Being "Cool"

Cool Mom hat

I sometimes have to smother a chuckle when people tell me how hard it is to be a parent of a small child. Little ones are exhausting, yes, but these parents' faith that somehow they're on Easy Street once they hit the first day of school is misplaced at best. It's just as hard to live in a sane way with a tween/teen. Even now that mine are grown, there are days when I would give the world for a problem that could be handled with a mop. And if I had some sort of cleaning wipe for the messes that come from broken hearts, I'd be a trillionaire.

But I think the worst of parenting sins I see are committed in the name of trying to be the cool mom or the cool dad. But giving them everything they want and giving in to their every wish and whim is not the way to achieve true coolness.

Being cool isn't about not having limits. With all my rules and restrictions, I've been called a fascist by other adults, but the kids say I'm cool. Limits, broad or narrow, have nothing to do with coolness. It's not what you give or take away. It's what you are, and what you do.

In my experience, the "coolest" features seem to be respect, patience, calm, attention and consistency. If you don't ride them like they have a saddle, don't freak out every time something happens, pay attention to them in a genuine manner on both the big and small things, are there when you say you will be, and handle things in a predictable manner, then you will avoid many problems. And they will walk uphill both ways for it.

I am not suggesting respect in its context of hierarchical relationships. It's a simple acknowledgment of the fact that they are growing up, and that their activities are assuming more and more of an adult weight. They aren't deciding whether they want to wear the purple pants or the blue pants in the morning anymore. These decisions they are making can have far broader consequences. What they want, what they need, and various parts of the modern teenage life need to become part of the give-and-take of the household.

Patience is the bedrock. Not just from a standpoint of putting up with whatever behavior is driving you crazy, but also patience in expecting results to instructions/orders. They are often in such a tizzy with everything going on around them that just a couple of minutes of time to work it out can often make the difference between successfully negotiating a completed chore and having a huge pointless argument. I'm not suggesting that you don't have limits, but rather that there are times when coming off like a drill sergeant is counterproductive.

Calm may seem like it's just another word for patience, but it's more than that. It's having a demeanor that shows the children that you can cope with whatever comes your way. It may seem ridiculous, but it's important to them. How many times has your kid started a conversation with the phrase, "Now don't freak out ..."? You might have uttered those words if you think back to your own teen years. That's your cue to practice your yoga breathing or whatever it is that helps you keep your cool.

Pay attention! There's nothing that shows them you care faster and more completely than genuine interest in their life and their activities on a personal level. I know there's all sorts of advice out there about how you're supposed to be their parent and not their friend but it is possible to be their parent and also know what's going on in their life. How many parents know more about their office mates or the Seattle Mariners than they do about their own child? That's very uncool. Do you know enough about his favorite hobby to understand him when he hits the kitchen door and starts earnestly talking at you in some Teen-ese dialect with a big smile on his face about something he just pulled off?

For my guys, it was skateboarding. I had to learn what a melon grab was when I saw it. This is good for two reasons. First, you can have a conversation about something he cares about, and second, you know enough that you can more intelligently decide when it's time to be concerned. (Remember: It's never time to freak out) Him saying, "I pulled off a 180 melon out of the back of the quarter-pipe with a transfer to the Big Pyramid," brings a response of "That's awesome! Did anyone get a picture of it?" That's because you know that's a pretty good move, but nothing insane. On the other hand, him saying he dropped in from behind the left grind rail and biffed tells you to ask him if he left any skin anywhere on the steel reinforcement inlaid in that ridge on the back of that little ramp back there.

"A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds," is great advice as long as you understand what it really means. It's actually the opposite of the standard convention. It really means that little minds are foolish, not that consistency is a bad idea. When it comes to teenagers, it's a necessity. In their constantly changing world, a person who does what they say they will do and responds to issues in a predictable manner will be a haven to them.

Consistency applies everywhere and with everyone. Kids who come over follow the same rules my kids do when they're in my house/car. You show up on my front porch with a movie, CD, or game I've put the kibosh on, I have a lockbox on the porch where it can be safe without bringing it into my house. But they know better by the time they've been here a couple times. I can count the number of times we've had to use it without taking off my shoes. Every piece of hardware and connection in the house is heavily monitored and is visible from my desk, the kitchen, and the living room. They don't mind—they just say hi to me, too, or ask me for help with the homework/game.

