Thursday, October 16, 2014

Take a Closer Look

ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Take a Closer Look
I could hear the crying from the girls’ bedroom the second I climbed up the basement stairs. 

What this time? I thought to myself, exasperated.  My 5-year-old is having a hard time these days with her emotions.  Tears seem to be a daily occurrence and the source usually has something to do with her older sister.  They share a room, and while they get along famously and still play together on most days, they also get on each others’ nerves greatly; they both like to be in control.

I climbed the ladder to my daughter’s bunk and found her crumpled in the corner, wailing in misery as big crocodile tears ran down her face. 

“What’s wrong, Sweet Girl?” I inquired at eye level.

Through heaving sobs, she managed to convey to me that her older sister had moved her babies’ crib out of the room and she wanted them to stay because she likes her babies to sleep in her room with her. 

Assessing the situation before I uttered a word, I saw her twin doll babies lying at the foot of her bed, instead of situated in the monstrous double-decker crib, that as of a few moments ago, sat at the entrance of their bedroom, but now was nowhere to be found.  The side-by-side double stroller that she’d been pushing throughout the house for the past few days was nowhere to be seen either.  I questioned my older daughter with my eyes without uttering a word.

“There’s just not room in this small bedroom for all of your baby stuff and for both of us.   I have to move the stroller from in front of my closet just so I can get dressed every day.  And the crib is blocking the door from closing at night.  They just have to go downstairs with the rest of our toys,” her big sister explained too her patiently.

Made sense to me.  I didn’t need to intervene here, I told myself. 

“It’s okay, babe.  There’s no need to be upset.  It’s not a big deal; we just need to move the baby stuff downstairs.”

As new tears rolled down her face,  my baby girl whimpered, “But it’s a big deal to me!”

Stopped in my tracks.  She was right.  It was a big deal to her.  It was my kindergartener’s entire world.  Babies.

Although she has numerous dollies and strollers and play pack n plays and carriers, she’d demonstrated patience and restraint for the past year, saving her weekly family economy money from performing chores and meeting responsibilities, in order to buy twin bitty babies and a twin stroller.  She’s talked about it every single day for the last year:  what she’ll do with them, what she’ll name them, where she’ll take them, and how it will feel to have twins. 

Over the weekend, she was overjoyed to open an early birthday gift of the coveted babies and stroller.  She took no mind of the fact that one of the dolls, baby Elizabeth, was her own 10-year-old hand-me-down from her sister, of whom she’s been playing with for the past few years.  She didn’t mind that the 2nd “twin” was simply bought used to match.  She didn’t notice the wear and tear on the pre-owned stroller t either.  All she cared about was those sweet little baby sisters that needed a Mommy to love them.  She quickly chose the name Eliza for the 2nd doll, and has spent the past 4 days adoringly caring for those dolls.  She’d roped her older sister into the excitement as well.  My 11-year-old has played with my little one and the babies nonstop without complaint, and had even carved out a space for the baby paraphernalia in their tiny shared bedroom.  She even offered to care for the twins while home sick from school earlier in the week, as the twins' mom would have to leave them to attend kindergarten.

As all good things usually come to an end, my pre-teen daughter had finally grown tired of the doting and was ready to move on.  My younger daughter, however, was still madly in love with the idea of caring for those babies.

We eventually came to a solution that worked for both girls, moving the stroller to the basement, and rearranging some furniture to accommodate the crib so Elizabeth and Eliza can sleep in the same room with their mommy. 

But that one sentence keeps ringing through my ears.  It’s a big deal to me.   The idea that something so nominal to one person, could so greatly affect another, is something to pay attention to.  It seems that if we could figure out what matters and what doesn’t to an individual, a group of people, or an entire region, we could solve so many problems before they even arise.  It explains so much about our society:  who we surround ourselves with, what motivates us, when we take action and when we don’t, where we draw a line in the sand, why we make the decisions we do, and how we react to certain situations….all based on what we hold near and dear. 

As a parent, we oftentimes become so accustomed to putting out fires we’ve seen flame before and barking out instructions to solve familiar problems that we forget the most important step in the equation:  assessing the situation.  Sometimes it’s an open and closed case and what you see is what you get, i.e stealing a cookie from the cookie jar.  But the majority of situations require gathering information we cannot see, which often requires listening.  Seems easy enough, but with our buy-in to this fast paced society that surrounds us, we often bypass this step in the name of efficiency or share it with other tasks, thereby diluting its effectiveness. 

