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Thursday, December 5, 2013


Photo by Scott Vandehey
How many of us as parents are using various forms of manipulation in the name of Good Parenting?  After all, it’s not those obviously aggressive methods other parents are using: screaming, spanking, threatening, bullying – right?  Since manipulation is defined as “controlling or influencing cleverly, unfairly, or unscrupulously,” we might want to rethink our use of it.  Especially for those of us who want to help our children develop into responsible, thinking, self-confident adults.  Consider this; the Latin origin of this word is “handful” which is just what we have when we try using these strategies.  And how many parents describe their kids as a handful?
Here are 9 common manipulations that we may recognize as having been used on us.  And which we may unknowingly (or habitually) be using on our kids.

1.   Guilt: “After all I’ve done for you; I can’t believe that you can’t help me.”
2.   Whining: “If you loved me, you would …”
3.   Domination: “Because I’m your father, that’s why!”
4.   Comparison: “Your sister could do this by the time she was your age!”
5.   Intimidation: “Why are you such a baby? You should be able to do this!”
6.   Fear: “Look, if you don’t do this now, you’ll never get another chance! Somebody else will take your place.  Opportunity only knocks once!”
7.   Disappointment: “We’re counting on you to do this. Don’t disappoint us.”
8.   Desire to Conform: “Come on, everyone else is doing it.”
9.   Sarcasm: “No, I didn’t expect you to do your chores…the dog’ll do ‘em this week!”

How much better to ask questions [“Did you really want to say that?” or “What do you think you should do?”], give choices [“Do you want to do homework before or after dinner?], or offer assistance [“Let me know if you need help with that.”].  Take a nice big breath and you’ll find it easier to have these options as opportunities to LET your kid think and grow, rather than to MAKE him obey.

Off the guilt trip and onto the freedom train – or was that the freedom brain?   After all, that’s what we want them to use!  Besides, it ultimately takes more of our energy to try to figure out how to wield a manipulation [then another and another – since they’re seldom really effective], than to breathe and let the child do the thinking for himself.  It’s a win-win.

Thursday, June 6, 2013


I’m quite sure none of us awaken with the morning prayer, “Please make me a good Sherpa today, Lord.”  If that’s the case, I wonder why I see so many grandmothers walking around faithfully, quietly fulfilling this role…at the beck and call of - rather than working WITH - our daughters.  Could it be that our desire to be included has trumped our basic need for self-respect?  Has the wish to feel “necessary” dwarfed our allegiance to ourselves and the nobility to which we c/s/would aspire?  Have we decided to become submissive in order to stay in the “needed” category?  This self-effacing behavior may serve the short term goal of inclusion, but I’m not sure any of these behaviors is ultimately beneficial to our daughters, their children, and certainly not to ourselves.
Photo by Zsolt Botykai

At the local PIRL [Parent Interactive Research Lab] recently, I observed another classic case of the 3-generation twist.  McDonalds [our local PIRL] was the location where Grandma twisted herself into knots trying to chase her 3 year old granddaughter while following the commands of her daughter.  The sweet child who took off into the “play pit” had already twisted grandma around her little finger and was pitting the mother/daughter duo against each other to determine whether socks should be worn in the area or not. 

It’s hard to say which was sadder, to have the 30-something mother directing her own mother to “move the food over to the other table” and “don’t leave our purses where someone could pick them up” and “make Molly put her socks back on!” OR the fact that the Sherpa Grandma felt bad enough about herself to let it happen.  Patterns like this don’t develop overnight.  It takes years of training and requires a bosser and a bossee. 

In order to be treated with disrespect, we have to allow it.  Some people call it codependence.  I call it needless.  A conversation between Grandmother and her daughter [over a quiet cup of coffee, rather than in the midst of a challenge] might evolve from a prologue such as one of these:

  • Being a parent is hard isn’t it?  And you’re doing such a great job.
  • I’ve noticed that we have different approaches to dealing with Molly.
  • Have you noticed that things get pretty hectic when the three of us are out in public?
  • Could we talk about the best way to work together around this parenting thing?
  • I love being with you both but am feeling a little uncomfortable about our interactions. I know that you want us all to enjoy our time together.
  • I’m really interested in knowing how you see my role as a grandmother as it relates to your family.
  • How can I be of most help to you?
  • I’m delighted to have time with you and Molly, and need some clarification on roles.
  • I love helping out and know you want me to feel appreciated and respected.

