21 + 3 Parenting Truths

Behold! My list of 21 + 3 truths about parenting.

If you find any item on my list offensive, insulting, or somehow unfairly critical of your own parenting decisions, please remember that although I refer to these items as truths, the only real truth is that this is just a list of my opinions about parenting.

I won't be coming to your home to impose my will upon your children or your parenting style.

This doesn't mean you can't disagree. I love a lively debate. Just don't go flying off the handle or getting your knickers in a bunch.

If you feel your knickers beginning to bunch, please refer to truth #21 on the list.

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21 +3 TRUTHS ABOUT PARENTING

  1. The parent who assumes the tougher position in regards to expectations and discipline is almost always correct.

  2. Almost every child behavior is temporary. Remembering this is key to avoiding frustration.  

  3. Almost every temper tantrum can and should be ignored.

  4. The calmer the household, the calmer the child.

  5. Avoid becoming emotionally attached to your child’s inappropriate behaviors whenever possible. They are almost never about you.  

  6. There are extremely few critical and uncorrectable mistakes that you can make with your child. 

  7. With exceptions, training your child to fall sleep on her own in her own bed and sleep through the night takes about 2-4 weeks if done with tenacity, an iron will, and an absolute adherence to the advice of experts. Parents must also possess the grudging acceptance that thunderstorms, nightmares, daylight savings time, and illness will upset the apple cart from time to time.

  8. You cannot take too many photographs of your child.

  9. Despite their size, it’s almost impossible to impose your physical will on any toddler without risking harm to them. Find another way.

  10. Reading to your child every single night without exception is an easy but critical critical commitment that every parent must make.  

  11. Changing a diaper is not a big deal and is never something worthy of whines or complaints.

  12. Toddlers will invariably have a million things to tell you as soon as you begin an important telephone call. Lock yourself in a room or go sit in the car before dialing. 

  13. Experienced parents always know which toys are best.

  14. Toddlers cannot distinguish between a new toy and a used toy. Accept all hand-me-down toys with gratitude, knowing they were once well loved and can be loved again.

  15. Unsolicited advice from experienced parents should always be received with appreciation. Wisdom of any kind is valuable. It should not be viewed as a criticism or indictment of your own parenting skills and can be easily ignored if need be.

  16. There is absolutely no reason for a child under eighteen months-old to be watching television on a daily basis.

  17. Consignment shops are some of the best places to find children’s clothing and toys unless you are a pretentious snob.

  18. Parents seeking the most fashionable or trendy stroller, diaper bag, and similar accouterments are often saddled with the least practical option.

  19. Little boys and little girls are entirely different animals. They have almost nothing in common, and it is a miracle that they might one day marry each other.

  20. The ratio of happy times to difficult times in the first four years of your child’s life is about one billion to one. Some parents have an unfortunate tendency to forget the billion and accentuate the one.

  21. Parents are often far too sensitive about all opinions on parenting that differ from their own.

I’ve also separated out three rules out that are closely interconnected and exceptionally important for expecting parents and the parents of newborns to understand.

  1. Taking care of a child during the first four years of life is not nearly as difficult as many people want you to believe.

  2. Telling people that raising your child has been an easy and joyous experience will often annoy them. Do it anyway.  

  3. Experienced parents who are positive, optimistic, and encouraging to the parents of newborns are difficult to come by and should be treasured when found.

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A great problem to have. BUT STILL A PROBLEM.

This is one of those moments when I’m going to apologize for complaining about something that really shouldn’t be a complaint.

While visiting Pike Market in Seattle a couple weeks ago, we stopped in a great, little bookstore called Lion Heart Books, where we were thoroughly entertained by the owner, David Ghoddousi. His store didn’t carry any of my books, but it was small and eclectic. I was willing to forgive him.

Of course we bought some books for the kids (and a few for me). Clara and Charlie love books, and I’m always willing to spend a little money on the written word.

But for the next hour, Elysha and I had to demand that the children stop reading their books and “Look around!”

“Pick your heads up!”

“You can read anytime! You won’t see this place again for a long time!”

At one point Elysha popped into a Starbucks, so the kids immediately camped out on the corner, opened their books, and pretended that I didn’t exist.

I surrendered. “Fine,” I said. “I’ll look at the big, beautiful world and you can stick your noses into your dumb books.”

I know. I should be happy, and I am.

But still… look at them. What a couple of giant nerds.

Tooth fairy economics

Charlie lost his front tooth this week at his Little League practice. Non-baseball related.

