Parenting's Fine Line Between Help and Hinderance

When Parents Should Help
So, I posted this adorable pic of my daughter trying diligently to blow up an air raft about three times the size of her little 5-year-old body. Days later, after looking at the pic several times, I was inspired to write about this issue. I couldn’t help but speculate that folks out there probably thought, “Geez, Mom, help the girl out!”  Well I did. I did help her out. But I waited for her to ask for my help. See, when it comes to giving my kids help - I don’t jump in. I don’t take over, I don’t give them the luxury of automatically having my help, or give them the impression they cannot turn it down. I do give them practice in using the courage to ask for help from others and the opportunity to push through hard things, which gives them a chance to be proud of themselves for creating their own solution to a problem. When we don’t allow our kids space to do hard things - without swooping in to “help” them (or could be read: “save them”) - we cheat them of personal growth experiences, and can also create some really funky ideas about perseverance and capability.

Creating an “EASY” mindset

As we see our kids begin to struggle with something, and we jump in to do it for them or make it easier, we inadvertently create the mindset that things should be easy. It has become more and more common for kids these days to believe that the things they do, or have to do, should be easy - or they simply don’t want to do them. Well, that really stinks….because some of the greatest joys we have in life come from persevering through our most challenging and difficult accomplishments. This leads us to the next point.

Cheating kids of the “I can do it” mindset and “I did it” victories

As mentioned above, when we do things for our kids that they could have potentially done themselves, it cheats them from the sense of pride that comes with accomplishing hard things.  Worse, the need to struggle with a task may cause children to quit trying.  We call this “learned helplessness.” Feeling capable is an essential piece of our self-esteem. We can only feel capable if given enough space and opportunity to figure things out for ourselves.   


We want our kids to be somewhat independent, right?!? I know this part is hard because as they grow and can do things on their own we look on with that stinging feeling like they don’t need us anymore. But this simply isn’t true.  Our kids will always need us for something, just maybe not that thing anymore. As they grow they will still need our help but what they need it for will evolve. However, jumping in and continuing to “help” when our kids could otherwise handle a situation on their own will hinder their desire to put forth the effort and to achieve independence.

Learning to fail

Did you know it’s actually ok if things don’t turn out the way your kids want? Did you know that’s how they learn to be flexible with their expectations, manage disappointment, and again part of what actually builds self-esteem? Say what??? Build self-esteem??? Yep. It’s true. When kids experience failure – the feeling of not being good at something, not get something right, etc. - and then also see that they are still accepted and acceptable by their people (family, friends, teachers and such), it builds their sense of self-worth, confidence in their relationships and sense of belonging.  The positive aftermath of failure creates the “come as you are” unconditional acceptance we crave from our relationships.

Failing and struggling also builds confidence to try again. This is another aspect of perseverance. When we can feel confident that we can try lots of different things to figure out solutions to our problems, including asking for help, our self-esteem gets a serious boost.

Asking for help

Asking for help is HAAAAAAAAARD for a lot of people. As a parent, I want my kids to learn to recognize when they need help and have the guts to ask for it. This is a life skill. We can’t make it very far if we aren’t in good practice of asking others for help when we need it. On the other hand, I’m also aware of my kids trying to manipulate me for help when they don’t really need it. This one is a dance. Not asking for help ever is not ok. Just like overstepping boundaries and asking for help all the time, when they are clearly capable to handle the task, is not ok. But how will they know the difference if we, as parents, aren’t teaching those boundaries?

***Disclaimer. Of course I don’t make my kids ask me for help if there is an emergency, someone is going to get hurt, or quick action is needed. That’s crazy, people. I’m talking about the everyday mundane kinds of things, like fixing their own snack or cleaning their bedrooms.  Got it?  Good.

Taking over the ownership of the problem

When we take the wheel for our kids, whether big kids or small kids, we are also taking over the ownership of the problem. When we give kids time to figure things out for themselves, and they come to us and ask us for help, they continue to hold investment that the problem is still theirs.  They stay in a mindset that they are now in partnership with us when they seek our help and are invested in finding a solution. That’s a big difference from an “I give up” mentality.

Limiting the creative process

The last point to make falls in the zone of creativity and imagination. When we don’t offer the freedom for kids to think through their problems and create their own, and possibly innovative, solution we don’t allow them to grow. They need these opportunities to grow their critical thinking skills, which uses their imaginations as well as all kinds of executive functioning skills, like judgement, visual imagery (picturing outcomes), planning, emotional control, etc. We can’t develop these areas if we don’t allow the opportunities for them to be challenged. Granted they may take, what you would consider, a needlessly long way around to the solution, but again that’s ok, too.  When you truly let them be, without interjecting ways to hurry the process, you'll be surprised with what they can come up with!

Some tips on how to decide the right time and ways to help your kids when they need it.

  1. Wait for them to ask you (as long as it isn’t an urgent predicament or a safety issue).
  2. When you see them struggling, let them know you are there to help if they need it.
  3. Only offer as much help as they need (i.e.: Don’t take over!)
  4. Allow them to stay involved in the process, if possible, so they can still have ownership of the accomplishment when it is resolved.
  5. Cheer them on! Show your kids that you see them doing hard things and that you believe in them. Tell them how proud you are of them when they push through and persevere regardless of the outcome.

So let me wrap up by telling you how the little girl against the great big raft story ended. This little peanut of mine was just sure she could blow this raft up. She tried and tried and tried. And I took pictures. LOL! Finally, she looked at me out of breath and said, “Hey Mom, can you help me?”  I said, “Of course.” She informed me I would blow some and then she would blow some. I accepted this agreement. As I blew and my giant grown up breathes were able to fill and expand the raft with each one, she squealed in delight. I would take a break, and she would quickly grab it back and say “Ok, it’s my turn.” She would again blow and blow, with little progress, but I used every bit of encouragement as she tried and tried. This back and forth lasted until we were done. She was BEAMING because SHE did it and WE did it together!

Summer Busy vs. Summer Structure

As the school year is quickly coming to a close, and we are looking forward to all the fun and excitement that summer brings, there is one thing that begins to lurk inside the parental mind – “What am I going to DO with these KIDS?!?!??”

This is the time of year that I find conversations with my clients focusing on summer, and, in particular, a need to keep their kids “busy” as a way to keep them occupied and (hopefully!) out of trouble. However, what I would prefer they (and you, dear parent!) would focus on is “structure” versus simply “staying busy.” 

