-22 at 9.29.06 AMMy daughter Kate is sixteen, a high school junior. She’s active on the school newspaper, a member of the band, an avid skier and mountain biker. She makes good grades, she’s nice to her parents and her little brother, and she wants to become a professional photographer one day.

She also has a boyfriend, Nate, who she’s been going out with for more than two years. Nate is seventeen, a senior at a prep school in a neighboring state, about three and a half hours from our home. Though he grew up in our town, his parents moved away two years ago, so this fall, my husband and I have started to invite him to stay with us when he comes to visit. When he’s here, he sleeps in Kate’s room. With Kate.

And we’re okay with that.

It helps that we thoroughly like Nate, who is smart and funny and sweet, the kind of kid who talks earnestly about politics at the dinner table, and then gets up to wash the dishes as a matter of habit. It helps that my husband and I don’t have any religious or moral objection to premarital sex. It helps that we’ve seen Kate and Nate interact for so long now that we’re confident they respect each other and that they are thoroughly in love. We know it’s way too early to consider it, but we’d be delighted if they got married one day.

I have friends who think it’s wrong to let Nate and Kate sleep together under our roof. (Not that we advertise it, of course, but our closest friends know the score.) They talk a lot about how it seems wrong for parents to “condone” their teen’s sex life. Many of my friends talk this way, even the one who has very carefully provided her daughter with birth control, as if providing the Pill weren’t also a pretty explicit sanction of the sex that’s going on.

Don’t get me wrong: I understand that there’s a fairly hefty “ick factor” here. About the only thing more uncomfortable than imagining your own parents’ sex lives has to be imagining your children’s. I get that. And believe me, my husband and I are not trying to co-opt Kate’s blossoming sexuality or insert ourselves in her relationship in some creepy, voyeuristic way. We don’t ask for details about what transpires between them (though it’s true that Kate offers a lot more to me than I ever would have to my own mother). For the most part, the two of them are very discreet. There’s not a whole lot of PDA when they’re around us. Maybe it’s because we’ve made it possible for them to have a time and place for the more intimate parts of their relationship, so they don’t have to let it spill over when they’re not alone.

I sometimes want to ask those of my friends who know their kids are having sex but who don’t want it to happen in their house what kind of message they believe they’re sending their teen. That sex is okay—but only in parked cars? Or in someone else’s den, at whoever’s house has no adult at the moment? That it’s okay, but only if you do it on the sly, in stolen moments padded by lies? Do they really think it’s wise or helpful to add the burden of furtiveness and guilt to something that might be emotionally complex enough as it is?

If you know your kids are having sex but you’re ignoring the reality that they must be having it somewhere, in my mind that’s akin to knowing they’re having sex but not making sure they have the means to protect themselves from sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies. Both involve a level of negligence, a stick-your-head-in-the-sand attitude, that strikes me as pretty irresponsible.

In our town, there are a number of parents who host parties for their high school-aged kids where alcohol is served. “They’re going to drink anyway, so I’d rather they did it safely at our house where we can keep an eye on them,” is their thinking. Is letting kids have sex in your home an analogous situation? I think it isn’t. In our state, for one thing, it’s illegal to serve alcohol to anyone under twenty-one. The age of sexual consent, on the other hand, is sixteen. Letting your own child drink alcohol in your house is one thing, but letting someone else’s kid break a law on your watch and on your premises is another.

Of course, there is one way in which the drinking and sex scenarios are similar: Both involve other people’s kids taking part in activities that are pretty controversial for adolescents. My husband and I know Nate’s parents only a little. We’ve spoken to them once or twice about Nate’s weekend trips to our home, but we’ve never talked directly about the sleeping arrangements. We’ve left Nate to broach that subject with them.

When your children embark on mature activities, I think you have to treat them in a mature way. Part of growing to a healthy adulthood is learning how to negotiate other people’s boundaries and comfort zones. Sometimes those other people are your parents. We want Kate to know that we support and respect the good choices she makes—and to learn how to offer us the same respect. So if, say, she were to bring home a guy she just met at a party to spend the night with her, we wouldn’t hesitate to tell her that that wasn’t okay, and why: because it wouldn’t be respectful to us (not to mention to herself).

What we want, ultimately, is to raise a child who knows that love and respect go hand in hand—and that sneaking and lying aren’t part of any good relation- ship. Where better to learn that than at home?

C.J. Snow is the pseudonym for a writer living in Michigan.

