Did Being a Helicopter Mom Doom My Marriage (and Kids)?

Readers — This is one of the most reflective, honest things I’ve ever read about parenting and marriage. It comes to us from Kristina Beth, in Utah. – L.

Dear Free-Range Kids: This is my first time saying anything on this website, but I’ve often heard about this blog from my coworker.  In the beginning, I thought she was more or less nuts, despite there being some nuggets of wisdom she mentioned.  I am recently divorced after nearly 30 years of marriage, and I can’t get the Free-Range philosophy out of my mind.  Am I saying Free-Range Kid-raising would have saved my marriage?  I don’t think anything is that simple.  And yet, if some things had been done differently, who knows?

I was pretty much the classic helicopter mom and I was proud of it.  I think it drove my ex-husband nuts, but I was the mom at home and he wasn’t.  Besides, what’s wrong with taking good care of kids?  My kids went nowhere without me, or at least my complete approval.  I made sure they were entertained.  When things in school went badly, I intervened.  When drama came up with friends, I was there representing my kids’ cases.  I made sure all of my kids’ needs were met and as many reasonable wants as I could supply.  If they called, I came running. Because that is what a good mom did.  Did my husband get shoved to the background occasionally?  Probably more often than I realized.  But, hey, that was part of parenting.

I still have two minor kids at home and five I wish I could say were on their own.  I figured if they made it to 18 and left the house, my job was done.  It didn’t happen that way.  My adult children were still calling me.  At first, it seemed normal, all those little things you forget about as you make your way into the world.  Hah. I can’t call it normal anymore.  The more I heard myself saying, “Can’t you figure it out on your own?” the more it seemed something was out of place.  I mentioned the two minor children at home?  I have them, plus two adults with their significant others and their children.  No jobs, no clue.  Yes, we are working (with a counselor) to remedy this living situation, but out of the children I have, only one is what you call independent.  I never intended my family to turn out this way.  Maybe I can’t be blamed for all their choices, but now that I look back I wonder that if I had let them fall on their butts a few more times they might have learned a few more lessons.

I recently threatened my teenage son with the typical “I won’t be there to fix it for you” remark.  When I mentioned the conversation to one of my daughters, she said “Oh, Mom, of course you will.”  That was a blow, but a fair one.  Habits are hard to break.

And then there is the subject of my ex-husband.  I think he saw it coming.  We had fights, huge arguments about the children, with him specifically saying I needed to step back, especially when they were adults, and let them make their own mistakes.  He hated having adult children and their families living in our home.

I don’t want to place the typical nuclear family up on a pedestal and say it’s the best one for everyone, but I’m beginning to wonder if this focus on being “the best parent” isn’t a bad idea.  My ex and I were supposed to be PARTNERS.  It should not have been about him simply being about an accessory to be used occasionally in the child-rearing department.  I married him because we were in love and we seemed a good fit. Not to have kids, but to be companions to each other.  Ideally, most of my kids should have been out the door years ago.  Isn’t that the idea?  Marry, raise a few kids, send them off to live their own lives, and continue being married?

Divorce happens.  I’m not championing staying together “just because.”  But we should be entering marriage with more focus on our partners, not any potential children.  Instead of spending so much time worrying about my children, taking care of my children, I should have been giving my relationship with my husband a little more attention.

By all means, we should love our children.  By all means, we should take care of them.  But we should be viewing the family as a whole.

Was my divorce the right thing?  It’s complicated, there is so much more to it than just kids, and in light of everything it was the best choice.  But I have to wonder, if I had let my kids be kids and let myself be a wife, maybe things could have been a little different. – Kristina\


To which I replied: Kristina — First of all, thank you for being so honest. Secondly, I think you’re right that divorce is never about just one thing. Thirdly, raising seven kids is hard no matter what your “parenting philosophy”! Fourthly, even I — Ms. Free-Range Kids — don’t believe there’s a magic cut-off date for making kids independent, and I have every confidence that even your older kids can become self-sufficient people if that’s what everyone wants. For instance, while I urge people to encourage their kids’ competence early on, I didn’t touch raw chicken or cook a “real” meal till age 25. So, things can happen at different paces.

Good luck to you. It’s hard to stand up and say, “Maybe I was wrong.” To me it’s so brave and inspiring that you did, it makes me think you’re ready for anything. Even happiness. – L

“I was the classic helicopter mom.  I think it drove my husband nuts.”

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90 Responses to Did Being a Helicopter Mom Doom My Marriage (and Kids)?

  1. Selby April 19, 2013 at 8:22 am #

    Brutally honest, thoughtful, courageous and expansive essay. Kudos to the author for being so insightful. More than ever, I feel that the partnership of the parents is the foundation upon which the children stand. At the end of the day, they just need that foundation. They need your love of each other under them. Don’t give your marriage/partnership just a little attention. Try to give it a lot of attention, and let your kids SEE you giving it a lot of attention. Carve out sacrosanct adult space in the house and guard it. Be verbally appreciative of each other in their hearing, let them hear “Dad needs me now” or “I want to spend time with Mom now”….

    Children are wonderful but they are not the center of the universe and they do not rule the roost. And you cannot keep them from hurting EVER. It simply isn’t natural. We all need adversity….it’s how we grow and evolve.

  2. Earth.W April 19, 2013 at 8:28 am #

    Wow, what an interesting and very honest letter.

  3. Elissa April 19, 2013 at 8:30 am #

    Anna Quindlen has and excellent theory on modern childrearing. Since the 60’s, women have been educated to validate themselves through a profession, just like men (a good thing). However, when we all started having children, we turned it into a career, unwilling to do a less than perfect job. Our children’s achievements and excellence became the measure of our own success.

  4. Laura F April 19, 2013 at 8:45 am #

    It isn’t easy being a free range mom. Take it step by step one thing at a time and it will get easier. I am a free range mom of a 4 year old and I remind myself every day that a skinned knee is good for her and learning how to do things herself will help her. Good luck.

  5. Doug O'Brien April 19, 2013 at 9:02 am #

    When we were first married, the advice we got was to build your life so that when your kids are 18 they will move out and your spouse won’t.

    I can’t tell you the number of friends and neighbors we have who are living Kristina’s life. The problem is that stay at home moms get no accolades for being the best wife on the block, but there is huge pressure to be the perfect room mom at school, to have kids who are on the travel soccer team, etc.

  6. Kim April 19, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    Thank you for your honesty and bravery in sharing your story. What a powerful reflection that will hopefully help others reflect on their experiences and behaviors. This was my household growing up. Because of my personality, I was able to come out of it relatively OK (despite a lot of insecurities/anxiety issues, I have been independent since going off to college). I am naturally an independent, I’ll do it myself person (for better or worse). However, my younger brother is a different story. He has so little confidence in making his own decisions about anything, or doing things on his own, because he was never allowed to try and fail. My parents are frustrated that he can’t just “be independent” and “act his age” when he had had all of his life controlled up until then (and still now, to a point). But they don’t see it as his life having been controlled. Rather, they think they “did everything for him to get him started right, and look how little he is showing his appreciation.” Not cool. He’s 23 and now that my parents are “tired of raising kids”, they have created a completely dependent child who, in his defense, really doesn’t have the life skills needed at this point to be independent. He’s getting there, but slowly and much less confidently.

    And while my parents are still married, it’s rocky. It always has been. My father has been the “background” parent because whenever he has tried to step in to help, he’s told by my mother he’s doing something wrong, not quickly enough, not how she would have done it, that he’s being overly critical, etc. So after 30+ years of marriage, he’s just shut down and is too exhausted from the fighting to even try to play an active role either in his relationship with my brother or their marriage.

    Again, my mom’s helicopter tendencies (like you said) are probably not the only issue here. My dad and brother are quite passive and are easy to “control”, so they’ve enabled her behavior in a way.

    Thanks again for sharing your story! I believe, like you, my mom was well-intended in her helicopter-ways. She loves us and grew up in a family where she didn’t feel valued and she struggled a lot financially when she moved out on her own very young. She never wanted us to struggle the way she had; However, what that ended up looking like, was that we often didn’t get to struggle (i.e. learn) at all.

  7. Yan Seiner April 19, 2013 at 9:03 am #

    There is a great book, “Ender’s Game”, written by Orson Scott Card. According to the author, it’s written for pre-adolescent boys, but it’s still one of my favorite books. (Maybe that says something about me, I don’t know.)

    It’s a very, very sophisticated “boy saves the world” book – but it also looks at the moral and ethical implications of war, and relationships, and gaining wisdom and growing up.

    One of my favorite quotes in the book:

    “Ender Wiggin must believe that no matter what happens, no adult will ever, ever step in to help him in any way… If he does not believe that, then he will never reach the peak of his abilities.”

    That book probably had more to do with my parental attitude than all the baby and childrearing books I ever read.

  8. pentamom April 19, 2013 at 9:16 am #

    Yan, you want your kids turned into dehumanized, conscienceless killing machines like the people who said that made Ender into? 😉

  9. Lissa April 19, 2013 at 9:36 am #

    what a brave and thoughtful essay. I’ve recently realized that the relationship between partners is the single most important relationship in a family. It is the foundation on which all other relationships are built. You are modeling what a healthy marriage looks like for your children. Also, the parent/child relationship tends tend to flow naturally, while the spouse/partner relationship is the one that requires time and maintenance to keep working.

    My mom was pretty “free range” when it came to letting us play outside and walk or ride bikes places unsupervised. However, the one department that we were severely lacking in was chores. My mom was a stay-at-home mom, and I think felt that all those household tasks were just part of her job. I am 27 years old, have been on my own since I was 19, and I feel like I am just now mastering and (mostly) keeping up with all the little day to day things required to make a household run smoothly.

  10. WendyW April 19, 2013 at 9:56 am #

    from Doug: “The problem is that stay at home moms get no accolades for being the best wife on the block, but there is huge pressure to be the perfect room mom at school, to have kids who are on the travel soccer team, etc.”

    Even worse, those that DO try to be a “good wife” are often looked down upon as demeaning themselves in servitude to a man. Apparently, giving your husband and marriage priority above other relationships is archaic and outdated.

  11. Yan Seiner April 19, 2013 at 9:57 am #

    @Lissa: On point with the modeling “a healthy marriage”. I volunteered with an at-risk youth group for a while. One of the things they drilled into our heads was how to model conflict resolution. It’s OK to get mad, disagree, and so on, but it’s also important to resolve those conflicts.

    Back to the OP, I hope you work it out. Best of luck.

  12. Captain America April 19, 2013 at 10:01 am #

    Fascinating stuff and it makes me think of Harvard University.

    You can go to schools that are educationally equal to Harvard in terms of academic offerings and, now in 2013, even equal in quality.

    But Harvard’s critical difference is that you learn much from your classmates.

    You learn much from your siblings as a child.

  13. Captain America April 19, 2013 at 10:02 am #

    . . . with respect to the “Stay at Home Moms Get No Credit” idea, I don’t see that where I’m at.

