Annie Fox's Blog...

Thoughts about teens, tweens, parenting and this adventure of living on Earth in the 21st century.

Annie Fox, M.Ed., is an internationally respected parenting expert, award-winning author, and a trusted online adviser for tweens and teens.

You need help, Mom?

November 24, 2008

Ezra Fox makes a pie (from scratch) for Thanksgiving

Ezra Fox makes a pie (from scratch) for Thanksgiving

Just read a cautionary tale in today’s Dear Abby. The letter was from a martyr… I mean a mother describing how her two adult daughters arrive for Thanksgiving each year expecting the guest-treatment. For some mysterious reason, these “girls” never offer to help their mother with the annual banquet she produces for 20+ people. That is, not until Mom, frazzled, frustrated, and fatigued totally loses it, slumps to the kitchen floor in her gravy-stained apron and whimpers like a pathetic dog. At which point the princesses exchange eye-rolls (not nearly as appreciated as Parker House) and deign to lift sponge or dish towel.

As I read about this family situation my blood-pressure escalated to vein-throbbing levels. I too became frustrated and resentful, but I reserved all my exasperation for the mom. I mean, really, where did she think her lovelies learned to blithely ignore household tasks? How in God’s name had they reached adulthood without a modicum of common courtesy and awareness that demands that even if you truly are a dinner guest in the home of someone you’ve never met before, you offer to help. (In addition, as my mom taught me, you are also required to bring bakery goodies in a pink box.)

So, Dear Abby Mom, if you’re wondering where Drizella and Anatasia picked up their entitled attitudes… look in the mirror. But don’t get distracted by the smudges you see there and reach for the Windex. This is a time for self-reflection about the kind of parent you have been. But wait! Fault-finding is a waste of time and you’ve only got 3 days left til Thanksgiving! So here’s how to change the situation this holiday season and forevermore. And for the rest of us who could use some help getting some help around the house these tips are for you too.

1. Apologize to your daughters today. (I’m serious!) You’ve taught them that your job is to serve them throughout eternity. So it’s not their fault that they bought into it. But you were wrong. Your job, as their mom, is to prepare them to be fully functioning adults. By compulsively doing for them that which they should learn to do for themselves, you do them no favors. In fact, you’ve held them back in their development of a cooperative spirit. They’re adults now. They make their own choices, so how they act now is not your doing, but you certainly contributed to their self-centeredness. Admit it. Apologize. And move forward.

2. Make a list of all the things that need to be done between now and the dinner bell on Thursday. Oh, and don’t forget to add one general last item: “Clean up after dinner.”

3. Share the list with your daughters and any other able-bodied family members who will be at dinner. Say, as assertively as possible (no shouting, pleading, guilt-tripping, etc.) “This is what needs to be done. Which of these tasks are you going to take responsibility for?” If you have no confidence in their offers (due to past flakiness) then get it in writing. After each self-selected assignment, say, “Thanks. We’re all counting on you.”

4. Make a statement. Get used to saying, whenever necessary (holiday or not) “Hey guys, I need some help in here.” (Notice that it isn’t a question.) There’s a good reason for that. Annie Fox Research shows that when you want something done by your spouse, son or daughter, your chances of compliance drop to a mere 20% when you pose your request in the form of a question that has a “yes” or “no” answer. Dear Abby Mom shouldn’t be asking, “Can I count on you to help?” “Will you please help me?” “Can I ask you a favor?” “Do you have a minute?” No, no, no, not now, Mom. See what I mean?

5. Know that you are loved. You don’t need to do it all to be loved, appreciated, admired. You are already all of those things. And guess what? No one will love you more if they know that you personally crushed each cranberry, and did everything else without help. But you will probably love everyone and your time together as a family much less if you do it all the work.

6. Teach them! If you don’t get the whole family involved in the process, how can they learn to a) make a killer Thanksgiving dinner on their own some day and b) teach your future grandkids how to be cooperative members of the family?

Happy Thanksgiving, from our home to yours!

In friendship,


P.S. Want more info on how to stress less this holiday season?  Listen here. to my recent blogtalkradio conversation with innovative parenting coach Joe Bruzzese.

Filed under: Holidays,Parenting,Tips — Tags: , , , — Annie @ 1:58 pm

For Parents: Everyone’s a winner

November 18, 2008

Before I became a parent I studied to become a teacher and I became one. Back then (we’re talking about the 70’s), education was strongly influenced by humanistic psychology. The result? A generation of teachers inspired by the ideals of Summerhill to create student-centered learning communities where nurturing self-esteem trumped reading, spelling, and multiplication.

This notion that teachers and parents are required to dole out nothing but gold stars came from a recent conversation David and I had about Sarah Palin. We were trying to understand how someone reaches adulthood apparently with no clue that she was (and probably still is) aspiring to a job that’s totally beyond her ken. How can rational people truly believe that they can do anything and succeed at it? Is it because their parents never stopped saying “Sweetheart, you can do anything you want”?

For years we took our kids to the County Fair and hung out at the Kids Exhibit Hall. We admired the vegetable creatures, Lego constructions, and framed crayon drawings with 2 inches of glitter glopped on top. All of them sported blue ribbons. “Everyone’s a winner!”

That’s really sweet for pre-schoolers, but really, how does it actually serve kids to believe that any hunk of junk deserves a blue ribbon?

We parents have been so intent on building little Jason’s and little Emily’s self-esteem that we’ve neglected to tell them the whole truth about the way the world works. “Yes, you can do anything you want… as long as you are willing to do the prep work to make yourself qualified and to work your butt off if someone gives you the job!”

