Sharing the Load with Kids: A list of chores by age

clothes-line-615962_640Back when we were deciding where to send our boys to pre-school I spent a considerable amount of time researching the several in our area – a stark contrast to how I chose their paediatrician.  I chose the paediatrician based on geographical proximity.  I chose the pre-school based on similar ideology.  The paediatrician and I broke up years ago but I am still going steady with the pre-school.  My youngest is in his final year and I am heartbroken at the thought of moving on for so many reasons but what I am going to miss most is the support they provide the parents.

The school is based in Adlerian psychology and I have raved about here and Nathalie reviewed a book on the subject here.

At the start of the school year they distributed a list of ways that children can participate and contribute to the family and in doing so, they feel Connected, Capable and Confident (pillars of the Adlerian approach).

Moms have a tendency to play the martyr (guilty!) and the busyness of the holidays just adds to already overwhelming to-do lists.  Don’t forget to include the little people of your family!  They can make a meaningful contribution.  “Take time for training” is what the teachers at the school recommend and remember it might not be perfect, but it will be done, leaving you more time to spend together, having fun!

Home Responsibilities for a 2 and 3 year old

1)   Tidy up the toys on the floor and return to the right bins.

2)   Put books/magazines on tables, shelves or racks.

3)   Sweep the floor.

4)   Place napkins, silverware and plates on the table.

5)   Tidy up place setting after eating.  Take dishes to the counter.

6)   Tidy up the floor after eating a meal.

7)   Make a choice between two things for breakfast. (This is empowering and encourages your child to make simple decisions.)

8)   Undress and dress with a little bit of help.

9)   Help to put away groceries (boxed, canned items on lower shelves), put away the grocery bags.

Home Responsibilities for a 4 year old

1)   Set the table.

2)   Put the groceries away.

3)   Help with the grocery shopping and compiling a grocery list.

4)   Follow a schedule for feeding pets.

5)   Help with yard and garden work.

6)   Help make the beds and vacuum.

7)   Help to do the dishes or fill dishwasher.

8)   Spreading butter on toast, making simple sandwiches.

9)   Pouring cereal (perhaps put it in a small container so they can pour more easily) and the milk (from a smaller pitcher).

10)  Help prepare the family meal – wash veggies, tear lettuce, etc.

11)  Help bake simple desserts (it’s okay if there’s a spill).

12) Getting the mail.

13) Allow them to play without constant supervision.

14) Sort laundry (with help) and match the clean socks.

15)  Put away own clean clothes.  Put dirty clothes in hamper for washing.

Home Responsibilities for a 5 and 6 year old

1)   Help with meal planning and grocery shopping (i.e. write list, retrieve items from the shelves).

2)   Make own simple sandwiches and breakfast.

3)   Clean up after meals.

4)   Pour own beverages from the fridge.

5)   Take a more active role in cooking and adding to the recipes.

6)   Make own bed and clean own room.

7)   Dress independently.

8)   Clean the bathroom sink (with child-safe products).

9)   Spray and clean mirrors and windows (at least the bottom half!)

10)   Separate their own laundry on laundry day.

11)   Fold clothes and put them away.

12)   Answer the phone and dial when making calls to family/friends.

13)   Yard work.

14)   Paying for small purchases at the check out.

15)   Taking out the garbage and bringing back the bins.

16)   Cleaning up after pets.

Home Responsibilities for a 7 year old

1)   Answer the phone and write down messages.

2)   Run basic errands for parents (i.e. take something to the next door neighbour)

3)   Water the lawn and shovel the snow.

4)   Train pets.

5)   Carry in the grocery bags.

6)   Get ready for school and bed with little involvement from parent.

7)   Take notes to and from the school.

8)   Leave the bathroom in neat order (hang up towels, change toilet paper roll, etc.)

Home Responsibilities for 8-11 year old

1)   Set the table completely and properly.

2)   Mop the floor.

3)   Responsible for own bathing and showering.

4)   Straighten out closet and store seasonal clothing.

5)   Shop for and select own clothing with the help (and money) of parents.

6)   Cook for the family once a month.

7)   Change sheets on the bed.

8)   Operate the washing machine and dryer (measure out the detergent).

9)   Help neighbours with their chores.


