Let’s Relax On The Parent Shaming

I used variations of the word “shitty” about nineteen million times in this blog entry. This is my preface apology. Also? Running low on free time this morning so I’m opting to leave this note instead of editing for spelling/grammar errors. #Priorities.

I’ve been a Mom for 20 years. That means I started out parenting pre-internet. I went 7-8 years as a Mom before I learned how much I was doing wrong from the interwebs. It wasn’t until I started trying to have child #2 that I realized how many opinions people have about parenting. And it’s only gotten worse since.

The popular parenting advice trend is to find an issue (sometimes multiple issues) that can be easily researched and then blamed for the product of shitty adults. This is easiest done by finding shitty adults who blame their parents for their shittiness. This does two things. 1) It makes shitty adults not take responsibility for their shortcomings and 2) Discounts about a million other factors that come into play when creating shitty adults.

When I had Nikki the first trend I remember is Telling Parents That Letting Babies Cry Makes Adults Who Are Untrusting. Or some such nonsense. We want our kids to know we’ll be there for them! Babies are too young to know better! Cry it out is evil! Attachment parenting is King! I remember really facing a lot of internal debate on this one because I liked many facets of attachment parenting, but Crying It Out also worked for us a bit. I made myself crazy worrying about the adult I was creating in making the decision every night whether or not to let me kid cry or not.

But then I started seeing links that blamed Attachment Parenting for creating spoiled toddlers and preschoolers. And then I saw articles that Crying It Out made middle schoolers who couldn’t make friends. But wait…Attachment Parenting makes high schoolers that won’t want to go to college out of town. And Crying it out makes college kids who do drugs!

Basically I learned that – whatever parenting method you support? You can find articles to support it. There were be tons of well-adjust adults thanking their parents for doing the thing you do. And whatever parenting style you disagree with? You can find research backing you up. There are adults blaming their faults on that parenting style you don’t like. There is evidence for pro/con of EVERY type of parent EVER. Aside from extremes, of course. I doubt there’s any support for starving or beating kids. But hell, the internet can get twisted, maybe there is.

So – what did all this teach me in my early days of parenting with the internet? To read a little here and there, but to follow my gut. Because the truth is? Humans are complex. And like I said before, trying to simplify parenting into Dos and Don’ts removes the possibility for other influences, like genetics and friends and society and media. We are not solely products of how our parents raised us. And while parenting does play a part, I am sick of these trends of shaming parents into believing that if their kids are shitty adults, it’s their fault and their fault only.

Helicopter parenting. Overparenting. Whatever you call it…this is the latest parenting style being shamed by “experts”. And I’m not saying there aren’t valid points to some of these articles, but I hate the idea that now there’s a Mom who makes it a priority to go to every game/recital/play and who helps her child with registrations/conflicts/bureaucracy and who joins their child at the playground/birthday party/school dance – and that Mom is feeling shame now because the world is telling her that she’s raising a shitty adult.

But you know what? Humans are not that simple. That’s why there’s always articles also supporting the opposite side of the argument. There are perfectly well-rounded and responsible adults thanking their parents for their involvement. Just like there are shitty adults blaming their shittiness on overparenting. Yes, parents play a part, but it’s not that simple.

And I say this as an under-parenter. Or…um…what’s the opposite of a helicopter parent? A lighthouse parent? Someone who is there when they’re needed but let’s the boat make journeys without it? Whatever it is. That’s me. I’m the other side of the spectrum so I’m doing it “right” according to all of the articles I’ve been seeing lately. I have hobbies and an identity outside of being a Mom. I miss games all the time. The kids play at the park alone while I run on the track, or play on my phone. I make them take care of most conflicts at school on their own. E deals with beaurocratic nonsense without me all the time.

My kids should be perfectly responsible and self-sufficient adults if the internet can be trusted. But I don’t trust the internet. I believe there are a million other factors in play and I believe there is an adult out there who was raised exactly how I’m raising my kids and he/she is a shitty person and his/her spouse/coworker/neighbor is blaming his/her shittiness on the fact that his/her Mom was selfish enough to have hobbies outside of parenting. Or maybe this shitty adult is self-aware and sees the conflicts in their life and blames them on having a Mom that didn’t make their baseball games are priority.

I promise you. That adult exists. Times a million.

Whatever you’re doing as a parent? There are millions of adults who blame what you’re doing for their failures and millions that blame it for their success.

Basically – we’re screwed.

