Parent Resolutions For 2014: Less Telling, More Listening

Dec 31, 2013
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I'm Michel Martin and this is TELL ME MORE from NPR News. They say it takes a village to raise a child, but maybe you just need a few moms and dads in your corner. Every week, we check in with a diverse group of parents for their common sense and savvy advice. Today, for our last parenting roundtable of the year, we decided to look back at 2013 in parenting, and we ask some of our regular contributors and you to share some of your best and worst parenting moments of the year.

And we heard from many people. Kurt Boneler (ph) tweeted, quote, worst - anytime I lost my cool and yelled, yelling never works unless you want a fear-based relationship with your kid. From Miriam Mendez (ph), quote, both my sons graduated high school this year, feeling very proud of them, wishing them bright futures. So that being said, we want to go to our panel to tell us more about their hits and misses and look forward to the new year. With us now are Dani Tucker, fitness instructor and mom of two.

Leslie Morgan Steiner is author most recently of "The Baby Chase" and mom of three. They're both here with me in Washington, D.C. Jeff Yang is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal and father of two, with us from New York. And Lester Spence is an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University, a father of five, with us from Baltimore. Welcome to everybody. Happy New Year. Happy parenting.


DANI TUCKER: Thank you.

JEFF YANG: Thank you.

LESTER SPENCE: Same to you.

MARTIN: All right, so are we going to start with the positive or negative? Let's start with the positive.


MARTIN: Let's start debating this. So, Dani, what was your best parenting moment of the year?

TUCKER: My best parenting moment of the year was what I call my karate kid moment, where I watch my kids show me wax on, wax off, paint the fence, sand the floor, you know. This year, with him being in the Navy and her going in her 11th-grade year, they were faced with challenges that, I guess - you know, where you'd look back and you'd say, now I do know I prepared you all for this, right? Let me see what you do. So and to watch her step up with her grades instead of crying and acting like, oh, I can't do it. She actually kicked in and used her faith and made the honor roll, like, three times this year. You know, and I'm so proud of her...


TUCKER: ...Because it wasn't, mommy, oh, look, I can't do it, save me, transfer me. So that was a great moment. And then also, the same thing with him being away from home, being on a Navy ship, being away and not being able to call mom when they're going through - in other words, they went through without me.


TUCKER: So that was my best parenting moment because that's when you know they listened. They heard you. Wow.

MARTIN: Leslie, you were saying the same - similar thing, different story - but saying that letting go - a similar story - letting go was one of your best parenting moments.

STEINER: You know, my kids are teenagers, and so my job now is to help them launch themselves into life. And my best moments of 2013 involved helping teach my 16-year-old son how to drive safely. And I'm happy that's behind us, and he's a really good driver now. And then also, my 14- year-old decided to go to boarding school. And it was just flabbergasting to me that she wanted to leave home and that she was so independent and mature. But I helped her find a good school and helped her get settled, and she's really happy. And, you know, I see the future when they're gone. And I, too, like Dani, am proud of who they are, and I'm also really proud of myself as a mom that they're so independent.

MARTIN: And you were able to let them go.

STEINER: I let them go.

MARTIN: Not too many tears.

STEINER: I know. It's true.

MARTIN: Not too many tears. Jeff Yang, what about you?

YANG: Well, I would say that I had a couple of - many actually best moments over the year. But I think the extended best moment was taking my 10-year-old and my 5-year-old - the two boys - to Japan for a month and actually experiencing all the things which I've seen as an adult through their kid eyes once more. It all...

MARTIN: Wait, wait. You get extra credit if you took them by yourself.


YANG: I did. It was a solo-daddy trip. But we...

MARTIN: Now, was it a solo-daddy trip or not?

YANG: It was a solo-daddy trip.



TUCKER: High five.


YANG: So...


YANG: ...There were a lot of worst moments sandwiched in there as well. But nevertheless, it was really, really inspiring and just incredibly relationship-building on all sides.

MARTIN: What was...

YANG: So and...

MARTIN: Wait, wait. I want to hear one of those things when you thought you couldn't do it, but you did it anyway - when you would have turned to your wife, and she would have - imploringly to bail you out, but you didn't because she wasn't there. And you handled it. Tell us one of those.

YANG: The funny thing is she actually literally did say, you do this, you're on your own. But I think it might've been actually getting on the plane knowing that we were going to be in an enclosed space with other human beings for the next, you know, 20-odd hours and being aware of just how much destruction these tiny packages next to me could cause.

MARTIN: And you did it.

