Empty Nest, Full Heart

Aack!  I woke up on August 1st and faced the reality that for the first time in 23 years, I won’t have any children living at home beginning September 15th.

My “baby” graduated from high school June 2017, so come back-to-school season, there will be no breakfasts to make, no lunches to pack, no sporting events to attend, no teacher conferences to schedule, no band concerts to buy tickets to, no cookie dough to sell…

What’s a mom to do?!?

Nothing, actually.

That’s the aim of parenting. Our job is to get them ready to leave; to help create launchable people. So I’m proud.

I’m fortunate in that things have gone more or less according to plan, with all three of my kids doing what they want to be doing. My oldest just moved to another city to start his first job. My middle one will head back to college. My youngest will set off on his gap year. And I will have an empty nest.

No first day of school for this mom. Starting very soon, I will be waking up for me alone. I will still be a parent, but a different type of parent, one who is much less hands-on.

I have been thoughtful about positioning myself – and them – for this moment. When I transitioned to high school mom, I stopped being their alarm clock. They got themselves to and from school. They scheduled their own haircuts and made their own plans. When I transitioned to gap year and college mom, I didn’t always know where they were. They booked their own travel, chose their own classes, managed their own time. That was intentional.

I also made sure I built a full life for myself– as more than a mom. But truth is, my favorite job is this mom gig. I relished each phase of their development, and I never guessed (or didn’t let myself think) it would be over so soon.

I realize I’m not the only parent facing this. If you have been a stay-at-home-mom or dad, how do you redefine your life when your purpose has been taking care of children?  Take some advice from this mom…plan ahead. It may seem like it is way in the future, but it will feel like it arrives as quickly as tomorrow.

Step back. Allow your kids more autonomy and more responsibility. Build your life: volunteer, consider a new career, get engaged in your community, become an activist. Our world needs more amazing people like you! 

Get ready, folks. They will leave. But that’s the goal.

It’s still really hard to see them go. So while my nest may be empty September 2017 –I’ll have a full heart forever.

How to Make Tough Parenting Decisions

“You've gotta dance like there's nobody watching,
Love like you'll never be hurt,
Sing like there's nobody listening,
And live like it's heaven on earth.”

William W. Purkey

I totally agree with Mr. Purkey’s sage counsel. Yet from a parenting perspective, I think his ditty is missing an important line:

“Make parenting decisions like no one’s opinion matters.”

It doesn’t rhyme…I’ll give you that. But it describes an imperative virtually every parent must face when it comes to making pivotal decisions regarding their kids – especially when they don’t align with what one’s family or society deems is the “right” way to go.

Just ask former NFL star Keyshawn Johnson, who lit up the sports blogosphere and social media universe when he pulled his son from the roster of the Nebraska Cornhuskers after Jr. was cited on “suspicion of marijuana possession” in his college dorm.

Keyshawn Johnson, Sr. was vocal, even vociferous, in his avowal that he pulled his son from the program because he was not demonstrating the drive and dedication he committed to when accepting the offer to attend the University of Nebraska. As recounted to the Omaha World-Herald, Mr. Johnson told his son, “If you mature and you’re ready to resume your football career and academic goals, then Nebraska will be ready to embrace you.”

In the meantime, Jr. is back at home and headed to community college for at least one semester and, I daresay, a dearth of parties and extra-curricular activities.

As he should be.

I, for one, sent Mr. Johnson kudos via Twitter (@parentwclarity) for having the courage to pull his son from college until he is ready to maximize the opportunity. What I admire as much as his decision was his lack of concern with what anyone thought: He simply did what was best for his son.

That’s not always as easy as it sounds. 

It’s easy to fall prey to the pressure of seeming family perfection on Instagram and Facebook. Some parents are fearful that taking a teen off the same track as their peers will negatively affect their future. Parents can also be unsteadied when a decision isn’t in line with a trusted friend or mentor.

I even surprised myself when I second-guessed my decision to not allow my graduating senior to attend an unchaperoned high school graduation party.