These concepts are easily confused. We often think “OMG!!! They’ll be out of school. We’ll need to keep them busy!” But, what will really offer more to your kids - and to you, as well! - is to choose wisely which activities you engage your children and families in and to keep those summer days structured and routine.

By this I mean choosing which activities are meaningful to your kids, offering plenty of down time and free play, while also utilizing routine on a daily basis.

I see many parents who feel a need to “fill up” their kids’ time. They pull out the local Family Magazine and comb the ads for summer camps and summertime special classes.  They plan on lots of play dates, matinee movies (because who doesn’t love summer discounts!), art class at the Family Museum on Tuesdays, Lego League at the library, time with grandparents, and of course we have baseball/soccer/basketball practice and games, swimming lessons, gymnastics, volunteering at the food pantry and let’s not forget practicing our reading and math skills! Meanwhile they will eat, sleep, do chores on their downtime, and finally have a chance to communicate with family members and friends when they have a free moment – which would be on the phone, in the car, on the way to their next scheduled event.

But how many of you have asked your kids what THEY want to do over the summer?  Actually, how many of you parents have asked yourselves that same question?  Instead of seeing summer as an annoying space that has to be filled, try seeing the longer days of summer freedom as an opportunity.  An opportunity for your Soccer Star athlete to hone in on her skills, or your Rocker son to have extra practice on his guitar.  Perhaps all your kids really want to do is swim.  Or maybe they’d like to go see some new (or old) sites.  And maybe you, as the parent, want to prioritize relationships, learning, responsibilities and fun.  The first stage of Summertime Planning is to ask yourselves and your kids to make a list of what they would like to accomplish over summer break.

Once the lists have been compiled, you (as the parent!) can then decide which activities would best fit the priorities that you want to honor for your family, while keeping one critically important thing in mind – STRUCTURE. Instead of simply filling days with “something to do,” make deliberate choices that not only accomplish your family’s goals, but also work within a structured and consistent daily routine. Maybe for your family a priority is have dinner together every (or most) nights. Perhaps the kids need free-time for play with friends or alone after lunch until it’s time for family activities. Or maybe it’s math and reading for an hour after breakfast. When you make structure and routine the first priority, you can more easily decipher which activities will or won’t work for you as a family, and it will make you more reluctant to add in activities that interfere with your overall routine. Ultimately, using structure and goals would give more pause about what we sign our kids and family up for, because we realize what we would be giving up in order to participate.

It’s tempting to feel like we need to fill their time. And, of course, if you work like I do, day camps/day care is not optional, but are also usually structured around a daily routine.  However, if you have more freedom during the summer to dictate how your child will spend their time, it is important to stay focused on providing structure over busy-ness. Creating a predictable schedule of events throughout the day will help kids remember what is expected of them, stay relaxed and limit behavior issues. Structure and routine create calmer and more focused kids, while also creating calmer and more relaxed parents.

Keeping kids “busy” might seem like an easy way to get through summer.  But in all of that “busyness,” children are being robbed of the ability to have time to themselves.  Take away that “busyness,” and you give your child the independence to control their own agendas and activities, which will help them develop their imagination and creativity, become self-starters by practicing and initiating their own play, and also foster more opportunity for them to connect and build relationships and social skills with siblings, neighbors, and friends through unorganized interactions. There is real value to all of these things that keeping kids busy with an endless list of organized activity would not necessarily offer.

Creating routines and structure in your days is far more valuable than signing them up for a million activities. Teaching them to play on their own, be resourceful with their time, and be comfortable with being bored are life skills that we all need to practice. And by limiting the “busy” it also helps limit the “crazy” in your life too. After all, I’ve never heard anyone exclaim that the best part of their summer was running the kids all over town!


When Princesses Turn Into Pirates!

(Solutions for Dads looking to navigate the waters of Teen Girlhood)

Copyright: sevalv / 123RF Stock Photo

We all know you have one of the hardest, most satisfying, jobs in the world – navigating the changing tides of raising a daughter. One thing I’ve noticed through the years of working with families is that there seems to come a time when Dads scratch their heads and say “What happened?” Instead of having a princess who couldn’t get enough of Dad when they were little, they now have more of a pirate on their hands. A sudden stranger who avoids conversation by muttering noises, never has time for them as they are always off on another adventure, and prefers her “mateys” or wants to be alone. Once you factor in the attitude changes, that princess you love can become about as approachable as Captain Hook. It’s a dicey situation, and I’ve watched many men struggle through this period with little direction on how to make it better.

First off – It will be OK! I know you thought it would never happen to you, but it is very normal for girls to pull away from their parents durig their development through those pre-teen and teenage years. It’s part of them finding their independence and individualizing from the family.  In other words, she’s growing up. There is nothing wrong with that. As girls start to grow and mature they start having interests of their own, their bodies change and they are often not sure how to handle that, they begin to have issues they want to solve themselves or with friends and, quite frankly, don’t want parents a part of everything. I see this beginning typically in those tween years, around ages 9 or 10, or around 4th or 5th grade. So as girls start to change in these ways, it seems like dads are not really sure how to change with them. It starts small with not wanting to be your buddy in the garage anymore, but then snowballs into lots of different areas. And by the time they’re teenagers, she’s not wanting to talk much or be with you one on one, period.

So, I want to give Dads some tools and ideas to help them stay relevant in their daughters’ lives, through those preteen and teenage years, and well after that. My hope is that if Dads can try some of these tricks, they can stay better connected when things get hard. And if things are already hard, you may be able to close some of the gap.


Make The Time Happen

As girls grow and their schedules and interests change, it is important for Dads to keep spending regular one-on-one time with them. This can happen through setting rituals. Maybe it’s Ice Cream Sunday, and every Sunday you have an ice cream date. Perhaps coffee every Tuesday, some scheduled time together at the gym, or going for a walk at a regular time or day of the week. Whatever the ritual is, it should be treated as sacred and rarely-negotiable. If there is a schedule issue, then agree on a substitute time in the week. One critical component -  phones and electronics should be silenced or off during this time. Remember to use your weekly date to its fullest potential, so daughters AND dads need to keep those devices from becoming a third wheel. Having good boundaries for how you will use this time will keep it sacred and special.

You Like Parrots, I Like Parrots!