There’s not a one amongst us who doesn’t want to really know their child, or their spouse or loved one, for that matter:  who they are and what makes them tick.  We sometimes think, though, that we already know the scoop based on what we see or what we’ve experienced in the past.  Most people change or alter their focal points, though, over time, and in the case of children, it can happen in the blink of an eye.  What was crucial last week can be replaced with a more vital stance by week’s end.  I find that every time I think I know anything, I am quickly reminded that I don’t know squat.  So today I’m pledging to listen, not just hear, but really process, what the people around me say, instead of assuming the situation, tone, or sentiment.  I’m going to view each interaction as an opening into the inner workings of the person, which only enhances my ability to better communicate and care for each.  Want to take a closer look with me?

Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Story of My Life

The Story of My Life - Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder
Fifth-grade Flash Mob Dance practice trumps the wedding registration party at Macy’s.  The entertainer I’ve loved for years is never asked to perform in lieu of a surprise song from our kids.  The venue we’ve chosen is a bar and leads almost every guest to ask in advance “What is the appropriate attire?” to which I am forced to standardly reply “Same thing you’d wear to any other fucking wedding!”  A head full of lice shows up just hours before out-of-town guests arrive for our in-home night-before –the nuptials party for 50.  And let’s not forget my therapist, or my life-line, as I like to call her, has been on indefinite medical leave for weeks, leaving me scrambling for sanity.

It sounds like typical wedding-planning drama to me.  Worthy of a reality show?  Probably not.  But definitely makes for a good story.  I love good stories.  They’re pretty much my mainstay for survival.  A tall tale to make you laugh when you need a release, an embellished version of an embarrassing incident to make someone feel like they’re not alone in their humiliation, or the simple recanting of a family legend, worn smooth over the years by being told so often, and bringing warmth to your heart.

This past year I’ve been accumulating an insane chapter of my life story, as I’ve been manically planning an organized event that I didn’t want:  a wedding.  A fancy, indulgent, corny public display and affirmation of my love for another person was never one of my wishes as a child. I never got into happily-ever-after fairy-tale wedding stories aimed at little girls and I never flipped through bridal magazines as a teen or young adult for anything other than a new trendy hairstyle while waiting for my turn at the salon.  And I certainly wasn’t upset when my accountant told my partner and me many moons ago that we were ‘better off’ from a tax-standpoint being in an unmarried gay relationship than in a traditional marriage. 

It’s not that I have anything against a committed union of individuals promising their love to each other for eternity.  From a young age, I learned to love hard and freely, which I have continued to do through adulthood.  But I’ve never associated love and/or passion with marriage.  Maybe it’s because the modeling marriage of my parents was not ideal, or maybe it was because I wanted nothing more than to claim my independence, or maybe it’s because deep down I knew that I was gay and that gay folks couldn’t get married.  Suffice to say that it was just never a dream of mine.  No daydreams about what it would be like to walk down an isle in a white dress while Ava Maria was being sung, nor to be announced as Mr. & Mrs. Blah Blah Blah, nor to be recognized by church and state as legally wed.  That being said, I feel as if I’ve been reaping the important benefits of a marriage for the past fifteen years with my partner:  commitment, devotion, and love through thick and thin. 

Getting married, however, has ALWAYS been an aspiration for my now-wife. The ceremony, the dress, the giving away of the bride, the ‘I Do’s, the big-ass reception, and everything else fairy-tale wedding-oriented had always been a pipedream for her.  In an effort to meet that notion some seven years ago, I’d secretly planned a private commitment ceremony on the beach in Maui, complete with rings, flowers, a minister, and gorgeous photos that still line our bedroom walls.  But in my book, we were same as hitched way before then, dating back to the day we decided to grow our family, first with a dog and then with kids.  No matter how you sliced it, though, I thought we were covered.

Yet in the months leading up to the push toward marriage equality in Illinois last year, my girlfriend and I spent many any hour talking about what we would do if the laws did change.  We both felt we would be crazy not to get married, even if just for the ease of dealing with external forces when it came to shared children, property, and resources.  We decided a small informal ceremony with just us and our two kids would be nice and would be a compromise between both of our desires.  We were unsure if the four of us would take a little trip afterwards or host a celebration party if we decided to include our friends and family.  You know, something small and intimate.