A couple weeks earlier, he lost his other front tooth, leaving a gap in his mouth large enough to drive a train through. It’s hilarious.

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When a child loses their tooth in our home, the tooth fairy brings that child a single golden dollar. Sacagawea, Susan B. Anthony, or one of the many Presidential coins, placed carefully under their pillow after they are fast asleep.

One dollar. This is an appropriate amount of money for a tooth.

When someone in one of Elysha Dicks’s Facebook group asked how much their child should receive for a lost tooth, a common response was $20.

This is an insane amount of money to give a child for losing a tooth.

When I was a child, I received 25 cents for a tooth and was quite pleased. Even if I had received a whole dollar back then, inflation rates would only make that dollar worth about $3.10 in today’s money.

Giving your child $3.10 would be weird, but it wouldn’t be insane. $20 is insane.

$20 is more than ten times the rate of inflation. More importantly, $20 really is a crazy amount of money. Given that children eventually lose about 20 teeth, this makes their baby teeth worth a total of $400.

This is not right. Not at all.

You know how some people say, “I’m not trying to sound judgmental…” right before they sound judgmental? I’m not doing that here. Not not trying to avoid sounding judgmental. I’m trying desperately and specifically to sound judgmental.

I am being super judgy.

I am officially judging the hell out of any parent who gives their child $20 for a lost tooth.

If you are one of those parents and this upsets you, please remember that the economics of tooth fairy wealth distribution is not the kind of thing that should upset you very much. Calm yourself down. No need to get angry over every little thing.

If, for example, you think that only giving my child a single dollar from the tooth fairy is heartless, cruel, and cheap, I really wouldn’t care. “Fine,” I’d think. “Have your stupid opinion. People are entitled to stupid opinions. Your thoughts about my parenting don’t actually change anything about me or my kids. They are just electrical pulses in the neurons of your stupid brain.”

See how easy that is?

Apply this mindset to your own situation if my judgmental stance on your tooth fairy decision-making has your knickers in a bunch, because I’ll say it again:

$20 is not right. It’s ludicrous and crazy-town. Kids who are young enough to be losing their first teeth do not need $20. They simply need a little magic in their lives. A little whimsey.

A $20 bill is neither magical not whimsical. It's hard cash. Real money. Unnecessary money.

My kids are always so excited about their golden dollars.

When Charlie received his golden dollar last week, he asked me if the tooth fairy is real.

“Of course she’s real,” I said. “How do you think you got that gold dollar?”

“Maybe you put it there,” he said.

“I don’t have any gold dollars,” I said. “How would I get a golden dollar?”

“Probably at the bank,” he said.

He may be in first grade, but he is one savvy little boy.

7 bits of parenting advice that I stand by without reservation

Oddly, I am often asked for parenting advice.

I say oddly because I’m hardly an expert, but I suspect that two decades of teaching and two relatively well adjusted children have caused some folks to think I know something about how to raise kids.

I often refrain from offering parenting advice on a public scale because every time I suggest a course of action, some parent whose current course of action deviates from my own feels offended by my suggestion and outraged by my presumptuousness.

Parents can be pretty prickly when it comes to their parenting.

But I was recently asked by a few people - including a few readers of my “Ask the Teacher” Slate column - for my thoughts on parenting. While I have many, many suggestions, I offer seven that I can stand by and defend without reservation.

The rest will have to wait for a day when I am better prepared to suffer the slings and arrows of thin-skinned, exceedingly outraged mothers and fathers.

7 Deep Thoughts on Parenting

  1. Don’t assume that your journey with your children will be anything like another parent’s journey with their children. These are human beings. They contain multitudes. You can’t begin to predict the future path of another parent, so don’t even try. If a parent asks for advice, fine. But unsolicited warnings of doom and gloom are presumptuous, ridiculous, and mean.

  2. If you’re going to complain about parenting to the parents of children younger than your own, you must adhere to a 6:1 ratio - six positive comments about parenting for every one negative comment.

  3. Don’t say even one negative thing to parents expecting a baby for the first time. They deserve to be allowed to bask in the joy of expectant parental bliss, goddamn it. Keep your mouth shut. Besides, things may go swimmingly for them. Your journey may have sucked, but it doesn’t mean their journey will.

