It’s your booger.

I was wrestling with my two year-old son. He was climbing all over me. Squeezing my face. Tickling me. Standing on my chest. Throwing himself onto my head. Then he stopped. Frowned. Pointed at my chest.

“Ew,” he said. “Yucky! What dat?”

I looked. I saw. “That’s your booger, Charlie. Your giant booger on my sweater,” I said. “Not mine. Yours.”

“Yucky,” he said, as if it was my fault. “Throw booger away, Daddy!”

In moments like this, I remind myself that he has never peed on my once while I was changing his diaper.

Small stuff, but it matters a lot.


30 lessons learned from six years of parenting

My daughter celebrated her sixth birthday on Sunday. When she turned two years-old, I posted a list of lessons learned from two years of parenting.

I updated that list when she turned four.

In truth, I raised a step-daughter for ten years as well, so I’ve been a parent a lot longer than just six years, but for the purposes of these posts, I have only listed lessons learned since having children of my own.

Here is the latest update to the list.

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

2. Writing to your child on a daily basis helps you better appreciate the moments with your little one and prevents you from wondering how and why times flies by so quickly.

3. Training your child to fall sleep on her own and sleep through the night takes about two-four weeks if done with tenacity, an iron will, and an absolute adherence to the advice of experts. There are exceptions to this, of course, but they are few and far between. Parents must also possess the grudging acceptance that thunderstorms, nightmares, and illness will upset the apple cart from time to time.

4. You cannot take too many photographs of your children.

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5. Failure to follow through with warnings and consequences even once is the death knell of effective parenting. Everything begins with you sticking to your word every time. Nothing is more important when it comes to discipline. 

6. Libraries are the greatest child-friendly, zero-cost entertainment options on the planet.

7. The right iPhone app can transform an unfortunate dining experience into a delightful one. There is no reason to suffer in a restaurant. If your child is acting like a jerk, fork over the technology and enjoy the rest of the meal. Make him or her suffer later.  

8. Almost all of your child’s annoying behaviors have a short shelf life. They will invariably be replaced by a different annoying behavior, but don’t become consumed with the idea that any one behavior will last forever.

9. Reading to your child every night is one of the best things you can do. Failure to do so is inexcusable.

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10. Car seats suck. They may be the worst part of parenting.

11. Parents who are blessed with children who eat almost anything and claim that they are responsible for this behavior should be immediately ostracized by friends and family. Possibly forever.

12. Babysitters who take good care of your children and keep the house clean should be treasured like gold.

13. It’s important to remember that there was a time in human history, not that long ago, when foods like bananas, avocados, and fish were unavailable to vast areas of the world on a daily basis, yet children still grew up healthy and strong. Variety is lovely but not as important as we sometimes think. Don’t sweat it.  

14. Pick up your children as often as possible, particularly when they become too heavy to do so comfortably. The day will come when you can no longer pick them up, and you will regret all the times they asked and you said no.

15. Battles over a child’s choice of clothing are some of the dumbest. As long as your child is adhering to basic codes of decency, stay out of the wardrobe wars. 

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

17. Experienced parents always know which toys are best.

18. If your child refuses to wear a hat, coat, or gloves, allow them to experience the cold. Natural consequences oftentimes teach the most valuable lessons.

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

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

21. The majority of unhappy parents in the world possessed unrealistic or misguided expectations about motherhood or fatherhood before their child was ever born.

22. Don’t become emotionally involved in your child’s poor behavioral choices. He or she owns those choices. Establish expectations, deliver consequences, and offer guidance and love. That is all. You almost never have anything to do with a temper tantrum or your child’s bad decision.     

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

24. 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.

25. Parenting is not nearly as difficult as people want you to believe.

26. Telling parents that taking care of your child has been an easy and joyous experience will usually annoy them.

27. A seemingly great majority of the people in the world who are raising children are not happy unless they have attempted to demoralize you with their assurances that parenting will not be easy.

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

29. The ratio of happy times to difficult times in the first two years of your child’s life is about a billion to one.

30. Parents have a tragic tendency to forget the billion and accentuate the one.

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When do you allow your child to quit an activity? Also, entering into contractual agreements with your child is insane.

In the Washington Post, Katherine Reynolds Lewis writes about when it’s acceptable to let your child quit an activity and how do you handle the anger that children express when forced to continue with something that they don’t like.

She and her his husband have used a  strategy that I will call contractual commitment:

We agree with our girls on the length of the commitment they want to undertake. Whether that’s an eight-week soccer season or 10-week dance class, they agree that they’re going to continue the experience to the end, even if they decide it’s not for them. We put this agreement in writing and everyone signs it. We hope this teaches the importance of follow through as well as the reality that activities cost money, which we’re not interested in wasting.

Once this system was in place, the first time our daughter claimed, “I hate this! You made me sign up!” we pulled out the agreement. Argument over.

