Category Archives: Parenting Advice

The Case for Average

“What’s average? Happiness first” tweeted Washington Post reporter Brigid Schulte, back to me. I had asked her “Who said average can’t also be awesome” in a previous tweet.

Schulte_Average_TweetsI love social media (but I have no idea why her tweet is showing up so blurry in the image, #sorry).

I love the instant gratification from chatting with a reporter about the remarkable, insightful and important piece they have in the paper. In this case, I’m talking about Schulte’s piece “Pushing for a Course Correction” on the front page of today’s WaPo Style section. If you haven’t yet read it, I insist you do.

In case you have no intention of reading it, here’s why it matters. Because she’s talking about pretty much all of us. She features the McLean (VA) High School PTSA president Wilma Bowers who is doing something important, something brave and something I fear is falling on deaf ears – pushing for parents to ease up on the hyper-competitive parenting environment. She is asking us all to look at authentic success instead. And she’s doing this from a place where a quality college like James Madison University is considered a college you “settle” for instead of the Ivy Leagues.

Here’s the thing people, this is a line of thinking that doesn’t happen overnight, it starts from a very early age. You see it in kids who are over-scheduled, who have no time to play, who are expected to perform, achieve and deliver, sometimes from the time they are in preschool.

And if you’re anything like me, a part of you is smugly thinking that this won’t be you or that it isn’t you;  you aren’t this kind of parent, you love your child for who they are and what their natural born abilities are.

But the truth is, be honest with yourself, are you lying to yourself just a little bit?

Example – the constant testing of early elementary school aged kids feeds into heart of our our need to tell ourselves our kids are better than average. Right now my oldest is nearing the end of second grade, which in Montgomery County means they are being tested for the gifted and talented program that begins in third grade.

She’ll come home and tell me they were tested that day and I’ll find myself asking her multiple questions about how she think she did, did she find it hard, what sorts of questions were on the test. These questions aren’t just innocent curiosity. I am trying to get a read on her performance. I would be totally lying to you if I didn’t want to hear she excelled and is a brilliant mind.

And then I kick myself.

Me around age 9 - rocking the awesome, right?

Me around age 9 – rocking the awesome, right?

She is EIGHT YEARS OLD. What the hell was I doing when I was 8 years old? Obviously because I declared 2012 the year of being Awesome, I’m pretty sure I was busy being awesome when I was 8 years old – but beyond that – was I doing anything remarkable? Here’s what I can tell you I was busy doing when I was 8:  Counting my tummy rolls next to my sister at the pool in the summer (she was always so much thinner than me), kicking around the soccer ball, maybe a little uncoordinated roller skating and avoiding helping my mom take care of my little sisters at all costs.

Yep – destined for greatness, was I, at 8-years-old.

A hand-made Halloween card I sent my Grandma, probably around age 9. Clearly I was a true prodigy. Also, the fact that my mom has all of these saved is probably a discussion for another day. #Hoarding?

A hand-made Halloween card I sent my Grandma, probably around age 9. Clearly I was a true prodigy. Also, the fact that my mom has all of these saved is probably a discussion for another day. #Hoarding?

So really – I need to ease up on the questioning of my daughter and just let her be. How about instead ignoring the questions about the tests and instead ask what she did at recess, the reasonable voice inside my head tells my crazy self.

Which is exactly why Schulte’s feature is important; she’s getting to the heart of the hyper-competitive parenting and pressure cooker it creates for high school aged kids. But it’s too late for them – she mentions kids who are asking their parents for Ritalin. Umm…hello?!?!?!?! Red flags, anyone?!??!

If we parents of younger kids don’t read this and take a long, hard, look at ourselves in the mirror and then start correcting our course to stop the madness, then there is definitely something very very wrong with us. In fact, I’m done writing about and talking about whether women can “have it all” and our quest for balance – forget it – what I want to know is what kind of behavior we are modeling for our kids. Are we letting them have it all? Are we letting them just be kids? And how about that average question.

Are we letting them just be who they are? I have never forgotten an interview I did with Meghan Leahy, local parenting coach, back in 2012 when she noted there’s a bell curve for a reason and most of us have average kids. Most of us are average. To Schulte’s point in her tweet, “what’s average, happiness first.”

