Category Archives: positive reinforcement with children

This is How I Roll: Some Parents Need to Grow Up


Look, I’m not going to sugar coat this: I’m grossed out by people who think it’s funny to have kids and then bitch about them, or habitually talk about needing booze, or a line, or a joint or a valium or whatever to get through the day.

It’s all over the Internet. Apparently it’s what sells. “No one ever went broke underestimating the intelligence of the American public.”- Henry Mencken. I prefer to not engage with the “foolish consistencies [which] are the hobgoblins of little minds.” -Emerson. I guess I will never hit it big. That’s OK, drunk people can’t read very well.

What those people need is a few moments alone and several deep breaths. That’s all. Oh, and likely therapy, which they are probably avoiding.

Ask anyone who knows me or who has interacted with me, and they will tell you, I’ve got a sense of humor, I am resilient, I can roll with punches. But just not this one. Not about parents who get their drink/joint/whatever on to cope with their holes, fears, inadequacy issues, mommy issues, daddy issues, shitty childhoods or whatever that are being activated by triggers that parenthood presents. I’m not talking anxiety, we all have that. I’m talking deep, real, soul-wrenching stuff. Oh, and regarding those who habitually make jokes about it? Grow up.


So, here’s the deal: I grew up with crap like that happening to me. I can’t tell you how many times I heard, “You drive me to drink” as a kid. It’s sick as hell. Those days, and my decisions to talk about them are prickly. It’s partly my story to tell, in terms of how it affected me, but I can tell you this: if you need a drink, or think it’s funny to crack wise about being a mom or a dad who needs *needs* NEEDS something to “get through your day” I have a proposal for you: get fixed.

No, not with a shrink, that’s later, but tie your tubes, clip the lines, get your act together before you victimize your kids with your so-called, “I was just kidding” banter and jokes and Facebook groups and blog titles, and all that stuff. Because what you do to your kids, in the end, when they’re like me: 45 and wondering where the hell you were all their life, it’s not gonna be so funny then. You will be “Granny needs a drink” then. And that’s even sicker.

This is real. Kids are not saints, they are micro versions of me and you, and they have memories, and they have feelings and they have access to the Internet. If you find yourself turned off by their behavior, I have a suggestion: look around and look in the mirror. They learn from us, peers, teachers, siblings, but mostly from us, their parents, who appear godlike in their eyes. They believe everything we say, they don’t understand sarcasm until they’re about 15, despite our insistence that they get it beforehand. We are their go-to resource, unless we are half in the bag, spending the night at the office, on a little yellow pill, or pulling a toke.

But I’m just joking. Right? Because we all are. We’re all just trying to loosen up, have a little fun, don’t be such a stiff, Mol…

This isn’t our second shot at being in the cool group in high school or being popular with the pretty people. If you (like just about everyone) have some weird torch you’re holding for the glory days of your youth and you’re pinning your hopes on your kid to Make It this time… Wake up and smell the music. It’s pathetic. Get your act together and behave.

Maybe if you’re lucky, when you’re old and decrepit they will just feel sorry for you. Maybe if when they’re in a state where you will need them, when they have to take care of you, they will do the right, honorable and human thing: respect you and help you age and eventually die well. Or maybe they’ll get drunk and make jokes about it. You know, because it’s all in good fun, right?, crapping on the concept of being there for people who need our help. Or maybe they won’t resent the hell out of you for putting yourself first all. the. time. Or maybe they will do their best, numbly go through the motions, but be unable to give back what wasn’t given to them.

As a parent, I’m all for cutting loose and having fun, but not as a brand, not as an identity, and certainly not as a thematic function for who I am. Life’s hard enough sober and single. Marriage adds a whole new dimension. And then kids?! Innocent people who are legitimately needy and completely dependent on us for everything until they aren’t anymore?! Holy cow… I can’t imagine life drunk and with kids. And I certainly can’t imagine it being clever or glib or witty to make jokes about needing a mind-numbing substance to get through the day.

I can’t stand that stuff, it makes my blood boil. I have moments, trust me, of when I wish I could run away, or of when I wish I could be more resilient, more aloof, but no… This is life. When you get it on and make a baby, it’s not only all about you anymore. It’s about doing your best, everyday showing up mentally and physically and doing two very simple things on paper, but hard as hell to practice at times: love them with all your might and protect them. Love and protect. That’s all.