May I suggest that rather than signing contracts with your children over the length of time that they will pursue an activity, perhaps your children should just listen to whatever you are saying and obey because you are the parent?


This may sound like a novel approach, but if your eight year-old wants to quit the swim team or piano lessons or the Boy Scouts, maybe it should the parent who decides. Perhaps the adult, with years of wisdom and perspective and the well being of their child in mind, should choose how long an activity should be pursued.

Maybe a parent should just act like a parent.

Signing a contract with your child is insane. It’s a perfect way to undermine your authority and your child’s respect for it. It’s a weak-kneed, lily-livered, short-sighted, helicopter-parenting solution to avoiding difficult decisions, temper tantrums, and the measures sometimes necessary for enforcing  rules. 

It will also never work.   

Once this system was in place, the first time our daughter claimed, “I hate this! You made me sign up!” we pulled out the agreement. Argument over.

Seriously? An angry, outraged eight year-old child shouts, “I hate this! You made me sign up!” The parent extracts the signed contract and hands it to the child. He or she reviews the document, takes a deep breath, and says, “Right. I forgot this binding agreement that we drafted n the back on my spelling homework. Apologies. I will cease my argument immediately.

No. I don’t believe it.

Adults break contracts all the time, and these are legally binding documents. Breaking them results in lawsuits and financial damages, and still, adults break them all the time. Am I really expected to believe that a piece of paper will bring an end to a child’s anger or disillusionment or a temper tantrum?

How about instead of a contract, you say something like this:

“Mary-Sue, we think that swim class is important for both your future safety around water and your overall physical fitness. I understand that you don’t want to go, but we all have to do things that we don’t want to do. There are many days when I don’t want to go to work, but I must because we have to pay for our house and car and food. You’ve made your argument. We listened. We disagree. Stop arguing and get in the car or I will begin taking away toys from your bedroom, and I will not stop until you are doing what you have been told.”

Instead of acting like a lawyer, may I suggest that acting like a parent is the wiser course of action?

A New Year’s resolution for all experienced parents: Silence the small, sad and stupid. Allow expecting parents to be expectant.

Now that I’ve posted my New Year’s resolutions for 2015, I have a  New Year’s resolution suggestion for all parents:

Spend the next year (or even better, the rest of your life) telling expecting and first time parents that children are joyous miracles, and that being a parent is a remarkable and rewarding journey. Pour forth positivity. Tell stories about your children’s unadulterated adorableness and all the ways that they have made your life better. Glorious, even.


Have no fear about portraying parenthood through rose colored glasses. There are more than enough dumb ass parents in the world who are hell- bent on spreading doom and gloom to expecting and newly-minted parents. For every positive remark that you extend to an expecting parent, I promise that there will be a dozen or more nattering nabobs of negativity whining about the cost of diapers, the loss of sleep, and their inability to go out to the movies anymore.

It’s impossible to shut these people up. I have tried.

Instead, I spend my time attempting to balance the world by assuring pregnant mothers and expecting fathers that these whining, complaining, unhappy parents are small, sad, stupid people who cannot find joy in their own lives and choose to spread misery wherever they can. I assure these soon-to-be parents that they are about to embark upon an amazing journey, and the cost of diapers is nothing compared to the happiness that they are about to experience.

Make 2015 the year you bring some balance back to the world. Counter every parental whine and complaint with a story of happiness and joy. Follow every ridiculous warning with an expectation of elation.

Expecting parents should be exactly that: Expecting. Not dreading.

Make this your 2015 resolution.

The girl rejected her mother’s culinary advances, but the boy could not resist

My daughter shows little interest in cooking with her mother. Perhaps, like me, she doesn’t understand why anyone would want to spend time cooking meals when there are other people willing to do it for you.

Even if you’re not married to an excellent chef like me, there are always restaurants, fast food, take out, and Hot Pockets.

What more could a person need? 


Happily, my son loves helping my wife in the kitchen. He can be found there almost every afternoon, standing on his stool alongside Elysha, simultaneously helping and hindering the cooking process.

“Help me, Mommy!” he shouts, which is his two year-old version of “Let me help you, Mommy!”

This week, among their other culinary delights, he helped his mother make barbecue chicken.

Yesterday, he appeared on the television show Better Connecticut baking gingerbread cookies in a cooking class at the local grocery store. Maybe someday he will become a famous chef and appear on the Today show, being rushed through a cooking process that should take twice as long so they can hit the scheduled commercial break.

I guess this is why you have more than one child. When the first one lets you down, you roll the dice on another, and sometimes they come up sevens.

Charlie found a whistle. And he was happy.

There are so many great reasons to have children.

I think this needs to be said more often, because whining about the challenges of parenting is a popular pastime in certain corners of this country.

Maybe every corner.


I have theories as to why this may be the case, but I’m writing a book on the subject, so you’ll have to wait and see what they are.

Regardless, one of the great things about having kids is the constant reminder about the joy of novelty and simple discovery.