But the day that our gay marriage law was passed, all of our plans went out the window.  Wrought with emotion that trumped any ideas we had laid out, my partner started mapping out her big fantasy wedding.  I was stunned with the news, as I truly didn’t think that the law would pass and stick so quickly:  I was taken off guard.  It’s possible I may have bought into the idea of a traditional wedding celebration as well, but it’s hard to trace back to where reality ends and illusion begins.  The one thing I do know is that within a few weeks, I was overwhelmed and uncomfortable with the path that was being paved for this wedding.  In addition to me having no want or need for the convention of marriage outside of practicality, I had no interest in taking on the expense nor the planning of such an event.  Over and over again I was adamant with my partner that this had to be nipped in the bud.  She’d agree amicably, but then I’d look into her eyes and see the hope looming there that maybe I would change my mind;  I am a lot of things, but a dream crusher is not one of them.

So for the next nine month, I vacillated daily between dedicated practical planner of a big, important event and anxious, sulking teenager who was “over it” because she didn’t get her way.  It was a real internal struggle for me that would often bust out into my daily life, via coffee talk with my friends, frequent bitch sessions with my soon-to-be wife and weekly appointments with the therapist I begrudgingly hired to help me work through the opposing parts of myself.

The Story of My Life - Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder
At the end of the day, my wife's girlhood vision made it to actuality, albeit slightly different than imagined in her head, yet every ounce as fulfilling and meaningful as she’d thought it would be.  But the kicker is that the wedding itself ended up being for me everything that I ever wanted in life, but never knew I needed.  Surrounded by so many of our friends and family, yet each one of them included in the intimacy of our family being joined in matrimony, it was nothing short of awesome.  The love and bond I shared on that day for my wife, my family, and every loved one in attendance, will stay etched in my soul.  It’s already been tested with the trials , tribulations, and sometimes mundane existence of married life (please don’t forget  we’ve already been together 15 years and the shit that comes along with that doesn’t just change overnight) and that light is burning just as bright. 

Looking back, I probably wouldn’t have kicked and screamed as hard as I did against the idea of marriage if I knew then the way I’d feel now.  But that’s part of the beauty of the story of our lives:  sometimes we can’t recognize we’re on top of the world until we’ve traveled to the depths of its core. 

Friday, August 1, 2014

How Much is Too Much to Share?

How Much Is Too Much to Share - Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder
I think of my kids as little.  They are little from some perspectives and they are very grown up from others.  At 5 and 10, I still try to shield them from unnecessary details regarding violent crimes and horrific accidents and disasters, but I make sure they know that they exist and to be safe and always treat life as if it might be your last day on earth as you know it.  I try to keep daily worries about money and finances under wrap, but I make sure they’re aware of the value of a dollar by sharing costs of products and services with them and letting them earn their own money to spend as they choose.   Given their ages, these seem like no-brainers, at least for my family.

Yet other topics are not quite as cut and dry.  Sex, drugs, sickness, and death can be prickly, as it’s often hard to determine where to draw the line as to how much info is too much to share on each topic.  While my kids are not blind to any of them, we tend mostly to address more detail when one of the issues is presented as a live example in our lives or when warning or advanced knowledge is required.  But what about emotions….do you share the way you feel about situations with your kids?

I used to wear a poker face in front of my kids whenever I was dealing with anything negative, uncomfortable, or difficult, in order to shield them from unpleasant situations.  But then I noticed when my kids, especially my younger one, would run into unpleasant situations outside of “my watch,” they didn’t seem to handle the emotion involved in such very well.  They weren’t comfortable witnessing sadness, frustration, fear, or anger, and it would manifest itself as nightmares and anxieties.  And at home when unexpected scenarios would pop up, i.e physical injuries of family members, parental squabbling, etc., the girls, although naturally empathetic by nature, were scared of the raw emotions that surfaced from their parents.

