Dear Peanut Gallery:
Dispatches From the Living Room of Sodor, Part One

Not Coming Soon to a Bookstore Near You: The 'Don't Be a Selfish Asshole' Guide to Parenting

The Good News: Thanks to you guys (who are awesome) I now have (at least) 100 different topic suggestions. Thank you. Y'all gave me both the poke-her-brain-with-stick-ing that I knew I needed AND the nicey-nice pep talk that I didn't. (Know. That I needed. But I guess I did. Oy, this post is already not going well.) 

The Bad News: WHERE TO START WHERE TO START THIS ONE THAT ONE OMG MY BRAIN IS BUBBLING OVER WITH UNBRIDLED OPINIONS AND WORDS AND IT'S LIKE MY INTERNAL DIALOGUE IS STAMPEDING ITSELF.

I should probably export the comments into some kind of spreadsheet and treat them like Actual Real Writing Assignments or a task list that I can smugly check off once I've written something. (Smugly only because I am never NOT kind of smug when I check something off a to-do list. Take that, list, I am super awesome and productive. For this brief shining moment, anyway.)

One topic I saw mentioned sevvvvveral times was the whole "giving each member of your brood the individual attention they deserve." I especially liked how Kerry phrased it, when she said "it seems like you find a nice balance between precious individual snowflakes and teeming horde."

I'm not sure if it's balance, necessarily, as in something I consciously set out to achieve each morning (or write down a task list just to cross it the fuck off, fuck yeah). Most days I can usually carve out some one-on-one time with each child by simply following the guiding principle of Don't Be A Selfish Asshole.

Let's say Ezra approaches me and asks if we can have a play picnic, but I'm really enjoying some Internet-ish diversion or game on my phone or I just came up with something funny to say on Twitter. If I were to say, "Not right now, Mommy's busy," I think that would make me a Selfish Asshole. And kind of a liar. All of those things will be there for me to read/play/be-stupid-on later. That moment with Ezra, when Ezra was four years, four months and four days old, will be gone forever if I pass on it. Sure, we might have a play picnic the next day too, but I'd really rather Ezra remember at least one of the 3,203,056 play picnics I sat through over the one time I said "Not right now, Mommy's busy." 

And that's depressingly likely with little kids, you know? The other day I DID have to tell Ezra not right now, busy, because I was stuck on a work task that wasn't really negotiable. His entire body registered his disappointment. He dropped his picnic basket on the floor, put his chin to his chest and shuffled off to pout on the stairs. All that the moment was missing was the Vince Guaraldi Trio playing in the background. 

Family outings are good. Crazy, somewhat akin to herding cats at times, but good. Museums, zoos, community centers— kids love that shit, and it gives a family our size a nice way to keep EVERYBODY entertained while we ration out our specific attention to specific children.

Our children's favorite place in the WHOLE WIDE WORLD right now is the Port Discovery Children's Museum in Baltimore. It's hike for us, but always worth it, even just for a few hours. Noah disappears into the three-story climbing/crawling/whatever area in the center and Jason and I each get really nice time with Ezra and Ike, and then we switch. Then, if we can ever get the two younger boys interested in the same room/activity, one of use sucks up our self-consciousness and awkwardly climbs around with Noah (mom-butt ahoy!) or leads him through one of the rooms aimed at older kids. 

Then we leave and get the kids some pizza, and us some beer(s). We probably go at least once a month, because IT WORKS. We have a family membership and know exactly what we need to pack for the day (and what we don't), and I also know that Noah will probably draw at least one picture or write one short story about it at school, which makes it pretty much a Total Win, all around. 

Jason once read some parenting guru's advice that said we should aim to have 30 uninterrupted minutes of "in" time with each child. You don't necessarily have to redirect them to something new or do anything specific with that time — you just join them at whatever they are doing and give them your undivided attention for 30 minutes. Most of the time your child will notice and include you in the activity or game and by the end of the half hour you'll likely have engaged in at least one valuable conversation or connection with them.

Other parenting books I've read (okay, skimmed) (okay, read the back cover at the bookstore) say the "30 solid minutes" is less important than the bigger idea of giving your child your undivided attention several times a day in a more organic fashion, even if it's just a minute or two here and there.

That is probably closer to what we get around here, though I agree that making the conscious, deliberate decision to Not Be A Selfish Asshole, put down the phone/magazine/Twitter-fight and pay real attention to your child will always make the time you do get with each of them much more valuable.

Ezra gets the most attention from me in the block of time between Ike going down for a nap and Noah coming home from school. We try to minimize full-family errands (see: FERAL TARGET BITING), but grocery shopping solo with Ezra is an unexpected delight: He's helpful and excited and will basically eat any vegetable that he picks out "himself." (KALE. THE KID EATS KALE.) Running errands has become a special Ezra/Daddy time, and something they both really look forward to. And of course, anything involving cooking or baking is the perfect opportunity to pull Ezra in. 

