Daddy’s Girl…

32460171_4502478360303_4193727688403320832_nBy Kathy P. Behan

There’s a lot about parenthood that is patently unfair. The fact that you can spend tons more time with your child, but junior prefers your spouse. Mothers incubate their infants for nine months, go through painful labor for hours, and the baby comes out looking exactly like dad. In order to create kind, considerate, thoughtful people parents often have to do battle with their progeny on a regular basis, trying to teach them to be nice. Even though it’s sooo much easier to say “yes,” you often have to say “no” to your kids and incur their wrath, because you don’t want to raise ax murderers.

A concept I have a hard time with is the double standard for males and females. There are behaviors that supposedly are fine for one sex but not the other. I’m sure you could rattle off a bunch too. Starting with that old chestnut, it’s perfectly acceptable for girls to cry but boys aren’t allowed to. Boys should be competitive; girls should be team players. Boys should be strong; girls sweet. Women should be successful, but not more so than their men. Being promiscuous is almost admired and encouraged in men, but condemned for women (obviously, it should be condemned for both). Unfortunately, the list goes on and on. Even though some of these beliefs have at least faded, for far too many these myths still abound.

There’s another example that particularly bugs me. Why is it that being a “Daddy’s girl” has a positive connotation, while being a “Momma’s boy” has a negative one? Being a Daddy’s girl simply means that a female admires and feels close to her father. This is a lovely, even enviable concept. I, myself, am a Daddy’s girl — as are all my sisters (though we also totally adored our mom). However, if a male is called a Momma’s boy, it’s said with derision. The inference is that a guy is overly attached to his mother. He is too dependent on her and can’t function without her. He’s viewed as weak and a wimp. How and why did this meaning evolve?

The implication is that real men shouldn’t be close to their mothers. To be a man, he should cut himself off from his mom. He should sever maternal ties and go it alone. Be a rugged individualist until he marries and creates his own family. But this makes absolutely no sense.

I know many successful, wonderful men who feel close to their mothers. They stay in regular contact and take pride in their relationships.  Moms are often a child’s first teacher when it comes to emotional attachments. If they’re caring and loving, they’ll form a bond with their offspring that will never be broken. Every other relationship that a child has is an offshoot of that original attachment. A good mother teaches her children by word and deed all about unselfish, unconditional love. The kind of love that’s truly healing and nurturing. (Unfortunately, all bets are off if the child has a bad, selfish, or narcissistic mom. Hopefully, the other parent can fill the void.)

Luckily, I have a wonderful relationship with my children. We happily stay involved in each other’s lives, and I’m blessed to have a daughter who’s still nearby. I also feel very close to my sons, even though they both currently live far away. We talk often and try to see each other as much as money and busy schedules allow. I take pride in the fact that my smart, strong, independent sons are “Momma’s boys” — in the truest and best definition of the term. They’re my boys, and I’m crazy about them.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer specializing in health and family issues.

Let Your Kids Be Your Guide

Family with Grammy (2)

Good times were even more fun when Grammy was in the house.

By Kathy P. Behan

I’m a good mother — no brag, just fact. How do I know? Well for one thing, I come from a long line of good mothers. Nana, for example, my maternal grandmother was a caring, loving woman, who despite being an Italian immigrant widowed in her thirties, and working six days a week in a factory sweatshop, would schlepp her four children to the beach by subway on the seventh day. She protected and nurtured her brood with a leonine ferocity. Then there’s my mom, a woman whose sense of humor, childlike wonder, and up-for-anything attitude made her my kids’ all-time-favorite companion.

There were so many things that these women did right, but one of the most important lessons I learned from them was to make your children feel good about themselves. My mom and grandmother always made my two sisters and I feel that we were smart and good and special. We didn’t all get the same treatment though. We were loved and cared for equally, but differently, based on our individual needs. When we set off on our own, we were armed with healthy egos and a strong sense of self — important ammunition in a world that seems to delight in destroying self-esteem.

My family also knew the value of good communication. One of Nana’s favorite lines on how to raise kids was “Esplain, esplain, esplain,” meaning: make sure your children understand what you need and expect from them. Even though her English was shaky, her philosophy was very sound.

In turn, my mom started the practice of heart-to-hearts early. I remember sitting in the kitchen after kindergarten, and having her ask me questions about my day while I munched on some cookies. She got to know us real well from these chatting sessions. That’s probably why we felt so close to her, and could tell her just about anything.

Another reason why I loved my grandmother and mom so much was that they actually played with us. They weren’t just spectators watching our games, they were active participants. To our delight, they often quite literally got down and dirty with us.

On-call forever

But what really sets them apart from lots of other mothers was they knew that being a mother doesn’t stop simply because your “child” has reached a certain age. A good mother is “on-call” forever. My mom knew that there are times when mothers need mothering as much or more than their children do. “I hear that tone in your voice,” she  would say when I was trying to pretend that everything was OK, but I was really at the breaking point. “I’ll be right over.”

