Why We Can’t Remember Anything: The Map App Effect

I recently returned from one of those glorious, soul-nourishing visits with friends at a rustic Maine lake retreat. There were ten of us, including a potter, baker, furniture maker, history professor, math genius, and a cat named Smitty. I’m guessing that our free-ranging dinner conversation was typical of the sort you’d hear among such people in similar settings: Many salient and non-valid points were made on various topics of local and global interest, friendly disagreements erupted and, almost always, someone (usually me) ended up consulting Google to check the “facts.” A quick scan of my phone’s search history indicates that among the points that were thusly verified: Einstein was 26 when he published the theory of relativity, UC Berkeley offers health insurance to its graduate students, bonded leather is not really leather, Comcast is a very hated company, and the language spoken on the Frisian Islands off the Dutch coast is the foreign dialect closest to English.

It’s been two days since my trip to Maine. I like to think I have a fairly decent memory. Yet, before I checked my search results in order to write this post, I would not have been able to recall Albert’s age when he arrived at E=MC2, nor any details of Berkeley’s insurance policy. In fact, most of the factoids that were part of our dinner conversation (other than the Comcast diatribe) were probably wiped from my memory by the next morning. It would be easy to attribute such lapses to the frequent clinking of wine glasses during dinner or the profound lack of intersection between the Frisian language, etc. and my daily life. But I suspect something more noteworthy and pervasive is afoot. Though I have no data points (or Wikipedia entry) to prove it, I suggest that this tendency to quickly forget a burning question once it has been answered may be, if not a post-internet phenomenon, then one that has been exacerbated by the incredible speed with which we can now solve mysteries. When it comes to memory, I suspect that time and effort may matter. If you can satisfy an intellectual itch so quickly, perhaps you are less likely to remember that you ever had it.

Just before my Maine vacation I spoke at a workshop where we discussed the work of Bluma Ziegernik, a renowned Russian psychologist of the early-ish 20th century and discoverer of a psychological phenomenon fittingly called the Ziegernik Effect. Like many of her fellow psychology students in 1920s Vienna, Bluma spent a good deal of time in bustling coffeehouses. Her “aha!” moment began with the observation that the Viennese waiters seemed to have remarkable powers of recall. Not ones for keeping a pencil tucked behind the ear, these proud professionals committed their customers’ orders to memory. If stopped on their way to the kitchen, they could probably recite with accurate detail which strudel Lady X at table Y preferred and how Gentleman Z took his coffee. And yet, if asked the very same questions after delivering these treats, they would draw a blank. Once they no longer needed to remember the orders, they quickly forgot them. Thus we have the Ziegernik Effect which states that we have far more trenchant memories for uncompleted tasks than for finished business. An unanswered question gnaws at us, and this very uncertainty and lack of resolution gives it staying power. Once an issue is settled, we forget and move on.

The Ziegernik Effect is a well-established part of the psychological lexicon. I am now proposing a modern corollary for the Age of Google: the Silver Effect, which states that the less effort it takes to find the answer to a question, the more likely we are to promptly forget it. Had my research into the Fresian language required an afternoon of sneezing amid musky library shelves, I doubt I would have so quickly erased its existence from my mind. As a corollary to the Silver Effect, I offer the Map App Effect which states that the ease of finding directions via GPS is making it impossible for us to remember them. Before satellites dotted the sky, accurate directions often required consulting more than one paper map, and gathering pertinent details from other humans like, “there will be a cemetery on the left” or, “turn right after the big yellow silo.” Once you acquired such critical information you really didn’t want to forget it. Sometimes you even wrote it down. And as any teacher will tell you, taking notes helps you remember. But now, thanks to the Map App Effect, I must advise you not to ask me which exit to take off of the Grand Central Parkway in Queens if you wish to make a last-minute course correction and spring for the 59th Street Bridge instead of the Triboro. Yes, unlike Siri I still refer to these bridges by their old (true) names. But my memory of how to get from one to the other is fading.