Charlie found my whistle the other day, and it made his day.  

Tiny windows hurt my heart.

The first snowfall of the year took place on November 29. It was enough snow for my kids to run outside and build a snowman.

Other than lifting the middle section atop the bottom section, Clara built the snowman herself, and she and Charlie affixed the eyes, nose, mouth, and other parts completely on their own.

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I felt this odd, elastic-like feeling of both pride and sadness as I watched them finish it off.

My girl is old enough to build a snowman almost completely on her own. Hooray for her.


My girl is old enough to build a snowman almost completely on her own.
She doesn’t need me anymore.

I felt like I was being pulled in both directions simultaneously, because I was. It turns out that the window in which  your child needs your help with snowmen is tiny. Yesterday she wasn’t big enough to help at all, and today she almost doesn’t need me anymore.

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Happily, I live in New England, where the weather changes by the minute. Just two days later, our snowman looked like this:


One day later, he was gone completely.

Snow will fall again, I’m sure, and with it will be more opportunities to help my children build snowmen while they still need me.

Today will be one of the hardest days of parenting so far. I know I’m lucky in this respect, but there is still a hole in my heart.

My daughter is sick. Her kindergarten class has a field trip to the pumpkin patch today.

She’s going to miss the trip.

Last month she was also sick. She missed her class’s field trip to the apple orchard.

Thanks to a couple of poorly timed fevers, Clara is missing the first two field trips of her educational journey.

I cannot describe how much this hurts my heart. I am beside myself. 

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I have a lot of things about parenting figured out. I know that may sound arrogant and nearsighted, but it’s true. Parenting isn’t easy, but it isn’t very hard, either.

And it’s joyous. Joyous on a daily basis. At least for me.

I suspect that a number of factors have allowed this to be the case:

  • A childhood spent as the oldest of five children (oftentimes serving as a substitute parent)
  • Sixteen years spent teaching elementary school
  • My previous experience raising a stepdaughter
  • The clear and rationale perspective that a life of incredibly difficult challenges has brought me
  • Most important: A wife who was also the oldest child in her family (don’t discount this asset) with more than a decade of teaching experience as well

Choose your spouse carefully. As my friend, Kim, says, it is the most important decision that you will ever make.

Elysha and I are also a couple of fairly relaxed, easy-going people who understand and live by the principles of divide and conquer, delegation, and strategic prioritization. Neither of us are control freaks. 

We are also nonconformists. It may surprise you to hear that about Elysha, but it’s true. She’s an undercover nonconformist, meaning she isn’t as blunt and stupid about it as me, but her nonconformity exists in abundance.

This is important, too.

Sometimes I think we hear parents whine about their kids or complain about the restrictions associated with parenting and start to believe it for ourselves. Get a group of parents together, and before long, they’ll start moaning about sleepless nights and the cost of diapers and the price of babysitting.

It’s easy to fall into this trap if you’re not careful. If you don’t assume that the world is a little crazy. If you lack perspective. If your self confidence is low. If you didn’t know what you were getting into when you decided to have kids. 

If you’re not a nonconformist.

These factors, I believe, have combined to provide me with the knowledge, wisdom, and fortitude to make good parenting decisions and raise my children without too many missteps or uncertainty.

Yes, it’s arrogant. But it’s true.

If you feel like I sound too arrogant, please refer to my 2014 list of flaws and shortcomings. It’s a long list. At least I’m balancing arrogance with humility.

But this situation with my daughter missing her first two kindergarten field trips due to illness… I find myself at a loss. My heart aches. I’m saddened beyond description. I have no solution.

Parenting has suddenly become impossible.

Actually, if it were up to me, I’d try to send her to school for the field trip, but my wife would never allow it, and rightfully so. We have already promised her a makeup trip to the pumpkin patch this weekend, but it won’t be the same, and I will always know it.

So will she.

And so I have a hole in my heart. I know that in the grand scheme of things, a field trip to an apple orchard and a pumpkin patch won’t make or break Clara’s life, but in this year, on this day, in this moment, these are enormous events for her.

Enormous opportunities that she is missing.

I experienced so many missed opportunities as a child. So much that I wanted to do but could not. As a result, I want something different for my children. Not a path free of struggle or strife, but a path wider than mine ever was. A path with a multitude of forks.

Forks to apple orchards and pumpkin patches, damn it.

As trite as it may seem, this is a problem for me. I can allow my children to cry it out in their cribs and sit in timeout and save for months for the toys  they want and get no dessert if they haven’t eaten their dinners, and I suffer no heartache whatsoever. No pain. I know that what I am doing is right.

But this… I’m going to think about her friends, riding the bus to a pumpkin patch, running around a field of round, orange orbs, and I’m going to be sad. Heartbroken, really. All day long. And probably longer. Probably a lot longer.

I suspect that Elysha will handle this better than me. I’ll lean on her today. Try to draw from her wisdom and her perspective.

Choose your spouse wisely.

