Posted tagged ‘parenting’

Gritted (Pleasing) Teeth–Important Tool In the Kit for Women Seeking Raises and TIME.

May 14, 2010

Pretty Please

Although I really do try to keep my work life separate from my blog life, I wanted to weigh in on an interesting article by Tara Siegel Bernard in today’s New York Times, “A Toolkit for Women Seeking a Raise.”

I’ve never asked for a pay raise.  This reflects well on my employer, who I have always believed to be both generous and tolerant.  But it is also apparently typical of women, even more typical (I fear) of women of my age and  and generation (middle/end of baby boom, beginning of feminism).

On the other hand, I am someone who, years before it was fashionable, negotiated flexible work arrangements due to the different pulls of child care, creative life and work life.

I’m not sure if these factors truly equip me to comment on the article, but here I go:

Two things jump out at me: first, a new study conducted at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, which found that women “need to take a different approach” than men to requesting pay raises, an approach which is “more nuanced” and “avoids undermining their relationship with their boss.”

As Hannah Riley Bowles, an associate professor at Kennedy says, “we have found that if a man and a woman both attempt to negotiate for higher pay, people find a women who does this, compared to one who does not, significantly less attractive…. Whereas with the guy, it doesn’t seem to matter.”

Sorry, but, DUH!

Anyone who has followed Hillary Clinton’s political career knows how difficult it is for women to assert themselves in our culture and still be considered very likeable, (as opposed to “likeable enough”.)

The range of what is considered attractive, both on a physical and a behavioral level, is simply narrower for women than men.   This range does not allow women much leeway for self-assertion.

What Professor Bowles seems to say, in fact, is that in order to negotiate a pay raise and keep a boss’s good opinion, a woman needs to grit her teeth (but not visibly), and please.

To give Professor Bowles credit, her advice is based in pragmatism.  Still, there’s something awful about it.

Another point of the article that struck me discussed women’s negotiations on child care issues.  Bernard  here cites Paula Hogan, a Milwaukee based financial planner, who tells women to take responsibility for a need to be with children.  As Ms. Hogan points out, most companies are not going to say, “Gosh, I notice you have three kids now. Would you like Tuesdays off?”  Women need to think through what they want and then ask for it.

Of course, Ms. Hogan is right.  One additional piece of advice I would offer is that once you figure out a solution, and (if you are lucky), get your employer’s agreement, then you need to grit your teeth again, and stick to your agreement.

I cannot overemphasize the “gritting your teeth” part of this equation.   The fact is that employers may be fair-minded enough to agree to a certain amount of flexibility—but that doesn’t mean that they will be thrilled by your late arrival (because you took your kids to school), or assist you in meeting an early departure (so you can pick up your kids at school).   Nor will your employer feel particular sympathy for the fact that, even with the flex-time, you are still gasping for breath.

As a result, in order to keep this kind of split arrangement going you may have to give up on some of the pleasing, and just take the agreed flexibility.

One further piece of advice:  once you do leave the office, be very very sure that when you are with your child to enjoy that walk (or drive)  home from school.

Homemade Presents- Forget the Pomander

December 13, 2009

As those of you know who read about the “sheep” costume made by/for a young daughter at Halloween, I’m a big believer in home-made celebrations.  It’s fun for kids, a great way to hold out against commercialization, and terrific for grandparents who have pretty much all that they need.

That said, coming up with gifts that can be made by very young children can be difficult.  Of course, there’s always the picture–the child’s painting or drawing which can be framed, or better yet, converted (commercially) into a plate or mug.   (My mother-in-law had a beautiful hors d’oevre plate emblazoned with a vivid shooting scene made by a young grandson, for example.)

But my kids and I tried to come up with things that could be completely made at home.

Our first effort was a set of “pomanders”.  These are those oranges stuck with cloves.  Supposedly, people like to stick them in drawers to make the drawers smell nice (and not just to hide the pomanders.)

Pomanders are not a terribly satisfying gift.  For one thing, they are much harder to make than they look.  This is probably not surprising because they look incredibly unimpressive.

We moved on from pomanders to home-made Christmas ornaments.  Did you know that you can bake playdoh?  You can, but shouldn’t.

