Keeping Out the Ks: Exercising the Mommy Veto

It’s hard to avoid hearing about the Ks. In supermarket checkout lines, their faces, boobs and butts festoon magazine covers, with headlines screaming about sex tapes, cheating, divorces and drugs.

photo-24This “famous for being famous” family has (or had?) a reality show on TV. Talk show hosts joke about the dad’s plastic-looking plastic surgery results, the mom’s pretty much everything, the older girls’ weddings, the days-long marriage and the “directionally” named baby.

Like many Americans, my middle-school-age daughter can’t seem to divert her eyes.

In all fairness, I know precious little about this blended family. I have never seen the reality show and don’t read the tabloids. However, I’ve heard enough to believe that the girls have nothing to offer my daughter, and couldn’t possibly serve as positive role models. So, after Pea quoted the show one too many times, I banned it.

Yes, I exercised the “Mommy Veto.”

We all know that mothers, as top executives of the household, hold this power. It comes in handy when absolute reason won’t work, when a vote has taken place and mom is in the minority or when we just inherently know that a course of action is wrong.

This is also known as the “Because I said so” or “Because I’m the mom” argument.

I have used the veto to negate our family’s democratic process on several occasions (“we all voted and decided the next vacation should be at Disneyland”) and I have employed it to ban plenty of activities, from playing violent video games to attending sleepovers to wearing sweatpants to school.

Keeping out the Ks was a bit harder. Aside from the possibility of watching at someone else’s house, Pea has access to Netflix and YouTube on TVs, computers and even an iPad.

Now, let me take a moment to state that if you have no idea what show or family I am discussing, no worries. I barely know who they are myself.

And, because I don’t want to bolster my reasoning with actual facts, which would require my watching the show, I need to trust my gut and just say no.

I think my daughter – who is still quite sweet and compliant – really has stayed away from the TV program. At least she stopped mentioning the family, primarily because I said she couldn’t even utter the last name in our home or around me.

That “around me” took on new meaning when I found myself in Los Angeles with Pea and her friend Smiley not long ago. Like many visitors to the area, they were on the lookout for stars, and mentioned several they hoped to meet.

photo-23When the “K” name came up, I took advantage of the “teaching moment.” “Honestly, girls, why would you want to see them? They are famous for all the wrong reasons. They don’t actually do anything. They haven’t contributed to society in a positive way.”

The girls tried to argue the girls’ virtues, and, after gaining no ground, took a new tack. “The younger two are okay,” Smiley avowed. “Those girls didn’t ask to be famous. They don’t want to do the show. They volunteer at an animal shelter. Their dad [that Olympian whose last name starts with a J] hates doing the show, too.”

I listened to Smiley and Pea, and replied, “Those ‘J’ girls are about your age, so they should be working on their educations, not out partying. They should do something worthwhile with their lives, and if I see them, I’ll tell them just that.”

Pea was aghast, and screamed, “Mom, you wouldn’t!”

My reply: “Oh, you’d better believe I would. I would have no problem setting those girls straight.”

At this point, while the conversation was all in fun for me, I’m not sure Pea and Smiley thought I was joking.

Which is why they both panicked a bit, the next afternoon, when they spotted a lanky teenage girl walking towards us in Studio City’s quaint shopping district.

“That’s one of the J girls,” Smiley whispered. “I know it is. She’s with her friend [whomever].”

The fact that Pea also recognized the girl, and knew of the friend, set off an internal alarm. I made a mental “We’ll discuss this later” note.

So, yes, there I was, face to face with the celebrity I had banned from my house and my daughter’s vocabulary, the same girl I had promised to “set straight.”

Both Pea and Smiley stopped dead in their tracks, and looked at me quite nervously. “You aren’t going to say anything, are you?” Smiley asked.

“Of course I will,” I challenged. “I’m going to give her the ‘what-what.’ “ Pea was praying, almost visibly, that I was bluffing.

We smiled at the gorgeous girl and her buddy, and watched as they entered the store we had just exited.

After the girls in my charge calmed down, Smiley announced, “I’m going in to ask for a photo. She’s really nice; I’m sure she’ll say yes.”

“If she agrees, I’ll take the photo,” I offered.

“Please, please don’t say anything to her,” Pea begged.

I kept up the charade a little longer. “Maybe I’ll just suggest she get a real job when she’s older.”

Of course, the very sweet-seeming 15-year-old “J girl” agreed to a photo. And, after seeing her up close, all I could utter was,  “Wow, you have amazingly beautiful eyes.”