Does the Silver Effect have any basis in fact? Has it already been noted, discredited or named for someone with far more suitable credentials? No doubt I could end these mysteries with a few quick finger taps. But I’m going to resist that temptation for a while. I figure that if I stew over these questions before resolving them, I just might remember the answers.


Uncovering those hidden childcare chores: 3 steps toward changing your family life

I love the on-going discussion about the hidden tasks of childcare and family life. (For a great run-down, see Lisa Belkin’s Leaning Together on Huff Post.) We can debate endlessly why so many working mothers feel drained and exploited. Meanwhile, at Atlantic.com philosophy professor Alexandra Bradner has offered up a list of common “underground” home and family chores. Identifying these activities and acknowledging that they are work is a first step toward rebalancing the power, reshuffling priorities and reinventing family life in ways that benefit everybody. To get the conversation started in your own home, try this quick exercise:

STEP 1. Read over the list below of childcare-related chores (based in part on Bradner’s) and initial those that you mostly do. For each, write down your time estimate for completing them (including prep work).

STEP 2. Put your partner’s initials next to the chores that are more often accomplished by him or her–and add a time estimate for this work as well. (If you share a task equally, put both of your initials.)

STEP 3. This is the most important step! Ask your partner to complete steps 1 and 2 on a separate screen or sheet of paper. And then compare your results.

To what degree do your perceptions of who does what (and how long it takes) jive? Any surprises? Use the results to have a calm, respectful, problem-solving discussion. Even if you can’t shift the load right away, just having all of these tasks acknowledged as work and duly appreciated can be powerful for a couple.

Let me know if you found this exercise helpful and any categories that you would add to the list.


Daily Childcare

  • Getting kids ready for school, dropping them off, meeting the bus in the afternoon.
  • Preparing school snacks or lunches
  • Putting kids to bed
  • Middle-of-the-night kid care
  • Managing babysitter or nanny
  • Overseeing hygiene (bathing, teeth-brushing)
  • Transportation to and from school or daycare
  • Coordinating and attending doctor appts.
  • Other_________

General Parenting

  • Staying home with sick kids
  • Emotional work (resolving playground disputes, offering advice, proactively keeping the peace among siblings)
  • Disciplining kids (establishing and enforcing consequences for misbehavior)
  • Other___________

Kids activities: Planning, coordinating, equipping and transportation for…

  • After school programs or tutoring
  • Weekend activities or religious school
  • Summer camp
  • Playdates
  • Other_________

School-related tasks

  • communicating with teachers and administrators
  • delivering forgotten items
  • overseeing homework
  •  volunteering
  • attending sporting events, school plays, etc.
  • Other____________

Family-life chores

  • General family scheduling
  • Family vacation planning and packing
  • Party planning and holiday preparation (cards, meals, decorations, cleaning)
  • General social outreach (interacting with neighbors, making plans with friends, etc.)Documenting family history (taking and organizing photos)
  • Communication with extended family (calling mom, mailing gifts, etc.)
  • Other_______________

Financial chores

  • Long-term financial planning (for retirement, college tuition, etc.)
  • Bill paying
  • Tax preparation
  • Health insurance matters
  • General shopping and consumer research (for clothing, gifts, technology, media, etc.)
  • Other_______________

Should all new mothers be screened for depression? Yes!