YANG: But they were great actually. So...

MARTIN: That's awesome. Lester Spence, what about you?

SPENCE: You know, I've talked about this a little bit in Baltimore, but I haven't said this publicly, nationally, even as I've been on NPR several years. For the past several years, we haven't paid a mortgage. And we've been in threat of foreclosure, like, once or twice - I mean, significant economic anxiety. And this year, just as the last quarter of the year, we were able to come to a solution with Bank of America. It's not a perfect one, but it was one. So if I think about parenting, my first responsibility is to keep a roof over my kid's head. And they didn't know what was going on, as I'm sure most listeners and you probably didn't know what was going on. But that's been my - that's the moment - that's been the best moment for me, for that thing to be settled.

MARTIN: Well, congratulations.

TUCKER: Indeed.

MARTIN: Thank you for telling us because you are clearly not alone. There are many, many people who will be in that situation as we speak who will take courage from the fact that you were able to handle your business. So...

SPENCE: Yeah, yeah. And...

MARTIN: ...Bravo to you.

SPENCE: Yeah, and that's why I want to say it out loud. Like, I've said it here in Baltimore, you know, where I do my work. But, you know, there are a lot of people dealing with this thing and that's the - they need to know that. They need to know that there are other people - that some of the people they listen to on the radio, some of the people they're looking up to, some of their next-door neighbors are dealing with this. And we don't talk about it enough. So that's why I want to talk about it here.

MARTIN: Well, thank you. Thank you for that. Thank you for that. So this sounds a little lame by comparison, but I'm going to say it anyway, now we're going to move on to some of our worst moments.


MARTIN: Becky P. (ph) tweeted, worst - my 3-year-old telling me to put my phone down.


MARTIN: Dad, Jimmy Osterhau (ph) tweeted, quote, taking my kids to see "Grudge Match." That's a boxing movie.


MARTIN: I'm with you, dad. I feel you. I feel you. It is no less important for it not being, you know, that serious. So, Jeff, you also had an issue wanted to tell us about. And if you're just joining us, we're talking about parenting hits and misses of 2013. Joining us are parents Lester Spence, Jeff Yang, Leslie Morgan Steiner and Dani Tucker. And, Jeff, you were telling us also something that I think people don't talk about very often. You know, often when we talk about, you know, bullying, the focus is very much on the victim, as it were, or the target of bullying.

YANG: Yeah.

MARTIN: And, you know, amazingly, there are no bullies out there because nobody ever talks about the fact when their kid is the one doing the bullying. Isn't that...

YANG: Oh, gosh.

MARTIN: ...Amazing how that happens? And yet - but I'm not sure - tell us about it. Tell us about it.

YANG: Well, you know, the "Grudge Match" segue was very nice, by the way, Michel. But for some bizarre reason, I actually got contacted by one of the other parents in my class who let me know that based on what his son was telling him, my 5-year-old, Skyler, was a serial puncher. And, I mean, you know, the way it was described was kind of crazy. It really was something like out of "Dexter," you know. He was, like, taking kids into a felt-lined punch room or something.

But he was actually taking this boy, who he describes as one of his best friends, and pushing him against the wall and saying, do you want to live or die? And the boy was saying, live. And then Skyler was saying, say die. And then when he said die, he would bop him. And it wasn't, apparently, enough to get teacher attention or, you know, whatever, but it was enough so that this boy was very upset. And I was very upset, of course. And I sat down with Skyler and talked to him very carefully.

MARTIN: See, this is why you're a good man because some people would be like, what's the problem?


MARTIN: You know what I mean? I'm sorry. I mean, I'm sorry. They'd be like, what?

SPENCE: That's pretty gangster.

MARTIN: You know, so thank you for stepping up to the plate.

YANG: Yeah.

MARTIN: Well...

SPENCE: That's pretty gangster.

YANG: The thing is it's, like, I got out of Skyler that he was emulating - this was rough play. It was his attempt at kind of emulating some combination of evil TV things, which, again, you know, I don't let him watch a lot of TV. So he must be sneaking it in here and there. But I talked it out with him. He's not going to do it again. He understands that he would not like to be on the back end of this. And it's particularly painful for me because I've written about bullying a lot. I mean, Asian-American kids are more likely to be bullied than any other race or ethnicity, according to a recent survey. Like, you know, 54 percent of Asian-American kids, at one point or another, get bullied. But you don't talk about Asian-American kids who are bullies. So we had a statistic-free talk, and he is...


YANG: ...Very repentant.

