Are Your Kids Ready for High School? Are YOU?

Parents…being the smart, mature and capable adults we are… likely think we’re aces when it comes to preparing our teenagers to begin or return to high school this month. And we’d be right.

What we might fail to do, however, is prepare ourselves for the ongoing rigor of helping teens navigate the newfound independence of high school without losing sight of our parenting values – or our commitment to intentional parenting. So here’s a primer for just for you!

Stay out of the way but not out of the picture.  High school is the time when teens need to build self-efficacy and resilience – in matters both academic and social. When parents rush in with a fully realized solution at the first blush of conflict or struggle, it undermines a teen’s ability to figure solutions out for themselves. So give them appropriate tools and language and let them have the first pass at fixing a problem they’ve encountered. After they’ve tried, failed and reached out for more support, then you can intervene with alternative solutions.

Of course there’s a middle ground, here. You want to give them the autonomy to flex their problem-solving muscles, but stay present enough so that you know what’s going on. Regarding school, for example, many parent portals let you set a threshold for when you’re to be notified of dipping grades or problematic behaviors. So stay present…just don’t hover.

Another way to help your kids develop adult chops is to exercise your listening skills more than your talking skills. Sometimes, kids just want and need to vent. When you reflect back to them what they’ve said, they might just find the answer themselves.

Get OK with not being the “cool” parents.  Recently a client expressed concern that he’d lost control of family time this summer once his son graduated from middle school. His son was “informing” his parents about his weekend plans – as if he was the boss of himself.  Adolescents navigating greater social freedom and increasingly central peer relationships still need to ask, not tell, parents about plans.

When kids are 14 – parents are still the boss. And while it may not be “cool” to insist on knowing where your kids are, one of the unspoken pacts you made with them when they were born is that you would keep them safe.

Whatever your family rules are for being kept informed about where and when, it’s important that there are consequences for kids who veer. It’s enough to say, “If I can’t count on you to be where you say you will be, then you’ve forfeited your privilege to spend time with your friends next weekend.”  Many kids will learn that lesson with just one correction, but be prepared to have to dish it out more than once if necessary.

The start of high school is also a prime opportunity to restate your values regarding the importance of family time, too. Most every parent wants their kids to have good times with their friends, but it doesn’t need to be at the expense of family cohesion. Now is the time to restate that – aloud. (This, too, will likely bear repeating)

Bottom line, transition back to school is hard – for teens and parents. Staying flexible, being observant, pivoting when necessary and listening to your teens will go a long way to making the school year manageable and enjoyable for all.

Four Issues that Call for Co-Parenting 2.0

So here you are. You’ve been divorced for several years…the kids are growing up and doing well…and all’s well with co-parenting 1.0, right?

My guess is that like most divorced couples, your co-parenting arrangement underwent a bit of tweaking once you started living the realities of the plan you made in the mediator’s or attorney’s office. A co-parenting arrangement that worked for a couple of toddlers doesn’t always meet the demands and desires of school-aged kids with busier lives filled with extra-curricular activities. Then there are those unexpected life events that require an on-the-spot adjustment, like grandparents or good friends who announce a surprise visit on a weekend you don’t have the kids.

In healthy relationships post-divorce, co-parents willingly extend flexibility and consideration, especially when the “ask” is in the best interests of the kids. In fact, that’s the most important tenet of any co-parenting relationship: the mutual and agreed-upon desire to keep the kids front-and-center whenever there is a decision or alteration to be made.

Coparenting 2.0 issues generally fall into four categories:

1. Custodial

2. Medical

3. Financial

4. Relational.

Let’s take them one by one.

Custodial.  Healthy co-parents know that in terms of attachment, in terms of feeling safe, in terms of learning to trust…it is in the best interest of children to have a healthy relationship with both parents. After all, a child’s relationship with his or her parents is the fulcrum on which many of their adult decisions will rest. So when it comes to changes to who-stays-with-whom-and-when, every parent should advocate for an arrangement that considers the long-term effect on kids if they don’t have substantive time with both parents.

Problems can arise when co-parents get confused between what’s right for them versus what’s right for the kids. Even if your desire is to have the kids 100% of the time and your ex is fine with it – reconsider. Obviously parents need to assess their feelings about their spouse’s competencies as a parent. But simply because one parent was working while the other cared for the kids is not reason enough to insist on primary or sole custody. The “working” parent, with some coaching and trial-and-error, will likely turn out to be an effective parent.