    Instead, there’s an undercurrent of envy.

  14. Lara Schwartz April 19, 2013 at 10:12 am #

    Kristina– you are honest and brave. You have lost a lot but you have the most important thing– you. You’re a good woman who cares about your loved ones.

    I happen to agree with your analysis that a couple of decades of ingrained patterns can lead to “adult” children remaining in the house, and I’ll say something about that below.

    Before you come down too hard on yourself, I think you should consider that you made your choices in the context of a culture that encouraged and modeled those choices, and that punishes women who don’t become appendages of their kids. Remember the woman who got death threats for writing that she loves her husband more than her kids? Well, you learned the hard way that a balance between partner and kids is important. But it’s not like you chose in a vacuum. So don’t spend the rest of your life believing like other people’s failings are all your own.

    Guess what else? Your children made choices too. They had friends and media and popular culture and a father and plenty of other information that people are supposed to grow up, get a job, move out, and do their own laundry.

    My own mother helicoptered like mad for less noble reasons than you. She has to be the center of people’s world. But that’s another story that cannot be told without a tray of cookies and a gallon of Pepto. My brother is 44 and still lives with her. He is not employed, has struggled with the law, his mental health, and a succession of job failures that are always someone else’s fault. He does not have a family of his own, and at this point can’t qualify for a credit card. I am a licensed attorney with a daughter, a husband, a house, a career, friends, and everything I fervently wish my brother could have but I know he never will. Not tooting my own horn. It’s just that there were two of us and we didn’t both end up living in the spare bedroom. It took a lot for me to pull away but I did, and your kids have that responsibility too. You’ve done your soul searching; now they have a responsibility to do theirs.

    Don’t punish yourself for always being there. You can still get on their butts and tell them to cowboy up. They have to, and you deserve your own life too.

    With blessings and sincere appreciation for what you’ve experienced.

  15. Daniel April 19, 2013 at 10:37 am #

    @pentamom Ender wasn’t conscienceless. On the contrary, his having a conscience was the main reason he was chosen over his brother Peter. He was a killing machine, but at least he felt bad about it.

  16. pentamom April 19, 2013 at 11:38 am #

    But wasn’t the point of manipulating Ender into killing people while he was still a little boy, and then blasting him with the news when it was too late for remorse (on multiple occasions), a way of frying his conscience?

    I agree that he wasn’t conscienceless in the sense of not having one at all, but it his ability to feel guilt was deliberately manipulated not for his own good, but to make him into a tool whose moral feelings and sense of others didn’t get in the way of the job that had to be done. It makes for an interesting story, but not exactly what you’d call a model for child-rearing.

  17. Sally April 19, 2013 at 11:46 am #

    Really enjoyed this piece. Credit to the author and the community here for such refreshing honesty and to Lenore, who has given us a place to question (today’s!) conventional wisdoms.

  18. Liesl April 19, 2013 at 11:48 am #

    First of all, I love this thread. I am trying to have a happy, lasting marriage and raise independent, happy, capable children, and the comments here are profound and inspiring.

    Kristina, Judging by your introspection and your articulate letter, I’d say you are intelligent woman, but there’s one point where I think you’ve left the blinders on. Maybe it is just the BEGINNING of your realization that no one is evolving, by living as adults under your roof, so for that, I’ll give you a break. But when you say; “we are working (with a counselor) to remedy this living situation”, I can’t help but think that that is a way to make you FEEL like you’re making changes, without REALLY MAKING CHANGES. It’s like you’re still cushioning life for them; like you are doing too much to protect them from any hardship that may fall on them as they learn to strike out on their own. I’m sure it’s hard to change the game plan now, and there are sure to be hard feelings for a while, but I think you need to absolve yourself now of any more responsibility towards your adult children. Counselor?! Quit babying them! (If I may,) Tell them they have to be OUT, cut-and-dried, in two months. They may fall on their asses. It might be the hardest thing thus far in their pampered little cushy lives, but it will also be the RICHEST time; a time of growth, learning, and self-discovery. Good luck!

  19. marie April 19, 2013 at 11:50 am #

    John Rosemond hammers home the message that marriage is the central relationship of the family. Many women struggle with that, especially when the children are very small. Husbands need to help with the transition away from the child-centered years, so Kristina doesn’t carry the blame alone.

    Rosemond is right about so much even though he can be a self-righteous prig sometimes. He can rely too heavily on the argument that “this is the way my mom did it, and if it worked for me, it will work for you.” He also displays too much contempt for parents who come to him for help.

    …at least that’s the way I read him. Like I said, he is right in many ways.

    My son has been after me to read Ender’s Game. Soon.

  20. Christy Ford April 19, 2013 at 12:37 pm #

    One of the best things parents can do for their children is to have a solid marriage. Show your children what real love looks like by loving, respecting and supporting each other through everything and making quality time with a couple a priority. My parents have done that and I am so thankful.

  21. Christy Ford April 19, 2013 at 12:38 pm #

    That should have said “as a couple” Oops.

  22. anonymous this time April 19, 2013 at 1:05 pm #

    Hi Kristina,

    I, too, have a lot of regrets about the way I showed up in my first marriage. I can now see that far from being a one-way-street, the traffic of misery went both ways, and there really are no “bad guys.”

    Also, I grew up in a house where I had the complete and utter opposite of a “helicopter mom” (unless the helicopter dropped me in the middle of a dark forest and then flew off, only coming in to drop supplies from the air every two weeks). My father didn’t seem to have a lot to say about how I was being raised; the relationship between my parents was quiet but not particularly happy. Whatever time my mother had to herself for pushing me and my brother to grow up so quickly, she spent on all-consuming educational and professional pursuits. My father left when I was 10, after 19 years of marriage. I counted the days until I could leave home and went to college when I was 16.

    I was hyper-responsible and “mature,” and had little patience for my “pampered” fellow students. I was especially derisive of drinking and drug use, attended my classes faithfully, and had many friends, although most of them were professors and not students.

    From the outside, it looked like I had launched successfully. Yet I was plagued by depression and anxiety, especially my final year and after I graduated with my degree. To sustain my über-independent schtick, I purposely cut myself off from anything familiar and moved to a mid-sized city where I had no close connections or friends and forced myself to “break in” to a competitive industry at the trough of a major recession. To say I was lonely and fearful would be a tremendous understatement, but I kept telling myself that “anybody stronger” could do it, so I must do it as well.

    I married young, to a man much older than myself, in an effort to keep up my “accelerated” pace of “development.” I was already a homeowner, and together, we bought a larger home with a big mortgage. Sure, I was out of my mom’s hair, but I was not at all grounded, confident, or joyful. I was looking for all of my self-esteem to come from the outside: the people who liked me, and the work I did, the things I had.

    I am grateful for all that happened in my life: the way I was raised, how my mother nurtured or did not nurture me, my parents’ split, my gyrations of trying to prove my strength and independence, my tragically ill-fated marriage, the two kids we have together, and now, my enormous compassion and acceptance for the whole lot of us.

    What makes us who we are? Nature? Nurture? Both, perhaps, but in what proportion? And in the end, what of it? It is what it is, and we take responsibility for ourselves and our own experience. A mother’s job is not to create happiness for children. I’m still not quite sure exactly what a mother’s job actually is, but I’m thinking it’s the same as a wife’s job: to hold everyone’s needs gently and equally— her own, her kids’, her partner’s, her employer’s, her friends’… It’s not about putting anyone first. It’s about dealing everyone in as equally as possible. Our personalities run interference with our acknowledging this truth, and it takes some of us longer than others to sort it all out. Sounds like you are well on your way. Kudos to you for sharing your story, and I hope mine contributes to a sense of acceptance and understanding.

  23. tdr April 19, 2013 at 1:11 pm #

    Kristina — our culture today puts too much blame on the mom when things go wrong. I think it is a mistake and incorrect. You should also not blame yourself that things have “gone wrong.”

    You had 7 kids!! You say you were a helicopter mom, and I guess you were in some sense, but you are only ONE person and there is physically no way you could have been there every time for every kid.

    Stop spending energy blaming yourself and do something FOR yourself. Go back to school…take up a hobby…find a boyfriend….and just keep saying what you’ve started saying with increasing frequency: “Figure it out for yourself.” Keep yourself busy and remind yourself that it is your life!

    One last point — by blaming yourself you are accepting responsibility for their failures. Helicopter mom behavior! Hello!

  24. socalledauthor April 19, 2013 at 1:15 pm #

    Very thoughtful reflection and I appreciate the courage to make that introspection. Marriage IS important, imho, not just for financial reasons, but to model relationship to children. And to have a partner. The husband and I have have gone through some patches where we saw little of each other and I realized how isolating and lonely it was. Chatting over “nothing” (past, present, future, pop culture, whatever) at any old time is just so nice to do whenever.

    There IS a lot of social and cultural pressure to be a “good mommy” by doing it all. You don’t love your kids if you let them do anything. If I mention that I’m trying to get my son (almost three) to play by himself– the fact that I had just spent an hour playing and coloring with him is irrelevant to the fact that I’m trying to shoo him away to play independently so that I can work or play or just have a break. If I “really” loved him, I wouldn’t need a break, goes the thinking. After all, mom’s happiness is irrelevant and/ or only comes with serving children.

    There’s an all-or-nothing sense with parenting these days. Either you wholly devote all time, all money, all safety efforts to your child, or you suck/ don’t really love them/ should have your children taken away/ etc. And fathers are supposed to just disappear, providing financial support and yardwork (or other required chores.) And, from what I read above, I’m not alone in knowing women who will never be happy with anything their husband does, esp. with the kids. Wrong shirt, wrong shoes, wrong way to play… and then complain when he stops participating and starts escaping with friends, with TV, with something else. And society says this is okay because men are dumb and children come first.

    To the writer, I do say that it’s not too late to change the rules. Tell the adult children that you’ve had a revelation. You will give them a date and move their shit on the lawn. Give them small chances (like, I’m done doing your laundry, do it your own damn self) to prove that your serious and won’t back down. And follow through. They will be better off in the long run, imho. And hey, you can still teach them the skills they are missing, but on an adult level. Show them how to do laundry, then let them do it. If they are stinky, remind them that it is now their choice. Show them how to find apartments, discuss how to sign a lease– provide them the knowledge, then push them out of the nest. It’s never too late. They will learn, but only if you are consistant. (And you can soften then blow with providing them knowledge, rather than ‘help’ aka enabling.)

  25. Emily April 19, 2013 at 1:38 pm #

    Lenore, I think you might have posted this before, but it’s a good message anyway. When I went off to university, there were TONS of students (mostly male) who didn’t know basic things, like how to do laundry, and why you shouldn’t eat undercooked chicken. The sad thing is, I know that all of these people were INTELLIGENT, because not everyone makes it to university, and they would have had to get reasonably good marks in high school, at the “advanced” level (or equivalent). So, they definitely had the mental capacity to learn how to do laundry, or cook chicken properly, but I don’t think anyone bothered to teach them before turning them loose. In my mind, that’s true negligence.

