Wednesday, September 26, 2012


Sitting near the playground with a group of parents after school one day, a child came up to ask for a snack from his mother.  One of the other parents asked him if he was enjoying his debate team practices.

“Of course I like it, I’m a good debater,” he snapped to the parent.

Trying another angle, the parent commented, “Your mom is a great speaker.  I bet you inherited her love of words.”

“Uh, are you trying to be funny?” the 12-year-old sarcastically replied.  “She doesn’t know anything!  She wouldn’t know a good debate topic of it hit her in the ass.”

I inhaled sharply and held my breath, waiting to see how the boy would respond to the beat-down that was about to be bestowed upon him from his mother.

Honey Badger Don't Care - Parentunplugged - Stacy Snyder - RESPECT
Honey Badger Don't Care!
To my astonishment, the mother didn’t bat an eye.  She calmly handed the boy his snack, didn’t respond at all, and acted as if nothing had happened.  She didn’t act upset by the put-down, nor concerned with the profanity used by her pre-teen in the company of a group of adults. 

It's as if she was silently chanting, "Honey Badger don't care!

I was so agitated by the lack of respect the child had shown his mother that I had to physically remove myself from the situation, before I opened my mouth.  On the one hand, it was none of my business, as every parent has their own style of child-rearing and should be free to use it.  On the other hand, I was so sickened by the lack of correction on the mother’s part that I wanted to scream to her that she was contributing to the arrogance of an ever-changing society by expecting no esteem whatsoever from her child!

Do you remember when you were a child and you were expected to tow the line in regards to your words, your tone, and your attitude?  I would get sent to my room, grounded, spanked, or given “the eye” from my parents if I spoke with disrespect to either one of them.  My parents’ response was lax in comparison to the punishment some of my friends would receive if they back-talked or spoke disrespectfully to their elders.  That expectation of courtesy and regard was extended to virtually anyone I came in contact with:  my sister, my cousins, my grandparents, my teachers, my parent’s friends, a stranger I’d meet on the street, the list goes on.  I really can’t think of a single person that was excluded from this deference.  Every kid I knew, even the kids that were bigger trouble-makers than me, as to be fair, I was a handful as a child, had been raised the same way.  We were all taught to respect our elders, show consideration for our peers, and reverence to our juniors.

So why today, less than half of a decade later, do I hear so many snotty children, teens, and yes adults, speak so contentiously to other people?  A customer cussing and screaming at a store associate, a child rolling her eyes at her teacher, a wife belittling her husband in front of a group of people,  a bus driver refusing to acknowledge the greeting of a passenger, and yes, a child calling his mother stupid….what is going on with our world? 

Throughout history, we’ve always seen examples of a few bad apples that infect the bushel, but I’ve just come to realize that as a society, there are more people shit-talking today than I can ever remember in my life!   Sure, maybe I didn’t pay as much attention when I was younger as I do now, and yes, one can point out that my perspective as a matriarch of a growing family is definitely changed since I was a young mover and shaker, not as concerned with my image.  Still, I find myself cringing on a regular basis about how I hear people talking to one another.  We speak without regard, without courtesy, and worst of all, without implication.  It’s as if it has become a given that we no longer respect one another, as is represented by the blatant disregard that has become acceptable in our society for others.

I wish I could say it’s just a fad parenting style being bestowed upon our children, and therefore has a somewhat easy fix, as it would eventually die out.  I think it’s much more serious, though, as the same generation of people that raised me to not only speak respectfully to and about others, but also to give people my respect by acknowledging that I’m not always right, are now contributing to the problem as well.

Take, as illustration, the unconcealed name-calling and the steadfast refusal to follow the leadership of our President of the United States by common citizens and lawmakers alike.  Again, through the years, there’s always folks that don’t agree with all of the policies and practices that are initiated by the President in office.  But that’s to be expected, right, as we’re all different people with unique views of the world?  When did it become acceptable, though, to proudly denounce a man we voted into office as our leader less than four years ago as a tar baby, a dick, a baby killer, or the antichrist?  Sure, not all of us voted for him, but that’s the way the ball has bounced for years.  You can never make everyone happy all of the time.  But to reduce the current-day remedy for our discontent to simply a tongue lashing toward our neighbor is so sad.

