Breaking Old Patterns in Parenting

I knew I wanted to be a parent from the time I was very young. I dreamed of having a big family and being a full-time mom. I didn’t really have aspirations to be a perfect wife or a perfect mom, I just knew that I wanted to make sure my kids knew that they were the most important thing in my life and that they were my priority. And then I had my first child. I remember the first night we were home; I was up in the middle of the night feeding him, and I thought “What was I thinking? I can’t do this!” I had never experienced a love as intense before as I did when I was sitting up in the middle of the night feeding that perfect little baby. I was terrified. My heart literally hurt because it was so full and the feelings were so intense. All of the injuries from my childhood hit me hard, and I felt like I didn’t even come remotely close to having the tools I needed to be a good parent to this child. I am embarrassed to admit it, but I felt so inadequate that for a few minutes I thought that it would have been better for my baby if I had given him up for adoption.

The good news is that we can come from pretty messed up childhoods and still turn out to be pretty darn good parents. According to Daniel Siegel, M.D., it’s more about how we make sense of our childhood that impacts our parenting than the things that actually happened to us. Let’s face it, few people come from an ideal childhood. Many adults grew up with very little adult interaction because both parents were forced to work to make ends meet. Parents just weren’t able to be home when their kids get home from school with a plate of cookies and lots of time to talk about their day. Many adults had childhoods disrupted by divorce, and either ended up with an absent parent, or they were shared between both parents, shuttled back and forth between 2 houses. There are people who grew up in foster care, people who were sexually abused, and people who were yelled and called stupid their whole lives. These stories could belong to any one of us who become parents. These kinds of stories and histories can make us feel inadequate and unprepared to be parents. They can make us feel like even if we do our best, we will still end up falling short and make the same mistakes that our parents did with us.

The trick is not in having the perfect role models or the ideal childhood, nor is it in working through every single one of our issues in therapy before we can become parents. The most important thing is understanding and finding a way to make sense of our childhood. Therapy can be very helpful in this process, so can a wise friend, a religious leader or perhaps a meditation teacher. By reflecting on and bringing light to our histories, we can understand them in a new way, and hopefully stop the cycle of blindly repeating past mistakes. By understanding our own emotional experiences, we are better able to understand our children’s emotional experiences, and in turn create a healthy attachment with them.

Making sense of our experiences involves reflecting on our past with kindness and understanding. It involves identifying emotions that we had, and how those emotions show up in the present. When we examine our own stories, we find ways that we are triggered, and ways that we respond out of habit. Seeing these things clearly allows us to identify where we might still be stuck in these old patterns without even realizing it. It allows us more choice in how we respond to our children rather than reacting out of conditioned patterns. So having a less than ideal childhood does not mean you will automatically become a terrible parent. Take some time, work with someone, and reflect on your own story. Then you can begin writing the rest of your story with more freedom, more choice, and more awareness. The story of you as a parent, does not have to be a repeat of you as a child, not unless you want it to be.


As my children and I begin the process of decorating for the holidays, writing Christmas lists, and making plans for the Christmas break, I have been reflecting on ways to make this time of year fun rather than stressful. One of the first things that comes to mind is expectations. What are my expectations? Do I expect to find the perfect gift for everyone (on sale of course)? Do I expect to make lots of plates of perfectly homecooked holiday treats to hand out to everyone I know? Do I expect to decorate the house and keep it clean at the same time? Do I expect that my kids will magically become less interested in presents this year and more interested in the true meaning of the holiday? The list can go on and on and be customized for each family, but the bottom line is that when I have expectations that things will go and look a certain way, then I am bound to be disappointed, upset and stressed out. As with so many other things in life, if I can enjoy the process rather than the result, then I am much more likely to keep a sense of humor and enjoy the holidays. I am quite sure that no one is going to snub me at the next school function if they don’t get a plate of goodies from our family. Truth be told they will probably be grateful because they don’t like the same holiday treats that my family likes anyway! So let the kids help bake and decorate the cookies, make a mess, turn up the music and dance a lot, laugh, and let go of how they turn out. Is it really that important that my Christmas tree cookies actually look like Christmas trees? What’s the fun in that?