Some 22% of new mothers experience postpartum depression. That’s a stunningly high number, large enough that you have to wonder why all women aren’t screened for this problem post-delivery. After all, depression doesn’t “just” devastate the new mother–but puts her newborn at risk for developmental delays and a host of cognitive, emotional and behavioral problems down the road. And then there’s the destructive impact on her other children–and her partner. Right now, the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists says no to recommending universal screening, claiming there’s not enough evidence to support it. But researchers of a massive, new study on postpartum depression disagree–and they are right. Their work underlines how critical it is to assess all new moms (not just those considered at risk). When they screened 10,000 women who gave birth at a single hospital in Pittsburgh they found that one in seven had depression symptoms 4-6 weeks after the birth. Of these women:

  • 19% were having thoughts of self-harm. In fact, University of Pittsburgh psychiatrist Dorothy Sit told NPR that “some patients with very severe symptoms had made the decision to take their lives.” (They received immediate intervention.) “Most of these women would not have been screened and therefore would not have been identified as seriously at risk,” said the study’s lead researcher, Katherine L. Wisner, MD, now at Northwestern University.
  • Almost two-thirds also suffered from an anxiety disorder.
  • 73% only experienced depression symptoms after becoming pregnant or giving birth.
  • 23% actually had bi-polar disorders (which require different treatment measures than “standard” depression).

“In the U.S., the vast majority of postpartum women with depression are not identified or treated even though they are at higher risk for psychiatric disorders,” said Wisner. “It’s a huge public health problem.”

While experts continue to duke it out, there’s no reason for new mothers to suffer. There are highly effective treatments for depression. The Catch-22 is that depression can blanket a new mother in despair, hopelessness and self-blame that prevent her from seeking help. If you think you or a loved one might fit this description you can access the same simple screening test (called the Edinburgh Postnatal Depression Scale) that the Pittsburgh researchers used. If a new mom scores high, or is otherwise concerned about her mood, she should seek help from a health practitioner. She can also find online support through postpartum.net (which also offers resources for Dads.)

“Don’t Tell Daddy”–should you keep your child’s secrets? 5 rules to follow

It’s a dilemma all parents–married or divorced–eventually face. Your child is upset and wants to confide in you (great!), but in you alone (maybe not so great?). Parents often assume that if a child is requesting secrecy, he or she must have done something they don’t want the more hard-assed parent to discover. It’s true that “Don’t Tell Dad” conversations often end up being about the child’s wrongdoing, like getting a time-out at school, failing an algebra test or being busted by the dorm RA for smoking weed. But this isn’t always the case. Sometimes kids are afraid to squeal on another child or fear parental hurt or disappointment, rather than the adult’s anger or announcement of consequences..

I talked this “tell or don’t tell?” dilemma over with New Jersey parenting coach Fern Weis, who acknowledged there can be some tough calls, especially in the teen years. “You want them to open up to you. But what if that’s at the expense of the trust you share with your partner? If we agree to keep a secret, what does that teach our kids about the importance of telling the truth?” On the other hand, she points out, we don’t want to miss an opportunity to connect with our kids and sometimes we have to consider the specific circumstances.

I’m trying to develop some ground rules for when “not telling” is okay. It’s an easy call to not divulge the child’s secret if the other parent is abusive. In such cases, your primary responsibility is to protect. But kids can also be manipulative–trying to get an ironclad promise out of the “easier” parent before confessing a misdeed. As Weis points out, “your credibility is really at stake.”

So here are the five pointers I’ve come up with so far. Let me know what you think of them–and what advice you have to add.

Don’t agree ahead of time. The classic, “If I tell you something, will you promise not to tell Dad [or Mom]?” should be met with, “I can’t promise before I know what it is.” This demand for secrecy is a sign of how worried the child is–and how anxious to have you involved. That means that he or she will probably tell you what’s up anyway, even without your agreeing to keep your lips sealed.

Be supportive. Don’t express anger at your child for asking you to keep a secret. If your answer is “no,” be gentle about it. Say something like, “I can’t promise not to tell Mom. But my number one goal is to help you. I’m going to love you no matter what you tell me,  and I really want what’s best for you.”

Ask why it’s a secret. Sometimes, you can get a child to spill just by asking questions about the need for secrecy. Try open-ended queries like, “What do you think Dad would say if you told him?” or “How do you think Mom will react?”.

