Tag Archives: parenting styles

What Kind Of Parent Are You?

Before I had kids, I knew exactly what kind of parent I would be.

I’d be the kind who:

  1. Makes their kid wonderful meals from scratch and teaches them to love eating healthy sophisticated foods, and
  2. Reasonably explains why screaming in public is a bad idea and therefore has super well-behaved kids in public.

And as it turns out, my kids will consider shoving a piece of broccoli in their mouths… if it’s covered in cheese or butter and holding a plate of ketchup-drenched dinosaur nuggets hostage.

And last week, Bridget threw such a huge fit in the park that three other parents stepped in to help me deal with it. They found her grit truly impressive.

Brontë later reported her baby sister’s episode to her father thusly:

Brontë: Bidgie threw a huge fit at the park today.

John: Oh yeah?

Brontë: Yes, a BIG… HUGE… CRAZY FIT!


Brontë: Yes it is.

Bridget: I DON’T LIKE YOU.

Brontë (bursting into tears): That hurts my feelings.

Bridget: Okay, okay, I love you… Now SHUT UP!

So apparently, we don’t really know what kind of parents we’ll be until we actually have kids and other parents to compare ourselves with and while other parents are reminding their kids to “make good choices today” while dropping them off at school, I’m hiding behind trees for jump-scares.

(I don’t know if jump-scares are a good choice, even if your kids think it’s hilarious, so I’m guessing that “Super-Responsible Mom” isn’t me.)

IMG_2465Even so, the neighborhood somehow talked me into being one of the Girl Scout Leaders for our local troupe, which makes me question their collective judgment. Cookie sales have been happening lately, for example, and yet no one’s on board with my ideas about targeting bars and dispensaries. I mean… fish in a barrel, right?

Are these good choices, Erin?

And then I go encouraging little girls to write about dog poop, which makes more sense in context…

See, since I’m a freelance writer, I was asked to give a small presentation about writing so the girls could earn their journaling badges. Really? In front of people? I’m an introverted writer, sheesh…

But I managed it and then the girls broke into groups to write their own stories. Since this week’s theme was helpfulness, they had to write about Something They Did That Was Helpful.

I sat next to a little girl, aged about 7, with a blonde bob that we’ll call “Lucy” for the purposes of this tale.

Me: What would you like to write about, Lucy?

Lucy (looking defiant): DOG POOP.

Me: Alright, dog poop. Is dog poop helpful?

Lucy (smirking): My dog POOPED in my room and I HAD TO PICK IT UP. That was HELPFUL of me.

Me (nodding): I can see that. But look, you can’t just write “I picked up some dog poop in my room.” We need to be able to *see* the poo, to smell it…

Lucy (giggling): What!?

Me: Well, what did it look like? Was it brown or black? Stinky or dry? Tell me about this dog and your room and where he pooped in it.

Lucy (turning pink): He’s a small dog and the poo was small and he pooped in the corner of my room.

Me: That’s a good start, but we need more details. I want to be able to feel the warmth of his turd in my hand as I read your story.

Lucy (laughing until she’s wiping tears off her cheeks): OMG, well, it was dry already and cold but still pretty gross. I have to pick up his poop ALL THE TIME!

Me: And how does that make you feel?

Lucy: Angry!

Me: But also good at picking up dog poop?

Lucy: I guess… yeah. Can a draw a picture when I’m done?

Me: Sure. Be sure to draw the poop and circle it and write “poop” with an arrow pointing to the poop when you’re done.

And she did. She wrote two whole pages all about this poo episode and was feeling pretty good about it until her mom was picking her up and another Scout yells, “LUCY WROTE ABOUT POOP!”

Lucy’s mom’s face turns mortified white.

I jump in: “See, the girls were supposed to write about being helpful and Lucy felt helpful about cleaning up after the dog. She wrote all about her dog and what the poop was like and how she was being helpful for the family.”

Lucy’s mom relaxed, whew. Maybe she thinks I’m a maniac now, but she needed to know I’d encouraged this behavior before Lucy got in trouble for repeatedly saying “POOP” in front of all the other girl scout moms.

I mean, maybe it wasn’t the loftiest topic, but she did end up writing a long, creative story instead of continuing to resist the exercise, and vented her frustration in a harmless way.