The other big expectation I have to keep a handle on is that my kids will somehow not be interested in who gets the biggest and the best presents this year. I am not saying that my kids are greedy or extremely materialist, but they are human and they have been brought up in American society. They get excited at the prospect of presents, and they hope to get certain things. When I ask them about favorite presents in years past though, usually they can’t even remember. They do tend to remember the presents that involved doing things with family and friends however. One year my son got a lot of machines – cotton candy maker, popcorn maker, those kinds of things. He remembers those because he remembers making treats for everyone and how much fun that was. So I have encourage family member who need gift ideas to give gift cards that involve activities together, like an afternoon of ice skating, or a day at the lake fishing and canoeing, or going to a hockey game together. The time that we spend together can create lasting memories, and it can give kids a sense of connection that is so vital to mental health.

When I start making lists of things I need to do, I let myself put down every little thing I can think of, and then I start crossing off the things that really are not all that important. I could make myself crazy running errands and doing tasks that really don’t need to be done. The only thing they accomplish is giving me a sense of participating in the craziness of the season, which at some level seems important. When people list off the craziness that they are involved in and I really don’t relate, there is certainly a sense within myself that I don’t fit in or that I must be doing something wrong. I don’t get to bond over the complaining about how chaotic life is right now. I can live with that. Hopefully more of us can bond over the laughter and the beauty of being together rather than complaining about the busyness and chaos. That is my holiday wish.


woman sipping colorful smoothieHave you ever watched your kid have a meltdown at exactly the wrong time in exactly the wrong place? Of course you have! If you have not, then you probably are not a parent. I don’t care if you are the best parent on the planet, your child will behave badly at some point in time, at many points in time.
I would like to offer you one piece to the puzzle of kids’ behavior. Kids tend to be very sensitive to rises and drops in blood sugar. I say this not from a medical perspective, I say this from the mother of 5 prospective and a counselor of children perspective. So please do not take what I say as medical advice, and always check with your doctor if you have questions or concerns or before making any major changes in your child’s diet.
Now that we have that disclaimer out of the way, let’s get back to kids and blood sugar levels. You have probably seen this in your own home – you give your kids a soda or a high sugar snack and they get really energized, and then they get cranky and want more. They have had a spike in blood sugar, which gives them a bunch of energy, but then instead of returning to normal they often crash lower than normal, making them cranky.
The other thing that I often see is kids getting too hungry and parents miss that cue, so kids get grumpy, defiant, sluggish and whiney and the parents think it is just bad behavior. One of the first things I always ask my kids when they start to show signs of crankiness, is “when is the last time you ate and what did you eat” (this is of course if I don’t know the answer). More often than not, the kids have not eaten for a couple of hours, or the last thing they had was mostly carbohydrate with little or no protein.
As parents, and maybe even as a society in general, we vastly underestimate the importance of regular snacks and the quality of those snacks and how they impact behavior. I see so many people get stuck on the idea of 3 meals/day with no snack in between. Our bodies typically don’t function best that way, especially kids’ bodies. Dips and spikes in blood sugar equal dips and spikes in behavior. I know that I am absolutely that way. I have often told people “don’t talk to me until I get something to eat”, because I get terribly cranky when my blood sugar drops. In fact, my body is similar to many kids in that I don’t usually feel the pangs of hunger, I feel grumpy and moody which means I need to eat. Kids don’t often recognize hunger, but as parents we recognize the grumpy and moody in our kids!
Over the years, I have found it to be immensely helpful to really pay attention to my kids’ food, and in turn I see a dramatic improvement in their behavior. Don’t watch the clock and tell them they can’t possibly be hungry because they just ate. That is the silliest thing I have ever heard. We are hungry when we are hungry. Sometimes our metabolism is faster and sometimes slower depending on other factors that are going on. So, when you see your child’s behavior deteriorating, before punishing them think about if low blood sugar might be the culprit.
Make sure to combine protein with carbs to balance out the spikes and drops in blood sugar. Carbs are the easy part – fruit, crackers, chips, the kinds of things we often use for snacks. Of course, some of these are healthier than others, but I am a realist! Do the best you can to keep snacks as healthy as you can, but as soon as you say “we will never eat this”, or “we will only eat these foods”, you are setting yourself up for trouble. Protein can require a little more thoughtfulness. I like to have several choices on hand when possible – things like string cheese, yogurt, almonds, pumpkin seeds, jerky, or some type of protein drink. Only keep things in the house that you are ok with your kids eating, that way there is not a power struggle over keeping kids away from foods you don’t want them to eat. I keep things like seeds, nuts and fruit within easy reach on the countertop, and let the kids graze on them as much as they would like. I also have a bag or two of chips in the pantry, and let the kids know that they are welcome to those snacks as well, but when they are gone there won’t be any more until next week when I get to the market again. Funny, they seem to be choosing the less healthy things less and less the more they get used to having healthy things in their bodies.
Just try it out – try making sure your kids eat every 2-3 hours. Make sure they get a good dose of healthy protein in the morning before they head out for school. If they start getting cranky, try a little snack first before punishment (even if you think they can’t possibly be hungry). Try it out for yourself as well and see if your moods are more stable. It is amazing how our moods and behavior can be improved by improving our diets!
Call or email me to schedule an appointment for personalized coaching on parenting.
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              I see many parents and their children in my practice.  They come to therapy for a variety of different reasons, but a common theme I see is the need for a sense of humor when it comes to parenting.  Don’t get me wrong, I know what a serious responsibility it is to raise a kid, I have 5 of my own.  There is so much pressure to have kids that are well behaved, smart, polite, athletic, artistic, spiritual, creative, etc.  And when we don’t have the perfect child, we know as parents that it is somehow our fault no matter what anyone says.  Or maybe I am the only one who feels the pressure?

