Everything I Needed to Know About Parenting I Learned From Marvin Hamlisch

I read a lot of parenting books before my kids were born, but none influenced me as much as the song “At the Ballet” from A Chorus Line.

It’s sung by three women, each recalling in turn how her miserable childhood at the hands of lousy parents drove her to that most destructive of lifestyles, dancing.

Maggie sings last.  Actually, she does some spoken monologue thing where her voice nonetheless goes unaccountably up and down in pitch because she’s just that perturbed.  She’s pissed at her dad because he ditched the family right after she was born.  She used to hold her arms up in the living room, waiting for him to show up and lift her triumphantly like a swan or something.  Also, in her fantasy, Daddy was an Indian Chief, but that’s not really relevant.

He’d say, ‘Maggie, do you wanna dance?’

And I’d say, ‘Daddy, I would love to!’

Everything was beautiful at the ballet.

Raise your arms and someone’s always there.

If you want to see a grown man cry, play me that part of the song.  Never fails.

I don’t really have any sense of rhythm.  I certainly know nothing about ballet.  And if I were Native American, there’s no way anyone would make me the chief.  I have every excuse to avoid dancing with my kids.

Yesterday, they were acting a little wild, and I needed a break.  I turned on the TV, then retreated to the other room to do a little writing.  Ten minutes later, Bennett came running in.  There was a perky song on their show, and they had both climbed down from the couch to run around like lunatics, as 2-year-olds are known to do.

“Daddy!” Bennett shouted.  “Come dance with us!”

I don’t remember what I was doing at the moment.  It really didn’t matter.  “Bennett,” I said.  “I would love to.”

I know I’m not a perfect dad.  I’m not the best athlete or cook or nurse.  I’ve been procrastinating on potty training for a long time now.  My Pigeon voice sounds just like my Bus Driver.  If my kids want to perform sappy monologues about me when they grow up, they’ll probably have plenty of material to work with.

But there’s one thing they can count on: when they raise their arms in the living room, I will always – always – be there.

Shameless Boasts of a Superdad: My Kids Sleep 15 Hours a Day

Now that I’m confessing my worst sins as a father, it’s only fair that I balance that out by patting myself on the back from time to time.  Thus, I introduce my counterpoint column to Confessions of a Bad Dad, Shameless Boasts of a Superdad (me).

One thing my kids have always been good at is sleeping.  They could sleep through the night at four months old.  No midnight bottle, no crying, just blissful uninterrupted sleep from 9pm until 7am.  Both of them.

These days, it’s more like 8pm until 8am.  A nice 12-hour break for Daddy.  For more than half the day, it’s almost as if I didn’t have kids at all.

That’s not even counting their daily nap.  Until they were 18 months old, they took two naps a day, each about two hours long.  Since then, they’ve dropped the morning nap, but I can count on them sleeping reliably from 1-3pm every day.  Sometimes they’ll sleep for three hours.  A couple of times, they’ve gone for four.

I know the odds of getting even one baby who sleeps that well are pretty long, but somehow Drew and I hit the jackpot.

Go ahead.  Hate me.  You won’t be the first.  My kids’ sleep habits have made parenting astronomically much easier and less exhausting than it has any right to be.

When they’re sleeping, I eat lunch, sneak snacks I don’t want them to know I eat, write blog posts, watch last night’s “Daily Show”, pay bills, straighten up and, most importantly, take my own naps.

How did I get my kids to sleep so well?  I’m not sure.  I probably didn’t even do anything.  I just lucked out with two amazing kids.  Or maybe I’m a supergenius.  You decide.

All I can do is tell you my approach to sleeping and let you figure it out from there.

1. Yes, I’m going to tell you to Ferberize.  Yeah, I know, what a news flash.  Feberizing works.  You want your kid to sleep through the night?  Ferberize.

I’ve heard people tell me that Ferberizing didn’t work for them, but when I’ve pressed them for details, the story is always the same: they didn’t follow through.

Let me be clear: Ferberizing is absolute agony.  It goes against every instinct you have as a parent.  It feels cruel and selfish, like you’re torturing a poor, confused baby so you won’t have to get up five times a night.  But the worst thing you can do is to kinda Ferberize.  If you let your kid cry for an hour and then cave in and pick her up, then you just taught her she needs to cry for an hour to get your attention.  And from now on, that’s what she’ll do.