Plus, Lucy’s totally my buddy now. She thinks I’m on the level. Which is why she approached me at the next meeting to ask what was going on in a photo she found in National Geographic. (We were cutting photos out of magazines to illustrate posters about good values and my group’s poster was about HONESTY.)

Me: Hmm… it looks like a shaman is trying to get rid of this woman’s uterine tumor.

Lucy: What’s a uterine?

Me: Umm… well, you know how women get big bellies when they’re going to have a baby?

Lucy: Yes?

Me: The baby is inside their “uterus.” It’s where the baby grows.

Lucy: Oh. What’s a tumor?

Me: It’s when cells keep growing like mad scientists and it makes a big lump that can kill you.

Lucy (nodding): What’s a shaman?

Me: It’s like… a witch doctor. Someone who heals by using spells and medicine.

Lucy: Is it working?

Me: Probably not.

sneakalongRight then, another Girl Scout mom walks up, swipes our copy of National Geographic and adds it to the pile she’s carrying. “These are NOT appropriate for children,” she says, and I can’t help wondering if it’s because I was just explaining witch doctors and uterine tumors to the children.

(But wouldn’t lying to the children while making a poster about HONESTY be somewhat hypocritical?)

So it turns out, I’m a weird parent. Eh, at least the kids seem to appreciate how I’m not real easy to shock.

And they also like the jump-scares.




Why I’m A Mean Mommy

I really try not to be a judgey parent, because I know how judged we already feel.

But sometimes it’s hard not to be.

For example, we were attending a pool party when another mom warned me about my daughter’s soon-to-be kindergarten teacher:

“Miss Virtue is old and rigid and just doesn’t understand my son Dougie’s needs. He’s a very high-energy boy.”

IMG_0575This wasn’t the first time I’d been warned about Miss Virtue, so I was beginning to worry. That is, until I later saw little Dougie in action…

The host was barbecuing burgers when the hostess opened up the pool. Every nearby kid stripped down to their bathing suits, their parents affixed floatation devices onto them, and suddenly, Elsa’s and Batmen were everywhere.

And that’s when little Dougie started fighting with with his mom. “You HAVE to wear your floaties,” she kept insisting.

All the other kids were jumping into the pool, squealing, as little Dougie chucked his floaties to the floor then stepped onto the pool ladder, rolling his eyes.

Oh no… he did NOT just do that.

Hearing those floaties thunk to the floor, I prepared to watch his parents open a can of whoop-ass. What was it going to be… a time-out? An embarrassing lecture in front of all the other kids?

“Well, okay. But… just stay in the shallow end. Don’t go in the deep end, Dougie.”

Dougie immediately started thrashing toward the deep end, of course, looking back every few seconds to make sure they saw him doing it.

Hoo boy… he’s had it now.

(His parents were probably just fumbling around for the can opener before yanking him straight out of that pool and teaching him what being The Only Kid Not Swimming feels like.) 

Except, no. They let it slide and later did nothing when Dougie kept badgering the hostess to let him into the pool after she’d closed it. She must’ve said “No Dougie, we’re not swimming anymore” twenty times, in an increasingly chilly tone, as his parents argued about whether someone should go watch him.

Look, maybe Dougie was having an unusually bad day, or maybe his parents just didn’t want to make a scene at someone else’s party. But I couldn’t help noticing the utter lack of consequences for Dougie’s actions, even when they became a safety hazard as well as an annoyance to everyone around him.

Plus, it had been the second time that month I’d watched someone let their kid get away with murder. The first was at a zombie-themed birthday party for a boy who likes to express himself…

A lot. Loudly.

His folks had gone to great lengths for three weeks to plan the party, making painted-eyeball doughnut holes, watermelons delicately carved to resemble brains, and grab-bags of zombie-fighting kits.

We hadn’t seen them for the past year and were hoping they’d been having an easier time with their son, who hadn’t been responding well to their lenient, validation-focused parenting style.

Well, our hopes were in vain, because when asked where the boy was starting kindergarten, the dad explained that the boy would be held back another year “because he needs more time to develop his social skills.”

And then, his explanation was actually punctuated by his son picking up a metal truck and smacking the little girl next to him square in the face with it.