If you and your co-parent are struggling in your relationship, I know it can be challenging to respond fairly when the unexpected arises. And yet I’m going to be emphatic here: Do not let your personal ill feelings or a punitive mindset affect your decision-making.

Let’s say your ex wants to take the kids on a fun camping trip, but the only weekend he could reserve a campsite is for one of your weekends. If you’re still smarting from a real or perceived slight, you may think refusing to accommodate is punishing your co-parent. But it’ll be the kids who bear the brunt of the punishment – not your ex. The question is not, “Why should I go out of my way for him?” but rather, “Is what my ex is proposing a good experience for my kids?” Deal with your feelings with your spouse – by all means — but don’t let them get in the way of making the right choice in the end.

Medical.  When it comes to the health and safety of our children, most co-parents get on the same page stat in an emergency or with a life-threatening illness; there’s just too much at stake to quibble. There are a couple of outlier situations that can arise, however.

The first has to do with parental decisions regarding important but non-emergency medical interventions such as physical or occupational therapy, vaccines, or other elective interventions. These issues can be challenging even for married couples whose values may not align, but are often exacerbated post separation.

The second issue is when one co-parent’s religious or other beliefs radically change post agreement, resulting in them no longer believing in treating even grave illnesses and/or preferring an untraditional (or unproven) approach. Since the ethics and repercussions of such decision can be far-reaching, co-parents may need to work with a mediator or even the courts to come to a sound decision.

 

Financial.  There are two reasons that can make finances a source of friction for co-parents:

1.    Money is a fraught topic for many – married or not

2.    Kids get more expensive every year

Co-parents generally agree on the big buckets in their initial agreement: spousal support; living expenses; gift buying; college funds. As kids age, however, they often uncover unique talents, expensive interests or develop special needs, all of which begs the question: Who pays for what?

Then there are issues like these:

·      Your ex gets a new job or a big bonus payout, is it appropriate that he or she pick up more of the extraneous childrearing expenses?

·      Your parent dies and leaves you a larger-than-anticipated estate. Do you owe any of that to your ex? Or should it impact your contributions to expenses?

These are a few of the financial reconsiderations scenarios that may affect your co-parenting agreement as time passes. If you can hash them out with your ex over a cup of coffee, that’s great. If need be, though, a conversation with a mediator or therapist can be helpful – particularly if, as with all things co-parenting, you keep the best interests of your children top-of-mind.

Relational.

When your kids become teens, sometimes even co-parenting 22.0 won’t help. At 16, kids can vote with their feet (or request an Uber). In truth, parents need to honor teens’ desires to make decisions about where they want to stay. If they’re responding to a packed high school schedule and simply can’t afford the time to schlep and readjust at parent #2’s house, give them some slack. But if they’re being intentionally injurious to the other parent and can’t or won’t work with you to figure out a plan to deal with their feelings, then it’s likely time for a therapeutic intervention of some sort.

Be mindful of your own projection, too. One client believed she was “supporting her kids feelings” when they didn't want to go to their father’s for the agreed-upon weekends. To her credit, she eventually realized that it was her own rejection of her ex that was motivating her.

The other huge relational variant is when one or both co-parents begin dating. A 2.0 agreement setting some basic parameters you can both agree on can be really helpful in avoiding surprises. For example:

·      If kids are younger than X, no partner visits or overnights when the children are present

·      No introducing partners to the kids until 6 months into relationship

·      “My house, my rules” rules

Sometimes non-dating co-parents feel badly when their exes start to see other people. Here more than ever, whenever you’re faced with a decision be sure to ask yourself “Who’s interest am I really thinking about…mine or the kids?”

While it can be hard to believe in the first few years post-divorce, I know many people who have become friendly with their exes once again – and who even like and appreciate their ex’s new partner (myself included).

If you keep a few basic truths in mind when in discussions with your co-parent, I promise it will be best for everyone:

·      Treat your co-parent with respect – just as you want to be treated

·      Even if you can’t stand your ex, remember that you both love your children and want the best outcome for them

·      Know your kids are watching you and developing their values about relationships by your actions

·      Don’t trash your co-parent in front of the kids. I guarantee you’ll never regret not telling your kids how you suffered in the marriage

Being a co-parent can certainly be more logistically complicated, but when you are mindful and intentional about your decisions and actions, everyone fares better. 