  4. Don’t become emotionally attached to the terrible behavior of your children. They are human beings, wholly separate from yourself and filled with flaws and foibles completely unrelated to you and how you’ve raised them. Your daughter’s rage-filled restaurant tantrum is not a reflection on you as a parent or person. It’s merely an example of your daughter’s selfishness and stupidity at the moment. In fact, it’s incredibly self-centered and completely ridiculous to think that every bad decision that your child makes has anything to do with you. So stop feeling like a failure every time your kid acts like a jerk. Stop being embarrassed or humiliated when your child acts like a fool in public. It’s your child who should be embarrassed, Not you.

  5. Parenting can be exceptionally hard at times because nothing good in this world ever comes easy. It’s hard because it’s also the best thing you may ever do. So stop complaining so much, damn it. Did you really think it would be a cake walk? Besides, you’re constantly posting moments of beauty and bliss on Facebook and Instagram, so it can’t be all that bad.

  6. There’s nothing wrong with allowing you child to occasionally stare at a screen for an hour or two so you can relax or get something done. You’ve been bringing that kid to parks and libraries and museums and karate class and birthday parties for years. A screen isn’t going to undo all the good that you’ve already done. Besides, you deserve an hour or two of guilt-free peace and quiet every once in a while, and it’ll make you and your child happier in the process.

  7. Diapers are easy. It’s car seats that suck.

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Hiring a coach so your child can play Fortnite better is ridiculous.

The latest trend is parents hiring professional coaches for their kids to help them win at the 100-player free-for-all video game Fortnite. Contracting sites like Sensei and Bidvine will outfit kids with professional tips to anywhere from $20 per hour to $50 and higher. 

I heard someone on a podcast defending this practice, explaining that Fortnite is the current social sphere of youth culture, so if you can't play well, your standing, popularity, and respect from peers is diminished.

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Obviously I think this is insane. 

Every generation has a Fortnite.

Every generation has a social sphere in which they must compete and survive.

When I was a kid, social status in my town was determined by things like your ability to play basketball and baseball. Your talent on a musical instrument. The car that you drove. Your skill in the arcade. Your ability to punch another human being. Your ability to make people laugh. Your bravery in social situations.     

Teenagers who played basketball well, drove a Camaro, quoted Saturday Night Live skits with perfect comedic timing, and played the guitar were on the top of the food chain. 

But no parent was hiring anyone a private baseball coach. No one was receiving lessons on how to complete level 12 of Pacman or finish Dragon's Lair. We weren't getting tips on how to deliver a punch line or land a punch.    

Most of us were buying our own cars. With our own money. Learning to play musical instruments at school. Figuring out where to hit someone best through trial and error. 

Hard work. Practice. Hours worked. Time spent.  

Hiring professionals so that your child can play an online video game better and therefore be perceived by others as a more tactical, accurate, and lethal pretend soldier is dumb. It's coddling on a new and previously unimagined plane. It's an attempt to bubble-wrap a childhood in an arms race of guaranteed happiness and success. 

It's silly and stupid. Ridiculous.

Can you just imagine:

"Sorry guys, I got to run. My Fortnite coach is meeting me online in an hour. I'm learning how to shoot better so you guys will think I'm cooler and I can be more popular."

My kids were sweet and lovely this week. Don't try to tell me otherwise.

Oftentimes Elysha and I see or hear our kids do something and can't believe what just happened. 

A few from this week.
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I picked up Charlie, who is five years-old, from his hip hop class on Tuesday. From the waiting room, I heard his class end, then Charlie and a couple kids lingered for a bit before finally emerging into the waiting room.

"What were you doing?" I asked.

"Just chillin' and being funny, Dad," he said.

He's five. I'm still not cool enough to say words like that.
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Yesterday morning, I managed to snap a photo of Charlie and Clara saying good morning to each other. Clara had been awake for at least an hour (she's like her Daddy) but Charlie had just ambled downstairs:

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Thank goodness for the speed of a photography on phones today.

Later on that same morning, Elysha sent me this text:

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We see these things and hear these things and often want to pinch ourselves. We're so blessed. 

Just in case you're a parent of a child who is older than my kids and you suddenly feel the need to jump and say something like:

"Just wait until they become teenagers," or "Enjoy these moments now because it only gets harder," or "This is all well and good, but start saving for college because it will be a fortune" or "They won't always love each other like they do now..."

Don't. Stop. Silence those stupid thoughts.

It takes a special and unfortunate breed of cynicism to try to spoil moments like these for proud parents with your assurances of possible doom and gloom.

It also takes a special and unfortunate breed of myopia and self-absorption to assume that the future path of every child will be exactly the same as your child's own path.

