Being Right
December 8, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Communication, Marriage, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships · Permalink · Comments (0)

The Curse and Seduction of Being Right

by Lisa Merlo Booth


Many people struggle with the curse of being right.  When people struggle with being right it feels as if you’re constantly in an argument about the “facts.”  Sometimes it can feel as if you’re talking with a lawyer instead of a friend or partner.  For example, you might ask your partner to lower their voice and they respond with, “My voice isn’t loud.  I was just being passionate.”  Or perhaps you start to tell a story about work and say, “When I left home at 8 a.m.…” and your partner quickly butts in and corrects you with, “Well, actually you left after 8 a.m.”  Whatever the circumstances are, you feel as if you’re in an endless battle.  All you want to do is share your thoughts or make a request, yet the other person is busy checking your facts instead of listening to your message.

Needless to say, if you’ve ever been on the other side of this dynamic, it can be incredibly frustrating.  If you’re the one constantly “correcting” or arguing the facts, then you can be incredibly frustrating.

Stop correcting and start listening.

Being around someone who is constantly telling others how they’re wrong blocks intimacy and connection.  Ironically though, many people get caught in the being right trap…because being right is seductive.  After all, people think, isn’t it important to have the right facts?  If my partner says he’s angry that I was late for our dinner on Saturday and I know we went out on Friday—shouldn’t I correct him and tell him I was late on Friday, not Saturday?  After all, I’m right—I happen to know for a fact that we went out on Friday because Saturday was our son’s soccer game and we ate dinner on the road while driving to his game.  Shouldn’t I correct him when I know I’m right?


The seduction of being right is that often our information…is right.  We’re not making it up, we’re not giving false information and we’re honestly correcting wrong information.  What’s wrong with that, we wonder?  Several things are wrong with that.  To start with, when we’re so ultra-focused on arguing the facts, we miss the bigger point.  In the dinner example, my husband was upset that I was late.  My focusing on the “accurate” day is irrelevant—even though my information may be correct.  Second, if I’m busy critiquing what he says, then I’m shutting down the conversation.  If I shut down the conversation then I’m blocking repair.  It’s often only a matter of time before people give up trying to talk with someone who seldom listens and instead corrects the minute details.  At some point we just say forget it.When it comes to healthy relationships, remember to not get lost in the details and instead hear the main message.  If you’re stuck on critiquing the messenger, s/he is likely to stop relaying messages.  When that happens, your relationship is in trouble.  The other person gets tired of being blocked repeatedly and in the end they often just turn away.  It’s in your best interest to have the courage to stop getting lost in the details and instead hear the message…and fix your part in the situation.  Insisting on being right is damaging.  Don’t give in to the seduction.


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“Liar, Liar, Pants On Fire”: Punishment and Children’s Honesty
December 1, 2011 · Posted in Anger, Communication, Discipline, K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (0)

A recent article in Child-Psych gives important data about children and discipline and lying. In a nutshell, the harsher the punishments, the more kids lie. Yet another piece of date to support the goal of  approaching punishment from a calm, centered place instead of reacting in anger.

A study conducted by Talwar and Lee looks at two separate West African schools, one with punitive disciplinary practices, the other non-punitive. Children at both schools participated in a ‘temptation resistance program’. While almost all children  failed the resistance portion of the program, the response afterwards varied greatly. Only half of the children at the non-punitive school lied about their actions, compared to the punitive school where nearly all of the children lied. Additionally, the children at the school with harsher punishments made up more elaborate lies as compared to the other.

Harsh and severe punishments will actually increase the likelihood of a child developing a habit of lying. Consequences to bad behavior is crucial, but it is also just as important to keep a level head when communicating it to your kids.

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Minding Our Business
November 24, 2011 · Posted in Buddhism/Parenting, Parenting · Permalink · Comments (0)

By Bethany Saltman

T and I are scheduled to offer a retreat, along with other senior lay students/parents, on the practice of parenting at Fire Lotus Temple in Brooklyn, the city center of Zen Mountain Monastery. And I agreed to lead a discussion about parenting after being approached by a lovely new mom in Woodstock, and owner of Illuminated Baby, which will happen soon after. Oy.

As readers of this column can attest, I am not in much of a position to be doling out advice on how to be calm, cool, or collected. But even more than that, can talking (and/or reading) about Buddhism really help us be better parents, or might it just add to the list of things we should be doing?

The web is full of sites, articles, and blogs about how to “Use Buddhist Teachings for Better Parenting,” with subtitles such as “Learning to be a Calm, Compassionate Parent with Buddhist Teachings.”

Here are some tips from one I found:

Buddhism Teaches Compassionate Parenting If one just takes a minute to breathe, calm down, and react [sic], life with children will be happier and easier.

