Off Balance, On Track

This week’s homework for Parenting On Track Class was to make three lists.

  • What your kids can and will do
  • What your kids can do and won’t
  • What your kids can’t do

Because I can never quite follow the rules I added  fourth category: What your kids can do and do rarely. (To separate the “Practicing” category from the “It’s not my preference” category.)

We were instructed not to share our lists…but I will leave you to guess where “cleaning up from breakfast” fits.

One area a little less touchy feely than my addition “asking after other people’s interests” that my kids “cant’t do” is grocery shopping. They eat, they cook, and they even add things to shopping lists, but they haven’t run through the whole process alone. After school today I decided to give it a try. Instead of training slowly, adding one step at a time to build mastery, confidence and keep things happy I just decided to throw them in there. Unlike cooking and knife sharpening the short term health risks seemed low.

I gave them no budget and no instructions. Just told them to get what we needed for the week.

They talked first. Oliver volunteered to get snacks. Leo said he would do fruit, vegetables and cheese and yogurt. He asked me to get chicken and turkey meat (What he called “Dinner”). We arranged to meet at checkout. I bumped into them at the back of the store with their baskets. Oliver’s was empty. Leo’s had Trix, Fritos, organic yogurt, raisins, bread, ruffles,rainbow goldfish, skinny cow ice cream sandwiches, and he was asking Oliver to help him get the cheese from the top rack. I walked to the front to keep myself from reminding him about fruits and vegetables.

Here they are unloading their baskets. I kept the image really large so you could check out their selections. I’d say the carbohydrate group is well represented. In fact other than the chicken that I got (as instructed) the haul might actually be 100% carbohydrates. Wait, there are 3 kinds of yogurt. I hope we can really stretch those chicken breasts.

Meal planning might just need some training too.

On the upside the trip took 20 minutes from door to door (literally an all time low) and the boys really enjoyed it. Oliver projected that they had enough snacks for 3 weeks. So Checking his estimate will be interesting for them. They also asked about cost and we compared it to going to a restaurant and their allowances.

Plus…that bowl of Fritos I just finished was so so so good.

Training notes; meal planning, nutritional education (which I THOUGHT we had covered (perhaps they are stuck on the pyramid rather than the plate?), individually wrapped snacks (which both our family AND school has covered) Buying organic (which I thought would be passed on through osmosis) and bringing bags from home. (Who am I kidding I never remember the bags.)

So more work to do….always. But a pleasure of a shopping experience overall. Hope you like ruffles and fritos when you come over for dinner Friday.

PS The boys decided they each deserved a “treat” at checkout. Pretty sure you can see what Oliver got…but Leo picked cheese crackers with peanut butter. When he bit into them he noted that they tasted much more cheesy than he expected and then sounded out “bacon and cheddar cheese sandwich crackers.” His comment: ” I like bacon, and I like cheddar cheese, but this snack doesn’t taste much like either of them.” And calmly wrapped it up. There would have been many many times that he wouldn’t’ have taken the disappointment of the wrong treat with such grace. Perhaps it was the success of the overall mission. Or the promise of Trix at home. Whatever the reason I am noting it here, because I want to focus more on his ability to be reasonable and flexible than on his ability to be stubborn and shut down the family. I used to expect the worst. Now I don’t know what I am going to get, but I want to expect the best.

Walking to a meeting this morning it was so cold. As cold as I remember this year. At the same time that I was challenging myself to take a full breath and feel the cold define my air passages there was a bit of wind that lifted the snow into a glittery silver gust. Beauty and Pain. The reflection of the winter sun in each flake was a real life snow globe. I can choose which to focus on. The pain of the cold or the beauty of the snow. Today was a beauty day.

It reminds me of the sports psychology story of the free throw shooters. Great champions are illogical. When they miss many times in a row they tell themselves that they are DUE to make the next shot. When they make many shots in a row they tell themselves they are DUE to make the next shot. Not a typo…they use both scenarios to tell themselves that a swish is in their future. I want to do this for my kids. Obviously Leo will see the humor in picking the wrong snack. Bacon and cheese tastes nothing like peanut butter. So funny. Not cause for meltdown. Here is to funny mistakes and beauty days and expecting the best.

Never gets old…


It’s a good thing that the first Parenting on Track pitch I heard wasn’t “its based on love.” My love was never really the question…my boys’ survival to their teen years was.  A friend told me aboutVicki’s class, and when I visited the Parenting on Track website I was promised that I could stop nagging and being a sherpa. (Right on!)