Sure, there will be times when our kids are decidedly less sweet and more challenging. That was true three days ago, and it will be true three days from now, too. But we choose to embrace the beauty of these moments whenever and wherever we can find them and not sully them with anyone's inexplicable and incessant need to rain on our parade.  

Our kids were lovely and sweet and funny this week. That is what I am choosing to hold in my heart. 

Sleeping babies: Less shame. More sleep.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) currently advises parents to sleep in the same room (but never in the same bed) as their babies for a year, ideally, but at least for the first six months.

In a new study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers led by Dr. Ian Paul, professor of pediatrics and public health sciences at Penn State College of Medicine found that at nine months, babies who had slept in their own rooms before they were four months old slept on average 40 minutes more than babies who were still sleeping in their parents’ room at nine months.

Babies who went to their own rooms after four months slept about 26 minutes more. The effects seemed to last, too. Even at 3 years old, the toddlers who slept with their parents for nearly a year were still sleeping less than those who had been moved to their own room earlier.

“This decision in the first year has potential longer term consequences,” says Paul.

I agree. The amount and quality of sleep that a child gets has been closely linked to overall physical and mental heath, attention span, the acquisition of language, learning potential, and much more. Sleep is critical to growth and brain development, and children who sleep more are far more successful in school and life.

40 minutes per night equates to more than four hours of additional sleep per week, and 26 minutes per night equates to more than three hours of sleep per week.

This adds up fast. 

And this is coming from someone who doesn't sleep as much as most people, and never did. My mother once told me that there was never a night when she went to sleep when I was already asleep, and there was never a morning when she awoke when I wasn't already awake. She told me, "Except when you were an baby, I never saw you sleep as a child."

Still, I understand the importance of sleep. 

My wife and I moved both of our children to their own rooms sometime between the 3-6 month mark. Until then, we had a self-rocking cradle in our bedroom where our children slept every night except for the one night we tried to put our infant daughter in our bed with a co-sleeping apparatus and quickly realized how foolish that decision was.

As important as I think this research is, I think an often unspoken truth is that many, many parents have their children in their own bedrooms, and quite often in their own beds, for years.  

I've known many parents who have their children in bed with them every night well past toddlerhood. I've known parents (mostly fathers) who often find themselves sleeping in their children's beds at night as their sons and daughters take their places in their beds. I've known parents who put an additional bed in their bedroom throughout elementary school for their child. I've known many parents whose children have no real bedtime, fall asleep every night to the television, and rarely get the 10-14 hours of sleep that toddlers require. 

I've had parents talk to me about this things privately, both as a friend and a teacher. 

While these unorthodox sleeping arrangements are (at least according to the research) not good for kids, the real tragedy of the situation is the climate in which parents don't feel like they can speak about this issue openly. While parents have no problem speaking about many issues related to parenting, this one is often seen as taboo. 

I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps it's embarrassing or shameful for the parents. Maybe they don't see any alternative to the sleeping arrangement as it currently exists in their home. Maybe they worry about being judged by friends and family. Quite often the problem originates with the parent's inability to say no to their child or their inability to allow their child to "cry it out" at night. This can result in feelings of guilt or inadequacy, which probably contributes to the silence.  

But I suspect that if parents were better able to speak about their struggles to get their child into his or her own bed at night, solutions might be found. At the very least, parents (and children) wouldn't feel the burden of this secret. 

These taboos help no one.   

A similar problem exists around older children who still wet the bed. Every year we bring our fifth grade class to camp for four days and three night, and every year, I have at least a handful of parents bring this issue to me regarding their child. My first response is always:

"Please know that there are about half a dozen kids who I already know about in this class who also have this problem."

The relief that washes over some of these parents faces is visible. It's hard to think that only your child has this problem, even if the pediatrician says it's more common than anyone realizes. To discover it's true in real life makes it so much easier to talk about. Strip away the taboo, open up a line of communication, and oftentimes I can get the student to talk to me about the issue. 

The important part:

There are ways to handle this problem discreetly so that no child misses the opportunity to attend camp for reasons he or she cannot control. After 20 years of taking kids to camp, I know all the tricks. 

And I suspect that experienced parents know tricks for getting reticent kids into their own beds on time at night. I suspect that experienced parents have strategies for coping with the challenge of saying no to a child who wants to sleep with you. And I suspect that even if parents are unable to improve their less-than-ideal sleeping arrangements in the home, knowing that other parents deal with the same or similar issues might help parents at least feel a little less alone.