Learn How to Parent Mindfully from Buddhist Practices By being mindful, it is possible to pay more attention to what a child is really trying to say and to enjoy the small pleasures and details of a child’s life and convey the message that one’s children are truly valued and loved.

Being an Accepting and Understanding Parent Each individual is a Buddha and one must respect and accept that uniqueness.

Being a Responsible, Loving Buddhist Parent By setting good examples of responsibility and being loving towards others, parents can help children imbibe these important values.

Who could argue with such sound advice? Of course each individual is a Buddha who deserves to be respected. But what does that mean when the Buddha in front of you is flopping around in the bed, covers transformed into a cave, whining about being tired, and you have exactly 20 minutes to get said Buddha out of said bed, clothed, fed, teeth brushed, and out the door for her ride to kindergarten? And the reason for the rush is that you let her sleep in because she was on the brink of getting sick and as much as you love and respect her, you also know that her illness during this week filled with your deadlines would be treacherous, to say the least.

Responsible, maybe, but not very loving. You try to be patient, respecting her position, even paying attention to the small details of the wind rustling in the trees outside, try to hear what your little Buddha is truly saying; is there a message beneath that plea to just sleep one more minute, mama, please? You try to breathe. In fact, you do, breathe. But the sound of your own inner voice, screeching with irritation, reciting your list of things to do (in order to be respectable person in the world) wins out. And you growl at the little Buddha.

Buddhism teaches many things, but as far as I can tell it is all geared toward finding in ourselves what the Buddha called “an awakened heart,” which is also called “bodhichitta.” As Pema Chodron says, “This is a place as vulnerable and tender as an open wound.” And unfortunately, this is what we have to move into in order to become mindful. Learning to calm down, even breathe and notice is of course part of it all, but the only way to get there is to do the first, hardest thing: Don’t try to change anything. Be, totally. Every aspect. Don’t add to my experience of the moment, regardless of how painful it is or how lame I think it is/I am.

As my teacher Daido Roshi used to say, “Really trust yourself.” Not to do the right thing or have the correct answer but to simply “do what you’re doing while you’re doing it,” another of his favorite teachings. Does this then mean that when I am growling, just growl? Maybe so. Chances are I will “make a better choice,” as we encourage our kids to do, when I am not adding so many layers to my own experience, getting caught up in what psychotherapist Karen Horney calls “the tyranny of the shoulds,” and just giving all my mean-animal sounds their moment of truth, even when they stay, as they hopefully do more and more, on the inside, and not shared with others. When I am truly apprehending the moment, whines, irritation, and all, that’s mindfulness, and over time, mindfulness definitely leads to less irritation. But there are no shortcuts.

I recently came across a lovely piece written by a Buddhist professor and practitioner from Sri Lanka named Lily de Silva called “Interpersonal Relations and Vipassana Meditation.” In it she writes, “Though essentially a social animal, the human being practically lives alone in a private world of his own, constructed by his sense experience.” Isn’t that the truth!? And it is that sense experience that we need to fully, totally contact in each and every moment. Our senses, our bodies contracting, smelling, tasting, thinking—regardless of the content or our beliefs about that content—that is mindfulness. Without minding ourselves, meticulously, we can only be an “accepting and understanding parent” when we feel accepting and understanding.

She continues, referring to a teaching of the Buddha called The Sakkapanhna Sutta, “Though people wish and make pious resolutions to live in harmony with one another without enmity and aggression, without recourse to weapons against one another, they in fact live in disharmony, harbouring anger and ill-will against one another, sometimes resorting to weapons to terrorize and kill one another. What is the reason for this paradoxical situation that in spite of wanting to live in harmony, they cannot do so?” This is one of my favorite questions. It is too easy to say how we want to behave toward our kids, our loved ones, even those we don’t like. But unless we actually see what the Buddha calls “unwholesome emotions” we will never be able to take the next step, which is to refrain from expressing them.

Buddhism is an incredible tradition that offers insanely detailed tools for seeing through our strong feelings, the various places in the mind we store them, the six realms of existence in which we meet and manifest them, the unfathomably myriad ways we can express our negative views, and concrete paths that lead to living a wholesome life in service to others. The Buddha saw for himself the cosmic nature of all things, the way everything arises, dissipates, and, unless unflinchingly clarified, arises again, in accord with karma and circumstance. This is heavy duty stuff that takes years and years to grok, to put into practice and to integrate. I am so grateful that I have a teacher and a sangha to help me along the way because it’s really hard!
Pema Chodron writes, “Many of us prefer practices that will not cause discomfort, and at the same time we want to be healed. But bodhichitta training doesn’t work that way.” There is no way to heal what ails us without meeting it first, really taking care of our most personal business, face to face, heart to heart.

This article first appeared online in Chronogram Magazine October 26, 2011.