3 Rules for Acing the College Selection Process

If you’re the parents of a high-school junior, right about now your family is gearing up for the trip to crazy town that is the modern college-selection process. Determining the right set of colleges to apply to when senior year rolls around can be harrowing if you follow the crowd and fixate on securing a spot at one of the elite schools that only a teeny-tiny fraction of applicants achieve.

As an alternative, I offer the Dana Hirt Promise: You can help your child navigate (and master) the process with relative ease – and distance yourself from its nuttier aspects – by following three key rules:

Rule #1.  Understand that crafting the perfect resume guarantees nothing…except potentially an overwhelmed, burned out kid.

Rule #2.  Empower your teen to take the reins.

Rule #3.  Make “fit” – not college ranking -- the focus of the selection process.

Bonus Advice: Consider this recommendation you may find surprising.

Rule #1 is self-explanatory – and I implore you to take it to heart. Why? Because much of the time, the college admissions process is an exceedingly subjective and arbitrary one. Idiosyncratic and institution-specific, there’s just no way to game the system. This is not to say that achievement of all kinds in high school is not important. Naturally good grades, club involvement, leadership activities and all the rest are great! They just don’t guarantee acceptance letters. 

Rule #2 is a win-win-win. First, empowering teens to take the reins of the college investigation and selection process gives them the opportunity to work to the limit of their developmental ability on a long-term, multi-faceted endeavor.

The second win is this: The more students have a voice and vote in determining the schools they apply to (and ultimately attend), the better their chance of success. In my personal and professional experience, students who had a true say in their college selection had a higher tolerance for the tough times that inevitably surface during a college career.

Lastly, parents win by keeping your family off the roller-coaster. Your role, strategically, is to help your teen develop a structure for the project and offer guardrails when he veers off course.

Here’s the most important rule of all: Leverage your experience and expertise by helping everyone keep their eyes on the prospective student’s temperament, interest and abilities – the essentials for Rule #3’s all-important idea – “FIT.”

Considering there are approximately 3,000+ 4-year colleges and universities in the United States alone, finding the right schools to apply to is a daunting task.

But not if you and your teen put ‘fit’ at the top of your agenda.

Parents and teens alike need to ignore the plethora of lists that rank a university’s cache and desirability and focus on FIT. Here are the most fundamental and personal criteria:

Personality and interests. Challenge your high schooler to write down the key aspects of their personality and interests. After outlining their temperament, interests, and wants and needs, the things that matter in this category are setting (suburban, rural or city-based); geography (distance / ease of travel home); social scene (love Greek life or hate it?); and culture (religious school, traditional institution, liberal/conservative). Campus visits are hugely instructive when it comes to finding a school that “fits.” I remember my eldest son was on one campus for just 10 minutes before he knew it wasn’t for him. The school he eventually went to? He felt “at home” immediately. Empower kids to trust their instincts and ‘listen’ to how they feel on campus.

Make campus visits more economical by viewing “like” campuses closer to home. For example, a large state university campus looks and feels a lot like all the others (flora and weather aside) – certainly enough alike to give your teen a sense of what to expect. Likewise with a technical college. Better to save your traveling dollars for specialized schools, as well as those your child has a strong interest in.

Academic interests. When kids know what degree they’re after, then the smartest option is to pick the schools with the best academic department in that field that he or she can get into – even if the school’s overall ranking is lower. If your teen is unsure of a major, consider Malcolm Gladwell’s theory of “relative deprivation,” which he describes in his book David and Goliath: Underdogs, Misfits and the Art of Battling Giants. From a college admissions standpoint, the theory purports that students who end up in the top 10% of a lesser-tier school fare much better than those who end up at the bottom 30% of a top-tier school they just squeaked into.

Money. Finances are always a part of the equation. That’s why I advocate looking far beyond the top 100 schools to the expansive range of options that will better fit your teen – and likely, be more affordable. Ultimately, your teen’s choices of where to apply will come down to the best combination of fit and finances.

A Few Additional Tips

I googled “college selection process” and immediately received about 10 million hits. Who’s got that kind of time? In addition to you and your teen asking a trusted few who’ve been through the process for their preferred resources and favorite websites, here are a few of mine:

·      Given the ratio of students to guidance counselor at public high schools, many parents pop for an independent consultant to aid the search

·      Many parents, myself included, consider College Confidential an invaluable resource. Check out their parents’ forum.