My point is not political in context.  I’m sure you could find similar public examples of deliberate disregard for our last president.  My point is that the boldness of our disrespect is intensifying every single year.  If left unchecked, how does it affect our world?  Do we become a lawless society, where our hateful words are matched with physical force?  Do we operate on the principal of every man for himself, as we’re incapable of existing in a community environment that relies on teamwork because we’re so nasty to one another?  Where does it stop?  It doesn’t stop until we take the effort to stop it.

I think we can still initiate a change in attitude toward one another, but it takes diligence.  It’s a three-part plan that requires discipline with our children, acknowledgement of our own use of disrespect, and modifying our family’s behavior. 

Instilling discipline in your children in regards to demanding respect will get the ball rolling.  Don’t pretend you don’t hear what they’re saying or acknowledge how they’re acting.  Be a parent and address the behavior in whatever style works for you.  Correct them on the spot, or wait for the privacy of your home, but just make sure you do it.  Let them know your expectation in regards to their words, tone, and attitude, as well as behavior.  They will respect you more if you hold them to your expectation.  If you bypass a disrespectful comment your child makes because you don’t have the time or energy to deal with the response, you open the door for your child to repeat the language or action because experience has shown him that it is okay.  

Next, check yourself before you wreck yourself.  Have a one-on-one with your bad self and really self-assess your own behavior in regards to respecting others.  Do you occasionally or often make nasty comments about other people under your breath?  Do you name call or yell at others when you get charged up about something?  Do you frequently use a condescending tone with your children, boss, or peers?  Make a list, whether mental or physical, of what you need to work on curbing, and then make a plan to modify your behavior.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the moment and use attitude to deal with a problem that could have been rectified with calm words and behavior.  Catch yourself.  Model the situation before it happens.  If your child hears you call the police officer that ticketed you a rat bastard, it can eat away at your kid’s supposed respect for authority.  Play out the scenarios in your head….what makes you angry?  What is your current response to that stimulus?  Is it a respectful response?  If it’s not, drop the behavior and replace it with something more positive.  Instead of letting your child hear you proudly call your city’s mayor a scum-bucket because you don’t agree with his policies on city-generated revenue, show your child that you can effectively and respectively get your point across with a well-written letter stating the facts.  Don’t let him learn by your bad example that it’s okay to be disrespectful if it happens to be a really important issue.  Your child will learn to make every issue very important. 

While the barometer of what is respectful can be somewhat fluid depending on the situation, overall, if you’d consider a comment, action, or behavior aimed toward your child, your mother, or your grandfather to be disrespectful, you shouldn’t say or do it toward another person.  I strongly believe that if we actively try to be decent human beings, all of the time, we will train ourselves to speak and act respectfully, without even trying, by sheer practice.  It’s about considering how you speak to others and how you feel about yourself.  It’s about caring how you come across and how you are viewed as a person.  It’s about respecting your children enough to give them the tools to be peaceful.  It’s about respecting yourself enough to address your internal issues and keep yourself in check.  And finally, it’s about surrendering to the idea that all people, not just people you like or love or admire, or people just like you, deserve our respect.  Own it.  Practice it.  Live it.     

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Giving Thanks

Stacy Snyder - Parent Unplugged - Giving Thanks - Child Praying
“Dear God.  Thank you for the Sullivans, Harry and Rosie.  Thank you for the teachers.  Please help us not to fight.  Oh ya, and thank you for teaching us to be polite.  Amen.”

Spoken like a true three-year-old, whose head is filled with the recent good time spent at the home of good friends, days spent picketing with the teachers during the strike, and a new babysitter who stresses no fighting on the playground and compliments my daughter on her manners.

If only our parental days could be wrapped up so conveniently in an evening prayer of thanks and call for help.  But can’t it?  Of course it can.  We sometimes get so caught up in the daily grind that we forget to just take a minute to breathe, appreciate life and the little things that make it worthwhile.  We seldom acknowledge that we can use some guidance every now and then because we don’t have all the answers.