But even the great Elysha Dicks will not be able to fill this hole in my heart.

This is when parenting is the hardest for me. Today will be a hard day for me. Joyous, still. But hard.

My son cracked his head open with a lamp. My wife’s reaction to his head wound was unusual but surprisingly typical.

Our boy pulled a lamp down onto his head last night, necessitating a trip to the emergency room.

A little glue and some Steri-Strips, and he was fine. He’ll have a scar in almost the same place where his father got his first scar at about the same age.

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Of course, because it was a head wound, it bled like hell. And though Charlie was chill at the hospital (to the point that every nurse and doctor commented on how calm he was, even as the glue was being applied), we also weren’t sure if he had a concussion or any other injuries.

It was a big lamp.

Here’s the thing:

My wife is the best in an emergency. Truly. I was outside on the front lawn with the dog when it happened. She opened the door, poked her head out, and said, “Matt, I need you right now.”

Calm. Relaxed. As if she was calling me in for dinner. 

At the moment, blood had already soaked through one wash cloth and Charlie was screaming like the world was coming to an end.

Elysha didn’t panic. Didn’t even seem worried.

I walked in. Saw Charlie covered in blood. Before I could speak, she explained what happened and set me in motion. “Get my shoes. I’m calling the neighbor. Then the doctor. We probably need to go to the ER.”

She was even smart enough to reroute us to the emergency room slightly farther away that gave us the best chance for quick treatment and a timely exist.

She even remembered her knitting. Gave a nurse a knitting lesson while we waited.

She performed similarly a couple years ago when Clara was having what we thought was an allergic reaction to peanuts. Pulled the car over in a construction zone. Flagged down a police officer. Then flagged down a passing ambulance. Got herself, Clara, and my infant son at the time onboard. The whole time remaining calm.

The ability to remain calm in situations like this is a rare thing, and its value cannot be understated. I tend to be a fairly calm, extremely cerebral person in the face of emergency (a girlfriend once accused me of being emotionless because of my failure to panic in the face of danger), but I actually think that Elysha is calmer and even more cerebral than me.

And based upon his reaction to the thing, Charlie may be the same way.

My children visited a bookstore on the last day of summer. Their behavior was shocking.

We spent the last day of summer on the Connecticut shoreline. Among our choice of activities was a visit to our favorite bookstore, R.J. Julia in Madison, Connecticut.


Elysha and I once spent hours in bookstores, but when our children entered our lives, that changed. We tried for a while to do some tag-team parenting.  One parent relaxes while the other stops the monsters from ripping every book off the shelf.

It wasn’t fun.

But something happened on that last day of summer. I brought the kids upstairs to the children’s section of the bookstore, and within a minute, with no intervention on my part, this happened:

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Not only did they plop themselves down and start reading, but they remained this way for a full 30 minutes.

Just imagine how much better it will be when they can actually read!

I probably couldn’t leave them unattended and descend to the adult section, but while my wife browsed below, I browsed the children’s section, which I sort of love anyway. I’ve written a few picture books that I am hoping to  eventually sell, and I missed out on these books as a child, so I still have lots of catching up to do. 

Even if this weren’t the case, this is a huge improvement over chasing them around, shushing them, and returning strewn books to the shelves.

This is good.

There is hope for the future.

My best piece of parenting advice

It takes a special and exceedingly wise breed of parent to ignore a temper tantrum like this and instead retrieve the camera and document the moment for posterity.

My wife is that kind of parent. She gets it.


I have a great deal of parenting advice to offer. Most people think that I am full of bluster and hubris. You probably do, too.

But I believe that my 16 years of teaching experience, in combination with my experience raising a former stepdaughter to the age of 16 and my two own children has given me wisdom that would prove valuable to anyone willing to listen.

Few admittedly do.

A colleague recently suggested to a parent that she ask me for advice on a childrearing issue. The person laughed. So did two other people at the table. The notion that I could have anything useful to offer was ludicrous in their minds. 

Regardless, this photo of Charlie’s tantrum reminded me of my best piece of parenting advice that I have to offer:

Don’t become emotionally attached to your child’s poor decision making, regardless of their age. If your two year-old son is having a tantrum because he isn’t getting what he wants, that’s his deal. You can help him process his emotions and calm down, but the fact that he is having a tantrum should not impact you emotionally.

It’s not about you. 

Instead, ignore the tantrum and take a photo. Capture the moment for future blackmail.

She’s worried about her husband’s diapers. She should be more worried about her child’s early morning routine.

Slate’s Dear Prudence answers a question from a reader whose husband is a lifelong bed wetter who wears a diaper and rubber pants to bed each night. The reader is worried about the possibility of her children discovering their father’s secret and wants to know if they should be proactive and tell the kids before they find out for themselves.


First, let me say that this woman deserves a great deal of credit and at least a nomination for Spouse of the Year. While it’s true that if you love your spouse, this would not be a deal breaker, but they way in which she has accepted and even embraced the situation is remarkable.