OK, so when they’re little, girls often seem mesmerized by Dad. They want a part of whatever Dad is doing. Until it seems they don’t. This is part of why these relationships are SO…MUCH…EASIER when they’re little! I remember my daughter sitting with her dad and watching American Pickers for hours on end. Then one day, she realized she didn’t care if two middle-aged men were finding cool stuff in a barn in the middle of nowhere. Dads need to pay attention to having a “give and take” with their girls. As they are interested in what you’re doing, you can also join them in what they’re doing. No, you don’t have to join her dance class, but you can have her show you what she’s learning. You could draw with her, learn the video game she’s been interested in or figure out what music she’s into now (yes, even if it sounds like NOISE!) Showing her that her interests matter to you will decrease the idea she may form that you “wouldn’t care” or “just don’t get it.” Start asking her questions or have her teach you about something she loves or is learning about in school. 

Fuzzy Feelings Talk

This is an especially big issue with Dads and Daughters. We have a tendency to only discuss what a child is DOING rather than what they THINK or how they FEEL. Now I understand that men, in general, are not typically geared toward feelings talk. I get that. But I also think it’s important to understand that girls - especially in their teenage years - are incredibly driven by how they FEEL. If there isn’t space created in a relationship for them to talk about how they feel, they will often find it difficult to communicate at all. And that lack of communication will starve the relationship. So, Dads, make a point to not only discuss what your daughter is doing, but what she thinks about things that are happening and how they make her feel. This should be something you will most likely have to put effort into doing until it becomes routine.  Start with the small stuff, especially if your girls are older and you’re working to repair the distance with this type of conversation. Trying to get her to explain something serious she is particularly hurt about, when you haven’t been talking about feelings at all, may freak you both out a little. Start small with how she feels on relatively neutral things - like school or stuff in the media - and work your way to more sensitive subjects.

Don’t Make Her Walk The Plank

Along the lines of communication, it is important for Dads to remember to maintain some neutrality. Try to stay calm and open in conversations with your daughter in order to create that safe place for her to share and talk. If you become judgmental of her decisions (or decisions of her friends), overreact, over justify and don’t just listen, she will stop coming to you. We all can relate. We know when we’re struggling with something, exactly which friends are the better friends to talk it out with and which friends would weigh in too heavy, show little understanding, or overreact. It will be tough to keep your trap shut, but being a person she feels will give her respect and space will keep her coming back to you.

Get Her What She Needs

Don’t let Mom be the ONLY one she goes to when she needs something. Dads - we know you need to be needed. This is a big way for you to stay relevant to your tween and teenager. They have to talk to us parents when they need something, right! So why not let it be you? In many families, Mom is the go-to for everybody, for everything. So as girls get older, and they need a notebook for science or black shorts for gym, they tell Mom. If Dads step in early and show they will meet her needs, girls will learn they can come to you as well, for both the notebook, or a ride, or even emotional support or advice when they need it. Start jumping in now. Added plus is the time you spend together meeting those needs. Rides to practice and trips to Target create even more time for conversation.

Put Your Toolbox Away

Girls want to own their own problems. They rarely want you to fix it for them. This is part of them trying to gain their independence, and they deserve that space. Men typically are fixers. You don’t want them to hurt or struggle, and just want to get in and fix it. But I caution instead to pause and allow your daughter to simply talk. Instead of jumping in to fix, be a listener and try to relate to what she’s going through. Let her know if she needs your help, you are ready and waiting, but let her figure out first what she wants to do and if she wants your help at all.  I’ve worked with many kids who keep problems private because they fear parents will take away their control of the problem and step in to fix it. Clearly there will be some instances when an adult is needed, and stepping in is the only safe and practical option, whether your kids agree or not. But many problems kids face are things they can probably figure out on their own. Show her that you trust her to make her own decisions and validate that she is capable of handling things on her own.

Don’t Abandon Ship

Above all else, DON’T GIVE UP. Remember that this part of their growing years is full of changes and she won’t always know how to navigate them. As Dad, be the leader and take ownership of time (even if she balks and rolls those eyes) when you can and help make those rituals and time for talking happen. As hard as it may be, if she still keeps you distant, keep creating that space for her to show up. Even if you’re not quite her First Mate for a while, you can still have a place on the ship. Your effort will shine through for years to come, whether it is appreciated now or not.


These are just a few ideas to help keep those Dads and Daughters close. There are plenty of ways Dads find to bond with their girls. It is a beautiful relationship and one of the most important for girls in how they will develop and function in relationships in the future. It will not always be easy, but hopefully by using some of these tips, you can help bridge that gap between the little girl she was and the grown up woman she is about to become.

The Naughty and The Nice

Naughty or Nice?

It’s that time of year.  Children are wrapped up in the magic of Christmas and parents are keeping track of their Christmas lists and continuously reminding their children “someone” is watching to see if they’re being Naughty or Nice.  Who is the judge of good and evil in your house?  Is it an elf perched atop a shelf - up to no good of his own?  Or is it the big guy himself, Santa?  In our house we use a solid combination of both.  Use whatever you can to see the results you want, right?

But, there is a little itty bitty problem with this “Holiday Parenting.”  It’s that itty bitty little voice kids start to form in the backs of their heads about who they are as people.  When kids hear they “are Naughty” or “are Bad,” they believe it.  And when they are told they “are Good” we leave a lot of room for them to question whether they “are now Bad” when they make a mistake.

Kids don’t do grey area well.  They don’t read between the lines, and most of the time they think in black and white.  If you tell them they are one thing, they also think “I am not something else.”  In all the years I have been a therapist and have worked with kids and families I’ve seen this play out in different ways.  Kids who are told or feel they “are bad” can begin to have a low self-worth.  They begin to act out and can fill the shoes well for the label they have been given.  Rarely do I see a kid who is told he “is bad” figure out how to “be good” on their own.  Many times they don’t even know exactly what the behaviors were that made them “bad” in the first place.  They get confused, sad and angry.  That is not the building blocks for a confident kid nor a recipe for better behavior. 

 Then there are the kids who are being told they “are good” and to “be good.”  For these kids it’s easy to see anxiety crop up for making mistakes.  This can then turn into lying when they do something wrong, for fear they will now be seen as “bad.”  Then they hinge on a wobbly sense of self-worth, as they are not sure what made them “good” in the first place, and therefore don’t know what big or little “bad” thing they could do that will take their precious title away.

Now I get it….saying “be a good girl” or “good boy” is as much of a habit and natural as saying “good morning.”  This is what we, as parents, do.  When I drop my daughter off at Grandma’s house I would naturally toss out the “Be a good girl!” as I said my goodbyes.  But then I realized….What the heck does that mean?  Does it mean listen, follow directions, use kind words, or share?  Yeah, probably all that, right?  So, now I say exactly that.  I say specifically what I expect her behavior to look like.  And when I pick her up, I no longer ask if she was “a good girl.”  Instead, I ask her caretaker if she did those things and let her know I’m proud of those individual choices.