I sometimes laugh at myself for thinking I have such a stressful life and playing into the drama of it all.  I tend to get going so fast in my daily quest to complete as many tasks as possible, that I sometimes physically hurt myself!  I literally run around the house or the neighborhood or the school or the office at warp speed.  I’ve been known to trip, fall, and crash into people and things.  

It’s usually after one of those events that one of my kids says, “Mom, just slow down.  It’s not the end of the world.  Just relax!”

Again, my children teach me instead of the other way around.  It’s truly humbling to listen to the sincerity in their voices and the wisdom of their words.  Each evening after I’ve been told to slow down by one of my kids, it never fails that they include me in their prayers, either at the dinner table or before bed.

“Thank you for Little Mama, and please help her slow down and not run into things.”

I’ve found that when I do take the time to slow down, whether it is for a moment of prayer or appreciation, a few minutes of meditation, or sometimes just a short period of rest or doing absolutely nothing, it sets the tone for calmness.  I feel renewed, restored, and ready to face most anything that comes my way.  Conversely, when I keep stubbornly butting my head up against a wall, refusing to take a few minutes to give thanks for the things that ARE going right, or the people that are part of my world, the day usually goes from bad to worse.

A priest told me recently that going to church and worshipping communally is not always going to be fun or interesting or awe-inspiring.   He said sometimes it takes work, or at least cognizance, to find the peace.  He suggested noting one thing, anything, each week at church, and to appreciate it.  It could be the way a certain hymn sounds when sung or the pat on the shoulder from a fellow parishioner, or the cry of a baby a few pews behind you.  The point is to notice it and be thankful of its presence.

Translate this concept into our day-to-day lives, and we’ve got a prescription for healthy living, where we consciously at first, then naturally as it becomes more familiar, take a minute to notice those people, things, and events around us and appreciate them.  Giving thanks for the unfamiliar lends easily to being grateful for what exists in our personal lives.

Noticing the way the man on the train quietly chuckles as he reads a passage in a book may help you remember to take a minute to yourself on your commute without the work emails, weekly scheduling, and phone calls to just BE.  Recognizing the trap of chairs and bars that the elderly woman down the block sets on her front porch every evening to ward off intruders before retiring may allow you to be thankful for your house full of people and pets that helps you feel secure every minute of every day.  Watching your child struggle with learning multiplication tables may allow you to not only value the fact that your own school days are over, but also to appreciate the extra time that you have the ability to spend with your child on homework, as the other stuff can wait.

I challenge you to make a simple pledge of noticing what’s around you today and taking an active moment to appreciate just one thing you encounter today.  Let it be the way the clouds billow or the dog barks or the amazing ability that guy ahead of you has of weaving in and out of traffic without causing an accident.  Notice one thing and be thankful for it.  Keep doing it daily, and the rest will happen naturally. You won’t be able to help but giving gratitude for things in your own life.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

Man in the Mirror

Man in the Mirror - Stacy Snyder - Parent Unplugged
As parents we unconsciously lead our children based on our own insecurities.    I obsessively hover over my girls’ to make sure they get plenty of daily exercise and eat as healthy as possible because I was a chunky kid and have struggled with my weight most of my life.  I don’t want my girls to go through that.  A neighboring mom with underdeveloped social skills constantly tries to further her girls’ popularity by trying to align them with kids that are associated with the ‘in’ crowd, so they don’t face the exclusion she suffered as a child and currently feels as an adult.  Yet another example is the father who inundates his children with material things so they never have to experience the wave of self-consciousness he carried with him growing up in a poor family.  Common sense tells us that this overcompensation with our children has the potential to backfire, and we sometimes adjust our parenting style if we are lucky enough to make the connection.  We don’t, however, always address the bigger problem, which is accepting our lack of self-confidence.

We all carry baggage around from past experiences:  successes, failures, memories, and learned and unlearned lessons.  While I’d like to think of myself and my fellow parents as mentally healthy adults who carry their baggage effortlessly slung over one shoulder without a second thought to it, the reality is many folks are bogged down by the staggering weight of the negativity they drag around with them on a daily basis.  The heavy shackle of unresolved issues from previous time periods often keeps us from effectively guiding our children. 

