Wednesday, October 27, 2010

A festive Halloween post ... with razor-blade apples.

Remember when we were kids and someone put a razor blade in an apple? From then on your parents always fished out the apples, leaving you only the sugary candy. sharp objects couldn't be placed into something else? Was this a plan hatched by the Cavity Creeps ... eradicate the healthy food from the trick-or-treat bag? Next thing you knew, people were lining up at the hospital to have their Halloween candy X-rayed. Geez! Doesn't this seem like a failure of imagination?

Like that fun 80s anecdote, an excessive emphasis on outside influences seldom helps. We lose when we are just reacting. We spend all this time sorting metaphorical candy when we really should be educating our kids and setting a foundation so they simply avoid treats that look weird. (that is supposed to be metaphor for equipping kids to say no to dangerous behaviors because you have given them a strong sense of internal morality -- that was totally clear, right?)

In other words: the focus belongs not on the evil world around us, but on the culture and climate inside the home. My theory: to accomplish this we need, A) boundaries and, B) communication. It is still in hypothesis mode, so let me lay it out for you and you tell me what you think ...

How did these kids turn out so good, I never even saw their parents?>>>

So much in life boils down to boundaries. Become too rigid and you create an evil world vs. perfect family, and the result is that nothing can get in or out. It's a stifling environment that sends a message that there's few options for what is acceptable. Expectation and pressure causes kids to react to this in a myriad of ways, but whether they aim to please or totally rebel, the end result usually isn't too pretty.

And I don't even need to extol the dangers of the opposite: loosey goosey, sieve like boundaries that just lets any old candy into the bag. There is a god's plenty that children have no business being exposed to, and we are duty-bound to protect them. When something crosses a line a not-open-for-negotiation smack-down of the ABSOLUTELY NOT variety is in order. I'd like to think I'm always open for discussion and explaining "why not" to my kids, but sometimes the answer is "NO!"

<<< It can be a scary out there
I am backed in my belief that parents often over-react to the idea of peer influence by local therapist and co-author of the Lawrence Journal World column, "Double Take", Wes Crenshaw, PhD. He contends that peer influence is greatly overstated. Kids don't choose behaviors merely because they saw them. Parents everywhere, rejoice! Even when they may stray, their foundation sends them home. We are, and we remain, their strongest influence.

Continuing on to factor two: communication. We will establish standards, make our expectations clear, and crystallize this family's belief system in a non-judgmental fashion. We will take responsibility for the behavior of our children and expect them to do the same. And I will keep the road between our home and the world a two-way street (albeit a tightly patrolled two-way street) by keeping in mind the following:

"For parents, that means it’s important to not only tell your kids what’s right and wrong but to tell them why. An idea with a good foundation is far better than an idea that’s been beaten into place repeatedly with the same circular reasoning ... that means we need to take a look at what we think and question where that finds its root. How many of our beliefs are actually assumptions? If we find no root, now is the time to plant, to turn to those wiser than us and really ask why. Our roots are important. If we become satisfied with weak roots, then the idea they support topples over. Instead, plant strong roots, which starts with asking why." -(emphasis mine, Ben Markley, Sept. 7th, "Double Take")

I feel about the outside world very much how I feel about Halloween. Spooky and potentially dangerous? Yes. But I really do want to participate. And if I am pre-occupied with the behaviors of others or all the horrifying scenarios that are out of my control, we will never make it out the door, hence missing that house that gives out FULL SIZE candy bars. snap!

The bottom line: this world is where we live and connect. This world benefits from the two bright souls under my roof. And the world also offers them enriching experiences and outside relationships.

I know the focus belongs on my family ... and that if we get it right (not perfect, just aiming for not totally screwing it up here) my children will be equipped to deal with spooky tricks on their own and partake in (mostly wholesome) treats. So, let the supervised and rule-enforced trick-or-treating begin!

Ongoing dialog and boundaries are but a start. I want to hear more tips, tricks, and treats from you. All of this is easy for me to say with a small kids, but those of you with older kids and more experience may have a totally different take. And I also want to hear about how the relationship between your family and the world plays out in real time and in real situations.