Yet, when it’s your kid’s physical, emotional or mental well-being that’s at stake, parents have to take the road they deem best.

That’s even tougher for parents of seemingly ‘normal’ kids who suffer from behavioral or mental health issues. As one mom puts it, “Some teens and young adults deal with behavioral problems that are invisible; conditions like anxiety, depression, ADHD, drug and alcohol use. They can hide it for a while, but often these kids need outside support or treatment. Many times, they simply can’t keep up with their peers. As a parent, I need to get my daughter the help she needs regardless of whether she graduates with her class.”

That’s intentional parenting – which I believe is the best approach for parents and kids. As I’ve opined again and again on my blog, to clients and to audiences at talks I’ve given, it’s vital that you trust your instincts, and let your values and the outcome you want guide your decision-making.

If you need help sticking to your guns, there are ways to get support:

Build a tribe.

Many parents, moms in particular, gather siblings and friends who can be honest about their parenting struggles.

I heard about a mom who started a support group at her church where parents who were struggling with kids with behavioral problems could get help. And this was more than 25 years ago, when a kid with mental health or behavioral issues was often deemed the parents’ fault, not to mention a great source of shame.

Even though mental health is somewhat less stigmatizing today, some parents don’t feel safe confiding in friends or family. But there are still ways to get support. Meetups for parents of children with disabilities and emotional problems exist virtually everywhere (or can be started easily enough). Al-Anon, which has been around for years, offers help and hope for parents who are concerned with their kids’ alcohol or drug use.

Know thy kid.

Forgive me for ever-so-gently mangling the ancient Greek aphorism (Know thyself), but this is my parenting bottom line. No one knows your kid like you do. Trust yourself.  If things don’t feel right speak up.  I know the eye rolling can be tedious.  I appreciate that teens in particular can interpret our concerns as intrusive, but too bad.  Feel free to respond to ‘everything is fine’, with ‘well, they don’t look fine to me’. 

Have compassion.

One mom said that she finally came to understand that her kids have their own journeys. Family life didn’t turn out as she had hoped and dreamed, but once a parent, her only job was to make the tough calls as needed and support them on their trek.

She and her husband also believe that what their daughters accomplish isn’t nearly as important to them than that they become mature, functioning and good-hearted people. That helped enormously.

Trust and back up your co-parent.

Kids know when their parents are out of sync about a decision – and they will exploit that to their advantage.

Nip that in the bud. You’ll find any number of great tips for how to parent and make decisions as a team online.

Even if you are divorced, you and your co-parent will still need to make plenty of decisions – maybe even more! Remember that children are especially vulnerable during and immediately after divorce. If that’s where you are, you may benefit from one of my early blog posts on this topic.

Be confident.

There may be times when no one else on the planet besides your co-parent agrees with a decision you’ve made. Even if that’s the case, you can feel confident if you’ve made it based on your values and what you believe is best for your child.  And by the way, we all make mistakes! 

And if you’re parenting with mindfulness, chances are you’ll recognize when a course correction is needed. No shame in that.

8 Ways to Be Kind to Other Parents - and Raise Great Kids in the Process!

Let’s face it, parenting is hard in the best of circumstances…and really, really tough in the worst.

The lives of countless families – particularly those whose kids don’t follow the path the other 85% seem to do with ease – run counter to the social and mass media images of fabulous family-dom. So what better way to support other parents than to be kind, nonjudgmental and empathic and, by word and deed, teach our children to do the same?

Sadly, it doesn’t always happen that way. Consider these true-to-life tales:

One mom of an 11-year-old boy has had other parents tell her (to her face, I’m sad to report): “Your kid is a nightmare.” And “Your kid is ruining the class.” Stunned by such comments, they often go unaddressed, although certainly not un-felt.