Brain, Child (Winter 2010)

Becoming a Mom Earlier in Life/Becoming a Mom Later in Life

Becoming a Mom Earlier in Life/Becoming a Mom Later in Life

How does the age at which you become a mother affect the shape of your life? Lisa Heffernan had her first son in her early thirties and Estelle Erasmus had her daughter in her mid-forties. Though the women are roughly the same age now, one of them has a Kindergartener in the house and one of them has an empty nest. Here they discuss the pros and cons of their respective situations.

 

I Became a Mother in My Early Thirties

By Lisa Heffernan

lisaheffThere is no ideal time to start a family, no perfect moment when all the pieces come together. In my immediate family, for example, we have seen new parenthood as young as 17 and as old as 47. My brother and my husband’s sister are exactly the same age and yet this year one became a parent and the other a grandparent. Welcoming a baby is something that is almost always accompanied by great joy, but that doesn’t mean the experience isn’t altered by the age at which you do it.

When I became pregnant with my first child, I was on the younger side, by today’s standards at least. Many of my closest friends were single and most of the ones who were married did not have kids yet. Suddenly I felt quite alone and utterly lacking in confidence. For nine months I wished I had friends with whom to share the experience and feared I would be truly lost once my baby arrived.

Within days of my son’s arrival I was invited to join a local baby group with other mothers who had given birth in recent weeks. A few of the women were my age but most were older. If there was one thing that put me at ease in that first year we spent meeting together, it was the realization that even those first-time mothers, who were a decade older than I was and had long successful careers, were feeling equally insecure about their new role. Confidence in motherhood, I have learned, comes with being a mother. And, in that group, we were all starting at square one.

That being said, it is an undeniable fact that fertility wanes with age, particularly for women. While becoming a mother younger doesn’t guarantee anything, it does shift the odds in your favor. And with more time, there is perhaps the option of more children, siblings spaced further apart, and the probability of fewer health risks to both mother and child.

As a woman who started her family earlier rather than later, I didn’t have my thirties to myself, but I feel that I had something better. I don’t wish I had done more before my kids were born, because after they emerged from toddlerhood, we had our adventures as a family. Whether it was something as simple as trying a new food or as thrilling as watching the look of astonishment on their faces as we disembarked at the Venice train station and beheld the Grand Canal, sharing the novelty made it better. My awe and wonder at the world has only been enhanced by experiencing so much for the very first time with my children in tow.

Having kids younger turned out to be a positive for my career as well, despite the prevailing wisdom that it is important to establish yourself, to build up some credibility and seniority before incurring the disruption of becoming a parent. I was a Wall Street trader before I had my kids. After they were in school, still in my 30s, I was able to completely start over and become an author.

In her seminal piece on women and work, Ann Marie Slaughter notes that, “Many of the top women leaders of the generation just ahead of me—Madeleine Albright, Hillary Clinton, Ruth Bader Ginsburg, Sandra Day O’Connor, Patricia Wald, Nannerl Keohane—had their children in their 20s and early 30s, as was the norm in the 1950s through the 1970s. A child born when his mother is 25 will finish high school when his mother is 43, an age at which, with full-time immersion in a career, she still has plenty of time and energy for advancement.” In her own life, having had her children at 38 and 40, Slaughter discovered that the most demanding years of her career coincided with her children’s adolescence, a situation which became untenable.

While the case for being a young mom almost always includes the argument that you will have more energy while your kids are small, I think this misses an equally important point. Do we really have more energy at 26 as opposed to say, 36 or 43? If so, it is marginal. But having kids younger does increase the chances of being a much younger grandparent. My father-in-law was in his mid 50s when my children were born. This means he has been able to enjoy everything from soccer to whitewater rafting to college visits with my sons and he has had the incomparable joy of watching them grow up as a vital presence in their lives. His relative youth has been a blessing to him, and them.

Life takes a major turn when our kids leave home. Having kids young means that, when your nest empties, you are not facing retirement but perhaps the best years of your career and the chance to take on new and even greater challenges. All around me I am watching friends who have become empty nesters in their 40s immersing themselves in a second career with decades of time in front of them in which to develop. Some parents find that after the day-to-day demand of having kids at home is over, there is a sense of liberation and excitement. The kids are launched, the career established or just beginning for the second time around and life feels full of possibility all over again.