 And what is “Naughty” or “Bad” anyway?  Is it not following directions?  Is it not being respectful?  Is it not sharing?  Or is it lying?  Or… sometimes is it being honest when others don’t like it?  Is it sometimes standing up for themselves and refusing to cooperate with something that makes them uncomfortable?  Is it being energetic and silly (because they are)?  Is it even sometimes just simply rocking the boat?  When it comes to compliance with reasonable rules and expectations, I totally agree.  Those are “bad choices.”  But sometimes what we criticize in kids as “naughty” or “bad” is simply their budding independence or character/personality pieces we may find annoying or wish to change.  Well, that’s not fair.

And what if we want them to stand up for themselves?  Especially against a person of authority?  What if we want them to break the mold, be inventive and out-of-the-box thinkers, even if it rocks the boat? Will they fear being considered “Naughty” or “Bad”?

The way I see it, all kids are born inherently “good” and with a desire to belong and to please their parents.  Giving them any belief to the contrary will not produce good things for anyone.  It will not make them feel good and it will not make you feel good about your kids.  I teach kids all the time that no one is “all good” or “all bad,” “all naughty” or “all nice.”  It’s each choice that counts and each choice that makes a difference in addition to all the good things they have going on inside of them, like kindness and love. 

So here a few of the takeaways….

  • Defining in “Goods and Bads,” “Naughty and Nice” is not as productive as we would like to think.
  • Instead of focusing on defining quality of choices as the quality of the person, focus on the choices themselves and always encourage their capability to make better ones.
  • Break down what your expectations for good behaviors are, and exactly which behaviors you do not want to see. Be specific.
  • Use negative choices as a way for kids to right their wrongs. Teach them how to be accountable for their mistakes.  After all, isn’t it more appropriate to expect a person to make mistakes and be accountable rather than to never make any at all?
  • Praise things you appreciate about your kids, whether it’s choices or qualities of character. Help them understand their worth is more than the sum of their choices

Yes, keep your elf and use your Santa leverage but keep it about choices and helping your kids think through them.  Because I don’t know of any kid that has received only one measly lump of coal in their stocking come Christmas morning!  In the meantime, may your elves move swiftly, may that to-do list grow shorter, and may Santa see all the good in your kids that you do!

Merry Christmas everyone!

A Case Of The Why's: The Parenting Shift From Their Generation To Ours

In working with parents, I frequently hear a stream of The Why’s.

Why do I have to explain myself? Why don’t they listen? Why do I feel compelled to NOT scream at my kids and why do I feel guilty when I do? Do you say things to yourself like “MY parents didn’t deal with this,” or “They told us to do something and we just DID it!”


Well, my fellow parents, I am here to tell you that you are not alone, and there are some very intriguing reasons for this parenting frustration.

Aside from the general idea that parenting has changed because of differences in technology, faster, busier daily lives, and a redefinition of the family unit, it is my experience and observation that the root of cooperation in parent/child relationships has made a major shift from when we grew up in the eighties and nineties to now. Back in the day we cooperated with our parents because, quite frankly, we were afraid NOT to. Obviously, we all had different experiences growing up, so I am speaking in general terms here. I, myself, had parents who developed deep and caring relationships with me, but who would also threaten - when my sister and I were up late goofing around (instead of sleeping) - to “Get Grandpa’s belt.”  Now, just the mention of Grandpa’s belt was horrifying to us. Adding legitimacy to the threat was the fact that we had previously been spanked on a few occasions. We quickly moved and did what was asked without argument, or even a second thought. As a side note, I think it’s funny that, as a grown-up, I look back and realize there probably was no “grandpa’s belt.” The idea that Grandpa had supplied each of his fourteen children with one of his belts on the off-chance they would have to “teach children a lesson” is absurd and, quite frankly, comical. But at the time, we feared the harm that would come to us if we did not cooperate.

I think this was relatively common in most families. That generation of parents, as they learned from generations of parents before them, parented with fear as the leading foundation for assisting cooperation from their kids. It was the WHY for the kids. “Listen so you don’t get hurt” was the logic at hand. As human beings, we wish to avoid physical pain. It is one of our greatest fears. When mom said, “Get in the house or else!” you knew in your family what the “else” meant.  Maybe it was a spanking, maybe it was not getting dinner, but whatever it was, you knew that the threat of what was to come would most likely physically harm you in some way.

Now here’s where things get wonky.  Our generation’s ideas about parenting have changed. We don’t want our children to fear us - we want them to respect us. We don’t want our kids to be afraid of us, but because most parents were not raised in this manner, they are perplexed as to how to gain their children’s attention and cooperate. Well guess what, the reason, in my opinion, for why we don’t want our kids to fear us is the same WHY (or motivation) we can use to gain their listening, cooperation and respect. It’s called RELATIONSHIP.

We don’t want our kids to fear us because we have a stronger desire then the generations before to have deep relationships with our children - relationships where we know they feel loved and supported and that we value how they feel.  It can be argued that this may be the backlash of too many spankings as we were growing up, or having parents that “did not do feelings.”  But either way, what I see professionally and in my personal life is many of us wanting to have more positive relationships with our kids, where communication and feelings play a leading role.

So, without physical fear, what reasons do they have to cooperate with us? The answer is one of the other greatest human fears – LONELINESS, and its ugly twin sister REJECTION.  Let me put it this way - We were made to be pack animals and, as I explain to clients all the time, we weren’t meant to do life alone. Even though we have much more sophisticated brains then our caveman ancestors, we still have a primary, inherent fear of being alone, since we instinctively would survive better in a pack. This is why we end up stretching our boundaries for others at times and stay in relationships longer than we know we should. We wish to avoid being alone.

Now let’s transfer this over to the parent/child relationship. What I have been witness to is that the stronger and more valuable the relationship is, the more willing children are to cooperate and the more they want to avoid negative responses from their parents, like disappointment or anything that would cause the relationship harm. So when they think about breaking the rules and sneaking into the kitchen to eat cake after everyone went to bed, they do not fear a spanking for eating cake. They fear that, if caught, they would disappoint mom or dad. They may also fear other negative consequences (like taking TV away for a week), but ultimately, if the parent/child relationship is strong, this will be a part of their thought process.  For example, let’s think about timeouts. If you look at the action of a timeout, you see a person of authority removing the child from the group. This shows a child the behavior is unacceptable and they will be removed from “The Pack.” This bothers children. Not just because they wanted to do what they were doing instead of listen to you, but because they don’t want to be rejected.  When I put my daughter in timeout, the first thing she does when it’s over is to seek big hugs and squeezes from me so she can verify that she’s not, in fact, rejected. That she is still loved and that I still accept her even if I did not accept her behavior.