Guilt-Free Downtime

book-759873_640In those first few months of parenthood neither of us knowing what we were doing.  Our ideas and ideals were soon after assaulted by stark realities . . . remember vowing that an Exersaucer would never replace a coffee table? Swearing that you’d never talk about your child’s poo over a romantic dinner? Insisting that your children will never be placated by the television?  Yep.  Those ideals.

We were learning from each other.  Our mid-day phone calls were no longer about the new hot spot where we needed to make dinner reservations, but about discussing projectile vomit and the number of hours a small baby could possibly scream at the top of their lungs before I would need to be committed.  As the years pass we’re still learning from each other and while the themes of these calls have changed the message remains the same:  we are a team that depends on each other to be good parents to our three boys.

In a moment of calm last week, I was catching up on my reading while trying to think up the perfect Father’s Day for my husband (it was a BBQ cover in case you’re curious) when I came across Alyson Schafer’s short list of what dads really want for Father’s Day.

A shocker to no one, I am sure, sex topped the list (I really thought it would be the BBQ cover!) but as I continued it was the last thing on the list that really struck me:

Downtime – Dads know how to do self-care.  It is not them being lazy. Dads have no guilt hitting the golf course, or watching the game on Sunday afternoon.  Moms should watch and learn from their good role modeling instead of berating them about it. Pull up a chair and join dad while he relaxes, or ask dad to reciprocate in kindness by watching the kids while their partner gets a pedicure or something else they enjoy.

Bingo!  I had been wavering about what to write for this week’s post.  I had chosen the theme and yet here I was, stuck.

I could have easily written about how he’s the fun parent, how he can spend hours playing Sorry! without stressing about everything that’s not getting done, or how he makes up nonsensical bedtime stories that the boys beg to hear over and over.

Every minute of my husband’s time is accounted for: work, kids, us and him.  He has no qualms about booking in a squash game even though there’s the laundry!  The groceries!  The over-due library books!

How can he sit on the couch, and actually drift off to sleep, on a Sunday afternoon?  Doesn’t he know that we have to re-organize the linen closet?  Sort the Playmobil from the Lego?  De-clutter the craft cupboard?

He can and he does.  And taking time for myself is something that I have learned from him over the years.  He is always encouraging me to take that course!  Learn that sport!  Go away with friends!  Read that book!

While we were both navigating the new waters of parenthood, we learned how to pin down a child and clip their nails together but somewhere along the way I became skilled at organizing our life into bins and he mastered guilt-free downtime.

Knowing where the hats are will always be important to me, but engaging in self-care is proving to be more beneficial to the wellbeing of our family, my marriage and me.

You May Drown – And It Will Be Your Own Fault!

swimming-pool-816394_640“Because I said so,” could be my favourite 4-word sentence.  That and “Sure, we will babysit.”

In the early days of being a parent, I struggled with what camp I wanted to embed my feet.  Attachment parenting seemed too out there for me but being overly authoritarian didn’t sit well with me either.  After all, I had learned something in Intro to Psych all those years ago.

When my first-born was 18 months old, we decided that he needed to socialize with other children of his own age . . . and I was going crazy with a toddler and a newborn in the house.  After much careful thought my husband and I chose the school at the end of our street as the institution for our son.  Admittedly, the “research” was Googling pre-schools in our neighbourhood and selecting the closest in geography to our house.

This method of selection proved much more effective in choosing a pre-school than it did a pediatrician and within a few months I had “drank the kool-aid”.  I became a devotee of Adlerian philosophy.

I consulted Alyson Schafer’s books and interrogated the teachers at the school when faced with any parenting challenge and when my children entered new “phases”.

I made sure that I was following the 4 C’s.  I wanted my boys to know that they count, are capable, have courage and feel connected.  I was cautious about over-praising and learned how to encourage (although I am still a beginner with this concept) and most importantly I tried to limit the number of times that I said NO.

I would grit my teeth and rephrase.

“How about we try that another time?”

“Is that helpful or hurtful?”

“Not right now.”

“Maybe later.”

“In our house, we don’t jump on the couch.”

I opened myself to negotiations with the boys.  I would listen to their point of view and work with them to find solutions that benefitted both of us.  I wanted them to feel connected!  Capable!  Counted!

