If Mistakes Are Opportunities, I Guess That Makes Me An Opportunist

You know when you lose your shit on your kids and then you are instantly filled with remorse and regret and wish you could rewind and just start all over again?

I had one of those moments the other morning.

I didn’t really lose my shit.

But I was hard on Number 3. Too hard.

And I said something regrettable. Something I think can be particularly damaging, because I’ve been on the receiving ends of these words, and they stung. A lot.

They stung so much I haven’t ever forgotten them.

Number 3 has set a goal for himself this swim season to qualify for a big meet in Virginia in August. He’s been working really hard. And he had a somewhat disappointing season in the winter because he got really sick before championships and missed two weeks of swimming which is kind of a big deal as far as training goes.

I want so badly for him to qualify for this meet because he deserves it and because a lot of focus and attention has gone to Number 4 in the past six months as far as her swimming success goes, and I think he feels kind of overlooked and underestimated.

So when I woke him up the other morning and he refused to get out of bed, I freaked out a little bit.

Well, internally I completely freaked out.

Externally, I was more composed. But I was still freaking out.

I reminded Number 3 of his goals. I reminded him of what happened last season. I told him this was not the time to skip a swim practice.

He told me he just couldn’t get out of bed. He was in tears.

Internally, silently, I was saying, If he misses this practice, he won’t make  Zones,and he will be devastated. The whole season rides on this practice. (All ridiculous thoughts, by the way)

Externally, and out loud, I said, I’m disappointed in you.


Clearly he was already exhausted and struggling. Telling him he was a disappointment didn’t exactly help.

There was no kindness or understanding in my voice. Only judgment and shame.

Understandably, he stayed in bed.

Ugh. The disappointed-in-you thing is the worst.

It’s one of the things I vowed I wouldn’t say to my kids.

It’s not the first parenting vow I’ve broken.

After I took some time to reflect on this, I realized what I was actually feeling.

I wasn’t disappointed in Number 3.

I was concerned. And worried. And panicked.

Number 3 stayed home, and I left for practice with Number 4 about fifteen minutes later.

That was all the time I needed to think about what I had said and realize what I was really feeling and what I had done.

I had made a mistake.

Making mistakes sucks. It doesn’t feel good.

I stopped silently beating myself up after a couple minutes.

Because while this was a mistake, it was also an opportunity.

One of the things that pushes my buttons the most is when my kids take zero responsibility for messing up.

It drives me crazy.

But one of the things we often forget is that this refusal (or inability) to take responsibility for mess ups is a learned behavior.

Our kids are often afraid to acknowledge their mistakes because when they make them, we lose all our compassion and understanding. And we lose it.

We often yell, belittle, humiliate, and shame our kids when they make mistakes.

Who would willingly walk into that fire?

I know I wouldn’t.

Plus, we very often fail to acknowledge our own fuck ups.

As a result our kids rarely have examples of healthy and responsible behaviors when it comes to mistakes.

We can’t really blame them for not wanting to own up to them!

So after a couple minutes of silent reflection in the car, I said to Number 4, “I feel bad about how I handled Number 3 not coming to practice.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Well, I said some things to him I wish I hadn’t said,” I told her.

We talked a little more about it. And I felt a little bit better. I had at least given Number 4 an example of how to acknowledge a mistake.

When I got home, I went right up to Number 3’s room.

I apologized for handling the situation the way I had.

I used every ounce of restraint to not add a “but…” after that.

Not “I’m sorry, but I was worried” or “I’m sorry but I just want you to do well.”

No buts at all.

I told him he’d been working so hard, and I know he’s really trying and pushing  himself, that I blew things way out of proportion and forgot what was important, and in the future, I’d trust that he was listening to his body and making the healthiest decision for himself.

And then I gave him a hug and told him I loved him.

He smiled.

And all of a sudden, the mistake had gone from a bad thing, to a pretty good thing!

I think as parents, we are often afraid to acknowledge our mistakes. In doing so, we are afraid our credibility or authority or power is diminished.

But the goal isn’t to control our kids. It’s to guide them in the right direction and provide them with the skills and tools and awareness to be decent, responsible, self-confident, contributing and happy members of society.

And when we don’t model the behavior we hope to develop in our kids, it’s unrealistic to think they will somehow magically learn to do it on their own.

One of the biggest gifts we can give our kids is the gift of knowing it’s okay to be imperfect. That takes so much pressure off of them, and it provides them with the permission to acknowledge a mistake.

Taking ownership of your mistakes really makes you more relatable  and more respected.

And that’s what parenting is about. Developing respectful relationships with your kids. Respect that goes both ways.