It’s all or nothing when it comes to Ferberizing.  But if you go all in, the benefits extend far beyond your baby’s sleep habits.

The best part of that awful night of a thousand screams is what happens the following morning.  Your kid is just as happy to see you as ever, just as sweet and loving as they were before that evening of unspeakable torment.

They’ve forgiven you.

They probably weren’t even mad in the first place.  And now they know more than ever that they can rely on you.  Just because you don’t respond to their cries, it doesn’t mean you’ve abandoned them or stopped loving them.  They know they can soothe themselves to sleep, and tomorrow their parents will still be there to love them.

In that respect, I truly believe that Ferberizing has set up a parent/child dynamic that has paid off to this day.

2. Have a routine.  I called a potential babysitter recently for a phone interview.  It was 9pm, and I could hear her 2-year-old in the background.  He was helping her bake cookies.  I didn’t hire her.

Don’t people want their kids to sleep?  Why are you engaging your child in stimulating activities at an hour when you could be sipping wine and watching Revenge?  (Full disclosure: in my case, it’s Pepsi and The Good Wife.)

We start winding our kids down at 7pm, when Daddy gets home from work.  A bath, some bedtime stories, a couple of YouTube videos, then finally, they get into their cribs…

… where the routine continues.  We recap our day, share our favorite memories, then read Goodnight Moon, turn off the turtle that projects stars onto the ceiling, give hugs and kisses, then we say good night.

By then, they’re so worn out from the bedtime ritual, they rarely make a peep.

3. Babies belong in prison.  We resisted tenting the kids’ cribs.  It seemed like we’d be imprisoning them.  Then we realized cribs are already prisons.  And don’t most prisons have a roof?

We caved on the crib tents after one agonizing night when Sutton realized she could climb out and run around in her room.  We must’ve gone back into the room and put her back in the crib 25 times before she finally fell asleep.  After that, the baby jail seemed like a great idea.

Not our kid, but they really do get this happy in their cribs.

To our amazement, the kids actually loved the crib tents.  They were excited to get in and try them out.  It felt like a bounce house inside.  It was also a step forward, a sign they were growing up.  They felt like they’d graduated to something for bigger kids.

The zipper recently broke on Sutton’s crib tent, and she’s inconsolable.  She doesn’t feel safe unless she’s zipped securely in her crib tent at night.

4. Kids go in kids’ beds; parents in parents’ beds.

I’m always shocked when people tell me their kids sleep in their bed with them because that’s the only way they’ll go to sleep.  Sure, they’re that way… because you let them get away with it.

Call me crazy, but if you’re letting a two-year-old establish a policy that affects your entire household, something’s wrong.  Don’t you want a break from your kids every night?  Don’t you want privacy when you go to bed?  You have to be hard-core with your kids.  Don’t let them sleep in your bed – ever – or you’ll never get them out.

It’s no different than if you fed them a bowl of M&Ms and whipped cream for every meal, then said, “Well, it’s the only way he’ll eat.”  Oh, God.  People probably do that, don’t they?

Lay down the law and be firm: “We paid a lot of money for those Thomas the Tank Engine sheets, kid.  Use ’em!”

If it helps, make their bed somewhere special for them, somewhere they want to go.  Let them pick out a blanket with their favorite Disney character on it.  Let them take their favorite stuffed animal to sleep.  (No toys, though.  Beds need to be a place of rest.  Not a place to play.)

And when your kid cries and screams and begs to come to bed with you, say no.  No, no, no, no, no.  If you have toddlers, you undoubtedly hear that word a lot from them.  Well, it’s good to throw it back at them once in a while.  “You want to come to bed with me?  No!”

If your kid is used to sleeping with you, you’re going to have a tough time breaking them of that habit.  I’m sure you’re in for a few hellish nights, but I can guarantee this – once you get them to sleep regularly in their own bed, it’ll be worth it.  They’ll sleep better, and so will you.