But it’s 6 years later and I am tired.  There are only so many ways to say no.  And while I love that my boys feel connected, capable and that they count and have courage, I have to admit that I have raised some very effective future boardroom negotiators!

I am conscious that I need to balance all of that goodness.  In the real world not everyone is encouraging and not everything is a compromise.  In the real world you will run across people with more authority and many who feel a great deal more superiority and they will say Because I said so! and my boys best have the skills to deal with that too.

And so, like a good mother, I am sure to provide balance and I freely dole out conventional wisdoms knowing full well that they lack merit.

  • Don’t eat the cookie dough!  They say it will make you sick. 

Translation:  Paws off.  It’s mine.  I share enough with you moochers.

  • They say wear your toque to the car after swimming or else you will catch a cold.

Translation:  I am sick of listening to you whine about how your head is cold when we leave swimming. I know that I should let you make your own mistakes, but it’s 5:30 pm and I need to make dinner with this pounding headache.  Put the fucking hat on.

  • They say don’t read in the dark with a flashlight!  You’ll ruin your eyes!

Translation:  Go the fuck to sleep!!!!!!

  • They say you can’t go swimming right now.  You have to wait an hour to let your food digest or else you’ll get cramp and drown.

Translation:  It’s unlikely anyone has ever drowned after scarfing down a few tacos and then jumping in the pool.  I know this and the good folks at confirm this, suggesting the origin of this myth is from a 1908 Scouting for Boys handbook exalting the dangers of swimming:

First, there is the danger of cramp.  If you bathe within one and one half hour of taking a meal, that is, before your food is digested, you are very likely to get cramp.  Cramp doubles you up in extreme pain so that you cannot move your arms or legs – and down you go.  You may drown – and it will be your own fault. (

But am I wrong for citing this to my boys?  Am I wrong for wanting to finishing chewing my butter-drenched corn on the cob before lake water is splashed up my nose?

Let’s be clear.  I am still a card-carrying member of the Alyson Schafer fan club but sometimes I need to revert to parenting “old-school” by preaching empty threats and blaming the powers of “they”.

There will come a time when my boys will ask me who exactly “they” are and I will have to cop the truth, giving them further fodder for their future therapist but in the meantime I choose to live in the present.  I focus on what play my game has and I use every weapon in my arsenal to get through the challenging days.  There are some times that you need to channel your inner Alfred Adler and some times that you lie.  And that’s ok.

Because I said so.

A Pocket Guide to kids are worth it!

Someone once told me that they read parenting books looking for experts who support their child rearing beliefs and when they find the one that does just that, all the rest are garbage.

I have my fair share of parenting books.  Some have been given to me, like Trees Make The Best Mobiles and others I bought in a panic hoping to get a handle on a particularly trying situation, I Brake For Meltdowns: How to handle the most exasperating behavior of your 2-5 year old.

I have what I refer to as my parenting handbooks.  Books by Alyson Schafer, Michelle Nicholasen, Barbara O’Neal and Barbara Coloroso are always kept close at hand for when I need guidance, a quick how-to, or a solid suggestion – something to ground me and keep me from tipping over the edge.  These books empower me and give me confidence because let’s face it, being a parent can be a lonely job, fraught with insecurity and unknowns.

Some times I find the answers that I am seeking and other times I just roll my eyes and put it back on the shelf.  Whatever the outcome, when I flip through the pages of these books, I instantly feel a connection to a community of parents, and my situation doesn’t seem so unmanageable.

Alongside my handbooks sit my theory books.  Leonard Sax reigns over the shelf with a few titles by other experts thrown in for good measure.  I read these when I am reflecting on what kind of parent I want to be, to check of my own behaviour and when I want substantial answers that a Google search cannot provide.

There is one parenting book that has yet to be usurped from its place of prominence on my bedside table, A Pocket Guide to kids are worth it! by Barbara Coloroso.

This tiny, pocket-sized book is a compilation of highlights from my all-time favourite book, kids are worth it!  Each night before going to bed I read a few pages and like an affirmation, I feel equipped to handle the next day’s challenges.

On page 19 Coloroso outlines the four steps of discipline:

  1. Shows kids what they have done.
  2. Gives them ownership of the problem.
  3. Gives them options for solving the problem.
  4. Leaves their dignity intact.