The next time you mess up, remember the three R’s of recovery from mistakes:

  1. Recognize the mistake — “I wasn’t listening to you or understanding this morning!”
  2. Reconcile — “I’m sorry. I apologize.” (NO BUTS!)
  3. Resolve — “In the future I’ll trust that you know what’s best for your body.”

You will be doing your kids (and yourself) a big favor.

Making mistakes does not make you a bad parent.

But acknowledging them definitely helps to make you a good one.


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What I’ll Teach My Kids This Summer (It Won’t Be Math Facts)

This summer, I will not complete summer math packets.

I will not practice math facts with my kids or even touch a flashcard. I will not sit my kids in front of a computer to “play math games” or even utter the letters IXL.

I will not look at a reading log. I will not keep track of reading minutes, and I will not keep a tally of books read.

I will not purchase any of the big ass first grade or second grade reading or writing workbooks that are currently on display at Costco.

I will not force my kids to practice their handwriting.

I will not spend one goddamn second even thinking about the summer slide.

Because as far as I’m concerned, there is a whole lot of equally (or more) important stuff that slides during the school year.

Instead of focusing on all that stuff, I will do this:

I will take my kids to the library. I will encourage them to check out books. And if they choose to check out books (they will — they always do), I will read them to my kids. Or with my kids. Or I will let them read to me.

And I SWEAR TO GOD, this summer we will return all of our books on time. *crosses fingers and holds breath*

I will teach my children about the importance of down time. Of rest for your body, and rest for your brain.

I will encourage spontaneity, and do my best not to overschedule.

I will devote time to teaching the kids.

I will teach all of them how to operate the washing machine and the dryer, the dishwasher, and the vacuum. Even the five year old. Most of them know how. But not all of them. Not yet.

I will teach my kids how to plant seeds and then take care of them.

And then I will devote time to training them. Not training them how to have perfect penmanship.

I will train them all on how to load a dishwasher (efficiently enough so that I don’t fell compelled to rearrange it), how to empty the litter box, how to replace the bag in the garbage can, how to clean a toilet and how to fold a fitted sheet.

Okay, just kidding about folding the fitted sheets. I fucking hate those things.

But I pledge to devote my teaching and training time not to worksheets, packets, math facts and reading logs, but to developing better organizational skills and encouraging self discipline, responsibility and accountability.

I pledge to hold regular, weekly family meetings so that we all feel we have a voice and a duty regarding what goes on in our home.

I will encourage my kids to spend as much time as possible outside and live by the principle, the dirtier you are by the end of the day, the better. And I will get dirty with my kids.

Maybe I’ll teach them all how to make one fairly healthy meal from start to finish.

But I’ll also have them take most of their “baths” in the pool and feed them way too many hot dogs.

I’ll let them stay up too late and I’ll let them sleep in whenever they can.

By the time September rolls around, they may not remember what 7 x 9 is in less than .12 seconds.

But they’ll hopefully be more rested, more responsible, more proactive, and more self-sufficient than they were in June.

And that’s what matters most not only to me, but to the greater good.

So this summer, that’s what I’ll be devoting my time to.

All those packets and logs and unfinished workbooks?

Between you and me, they make pretty good firestarters. And making s’mores is also on my summer syllabus.

So I think we’ll use them for that.

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Three Things You May Be Doing As A Parent That Are Making Your Life More Difficult

If you are anything like me, and if your kids are anything like mine, you may be presented with multiple situations every day where you are feeling exasperated.

You are nagging and repeating and yelling, your kids aren’t listening, you don’t know why the f*ck they won’t just do what you tell them to do, and you are at your wits end.

Sometimes kids are going to test us. It’s what they do.

But many times, kids aren’t listening and are talking back because, well, because we’ve allowed it. We may have even unknowingly encouraged it.

We don’t mean to do it. We don’t realize we are doing it.

But we are doing it.

So what can we do differently?

Here are things you may be doing to make your life as a parent more difficult, and three changes you can make that will help.

1. “Telling”

The other day I asked readers which of their kids’ behaviors they find most challenging. One of the biggest ones?

When they don’t listen to me.

I get it. This is a big one for me, too. It seriously pisses me off when I ask my kids to do something and they either completely ignore me or they say, I’ll do it in a minute. Of course the minute comes and goes, and they still haven’t done whatever it is I asked them to do. Then I’m telling them again, only a little bit louder. The cycle repeats itself until I’m a fucking maniac. Then the kids say to themselves, Okay, Mom just lost her shit. I guess I better do it now.

What we often don’t realize, is that when we say our kids aren’t listening, what we really mean is they aren’t obeying.

And when they aren’t obeying, we are now in a power struggle.