One day I overheard my older daughter tell one of her friends, “My mom NEVER shows any emotion or cries.”  That’s not true, I started to interject, but as I thought back through some of the loss and sadness I’d encountered over the last decade, I realized most of it was early in my eldest daughter’s life, and while I cried and showed lots of emotion at the time, she would have been too young to remember it.  And while my kids are quite familiar with me getting “fired up” about situations that annoy me and cost me nothing to share or laughing so hard that I can barely stand up, the last five years have been chalked full of my fiancĂ© and I keeping our voices down so the kids don’t hear us fight, and putting on a happy face in front of them when all we really want to do is lay in bed and cry, as we try to cover up the negative feelings of the heart. 

After being granted legal privilege to marry to my partner of almost fifteen years and the otha’ motha’ of my kids, she and I embarked on a year-long planning of our upcoming wedding, which has surprisingly brought out many of the same insecurities, doubts, and anxieties in us as are expected of young brides who are merging their single lives with their single fiance’s for the first time.  For me, fear of commitment has popped up, and for Katie, yearning for validation, among other things.  In working through some of the feelings that are surfacing against our will, it has become nearly impossible to hide our sentiments from the kids.  Disappointment, resentment, worry….you name it, we’ve had it, in addition to the excitement, hope, and glee.  All of those feeling can bring on tears.

After one of my first emotional gags, I remember the look of fear and concern on my 5-year-old’s face when she saw me crying.  She was afraid to even come close to me because she didn’t know how to respond to my tears.  I pulled her close and wrapped her up in my arms, letting her feel the same warmth in my body that she does when I’m happy or content.  I told her I was sad and I couldn’t stop crying and that it was okay.  She comforted me and hugged me tight.  It helped me feel less anxious by sharing my physical reaction to sadness with her and it helped her take the first step in processing unexpected emotions. 

That first unveiling of emotion led way to subsequent moments of sharing my moods with both my kids and inviting them to know all of me, not just the presentable portion of me.  Since then, I’ve made an active decision to share all of my heart with my girls, not just the shiny pretty parts.  While I benefit immensely by lightening my load and getting a boost of love from my girls, my kids, especially my 10-year-old, has learned through me sharing my feelings that it’s okay to share hers too without the world going up in smoke.  She now opens up to me regularly, whereas before it was like pulling teeth trying to get her to concede her woes. 

I still struggle over how much is too much to share about why I feel the emotions I do, and I usually err on the side of less detail, but instead focus on acknowledging that the emotion does in fact exist and affects us all.  I let my kids ramble on to their hearts’ content when they confide in their thoughts, and overall we’re woven much tighter today than we were just six months ago.  I think this change toward sharing instead of shielding raw emotion from my kids, has positively affected our entire family, and I’m guessing it has altered the emotional growth path of my kids and for me.  I can’t even begin to ponder the “what ifs” of never opening up to my kids.  I’m so grateful all these insecurities came up and forced me into a place where I had no other choice but to wear it all out in the open. 

I’m not sure if there is a one-size-fits all answer to how much is too much when it comes to sharing, as every situation, individual, and family is different, but I can say with conviction that the decision to share feelings at all with our kids is extremely important.

Friday, July 4, 2014

People Stay the Same

Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder - People Stay the Same
Many of us think we’ve ‘come so far’ from where we started in life, which is probably accurate for most.  At the end of the day, though, aren’t we still just the same people we were as youngsters, but with a more refined palate of behavior?

Case in point, while vacationing in the Wisconsin Dells last week, my 10-year-old daughter and her best friend and I were running from ride to ride in an amusement park on a chilly, rainy evening.  Because of the weather, and it being close to closing time, there was no line on any of the roller coasters.  We started with the smallest roller coaster, and worked our way up to the more challenging ones.  As we rolled into the coaster station after surviving the Cyclops, which left me reeling and ready to lose my lunch, we were nonetheless, alive with terror and excitement.  We exited the ride and at the fork in the path, I instinctively suggested that we ride again, simply because we could.  We raced back into line in time to get on the very next roller coaster.  As I sat in the front row with daughter awaiting the thrill of the first hill, I was reminded of being an 8 year old kid in line for The Racer at Kings Island, running through the maze of metal bars and jumping over the turnstiles, trying to fit in as many rides as I could on the super fast and hilly coaster, before a crowd overtook and created a wait. 