Arriving at class Vicki clapped as she followed us to our seats in a no holds barred display of what we do with our praise addicted kids…”oh good for you, you sat down, look at that sip of water that you took, yeah for you!”

It was ridiculous. And true.

So I won’t tell Vicki “good job” on her Real Parents, Real Progress ebook. I will tell you to read it.

Through 20 years of teaching she has culled stories that bring her philosophy to life. We can dissect the concept of a “mistaken beliefs,” and what it means in Adlerian psychology, OR we can talk about carrying a screaming kids to the car because of our intense desire to be on time for everything. Let’s talk tantrums. In class we add on to the initial tale with our own stories of buried alarm clocks, log rolls to the car, and backpacks stuffed with 3 week old homework while library books look longingly from the bench.

Illustrating each of the core lessons from Parenting on Track with stories from families is the format of RP, RP. It is an easy read. And an inspirational one. After taking her class, collaborating on an app, watching her DVDs, and traveling with her I didn’t imagine that this book would teach me anything new, yet after reading it in one sitting I had three scrawled pages of notes. Finally, the elusive fourth C. Start Road map with Leo. Re-do Family mission now that boys are older. Explain ABCDE.  On and on they went. I was reminded of things I had started, techniques that would help, entertained by stories of families like ours.

The biggest gift was being shown that our parenting is never done…the settings and dialogue changes, but the motivation doesn’t. That image of the grown independent child, who chooses to have us be part of his life. He’s 18 months and asked to sit through family meeting while we appreciate him. He is three and chopping vegetables for dinner. He is five and riding the bus to school with the lunch he made himself. He is 7 and choosing his after school activities. He is 9 and planning and paying for his own birthday party. He is 13 and traveling across the state with a cousin. He is 19 and in college, calling home and managing his study time. He is 22 and employed. He is 30 something and parenting on track.

Thank you Vicki.

It is based on the love we have for our children that means we believe in them, we encourage them to make their own choices, we hold them accountable for those choices, we listen to them on a deep level, and we include them as the integral part of our families that they are. And it is based on the love we have for ourselves that means we believe in ourselves, we encourage ourselves to make sometimes really hard choices, we hold ourselves accountable for these choices, we listen to our own inner programs on a deep level (and often deprogram them!), and we see ourselves as individuals in a democratic partnership with our children. – Vicki Hoefle, closing of Real Parents, Real Progress.




Parenting on Track has shown up extensively in my past posts:






Happy Happy Full Life

Mistaken beliefs. Evidently a phrase that is important for Adlerian psychology.

Values. A word that is important to most of us.

A value may be something you will go to the mat for. A mistaken belief may take you to the mat on its own. Figuring out how beliefs and values shape our behavior takes observation and time. This is what we are working on this week for Parenting on Track Class.

When I ask myself about my core parenting values I come up with words like collaboration, acceptance, curiosity, growth, independence. Blah Blah blah. Those things matter some, but according to Vicki we know what matters most based on our mis-behavior. SO a kids who sits alone watching TV, ought to trigger some emotional response in me as he is neither collaborating, nor showing curiosity etc. Nope. TV is all good. Clearly those things that I say are most essential, are just my internal parenting marketing materials.

With technological development I have learned to WATCH my users rather than LISTEN to them. Or at least in addition to listening to them. The way they behave is a true indicator of how they expect an application to function. It is a lot like that with our parenting. When we are parenting from our worst it is a great time to take stock of the situation. The shrieking, nagging, screaming, slamming, taunting, mocking (or whatever your worst looks and feels like) it is a very good signal that you are treading close to something that deeply matters to you. This is a time to collect information.

For years I have been practicing setting aside my judgement. Maybe we are all born this way, but my earliest memories include looking around my second grade classroom and slashing down everyone around me. He can’t think his way out of a box – he will be pumping gas when he is older.(ended up making award winning documentaries) She spends more time on her hair than anything else- future vapid trophy wife. (could be a trophy wife, but seems happy)  I don’t know when I began trying to turn off my judgement but it was certainly by high school, when the thoughts about clothes, or drugs, or sex would come through my head (frequently) and I would notice them, ask what they meant, and then try to let that go. So I have been practicing for more than half my life with some success. So it surprises me when I stumble upon some STRONG judgement has clung on through the years.

