A conversation with the Cohens: Part Two
In what areas do you differ, when it comes to parenting?
(Melissa) I think we are mostly on the same page. In theory, I think we both have veto power; if one of us feels strongly enough, the other one will cave, when there is a difference. I'm not a fan of kids playing with guns and violent play. Marc is (although he could explain why he's in favor of it better), and because Marc is as much their parent as I am, I conceded and my son literally has a weapon bucket in his room to hold all his swords and plastic guns. I don't know that Marc would have gone with extended breastfeeding and co-sleeping if I hadn't felt strongly that it was the right path for us. I think sometimes I'm stricter about respect issues, Marc is more of a pushover at times. Marc gives them way more freedom re: eating sugary treats, bedtime, etc.
(Marc) I have always been more in favor of rough play than my wife. I have a wonderful game called "fight on the bed" that I started playing with my nine-year-old daughter Jessica when she was only two - sort of a combination pillow fight, wrestling match, kung-fu movie re-enactment, and bodybuilder posing contest. My wife would never have dreamed up something like that, but my daughter loved it. Now all of my children love to play, and having a fun roughhouse game like that has made a serious difference in the quality of my parenting and our family's bonding. But where she has really taken a step back is with my son. Melissa loves him dearly, and they are as close as any mother and son I have ever met, but sometimes he confuses the HELL out of my wife. She would NEVER have predicted that someday she would have a child with his very own "weapon bucket." We have been known to play together by grabbing toy shotguns, pretending the house is infested with zombies, and going room-to-room "clearing" the house, yelling "watch my six" to each other while we destroy an army of imaginary monsters. And he takes such obvious delight that she takes a step back and just lets us go. And I think she has come to understand the truth in the old cliche "with great power comes great responsibility." Someday, my son is going to be a big, strong man. And what I teach him about how to use that strength is going to determine whether he's going to be a bully, or the guy who tells the bully "if you hit her again, I'm going to kick your ass until my foot hits the roof of your mouth."
How do you deal with those instances?
(Melissa) If you don't like the way I do it, do it yourself. That's our marriage motto, and it works in almost every instance. If you say it with respect and love, it's the perfect way to resolve the conflict. Marc would have the kids sleep in their own beds, and is more than content with putting them in the their room and letting them cry themselves to sleep. I'm not, but that means that I have to take leadership of that. So I nurse my babies to sleep, and snuggle and cuddle my kids until they drift off. Not that Marc's uninvolved, because he isn't, but it's my choice because I didn't like the way he wanted to do it. We also have a strong mutual respect for each other, and I think defer to each other and back each other up. I want Marc to be a success as a dad, and he wants for me to be a success as a mom. Whatever we can do to further that goal, to be the best parents we can to these children, we do. Because the goal, overwhelmingly, is for us to succeed as a family, and if that means compromising, then we compromise.
(Marc) The “if you don't like the way I do it, then do it yourself” plan really works wonders in all areas of married life, including child rearing. I highly recommend it. Another good point is recognizing expertise. Look at your partner. There are some things you are better at than they are, and some where they are better than you. Be realistic. And if they know what they are talking about, concede.
You are both active in your community. Have you always been like that, or did that happen when you became parents?
(Melissa) For me, it was more parenting based. I'm not a "joiner" and tend to be somewhat reserved and introverted in a lot of settings. But when you have kids, you want to be a part of their world, especially the parts of their world that you can't control. That means, for me, joining the PTA, getting to know everyone in their world, their friends, their friends' parents, and inevitably, being active in the community. Left to my own devices, I don't think I'd be anywhere near as active without kids.
(Marc) Completely marriage-and-parenting based. When we met, I was living in a house I shared with my cousin and two friends. We were like the bad stereotype of a frat-house. We had an extra fridge in the basement just to keep kegs in, played tackle football indoors, and had dance parties with live music at 2:00 a.m. Never mind being community involved, it is because of the life changes and acceptance of responsibility that go along with getting married and having children that I shave.
What do you do for fun, as individuals? I'm talking about hobbies and things that are sort of "yours" outside the role of parent.
(Melissa) As an individual, I don't do a lot that doesn't relate back to family time. It's not always going to be like this, but the facts are that I have three young children, two stepdaughters as well, and my youngest is still nursing. I don't have a lot of "free" time when I'm not being Mama. I love to read, and really enjoy writing as well. But those are activities that translate well to being a SAHM, I pack a book before I pack a diaper in my diaper bag, and I've been blogging for years. When Marc's not working or working out - honestly, I want to spend time WITH him, not leave him with the kids and go off on my own. That means that I don't get a lot of me time. I'll have time for that later, the kids won't always be this small.
(Marc) I really don't do much for fun as an individual. We all make choices, and I choose to prioritize family. The only thing I really do for me is exercise. And even that is something I do as much (#1) for my health, because I'm getting older and my family depends upon me, and (#2) to set a good example for the kids, especially when sometimes they want to join in with me. And lets be real about it. I love hard physical training. If I inherited a lot of money tomorrow, I would train full-time to compete in the over-40 division of whatever sports I could, at as high a level as my talent and effort would take me. What I can actually muster the time for is an hour on the rowing machine or cross-country-skiing machine three times a week (in a good week).