If you do not heed this warning (let’s say, because you have no viable sense of smell), you can make some hard-baked cute little blue animals and yellow stars.  Remember to leave holes for strings or ribbons with a scissors point or sharp pencil before baking.

Ornaments made from cardboard, colored foil, and glitter (lots and lots and lots of glitter), instead of playdoh,  might work out better if you ever want to use your oven again.

Speaking of baking, one of our most enterprising home-made gifts was a gingerbread house.   My kids did a few of these at school fairs with graham crakers, canned frosting, and all kinds of gumdrops.   These were pretty artificial constructions, however, built with artificial stuff over milk cartons; strictly inedible.   Finally, we graduated to the real thing.  A gingerbread house baked from dough rolled out into matching rectangles, i.e. walls.

The walls were to be stuck together with sugar glue, not elmers, and, most impressively, were to have stained glass windows, made from powdered hard candy.  (Put the hard candy in plastic wrap and hit it with a hammer.)

The project was both amazingly time-consuming and nervewracking.  A great deal of extra frosting and an unexpected interior wall was needed in the end, as were several books to hold the walls in place until all the sugar and frosting cemented (about twelvehours)

The end result was amazing.  A lit candle could be put inside, and the stained glass windows (not blocked by the unanticipated interior wall) shimmered.  It also, eventually, tasted quite good.  (Gingerbread has a long shelf life.)

As a final note, if you can’t manage a homemade present, kids can at least make wrapping paper.  Potatoes can be carved into great printing tools,  fingerpaint substituting for ink.    (If the potatoes don’t work, “hand” fingerprinted wrapping paper is also pretty terrific.)

In Search Of Saddle Shoes, Catholicism, Advent Calendars,

December 9, 2009

Two things I dearly wished for as a child were (i) to be Catholic, and (ii) to have saddle shoes.

They both represented a certain organization in my mind.  (Not organization, as in the Church, or Thom McCann;  organization in the sense of order, structure, rhythm.)

Catholicism was represented  by the couple of Catholic families on my street.  These each had enough children to require regimentation.  Rooms were shared; chores were assigned; eating was done only at meals, which were also on a kind of rota.  Fish sticks, of course, on Friday—these were not a particular source of envy.  Spaghetti on Saturdays.  The smell of the sauce emanated from my Catholic neighbor’s kitchen for hours, an unseen tomatoey aura that seemed to heighten the heavy greens of our semi-rural suburbia.  My Catholic friend, Susie, came out afterwards with sunsetty orange stains around her mouth.

Saddle shoes seemed in my mind to be Episcopalian.  (At least, the two girls I knew who wore them were.)  The mothers of these girls, like the Catholic mothers, did not work outside the home.  Less stressed than the Catholic mothers  (fewer children),  they wore their hair with either a schoolgirlish flip or bound in braids, and, on their feet,  trim white anklets.  (Seriously, anklets.)   They organized Brownies, Girl Scouts, volunteer stuff.  This, plus the anklets, seemed to give them a clear edge in the saddle shoe department:  they knew where to buy them.

I had a working mother, a rarity back then.  Yes, she made spaghetti sauce, but not for hours.   She wore hose.  And was too busy, and guilty (like many working mothers), to maintain a clear structure of delegated tasks.

As I grew older, a working mother myself, my childhood envy of Catholicism and saddle shoes spread to Advent calendars.  Setting aside all religious elements, Advent calendars represented patience, organization. If you’re going to have an Advent Calendar for your kids, you need to keep it in a special place,  consult it every day, only allow one little square to be opened at a time.

I tried.  But some  of us veer towards the energetic rather than systematic.  We squeeze things in, eating when we are hungry,  reading a book all night long.  We can hardly wait to wrap a present before we give it, make spaghetti sauce from a jar.  And will likely never ever get to wear saddle shoes.


ps – for anyone who doesn’t know (I find this hard to imagine), saddle shoes are those beautiful, cow-like, curvy, black and white, or brown and white oxfords.

Laboring To Connect The Brains

November 19, 2009

The brain is a funny quirky creature.  I say “creature” because mine, at least, feels, often, like a separate being.  Separate from what?  I’m not exactly sure.  The self?  The soul?  Itself?