The other evening I  went to dinner with Steve and some friends, after a pleasant stretch one friend asked for company to go outside to smoke a cigarette. I agreed and we stood in the drizzle chatting. Because it is Burlington after a minute or two another friend approached. I had the strongest reaction I can remember having. “I DON’T SMOKE” I wanted to scream. “IT’S NOT ME. I AM NOT SMOKING.” “LOOK AT MY HANDS. NO CIGARETTE.” I kept my mouth shut.  I seriously considered emailing my other (newish) friend to tell him. “I am not a smoker.” Why? Why did that matter? How much am I hoping he will read this post so he knows ” I DO NOT SMOKE.” That reaction told me something. I don’t judge my friends, but clearly the idea of ME AS A SMOKER, is appalling. I’ll have to think about that more. That seems to just affect me (until my kids smoke?), I want to focus on something that affects our whole family.

I parent from my worst about something pretty petty. Disarray in the house.

I lose my s**t when the house is messy. There are plenty of times when I can behave as if I am not having an emotional response to clutter, but it always makes me feel like I am drowning. When I snap, and shriek it is almost always about legos, shoes, cereal bowls, or candy wrappers.

Hearing that my kid spent lunch in the planning room, my internal response was that it was handled at school and I don’t expect it to be an ongoing problem. Letting him go to school in his pjs, OK. Hitting his brother, they will work it out. Handing his allowance to a friend, its his money. Skipping reading log, between his teacher and him. Declaring that the kid with special needs “already has enough friends”, share my perspective and never ask again. But the legos. The legos, mixed with the dog hair, those drive me to therapy. And between home and therapy there is a fair amount of yelling.

So Vicki tells us that when we find ourselves parenting from our worst there are two possibilities,

  • We have a mistaken belief
  • We are “stomping on” a core value.

Which is this? Tidiness? Is that a value?

I can gather some info by checking my car. FILTHY. I mean, meals on wheels, strata of homework, layers of outerwear, flies and mold filthy. Pretty clear that cleanliness  is not a “core value.” A litnus test for value v. belief is whether you will go to the mat for it. I mean will you send your kid the message THIS, A tidy home, is actually more important to me than you are. Um…no. There are some days when I feel that way, but fundamentally no.

So we are dealing with a mistaken belief. What is my belief? What is it I believe about people whose homes are messy? I start with the marketing speak. People with messy homes are disorganized,…., whatever. The true mistaken belief comes to me snuggled in bed with the kids this morning. I tell them I am doing my parenting class homework, trying to figure out what is going on in my head when I am “parenting from my worst.” “Like when you yell?” “yup.” They agree it is about cleaning. So I say it to the two little boys, at the same time that I first realize HOW mistaken and frankly asinine my belief is about the messy house.  Ready?

“I believe that when people, including myself, leave messes around they are doing it as an act of aggression to me: Anna.”  Like a little milky bowl of fuck you. Seriously, that is what I believe. “What does that mean? the 5 year old asks, (and no- I didn’t say the ‘fuck you’ to the kids, that was for the readers, I said act of aggression)while the six year old says “noooo, Mama, no, I just dump the legos to see the pieces better.” I’m still thinking of the messy fuck you. I realize that I extend it to the dog.  Who can’t effectively scratch her ear with her leg. She sheds, and drools, and eats boxes of crackers leaving the box in bits to piss me off. I truly believe this, in the deep totally illogical part of my brain.

What do I do with this incoherence I have uncovered?

So the next step, says Vicki, is to tell a new story. I ask the boys. “What can my new story be about mess?” “That we are playing well, rushing to get to school, moving on the the next thing? Feeling excited about a drawing?” All these suggestions tumble over each other until Leo says “mess means we are happy, happy.” And have a full life. So that is my new story. A mess means that we have a happy, happy full life.

But I want to know…

Can I believe that and still want a clean house?

Because I do.

The goal, I think it is to reframe the mistaken believe so I can strip the emotion from the situation and increase the odds that I will not be parenting from my worst around messy stuff.

Here are the steps if you want to try.

  1. Stop and think about when you parent from your worst
  2. Think about whether that situation (lying, lateness, mess, quitting) represents a VALUE, or a MISTAKEN BELIEF
  3. Ask yourself “what do I think about people who are late?”
  4. Replace that thought with an equally compelling story on the other side. “Those people are helping someone in an immediate critical situation”
  5. Practice the new story
  6. See if you can parent from at least your medium place.


For those of you wanting a lunch update: Leo has been packing 9 items a day. My assessment ” That will be plenty” his assessment “maybe more than plenty.”








So Leo, Mr. independent, has been packing imaginary and real lunches since he was 18 months old. Inspired by the “if they can walk they can work” motto of Parenting On Track, we put it to him and he thrives. When he struggles we inform, support and step back and watch. Sometimes a “hmmm” as a response to a query reveals that he knew the answer to his own question. This method does occasionally leave him floundering, but that insult is quickly replaced with a sense of his own ability. Our style and his personality do well this way.