What's your favorite thing to do as a family?
(Melissa) We just like being together. I know it sounds corny, but we do. Watching television or going to the EcoTarium, or to the beach. Long drives to visit family. We read together, Harry Potter with Jessie or the Hardy Boys with Sam. The kids and I like to bake, Marc likes to play computer games with the little ones. My favorite days are when we don't DO anything in particular, but get up and have coffee together while the kids eat cereal and then we spend the whole day with all five kids, roaming around the house, playing outside, or in their bedrooms, or taking over the living room and building with blocks. The kids break into little groups that are constantly shifting and changing. Big family dinners, where everyone is shouting and yelling to be heard over everyone else.
(Marc) I really like just spending time and doing things together. Sometimes its a big event, like a trip to New Hampshire for a long weekend to visit friends, go to Mount Washington, and go to Storyland. Sometimes its a middle event, like a cookout party or a trip to the EcoTarium or the beach. And sometimes its a small thing, like hanging out around the house on a warm Sunday afternoon, going outside to play catch and draw with sidewalk chalk, and maybe walk down to the bottom of the street to get Pizza.
Recently I read an article that said one aspect of being loving is being of service and value to others. Do you think about this and, if so, do you try to instill that thinking in your kids?
Melissa) There's a tenet of Judaism that has always really resonated with me. It's called tikkun olam or "repairing the world." I believe that we have a responsibility to make the world better. How that translates is up to each one of us, but it's one of the reasons why Judaism really spoke to me
(Marc) My feelings on this are fairly complex. I think it is extremely important to help other people. Implied in Cain's question to God "Am I my brother's keeper?" is the answer "Yes. Yes, you are." But the world is a messy place. Very often it is difficult to see what is really helpful, what is counterproductive, and what is just for show. That's why I emphasize that the best way to help the world is to help directly, in your own community, those who you know best: the member of your church or synagogue who is out of a job, your elderly neighbor who has difficulty visiting her husband in the nursing home, or your friend who can't find child care so they can go to work. I know that I have been through rough times, as almost everyone has, and the help I received from others has been invaluable in ways I can never repay. The best I can do is pay it forward whenever I come across someone in need of help that I can provide, and teach my children to do the same.
Some parents are authoritarian, telling kids what is right and what to do. The kids must obey unquestioningly. However, some are trying to take a more democratic approach. It's hard, if you were not raised this way. Do you have any thoughts on this?
(Melissa) I was raised as the oldest child of four in a single parent household. My mother was definitely not authoritarian with me. One thing that was so wonderful about my childhood was the level of respect and trust that my mother and I shared. I always felt valued and like I was as much an equal partner as she was. If anything, I think I tend to lean the other way - because with that trust and respect comes a lot of responsibility. I love my mother, but I try to not give as much responsibility to my kids as she gave to me. There are decisions that my kids don't get to make, they are children and we are the parents. That means that they have to do things they don't want to do, like go to school and choke down vegetables and take baths. And I'm okay with that. The time will come when they get to decide everything about their lives, but it won't be when they are still so young. My job, our job, is to teach them HOW to make the decisions. I don't want to overprotect them, but I also want to be clear that we are the parents, and they are the children. It's not a democracy in our house, it's a benevolent dictatorship.
(Marc) It's wrong to put so much responsibility for decision-making on children when they are not developmentally ready for it. You have to love them and cherish them and put their needs at the top of your priority list. But what they need is often not what they want. As a parent, you have the responsibility to make the most important decisions.
What kind of values are openly taught in school? What kind of values do you think are taught by the school through its actions, as opposed to what is spoken? Do those two things always agree?
(Melissa) For me, I'm not looking for school, public school, to teach specific values. Primarily, I want my kids to learn the academics and also some self-sufficiency in a safe environment. I want them to learn how to get along with others. What my kids have learned is that they are valued and safe, that their teachers care about them, and want for them to succeed. I love their elementary school, and it's been a completely positive environment for them. I'd homeschool in a heartbeat if that wasn't the situation. I wonder every year if I should do it, and thus far, I've always been happy with our decision to send them to public school.
(Marc) I don't think the public schools are the proper venue to teach "values." Its not fair to ask the school to do it! Its hard enough to make sure each child can read and write. There are only so many hours in the school day. We live in an increasingly globalized and competitive world. The only "values" I want the school to emphasize are to show up on time and work hard.
I'd like to end the interview on a light note; do you and the family have any special plans for the summer?
(Melissa) Storyland at the end of the summer, I think. Lots of day trips to the beach, the older two are taking swimming lessons down the street at our local public pool.
(Marc) I just started a new job at the start of 2012, so I don't have any vacation time yet. My special plan is to work hard during the week, and do my best to leave work behind on the weekends so that I can mentally relax and make the most of that time with my family.