Parenting lesson #42: 21 anythings to make or break a habit.


The idea just popped into my head.

My dad, ever the supportive one on the phone this weekend, was listening to me rant about how my kids don’t clean up after themselves. “You have to make them,” he said. Thanks, dad. Then it just came out of my mouth. “I’m going to make the kids go out the front door, walk in and over to the boot tray, take off their boots, put them on the tray, and then put them back on and do the process over and over again in a row, like 20 times. Maybe that will work.” My dad laughed and said, “Maybe.”

So I did an experiment.

I started with my daughter because she’s the oldest and thus gets to shoulder the most responsibility and highest expectations. (#birthorder) She shrugged, and about every three trips outside asked, “How many more do I have to do?” And I said, “I know you can count, but you’re at 9.” “No way! I’m, like, at 12.” “Fine, 11,” I said. “Nine more.”

She finished. And do you know what happened when she came home from going out with a friend for the afternoon? She walked in the door, went right over to the boot tray, took off her boots, and put them there.

It was glorious.

I know this doesn’t necessarily mean it’s going to be a habit or will stick. But just last night, she proudly said as we came in the door, “Look, mommy, I’m putting my boots where they go.

“Aren’t you proud of me?”

“This is amazing. Of course I’m proud. Do you think the experiment worked?”

“I think so,” she said.

Time will be the judge of that. But I’ve always heard that it takes 21 days to make or break a habit. What if it’s the same with muscle memory for tasks such as clearing a plate after eating, hanging up a coat, or washing hands after going to the bathroom? If this truly sticks, I’m going to use it over and over and over again. At least 21 times.

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Parenting lesson #41: You have to clean up your messes.


Being essentially bedridden (on the couch) with my injury, I’m amazed at how many messes my children make that they don’t clean up, especially when all three are home all day.  Have I not taught them how to clean up after themselves?  No, that’s definitely not it.  I’m certain I’ve shown them millions of times.  They.  Simply.  Don’t.

While sitting here in wonderment about the clean socks strewn all over the couch, I have stumbled upon this two-year-old piece I wrote called “You have to clean up your messes.”  And I am marveling at how much repetition is required for teaching young ones … as well as old ones.  One of the most cyclical parenting lessons is how our kids show us daily how little we know and how much we still haven’t mastered.  Because we are constantly learning and evolving and becoming.  Enjoy!

***

January, 2017

Last week, I had to teach Zach a lesson, and it was really painful for both of us.

I asked him if he could take out the trash for me.  I warned him it was heavy and he might not be able to get it up and into the can.  He came back in and said he did it.  I said, “Wow, you didn’t have any trouble?”  He said he didn’t.

IMG_2631

Late that night I was ready to go to bed but the dog had not returned to the door to come in.  Greg was out-of-town and it was 20 degrees.  I was not about to go looking for her.  I turned on the lights in the back; no sign of life.  I checked through the windows to make sure all the gates were closed.  They were.  Since she’s 14 ½-years-old and deaf, I couldn’t call her name and get her to come.  So I waited.  And waited.  Finally, I caught her right out the window, got her attention, and had her come in.

The next morning after I got the kids off to school, I looked out the dining room window and realized why I couldn’t find her.  She had been tearing apart the trash bag that Zach left outside next to the trash can.  There were vegetable and fruit skins, used tissues, and of course, the plastic wrap that had encased a now-consumed bag of rotten fish I had never gotten around to cooking.  (RIP, Abbey.  If you had one, your tombstone would say “stomach of steel.”)

I was fuming, not only because the dog had gotten to the trash, but because Zach had lied.  I decided to leave the mess for him to clean up.

We didn’t get home until just before dark that afternoon, and I told him he had to hurry.  In my unending graciousness, I decided to help him.  As he looked at the trash, he fussed and moaned and groaned and whined.  We got our large dust pan and broom and I began to help him.  As tears streamed down his face, he agonized, “This is SO DISGUSTING! I’m going to BARF!!!” Perhaps the worst part was that I had cleaned out their art supply caddy the day before when they were at school.  What that meant is I threw out some “priceless gems” without telling them (as we have ALL done).  As he choked back tears and bile, he also wondered aloud how I could get rid of his Frankenstein notepad without telling him, and why I would do such a horrible thing in the first place.