The principles seem so simple, but parenting is emotionally charged and easily influenced by stressors like lack of sleep, financial worry, feeling overwhelmed, etc.  By reviewing a page or two nightly, it’s like rehearsing for a fire drill.  The more times something is practiced, the more ingrained it becomes and the more like second nature it feels mitigating those pesky external stressors.

I am definitely not winning any Mother Of The Year awards but when I do make mistakes (which is daily) I want to know how I can do better and Barbara Coloroso always shows me how I can be better.

Image credit:


Branded With A Scarlet S

When Carol initially suggested the topic of how we spoil our kids for this month’s At Issue, I rebuffed.  I don’t spoil my kids!  The 4 and 5 year-olds make their own beds every morning, sort their dirty laundry every Friday afternoon (after all, if you want something clean you’d better make sure it winds up in the washing machine) and put away their neatly folded clothes on Saturday.  They help to load and unload the dishwasher, put away groceries and collect the garbage from the washrooms.  I have even resigned from making my 5 year-old’s daily snack for school.

So what could I possibly be doing that other people might perceive as spoiling?

But before I could answer that question, I had to ask what is spoiling anyway?  Isn’t it like beauty, in the eye of the beholder?  One person’s trash is another’s treasure?  One person’s foot in the face is another’s restful slumber?

According to this website, to spoil means to do harm to the character, nature or attitude by over solicitude, overindulgence or excessive praise.

Uh-oh, excessive praise.

Does sounding the marching band and ticker tape parade for every successful use of the potty count as excessive praise?  What about the high-fives and the string of  “Good boy!” “Great job!” “ That’s awesome!” and “I am so proud of you!” that spill from my mouth several times a day?

If excessive praise counts as spoiling a child, I might as well pin a scarlet “S” to my chest and brand myself a spoiler.

There has been considerable attention paid to the pitfalls of excessive praise at my boys’ Adlerian preschool and at my local moms group.  Experts warn that over praise can actually have the opposite effect on a child’s self-esteem and encourage children to be too results focused.

Jim Taylor, Ph.D. wrote a celebrated article for Psychology Today about the possible psychological dangers of over praising.  In it he offers parents solid suggestions of ways to encourage our kids instead of praising them and by doing so he maintains our children will take more risks without worrying if they are doing a “good job”.

Initially some of the praise substitutes sounded scripted and unnatural but over time I find these words rolling off my tongue:

“I believed that you could do it!”

“It looks like you are having fun out there!”

“I like when you read me the stories,”

“Oh, I see you used your favourite colours.”

Let’s not forget that old habits die slowly and last week when my oldest son showed me his Degas inspired ballerina painting, I couldn’t help but blurt out, “Wow!  That’s awesome!  Good job, buddy! I am so proud of you!!!”

I am pretty sure that Alyson Schafer would have passed out on the spot.

image credit

Some Things I Know, and One Thing I Don’t

After almost nine years of parenting, I’ve learned a few things.

I know that no matter what I do, I’ll have to put the toilet seat down at least once a day.

I know that my eldest gets miserable when he’s hungry, and my youngest gets LOUD.

I know the difference between Pokemon, Yu Gi Oh, and Chaotic, even if I don’t understand all the rules.

I’ve come to understand that sometimes hugs do make things better, and sometimes, they don’t.

But what I don’t understand, what makes no sense to me, what I’ve wracked my brain trying to comprehend, is why my boys are incapable of getting up for school in the morning before 7:15 a.m without being totally miserable about it.

Despite putting into place morning routines to make a parenting expert weep with joy, our mornings often start with having to physically rouse our sound-asleep (and grumpy!) children from slumber. The rest of the morning should be easy: all they have to do is put on their clothes (already laid out), eat breakfast (already made), brush their teeth (there’s only so much I can do, here) and go. Somehow, this takes an hour, and through all of it, I repeat variations on a running monologue that usually starts at a normal tone of voice and then just keeps getting louder and louder:

“Good morning my boys!”

[Crickets. Snoring.  Sound of leaves changing colour.]