I dug up that old interview with Leahy and was pleasantly surprised to stumble upon some irony, the interview was spurred by my negative reaction to a Brigid Schulte piece about American parenting. Am I destined to always praise or attack Schulte? It seems so. Anyhow, the interview is 2 years old but it still applies perfectly here, so I’m pasting it:

WM: You know that I’ve themed 2012 the year of Moi Loves Moi on my blog because I am just so tired of women beating themselves up. It doesn’t do anyone any good, starting with their own confidence and how that spills over into their  kids. What I did appreciate about Schulte’s piece was her discussion towards the end about our pursuit of happiness and being an achievement-centered culture.
When we last worked together on a post you made a point that really resonated with me – you commented that there is a bell curve for a reason and most of our kids are average – and we should celebrate our kids for who they are. Can you say some more about this because I think it’s
relevant here. Do you agree that we are a culture that pushes perfection on kids to the detriment of the kids as they grow up? And if studies are finding achievement does not lead to happiness, how does this concept that pushing kids to work hard and celebrate their diligence – instead of heaping empty praise – fit in here?
Meghan Leahy Response: Interesting questions here…I am thinking that achievement IS good for our kids, except I would rephrase achievement as “Giving back” or doing something significant.  Something tangible in the world.  You can achieve great and amazing things, but
if as a person, you feel that you have no impact, no human to human contact, no acknowledgement, you often feel empty. So the question for parents is not if achievement leads to happiness (which I prefer to call contentment), rather WHOSE achievement is it…and how do we balance our dreams with our kids own desires, passions, and talents.  We want to inspire INTRINSIC motivation in our kids to achieve, work hard, etc. Threatening, begging, REWARDING, stone-walling can all push our kids down the path of achievement, we see it every day.  But there is a cost.  There is always a cost when the body does what soul does not want.  I don’t know if parents are living out their unfilled dreams, their insecurities, or if they see a talent in their child and, out of pride (dangerous emotion), push and push.  But some, not all, parents make their children into achievement products rather than helping them enter into the world understanding the value of hard work and failure.
WM Question: Excellent insight. I think it’s really important that as parents, we do take the time to acknowledge what our kids want instead of what WE want them to want. Schulte interviewed some experts who noted that we should be parenting for happiness first and then achievement. But it seems to me these things are not mutually exclusive. If American parents are pushing achievement on their kids by over scheduling them with activities – then do you think instead of focusing our energy on seeking the elusive work-life balance for ourselves – what we
instead should be prioritizing is teaching and guiding our kids to find the right kid-balance? How does a parent strike the right balance in activities and free time? This seems to be a common critique of American parenting styles lately.
Meghan Response: Wow, great questions.  So, if you promote balance in your children’s lives, but you yourself are running around like a maniac, never taking care of yourself, martyring yourself at every turn, allowing your mental health and body to suffer…your children see all of that.  So, like the child who is lectured to be honest and good and then sees his parents cheat on each other, lie to others, be dishonest in their business dealings…what lesson remains? Hypocrisy, for sure, and the child will almost always follow the role model, not the lecture.  As I learned at PEP (The Parent Encouragement Program), children are “keen observers and poor interpretors”; meaning they are WATCHING their parents for how to live. Do you kiss your spouse?  Do you see friends?  Do you work in something that brings you joy?  Are you responsible with money?  So, if you want your children to value being quiet in themselves here and there, being creative, NOT constantly being entertained, living stress-free, the PARENT is the only person who can model that and create the home environment.  We cannot inundate our children with activities and then wonder why they are stressed.  The same is true for us.  If we accept every volunteer opportunity, work opportunity, party invite, etc. what are we modeling?  “I say yes. To everyone.  Above my family.  Above my spouse.  Above myself.”  This is a “slow-death” life, pick-pick-picking away at you. So, the balance MUST begin with the parent.  They cannot model what they do not live, they cannot give what they don’t have.  And beyond wanting your child to live according to his or her own values, every parent is a human and deserves to not run around like a wild person.  What is  the point of life?