I am the same thrill-seeker today as I was 35 years ago.  Even though I haven’t been able to withstand the jerks and jostles or roller coasters without getting sick for at least a decade now, so have kept away from them, on this day I realized there’s no point in trying to fight it, but instead I should just lean into what’s at my core.  My daughter inherited the trait as well, and the three of us worked through the fear to get to the buzz over and over again for the next 30 minutes. 

Why do we fight our naturally inherent attributes…those things that inspire and drive us to be who we are?  Why do we instead say we’ve “changed” and that we’re someone else now?  As I think through my life, I’ve spent a lot of time selling shit.  From ideas and concepts, to products and services, I’ve got both a natural talent and predisposed need for competition that is easy to fulfill with sales.  While I refuse to this day to call myself a salesperson, in actuality, it’s my schtick.  I won a Girl Scout horseback-riding camp at age 10 for selling 2000 boxes of cookies.  I sold ad spaces in the yearbook at 16, ad time for the radio station I DJ’d for at 24, and lesbian dating services at 28, even though I didn’t have a single woman in the pool of existing clients to match up!  I won a trip to Maui in my mid-30’s for selling new construction homes and a Caribbean cruise a few years later for selling jewelry fashion jewelry.  Yet here I sit, calling myself a stay-at-home mom and a writer.  Ha.


As Annie argued in Bridesmaids with her arch enemy Helen, “We stay the same but grow, I guess, a little bit….but I mean we’re changing who we are, which we always stay as.”

Like she said.  We are who we are.  We can change the way we act, the way we look, what we say, and add new things to the mix, but inside, we still think the same and have the same desires as we did at age 5, which was when we grew into ourselves.

Who are you and have you changed or are you still the same?

Tuesday, June 3, 2014

Let it Go

Too much work, too many tasks, too many things to keep in check.  Obligations, deadlines, stressors, and drama, albeit some imagined and others real.  Sound familiar? 


ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Let it Go
“Let it go, let it go
Can't hold back anymore
Let it go, let it go
Turn away and slam the door”

Yep, a day at the beach is a good way to let it all go.  I feel better already.

Now the reality of getting out the freakin’ door, much less slamming it, is upon me.  Medication or Bandaids to cover the angry, raw exzema outbreak on my daughter leg before it hits the bacteria-laden waters of Lake Michigan?  Will the peanut butter sandwiches get smashed in the flimsy lunch bag once it gets jammed into the wire bike basket for the couple-mile bike ride to the beach in the heat?  And of course, the age-old good cop/bad mom debate of whether I can justify REALLY letting it go and finding room for the sole cider beer that’s been chillin’ in the fridge for the past few days as a companion for the PB&J and butterscotch cookies.  Realizing I’m just making things harder than they need to be by even giving the Woodchuck tagalong a second thought in regards to propriety,  my 5-year-old and I hit it into the sunshine. 

The fact that an hour and a half has escaped between idea conception and clicking on the bike helmets is neither here nor there.  But when the toe jam from the flip flop I’m wearing separates from the shoe’s base, causing me to lose my balance when I hopped down from my bike at a Lake Shore Drive Intersection, and roll my bike, as well as the attached ½ bike where my daughter was perched, proud as a peacock, was another story.

“The wind is howling
Like this swirling storm inside
Couldn't keep it in
Heaven knows I've tried.”

Dammit!  Is my daughter OK?  Check.  Did we fall into the street?  Nope.  The bike’s still in tact, but the day school field-trippers on the lakefront sure got their laugh for the day.

Back on the bike, pedaling the last few blocks to the sandy getaway, my almost-kindergartener tells me she was embarrassed when we fell. 

“Let it go,” I tell her.  “Do you even know what that word means?”

Finally, we see the beckoning baby blue sky meeting the deep azul of the very active lakefront,  and troubles are forgotten.  Get.  There.  Now.

Happy as a clam, plopped in the middle of a striped beach towel, shielding the sandwiches in our hands from the grit of the sand being blown by the wind, I’m confronted with the obvious.

ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Let it Go
“Mom, will you swim with me?”

I hadn’t thought of that today, on the first beach trip of the season, with the thermometer barely hitting 80 degrees and the extreme warnings from friends (and meteorologists) ringing in my ears about the cold water temps this year due to the extreme winter be just crawled out of, and how we won’t be able to enjoy the summer.  I looked at the goose bumps on my arms and then back at my daughter’s beaming face.