***

It’s these moments when doing the right thing can feel so wrong.

***

It was probably the worst 10 minutes of my week.  It made me feel bad about cleaning out their stuff, and it made me feel like I was a bad mom to make him clean up the mess.  It’s these moments when doing the right thing can feel so wrong.  Our kids are so good at making us feel like we’re bad parents when the opposite is true.  There are consequences to lying, and when you make a mess (or are responsible for one), you have to clean it up.  These are life lessons we must teach.  If we do these things for them, we’re doing them a disservice.  College is not the place to learn that your trash goes in the can, you have to put it there, and if you leave it out and a dog noses through it, you have to clean that up, too.

I’ve been called the worst mom in the world.  That happened a few days later when I made two of my three stay home with me for bickering while the other got to go out with friends who were visiting.  And I told my child, “When you say that to me, I know it means that I’m actually a good mom.”  And later that night, I got some of the best cuddles from that very same child.

Everybody lies sometimes.  And we all make messes.  The mess I had to clean was owning up to throwing out Zach’s prized art materials.  I apologized and he forgave me.

I did not promise not to do it in the future because I know I probably will.  If we kept everything the kids brought into this house, we’d be featured on “Hoarders.”  And so, as an adult, I’m capable of making that judgment about some items.  But I have learned, after many tears, that I should check about some items first and give the kids the chance to store things in their rooms if they truly cherish them.

I also know better now that if I’m going to secretly trash a Happy Meal toy, I’d better be the one who takes out the garbage.

***

Learning, growing … becoming.  I can’t wait to do more of these things in 2019!!!

Parenting lesson #21: Two-year-olds are bipolar and skeptical.


IMG_1013
My little prince, NOT eating his yogurt.

Sometimes I think my daily life looks like the scene from “Coming to America” when Prince Hakeem meets his arranged betrothed, Imani Izzy.  Imani has been trained her whole life to do anything he asks of her, and he tests just how far she will go to meet his demands.  (“Make a noise like an orangutan” ring any bells?)  The difference in my life is that my prince is a two-year-old who, after getting exactly what he wants, changes course and decides screaming for the exact opposite is in order.

On any given day, we have many conversations about food, toys, and activities that go something like this:

Me: “(Prince) Ethan, you’ve been sick.  What would you like for breakfast?  Pick anything you’d like from the fridge.”

Ethan: “I want dat yoguht peas.”

Me: “Sure, please sit at the table to eat it.”

Ethan: “NO, I DON’T WANT DAT YOGUHT!!!!”

I don’t remember child #1 or child #2 doing this.  It’s very possible I blocked it from memory like every mother does for the survival of the human race.  Or maybe my older ones didn’t really test me in this particular way.  But at least a small part of me wants to take the yogurt and dump it all over him.  Some days I probably would if I could get past knowing I’d just be creating another mess to clean.

I had his teacher conference today, and the teacher reminded me that he is dealing with normal two-year-old issues such as making good choices, following directions, and learning to share.  Honestly, it must be really hard to be two.

Unlike Imani Izzy in “Coming to America,” I actually say “no” to my prince quite often.  Over the course of a day, he probably hears “no” or “not now” or “try this instead” so many more times than he hears “yes.”  Part of that is being two and making ridiculous requests, like “Can I eat dis wip balm?”; part is being the third child and having older siblings who get to do things he can’t but would love to do; and part of it is I am an older, more distracted, more easily exasperated mom now than I was five years ago.  In all seriousness, it must be really hard to start to understand you’re a person, and have so much to learn, but have so many handicaps.