After she ran away sobbing, dad told the boy that maybe he’d had enough time playing trucks for right now and I stood there praying that the boy wouldn’t attack one of my daughters like that because I didn’t want to have to choke some kid out in front of his dad.

(Alright, simmer down. I was probably totally kidding about choking out a kid.)

At any rate, I then suddenly realized there were half as many kids in attendance as there had been at his last birthday party. It wasn’t hard to see why. As the party continued, the boy screamed at everyone, didn’t thank anyone for their present, and tossed his grandmother’s gift aside with disgust as the woman looked genuinely hurt.

He went on to spit in his mother’s face and punch her repeatedly whenever slightly frustrated, which somehow upset her enough to complain about his behavior to other guests, after all of her hard work, yet never to him.


I couldn’t stop thinking about how much this was hurting him.

What do I mean by that? Well, his parents are good people who obviously love their kid. They genuinely believe that giving him complete freedom will help him develop into a creative, self-actualized adult. They make sacrifices each and every day by showing saintlike patience in the face of his ingratitude.

Except… the kid is lonely.

Because nobody likes him.

And that’s the part self-esteem-centered parenting theories often seem to forget: if you allow your kid to ignore every rule, disrespect others, and expect to be catered to without so much as a “thank you,” people won’t like having them around.

Yes, we have to give them reasonable leeway. You can’t always stop babies from screaming and toddlers WILL throw public tantrums on occasion, no matter what we do.   They’re still incredibly irrational and have limited communication skills right then.

But by the time they’re entering school, it’s not unreasonable to teach them basic manners. Like greeting people, respecting property, and following house rules when they are guests in someone’s home. It gets them invited back.

Which is also why I’m a really mean mommy:

I expect my girls to say “thank you” when they receive a gift, and remind them when they forget.

If they start bullying another kid, I yank them away from their activity and explain why it’s unacceptable until they either understand or have to stop playing.

I even make them wait to be excused from dinner, because right now it’s the only thing that keeps them from tearing around restaurants like screaming banshees whenever we go out to eat.


IMG_0645All of which, by some parenting standards, is downright fascist. My girls should be broken puddles of damaged self-esteem and unmet expectations by now.

Except they’re not. They’re happy kids with lots of friends.

They’re obviously not perfect and have their bad days too. We parents all struggle with knowing when we’re being too strict and when we’re letting our kids walk all over us, always stressing about which rules are reasonable and which consequences are fair. Most of all, we worry about hurting our kids.

But having consequences, in itself, won’t damage your children. Not as long as you also acknowledge when they’re being good, give them plenty of love and attention, and make sure your expectations are consistent.

And with that, I’m off my soap-box for the day. I won’t be judging Miss Virtue, not just yet.









8 Reasons We Need to Discipline Our Kids

I was on the phone with my cousin the other day when I nearly made her pee her pants. It went down like this:

Her: So then grandma says I have to move that old green car out of the back garage and I told her that car hadn’t been driven in while, so we needed to…


Her: WHOA!!!

I explained my outburst wasn’t directed at her and she said she’d already picked up on that… she just hadn’t realized I ever yelled at my kids. She did it all the time, so she wasn’t being judgey, but she’d never even heard me raise my voice.

Like ever, for any reason.

And the truth is, I don’t like yelling at my kids. I don’t like being the bad guy. I hate having to make hard calls about what expectations are age-appropriate, or when to stop explaining rules and start handing out consequences.

I know other parents feel the same. You love your kids with every fiber of your being and want nothing more than see them smile and be truly happy.

Which is why you have to make those calls.


  • parentKids test limits

Kids are born knowing ABSOLUTELY NOTHING. It’s only natural for them to start trying to figure everything out.

This means everything from what does cat vomit taste like to what happens when you stick forks into the light socket. Or punch someone in the face. Or run across a busy intersection.

You can tell them with increasing conviction about why it’s not a good idea to try these things, but it’s only a matter of time before they start wondering what happens when they do the exact opposite of what you just said. And running into busy intersections is no time for theoretical object lessons.

  • It’s better for you to teach them limits than for them to run into them headfirst

When my kids would throw tantrums and clock me in the face, it hurt. Still, they’re tiny enough for me to shake it off. They don’t really know what they’re doing.