Instead – why doesn’t our society stop attributing every flaw in every adult to something their parents did? Yes. Parents are important in the development of humans. But they are only important for 18 years and many humans lives another 50-70 years after that. So maybe there are other influences at play? And sometimes parents DO one thing, but DEMONSTRATE another. And sometimes teachers are more influential. Or friends. And sometimes genetics counterbalance everything we do as parents. I may do my damnedest to parent so one of my genetic traits doesn’t manifest but it probably won’t work.

And as parents? Let’s be kind to ourselves. Follow your gut. Don’t ignore advice, there’s a lot of good stuff out there, but don’t think that your child’s success as a human is all up to your parenting. And don’t feel bad if you suddenly think maybe you’re doing something wrong. Change things. Don’t change things. But don’t be too hard on yourself if the internet is telling you what you’re doing is wrong. Parents raised kids for generations without articles online, trust your instincts. And if your kids turn out to be shitty humans? Maybe some of it is your fault. But not all of it. They make their own decisions, let them take some responsibility for their shittiness too. It’s only fair.

Let’s Talk About “The Talk”


Okay. I’ll stop yelling.

He told the joke to Donnie on the way to school yesterday morning. It went, “Hey…do you know what your girlfriend choked on last night?” “What?” “DEEZ NUTS!”

I’ll let you sit with that for a moment. That joke my SEVEN-YEAR OLD MADE.

Oops. Yelling again.

I guess a 11-year old boy from school taught him that joke on Friday. And I guess the “Deez Nuts!” jokes are quite common but not usually that dirty. It’s kinda like, “My butt!” in the sense that it’s today’s goofy response to all questions I guess? Maybe? But usually not SO FREAKIN’ DIRTY. ACK.

But!…I’ve been fielding a lot of sex questions and discussions about inappropriate jokes lately and I think it has to do with the proximity of older kids at this daycare the kids are going to this summer. I just feel like Wes especially has come home with a lot of questions I didn’t think I’d have to answer yet. I have been so grateful to a TED talk I watched a long time ago that referenced this issue because it taught me one simple rule and I thought I’d share it here.

Only answer what they ask.

A lot of times we hear a question and we panic OH, GOD. THIS IS IT. THE SEX TALK. and so we dodge the question because we’re not ready. But that TED talk said that only answer what they ask (unless you haven’t had the “Sex” talk yet of course and you think it’s time – then by all means use any conversation as a starting point) and that’s been really necessary lately as Wesley has asked some pretty interesting questions.

“How does the baby get inside the Mom’s stomach?”
“It grows there, it starts out super small…so small you can’t see it without a microscope.”

“What’s a condom?”
“It’s what a boy wears on his penis during sex to protect everyone from getting diseases or giving diseases to the person he’s having sex with. It can also keep a girl from getting pregnant.” (I braced myself for follow-ups but there were none.)

“How does a woman get pregnant if she’s gay? Don’t you have to have a boy and girl to make a baby?” (This is from catching a few minutes of The Fosters)
“There are different ways, all requiring a Doctor’s help, but in this situation they got permission from a man they knew/respected/loved and they used his sperm to fertilize her egg to make a baby.”

All of these questions could have lead to more, but the general idea behind only answer what they ask is that if you answer the questions they have, they’ll feel comfortable to ask more when they need more information, but you don’t have to force conversations they might not be ready for yet. Often they just hear things they don’t really understand and that doesn’t mean they need a FULL conversation about it, but the talk mentioned the importance of still answering all their questions as simply as possible and only give follow-up if they seem to want it.

Although, the one he asked in the car on the way to dinner we were a little unprepared for. “Have you and Daddy ever had sex?” LUCKILY, we were both in the car and both immediately on the same page so we laughed and said, “How do you think you all got here? We had to have sex to have you guys.” And they both moaned audibly.


I did then point out to him that a person’s sex life was a very personal thing and that we didn’t mind answering questions in general but he really shouldn’t quiz other people on personal things like that. I suddenly had this fear of him asking teachers at school if they had sex with their husbands. OH MY GOD, I WOULD DIE.

Have you had this experience? A kids spending time around older kids and then suddenly having questions you weren’t quite ready for? DID YOU LOCK THEM UP UNTIL YOU WERE READY? Jeez.


The Night We Lost Santa

“Is Santa real? Like…does he really exist?” She’s looking off into the corner of her room. We’re lying in bed together discussing our day like we always do before bed. This is when our truth-telling always happens. This is when she asks me the hard questions about death and evil and pain. For a moment I consider point-blank lying to her, but there are already tears in her eyes. There’s a part of her that knows and is already heartbroken over it. She’s coming to me now…like she does many nights in this bed, wanting the hard answers to the questions that haunt her days. I can’t lie to her. Not here. Not in our truth-telling place.