We’ll see if Pea takes me seriously the next time I make a threat. Meanwhile, the show, the magazines, and both the K and J words remain on the banned list. Why? Because I’m the mom.

–Linda Williams Rorem, 28 Oct. 2013
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Daughters Teaching Mothers

Those who know me, know that I am never short on words or advice. If one does not want to hear my advice, I give them the out, prefacing my comments with: “You may not want to hear what I have to say…” I do not voice my opinion if it is not wanted. So, if you do not want to hear my advice on raising teenage daughters, read no further.

Many parents and kids today hate to hear the truth. Parents love to assume that their child is perfect and uber smart; that he or she never lies, steals or cheats. These parents love to blame other parents and their kids’ friends when something goes wrong, instead of looking in the mirror and taking full (or partial) blame themselves. And in our small yet over-protected community, some parents even threaten others with a lawsuit–really!!!!

Katsman youngThe other day at the gym, with pure joy, I was able to exercise with my dear friend Linda (co-author of PermissionSlips). Linda and I enjoy each other’s advice and company, and share deep-rooted Midwest values when raising our children. We give our kids just enough rope to slip and just enough rope to reel them back in. Since Linda has four children, she is far more experienced in child rearing than I. But I have more girls than she does.

Linda and I commonly discuss the latest issues surrounding her Number Two and Three sons, who are friends with my two daughters. Linda loves to hear the stories of our community from the “girls” point of view, and I like to hear the “boys” point of view. On this particular day at the gym, she asked if I would be willing to share my advice with PermissionSlips readers. So, here goes:

Keep Kids Busy
When my daughters were babies, a very wise neighbor said to me, “The best advice I can give you when raising a daughter is to keep her very busy, very, very busy. The busier your daughter is, the less likely she is to get into trouble.”  I have lived by those words.

My girls have been over-programmed since they could start Kindermusik and infant swimming. They have played on every sport team and taken every type of sport lessons, including, but not limited to, horseback riding and water skiing.

What has stuck for more than 16 years with my oldest is dance. At 18 years of age she is still dancing. My 16 year old has been dancing for 14 years. I like to think they are too busy and exhausted to get into trouble.

Make Children Accountable
In our household, we have always made the guilty party accountable for their wrong.  No taking the cell phone or car away. Why would we do that? It only punishes the parents.  Take away something that is embarrassing or puts the child on edge – maybe no Varsity baseball team or cheer squad. How about doing the punishment that the principal states is required for forging a parent’s signature, instead of arguing that your child would never do such a thing?

Honesty is the Only Policy
In our home, I raised my girls to be honest. We stress that no matter how terrible the crime is, be honest about it. We parents can help our children out of a bind if they tell the truth. The truth never changes, but lies always change. In our home, if the truth is told there is no additional punishment. If there was, then why tell the truth in the first place? Some kids would relish a night, week and month with out being wired into something.  Just tell the truth.

Never Judge Others
My girls know that I will never judge their friends. Everyone’s personal life is different.  Everyone’s family situation is different. And truthfully, some family situations are terrible.  Does that give us permission to judge someone else’s child?  No, it brings us to empathize with them.

Save Secrets
I know that there are several “secrets” my girls have kept from my husband and I in the past. Little do they know, I have found out most of the secrets. Instead of confronting them on these little secrets, I save them in the back of my mind for those “just in case” moments when I need to pull something out of my own bag of tricks. Why let your child know you are angry with them in the heat of your anger? That only promotes more anger. Most teenage girls generally assume that their mothers are always upset with them for something. We are not always angry or upset with our daughters; their perceptions stem from their fragile, hormonal egos.

Don’t Be Afraid to Make Mistakes
Katsman recentMy oldest child just set off for the University.  She is opening her eyes and world to something so foreign to her and away from our loved and protected Island. I have told her to learn from her errors and mistakes. I said, “Now is the time to really figure out who you are. It is okay to make mistakes.” We all did; we were just never told it was okay. It is okay to figure out who you are. For example, I said, “You may change your major a dozen times. Just make sure that whatever you choose to graduate in is: 1. Employable; 2. Can support your lifestyle.”

Remember Where You Come From
I was always told to stand tall with my head high. And lastly, to remember what my last name was. I was also told, “Never embarrass your mother and father.” I hope that I have instilled these lessons in my daughters. Though my lessons may not indicate the popular choice or the perfect choice, they have been the steadfast choices in our home.