Apply these guidelines to yourself as well. You're never going to be perfect unless your mental programming is structured around the Three Laws of Robotics, but every little bit helps if it's genuine. Do the best you can, and expect it from them in return. Your needs do still count, and if that means you need to lock yourself in the bathroom and scream into a stack of towels before you try to deal with whatever they just did, then take the time.

All of these things intertwine into this single feature we call "cool." None of this works in a vacuum, though. This has to be applied consistently and across the board in order to have the underpinning relationship that lets them give and take with you on that level.

A really cool thing combines all of them. For example, let's talk about getting the garbage taken out. This can't be cool, right? He hates doing it. And you hate harping at him about doing it. But just try using these precepts on it. You might try paying a bit of attention and taking into account what he's in the middle of, and working out a mutually agreed-upon time by which the task will be accomplished. And because you're consistent in your household structure, he already knows the consequence for not delivering on the agreement. You still have your limit (the chore will be done by X time), and he feels that you respect them enough to take whatever activity he's working on into account and that he got to work it into his own schedule of things—and if he doesn't deliver, you both know what has to happen.

Will this really make you a cool parent? I don't know—every kid and every parent is different, and figuring out how to apply this is your job. Being a parent never ends—the jury's going to be out on this your whole life. A preliminary verdict for me is in all the sneakers still cluttering up my foyer. I can't get all these extra neighborhood yahoos out of my house. They've grown up with it just like my kids have. They know we have strict limits but that within those limits there is utter freedom, and I care about them. On Saturdays I'll have twenty kids sprawled all over my house, between everyone's friends and what not. Just count noses to see how many sandwiches to make at lunchtime. They include me in their IM conversations; they email me bad jokes (and one set of rather good bomber-nose style pinup pics); they ask for my opinion on the design of their MySpace, make me part of their Facebook list, and try to get me to answer those quiz-app things. I help with homework, and occasionally help them talk to their parents when we run into something they really need to know. This still happens even now that many of them are old enough to buy me a beer (if that were something I wanted).

And that's the coolest thing of all, to me.

Comments

Great article!

Were your parents cool enough that you learned this from them?

Great article!!

My house used to be a place of gathering; were it Street Fighter Tournaments or where we'd all hang out before a party. Many of what you say rings true and I can remember my parents doing it at some point.

I enjoyed that article a great deal.

I'm sort of getting parenting training with my niece, though because I'm the youngest at 24 things become inconsistent when four different adults are trying to handle one child. Especially in what has been a very aggressive argument prone family. However, it's given me a lot of perspective on where my parents went wrong or right.

My experience working for a summer tech camp also helped out. I always felt that I'd have trouble being able to talk and relate with young teens, especially since every time I go to the mall I sigh and mutter "God I hate teenagers" at some point. However, I was a consistent favorite amongst the 12-16 year olds every week because, well, I think part of it is I'm a geek. These kids are at an age where Pokemon isn't shameful, and I was the only camp counselor that would pull out a DS and ask if they wanted to battle. When they started discussing anime I'd be able to bring up what I grew up with and compare and contrast.

Part of it is also that I remember being at that age, and while I was different from some of the kids (you always get a wise ass or two) I still had an understanding of that point in their lives. Because I never "grew out of" the things these kids are growing up with I was able to relate to them and their interests. I was not condescending either. When they were discussing difficulties or having trouble I'd reference moments of my life that were relevant and could help them figure out what's going on.

So every week, even though most of the kids were different every time, I was a consistent favorite.

I think that's the issue with most adults. There is always this sense of "growing out of" stuff, and as a result parents just get off track with the knowledge. They aren't interested in the shows their kids watch and don't learn. Sitting down with my four year old niece I learned that shows like My Life as a Teenage Robot is very Power Puff Girls, something I approve of, and Avatar is a good show even if you are an adult. My refusal to "grow out of" these childish things allows me to sift through all this content and pick and choose entertainment that I feel will at the very least not belittle my own niece's intelligence, though it may not necessarily educate or challenge her either.

This is something my parents never really could do and still don't. The only real bit of lingo my mother caught onto was "saving your game" because that's what we always said when she called us for chores or dinner.

I just dread having kids that are more into sports than video games. I'll definitely try and play with them, but it won't take long before their mastery of it tops my own. Who knows what that will result in.

Man, I can't wait to be a parent.