Don’t make a promise you aren’t going to keep. Don’t say you’ll stay silent if you plan to blab to your partner. The bottom line is that you want your child to consider you trustworthy.

Encourage your child to talk to the other parent. Once your daughter confesses that she didn’t follow through on her promise to button the jacket pocket that held the $5 her Dad gave her and thus lost the money on her class trip, urge her to tell him directly rather than use you as a go-between. Unless you know her father won’t react appropriately, teach her to deliver her own bad news. Sometimes, when kids do something wrong they feel like such “evil-doers” that they exaggerate in their minds how horribly their parent will react. Coming clean allows kids to learn childhood’s happiest lesson: that they can be bad, wrong and imperfect–and still be worthy of their parents’ love.

5 keys to telling kids your family history–and why you should

This morning, the long-deceased Moshe Kushlewsky, previously unknown to me, was added to my family tree. This according to an email sent from Geni, a free-ish genealogy website I registered with a few years ago. It seems that I am now related to 500+ souls, living or dead, that are known to Geni. I’m not a big family-tree buff, but a few years ago a friend inspired me to sit my parents down and input the names of all those multiple great aunts and uncles whose progeny and whereabouts I never could keep straight. Since I’m now in Geni’s database, every once in a while I receive a flurry of emails from some “new” distant cousin who has taken on family-mapping as a hobby (usually these relatives are male and newly retired).

Since Mr. Kushlewsky’s morning arrival in my inbox, I’ve been thinking about whether genealogy is the slightest bit relevant to modern family life. Does it, should it, matter to your kids to know that they share a drop of blood with people who lived long ago and perhaps faraway? Like everybody else, except maybe Dick Cheney, I was tickled by the news that he and President Obama are eighth cousins. But don’t such discoveries beg the question? To what extent is ancestry even relevant? To what degree should it influence what you pass on to your children? What if your kids are adopted? Or arrived via donated sperm and/or egg? Or are living with a step-parent and siblings?

Like just about everything else, a focus on genealogy can benefit kids, or it can be a destructive and divisive force. It depends on how you use it. Family stories can spark a love of history, connect children with the past and give context to better understand the world. But family folklore can also separate, propagandize and create distance between people of different backgrounds. So here are some guidelines I’ve picked up–or made up–for passing along family history in a positive and meaningful way. Let me know what you think.

1. Talk about both sides of the family. No playing favorites when it comes to family history. Kids have a right to know about both of their parents’ roots. If you are the family’s history buff make sure you give your partner’s stories equal billing–even if you are the one telling them.

2. Inspire. This is history with a purpose. Recounting family stories is a way of instilling healthy values and helping kids feel a sense of confidence and pride in themselves and compassion for others. So make connections between your children and the positive aspects of family lore. Recount stories that emphasize the courage, honesty, intelligence and kindness of your children’s ancestors. My father used to tell me that I was named after a great-grandmother who had run a little store. Whenever someone poor came in she always gave them food for free. As an adult I can ponder the veracity of this tale–but as a child it certainly made an impression on me. It sent a clear message of what my family admired and respected–and the kind of person they hoped I’d grow up to be.

I would avoid recounting tragic tales to young children. But by the time kids are school-aged (roughly 7 or so) they can be told about ancestors who died young, had sad or scary lives, behaved badly or were victims of injustice or cruelty. Be sure the lesson you impart is helpful and upbeat. I once interviewed legendary psychologist Jerome Kagan, who emphasized the positive power of family myths to instill resiliency in children. He pointed to Frank McCourt’s beautiful memoir Angela’s Ashes, which eloquently details his bleak childhood in an Irish family gutted by poverty, illness and alcoholism. Yet McCourt’s father kept emphasizing to his sons that, despite the hardship, they came from a long line of courageous Irishmen–a legacy that buffered the author in the face of anxiety and shame.

