Screensavors: Parenting made easi(er)

'Punishments only show the superiority of the strong,' says Supernanny in the Israeli version of the popular British show.

top ent (photo credit: )
top ent
(photo credit: )
Have you, an Ivy League school graduate, been reduced to mumbling "gonna kill him, gonna kill him, gonna kill him" as you try to wake your son for the 11th time, then slaloming down a stairway filled with toys as you muse about that concert you missed last week because the youngest forgot to tell you she needed a ride home that night? Sounds like you need some help from Supernanny, AKA Michal Daliot, who debuted in the Israeli version of the popular British program, which now also has a US version, on Channel 2 last Thursday night at 9 p.m. Perhaps just the sight of that tight bun Daliot wears will scare your kids straight, but for those who require more serious treatment, this UK reality show knockoff offers some good insights, although at times we weren't sure whether Daliot as Mary Poppins wasn't perhaps a bit too Polyanna for what real world parents face these days. First of all, kudos to Arye and Orit Kelman of Moshav Kiryat Netafim for agreeing to let both Michal and the Channel 2 cameras into their home. For a religiously observant family to ignore the finger-wagging and other criticism their participation in the program must have engendered in their community says a great deal about their commitment to their three children, Avia, 6, Zviel, 4 and Naya, 2. From the show's opening graphics, with kids chasing each other with bows and arrows and acting generally like vilde chayas, Supernanny was entertaining, with Michal first viewing the family at its worst via a laptop she carried in her car, the vehicle marked "Supernanny." So at first we saw bedlam at the Kelmans': Avia acting out while Zviel refuses to eat properly as lunch time turns to disaster, and bath time just as bad when Arye comes home, his regimented system of army-like orders and constant "Kadima!" marching the family nowhere. Zviel, who has obvious communications problems, is dubbed "lazy" by mom, who admits that at a certain point in the day, "I simply start to cry." "We're at our wit's end - please come help us," say the couple. "Kelman family, I'm on my way," says Michal from the backseat of her car. At first, Michal just observes, telling the viewers: "I want to see what they didn't tell me," which includes exhausted Arye's threats of potches for bad behavior and Avia's giving Zviel's uneaten food to a neighbor's dog. "Using food as a threat may cause eating problems at a later age," tut-tuts Michal to the camera in a series of pre-treatment comments. "Punishments only show the superiority of the strong," says Supernanny, admonishing Avia for thinking that just because she has three children, they should "stand in a straight line every morning." As for Arye, "everything's by force, everything has to be fast" when he tries to get them to bed. Now it's Michal's turn. First she has a talk with the parents, explaining to Orit that "if we were in a war, I would appoint you general. But your kids don't need a general; they need a mother." Next she's instituting a series of new rules, among them: no more punishments. She introduces a petting corner in the garden for the kids to share with mom, seeking to get her back in touch with her "soft" side. Dad has to spend an hour horsing around with the kids when he comes home, and no more "Kadima." Mom's given a board game to play that she can use to bring her family closer together. Zviel gets more encouragement and feels less frustrated. Finally, Michal brings the family a speech therapist, who calms their fears and prescribes treatment that should have him talking soon. Even we felt relieved to see things ease up at the Kelman house, and they were obviously delighted. But we came away not completely convinced about Michal. She never took care of the kids alone, for one, and who's to say that as soon as Avia wants the guinea pig that Zviel is holding all hell won't break out again. It all seemed too magical to work long-term, although we did appreciate her comment that "a house should be clean enough to be healthy in, but also dirty enough to be happy in." Parenting's tough, and we all sometimes feel like Steve Martin in Parenthood , worried that a mistake we made will end up turning our kids into mass murderers. In the end, a combination of patience and love usually wins out, but not every day. Supernanny certainly offers valuable suggestions, and if viewers learn from the mistakes of the families portrayed here, the show will have done a major service. But if over 21 years of parenting has taught us one thing, it's that there are no quick fixes; sometimes you've got to tough it out, with no Super Nanny on hand. And remember: one day your kids will choose your nursing home.