If we want our adult daughters to grow up valuing THEMselves [and, in turn, their children valuing THEMselves], we need to have them see us valuing OURselves.  Even if it means requires a candid conversation which might require holding your ground on certain topics/beliefs of your own.  It can be done with [breathing] calm respect.  Sometimes you may simply agree to disagree, or, if you begin observing stress on either end, you might suggest coming back to discuss it at a later time.

I couldn’t help but wonder what would have happened if “The Sherpa’s” response to the various commands from her daughter had been a respectful but firm: 

  • Can you get the purses?  My hands are full right now.
  • Good idea, but I’m busy. Could you move the food?
  • I think we’ve got the sock thing covered, thanks.
  • How about we tag team.  You can focus on moving us to a new table and I will focus on the getting Molly ready for the play structure (or socks)?

AND “How does that sound?”  is a wonderful  way to end the suggestion.  Everyone likes to be asked their opinion.

Rather than seeing her grandmother treated disrespectfully, little Molly might have witnessed intelligent adults agreeing to be mutually supportive of each other.  And patient.  And kind.  She might not have learned that bossing is okay and bullying is acceptable.

Developing an open dialogue around expectations, patterns, concerns, and disappointments makes for a healthy emotional environment that benefits all three generations.  The conversation might include reflections on what the intergenerational relationships were even a generation earlier, along with the stated desire to “have an easier and happier time than I did with MY mom.”  Everything can’t be covered in one sitting, and things continue to morph as everyone grows and matures.  But having both Grandmother and Daughter realize that the door is open for discussion in the future relieves anxiety...especially if the stated goal is mutual support and love and trust that everyone is ultimately always trying their best.   

And these generational talks can provide their own levity too.  Years ago, when I was 30, my 50 year old mother pleaded with me regarding her 70 year old mother: “If I ever do that to you will you please remind me not to?!”  Now at 90, neither my mother nor I remember what “that” was – but I’m sure it was motivated by love and we apparently lived through it.  Now there are three generations chuckling about it.

It’s not always an easy conversation to broach.  I’ve seen some successful Grandmother/Daughter teams move past it into a 3-step STOP/LOOK/LISTEN pattern.  In this model Grandma observes one of the “grands” doing something bizarre, or getting out of bed for the seventh time, or throwing the sippy cup on the ground again, or continuing to scream at her sister.  This wise [and sensitive] Grandma notices that Mom appears ready to lose it – either because she’s already tried several approaches with no results, or because it’s been a rough day.  Grandma doesn’t immediately swoop in to “save the day” since that might imply the daughter lacks the skill to handle the problem.

  1. She STOPS to take a deep breath.
  2. She scopes out the situation and LOOKS at Mom’s face to make sure she isn’t stepping on any toes or being premature and only then asks Mom “is it my turn?” or “can I try?” or “would you like some help?”
  3. She LISTENS for a response. 

Sometimes there’s a green light from Mom and an intervention occurs as the baton is passed to Grandmother.  Or sometimes Mom declines the offer and moves ahead with her own “plan B.”  A quick Grand acknowledgement of “okay” [without additional comment or attempt to convince] is important to seal the deal.  If Mom doesn’t opt for help this time, she might accept it next time since she now feels supported and respected, rather than challenged.  And contrary to popular belief, a grandmother who bites her tongue doesn’t really bite it off, but lives to talk another day!

I’ve observed that this brief 1,2,3 interchange seems to shift the energy momentarily away from the conflict between mother and child.  Brains process more clearly.  When attention again returns to the situation at hand – whether the next step is handled by Mom or Grandma – the intensity seems diminished and the problem more easily handled.