Lisa Katsman, 14 Oct. 2013
Mother of 2 daughters

Cherishing Mothers and Sons

In the past few weeks, a former colleague lost her 18-year-old son to a tragic bike accident, and a 17-year-old who plays football with my sons lost his mother to cancer.

I’ve heard of a spate of deaths recently – parents of good friends, the beloved grandmother of a student, the 2-year-old nephew of an acquaintance – but none hit me as hard as the teenage boy and the mom.

Perhaps that’s not surprising, because after all, I am a mom raising teenage boys.

Much has been written about the relationship between fathers and sons – often tormented, loaded with pressures and expectations. However, as the mom of three boys, I’m partial to the connection between mothers and sons.

Years ago, when I took walks or made grocery-store trips with my sons (often with one in a backpack and two in the stroller or cart), strangers would stop and say, “Oh, you’re so lucky; boys always love their mothers.”

I do feel that way. Sure, the “terrible two’s” were exhausting and we have battled over schoolwork, curfews and cars, but we haven’t endured long stretches of silence. For the most part, life with boys is drama-free: they say their peace and move on.

It’s different with daughters. From what I understand, I’m about two years away from a seismic shift in my pre-pubescent 12-year-old girl.

Although she still exudes sweetness, I know Pea will soon perfect the eye-roll and will rebel in her own way, to prove how different she is from me. At about 14, she will become a card-carrying member of the “I hate my mom club,” and will keep her membership active for about two years. I plan to spend some time appearing stupid and nerdy in her eyes.

Afterwards, I trust, she will come back and serve as my ally forever.

But between mothers and sons, that dynamic doesn’t exist. They know they’re different from me and have nothing to prove. We relate fairly well, and I take very seriously my role as a nurturing force, moral guide and “disaster-prevention specialist.”

And so, without apology I will continue to doze on the couch and await their arrival home every night. I will kiss them good night and say, “I love you.”  I will send texts when they’re out, and ask to be apprised of location changes. I will remind them to wear seatbelts, not to text behind the wheel and to use designated drivers. I will ask about their friends, and forge relationships with those they love.

I give myself permission to remain actively involved in my sons’ lives, because we need each other, and—as recent events have reinforced—no one knows how much time we’ll have together.

–        Linda Williams Rorem, 22 June 2012
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Father Knows Best

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Last week Linda wrote about the virtues of being a Mean Mommy and the complicated mix of discipline and love required to raise children, not friends. The tricky teenage years were a focus and the article inspired some provocative comments. However, nothing was more intriguing than the response by a doting dad.

He read the blog and posted a message on the author’s Facebook wall. He took issue with the blog, and as such, the writer’s parenting style. His response was tempered by the fact that he is an older parent with just one child, a nine-year-old girl, and he stated that he gained much of his parenting experience raising dogs. He advocated his approach as parenting on an individual basis, apparently interpreting the “mean mom” way as “one size fits all.” Admittedly, this mom’s inner-tiger was ready to pounce.

One reader, a local dad, saw the post and imagined sending the following reply, “I think “Sam” is right on. He’s trained dogs, and has a nine-year-old. There can’t be much else to learn.

Dog training is especially useful in understanding kids. Many similarities in behavior. Why just the other day I was admiring a 13-year-old golden retriever, and thinking how much dogs are like kids. The loyalty, devotion and absolute unconditional love that dog displayed is just like most 13-year-old girls demonstrate toward their parents.

Yes, Sam old boy…as a parent of four myself (and having trained three fine dogs) I can assure you that there will be no future surprises for you in your relationship with your daughter. None. You nailed it buddy. Kick back. It just gets easier and easier from here on. Really.”

Don’t you love it? Cleary, father number two shows promise for membership in the “Mean Dad Club.”

While dads may not typically swap parenting tips as readily as moms (note that both comments were not posted on the blog page), we know they struggle with the same issues. They share more parenting duties than the previous generation, so it is no surprise to see the appearance of dad blogs such as Dadcentric, Always Home and Uncool, Stay at Stove Dad and Dude to Dad. We also see evidence of battle fatigue in highly popular satiric children’s books by dads, Go the F**k to Sleep by Adam Mansback and Monsters Eat Whiny Children by Bruce Eric Kapla.

While many moms feel they inherit the position of family CMO (Chief Mean Officer) this is a promising sign that dads and moms can work together as a solid “mean team.” No one enjoys being the sole homework nag, chore tyrant and curfew commander. Sorry Sam, kids just don’t respond to “Sit. Stay. Study.”