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Marriage Vows are Really Parent Vows
November 23, 2011 · Posted in Fatherhood, Mental Health, Parenting, Relationships, Teens · Permalink · Comments (0)

When times are good with your children, you can’t even imagine not wanting to be a parent. When difficulties arise, from the typical and small, like constant temper tantrums, to the  unthinkable, like diagnosis of Asperger’s, or juvenile diabetes, or your teenager in the grip of an eating disorder, your mettle as a parent is tested to the limits.

You may wish for an escape–that is natural. You may seriously doubt your capacity to parent, but as with nothing else, you are committed for life. You are on the journey no matter what. This lead me to think that the marriage vows, which can and are retracted for many of us, really belong to our children.

“I take you______to have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love, cherish, till death us do part.”

It is to our children that we make this vow. Everything else in life can really be changed.

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Abby Kunhardt Photography
November 22, 2011 · Posted in Parenting · Permalink · Comments (0)

Jean Kunhardt’s niece is a wonderful photographer of children and families here in Manhattan. Abby Kunhardt teaches young children during the day and runs a small photography business when she is not in the classroom. Children are naturally comfortable with Abby, which is one of the reasons she is able to capture such genuine expressions and beautiful portraits. Her photo sessions are fun and informal.

Check out her website:

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Thanks Giving
November 17, 2011 · Posted in K-5 Kids, Parenting, Preschoolers · Permalink · Comments (0)

Kids love traditions. The smells and tastes of the holidays, the family rituals, are stored in their little brains forever. Here is a great tradition to make Thanksgiving true to its name.

Using a sketch or scrap book start a Family Thanksgiving Book together. Give each person, large and small, a page to write or draw what they feel thankful for. From the sublime to the ridiculous, your health to your boots, from “Mommy and Daddy” to “my legos.” Do this each year at Thanksgiving and over the years it will become a real treasure.



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Louisiana 2011
October 27, 2011 · Posted in Charity Project, Parenting · Permalink · Comments (0)

Bookended by an earthquake and a hurricane we went to Gray, Louisiana for our sixth trip! Collage, watercolor, pastels, mask and crown making were just some of the activities the kids participated in.  Since it was the 6th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, many of the children recalled memories of being airlifted into helicopters, living in shelters and losing their homes. One of the boys said, “It was mighty scary and a little exciting!” It was great to be able to reflect back that it was ok to feel many different things about the experience.

We continue to be moved by the kids reactions when we drive up after a year away. One girl, who we have seen every year since she was six, was happy but surprised! “We thought you would forget about us.” How wonderful to be able to prove her wrong.

If you would like to learn more please go to We would be delighted to accept any donations made out to Start Corp. The funds go to art supplies, after school activities and family trips.

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Fight For Our Kids
October 25, 2011 · Posted in Education, Parenting, Social Action · Permalink · Comments (0)

No matter your political persuasion, there is no debate that great economic disparity is damaging to children, and therefore to society as a whole. The lack of opportunities for the less wealthy not only hurts them, but the effect of a greater population struggling with economic anxiety has an impact on every citizen. The Boston chapter of the National Association for Social Workers recently put out a press release supporting the Occupy Boston protesters-

“Social Workers know that joblessness and economic insecurity contribute to the incidence of mental illness, family violence, suicide, substance abuse, crime, and diminished capacity for healthy family and community functioning. It is this knowledge and experience that gives the social work profession a special responsibility to advocate for income, employment, and social support policies that promote the economic justice and social well-being of all members of society. ”

New York Times Columnist Nicholas D. Kristof proposes a thoughtful and seemingly radical way to respond to Occupy Wall Street protests. In his Op-Ed Occupy “The Classroom”, Kristof writes:

“…the single step that would do the most to reduce inequality has nothing to do with finance at all. It’s an expansion of early childhood education.

Huh? That will seem naïve and bizarre to many who chafe at inequities and who think the first step is to throw a few bankers into prison. But although part of the problem is billionaires being taxed at lower rates than those with more modest incomes, a bigger source of structural inequity is that many young people never get the skills to compete. They’re just left behind.


Parents of any economic class know how much it takes to raise good kids. Even with all the support money can buy, it’s the hardest job in the world. So, you can join in Parents For Occupy Wall Street-whose tag line is “Creating Change Now for our Children’s Futures.” These protests are an opportunity to step out of our own bubble and get active. For as Newark’s Mayor Cory Booker says “There is nothing worse than being the ‘agitated sedentary.’”

Let’s show our kids we care about the big picture of their future and model activism, community and caring.

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American Academy of Pediatrics: Limit Screentime for Under Two’s
October 20, 2011 · Posted in Infant Development, Media, Parenting, Technology, Toddlerhood · Permalink · Comments (1)

Here is the New York Times Article on the new recommendation on limiting screens such as TV, computer, iPad and iPhone apps,for babies and toddlers, written by Benedict Carey. The Academy “downgraded” it’s recommendation to allow for a more realistic goal. The main point is parents should not convince themselves that there is any educational benefit –just babysitting benefit!