My little Prince Hakeem is testing boundaries and trying to find his place in this world.  He wants to know just how much power he has, whether I mean what I say, and whether he can do whatever he wants.  When Ethan gets an answer he doesn’t like, he simply keeps asking the question over and over, assuming I must have lied the first (32) times I told him he couldn’t have any candy.  In fact, in the car the other day he asked me seven times for my soda and 14 times for dessert in a span of five minutes, despite my answer being the same “No” every single time.  Imagine wondering at every turn if “no” really meant “no,” or if it meant “maybe” or simply “not now.”  He has to figure out these things for himself.

Now more than ever, I have to patiently and consistently deal with his antics so he knows he can trust me and what I say, and also so he can grow into someone who respects authority instead of demands power.

If he wants me to bark like a dog for fun, I’ll probably do it for him.  If as soon as I start barking he changes his mind and decides he wants me to make a noise like an orangutan, I might even do that if he asks me nicely.  But if he’s screaming about getting exactly what he wants when he wants it, he’s not going to get it because this world is not his kingdom.  And he might need to test this truth thousands of times before he believes it.

Dealing with the first “F bomb”


Ohhhhhh fuuuuuuuuuudge.
Ohhhhhh fuuuuuuuuuudge.

The major milestones of growing up keep coming whether you’re ready for them or not.  But I wasn’t really expecting my six- and barely five-year-olds to speak the F bomb yet.  Mind you, I wouldn’t label myself as naive per se; I know my children are going to be some of the first to hear all sorts of dirty little words because our last name is Virgin.  But they are not ready to understand them.  So though the world eventually teaches them things we don’t want them to know and aren’t ready to explain, we don’t have to succumb to some unspecified, ethereal pressure to acquiesce to changing times and the notion that “kids just grow up faster these days.”  Instead, I had a response prepared.

The kids came in the door from school as usual and dumped their stuff everywhere.  Within seconds Eliza informed me that there was a big discussion in carpool about what the worst word was.  I said, “Okay, what is it?”  After several reassurances that she would not be in trouble, she said, clear as day, “Eff” (the word – the F-dash-dash-dash word).  I think I said, “Huh, okay” and walked away like it was no big deal.  This is step number 1 in dealing with this – don’t act like it’s a big deal.   Step #2 is returning to the discussion calmly and when you have time.  For me, that was a few minutes later.

Me: “Okay, sweetie, can you tell me more about what happened in the car?”

Her: “Well, Zach said the worst word is stupid.  And (our carpool buddy) said, ‘No it’s not, F-dash-dash-dash is.'”

Me: “Oh.  Okay.”

Her: “Is he right?”

Me: “Well, it is a very bad word, yes.  It is not nice.”

Her: “What does it mean?”

Me: “What did your friend say it means?”

Her: “Just like dumb, stupid, mean.  Is that what it means?”

Me: “No, that’s not what it means.”

Her: “Will you tell me what it means?”

Here is where the preparation came in.  A friend of mine told me she had read about how one father had his son fill their biggest suitcase full and then asked him to pick it up.  The boy could not, and his father explained to him that the EFF word was like that suitcase; that someday, he’d be able to handle it, but that for now, the word was just too heavy for him.  Without actually packing a suitcase, I went through this demonstration with Eliza.  She pondered this a moment, and then asked “Will you tell me when I’m 11?”  And I said, “Yes, I can tell you when you’re 11.”  Then, of course, she asked about when she’s 10, nine, and finally we settled on when she’s eight.  And that was it.

It has been several weeks since then, and she and Zach haven’t revisited it.  I should say that Zach could not have cared less about the word or the carpool conversation, which was great.  But the fact that Eliza let it go is pretty miraculous.

Of course, since then, Eliza for no reason at all blurted out the word “sex” and stared me straight in the eyes to see my reaction.  I met her gaze and firmly asked, “What did you say?”  And then she made up something I don’t remember.  And I said, “Huh, okay.”  And I dropped it.  But when I hear it again, because I know I will hear it again, I will revisit the suitcase example and explain that she can count on being strong enough to handle that word when she’s eight as well.  I just hope I can hold off on explaining Virgin to them until then, too, because I don’t really want to communicate to our children that their last name is a “bad word.”  But if I explain Virgin, well, I kind of have to explain sex.  And probably the mother of all words as well.