Now that I’ve been at this a while, I feel like sleep is probably the most important thing babies and toddlers need.  If my kids miss their nap, they’re cranky and wild.  They cry, scream and have meltdowns.  Yet so many people I’ve talked to let their kids sleep “on demand”.  They don’t take naps, and they go to bed whenever they feel like it.

Then those parents tell me how funny “Go the F*** to Sleep” is.  Really?  Well, shut the f*** up, because your kid’s lousy sleep habits just might be your fault.

We’ve promised to get our kids toddler beds for their third birthday in a few months.  I’m a little nervous how the transition will go, but we’ll deal with it.  Kids’ sleep habits are constantly changing, and I think that’s why so many parents throw in the towel and let their kids dictate what they want to do.

Again, maybe my kids are just awesome sleepers and I’m the luckiest dad in the world.  If so, then I apologize for boasting, and I wish that kind of good fortune on all fellow parents, because everyone deserves a little rest now and then.

OK, I have to go.  Nap time’s over.

UPDATE: Please note that the crib tents I shamelessly rave about in this post have been recalled due to safety concerns.


The Littlest Bullies: How (And When) To Discipline Other People’s Children

One day at the park, a little boy pulled my daughter’s hair – hard.  When she started crying, he laughed.  His nanny told him to apologize, but he refused.  She threatened to take him home, but then didn’t.  A few minutes later, he pulled my daughter’s hair again, so hard that I had to bend over him and pry his hands off her head.

That time, I didn’t wait for his nanny to reprimand him.  I got down on his level and told him sternly, “Do not pull her hair!  Do you understand?  It’s unacceptable.”  The nanny muttered half-heartedly, “He’s never done this before,” but I ignored her.  She was a lost cause.  I moved my kids away from that boy… and I kept my eye on him.

He found another kid – a crawling 10-month-old – and pulled his hair so hard he screamed.  Then he did it to another kid.  And another.  It happened at least five times that I witnessed personally over the next 20 minutes.  He never apologized and he never got punished.

The other day in my kids’ art class, a little boy shoved my son so hard he fell down.  It was unprovoked and intentional, and he did it with a smile on his face.  His mother ignored it.  A minute later, he pushed Sutton just as hard.  His mom looked the other way, so I got down in his face and said, “No pushing!”

After that, he left my kids alone, but he kept pushing the other children.  He eventually became fixated on one little girl.  He pushed her over and over, knocked her down so many times that I lost count, but it was at least 10.  His mom meekly muttered, “Don’t push” a couple of times and told the teacher something annoyingly familiar: “He’s never done this before.”

What else did these two situations have in common?  The caretakers did nothing.

I’m not talking about the bad kids’ caretakers.  Of course they weren’t doing anything.  That’s why their kids were monsters.  But the victim’s parents didn’t do anything either.  They never addressed the offending kids or their guardians, even as their own kids were getting the crap beaten out of them.

I want to say something to those parents:

Sometimes, you have to lay some smack down with other people’s kids.

I know disciplining your own kids is hard enough, but this is different.  You’re not trying to teach the bad kid how to behave.  That’ll never work, because his parents clearly won’t follow through.  When you discipline someone else’s bad kid, you’re doing it for your own kids – to protect them and to make sure they know that you can’t get away with that kind of behavior.  They should see that the standards you hold them to apply to other kids, even if those kids’ parents don’t always enforce them.

Why do parents sit idly by while their kids get harassed?  I think most of us are just too nice and conflict-averse to question anyone else’s disciplinary practices (or lack thereof).  Well, I’m conflict-averse, too, but if your kid pushes my kid, he’s the one who initiated the conflict.  I’m just stepping in to make sure it’s resolved to my satisfaction.

If there’s one thing parenthood has taught me, it’s that I can be a lot braver on my kids’ behalf than I would ever be on my own.

Yes, this begs the question: Don’t I feel like a bully for intimidating someone 1/3 my size?

You bet, and it’s awesome.  I can see why these kids enjoy it so much, and it’s high time they had a taste of their own medicine.