Suddenly there is a release from the tyranny of the school schedule. Dinner out with friends on a Sunday night? Sure. A weekend away that starts on Thursday? Why not? What is less exciting is being among the last of your friends with kids still at home, watching all of this newfound freedom from the carpool line.

Lisa Heffernan is the author of three business books, including New York Times Business Bestseller Goldman Sachs: The Culture of Success. She co-writes a blog Grown and Flown and her work has appeared in Forbes, The Atlantic, The Huffington Post, and other publications. Lisa is married and has three sons. 

 

I Became a Mother in My Mid-Forties

By Estelle Erasmus

estelle_BLOG“You must be so happy. You must have wanted a baby forever,” the labor nurse said, smiling, as my husband and I left the hospital with our baby girl. After seeing me give birth in my forties, she must have imagined that motherhood had always been my dream. She was wrong.

I told my husband when we were dating that I didn’t want to have kids, that I didn’t think I was the maternal type. After a year of marriage, I saw what a great dad he’d make and convinced myself that I could also be a caring and capable parent. We faced my age-related infertility together and, with a little assistance from modern medicine, in midlife I became someone I never thought I would be: a mother.

Becoming a mother has been the most transformative event of my life. Doing it in my forties, I join a growing portion of the population. According to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control in 2012, the birthrate decreased for women below 30, but increased for women ages 30-44, with the greatest surge for women ages 40-44.

Since opting to stay home to raise my now five-year-old daughter, I am thankful that I first prepared my career as a journalist, author and magazine editor. The work of early motherhood is hard, and I don’t think I could have split my focus between building a career and being a mom to a small child. I can enjoy my daughter now without resenting her for holding me back, because I’ve already accomplished so much.

Adventure travel was also a big part of my life: I’ve tracked lions on foot on Safari in South Africa, flown to Australia’s Great Barrier Reef, and white water rafted a Class 5 river in the Western Canadian Rockies. I would not have been able to have those experiences with a baby or toddler in tow.

When I check Facebook I am constantly reminded of the dichotomy that while I am celebrating milestones such as my daughter losing her first tooth and attending Kindergarten, my contemporaries are celebrating college acceptances, weddings, or the birth of their first grandchild. I am sincerely hoping that, unlike me, my daughter finds the love of her life earlier on, so that I have the opportunity to be a grandmother. I also see some of my age-mates clearly showing signs of midlife crisis: affairs, divorces, radical career changes. My husband jokes that I don’t need to worry about having a midlife crisis. Mine was having a baby.

I am very lucky I had a child later in life because I would have made a terrible mother in my twenties and thirties. It took me a long time to develop emotional maturity, and even longer to find the right partner. Now I can call on my own past experience—the bitter and the sweet—to help me navigate parenting my daughter.

There have been challenges. I had to tap into my hard-earned emotional resources when my daughter was born, because I felt isolated, lonely and clueless, and had no local friends with babies—most of them were well past that stage. I literally grabbed my first mom friend, by accosting her husband in my building’s elevator. He was with his four-month old daughter, and I insisted that he give me his wife’s number. Gradually, I built up a support structure through a local community of moms.

Community is also important to us for our daughter’s sake. Because of how old I was when I had her, she is an only child, and the cousins who are closest in age to her live in Australia. We enrolled her in a school that goes from Kindergarten until 12th grade, so that hopefully she can find long-lasting friendships that will become as close to her as family.

I’m also confronting the issues faced by my increasingly fearful septuagenarian parents, who have been losing their friends at an alarming rate, and depend on having me around. They need more help on a daily basis than they will admit. My dad broke his hip three years ago, and although he has recovered, his physical and cognitive capabilities have diminished; my mom suffers from high blood pressure, which must constantly be monitored. I worry (and feel emotionally torn and guilty) that I can’t be there for them the way they need, as my time is increasingly taken up by the demands of raising a young daughter. Because of this realization, my parents are looking at independent living facilities near my sister, who has more availability, since she is now an empty nester.

I am in good health and in good shape, I have a wide network of friends, a solid marriage, fulfilling work, and longevity runs in my family, so I plan to be standing firmly by my daughter’s side as she graduates from college and later walks down the aisle. Plus I feel young at heart—that’s the magic of seeing the world anew through the eyes of a child—and a study in JAMA Internal Medicine shows that having such a positive attitude will help me to live longer.