Does anyone have another trick besides the suitcase one?  I might need it.

Parenting lesson #11: There will always be poop to clean up.


Just ... ugh.
Just … ugh.

When you have little children, it’s easy to daydream about being done with diapers and blow-outs and leaks and toilet training.  But the truth is that even when you’re out of this phase, there will still be poop to clean up.

Tuesday we had a snow day.  Now, our Christmas break began December 19th, and that night Zach and Greg started flu symptoms.  Eliza succumbed the following Monday.  On Christmas, I still had three pretty flat-out family members and a rambunctious, healthy toddler.  Then after another week of having three kids at home, I sent them off to school Monday and took a nice, long, deep breath.  Thus, to have a snow day one day after school began again seemed so … unfair.  As the snow piled up outside, three other people in this family who use toilets (read: not me) also managed to “pile up” some things.  And they clogged two of our loos.

I was sitting on the couch trying to appreciate being “all here,” when I heard Zach whine talking to himself in the bathroom.  “I can’t use three pieces of toilet paper.  It’s not enough and now mommy’s going to be so mad with me.  I used too much toilet paper but I’m so sorry about it because I used more than three pieces.”  I waited for him to emerge.  And he gave me the saddest look and apologized for using too much toilet paper.  I told him it was alright and ignored the bathroom because I wasn’t ready to deal with whatever had happened yet.  Several hours later I had forgotten about it until I went in the bathroom and saw a toilet filled with half a roll of soaked tissue covering a brown mess that looked more like a bird’s nest than a branch.  It was a scene that on this snow day, was all too familiar.  And unfortunately for Zach, one I had witnessed one too many times (and the second stoppage of the day).

Me: “Zach, come in the bathroom.  I didn’t realize this is what you did with the toilet paper.  This is way too much toilet paper.  We’ve talked about this before.  You’re going to clean it up.”

Zach: “I’m sorry mommy.”

Me: “I’m going to go get the trash can.  You have to pull all the toilet paper out until there’s not too much to flush.”

Zach (in disbelief): “WITH MY HANDS!?!?”

Me: “Yes, because that’s what I would have to do and maybe if you do it this time, you’ll remember this the next time you consider using more than three squares of toilet paper for each wipe.”

Can you see how much toilet paper is in the trash and how much is STILL in the toilet?
Can you see how much toilet paper is in the trash and how much is STILL in the toilet?

It’s been three days since the snow day toilet debacle, and so far, Zach has amazingly had zero issues in the bathroom.  We will see if it sticks.  But even if it does, I still won’t be done dealing with poop issues.  Even once Ethan is out of diapers, toilet trained, and past using too much toilet paper, there will still be gross messes.  They will come in the form of school issues and bullying and crushed dreams and dying friendships and break-ups and a hundred other things I can’t anticipate and don’t want to.  So pull up your sleeves, grab your rubber gloves, and get ready to dig in.  Because the poop of life takes many forms, and once you have kids, helping them deal with it never ends.

The right punishment is so hard to figure out


My current reference reading

There are some scenarios parenting books just can’t help you with.  Honestly, most of them seem pretty worthless when you’re in the thick of things.

Sure, I have read about how to discipline, and how to handle strong-willed children.  But I confess that a lot of the time, I am unsure how to handle my kids.  Zach is still in his screaming and tantrum phase, and Eliza hasn’t outgrown hers (while she continues to question everything you say), so we’re in an interesting vortex of pain and chaos.

In the moment, I often find myself acting calmly (trying very hard not to scream and yell like them), but the discipline that comes out still somehow leaves a bad parenting stench.  It’s like I don’t have enough time to think through what the consequences I’m doling out will actually mean for all of us.