As I’ve said before on this blog, I’m not an authority on anything, just an overly opinionated man who feels extremely lucky to be a parent and who’s taking full advantage of the meager power this role provides him.  In other words, feel free to ignore my advice.  But if you’re ever in a situation where some out-of-control hellion is tormenting your child, here’s how I would handle it:

Strike One.  You just saw some kid attack your child – or maybe your kid came to you crying and saying something happened, but you’re not 100% sure what really went down.  OK, fine.  Comfort your kid and tell him that the offending behavior is wrong.  Leave it at that.  Give everyone the benefit of the doubt, because everyone’s kids misbehave sometimes.  But from that moment on, watch the other kid closely.

Strike Two.  Now you know exactly what happened, because you had your eye on the bad kid, and you saw him do it.  Now, your focus shifts to his caregiver.  Make sure she or he knows what’s going on without confronting them directly.  Again, give them the benefit of the doubt.  Maybe they didn’t see it happen and they just need your cue to step in and discipline the kid.

Here’s what you do: comfort your kid again, but do it louder.  First, validate your own kid: “Yes, he pushed you.  I saw it.  That was not acceptable.”  Make sure the bad kid and his guardian hear you.  Give the guardian a chance discipline her kid, and if she’s any kind of parent, she’ll be embarrassed and she’ll apologize profusely.

Now you’re watching the kid and the guardian very closely.

Strike Three.  By now, either the guardian has reprimanded the kid appropriately or he hasn’t.  But the kid did it again.  This is where you address the kid directly.  Act as if he were your child.  Be firm, but don’t shout.  “Don’t hit!  Do you understand?  Say you’re sorry.”  The kid will probably be shocked, because no one’s ever talked to him that way before.  You may even make him cry.  (Good!  That’s a sign that he never hears “no”, and you got to be the one to introduce him.  Bravo.)

At this point, don’t make any excuses for the other parent.  Maybe they weren’t paying attention and missed the behavior yet again.  Well, too bad.  They know there’s an issue, so they should be watching their kid closely.  If they’re not, you have every right to handle the situation yourself.

Strike Four.  Tell the other parent to leave.  Their kid is out of control and needs to be removed from the situation.  If you’re at a place of business like an indoor playroom, speak to the manager.

If the other parent refuses to leave and the manager does nothing, then you leave.  Tell your children clearly, “I’m sorry we have to go.  You haven’t done anything wrong, but that other kid is out of control, and I don’t want you around him.”  Don’t wait for a strike five.

I know in baseball, you only get three strikes, but what can I say?  I’m nice.

Does that sound harsh?  It shouldn’t, because here’s how I think you should handle it if your kid is the aggressor:

Strike One.  Let’s say that you didn’t witness the action first-hand, but your kid is standing over some other kid who’s crying and all evidence suggests your kid just did something bad.  Ask your kid what happened, and whether they confess or not, remind them, without directly accusing them, “It’s not OK to hit or push.”  Then, keep your eye on your kid.

Strike Two.  Now you know what your kid is up to, because you were watching your kid closely.  It’s your job to take control of the situation.  Pull your kid away.  Tell him you saw what he did, and it was wrong.  Make him apologize to the other kid.  Then, apologize to the other parent yourself.  Don’t make excuses, don’t assure them that your kid never does that sort of thing.  Everybody’s kid does bad things sometimes.  Your actions at this point will do a lot more to vouch for your parenting than your excuses.

Strike Three.  Repeat step two, but more firmly.  Remove your kid from the area for a serious talk.  If he seems contrite, let him know he only has one more chance.  If he can’t behave himself, you’re going to leave.  (If your kid is uncooperative, don’t even give him another chance.  Just leave.  You know when your kid is out of control, so react appropriately.)

Strike Four.  Leave.  Make sure you apologize to the other parent(s) on the way out.  Let your child know that he’s behaving inappropriately and that’s why you have to go.

Maybe I’m being overly lenient letting my kid get to four strikes, but sometimes with twins, that’s only fair.  I don’t want to make both of my kids leave if only one of them is misbehaving, so I’m going to do all I can to make the situation right before I punish both kids for the actions of one.

Then again, I’ve never actually gotten past strike two with my kids.  As I said, I’m no expert, but I assume that means I’m doing something right.

One final note: don’t be scared of the other parents.  Chances are, if they’re afraid of their own kid, they’ll be even more afraid of you.  I’m a short, scrawny little weasel.  99% of the other parents out there could take me down in a heartbeat.  But no one’s ever roughed me up for talking smack to their kid.  On the few situations when I’ve actually done it, the other parents have been totally speechless.