She writes:

We are both completely comfortable with his bed-wetting and diapers and it’s actually fun getting him ready for bed. I took over getting him diapered and its really made us closer.

This is a woman who you hold onto at all costs.

The thing that Emily Yoffe rarely does in her role as Prudence is comment on issues other than those specifically addressed in the letters she receives. While I have no quibble with the advice that she offers this woman (it’s a private matter that only needs to be explained if discovered), I can’t help but think that the most important sentence in the letter (that Yoffe ignores) is this:

So far, the 8-year-old has not discovered the secret, but routinely comes to our room at 4 a.m. after waking up.

This is the real problem. Your eight year-old should not be routinely waking up at 4:00 every morning (this coming from a person routinely awake at 4:00 every morning), and he absolutely, positively shouldn’t be coming into his parents’ room at that hour.

While we can’t control the time that our children wake up (I’ve tried), we can avoid rewarding them for waking up early by insisting that they remain in their own bedrooms and not disturb our sleep.

At three years-old, this is admittedly hard, and possibly impossible.

At five years-old, it’s probably still difficult.

But an eight year-old can be stopped. An eight year-old has reached the age of reason. An eight year-old understands consequences. An eight year-old can and should be stopped.


Forget your concerns about your husband’s diapers. Your child is not sleeping enough and is being rewarded for waking up too early. He is disturbing your sleep, as well, which is no less precious,

Sometimes the perceived problem and the real problem are two entirely different things.

I hereby release myself of all parental guilt regarding the iPad. It was shortsighted, stupid, and purposelessly nostalgic.

I brought my son downstairs for breakfast. As we stepped into the kitchen, he saw the iPad on the counter and said, “iPad! Chair! iPad! Chair!”

This is the two year-old version way of saying, “Father, I would very much like to take a seat in my favorite chair and make use of that glorious device.”

A large part of me wanted to deny him the use of the iPad. Breakfast would be ready in five minutes. There are a thousand toys in our home that he loves.

More importantly, I was suffering from iPad guilt.

I should avoid sticking my son’s face into a screen as much as possible, including now.

Charlie continued to beg, and so I surrendered, handing him the iPad. “Thank you, Daddy!” he said, as if knowing that a polite remark of appreciation would improve his chances of getting the device again in the future.

I started to make breakfast, feeling the weight of parental failure on my shoulders. I had done the modern day equivalent of what my parents did to me: Stick the kid in front of the television so he would stop whining.

I was ruining my son’s life. Destroying his attention span. Stealing his boyhood creativity. Taking the easy road.

Breakfast complete, I returned to Charlie to extract the iPad from his tiny clutches. I looked down. I saw this:

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Charlie was sitting in his chair, scrolling through the hundreds of photographs of the family, calling out his sister’s name and touching his mother’s face and whispering, “Momma” whenever he saw it.

In that moment, I dispensed, once and for all, with iPad guilt.

For some incredibly stupid reason, I had decided long ago that smashing a toy fire truck into a toy bus while making growling sounds was an infinitely  more valuable use of my son’s time than using an iPad.

Why is that?

My son sat down in his chair with the tablet, and of all the choices he had (and there were a lot), he opted to peruse the photo album. Had he come downstairs and demanded an actual photo album from the shelf, with real photographs, I would’ve been pleased. Ecstatic, even.

But on a screen? Not as good, or at least I used to think so.

I left Charlie on the iPad, scrolling through photos, while I folded the laundry. About ten minutes later, he closed the photo album and opened an interactive book. A narrator reads the fairy tale aloud as Charlie touches the characters to make them speak and act.

I realized that had Charlie grabbed a physical book and flipped through the pages, I would’ve been pleased.

But reading an interactive book on an iPad? Not as good.

This point of view, however, is insane. Charlie can’t read yet. Charlie flips through books on his own all the time, calling out colors, letters, and the names of objects. The poor boy wanted to actually hear the story read aloud, but for some inane reason, I saw this as a failure on both his and my part.

No more. No longer will I be sucked into this nostalgic, idealized, moronic view of parenting. As I’ve written about before, Charlie knows all of the letters of the alphabet thanks to the iPad. Without my wife or I encouraging, directing, or participating in any way, he learned to identify every letter, upper and lowercase. and knows the sounds that many of these letters make.

In a million years, I couldn't have taught my two year-old son this skill, and I’m an elementary school teacher. But a cleverly designed app, that is both fun, interactive, and deceptively instructive, did the job.

How could I ever think of this was time wasted?

No longer will I view my children’s childhood through the lens of my own childhood, valuing the choices of my childhood over the rest.  My children are growing up in a world in which they will do the vast majority of their writing and reading on a screen. They are growing up in a world where technological ability and efficiency are no longer prized. They are required.

I should not be worried that my two year-old son can operate the iPad, finding photo albums, music, books, videos, and learning games without our help.

I should be thrilled.