This morning, I was upstairs when Eliza and Zach broke out fighting downstairs over what turned out to be my phone – something they didn’t have permission to be playing with in the first place.  After calling Eliza to me four times and her not responding by coming, but rather with, “Mommy, will you put on another TV show?”, I trudged downstairs, picked up Eliza, and as I walked her up the stairs, told her she would be going to her room for breakfast so she and Zach couldn’t fight over things.  She proceeded to throw a complete temper tantrum about wanting to eat at the table.  I didn’t budge, because I’m afraid of being a sucker who can be talked out of following through by a 3-year-old.  Of course, as Zach was fighting too, I thought it only fair to have him eat his breakfast in his room by himself as well.

The good news is that this is not going where you might think.  I DID have the sense to make something that wasn’t super messy.   (Thank God I put thought into what I served them, if nothing else!)  But as I listened to them scream and holler as I separated them to – what was my end game?  Oh yes, stop the screaming – I realized my plan hadn’t worked.  And there were crumbs all over Eliza’s bed to clean up.

In the end, Eliza and I talked about everything that went wrong, but still it didn’t feel like a victory.  In hindsight, I could have just taken the phone away from them and let that be punishment enough for fighting over it.  Sometimes I just need to remember to give myself time – maybe a count to ten moment when I put them in their rooms so they’re safe – while I come up with an appropriate reaction.  When I act swiftly and carry a big stick, I don’t necessarily get the hoped for outcome.  It’s just sometimes the big stick feels so right and justified in the moment.  Am I a bad parent, or am I being too hard on myself?

I could just bang them over their heads with one of the several parenting books on the shelf …

Is your heart grateful for the gunk?


A cute scream ... most of them aren't

The past week has been bad for me.  I actually haven’t written because as honest as I am, I’m embarrassed at some of the things that have happened.  We all have an upper respiratory illness bubbling up, and I am in physical pain from training for a race that I might not be able to complete because of runner’s knee.  My patience is running very, very thin for things like Zach’s screaming and Eliza’s incessant jabbering.

Yesterday in the car, Zach screamed for I believe the 6th time at the top of his lungs, and I turned around and screamed, “STOP SCREAMING!!!” (the hypocrisy was palpable) as I smacked his foot (the only thing within reach).  Eliza stared at me, surprised and a bit frightened.  Last night after dinner, I was D-O-N-E, and I asked Eliza to clean up her Boggle game.  She asked “Why?”  I said very firmly, “Eliza, the next thing you’re going to do is clean up that game, and if you say anything else before it’s cleaned up, you will get a spanking.”  She immediately said, “But mommy … ” and I took her away and spanked her, which made her cry.  (Definitely the best way to get in a control battle with a strong-willed child is to do what I did.)  Last week, I tried to get a babysitter so I could go to the orthopedist and get X-Rays of my knee, and a few people let me down for help.  I called Greg in tears, begging him to work from home so I could have some “sick leave.”  I said, “I just need to go back to work.  If I were at work right now, the kids would be in daycare and I would just use sick leave to go to the doctor.  I don’t get sick days.  Whaaaaaa!!!”  (Poor Greg.)

When I confess these moments to other moms, they all communicate that they’ve been there.  (And if you’ve never done anything like this, you must not have any children older than about 9-months.)  I have been feeling more and more like I would like to work part-time, partially to use my brain in a different way, but also to force myself to realize how awesome the time I get with my kids is, and to better maximize it with precious time instead of wasted time, or even worse, time I’d like to erase and re-do.

I recently read a quote in the book “girls!” (which in my opinion, is worth the read if you have any daughters ages 4-12) that struck me.  The authors say, “Whether you are a dedicated career woman or a stay-homie, your role is secondary to the attitudes you communicate about your role.”

So, today I thought about this.  I didn’t bad-mouth my role, or mutter under my breath about my unhappiness with my kids’ behaviors.  I kept my cool in the tough moments.  I thanked God for their extra hugs and kisses and cuddles because they aren’t feeling well.  And I thanked Him for the gunk (in their lungs and in our lives).  And mostly, I thanked Him that I get to stay home, sick days or not.

