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Is it ok to discipline other people's children?

It’s important for our kids to have friends. At a technical level, having friends teaches our kids their first lessons of interaction and socializing. But mainly, it feels good to have friends. Their first friends are usually their parents’ friends’ babies – and dubbed their first boyfriend or girlfriend. They are friends with their brothers and sisters, their cousins, and whichever small child is brought along for a playdate so that the adults can get in some coffee and chat time. But it isn’t until they hit preschool that they get to choose their own friends. And this is when your child will be drawn to other children without someone else telling them they have to be friends and play nicely with each other. For the first time in their life, they get to like someone because, well, they like them.

We want our kids to have friends. Many of us will go out of our way to open up our home for playdates, or to organize birthday parties for our children’s friends to attend. We will learn the names of our children’s friends’ parents, and suddenly the shoe is on the other foot – our children are choosing our friends for us. But it’s welcomed, an easy way to meet new people and also stay involved in our children’s lives as they near that road of independence.

But sometimes friends aren’t welcome. Little Timmy comes over to play with your son, and lets himself into your home as soon as you open the door. And even though he came over to play with your son, suddenly your child is playing by himself in the living room while Timmy rifles through his things upstairs. He invites himself on your family outings. He opens your refrigerator to see what you have to eat. Maybe he lies repeatedly. Maybe he makes a mess of your home and then leaves before cleaning it up. He might use language that doesn’t fly in your home. He might be a hitter, or a biter, or use some other form of brutality to get his way. He might even steal your child’s belongings, maybe even yours. Whatever he’s doing wrong, the kid gets under your skin. Little Timmy has no sense of boundaries whatsoever, fails to follow the house rules even though you have reminded him of them repeatedly, and you have noticed that your child’s behavior has gone downhill dramatically ever since Timmy made his first appearance. And yet your child insists he wants to be friends with him.

So what do you do?

Do you do nothing, since this isn’t your child and have no place telling him what to do? Do you hope that maybe the positive energy of your home will have some effect on this troubled child? Do you discipline the child, coming down harsher than the gentle reminders about how the household works? If spanking is a part of your own family’s discipline, do you spank your child’s friend if they cross the limits?  Or would you give them a time-out, or any other form of punishment?  Do you go to his parents and talk to them about Timmy’s behavior? Do you forbid your child from playing with Timmy?  How far is acceptable when it comes to other people’s children?

The good kid vs the, um, not-so-good kid

The Taz called me yesterday after school to let me know the good news.

“Guess what!” he exclaimed. “I made the Student Council!” I couldn’t contain my excitement for him as I told him how proud I was of him. This was an achievement that he had been striving for all year long. He had tried unsuccessfully at the beginning of the year, but his behavior and classroom habits weren’t good enough to be able to run. His teacher let him down gently as he explained all the duties of being on the student council, and how my son hadn’t exhibited the kind of behavior that warranted such responsibility. Needless to say, my son was crushed. But the teacher also told my son that if he worked hard and proved that he could be responsible, he might be able to run again later on. So the fact that my son was able to run this time was a big deal. Being voted in by his classmates was the icing on the cake.

To celebrate, I told him we’d pick out something for dessert that night, and that I would let him pick out dinner. I was trying to think of ways to make this an even bigger deal. I even mulled over singing him “Congratulations to you” to the tune of Happy Birthday. Don’t worry, that idea never manifested. But I was just beaming with pride. I immediately let Mr. Wonderful know, and then let the rest of the world know by posting the news as my Facebook status.

I picked the kids up after work, and we were on our way to the store. (Sidenote: I think this is the first time that the Taz had no problem going grocery shopping since it was for his special celebration dinner. Note to self: let the Taz be in charge more over deciding dinner options.) I asked the Taz what he wanted to eat, and he rattled off idea after idea until a decision was finally made. And that’s when another voice piped up in the back seat.

“You never made this big of a deal when I made Student Council…..”

Sometimes having two kids is like a shaky balancing act.

It’s true, even though I argued the point with the Drama Queen. The stone cold truth was I really didn’t make this big of a deal about her achievement. I had been proud of her, for sure. I had congratulated her. But I did not have visions of singing her any songs to the tune of “Happy Birthday”.