The bully who never effectively learned the art of conflict management encourages his son to “man up” and throw the first punch when teased on the playground by other kids as a way to address the problem.  The mother who never shed her childhood angst of being ignored by a group, now leads her children by example of cutting down other children in front of others, as she knows she will secure an audience.  The parent who used drugs and alcohol as a coping mechanism during high school to dull the pain of his parents’ divorce today chooses not to notice as his own daughter slowly starves herself to death as a means of dealing with her own sorrow over the death of a family member. 

It can really go either way.  Our past can either help us or hinder us in our endeavor as parents.  It’s not a crap shoot, though.  We can actually choose to be positive examples for our kids by acknowledging the fragmented pieces of our core and choosing to fix them.  Michael Jackson lays it out so eloquently when he sang, “If you want to make the world a better place, take a look at yourself and make a change.”  Self-awareness is powerful.  While it’s sometimes difficult to swallow the reality of who we are or who we’ve become, the simple recognition of such can be life altering, as it opens the door to change.

We all know people that bitch, moan, and complain about stuff incessantly.  Kid stuff, school stuff, money stuff, parent stuff, health stuff, religious stuff, political stuff….anything that has a negative angle they glom onto.   At times in my life, I’ve gone through periods of complaint as well.  It’s always an indicator to me, though, that I’m trying really hard (and failing) to avoid some problem in my life or persona.  Case in point:  I’ve been complaining about going to church with my family for the past few years.  I’m not Catholilc, don’t understand Catholocism, even though both my daughters were baptized as such, and don’t enjoy the masses.  Additionally, I tried to convert to Catholocism a few years ago and was essentially denied entrance into the church.  I’ve developed a habit of skipping church altogether for the past year and instead use the time my family normally worships as a chance to have some time to myself at home.  While this works in practice, I still kept complaining about it as I not only want to be part of my family’s worship, I want to quit sitting on the sidelines.   After repeating my gripes for the umpteenth time to a very pragmatic friend, she suggested I go talk to the priest at our church.  I made the appointment, sat down with him and discussed my issues, and developed a plan on how to move forward.  The plan will be tough and may or may not work, but the point is that after years of suffering and complaining needlessly, as the song says“I’m starting with the man in the mirror.  I’m asking him to change his ways.”

By “fixing” me, I will reduce the risk of me “breaking” my kids moving forward.  You “fixing” you can help you do the same.  Have you taken a look at yourself in the mirror lately?  If not, I encourage you to do so.  You may be surprised what you see when you really focus on your reflection on your kids.  It’s never too late to make a change.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Going Along For the Ride

Last night I was watching a segment on Nightline about kids and strangers.  Kids, grouped by ages and sex, were put in a test scenario, where they didn’t know they were being watched via camera by their parents and the Nightline crew.  They were all being assessed on the “don’t talk to strangers” mantra that had been pounded in their brains since they were old enough to comprehend words.  Experiments were conducted where older kids were enticed into giving their names, phone numbers, and even addresses, when asked by an unknown person under the guise of a television star recruiter.  Smaller children were lured into the back of an ice cream truck to see ‘how ice cream is made’ and to ‘choose the music that blares out of the truck.’  Some of the kids saw through the schemes and didn’t take the bait to trouble.  They stood their ground and refused to do what they knew in their hearts and heads was a trap.  The majority of the kids, though, regardless of age or gender, eventually fell prey to the predators, giving out personal information, leaving with strangers, and getting in the ice cream truck to have the door shut behind them.

Many of the children started off on the right track, questioning the intention of the strangers, trusting their own instincts. At some point during the interaction, though, those same kids folded after they saw and heard the other kids in their group trusting the unfamiliar person enough to do what the foreigner asked them to do.  The parents watched in dismay as most of the kids, one by one, joined the masses and caved under pressure.   

The camera would zoom in for a close-up of a parent as she responded with shame, “Obviously we didn’t do a great job in teaching him to beware of strangers.”