I didn’t really grow up with that magical belief in Santa Claus that my husband had. I figured out early on that I never really got what I asked for at Christmas and all of my friends did. My Dad just didn’t really get into that part of the Christmas…the making it seem magic part. I don’t know if I every really believed in Santa. I always pretended, but I never truly believed.

I got pregnant with E at 18, so obviously I had no ability to make Christmas magical for him. He kinda grew up the same way I did. We pretended, but I didn’t go out of my way trying to make it seem real. When you’re buying Christmas at the Dollar Tree, you don’t really want your kid hoping for presents from ToysRUs. I didn’t want him being disappointed on Christmas so I never really made Santa out to be anything but an imaginary being we use to make Christmas seem fantastical.

I also don’t believe in God and I wasn’t raising E in religion so it always felt weird to be all, “God is not real. But the guy at the North Pole who brings gifts on Christmas? HE TOTALLY IS.”

But then I married Donnie. And he grew up with the magic in epic proportions. He would challenge Santa to make sure he was real and his parents would jump through all of the hoops every year to keep the magic alive, and he wanted to do the same for the kids we had together. It bothered him that I didn’t do that with E and he really wanted me to honor his request for Nikki.

It was a tough thing to reconcile on many levels. I didn’t like lying. It felt weird. But I did it more as “playing make believe” than lying and with every year that ticked by, I got more and more into it. And then it was suddenly like I was discovering the magic of Christmas as a 30+ year-old woman…through my kids.

But I still was careful about my lies, especially in the last few years when the questions would get more pointed. I always told them, “I believe in Santa in my heart. Sometimes my brain doesn’t, but there are years there are presents under the tree that I didn’t buy and I like to believe those are from Santa.”

HPW0505-155Nikki has asked more directly a few times recently, but always in front of her brother so I feel the need to kinda do that same dance around the questions. Recently this is how I answered it:

“Do you remember how at Harry Potter World I was getting so into doing all of the spells in the mornings when we got there early? I know there were sensors there. I know in my brain that it was all about electronics and mechanics and science. But in my heart? I believe in the magic. That’s kinda how Santa is. He’s something we have to believe in with our hearts.”

And again, like the times before, it sufficed. I was starting to wonder if she truly believed.

And then last night, she asked me alone. In the spot she asks me all of the hard questions she has at the end of the day living the life of an anxious, empathetic, emotional 9-year old girl. This is the same place she tells me when she’s been bullied, or she asks me what happens when we die. This is the same time she quizzes me about my first marriage and about divorce. This is where she comes to me with questions and fears about mortality and heartbreak. This is the place she knows she gets the truth from me. I couldn’t lie to her there.

I started down the same path I usually take, but as I start talking she turns to actually look at me. Look me in the eyes to see my answer. Her eyes were already moist with tears. Tears of hope that I give her the answer she wants, but also tears of anguish because she already knows I won’t.

“In my heart, I believe Santa is real.”
“But does he give us all of the presents?”
“Sometimes there are presents under the tree that I didn’t buy you.”
“But do you know who did?”

And here is when my tears are forming because I know where this is going. I know that in this moment, the magic is over for her. She’s begging me for the truth and I can dance around it, but I can’t just lie to her about it.

“I’m pretty sure Daddy does it to make me feel some of the magic of Christmas that you guys feel.”

And then we both started crying together. In each other’s arms.

We spent a long time talking and crying last night. She kept thinking about things like the Tooth Fairy, and Elf on the Shelf, and every time she did she’d cry more. I told her about growing up without the magic and how amazing it has been being part of that magic for her. I pointed out that she gets to be part of that magic now. I told her about how her big brother loves doing that, helping hide Fifi the Elf, or helping wrap presents.

One of the amazing moments was when it occurred to her that she and Wesley are grateful to Santa every year for something that I do.

“But you never got the credit for those awesome gifts?!”

She cried a lot. Big, fat tears of heartbreak. I apologized to her a million times and told her I was so sorry if it felt like I had lied. She wasn’t mad at me, she understood. She felt really dumb because I guess there are a lot of kids her age that don’t believe and she’s always been one to fight for Santa.

We also laughed some together as I filled her in on some of the challenges, like the times I’ve forgotten to leave her money for teeth and have had to leave notes from the Tooth Fairy explaining fears of dogs. She asked me who ate Santa’s cookies and we laughed about that being one of the best parts of being a parent at Christmas. I told her all of the things she’ll get to do this year to help me. “Think about it for Wesley though, when he finds out there’s no one left to be part of the magic with. You at least get to be part of it for him, he won’t have that.” I’m not sure if there was any consolation in that for her, to be honest.