Does this make me fail as a parent?

The thing about good kids is that their good deeds can go unnoticed. My daughter has always been the “good kid”. Teachers have raved about her whenever we get together for conferences, telling me how incredibly helpful she is and how she always manages to get her work in on time. And they rave about the amount of care and effort she puts into her work. I have never had to stand over her and prompt her to finish her homework, or even to remind her about dates for projects. She keeps tabs on it and just does it herself, and every once in awhile she will hand me a paper or two that need my signature. If I need help in the housework – such as clearing the dishrack before I wash the dishes – I only have to ask her once. When I am making dinner, she will even take it upon herself to just start clearing the table so we can eat that night. Even though she and her brother fight nonstop, at times when he needs some extra help she is right there to guide him. In essence, she is the kid that doesn’t need to be worried about because she is dependable.

Her brother, on the other hand….. Well, you’ve read all the stories about him. He’s the one who comes home missing half of his clothes and seriously has no idea where they went. You can give him very clear instructions, repeating them three times, and he will forget them immediately. He forgets his lunch at home, does half his homework and forgets about the rest, cries if we have to do something that infringes on his free time, does somersaults in the middle of a crowded room because he is bored….. I could go on and on. If you really want to know more, just read a couple of my past blogs.

When I was young, my parents’ favorite story they told me was how good of a baby I was. And they were thankful for this. When I was one year old they had my younger sister and she required all of their attention. So thank goodness I was a happy baby. They would prop me up on a pillow, stick a bottle in my mouth, and then tend to my sister. They were proud of this story.

Me? I think this story sucks.

How nice that I got to sit staring at a wall sucking on my bottle that was propped up in my mouth while the baby was consoled and cooed at. How nice that I was a happy baby that needed no attention so that they could give it to my sister.

How nice that my daughter has exceeded all expectations of a normal 11 year old so that it has become the norm for her to be great, and I am crowing about my son because he was able to stop standing on his head in class long enough to be voted into Student Council.

It’s a hard balance. In the black and white, it is totally unfair that a “good” kid is overlooked when they continuously do well, and the “not-so-good” kid is applauded whenever they make a step in the right direction. But in the grayscale of the situation, some kids need a little more prompting to continue on the right path because if their efforts aren’t noticed they’ll just stop doing well. I’d like to think that I give my daughter the proper attention and praise as she continues to excel in everything she does. But perhaps I have some work to do in that department.

Do you have more than one child with very different personalities?
How do you cater to their needs while making things fair?
Do you ever feel like your parenting might be off balance in favor of one child over the other?

How Rebellion is Born

“Did you eat your breakfast?” I asked my son this morning as he turned on his video games before school.

“Uh, yeah,” he said.

“Alright, what did you eat?” I asked my little Tasmanian Devil.

“Oh yeah, I didn’t. But I’m not hungry,” he told me.

“Turn off the game. You’re not allowed to play until you have finished getting ready, and that includes eating breakfast and brushing your teeth,” I reminded him.

“Oh my gosh, Mom! You don’t care about me?” My son likes to go into dramatics when he isn’t getting his way, especially when it’s getting in the middle of his game playing time. “I told you I’m not hungry, and now you’re making me eat!”

“Turn off the game,” I told “the Taz” again. “Go eat your breakfast.” And grudgingly he did so. He ate as fast as he could, put his bowl in the sink, then went back to the games.

“Did you brush your teeth?” I asked him. He loudly groaned, then stomped upstairs to do a poor job of brushing the gunk off. 7:45, and he went back to the game. “We don’t have time for you to play. It’s time for us to leave for school,” I told him, totally aware of his reaction just as I was aware of the time.

“What?!? You mean I ate breakfast for nothing?!? You wasted all my time!” he yelled.

“No, you have to eat breakfast before school. You wasted your own time when it took you 20 minutes just to get out of bed this morning,” I pointed out to him. “You’re just going to have to play video games later when you have more time.” And while we all got ready to leave the house, he lay on the floor and sulked until we left.