I was not interested in being a mother for most of my life. It was never my dream. But becoming a mother in midlife has allowed me to pave the road for my daughter’s emotional resilience with the wisdom borne out of my many, many mistakes. And that is a gift that will last her into a future that I hope to share with her for as long as possible.

Estelle Erasmus has been published in numerous publications including Marie Claire, The Washington Post, and National Geographic Traveler. She blogs at Musings on Motherhood & Midlife and tweets at @EstelleSErasmus.

Should You Discipline Other People’s Kids in Public Places?

Should You Discipline Other People’s Kids in Public Places?

 

NO

By Krystyann Krywko

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.28.22 PMI sit on the edge of the sandbox, watching my three-year-old daughter as she happily shakes sand through a sifter. I turn my head briefly to rock my infant son’s stroller, and in the wink of an eye another child comes up behind my daughter and dumps a shovel full of sand on top of her head. There are tears on the part of my daughter and a look of stunned amazement on the face of the offender. No real harm has been done, other than the fact that my daughter’s hair is now full of sand. I find some humor in the situation. I console my daughter with the fact that the child did not know better but that now, seeing her tears, he probably will. We move on.

Don’t get me wrong: As a former teacher, the urge to discipline is there, dangerously close to the tip of my tongue at times. Sure, public places like the playground, the mall, and the museum would run more smoothly if parents and caregivers were magically able to predict what mischievousness their children might stir up. But let’s face it: In our multi-tasking, multi-faceted world things happen. Your cell phone rings, the baby wants to nurse, the dog’s leash is wrapped around the stroller, and oh yeah, you are supposed to be supervising your toddler in the sandbox.

The minutiae involved in the sorting out of the lives of your own children can be mind-boggling enough without taking on the needs of the proverbial village at the same time. When I go to the playground or the park, I want to get some fresh air, maybe enjoy a coffee, and for my children to have fun—not to sit and worry about disciplining other people’s children. The longer I parent the more I realize my job is not to constantly monitor and supervise other people’s children but to learn how to negotiate these public spaces with others.

I believe when other children are misbehaving in public you have fewer rights and fewer obligations to intervene than you do if those children are your own. One mother I spoke with summed up her feelings this way: “When it’s my house, it’s my rules, but if I don’t know the child and it is in some public place where I see some- thing, then no way. Not my place to judge or discipline. If they are doing something that is bad enough, I figure the store or museum will say something, since it is their territory.”

Of course, we’re not talking about significant physical harm going on here, since we are all obligated to intervene when we see that happening, whether it involves a child or an adult. But in cases of general misbehavior, I think we need to tread carefully.

Other parents and children operate within other boundaries, ones it can be difficult for an outsider to understand. This is particularly true if the child happens to have a disability or other behavioral issue. Public spaces are not so open and inviting as we like to think, and for those who operate outside the norm of expected behavior, discipline should not come from those who do not understand. Intervening when you don’t have the background to the situation can worsen it, as a friend with an autistic daughter pointed out to me. “People constantly judge you as a parent when they look at you and your interactions with what seems to be a typical child,” she said. “More often than not my daughter just needs space, but I find that it is difficult to give her that in public.” Having another parent step in at the wrong moment—good intentions notwithstanding—is at least counterproductive and could even be disastrous.

In addition, our children ought to learn that adult intervention in public places is not always needed. As parents, we have a tendency to want to envelop our children in bubble wrap and ensure that they never feel hurt. But life is not like that; public places are messy affairs. Children have their own ways of confronting and working with those who operate differently. Instead of rushing to step in and fix every conflict, it’s often better if we stand back and allow our children space to find their own ground. That way they become better equipped to deal with difficult situations when we are not there.

And in cases where a child is misbehaving in a way that has nothing to do with my own, I simply believe it’s not my responsibility to assume the role of the parent. My discipline style might be quite different from the other parents’, and I sure wouldn’t want to create a conflict with them over whose style is the “correct” one. Who is going to be the final authority on that one?

Sure, it can be tempting to call a time-out on the little boy who is sticking his gum in his sister’s hair or to speak forcefully to the girl making fun of someone behind their back. And it’s true that I sometimes avoid public places for the simple reason that they are too crowded and yes, too full of crazed children. For the same reason, we often head to the playground at seven-thirty on a warm summer morning or avoid our local bookstore around story time. The example I want to send my children is on of acceptance and understanding. By allowing for a wide range of behaviors and teaching my children how to negotiate public interactions, they are able to see that life does not always fall into neatly prescribed categories and that sometimes it is better to forgive and forget.