When kids feel we respect them and they count, their willingness changes from listening and cooperating out of fear, to listening and cooperating because they want to. They want us to be proud of them. They want to feel like they are tied positively into their “pack,” or family. This becomes their WHY. They will lean toward making better decisions because they realize being a part of the pack means their decisions are watched and matter to everyone. There is a sense of community that helps encourage them to make choices for the greater good.

But does having a strong relationship mean your kids will always listen?  Dun Dun DAAAAAH. NO! They won’t! They’re still selfish little beings. They want what they want, when they want it. This is where, just like in any other relationship, you set boundaries. We set boundaries with our kids to teach them what is acceptable and what is not. To allow them to understand we still have authority. Whether we love the little ankle biters or not, we are still in charge. And, ultimately, show them the most primal form of love---Keeping them SAFE.  When they know we will stop them when they are going too far, and we will say ‘no’ to them when it is necessary, they feel (albeit unconsciously) that we are looking out for them and that they can TRUST us. I’m not saying the backlash of words flying out of their mouths or the bad attitude will reflect that. I’m saying they will have a back-of-the-head belief that they can trust you and that you will be there to protect them. They will value this and crave this over time. And yes, anyone who has a teenager knows they will also test this.

So what we do when they test those boundaries is to set warnings and reasonable and (if possible) natural consequences. We remain CONSISTENT so they can TRUST us and know what to expect as they choose from right or wrong in their decision-making. This will help them learn and know their boundaries so they hopefully avoid making the same mistakes over and over again. When your child doesn’t put their toys away, we put the toys in time out. Or when your teenager comes in after curfew, she doesn’t get to go out the next time, or has to be home that many minutes or hours earlier.  Kids need to know there will be a response from you, as the captain of the ship, controller of their universe, and leader of the pack, to their decisions - either positive or negative. But they don’t have to fear you as a person to cooperate with you.

The moral of the story is that yes, things have changed. But I do believe we live in a day and age where it is easier than ever for us to have our cake and eat it to. We can have truly meaningful, deep, respected and respectful relationships with our kids and get cooperation at the same time. I don’t know about you, but that seems like a win to me.

Besides, I’m not sure my dad is willing to give up any of his belts!

So my main takeaways are this:

  • Yes, the times have changed and parenting has changed with it.
  • Fearing your parents is not necessary for cooperation, but there is a place for fearing consequences of their own choices.
  • Working on building relationships focused on trust, communication, mutual respect and setting consistent boundaries and responses will provide more positive interactions with your kids and their cooperation, without making you feel like you’re traumatizing them into subordination.

Let's Talk Time

We have all been there. The usual busy morning, but you might have become distracted by something - an interesting article on your phone, someone missing their homework, or 20748934_m
maybe just lost track of time while enjoying peace and quiet in the shower. You realize you’re running behind and, out of desperation, shout out to the kids, “Guys, we’re late!!!”  to prompt them into quick and direct action to hurry up and get out the door. You envision them shouting back “10-4 Captain!” while running to put on coats and shoes and wait patiently for you by the front door, backpacks on and car keys in hand.

What do you actually find? They had started a game of chase around the kitchen table, which is strewn with all the books, papers and homework that should be in the backpacks. You’re already stressed. Your fear is setting in. At this rate, everyone is going to be late, and their silly play is not funny or cute.  

Here it comes.  The BLOW UP!

Something we rarely consider when interacting with our kids is that their perception and understanding of time is not yet developed or is still developing. The younger your children are the less they understand time.  They also don’t have all the language we have to understand the abstract concept of time or what it means to “be late.” Children will want to, and need to, play through their routines and will not be as focused on the need for tasks to be completed in a timely manner the way you are. Developmentally, the younger your children are, the more they are learning and experiencing the world through their play. This is normal and not meant to bug the daylights out of you. So when they’re trying to tease you by sticking their arms in their pants to make you laugh, they are not always trying to push your buttons.

Kids have no regulated concept of how long it is “supposed” to take to brush teeth, eat breakfast or get dressed. Their sense of time isn’t developed like yours, and they have little ability to know when they can take things easy, or when they need to be to the point and rush. This is especially true if their allotment of time to do these things is not on a consistent schedule.

Also, the younger children are, the less they understand the concept of urgency unless it is directly related to them and what they want or what they need. And the younger children are, the less they are thinking outside of themselves for the consideration of others or the larger situation as a whole. When I tell my four-year old “We’re late!” and start rushing, she looks at me like I’m nuts. I might be “late” but she sure doesn’t think she is this “late” thing. She’s fine. She tries to follow my lead, she can see I’m stressed but she doesn’t know what the heck is going on. On the flip side of that coin, when SHE feels hungry and SHE wants a snack, she has no patience waiting for me to finish the dishes before she’s frustrated that I am not acting fast enough for HER. When it’s her problem, she gets it. And if she wants to go swimming…..Let’s just say there’s no playing around to get that swimsuit on.  That girl is MOTIVATED.

Another issue to keep in mind is a child’s ability to transition quickly and smoothly from one thing to another. Kids often have difficulty moving from what they are doing (especially if it’s a preferred activity) to whatever may be next. They often have the need to make sure they are physically and mentally done with where they currently are before they can move on to the next task.  So, in those moments of rushing, what we see is resistance as we try to move them from dressing to brushing teeth in one sweeping motion. They may fight you, go back to their room, get frustrated or cry. Now you’re REALLY late!

So now that we’ve looked at development and our barriers to getting those kids MOVING, let’s talk about what you can keep in mind to help decrease frustration especially when we need our kids to be moving quickly!

  • Plan for enough time

By planning a liberal amount of time to get things done, you will avoid feeling frustrated and they will not feel rushed or receive so much negative feedback from you for being their usual silly selves.  After all, wouldn’t it be more fun to be silly with them and take your time, instead of being the Clock Enforcer?  