Now back to those razor blades. Was there any truth to that story? According to a very cool source whose validity I can not vouch for:
"Turns out there were isolated cases of booby trapped Halloween treats. Most turned out to be either hoaxes or within the family (i.e. a parent harming their own child)."

I love it when an analogy comes together! Thanks and much love, readers!


  1. Ok. All very good. I'm in total agreement. BUT WHAT ARE THE GIRLS WEARING FOR HALLOWEEN?

  2. They are going to be Lindsay Lohan and Brittney Spears. They got the idea from some neighbor girls. I made ankle bracelets out of silly bandz.

    JK-they are going to be pterodactyl and a kitty cat respectively. Their grandma made their costumes out of sweat suits and they are totally precious. I am so gonna score candy for myself with their cuteness.

    You are in total agreement?! Sweet, so easy to mine your wisdom on this one. Thanks!

  3. Let me begin by apologizing for taking this in a bit of a twisted direction. Sit down and put on your seatbelt, it’s gonna be a LONG and bumpy ride.

    I really do think it's all about communication, whether they are 4 or 14. I completely agree it’s important to thoroughly examine your rules, and have good reason for them. That way, when they ask why, you can give a meaningful explanation. I SWORE I would never say "because I said so." What the hell kind of answer is that? Thank Goodness this is one pre-parenthood promise I could keep. If my daughter asks me why the other girls can wear pants with words on the butt, I explain it draws attention to your bottom, and that's not how we like to get attention, but every family has different rules. I think when you explain why you don't want them to eat all their Halloween candy at 4, or why they can't have their boyfriend in their room with the door closed at 14, it means more. I also think you have to let them make mistakes once in awhile (this is true with the candy example, but not so much with the boyfriend example ;) ). Let them prove you right (when appropriate), and the lesson will stick, and they'll give you more credit next time you set a boundary.

    We are really struggling right now in the area of self-esteem/friendships. My kiddo is an only child, so there are some social skills that she just doesn't get. She is a bit of a paradox because in some ways she is so mature (that's not really the word I'm looking for, but can't think of the right one), but in others she is so immature (ditto previous parentheses). For example, in just general conversation, she generally looks at things from a more adult perspective because that's what she is most exposed to. She has a really well-defined sense of humor, and, I can proudly say, sarcasm. But oftentimes, the other kids really don't get it. On the other hand, she has no concept of when it is "appropriate" to tattle (I know, it's not tattling if it's appropriate), or when it's ok to just be silly.

    Imagine you are back in grade school and there's this kid who tattles, always answers when moms are calling, and sometimes acts too grown up and sometimes acts like a baby. As you can guess, we struggle with peer relationships. She often comes home from school and says the other kids are mean to her. Some of it is real, and some is perceived. (Fortunately, I have a close network of moms I am in contact with, so I know many of the other kids struggle with the same thing). 2nd graders are evidently just becoming aware of the influence of others, and really struggle. But, as a parent, how do you find the right balance for dealing with this? Part of me wants to hug her and tell her I'll never go back to that mean place known as 2nd grade. But the wiser part says, who cares what those big bullies think? But how do you answer when she says, "Mom, I DO!" (I am using the term bully loosely here. At this point, if the other kids want to play kickball but she wants to play tether ball, she thinks that's being mean)

    With all the media attention on bullying right now, I don't want to ignore the pain she is feeling. On the other hand, how do I teach her those kids really don't matter? In my heart, I really feel that she is going through a very developmentally appropriate learning experience, and I don’t want to coddle her too much because, in some ways, this will validate anything the “bullies” do or say. Maybe kids are less susceptible to the influence of peers when their parents handled this very issue correctly in 2nd grade. I think I need all the advice I can get...