·      Education First’s Explore America website provides a thorough overview of the college visit

·      The Fiske Guide to Colleges is also a must-read resource

And finally, the promised…

Bonus Advice

Consider the value of a gap year. I outline the many benefits of a gap year and how it can be important for a teen’s development in my blog post on HuffPost, but if you’re time-stretched, here are the highlights:

·      It will help your child become more independent, resilient and capable of weathering and thriving during high times and low

·      Most colleges will accept deferrals for a gap year – and will even defer scholarships

·      The benefits of expanding one’s world view are immeasurable

It may be a tad bumpy, but enjoy this ride. Trust me – your nest will be empty before long.

Just Saying No To Alcohol at Graduation Parties

Mixing booze and high school graduation parties may not be a dilemma for all parents, but it sure has become one for me this year.

 Actually, let me clarify “dilemma.”

I’m super clear about how I feel about alcohol. I’m not in favor. It’s one of my core values (parenting and otherwise). I don’t judge lawful adults who do imbibe; it’s just not for me.

I’m similarly confident when I assert that drinking is not appropriate or beneficial for young people. In fact, it can be quite dangerous physically and psychologically to them and those around them. 

I heartily agree with every one of the 27 Reasons NOT to Serve (or turn a blind eye to) Alcohol at High School Graduation Parties” outlined by Seddon R. Savage, MS, MD and Director of the Dartmouth Center on Addiction and Recovery (and parent of 3).

Then there’s this: Drinking is against the law for those under the age 21, (although there are exceptions).

Trust me, the blinders are off. As an educational therapist and mom parenting in the 21st century, I understand that many high schoolers experiment with drinking – and most college students make a habit of it. But it’s still not something I support or condone.

My own three kids (18, 20 and 23) seem to have a normative relationship with alcohol, drinking in ways I deem responsible. It’s still not ideal from my perspective, but I respect and trust their judgment about alcohol because they’ve given me every reason to do so.

So what, you may ask, is my dilemma?

With apologies in advance to my high school graduate, it is this:

He has been invited to a two-day, un-chaperoned and unsupervised beach house party seven (7) hours drive from home at which there could be up to 30 students – and plenty of booze.

I said No.

My son wasn’t happy. “Everyone is going,” he said. “I’m the only one who isn’t allowed to go!”

Naturally, he noted all the reasons I should let him attend.

1.    He has never gotten overly intoxicated.

2.    He has never had so much as one beer (and this is a hulking 6’, 200+pound guy) and gotten behind the wheel of a car.

3.    He has never missed curfew.

4.    He has never put himself in a dangerous situation.

5.    He has always demonstrated good judgment around alcohol.

He’s right on all counts. While I know my son’s not perfect, all 5 points he made are completely true. But I’m not concerned about him overdrinking.

I’m concerned about the other 29, whose drinking habits, tolerances and values I don’t know.

I’m uncomfortable about the lack of responsible adults (read: parents) anywhere in the vicinity.

I’m uneasy about the distance from home.

I’m exceedingly worried about the proximity to water.

I’m keenly aware of the possible drama of a co-ed weekend trip.

As an adult, I know the potential for catastrophic problems is huge.

On top of all that, precisely because my son is so dependable and has such good judgment, I know he’s going to feel a sense of responsibility if something dangerous or problematic does unfold.

Of course, he’s hoping I change my mind.

The dilemma is that as much as I wish I could…as much as I don’t want him to “miss out” on what he believes is essential to feeling graduated…I have to adhere to my values.

But it’s not easy.

I’m a little surprised to find myself here. After all, I’m a parenting coach, an educational therapist and someone who has tons of parenting confidence. I’m not someone particularly susceptible to parental peer pressure. Yet still, I feel conflicted.

With all my heart I want him to go and be with his friends and celebrate his achievement. But given the conditions, I can’t keep him safe. And that’s still part of my job as his parent.

If I didn’t have to be out of the country that weekend, I actually would find a way to make it tolerable for me so that he could go. Namely, I would drive there and stay at a B&B so I would be nearby if problems arose.

But that’s not the case, so my answer must remain No.

