Smartphones Can Contribute to 'Dumb' Parenting

According to a body of research increasingly robust in in the last 5 years, it appears a collective parental wake-up call is in order. Although researchers are still studying the effect of screen time on children, they’re now turning their trained eyes on us to see how our tech habits impact our parenting and our children. While no researcher is claiming causation between parental smartphone use and poor child outcomes, there is enough correlational evidence for parents to take notice.

·      Frequent social media use is one of the risk factors for “higher levels of maternal depression

·      According to the Center for the Digital Future, people report feeling “increasingly ignored by others in their own family households because of smartphone use”

·      A 2015 study of caregivers and kids on playgrounds demonstrated that children have a harder time getting the attention of parents distracted by smartphone use

·      Even teenagers – who you’d think would be delighted by distracted parents – reported “less parental warmth” and 11% said they “struggled quite a bit or a great deal to get their parent’s attention when their parent was on their cell phone or tablet” in a 2017 study

I raised my three now-young-adult children pre-digitally. These days, its fairly common to see a dad at the playground, benched and engrossed in his phone while a child desperately tries to get him to witness their feat on the monkey bars (admittedly, for the 10th time). Equally distressing is seeing moms pushing prams or strollers, deeply engaged in conversation with someone on the end of a headset rather than with their small child.

Frankly, I get it. Although I was late to the smartphone game, and was initially mystified when told my phone could take pictures - why would I need a phone to do that?  (I currently have 43,963 photos on my phone!)  I am very dependent on my phone and had to add an external case to get through the day. The other day I walked into the office building where I had a meeting only to realize I had left my phone in my car. Given my level of distress (“OMG, I don’t have my phone!”), you’d have thought I’d left a toddler locked in the back seat.   And yes, I went back to get it.

If ever there were a moment for intentional and mindful parenting, this would be it.

There are vast bodies of research on early-child brain development that point to the vital link between parent-child conversation and language development. As a young mom, I considered every walk and outing a chance for a complete conversation with my kids. Even when kids are pre-verbal, there is tremendous value in little ones being part of the conversation. As I found, it’s never too early to begin describing the wonders of the world they’ll soon come to talk about first-hand.

Famed child development researcher Dr. Edward Tronick spent his career “trying to put his feet into the shoes of an infant” to better understand how they function in the world. His research shows – in achingly painful detail – what children experience emotionally when parents aren’t responsive to their attempts to connect and communicate. Infants, even newborns, he says, endeavor to “make meaning about the world.” And they’re looking to us to help them.

So – given the stakes - what’s an intentional parent to do?

Inventory your tech habits when you’re with your children and take objective note of what you find.

Remember that this is about your kids’ well-being, not your (or your employer’s) needs.

Be mindful about what we – and our kids -- lose if we’re not present and available when we’re with them.  

Pivot. If you’re spending too much family time otherwise distracted by your phone, make and set some rules for yourself – and stick to them.

Finally, know that we are always modeling for our kids – even when we’re engaged in behavior we don’t want our children to emulate.  So be mindful of what you do, and teach your children by example.  Remember, its never too late to do better!

My First Podcast

I had the great privilege and pleasure to join my friend, Teri Turner from @NoCrumbsLeft, to do a podcast on parenting. Teri is an extraordinary food blogger, chef, and mom; she shares so much of herself through her Instagram stories, her blog, and her podcasts. I was invited to join her to talk about my practice, my philosophy about Intentional Parenting, and our shared paths through divorce to effective co-parenting and more.

I hope you will take the time to listen in!

Click the link below and select the “Intentional Parenting” podcast.


Intentional Parenting


In my first-ever ELI Talk presented live at Repair the World in Detroit, MI on June 19th, I shared my journey from the initial days of motherhood – completely overwhelmed, frustrated and exhausted – to my current life as the successful parent of three young adult children.

While my blog generally presents a secular perspective on parenting with intention, I wanted to offer my practical experience and professional grounding in intentional parenting through the lens of Judaism. In this short video I explain how mastering the “pivot” is one of the most essential skills any parent can possess.