Therapy is cheap compared to how our glibness affects our children.

I’m dealing with my own set of challenges: I’m the PB&J in my family sandwich. My parents are getting reeeeally old and my kids are almost all teenagers. I will need every ounce of presence and sanity to navigate these waters. I could do the easy thing, do what my parents did: get drunk and avoid my responsibilities, but that’s not who I am.

If I’ve pissed you off, it’s okay. We aren’t right for each other. Just being real.

Thank you.

Be Careful of What You Wish For


When we have a dog, we usually endeavor to train the dog to sit or stay and reward the dog for the obedience. After repetition and praise, we all are successful. (Don’t bother with cats. You are their staff.)

When we call the dog and the dog comes, we reward the dog with a treat or a loving, non-aggressive response, and the dog feels safe and sometimes this safety is enough to feel rewarded.  After repetition and praise, we are all successful.

When we do this with a horse, the horse gets a carrot or treated kindly with love.  Request, praise, repeat.

When we do this with a dolphin, the dolphin gets a mackerel.  Request, praise, repeat.

This is called conditioning. This is called training.  This is also known as positive reinforcement.

What about when we have a dog that does something we don’t like? Say your dog poops in the house.  When we discover this, usually a while after the poop deposit, many people will chastise the dog, shove the dog’s nose in the poop and think they’ve trained the dog to not poop in the house.

Not so fast.  They’ve trained the dog to stay the hell away of the person who just called the dog.  

When we do this with our children:  when we discover they made a mess hours or several moments after it happened and we call them and scream at them for messing up, we are conditioning them to fear us when we call them.  If we do this enough, those kids will be afraid to move and will think everything is their fault.  And when they get their chance: they’re vapor.

When we tell the child that their grades are unacceptable and that they are lazy, they learn that only negative behavior gets a response.  So they keep that up. 

“Leave me alone!” 

When we freak out and get upset that a child or a dog or a horse or a dolphin doesn’t stay out of our things, or doesn’t mind their own business when we are on the phone or when they take something that doesn’t belong to them, we are training that child or mammal to not only respect our @)(*%@ privacy, we are training that child or mammal to stay away.  The mammal learns fast.  The mammal learns that even the remotest bit of toe-dipping into our pool of existence becomes one of trepidation.

We are turning our intrepid, innocent, loving, wide-eyed and imaginative children, or mammals into reactive, fearful, apprehensive and unsure beings.  We want our privacy, our things, our stuff respected, our “zones” of existence to be so separate and different than theirs. We get so much privacy that they never want to come back for fear of a negative response.  

Children and dolphins and dogs and horses aren’t born afraid.  We teach them this.  

We beat them down emotionally or otherwise to a point that we get so much privacy that they condition themselves to just stay away. Mission accomplished, right? 

~ ~ ~ 

If you are an adult child of a parent who wanted, craved and demanded privacy or who abdicated their parental obligations to a nanny or other surrogate and today you have a rocky relationship with that or those parents, don’t despair.  You were trained to give space.  You were trained to defer.  You were trained to not get involved.  You were trained to stay out.  Could your reactions now as an adult be that you are riddled with guilt and sadness for how things could have been if only you’d been a better kid to be invited?  I will recommend that you let it go.  Don’t sweat it, move on.  But that’s tough too.  But if you give yourself the gift of remembering that you weren’t born to fear or resent or to feel guilt, you will remember that you were conditioned.  We are not formed in a vacuum. 

But if you are an adult who craves your privacy and your “me” time and all the rest so you can be your creative best self,  be careful of what you wish for.  You want privacy?  You want your things left alone?  If you train enough, you just might get it and you’ll be left alone.  Now no one will disturb you.  Ever.  So when you’re 85 in a rocking chair wondering why no one comes to see you, remember this post.  You created this dynamic.  And again, if you’re the kid of a parent like that: you were trained.  

The good news: this can be reversed at any age.  But we all have to be willing to allow it.  Pride screws everything up.  Get out of your own way. 

thank you.