  4. Shellody,
    When I hosted the book meeting for "Reviving Ophelia" this very issue came up and was our main topic of discussion. (see "Reviving Reviving Ophelia post from 2009). I am hugely FOR the awareness and education on bullying but an interesting side note is that kids are also a lot more focused and using the bullying-lingo/language for the more "normal" (gasp it is ever normal for someone to be mean to your baby?) and developmentally appropriate types of social experimentation.

    Being overly dismissive is cruel since it is all relative. What if someone had been flip about your first teenage heartbreak, when it WAS that awful and painful for you? So I think lots of processing, sympathy, problem solving, and role-playing are in order. However, just like with adults too much self is focus is a slippery slope. Volunteering and lots of opportunity to meet kids with similar interests were two things that came up repeatedly at the book meeting. Maybe school doesn't feel quite as huge if your social interests are divested over soccer, youth group, gymnastics, etc etc. With my kids being smaller my experience with this is mostly professional and speculatory so I am very interested in this and hope to see some good responses. Thank you and good luck with that very special kid of yours. And if you figure out how to navigate it all and spare your kid an ounce of pain, please let us know!

  5. I was TOTALLY, although only momentarily concerned about the Lindsay, Brittney thing. For a moment I thought you'd lost your mind. Good one.

    My daughter, now 19, was both sometimes mature and then not at the same time. In hindsight, it is easy to see that intellectual maturity IS NOT the same thing as emotional maturity and there are many days that I wish we had held her back in kindergarten or first grade. Last year she withdrew from college. She is back this year but I can't help think that she just needed that extra year and I would have preferred she got it at the front end rather than later. Despite what it might seem, there is much more peer influence later rather than earlier.

  6. Carrie, I totally agree. I was thinking the same thing as I read Lesa's most-excellent-as-always post, in examining my own life. I was a rule-follower, compliant, me-aims-ta-please kid my whole life... until I went away to college and my reasonable "boundary keepers," i.e. Mom/Dad, weren't around anymore. Apparently, I never learned the skill of setting my own boundaries, so in void of parents, I allowed peers to step-in and define (or totally obliterate) my boundaries. By the age of 21, it was as if I was a different person altogether, living a very dangerous, "I'll try anything at least once lifestyle."

    In examining what I might do differently to protect my own children from this, I am at a loss. I don't think it was my parents' fault. They didn't shelter me, and they didn't go totally liberal either. I knew they loved me. They always communicated with me. I think it was in-part my personality to look for validation and acceptance from others, and when "others" was no longer my parents, it became my peers. Not to stereo-type, but it seems that girls seem to fall prey to this more easily.

    But enough about me... Setting appropriate boundaries is a great start, consistently teaching and modeling good decision-making is helpful. My son is now going to a Christian school and one of the things that sold me on the school is that it strives to "teach children to think for themselves." I believe if we can do that, teaching them to seek truth and light, the rest will take care of itself... I believe God is really the one in control of our children's paths and as we point them in His direction, He will take care of the rest. Proverbs 22:6.

  7. Anj,
    Sometimes I feel like too much of a butt-insky on my comment section, but I just can't help it. It doesn't sound like you are at a total loss, it sounds like you have an excellent plan and that it is guiding your parenting and your decisions. I have 100% confidence that your amazing kids will be amazing adults.

    About you, (gush alert) you are such an amazing adult yourself and that your parents had plenty to do with it. I am just wondering if, in retrospect, part of your experimentation was part and parcel of your journey? There is a famous British series based on the concept of a Jesuit motto "show me a child at 7 and I will show you the adult." (loose para-phrase). It follows these people every 7 years, they are well into adulthood now and it is amazing. Lots of people went "crazy" for time but dog-gone-it if they aren't more like their 7 year old selves as adults. It speaks to the tremendous amount of peer pressure and how it does influence choices and decision making, but only for a time. The foundation is set and kids "come home" to whatever foundation was given to them by their parents. In our case that will totally be their wise, all-knowing, totally nailed the whole thing, parents. right?