I completely agree with your point about paying attention to what's important to them. I was an RA in college and currently teach college and high school classes; I've found that people like talking to me because I shut up and listen to what they have to say, and then ask them more questions about themselves. It's amazing what a little bit of empathy will do for a person, especially when his/her life is so crazy or stressful.

I really enjoyed reading this, thank you!

That was a good read. Our daughter is 10, so we are definitely in the "tween" stage already. Her and her friends are already well on their way to being teenagers, and it's like a whole new ballgame than what we are used to.

I saw a little girl with a Justin Beiber shirt riding her bike yesterday, and died a little inside when I realized my precious little 4 month old would one day be a tween.

This article clearly earns the awesomeness seal.
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My wife and I have a mantra: Commitment, Consistency, Follow Through. While our son is only a year and change, that mantra has already proven itself as essential in his formative time. Your article just shows that we have to follow that through all the way to their tween, teen, and adult years when they take off on their own adventures.

You're the rockin' cool Mom! Keep it up!

Awesome article. Thank you so much.

Thanks! This is on my mind a lot, lately. My little guy just turned 4 and I've learned that with consistency and patience (and not waffling on promises, threats or otherwise) I can successfully interact with him.

This is an allegory about proper and consistent grammar rules, right?

Words like "Teen-ese" may be part of the problem, if you're going for mutual respect.

ccesarano wrote:
Man, I can't wait to be a parent.

As a StepFather of two, with one of my own and one on the way besides, I can say the following is an absolute truth:

Famous last words Being a dad is great, but those definitely qualify as famous last words.

That said, fantastic article momgamer. This definitely ranks right up along side rabbit's "Fourth Trimester" as a 'What to do when they can start talking back and taking on responsibility'. I sent the link to Mrs AnimeJ to peruse, and the first thing out of her mouth was the following: "This is pretty much the best of what we're always telling each other". And she's right. Being "cool" isn't about letting your kids run wild. It's not about getting what they want. It's about getting what they *need*. And what they need is rules, and guidelines and lessons in how to live life and grow up well.

So bravo, well said

Awesome article, Momgamer!

I hope work isn't killing you too much. Tweedle A and I will try to come around more often and be space invaders.

All I have to say is wow... it feels like gwj grows with me. Not only do I get advice on 'how to get to the next level' but I it seems I am being raised to be a proper parent! I am very impressed. Your advice is well phrased, which is a testament to the clarity of your writing. You managed advice without seeming preachy or scolding (channeling some of that zen parenting it seems). Did a lot of trial by fire take place in finding the right cool factor? Or was this a premeditated goal?

Regardless as to how you achieved this clarity of mind when it comes to children, this was a really good piece. Keep it up... and write a parenting book I am sure the world could use it!

Your needs do still count, and if that means you need to lock yourself in the bathroom and scream into a stack of towels before you try to deal with whatever they just did, then take the time.

You can break, you just can't show them :p

I think what you advise goes hand in hand with how Adama runs Galactica, heheh. Half kiddin', half serious, those are traits that work great in whatever situation where someone is responsible for someone else in a long term basis.

Great, great article. I would just suggest changing the title from Being "Cool" to Being a Genuinely Good Parent

As always a great article. Thanks for sharing your insights.

Nice piece! It makes sense and is pretty much what I've thought and applied with my kids so far.

I find that as a divorced parent it is harder to apply some of the rules, given that I am not the one lucky enough to have the kids live with me. I've thought about it quite often and figured, for the time being, that seeing them as often as possible and just keeping my word will maintain the sense that I am a pillar in their little world. I call every day, a couple of times a day to speak with them, which I think makes me a constant presence even if it isn't physically. Furthermore, I think I'm also very patient in the sense that I allow them to be children and I can get down to their level because I often feel like I'm still a kid, albeit a nigh-30-year-old kid. I do wonder how I'll manage as they start getting into their tweens and teens - my boy is 5 and my daughter 2. Interesting times ahead...

I remember that you posted some of your rules before but I would like to know if you impose (or have imposed) time limits?
Managing of absolute screen time is the biggest point of conflict in my house. So far the kids are small enough for me to hold the screen time under draconian control but the 10 year old is already working on a revolution, I can see it! I just fear that the kids would not leave the house at all if I didn't turn off the systems after an hour.

Thanks everyone. I appreciate your kind words.

Misterglass: No. My mom is awesome, but not in this way. There's several whole books of TMI in there, though. I learned pieces and parts of it from them and a lot from my Gramma, but mostly it was trial and error with my own gang.