“Mom, please, it will be so fun…I can’t wait!”  

Begrudgingly, I walk to the edge of shore and dip one toe into the surf.  Death-defyingly frigid.  Then my child ran at full force into the lake, jumping over every wave and splashing me high and low along the way.  Oh for the love of Pete.

“And here I stand
And here I'll stay
Let it go, let it go
The cold never bothered me anyway”
ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Let it Go

After an hour in the sun and surf, the water actually felt warm.  We played, we paddle-balled, we wave-jumped, and we swam with full-body submersion for almost 2 hours.  It was by far, the best day ever.

“It's funny how some distance makes everything seem small
And the fears that once controlled me can't get to me at all.”


---Lyric quotes from “Let It Go” from Disney’s Frozen




Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Take This Bra and Shove It

ParentUnplugged - Stacy Snyder - Bette Midler Beaches
“That’s as high as I can get them for you without surgery,” the expert fitter from the North Shore intimate apparel store offered me, in response to my concern that maybe the particular bra I had just huffed and puffed to get myself into, might not be offering my ta-ta’s the best lift that they deserve.

Huh?

“Maybe I should buy this one,” I thought to myself, since it fit the best of the five garments I had tried on over the last hour, naked from the waist up alongside Gabby, the matronly salesperson sharing the very close-quartered dressing room with me, who had just revealed to me that she had just turned 25.

As if she was reading my mind and trying to convince me, Gabby nodded her head in agreement.

But no matter how I tried to resonate with the purchase, the truth is that the $80 old-school brassiere she was suggesting didn’t do my boobs any favors.  The year-old, black over-the-shoulder-boulder-holder I’d walked in wearing, held them at attention a good inch higher than the bland beige contraption she’d had to finally hook for me because my own alligator arms couldn’t reach the 4th row of hooks across my back.

With deflated expectations, I left the dressing room and decided to order the ‘best option’ according to ‘as good as it’s gonna get Gabby,’ in my signature black before leaving the store.  The store had come highly recommended by numerous girlfriends who’d purchased bras for their own or other people’s weddings.  It was ‘the place to go’ in Chicagoland to buy the perfect underclothing for “the girls.” 

Yet I knew I could do better.  Nordstrom had never done me wrong.  I would go there.  They would help me find the perfect bra to wear under my own wedding dress.

After giving birth to my first child ten years ago, I remember walking into the intimates section of my local Nordstrom, where after explaining my plight of babies and breastfeeding and needing a new bra to help restore my puppies to their original height, the fitting specialist asked me, “Honey, are you even wearing a bra right now?”

I wasn’t offended or hurt by her words, but grateful for the acknowledgement that I needed help and confident that I was in the right place to get what I needed.  Within 20 minutes, I was out the door, $60 lighter in the pocket, and happy as a pig in shit because the big headlights that have not allowed me to leave the house without a harness since grade school, were shining straight ahead, and it make me feel good about my body.  I’ve actually felt good about my body image ever since that life-changing day.

I’ve gained, lost, and redistributed weight over the years, but I always believe in keeping the knockers up.  That one thing allows my clothes to fit better, my posture to more easily stay in line, and my self-image to stay positive.  So off to Nordstrom I strode yet again, to put Gabby to the test.  Within 25 minutes, I had compared and contrasted 10 other pieces of lingerie, at the suggestion of the perky and efficient salesperson, against the one Gabby had been trying to bully me into, and I walked out of the store confident yet again in my ability to project to the back row, with a few new pieces of underwire.

Happily, I called Gabby back and cancelled the bra order.  She wasn’t surprised.  Her voice told me she expected I’d have found a better selection and a better fit at Nordstrom.  Maybe that’s why she used the surgery comment to shame me into buying ‘the best option’ from her.  In any event, it just goes to show you that sometimes you should just stick with what you know, and I’m here to tell you I can definitely rise to the occasion without the need for breast surgery, at least for the time being. 

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

We're All in This Together



We're All in this Together - Stacy Snyder - Parent Unplugged
Many of us disagree on parenting styles.  Some of us are tough love parents, others of us are anything goes, and even more of us rest somewhere in the middle of the two.  While in another day and age, most parents subscribed to an unspoken code of behavior for their children that included basics such as showing respect for elders, practicing good manners toward all, and basically functioning under the Golden Rule, today’s parents don’t  agree on what the social norm is or should be for children’s behavior.  Some don’t acknowledge a social norm even exists at all, and that kids should be allowed to “just be kids” so we don’t thwart their creativity or development into authentic human beings.   