Are Your Kids Ready for High School? Are YOU?

Parents…being the smart, mature and capable adults we are… likely think we’re aces when it comes to preparing our teenagers to begin or return to high school this month. And we’d be right.

What we might fail to do, however, is prepare ourselves for the ongoing rigor of helping teens navigate the newfound independence of high school without losing sight of our parenting values – or our commitment to intentional parenting. So here’s a primer for just for you!

Stay out of the way but not out of the picture.  High school is the time when teens need to build self-efficacy and resilience – in matters both academic and social. When parents rush in with a fully realized solution at the first blush of conflict or struggle, it undermines a teen’s ability to figure solutions out for themselves. So give them appropriate tools and language and let them have the first pass at fixing a problem they’ve encountered. After they’ve tried, failed and reached out for more support, then you can intervene with alternative solutions.

Of course there’s a middle ground, here. You want to give them the autonomy to flex their problem-solving muscles, but stay present enough so that you know what’s going on. Regarding school, for example, many parent portals let you set a threshold for when you’re to be notified of dipping grades or problematic behaviors. So stay present…just don’t hover.

Another way to help your kids develop adult chops is to exercise your listening skills more than your talking skills. Sometimes, kids just want and need to vent. When you reflect back to them what they’ve said, they might just find the answer themselves.

Get OK with not being the “cool” parents.  Recently a client expressed concern that he’d lost control of family time this summer once his son graduated from middle school. His son was “informing” his parents about his weekend plans – as if he was the boss of himself.  Adolescents navigating greater social freedom and increasingly central peer relationships still need to ask, not tell, parents about plans.

When kids are 14 – parents are still the boss. And while it may not be “cool” to insist on knowing where your kids are, one of the unspoken pacts you made with them when they were born is that you would keep them safe.

Whatever your family rules are for being kept informed about where and when, it’s important that there are consequences for kids who veer. It’s enough to say, “If I can’t count on you to be where you say you will be, then you’ve forfeited your privilege to spend time with your friends next weekend.”  Many kids will learn that lesson with just one correction, but be prepared to have to dish it out more than once if necessary.

The start of high school is also a prime opportunity to restate your values regarding the importance of family time, too. Most every parent wants their kids to have good times with their friends, but it doesn’t need to be at the expense of family cohesion. Now is the time to restate that – aloud. (This, too, will likely bear repeating)

Bottom line, transition back to school is hard – for teens and parents. Staying flexible, being observant, pivoting when necessary and listening to your teens will go a long way to making the school year manageable and enjoyable for all.

5 Reasons Why I'm With HER (Julie Lythcott-Haims, that is)


Seconds into Julie Lythcott-Haims’ talk from the stage a few years ago, I knew I was hearing from a kindred spirit. An advocate of raising our children to become competent adults, this former Stanford University Dean of Freshmen, attorney, author – and mother of two teenagers – reflected on her surprise at just how ill-prepared she had found the young people on Stanford’s campus to be.

She’s written a New York Times Bestseller on the topic and accompanying TedTalk garnered 3.2 million views. I admire her greatly – and agree with her wholeheartedly. In fact, her thesis, that we hamper our children’s development and their futures when we hover over them, smoothing every bump in the road lest they trip and have to figure out how to right themselves, is the way I raised my children, as well as the foundation of my parent-coaching practice.

What kids need most from parents is unconditional love, that’s a given. Parents also have the fundamental, irrefutable and powerful job of educating, protecting and nurturing our children.

But also tops on the list of parental to-dos is this: We must get out of our children’s way and let them fall, fail and falter so they can figure out how to succeed.

Believe me, I understand the urge to step in. It’s much easier and more efficient if we tie our toddler's shoe rather than wait the interminable 20 minutes for her to do it herself. Yet being bigger, faster and stronger than our kids doesn’t give us the right to rob them of the most important lessons that failure and hard times can teach. 