He started kindergarden this fall, and he packs morning snack, lunch and afternoon snack for himself. Many evenings we work together, cleaning from dinner, packing leftovers for the fridge, lunch boxes, and work totes and things buzz along in that warm, everything is under control, we are a big happy team             way. Other evenings the kids (or parents) are feeling lazy or distracted, and we part ways to our various screens, rooms, or interior dialogues and cleaning and packing is deferred. Generally the grownups do get around to the cleaning, but lunches…sometimes those wait.

So the morning scene. Kids get dressed, make breakfast, clean up from breakfast, and if necessary pack lunches and snack. Oliver always gets school lunch. His packing job is simple. Leo however with his varied palate and three course food event has a bit of a harder time.

Two weeks ago we had a rough night followed by a cranky morning and Leo went to school with apple sauce and apple a cheese stick and an individual container of chicken stock. Perhaps he thought it was a juice box? Which we don’t have in the house…but who knows.

At school I opened his lunch box and saw that it was light. I told him he would probably be hungry. I spoke briefly to the classroom teacher and explained that he packs his own lunch and had forgotten the protein this morning. I mentioned that he would be hungry and hoped it wouldn’t impact their afternoon too much.

Go ahead, think what you will. I believe that one afternoon of hunger is going to teach a better lesson than 4 years of packing a beautifully balanced lunch for your kid.

The classroom teacher was calm in the morning, and calm again in the afternoon when she pulled me aside and told me that school had provided Leo’s lunch and afternoon snack. Leo was thrilled.

Me, not so much.

I was planning to go home and think this through…but the school director pulled me aside. “We had no choice but to give Leo food today at lunch. He needs help packing his lunch.” Those of you that know me in real life know that I speak first and think later. Or at least think AS the words are coming out. “Did you really have NO choice?” “Let me explain the situation to you so you have all the information.” “Leo comes to the store, selects his own food, he puts it away in shelves in the fridge and pantry he can reach.” “His lunch packing supplies are in a bottom drawer.” “We are teaching him about nutrition, how much food he needs to get the energy to grow and make it through each day, and if he packs too little, the natural consequence of hunger is a necessary part of the learning process.”

The director says she will think about it and get back to me, but her response today is  to restate that she has “no choice” but to feed a kid that says he is hungry. So my response to that is to re-state that in my view since he does have an afterschool snack and a hot dinner prepared for him, plenty of food in the fridge and pantry, perhaps letting him go hungry between 12:30 and 3:00 might be a valid choice as well. In my view if he gets food from school that is actually a disincentive to pack his lunch with forethought, and raising thinking kids is the goal here.

Fast forward to this morning when Leo opens his lunchbox to tell me that he has received a note home. It is a lovely note on cow paper commending Leo on well he has been doing eating his lunch. It goes on to say that he needs food at afternoon snack, and asks us to “pack a few more items for him.” It’s tone was both caring and diplomatic.

Yesterday Leo packed pepperoni (1/3 stick of VT smoke and cure cut into thick slices) two cheese sticks, an apple, and sun gold tomatoes. When I saw it go in I asked him if he thought it would be enough food. He said he thought it would.

When he showed me the cow note this morning I asked why it was his teacher telling me that he was hungry and didn’t have enough food instead of Leo himself. His response?

Can you guess?

I’m not hungry. They give me afternoon snack at school when I eat my afternoon snack at lunchtime. So I packed the right amount of food.Hmmm.

So we did a supported pack this morning. I asked him to MAKE SURE he had enough for snack, lunch and snack again. Here was what he had today: leftover hamburger, radishes wrapped in plastic, two cheese sticks, cheddar bunnies, a banana, a slice of ginger bread, sun gold tomatoes.  It should be enough. Perhaps even for leftovers.

What do you think? How important is it for a Kindergartener to be Lunch-able?

Problem Solving with Family Meeting

OK guys…

There is a reason I have a parenting expert working with me for Marble Jar.  This is a video of my family doing step three of our family meeting:Problem Solving.

Family meetings inspired by Parenting On Track are where we

  1. Appreciations: each family member shares something
  2. Contributions: we re-assign what jobs we will do to keep our household running smoothly
  3. Problem Solving (you can view first hand how well that will go below)
  4. Allowence

First some disclosures:

  • I don’t seem to be able to facilitate family meeting and hold the camera. Yikes
  • The tactic of parents giving really rotten solutions to inspire kids to offer great ones usually DOES work in our house. Not of course with the camera rolling.