No, what you didn’t do was teach your child to think on his own.  The piece was chilling to me, not because of the stranger danger scenario, but because of the example it served of children starting at a very early age following the masses and not using or trusting their own judgment.  It hit a nerve in me because I had just spent the past few days trying to understand how the noxiously disruptive “USA, USA” chant had spread so quickly across the audience at the Republican National Convention last week, keeping a female Puerto Rican delegate from taking the podium in a timely fashion, after having already been introduced.  It did not come off in the best light, to say the least.

Fast forward and those Dateline children could be the same people causing a ruckus at the RNC.  Sure there was some sort of explanation for why the ironic chanting of “USA, USA” was rudely interrupting Zoraida Fonalledas, the chairwoman of the Committee on Permanent Organization, from making her speech.  Whatever the point of the chant, it was obvious from the video footage that not everyone screaming it knew why they were even screaming it.  Here’s where my astonishment lies.  As the cameras panned across the audience, they focused on the young guys that seemed to be repeating their mantra with absolute conviction.  Of what, I’m not sure.  The cameras then rested on the faces of people that seemed horrified to be in the audience at that exact moment and that were not joining in.  The video cameras next caught person after person hesitantly joining in on the chant, then increasing their volume and confidence, as they heard and saw others doing it too.  It was shocking to see so many people, young, old, male, female, all white, jumping on a bandwagon that I’m guessing they knew nothing about, especially one that was emblazed with IGNORANT on the side!  The point of the chant, regardless of its intent, was completely lost to its untimely overlap with the introduction of a speaker, a female Puerto Rican speaker.  Come on y’all!  Didn’t your mama ever give you any hometrainin’?

From a young age, my biggest pet peeve with many of my friends and family members can be boiled down to this:  making decisions based on what everybody else is doing, or sometimes not even making decisions at all, but just blindly saying, acting, or doing things just because others do.  I remember never wanting to follow the norm for the sake of just following the norm.  I was curious as to the ‘why’ of decisions that kids, parents, and teachers around me were making.  It was imperative to me that I know why I was doing what I was doing, before I ever did it.  A lifetime challenger of everything and everybody I came across, I was often a lone dissent on many issues and trends growing up and on into adulthood. Of course I was wrong often, but more frequently than not, made good decisions, even if they didn’t parallel those of my peers.  Today, as parent to both a nine-year-old daughter and an almost four-year-old girl, I’ve spent more time trying to teach them to make their own decisions, trust their own instincts, and be their own people, than I ever have with cautioning them on strangers, predators offering them candy, or the rant of politicians who want to keep their parents from legally marrying and their school classrooms filled with WASPs.  I want my kids to THINK.  I want them to believe in themselves and their unique qualities, capabilities, and brain power so that they can grow into healthy, well-adjusted adults with confidence in their own judgment.

As parents, how can we keep our kids from just following the herd (and ending up on national television, looking like a racist)?  We can lead by example.  We can forge a path that makes sense for our own family, instead of one that corresponds with the Jones’s path.  We can make authentic decisions without fear of backlash from our peers, illustrating to our kids that they can do the same and survive unscathed.  We can take a moment of clarity each time we see our children making choices solely at the discretion of our personal beliefs as parents.  We can redirect them to view the world as THEY SEE IT, not just how we see it.  We can teach them to respect every person, even the ones we don’t agree with or don’t like, every single minute of every single day.  We can enforce manners as being paramount in life’s lessons and punish our children for interrupting when another is speaking.  We can stop enabling them to be a herd follower by saying NO when our kids ask us for toys or clothing of a certain label or type, because “that’s what all the other kids have,” instead of going out and buying it because we don’t want our child to feel ‘different.’  We can quit stereotyping people and situations in front of our children, which not only forms an opinion for them, but also gives them license to enforce that opinion, without ever putting an ounce of thought into it.  We can give our children knowledge instead of just opinion.  Encourage them to soak up every bit of fact and theory that comes their way.  We can promote education-based decisions in our children by showing them how it’s done:  live genuinely and without regard to how the guy in the next seat is living his life.