If we do everything for them, we’ll have reared a generation sadly and seriously ill equipped to take on the essential jobs of running our countries and saving our planet.

Let’s set our kids up for true success in life by adhering to these 5 ways to raise competent, compassionate and resilient adults.

1.    Let them do it themselves (even if it’s not perfect).  It doesn’t matter if that’s tying their own shoelaces when they’re toddlers or negotiating what they consider to be an unfair grade with a teacher, mastering a skill gives children the confidence to face the next challenge that comes their way. If you’ve assigned them a task and they do it – but not up to your adult            standards – let it be. By redoing their work you undermine their sense of pride in accomplishing the task.

2.    Let them fight their own fights. Intentional parents let their children resolve their conflicts – or learn valuable lesson by trying. Of course, if there is a risk of grave harm you need to intervene. But generally, getting in the middle sends the message you don’t believe your kids are capable of navigating and negotiating a conflict on their own. A wound like that may never fully heal.

3.    Let them fail. Watching a child fail is probably one of the most excruciating things a parent can do. But it’s also a priceless opportunity for our kids. I remember when my eldest, then a sophomore in college, fell behind and was poised for academic probation. He was a bit frantic when he realized the predicament he was in, but having been allowed to fail multiple times during the course of his young life, he knew what he had to do. And he did it.   

4.    Let them struggle with things that are hard.  In an animated video about helicopter parents shared by The Atlantic magazine, Lythcott-Haims notes most parents are enthusiastic about letting their kids struggle with learning how to walk, but generally start stepping in soon thereafter. Don’t. They eventually learned how to walk, didn’t they? I promise they’ll learn how to do most of the other stuff they need to survive without constant parental interference masquerading as loving support. 

5.    Let it begin today!  Even if you failed to do the previous 4 things when your kids were 2 or 4 or 10, begin today. Better to realize you’ve handicapped your child and pivot than to keep on making the same mistake! It won’t be an easy transition for either you or the kids, but with practice everyone will get the hang of it. Best yet, your children will bear the fruits of their labor, even if they’re cranky about the extra effort in the short run.


By the way, if you haven’t read Lythcott-Haim’s book, get yourself to your library, neighborhood bookstore or favorite online vendor. It’s one of the best parenting books around.  And for more reading on the subject, check out my HuffPo piece from 2014

Tips for a Super-Fun Family Summer

I’m a huge proponent of family fun – as my last post on special ways to celebrate your family makes clear.

While there are a number of ways to cement family bonds, one of my favorites is to simply have fun together. After all, when you live in a city like Chicago famous for its long cold winters, the sudden and momentous return of summertime signals “family fun” like no other season of the year. So let’s get to it.

The beauty of summer – and what makes it particularly advantageous for families – is that it represents a departure from the structured world of the school year. Whether you are working inside or outside the home, the array of academic and extra-curricular activities your kids have leaves precious little time for carefree family activities during the school year.

Let’s take dinner. When children have ball or band practice after school – and  homework that evening – dinner is simply about providing nutrition.

But summertime? Even something as banal as supper can become a fun family activity. How?

·      Get everyone involved in packing a picnic to take to your favorite neighborhood park

·      Throw some pre-made pizza crusts on the grill, and have a contest to see who can create the most outlandish (yet edible) pie

·      Go to a family-friendly restaurant with outdoor seating – and bring along a deck of cards for a quick game after ordering or eating

·      Let the kids do the menu-planning, shopping and cooking! (a personal favorite)

See what I mean?

Making summertime a prime time for family fun is largely a mindset, and now is the time to shift yours so this summer can become one of your family’s best ever. Hyperbole aside, there are a few caveats.

CAVEAT #1    What your kids don’t need to know is that family summertime fun is not just about fun. Summer can be a growth opportunity. With intentional parents at the helm, kids can get lots of opportunities to exercise their executive functioning muscles (organizing, planning and executing a plan; understanding different points of view; regulating emotions (like when a rainstorm makes plans go awry). Their regular muscles can get some additional action, too, when you try new sports or activities together.