3. No family curses! Absolutely avoid implying that anything in your family background  predetermines a negative outcome for your child. I knew a woman, we’ll call her Ms. Jones, who told all of her kids that their family was cursed–they always got the raw end of the deal. All family stories underlined this truth–great great grandpa invented a machine but someone stole the patent, a neighbor complimented aunt Y’s beautiful eyes and so she ended up needing glasses (!), during the Vietnam War draft, cousin Z pulled a low lottery number and lost his leg in the Mekong Delta.  Whenever one of this woman’s kids faced an unfairness–a B+ that should have been an A, a promotion that went to the other guy–she attributed it to the Jones Family Curse. Did her children grow up to be resilient, well-adjusted and capable of joy? That was rhetorical.

4. Don’t focus on DNA. Especially in this time of blended families, the point of genealogy for kids shouldn’t be whether they share mitochondrial DNA with their triple-great grandmother, but on the stories and values that have shaped your family. If an ancestor was a courageous and passionate abolitionist, you are passing down those qualities whenever you tell your kids his story. He is an example of what people in your family value. All of your children have equal ownership of that history because family is based on mutual love, connection and sacrifice, not chromosomes.

5. Know when to stop.  Please, Mom, not another boring family story!  If their eyes are glazing over, it’s time to move on. You have their entire childhoods to impart family lore, so be strategic in your timing. When your daughter works hard to master a handstand and finally succeeds, maybe that’s the time to tell her, “you remind me so much of my wonderful Aunt Betty! You just keep at it until you succeed. Did I ever tell you about how she won her school’s track meet with a sprained ankle?” If you’re lucky, your kids will sometimes come to you, curious to know about their roots. But when they lose interest, let it alone. I’ll give the last word to my son, who in third grade had to fill out a teacher’s questionnaire about his experiences at the school’s Grandparents Day. “What did you learn today about your grandparents?” it asked. His response: “Enough.”

12 questions for the husbands of exhausted working moms

Over at The Atlantic, Alexandra Bradner has a great piece on the endless childcare and household duties that burden working mothers, as well as the defensive responses she received when she asked husbands to comment on their spouse’s feelings of exploitation and their “please do” wish lists for their husbands:

“Some men wrote carefully crafted arguments about different culturally conditioned spheres of expertise and talent; some listed all of the chores they did—mostly garbage and yard work; and others were afraid to speak at all, for fear of taxing their already stressed marriages.”

Bradner, a philosophy professor at the University of Kentucky, recommends husbands shift their perspective and take on more of the domestic burden not just because it’s “fair,” but because it’s an act of kindness to the exhausted person you love. To that end, she offers 12 questions husbands looking to be more active in home and family life ought to ask themselves. (She thinks that, sometimes, men don’t do more because so many childraising tasks are “invisible” and they remain unaware of how time-consuming and stressful they can be.)

What do you think of this list? Any questions you would add or subtract from it?


1. Do half of the laundry and half of the dishes every day?
2. Buy half of the clothes and toys?
3. Take on half of the management of my care providers?
4. Write half of the lists and notes?
5. Wake up in the middle of the night to calm the baby half of the time?
6. Change half of the diapers?
7. Plan half of the travel?
8. Track half of the household budget?
9. Put the kids to bed half of the time?
10.Make half of the grocery, sports, and afterschool lesson runs?
11. Write half of the e-mails to my kids’ teachers?
12 Watch the kids for half of the weekend and for half of every weeknight?


A divorce coach’s 6 tips on parenting–for married couples

Here’s a great exercise for married couples. Imagine you’ve split up and have to work out the nitty-gritty of parenting together with two separate households. Which rules would be the same? Which different? How would you negotiate homework, discipline, bed times, the ratio of kale vs Pop-Tarts in your child’s diet? It’s common wisdom that when parents divorce, being able to cooperate and respect each other as co-parents makes all the difference in how the kids fare. Many married parents don’t realize the same holds true for their children. Even in families where parents rate their marriage highly, the kids suffer when there are constant disagreements about parenting. But unlike divorcing couples, if you’re happily married yet come from different parenting planets, no court order is going to usher you into counseling or parenting classes. You aren’t “forced” to learn the fine art of negotiation, or to work on respecting each others values.