              Something that has helped me immensely is to lighten up and have a sense of humor, both with myself and with my kids.  Over and over I will have a kid in my office who does something that the parent finds annoying, and I can smile or even laugh.  It’s easy for me right, they are not my kid!  That’s the point.  We need to step back sometimes and not take everything so personally and seriously.  For example, next time your kids has a perfectly illogical reason for why he/she just couldn’t get their room cleaned, sit back and admire their creativity rather than instantly getting angry.  Smile, laugh even!  Come on, you know it’s funny!  They are not going to turn out to be a criminal because you found humor in some of their crazy excuses for not getting things done or why something happened.  They still need to get their room cleaned, obviously, but compliment them on their entertaining creativity and thank them for making you smile.

              When one of my kids was young, he used to tell me he couldn’t eat broccoli because it “skinnied his chin”.  I could not get any further explanation as to what he meant or where he got that idea, so I just went with it.  I told him that of course he shouldn’t eat broccoli then because that could be a problem if his chin kept getting skinnier.  No fight, no trying to convince him otherwise, and no tears.  Any time I served broccoli I just didn’t give him any, and the family all knew that for whatever reason it was a problem for him, and we just let it be ok.  It kind of became a family joke which he took part in and we all could see the humor while still respecting that this was important to him.

              Several years later when I made broccoli he decided to try some totally on his own.  He ate some, and decided it was not so bad – not great like chocolate, but not bad.  We finally realized that when I put lemon juice on the broccoli, he was trying to explain that it STUNG his chin he just didn’t have the right word!  That is one of our great family jokes and one of his favorite stories that we love to remember and laugh about now! 

              My point is, some things just aren’t worth the fight, and can bring some humor into your lives.  I could have chosen to believe that he was being rigid and defiant and insisted he eat the broccoli because I am the mom and I said so, which would have made all of us miserable.  I knew that something real was happening for him even if I didn’t understand it, and I just let it be ok. 

              Take a step back; relax.  You are not going to fail your child if you loosen up a little bit and laugh at some of the craziness that goes on in your house.  Save the fight for another day; for something worth fighting over.  For today, see if you can choose laughter.


Pregnancy is a big deal!  I remember being so worried with my first pregnancy – was I eating the right things, was I getting enough exercise, should I be playing classical music next to my ever-growing belly?  I quit drinking any caffeine, which I have to say was not pleasant!  I tried to eat vegetables – and if you knew me you would know what a challenge that was!  I was afraid to swear anymore in case my baby could hear me and one of his first words would not be mommy, but something with 4 letters!  Let’s face it, we get a little crazy when we realize we are starting at ground zero growing a human being inside of us!