Maybe a more accurate description is that the brain (again, mine) seems often to be divided into (at least) two parts—the watcher and the doer, the judge and the experiencer;  the witness and the defendant; the onlooker and the looker.

I don’t mean to suggest though that one side is active, and the other passive.  Or that one is more analytical.  I have to confess that I haven’t analyzed the division that closely;  I’ve noticed that both sides seem to be fairly emotive.  They both crave and fear; recognize damage, pain, desire, joy.   Though my brain, at least, has notoriously unscientific notions of the causation of any of these shadows and bright spots; it tends to assign causation to external circumstances, happy or traumatic events, of which it can sometimes remember only the vaguest inkling.  Even so, outside factors are somehow a less troubling causative factor than the darker inks of genetic blueprints.  No one likes to feel that they are going to end up exactly like their aging parents.  Even when they very much admire their aging parents.  (In case you are reading this, did you get that last bit, Mom?)

Then there’s the whole subject of absorption.  By absorption, I don’t mean, escapist fascination (surfing the Internet for news about Robert Pattinson, for example.)  I’m talking about what it is that makes the brain click into gear.  And I don’t mean function, I mean, hum. What is it that makes the watcher and experiencer close ranks, the brain and the self interlock?

My first answer for this (at about Union Square, since I am writing on the subway) is work, preferably creative work.   I feel a bit like a character in a Chekhov play (Uncle Vanya, specifically), when I think about the importance of work, especially, of course, engaging work, work that one likes.

But, as the train chugs towards Grand Central, I realize that the category should be enlarged.  That it isn’t just work that pulls the selves together, but effort, intense effort, labor.

Which makes me suddenly realize why I have wandered onto this topic in the first place.  Because for me, the most intense experience I’ve ever had of the coming together of brain and self, watcher and doer, judge and experiencer, was some years ago on this very same date shortly after 1 a.m. when, after forty hours of labor (as in childbirth), I realized that a part of me could really not hang back, lurking in some cranial synaptical view chamber (as if behind a one way mirror).  This was around the time that the words “fetal distress,” and “push push push the baby” surrounded me, some in an Irish brogue.

The watcher/witness simply had to jump in; all parts of the brain and self were on immediate urgent call; there could be no holding back.

Everything worked together quite wonderfully, as it turned out.

Virtues of More Than One Child

November 4, 2009

Many years ago, tomorrow, my beloved second daughter was born.  It was the day of the New York City marathon.  This caused me some consternation (aside from the labor pains) as my hospital and I were on opposite sides of an East River whose bridges were filled with runners.

The wonders of any child (especially this particular daughter) are too many to encapsulate in a blog.  But her birthday has made me think of several generic reasons why it is great to have more than one child, even in the crowded, and very expensive, world of New York City.

Here are some:

1.  Having more than one child allows you to practice your mediation skills.

2.  And exponentially expand your ability to multitask:  yes, you already know how to hold, change, nurse and bathe a baby, now you need to be able to do all these things with one hand.

3.  It saves you trips to Good Will.

4.  And also allows many rich opportunities for genetics research.  (How can two children who are (a) both so wonderful, and (b) so alike, also be (c) so completely different?)

5.  You get to develop your inner policeman/Solomon through enforcement of the rules of (a) democracy, as in whose vote wins this week’s movie choice, (b) boundary lines, as in whose half is whose of the stroller, room, subway seat, mother’s lap, computer, and (c) good fellowship as in who must be dragged along with whom to the soccer game, playdate, doctors’ appointment, chorus concert….

6.   There are twice as many plates of leftover food to inattentively scarf down.  Who said you needed a girlish figure?

7.  Or sleep?

8.  It usually takes a least two children to make a decent Mother’s Day breakfast.  (One to flip the pancakes, the other to arrange flowers on top of the pancakes.)

9.  More importantly, with two kids around, there’s almost always someone around who either (a) needs a hug, or (b) is available to give it.  (This person may be you.)

10.  You are not likely to worry (at least for some years) that you’ve never run a marathon.

Whether you have one child, or more than one, check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson on Amazon or at link from ManicDDaily home page.