And witnessing that is the best part of all.

What do you think?  Do you have a better way of dealing with situations like this?  Let me know in the comments.

One Dad Makes the Case for One Direction

When it comes to bragging about your kids, here’s one you don’t hear very often:

My toddlers appreciate boybands at a 13-year-old girl’s level.

Not to be immodest, but with my 2 1/2 year old twins, that would be an understatement.  They squeal with delight when a One Direction song comes on.  We watch the videos for “What Makes You Beautiful”, “One Thing” and “One Thing (Acoustic)” before they go to bed at night.  They beg to hear the album whenever we’re in the car.  They even specifically request “the sad song” with an appropriate degree of tweenage sullenness.

And I, for one, couldn’t be prouder.

My kids clap along to 1D's SNL appearance.

Before anyone gets any creepy ideas, my personal fondness for boybands is in no way akin to Lou Pearlman’s.  I don’t know any of the boys’ names, their favorite colors or their secret celebrity crushes.

My kids are too young to care about those things either (thank goodness).  So why are we a family of Directioners?  (OK, I’ll leave Drew out of it, but the kids and I are all fans.)  Here are a few reasons:

Their music is better than kids’ music.  Occasionally, I can get my kids to listen to The Shins or Wilco, and Bennett will proudly admit that “Motortown” by the Kane Gang is his “jam”.  But most of the time, “Daddy music” just doesn’t cut it, and One Direction is a lot more tolerable to these grown-up ears than The Wiggles.  1D’s debut album, Up All Night, is far less abysmal than you’d expect, and there are no blandly educational lyrics to spoil the fun melodies.

Their music is catchy enough to be kids’ music.  I may see a big difference between One Direction and The Wiggles, but my kids don’t.  Their tunes are upbeat (even the sad song), catchy and easy to sing along to.  My twins never complain when 1D is on, and I never have to pretend my iPod is broken just to get a moment’s peace.

Their music is cleaner than most pop music.  OK, yes, it’s time for me to strap on my fuddy-duddy hat and chase the rest of today’s top 40 hits off my lawn.  Do you know how hard it is to find songs that are appropriate for 2-year-olds (or 10-year-olds for that matter) in today’s music scene?

Madonna’s song “Give Me All Your Luvin'” seems perfectly pitched at her bediapered fans.  It even has a chorus which consists of shouting out letters, just like on Sesame Street.  And then, just when it seems like fun for the whole family, M.I.A. shows up and drops the S-bomb in a completely unnecessary second rap interlude.  You can’t avoid it either, because there’s no “clean” version of the song available.

My only choice is to lower the volume whenever the offending section comes on.  As a result, my kids have learned two things from Madonna’s latest hit – that “L-U-V” spells Madonna and that “Daddy doesn’t like M.I.A.”

With 1D, I never have to touch the volume knob or hit the skip button.  Their songs are actually even more innocent than their titles suggest.  “What Makes You Beautiful” isn’t “the way you do me, baby” or “that sweet ass”, as today’s Top 40 fan might expect.  It’s that “you don’t know you’re beautiful”.  Aww.  And when the guys say they want to stay “Up All Night”, it’s with the glee of a squeaky-clean teen whose idea of being naughty is thumbing his nose at bedtime.  Why do they want to stay up?  Duh, to dance, of course.

They’re easy to root for.  Just when you thought I couldn’t get fuddier or duddier, watch me double down…  I like One Direction because, well, they seem like nice boys.

They’re goofy and awkward, like 18-year-olds are supposed to be.  They have terrible hair.  They smile like they actually appreciate being famous.  These kids aren’t worried about bringing sexy back.  In fact, they’re doing their darndest to shoo it away again. And good for them!

Watching their TV appearances feels something like spying on the back two rows of a school bus on its way to the senior trip.  They’re laughing conspiratorially, but they’re not really up to anything bad.  They’re just happy not to be doing algebra for a change.

There’s something innocently appealing about that kind of unprofessionalism, especially in a world where we turn to reality TV competitions to make superstars out of novices.  (And of course, the 1D boys were discovered on the UK version of the X Factor.  They came in 3rd.  Aww.)