I think my biggest pet peeve is the arguing that goes on over things that we have to do. Once a week I have to go grocery shopping. It never changes. If we want to eat, we have to have food. But tell that to my son and he moans and groans like I am extracting one of his teeth, and even produces a bit of tears. I have taken to scheduling my grocery shopping at times that aren’t that convenient for me (during lunch breaks or right before I pick them up after work) just because dealing with the inevitable tantrum is much more stressful. The house has to be clean. If I want peace of mind, the table needs to be cleared, the toys need to be put away, and their pigsty of a room needs to have a little bit of order so that I can get to their drawers and put their clean clothes away without killing myself on a Lego landmine. But it takes twice as long to get them to clean as I have to urge them both to keep going and not murder each other in the process. After breaking up fight after fight between them as they attempt a task they really don’t want to do, it’s hard not to succumb to just telling them they’re done and just finishing it myself. Or, more often than not, just living with the mess.

“Bedtime is at 9 pm.”

“Wash your hands after you eat.”

“For Pete’s sake, will you please tie your shoe?!”

“Homework is to be done BEFORE you play with your friends. Yes, all of it!”

“Do not eat your snack in the living room.”

“Your school lunch needs to have something more than a granola bar and a Capri-Sun.”

“You need to wear underwear if you are going to school.”

“Will you please stop doing somersaults in the grocery store aisle?”

“Stop sitting on your brother.”

“Can you please stop changing every word to the song on the radio to ‘poop’ or ‘butt’?”

“It’s after 11 am. Can you please wear something around the house besides your underwear and a blanket?”

“Why? Because I said so.”

Those are the words that used to make me cringe the most in my childhood days. “Because I said so.”

“Crissi, clean your room right now!” my mother would order as she surveyed clothes and books over what might have been a floor had it been visible.

“But why?” I would ask. “It’s my room! I’m the one who has to live in it!”

“Because I said so.”

And after that, I would take my sweet time cleaning, grumbling the whole time, doing a halfhearted job of it so that it looked like I had made a little progress, but also so it was clear that I wasn’t going to do a great job just because my mom wanted me to.

Arguing is ingrained in us. It’s part of our nature. Tell anyone to do something, and their immediate reaction is to rebel, to argue the point, to harbor resentment that someone is even trying to control our movements. Once a kid gets to the wonderful age of the terrible twos (or its even worse cousin – the tumultuous threes), they learn that they have an opinion, and it is usually opposite of yours. For the very short window of time before that, these precious little beings went along with everything their parent told them. As far as they are concerned, you hung the moon. They will follow you to the ends of the earth. After that, however, they come to the realization that they don’t have to go along with everything you say.

It all goes downhill from there.

At ages 2 & 3, kids are so into their newfound independence that they will say NO to anything you say just so that they can assert themselves. By age 4, they understand that they can make a choice based on what they want. Sometimes that goes inline with what you want. Sometimes it doesn’t. But the idea behind their decisions isn’t based on just defying your wishes, it’s an actual calculated decision that they are even willing to discuss with you. It’s a heavenly age for a child, and it continues for a couple of years. But right around age 8, they revert back in time and start questioning anything that gets in the way of their own freedom – the freedom to have scummy teeth, dirty hands, and time to play with their friends or their toys. And once they hit their teenage years, they are age 2 all over again, fighting anything that you say just because you said it. Except this time you’re an idiot and couldn’t possibly be wise enough to know what they are thinking about or doing or what goes on with them and their friends. And when the apple of your eye starts questioning your authority over and over and over again, sometimes the only thing your exasperated mind can think of to say is, “because I said so.”

(In case you missed it, a repeat of a classic example of “the Taz” arguing with me:

So how do you get through the constant arguing that occurs between a parent and a kid? I know for me, I am so exhausted from having to put up a fight to get anything done around here. It’s draining. Things would go so much easier if the kids didn’t fight me on every single task I lay in front of them, especially since it’s not like these required tasks have changed. And yet, I fully understand what it feels like to not want to do something just because it was ordered to me. Any other parents have ideas on how to change the arguing to actual agreement, or can even relate to the constant power struggles between adults and kids?