  26. lollipoplover April 19, 2013 at 1:54 pm #

    There’s nothing you can do to change your past except not repeat it. I’m sure this was a very difficult letter to write. But there comes a point when you stop being a doormat for others (including children) and learn to say no. It’s an empowering word. There’s helping and there’s enabling. Adult children need to learn the consequences of their choices in life.

    Don’t discount the monumental amount of work you did to run a household of so many. But don’t continue to be a doormat. Talk is cheap- come up with a date that your kids will move out and hold them to it.

    And if your husband “hated having adult children and their children living in our home” why didn’t he take some responsibility for allowing it? Don’t put all of the blame on yourself. If he felt strongly about this he should have intervened. But again, you can’t change the past. Focus on the present and kick the bums out!

  27. A Dad April 19, 2013 at 2:17 pm #

    The parents’ job is to prepare the children to become independent adults. There’s only a short 18 years to do this.

  28. Loreen April 19, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    If you were married for 30 years, I am assuming that the adult kids are all in their mid to early 20s. There is still time for them to spread their wings! Many, many people in their 20s are not able to be fully independent. It’s our crazy economy – and it’s our crazy culture too. That doesn’t mean that the 24 year old living at home won’t get it together and find sustainable employment. Don’t do everything for your kids – you can start now by sitting down with the ones who live with you and making a plan about who will take care of what chores and what the expectations are for contributing.
    I don’t like either extreme of helicopter parenting or throwing your kids out and expecting them to be fully self-sustaining at age 18. You can reasonably expect to float them for a few years after. Unless they have a full scholarship to college, they won’t be able to support themselves until they get that degree (or a full time job if they aren’t college bound, but frankly they should be because life without that degree is going to be very very hard in the future).
    Whatever you do, don’t blame the kids for the failure of your marriage. It sounds like you could use some counseling to deal with your grief and figure out how to move forward.

  29. Donna April 19, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    “Unless they have a full scholarship to college, they won’t be able to support themselves until they get that degree”

    Really? I fully supported myself at 18 through grants for college and a part time job. Although they cooked me a meal occasionally, allowed me to do laundry at their house, cosigned a car loan and otherwise helped me, my parents never gave me a dime. They didn’t have it to give. And, maybe sadly for my child, saving for her college education is at the bottom of my to-do list so she will need to manage mostly on her own at 18 too.

  30. Mel April 19, 2013 at 4:00 pm #

    I am so sad that this woman is blaming herself. Yet I can see how always putting the kids first can cause a strain on marriage.

    At some point — hopefully while the kids are still young — you need to “remember” how to be a couple again. That can be almost impossible when you have babies, toddlers or preschoolers but after that, you really need to get your relationship back.

    Still, I am so sorry for the writer of this piece feeling it’s all her fault. It does take two, after all.

    Bravely written piece.

  31. Crystal April 19, 2013 at 4:15 pm #

    One of my dad’s favorite sayings: “The best thing a man can do for his children is to love their mother.” Take heart, Kristina. Things can change, and it sounds like you’re well on your way.

  32. LRH April 19, 2013 at 5:40 pm #

    This woman learned the hard way. It is absolutely true, your MARRIAGE comes first, NOT YOUR KIDS. This is where the “John Rosemond in me” (the other parenting pundit I strongly advocate) comes out.

    I have always believed that your partner, NOT YOUR KIDS, comes first. That is why, at the risk of being preachy, I have always been critical of attachment parenting philosophies, with the kids being in the parents’ room cramping their romantic life. It is why, when I was dating, if a woman had kids and was quite proud of saying “they come first, any man that can’t handle that can hit the road,” I would immediately end things on the spot. It got to where I only dated women without kids, because I found that most times women with kids had put their kids first and their man got tired of the neglect and looked elsewhere, and frankly I don’t blame them one bit (and I’m not trying to heap any guilt on the author of this post, throwing stones at any person is not what I seek to do here).

    I did a lot of things wrong over the years, but I did one thing right–I married a woman who had no kids from a previous relationship, who agrees with me about your marriage being first, and who practices this with me and does not get upset if I shoo the kids away to their room and who in fact will do so herself if need be. It has made all of the difference.

    If my wife feels like Italian & the kids feel like McDonald’s, the kids are told “mommy wants Italian, mommy comes first,” and Italian it is. They don’t like it, they can starve–besides, they’ll get McDonald’s later. My wife feels like being romantic in the middle of the day, they’re sent to their room and they know that our room is strictly off-limits short of a fire. It’s been awhile back, but we’ve even taken out of town trips without the kids at least for an overnight, and we’re looking to do the same. We have gone to “couples only” dinner nights and left the kids with sitters, with nary a twinge of guilt or worry.

    It is abhorrent FOOLISHNESS to put your kids first over your mate. Your kids wouldn’t even EXIST if it were not for them. Your mate is not just a sperm or egg donor. Your mate’s needs are no less important just because your child is supposedly “innocent.” Even the teacher of a parenting class I attended once told me that babies, as in infants, are “master manipulators” in that they learn even that early in life that crying, even when they don’t need anything but just want attention, will cause their parents to drop everything and tend to just them, and they often-times cry for that very reason. You have to know this, and not give in to it–yes, with BABIES you must do this.

    Every couple whom I know who is happily married after many years and many kids, every single one, they practice this philosophy–their mate comes first. It is the only way to be, I think.


  33. Virginia April 19, 2013 at 7:40 pm #

    @anonymous_this_time, I loved how you put this: “A mother’s job is not to create happiness for children. I’m still not quite sure exactly what a mother’s job actually is, but I’m thinking it’s the same as a wife’s job: to hold everyone’s needs gently and equally— her own, her kids’, her partner’s, her employer’s, her friends’… ”

    Another quote about parenting that I find both moving and helpful is this one, from Rabbi Margot Stein: “To be in service to our children, without being their servant, is the most humbling of pursuits.” It’s in her essay “Parenting as a Spiritual Practice,” about caring for her two sons through the older one’s cancer. The whole essay is beautiful — you can read it here:


  34. Krista April 19, 2013 at 8:32 pm #

    LRH- it’s totally possible to practice attachment parenting and have a strong marriage. I feel I would have to be proof of that. Our family philosophy is “We do what’s best for the family” Sometimes we focus on the children, especially when they’re infants (really, it’s a year), and often we focus on the marriage. Balance is key.

  35. LRH April 19, 2013 at 10:03 pm #

    Balance is a good thing, it’s one of my favorite words, and a family perspective–yes, but, most cases as an overall thing anyway, I would say NON attachment parenting is the way to go. Understand I am most certainly not attacking your household choices at all, if it works go for it. That said, I stand by my assertion as a general rule that attachment parenting is best avoided else it tends to lead to a child-centered home.

    Really, that’s the main thing–don’t do the child-centered thing, but instead make your marriage first at least, I’d say, 95% of the time. That’s been my observation over the years anyway.


  36. Donald April 19, 2013 at 11:38 pm #


    You’re far stronger than you give yourself credit for. We all make mistakes. We all get in a mindset of what we believe to be right. However, FEW are strong enough to self reflect or change their opinion. I’m very serious about this and I don’t hand out false praise in order to make people feel better.

    Do yourself a favor. Stop beating yourself up or dwell on ‘could have, would have, and should have’.
    Look around often and notice that there are a lot of people that are NOT strong enough to change their belief system. This isn’t exclusive to free range or bubble wrapped kids but it is quite universal. This is the primary cause of war. There are many people that are unable to even consider looking at things from another point of view! We need more people like you. I’m not talking about joining the free range side. I’m talking about the ability to self reflect. Not many people can.

    If you look around and notice all the people that are not strong enough to self reflect and/or change their belief, I think that you will find a way to give yourself a break.

  37. Ronni April 20, 2013 at 2:32 am #

    This was a great post. Thank you Lenore for posting it and thank you to Kristina for being honest enough to write it.

    My husband grew up in a broken home (his parents divorced, remarried others, his mom divorced again and then remarried a third time) and so he only has models of his parents doting (individually) on him, and never on each other. My parents are still married after 34 years and they are a great example of what a marriage should be.

    Now that my husband and I are parents ourselves (our daughter is 19 mo.), I really notice how our different family backgrounds come into play. I find that my husband is much more “child-focused” than I, and I have to remind him that OUR husband-wife relationship must come first in our family. This is something that we are currently working on.

    Also, I have to admit that like LRH mentioned, this is the main turnoff I have from “attachment parenting”. I personally believe that a family should be adult-led, not child-led. But this is such a huge conflict as I’m otherwise really into a lot of other things that would be considered ‘natural parenting’, heck, I even had a homebirth! I’m just not into AP, as I refused to bed-share, constantly wear my baby (sometimes baby carriers are convenient, but sometimes strollers are too), nurse on demand after the early days, or breastfeed for years, simply because it was important to me to regain control of my life as an adult shared with my husband.

    I’m not saying that APing is the same as helicoptering; I know this is often debated here at FRK and I do understand how some people AP in the early years and transition to free-range as kids get older – I just made the parenting decision right off the bat to be a parent-centered family rather than a child-centered family. My marriage is very important to me and I want to still be happily married once my kids are grown and it’s just my husband and I.

    I plan to raise my daughter (and any future children if we’re lucky enough to have them) so that she will eventually leave me and start her own life. I plan for my husband to stay with me in my life much longer after that. So my husband comes first. (But I still love my daughter like crazy!!! :))

  38. Nicole April 20, 2013 at 8:05 am #

    LRH, I feel your position is too extreme. I certainly don’t think “everything” should revolve around children, but If it really comes down to it, my child does comes first. (If there is a fire in my house, it’s the child I’m going to carry out, and the adult who will manage on his own.)

    In your scenario about the restaurant, all of us would have an equal vote. We are a family of three, not a marriage of two and a parasite. I have a great relationship with my husband, and with my son, and they have a great relationsh with each other. Like another poster said, it’s about balance, not one or the other.

  39. AW13 April 20, 2013 at 9:58 am #

    Off topic, but something that LRH said got me thinking (not that this is necessarily his view): one of the charges that I have read levied against AP is that sharing a bed prevents the parents from ever having romantic time together. I’ve personally never figured out why some people seem so set in the belief that there is only one place and time of day in which a couple can have said romantic time. But as for the rest, I certainly cannot get into a discussion about AP, as I only practiced what I would call half-assed AP when my son was younger (i,e, I did what I wanted to and didn’t do the stuff I didn’t want to do).

    As for the lette, I read it to my husband and we were talking a father’s involvement in the child-raising process. My son spends time with my husband without me and always has. (When he was an infant, I was a full-time teacher and my husband was a full-time student, so kiddo was with my husband a vast majority of the time.) My husband said that it would hurt him if I constantly pushed him away because I could “parent better”, or constantly criticized what he did. It seems that many women make this mistake, though – they criticize their husbands’ attempts to parent the child, and then complain that their husband doesn’t participate in the child-rearing. It’s a vicious cycle, really. And one that I think could be remedied if the parents took the time to remember that they have a relationship to each other, too.