Please don’t get me wrong. We don’t let him use the iPad often, and this release of guilt will not change that. We don’t allow him to use the iPad for long stretches. We limit his time, say no to his requests for often than not, and believe that his day should primarily be filled with physical activity and time spend looking and listening and communicating with his family.

But some time spent with technology when his father is making breakfast, folding the laundry, writing an important email, emptying the dishwasher, sweeping the floor, or driving long distances?

No guilt. Not any more.

Declare your parental pride. Make the world better for the parent of a newborn.

I saw a friend last week who recently had a baby. She told me that of all the advice she received prior to giving birth, my warning about all the parents who will attempt to make parenting sound miserable and ruin her day was the most helpful.

“I can’t believe it, but you were right. So many people are awful.”

A great majority of parents are exceptionally skilled at complaining.

A great majority of parents feel the inexplicable need to dampen the enthusiasm and optimism of less experienced parents.

An even greater majority of parents fail to give themselves and other parents the credit that they deserve.

I’ll never understand it. My friend doesn’t understand it. When someone asks her how parenthood is going, she tells them how happy she is. How wonderful her baby has been. How joyous she and her husband are.

The typical response:

“Just wait until she can walk. Then things will change.”

“You’re in the honeymoon period. It’ll end soon.”

“It’s the second one that will kill you.”

Parents of newborns should walk around with a roll of duct tape to silence these pessimists and idiots up.


Actually, I should do the same. I can’t tell you how many times a parent has warned me how difficult my sweet and happy daughter will become once she is a teenager, forgetting that I once raised a teenage stepdaughter and forgetting that it takes a special kind of jackass to make a comment like this.    

In order to combat these naysayers, I propose that all rationale parents take a moment today and acknowledge all the excellent parenting that we have done this far. Stop for a moment and reflect upon the outstanding decisions,  the astounding restraint, the brilliant planning, and the remarkable sacrifices, that you have made as a parent.

Forget the errors and the flubs. Put aside the guilt and regret.

Be positive. Be self-congratulatory. Share you kick-ass moments.

Then go to the hardware store and purchase a roll of duct tape.

If you’d like to join me in this crusade, make your own list of excellence in parenting. If you are so inclined, post it in the comment section below. Tweet your list. Post it to Facebook. Write it on a slip of paper, wrap it around a rock, and throw it through the window of one of these jackasses who can’t stop telling you that “When it comes to kids, one plus one equals three!”


Take a stand against all those parents who can’t stand the thought that there might be happy, effective parents in the world with a sense of balance and perspective.

To this end, I offer you my list of parental successes.

  1. My son has never peed on me while I was changing his diaper.
  2. I have never yelled at my children.
  3. Other than live sporting events, I have never watched television while my children were awake.
  4. I have never failed to follow through on a warning to my daughter.
  5. My children have never slept in my bed.
  6. I have never skipped a night of reading to my children.   
  7. I try like hell to avoid telling my daughter that she is smart. I praise her for hard work, persistence, grit, listening, and a willingness to learn, but I avoid saying “smart” whenever possible (though I’ve still said it hundreds of times).

In the future, I will make a point of highlighting the success of other parents as well.

A unicorn and the tendency towards loss aversion result in cleaner teeth and a new idea in behavior management.

The pre-gifting of the stuffed unicorn as a reward for the excellent behavior that we expected from my daughter during her recent dentist appointment was a stroke of genius on my wife’s part because of the nature of loss aversion.

In economics, loss aversion refers to people's tendency to strongly prefer avoiding losses to acquiring gains. Studies suggest that losses are twice as powerful, psychologically, as gains. The unexpected loss of $100 is significantly more painful than the joy of suddenly finding $100.

This tendency has been demonstrated again and again across cultures in a  wide range of contexts. 

But how often do we ever take advantage of this tendency?

As a teacher and parent, I normally establish an expectation and an associated reward, and only when that expectation is met does the child receive the reward.

Complete your chores and receive your allowance.

Write an essay that meets my requirements and receive an A+.

Work hard all week and behave well and you can eat lunch in the classroom on Friday.

But my wife flipped that paradigm in an effort to get my daughter to sit in the dentist chair and allow the dentist to do her work. She pre-rewarded Clara with a toy and the knowledge that if she did not behave well, the toy would be taken away.

She utilized Clara’s tendency toward loss aversion to change a behavior, and it worked beautifully. Clara refused the fluoride and balked at the flossing, but she sat more patiently than ever before.

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Could parents and teachers do this more often when attempting to change the behavior of children?

Here is your allowance. You’ll need to pay me back at the end of the week if you don’t finish all of your chores.

I’ve entered an A+ in my grade book for the essay that I am assigning to you. If you complete the essay on time and meet all of my expectations, that A+ will remain.

I’ve planned for you to eat lunch in the classroom on Friday unless your effort or behavior cause you to lose this privilege.

Should parents and teachers be utilizing loss aversion more often?