Any or all of this would be a good thing. 

How Can You Help Students Cope With Getting College Rejection Letters?

Slate asks: How can you help students cope with getting college rejection letters?

The answer to this one is fairly simple, I think:

  • Remind them of how many young people can't afford to attend a college of any kind. 
  • Show them the statistics on the enormous number of young people growing up in impoverished, crime-riddled neighborhoods, living in foster care, or sleeping on the streets. 
  • Introduce them to a high school graduate who can't attend college because he or she is caring for a for a sick, disabled, or dying parent.
  • Bring them to a military recruiter's office and introduce them to young men and women who are joining the military after high school in hopes of making college more affordable when their commitment to the armed forces is complete.  
  • Take them on a road trip through the inner city of Detroit or Baltimore or Chicago. Show them what it's like not to have any options.
  • Turn on the nightly news and show them what it's like to be living in Syria. 
  • Remind them of how lucky they are to have the opportunity to attend any college. Yes, perhaps it won't be at their first or second or even third choice of school, but they're going to college, damn it. They have opportunities that so many young people in the United States and around the world could only dream of having. It's time to find gratitude and appreciation for their position in life. It's time for a little perspective, damn it.   
  • Explain to them the meaning of the phrase "first world problem." 

I hated this question. You might have noticed.  

I actually liked the answer offered by Bruce Epstein, technologist and college counselor. He didn't sugar-coat a thing. His response may have been more reasonable and measured than my own. 

But as a person who didn't have the option to attend college after high school - who made it to college four years later after getting himself off the streets and only then by working more than 50 hours a week while attending college full time - I find the plight of the rejection letter a little pathetic. The cry of the privileged who fail to appreciate their good fortune.

There's nothing wrong with being disappointed by a rejection letter. Frustration, sadness, or even anger are all understandable.

But when your child reaches the point that he or she requires coping strategies, I think a healthy dose of perspective is in order. 

Or perhaps Bruce Epstein's advice, if you want something less caustic. 

Got kids? Here's how to turn them into writers.

As a teacher and a writer, I often give parents advice on helping their children to become effective writers who (more importantly) love to write.

My advice is simple:

Be the best audience possible for your child’s work. If he or she wants to read something to you, drop everything. Allow the chicken to burn in the frying pan. Allow the phone to ring off the hook. Give your child your full and complete attention. When a child reads something that they have written to someone who they love and respect, it is the most important thing happening in the world at that moment. Treat is as such.  

Don’t look at the piece. Don’t even touch the piece. Any comment made about the piece should never be about handwriting, spelling, punctuation, and the like. By never seeing the actual text, you innate, insatiable parental need to comment on these things will be properly stifled. Your child does not want to hear about your thoughts on punctuation or the neatness of their printing. No writer does. Your child has given birth to something from the heart and mind. Treat it with reverence. Speak about how it makes you feel. Rave about the ideas and images. Talk about the word choices that you loved. Compliment the title. Ask for more. Forget the rest.

Remember: Rough drafts are supposed to be rough. Even final drafts are not meant to be perfect. That’s why editors exist. Go online and look at the rough drafts of EB White’s Charlotte’s Web. They’re almost illegible. Who cares? Writing is messy.  

Once your child has finished reading the piece, offer three positive statements about the writing. Compliments. Nothing more. Only after you have said three positive things may you offer a suggestion. Maintain this 3:1 compliment/criticism ratio always. Use the word “could” instead of “should” when commenting.

If your child asks how to spell a word, spell it. Sending a child to the dictionary to find the spelling of a word is an act of cruelty and a surefire way to make writing less fun. You probably so this because it was the way that your parents and teachers treated you, but it didn’t help you one bit. It only turned writing into a chore. If you were to ask a colleague how to spell a word, you wouldn’t expect to be sent to the dictionary. That would be rude, The same holds true for your child.

Also, the dictionary was not designed for this purpose. It’s an alphabetical list of definitions and other information about words, but is wasn’t meant for spelling. Just watch a first grader look for the word “phone” in the F section of the dictionary and you will quickly realize how inefficient and pointless this process is.

When it comes to writing, the most important job for parents and teachers is to ensure that kids learn to love to write. If a child enjoys putting words on a page, even if those words are poorly spelled, slightly illegible, and not entirely comprehensible, that’s okay. The skills and strategies for effective writing will come in time, though direct instruction, lots of practice, and a little osmosis. The challenge – the mountain to climb – is getting a child to love writing. Make that your primary objective. Make that your only objective. Do everything you can to ensure that your child loves the writing process. Once you and your child achieve that summit, the rest will fall into place.