CAVEAT #2   Summer can be a stressor. Working parents face the anxiety of getting their kids into enough camps and classes and park activities so they can show up for their jobs. Stay-at-home parents may fear having their kids around 24/7 with less of the quiet or private time they’ve come to rely on during the school year.

CAVEAT #3    Transitions are difficult for kids (for parents, too), particularly the ones out of and eventually back into the school year. So give your family a break if things aren’t picture-perfect.

CAVEAT #4   Speaking of pictures…your family’s “fun” doesn’t have to look like any other family’s, nor does it have to pass the Instagram test. It simply needs to meet the needs of your particular unit.

Now let’s get back to making this summer great! Here are two basic strategies to help kick-start the season.

Have a family meeting. This is the time for everyone to come up with a few must-dos / wanna-dos for summer 2018. Out of that brainstorming session, create a bucket list that includes something for everyone. Here are just a few ideas you might want to consider:

·       Virtually every city offers family-centric activities, many of which are free or very low-cost; assign one of your kids the task of doing a bit of online research to see what’s available in your city

·      Make reading a fun family activity by selecting a book to read aloud one night each week (i.e., no book report required!)

·      Plant a garden in your backyard or join a community garden

·      Be a tourist in your own city and explore some of the neighborhoods you’ve never been to before

·       Let each of your kids include their friends in one family activity each month (dinner is a great option here, especially when you put them in charge!)

·       Speaking of dinner, try a cuisine your family has never eaten. Vietnamese, anyone?

 Approach the summer season intentionally and mindfully. You know your kids and what they need, and have no doubt already put into place the right amount and variety of structured activities and camps. But if summertime is all structure, your kids miss out the bounty of ideas and self-awareness that comes from some freedom and un-structured activities. That’s where parents need to exercise intentionality. Here are some ideas in this regard:

·      Don’t be freaked out if your kids just want to laze around the house or backyard some days. Resist the urge to keep them busy. With freedom and downtime, kids become more adept at finding out what interests them. It’s actually an important lesson to know how to entertain oneself!

·      Make and take some downtime for yourself – no matter what

·      Consider if this summer is a good time for a philanthropic activity everyone participates in

·      Limit screens – for everyone in the family

How can a working parent practice intentional parenting during the summer?

·      Consider using your PTO to spend at least one day a month with each one of your kids alone for a special activity. Taking time off “just because” sends a powerful message to kids.

·      Check with your manager regarding flex time. Many companies have official or unofficial summer policies or, if not, may be amenable to an idea you propose

·      Stay connected with your kids as much as you can with a phone call during lunchtime

Being an intentional parent also means setting realistic expectations – for everyone in the family. No parent can make summertime fun-central from dawn to dusk. You still need to go to work, do the laundry and pay the bills. If you haven’t already, make this the summer you lift the veil on all the things you do as parents to make your kids lives comfortable.

It’s a great way to teach your kids to be empathic to someone else’s experience. I’m certainly not advocating you play the martyr, but it’s perfectly legitimate to say, “Listen guys – Tasks A, B, C and D need to get done this week – in addition to all the fun stuff we’d like to do. Let’s figure out who will do what and when.” You just may be surprised how eager they are to help (especially the younger ones!)

A clean house and a day at the fair? Sounds like fun to me!

6 Special Ways to Celebrate YOUR Family

Would you like to (mostly) guarantee your kids will still want to join you on a family vacation when they’re in their 20s? Or at the very least, will think of their childhood fondly – and repeat some of your best parenting practices? If so, you need to celebrate the sacredness, quirkiness and downright fun of your family unit from the second they’re out of the womb.

If you already missed that boat, it’s not too late to start today.

I happen to believe families are extraordinary – no matter how you define them or what the particular make-up of yours happens to be. In the best of circumstances, a successful family is one in which everyone is respected and can be authentically themselves. Values are shared. Inside jokes abound. You “get” each other. You feel seen.