MARTIN: He's very - did he get it? I mean, did he get it 'cause 5, you know, that's one of those things where people label kids as early as 5 and talk about they're a bully or they're this and this and this. But, you know, some kids are, right?

YANG: Yeah. No.

MARTIN: So you think that he was kind of, what? He just saw this and thought he would act it out. And do you think he understands that that's not OK and that he wouldn't like it?

YANG: Yes, I think he does. And I, you know - it was just startling to me hearing it that way. But from talking to Skyler, I don't think he thought he was hurting his friend. And he calls him his friend. So I'm, you know - I'm confident we'll have this resolved and this is not the, you know, high-speed rail or something to...

MARTIN: But I think it's worth noting because, again, like you say, the way we talk about this is, amazingly, there are no bullies in the world.

YANG: Yeah. That's true.

MARTIN: There are only kids who are bullied...

YANG: Right.

MARTIN: ...Because that's the only thing we ever talk about. And I think that...

YANG: Yeah.

MARTIN: ...You know, kind of a refreshing reminder that kids do a lot of things. And the adult labels that we are all ready to throw on are not always necessarily kind of relevant. Dani, did you have a worst? Did you want to tell us about?

TUCKER: Yeah, I'm going to confess. Although, that one was funny.

SPENCE: Yeah, it was.

TUCKER: I loved that.

SPENCE: It was, wasn't it?

TUCKER: Gangster Asian-American kid. That is so cool.

SPENCE: Straight up gangster.

TUCKER: My worst is - it corresponds with my best. It was my best to let go. It was my worst not letting go. Last, what? The beginning of the year, and he was out in the sea. And I guess they were at war 'cause I hadn't heard from my child. And that's when he, you know, reverted back to being my child. So I'm calling the secretary of the Navy. I'm calling everybody, where's my child? And, you know, everybody's like, ma'am, he's not a child anymore, you know. So it was like, I don't care. I can't talk to my child. He's out there.

So come to find that they had got into it, you know, with some Yemeni pirates and kicked butt. You know, so shout out to the USS Farragut. But I lost my mommy cool, you know, and went back to the, you know, my 5-year-old in the middle of the football field in the middle of a tackle, you know. So that was definitely...

MARTIN: So you knew not to call me. This is why I hadn't heard from you...

TUCKER: Yes. Yeah. 'Cause I...

MARTIN: ...Because you knew not to call me because if you had, I would've said, Dani...

TUCKER: You would've laid me low.

MARTIN: ...Now let's please remember all that we've - I would've replayed many of our conversations.

TUCKER: Forget all about that. All I could see was that my son was out there fighting some pirates, and mama needed to be in on the fight or whatever. You know, so hey, they did a great job without mama. Same thing with Imani when she went and got her learner's, you know, and I'm trying to give her the answers. And she's like, lady, you're about to make your daughter fail the test. I'm like, let me go back to the car. So letting go - not letting go, too, was my worst moment.

MARTIN: Leslie, what about you? You were talking about Facebook and all that social media really posed some challenges for you, which is particularly challenging since you are in the world of media yourself, right?

STEINER: Right. That's true. And I...

MARTIN: And you're all about sharing.

STEINER: Yes, and I use Facebook a lot. But in my family, you have to be 15 to use Facebook, which was a - it's a big internal issue in our family. But it doesn't stop the kids from knowing everything that goes on in the tech and media world. And the hard thing for me about 2013 was the endless stream of headlines that were impossible for me to explain to myself or my kids, you know, whether it was Kanye West saying that he is more influential than Barack Obama, or in the sports world, Richie Incognito and Aaron Hernandez being accused of terrible heinous things. Or hands down, the hardest thing to explain to my children was that Miley Cyrus was considered to be one of Time Magazine's people of the year.


STEINER: And it sounds funny, but it really makes me want to cry and tear my hair out, you know, that live in this world with just crazy stuff happens. And I have teenagers, and they're really independent-minded. And they want to argue with this stuff about me. And my 15-year-old still wants to go see Miley Cyrus in concert. And it's just sort of like one of those times where I feel so old like, what is the world coming to? And how are my kids going to, you know, improve upon this terrible world?

MARTIN: So you're going to let her go?

STEINER: Of course, I'm going to let her go, you know. She can - and actually I still like Miley Cyrus's music. I'm sorry to say.

SPENCE: Oh, that hurt.


MARTIN: Maybe she'll do like Justin Bieber and retire. And just say, OK. That would be great.

STEINER: That would make me so happy.

MARTIN: That would be great.