But… what happens if they think it’s absolutely fine to hit people whenever they’re frustrated? When they haul off and backhand a dangerous animal or someone truly scary?

In other words, dealing with it now means them not getting the crap beat out of them someday, when they mess with the wrong person.

  • Humans are social animals

It’s an imperfect comparison, but what happens when people never discipline their dog?

The dog barks and jumps on people, pees everywhere and maybe even bites people. And no one wants it around. The dog stops being welcome.

Not teaching your dog how to behave is a disservice to your dog, because the dog ends up rejected and lonely.

The same thing happens to us. When your kid becomes an obnoxious tyrant no one can stand, your kid will end up feeling rejected and lonely. Because no one will like them or want them around. You want your children to be welcome at social events, which means suffering though the frustrating work of reining them in.

  • You don’t want them to miss out on opportunities

Kids don’t naturally want to sit still or be quiet. They want to yell, throw things, take their shoes off just anywhere and run around screaming like maniacs. Maybe while throwing their shoes.

And when they’re babies, it’s impossible to convince them to calm down. But at some point in their development, you have to enforce the idea that sitting down and not screaming is an absolute requirement.

Otherwise, you can never take them out to restaurants or really, in public at all. That means they can’t participate in a huge number of fun activities, from going out shopping to seeing a movie to going to Disneyland. The sooner your kid learns how to conduct him or herself in public, the more fun things they’ll get to do.

  • Learning how to control yourself is critical

A huge part of our ability to cope with  life demands involves making ourselves do things we don’t want to do.

Think about it: we get up early and drive to our jobs, even though we’d rather sleep in, eat Cheetos and watch TV all day. We wait in lines, even though it’s boring. We pay our bills, even though we’d rather buy something fun. We don’t throw things at people who annoy us.

Essentially, we learn to delay instant gratification in order to reap larger rewards down the line. People actually tested this in the 60’s and 70’s… Stanford researchers gave kids marshmallows while promising them even more marshmallows if they could keep from eating them for 15 minutes.

They call it the Marshmallow Test. The kids who managed to not immediately eat their marshmallow later had higher SAT scores and ultimately were more successful.

It’s one of those academic experiments that proves what intuitively makes sense when you think about it–learning to not always act on your impulses is an enormously helpful life skill.

  • Kids gain self-esteem from feeling competent

Last week, when I told my daughter Brontë to clean up her room, she demanded that I help her.

She said, “I could clean it by myself but together, it would be FABULOUS CLEAN!”

I chuckled, but then made her do it anyway.

Many of my friends thought that was harsh. They felt she’d come up with such an entertaining response, I should’ve caved and helped her clean her room.

But here’s the thing… When she’d finished, I marveled at how awesome her room looked and gave her a strawberry cupcake scratch-n-sniff sticker for doing such a great job.

She was incredibly proud of how nice her room looked. When her grandparents stopped by later, she showed off her sticker then asked them both to come see her room, which she cleaned up ALL BY HERSELF.

It’s good to push kids to do things, to set standards. Obviously, you shouldn’t make them chase moving targets by aways finding fault with their efforts. If they can never please you, they’ll eventually decide there’s no reason to keep trying.

If I’d caved, I would’ve denied my daughter pride in her accomplishment. Set limits, but reward your kids when they follow through (that reward can be your attention and approval). This is what makes kids feel capable.

  • Kids are irrational

Even if you were committed to always making your children happy, it would be impossible.

See, somewhere around age 1 1/2 to 2 years old, they get obsessed with telling you “NO!” It’s the power of refusal, a child’s first sense of control over its environment. I’d offer my two-year old daughter Brontë a piece of cheese, for example, and she’d predictably scream “NO!”

So I’d put the cheese away, and she’d start screaming because she wanted the cheese. I’d offer it to her again and she’d refuse it. This would happen over and over again as my daughter struggled through some existential toddler crisis of needing cheese while simultaneously needing to exert her powers of refusal.

As they grow older, more sophisticated versions of the same dynamic just keep playing out. Now, it’s about being hysterically tired while refusing to take a nap and someday, it’ll be paying to go on a diet while sneaking food on the side or impulsively buying stuff then not making rent.

At some point, we all need to learn hard lessons about not always getting everything we want. Otherwise, we’ll boomerang endlessly through self-defeating contradictions.