Much to my surprise, a lot of parents are okay with parties like this beachfront fest. They will take turns chaperoning at similar fetes throughout the party season, and presumably watch underage kids consume alcohol.*

Call me old-fashioned, but is a party where drinking is central truly the only way to celebrate one’s high school graduation?

I’m afraid I don’t understand why our society has entwined celebration with alcohol so deeply that most people don’t believe you can do one without the other – even teenagers.

To prove just how binary the association is, my son turned down an offer from his stepmom to host a supervised-but-alcohol-free graduation party at her lake home – complete with swimming pool, tennis court and meals all weekend. “My friends wouldn’t come,” he said simply. Booze is that vital to their idea of fun.

As Dr. Savage so eloquently points out in #17:

·      If there were no alcohol at ANY graduation parties…kids would be just as likely to laugh, dance, make-out, stay up all night, party and have a good time.

I agree.

So here’s my plea as June graduation season rolls around. Let’s all, as parents, “Just say No” to alcohol at graduation parties this year.

And let the fun begin.

 

* Unaware of the risk of serving alcohol to minors? These legal tips for parents hosting graduation parties are most assuredly worth a read

 

** UPDATE:  After I wrote this piece, my son and his friends recognized that I was not the only parent to have serious concerns.  Chaperones are now in place.  Rules have been established. Carpools have been set.  My son and I have discussed my fears; we have reviewed potential scenarios and anticipated consequences.  He gets to have his celebration and I get to keep my peace of mind. 

4 Sleepover Strategies that Make Everyone Sleep Better!

Sleepover myth #1:  If you’ve been led to believe that there is some inherent, not-to-be-missed psychological benefit to sleepovers, you’ve been misled. Sleepovers at a favorite friend’s house are not the only way to navigate your children’s significant developmental milestone of separation.

Here’s another belief buster:  If you hope that by creating the perfect sleepover experience for your children you’ll banish the horrid (or re-live the happy) memories of your own, forget it. As I mentioned in a recent post on millennial parenting, a key aim for parents is to avoid reflexively reacting against one’s own upbringing.

I’m about to break the third leg on the sleepover stool:  Playing with a friend in one’s PJs, eating more treats than usual and brushing teeth side-by-side with a pal are not critical activities for successful socialization. If your child goes to school (or is home-schooled and participates in activities with peers), those needs are being met. Consider siblings and relatives a bonus.

For school-aged kids, sleepovers are essentially extended play dates. With teens, they’re a chance to flex independence muscles. The decision to allow them – or disavow them on safety or other grounds – is entirely up to you.

That’s the huge upside of intentional parenting, which is a largely matter of trusting your instincts and following your values. In situations like whether or not to encourage or permit sleepovers, there is no “right way.” There’s just your way – the way that is reflective of your values and your innate knowledge of your children. Without a developmental imperative at stake, you have the freedom to consider what’s appropriate for your particular kids.

When it comes to deciding if a sleepover is right for your child, remember this maxim: “If you’ve met one kid, you’ve met one kid!” No two children are alike – not even within families.

Say you have a child who, if he or she woke up scared, sick or cold, would be afraid to wake up their friend or their friend’s parents for help. In this scenario, a sleepover wouldn’t be a positive experience – and consequently, one worth avoiding.

But what if you have another child who is flexible, outgoing and embraces change and transitions with ease? For s/he, there’s probably no downside to giving sleepovers a thumbs-up.

Here are 4 sleepover strategies for your consideration:

✔Safety first.

Your children’s wellbeing is paramount. While it may feel awkward, there are important things to ask the hosting parent. This is what would be on my list:

·      Are there guns in your house?

·      Is there anyone living in your home besides your immediate family?

·      Will you be home or are you going out and leaving the kids with a babysitter?

·      Are there controls on accessible computers?

✔Comfort second.

Keep these steps in mind for school-aged children:

·      Consider having the first official sleepover at a cousin’s or other close family’s house where there’s already a sense of safety so your child can learn the lay of sleepover land

·      Ensure kids’ physical and psychological comfort by encouraging them to take along a favorite stuffed animal or other well-loved object, as well as their favorite jammies

·      Your children need to know they are welcome to call home and be picked up for any reason, at any time

✔Preparatory trouble-shooting for teen overnights.

Teens up the ante on several fronts. While some parents may have an entirely different list, these would be my particular additional need-to-knows:

·      Will there be access to alcohol?

·      Do the hosting parents have any specific house rules my teen should know in advance?