Noah thrives on routine, so our one-on-one time is usually after dinner, while he does homework. It's also usually the best time for him (sensory/behaviorial speaking) to sit next to one of us and calmly talk about his day. He's a world championship cuddler, too, who loves being under the covers with one of us, so he and I have nice lazy chats on Sunday mornings. After karate, one of us takes him to a nearby coffee shop for a cookie. (This may have had something to do with Ezra's enthusiasm for karate, yes. Better parenting through bribery, woot.) If he asks us for help building Legos we try to oblige, because we know that "asking for help with Legos" is Lego Master code for "I'm feeling a bit lonely and woud like some attention."

Ike still gets the solo bath and bed times, and no lie: Even diaper changes are a really nice one-on-one moment for us. I sing, we tickle, identify body parts (best is "where's your butt?" and he tosses his naked legs up and smacks his cheeks) and we end with a giant dive-bomb of a hug off the table. 

Anytime anyone asks for a hug, they get one. Anytime anyone asks to be picked up, they are. Anytime anyone asks for help, they get it. These are pretty much the unspoken non-negotiables, no matter what we may be doing at the time. Don't Be A Selfish Asshole, go help the kid who got his pajama shirt stuck on his head because he mistook a sleeve for the neckhole. (Again.)

Bedtime is 7:30 - 8 pm, at which point Jason and I get to be just us again, sipping wine and watching wildly inappropriate television like The Walking Dead and Archer. We stay up pretty late, even though our bodies might benefit from a little more sleep, because that's just how we can give each other the most undivided attention right now. We try to have a date night as many weekends as the budget allows, because some weeks are just harder than others. 

Some weeks are definitely more Team Teeming Horde than precious snowflake memories. Some weeks involve a lot more tantrums, fighting, random destruction and us yelling/nagging/scolding and GO TO YOUR ROOOOMing. Some weeks I feel like I'm a hopeless screw-up of a mother who loses her temper too often over "normal" kid behavior, while simultaneously raising a pack of barely civilized Pixy Stix.

And that's okay, I think. You're going to be screw-up sometimes. Just Don't Be A Selfish Asshole. 

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(Also don't be afraid or ashamed to embrace the warm glowing warming glow of television every once in awhile. I mean, sometimes you really do just need some down time to dick around on your phone without the threat of neverending play picnics.)

Comments

Kristina

Thank you. I SO needed to read this today.

Stephanie

Great post. And a good reminder that yeah, I spend a little too much time on my phone.

Did you notice that Ike and Noah have the exact same expression on their faces? And the same mouth and nose. It's like their brothers or something!

Arnebya

"Mommy, you want to play puzzle?" "Mommy, come play with me." The boy is still squarely in this phase. The middle girl is still a random Please Hug Me person and the 12 yr old, well WE AIN'T DISCUSSING HER RIGHT NOW BECAUSE I'M AT WORK AND DON'T WANT TO BE ALL LOUD AND ARM WAVY ABOUT YOU HAVE A D IN KEYBOARDING. KEYBOARDING! AND WHAT BOY WHAT BOY BOY WHAT BOY WHO SHIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIID.

Anyway. This was nice. I ESPECIALLY like how you tie into the end that sometimes this shit is give or take, hit or miss, but for the most part, if you invest time in Non-Selfish Assholism you can generally win (and that's all that counts. Plus, you know full damn well that WE are the ones hurt more by their disappointment when we actually can't have ANOTHER GODDAMN PICNIC, COME ON, YOU DON'T EVEN HAVE A BUN FOR THIS HOT DOG.) What's telling is there just needs to be a general plan of action and then just...say go.

Amalah

@Arnebya ABSOLUTELY give and take. I'm definitely not trying to raise kids who think they are the center of the universe and whatever they want to do is fundamentally more important than what OTHER people want to do. But luckily that part mostly takes care of itself simply because they're growing up in a family of five. Sometimes y'all just have to chill and amuse yourselves while Mommy avoids a meltdown.

But the stupid games on my phone all have pause buttons, so...yeah. Sometimes I need the Guiding Principle thing to remind me to use them.

Zinna

This was really great. Thanks.

Dawn

Awesome. And thank you. The family memberships things are the best! My husband and I trade off who gets who ready for bed so they each have undivided Mommy/Daddy attention for that night and we switch the next day. I'm better about putting down the phone/book/computer to play Jake and the Neverland Pirates for the eleventy-billionth time and he's better at the monster/tickle fight stuff.

Trying very hard not to be the Selfish Asshole but will totally own that sometimes, Mommy is TIRED so please to be leaving me the hell alone right now.