    Seriously though, you totally came through and I suspect you are wiser, more well rounded, and compassionate for it. What CAN we do other than "point them in the right direction" --love that phrase and visual for parenting. Thanks as always for your rich insights.
    Here is the link to the British series:

  8. You are so right... it's easy to look back on those years with a shudder, but I do believe it all happened for a reason and I am happy I lived to tell about it! It's hard to think of my kids doing some of the things I've done, but at the same time, I don't believe that a "safe, comfortable little life" is the goal here. Thanks for the encouragement and link to what sounds like a really fascinating read! :)

    p.s. Isaac just turned 7... no pressure, no pressure! wink.

  9. I forgot to mention what I feel is THE most important factor on our children's behavior...US. We are their role models, and we have to be consistent. Not just consistent with them, but consistent with ourselves. They see more than they hear...So, if we say "be nice to your friends" but then they see us bad-mouthing one friend to another, we've totally contradicted ourselves AND devalued our own teachings. If we say "judge people on the inside, not the outside" but don't do it ourselves, they know!

    (Insert 1,000,000 examples here--I had them but deleted them because you all know what I'm talking about!)

    So, possibly even more important than boundaries and communication is being a good role model and truly practicing what you preach.

  10. YES!!! That is actually the essence of this whole post. Focus on yourself for the love of god. I have actually been increasingly nervous that the tone of this post was too smug (I SO don't have it figured out and I am sure my kids are at just as much risk for future problems as ANYONE else), I was really just struggling to say what you said so briefly and so well. How often are we overly concerned with the behavior of others and have then been shocked and horrified to see what they are most likely to reflect back is (gasp!) OUR BEHAVIOR! (see "Mom in the Mirror" for more rantings on this). Best to be consistent and put your money where your mouth is when it comes to things like our own self esteem, bad mouthing friends etc. I am just sorry to admit I have to re-learn this lesson all the time.

    Side note-I do employ the "because I said so" response but only in jest so I had to laugh at your first response. Seriously, who cooked that one up? Well, probably just some tired soul who had been asked "why not" 5 million times in one day. Also-loved your previous example about what you say about that not being the rule in other families. I always struggle to explain to myself to my children in a way that doesn't sound really judgmental of other families. That just doesn't serve them well and it is totally awkward when they repeat what I said later.

    Thank you, your comments are so useful and appreciated and help me towards the end of ultimately being a better, more succinct, and more clear blogger (and person and parent).

  11. I might be too hard on the my mother's generation, but I think they said "I told you so" because of the whole dictatorship mentality. You didn't need to know why you can't play in the street because by god, if they said it you better do it. As in many other areas of my parenting, I think I so over-compensate in this area, my own child will grow and say, "no 10 minute explanations on why my kids have to try brussel sprouts, I'm just going to tell them because I told you so!"

    While we're speaking of cliches of the 70s and 80s, could you do a post on, "if you don't quit crying, I'll give you something to cry about"? I've never understood that one either...perhaps because I am an over-emotional, cry-all-the-time-and-for-no-reason-at-all kind of gal. The more you tell me not to cry, the more I'm gonna do it!

  12. OMG,I am laughing, laughing, laughing. If anyone out there is still reading/commenting on this aging post I would love to make a request for more idiotic idioms of the 70's and 80's. Being a very literal kid, I would always say (while crying hysterically) "But you ARE giving me something to cry about!"

    I share some of your harsher estimations and motivations for theses proclamations, but I admit that at more desperate parenting moments I see them with more sympathy, they even take on a spare, logical beauty. I find them right on the tip of my tongue every now and again.

    And as for your prediction, I agree. I say the backlash to our parenting will be a "back to basics" approach where our kids totally reject our verbose ways and blame us for their inability to do get through life without lengthy explanations and conversations.

  13. You know what? I love this post, Lesa. You know what else? I love everyone's comments, too. Do you know why I keep preceding my statements with questions? I don't...but I will stop that annoying pattern now.

    I would like to say that I really appreciate Shellody's response regarding how much value is placed on us modeling whatever behavior we are telling our kids to have. You are so right on that one. Our actions are undoubtedly the most powerful teaching tool we have.


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