BOYS! You’re-going-to-be-late-we-have-to-leave-in-ten-minutes-no-you-can’t-play-your-DS-where-are-your-socks-last-person-upstairs-turn-off-the-light-do-you-have-your-snack-NO-I-don’t-know-where-your-library-book-is-WASN’T IT YOUR JOB TO FIND THAT LAST NIGHT?-brush-your-teeth-please-go-back-upstairs-and-turn-off-the-light-we’re-leaving-in-two-minutes-please-put-on-your-shoes-please-put-on-your-shoes-please-put-on-your-shoes-please -grab-your-back-pack-back-pack-please-PUT DOWN THAT LIGHTSABER!-put-on-your-shoes-already!

Have I mentioned that I’m not a morning person, either? That I understand that my children are just like me and so I’m both sympathetic and completely unimpressed by their weekday inertia?


On weekends, they rise at 6:30 a.m., chipper and cheerful. Without using an alarm. Without our help.

But not, I might add, without waking us up.

If I didn’t know better, I’d swear it was a conspiracy.

Photo by Evil Saltine/Creative Commons

How Not to Be Late for School

On the boys’ last report card, we were reminded of our family’s dismal record at getting to school on time.

It’s embarrassing.

After a humiliating recent meeting with the school principal, who wanted to discuss strategies for combating lateness, we decided that come hell or high water, we’d start getting them there before the first bell.  Except for one morning when we were truly late for reasons beyond our control (can you say TTC breakdown?) we’ve been pretty good at being on time. But mornings in our house are, in a word, stressful. Too much yelling! Cajoling! Threats!

And that’s just what the kids say to each other.

We’re looking for a better way. There’s no worse start to the day than one where everyone feels pushed around (children AND adults!) and grumpy because of it.  In our defence, we have a morning plan and a system which has the potential to work well. We’re rarely held up by something so simple as a missed trip permission form or a lack of recess snacks. We have that all figured out.  We’re late usually for one of two reasons:

(a) someone’s slow to move, easily distracted from the task of getting ready, and just plain uncooperative; or

(b) something big pops up and needs to be tended to, like the need to use the washroom. Or test anxiety. Or an existential crisis.

Usually, it’s the former that trips us up, though you’d be surprised how often it’s column (b).

Enter Alyson Shafer’s book, Ain’t Misbehavin. She suggests that morning dawdling is just a form of passive power struggle. The more parents dig in our heels, the more kids resist, so we all need to stop digging. She provides a three step plan and some quick hints on how to put that plan into practice. Unlike some of the other strategies, this one’s meant to be implemented over the course of a week or so, which would have been fine, except the primary dawdler of the family was home sick all week, which meant our morning routine this week was totally different than usual.  So using Shafer’s plan, I’ve been looking at how we can make our current routine less stressful:

  • step one: make a morning plan WITH the kids.

Shafer suggests holding a family meeting to discuss that mornings are not working well, and to ask for input as to how mornings can be better. We’ve done that. And re-done it. I don’t think this is our problem. The boys understand that it’s their responsibility to get themselves ready in the morning. Ask them, and they will tell you the order that things are to be accomplished in the morning, based on a list they themselves made. It’s just that somewhere between step two (get dressed) and step four (brush teeth) is a gaping chasm of distractabilty into which both of them fall on a regular basis.

  • step two: Take Time for Training (TTFT).

Allowing children to do those things they can do for themselves leads to autonomy and mastery. Though she doesn’t specifically say it, consistent with Adler philosophy, I’m assuming that taking a hands-off approach respects the child’s authority to control their own actions. . Here, we could probably make some progress. The eldest is quite capable of getting himself dressed, making his breakfast, brushing his teeth and, assuming he doesn’t pick a fight with the youngest somewhere along the way, is pretty quick about it. The youngest? Not so much. He knows what to do, but I’m convinced he just. Chooses. Not. To. (Hmm. Power struggle, anyone?) So we nag and plead, until out of frustration we end up doing everything from putting toothpaste on his toothbrush to pouring his milk. I think we can change that.

  • step three: Plan to be late.

Oh oh. Since it takes a while to get a plan underway, she suggest building in a buffer to allow for the inevitable bumps along the road to a new way of doing things. Except, I think we’ve exhausted all our good will. There’s no leeway on time, so I guess this means we’re getting up even earlier to make this come to pass.