Like most enduring things of value, creating a solid sense of family takes effort. As I said in a previous post, mindful parents are those who make the time to create, articulate and honor (repeatedly) the core family values by which your family will abide. That’s the heart and soul of the work.

But healthy families are also about play! When you celebrate fun family traditions, you go a long way toward building a love of family that will be central to your kids’ experience. Plus, when you give your kids a role in creating them, these annual happenings can foster warm ties and memories between siblings that all the cajoling in the world couldn’t accomplish.

Fun family traditions are important for another reason. They create the story of your family, a narrative uniquely yours. Even in not particularly happy families there is something to be gained by observing special traditions. A friend of mine from a large family of daughters recalls that most of their non-school time was spent helping their mother clean, cook and babysit the younger siblings. But on birthdays, mom would decorate their place setting, let them choose the dinner menu – and take them off the hook for chores the entire day. Even though she claims her childhood wasn’t nurturing, she still fondly remembers that annual birthday tradition and the joy it brought her.

The internet is replete with ideas for special family traditions you can get ideas from. At the end of the post I’ll share a few links and you can take it from there. 

But first I’d like to share some Hirt family favorites that all three of my (now grown) children have come to cherish. And I’d bet that at least some of these things will be repeated with their own families when (and if!) that lucky day comes to pass.

1.  Establish an official Family Day.  When I was a child, I was annoyed that there was a Mother’s Day and a Father’s Day but no “Children’s Day,” a fact I made known to my parents. They generously went along with my addition to the holiday canon, inviting my siblings and me to plan the day from sunup to sundown. It was a huge hit and we celebrated it every year. Since I now recognize that every day is Children’s Day, I suggest creating an annual “Family Day” observance instead. Encourage everyone to play a role in planning a portion of the day and really pull out all the stops from a connections perspective. It’s the experiences you share – not the “stuff” you buy – that knit families together.

2.  Embarrass them (Lovingly).  Every time my kids returned from a school trip or camp, I’d great them at the airport or bus drop-off wearing a T-shirt that said, “Welcome Home [Insert name of child returning home]! My kids are all in or nearing their 20s and I still do this. (Now who’s embarrassed?!)

3.  Festoon the house on birthdays.  Birthdays are built-in special days so take full advantage of it. In addition to letting my children choose the food and cake flavor for their special day, I used to decorate the house with birthday posters every year. They loved waking up to a house full of them. Even when they were teens they’d ask, “Are you going to do posters for me again this year?” For my birthday, I ask my children for the gift of their time. Especially now that their lives are expanding, nothing give me more joy then getting to spend an entire day with them.

4.  Create a crazy family outing and give it an acronym, say, HFCDTTTGSAOCSOTC!

This is a true-to-life “day” devised by my brother-in-law. It stands for “Hirt Family Christmas Day Trip to the Gas Station and/or Convenience Store of Their Choosing! (The object is fairly self-explanatory!) They’ve been doing this since the kids were tots. My guess is that when the oldest goes to college and comes home for winter break this will be an activity on the agenda!

The following two ideas take a bit of advance planning, but they’re oh-so-meaningful:

5.  Create a T-shirt quilt. Every year I put aside a couple of each of my kids’ favorite T-shirts. At year’s end I made my final selections and put them in boxes labeled for each of my children. Before each left for college, I had a company create a quilt of the T-shirts for their dorm room. It was my way of sending them off to college with a “blankie” that looked cool enough to leave on the bed.

6.  Publish an 18-letter book. Another annual tradition of mine was to write a letter to each of my children on their birthdays. In each letter I noted their successes…what they struggled with…who their friends were…and some of the funniest things they said. And, of course, all the ways in which they were loveable. I would bestow the bound book on their 18th birthdays.

Time to get started! There’s a plethora of ideas in books and online for ways (and reasons) to celebrate your family year after year. When everyone participates, you’ll be on your way to creating a story only your family gets to tell.