Meeting others when you are a single parent

A single dad emailed me earlier today and had the age old question about how to meet single women when they seem so scarce and unavailable. I answered him to the best of my abilities, but I am hoping that YOU, the reader, will have some suggestions on how to meet singles in the area.

Dear Crissi

One topic of interest to me is the exodus of 30 something families and singles from the North Bay area. The real time dating scene up here, including the internet scene Match.com, eHarmony, Yahoo Personals, etc, have yielded me a couple of long term and short term relationships. The fact though, is there are slim, slim pickings for me to find someone that is interested in a late 30 something single dad of a now 7 year old. I’m not looking for perfection in a relationship, but I do value finding someone who has some basic compatibility in the career, faith, etc. scene.

I’ve more or less been on a dating break for the past year, resigning myself to the reality that this location (supported I’ve found by recent national surveys showing the Bay Area has a higher concentration of single men (65K more!) than single women compared to back east NY and MA with 200K more single women than single men) is just not conducive for me to find Ms. Right. So Cal is no better with 95K more single men then single women!

I tried to attend my old church (about 350 people), not for the purposes of finding a life partner, but eventually realized I was investing so much time there and may have been preventing myself from finding Ms. Right as there were only 3 non senior single women between the age of 21 and 45 (those that were 30 and older had their own boyfriends or were radically not might type!). Unmarried 30 something females, I deduced, really can’t be found in our local churches in any number great enough to have odds for finding someone with compatibility.

I’m not doing the bar scene but every now and again a friend will drag me to a pub or bar. Again… it’s mostly all guys, couples, and women in there 60s! I am not an ageist. I’ve dated women in their forties and late 50s! Still, age is a factor for me as a parent that potentially would like more children. There are relatively good numbers of young 20 something SSU women around the county. While I don’t see myself as being too old to date a women more than 10 years younger than me, I’m not looking for a fling but for deep friendship that could lead to a lasting relationship, aka marriage, with an immediate co-parenting situation.

I guess my question to you is, where are the single **unattached** moms in Santa Rosa? As a good female friend and I talked about recently, there are so many more guys than single women here that women get swept up almost as quickly as they become single from their former relationships. I asked my friend “So that means I’m either faced with stealing a woman from her boyfriend or I am her rebound.” My friend answered “yes.”

This, to me, does not present itself as the best of options!


Dear G,

While I would hardly call myself an expert on this topic, I will say that I’ve been there. Right after my divorce, I entered the dating scene quickly – mostly due to the fact that my ex had already decided to move on and my pride was wounded, and also because I was lonely and afraid of being alone. Those two reasons alone are not reason to begin dating. But being that you seem to have been doing the single parenting thing for awhile, I can see that you are more than ready to find something more lasting. Time is always important when it comes to entering the dating scene again because there are so many ghosts from our past marriage or long-term relationship that will continue to be haunting if not dealt with properly.

I would say that you seem to have found a good start to finding that person to share your life with, even if there haven’t been any promising results yet. I found online dating so imperative because it allowed me to discover what exactly I was looking for in a man plain as day thanks to online profiles that read like a menu. Sounds crass, but it helped to open that door to Real Life Dating, warming myself up to the idea of putting myself out there and meeting new people in Real Time. I made a list of the qualities I wanted to have in someone I would like to spend my life with, qualities from the most simple to the most ridiculous. Must like to cook, must love animals and children, must have a sense of humor, and must sing in the shower. Must be kind and respectful to his parents, must be comfortable in social situations….you get the point. Several things on the list weren’t exactly MUSTS, but they were charming attributes I hoped for. But some listed qualities were attributes that I would not bend on. As I dated, if someone did not meet my MUST qualities, it would send up red flags. This helped me to not choose men like the ones that I had been steering towards in my younger life. I was not interested in going through another divorce! Now, I know being choosy is not exactly conducive to settling down quickly with someone. In all truth, it weeds people out a lot faster. But it also helps so that you are not wasting your time, or hers, when both of you could be finding the right person to share your life, and your daughter’s life, with.