With this plan in mind, Shafer reminds us that to be successful, we need to resist “urging, insisting and micromanaging”. Instead, she suggests that we go about our own business, stepping in to offer help when and where it is needed, holding the child accountable for getting their own stuff done. If they’re flailing around on the floor, assume they don’t need your help and get on with your own routine. This works apparently for things like brushing teeth and getting dressed. Doing less, and doing it without anger or manipulation, is meant to encourage confidence and self-autonomy in your child.

So that’s the plan. And other than the fact that I think we do an awful lot of nagging, and we truly are lousy when it comes to doing things for the youngest, I’m not sure that we haven’t implemented this plan on our own in the past. So I’m thinking of specific situations where we can apply her principles:

  1. breakfast. I’m a stickler for breakfast, and happen to have two children who (like their mother) lose all ability to reason (read also: become more stubborn and less likely to be cooperative) when they’re hungry. Success in the morning hinges on getting breakfast in to bellies, stat. But it takes forever for them from upstairs to the kitchen. Shafer suggests that we set out breakfast, call “breakfast time!” and go about eating our own. A parent’s job is to put food on the table; it’s a child’s job to eat it. If need be, set a timer, and clear away breakfast when time’s up. Hunger will ultimately win out over whatever else is motivating them to dawdle. As Shafer says “You have to prove you’re not invested in what choices or decisions they make for themselves regarding breakfast”. While I like this idea in theory, I’m dreading it in practice. One missed breakfast won’t hurt either of them, but did I ever tell you about the time in kindergarten that Daniel ended up in the principal’s office sobbing because he was just so hungry? And this was AFTER he ate breakfast…
  2. the getting on of coats. I’m convinced there’s a black hole in our front hall which sucks up all available extra time in the morning. Shafer’s advice is simple: once YOUR coat is on, announce that you’re ready to go. Then go. Get in the car. Wait outside. Keep moving without fighting. It may take them some time, but ultimately they’ll come along. By leaving the scene, you’re no longer providing them with an audience for whatever display of stubbornness they’re intent on demonstrating.

Right. I tried this once, inadvertently. I went out to shovel snow after asking them to get their coats on and meet me outside. Ten minutes later I found them having a light-sabre duel on the living room couch.

Needless to say, we were late that day.

So will it work? I think the key is recognizing that children have as much responsibility as do adults  in getting themselves ready. If I’m taking anything from this, it’s the idea that by NOT micromanaging, we might have better success than we’re having now. And if we can do that without anger or validating the power struggle, we’ll be better off. I’ll try it, and we’ll see.

In the meantime, I’ve got to get to bed. I need to be up early.

If you would like the chance to win a copy of the book, please leave us a comment any day this week letting us know. The competition ends at midnight on Friday, April 22. We will draw for and announce the winner on Saturday, April 23, and Mom Central will mail out a copy of the book to the winner after April 30th.

Disclosure – We are participating in the Ain’t Misbehavin’ program by Mom Central on behalf of Wiley Publishing. We received a copy of the book to review and gift card as a thank you for our participation. The opinions on this blog are our own.

Solutions for Sibling Squabbles

Sibling Rivalry, a Speck Brothers wine, is a wine we drink often around here.  It helps to be able to laugh about these things….

Keeping my nose out of the kids’ arguments is my biggest challenge as a parent.  I hate conflict.  I do not cope well with conflict myself, and I do not cope well with hearing it or seeing it among the kids.  My goal is always to shut it down as quickly as possible.  My brain knows that this is short-sighted; my psyche has difficulty coping with much else.

I totally buy into the myth that good mothers manage sibling conflict and the belief that I am not doing my job if the kids fight.  This, Alyson Schafer tells me, is one of the most pernicious myths of parenting.  One of her most memorable pieces of advice in the face of sibling conflict is to “fire yourself.”  It is not your job to make them get along.

Understanding the problem of sibling fighting begins with understanding that in all cases of conflict, both parties are responsible for creating peace or conflict.  In her sibling fighting cheat sheet, Schafer outlines these main ideas:

  • Conflict between any two people is inevitable, but how we respond to our children’s fights determines if they will learn to resolve conflicts or become life-long rivals.
  • Children are the caretakers of their own relationships.  They must learn how best to deal with each other independently.
  • Children can choose to either fight or get along.  Either child can guide the course of the interaction towards peace.  If neither chooses to, the fight ensues with both parties’ agreement.
  • It takes two to agree to fight: it’s a form of cooperation, just on the negative side of life.
  • Children need to be taught basic problem-solving strategies for learning to get along.  However, most fighting is not due to a skills deficit but is purposeful, goal-directed behaviour.
  • Fighting has benefits…:  It gains parental attention and involvement … [and] it reinforces each child’s role in the family; that is, to make one look good and the other look bad.