My mother continued to say and do this despite the fact that we moved to Massachusetts, and she and my dad, to California. Mom was undaunted by distances; when she was needed, she was there.

My mom was also very supportive of us. She often told us what good parents we were, and was wise enough to let us parent our children without (too much) interference. She knew we were the experts on our own kids, and enforced our rules — even when privately, she’d try to talk us into changing some of them.

Even though great role models help a lot, luckily, you don’t have to have good parents in order to be a good parent. To hone your mothering techniques, you may want to read parenting books and magazines, talk to women you think are good moms, or consider what my family taught me. But wade cautiously through the advice, suggestions and “experts.” Ultimately, you’ll need to decide what works best for you and your kids. Just remember what’s really important. Children need your patience, time, attention and love.

Motherhood is not an exact science, so short of mentally or physically hurting your children, no one can really tell you you’re doing it wrong. Just try to stay open to different philosophies, and let your kids be your guide through the perils of parenthood. Once you tune into them, they’ll teach you almost everything you need to know.

After all, this is what my mother taught me — and she was the best.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer, specializing in health and family issues.


Remembering Home During the Holidays

XmasBy Kathy P. Behan

When I was little we lived in an apartment building in Queens, N.Y., where my family lived on the middle floor, my grandmother and an uncle on the first, and another aunt and uncle on the third floor. As the only children, my older sister and I had full run of the building. We’d play in the dark, catacomb-like basement and chase each other around the fenced-in backyard.

My grandmother would proudly take us around the neighborhood while doing her errands. We’d routinely visit John, the butcher, who’d always roll up slices of thin, fresh bologna for my sister and me, and we’d go to the bakery where among other delicacies, we’d pick up chocolate-covered butter cookies made into the shape of pretzels.

Living in the same building, we saw a lot of our relatives. Even when we moved to Long Island and then to a house in Westchester, we’d visit my grandmother and Uncle Mike on a weekly basis, and other family members at least monthly.

On holidays, besides the lively and loud discussions, what I remember best was the table set with Nana’s gold-rimmed, floral-printed china, and crowded with antipasto, salad, steaming vegetables, oven-warmed breads, platters of pasta, sausages and meatballs.

After dinner, we’d all go downstairs and Uncle Mike played his favorite musical selections on his brand new hi-fi system, and my sisters (by this time my sister Maria was born) and I danced. The adults joined us sometimes, but more often they’d just watch, encouraging us with their cheers and applause. We grew up fully aware of how much we were cherished and loved.

As years passed, we got together frequently; that came to an end after my grandmother’s death. Her passing seemed to give my relatives permission to move to other states. But it wasn’t just physical distance that now came between us. Instead of being part of one big family, we broke up into factions. I kept in close contact with my parents and sisters, but not with the aunts, uncles and cousins who had comprised the original familial group.

I’m still not exactly sure how and why this distancing happened. It was such a gradual and seemingly natural process that I didn’t really notice until the dissolution was complete.

As the holiday season approaches, I often think back to the “old days” and mourn the loss of a large family get-together. I miss my relatives. And I especially miss the feeling of unconditional love and support that can only come from people who have known you forever.

My children will grow up never having had relatives as part of their daily or even monthly existence. They’ll see other family members, at most, four times a year, and they’ll need to take a plane or at least car rides in order to do so.

This situation is not completely bleak. There are actually a few advantages of not having relatives around. You don’t have to put up with some of the more disagreeable aspects of family life. Though I enjoyed seeing my relatives, as I became older I also became aware of my family’s imperfections. I noticed and was annoyed by their flaws and idiosyncrasies.

Another advantage of being on our own for the holidays is that we’re now free to just please ourselves and create our own traditions. I can make lasagna for Thanksgiving, for example, and my kids will think this is great.

And in the past, we’d just go along with the routines that had been established in our childhoods. Now that we’re in charge of creating these memories for our own children, my husband and I have had to evaluate and plan our own rituals and celebrations.

Patrick and I will always carry happy memories of holidays past with us. We’re hoping that in the future, our children will do the same.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer, specializing in health and family issues.

Buying Into The Quality Time Myth

dad playing with kidsBy Kathy P. Behan

I don’t buy the whole myth of quality time. Yeah, you should do interesting, stimulating and closeness-promoting activities with your kids, but I object to some of the other meanings that this phrase has taken on. For instance, the underlying message is that if you spend a little bit of time doing something that qualifies as a “quality” activity, it counts as much as if you had spent long periods of time doing nothing valuable with your children. In other words, if you spend quality time with your kids, it gets you off the hook for all those hours you spend away from them.

That’s why this theory’s a crock. It’s a concept made up to assuage the guilt of busy parents. But why shouldn’t we feel guilty for not spending enough time with our kids? Kids deserve our time. And feeling guilty is a helpful emotion. It can make us rethink our positions, to adjust our priorities, and to motivate us to try harder to do what’s right.