WM Question: Really excellent perspective, I appreciate it.  Final question: Schulte’s experts say that the cortex of fear for American parents is around achievement. And I admit, I regularly have to check myself with just my kindergartener. She’s reading a grade level above yet I don’t think she is in the most advanced reading group in class – and I often have to have a conversation with myself that I am being ridiculous. Do you see this and what is your advice for parents to keep themselves in check? I can obviously see how this grows deeper as the kids age and the stakes are higher.
Meghan Response: Oh, it’s hard.  Parents are constantly being told to relax or be vigilant.  We are told that kids develop on their own and in their own way, but watch (like a hawk) so the kids can get early interventions (just in case). We are given pre-natal care out the ying-yang, but are dropped like hot-potatoes when we leave the hospital (which the following weeks are some of the most harrowing ever in a woman’s life).
We are successful, career-minded women who gave up “something” to sit on the floor and color and so we watch the child. We watch our new investment, our new project, our new career.  We wanted to be good students, good lawyers, and now good mothers.  But it doesn’t work out that way.  No one gives you grades, there are no job reviews, no raises, and no corner offices.  Hell, the kid throws food in your face when you have puree organic mango.  That’s the thanks you get for putting your life on hold. So, when you have your little reader (who is clearly doing fine), and you worry, you need to ask yourself, “Who am I worried about here?” And “Are my worries grounded in REALITY?”
No, they are not.  Because if they were, that would mean that the definition of being a great mom is that your child MUST BE THE BEST AT EVERYTHING.  Good grief.  Can you imagine?  Who will have the mental breakdown first, you or the kid?
Parents need to understand there are no guarantees.  Yes, of course, you set your family on a path and you should.  That’s your job.  But schools, activities, tutors, beauty, athleticism, money…you can throw it all at your kids physically or genetically and, sorry, still no guarantees.  Life is too complicated and wonderful for that. That would mean kids with little resources would never succeed, and kids who have everything should live out beautiful lives and marriages (cough, cough, that ain’t happening).
As the saying goes “Sh#t happens” and that is wonderfully comforting.  This means that a parent can say “I am going to read this book to you because I love books, and it is good for your brain, and this is wonderful being together.” NOT “We are reading this book so you can get a jump on nursery school and go to Princeton like your father.” Because Princeton is not a guarantee. Your commitment to living an authentic life as human, caring about VALUES like hard-work, diligence, and yes, achievement (not JUST for your kids, for YOU), your willingness to make mistakes and move through them (achievement MUST come with errors, otherwise it is a gimme and then, not an achievement), and above all, LOVE is what keeps a parent in check. The voices in your head will tell you to worry and fear, but if you trust your own judgement, you
will know when concern and action are needed and when you are just wallowing in negative thinking.  REALITY doesn’t lie, so trust what is in front of you, your actual life.  Your life doesn’t need balancing, it is simply happening and needs to you to join in. If every parent took more responsibility for themselves (emotionally) and spent LESS attention worrying about their kids (yes, you read that right), then the balance would naturally occur. At least, that’s my humble opinion.  Because if worrying, hand-wringing, and controlling others worked, I would have a PhD in it, would have written a book and would be teaching seminars about how to worry better.  So far, it hasn’t gone that way…
I think a favorite quote of mine is really applicable here: “Your life is not in your head. Come out and play.” ~Baron Baptiste
WM: Wow. Excellent perspective from Meghan, as we would only expect. Thank you so much, Meghan, for taking the time to answer my questions.  If you want to hear more of Meghan’s thoughts and insights, be sure to “Like” the Meghan Leahy Parenting Coach Facebook page. And as always, if you haven’t “Liked” the Wired Momma Facebook page, you are most definitely not balanced and most definitely missing out.
Thank you to Brigid Schulte for today’s WashPost piece – and obviously I had to check myself when my daughter was in Kindergarten and I still do now that she’s in second grade. I need to go look into bringing this authentic success movement to our local elementary school.