By far the most eye-opening of these ideas for me was the idea that it takes two to agree to fight.  Once I’d wrapped my head around that concept, I had an easier time approaching the kids’ arguments and guiding the kids to working together to find a solution rather than jumping in and solving it for them.

My attempts to fire myself have largely failed, but I have managed to make a shift to arbitrator rather than serving as judge and jury.  To that end, the most useful strategy Schafer proposed was empathetic listening.  When one came running because another had taken his toy/stuffed animal/special twig (not a joke), I took the following approach:

offer emotional support and redirect.  Be empathetic without rescuing or solving the child’s problem. … Name the child’s feelings and put words to the problem [but follow with] “I am sure you can work it out with him.”  You’re loving but not rescuing.

It took a lot of biting my tongue not to spoon-feed solutions to them.  I never did leave it at “I’m sure you can work it out,” but I did elicit suggestions from the kids themselves, and it surprised me how quickly they got the hang of negotiating for themselves.  I can’t see myself ever getting to a place where I can fire myself, but I have made a definitive shift in roles.  This shift feels more comfortable than firing myself, because it’s true to my personality.  I will never be a hands-off parent, no matter how appealing the theory makes it look.

Schafer mentions often that the goal of a fight is to get parental attention, and to an extent I agree.  One of the boys is often trying to get another into trouble, but I really don’t think that the kids see me as an audience for their squabbles.   Fights are most often over things, possessions, not for parental attention. 

For these kinds of fights, I used the “put them in the same boat” solution: take away the toy until the kids can work out an agreement together.  This works really well, but again, I haven’t quite fired myself if I am the one to mete out the logical consequence of losing a toy when you fight over it. 

I have read and reviewed Schafer’s Breaking the Good Mom Myth, so I feel that I have a solid foundation in the parenting approach she espouses.  I am not sure how well the chapter would have served me if I didn’t have that background knowledge.  Sibling rivalry is, Schafer admits, one of the most complex and challenging problems we face.  This book is intended to give quick access to the reasons for problematic behaviour and a quick toolkit for addressing them.  Because it’s one of my biggest and most emotional challenges as a parent, I also want it to be a topic that I am thoughtful about, that I read widely about.  It was hard work to put her strategies to work, it was dispiriting to feel that I was not performing my role correctly, and it was especially draining to be so self-conscious of my parenting. 

It might have been easier to do the chapter on putting on pajamas before bed!


If you would like the chance to win a copy of the book, please leave us a comment any day this week letting us know.  The competition ends at midnight on Friday, April 22.  We will draw for and announce the winner on Saturday, April 23, and Mom Central will mail out a copy of the book to the winner after April 30th.

Disclosure – We are participating in the Ain’t Misbehavin’ program by Mom Central on behalf of Wiley Publishing.  We received a copy of the book to review and gift card as a thank you for our participation.  The opinions on this blog are our own.

Book Review: Breaking the Good Mom Myth

Breaking the Good Mom Myth: Every Modern Mom’s Guide to Getting Past Perfection, Regaining Sanity, and Raising Great Kids

By Alyson Schafer

Breaking The Good Mom Myth

Timing, as they say, is everything.  The day before I read this book, I had witnessed Schafer’s techniques for preventing sibling rivalry fail spectacularly.  I laughed out loud when I read the very same words in the book that had been put to ineffective use by a friend of a friend just the day before.  Her kids ended up in fisticuffs; I ended up in a fit of giggles.

I mention this, not because I think that this is a bad book, but because I am a bad reader.  Well, I’m a bad reader of parenting books.  I am simply too willing to believe that the author is right and that I have been doing it wrong.  The problem is, I have read dozens of parenting books, and those books often contradict one another.  The result is that I have a chorus of voices and opinions in my head on practically every aspect of parenting, and it makes me mental. 