Power struggles suck. Because no one really wins.

If your kids are doing what you demand of them, they most likely aren’t doing it due to internal motivation. They are doing it out of fear that they’ll be punished, or because they are becoming approval junkies who only feel good about themselves when they are getting praise (or rewards) from other people.

If your kids aren’t doing what you demand of them, that’s when you lose it. And when you lose it, you have lost your control, and your kids really haven’t learned much of anything.

If this method  worked, we wouldn’t have to lose our shit! Our kids would be doing what we asked them to do without needing a hundred reminders.

We think we are teaching them to be internally motivated, but we aren’t. We are doing the opposite. We are teaching them to do things only when they are told to. And we are teaching them that they don’t really have to do anything until we go ballistic.

It’s not helping the kids to be proactive, and it’s definitely not helping our blood pressure.

But it doesn’t have to be like that all the time.

What can you do to change it?

Instead of telling, start asking.

Instead of saying, GO BRUSH YOUR TEETH, try this:

What do you need to do so your teeth will feel squeaky clean?

I know. Who the hell says that? Your kids might look at you like, what the hell happened to Mom?

But I can tell you that it works. Instead of barking orders at your kids, it gets them to start thinking for themselves.

Using these kinds of curiosity questions have made a HUGE difference in our morning routine. Simply by changing how I speak to my kids, I have almost completely eliminated the nagging and repeated demands.

And this is with a 5, 6 and 7 -year-old.

A few months ago, I was saying Go brush your teeth! Get dressed! Where are you shoes! WHY AREN’T YOU DRESSED YET??? on a continuous loop.

I knew my kids knew what to do in the morning, but they weren’t fucking doing it!

It was exhausting and infuriating.

And then, I changed my approach.

Because you know what they say about the definition of insanity…

I didn’t threaten. I didn’t yell, I didn’t have to bribe them with rewards.

I simply said, “What do you need to do in order to be ready to go to school?”

I am telling you, the difference in their behavior was drastic.

And now Number 6, my six-year-old who was the worst offender in the morning, will run upstairs, brush his teeth, get dressed, come downstairs and put his shoes on, and then jump in front of me like TA-DAAAAH!!!! MOM! LOOK! I’M READY!!!”

I’m not kidding.

It’s a whole different experience in the morning.

Of course we have mornings where things are still a shit show, but they are nothing like they used to be.

For the most part, they run very smoothly and I don’t have to have a nervous breakdown every day in order to get the kids out the door and onto the bus.

2. Responding To Back Talk With Back Talk

Back talk. It’s maddening. Why the hell are kids so disrespectful?

It could be because they had a bad day or they are tired.

I know I’ve been known to snap at my husband or my kids when I’m stressed and exhausted.

But it could be because of something else.

We think we’ve taught them better.

But maybe we haven’t. Maybe we’ve been modeling the exact behavior we detest so much.

Maybe we haven’t taught our kids how to interact respectfully.

How many times have you replied to back talk with something along the lines of Go to your room and don’t come out until you can be respectful!

What if instead of firing back with something hurtful or disrespectful, you simply said, Wow! You are really angry!

I don’t know about you, but more than once, I have said something along the lines of How can you talk to me that way after everything I do for you? You would never talk to your teacher that way!!!

What if, instead, you replied to back talk with something like, I need to take a time out until I can be with you respectfully.

Doesn’t that reply model the exact response you would hope to get from your kids?

The next time your kid talks back to you, pay attention to how you respond.

You may be contributing to the problem without realizing it.

I didn’t realize how much I did this. I do it a lot.

I’m working on it, and it’s hard! But the less I talk back to my kids, the less they talk back to me.

3. Having total control over all decisions

Sometimes your kids give you a hard time because they want to have some control. And that’s not unreasonable.

I know how I would feel if someone told me exactly what I had to wear, what I was allowed to eat, and exactly when I had to do things all day, every day.

When kids feel empowered, they are much more likely to cooperate.

So when appropriate, offer limited choices. The key words here are appropriate and limited!

You’re not going to give your kid the option to not buckle his seat belt or brush his teeth.

But what if instead of saying Go brush your teeth and put your pajamas on! you said, What do you want to do first? Brush your teeth, or put on your pajamas?

I know. There is a chance your kids will reply with Neither!

But kids do often respond much differently to this approach.

And adding in you decide at the end of the choice is even more empowering for kids. And that is something they are often looking for. Empowerment.

Not doing homework isn’t an option for many of us.

But this approach — Do you want to do your homework before you have snack or after you have snack? You decide. — gives your kid some control over the decisions that affect him.

This simple sentence and limited choice has cut down big time on homework headaches and arguments here in my house.