It’s wonderful to watch the blossoming of a harmonious, effective grandmother/daughter relationship through the conversation approach OR the [slightly less obvious] 1,2,3 railroad crossing method.  Ideal is the application of both: “Here’s what I’ve noticed”; AND then the quiet living of respecting and loving you as THE mom.   

Just make sure you have a designated spot to drop your Sherpa baggage. 

Life really is too short!

Christie Clarke

Thursday, May 23, 2013


On her first time sleep-over at my house more than a year ago, I
Public domain photograph.
felt overwhelmed by the electronic gadgets her mom had sent along for the visit.  I didn’t feel I could completely trust the baby monitor that would supposedly allow me to have a worry free night in my room on the second floor while my precious granddaughter snoozed in her crib on the lower level.  So I slept folded into the loveseat in the room adjacent to hers.  This time, however - having practiced with each setting to make sure I could hear every sound from the nursery -  I was comfortable in my own bed upstairs.  Of course the fact that, at 2, she could call out my name if she needed me, helped considerably.

But, a little case of the sniffles (with the monitor turned up high – I could hear every one) and the sweet voice calling my name (what a brilliant child, to remember where she is in the middle of the night!), brought me to the side of her crib.  The Dr. Spockishness of the 70’s would have encouraged me to walk away and let her “tough it out.”  The joy of connecting with (and in) another generation, allowed me to scoop her up in my arms and plunk down in the closest thing I have to Nana’s rocker.  There in the wee hours of the morning, I compared my recollections of similar situations with my own daughters, where my frantic rocking in a fancy “Bentwood” had a goal – to get them back to sleep.  I knew that the extra hours devoted to a single runny nose would have taken their toll on the all of us the next day.  I distinctly remember my prayer: “God, if you really love me you’ll let me sleep through one night!”

This evening, happily, I indulged myself as I never had time to do with my own babies (four in six years is a lot).   I’m transported back two more generations, and, as Madi and I sit there snuggling and dozing and humming, I find myself sitting once more on my own grandmother’s lap.  I recall distinctly a night when I was about three, sitting, rocking, and somehow knowing that I would want to emblazon this moment on my thought - freeze it in time - forever.  And I did.

I don’t remember a lot.  There must be as many differences as there are similarities.  I know my little head must have rested gently in the same safe sport just inside her shoulder, nestled near her collar bone.  I know she was rounder and softer than I.  Her spare time was spent making cookies for me, rather than power-walking with an iPod.  She could sing the most beautifully strange German songs.  I still know the words to ……… although they’ve probably morphed into something unrecognizable to a real German as these five decades have disappeared into a dream.  Madi seems happier with her own rendition of “Twinkle, twinkle.”

Nana made me hot chocolate before I “scrubbed” my teeth with the funny tasting tooth powder she and Grandpa still liked to use. That sleepy-time beverage was made of whole milk – the kind you needed to shake up before you poured it out of its glass bottle – simmered on the stove in a pan where she magically added powdered cocoa and scoops of sugar.  And we got to make it into a tea party, eating her homemade sugar cookies off a pretty china plate that my mom used as a baby.  It had a picture of a baby animal in the middle, a special place for the spoon and the fork on each side, and a gold band painted around the outside edge.  I think maybe my great aunt Elsa painted it.  Madi and I had enjoyed some instant “no sugar added” hot chocolate straight from the microwave along with a banana on my new, black Pier I plates before reading our bedtime story.  (I can’t remember the last time there was a cookie in this house.)

Nana and I had sat together in a caned rocking chair with gently bowled indentations where her father had cracked walnuts as a boy.  Madi and I were sitting in my retro green naugahyde rocker.

Tonight we couldn’t look out into the sparkling Florida night sky through the big glass jalousies of “my” bedroom at Nana’s house.  But we can enjoy the stars thrown onto the ceiling of the nursery by the electric turtle shell Madi’s mom sent - along with a humidifier the size of a giant globe, a plug-in vaporizer night light, a jar of instant noodles and chicken, 7 pacifiers, and enough clothes to stay for a week.

