'Parenting Values Primer': Plan Ahead and Be Prepared

I’m seeing pregnant bellies everywhere.

It’s likely not statistically significant. Truth is, I’m navigating my first Fall without a child at home – and I’m missing them. My self-prescribed antidote is to smile broadly at pregnant women I pass on the street and happily greet stroller-bound children at coffee shops. When my enthusiasm began to straddle the line between uber-friendly and creepy, I knew I needed another remedy.

So I turned my attention to all the folks on the very-front-end of the parenting journey and how they must be feeling.

Twenty-three years ago, when the nurses told me I could bring my first son home from the hospital, I distinctly remember thinking they were nuts. Why would they send this helpless infant home with us? Where was the instruction booklet? I sat in the back and gripped the car seat as my husband drove well under the speed limit. I trembled most of the way home.

Mine remains a fairly common experience. Most new parents feel some measure of anxiety, overwhelm and bewilderment. And it’s not all self-induced. New parents are inundated with parenting information (often contradictory), well-meaning advice (always unsolicited) -- and even public admonition (never welcomed).

The best way to stay parenting-steady no matter who’s offering “help” is to establish your own values to parent by. To do this, you and your partner will need to have a conversation – most likely a series of them -- on the values that will govern how you raise your kids.

Here’s an analogy: If you were married within any kind of religious tradition, you likely had to meet with a spiritual advisor to be sure you and your partner were aligned on the core values that impact marriage. You likely covered topics like religion, sex, money, kids, personal ambitions and goals. After all, who wants to find out after you’re married that you and your spouse have radically opposing expectations you can’t possibly reconcile?

Aligning around parenting values takes a similar approach. By reflecting on and discussing your core parenting values in key areas, you’ll have a baseline for a crucial discussion and, eventually, a blueprint by which you can raise your family.

Of course, aligning your parenting values isn’t foolproof – nor will you and your co-parent be in lock-step on every issue. Parenting is a joint responsibility, and each parent has different tolerances. But when it comes to the big issues – as the buckets below suggest – you at least need to be walking within the same guardrails.

Principles of healthy parenting have long been studied by psychologists and academicians, and much sound advice can be found online and in books. Doing a little research and reading might be helpful. But remember – this is your family, and so it is your opinions that count.

Caution: As you and your co-parent navigate the values conversation, be aware of your experiences as children. The natural default is to want to parent exactly like or nothing like the way you were raised. Be mindful of what you want to bring forward – and the issues you’ll likely need support around. 

Here are some key values buckets and thought-starter questions to jumpstart this critical conversation.

 

Pregnancy and birth plan

·      What if you discover your child has special needs in utero?

·      How do you envision the birth process? Do you have a birth plan?

·      Whose decision reigns if the birth mother changes her mind about the birth plan during labor? And who will advocate for her?

·      Who (and what media) is allowed in the birthing room?

Family

·      In what ways will you prioritize the needs of your new family?

·      Will in-laws have open-access to your home immediately after the birth and forever more?

·      If you plan to use parents and relatives as babysitters, are there boundaries and rules they must agree to?

·      Do your kids have to kiss or hug relatives if they aren’t comfortable?

·      How will you respond to and support one another around family-of-origin triggers?

Communication

·      What is your plan for handling divisive or intrusive complaints and/or recommendations by outsiders?

·      Will you argue in front of the kids?

·      How will you handle disagreements about parenting decisions?

·      How will you decide on the division of household and childcare labor?

Discipline

·      Is there a parenting style you can both align on?

·      What are your respective views on spanking?

·      Are there cultural considerations to discuss?

Health / Lifestyle

·      Breastfeeding vs. bottle-feeding?  How do you feel about formula?

·      What are your positions on vaccinations?

·      Will you feed your children only organic food?

·      How much screen time is OK?

·      What about digital safety and exposure? Will you freely post photos online?

·      Do you have a position about gender-neutral clothing andtoys?

Religion

·      Does it matter to both of you? Neither of you?

·      If only one parent cares to pass on a religious tradition, must the other parent be involved or at least outwardly supportive?

·      Is religious education important?

Education

·      Public or private?

·      If private, what financial plans do you need to make to secure that?

·      Is it important that your children interact with kids of diverse cultures and socioeconomic backgrounds?

 

It’s a lot to consider, I know.  And clearly this is not an exhaustive list. Yet for thoughtful and intentional parents like you…these are questions worth talking about to begin the dialogue to coalesce the couple as parents.  Parents who will be sharing the most important job they will ever have.

This conversation will be dynamic and ongoing. You can’t know how you will react to the challenges that lie ahead, but if you start working now on being intentional parents governed by agreed-upon values you will be better prepared!

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!