Further to Sheepish On Halloween – The Candy Thing

October 31, 2009

Since writing my last post – “Sheepish On Halloween” (, I have been told that I was a bit of a Halloween monster for allowing my 2-year old daughter to “lose” her pumpkin of Halloween candy.  (Okay, I added the “bit of.”  I was called a Halloween monster, plain and simple.)

I’ll admit it.  I was a macrobiotic for a couple of years in my life (whole years!)   Even after I softened that stance, I bought brown rice by the burlap sack full.  I ground some of my own wheat to make yeast-free bread.  (I guess you could call it bread.)   Seaweed was not unknown in our household.

This made the whole process of Halloween, especially in a traditionally Italian part of Brooklyn and not some new-agey PC rice syrup neighborhood, extremely trying.

I did give her candy to replace the lost pumpkin-full.   (Yes, my substitutes may have included carob.) However, life and children have a way of loosening even the tightest resolves, i.e. parents quickly lose control.

Here are some of the later rules I made regarding Halloween candy:

1.   You can eat all you want but ONLY on Halloween night. This has the disadvantage of turning your childen into bingers.  It has the advantage of limiting tooth damage to one night.

2.  After Halloween, you just have one piece a day until you run out (in our society, meaning into the next year.) This encourages restraint,  but keeps the candy in focus as a problematic treasure for a very long time.   Forget about teeth.

3.  I give up.

Last note–if you have canine family members, keep a close watch.   A lot of sorting of candy tends to take place on the floor;  bags are frequently left at bedside;  even the most loving kids are too excited to be truly careful; chocolate can be lethal for dogs.

Once more, Happy Halloween.

Father Sonnet

October 1, 2009

The last few days I’ve written about parenting–engaging young kids and encouraging “make-believe”–and sonnets.  So today, I thought I’d combine all subjects.  (I don’t mean the “make-believe” comment to refer to the religious aspects of the poem, but the bedtime story.)   The sonnet is Shakespearean in rhyme scheme (and attempted meter.)

My Father

My father knelt beside my bed; his round head
reflecting the bedside lamp with the look
of lighting within.  “And the genie,” he said,
“came out of a big blue jar.”  Not from a book
were the stories he told me at night.
Always of genies who were big-blue-jarred
and did fairly little, only the slight
magic of minor wishes, often ill-starred.
Though the stories were just a warm up to
the bedtime prayer.  “Our Father,” that would start,
then straight out head for “hallowed”, “trespass” too,
unknown words, to me a spell he knew by heart,
invoking, croakingly, a wished-for will
that the blue genied jar could never fulfill.

(All rights reserved.  Karin Gustafson)

Re Jane Brody- Benefits to Parents of Engaging Child With Talk

September 30, 2009

Thinking today of Jane Brody’s article in the September 28th New York Times, “From Birth Engage Your Child With Talk”.  The article discusses the importance of parents and caregivers talking to their infants and young children, rather than tuning in to their cell phones, Blackberries, and iPods (and tuning out their young charges.)

As Brody points out, the benefit to infants from having their parents talk to them is pretty clear (i.e. they learn to talk.)

What Brody doesn’t discuss are the benefits enjoyed by parents from such exchanges.  Here are a few I came up with:

1.         Any parent taking the long view realizes that he or she should take full advantage of any time period in which the child willingly listens to them.

2.         Even more valuable is any time period in which the parent is allowed, even smilingly applauded, for repeating him or herself.   (Babies are rarely heard to complain: “Mom, I heard you already.”)

3.         Babies are among the few people (outside of talk radio audiences) who greet nonsense talk with glee.

4.         Babies will laugh at even your stupidest jokes.  Babies will especially laugh at your stupidest jokes.  (Subtle plays on words tend to fall flat unless (i) you do too, and (ii) it’s something like “shoe”, “atchoo”, and “shoo!” said to the cat.)

5.         Babies like to hear you sing.  Babies love to hear you sing.

6.         Pointing things out to babies – the red rose bushes, the white clouds, the blue rapidly oncoming car—makes you notice such things as well.  A distinct advantage over cell phones.

7.        While it is true that a baby, if screaming or vomiting in the car seat, can be a significant distraction to the driver, studies have yet to show that they increase accident rates by 23 times.