  40. Steve April 20, 2013 at 12:01 pm #

    Major New Study:

    ( Findings from a Study of Unhappy Marriages )


  41. Coccinelle April 20, 2013 at 12:33 pm #

    “that babies, as in infants, are “master manipulators” in that they learn even that early in life that crying, even when they don’t need anything but just want attention”

    I agree with most people here that the couple is what is the most important. The thing is even if you would want to make your children the most important, you still have to value your couple first because children are way happier when their parents remain happily married.

    But I still don’t think that infants are manipulators. Yes they need affection but will your couple crumble because you give affection to your baby?? Every human being needs affection. YOU need affection. The only difference is that you mastered the faculty of not demanding affection in an inappropriate time. How can a infant do that?

  42. Papilio April 20, 2013 at 12:58 pm #

    I am positive Emily is right: I have read this text before.
    But for mysterious reasons, Google can’t find it when I search this site for a quote from this piece, or the name Kristina Beth, or the titel. And the archive isn’t organized in a way that allows you to quickly read through lists of posts sorted out by month and/or year, so that’s not an option either…
    Now I’m left wondering what Lenore replied to this woman the first time. Who knows how much wisdom she gained in the last 4 or so years 😛

  43. Donna April 20, 2013 at 1:25 pm #

    This was posted as a comment on a thread recently. Lenore pulled it from there as she does often.

  44. JJ April 20, 2013 at 3:11 pm #

    Kristina, you are thoughtful and honest and I wish you the best.

    As trite as this may sound, when I read this post and most of the others I see here, even the most outrageous ones, my prevailing thought is that most parents are just doing what they think is best and right. There are so many messages about what is right and good and responsible and it’s easy to get sucked in to approaches that might not be right for you and yor kids. I love Lenore’s book and this site because it has given me the opportunity to consider other philosophies–often overlooked by news media and dramatic Facebook friends full of declarative parenting advice.

    FRK feels right to me and has given me the moral support (I know I shouldn’t need it) that tells me I am not alone and or crazy. The other thing that helps me (related to FRK) is to simply not buy the message that “things are different today”, a message that has made nitwits out of all of us because it tells us “forget everything that you learned from your own parents because its no longer relevant” which is, when you think about it, the best parenting experience most of us have to draw from. Nowadays I often think “would my mom have kept track of my uniform for me when I was 13?” or “would my mom have let/told me to walk home from practice 1/2 mile away when I was ten?” No and yes! Children are not more helpless now than in the 70’s and the world is no more full of predators. Feel free to use what you learned from your own parents’ example!

    Sorry for getting off topic. I am in a grateful mood and just wanted to express my appreciation for the FRK movement because for me it could have been a close call.

  45. Papilio April 20, 2013 at 3:50 pm #

    @Donna: Oooooow – that explains it all! (I’ve been reading some old stuff as well as the current posts. Still have a feeling it’s a while back…) Now I feel stupid :-)

  46. Captain America April 20, 2013 at 7:43 pm #

    Marriage needs to be treated more seriously in America. We need it to not only be tougher to get a divorce, but also we need to be a bit more demanding before we permit marriages to happen. Some real preparation is needed.

    Business and industry needs to man up and admit that they need a healthy workforce and pay a living wage.

  47. Emily April 20, 2013 at 8:16 pm #

    But Captain America, if it were more difficult to get married, and more difficult to get divorced, then how would caterers, pastry chefs, tailors, wedding planners, and divorce lawyers stay solvent?

  48. LRH April 20, 2013 at 9:01 pm #

    Ronni “I personally believe that a family should be adult-led, not child-led….. I just made the parenting decision right off the bat to be a parent-centered family rather than a child-centered family. My marriage is very important to me and I want to still be happily married once my kids are grown and it’s just my husband and I.” Exactly.

    Nicole “In your scenario about the restaurant, all of us would have an equal vote. We are a family of three, not a marriage of two and a parasite.” I definitely don’t consider children a “parasite,” but I think the opinions of the adults of the house are more important because, well, they’re the parents. They’re the ones doing the grunt work, they’re the leaders, it’s their money and their house, they’re the ones cleaning house and working at a job, so I think the wife wanting to be treated to Italian is more important than a child, who is free-loading by nature (not in an evil way you understand), wanting McDonald’s and Chicken McNuggets. I think it would be an insult to have either spouse’s opinion only count the SAME as another child’s, where I come from, the parent’s and adults matter more.

    “Children should be seen & not heard”–you danged well better believe it.


  49. CrazyCatLady April 20, 2013 at 9:31 pm #

    I think that it is all about how you define AP. Sometimes, parents needs HAVE to come before those of the child. Also, as the baby develops into a child, it is very healthy for them learn that they cannot always get what they want. Little babies who do not have the power of reason…you have to work with them when they need you.

    I did parent my littles in an AP style, but I called it caring for their needs. We did co-sleep – BUT, baby always started the night in its own bed. This gave my husband and I time to ourselves, and, it seemed to work fine for my babies. The rest of the night – once they woke up – they could sleep with us because honestly that was the only way that “I” could sleep. If I got up to nurse, I couldn’t get back to sleep. And sleep is VERY important for me, and my husband didn’t complain.

    Now that kids are older…they get some choices in things, but not everything. They go to bed when I say, because I want time with my husband without them. They can read books in their rooms as long as they stay there. We go out every so often without them. They know they are part of the family – not the reason for the family.

    Original poster, thanks for writing your cautionary tale. I hope that your kids will be able to get on track, or at the very least, help with the household finances and work as they are able. If they don’t have jobs (and you are the one with a job) then they should do the cleaning, laundry, and lawn care. Dinner should be on the table for you when you get home. Because if they were on their own, that is what they should be doing for their own kids. Sit down, and together talk about fairness. As adults, it is not fair for them to expect you to do everything that you did for them when they were children. Start them moving toward ranging on their own. You are part way there. You have admitted that your ex-husband was right about having adult children and their families in the house. Get them to pull their weight. That is what adult children in the past would have been doing.

  50. Emily April 20, 2013 at 9:53 pm #

    @LRH–I don’t know about “Children should be seen and not heard,” because, while kids are free-loading by nature, they also have much less control over their own lives than adults do, by nature. Also, they’re still learning about manners, kindness, mutual respect, etc., and I think that modelling what you want to see, is a pretty good way to teach it. So, instead of “Spouse’s wishes always trump,” I think a “give and take” approach might be a bit better, at least with certain things. Yes, there’ll be non-negotiables; I mean, you don’t give a child a choice about whether he or she wants to take a bath, brush his or her teeth, or wear a sweater outside when it’s cold out (but even then, they can pick the bubble bath, the sweater, and there are a world of “cool” children’s toothbrushes on the market), but Nicole is right; I don’t think it’s right to treat a child like a parasite. So, instead of saying that the adults always pick the restaurants, I think it might be a better idea to take turns, especially if you have a family ritual of always eating out or ordering take-out on a certain evening each week. As for sending kids to their rooms for no other reason than because you want to be intimate with your spouse, I don’t agree with that either. For a lot of kids, “go to your room” is a punishment, so being sent to their rooms for no reason or infraction, seems unfair, arbitrary, and quite frankly, confusing. Kids young enough to want to sleep in their parents’ bed/wake their parents up in the morning don’t even know what sex is, so they’re not disturbing their parents maliciously. So, while married couples definitely do need time to “be intimate,” there are probably less Draconian ways to get their kids out of the way to achieve that–for example, summer camp, or a standing sleepover date with the neighbours’ kids, alternating weeks, could easily facilitate a “date night” (in or out) for the non-hosting couple. Or, for younger kids, and/or more spontaneous sessions of intimacy, you could always put the kids’ favourite movie on, or set up the Slip ‘N Slide in the backyard for them to play on. That way, the parents could have their “special time,” and the kids could have “special time” in their own way as well. It wouldn’t be bribery, per se, if it was set up as something of a “ritual” that was just another part of the rhythm of the household. All I’m saying is, there are ways to teach independence, and respect, without making kids feel unwanted.

  51. LRH April 20, 2013 at 10:11 pm #

    Emily It isn’t about treating the kids like a “parasite,” but rather establishing a hierarchy. The way I was raised, and I think this was right (but other ways weren’t, and I don’t use those), the adults in the house are inherently more IMPORTANT in terms of how nice the gifts are they receive for Christmas, who gets to pick where to eat, what is shown on TV if there’s only 1 (or if there are more than 1 but the living room is the best one), where we go for fun, etc. They fit in our life as is, versus us bending for them.

    Simply enough–when you grow up, when you earn the money that pays for the TV, the food, the cable, the car, THEN you get to pick. Now is our time, your time is when you’re grown. At this point, your say is less than ours, at times, you may not even have a say at all.

    Now that doesn’t mean that they never get to do things THEY like, but among other things it is EARNED by good behavior. If they eat all of their food at dinner, for instance, they may get ice cream as a reward. If they’ve been exceptionally good in school, they get McDonald’s that night, so long as mommy or daddy aren’t sour on it (and if we are, another day very soon they will get it, and yes that promise is kept). They do get some flexibility on what to wear, so long as it isn’t ridiculous–but get this, if they want to wear short sleeves on a 35’F day, go right ahead, you don’t learn how foolish that is until you’re exposed to the cold and take some pain from that and learn that it’s your fault for being stubborn about what you chose.(At that point, we may have a coat in the trunk and say something like that “you’re cold huh, told you, now as it turns out I have a coat in the trunk, would you like it or would you like to continue to be stubborn and insist you don’t need one?”

    Kids may not be MALICIOUSLY disturbing the parents in the bed because they don’t know what sex is, but to me it’s just not natural to be doing “that” with any living thing in there, even an animal, privacy must be absolute. Also, I believe it helps establish boundaries–certain places & times are off-limits and it’s non-negotiable. You may want to be in here–tough, we said no, and that’s it. Don’t like it? Suck on an egg (I have actually said that). Again it isn’t about being unwanted, but about you don’t question your parents’ authority–unless they’re doing something awful in the abusive realm, you just don’t question it. They’ll explain the whys and whys-not still, there will still be “teachable moments” and stuff, but you don’t question their authority even if you question why.


  52. Emily April 21, 2013 at 9:41 am #

    @LRH–I agree that privacy should be respected (which, again, is best taught by modelling the behaviour you want to see; i.e., respecting kids’ privacy as much as possible), but the “hierarchy” thing can be a bit overdone. When I was growing up, the rule for the TV was, I think, first come first served, EXCEPT during the Master’s Tournament or a particularly important hockey game, when my dad got priority. My mom never liked TV, so she rarely claimed it, except for the occasional news show. My parents still had veto power over the TV, so they could tell me or my brother to turn it off if we were watching something inappropriate, or if they thought we’d watched enough TV for the day, and they’d rather we go play outside, or read, or draw, or do our homework. Later on, my brother and I got bedroom TV’s, so that way, everyone could watch what they wanted. As for restaurants/take-out night, we’d either take turns choosing, we’d all collectively agree on a certain place, or if it was someone’s birthday/special event (for example, if one of us got Student of the Month at school), then the birthday/special event person would choose. That’s not to say that my parents didn’t sometimes say, “Hey, let’s all go out to XYZ Restaurant!!!”; but XYZ Restaurant was always something that everyone liked.