The timing of reading this book was perfect, then, because it helped me take the book with a grain of salt, with the dose of skepticism that I need before embarking on any further reading of parenting books. 

Schafer’s book is organized into chapters that discuss eight myths of the perfect mother:

Self-care is Selfish

My Children Are a Reflection of Me

My Marriage Can Wait

Good Mothers Are All-Caring and All-Protecting

Good Mothers are in Control

Good Mothers Manage Sibling Conflict

Only the Best Education for My Child

Good Mothers Make Life Fun and Entertaining.

By far, the chapter that resonated most with me was the one on self-care.  She takes as her starting point a lesson from the airlines: affix your own oxygen mask before assisting others.  In other words, you cannot take care of your children well if you do not take care of yourself.  In other words, self-care is not selfish. 

Most of us can agree with that as long as it’s a cognitive process, but let’s face it, mothering is not all cerebral.  It is emotional, and one of the biggest emotions is guilt.  And guilt is what we often feel when we do put ourselves first.

Schafer tackles this head on and gives a very rational, step-by-step process of learning how to embrace self-care AND tackle the guilt that goes with it.  I am eternally grateful for her logical attack on my guilt. 

The chapter with which I struggled most was the chapter on education.  Her target is the culture of hyper-parenting, the push, push, push of baby flashcards and overscheduled kids who are being made to compete at early ages so that they will be competitive in the adult world.  As a response, she seems to advocate an ethos of “good enough,” and I found myself bridling at some of the ideas. 

Her goal is to have kids feel good about themselves, to do their best rather than aim to be the best.  I can agree with that in principle, of course, but in practice, “good enough” has to be understood in context.  Is my son saying “good enough” after only briefly studying for a spelling test because he’s done his best or because he would much rather be doing something different?  Something like playing a computer game, for instance?  Should I let him be done and face the consequences of a less than stellar performance on the test, or, as is my instinct, insist that he keep working until he has met my standard of good enough?

I am a perfectionist, and I do not want to pass that on to my kids.  I do, however, want them to master certain things as they progress through the grades.  Things like 2+2=4.  I do not want them to be told that they have “made a good effort” and that their answer is as valid as anyone else’s if they say that 2+2=5.  It isn’t.  (I witnessed just this exchange in a classroom, and it was all I could do to bite my tongue.)

Schafer anticipates my response, and she questions parents’ drive to perfect their children by tackling the myth that children are a reflection of their parents.  Her approach is based on the tenets of healthy individual psychology as outlined by Alfred Adler, and, again, while I could agree in theory with what she proposed, I did not agree with many of the practical tips of putting the theory to work. 

I confess that I like to see a quick connection between my parenting interventions and my kids’ behaviour.  My difficulty with the slow parenting approach she advocates is that it is very difficult to measure the effect of your parental intervention, or lack thereof.  I would rather confiscate the toys that the boys refuse to put away at the end of playtime and see them clear up faster the next day, rather than let the boys eventually find out for themselves that the toys will get lost or broken if they are not put away. 

Then again, I am not a patient person, and I have a hard time waiting for eventual rewards.  This is especially true in the case of the kids’ education.  I’d like to see my eldest son’s spelling mistakes fixed by his teachers, rather than being told to have faith that by not correcting his spelling he is being given confidence in fluency and that, one day, he will self correct.  I’ve been waiting for that day for several years, now, and it does not seem to be getting any closer.

When I mentioned this to another mother and said that I just didn’t feel like there was enough of a push for excellence in our kids’ class, her response was eye-opening.  She said she was glad that her daughter was not being pushed to strive for academic excellence because she herself had been a star pupil.  She remembered the hothouse atmosphere in her school, she remembered trying her best, she remembered being really proud of herself for being at the top of her class.  However, she also knew that being top of her class made her only that.  Being an academic star did not, she felt, equip her well for life, and she hoped that her daughter would be better equipped by an academic setting that encouraged all kinds of strengths, not just the ability to make straight As.

Reading Schafer’s book made me prepared to hear and absorb that.  I still struggle with the issue, but I am grateful to have heard from a mother who has taken the long view and who has absolute faith in it.

I enjoyed Scafer’s book because it was well written, topical, intelligent and humorous.  I also enjoyed it because I found myself disagreeing with some of it, but that is my victory, not her shortcoming.