There is a lot of advice for your physical health during pregnancy, but not so much for your emotional health and that of your baby.  Here are a few suggestions for you to maintain or regain a sense of emotional well-being during your pregnancy.

o   Pick several times during the day to do some mindful breathing.  Take 4 deep breaths, counting to 4 each time you breathe in and count to 4 each time you exhale.  Do this when things are going well, which will make it easier to do when things are challenging.  Science shows that this kind of breathing has numerous benefits, one of which is helping us come back to our center.

o   When you begin to feel stressed, take a few seconds and remind yourself that you are safe, that you have shelter from the weather, that you have access to food and water, and that you are not under physical threat.  When you do this, it helps calm the part of your brain that goes into fight or flight mode, and then you have access to the calmer, more thoughtful, more compassionate part of your brain.  This way you are not as likely to get caught in panic, and you can think things through easier.

o   When you get stressed, depressed, anxious, angry, etc., start giving names to your feelings.  Just by naming what you are feeling you are helping yourself to calm.  Do not attach any judgment to the feelings, just recognize them by naming them, and perhaps whisper a soft “ok”.  You will be amazed how helpful it is to recognize and not reject what you are feeling.  Then your feelings don’t have to keep getting bigger in order to get noticed.

These may not seem like big, earth shattering ideas, and might even seem deceptively simple.  Don’t let that fool you.  These strategies are based on volumes of scientific research.  Sometimes the seemingly simple things are the most effective.  Try them, I would love to hear about your experience.





There’s nothing like raising a teenager to make you doubt your sanity, your intelligence, even your self-worth! It is amazing to me how 1 person can have such a profound impact on our sense of who we are. All of a sudden I find myself wondering if I really do know anything about life. Have I really even lived at all? Do I really know what I know? How could I have survived so long being so stupid?

Sound familiar? Yes, this is the same child you rocked and fed and adored, the same child you played ball with, that you made cookies with, whom you read countless books to, that you stayed up with all night when they had a fever. But somehow all of those loving feelings fly right out the window when the teenager wakes up in the morning (or should we say afternoon), and is furious with you because he thinks you lost his favorite shirt in the laundry. But that is nothing compared to his wrath if you should bring up his grades or his study habits at the wrong moment. It is as if you never went to school, never took a test, and you don’t know a thing about him!

To be fair, not all teenagers are this bad, and most of them are only this bad sometimes. It’s the sometimes that are so tough to deal with. It’s a lot easier to deal with a 2 year old throwing a tantrum. They don’t have the vocabulary and the knowledge that the teenager does. Teenagers are smart. They know where our buttons are and how hard to push them. They have learned a little bit about the world and throw out just enough information that make us doubt our own argument and our own perspective. And then we either fight back and get into a raging argument that goes nowhere, or we run to the closet in tears, hoping no one else sees us.

There have been a couple of things that have helped me through this difficult stage. The first thing is to remember that this is exactly what teenagers are supposed to do. They are supposed to strike out on their own, to find their own voice, to pull away and become more independent. It helps me to feel one step ahead if I can say to myself “perfect, he was supposed to disagree with me. He is right on track”. Thinking those things also helps me not get caught up in the content of what is being said, especially when he/she is attacking me where it hurts. Internally I have a voice that reminds me that my child is healthy and growing even though it is not pleasant on my end. When children are overly compliant and voice no opinions of their own, that’s when there is a problem. These are the kids who are more at risk to succumb to peer pressure and do things they don’t necessarily want to do because they have no practice at speaking up and having an opinion. When I remember this, it makes it easier to let my kids practice arguing with me. I know that this will help them find their own voice out in the world.

The other thing that has helped me is the mantra “they are not for or against me”. I know that sounds really simple, but it has been a lifesaver for me. So often I take things personally, as if a person, a situation or an event is either for me or against me. “The reason it rained is because someone didn’t want me to go to the lake today. The reason I didn’t get that job is because someone wanted me to learn a lesson.” Sound familiar? It’s the same with a teenager. “The reason he is yelling at me is because he hates me. The reason she tried alcohol is because she wanted me to look like a bad parent.” That line of thinking is a bunch of nonsense. It had nothing to do with me. It had everything to do with the teenager’s normal developmental stage. The teenager is not for me nor against me. She is for herself and finding out who she is as an individual.

I am not suggesting that anything really makes it easy going through this difficult stage, but keeping in mind that it is a normal stage, even a positive one, and to stop taking it so personal can help make it more bearable. There is another side. It will pass. Keep breathing. Cherish the moments of peace because they are there, sometimes we just forget to notice them.