  • And because desire is a bottomless pit

It’s counterintuitive, but having everything you want doesn’t make people happy.

Because there’s always something more. Buy your kid every toy he asks for and I guarantee that at no point will he decide “Hmm, I have a lot of toys. This is enough toys. I think I’m good now.”

Eventually, either your bank account or patience will reach its end. You’ll tell him “no” and he’ll feel that agony of refusal as sharply at the 300th toy as with the 5th.

Maybe even more so, since he’d started thinking he was a god with endless abilities to command any toys that caught his fancy, and now he’s having to come to grips with the limits of his power.

And even if he had all the toys in the universe, he’d be angry about not being able to fly. It’s the ancient tragedy of people who seem to have everything and yet still, never think it’s enough.

It’s the prison of entitlement–believing you should automatically have access to anything your whims desire. You fail to appreciate what you already have because you’ve never experienced the frustrations of not having it.

I’ve witnessed this time and time again when watching spoiled kids in Disneyland. When my cousin and I were little, by contrast, we thought Disneyland was the best thing that could ever happen to you. We were 6000 shades of ecstatic whenever we found ourselves in Disneyland and would talk about very last detail for years on end.

But by now, I’ve seen countless kids in Disneyland throwing enormous fits about stupid things. One of my husband’s coworkers recently took his kids to Disneyland and had to go to SEVEN DIFFERENT RESTAURANTS before his kids were satisfied with the menu. Then they just wanted to go back to the hotel and watch TV.

It’s easy to write them off as spoiled brats who don’t appreciate what their parents did for them. The money their parents saved up, the things they didn’t buy that they really wanted, in hopes of seeing their kids have the time of their lives. Instead, the kids complained about everything not being good enough.

Yet when you look at it another way, those kids were miserable. They must be miserable most of the time, since even Disneyland couldn’t help. You have to feel sorry for them, because their failure to appreciate their blessings probably means they’ll fail to appreciate many of the great things that will happen throughout their lives. Until it’s too late.

And this is why, my friends, we have to impose guidelines and order unto our children.

So much of the world is neither really good nor bad, but a reflection of how we choose to experience it. We make our children happy by helping them appreciate not already being entitled to the things that they get, by helping them recognize that they, while still important, are not automatically the center of everyone’s universe.

I don’t condone harsh discipline or being nastier to your kids than the situation requires. And I realize that’s a tough line to draw as we all do the best that we can.

But I hope to comfort other parents who feel bad about refusing their children, setting strict limits, or meting out consequences. There are plenty of experts who will make you feel like you’re screwing your kids up if they’re ever unhappy.

I believe you’re making an important sacrifice. You’re accepting your child being temporarily angry at you because in the long run, they’ll end up much happier.

Just try to be fair, reasonable, and consistent. Kids feel most secure when they understand the rules and live in a strong, predictable universe.

Anyone disagree?











Carrots, Sticks, and Goldilocks Parenting

From nadiathemis.com

Parenting is infinitely complicated, but for the sake of discussion, I’m going to greatly oversimplify it by saying it all comes down to managing the carrot and the stick.

Some parents are into the stick-heavy approach, meaning they believe in high expectations, firm discipline and obedience. They believe children are naturally defiant, lazy, and need to be wrestled into social conformity before developing into jail bound deviants.

Other parents, however, swing in the carrot direction. They believe children are naturally well-intentioned, creative, and mostly need gentle guidance to help them reach complete self-actualization.

Up until recently, I’ve been a carroting parent. I’ve been afraid of stunting my kids’ creativity by worrying about tidiness or of crushing their spirits by being hard on them.

These beliefs seemed to jibe with our society’s feel-good approach to life, as well as our tendency to view it as a zero-sum game. Motherhood means sacrifice, we think, because your suffering means a better life for your children. Always making your kids happy means they’ll grow up feeling validated and safe.

But here’s the thing: anyone who has ever flown on airplanes has sat through safety demonstrations. They always tell you that in case of an emergency, you need to put your own oxygen mask on first before you help anyone else, like your kids.

And this makes sense. You won’t be much help to anyone if you’re passed out from lack of oxygen, so you better make sure you can breathe before worrying about someone else.

We can grasp this concept on the physical level, but somehow not on the emotional one.