Parents Urged Again to Limit TV For Youngest

“Parents of infants and toddlers should limit the time their children spend in front of televisions, computers, self-described educational games and even grown-up shows playing in the background, the American Academy of Pediatrics warned on Tuesday. Video screen time provides no educational benefits for children under age 2 and leaves less room for activities that do, like interacting with other people and playing, the group said.
The recommendation, announced at the group’s annual convention in Boston, is less stringent than its first such warning, in 1999, which called on parents of young children to all but ban television watching for children under 2 and to fill out a “media history” for doctor’s office visits. But it also makes clear that there is no such thing as an educational program for such young children, and that leaving the TV on as background noise, as many households do, distracts both children and adults.

“We felt it was time to revisit this issue because video screens are everywhere now, and the message is much more relevant today that it was a decade ago,” said Dr. Ari Brown, a pediatrician in Austin, Tex., and the lead author of the academy’s policy, which appears in the current issue of the journal Pediatrics.

Dr. Brown said the new policy was less restrictive because “the Academy took a lot of flak for the first one, from parents, from industry, and even from pediatricians asking, ‘What planet do you live on?’ ” The recommendations are an attempt to be more realistic, given that, between TVs, computers, iPads and smartphones, households may have 10 or more screens.

The worry that electronic entertainment is harmful to development goes back at least to the advent of radio and has steadily escalated through the age of “Gilligan’s Island” and 24-hour cable TV to today, when nearly every child old enough to speak is plugged in to something while their parents juggle iPads and texts. So far, there is no evidence that exposure to any of these gadgets causes long-term developmental problems, experts say.

Still, recent research makes it clear that young children learn a lot more efficiently from real interactions — with people and things — than from situations appearing on video screens. “We know that some learning can take place from media” for school-age children, said Georgene Troseth, a psychologist at Peabody College at Vanderbilt University, “but it’s a lot lower, and it takes a lot longer.”

Unlike school-age children, infants and toddlers “just have no idea what’s going on” no matter how well done a video is, Dr. Troseth said.

The new report strongly warns parents against putting a TV in a very young child’s room and advises them to be mindful of how much their own use of media is distracting from playtime. In some surveys between 40 and 60 percent of households report having a TV on for much of the day — which distracts both children and adults, research suggests.

“What we know from recent research on language development is that the more language that comes in — from real people — the more language the child understands and produces later on,” said Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek, a professor of psychology at Temple University.

After the academy’s recommendation was announced, the video industry said parents, not professional organizations, were the best judges. Dan Hewitt, a spokesman for theEntertainment Software Association, said in an e-mail that the group has a “long and recognized record of educating parents about video game content and emphasizing the importance of parental awareness and engagement.”

“We believe that parents should be actively involved in determining the media diets of their children,” he said.

Few parents of small children trying to get through a day can resist plunking the youngsters down in front of the screen now and then, if only so they can take a shower — or check their e-mail.

“We try very hard not to do that, but because both me and my husband work, if we’re at home and have to take a work call, then yes, I’ll try to put her in front of ‘Sesame Street’ for an hour,” Kristin Gagnier, a postgraduate student in Philadelphia, said of her 2-year-old daughter. “But she only stays engaged for about 20 minutes.”

In one survey, 90 percent of parents said their children under 2 watched some from of media, whether a TV show like “Yo Gabba Gabba!” or a favorite iPhone app. While some studies find correlations between overall media exposure and problems with attention and language, no one has determined for certain which comes first.

The new report from the pediatrics association estimates that for every hour a child under 2 spends in front of a screen, he or she spends about 50 minutes less interacting with a parent, and about 10 percent less time in creative play. It recommends that doctors discuss setting “media limits” for babies and toddlers with parents, though it does not specify how much time is too much.

“As always, the children who are most at risk are exactly the very many children in our society who have the fewest resources,” Alison Gopnik, a psychologist at the University of California, said in an e-mail.”

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Long Term Relationships: Men Need More Affection
October 13, 2011 · Posted in Marriage, Parenting, Relationships · Permalink · Comments (0)

Contrary to common perception, physical affection seems to be a key relationship ingredient solely for men. According to a recent study by J.R.Heiman, “within the long-term committed relationship context, there are significant gender differences in correlates of sexual and relationship satisfaction.”

Heiman’s study concluded that relationship satisfaction for men, not women, relied greatly on the amount of cuddling and caressing. Other major factors included health and sexual functioning. Additionally, the level of sexual satisfaction for men was markedly higher the longer the duration of the partnership and the fewer past sexual partners. For women, sexual functioning alone was the largest factor in relationship satisfaction, and the level of satisfaction increased with the duration of the relationship.

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