I have been a parent for 20 years, and if nothing else, I have learned how flawed I am as a human being.  And I’m ok with that.  I love owning that I am flawed – it relieves so much pressure.  I have also learned that the best think I can do for my kids is to show them how to live as a flawed person on this planet rather than try to be a perfect parent.  I used to think I had to model for my kids how to be perfectly grounded and emotionally balanced, how to always be selfless and generous, how to always be in control, and to always have a great attitude.  Well, let’s just say I am not all those things all the time, so all it did was teach my kids that I was good at faking a lot of things.  Not really something I want my kids to value – being a fraud.  So here are a few things I am teaching my kids instead:

1.      There is a lot of processing that goes on in my head before I know what to do.  To let my kids in on the way I figure things out, instead of keeping the process in my head I do it out loud.  Now, be prepared, when you start talking out loud to no one in particular, you are going to get some funny looks and your kids might slowly back away from you in an attempt to move to safety.  But seriously, they can’t read our minds.  So how will they know how to mull things around, or how to process different options if we keep it to ourselves?  It does our kids no favors for them to think that we always have the right answer instantly.  They will always feel like they are not smart enough or not quick enough to figure problems out.  Let them in on the secret – there is a lot of thinking that goes on before we have answers.  Think out loud in front of them.  If nothing else, it will provide some entertainment!

2.     Sometimes I am cranky and it has nothing to do with them.  I don’t know why, but in the past, I had a hard time owning when I was grumpy.   I felt the need to blame it on something or someone, which was usually my kids.  If they would just be quieter or if their room wasn’t so messy or if they weren’t so dang picky then I wouldn’t be grumpy!  The truth is, sometimes I am just cranky.  Usually it’s because I am tired or hungry, and sometimes I have no idea at all why, but now I own it.  As soon as I realize I am out of sorts, I own it and tell my kids that it’s not about them, but I am a little cranky so they might want to give me a little space.  I am trying to teach them we don’t always have to blame someone else when we are upset (as satisfying as that might be).  I am not always happy and content, and that’s ok. 

3.     It’s ok for my kids to see how I get grounded.  I have been meditating for about 12 years now, and in the beginning, I thought I had to do it when no one was watching.  I have no idea why, maybe I was just self-conscious, but if I heard someone coming down the hall when I was meditating I would jump up quickly and pretend like I was doing something else.  How silly is that?  Now I tell my kids – “I need a few minutes to meditate and get centered”, and I go in my room and do just that.  If someone comes in, I don’t jump up, I continue meditating.  I suppose it’s about being afraid I am going to be made fun of or being insecure, which apparently, we never outgrow!  I have decided it’s worth the risk of being laughed at though, in order to model for my kids something that really helps me achieve more balance in my life.

4.     Sometimes even moms say unkind things about people.  We try to teach our kids to always be kind and not say mean things, and that is an excellent thing to teach.  And sometimes even moms fall short and say not nice things about someone.  Yes, I may have made the occasional snarky comment about a supermodel looking woman obviously having too much time to spend in front of the mirror, or clearly never having been pregnant, and my kids may have heard said comments.  So, I swallow my pride and admit that I only said those things out of envy because I really wish my stomach didn’t look like it had been stretched out 5 times well beyond its capacity.  I am not saying that we excuse unkind words or let them be ok.  I’m saying that we all do it, and rather than pretending that we don’t, let’s show our kids how to own our words and make repairs when necessary.  When I say something less than nice, I almost always say something like “wow that was really mean.  I think I will just keep my words to myself until I have something worth saying.”  Or I admit that I’m feeling a little unworthy in some way, but that’s no excuse for bringing someone else down.  If we don’t show our kids what to do when we make a mistake, it’s not going to prevent them from making mistakes, it’s going to prevent them from making things right. 

I love being a mom.  I love it even more when I realize that being a mom doesn’t mean I have to be perfect.  Being a mom means I get to show my kids how to handle imperfection in the most graceful way I can.  I guess when you really thing about it, we have an obligation to make mistakes just so we can teach our kids how to learn from them!  How awesome is that?


parent bowling with child happy            I recently read something that compared parenting to sales.  The book was totally unrelated to parenting, so at first I didn’t really think too much about it, but later the concept started to nag at me. Are parents really salespeople?  How do I feel about that?  Am I offended? Am I curious?  What does that really mean?

            To be honest, my immediate response was that I was offended.  As parents I thought we were supposed to lead, educate, mold, and discipline our children, aren’t we?  We show them by example and when they don’t get the hint then we TELL them what to do.  We don’t wait for them to decide they are going to buy into this being an obedient kid thing, we expect them to do it.  I admit it, that was my parenting ego jumping in and asserting her opinion.  It was also a stereotypical view of a pushy, slick salesperson.  I am a parent, not a slick salesperson who has no morals and just wants me to buy something I don’t need! 