Watching TV….or not

All I wanted as a kid was to watch Three’s Company.

EVERYONE else was watching it. But do you think we were allowed to watch it?


Instead, we were stuck with:

And of course, we watched a lot of this:

My heart skipped a beat when John Denver appeared on the Muppets. But we couldn’t watch Three’s Company because two single, unmarried women were living with – gasp – a man!!!! The floozies!  I shudder to think!

What do you suppose our 80s selves would have thought of this strange panda bear from the future who sports only a leather vest?

I am certain even our 80s younger selves would have known that she is THE most annoying older sibling on the face of the planet, her condescending attitude breaks the barriers of time and space:

So I read with great interest Mark Oppenheimer’s piece in The New Republic, “Why Parents Who Love Television Should Let Their Kids Watch, Too.”

Not only does Oppenheimer take the reader through a walk down memory lane of many of the most popular shows during our childhoods (A-Team anyone? #ILovedFace), he also lays out his reasons why screen time isn’t the end of the world for our kids – in fact – in some cases, it might help foster creativity.

Look, we all know young toddlers shouldn’t watch TV, we know we should limit screen time for kids – but I don’t know about you – I can barely keep up with all the things we shouldn’t be exposing our kids too – the list is endless and it’s all become white noise for me. We practice an “everything in moderation” approach to my house.

Do I calculate how many minutes of screen time – be it TV or computers – my kids should get in a week? Do we have schedules of when they can and can not watch TV? No. Personally, it’s just not something I make time to calculate. But do I just base it all on my own judgement – has the TV been on a while? Has it been radio silence for too long – therefore it’s a safe bet that they are sitting in front of the iPad playing their fav game?

Then just shut it off and go play.

I am fine with that. My friend’s good friend has five kids. She leaves the TV on all day “just in case.” Look – are you really going to judge a woman with five young children?


Like Oppenheimer, me and Mr. Wired Momma also love TV. I am obsessed with Homeland. Super pissed I have to wait again until September to see the next season.


For some insane reason, I still watch Grey’s Anatomy.


Saturday night we were at a neighbor’s house and a friend was pushing me to pick up all the old seasons of Gossip Girl while another debated the pros and cons of Girls. I don’t like Lena Dunham, so I don’t plan on picking up the show.

The point is just what Oppenheimer makes – if we parents are doing it, who says we can’t let our kids watch? And look, our kids aren’t dumb. They know we watch TV when they go to bed. They hear us talking about our shows. It’s only a matter of time before they start calling us on being hypocritical. Remember, I’m still pissed I wasn’t allowed to watch Three’s Company back in 1982. Yet now I have to endure this:

Weigh in here or on my super-fly Facebook page (where I Hope you’ll hit “Like”), do you carefully  manage screen time but watch bad TV in your own free time? And what are your guilty viewing pleasures? I want to be sure I’m not missing out.

Kids, Colds & Over-the-Counter Medicine Safety

I don’t know about you but I read the article in Tuesday’s Washington Post Health section about kids,  colds and medicine with mixed feelings. Written by local pediatrician, Howard J. Bennett, he notes repeatedly that all the over-the-counter cold remedy medicine we purchase for our kids isn’t necessarily effective at treating their illness or the symptoms.

Why the mixed feelings about the article? Well, as any parent who struggles through multiple colds and various illnesses knows, it is difficult to see your kids struggling through an illness, especially when they are little, and your instinct is to want to do whatever you can to help alleviate some of that discomfort. And let’s be honest, you want them to sleep through the night because you also want to sleep through the night. Dr. Bennett notes that little kids can have as many as one cold a month from fall through spring and at that point – he’s preaching to the choir – no matter how many times you wash those grubby, sticky hands and beg them not to put their fingers in their mouth, right? It seems they still get sick so frequently at this time of year.

My friend was just telling me how she went to get the flu shot and while filling out some paper work, her toddler took to licking the counter before she could intervene. We all know that feeling too well. Especially parents of thumb or finger suckers. It can make you cringe. I am certain at some times of the year, all I see are Norovirus germs and lice everywhere I look.


So, assuming you are the person with a pretty well stocked medicine cabinet with over-the-counter remedies for the kids, I decided to dig up some helpful tips on being sure you are making safe and smart decisions. I, for one, find some of the labeling and restrictions really confusing – and sometimes when those kids are really sick and the coughing just doesn’t let up, it feels like you want to do right and give them something more than just Tylenol.  I have yet been able to successfully clear a baby or toddler’s nasal passages or get a kid to drink a tablespoon of honey to help their cough. Half the time I struggle to even get Tylenol in them when they are really sick. Am I alone?