Could employers find ways of utilizing loss aversion to improve employee performance and production?

I think so. With four months left in the school year and a lifetime of parenting ahead of me, let the experimenting begin.

My 3 best pieces of parenting advice

A reader recently asked me for parenting advice. She is pregnant, reads my blog regularly and would like to know what are some of my best parenting tips.

I was honored by such a request, though I know that some might think it crazy to ask for parenting advice from me. I’m certainly not an expert on parenting, and some might even say that I’m the last person to ask this kind of question, but I’m not without experience.

I’m an elementary school teacher who has been teaching children for more than 15 years.

I’m the father of two children and a former stepfather who raised a stepdaughter from the ages of 6-16.

So yeah. I have some experience with kids.

I wasn’t exactly sure what my best parenting advice would be, so I scoured my blog for posts on parenting and found three that I think are my best:

Raising my daughter is a piece of cake, and there’s a good reason why I say this as often as possible.

It’s fine to be a slightly insane parent. Just don’t pretend that you’re not.

How to sleep train your child.

All are slightly controversial to one degree or another, but I stand behind all three posts just as much today as when I wrote them years ago, and I’m fairly confident that my wife would do the same, but with less bravado and certainty.

And if the proof is in the pudding, just look what I have to show for it?


The thread of melancholy is unavoidable for this parent

Slate’s John Dickerson writes about the regret he feels about not inviting his parents’ friends to his wedding for Slate’s wedding issue. This paragraph, which deals with parenthood, was especially poignant for me:

There's an indefinite point in your tenure as a parent where you start to realize your kids are leaving you. For us, the first hints came at about age 9. As your kids age, you delight in the new bonds that replace the old ones. No longer laughing over Dr. Seuss, you're now laughing over The Avengers and tomorrow Arrested Development. Or you're watching them pull the wriggling fish off the hook, which was once your job. The moments are so sweet you can usually avoid the thread of melancholy embedded in each of them: With each molting, you reinforce that the molting is happening faster.

I am never able to “avoid the thread of melancholy embedded in each of them.” While I am not a parent who feels that my children are growing up too fast (perhaps because I mark every day in writing), I am constantly aware of the unending series of losses that parenthood represents.

When my four year-old daughter asks me to pick her up and carry her, I do so every time, regardless of circumstance, because I know the number of times I will be able to pick her up are dwindling.

That melancholy shades everything I do with my children. It reminds me of the importance of each moment, but it also reminds me of its impermanence. My nearly lifelong, omnipresent existential crisis has been both a blessing and a curse.

Later this month, I will be telling the story of one of my near-death experiences onstage. While preparing for that story, I wrote this:

There is not a day, not an hour, that goes by that I do not think about my own mortality. I live in a constant, persistent, unending existential crisis. Its causes are two near-death experiences and a robbery that had me convinced that I was going to die. It has contributed to more than decade of post-traumatic stress disorder, an inability to sleep peacefully and an awareness and fear of death that had caused me to spontaneously weep at times.

I spend my waking hours wondering if this will be the last time I hug my daughter, the final time I witness a sunset or the last time I hear The Beatles sing about Desmond and Molly and their home sweet home. I go to bed every night, angry about my need for wasteful, unproductive sleep, wondering if I can shave another minute or two off the scant few hours I already spend in bed.

I look at the world and I see impermanence and decay. I see a planetary population that will cease to exist one hundred years from now.

Dickerson is right in describing these parental moments as sweet. Indescribably sweet. Some of the simplest and best moments of my life.


I would like to also say that these are unforgettable moments, but I tend to avoid that word because I know that someday I will die and everything will be forgotten.

The ability to avoid the thread of melancholy that is embedded within these moments of parental bliss is something that I cannot do.

I am envious of John Dickerson and every other parent who can.

I abandoned the Catholic Church at the age of seven. Credit my Catholic mother.

Paul Elie, a senior fellow in the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace and World Affairs at Georgetown, suggests in the New York Times this week that Catholics (of which he is one) give up their faith as a form of protest against the recent practices of their church.

Resignation: that’s what American Catholics are feeling about our faith. We are resigned to the fact that so much in the Roman Catholic Church is broken and won’t be fixed anytime soon.

So if the pope can resign, we can, too. We should give up Catholicism en masse, if only for a time.

He goes on to explain his rationale:

For the Catholic Church, it has been “all bad news, all the time” since Benedict took office in 2005: a papal insult to Muslims; a papal embrace of a Holocaust denier; molesting by priests and cover-ups by their superiors. When the Scottish cardinal Keith O’Brien resigned on Monday amid reports of “inappropriate” conduct toward priests in the 1980s, the routine was wearingly familiar. It’s enough to make any Catholic yearn to leave the whole mess for someone else to clean up.

In response to these crimes, scandals and missteps, Elie goes on to list a variety of churches that he will be attending in the near future, none  of which are Catholic.  