Krystyann Krywko is a freelance writer based in New York City where she lives with her family. She is a former early childhood teacher, and is currently working on her Ed.D in International Education Development at Teachers College, Columbia University.

 

YES

By Liza Greville

Screen Shot 2014-11-23 at 3.28.41 PMSeveral years ago I was driving down a residential through-street in a down-and-out section of town when a couple of boys caught my eye. Probably seventh-or eighth-graders, heavily pierced and wearing t-shirts in decidedly coat weather, they were pushing around a scrawny kid in a thin coat at the bus stop—a scene of bullying as stereotypical as it comes.

As a clinical social worker, I was tired of people using their power to knock others down and tired of people failing to use their power to lift others up. Actually, I’d had it. So I circled around the block to confront the bullies. It took a minute to get their attention, but I looked eye to eye with these kids and told them to knock it off. They grunted their acknowledgement. As I drove slowly away, I watched them for a while in my rearview mirror. The imposed truce seemed to hold, at least for a few blocks.

I believe we ought to discipline other people’s kids, even in public places. I believe that civil society depends on it. We are our brother’s keeper (and our sister’s and our neighbor’s kid’s), and we have that responsibility, regardless of our parental status. It’s wired into our natures, into our common lot in humanity. It’s the reason kids self-police on the playground. It’s the fire of a posse of grandmas who say “no more” to a gang of drug dealers. It’s the courage of a lone accountant who blows the whistle on a corporate bookkeeping scandal.

Looking back on the bullying episode ten years and two kids of my own later, I can’t say I’m any less frustrated by seeing people knocked down, literally or figuratively. A few years ago the National Association of Social Workers launched a bracelet campaign in the spirit of the American Cancer Society’s “Livestrong” bands. The green bands of the social workers say “Stand Up For Others.”

Stand up for others: a paramount value and one I want to instill in my kids. Yet though I believe it is a natural inclination, it is a value kids need to grow into, and the only way all of our kids will learn it is if the adults in their lives show them how.

We do a disservice to all the kids involved if, by failing to intervene, we reinforce unhealthy balances of power. For example, if I let the bossiest kid at the neigh?borhood party cut in line to crack open the piñata just to head off an expected tantrum, I reinforce the notion that willfulness ultimately prevails over fairness or righteousness. How do I expect my kids and their friends to learn to handle controversy and dissent by setting an example of acquiescence?

Second, we set the stage for large-scale misbehaviors by ignoring small ones. If I’m a field trip chaperone, and I let it slide when a group of girls dis their “friends,” I’m implicitly giving them permission to continue. What do I think they’ll be doing when they have cell phones and social networking sites of their own? Harassment is no small offense, and we’ve all seen some tragic results of friendships turned vicious.

Granted, other kids’ parents or caretakers are the foremost influence on their moral development, and the impact of my moment of discipline is probably minimal. Even so, to fail to set an example of respect and civility lets down all the kids involved, especially, I think, my own kids, for whom I am supposed to be a compass of right and wrong.

Now I won’t say I’ve never packed up and moved on as someone else’s kid flung gravel across the playground; I have. Intervening certainly has gotten a little more complicated now that I’m a parent. I understand now why parents get insecure about disciplining someone else’s kid: We don’t want to embarrass our own kids; we don’t want to mark our kids for retribution the next time we’re not around; we don’t want to get involved ourselves.

Yet I’m not sure our worries are well founded if what we mean by discipline is calm, clear, direct, and purposeful communication. I suppose there is always the chance of a blow-out with the child’s parents, but if we remain cool and focused specifically on the problem behavior occurring in the present situation, odds are for a favorable resolution.

Parenting philosophy and discipline principles aside, there is another very practical argument for disciplining children who are not your own: safety. It’s good to get involved in situations where lack of adult presence is giving way to, let’s say, an adolescent’s faulty perception of risk. One day last summer, I had to stand on my brakes as a kid jumped his bike off a back and into the road. I was only poking along the side street behind the town park, but what if another kid had come flying through, driving too fast, music blaring, and their invulnerabilities had collided?

It’s that neighbor’s kid’s keeper thing again, and once again, I pulled over and rolled down the window.

Liza Greville lives in Kane, Pennsylvania, where she walks the fine line between letting her two boys learn to handle their own problems and disciplining other people’s kids.

Brain, Child (Summer 2009)