A google search turned up some additional and helpful tips from Dr. Sears on this Parenting web site and then I turned to the Over-the-Counter Safety Foundation web site for some tips:

  • Always read and follow the label.

o    Do not use oral cough and cold medicines in children under the age of four.

o    Always give the recommended dose and use the correct measuring device. Never use longer than the label instructs or at higher doses, unless your doctor specifically tells you to do so.

o    Only use the medicine that treats your child’s specific symptoms.

o    Never give two medicines with any of the same active ingredients.

o    Never use cough, cold, or allergy medicines to sedate your child.

o    Never give aspirin-containing products to children and adolescents for cold or flu symptoms unless told to do so by a doctor.

o    Do not give a medicine only intended for adults to a child.

o    Stop use and contact your doctor immediately if your child develops any side effects or reactions that concern you.

o    Keep all medicines and vitamins out of your child’s reach and sight.

o    Teach your child about using medicines safely.

o    Consult a doctor, pharmacist, or other healthcare provider with any questions.

What do you think? Do you give your child anything beyond Tylenol when they are sick with colds or coughs? Or do you stick with just vapors and honey? I’d love to know.

Mean (Little) Girls Already?

I have a first grader. So far, knock wood, she hasn’t yet experienced mean girl behavior – at least to my knowledge – and I assure you, I probe for this type of stuff. Part of the reason I poke and prod for it is because I have many friends who also have first graders and Kindergarteners and I hear them worrying about mean girl behavior at their daughter’s school. Part of me can’t believe this stuff is happening already.

So my litmus test is always my mom. This is a woman who raised four girls so she ought to know something about mean girl behavior and if it’s crazy that it’s starting so young. She seemed not surprised when I asked if it seems early to be happening at this age and she quickly relayed a story of me being jerked around in about the first grade, she witnessed it first hand, and I seemed blissfully unaware that I was being jerked around at the time while my mom’s head was ready to blow off her neck.

As I was mulling about what the best approach is for a parent to take in these situations and wondered how my friends might handle it, I stumbled upon a Babble article that my friend and local parenting coach, Meghan Leahy, posted on her Facebook page. The entire piece was about young mean girls – when it hit me – OF COURSE – it’s time to ask Meghan for some tips on handling mean little girls. Right?


If you recall, Meghan has made some pretty amazing cameo appearances here on WM with excellent advice for parents, like on raising balanced kids and having some much needed perspective. So today, we’re talking with her about how best to help your child but not hinder them when they are facing down some mean girl behavior and more importantly – not make something a bigger deal. I also really wanted to know – is this “Normal” and age appropriate behavior from kids as young as 4 and 5 up to 7 and 8 years old? So let’s get started with Meghan:

WM: Again, back to my mom, she’s frequently heard reminding me that if I don’t make a big deal out of something, my kids won’t make a big deal out of it. My instinct is – given the young age of these kids – does this same philosophy apply to Mean Girl behavior? How can parents best guide and respond to our young elementary school age kids when they are facing mean girl like behavior at school?  And more importantly – how do we guide but not helicopter parent and not get too involved???

Meghan Leahy Parent Coach:

Have little girls (ages 3-7) become “bullies” or “meaner” than they used to be?  I clearly remember girls being incredibly unkind and even bullying (myself, included), but to be honest, I know these memories are from middle school.  Four, five, six years old?  It feels like girls are meaner these days, but doesn’t that sound like everything an older generation says?  “Parents are more lazy,” or “kids are so ill-behaved nowadays”, and “everything is going to hell-in-a-hand basket these days.”  And now the epidemic of bullying is trickling down to four-year-old girls?  My first impulse is to roll my eyes.


My own child had such a horrible “friend” in PreK that is was all I could do to not throttle the other kid, as well as send daughter and myself to therapy.  It felt like bullying, but I knew better.  Bullying is more systemic, more targeted, and more deliberate…not something four-year-old children normally do.  I didn’t know what I was dealing with five years ago, but I knew I had to coach my daughter through the experience, a friendship was truly hurt (between two families), and I was left feeling like, “Whoa…what was that all about?”

My “regular mom” reaction is to say, “Stop overreacting!  Kids are kids!  They usually work out their little tussles!”  But we aren’t talking about “little tussles,” are we?  We are talking about little girls and some truly mean behaviors.  Is it bullying?  Not exactly, but the parent coach in me knows that we cannot turn our back on these little girls!