·      Will there be other teens there?

·      Will there be teens of the opposite sex there?

·      Will there be unsupervised access to a pool or hot tub?

✔Sleepover hacks worth trying.

Kids generally come home from sleepovers wrecked. They eat abnormally and sleep poorly. And after being on their best behavior at their friend’s house, they resort to their best crabby selves once home. If you prefer your children well-fed, -supervised and/or -rested, mull over these options:

·      Sleepunders offer the perfect solution to sleepovers, as they include all the expected rituals (a kid-friendly dinner, a fun craft, and a movie in pajamas or sleeping bags), after which the guests return home to sleep in their own beds

·      Sleep-away camps, many of which are geared to specific topics (aerospace, theatre, leadership, origami even), give kids tons of independence as well as immersion in one of their interests

·      If your family practices a particular faith, see if there are weekend or overnight “retreats” for youth; these pack a sleepover and reinforce values into a single package

Like many, many decisions you will make as a parent – to sleep over or not to sleep over is just one for which the right answer is the answer that’s right for your children. As I always tell my clients and friends who come to me for parenting advice, make your decisions based on you and your co-parents values and the outcomes you want. When you use those as your guiding principles, just about everything turns out just fine.

 

 

What To Do When Teens Get Mad...and THEY WILL!

One of the issues parents bring up most often in coaching sessions is how to manage their teenager’s anger.

Parents really struggle when their children are upset and angry, particularly, when they are the reason their teens are mad. Let me assure you that parents who are doing their job will inevitably face an angry, disappointed -- maybe even a hateful – teen. It’s all OK. As parents we set limits, we enforce rules, we say No. And let’s face it; teenagers don’t love No as an answer!

What’s most important to remember is that anger is one of the emotions that our children will display…so we need to be prepared to react appropriately to it.

To Do or Not to Do…That Is the Question

There are some basic Dos and Dont’s for standing firm in the face of a teen-produced storm.

First… the DON'T’s.

Don’t attend every fight you’re invited to. As seductive as it may be to get drawn in, remember that you’re the parent. You don’t have to engage just because you’ve been baited.

Don’t try to mollify, manage, shame or blame your teen’s angry feelings. They have a right to their anger (and all their feelings) as long as they don’t act out inappropriately.

…Don’t scream back or respond in kind. Your emotional reaction simply escalates the situation and drives you further from the endgame.

Don’t try to win the debate. There’s no need to convince your teen that you are right or defend your decision. A parent’s say is the final say.

Don’t get physical. Ever.

Don’t be overly rigid. If there’s an opportunity for a win-win, grab it! E.g., They can go out with their friends after Shabbat dinner or their grandparents’ visit, not before.

Don’t make outsized threats you’ll eventually have to walk back from. In the face of unreasonable threats, angry adolescents don’t have the capacity to respond appropriately. Angry threats only heighten the drama.

Don’t give in just to end the fight. Teens have tremendous stamina when it comes to getting their way. When you give in, they win – and you lose your credibility and authority for next time.

Now…the DOs.

 ...Do know your values – and articulate them to your teen. Knowing your values means you know what is worth fighting about.

…Do make sure you understand what they want so you can think through the options, as well as what you want the endgame to be. In every situation, ask yourself, “What’s a good outcome?”

...Do stay calm. Walk away if you need to. If a fight escalates, take your own time out to cool down. You’re entitled to a chance to think about how you want to respond versus simply reacting.

...Do be empathic. Use loving language even if their tone is hateful. You can say things like, “I’m sorry you’re disappointed.” Or “I’m super angry about your behavior – but I still love you.”

...Do provide reality testing. Let them know that their strategy of being abusive or hostile or screaming won’t help them get what they want.

...Do offer choices and options. Give your teen the opportunity to devise a plan that satisfies both family values and rules and their desires.

...Do follow through with consequences. If you issue one, be sure to enforce it. Otherwise your kids will learn they can do whatever they want.

...Do accept that your teens may stay mad at you for a while. After all, to their way of thinking, your decision has ruined their life. Eventually, they will calm themselves down.

As parents, we want to be loved and adored by our children all the time. Sadly, that’s not going to happen. Our kids aren’t automatons or reflections of us. As they struggle with growing up, they push back against us because we’re the safest people in their orbit. It’s our job to stand true to our responsibility for and to them. And most importantly to love them, even (especially) when they are angry at or disapproving of us.