We had cried a lot and we were both very drained. I could tell she was about to fall asleep, it was so far past both of our bedtimes. She was curled up in my arms, her wet cheeks were resting on my chest while my own tear-dampened chin was resting on her head.


“I want you to know, the world is still full of magic. I truly, honestly believe that. I ran with the sunrise in Breckenridge a few weeks ago and it was so beautiful my heart hurt…I didn’t know a sunrise could be that amazing. You’ll get to see that next year! There are people in this world who do amazing things to help others around them, without payment or attention. They make people’s lives better without even being asked. They are basically Santa to people in need. There’s art and music that will make your heart soar or ache in ways you can’t explain. There’s adorable puppies who will make you feel warm inside. There’s food that is so delicious you’ll want to marry it.”

She giggled a little bit.

“I just want you to know that there are still things that are going to surprise you in this world. You’re going to read books that change your life or see movies that make you laugh so hard you want to puke. You’re going to fall in love for the first time and be overwhelmed with the feeling of never wanting to leave this person’s side. You might have kids some day and you’ll learn a whole lot about your capacity for love.”

“I’m never having kids.”

“And that’s fine too! You’ll find the magic in a million other places. Not Santa Claus magic or Harry Potter magic, but you’ll discover that unexpected things make you feel unexpected ways that you can’t explain. Immense joy and love and happiness. There are still amazing things to look forward to, I promise. I believe that more now as a 40-year old woman than ever. I’m surprised constantly by people and places and nature and science and I find all of that still magical. Please believe me there.”

“I do Mom, I really do. Thank you for telling me the truth. I love you.”

“I love you too, my sweet Angel.”

I remember calling my Dad to tell him about my first miscarriage and I was obviously fighting back tears over the phone and he said, “It’s hard as a parent knowing you can’t save your kids from the pain of life.”

I thought of that a lot last night. I was torn about the fact that – inherently – this pain is my fault. If I had never created the magic, she would have never had to lose it. I’m hoping that, in the end, she’ll think it was worth it. I’m hoping to show her the other side of the magic this year, the part that I’ve enjoyed since she was born. I’m hoping she’ll find joy in that.

But holy crap, y’all. I cried more than I ever considered I would cry during that moment. I think I kinda assumed she would just figure it out but continue to play along. I didn’t think it would come down to her essentially begging me to tell her the truth and me having to be the one that shattered the world for her. I never really saw it play out that way and oh my lord – it was awful. She asks me tough questions all the time in that quiet time we share together before bed most nights. She asks me about homosexuality and sex and drugs and death and God and murder and war and divorce and pain and never have I struggled as much as I did last night.

I’d rather answer 100 questions about sex or about how gay people have babies…I’d rather try to explain why people we love get cancer…I’d rather talk about how life just ends when you die, than have to EVER tell ANYONE the truth about Santa again.


Marathons v/s Sick Kids

I made this tweet last night and I could not have meant it more if I had carved it in the skin across my chest.

Sick kids are the most exhausting thing in the world.

On Wednesday Wes’s school called saying he had a headache, but it was about 25 minutes from when I would leave work anyway so it wasn’t a big deal. He wasn’t feverish at all but he had just done 3 days of basketball camp embedded into his regular daycare days which are already SUPER active on top of an insane weekend of head injuries so I thought he had just overdone it. I put him in bed with the TV remote and a bottle of water and insisted he drink the whole thing in case he was dehydrated. He seemed fine, just tired.

Yesterday morning he woke up and actually said he felt better. He seemed well-rested and spirited. Then I got the call from daycare again around 11am. This time? Headache and fever.

When I got to the YMCA he was asleep on the table in the foyer and he looked TERRIBLE. He wouldn’t even walk he felt so bad. I had to carry him ON MY BACK to the car. I got him home, put him in bed and took his temperature. 102.5. Since his only symptom was a sever headache which now had been around for about 24 hours, I called to make him a doctor’s appointment. Our doctor was out so we had another in the practice…3pm.

He slept feverishly next to me the next several hours. His fever got up to 103.2 and I didn’t leave his side because I just wanted to be near him since he seemed so ill and I had never seen him like that. When it was time for his appointment I carried him (on my back) to the car and then carried him again to the doctor. He was miserable.

11754517_10153997296493496_3342435506414078489_oWe ended up being there almost 2 hours because his tonsils were swollen so they thought “STREP!” But the strep test (which you know he HATED, of course) came back negative. So then they did a blood draw (which he also hated) so we waited on that to see if what he had was viral or bacterial.