    Anyway, I guess what I’m trying to say is, it’s still not quite fair to tell kids, “you can have a say in your life when you grow up,” because to a kid, “when you grow up” is FOREVER away, and all they know now is, they have to turn off SpongeBob EVERY TIME Dad wants to watch football, and they have to give up their weekends EVERY TIME their parents decide it’d be a good time to visit Grandma, and on and on and on. There are enough things that parents have to insist on–basic hygiene, school attendance and homework completion, being kind to one another, etc., etc., etc., that I think kids should get to make some decisions in life. If everything is decided for them from the moment they’re born until they leave for university, then they’ll go crazy once they get to university, because they can now make ALL their own choices.

    Oh, yeah, one other small thing–I’ve read in a lot of places that it’s not a good idea to use food as a reward with kids, and the “clean plate club” phenomenon just teaches them to ignore feelings of fullness, and keep eating. It’s better to say, “If you don’t eat your dinner, you can’t have anything else later,” or for older kids, “If you want something else for dinner, you have to make it yourself, and clean up afterwards.”

  53. JJ April 21, 2013 at 10:09 am #

    One minute I am reading here the argument for adult centered household–and the next minute I read an article in the New York Times about hipster parents in Brooklyn who practice a diaper free approach to their babies. They just “go” where they will.

  54. LRH April 21, 2013 at 10:23 am #

    Sorry Emily, but I disagree–and again, I do respect that you have the right to raise your kids as you see fit, as do I. If there is one thing I do generally respect, it’s that I have my opinions and everyone else has theirs, and in the right way & in the right tone one should feel free to express them, but where it regards this, or whether it regards how free-range you let them play, the parents should, unless they’re being evil, pretty much have absolute sovereignty.

    But yes, frankly, I do think the adults should have 100% say, to where yes it SHOULD be the adults’ final decision where to eat, what’s on TV, period–even if it’s just based on what they WANT. For what it’s worth, our kids do have a TV in the oldest’ room, but even then, it’s still based on adult leadership & whims. That it to say, the TV is in their room because I decided I personally didn’t want Dora or Thomas the Train blaring in the living room, and so even if the kids like it, tough, it will NOT blare in MY living room. Now, they have a TV they can watch and get their enjoyment, while I still have the lack of kids’ stuff blaring in the living room.

    Also, my son has lately been on a “Thomas the Train” kick to where that’s ALL he ever wants to watch. I most certainly let him watch it plenty of times, but other times, I’m like “it’s time to watch something else” often-times at my wife’s prodding, and so it goes. If he protests, tough–I and/or mommy have said it will be something else, and that’s it–complain, and the entire TV goes off and you may even be sent to do chores. What I and mommy say goes, and it’s not like he isn’t allowed to watch Thomas The Train plenty–heck, he has sheets and PJs of Thomas now, courtesy of us, just because. I would say that validates his feelings and gives him a sense of belonging and his opinion being relevant, while still letting him not forget who’s in charge.

    “They have to turn off SpongeBob EVERY TIME Dad wants to watch football

    You darned right, it’s dad’s house. (Mommy’s house here, too.) I see nothing wrong with that. The day they grow up and earn money, THEN it will be different–until then, what dad says goes. Besides, there will still be plenty of time that the kids can watch what they want to when football isn’t on. That shows that their parents care for what they think & do make a point to accommdate them somewhat, but still are the heads of the house and are to be respected as such. It’s like that Eddie Murphy clip in “Delirious” (I’m showing my age, ha ha) where he’s mocking his father from his childhood days “It’s MY house–and if you don’t like it, get the [luck] out.” You darned right, at least if you’re “sassing” your parents anyway.

    I have never understood single moms who let their kids just rule the TV. I used to date them, and it was ALWAYS Barney this and Veggie Tales that, even when we were supposedly sort of on a date. I didn’t say anything, but I was like “gee, when I was little, I would have NEVER bossed MY mother around like that. She’d slapped me slam across the room.” I sure didn’t want to be on a “date” watching that vs (say) an action or romantic adult-themed movie, I was also thinking “can’t you tell them to go in their room and leave us alone for awhile?” I learned from that, and made a point NEVER to date single mothers again–and I’m not here to criticize single mothers by the way, not at all, but I’m just saying that type of situation (kids ruling the house) was so common with every single mother I went out with, I swore off of it for good. I maried wisely 12 years ago (both of our kids are ours, no one else’s from a prior relationship), and she is totally on-board and of the same mentality.

    Where it regards to OP–no one is here to criticize that person, or say “I told you so,” if that’s the spirit in which I’m sharing my thoughts, shame on me, that is not right or okay. We all have done things we regretted and then the light comes on and we’re like–oh my, what was I thinking, and this person deserves our compassion and sympathy for sure. That said, her story is one I’ve heard so many times–put your kids on a level equal to your spouse rather than the spouse being the uncontested & unquestioned #1 person to you, and dismiss your spouse’s feelings and priorities as inferior to the kids, this happens so many times, and it just doesn’t have to be that way.


  55. Captain America April 21, 2013 at 11:33 am #

    One suggestion that might’ve been made long ago is to do FEWER things rather than pack the week with activity.

    Kristina: congrats on having seven kids. We wish we could have more. I treasure, as I get older, having siblings, and life would be much more pleasant, better, if I had more! I mean it. Your kids’ll much appreciate their siblings.

  56. Captain America April 21, 2013 at 11:35 am #

    @LRH. Good post.

    One point worth noting is that, in 2013, we should just turn off the damn TV set.

  57. Emily April 21, 2013 at 12:00 pm #

    @LRH–You’re right, I guess we should agree to disagree. If kids grow up in a household where the adults have 100% say 100% of the time, even when it doesn’t matter that much, then again, those kids aren’t going to know what to do when they finally have a choice in their lives. That’s not to say that kids should rule the house, because if they do, then it’ll be the opposite problem–they’ll freak out the moment anyone asks or tells them to do something.

    As for “sass,” I don’t think that “sass” should include merely having a differing opinion than one’s parents, whether it’s about TV, restaurants, or bigger issues, like religious or moral/ethical beliefs. For example, everyone in my family is atheist and pro-choice, but if my parents had been churchgoers, they would have allowed me and my brother to stop accompanying them to church as soon as we reached the age of reason–as my mother did in 1960, when she was nine years old, and advanced for her age. She refused to be confirmed, because she didn’t believe in God. Her mother threw an epic fit, but her father backed her up. I don’t think that that was “putting the child before the spouse,” it was just allowing both sets of beliefs to coexist in the same house, by allowing my mom to stay home, while the people in the family who believed in God continued to attend church. Likewise, I went vegetarian in high school, and I was allowed to do so, but prepared my own food, and didn’t dictate what anyone else ate. That’s another thing–I don’t think that respecting kids’ wishes and opinions means automatically dismissing those of your spouse. That mentality implies that someone has to “win” and someone has to “lose,” and there’s never any way for everyone to be happy at least some of the time. So, for the TV thing, the best solution would be to have more than one, but failing that, a schedule might be a good idea.

    As for the restaurant thing, again, taking turns would work, outside of special events and other things. So, it wouldn’t be “We always go to McDonald’s because that’s what Junior wants,” but it also wouldn’t be “We always go to Fancy’s because that’s what Mom wants,” or “We always go to Steak and Shake because that’s what Dad wants.” Instead, it could be, “We’re going to McDonald’s this week because it’s Junior’s turn to pick, and next week, it’s Mom’s turn, and then Dad’s.” Other times, it could be, “We’re going to Junior’s choice of restaurant, because he got Student of the Month,” or “We’re going to Subway, because we’re going straight from school to karate, and the Subway shares a plaza with the dojo.” Kids learn these lessons about compromise and taking turns at home, and they’re valuable lessons that they can take with them to school, to the playground, and on to adulthood. By the same logic, they also learn the “other” lessons at home, if that’s what’s instilled in them. So, if they learn, “I always have to do and say what my parents want, or else they’ll slam me across the room,” then they’ll grow up with that message too.

  58. Susie April 21, 2013 at 12:07 pm #

    Oh my goodness, what a letter! That describes all too many families and probably explains a good portion of why some many people in their 20’s seem so adrift today.

    A friend of mine is a grade school teacher and deals with helicopter parents all the time. Maybe handing out a copy of this letter could be useful.

    Thank you for the Free range Blog – we need this perspective today.

  59. LRH April 21, 2013 at 4:08 pm #

    Yes Susie exactly. You get it. The author of this posting–bless her heart, it took losing her husband to get it, just as it takes some of us similar losses to get things, but she gets it now too. Others don’t get it, and never will, but that’s okay.

    Sorry, but I will always steadfastly believe that the adults’ priorities should always win over the child’s, so long as it isn’t something crucial. I’m all for “our daughter got As in school so for the next 2 or 3 days she gets to go to the restaurant of her choice,” but except for such scenarios, I’m all for “mommy doesn’t care for McDonald’s (or Burger King etc) and I honor her first, so we’re going somewhere else” and if the kids don’t like it, they can suck on an egg. I doesn’t have to be about someone winning or losing, but the adults of the house always get to call the shots, and there ways of doing it without being ugly, but if they refuse to submit unless you’re ugly, by all means, get ugly.


  60. Emily April 21, 2013 at 6:14 pm #

    @LRH–Really? You’d be willing to “get ugly” over something as simple and trivial as whether to get hamburgers or Italian food for dinner? I can see “getting ugly” with your kid because he’s bullying another child at school, or because he deliberately tripped another player during hockey practice, or because he’s hiding marijuana in his sock drawer, but because he wanted a hamburger for dinner when you’d rather have spaghetti? That’s excessive. If that exchange had happened in my youth, it wasn’t a special occasion, and we’d lost track of whose turn it was to pick (since we went through phases of restaurant food once a week, but we didn’t do it all the time), and there was no compelling reason for or against either option, we’d probably flip a coin. Also, I don’t understand how you can simultaneously think that “adults’ priorities should always win over the child’s,” and also that “it doesn’t have to be about someone winning or losing.” If you make everything into a battle, then it stops being about what to eat for dinner, and it starts being about “might makes right,” and just the thought of that would make me lose my appetite.

  61. hineata April 21, 2013 at 6:57 pm #

    @LRH, am coming late to this most interesting discussion, but I must say I agree with most of what you are saying. I have a few things I don’t get, though, so will chip in with those, lol!