Tric

I am currently 24ish weeks pregnant with my first boy and for some reason I burst into happy tears at. "got his pajama shirt stuck on his head because he mistook a sleeve for the neckhole. (Again.)" I can't wait for that. Thank you.

Mona

Thank you so much, this is a lovely parenting pep talk / reminder / how to.
Also, I occasionally lose it and screech a bit, and Curious George is my BOY when it comes to needing 15 freaking minutes to make dinner. I'm mostly OK with that, but it's good to know I'm not the only one.

Rete

I need to be better about this -- our older daughter has gotten to the mostly self-sufficient phase (11) and then we had another little girl (8 months), so sometimes we have to really think to ourselves that she needs some one on one time too and not just everyone hug on the baby. :)

Zoë

I am definitely bookmarking this because even though I have been a parent for 8 yrs now, and yes, I should be a pro, I still get overwhelmed by the whole "I-have-3-kids-what-do-I-do-with-them-now?" thing, and I need some advice.

What hasn't helped is that my husband started a new job 6 months ago and it happens to be in another state. This means I have been solo parenting the kids (now 8, 5, and 2) while working full time outside of the home and trying to keep the house clean for potential buyers (he comes home at weekends). I KNOW! Pity me, please. I have been a crappy mum for the past 6 months, and I can't wait until June to get our world "back to normal" as it means I get my wingman back full-time, and my kids get the mum deserve.

Rochelle

I'm glad you got the pep talk you didn't know you needed! Thanks for the pep talk I didn't know I needed!!!

Heather

Maybe not available in bookstores, but I am totally bookmarking this under "My Parenting Manifesto". Thank you, I always wanted my own manifesto!

Heather

Maybe not available in bookstores, but I am totally bookmarking this under "My Parenting Manifesto". Thank you, I always wanted my own manifesto!

flybigd

Great post. I only have one, but still, he wants LOTS of mommy time and I am not at my best when we get home at 5:30pm. And I am guilty of putting him off to indulge myself by making dinner--a bit fancier than necessary dinner, cause I am all about the fancy cooking being my ME TIME. So this is helpful advice.

Lisa

LOVE this post... We try to do the same with our two girls... and some days are easier than others to snuggle and help and whatever they want/need than others.

mamalang

Mine are older now (10-19) but I believe our guiding principal was basically the same. I will admit to sometimes pulling out the redirection to something you can do beside me while I do this thing, and sometimes, like you said, I just have to say not right this second. My 14 year old inevitably wants a hug while I'm cooking dinner. So I tell her to hang on one second while I stir this or put this hot pot down, and then I will hug you. This works much better now that she's 14 than when she was 4...lol (and anytime my 14 year old wants to hug? I'm there.) The one thing I love with my 10 year old is our mandatory half hour reading in bed time before bed. We each silently read our own books. He gets his much needed time with me, relaxes before bed, and we both get some much needed reading time in.

And I still feel like we are a teeming horde sometimes, even with them much older. But we are teeming horde of love :)

Sonja

I'd comment on this, but I've been commissioned by a four-year-old to build something mindblowing out of legos.

Nann

Grest post! We've got lego and pretend restaurant participation here. My husband actually enjoys legos and we switch off on the restaurant play. One thing we do is try to have each parent do something they actually enjoy with each child for one on one, currently roller skating and rock climbing. Noah looks like a giant in that picture!

Cara

Funny. I expected this post to make me feel bad, because oh my am I tired of the 2 year old games and I know I've been doing alot of 'oh please go play by yourself for five minutes' recently. But, I actually feel better. It's a reminder that right now my kid has the luxury of being an only kid who is with her Mama all but 8 hours a week. 30 minutes of my undivided attention? Oh yeah, she most definitely gets that each day. Many times a day. It's not a bad thing for her to learn to entertain herself while I get a chore done - or even just because I need to sit still in an actual chair for a few minutes.

Liz

You are such an exemplary mom! I sometimes struggle to keep my almost-two-year-old happy.... and she's my only child. I cannot imagine the patience and balance you need for three. How do you guys make bedtime happen for all three, at the different ages they're at?

Heather

Man do I feel like an a$$. I have been so lazy, so screechy, and giving my phone way too much attention. Maybe I was supposed to read this today! Note to self: put down phone and give your 3 preshus the attention they deserve.
Thanks, Amy!

sara

Thank you. I really needed to read this at this exact moment in time. I fear that I have been a Selfish Asshole and it stops now. In five minutes I will get my kids off the bus and Not be a Selfish Asshole anymore. Thank you.

Anna B Lynch

I totally needed that. I work full time outside the home, and commute an hour (with the kids) each way, and feel like FAIL since I have so little time with them. Now I won't feel so bad about that as long as my time with them doesn't involve my phone.