The social norms part is key, and touches right at the root of a growing problem in today’s world of parenting, the decline of social responsibility. 

What does that mean?  Wikipedia explains social responsibility as, among other things, “an individual, group, or entity’s obligation to act to benefit society at large.”  In parenting, think of it as considering the impact your parenting has not only on you and your family, but on other kids, parents, teachers, and society at large. 

Take, as an example, back talking.  As a parent, maybe you actively decide it’s not one of your hot buttons and it doesn’t bother you that much.  Maybe you prioritize other behavioral issues as more important than curbing your kids from answering you with a smart mouth.  Could be that you’ve created a situation where it’s easier to ignore it and after repeated occurrences of your kids sassing you without ramification, you passively give them the green light to continue it.  In any regard, it’s your house and your problem, right?  Yet the second your child walks out your door to school, to sports practice, to church, or God forbid, to my house, your impudent child becomes someone else’s problem.

This is a lack of parental social responsibility.  It creates problems for others.

When a teacher has to ask your older child to rework his statement into a question, complete with a tone adjustment and a polite ‘please’ at the end, and you tell your child that said teacher is simply a perfectionist and a pain in the you-know-what, you are not participating in your parental community obligation.  When your child throws a fit in front of an entire group of kids because she wants a treat right now that no one else can have, and you give in to her, despite the negative situation it creates for everyone around you, you are actively waiving your communal accountability to parenting.  When your child answers “Whatever” to another parent in response to a request, and you fail to correct it, you have not only given up on your child, but you’ve turned your back on your societal obligation as a parent.

Why are parents opting out of social responsibility?  Maybe the pace of our lives has simply quickened so greatly in the past few decades that we’re missing a parenting beat.  Good grades, winning sports seasons, impeccable music skills, and artistic abilities all hold their place on our parental barometer of raising a good kid.  Shouldn’t common courtesy, respect for others, and the ability to hold one’s tongue not demand the same reverence on the scale?  It’s possible we’re so caught up in manufacturing well-rounded, multi-dimensional children capable of great success that we’ve forgotten to teach them the art of decency.

The pot is boiling and is about to bubble over.  I wish I could just say that today’s kids who didn’t learn the basics of good manners would just be left out of the job force until they learned it.  Instead, if the majority of today’s crop of kids is left unchecked, they will simply turn into tomorrow’s adults creating new societal norms of behavior.  I, for one, have no interest in contributing to that change. 

Let’s turn the heat down and reclaim our shared interest in this world.  This means taking that extra minute to talk to your child about courtesy and kindness.  Tell them WHY it’s important to be considerate.  Explain what it means to treat people and be treated with respect.  This also means taking one for the team and having those same conversations with other kids whose parents may not have gotten the memo or simply are not present when a situation arises.  Parents are so scared of offending other parents that we often don’t step in when we should, simply because when the teachable moment arises, it’s someone else’s kid standing in front of you.  Every one of our children will make mistakes from time to time, same as we did as kids, same I still do now.  Social responsibility calls for us all to work on the same front for the cause.  Your kid, my kid, it’s all the same….we all want to live in a world of people treating each other with respect. 

Set clear expectations of behavior with your child/teen and lay out specific consequences to be doled out if they’re not met.  Pay attention to what they say and do at home and make corrections on the spot, because you can be sure they’re doing the same thing out in public and at school.  Stick to your guns on discipline.  Going through the motions of creating the standards and not adhering to the enforcement of the same does more harm than if you had never created the norm at all.

It’s hard to parent.  It’s even harder to parent well.  You’re not out there alone.  We’re all going through the same thing.  There’s not a one among us that is perfect, has all the answers, or hasn't made loads of mistakes.  But if we all join together, take this one issue, social responsibility as it applies to raising our kids with civility, and do the best we can with our kids for the name of the whole instead of just ourselves, we will make a huge impact not only on society and our neighborhood community, but on our family life and our individual children as well.  As Mister Rogers used to say, "Won’t you be my neighbor?"