If your and your spouse’s co-parenting skills could use help, why not try some advice aimed at divorced parents? Case in point: this recent post from divorce coach Rosalind Sedacca on Huff Post. Below I’ve applied some of her co-parenting rules to married couples:

1. Make sure kids get alone-time with both parents. Even in intact families there can be an imbalance in how much parenting each partner does. This is especially true when there’s a stay-at-home parent and a breadwinner. It’s easy to fall into a pattern where the out-of-the-house parent doesn’t spend one-on-one time with each kid. But it’s critical that both parents make it a priority for each child to have a relationship with both parents individually.

2. Don’t argue about the kids in front of the kids.  No child wants to be caught in parental crossfire.

3. Don’t turn your child into a confidante or friend. When you’re pissed off at your spouse, don’t confide in or vent to your kid. It’s not her problem and shouldn’t be her burden.

4. Don’t make your child the messenger. You’re right, it’s not fair that somehow you’re always the one who gets stuck driving the soccer-practice carpools. But if you want your spouse to know that tonight is his or her turn, communicate directly. Don’t put your kid in the middle. Your child shouldn’t have to start sentences with,  “Mommy  [or Daddy] says you have to…”

5. Don’t think like a solo parent. Even if only one parent works outside the home, you are still equally responsible for your child’s well-being. Neither of you should make major parenting decisions alone.

6. Be flexible.  As Sedacca says, “Every time you bend, go with the flow, compromise and cooperate with your co-parent you model the kind of behaviors that benefit both of you in the long-term. Flexibility reduces defensiveness and builds bridges toward better parenting solutions. Remember, every time you forgive and indulge irritating behavior without creating an issue, you are doing it to make life easier for your child. Isn’t he or she worth it?”


It’s a lie! Sleep advice no new mother should fall for

You’ve heard it plenty of times: the best defense and cure for new-mother exhaustion is to “sleep when your baby is sleeping.” But it doesn’t work!  The sooner you and your partner accept this, the smoother life will go. Some newborns just don’t sleep. Others doze for an hour or so. By the time you’re ready to do the same, the baby is spitting up. You’re lucky if you get in one baby-sized nap a day. More likely you’ll spend baby’s down time doing everything else your continued existence requires, like paying bills and, oh yes, eating. Even if you accept as much help as you can beg or pay for, you will probably still be exhausted. It’s in the best interest of your own sanity and your loving relationship with your partner to accept that the birth of a baby, though joyful, is also a time of crisis. Until your newborn figures out the difference between night and day there won’t be much difference between the two for you either.

Instead of being offered tips that don’t work, new mothers are better off hearing the truth: sometimes there is no solution to parenting problems. Instead, you just have to muddle through until your child out grows them and introduces you to more ghastly or expensive ones. (Here’s something to look forward to: You’ll know you have a teen driver when Christmas brings a “thank you” gift basket from the auto body shop.) Unrealistic expectations about parenting can fuel tension between a couple. If one–or both–of you thinks your child’s problems can be completely solved, you open the door to relentless criticism, frustration and disappointment with each other for falling short.

Tell me I’m wrong! If anyone has a sure-fire solution to new-parent sleep deprivation or any other age-old parenting problem I’d love to hear it.