Isn’t that the real American Dream? That this is a land where everyone has the opportunity to succeed?Unlike other places, you don’t have to be born into an artistocratic family. You don’t need political connections. You don’t have to be a White Ango-Saxon Protestant. You don’t have to be male. You don’t have to be heterosexual. You just have to do the prep work. And then, when someone takes a chance on you… you give with all you’ve got.

Students still desperately need parents and teachers who truly encourage and support the whole child. And we still need to keep providing that encouragement because we want all kids to feel grounded in their sense of self and… fearless in their confidence that they can make a difference in the world.

But authentic and lasting self-esteem has many sources. Success is sweet but a child who only hears “Good job!” is getting short-changed. Self-esteem, it seems, also needs mistakes and failures to shape it. It needs an environment where children receive honest feedback. How else can they possibly realize their strengths (and work to make them stronger)? How else can they acknowledge their weaknesses. And yes, my Golden Child, everyone has weaknesses, including you. And when I or your teacher or your coach respectfully point out one of the weaknesses to you, we give you a gift more valuable than any blue ribbon. We encourage you to take action to strengthen what needs strengthening. We do this because we love you, and we know you have a mark to make in this life. Whatever you commit yourself to doing well, is going to require hard work.

When our daughter was in the 6th grade she took a test to determine whether she qualified for the GATE program that was starting up in her school. The program offered enrichment curriculum to small groups of kids who then, in turn, would bring back what they’d learned to all the students in their class. Our daughter qualified and even though the school had already received state funding for the program, the administration decided to cut the program. Why? Because some parents complained that their kids didn’t score high enough on the test and therefore, to avoid “hurt feelings,” the school district returned the state’s money and canceled the GATE program.

So everyone’s a winner, right? Except in that case, where everyone lost.

Filed under: Parenting,Politics,Tips — Tags: , , — Annie @ 2:28 pm

We so needed that!

November 11, 2008

New Delhi, India

New Delhi, India

It’s been nearly a week since the world changed and I’m still enjoying the afterglow of the new reality. In case you missed it, a whole new ball game officially started here in America on November 4th at 11 pm EST when 55% of California voters said, “Yes we can!” and gave the sweetest of all election victories to Barack Obama.

The news blasted out in a thousand directions and from the images broadcast around the planet, we saw how the rest of the world felt about our choice. My God! Folks on every continent just let loose with all manner of crying, cheering, dancing, hugging and kissing, and generally acting like human beings who have just been given the most wonderful gift… HOPE for a better world.

What other event has ever triggered such jubilation on this scale? Certainly not any other Presidential election. Then what? I’m thinking maybe not since the end of World War II has the world been so happy. Geez, we all ought to party together more often. How about next weekend at my house?

I’ve read much about the role of “our better angels” in this election. And yes, I believe they turned out in force last Tuesday… along with all those under-30 voters. (Thanks, kids! You’re so awesome!) I’m not sure where our angels have been hanging out for the past 8 years, but hey, you showed up when we really needed you and that counts for a lot.

For my money, the truly remarkable thing about all of this is that America has finally lived up to its promise of equality (except for those truly unjust “Defense of Marriage” laws which are a shameful but temporary obstacle to full equality). In electing Obama, all of us, whether we voted for him or not, should feel especially proud as Americans. We’ve finally proved that we know how to walk the walk. And you know what? Once is all it takes, because there’s no turning back… Our better angels would not let that happen. No way.

Filed under: Politics — Tags: , — Annie @ 10:26 pm

For Parents: Is the bad guy winning?

November 3, 2008

Yesterday as I dozed on a flight from Denver, a child’s voice infiltrated my dreams.

I woke up and looked around, but saw nothing except the backs of seats and the backs of heads. Never dependent on facts to draw conclusions, my imagination provided a picture of a young family. The parents, staunch McCain supporters, read the paper and grumbled over a photo of Obama at an overflow rally and an article touting the latest polls. Kids always notice displeased parents, and since there’s not a whole lot of trouble a 6 year old can get into when he’s strapped in his seat at 30,000 feet… the kid put two and two together and asked in a voice loud enough to wake me up: “Is the bad guy winning?”

I didn’t hear what his parents said, but the fact that the kid referred to Barack Obama as “the bad guy” indicates that his parents gave him that impression. His parents sent an implicit message that when WE don’t agree with someone else’s ideas or opinions or beliefs, then THEY are bad.

Putting it mildly, I’m a “very enthusiastic” Obama supporter. Have been since I first watched him deliver the keynote address at the 2004 Democratic Nominating Convention. I proudly and hopefully cast my ballot for Obama a couple of weeks ago.

Obviously I don’t agree with a lot of what John McCain has said and done during this campaign. And don’t even get me started on Sarah Palin. But, you know what?  Despite how “whack verging on incredulously unreasonable” I consider most of their positions to be,  I honestly do not think of either of them as a “bad guy.” Misguided, out of touch, etc. I could go on and have… but that doesn’t make them bad people.

I leave you with a quote from Swami Rama:

Young age is the budding period of the flower of life.  It needs protection so that the diverse opinions of others do not create confusion in the mind. A tender mind can be bent easily. Loving guidance and right communication is important. Parents who pay proper attention to their children can help them to pass through the adolescent period. This is the period of shaping the habits of the mind.

Whichever guy is yours… go out and vote. Your vote is your voice… make it heard. That’s a healthy message for our kids.

Filed under: Parenting,Politics — Tags: , — Annie @ 2:32 pm
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