And it has also seriously cut down on the  number of power struggles with my very determined and opinionated five-year-old.

If you have found yourself in the same situation, think about some scenarios where you would be willing to let your child have limited choices. The next time you are faced with an issue, you’ll be armed with a different (and more effective) approach. I’m sure of it.

As a certified Positive Discipline educator, and as a mom who is right there with you in the trenches, I can tell you with certainty that these approaches are changing not only my kids’ behavior, but also my relationship with them.

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This doesn’t make it easy.

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Are you guilty of this parenting mistake? I know I am.

It is often said that being a parent is the hardest job on the planet.

While I would argue that being married is equally challenging, I’d have to agree.

Being a mom is fucking hard.

There is no greater task than growing, teaching, training, and raising another human being.

It’s a tremendous gift, burden, challenge, responsibility, and honor, all wrapped into one big messy package.

And we wouldn’t trade it for the world.

Being a mom is never going to be easy.

But what many of us don’t realize, what I didn’t realize until I got to about the fourth of fifth kid, was that a lot of those things that make it so hard, the things that make us want to rip our hair out and gouge our eyeballs out, the things that drive us insane, the things that make us wonder if we’ve been talking to a wall for the past five or ten or fifteen years, um…

Our kids aren’t doing those things to us.

We are doing those thing to ourselves.

I know.

You want to tell me your kids should know.

They’ve been doing the same thing to get ready for school every day for the last 1000 days.

They’ve been doing the same thing before they go to bed for the last 4000 days!

What the hell is wrong with them???

Why don’t they just do it automatically by now???

It’s not because they are little a-holes who are trying to get away with as much as they can.

Okay. That might be it sometimes. Sometimes they just want to see how far they can push it.

But chances are it’s mostly due to something else.

There is something I learned in my Positive Discipline certification training this past week.

Humans are born being altruistic. They  naturally want to help other people, even if it’s to their own detriment.

You see this behavior in children as young as fifteen months old!

But you know what we do?

We rob children of their innate desire to contribute because we do it all for them.

I’m totally guilty of this.

How painful is it to wait for your three-year-old to buckle her seat belt?

Oy! It takes fucking forever!

And so what do we do?

Rather than let our kids contribute, rather than spend time teaching them and allowing them to develop the important life skills of independence and perseverance and responsibility, we do it for them.

Because it’s so much faster.


But what do we do in the process?

We start giving them the message, very early on, that we are going to do it for them. That they are incapable.

We don’t do this intentionally. But it doesn’t matter.

And it becomes a message that we subconsciously ingrain in them.

It doesn’t take long before our kids learn to expect us to do things.

And then they expect us to also remind them. Repeatedly. Before they have to do anything. Ever.

And then, one day, when we arbitrarily decide they are old enough, we expect them to do these things on their own.

Without repeated reminders.

We expect them to take the initiative to do things, even though for the past five years, we have essentially robbed them of this skill!

Go get dressed!

Go put your shoes on!

Go brush your teeth!

Why aren’t you dressed yet?



All that time we saved when they were two-years-old and doing things for them?

We pay for it later!!!

And now we are pissed that our kids aren’t independent. That they aren’t proactive. That they don’t offer to help us out. That we have to nag and nag and nag.

The next time your little guy wants to do it himself, no matter how excruciating it is, let him do it! Let him help you!

Of course you’ll have to start reevaluating how much time you allow for things.

You’ll have to invest time teaching.

You’ll have to give up control and be okay with an imperfectly made bed or folded towel.

But the time you invest on the front end, will pay off big time on the back end!

Allow your children to help. Allow your children to contribute. And start young. They want to help you!

In doing this, you give them the number one thing all human beings desire: a feeling of belonging.

But you also teach them to contribute.

What’s one of the biggest complaints from adults these days?

That children are entitled. They expect everything to be given to them without earning it.

Um, Hello???

Who has created that?

Not the kids!

When we focus too much of our energy on making sure our kids feel like they belong, but very little (or none) on them contributing, that’s what happens.

Too much belonging + Not enough contribution = Entitlement!

So encourage that behavior. Let your little guys contribute! Don’t rush in to the rescue!

As painful as it may be to wait for them to do it, as tiring as the teaching is when they are toddlers, it’s not half as exhausting as dealing with a five- or six-(or thirteen!) year-old who is now all of a sudden expected to do things (with out constant reminders) that they’ve never been able to do!

When your kids feel significant, and when they are encouraged (and required) to contribute, those behaviors that make you want to gouge your eyeballs won’t completely disappear, but I’d wager large amounts of money that they’re not gonna make an appearance half as often as they used to.


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