  • Visual Timers

Because children don’t have that internal timer to realize they are taking too long or falling behind, some families find it very helpful to use visual timers. There are really cool timers you can find on Amazon that run from green to yellow to red, which also help kids prepare to transition to the next task. I recommend these timers for all kinds of things! You can also use a simple kitchen timer that children can see ticking down. For older kids, you can place a clock in their room and give them a list of times to stick with so they know when it is time to move on or if they are spending too much time on one area.

  • Routines

Setting regular routines will help your children begin to develop that mental time clock for how long it should take to complete tasks and ready them for the next transition. If you think of the school day, your child more often than not is prepared and ready to move onto the next subject throughout the day. Part of that is due to the consistent structure of their days. Their brain starts to pick up on the rigid time frames scheduled, and they subconsciously are prepared for transitions- which includes knowing where they should be and what they should be doing.

  • Allow time for transitions

I realize this sounds counterproductive, especially when you’ve found yourself in a rush, but still allowing your child to have some control of their transitions will help keep the tears and fits away. As you may be helping them through their routine, you can simply say “Ok, what’s next?” and then help them get there. Giving them time to think for themselves will help them mentally prepare for what the next thing is. Yes, still move quickly and motivate, but pushing too hard will cause meltdowns - and who has time for that!

  • Me, me, me

As stated before, our children are particularly motivated by what is going to affect them and by what they want. Instead of statements like “we’re late” or “we won’t be on time,” we can go farther with a phrase like, “school will start without you.” Using references that directly relate to the child and how it affects them will grab their attention and give them more motivation. They will more easily recognize and internalize the problem and be more likely to take action as you direct.

  • Outside Motivation

This ties in well with the previous point. When you let kids know what they will gain or lose by their actions, you can find much more motivation. Like the swimming example earlier, kids will be more eager to step into action if they know there is something for them to gain. They will also work to avoid what they don’t want, or negative consequences. For instance, it is not standard for my daughter to watch videos on my phone while in the car. So, on days I need her to get moving, I will let her know that if she moves fast she will be able to watch videos on my phone once she is buckled into the car. On occasion, I will also make a promise for after school - like going to the park or doing another favorite activity - but the sooner you can reward the behavior the better off you will be.  Obviously, the rewards would change depending on age, abilities and what works for your family, but the point is to make it worthwhile for them to stay focused and move quickly.  Looking at the other side of the issue, if you have a day to day problem with timeliness, then you can decide what will happen if your child is not cooperating with time cues and motivate them with a consequence. For now my daughter responds pretty readily if I let her know she will not have any cartoons later if she does not get dressed right now. Find what is feasible for your family and motivates your specific child.

  • Patience

It is not easy to put your own mental time schedule aside, and your personal urgency to get things done, in order to accommodate where your child is developmentally. Hopefully some of these tips will give you a framework of areas you can actually focus on instead of how slooooooow your kids are. 

By considering these points, you may find you have less stress and better cooperation as you move through your days.  You will also have the peace of mind that you’re teaching your kids how to manage themselves, through timers and routines, so they will be better stewards of their own time later. Good luck and may the clock be with you!

*Photo Copyright: hanaschwarz

NO! - Let's Do It Better (Part 2 of 2)

Ok, so if you read through Part 1, we decoded the use of our word “no” from our kids hearing “NEVER EVER AGAIN” and translated it to a much better “Not Right Now."  This change in phrasing has the potential to avoid some meltdowns by supplying children with a more accurate, less finite response.  Now let’s take a peek at what to do next!

When was the last time you heard the word “no” and just accepted it?  Didn’t ask questions, weren’t given an explanation, and were able to cheerfully move along like a cartoon mouse.  My guess is that it’s been a while - if it’s ever happened.  The word “no” without explanation tends to build resentment, disappointment, anger and frustration in all of us.  Kids are no different - those little bodies and minds are still human and are going to feel the same way you would.  One big difference, however, is that YOU have had a lifetime to develop your maturity and self-control to help you manage those emotions, if ever you’ve had to deal with the occasional “no with no explanation, reasoning, or permission to ask questions.”  Second, you’re a grown-up, and you have the power to figure out how you’ll get what you want anyway.

The reality is that kids need information.  They don’t think like adults.  They don’t have all the connections rolling in their brain and across hemispheres to put all that together for themselves.  They need us to do it for them.  They need us to spell out that what they want CAN and WILL happen again, when it is appropriate.  They need to hear that we care about what they want, and they need our help pairing the logic and emotion in the situation to diffuse an overreaction.  They can’t pair the logic if they don’t have the information, and they can’t always find that information on their own.  They are not in control of their worlds.  We, as parents and caregivers, are.  They are at the discretion of our permission on when and where they will be next and what they will have or be allowed to do.  Because the decision is typically going to be up to us, they can only know when or how these things will happen if we tell them.  Also, keep in mind that many times when we say "no" to something, they automatically pair that as "we will always say 'no' to that thing in the future."  They need to know that eventually there could be a “yes,” but it has to be under different circumstances.

So after we’ve considered changing our language to “not right now,” or even if we stick to the handy two letter word “no,” we allow them to practice using their own reasoning for why what they want can’t happen right now by giving them more information.  If they can’t have the toy, explain to them it’s because they need to earn it.  If they want to go swimming, and it isn’t a good day or it’s the middle of February, give them the information about what your plans are, or the weather report, or why it won’t work today.  If they want to use their new paint set, but grandma’s coming over to bake cookies, explain there isn’t enough room in the kitchen for two messes.  Whatever the reason is for your “no,” it’s best to just tell them.

Next, we go a step further and give our kid some information for when they will be able to have or do what it is they are asking for.  If they can’t go outside and play now, then when will they get a chance to?  If they can’t have this treat now, then when will they get a treat again?  Most of the time we have this information, but we don’t offer it because their response to our initial answer stinks so bad, we don’t want to give them this oh-so-magical insight into how they can get or have what they want.  WE’RE MAD NOW TOO!  We get caught up then into a potential power struggle of “No matter what you do now, you really are ‘NEVER’ getting that thing you wanted!!”  We sometimes may run with that old-school thinking of “Kids just need to hear ‘no’ and deal with it.”

Finally, the method to the magic is remaining consistent with what you say and creating a relationship where they trust you will follow through with what you explained.  If you say “You can have your ice cream after you eat your dinner,” then if they eat their dinner = they get ice cream.  If you said they could play video games when they got their homework done, then that homework must get done before they can play.  Staying consistent and following through will also foster a sense of cooperation in those moments when they are at the intersection of "Believing You" and "Throwing A Fit."  If they can believe you, they will probably save their energy and work for (or wait for) what they know they can have.  Trust is a BIG DEAL.  Regardless of your follow through and consistency there may be some kids who will still struggle with trusting that they will eventually get what they felt like they want or need.