    First, the whole AP vs. `tough love sort of thing. I don’t see why you can’t just pick and choose, depending on time and circumstances. I’m with AW13. I did what suited me at the time, and/or what suited others. As an example, demand feeding in the middle of the night is a necessity if one is living in a closely populated compound where sound travels and twelve hundred people are going to be kept awake by your baby crying. So, often is co sleeping, if it keeps baby quiet and anyway, there is often not room for anything else.

    Second, frankly I don’t get the sex thing, not with young kids anyway. For a while when the kids were six and under we lived all in one room, as there were nine of us, two families in a two bedroom house. We still managed it, you just have to wait until the kids go to sleep. Half the world lives worse than that and still manage to reproduce…

    Finally, the TV thing. It is none of my business, but like a good neighbourhood old bat I will stick my oar in anyway and say I just don’t like the idea of TV in bedrooms, especially kid bedrooms. Same with computers . Personally I like immediate knowledge of what’s coming over that screen, especially now the kids are teens. Am afraid that while, in every other area they’re getting more freedom as they get older, we remain very strict on what comes over screens, and will continue to be. They can do what they like in their future homes….but not in mine. And so we prefer just one TV, and the computer etc in the lounge.

    And restaurants, man this is a first world problem, and a recent one at that. In nz at least, I think. I went out to restaurants twice before I left home, once for my thirteenth birthday and once for a work break up when I was sixteen. We did have takeaways from the fish and chip shop Fridays, but otherwise all meals were at home. So, yep, what’s the big deal with choosing where you eat? It’s a huge privilege to eat out at all, kids should just be quiet and enjoy the experience.

  62. Katie April 21, 2013 at 7:07 pm #

    I remember reading this as a comment and that says something because I don’t think I remember most comments I read. I first step towards fixing a problem is acknowledging it and I see few helicopter parents ever acknowledge there is a problem. Acknowledgment can be the hardest part and I have to give kudos for that.

  63. Emily April 21, 2013 at 7:26 pm #

    @Hineata–My parents said that they came to feed/comfort/whatever me and my brother when we cried as babies, so that we’d learn trust. After a while, they’d call out, “Be right there,” after the first cry, and then we’d stop making noise, because we knew they would……and they did. As for the sex thing, yeah, I agree–kids play outside, watch movies, attend sleepovers, etc., and it’s really not necessary to send them to their rooms so you can have sex.

    As for TV’s and computers in bedrooms, I see your point about TV’s, but computers are a grey area. As the world gets more and more technologically advanced, schools set more assignments that must be typed, and/or researched on the Internet. If there’s more than one child in the house, plus parents who might need the computer for work (whether working at home, or just bringing work home), then you can see how one computer for a family of four or more just doesn’t work. TV’s are a different issue, and I probably wouldn’t buy a child their own TV as a matter of course, but if they proved they were responsible, and didn’t watch inappropriate things, or let it interfere with homework, family time, etc., then sure, I’d get them one if they wanted one. Mine was a Christmas gift when I was fifteen, so it’s not as if I grew up with it. Besides, we’ve moved past the days when the TV options were sports (one sport per season), news, black-and-white sitcoms, and maybe a few kids’ cartoons on Saturday mornings only. With so many channels to choose from, having just one TV is pretty much asking for an argument.

    As for restaurants, again, times have changed. People eat out because they don’t have time to cook, because it’s someone’s birthday and this is easier than planning a party, because family is coming over, and the dining-room table is too small to fit everyone, or because Junior has band practice followed by karate on Tuesdays, and there isn’t time to go home to feed him. So, there are tons of perfectly logical reasons why people eat out, and I don’t think any of them deserve the “First World” snark. Besides, going out to a restaurant isn’t really an “event” anymore. We have fast food restaurants with drive-thrus, deli counters at grocery stores where you can get sandwiches, slices of pizza, salads, sushi, etc. I’m not saying that this is necessarily a wonderful thing, because fast food contributes a lot to the obesity crisis (although, not all “fast food” is unhealthy; I prefer healthier options like a pita or a sub), but it’s not the sole factor. A lot of pre-packaged “instant foods” that people prepare and eat at home, like Kraft Dinner, Lipton Sidekicks, frozen pizza, and TV dinners, are also big culprits.

    Anyway, back to my main point, the fact is that people eat out more. Sometimes family members don’t agree on where to go. Parents, as a rule, usually teach kids not to throw tantrums when they don’t get their way. So, I don’t think “getting ugly” and INSISTING on their choice, every time, with no room for compromise, is a very good way to reinforce that lesson. It wouldn’t matter if the dispute were over a restaurant, or what to eat for dinner at home, or how to landscape the yard, if, say, Dad wanted a swimming pool, and Mom wanted a rose garden. I can see one of two things happening if one family member, or one subset of family members, always got their way. Either kids would learn from friends and/or TV that this wasn’t normal, and they’d rebel and lash out, or they’d grow up with the idea that their feelings, wishes, and needs didn’t matter.

  64. Katie April 21, 2013 at 8:14 pm #

    @Loreen I actually agree with some of your points, but one I have to comment on and disagree with is about the degree. Life skills and learning how to make and save money is so much more important. A degree doesn’t get you anywhere, in fact I think it often makes worse because it produces big ego’s. The truth is if you parents haven’t taught you life skills a degree won’t matter. I have a friend (in their 30’s) with an Ivy league graduate degree and she lives with her parents-no paying job, not married.

    I personally think it is better for 18 year olds to work for a year or two before going to college so they can understand what the working world is and what it isn’t.

  65. hineata April 21, 2013 at 8:53 pm #

    @Emily – possibly, actually probably, fast food and restaurant food is cheaper where you are – I know NZ has a reputation for being expensive. I still think it’s a first world problem, and I don’t see that as a snark, simply a fact. Actually the idea of children getting a choice in many things is a ‘first world problem’ – I do not see my neices and nephews in Malaysia, where good food is cheap and you eat out often, having choice about where they eat, or complaining about it. The family members still seem to have lots of respect for each other. (Of course, McDonalds etc is very expensive there compared with the local food, so that might factor into it).

    It’s fine if you want to give your future children a say over where they eat out – that’s up to you. To me it remains a privilege, and they get a say if I give them a say, but not otherwise. And they do not appear to be bothered by this – they recognise that food is food. But, would you seriously give your kids a say over something as expensive as landscaping the garden? I might be misunderstanding you, but to me that sounds rather ‘out there’, up there with giving kids a choice about what car you buy. That sort of thing should be decided by the person with the wallet and the experience.

  66. hineata April 21, 2013 at 9:06 pm #

    PS – before you think I’m raising kids who are permanently under the thumb, LOL, Boy (16)
    has just put the washing on and cheekily given me orders on when to put it out, and his head is still connected to his shoulders :-)

    And it’s the first day of school holidays again, the kids are lying around in the lounge watching rubbish tv, and crap on Youtube, and I’m enjoying making comments on the laptop. Good and creative uber mum, I am not – but I am having a good day….

  67. LRH April 21, 2013 at 9:24 pm #

    hineata To me it [eating out] remains a privilege, and they get a say [what to eat] if I give them a say, but not otherwise. Exactly. You nailed it. And yes, it isn’t about someone being “under your thumb,” because I most certainly think as kids get older, they should be given more choices as they become intelligent enough to make wiser choices as they mature. But yes, they still need to know who’s in charge, even if the people in charge phase themselves “out of charge” little by little as the years go. I do agree with the person who said “my job as the parent is to make myself obsolete.” The two (being in-charge, making yourself obsolete) aren’t enemies of each other if it’s applied properly.

    And yes, I’m used to hearing that you are teaching “might makes right” if you assert yourself–oh please, spare me the hogwash that is. It’s about using a tool that is at your disposal if you need to, and not being too much of a wuss to use it. A good example–my son who is now 4, when he was 1½, wanted to take his toy into Arby’s. I VERY GENTLY encouraged him to leave it in the car vs taking it in (I knew he’d lose it and I believe play doesn’t belong at the table, eat and that’s it), but he resisted my GENTLE attempts.

    Guess what–I SNATCHED it from him. Naturally when I’ve observed parents with kids defying them in such ways and I tell them “just snatch it from them” they look at me like I suggest immersing them in lye acid or ice water during the winter. I say if that’s what it takes for them to be directed, especially if they’ve resisted nicer attempts, then so be it. To me, YOU as the child MADE me go there, you brought it on yourself.


  68. Emily April 21, 2013 at 9:55 pm #

    @Hineata–I just used the “landscaping” example as something that the parents might discuss, and agree or disagree on, amongst themselves; sort of in the same vein as that old episode of The Brady Bunch, where the boys wanted to get a rowboat with trading stamps, and the girls wanted to trade the stamps for a sewing machine, and they built a house of cards to see who’d get to decide (whoever knocked it down made their team lose). The girls won, but then decided to get a TV that everyone could enjoy. Anyway, I meant it in the sense that the kids might witness that disagreement, even if they weren’t participating in it, and if they saw a big argument where one person won, the other lost, and in the end, even the person who “won,” was still unhappy because the other person was upset, then yeah, that would give kids the wrong message. It’d be far better if they saw their parents sit down, maybe draw a simple diagram of the yard, and come up with a viable compromise, such as “Let’s put the rose garden in the front yard, and the pool in the back.” In any case, I might well give my hypothetical, future kids some say in matters such as decorating and landscaping, because hey, it’s their home too. If I wanted to, say, paint the living room green, but Kiddo hated that colour, I’d want to know, because it’s Kiddo’s home too. In that case, we’d probably go through the paint strips from the store again, and decide on something that we could all live with. Likewise, with the landscaping example, I wouldn’t turn the backyard into a theme park on Kiddo’s say-so, but if it was a request for a basketball net, or a tire swing, or something simple, then I’d accommodate that if I could, because, as I said, it’s Kiddo’s home too, and if a swing or a basketball net would encourage outdoor play, then why not?

    Also, LRH, about asserting yourself on things, like I said, you teach kids how to treat you, and how to interact with the world. There are times to assert yourself (for example, “No, you can’t wear shorts and a bikini top to school, it’s -30 C outside”), there are times to compromise (let’s say that Dad wants to watch sports, and Junior wants to watch cartoons, so they compromise and put on a movie that they both like), and there are times to just let the matter drop. I think the Arby’s incident is a good example of the latter. I mean, Arby’s is essentially a fast-food restaurant, with kids’ meals that COME with toys. So, I don’t think it really makes sense to ban a child from bringing a quiet, unobtrusive, one-piece toy into Arby’s, if there are going to be other kids in there playing with toys that are provided by the restaurant. Also, a 1 1/2 year old is still pretty much a baby. A lot of parenting resources suggest that you bring something for the child along to a restaurant, such as paper and crayons, a stuffed toy, or something quiet, to keep them occupied until the food comes. This is usually phased out around early elementary school age, but 1 1/2 is still well under the cut-off, especially considering that a lot of kids that age can’t even eat most restaurant food, and would therefore just be sitting and waiting for their parents to finish eating.