 

If you’re concerned about your teens and anger and want to talk, please call.

Top 4 Parenting Resolutions for 2017

Somewhere in the melee that often accompanies the holidays, I hope you will find a few minutes to consider how you can develop your parenting skills to have a more fulfilling family experience in 2017.

My Top 4 New Year’s Parenting Resolutions have the potential to make you more intentional, confident, tolerant and grateful parents.

 

Resolution #1

Ensure You and Your Co-Parent (Married, Cohabiting or Divorced) Agree on Core Parenting Values

There is no job more significant and challenging than becoming a parent. And yet…what is a bumpy ride in the best of circumstances will feel like a rollercoaster off the rails if co-parents don’t agree to the core values by which they’ll parent and make decisions.

 

Here are some examples:

·      As parents, we will be kind, honest, respectful and supportive of one another and our children – and we will teach our children to do the same.

·      We will not undermine our parenting values in front of the children. If there is a conflict, we’ll go behind closed doors and discuss the situation.

·      No hitting. By anyone, of anyone.

·      As parents, we have the final say; family rules must be respected.

·      Our home will be a safe place, where diversity of opinion and personal needs are valued and honored.

 

If you’ve been parenting for a while, you may believe you’ve established and agreed on your core values, albeit tacitly. I promise that making the process explicit will enervate your collective resolve to parent more effectively and collaboratively.

Obviously you and your partner won’t agree on everything. Some discord is to be expected; after all, you’re unique individuals. But you do need buy-in on the values that matter most. On less-critical topics related to preference or temperament, you can work out how to accommodate the other’s needs. For example, a stay at home parent might be able to tolerate a lot of noise during the day, but is happy to ensure that home is more serene after the workday for a breadwinner who prefers a quieter household.

Naturally, the parenting conversation will continue as your kids age. But don’t wait too long to think through potential problems. I’m a huge proponent of proactively anticipating how you’ll navigate certain issues.

It’s not necessary to determine in Year 1 what you’ll do (in the unlikely event, of course!) that your son or daughter will come home drunk at 15. But when kids hit age 12 or so, that is the time to anticipate, discuss and agree on how you will react if and when it occurs.

Oh – and make sure you communicate your values and red rules to all your frontline caregivers, including family and paid help. They don’t need to agree with your values, but they do need to abide by them.

 

Resolution #2

Spend Less Time Negotiating Rules and Engaging in Verbal Tugs-of-War with Your Kids

If I see one more mom crouched in front of a 5 year-old trying to understand his or her “feelings” in the middle of a tantrum, I’m going to lose it! When we indulge an out-of-his-mind child in a conversation about feelings, we think we’re meeting his needs, but we’re not. What that child needs isn’t, “Use your words.” He needs support and containment.

Likewise with trying to get your kid to agree that your decision is final. Remember Mateo, the precocious child in the Linda, Linda, Listen video? It’s clear who runs the show in that household – and it’s not Linda.

Bottom line, parenting decisions do not require explanation, convincing, clear rationales, justification or proof of fairness.

 “No” is a complete sentence. “Because I said so” is, too.

 I’m not advocating being tyrannical. Certainly there are multiple age-appropriate opportunities for conversation about the family rules. And when my kids need an explanation of why, for example, they couldn’t have a cell phone at age 8, I explained why. What I didn’t do was try to convince them my position was right.

 

Resolution #3

Tolerate Mistakes – Yours, Your Co-Parent’s and Your Kids’

One of the most important lessons you’ll teach your child is to accept their imperfections – and to own up to their missteps when they make them.

All of us make mistakes. Sad to say, it generally takes time – and more than a single infraction – to learn how to moderate and modulate our behavior. That’s where kids need our modeling.

A typical “Dana” mistake is overscheduling. I usually pull it off, but sometimes it comes at a cost. What’s important is owning it – and making sure they see me make better decisions about what I put on my plate.

A frank admission from a parent who errs goes an extremely long way toward helping a tween feel understood. It can be as simple as, “I blew it; that was the wrong call. I’m so sorry. I’ll be more thoughtful next time.”  The more we can model how to own and learn from our mistakes, the more our kids will have the opportunity to do so themselves.