His white blood count was only slightly elevated, so they decided to give him an antibiotic “injection” (they avoided using the word “shot” thankfully) and want us back this morning to see if it did any good. I had to hold him down for the shot which was GIANT and even scared me a little and he screamed like I’ve never seen him scream before.

I got him home and put him back to bed. His fever had dropped to 101 but he was still feeling super-puny.

I basically spent all afternoon/evening just watching him feel awful with the periodic carrying of him to the bathtub or to the car or to the bed. He wouldn’t walk anywhere. He slept most of the day, although I still stayed by his side because he just made me so nervous being THAT sick.

And by the time 8pm rolled around? I felt like I had run back-to-back-TO-BACK marathons. I was zapped. I didn’t do CRAP but worry about my kid but I’ve depleted any and all energy reserves I had in my system. And I woke up at 3am still worrying about him. He doesn’t feel warm this morning whereas he felt like his skin was ON FIRE yesterday, so I’m hoping that’s a good sign. If he’s feeling better I can at least try to do some work while we’re home together as I won’t be checking his skin for rashes or monitoring his breathing or googling things like Meningitis or Black Plague.

My point to all of this? If you’ve ever cared for a sick kid? You could easily run a marathon. I promise you. And you’d end the marathon thinking, “Way easier than having a sick kid.”


The Worry Of A Child.

Last night I had to do a little bit of freelance stuff before I went to bed. Something I hoped would take 10 minutes but I couldn’t find the problem which meant I wasn’t going to get to go to bed when I wanted. I was tired as it was the end of a long day and I was very overwhelmed with my To Do list and Nikki was whining and pouting about the fact that I wasn’t going to come to bed and lay down with her.

Listen, Nikki. I’m stressed. I can’t figure this one problem out and I’m tired and you making me feel guilty is not really helping.

Then she started sobbing and I got even more frustrated.

That’s not helping either! Now I feel shitty for making you cry! Why can’t you just say, “Good luck, Mom. Hope you can come lay down with me soon.” Why do you have to freak out and be so dramatic?

So she stifled her cries, wished me luck, and I went back to work. I never solved the problem but was so tired I had to go to bed anyway. I went to go give her a goodnight hug and kiss these notes were on the pillow next to her.


Sorry I made you feel bad word. I don’t want to go to sleep knowing I made you feel bad – so when you come in here please wake me up and give me a hug.

Nikki is showing worse anxiety at age 9 than I have at 39 and I currently suffer from worse anxiety than I’ve ever had in my life. Her problems do seem to help me address mine though because – especially lately – I’ve been trying to work with her and that means I have to work with mine.

We talk a lot about how I’d like her to tell me what she needs instead of just melting down. If she’s having a bad day and needs some extra love, let me know. Don’t just freak out over something that is really not the problem. We’ve been talking a lot about what it means to be sensitive. She cries a lot “for no reason”. We talk a lot about how that also has a good side and I believe it’s what makes her kind and loving and the kind of kid who hides notes for me on Mother’s Day.

Where I used to worry about Wesley becoming a sociopathic serial killer, I now worry about my daughter being so unable to cope with anxiety or emotions that she’ll be medicated her whole life. I’m certain medication is in her future because if her stress/anxiety gets worse with puberty, she’ll need something to help her cope. But I want her to learn skills before then to help manage the somewhat normal levels of anxiety and extreme emotions.

Sometimes she can get lost in drawing or writing, she’s a very creative spirit. I’ve been trying to encourage that activity if she gets overwhelmed. I think I need to be better about pushing that because I think last night would have been a perfect time for her to use those habits to work out her worry.

And I need to quit being a dick to her.

I need to remind myself, even when I’m frustrated and stressed, that she is just now learning how to navigate this world as someone with sometimes toxic levels of empathy and emotional sensitivity that she can’t seem to manage. I need to take a pause before I respond to her like I did last night, and while I might have valid points, those points are – well…pointless…if she can’t process them because she’s sobbing uncontrollably.

She makes me want to be a better person so I can teach her how to deal with all of those overwhelming emotions. Whenever I’m having a particularly rough time lately, I find myself thinking, What would you tell Nikki?

I did wake her up and give her a million hugs last night. I hope it helped. I’ll try to be ready with boundless love for her again this morning.

My poor, sensitive, anxious soul. That’s what it is – once soul in two bodies. I’m hoping as we each make efforts to heal ourselves, we’ll help the other person as well.

Parenting is tough, yo.