            After a few seconds of being on my soapbox, I stepped down and let my higher self weigh in on the conversation.  That’s the part of me that looks at things with curiosity and less judgment.  I decided to expand my idea of salespeople.  Yes, there are those who don’t listen and just come in with lots of practiced lines and don’t relent until you either buy something or you have to get downright rude to get rid of them.  But that’s not what good sales is all about.  Sales is about getting in your customer’s shoes, taking on his/her perspective, and seeing what their needs are.  A good sales person will look at things from your perspective and then find the best fit for your needs.  They will follow up to see how things are going and attempt to correct any problems.  They will be polite, respectful and friendly.  Of course, their aim is to sell you something because that is how they make their living.  But if they sell you a defective product or something you hate, then how likely are you to go back to them or recommend them to someone else?  Their livelihood depends in large part upon their reputation, repeat customers and referrals.  So, it doesn’t make sense for them to sell you something you will hate and then tell everyone you know that they are terrible.  The basic idea is that you do want to buy something which is why you are there (unless we are talking about telemarketers, which we are not), so why not find the product or service that best fits your needs?

            Let’s look at those ideas in terms of parenting.  I absolutely think as parents we need to walk in our children’s shoes frequently.  As adults, our brains and emotions work one way, and our children’s brains and emotions work differently.  If we try to impose the logic of our more evolved brain to that of a much less evolved brain we are not likely to get the results we want.  For example, if we tell our 6th grader he needs to get good grades because it will benefit him in the future, we aren’t likely to get a lot of buy-in because the part of their brain that can plan for the future is still developing.  Some kids might get this concept, but for the most part their world is much more immediate until that part of their brain develops more, which won’t be until their early 20’s.  It’s not his fault and he is not purposely being difficult, the wiring just isn’t there.  So, a good salesperson would take on the perspective of someone who needs more immediate reasons to get good grades because that’s what their biology requires.

            What about the toddler who has a tantrum at the market?  Our goal is to get them to behave and not cause a scene, right?  We are trying to “sell” them on the idea of being polite in the market.  Being a good salesperson, we would look at things from her perspective and figure out what she needs to “buy” our idea.  First, is she hungry?  Adults can put off being hungry but a toddler can’t.  Her blood sugar levels affect her greatly, and she has no control over her behavior if her blood sugar is too low.  Also, if she is hungry, that’s a little mean to take her to a place full of what she needs but tell her she can’t have it.  Her world is still limited to food, nurturing, and emotions that she can’t control.  Her body is simple – feed it frequently, give it lots of rest and lots of activity.  As a salesperson wanting her to buy into the idea of behaving at the market, it is our job to make sure her body has what it needs first.  She depends on us for this; she is not yet able to do it herself. 

            Checking in after the “sale” as a parent doesn’t mean getting your kid’s approval on your parenting.  To me it means checking to see how they are doing, what’s going on in their world so that we can continue to see life through their eyes.  If we know they are being teased at school it makes their moody behavior at home much more understandable.  We can then figure out the “product” that is the best fit for them.  Maybe they need some help with self-esteem.  Or maybe they need help with some words for when they get teased.  Or maybe it is more serious and we need to step in.  The point is, knowing their need helps us adjust our parenting to fit the situation.  And then we can check in to see if the intervention or “product” is working, or if we need to adjust something. 

            I think too often we miss the very basics of being friendly, polite and respectful.  We want to make sure we are seen as their parent and the one in charge. Since when does that mean being rude and unfriendly?  I am much more likely to follow a leader who is respectful and friendly to me than I am someone who is a jerk.  Our kids are no different.  They respond to being treated kindly.  Fear of parents is not the same as respect.  Fear will only go so far.  If you want them to “buy” something, don’t alienate them right off the bat by talking to them in a way that immediately shuts them down or puts them on the defensive.  You want them to stay engaged, to listen to you.  Talk to them in a manner that would make you want to listen.  It will probably work with them as well.

            Perhaps the idea of being salespeople is not that far off.  At the very least, borrowing some tools from the sale profession might help us be better parents. I think the things we are trying to instill in our kids will last a lot longer if we set up the conditions for them to want to buy what we are selling.  This is not to replace the times when discipline is required, or in other unusual circumstances. In general, though, just like salespeople who have several different products, we have a lot to offer as parents, and finding the best way to offer that to our children can’t hurt. 


