My Parenting Power Move

In this month's letter from the editor, Parents' Liz Vaccariello reveals how her high school superlative has helped her up her parenting game.
Steve Vaccariello

One surefire way to get a dinner party going in an interesting direction is to have the group play “Guess My High-School Superlative.” You remember those awful lists: cutest boy, best hair, most likely to succeed/marry well/be indicted. This totally throws people because, what do you say? If they’re nice, they’ll reach for something mildly complimentary such as “most likely to wear bangs forever,” while someone ornery once tossed out “world’s worst conversationalist?” I like that my superlative is an unexpected one. I was voted Most Unpredictable.

Kind of random, right? I was stumped at the time: Was that a good or a bad thing? I decided to take offense since a) I was hardly known for shocking people with my zany tomfoolery and b) that’s the insecure, paranoid teenage-girl default. I’ve eventually warmed to the label. And I’m here to say: Being unpredictable is an especially effective parenting skill.

I’m the allergic neat freak who so frequently told Steve and the girls we’d never get a cat or a dog that they eventually stopped asking. So when I called a family meeting one Saturday and announced “I’m going on Zyrtec; let’s adopt a dog!” the gratitude and good behavior lasted for weeks. I’m usually peddling vegetables at every meal, so to occasionally announce “Tonight it’s pancakes for dinner!” can really win the day.

And, because I’m unpredictable, after a weekend of “nos” and “not nows” the possibility of “yes” hangs in the air when they ask at 5 p.m. on Sunday, “Mommy will you take us to buy glue, shaving cream, and glitter to make slime?” Sure.

I am aware that this mom behavior goes against all the advice about kids needing consistency, order, and clear boundaries. But my ability to keep ’em guessing is the one thing I can do that will divert the energy in the room, startle them into paying attention, and thwart their ability to play (er, I mean predict) me.

In high school, I envied Kim’s “most likely to join the United Nations” and Lisa’s “best legs.” But adult me is proud of this quirky trait, which I’ve tried to hone and use to my advantage. My younger self saw the superlative as pathetic.

Today, being unpredictable is my superpower.

I invite you to e-mail me at liz@parents.com. You can also follow me on Instagram and Twitter.

Parents Magazine

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