Another mother, now in her 50s, recalls in vivid detail when her two-year-old, already exhibiting signs of the physical and emotional syndromes to come, was screaming in tantrum – once again and in public. A woman came up to her and said, “You must have done something really terrible to your daughter for her to be acting this way.” Mortified and filled with shame, the mom never forgot the incident.

Smartly, though, each of these women built a tribe of trusted peers and professionals with whom she could share her parenting challenges – and bear witness to those of others.

They faced early on what virtually every one of us eventually comes to know: No parent gets through life without their children having some sort of problem – whether major or minor.

In all my years of being an educational therapist, parenting my own children and helping others do the same through coaching, I have yet to meet a single parent who didn’t struggle with parenting decisions and profoundly benefit from the understanding of another mom or dad.

Given this indisputable fact, the expectation is that parents would really be there for one another. What tends to happen some times, is that parents of “normative” kids fear their children’s lives and educations will be impacted in a negative way by children deemed troubled or different. Problems arise when the former reflexively react to advantage their kid over the “other.”

The competition that ensues from such a worldview perpetuates a dog-eat-dog family culture, when what we need is one where compassion, cooperation and collaboration produce the best hope for our collective future.

I’ll give you that the world can seem big and scary for parents today. And there’s plenty of societal pressure to compel you to leverage every advantage for your offspring.

But when the parental MO is to hunker down in family insularity and isolation and, in some cases, compete with other families, every family loses.

After all, they really aren’t “my” kids and “your” kids. All kids matter. In the blink of an eye, they’ll be running the world. Unless we teach them, they will not learn to factor kindness, empathy and mindfulness about the diversity of human experience into their adult decisions.

Teaching it doesn’t take all that much, by the way. Mindful words and thoughtful actions – modeled in front of our kids – can truly make the world a better place. Even Sesame Street climbed on the “let’s be kind and tolerant of otherness” bandwagon in a big way when it introduced Julia, a girl with autism, into the family of characters loved by generations. (And if it’s good enough for Sesame Street...)

That’s why I’m putting out the call to every parent to let kindness and tolerance be your touchstones from here on out. Here are my 8 suggestions. If you have additional suggestions for how we can “share the love” with other parents, please email me directly or share them with my followers on Facebook and Twitter.

 

·               Practice empathy. Don’t judge or assume the worst about the parents when a child is having a tantrum or acting in a manner you think is inappropriate. Reframe “what” you see by considering “why” the child may be acting that way.

·               Model acceptance for your children. If a classmate or playmate is having a meltdown, saying, “Johnny really seems to be having a tough day” versus “Johnny is bad,” lets your child know that every kid gets overwhelmed sometimes. When inappropriate behavior requires intervention, by all means step in, but be sure to model empathy. Avoid equating a child’s actions with their character. Saying, “You seem upset Susie, but in our house we don’t hit one another” lets her know her behavior isn’t acceptable, but it doesn’t make her any less valuable or lovable.

·               Err on the side of inclusion rather than homogeneity. Especially during the early years when you have more control over friends and play dates, consider how you can enhance your child’s intersection with kids from a range of economic, racial, religious and ethnic groups. Inclusion also refers to sharing information about team sign-ups, class registration, scholarships or special programs with all the parents in your kid’s class, rather than only with your inner circle.

·               Remember your early parenting days. If you’re an experienced parent, be especially kind and thoughtful toward moms and dads struggling with unruly young children on buses or airplanes, in stores or at school. Even if there’s nothing you can do to help, you can share a smile that says, “I understand. I’ve been there, too. Everything will be okay.”

·               Avoid appearing competitive – especially on social media.  Of course, you’re proud of your child’s straight As or sports achievements; you deserve to be! Trumpet the good news, but with sensitivity – especially online. Some of your friends-followers may have kids who struggle in those endeavors. Plus, remember that social media’s omnipresence requires us as parents to be particularly sensitive to our children’s exposure. On the other hand, always be upbeat and congratulatory about another child’s good fortune.