“But what if I can’t explain in the moment and 'no' just means 'no?'” you ask.  Well that’s going to happen.  No worries here, life will provide you with many of these moments on its own.  The rest of the time it’s best to offer information and help your child use their whole brain (the emotional and logical) to think through the situation and respond.  “But if I do that, won’t they expect an explanation every single time?” you ask.  Actually, no, they most likely won’t.  Because you’ve shown them you typically have good reasons and judgement behind your decisions, you have established TRUST that even when you can’t give them all those details, your reasoning is, in fact, there and they will be more likely to accept your response.

Bringing forward a more relaxed Not Right Now, explaining your reasoning, and communicating an idea for when it can or will happen gives kids enough insight to then decide how they feel about it.  They may still not like it and freak out anyway.  Or they may feel more stable about the situation, accept it for what it is and trust what you say.  By following those steps, it almost caps the situation so their mind does not have a chance to wander into extremes about never ever getting what they want, or how brother or sister always gets what they want instead, or they’ll never survive without what they want, and on and on and on…  They will have a chance to problem solve, practice patience, build trust that their needs will be met and that you will say what you mean and mean what you say.  Again, there will be some kids who need even more help with this and struggle on an even bigger level, with rigid thinking.  But for many kids, changing your habits on how you communicate the big bad “NO” may help avoid some of the big emotions that could follow.

NO! - Let's Do It Better (Part 1 of 2)

I hear it all the time.  “Little Johnny can’t handle not getting his way.”  Or “If I tell Suzy “no,” she freaks out.”  It’s a very common problem for parents to deal with and one of the most frustrating at that.

In my years of working with children, one thing I’ve been able to deduce is that often when children hear the word “no,” they have their own personal meaning to this.  Typically, the personal definition consists of thoughts like “never in a million years will this thing that I want so bad right now ever EVER happen!” …..and cue……the MELTDOWN!

This is an even more prevalent problem for kids that struggle with Autism issues, ADHD, and Anxiety.  These kids can have far more rigid and extreme thinking than the average bear and their ability to be flexible in working through hurdles on what they thought would happen or could happen is not nearly as accessible as kids without these issues.

One thing I like to teach kids is that “No,” in almost every situation, usually means “not right now.”  It doesn’t mean “You will NEVER get to play outside with your best friend!”  It means that, for these several reasons, it isn’t a good time to do that activity RIGHT NOW.  It doesn’t mean “You will NEVER get to EVER have ice cream again!”  It simply means mom doesn’t have the money right now, or you need to wait until after dinner.  It WILL happen, just Not Right Now.  When I work with kids on this issue, I ask the question related to their most recent meltdown, usually regarding something like “not getting their pick for dinner” or “not being able to go to the park,” etc.  Whether their parent meant they will NEVER get to do this or have that, or if they just meant NOT RIGHT NOW, kids typically are caught off-guard too.  They generally have not had someone explain this to them.  We then will work through a series of pretend questions they could ask their parents and define whether the “no” meant Never or Not Right Now.  They are genuinely shocked to realize that most things they ask for are, in fact, just a “not right now.”  The lightbulb comes on, and it becomes clear to them that eventually the things they get upset about not happening now will probably actually happen again…someday at least.

For parents my lesson is the same.  I review with parents the concept of kids often hearing “Never in my lifetime will what I want in this moment occur” when they hear that simple, tiny, yet oh-so-powerful word “No.”  I then explain in a similar way that typically what we are actually meaning is a more defined “not right now.” 

In the midst of daily crises and checking off to-do lists, we find it easier to answer kids’ queries with a firm and curt “no” to just about anything they might be asking.  Even in the moments when we have a bit of free time, it’s often simpler for us to dish out a quick “no” than spend our time thinking through a response or what we actually mean.  That is …… until THEY respond.  At that point, when there are tears flying, flailing limbs and banshee screams, the thought might occur to us that this maybe could have been avoided, had we taken the time needed on the front side of this event.  Pausing before the “No” to evaluate the situation and give a more detailed response creates the potential for conversation with your child and the ability to keep things relaxed.

“What if I don’t know yet if it’s a ‘not right now’ or a ‘NO, never gonna happen?’,” you ask.  True, things are not always black and white, and this will occur at times.  One course of action is to explain that you’re not sure, but you will keep the request in consideration.  The biggest thing to remember, no matter what your answer to their request might be, is that your kids really want to feel like they were being HEARD.  Taking a moment to listen to what your child is requesting and giving them a more complete response will take your farther than shooting out “no’s” like a Whack-A-Mole game at the arcade.  After making your child feel heard, you may find he or she to be more accepting of your response- meaning less arguing and less emotional extremes.

So this week, take a moment to use Lesson #1: to replace the reactive word “No” with the more accurate “Not Right Now,” when it is fitting, to give a more clear picture to kids on what they can expect.  Challenge yourself before that quick and easy response comes out to think through what you mean and if this “no” could be changed.  You might even find that, when you really take the time to listen to the request, what they’re asking for might even be a “YES!”  That would surely help your child respond better.  Either way, give it a shot and take note of any changes in the responses from your kids.  This is what I refer to as the “Social Experiment.”  Happy investigating!

In the meantime, stay tuned for Part 2 to learn the productive conversation with your child that would follow a “Not Right Now” response.  Without the rest of the conversation, that “Not Right Now” response will most certainly become the new “NO!” in your home.  So….NO! Let’s Do It Better and join me for Part 2!  

What To Expect When You Weren’t Expecting THIS

So there you were, what seems like lifetimes ago, idly daydreaming about how great parenthood would be someday.  Your mind drifted through thoughts of pleasantly pushing a gorgeous, smiling child on a swing, then meandering around a pond with a little towhead in hand, pointing out interesting things while she hangs on your every word.  At night, you’d be enjoying a glass of wine while leisurely bathing prince charming or tucking your little princess into bed, promptly after two stories and one song so you can go about the rest of your evening and RELAX.

Yeah…..not the reality you got, huh?  Not even close.