I went to Port Discovery once (before kids) to see what it was about. They had this investigative part where you have to solve the mystery. Part of it involved a pitch black room, that when you closed the door sounded like it was filling up with rats! Freaked me out! Because what Baltimore needs is more rats. Now that we have kids, I still haven't ventured back. I'll stick the the Aquarium (because my kid loves the escalators! F*** the fish!)

Ashley

Oh, Jeebus, preach on. I hate when I hear myself saying, "Would you like a SHOW?" when I'm also the one who sets the timer on video games, but sometimes it's the only thing that works.

I'm glad you're getting rejuvenated on your writing list!

Lexi

Thank you Amy. I SO needed this. My husband has been talking about a second kid and I, being an only child myself, have really been struggling with taking time away from my little guy to devote to a new kid. This gives me a glimmer of hope that I could possibly do it without failing anyone and everyone. Thanks :)

SarahB

Yes, what someone else said about we're glad you got the pep talk you needed, and this was really the pep talk I needed. Thank you!

**enthusiastic applause**

Christine

I was starting to feel pretty bad about my parenting, and then I got to the bit about TV and said "Phew", because when there's a new Amalah to read, you have to ignore them for a couple of secs.

Also, I just figured out today that Port Discovery is not the same as the Baltimore Science Museum, and now we have a new place to go.

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JenVegas

I'm jealous. Any time I've let my toddler pick out produce he decides it's a toy/his new BFF and then gets upset when I cook it. Garlic, acorn squash, a small pumpkin. Sigh.

Tina Anderson

I loved this post. Thanks.

jodifur

I've been a selfish asshole sometimes and I only have one kid. Thank you for the reminder.

Allie

I definitely needed this. I'm normally the 'sure, I'll take turns on the slide with you' mom, but since I've been pregnant with our second (6-8 more weeks of this knocked up BS), I've totally been a selfish asshole. When I first started reading this post, I thought I was going to feel overwhelmingly guilty by the end. But instead I feel better because I can identify my selfish asshole-ism when it's happening and correct course. Sometimes I just need a voice in my head to call me out of my shitty patterns.

Amber

Thank you, I really needed this kick in the pants. :-)

Rebecca

I have another topic suggestion (besides baby names). Post-Sandy-Hook, lots of parents and bloggers talked about the situation as if it were post-9/11; inevitable policy shifts and changes to our worldview, etc. Is that the case? Are people really mobilizing behind gun control / mental health advocacy / school safety / etc.? Or was it just drama and hyperbole?

Andrea

I'm not a parent, so I can't really speak to that part of it. However, there are two things that my dad said to me every single day that I remember. Every day, even if he was away on a business trip, my dad asked me how I was doing (and listened), and he told me he loved me. Even if he didn't have time on a particular day for much more than that, I always knew he was thinking of me and loved me because he took that moment out of his day to connect with me.

Susan

I have been super vigilant about the phone/iPod with games and Facebook since my 4 yo's preschool teacher sent an email to all the families pointing out that nowadays when the children have "phone" conversations in the dramatic play area, they pretend to text each other instead of actually talking to the other person, and it shuts down any interaction between the children.

Observant little critters, aren't they?

Kendra

I have been a bit of a selfish asshole lately. Thank you for the reminder.

Cheryl S.

When my 7 year old asked me to play dollies with her last night, I immediately thought "don't be a selfish asshole" Thanks for the new catchphrase!

Jenny R

Best parenting advice ever:
I mean, sometimes you really do just need some down time to dick around on your phone without the threat of neverending play picnics.

It should be on all baby shower cards! :) LOVE IT!

thekitchwitch

You are a wise woman. Plus, you like Archer, which makes you aces in my book.

Kari

I know this is yesterday's post and all, and that the Really Big Point of the post is how to balance your attention among three kids.

But I just keep squeeing about this little realization I had that Noah is a blogger in his own way!

I also know that Noah will probably draw at least one picture or write one short story about it at school, which makes it pretty much a Total Win, all around.

Brooke

You've got your groove back. Nice post.

Steve

Thanks for the post Amy! My wife and I are embarking on the whole kids thing with our 7mo old daughter. Hearing how you and Jason balance kid attention, getting stuff done, and just being two adults hanging out together time is great. We try to practice "Not Being a Selfish Asshole" and generally succeed I think. Our baby girl seems pretty happy at least. :)

Alison

Thanks for this, Amy.
It's good to know that I am NOT a selfish asshole for the most part. Which is why I'm sticking with just two kids, because if I have another, I may just have to sleep every other day, to get all the one-on-one time, husband time and me time in.
Kudos to parents with more than 2 kids. Seriously.

Elizabeth

Thanks for always being so honest, funny and wise! Somehow you motivate me to be a better mother and encourage me to give myself a break for doing the best I can at the same time....it's like magic!

Amanda

This post is just what I needed tonight. You have such a wonderful way of speaking the universal truths that we all know (and often need reminding of). Thank you!

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