"Here comes my part. Better start singing!"

Just watch the blonde kid during any of their performances (including the videos).  You can see every single thing that’s going on in his head along the way, from “Oh, right, here’s where we clap.” to “They told me to smile, oops, better start smiling!” to “I wonder if my mates from school are going to see this.”

If one of the One Directions showed up on my doorstep 15 years from now to take my daughter on a date (or – let’s be real – my son), I would be totally OK with that.  In fact, I’d be psyched because Drew and I would have plenty of material to snicker about after the kid left.  (Did you see his sweater vest?  What’s up with that hair swoop?  Is there a nest of bees living in there?  Tee hee hee!)

The Wanted. If you see this band, run and tell a grown-up!

Compare them to the other British boy band of the moment, The Wanted.  Sure, they have a few catchy songs, but frankly, those boys scare me.  They look angry and thuggish.  Just because your band name is “The Wanted”, it doesn’t mean you need to look like you were recruited out of a police lineup.  Seriously, in just what sense are these boys “wanted”?  If I see them in public, I’m dialing 911, just to be safe.

Yes, I know what happens to boybands over time, so I know exactly which “direction” this latest batch is headed.  They’ll get jaded and egotistical, corrupted by the music industry and the bottomless pit of groupie poon at their disposal.  They’ll want to be “taken seriously”, so they’ll add single entendres and M.I.A. interludes to their songs.  They’ll see image consultants who’ll give them reasonable haircuts and walk-on roles on “Gossip Girl”.  I already hate the One Direction of 5 years from now.

But for now, let me enjoy 1D as it is today – a group of harmonizing dorks who have no idea how dad-friendly they are.

And that, of course, is what makes them dad-friendly.

Screw You, American Academy of Pediatrics! 5 Reasons TV is our BFF

If there’s one thing I heard absolutely everywhere when my kids were born, it’s that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a very strict policy when it comes to TV:

No TV under age 2, ever.

Well, now that my kids are 2 1/2 years old, I’ve come up with a reasoned and measured counterpoint:


I spent two years feeling guilty and ashamed that I caved into the alluring glow of the magic box in the living room, but I’m here to tell you from the other side: my kids are FINE.  They’re not drooly, brain-dead hyperpunks – well, not most of the time, at least.  They are 2, after all.

I’m clearly not the first person to express this kind of sentiment, because just last year, the AAP softened its recommended policy on TV usage.  The new mandate:

No TV under age 2, please.

In that spirit, I’d like to soften my counterpoint:

Go screw yourself, American Academy of Pediatrics, please!

Really?  Is that the best advice you can offer parents?  An abstinence-only policy?  How about we try to be realistic instead?  TV shouldn’t be a substitute for parenting, but there’s no reason it can’t be a small part of a healthy parenting regimen.  Let’s focus on responsible TV usage.

Sure, there are miserable parents out there who leave their TV on 24 hours a day, but those people aren’t listening to the AAP, and they certainly aren’t reading parenting blogs.

This advice is for the rest of you.  Here, in my opinion, are 5 perfectly acceptable uses for TV before your kid turns 2.

1. TV as distraction – I can hear the TV haters now.  “A-ha!  That’s all TV is!  A distraction!”  Well, yeah!  And if you’re a stay-home parent, you need distractions.  Maybe you have to call the pediatrician for 5 minutes, or you want to cook some mac and cheese without the kids knocking the pot of boiling water off the stove.  Oh, let’s just be honest: this is about what to do when you need to poop.  Everyone poops, right?  You know that because you read to your kids as well, like all good parents do.  So if you have to step out of the room for a minute, there’s no better way to distract your young’uns than with TV.  If it’s only for a small chunk of time, it’s not going to hurt them, at least not nearly as much as pulling that pot of water off the stove would.

2. TV as triage – Pop quiz, hot shot: your baby wakes up in the middle of the night screaming her head off.  She won’t eat, won’t burp, won’t go back to sleep.  None of your go-to methods for calming her are any help.  Is it time to rush her to the ER or page the on-call doctor?  Not so fast!  There’s one fool-proof diagnostic you can try first.  His name is Elmo.