Things I learned watching my kids and listening to myself:

  • Lots of extra talking from me…and not so much from the kids. More hmmms would probably lead to more solutions
  • Need to stretch out the brainstorming phase
  • They do seem to have internalized the “no name no blame” and “I have a problem when…” starting prompt
  • They didn’t have any major problems to solve this week. So that is a bright spot.
  • Problem Solving at Family Meeting

F*)&(ck the M&Ms – the danger of rewarding our kids

don't use m& ms for rewarding your kids
Save these for the trail mix.

What harm can come from a lollipop?

Vicki Hoefle cites these experts in her response.

Alfie Kohn says it succinctly in Punished by Rewards :

  • Promising goodies to children for good behavior can never produce anything more than temporary obedience. In fact, the more we use artificial inducements to motivate people, the more they lose interest in what we’re bribing them to do. Rewards turn play into work, and work into drudgery.


  • Rewards and punishments are just two sides of the same coin — and the coin doesn’t buy very much.

There is a lot of  additional scientific data that supports the idea that Praise and Rewards are dangerous.  Po Bronson’s Nurture Shock is a must read on this topic.

For the watchers here is a link to a brief ABC interview discussing Praise.
ABC video

And finally, here is a brief Interview with Alfie.  The basic premise for those who hate links:

Question: What’s the trouble with rewards?

Kohn: First let’s define the term. A reward is not just something nice or desired, it’s something nice or desired that is offered contingently when someone complies with our wishes or does something we like. If I give you a banana, that’s not a reward. If I give you a banana for having helped me around the house, that’s a reward. I have no objection to taking a kid out for ice cream, but I have a serious objection to saying, “If you are good this week, I’ll take you out for ice cream.”

Question: What is your objection?

Question:More than 70 studies have found that the more you reward people for doing something, the more they lose interest in whatever they had to do to get the reward. It’s not just that rewards are ineffective over the long haul; it’s that they are actively counterproductive.

whose psychology inspired Parenting on Track.

So here is where we come in.  If we understand that rewarding children comes with it’s own set of challenges and may in fact, be causing more trouble for our kids than we realize, the real question is this:

If not rewards, then what?

How do we highlight our children’s accomplishments, successes, and encourage more of them?  That is where we come in.  Teaching parents HOW to switch their focus, HOW to show appreciation, HOW to help their children develop awareness and HOW it can support the health of the entire family is what WE do.  We aren’t the science, we are the HOW.  We make it simple and we make it powerful.  We teach parents how to take a simple and often times overlooked moment in a child’s life and shine the light on the moment, take a snap shot of it, bring the child’s awareness to it, thus creating a context for the child to leverage this information and use it in other situations, to help them define WHO they want to be, not just WHAT they will do for a reward, and as a result an opportunity for the entire family to celebrate. In the Marble Jar app this will happen with the basic “bright spot” marble…which gives us a super simple way to record our fabulous moments even on the go.

Likewise, as parents, we know there are areas in our lives that could use some improvement.  What motivation do we have to change, to improve?  Very little unless we are negatively affected by our decisions and actions.  And children, certainly, have no way of holding us accountable.  So we are leveling the playing field.  We are saying “hey, I could use some improvement in my life in certain areas and I would like to be acknowledged when I change a response, or learn a new skill and I would like my change to benefit the entire family and for all of us to celebrate together. It is our hope that parents will use the Marble Jar app to build skills themselves. Perhaps your initial impetus will be to model its use, but we think you will find it holds you accountable too, for the expectations you have laid out for yourself and your spouse.

This is powerful stuff.

Announcing Marble Jar…and its inspiration

Steve and I took our six week Parenting on Track class two years ago. Yesterday I bumped into one of my classmates, the father of two young girls, and was greeting by the familiar “still on track?” that has emerged as way to reference our shared experience.  Pretty much, I replied with a shrug, knowing that most families would be impressed by my 4 and 5 years olds’ routine of packing their own snacks, not just putting on but keeping track of their outerwear, and regular contributions to our household function. They also save their money to buy their own toys go to sleep without little negotiation. It is what we expect from them.  What I was more excited to share with him was the news that I am working together with Vicki (that lovely lady over there —–>) to develop a new parenting app for the iPhone that incorporates some of the concepts of Parenting on Track.

Check back here for updates on the app (Marble Jar), which will hit the app store by mother’s day. In the meantime start thinking about your parenting aha moments. As hard as they are to re-tell, I would love to hear your stories.


That’s Oliver comforting a formerly screaming Leo back when they both rode in the cart. One from the archives. Never too young to help.