Wordsmythe: Not directly, but grammar and punctuation as well as good vocabulary are a must around here.

UnclGhost: Actually, that was suggested by one of my children to replace the more politically correct words I had in the first draft. If kids are used to dealing with you honestly, they don't seem to mind it when you call a spade a spade. They seem to take a certain relish in it, actually.

Dominic Knight: Please do. Bug TweedleM all you like (she needs something to help her get going again and you might help blunt their insanely huge plans for Mother's Day) but I'm going to have to slowly slip into my cave for this week. This "withJob" part of thing is kicking my backside. I'm getting rusty on Rockband.

brokenclavicle: I'm also divorced and we did this all on our own, and it's just hard all around. I wish I had easy answers for that, too. All you can control is what you do, and the relationship you have with the kids. And double-up on the "calm" part for dealing with everything else that you all have coming your way.

barbex: I do have imposed time limits, and they're still in place at my house even though they're grown. It's half an hour per person rotating at the top and the bottom of the hour, starting with what we call "Playstation Order" (eldest to youngest).

This is complicated to explain though. I have a whole shelf of RPG rulebooks dedicated to describing how to pretend to live a life. Imagine how many more words can get into actually living one.

I'll try, though. You'll have to look at all the factors and then decide how you can make it work with your gang. I simplified matters in ways I'm not sure you can.

Age is a huge thing to have to deal with. My gang are all within four years of age. The girls are 19, and the boys are now 21 and 22. Also, their tastes ran similarly enough that they were all paddling around in the same stew of games and movies; the boys didn't mind watching/doing what the girls wanted to do and vice-versa.

With 4 of them, there are enough of them that there is a huge self-limiting factor. With their 4 turns and if I decide to take my turn, you can really only fit in one turn-set between homework and bedtime on a school night. And we were usually busy with swimming, church, reading night at the library, or a sport for at least part of the evening several nights a week, so that cut it down as well.

And speaking of, you need to take a turn too. So put yourself in that rotation, or at least put in a placeholder where you can take a turn if you want. And make sure and take it once in a while. There's no better way to model how to negotiate media consumption with all the stuff that has to happen in life than for you to do it yourself successfully.

Having it be strictly by the clock rather than minutes and seconds cut down on a lot of management. If you got home at an odd time, things didn't start until the next half or whole hour. You don't have to worry about timers or anything; just have a clock on the wall that all can see. It also makes it so the kid three turns down can predict when it's their turn and plan other activities acccordingly. That meant they were much more likely to want to get a book or go outside since they knew they wouldn't be missing anything.

If they want to do something longer like watch a full-length movie, they have to cooperate and share the turns. Or, if someone wanted to watch a DVD of something and no one else did, it's not that hard to pause while the person whose turn is next switches to their game or whatever they want to do. Then they'd watch the rest when it was their turn again. Multi-player games and versus games brought in a bunch more rules about how things switched out.

I also did not allow any network or cable television due to the fact that my younger son can break those idiotically simple parental lock codes on the cable/tv box. It's just a four digit brute force attack and he would run it during his turn over the course of a couple afternoons. I found out when one of his buddies friends was caught paying him to do it at their house. So I couldn't guarantee they wouldn't be in stations I don't approve of while I was gone and they were just in the care of the babysitter. I don't know if they've gotten better or not about this since I looked into this back in 1998 or so.

I didn't plan on it, but this turned out to be a huge help in many ways. We decided when things were on the TV, not some outside force, so there was none of that pressure to build our schedule around the TV Guide instead of when you needed stuff done. No, "Just until the commercial..." or "Mighty Morphin' Mind Suckers is coming on!" whining. I didn't have the incessant marketing flowing into my house aimed at them either.

With careful choice of hardware, I had a hard unbreakable lock on what could be put in so I didn't have to worry about situations like network TV which just "suggests" with it's ratings (btw - Vchip password is a 4 digit number and also easily breakable by a bored kid with several afternoons to kill; it's harder to turn on than to turn off). People like to underplay the awesomeness of the original Xbox and it's Parental Controls, but it really delivered when it came to stuff like this.

If you don't have a Windtalker in the house like I did or you're not a single mom dealing with babysitters, you can emulate a lot of that functionality now with a DVR but when I put this in place that wasn't available. And with so much stuff available on demand or via DVD it's not like they would miss anything.