I promise.

Except for the handwriting. Sometimes there’s nothing we can do about that. Just be grateful that we live in a world where most of the writing is done on a computer. 

Spare your parental advice unless you know how to give parental advice

If you're a parent of a child of any age, I would like to suggest that before you dispense with any parental advice to fellow parents, you carefully consider if you're qualified.   

Much of the advice that I am offered or overhear has one or two problems:

  1. It presents a bleak future. 
  2. It's often inaccurately bleak. 

Rather than talking about the joys that come with raising a child, so many parents seem hell-bent on assuring anyone who will listen that the diapers will be endless, the costs will only rise, the middle school years will be torturous, the high school years tumultuous, and you will be exhausted at all times. There will be talk of cracked nipples, late-night feedings, vomit and snot, never-ending carpools, and the inability to ever see a movie in a theater again. 

It's a lousy way to represent parenting to someone whose children are younger than yours or whose child has yet to be born.

No, lousy is not the word. It's a selfish and ignorant way to present parenting. It's despicable.  

Even if it were all true, it's still a rotten thing to do.

But it's also so often an inaccurate depiction of parenting, for one of two reasons:

1. It suffers from human being's tendency to remember the bad and forget the good. You go on a weeklong vacation to Bermuda and come home talking about the three hours spent on the runway when the plane needed repair or the lost luggage or the two days of endless rain, and you fail to mention (and sometimes fail to even remember) the five or six perfect days of sun and fun. 

The same thing happens with parenting. You stare into your baby's eyes and experience a love that you have never felt before in all your life. You rock your baby in your arms and become convinced that you could remain in this chair with your baby forever. You understand the meaning of bliss for the first time in your life.

Six hours later, that same baby vomits all over you. When someone asks the next day for parenting advice, you talk about cleaning up vomit instead of love.

I hear parents do this all the time. It's awful and unkind and unfair.  

2. The advice is also wildly inaccurate because parents assume that their experience will be everyone else's experience, when this is almost never the case. Every parent and every child is wildly different from the next. If every input is different, how could the output possibly be the same?

I was told by many friends, for example, that my children would invariably sleep in my bed for a sizable portion of their young lives, whether I liked it or not. I was told that it would be impossible for me to keep them off of my pillows. One of my friends became angry with me when I suggested that perhaps he didn't need to be sleeping in his kids' beds more than his own.

"You just wait and see," he said. "It isn't as easy as you think!" 

Today my kids are seven and four years-old, and other than about half-a-dozen late night bad dreams, neither child has ever slept in our bed. All of the doomsday advice that I received about sleeping - from many apparently well-meaning parents - was nonsense.

These inaccurate, self-assured descriptions of parenting are endless. 

I listen to the parents of teenagers warn the parents of infants about the hazards of social media, failing to realize that social media will be entirely different and probably unrecognizable in ten years.

I listen to them warn about nightly homework battles and restaurant temper tantrums and sullen. silent teenage boys. I hear about the pressures of high school and the ubiquity of drugs and alcohol and the battles with teachers over this and that.

I don't doubt that these things happen. But they don't always happen. Just because they happened to you doesn't mean they will happen to anyone else.

As a teacher for almost 20 years, it has become abundantly clear to me that children come in a multitude of varieties, and although the notion that the apple doesn't fall far from the tree is sometimes true, it's also true that parents and kids can also vary in surprising ways. The most capable, competent, consistent parent can raise the most challenging child, and the most ineffective, uninformed, inconsistent parent can raise the most respectful, responsible child ever.  

To think that your experience with your child will be like another parent's experience with another child is ridiculous. 

So if you want to give parents advice, here is what I suggest:

Be positive. When asked for general advice, I often start by telling parents that parenting is better than most people say or believe. I tell them to remember that whatever their child is doing to make them crazy is probably temporary. It will eventually be replaced by something equaling annoying, but children's behaviors tend to change rapidly. Don't think that anything is forever.  

I tell them to avoid the perils of the false threats. If you tell your child that you are going to do something, do it every time no matter what. Don't make promises you can't keep. 

I tell them to take as many photos as possible. Write down the hilarious and clever things that their children say when they are young. Drop everything and play with them whenever you can and every time they ask. I tell them to smell their child's hair and pick them up as often as possible while they still can. I tell them to invest in a self-rocking cradle and to remember that making mistakes is normal. It's exceptionally hard to break a child.