Raising human beings is complicated, challenging and sometimes unpleasant. So it’s especially gratifying when dads and moms know they are in this together, trying to do their best.

Carol Lewis Gullstad, February 21, 2012

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The Mean Mom Club

When some friends and I formed a new book club a few years ago, we learned the local bookstore would give us a discount if we registered our club and its monthly selections. We discussed potential club names, and realized that “Meanest Mommies” was perfect, as that’s what we’re all called at home.

It turns out that our club name and no-nonsense parenting style was part of a trend, a reaction against the coddling, cheer-leading, here’s-a-trophy-for-joining-the-team method that was popular when our kids were younger.

In the past few years, a host of mean mommy blogs – including themeanestmom.blogspot.com and www.meanestmommy.com — have popped up, all flaunting the same, “I’m not supposed to be your friend, I’m supposed to teach you how to be an honest, hard-working contributor to society” bent.

In my view, this “mean mommy” approach to parenting fills a nice void between the hyper-controlling helicopter moms, the super-driven Tiger Moms and the latest flavor of the month, the detached, extra-strict French style presented in Pamela Druckerman’s new Bringing Up Bebe: One American Mother Discovers the Wisdom of French Parenting.

In our house, the meanest mommy in the world makes the kids complete 10 tasks a day to earn allowance (make their beds, clear their plates, put their clothes in the laundry and, most important, take on one job that contributes to the household’s functioning, such as emptying the dishwasher or folding laundry).

Early on, this mean mommy was inspired by a wonderful book entitled Mitten Strings for God (it isn’t as religiously oriented as it sounds), in which the author’s edicts include a ban on criticizing “the chef.” In that woman’s home, as in mine, if the kids don’t like what’s offered for dinner, after trying everything, they can quietly leave the table, grab two slices of bread and some cheese, and return with that simple sandwich.

At our house, kids must pay for clothes they don’t “absolutely need.” They must check in whenever they are out, can’t sleep at other kids’ homes after eighth grade, have an early curfew and get “grounded” for disrespecting rules.

This mean mommy pays for the kids’ cell phone service, but insists that their primary purpose is to enable communication within the family. So, if she calls a child and he or she doesn’t answer or call back within 10 minutes, the phone disappears for a while.

This mommy is so mean, she bags up clothes that are left on the floor too long, and tells the kids the items will be donated to the thrift store, or the kids can buy them back at thrift-store rates.

To be clear, this mean mommy loves her kids enormously, and they know it. We rarely end a phone call or text without an “I love you” or xoxo, we trust and confide in each other and we share wonderful tender moments. And, while my kids aren’t perfect people (who is?), I am very, very proud of them. However, they are works in progress, and I am grateful for advice and information from other moms.

Where we live, MOB (Mother of Boys) groups have been popular for years. These groups of moms, generally gathered by their sons’ grade level, meet on a regular basis to discuss age-appropriate issues (first junk food and PG-13 movies, later homework and “screen time” issues, then allowance and curfews and finally, well, female and substance concerns).

One of the greatest aspects of the MOB groups is returning home and telling your child that six of your friends don’t allow “what every other mom in town” permits. After a while, kids grow so suspicious of MOB meetings, they’ll try to keep their mothers from attending – illnesses, need for homework help, erasing phone messages; everything short of lost limbs.

Now, the internet has made some of those MOB groups obsolete. As an example, two weeks ago a very venerable mom in our community sent an email to a few dozen friends stating, “[My son] assures me that ALL the 2nd semester senior boys have had their curfews  removed and that everyone can stay out as late as they want with no ramifications(!).” She wanted a “reality check,” and the internet swiftly flooded with responses, most assuring the mean mom that she wasn’t alone; that their kids still had midnight curfews, too.

To paraphrase Kermit the Frog, “It’s not easy being mean.” Because we love our little creatures so much, we are tempted to do whatever it takes to make them happy. For their part, kids learn at a very young age how to pull just the right heartstrings at just the right moment. However, we mean mommies understand that in life, we can’t always get what we want when we want it.

Linda Williams Rorem, 13 Feb. 2012
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Multi-tasking: Mission Impossible?

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Several months ago I was on the phone with my sister and got repeatedly distracted during the conversation. Although we customarily chat while doing a chore, she could tell  my attention was more divided than typically.  She paused and said, “You know, Carol, multi-tasking doesn’t work. It just makes you feel like you are accomplishing more when you try to do several things at once.”