Getting away will cost you: the aftermath of grandma


We're on a boat ... without the kids!

I came home to my normal life from our anniversary getaway and wondered how on earth anybody does this.

Before I begin, I know my mom is going to read this, so first of all, mom, you know how I feel about you and this is not reflective of you doing anything wrong; rather, this is more about the grandma’s right to spoil her grandchildren.

Getting away without the kids was fabulous.  There was peace.  There was quiet.  I even read for fun, instead of all the non-fiction how-to parent stuff.  But after being home from our trip for about 15 minutes, I realized my life is consumed by constant, loud noise: Eliza singing her ABC’s on repeat; Zach screaming at the top of his lungs to get my attention, clenching his fists by his side like he just kicked the winning soccer goal in the European Cup; Eliza tapping on me in mid-conversation, saying, “Mommy, mommy, mommy, mommy – look at me!”; me asking her to give me a few minutes to talk to Omi (grandma); Zach crying because Eliza took away his car while singing her ABCs; Eliza switching to “Twinkle, Twinkle Little Star” because I asked her to sing something different (funny – different words, but same, darned tune).

Unless they are sleeping, there is always noise.  And if there isn’t any noise while they’re awake, then there is trouble.  You can’t win.

The contrast is stark between the quiet of an adult-filled lake house and the ear-damaging loudness of my kid-filled house.  It was amazing to realize just how much ambiance I hear on a daily basis.  But there was something else.  I also realized the kids were tired and more used to getting what they wanted when they wanted it.  There were more whining demands and tantrums.  It has been tough adjusting.

I’ve tried to embark on a re-training schedule.  Even today, Eliza whined to me that she wanted to go downstairs to play with her kitchen, so I turned off the TV and starting to go with her, and then she threw a fit about wanting to finish what was on TV.  In that moment, I felt like a puppet, and instead of caving into her antics, I picked her up, took her to bed, and told her it was nap time.  Her tantrum got worse, turning into one of those times she could barely get her words out amid her tears and gasps for air.  I kept my cool and didn’t budge, and she realized her efforts were futile.  I walked away.  She fell asleep.  Which is exactly what she needed.

I read one mom’s perspective today that when her kids were little, she could never get enough sleep.  And when they were toddlers, she never had enough patience.  It’s so true.  Although I still don’t get enough sleep, patience is really what rearing toddlers and pre-schoolers requires.  I am a broken record of behavior correction and modeling.  Sometimes I am dumbfounded by how many times both Zach and Eliza will test whether I mean what I say.  And since grandma came, I’ve had a lot more testing.

But our trip was still worth it.  We’re getting back to normal, little by little (which is to say a place that still requires vast vats of patience).  It is really hard, but it is also really awesome.  And at least today, I know I can do this.

Mess up fess up


A mess takes only moments to make

I’m a bad mom.  As I usually have to make dinner while I have the kids around, I generally put on a TV show to keep them occupied.  (No, this isn’t the bad mom part.)  Last night they were giggling a lot, and I was distracted because I was making a new recipe, so I didn’t check on them.  That was a big mistake.  Exhibit A shows the damage they did, in a few minutes of I’m sure what they thought was good, clean fun.  That pile, before dinner, was folded laundry.

I lost it.  If you have an infant, you lose it when your baby wakes you for the third time in three hours, screaming, and you have no idea why.  And you shout in your head, “Shut the BLEEP up,” while wishing you could put her outside to sleep, just for a few hours so you could think straight again.  Of course, instead, you probably pick up your baby in your stupor and rock her as your anger needle drops, because rationalization overcomes your frustration.  (She is, after all, a defenseless baby.)

But when your kids are a little older, and they have brains that work, and you’ve told them before not to play with folded laundry, the anger that wells up from direct disobedience in a fleeting moment can overwhelm you.  I would go so far as to say I can have an out-of-body experience.  This isn’t a defenseless child; this is someone who made a conscious decision to combat you, just because it was fun, or just to see what you would do in return.  It is an ex-haus-ting, often daily, battle.