Signs of OCD common in new moms

It’s one of the most frequent sources of new-parent stress: Mom drives Dad crazy with obsessive worries about diaper changing, bottle sterilizing or whether the baby is still breathing. A new study out of Northwestern University suggests that she can’t help it–her excess vigilance may actually be a form of temporary, childbirth-induced obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD). The researchers, at the Feinberg School of Medicine, found that 11 percent of the 461 new mothers they assessed in the weeks after childbirth exhibited obsessive-compulsive symptoms, compared with just 2 to 3 percent of the general population.The most common “obsessions” the women reported concerned worries about germs or dirt, or fears that they had “made a mistake” in caring for baby. And the most frequent compulsions included rechecking that the baby monitors were working and repeatedly sterilizing bottles. Some also reported fear that they would harm the baby. Researcher Dana Gossett, MD, numbers herself among women who have experienced that worry. She recalls frequently fretting that her newborn would fall out of bed or that she would topple down the stairs while carrying her baby. “It comes into your mind unbidden and it’s frightening,” she says. In fact, such personal experience with obsessive post-partum thoughts led Gossett and her colleagues to conduct the study. They wondered whether the experience was common among new mothers.

The researchers think hormonal changes may be triggering the worries and compulsive behaviors. In fact, they believe these temporary OCD tendencies could be beneficial. “It may be that certain kinds of obsessions and compulsions are adaptive and appropriate for a new parent, for example those about cleanliness and hygiene,” says Gossett. About half of the mothers reported that their symptoms had diminished by the time the infant was six months old. But mothers who continued to check endlessly that baby was breathing may suffer from an ongoing disorder. “When it interferes with normal day-to-day functioning and appropriate care for the baby and parent, it becomes maladaptive and pathologic,” Gossett says.  The researchers think their study may offer evidence of a distinct post-partum disorder, characterized by OCD symptoms as well as depression (70 percent of the women who screened positive for OCD symptoms also screened positive for depression).

But for many postpartum women who are driving themselves–and their partners’–crazy, it’ should come as a welcome relief to know that their fears and compulsions are a normal reaction to new motherhood–and should pass.

The study will be published The Journal of Reproductive Medicine.

The Case of the Flying Slipper

Q. Last night, our five year old took off one of her slippers and flung it down the stairs at my husband because she didn’t want to go to sleep. He was outraged and stormed up the stairs, got in her face and told her she was a “BAD GIRL!” He and I have had many talks about not negatively labeling our kids. I think he should have said that throwing her slippers down the stairs was “bad,”not that she was. Actually, I thought he should have just said calmly that she should stop throwing things and get to bed and then walked away, because mostly I think she wanted to provoke him to start a scene, get attention and postpone bed-time, which is exactly what happened. Then, he and I had a big fight about it. What do you think? Are we failing as parents?

A. We’ll assume that your daughter’s decision to hurl footwear was a self-generated impulse and not inspired by news coverage of middle eastern politics. I agree that it’s not “best practices parenting” to call a child “bad” instead of criticizing the behavior. And it would’ve been great if your husband had calmed down enough to phrase his response perfectly by the time he got up those stairs. But I’m guessing she launched that slipper at the end of a long, tiring day by which point his reserves were pretty well drained. Unfortunately, as you point out, your daughter “won” that round because she got her way through negative attention, and you don’t want that to become–or continue to be–a habit. The two of you should get on the same page about how to handle future projectiles. You can do this casually when you’re (finally) in bed or, if it works better for your relationship, have a more formal, “what were we thinking?” meeting in which you deconstruct the event, each say your piece, then make amends and plan your parenting response. I suggest that you meet any future episodes of airborne footwear calmly but also with the clear message that such behavior is unacceptable and definitely grounds for consequences. Suggest to your husband that he explain to your daughter that he got angry and said something he didn’t intend. For example, he could tell her: ” I don’t really think you’re a bad girl. I know that you’re a very good one. But what you did was wrong. You are never, ever to throw things at me or Mommy–or anyone else–because you could hurt somebody, it’s disrespectful and not a nice way to try to get what you want.”

Don’t let this incident discourage you about your co-parenting abilities. You have a child who actually wears her slippers–which means you’re already way ahead of the curve.

Have a co-parenting question you want answered? Send it to nansilver@parentingtogetherblog.com.