TUCKER: I doubt it.

MARTIN: So why don't we - in the time that we have left, you know, we'd love to hear - are you making any promises to yourself as a parent for the coming year, something that you want to work on? Lester, do you want to start?

SPENCE: Yeah. You know, I've got a - for some reason, I have my oldest - a birthday card that my kids signed for my oldest daughter in my backpack. And I'm looking at it, and my youngest daughter, who's 11, writes to my oldest daughter, who's 19, you're older now. I'm not going to be there to guide you through life anymore, right - 11 to the 19-year-old. When I think about what I need to do, I need to be more present. I'm really working to be more present for my kids, even if it's something as banal as, like, Friday game night because they're older, but that just means they need us differently, right. So they don't need us in the Dani-calling-the-Navy, where my kid at, way. But they...

TUCKER: Talk about me.

SPENCE: But they just don't.

MARTIN: You're never going to let that go.

SPENCE: No. But they still need us, and I need to be more aware of that. That's what I need to work on.

MARTIN: Jeff, what about you?

YANG: You know, this is all props to the name of the show, but I kind of feel like I have to learn how to tell my kids less, right, and hear them more. I think parents tend to fall into the trap of really thinking that parenting's about telling kids what to do, teaching kids by vocalizing the best and the right and the, you know, role model-y kinds of things that parents are all supposed to be about. But I feel like I don't listen to my kids enough, and I could learn a lot by hearing what they have to say.

MARTIN: Interesting. OK. Well, that's good advice for all of us, isn't it?

YANG: Yeah.

MARTIN: So, Leslie, resolutions to yourself?

STEINER: Well, you know, I feel like I'm just at this funny parenting pivot point where it's not so much about me being there for my kids anymore or teaching them or guiding them. But to my surprise, it's letting my kids be there for me as I face difficult challenges. And there are a couple of times recently where my kids have held my hand, and I mean it literally. Like, they've taken my hand and given me a little pat. And I just - I'm so proud of them. And I'm, you know - again, I'm proud of me that I helped raise these giving kids. And just to allow them the experience of taking care of me a little bit and just honoring just how generous they are in their hearts.

MARTIN: Oh, that's lovely. Dani, what about you? Any parenting resolutions for yourself?

TUCKER: I have got to amen that because that's where I am with mine. I know what I won't be doing, calling the Navy this year.


TUCKER: My son's a Navy man. God bless you boy. I'm proud of you. Do that thing, man. You're not mama's boy anymore. I'm going to let that go.

MARTIN: You know what? I think we need to institute regular check-ins with Dani.

TUCKER: Yeah. You know you do.

MARTIN: You know what I'm saying? I think - this is our fault 'cause we have been lax. We should have called her and say, OK, did you call the Navy today? Please. Did you call?

SPENCE: We need to make that a segment.

MARTIN: I think so. OK.

TUCKER: But much like Leslie, I, too, am grateful that I picked up two best friends. This is mommy's first time, you know, working her own business full-time, and they have been the two most wonderful business partners I have ever had. And I just - like Leslie said, you look at these little miniature adults that you raised and you're like, wow, you guys are awesome people. So that's my New Year's resolution to be more of an awesome business partner with my kids and less of the mama that calls the Navy.

MARTIN: OK. Well, let me just take a minute to thank all of you for the contributions that you've made throughout the year to the program, to each other, you know, the friendship, the wisdom, the honesty, the willingness to share even the kind of less thrilling moments of being a parent. And to be honest and to really tell people the truth about your lives because one of the things that, you know, we were hoping to do with this segment is tell people the truth about what it's really like. It's not all about just getting your kids to eat mashed carrots. OK. OK, now you've gotten the carrots down. There's a whole lot of other stuff. So thank you all so much for everything you've done...

TUCKER: Thank you.

SPENCE: Oh, thank you.

MARTIN: ...To make that possible and true. Lester Spence is an associate professor of political science at Johns Hopkins University and father five with us from Baltimore. Leslie Morgan Steiner is author, most recently, of "The Baby Chase" and a mom of three with us from Washington, D.C., along with Dani Tucker, a fitness instructor, entrepreneur, mom of two. And with us from New York - from NPR New York, Jeff Yang a columnist for The Wall Street Journal and a father of two. Thank you all, and happy New Year to everybody.

TUCKER: Thank you. Happy New Year.

STEINER: Thank you.

SPENCE: Happy New Year.

MARTIN: And that's our program for today. I'm Michel Martin and you've been listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News. Let's talk more tomorrow, which is next year. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.