But (always afterwards) I realize that’s not a good reason to lose it.  I yelled about how I’d asked her not to do that before, and how that meant I would have to re-fold it, and how I don’t have time to do that, and it’s inconsiderate and mean to do such a thing to your poor mother.  And what that means is that all last night and all this morning, Eliza kept saying, “Mommy, you’re not happy with me.  You yelled at me.  I’m sorry” in a way that indicates the hurt I put on her was far worse than the frustration of re-folding laundry.  I forgot about re-folding the laundry by this morning.  Eliza, however, couldn’t forget hurting me in such a way that caused me to react like that.

I hope that next time I can look at the laundry pile and laugh, because my kids had a blast making the mess.  After all, it’s laundry.  I should be thankful we have clothes to wear, and a working washer and dryer to clean them, not to mention my floor was mopped earlier in the day, so the clothes were still clean.  Next time, I hope I can bring myself to say, “Oh gosh, that’s going to take some time to clean up.  Can you help me, because it’s okay to make a mess as long as you clean it up,” which would turn the situation into a teaching moment.

I hope next time I can react in such a way that doesn’t make me feel like a bad mom.  I’m not going to beat myself up over it anymore, because one thing my kids are already teaching me is that their grace, like God’s, is new each day.  And that reminds me that I might have bad moments, but I’m a good mom.

Parenting lesson #12: Having kids makes it harder to judge others


I am less judgmental than I used to be.  I realize that’s a self-defeating statement, but stick with me here.

I’m pretty good at judging people.  I know I shouldn’t do it, but I size people up pretty quickly and decide a lot about them with very little factual information.  I know that, while I’ll probably always struggle with this, becoming a parent has made me mull over my assumptions and contemplate that they could be (no, I don’t want to admit it) wrong.

A really good friend who’s an amazing, award-winning teacher recently went to Disney World.  Disney is one of those places where bad parenting really shines through.  (I’m picturing little Johnny beating his sister, Janie, while threatening to run away if he doesn’t ride Space Mountain RIGHT NOW.)  It’s hard not to look everywhere and wonder why God didn’t make it harder to get pregnant, or why there’s not some test you have to take to get permission from the government to procreate.  But that’s another topic entirely …

I asked my friend what she saw that was so disturbing, and she said she noticed families eating together but not communicating at all.  She saw kids playing with their iPods, iPads and iAnythings while the parents seemed happy to ignore them.  At first it made me sad to imagine the scene, too.  I thought, “Gosh, families just aren’t families anymore.  Those parents will probably wonder why their kids won’t talk to them when they’re teenagers.”

Then came the thought that perhaps, just maybe, that could be me someday.  It’s possible  (especially at Disney World), when I will be exhaustively park-hopping, accommodating at least four people’s preferences while keeping on a schedule to fit as many rides in as possible, that when we sit down as a family for a meal, no one will have anything to say.  We might just sit in silence, all hoping for a break from each other and from the hustle and bustle of the park.  Or maybe the kid in the family my friend saw was autistic.  I came to realize that someday, if my good friend didn’t know me, she could have seen ME at the park with MY family doing the same thing, and tell her friends how sad my family is.

Before I became a parent (and this is no dis on people without kids), I definitely watched and condemned other parents’ actions a whole lot more than I do now.  I find myself trying to give people the benefit of the doubt a little more, thinking through the various scenarios where I might do the same thing I can’t believe I’m witnessing (like if I’m tired, or if there might be days when I give in to the same type of battle because it’s not worth having the 22nd fight of the day).

So, if you ever see me at Disney World, or anywhere for that matter, and we’re doing something you wouldn’t do, please step back and assume I have thought through what I’m doing and I have a reason.

Unless you see one of my kids beating the other up while making demands and holding our emotions hostage.  If that happens, please intervene.  You have my permission to judge.