It feels almost sacrilegious to say this, but parents are people too.

We need guidelines and rules for our children… not just for them, but for our own sanity.

It almost feels like you aren’t supposed to have feelings after becoming a parent. You don’t matter anymore because it’s all about the kids. In fact, I think many people are afraid of having kids because they secretly fear the complete loss of their own identities.

And that’s not entirely unfounded. Babies, by definition, demand an enormous amount of time and energy. They look to you to fulfill every wish, and we act as though parents should suppress their own needs to do so.

But we can’t, and it’s dangerous to believe we can.

Even the most kindhearted parent eventually figures out it’s impossible to completely satisfy their child. There is no limit to a child’s desires: they will always want more and want it faster. They will want a cup and then a bigger cup and they want it now, and they’re livid that the cup you brought is green instead of red. They want the cup yesterday and right before they strip off their clothes and run across the busy street.

A parent who never limits his child’s freedoms and desires will eventually find his life intolerable. He will be unhappy because he’s reduced to an emotionally-battered servant to an increasingly demanding master. The child will be unhappy because the Universe itself has limits that frustrate his whims.

staredadAnd at some point, the parent will lose his sh*t.

It’s going to happen. It has to happen. It’s a pressure cooker that never quits grinding the soul.

I’ve been taking my four-year-old to a liberal, play-based preschool that requires parents to work shifts every week. This experience has taught me a lot about why we need both carrots AND sticks to raise our children without becoming completely miserable ourselves.

At first, this place seemed like the answer to my prayers. Instead of forcing academic regurgitation on three-year-olds, for example, they let kids run around exploring, with very few rules.

VERY few, meaning the kids aren’t allowed to beat each other up and that’s about it.

Kids don’t have to participate in activities and don’t have to clean up after themselves. Parents are there to clean, get kids whatever they want, and make sure no one gets hurt.

As you can imagine, it’s a paradise for children. It fosters creativity, confidence, and is incredibly fun.

But for parents? That’s another matter.

For instance, about an hour before the day is over, parents need to clean everything up before the afternoon shift. The teachers conduct activities inside to gather the kids, but kids aren’t forced to attend.

So you find yourself scrambling to gather the clay-encrusted pots and pans chucked all over the outside yard. You scrub them off as quickly as you can before putting everything away and sweeping the entire outside area…

Then some kid comes along, looks you square in the face, chucks a bunch of clean pans into wet clay and kicks a pile of dirt onto the freshly-swept sidewalk. He’s not curious about the world around him; he wants to find out exactly how much he can get away with.

And he grins as he watches you scramble to clean it all up again…

Before picking up more pans and chucking them back into the dirt.

Again and again.

You can suggest he go inside to join the other kids, but can’t make him do it. And the kids know this, so they usually won’t.

The adults are frustrated, but aren’t allowed to get angry at the kids. So what do they do? Where does that energy go?

Toward other adults, of course. The parents and teachers start sniping and barking orders at each other for help. Everyone’s stress levels keep rising and since kids have a faint grasp of consequences, they keep rattling your chains to watch you dance.

By the time your shift is over, you’re scrambling to get the hell out of there, to do ANYTHING besides manage a gaggle of children at play.

This is an example of too much carrot, a world where adults are overworked and humiliated, desperate to stop catering to the whims of petty tyrants, where a child screams “JUMP” and adults can only negotiate how high.

A world where parenting becomes a hated chore instead of an adventure, where your growing resentment threatens to infect anything it touches.

We need a better carrot-and-stick balance… to figure out which bowl neither  breaks our kids’ spirits nor our own, which bowl is “just right.”

Children aren’t sinners or saints, but both. Like grown-ups, they can be selfish, loving, sadistic, compassionate, or confused at any given moment. They’re curious not just about the world, but also the furthest limits of their power.

And we’ve got to keep those limits reasonable, folks. Or we’re gonna lose our collective minds.


The Underrated World of Daddy Hacks

cropped-10924822_10152841226509821_8908954721205412902_n.jpgI’d like to begin today’s posting by stating the obvious: men and women are raised differently.

And I think these different expectations result in different parenting approaches.

Women, for example, are brought up with thousands of idealized images floating in our heads… snapshots of how a perfect life is supposed to look.