I don't tell them about the difficult times unless they ask, and even then, I try to keep it positive if possible.

Yes, my son spent two years biting Elysha, but eventually it stopped. And I was kind of jealous he only bit me once.

Yes, my daughter still won't eat a chicken nugget or any leafy vegetable, but she's growing like a week and as strong as a bull. She'll find her way.    

And yes, the two people in the world who I want to see more than anyone else - even when they are acting like rotten little brats - are my kids. I love them in a way I didn't think possible. It's glorious.

And yes, we're incredibly busy today. Hardly a free moment. But I put myself through college - a double major - while working 40-60 hours a week managing a fast food restaurant. I was once homeless and in jail. Tried for a crime I didn't commit. 

Busy? Sure. But this parenting thing is a hell of a lot more fun than anything I've ever done before. I'll take as much of it as I can get. 

This is what I tell parents. It's what you should tell parents, too.  

Speak about the joy. The laughter. The love.

If you have to speak of the vomit or the diapers or college tuition, find a way to be positive.

Either that or keep your mouth shut. 

Children sleeping in their parent's room: I had strong opinions before I had kids. The results are now in.

The time has come. 

Prior to the birth of my daughter, I would argue that it was fairly bizarre and unwarranted to have have children sleeping in their parents' beds for any extended period of time. I expressed opposition to the idea that my children would be spending a significant portion of their sleeping hours in my bed or bedroom. I thought that making room for your child in your bed or allowing your child to supplant you from your bed was at the very least a little crazy. 

These statements were not made without reason. At the time I knew many parents who had their children sleeping in their beds or in their bedrooms for a significant proportion of their young lives. I knew many parents whose children slept in their beds through the ages of two, three, four, and even longer. I even knew of parents who installed their child's bed or a secondary bed in their own bedroom.

I still know parents who do these things today. 

Like I said, I thought this was all a little crazy.

When I expressed as much, I was greeted with comments like:

"You just wait until you have kids."
"Easy to say now when you don't have any children."
"I can't wait until you are forced to eat crow."
"Having your kid in your bed is unavoidable."

Parents making these comments were often angry with me and outraged at my assertions. 

But not all. One friend - whose daughter slept in her bedroom until she was five years-old - said to me, "I know it's crazy to have her in our room. I know it's probably not great for her, and it's definitely not great for our marriage, but it's what I need to do."

This is a person who I can respect. This was a mother who I could understand. We're all crazy in one way or another. We all do something in regards to parenting that is inadvisable, overprotective, and perhaps a little insane. Just own it. Acknowledge your insanity and people will understand your decision and even accept it.

"I'm doing this kind of crazy thing, but I understand that it's probably crazy."

Argue that your inadvisable, overprotective, slightly insane behavior is normal and perfectly fine, and that is when people will begin to question the rest of your decision-making and wonder what you could possibly be thinking.  

Since those days of my bold assertions and parents' angry retorts, I've had my kids. I've dealt with their sleep schedules. I'll determined (in partnership with my wife) the location of their sleep on a nightly basis. I have faced the same challenges of those parents who I questioned years ago. 

Here are the results: 

Today my daughter is seven years old. My son is four years old.

Both of them slept in a cradle in our bedroom for the first two months of their lives in order to facilitate late night feedings. After two months, both children were transitioned to their own bedrooms. We trained them to sleep in their own beds by allowing them to "cry it out" for two or three nights. It was not easy, but it worked well.  

Both quickly became acclimated to sleeping in their own beds. 

Since then, Clara has slept in our bed three times: twice due to illness and once because of a hurricane. All of these were late night transitions from her bed to ours in response to the circumstances. 

Charlie has also slept in our bed five times: three times due to illness and twice because of  nightmares. 

In total, my children have spent less than one percent of their nighttime sleeping in our bed. 

In fact, there was a time a few years ago when Clara hit her head hard enough that the doctor asked that we wake her every hour to make sure that she was okay. We decided to have her sleep in our bed to make this process easier, but she refused.

"You have your bed, Daddy, and I have mine."

Exactly.

So to all those naysayers and doomsday predictors who assured me that I would find my children crawling into bed with me more regularly than I expected, I say this:

I told you so. 

Or in the words of my generation: Bite me. 