For more parenting help give me a call or send me an email.  I would love to help!

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC

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woman standing in field golden hour            Even under the best of circumstances coordinating all the things that go along with parenting can be tough – doctor’s appointments, sports practices, school activities, play dates etc.  Who is going to pick Tommy up after school and take him to soccer and who is going to take care of dinner and who is going to make it to the parent teacher conference is a never-ending situation to figure out.  Now add in the fact that the two parents making these decisions are no longer married because their relationship fell apart, and an already tough situation just became almost impossible at times. 

            Despite the challenges, finding a way to share parenting with your child’s other parent is important for the emotional well-being of your child.  Research shows that children from divorced families do much better emotionally when the parents can have a good co-parenting relationship.  Sounds reasonable, right?  “But you don’t know my ex” – said most divorced parents at some point!  “We couldn’t get along when we were married, what makes you think we can get along now?”  Or, “If we could have communicated well enough to parent together when we were married we wouldn’t be divorced!”  Sound familiar?  Here are some ways to help.  I did not say here are some ways to make it wonderful, or easy, or blissful, just some ways to help. 

1.      Refer to your ex as your child’s dad or your child’s mom rather than your ex.  This sounds rather minor, but it can really cause a shift in your thinking and your attitude.  Your “ex” brings with it all the thoughts and feelings of a marriage gone bad.  It has a major negative connotation, and only servers to perpetuate resentment, grief and all the other negative feelings that come from a divorce.  So, use that word less, if at all.  Instead, replace it with Tommy’s dad, or Tommy’s mom.  Usually this phrase is not so loaded with negative feelings as “ex”. 

2.     Figure out the best way to communicate with your child’s other parent.  It might take a while before you feel like you can speak face to face without it ending badly.  That’s ok.  It might send you over the edge just hearing that person’s voice on the phone.  That’s ok too.  Give yourself the time you need, and figure out another way.  Maybe email is best for a while, or texting.  Whatever you do, just don’t have your child be the messenger.  Use a friend if you need to, just not your child.  Be honest with yourself about what you can handle, knowing that eventually it will change.  If you push yourself to communicate in a way that you are not ready for you will just create more animosity and your child will suffer for it.  It’s ok to not want to hear his/her voice for a while.  Find what works for you.

3.     As hard as it may be at times, ask the other parent for feedback when you offer a solution or present an idea.  If you think your child would benefit from some tutoring at school, or that he/she would like a summer camp, present the idea and then ask the other parent what they think.  That’s just common respect.  No one wants to be told that something is going to happen with their child without being asked for their opinion.  Would you want the other parent to TELL you your child is going to summer camp for underwater basket weaving without being asked what you think?  I doubt it.  So, give the other parent the same courtesy.  It will go a long way towards being able to work through other situations.

4.     Make transitions easier.  Make sure your child has the essentials at each house so they don’t feel like they are moving in and out every few days.  This is their home, they are not staying at a hotel.  Sure, they may have comfort things or favorite clothes that they want to take back and forth, but that should be because they choose it, not because they have to.  You would not want to have to pack up every few days, would you?  Making it as easy on your kids as possible will make the transitions easier, which will cause less friction between you and the other parent.

5.     Own your own stuff.  Pay attention to your own feelings around transition times so that you can take care of yourself.  No matter how much you want your kids back, it can be hard to go from a quiet house to a noisy one.  Prepare yourself mentally for the kids to come back, have a cup of tea right before they come back, have some kind of ritual that signals to your nervous system that things are going to change so that you don’t get stressed and cranky.  If you are still really angry about the divorce it can be tempting to want to hear all the bad things that happened while the kids were with the other parent.  Acknowledge that to yourself, and then just smile.  No need to judge yourself, it’s normal to want to compare yourself with the other parent.  If you acknowledge this, you are less likely to grill the kids for dirt on the other parent.  If you don’t acknowledge it there is a bigger chance you will have conversations with your kids aimed at tearing down the other parent, which may feel good to you in the short term but will be damaging to the whole family in the long run. 

For more help navigating divorce and co-parenting call me to set up a time to talk.  Getting support can be one of the most useful things you can do. 

Gwen Bartran, MA, LPC
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