Instead, that trip to the park begins with your kid blatantly knocking somebody else’s gorgeous, smiling child right off the swing, so he can take over the hot commodity of the park.  No sooner have you finished scolding him, before you find yourself racing to catch said child, who is now sprinting full force to the pond, bent on jumping in so he can "catch the ducks."  You struggle to get either prince charming IN the bath or OUT of the bath – because on any given day it’s gonna be one or the other (or maybe even both).  And, finally, there you are, two full hours AFTER bedtime (and counting!) with maybe part of the pajamas on, at least 5 trips to the bathroom down, 2 snacks in, one glass of water, several stories and every song you know sung at least once and, TA-DA!!!  That little face peeks at you from around the corner, quoting the classics - “I can’t sleep!”, “I want to stay with yoooou!”, “I’m afraid!”, or simply smiling with an impish giggle.

You didn’t realize before you had kids that they could have the personalities of Jim Carey and a Monster Truck mixed together.  You didn’t realize they could be as manipulative as a soap opera star or as swift to fearfully pull themselves into their shell as a sea turtle staring at a shark.  You never imagined a child so impulsive and quick to leap outside of their own common sense to risky, dangerous or disruptive behaviors, a true aspiring Evel Knievel!  You never thought of a child who, although smart and (in your eyes) funny, could struggle getting along with people and making friends.  They are complicated and complex and there is no way we were ready for all they bring to the table.  Even after we have a chance to re-focus on who they are, we didn’t ever dream of the things life would touch them with (health issues, grief, bullying, trauma, etc.), that can make their days and challenges - and therefore ours - even more difficult.

Sometimes we see our kids fully and completely...and sometimes we struggle.  When we’re in the midst of the struggles it is very easy to see “the issue.”  We see the impulsivity and lack of self-control inherent in ADHD as Our Child.  We see the rigid thinking and low frustration tolerance of Autism as Our Child.  We zero in on manipulative personality characteristics as Our Child, as well as personality differences from us that just simply rub us the wrong way as Our Child.  I know how this feels and I know how much it hurts.  It is difficult to not allow these things to stand out like a sore thumb and overshadow the other sides of the picture.  It is hard to know how to manage things about a person that you may not relate to and also don’t always appreciate.  It’s also even more difficult to find balance in your work as a parent when these issues are present, and not feel like all of your energy is spent trying to find that happy medium between parenting the hard stuff and experiencing joy for the good stuff.

What I encourage is an understanding that you are not alone and that allowing yourself to grieve your unfulfilled expectations is totally warranted.  Yes, I said grieve.  When you have some serious expectations of what life would be like with your children, or expectations of your child’s future characteristics, or have to accept a diagnosis or situation which changes drastically your understanding of your child from some type of “normal” - you grieve.  You grieve the idea of a perfect childhood and witnessing your child move through the world with ease and grace.  You grieve the ideas you had of the things they would accomplish.  Maybe they still will, maybe they won’t, maybe they won’t want to.  It is such a process for parents to allow themselves to really accept that their children are not who they thought they would be and will not always act or do things the way they envisioned in those early years of daydreaming.   Embrace their uniqueness when you can and find your patience when you can't.

And eventually….they get to accept their children as they are.   When we allow ourselves to quit staring at one spot in the picture we get to see the whole picture.  I know you know this.  You know the whole “forest for the trees” thing.  I know it sounds easy, right?!?  Let me ask you though, have you ever spilled something on a sweater right in the front?  A mishap with a coffee cup on the way to work, or maybe a dribble of toothpaste as you got ready.  You figured that spot was small and you would get by.  It’s too late to change for the day, so it’ll have to do.  But each and every time you catch a glimpse in the mirror, regardless of how small the spot is, you stare right at it.  Your eyes go to that spot like it found the prize, like it zeroed in on the only thing that matters on that sweater.  You fail to see the gorgeous color anymore, or the softness of the fibers and how it feels on your skin.  You can’t remember that it is keeping you warm on a cold day or that it was given to you by someone special.  THE SPOT.  All you see and all you think about is that spot.

When there is something present in a situation we didn’t expect and we look at with negativity, fear or doubt, it is all our brain will want to see.  It is in this capacity that we have to be purposeful on realigning how we think.  Ok, so the spot on the sweater is what it is but your child is a gift.  Spot or not, a total and complete gift.  When we pull back and look at our children in an all-encompassing way, beyond “The Issue,” we can begin to have balance and joy in a more effortless and free-flowing way.  When we can find the benefits to some of the quirks and personality issues in our children, we can relax a bit and know they are going to be ok.  Being able to see that our little manipulator has an amazing skill that could make him “Salesman of the Year” someday, helps us to relax.  Knowing that your excessively timid and shy one will probably never jump out of airplanes, or take off to Africa alone to “find themselves,” can be comforting as a parent.  Seeing the immense creativity your ADHD child puts into everything they do (whether they should have done it or not) is truly inspiring.  And noting the ability your autistic child has in embracing every detail of a situation (although it may lead to rigid thinking) is actually a skill most people don’t have.  Their vision of the world is unique and detailed in a different way than yours, and the amount of things these kids force you to pay attention to (that you would normally miss) is a blessing.

So what do we do with all these “gifts” in the meantime, when our children are hanging from ceilings, throwing huge fits at home and in public, and refusing to comply with our expectations of, you know, basic standards of hygiene and societal rules?  We don’t give up.  We don’t give up looking for the good stuff.  We re-train our brain to see the better things front and center instead of in the blurry background. Embracing their uniqueness when we can and finding some patience and flexibility in our own thinking about their issues and behaviors when we can’t.   This is not an easy job and obviously not what we signed up for.  None of us were ready for the challenges actual parenting would bring, but we will all find our way - one way or another.  Relying on your support system is key because sometimes others outside our bubble can notice the positive things we can’t see, especially when we’re responsible for spending so much time and focus tending to the not-so-good stuff.  Being educated about our child’s issues, whether that leads back to a mental health diagnosis, trauma, or even just a strong-willed personality, is also where we can find some peace of mind.  Also educating ourselves on developmental stages - and what is and is not appropriate to expect at each age and stage - creates a new outlook and refreshing perspective on what’s “normal” and what’s not.  Last but not least, if you feel you need more personalized, professional support, working with a parent coach to help you identify what actually can change in your situation versus which issues need to simply be understood and worked with (instead of worked on), is also incredibly insightful.

In the meantime, it’s ok to abandon all of those ideas you had before - about the perfect children you would have and the perfect parent you would be.  Let’s face it, none of that leads to those memorable stories you’ll be reminiscing with years from now – like the time you had to fish your kid out of the fountain in the mall, or stop them from performing an impromptu strip tease while standing inside the grocery cart at the store.  Parenting builds character for sure, and not just your kids’.  Embrace it, cry about it, cheer it on, live with it and love it.