  69. Emily April 21, 2013 at 10:34 pm #

    P.S., LRS, when I said that you teach kids how to treat you, and how to interact with the world, I meant, if you insist on asserting yourself EVERY time, and choosing EVERY battle as the be all, end all (even if it’s something trivial like what to eat for dinner or watch on TV), then the kid could either become extremely bossy, and lose friends quickly after INSISTING too many times that they only want to play Red Rover, and they don’t care that Billy and Susie want to play freeze tag instead, or they’ll do the opposite, and become overly submissive, and therefore an easy target for bullies, or worse.

  70. LRH April 21, 2013 at 11:04 pm #

    Emily Whatever.


  71. Emily April 21, 2013 at 11:21 pm #

    LRH–I’m not a parent, but I’ve worked with kids and young people of many different ages, in many different capacities–babysitting, Girl Guides, peer assisting, Big Buddies, volunteering at the YMCA, the music camp that my pianist friend and I ran together, just to name a few. I saw other people in similar positions try to enforce compliance in an authoritarian manner. They’d yell, the kids would feel badly, and everyone was unhappy. I engaged with the kids on their level, and tried to give options whenever possible. My pianist friend felt the same way, which made running the music camp a lot easier and more fun for both of us. Anyway, our approach led to happier and more compliant kids, because we assumed the best of them from the beginning, and we allowed them to have some input and choices. It was never, “do you want to participate?” but more like, “Jimmy, would you rather play the recorder, or the bells?” If we’d taken the authoritarian approach, and insisted on winning every single battle, I think we would have been completely worn out by lunch time.

  72. LRH April 22, 2013 at 12:44 am #

    Emily That’s fine, but I’m not the YMCA, nor do I intend to be, no matter how much I love listening to the Village People song on my SanDisk MP3 player extolling its virtues.

    Sure, I’m an engaging cool UNCLE to my nieces/nephews, but with my kids, it’s a different story, and so should it be. As a child I at times wished my aunt was my mother, she let me do things my mother didn’t–but then, my mother let my aunt’s kids do things the aunt wouldn’t do. Regardless, I know better than to let those “Full House” episodes brainwash me into being a wuss of a dad like Danny Tanner who’s nice and “aww, poor little thing” to a child that almost burned down the house. I’m more like James Evans from “Good Times” and proudly so.


  73. Donna April 22, 2013 at 1:35 am #

    Emily –

    I generally agree with you about restaurants. We don’t take turns picking but sometimes we go places I don’t particularly want to go for no reason other than my daughter wants to go there. McDs is almost never my choice of a place to eat. I probably ate there 10 times in the 20 years before I had kids and all of them involved dashing through airports or a desire for something ordinary after weeks in a foreign country. But the kid likes it and I’m willing to indulge her occasionally even though I would always rather eat someplace else. She deserves to occasionally have her wants met and not have her entire world revolve around my own narcissism.

    I compromise on this issue more than I would with a different kid because my kid is such an extremely picky eater and I am very opposed to paying for food in restaurants that she won’t eat. And, unfortunately she HATES my favorite food (Italian) so we rarely eat that out no matter how much I sometimes want to. Yes, I could insist because I’m the boss but paying for a meal my child won’t touch seems like a huge waste of money to me. I save Italian for home (and she can eat something else) or out with friends. That doesn’t mean that my child always gets to pick but I do consider what she will eat before I decide where we go.

    However the idea that a child should have a say in what color I paint my livingroom is absurd. She can paint her room whatever color she wants but she doesn’t get a vote about major decisions concerning the house. If I want a green living room, we will have a green livingroom.

  74. Emily April 22, 2013 at 1:47 am #

    @LRH–I know you’re not the YMCA. My point is, sometimes it’s good to give kids choices where either option would be acceptable to you, like the “recorder or bells” example I gave with the music camp. As for Danny Tanner, I don’t think he’s a wuss–for all his affection and supportiveness, he’s fully willing to take away privileges, and ground his daughters for misbehaving. What he doesn’t do is send them to their rooms just because he doesn’t want them around, or pitch a fit if they say they’d rather have pizza for dinner when he’d rather have Chinese. Also, I don’t remember an episode of Full House where one of the kids even came close to burning the house down.

    Donna–You’re right, McDonald’s is gross; I just used it as an example, because someone else did before, and a lot of kids like it. Also, I think you handle the issue fairly well. You still get to have Italian food at home, or out with friends, and that way, you get to have the dinner you want, without making your daughter unhappy just because you can, and wasting money on her uneaten meal in the process. As for the house painting debate, my brother and I never even really had full say over the colour of our own bedrooms; it had to flow with the rest of the house, and not compromise its historical integrity (older, Victorian house). However, we did have some say when the second-floor bathroom was redecorated, and I think I remember helping to pick the paint colour for the kitchen when I was fifteen, and the wallpaper for the stairs when I was in early elementary school. My parents laid out the options that they approved of, and let us help pick among that. So, now the kitchen is yellow (family choice), my brother’s and my bedrooms are both sky blue (our choice), and the wallpaper in the stairways is yellow with colourful flowers on it (again, family choice). So, that’s just how our family did things–for decisions like home décor, where everyone would have to see the end results of those decisions, everyone had a say. The only exception that comes to mind is when my parents re-did the attic as their bedroom/office suite. For some reason, they chose dusty pink. I don’t really like that colour, but I don’t have to live in it, and it’s not really connected to the rest of the house, so I never really cared.

  75. Donna April 22, 2013 at 2:06 am #

    While my daughter can express her opinion about my paint choices – she’s allowed to express an opinion about anything – home decor is definitely not a family decision in our house. She will not be asked her opinion at all. If she happens to have an opinion, she can express it but her opinion won’t be actively sought. It may be her home, but it is my house and I get to decide what goes in it.

  76. LRH April 22, 2013 at 3:38 am #

    I’m not trying to oppose Donna in anyway, but I had to chip in because, as it turns out, our kids hate Italian as well, even spaghetti. (What kid doesn’t like Spaghettios, gee whiz.)

    But anyway, regarding the “waste money on something they won’t eat” I agree with the idea in a practical sense. I will say that, in my case, they WILL eat it ultimately, because I’ve been known to go so far as to save it in the refrigerator and re-serve it to them the next day as leftovers and take a stand along the lines of “you will get NOTHING else until you’ve eaten this, if you’re hungry it’s your own fault for being so stubborn.”

    Basically they’re hungry enough they’ll eat anything at that point (they’re not being starved, they’ve just chosen to not eat what’s given to them) and further I guess that also shows them that this something that is not going to just go away due to the passage of time–until you given in and consume it, it is NEVER going away. They also learn real quick–you’ve encountered “brick wall city,” that is to say an infinity-powerful force you just can’t overcome (me). if it’s stubborn you want, you’re never going to match my will and determination in that, you’d have better luck yelling at a brick wall and having it move out of the way.

    That doesn’t happen often, I hardly do such as out & out meanness. It’s just that, frankly, Italian is my wife’s favorite food, and their dislike of it simply is irrelevant to me if my wife is in the mood for it. It may only be once or twice a month, but if my wife feels like it 2 times a month, we go. THEY fit OUR life, not the other way around.


  77. Donna April 22, 2013 at 5:07 am #

    LRH –

    As someone who was fairly picky as a child, I never once refused to eat a specific food because I was being stubborn. I refused to eat it because I didn’t like the taste (or texture in some cases) of it. My child is not refusing Italian because she wants to ruin my evening. She is refusing it because she hates pasta noodles regardless of the sauce. Not sure what making a person miserable by forcing her to eat something she hates proves except that you are a bully. And I’m certainly not paying for food that is nothing more than a torture device for the person eating it. Sheesh. The point is not simply that money is wasted by ordering food she won’t eat. She doesn’t eat 90% of the food she orders in restaurants since portions are well above what any 35 pound 7.5 year old should eat. It is a waste of money to me if she isn’t enjoying what she is eating and is just eating because it is being shoved down her throat.

    I get plenty of Italian. I can cook it and do almost weekly – at which point my child is told “there’s the kitchen, make yourself something else if you don’t want what I cooked.” I can find a babysitter, go out and enjoy Italian whenever I want (well I can’t in A. Samoa where food sucks but usually). I see no need to force feed my child something she detests so that I can prove that I am the boss and in control. And that is all this is about. It isn’t about making your wife happy. It is power, control and a very healthy dose of narcissism.

  78. LRH April 22, 2013 at 8:33 am #

    My stance isn’t about narcissism or power/control. It is about a few things. First, where I come from, you eat what is given to you, or you starve. It’s called RESPECT. Your parents work, among other things, you don’t. Your parents are the ones responsible for you. They make endless sacrifices for you, do all the grunt work, see you off to school, make sure you’re dressed, whatever. They don’t do this so as to have their boots licked or their validation affirmed daily by a child, mind you, and those are their obligations anyway I realize that, but that said, as the child, the LEAST you can do is to manufacture (if need be) a better response than to turn your nose up at your food like a high society stuck-up snob just because the food isn’t your favorite. Where I come from, that’s just plain being a brat, and as a child anytime I did that I was strongly scolded not just by my parents but by pretty much anybody. I don’t agree with every-way I was raised, but as an adult now, I have no problem with how I was raised in that regard. They were RIGHT to do that.

    Don’t misunderstand me Donna, I’m not at all saying you’re a “pacifist parent” nor am I saying your 7½ year-old is being a brat. It isn’t my place to tell you that I think your parenting style is wrong, whether or not I think it is, you have the right to parent how you please pretty much. At the same time, if you were to say to her “we’re having Italian tonight, deal with it,” I surely wouldn’t term you a “bully” or a “narcissistic” either.

    I surely don’t consider myself, or the countless other parents who expect their children to eat what’s given to them, any of that either. It’s simply a case of, as the child, knowing your place, showing a little respect, and realizing the world isn’t obligated to serve you everything you like like you’re King Tut. Again, as I was raised, when you grow up, THEN you can have what you want every single night, but not now. It doesn’t mean that every night you’re going to be served food you hate, it may be (say) every 5-7 nights with the other 6-odd nights being okay by you the child, and on some nights you’re even going to find yourself every whim catered to (good grades in school, good behavior all around, your birthday etc) but you don’t go “ewww!” at the food on night 7 either. Where I came from, you might even be sent to bed or time-out for that offense.

    My kids very often love the food they are served, and I derive joy from that. Just yesterday, we had sausage/eggs/biscuits and berry and banana-nut muffins for breakfast (the muffins were a special treat, the others is the “norm”). Upon them eating the sausage/eggs/biscuits, items I’ve never had any trouble getting them to eat before, they now also had the muffins as a bonus. They were in HEAVEN, and we were heaping much love on them and enjoying seeing how much they liked it. Believe me, I understand about treating your kids to some, well, treats, and do so often. Also, my kids in general tend to do well, insomuch that our girl eats collards without complaint (seriously) and both love baked beans. I heap praise on them for that, and give them plenty as they want it.