More than anything else, kids, especially when they’re young, want to be with their parents. And in their hearts, if not their heads, parents know it. Under normal circumstances, when they’re not tempted by the lure of a dream outing, children could care less about what they do, or where they go, and more about whom they’re doing it with. This is not to say that we shouldn’t try to find special things to do with our kids, or that it’s OK to plant them in front of a T.V. for hours on end as long as we’re in the same room.

What it does mean is that the activity is often secondary. Many kids with stay-at-home moms, for example, would often choose to run errands with their dads rather than to play games with their mothers. Even though any self-respecting kid would prefer playing to chores any day, the opportunity to be with dad is usually too good to pass up.

Another problem with the quality-time concept is defining what exactly counts as a quality activity. Going to a museum should certainly qualify. But what if you go to a museum that doesn’t hold your child’s interest, or if you don’t bother to talk to your child about what you’re seeing. How about shopping? Does that count? If you and your kids are doing this together, isn’t this a quality activity? To me, quality time is doing almost anything. The only criteria is that you and your kids are doing it together, and you’re interacting with each other.

I’d guess that some people who buy into the quality-time line entered into parenthood with unrealistic expectations. As novice parents, most of us are unprepared for the seemingly endless demands of our children. We quickly learn that taking care of a child is much more difficult and consuming than we probably ever imagined. But luckily, most of us aren’t foolish enough to believe that there are shortcuts we can take in raising children.

That’s why this theory’s a crock. It’s a concept made up to assuage the guilt of busy parents. In order to do it right, you simply have to put in the time. But sometimes people aren’t willing to do that. They try to find a way to be let off the parental hook because they don’t want to make any concessions to parenthood. After they have children, they want their lives to continue completely unchanged, making no allowances for the new member or members of their family.

Unfortunately, we all know this type of parent. They’re the people who panic at the thought of spending time with their kids. One such couple took their kids on a supposed family vacation. The father skied all day. The mother spent all her time in a hotel room writing her thesis. The children were placed in a day care center from early morning until dinnertime. A nanny would pick up the kids from the center, go out to eat with them and put them to bed. The parents would meet up for dinner and drinks, and then return to their sleeping children.

What kind of a message are these parents giving their children? Kids aren’t dumb. No matter how often they’re told they’re loved, if their parents aren’t around them enough, they get the opposite message loud and clear. They don’t count. They’re not worthy of attention. They’re not important to their parents.

The fact is there is no substitute for quantity time. The greatest gift that we can give our children is ourselves — our time and our attention. Nothing else even comes close.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer, specializing in health and family issues.

The Season of Giving

xmas tree girlBy Kathy P. Behan

Every time I see the commercial it burns me up. You know, the one where the kids are frantically playing in a room chock full of toys, and they stop to complain they’re bored. The implication is that their parents should rush to the store for another infusion of toys so their “toy nuts” will be satisfied.

This commercial highlights a common struggle between parents and kids — and it says the kids should win. On one side are children, who basically want everything they see. On the other side are parents, who have the fun job of explaining why this isn’t possible, and to instill in their offspring, to put it indelicately, the value of a buck.

Sounds like a pretty simple and straightforward lesson, but you know it’s not that easy. Many children have as their motto “ask and ye shall receive.” So they ask and ask and ask. Part of their cavalier attitude toward money is our own fault though. We sometimes make life too easy for them. In our efforts to show children love, we’ve showered them with a multitude of “things,” while forgetting to teach them that parental generosity has its limits, and that they should be grateful for what they have, as well as for what they’re given.

Even very young children should be taught these lessons. Unfortunately, kids don’t play fair. They constantly test and retest their parents on the finer points of these beliefs throughout their lifetimes, and often do so loudly and in public. Two-year-olds demand candy at the supermarket checkout counter; 4-year-olds, all the action figures in aisle five; teenagers insist on designer sneakers or jeans.

The worst part is once they get the desired item, it’s often not appreciated. One of my older son’s friends was visiting the other day and carelessly dropped his new plastic Bat plane. Not surprisingly it broke, but surprisingly he wasn’t the least bit upset. When my son asked him why, he promptly replied, “Cause my mom will buy me a new one.”

Instead of always being a “receiver,” let’s try to teach our children the joy and satisfaction of being a “giver.” Kids need to be taught that “sharing is caring,” and they should have the opportunity to experience this firsthand. Maybe they’d like to give some of their own money to a worthy cause or help choose and pack up canned goods for the homeless or pick out a toy for the “Toys For Tots” campaign. There are many worthwhile organizations that would appreciate even the most modest donation.

At this time of year when materialism vies with spiritualism, remember what’s really important. Let’s lavish our kids not with things, but with our time, attention, guidance and love. That’s the way to capture the true spirit and meaning of the holidays.

Merry Christmas and Happy Hanukkah.

Kathy P. Behan, a mother of three, is a nationally published freelance writer specializing in family and health issues.