We did it all the time with my kids.  Just when we were convinced we were witnessing a baby appendix in mid-burst, we turned on the TV.  If the kid calmed down immediately (as they always did) then clearly this was something they’d be able to ride out.

Face it: New parents are terrible doctors, and babies are terrible patients.  Sometimes, it’s hard to tell who’s crying harder when something goes wrong.  If a few minutes of TV can defuse the situation before you wake your pediatrician up in a panic, I think that’s something even the AAP would sign off on.

3. TV as a coffee break – What kind of horrible boss doesn’t let you take a coffee break now and then?  Well, guess what?  As a stay-home parent, you’re the boss.  Don’t be a slave-driver.  When your hard-working employee’s frazzled and needs to decompress, pop in a DVD for 10 or 15 minutes.  It not only gives you a chance to catch your breath, but it can calm your kids down, too, so when it’s time to turn it off, everyone feels refreshed.

Of course, as with any coffee breaks, you have to be careful not to abuse the system.  If you show a 1-year-old the Little Mermaid in its entirety while you let Calgon take you away, then she’s going to get bored and cranky, and you’ve just blown the benefits of your coffee break.  For a long time, our TV limit was 15 minutes a week.  Yes, a week.  It may not seem like much, but you wouldn’t believe how much I looked forward to those 15 minutes and how much I appreciated them when they were done.

4. TV as teacher – Let’s assume you’re not a total loser and you actually read to your kids.  Good for you.  But do you have any Harvard PhDs consulting on your selection of material?  No?  Then why not give the Children’s Television Workshop a crack at your little ones, too?  I’m not saying TV can ever match the value of parental interaction you get from reading, but the right shows can reinforce the things you’re teaching them when you’re going through your favorite books.  And let’s face it, Mom and Dad, you don’t exactly have the production values of The Fresh Beat Band.

I drummed the ABCs into my kids for weeks, with mixed results at best.  But after just a few viewings of a DVD called “The Letter Factory“*,  my kids knew all their letters and the sounds they made.

I’m not suggesting that SpongeBob Squarepants is on par with Jaime Escalante, and I’d never say that TV is the best way for your kids to learn.  But just because you do turn it on occasionally, it doesn’t mean you’re making your kids into couch potatoes.  Encourage them to sing the songs, to repeat Dora’s Spanish back to the screen, and at the very least, to get up and dance when music is playing.

TV is only a passive experience if you let it be.  Anyone who still calls it the “idiot box” hasn’t been paying attention.

* I never accept any endorsements on this blog and I have nothing to do with this company.  But as a parent, I wholeheartedly recommend this DVD.  It really did wonders for my kids.

5. TV as incentive/threat – You nurture your kids, you feed them, you tell them all the time how much you love them.  And in the end, they still like Elmo better than you.  Them’s the breaks.  But you can use that to your advantage.  Nothing snapped my kids in line faster than telling them, “Well, we were going to watch TV after dinner, but now maybe we won’t.”  Yes, it’s petty and it’s probably terrible parenting for a thousand different reasons.  But it works.  And sometimes, you just need what works.

How does Lex Luthor get the best of Superman?  By exploiting his weaknesses.  (He cares about regular mortals.  He wants to hide his identity., etc.) Well, your kids have their own forms of kryptonite – puppetry, repetitive jingles and the warm, welcoming glow of an LCD screen.

If you deny your kids TV, you’re denying them a major weakness and thus a major opportunity for you to get what you need out of them.  You won’t get a rat through a maze if he’s never tasted cheese.  I’m not saying you let him gorge himself.  Just a nibble now and then is more than enough.

There it is.  My case for responsible TV usage.  Or maybe it’s my defense of my own TV usage when my kids were little.  I did it.  I defied the AAP.  I stand by my actions and still consider myself a good parent.

I know the AAP is an organization of highly trained professionals who’ve dedicated their lives to helping children grow and thrive, whereas I’m just a guy with limited parenting experience and a WordPress account.  Decide for yourself who you’d prefer to listen to.  My mission is not to tell you what to do with your kids.  But I want you to know that if you do let them watch TV before they’re 2, you’re not alone – and you’re not a bad parent.