I have thought about this often during December.  Regardless of the countless studies that scan the brain and provide evidence that humans can only perform tasks sequentially, as a mom during the holidays, I know better. Multi-tasking is a not a myth, it’s a must.

An often-cited Stanford study on multi-tasking was performed on university students. It measured their ability to filter irrelevant information, manage working memory and switch from one task to another. The study concluded that multi-taskers were worse than focused taskers at all of these. I was disappointed by the results and a bit skeptical.

The study’s conclusions were based on multi-media measurements using a sorting problem with blue and red triangles. I would like to see a practical study performed using a group of moms responding to real-life scenarios. In a narrow timeframe, require the subjects to make dinner while assisting with homework, paying bills, checking email and answering the question, “Where is my practice jersey?” Then the scientists will get my attention.

Other studies point out that the brain cannot fully focus when multi-tasking because it takes longer to complete an individual task and the amount of errors increase. This does resonate as I remember the day — before motherhood — when I could complete projects with ease.  Multi-tasking, however, or at least rapid-fire “tasking,” is a daily exercise for most moms. Our duties create the sensation of juggling live grenades with an undersized catcher’s mitt –  and that is just the scheduling part.

However, I did take note that perhaps I spend too much time talking to my kids while simultaneously trying to accomplish something else. It occurred to me that the real damage of multi-tasking may not be more errors and fewer completed tasks. It might mean that people I care about don’t think I am truly paying attention when I listen but don’t look them in the eye, a human demonstration of care and concern.

So, my one and only New Year’s resolution this year is to provide each family member completely focused, undivided attention daily. Then, I can spend the rest of the day defiantly demonstrating that I can indeed multi-task.

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Carol Lewis Gullstad, December 26, 2011

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One-Step Program

Spiral stair case.

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Recently, Linda and I held a talk at a local library on the subject of “women, friendship and guilt” with the title “Frazzled Mom.” The women who walked in the door were curious about the subject matter, but also a bit hesitant.

“If I am attending this talk does it mean I am a self-identified frazzled mom?” said one.

“Will I walk away from this talk being less frazzled?” said another.

And one woman was just blunt: “I need help!”

If moms were pin-ball machines, there would be a constantly blinking light on their forehead saying “tilt.” The neon sign would represent the incredible stress that most women endure daily in their multiple roles as mothers, workers, spouses, community members, healers, givers and care-takers of children and their own parents.

Women long for relief, but are unsure what to give up and how to combat guilt. They want permission to hop off the crazy merry-go-round. They know their current lifestyle pace is unsustainable physically and emotionally. They need to regain some semblance of sanity.

We told the crowd during our opening remarks that we hoped they would learn some helpful information that they could use right away to make their lives feel more balanced. We also provided assurance that we were not a 12-step program. No one was going to stand up and say, “Hi my name is Sally, I am a Frazzled Mom and my life has become unmanageable.” There would be no making amends for past wrongdoings as a mom. There would be no sponsors with follow-up phone calls.

Let’s face it, once you become a mom, you are “on the wagon” for the rest of your life.  Your bundle of joy is your free pass into the fraternity of frazzleness. That’s the chapter left out of What to Expect When You are Expecting, because the authors undoubtedly concluded there was no point to freaking out readers.

We elicited a few laughs when we said that ours was actually a one-step program. The step we asked everyone to take was: give yourself permission to spend time with your friends.

The prescription we recommend sounds simple on the surface. We know our friends make us laugh, support us in times of crisis and generally make us feel good, but it is hard to carve out even a sliver of extra time in our

full schedules. In fact, we often tell ourselves that time spent being “unproductive” is “wasted.”  We don’t even recognize that a break could save us from burnout and make us more effective and happy. While we would not dream of skipping a vacation from a paid position, we struggle to take time off from parenting.

Most mothers do make the time to focus on two aspects of their health — mental and physical. However there is a third component, relationships, that is equally critical to total health. We call this real relationship component the “Friendship Phenomenon.”

According to scientific data, women lower each other’s stress and cholesterol levels, keep our weight in check, boost contentment in old age and actually add years to each other’s lives. Further, primate research on stress has shown that the emotional support of another human being is the only demonstrated force capable of reversing the longtime biological effects of stress on the human body.

So take the one-step even if it is a baby step: pick up the phone and call a friend.  Make arrangements to do some activity this week that lasts at least an hour — a walk, a cup of coffee, a trip to a local store. Shed the guilt and get going. We guarantee that if you meet up with a friend just for fun it will be a step that you will not regret.

Carol Lewis Gullstad, October 3, 2011
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