I doubt we had the squawk-box on any less than anyone else, but I at least had a good idea what was on it and we had strategies in place so it would work smoothly if everyone cooperated. And it was in their best interests to do so because the punishment for non-cooperation was the thing went off until the next day.

Don't forget computers in all this, too. Particularly as they get older and schoolwork starts getting tangled up in screen time.

But I think the worst of parenting sins I see are committed in the name of trying to be the cool mom or the cool dad. But giving them everything they want and giving in to their every wish and whim is not the way to achieve true coolness.

...

In my experience, the "coolest" features seem to be respect, patience, calm, attention and consistency.

I'd say equally terrible parenting sins are those committed by those who don't give "respect, patience, calm, attention and consistency" just because kids want it in an effort to rebel against the idea of the 'cool parent' in the name of trying to be the 'no nonsense' mom or dad. The kind of thing you bring up when you say:

I know there's all sorts of advice out there about how you're supposed to be their parent and not their friend but it is possible to be their parent and also know what's going on in their life.

I'd make your point even stronger and say it's IMpossible to be their parent and NOT know what's going on in their life.

In fact, I'd say those kinds of parents are responsible for the caricature of the 'cool parent' "giving them everything they want and giving in to their every wish and whim," when the original, noble concept was based in those five attributes you listed.

If you don't ride them like they have a saddle, don't freak out every time something happens, pay attention to them in a genuine manner on both the big and small things, are there when you say you will be, and handle things in a predictable manner, then you will avoid many problems. And they will walk uphill both ways for it.

...

Patience is the bedrock. Not just from a standpoint of putting up with whatever behavior is driving you crazy, but also patience in expecting results to instructions/orders. They are often in such a tizzy with everything going on around them that just a couple of minutes of time to work it out can often make the difference between successfully negotiating a completed chore and having a huge pointless argument. I'm not suggesting that you don't have limits, but rather that there are times when coming off like a drill sergeant is counterproductive.

Heh--in other words, parents need to do a little bit of growing up themselves, and understand that every little act of disobedience is not necessarily an act of disrespect.

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I feel sometimes we're in danger of losing so much of the progress we've made in the art of parenting over the last fifty years by throwing the baby out with the bathwater in our overreactions to the missteps we've committed along the way of making tremendous net gains.

I am remind of my father. He is a great deal of fun to be around, but he always makes sure that he is a parent first. The second we got out of line, we knew about it and we did not do it again anytime soon. Discipline was the first priority with him and later in life it made me respect him more.

Even now, as he is in his 60s and I am 32, there is still that idea there that he is the father and I am the son. And yet, I still feel like I can talk to him as an equal. He is great.

Great article I somehow missed the first time around. Thanks goodness for the "recycler" section at the top of the main page!

Just recently I've become a rockstar to my 3 year old (maybe because with a new baby in the house my wife's hands are extra full and I end up being the go-to parent for playtime...) I was starting to get annoyed with him following me around like a puppy, hanging on my legs, constantly begging to play, but then the realization hit me: "Y'know, I should probably savor this moment, because soon enough I will be 'uncool dad' and I will probably receive more eyerolls from him than adulation."

Nice to read your perspective on the older years!

chaosmos wrote:
Great article I somehow missed the first time around. Thanks goodness for the "recycler" section at the top of the main page!

Just recently I've become a rockstar to my 3 year old (maybe because with a new baby in the house my wife's hands are extra full and I end up being the go-to parent for playtime...) I was starting to get annoyed with him following me around like a puppy, hanging on my legs, constantly begging to play, but then the realization hit me: "Y'know, I should probably savor this moment, because soon enough I will be 'uncool dad' and I will probably receive more eyerolls from him than adulation."

Nice to read your perspective on the older years!

What you said reminded me of this article about the concept of the idle-but-accessible parent.

It reminded me a lot of my own childhood, and my dad never went from rockstar to uncool. At worst, he probably sunk no lower than "superstar roadie" : D

After spending 3 days this summer riding herd on a gaggle of 15-16 year-olds, I can definitely say: A) it's just as demanding as my 3 year old and B)I don't understand what teenagers think is cool.

We went bicycling and rafting and toured some historic areas, and I have no idea why, but after 3 days of "Come on, catch up," Don't block the trail; there's bikes coming the other way," "Don't fall out of the raft at this rapid. You can afterwards," and "Pay attention, this part's interesting", they thought I was cool. They started calling me Mr. Matt Damon.

And now my wife will never let me live it down.