And to any expecting parents or new parents, I offer this advice:

Take everything that an experienced parent says with an enormous grain of salt, myself included. Our advice comes from the parenting of our unique child in our unique set of circumstances. No two children are alike. No two set of circumstances are alike. Parents love to generalize their child's behavior to all children. They love to assume that their struggles are universal. They love to think that their parenting style is applicable to all kids.  

None of this is true. 

Every parent is different. Every child is different. Every circumstance is different. This doesn't mean that experienced parents can't offer excellent advice. People come to me for parenting advice all the time, and I'm happy to oblige. Just don't assume that their word (or mine) is gospel. Don't assume that they know all. 

And just because you can't keep your child out of your bedroom doesn't mean that we all can't keep our kids in their own beds.

Four things about my children's childhood that I won't miss

I will miss many, many things when my children are now longer little. I know how precious this period in their life is. I know how quickly time will seem to pass. 

I know all this. I don't need any other parent to tell me, but boy oh boy do they like to tell me. Again and again and again. It's as if they think they've discovered something that was already painfully obvious to me and probably every other parent and must now share it from the rooftops of the world.    

However, there are also a few things that I won't miss when they are gone. Not just petty annoyances or aggravations that are fleeting and forgettable. Not just any minor perturbance. I'm talking about the persistent, seemingly endless, truly soul-crushing parts of parenting small children. These are the things I won't miss at all. Not one bit.

This is the list: 

Car seats
They suck so bad. Buckling kids in. Shifting car seats from one vehicle to another. The collection of detritus that gathers beneath the car seats. Car seats are the bane of my parental existence. 

Blowing on food
It sucks to stare at your own meal while blowing on food for another person that isn't even very hot.

Interrupting me while I'm on the phone
"Sorry, Daddy. I didn't realize that you were on the phone. Silly me. Now I'm going to continue to talk to you anyway as if that phone pressed against your ear is just a large, rectangular earring."

Escorting children to public restrooms
Public restrooms were not designed for little people. The toilet is too large. The sinks are too high. And just try keeping a four year-old boy's hands off anything gross in a public restroom. 

Kids are great, but they ruin everything. Especially your peace of mind about the future of the planet.

I was listening to a boy read a poem onstage at the recent TEDx conference at The Country School. It was a poem that talked about his fears and anxieties. 

He read: 

"I worry that the world will end in my lifetime."

I heard those words and remembered thinking the same thing for a long, long time. 

Then I had kids, and that worry suddenly stretched out a whole lot longer. Practically endless.

Part of me wanted to grab the kid and warn him of the dangers of having children. They bring so much joy into my life and I can't imagine a world without them, but the threat of worldwide calamity looms larger and is decidedly more ominous.

This is what childhood is supposed to look like

My wife was in a doctor's appointment. 

Charlie asked the friend who was taking care of him  if he could climb up the enormous dirt pile at the adjacent construction site.

She said yes. Wisely.

My latest appearance on Mom and Dad Are Fighting: Discussing violent tragedy with children

I made another appearance on Slate's parenting podcast Mom and Dad Are Fighting, talking about how to handle discussions with children about horrific tragedies like the terrorist attacks in Paris or the mass shooting in San Bernardino (which was actually taking place while we recorded my segment).  

Pulling loose teeth just got more profitable. And strange.

The latest parenting craze is pulling your child's lose tooth with a drone. There are hundreds of videos demonstrating this new dental practice on YouTube, including this one.

My initial thought was that this is a ridiculous and stupid idea, but then I saw the number of views of the video (almost half a million) and it occurred to me that this video is generating more advertising income for the boy than all of the tooth fairy money he would see in a lifetime. 

There are also videos of kids removing their own loose teeth via bow and arrow, which kind of impressed the hell out of me. 

It's also a much better system than the one practiced by my grandmother. She would sit in front of us, tie a string to our loose teeth, look us square in the eye, and yank.

No doorknob. Just me, my grandmother, and a piece of string separating us.

Scared the hell out of me. 

My brother recalls a day when my grandmother pulled three of my teeth this way in rapid succession. I have obviously blocked the memory of this day and probably have suffered psychologically as a result.

But I guess it could've been worse. 


My daughter's first homework assignment: First steps on a rotten road

It's my daughter's first homework assignment. 

She didn't mind doing it. She said it was easy. It took five minutes. Her brother sat with her in solidarity.

Still, she has begun a journey that will not be fun. A journey that her father despised. A journey that many kids despise. A journey that most rationale people despise.

My daughter has at least 16 years of homework ahead of her. The poor thing.