8.         Babies’ super-active brains are hard-wired to learn language (and many other things).   As a result, they are probably the “smartest” conversationalists you’ll ever have even if relatively silent;  they take your  words literally to heart.

9.       Most parents really do want a child who can talk to them some day, even to say “Mom, I heard you already.”  (Another person to call on the cell.)

10.     Babies don’t charge for roaming.

If you have a baby, or know one, and want something to read to them with numbers and elephants and whimsical (sorry!) watercolors, check out 1 Mississippi by Karin Gustafson at link above or on Amazon.

Finding Out That My Good Parenting Skills Were All Make-Believe

September 29, 2009

An article by Paul Tough, in The New York Times on September 25th, called “Can The Right Kinds of Play Lead To Self-Control?” brought me to a dramatic  realization.

 I have terrific kids;  they are tolerant of others, and though not automatonic, stiff, or repressed —they are kids—they have been patient, co-operative, and self-controlled pretty much since passing the bounds of young childhood.   All these years I’ve been (secretly) congratulating myself on my parenting.  I knew I wasn’t particularly schooled in parenting, and I’ve never actually thought my parenting out that much—still I privately believed that the results (i.e. my children) must demonstrate some innate maternal skill.

 Now it turns out that all these great qualities in my children are primarily due to the fact that they played loads and loads of make-believe.

 And, on top of that, even though I’ve sometimes characterized myself as a bit of a single parent, I really do have to give a bunch of credit to their dad, who was terrifically good at fomenting imagination games, particularly if they involved blocks or little playmobil figures.  (He is someone who had a couple of thousand toy soldiers as a boy, so he was extremely practiced in the set-up of forts, installations, whole towns, and any other type of miniaturized construct.)

 After reading Tough’s article, in fact, I’m not sure I deserve much credit as a parent at all.  I will protest that I did supply the occasional comic voice in many games of make-believe.  (Usually I played a rather duncelike- compulsive figure, Mr. Potato Man, who was represented by a small plastic snoopy dog with a sack of potatoes plasticized to his back.)  I also talked stuffed animals, provided tea sets, watered down “tea”, and had certain of my own playmobil and block skills.  (It wasn’t all their dad.)

  And, when there were no actual toys handy, I supplied puppets made up of my talking hands and one forearm.

 But, frankly, my main pratical, measurable, contribution was to turn off the TV. 

 Since TV did have to be on some of the time, I made our TV as unattractive as I could, for as long as I could,  retaining antiquated and very small television sets.  (I remember my mother, horrified, to hear my daughter proclaim after watching a well-known program at her house – “I didn’t know Big Bird was yellow.”)

 Finally, I was blessed to be able to arrange long periods of time (i.e. summers) in beautiful places where there was no TV at all.   (I realize that not everyone has such phenomenal luck.)

 The result was a great deal of make-believe.

 I really do believe that TV, and now the computer, can be insidious for developing minds.  (I won’t even go into the problems discussed by Jane Brody today in the article “From Birth, Engage Your Child With Talk” about the distractions electronic devices provide to caregivers.)  

 Yes, there is often something good on.  A program that is ostensibly enriching, educational.

 But it’s still not the same as playing “sick baby” with leaves for medicine and pine cones for shots, and, if you’re lucky, a younger sibling who (for a short time at least) is willing to lie still.

 It’s not even as good as “Mr. Potato Man.”

“Mind” – Parental Love – When “I Love You” Means Doing as Haim Ginott Said

September 16, 2009

The New York Times published an article on September 14 about unconditional love by Alfie Kohn “When a Parent’s ‘I Love You’ Means ‘Do As I Say.’  The article is about the difficulties in sorting through conflicting parenting advice  –  the older advice from Carl Rogers (and also Fred) promoting unconditional love, and the newer advice from people such as talk show host Dr. Phil, and Supernanny, promoting a more manipulative parental approach, one that directly involves the granting of praise and acceptance for good behavior and the withholding of affection for bad.