As our kids enter their teens, the stakes get even higher. At that point, our job is to help our kids think through – and avoid -- what could be catastrophic consequences of their inevitable gaffes. If your teen is the rare one who will never pick up a drink, post an unfortunate picture, or have sex, mazel tov. But since most teens will experiment in those areas, I made sure my kids understood several things:

·      If you’re going to drink – don’t drink and drive

·      The internet does not have a reliable delete button

·      If you’re going to have sex – use condoms or take birth control

·      Speaking of sex – don’t do it at a party where someone can videotape you

Tolerating the mistakes of our partner or co-parent? Not so easy, I know. It’s much easier to tolerate one’s own shortcomings – or that of a beloved first-born – than your wife’s or husband’s. What helps is remembering that we love them…and therefore they deserve the benefit of the doubt, too.

 

Resolution #4

Enjoy the Ride

Parenting is the most important job we’ll ever have. Personally, I think there’s nothing better. And I know there’s nothing more challenging.

The ride begins the moment we find out we’re pregnant, start the adoption process or hire the surrogate. That’s often when the fantasy about how our child’s life will unfold begins.

It’s a trap. Truth is, we cannot map out our kids’ lives. There isn’t any advance warning – like the Waze app for drivers – that prepares us for upcoming jam-ups and detours. But the ride can be enjoying and even thrilling all the same.

Some bumps are easy; others…devastating. Imagine a 2nd grader who’s not reading. A 5th grader who is being harshly bullied. A 17-year-old diagnosed with bone cancer.

It’s hard when your child doesn’t following the same trajectory as their peers. Incredibly so. The way to be a fully present and intentional parent is to do all you can to understand the new normal. Live it fully. Accept that it will be a roller coaster. You may not know when the next twist may come, but you know there’s going to be one.

There is no straight line in parenting…and no right way either. When that reality is acknowledged it takes the pressure off.  Perfection is an illusion and the Instagram and Facebook stories we are inundated with are a lie.  We all have those magical moments when everyone in the house is happy and if our lives could be a reel of those isolated moments strung together (oh yeah, that is Facebook!), we would all think life is grand.  But real like is messy and in truth it makes it more fun…and helps to build more resilient kids that can tolerate the inevitable bumps in the road.

I believe that if you do the things that make you a more thoughtful and intentional parent, you’ll feel more confident and enjoy the ride.   

 

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

Why Sexy Halloween Costumes are Scary for Our Daughters

Are your daughters starting to talk about what they’ll be for Halloween this year?

If Yes, I have a straightforward piece of advice. Stop and bring a thoughtful, adult perspective to the discussion.

Bottom line, tweens and teens need to be empowered not to wear costumes that sexualize them before it’s developmentally appropriate.

It won’t be easy.

The trick will be to deftly navigate today’s marketplace.

Sad to say, non-sexualized choices for girls, especially teens, are limited. Most costume shops that start popping up in early September mostly stock whore-ified female versions of male costumes. 

There’s the police officer…and his sexy counterpart (what female cop doesn't wear a mini skirt  and fishnets these days?) The fire fighter…and his sexy counterpart. The ghoul, the chef, the butler, the skeleton, the devil, the doctor, the fill-in-the-blank…and his sexy counterpart. You get the idea.

I can almost hear your daughter’s argument: “But it’s what everyone else is wearing!”

That may be true, but this is the time to confirm your values and firmly weigh in on the decision of what your daughter can wear. When children are allowed to wear sexy clothing – costumed or everyday – not only do others see and treat them as sexual creatures… they see themselves that way as well. And often, far earlier than they are emotionally or developmentally aware enough to deal with the consequences.

Be sensitive to your daughters’ desire to fit in, and by all means, don’t shame her for wanting to wear a sexy costume. Take this opportunity to speak up about the appropriateness of her choices. I’m certainly not advocating we blame the victim, but it’s important to point out to our daughters the message that certain types of clothing send – whether wittingly or not.  It is also important that our daughters feel safe and comfortable in the choices that are made available to them.

A friend asked me a great question on this topic the other day. “At what age should I let my daughter make her own decisions about the clothes she wears?” My response? Parents should probably continue checking in as long as the child lives at home. Discussions about how we present ourselves is really a discussion about the values we hold as parents and that we’re trying to instill in our children.

When we allow our young daughters to leave our homes dressed as mini adult women, we forfeit our right to be aghast when people react to them as such in the outside world.

It’s a tough stance, but our daughters are worth it.