So, for extra tips and ideas, I turned to an excellent book called, Little Girls Can Be Mean by Michelle Anthony, PhD and Reyna Lindert, PhD.  In a world of middle and high school bullying books, Little Girls Can Be Mean is a great resource for the befuddled parent of little girls.  Easy-to-read, sensible, and to the point, this book should be on your bookshelf.

Here are some crucial tips from the book (and me!) for the worried parents of little girls:

  • Boys get more attention because their “mean” behaviors are typically more violent. Parents and teachers alike are pretty well equipped to step into the boy fights, but the girl’s meanness?  It appears to be met with a shrug, an eye-roll, and a “girls will girls” kind of attitude.  Sometimes leaving the girls alone is the answer, but not always.  Girls need boundaries, too!
  • Meanness in little girls is NOT (technically) bullying, and it is going to happen…no matter what you do.  Human development specialists and psychologists agree that children, starting as early as three, will strive to belong to groups, and some of that belonging takes the form of excluding others.  It begins with simple phrasing, “I don’t want to play with you today,” and can turn into the creation of clubs and groups in which everyone is included but one or two girls.  Sounds pretty mean, right?  But even the best helicopter parenting, controlling of friends, and best schools will not completely stop this from happening. So, with that in mind…

  • You can truly intervene (with some great results) at these early ages. Children are not fully “bullies” or “being bullied” quite yet…so stepping in with some tools can help!

Some of these tools are:

  • Building an empathic listening relationship and simply being aware. Rather than telling your child what to do and how to feel, simply listen to her.  Listen and become aware of patterns…is she always talking about a certain friend or situation?  Rather than telling her to just ignore the friend, get quiet and listen.
  • Help her create solutions. Obviously, how you are going to speak to a four-year old is going to be very different from how you speak to a six-year-old, but helping to create solutions sounds like role-modeling, pointing out the other friends who are nice your daughter, how to find help in school (counselors and teachers), and finding ways to bring everybody into the play.
  • Cultivate a strong family value around meanness and the behaviors associated with it. Let your girls clearly know what is acceptable and what is not.  Parents often assume that their girls know what is appropriate and what isn’t, or that little girls know how to be good friends.  Oftentimes, though, girls of all ages need role modeling, direct messages, and strong examples.  Having family conversations while watching tv, reading books together, or seeing behaviors out in the world will help drive home your family values and cultivate listening within the whole family.  Again, belonging is hard-wired into humans, but our culture is rife with meanness right now, from the reality shows to the programming for kids.  Are little girls meaner earlier?  Yes, I think sometimes they are…but I believe that is the symptom, not the problem.
  • As much as you can, parents should try to resist becoming involved in the “she said/she said” of little girl meanness.  There is always the caveat of if you feel like your child is in danger or is showing behaviors that alarm you, please seek professional help.  Otherwise, a parent should be wary of managing the fights and taking sides.  Taking sides and fighting your little girl’s battles does not help her for the future, doesn’t teach her how to solve her problems, and it doesn’t it create new solutions for the girl to rely on in her future.  And, like sibling arguments, you are never really totally sure who is at fault in the retelling of the story, so taking sides is often futile.
  • Most importantly, helping your young daughter learn how to be a good friend and handle mean behaviors (NOW) will help her in the future. Helping your little girl to tap into her good judgment, her empathy, and creative solutions will more likely result in a young woman who is not bullied (or bullies others!)

Back to WM: Thanks for these tips Meghan, and the guidance. I really appreciate the book advice, I will certainly be adding it to my next Amazon shopping cart. It sounds like Meghan is advising the very thing that is hardest for me, anyway, to do – which is to be quiet and LISTEN and also – to not rush in and try to fix things. I mean, that’s your instinct as a parent – right – especially when your child is hurt – but I think the distinction that it’s not helping them to learn how to navigate in this world is an important reminder, at least for me. Thank you Meghan!

For more great advice from Meghan, be sure to follow her on Facebook or her amazing web site, Positively Parenting, or on her resourceful blog for Discovery.  And as always, I hope you’ll join the super fly WM community by hitting “Like” on my Wired Momma FB page (seriously – I am FOUR away from a sweet nice round fabulous number…FOUR people….aren’t there four of you who Like moi?). If not, you’re totally missing out, yo.