I heard recently that if you were looking for an alcoholic, look for your mate in a bar. Bars are great for flirtations, gathering numbers, and one night stands. But if you really want to find someone that shares your life, she will be doing the same things you enjoy. Join a hiking or biking group, a book club, a dance class….. Chances are, even if she isn’t there, someone in the group might know of someone perfect for you. I’ve found that the best way to find someone is by word of mouth. Spread the word amongst your friends, church members, and co-workers that you are single and ready to settle down. Accept your friends’ proposals to set you up on a blind date, and take them up on suggestions for someone they think might be who you are looking for. Sometimes our friends know us better than we know ourselves……

As for being a late 30’s man with a child, this hardly makes you undesirable. Actually, that’s hardly the case. A woman is swept away by a man who cares for his child. But I’ll tell you, the best chance of finding that woman is by looking at single moms. They are in the same boat as you are, and understand that your time is limited and that your child comes first. I tried dating men without children and more often than not came away thoroughly disappointed and heartbroken. The best men I dated were all single fathers. If a man cared for his child in a way I used to think only moms were capable of, it made them that much more appealing. So don’t throw in the towel yet.


P.S. I disagree with your friend. Don’t break up someone else’s relationship. If that girl is willing to cheat on her mate with you, what happens when you’ve got her and her roving eye finds someone else? That’s hardly the woman you want to end up with.

Readers, how do you meet singles here in Sonoma County?

Kids, Parents, and the TV Battle

Father of Three wrote me: “My wife and I are in our 30’s and did not have TV in our rooms as kids. But we have spoiled our kids by letting them have TVs in their rooms. But now they want to stay up on school nights watching their shows on the DVR. I try to turn off the TV but that is met with heavy resistance. So when I turn off the TV the battle is on. The best solution I’ve come up with is putting it on the weather channel. I know everyone’s first response will be to take the TV away, but we want them to have their space during their TV time since one wants Spongebob the next wants iCarly and the other wants XGames. So any ideas would be helpful.”

So how about it? How would you handle the situation?

Teenagers: A Mom's Lament

A mom was lamenting to me about her 13 year old son. He used to be such a nice kid – totally respectable and responsible, and extremely trustworthy. But things changed in the last year. His parents got divorced, surely a huge shock to his world. And with the divorce came a lot of changes. Both of his parents moved into new relationships, and suddenly he was spending his time at both houses, breaking up his own free time into two equal parts. He won’t talk about what he’s feeling, and seems to be acting like he’s fine with all of it. But my friend is confused now by what seems to be either teenage angst, or results from her and her husband’s divorce.

This kid, we’ll call him Steven, has suddenly become more withdrawn. He answers his mom in a series of grunts, or even blatantly ignores her. He doesn’t want to spend as much time with her. And he has become more secretive. She doesn’t suspect drugs or anything like that, but she has noticed addicting behavior with his game system and his computer. Steven will stay up till 2 or 3 in the morning playing his video games, chatting it up with people all around the world. She had no idea this was going on until she caught him. She ended up taking the game system away for a week and removing the power cord to the computer from his room. Steven retaliated by sneaking the laptop out of his mom’s room at night while she was sleeping. When he was caught, the games were taken away until the end of summer. After a weekend away at his dad’s house, she tucked him into bed and then turned the modem off in her room to curb any internet temptations from him. But at 1 in the morning, she caught him once again sneaking in her room to turn the internet back on.  Apparently he had already found a power cord to replace the one she took, and admitted without remorse that this had been going on for awhile.

Frankly, she’s at a loss. She could keep punishing him for his sneakiness, but it’s obviously not working. And she’s hesitant to overly punish him for this when a)there might be a bigger issue at hand and b)this is hardly about the electronics but more about trust. She’s frustrated because he’s not listening at all and has made it pretty clear that he is going to do whatever he wants. And he just doesn’t seem to care.  She is afraid that the behavior is only going to get worse, and fearful that it might result into bigger issues if it can’t be curbed now.

Is this just a case of being a teenager, or does it seem that his behavior is a result of the rocky year he’s just experienced? What should Steven’s mother (and father) do? How should they handle this? What is your take on the situation, and how can one help a teenager understand the importance of trust?

Leave a comment, or join the discussion in the forums.