This is the perfect outfit, the right interior design, the way your hair should fall into perfect messy imperfection when having a cute pillow fight with your boyfriend.

Open women’s magazines and you’ll discover what an enviable life is supposed to look like.

They are filled with beautiful still-life compositions: pretty meals on color-coordinated table sets, adorable coffee cups with heart-shaped cappuccino foam patterns, perfect women with complex eyeshadow designs, like miniature Monet masterpieces, adorning their oval faces as they wear expensive coats while walking down lively urban streets…

Many of us grow up clutching at paint swatches and Pinterest pins, hoping to authentically express ourselves by painting our lives the right shade. If we become mothers, we fret about how to design the perfect nursery, wondering whether we are having sons or daughters and how to correctly color-coat their space.

Being a good mother, for many, means a constant production of all this conventional beauty: dressing our kids in charming outfits and serving them adorable meals on brightly-colored dish ware. We hope any candid photos of our random mothering could attest to our powerful love with their beauty alone.

Men, on the other hand, aren’t often raised with these (sometimes overwhelming) esthetic demands. They are raised instead to be practical, to fix problems, to ferret out the most pragmatic solutions. They are happy to get from A to Z with a minimum of fuss and even less concern about what observant neighbors may be thinking.

And this is probably why any time my daughters go out in public wearing something crazy, random strangers smirk and ask me if their father dressed them today. It’s funny (and sometimes true), but also illustrates how our society tends to believe mothers have this whole parenting thing down to a science, whereas fathers are holding on by the skin of their teeth.

You can see it in the countless comedy tropes about goofy dads scrambling when left alone with the children: inept fathers pouring waffle batter in the toaster while their kids are breaking plates all over the floor. In real life, any mom who mentions that her husband is looking after the kids is likely to hear chuckles and hopes that she won’t be retuning to utter chaos, as though dads obviously can barely hold down the fort while she’s away.

It’s an old joke, and in my opinion, often an unfair one. Yes, my husband’s solutions tend to be more practical than polished, but they are solutions, just the same.

Sometimes they are downright hilarious.

For example, anyone with an infant has probably wrestled with terrible restaurant highchairs before. Those things are one-size-fits-all, regardless of whether your child is 3 weeks or 3 years old, and have flimsy little seatbelts. A small baby could turn the wrong way and flip right out of them.

You have to finagle your baby out of his or her carseat, wrangle them into the crappy highchair, and try to wedge sweaters around them to keep them in place. It’s a hassle.

So when John just up and engineered a restaurant hack by angling the carseat right into the booth, I thought it was brilliant. It looked ridiculous, but worked perfectly… Bridget was happy, safe, and ready to eat. Plus, no other customers had to stumble around an awkward highchair in the middle of the restaurant:

My husband’s Carseat-Booth apparatus

And this isn’t the only time my husband’s slapdash innovations have come in handy. Many a joke has been made about babies being messy eaters, but you really have no idea how crazy it gets until you have one.

My kids love pasta and they especially love a recipe I’ve had around since I was tiny. We call it “Kid’s Spaghetti” around here. It’s an extremely inauthentic but delicious meal involving lots of sausage and cheddar cheese.

Bridget’s chocolate fine dining experience

We served it to Brontë when she was tiny and she LOVED it. So much, in fact, that she wouldn’t just eat it–she would grab handfuls of bright orange pasta and mechanically shampoo them into her own scalp.

This particular combo of sausage, cheese, and grease is insanely delicious, but leaves such a greasy neon orange oil slick on your kid that we would keep a kitchen sink bath on the ready every time we ate the meal. After dinner, we’d  scoop Brontë right out of her high chair, dump her into the sink and start scrubbing away.

But the last time we had it, John had a great idea. After snapping Bridget into her high chair, he left the table and came back with an armful of dishtowels.

He started grabbing each towel and tucking it around Bidgie’s little body: around her legs, around her trunk… when he was finished, she looked like some kind of banana-shaped dishtowel mummy with a face and two little pudgy arms sticking out. Then he plopped her plate in front of her.

When we were done eating, Bridget was a hot orange mess, but all John needed to do was peel away the dishtowels and chuck them into the laundry bin before wiping her hands. Awesome.

Daddy Hacks: not picture-perfect, but they work.