Tonight we don’t hear the sound of crickets wafting into the room, celebrating a warm southern evening.  But we have our favorite “nature sounds” CD on the portable DVD player on this Chicago winter night.  (And, of course, the breeze of the humidifier.)

She’s back asleep soundly in her crib now.  Looking ahead to breakfast, I’m sad to say that I can’t produce fresh squeezed orange juice from the tree outside my childhood window.  And I am ashamed to admit I won’t attempt a breakfast of Nana’s cinnamon toast, made under the over broiler with great care (because it used to burn easily – what with using real sugar, rather than Splenda®).  Madi and I will enjoy our brand new, frozen mini pancakes right out of the microwave.  Our fruit course will be Smuckers spreadable preserves (no syrup here).  I’m sure we’ll love it just as much…because we have each other.

With all the differences, I am particularly struck by the great over-arching sameness of timeless love we can actually choose to share with our grandchildren – and it is a choice.  Unlike the flexibility in timing that my grandmother had, I have a full time job. Carving out precious moments with a precious little person isn’t always easy or as frequent as I would like.  But I can’t imagine anything being more worthy of the effort.  As I sat there last night enfolding this dear one in my arms, I felt, with absolute certainty that Nana was enveloping us both.

Christie Clarke

Thursday, May 16, 2013


I can remember the months of debate, contemplation, indecision, consultation, and angst that went into the selection of a name for my first baby.  Everyone on both sides of our burgeoning family had an opinion, recollection, or historical [hysterical?] perspective.  There was an axe to grind, a curse to avoid, an ancestor to honor, or a simple desire for alliteration [Amanda Alt].

In those days it was “pot luck” on the sex of the babe, so we needed to be ready for either possibility.  The first time around, I was actually soliciting input.  In responding to my father-in-law’s query about a possible boy’s name, I tried to dodge the bullet.  He was Richard Jr., my husband was Richard III, and I knew I didn’t want to beget a dynasty.  Silence fell over the family reunion as they awaited my answer.  As an attempted diversion, I remarked as lightly as I could, “All I know is that we won’t name him Walter!”  The idea of a “Walt Alt” had seemed so hysterically funny to me…not so much to anyone else.  Hushed disbelief.  No laugher.  Apparently no one had told me about their famous Uncle Walter Alt!  

That was only the first round of four nomenclature deliberations as our little family eventually swelled to six!

Once they were all born, named, and launched I thought I was done with naming concerns.

Fast forward two decades.  In facing the prospect of welcoming the
first grandchild to the fold, I found myself facing that naming conundrum again.  But this time I was selecting my own new label.  How strange it was to find myself in the time warp of third generation name picking.  Determined not to wear the title of Granny or something similar, I tried on and adopted my moniker of “Nani.”  I told myself and anyone who would listen that I wasn’t vain.  I just didn’t want to appear either regal or dowdy [read: old?]. 
Photo by Gil Feliciano

Hummmm.  That had a familiar ring to it.  Somewhere around the arrival of my third “grand,” I recalled with some chagrin how offended I had been by my mother-in-law’s pronouncement some twenty years before.  I had felt I was bestowing upon her the most precious gift in the world - a grandchild - and asked how she felt about becoming a grandmother.  I vividly recall her saying emphatically that she was, “too young to be called Grandma, so your baby may call me Oma!” [German version - same concept].

It’s too late for me to apologize to “Oma” for my reaction to what had seemed like a heartless declaration of disinterest in her new granddaughter.  Now I understand her reticence to enter this next phase of her life.  She had no way of knowing the glory and delight that were awaiting her - whatever her title.  She didn’t realize that the descriptor of grandmother wasn’t an indication of advancing years, but of increasing honor and trust and more love than she’d ever known!

As my own Pennsylvania Dutch grandmother humbly remarked regarding her late-in-life discoveries: “Too soon, too old.  Too late, too smart.” 

Apparently that applies to us all!

Christie Clarke