Sibling Rivalry Doesn't Have To Poison Your Home


Sibling relationships are incredibly complex, and there’s no predicting or controlling the bonds that yours will eventually have…or have not. However, an inviolable role of mindful parenting is ensuring that home is a safe place for every person in the family. Do that, and there is a very good chance your kids will find much to appreciate in one another. Perhaps not immediately, but surely in time!

But first, let’s agree on a few truths (the good, bad and ugly) about siblings:

·      Siblings can be natural allies

·      They’re also sometimes rivals

·      The dynamic between offspring is affected by things outside everyone’s control (e.g., birth order and temperament)

·      Siblings don’t need to be best friends but they must respectfully co-exist

·      Siblings can gain great skills (how to manage parents; how to navigate the world) simply by watching one another

·      It’s normal for siblings to argue -- about toys, boys and even nothing at all

And here’s the final “truth.”

·      Raising multiple kids under one roof (or in the case of divorce, under two) can be a significant challenge for parents

Fortunately, the solution is something I believe is vital for healthy families. And that is creating, articulating and honoring the core values about the type of family dynamic and home environment you intend to foster.

      When we had our first child, my now co-parent and I were in lockstep about our parenting values and aspirations for family life. As they grew up, our kids came to know exactly what those values and aspirations were. Not simply because we articulated them frequently, but because we held everyone in the family to them. Here are some key values that can impact sibling ties.

Family is sacred.  From the start, we considered our family unit, our family space and the time we spent together as sacred. We ensured our home was a safe place for every member, and encourage our kids to try things out at the dining room table without consequence or ridicule (unlike in the school cafeteria). The sacredness applied even when (especially when) we disagreed or were angry.

Family members are kind and respectful.  Our kids knew there would be zero tolerance for bullying, physical abuse or excessive tension between them. They knew the expectation was that they be kind and respectful to one another – and to us. Full stop.

Hitting is not an option.  We drew an extremely hard line at anything physical. We did not spank our children and they were not to hit one another. Naturally we intervened when they were toddlers and hitting and biting one another was to be expected developmentally, but relatively early on they learned that getting physical would not be tolerated.

Get along or go it alone. It’s easy for parents to fall into the trap of blaming an older child for infractions or always making the youngest the victim. Not to mention, it’s easy to spot the actions of the retaliator…but miss the jabbing of the instigator. We decided early on we weren’t going to police our children or preside as judge and jury over their sibling shenanigans. When our kids seemed unable or unwilling to manage their disagreements (decibel level is a great cue), we simply sent them to their respective (or separate) rooms, instructing them that they were welcome back into the family space as soon as they felt they could be kind and respectful and work out their differences. It’s also important to remind everyone in the family that playing (and living) together is a 2-, 3- or 8-way street as the case may be, and that everyone contributes to the tone of the home.

Kids are allowed a sacred cow or two.  Teaching siblings to share is great. But sharing everything? Not necessary. Let you daughter have her treasured truck or you son claim “his” side of the room as off-limits. Of course siblings can’t call “dibs” on everything, but it’s appropriate for them to claim some things as theirs alone.

If it isn’t working, PIVOTWhile most parenting values don’t change much over time, certainly how we enforce them may. So if you’re reading this and thinking, “My value is that our home is sacred, but my kids are always at each other’s throats!” – all is not lost!

The best antidote for losing one’s way is simply to stop long enough to figure out what the problem is, re-articulate your values around it and then back that up with action – even if you’ve let bad behavior go on for far too long. For example, “Daddy and I are tired of you three arguing at dinner all the time. Starting today, if anyone is mean or dismissive to anyone else in the family, you’ll be excused.” Then follow through.

A helpful way to think about raising siblings is to be conscious about what it is you want for your children when you’re dead and gone. Like most parents, you probably want your progeny to love one another…to count on each other…to help each other when it counts. Live your values and it will come to pass. (Mostly) guaranteed.