The article comments on a series of studies done in 2004, and also more recently, by Drs. Avi Assor, Guy Roth, Edward L. Deci, that imply that more manipulative parental love, particularly one that incorporates positive conditioning of praise and approbation, can be effective at promoting academic achievement and achievement of parental goals, but can also carry a price of inner compulsion, lack of long-term satisfaction.  (The conditional love that focused on punishment and withholding of affection seemed mainly to create resentment of parents.)

I have to say that I definitely fall into the unconditional love camp.   (I prefer Mr. Rogers to Dr. Phil.)   First, I can’t really imagine withholding love from my children (even when angry).

However, I also understand that parenting that is overly heavy on the praise can be very burdensome, creating a lifelong need for specific approval and acknowledgement.   In addition to the problems noted by the studies, I believe that this kind of “positive” conditioning (and the resulting need and compulsion) while perhaps helpful in promoting academic performance, can become very problematic outside the academic world where good grades are not awarded for one’s conduct, and where the hurdles for achievement are not clearly delineated.  (In the non-academic world, the hurdles on the road to achievement can often not even be located, much less jumped.)

But if both negative and positive conditioning are problematic, what are parents supposed to do?

As a young child, I used to frequently see Dr. Haim Ginott on the Today Show.  (He was a child psychologist who seemed to be a regular guest.)

Now there was a guy who knew about parenting.  I don’t think he had children of his own, so he may not have had the parents’ perspective down pat, but he definitely understood the child’s perspective.   (He happened to be a very short man, who spoke English as a second language.  Somehow all of this made me feel, back then, that he knew just where we stood.)

He also looked to me like a child’s drawing of a psychiatrist, with glasses set low on a slightly intrusive nose; a small goatee bisecting his chin.   But instead of carting around the pomposity of expertise (or a couch), he sported a palpable sense of humor and compassion and an odd childlike simplicity.

He definitely fit into the unconditional love school.  As part of this, he was very specific about not praising; and not blaming.

It is not correct to say that Ginott let everything slide or that he would not condemn;  he believed parents should be quick to make their feelings about bad behavior known and to let that behavior have consequences,  the natural ones, including, for example,  the parents’ irritation; but he (like Christ) condemned the sin, not the sinner.  The method of expressing disapproval was extremely important; it was to be an expression of facts and feelings.

For example, if a child’s room were a mess, the parent was not supposed to say “you are a pig!”  but something like, “it makes me so upset to see a room like this—I think of all the living creatures it could harbor, germs, mice, even pigs!”   Or “someone with a room like this doesn’t have time to go out and play yet.”  Or simply “rooms like this must be cleaned IMMEDIATELY.”

As a child, I would marvel at his approach.   How could he fool any kid, I’d wonder.  Wouldn’t they know he just thought they were piggy?  Or that his folks were keeping him inside?

But I’d also feel, well, that the dirty room better get cleaned up soon.

His approach to praise seemed very severe to me back then, but as I’ve grown older, I’ve recognized its genius.  Telling a child he’s done a great drawing, a masterpiece, can be absolutely paralyzing, he said.  The danger of a fall from grace (a failure to produce another masterpiece) is so immediate the child may not even feel able to continue.

As a result, instead of praise, Ginott advocated actually looking at the child’s work, commenting on specific details, such as “that color blue makes me think of a summer sky.”  Or “I can see that you spent a lot of time working on that airplane.  Look at all the little rockets.”  Or “when I see a drawing of apples like that, it makes me hungry.”  (I’m sorry if I am misrepresenting Ginott’s theories by the way;  I am relying on childhood memories and also books I read years ago as a young parent – his Between Parent and Child, and the books by Elaine Mazlish and Adelle Farber, two of his followers.)

The same theory applied to honoring good conduct:  “when children sit so quietly, the room feels like a beautiful oasis.”   He would not say, for example, “what a good boy,” “what a nice girl.”  (Again, I am making up these examples!)

While Ginott’s techniques allowed for positive and negative reinforcement of types of behavior, the child him or herself was separate from the behavior, deemed capable of exerting some control over it, allowed and expected to exert some control over the behavior, but not defined by it.  As a result, the child and the love of the parent were not caught in the vagaries of behavior and consequences, but could maintain that constancy and unconditionality which seemingly (or at least according to these studies) helps lead to a lasting sense of self-worth.