    But if 1-2 nights a month mommy feels like Italian, or I feel like spaghetti (which I love), and this happens (say) 3-4 nights or so out of the typical 30 nights a month, I don’t think it’s wrong to expect them to be understanding about that, and suck it up at that 10% rate. I have no problem with how you work things out, your daughter avoids Italian she hates yet you still get it plenty. It’s just been my observation that how it USUALLY works out is the parent ends up eating McDonald’s or whatever 95% of the time because “the kids like it” and to heck with what she likes, and she is the one doing all of the grunt work, and I’ve never thought that the right way to do things. How awful, I thought, that the kids impose their values on their mother who is doing all of the grunt work, it’s downright selfish if you ask me.

    Understand, even with things as I said, my mother also made some accommodations for me. For example, I hate cheese, and this one dish she loved to make called for it. she’d make special effort to leave cheese off a small portion of it for me. I do try & make such accommodations on occasion. (Thus, even at the Italian places, if they have something that’s not so “Italian-ish” that they love and it’s not overly pricey, then ON OCCASION anyway they might get to have that.) If hamburgers were made at home, it was easy to only put on the items I liked (mustard, lettuce). But on the other hand, I also hated onions, but it was too difficult and fussy for her to leave onions off the one side of that dish she made, so I just had to suck that up. I also hated collards, lima beans, carrots, and many other such things–tough. I was expected to eat what was presented to me.

    However, besides that many other nights I liked most everything served, and on some nights (good behavior at school etc) I even found nearly every one of my whims catered to, also I disliked liver especially badly, so much so that I would throw up trying to eat it, and even my “mean mother” took sympathy on that and on nights she made liver, I wasn’t expected to eat it. I seriously wasn’t dramatizing things, it really affected me that badly, and she actually allowed me a pass on that. My grandfather was much like my mother but when he would prepare liver and I could throw up, he’d get all stern with me, and even my mother and others would get on him to leave me alone that if it bothered me that badly maybe I shouldn’t have to eat it. I have said that if any one food item (I won’t allow there to be a dozen of them or for the kids to play tricks on me here obviously) elicits that strong of a reaction in our kids, I would do likewise.

    I’ve blabbed enough about this. Happy eating and parenting.


  79. Warren April 22, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    LOL, been there and done it with the kids and thier picky eating. Or thier requests at 4 pm on Weds, for dinner that night.
    They finally got the point when I would be outside looking for the restaurant neon sign over the house. That to my sarcastic surprise wasn’t there..

    My kids learned that if they want a say in the menu at home, that they had to get thier butts out of bed on Sat. morning and come grocery shopping. No attendance, no say. Works pretty well, they get a say in the menu, they learn budgeting, and you get a hand unloading the truck.

    As for dislikes and likes, they learned that they will not get thier favs all the time. And sometimes it will be something they are not fond of. Also, anything they say they hate does get revisted as tastes do change. Like anything else kid’s tastes evolve, but they cannot do that with out exposure.

  80. Warren April 22, 2013 at 8:38 am #

    LOL, forgot to say, that the best eye opening reality shot comes from grocery shopping.

    When your teenager sees that you weekly grocery bill is more than they make in a week at thier part time job. They gain some perspective quickly.

    That also translated to her noticing that the bill for one family meal at a restaurant was around half the weekly budget for groceries.

  81. Emily April 22, 2013 at 9:10 am #

    @LRH–It sounds like you and Donna handle different mealtime preferences fairly similarly. I guess I misunderstood before; I interpreted your previous posts as, you get your preference all the time, unless you feel like indulging your kids once in a while, but it sounds like you only go with the option that you like best, and they hate, about 10% of the time, like Donna. I guess that’s fair enough, considering you’re not averse to doing some simple modifications, like leaving the cheese off one portion of the casserole for the kid who doesn’t like cheese (like you didn’t as a kid), or leaving the tomato sauce off one portion of spaghetti for the kid who doesn’t like tomatoes, or allowing a kid who doesn’t like pasta to have something non-pasta-based at the Italian restaurant, etc., AND the kid has the option of making him-or-herself something else. I didn’t catch that before, so I guess the only thing I don’t agree with is re-serving a child the same disliked food until he or she eats it. My parents might have tried that with me and my brother, but I don’t think it worked–either they’d give up, or we’d throw the food down the garbage disposal when they weren’t looking, so they stopped after one or two attempts. I also like Warren’s approach of including the kids in shopping and cooking, because a child who can cook can make him-or-herself an alternative to the family meal, as I did often, especially after I went vegetarian as a teenager. That approach could be applied to other things too–for example, Kiddo helps assemble the swing set that he or she requested, or helps care for the dog that he or she wanted, and so on, and so forth. In other words, “I want X” would be followed by, “Okay, we have to do Y and Z to make that happen. I’ll do Y, and you can help with Z.”

    P.S., I have a very fond memory of “helping” my dad paint the treehouse he built for me and my brother when I was four. First, he measured the door to accommodate my four-year-old height, not taking into account the fact that I’d grow, so I spent the next few years ducking when I went in or out of the tree house. This is funny, becuase he did a good job otherwise–he drew a plan, and used trigonometry to measure the roof, etc., and it had a porch, and stairs instead of a ladder, because I was afraid of ladders then, and my brother couldn’t climb ladders at the time, because he was only one. Second, when I painted the tree house with my dad, I got so covered with paint (we chose forest green as the colour), that my mom had to throw out the clothes I was wearing that day. Still, I learned that things like treehouses take work, and they don’t just spring up out of nowhere. For the record, though, I don’t remember asking for a treehouse; my dad just decided that he wanted to make one for us, so he did.

  82. Buffy April 22, 2013 at 5:18 pm #

    I’m not the only one that wishes WordPress had a chat room or message board…am I? Too often lately these comments are between 2 or 3 people having what is essentially a private conversation and, at least for me, it becomes less and less interesting as a commentary on Lenore’s post.

  83. ebohlman April 23, 2013 at 4:30 am #

    Buffy: WordPress does make it possible to have nested/threaded comments, which if enabled would help alleviate the problem you mention by making easier to skip over “back and forth” sub-conversations. It’s a simple administrative setting, though it probably would need some theme styling to make the nested comments look good. Lenore should consider it.

  84. Lisa April 23, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    @LRH, you really clarified things when you stated that your wife asking for Italian happens 1-2 times/month. That *is* compromise and treating everyone with respect and consideration – I’d be willing to bet that your kids ask for what they want to eat far more often than that, and in a situation where two people in the family are asking for something, one of whom asks twice a month and the other who asks twice a week, I know who I’d be most likely to oblige!

    I am a single mom, and I never wanted my daughter, now 10, to think she was the center of my world (lest she believe she is the center of the ENTIRE world, as often happens with only children of single parents). I have always taken the approach that there are TWO people in my family, and both are equally important. Everyone’s needs come before anyone’s “wants”, but after that I try to give equal weight to her desires and mine. That means that there was far less “Dora” on my tv than what I saw other families doing when she was younger. It also means that I watched very few adult-themed movies when she was very young. (Lots of PG-13, we had a “together” shelf for movie night!) We have one TV, in the living room. Sometimes I send her to her room or outside because I’m watching something, sometimes I read in my room because I don’t want to see what she has on. Sometimes I listen to awful pop music in the car, sometimes she puts up with country (often, we indulge our shared love of Broadway show tunes). Sometimes I say “we’re getting Indian food for dinner” (which she does not like). Sometimes I ask her where she wants to order from. Occasionally, I call from work and ask her to figure out dinner… helps to live across the street from the grocery store.
    We have one computer. Well, *I* have a computer, *she* has an iPad, but we share both. If she has homework to do, and I’m on Facebook, I turn the computer over. If I need to get some work done, and she’s on the Pottermore site, I take it back. If she’s playing and I want to play… anything could happen. One of us will just choose to do something else. Most recently, that happened and she said “no, Mom, you should take the computer, because my tv show is on”. She didn’t think one person should be controlling both electronic devices. Sounds fair to me!
    Now, I also believe that with TWO people in the family, we each need to do HALF the work of maintaining the household. So she does a lot more around the house than her friends. She does laundry, I do dishes. Other than that, we’re more flexible… but we each do on average about half the housework.

  85. LRH April 23, 2013 at 11:56 am #

    Lisa I appreciate the “got it” posts, but if my wife were to ask for Italian 3 times a WEEK, the same thing would still apply–she is my wife, my wife comes first, and she’s 1 of 2 adults and the adults get the last word. It isn’t about compromising at all, it’s about that my wife only is IN THE MOOD for it that often, that or the fact that if you eat out too much it gets costly.

    Sure, our kids do get to eat some of what they like, but as far as them having an equal vote? Oh heck no. This isn’t a democracy it’s a benevolent dictatorship of 2 people (me & the wife). Sure the kids get a lot of what they like, but not on account of us doing without what WE like.


  86. Emily April 23, 2013 at 10:47 pm #

    @LRH–I don’t know about you, but there used to be a restaurant here called “Around the World,” that was a buffet of all different kinds of food, from all different kinds of ethnicities. It isn’t there anymore, but they didn’t really invent that concept–Frankie Tomatto’s in Toronto does the same thing. So, I was just wondering, is there a place like that within reasonable driving distance of your house? If so, then your family could go out for dinner together, and each of you could have what you wanted. I don’t know why there aren’t more places like that; it seems like a really good idea. You get all the variety of a mall food court, but with the atmosphere of a proper restaurant.

  87. Carol April 25, 2013 at 9:47 am #

    EMILY, I totally agree with you.
    My children are people, free people, they don’t deserve to be ruled under two dictators, how awful. My children don’t always respect me and that’s fine by me, they are under 6 and are still learning. The times they show respect, which is most of the time, I know they are really being respectful and not just compliant out of fear. They learn respect because I model it, to them, to my husband, and to people in general. They don’t make final decisions on things they aren’t mature enough to fully understand, but I value their wants and opinions, and they feel like they are a part of a family. They aren’t scared of us in any way, they have rules and restrictions that are fair and age appropriate. If they mess up we talk about it and how it is being disrespectful to whoever, and show them how they could do better in future. It works, they aren’t perfect little angels, they are people who sometimes are selfish or make mistakes, just like adults do. But they have wonderful manners, show empathy and most of the time respect the people around them.

    I think mutual respect has an important place in a parent-child relationship. Regarding the original letter, I wonder how respected you feel by your children. It sounds like you’re off to a great start in getting your life on track and your older children out living their own lives. My suggestion would be to look at where the respect is missing and get it back! Good luck and well done on recognizing that things need to change, that’s often the hardest part.

    I think respect is a very twisted perception by some prople, bullying some one is not earning their respect, you can’t force a child or any person to respect you. They can give you the response you want to make you feel powerful but that is not the same as actually respecting your decisions, choices and actions.

    LHR parent how you like, but I’m interested to know your definition of respect. How many dictators do you think are respected by the very people they treat as inferior? It’s more like forced complience, do you really think that is respect?
    So your children have no say because they don’t earn the money so they should fit in to your life. YOU chose to have them, not the other way around, and It sure sounds like you don’t respect them.


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