As much as you can be born into a religion (a phrase which really means that your parents chose to indoctrinate you into their belief system regardless of what might be in your heart), I was born into Catholicism. While my mother wasn’t an overly observant Catholic, the church services that we occasionally attended were Catholic and the church that we identified as our own was the same. I never liked going to church, but it never occurred to me at the time that there might be another, more appropriate religion for me.

That’s how indoctrination works.

Our secret sauce is right. Everyone else’s secret sauce is wrong. Don’t even bother tasting it.  

Then my mother sent me to my first CCD class when I was about seven years-old. It was a two-hour affair conducted in the middle school adjacent to our church.

When I returned home from CCD two hours later, I told my mother that I was not going back. Also, I was no longer a Catholic.

My objections to Catholicism centered on my resistance to hierarchy and authority. Even at the tender age of seven, I was a difficult person who did not like being told what to do. While I was able to stomach the tenets of Catholicism for an occasional Sunday service, CCD made it clear to me that the church was a top-down, authoritative institution where the  questioning of religious doctrine and practice was not permitted.

I also couldn’t stand the thought of more school on Thursday afternoons.

To my mother’s credit, she allowed me to abandon Catholicism with the agreement that I would choose a new church. “You don’t have to be Catholic,” she said. “But you have to be something.”

Over the course of the next few weeks, my mother brought me to a variety of churches, and I ultimately settled on a Protestant Congregationalist Church in town. It was a simple, white church on a hill that served Wonder Bread and grape juice for communion and allowed children to ring the bell signaling that church was about to begin. Best of all, in the middle of Sunday service, the minister would call the children down to the front of the church and sit on the dusty floor with us, telling us a story while ignoring the adults.


That sealed the deal for me.

I have openly questioned many of the decisions that my parents made throughout my childhood, but this was one of the best decisions my mother ever made. Remarkably selfless, too. How many parents do you know who would be willing to release their children from their own belief system in favor of one that better accommodates their own personal style or beliefs?

I don’t know if I know any.  

When it comes to religion, parents tend to exceptionally selfish and illogical, thinking of religion as a winter coat. 

“Put it on. It’s cold outside. You need it.”

But religion is not something that can be put upon your child without a blend of indoctrination, deception and coercion. Expecting your child to willingly accept your belief system is ridiculous.

My mother knew this. She honored me as an individual. She respected by personal belief system.

Admittedly, religion didn’t stick with me, but I suspect that it wasn’t going to stick regardless of what my mother did. 

My mother probably knew this, too.

I am a reluctant atheist today. I would desperately like to believe in the existence of God (though not the cruel, inhumane God from the Old Testament) and an afterlife , but I simply haven’t found myself able to do so. 

I suspect that I’m a little too logical, a little too oppositional and too much of a nonconformist to accept the dogma of any organized religion, regardless of what I may want to believe. 

But I cherish those days spent in that Congregational church in Blackstone, Massachusetts. I didn’t come away with a belief in God or church doctrine, but I read the Bible from cover to cover at least twice while sitting in those wooden pews (probably the source of my disbelief), and think the church taught me a great deal about right and wrong. I suspect that I probably learned quite a bit about teaching and storytelling from a minister who knew how to entertain and educate a handful of kids ages 5-15 every week without exception.  

That was real miracle.

My wife’s only parenting blunder involves the potentially hazardous use of scissors.

My wife is quite nearly a perfect mother.

She worries a little more than is necessary, but this appears to be a prerequisite to mothering, and her car is littered with the detritus of tiny people, but I suspect that this will not unduly influence my children in any long-term way.

Otherwise, I have almost never objected to a single parenting decision that she has made. I find that remarkable.

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In fact, the only objectionable parenting decision that she had made (and continues to make) is her inexplicable and slightly insane insistence on referring to scissors as “a scissor.”


Scissor is a verb. It means to “cut with scissors” or to “move one's legs back and forth in a way resembling the action of scissors.”

The noun that this verb references is scissors.

There is an ‘S” at the end of the word. 

Elysha’s made this error for as long as I’ve known her, and she is hardly to blame. I’ve heard her mother refer to scissors in the same way many times. While I’ve always found it a little strange, I’ve been able to ignore this crack in her otherwise pristine armor.

But now that impressionable minds are at risk, I’m concerned that my children will go forth into the world asking their kindergarten teachers if they can borrow “a scissor” rather than a pair of scissors.

It worries me.

In order to counteract this problem, I attempt to use the word correctly in the presence of my children as often as possible, and I always provide the correct use of the word whenever Elysha uses it incorrectly.

“Could you hand me that scissor, Matt”

“Sure, I’ll grab those scissors for you, honey. Here you go. A pair of scissors just for you. Enjoy those scissors.”

In the grand scheme of things, it’s a fairly small thing compared to the parenting mistakes that I watch people make on an almost daily basis, but as a person who makes his living with words, it’s still a concern.

The future happiness of my children is at stake.