·               Maintain perspective – and gratitude. Today your kids may be healthy and happy, but we never know what is around the corner. I’m not saying I keep the other shoe in ready-to-drop position, but I sure do respect its presence.

·               Make sure your kids see you treat everyone you meet with dignity. It may sound obvious, but our kids need to see us model respect for everyone, regardless of appearance or circumstance.

·               Be honest with other moms and dads about your struggles. It’s incredibly helpful to talk about the challenges our kids are facing and the resulting trials as parents. It helps all of us see behind the curtain – and feel more seen ourselves.

If you are really struggling and just can’t get the support you need from friends, there are professional and peer resources you can turn to.

Join a parent support group, some of which are geared to parents of children with specific disabilities. Read about “the unplanned journey” of having a child with special needs. Work with a parenting coach. See a developmental specialist or child therapist. In my book, seeking the help we need is a sign of superior parenting. 

 

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!

Parenting as Easy as 1,4,4: 1 Week. 4 Questions. 4 Answers.

 

“The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  So said 19th century French critic and writer Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr.

While Karr likely wasn’t referring to parenting when he coined the phrase, it rings true nonetheless.

While modern parents are beset by “more is more” consumerism, whether it’s kid gear, how-to books or digital experts trafficking in truth, the basics of good parenting really hasn’t changed over millennia – at least not from my perspective.

You know what else hasn’t changed? The questions parents ask about raising their children.

Last week I heard from 4 different clients, each asking one of the most-frequently-asked parenting questions I’ve heard over the years. In this post, I’m sharing them – and my answers – with the blogosphere! 

 

QUESTION #1 – How do I create even a little ‘ME’ time?

This question is so universal and ubiquitous that I actually launched my blog with a post on the importance of self-care.  There was so much to say, I continued the conversation in my second blog post!

Here’s the crux: You cannot take care of your children at the expense of yourself.

Let’s say you’re having a beyond-crazy week. What “good” parents (usually moms) think they “should” do is free up a little time by cancelling the one thing that’s on the calendar for themselves. In the end, everyone suffers, especially the children we mistakenly believe our selflessness will benefit.

Why does eliminating self-care backfire? Because if we are exhausted, or worse, falling apart at the seams, we don’t have the bandwidth or resilience to be the intentional, positive parents we want to be.

 

Trust me on this: I learned the hard way.

I was the Mom who was always available and present for my kids. I managed to put them first all of the time -- at the expense of myself and, at times, my marriage.  After my divorce, I was drowning and could barely keep my own head above water, much less my kids’. But wouldn’t you know it, in a moment of sanity, I realized they were more than capable of treading water – even swimming!

I eventually saw I was doing my children a grave disservice by always sacrificing my needs to attend to theirs - even their perceived needs. So I pulled back on being there 24/7/365 – and amped up teaching them how to navigate and negotiate life’s challenges. As a result, we were all able to recover, and even thrive, through and after the divorce.

Don’t believe it’s possible to carve out “me time”?  Here are a few suggestions for parents of kids of all ages.

Toddlers. Create an activity bag with enough toys and puzzles to keep little ones occupied for 10 minutes. It gives them the opportunity to have some righteous “alone time” right outside the open bathroom or bedroom door while you have a shower or do 10 minutes of mindful meditation.

School-aged. Go to your room after dinner for 20 minutes and relax while the kids clear the table and load the dishwasher. (Promise me you won’t redo it, even if they waste precious space!)

Teens.  Older kids need autonomy. Go out for a run, take a yoga class or grab coffee with a friend. By this age, your teens know your boundaries – and the consequences if they cross them.

 

QUESTION #2 – Why do my kids fight all the time?

What parent likes being a referee when their kids fight over seemingly inane matters? None I know. But far too often, parents become arbitrators because they think it’s what good parents do.

Bow out now. It’s not your job to be judge and jury over every sibling squabble. (Caveat: if an older child is striking a younger one or safety is at risk in any way, get involved.)

A sibling spat may not be Instagram or Facebook worthy, but it’s a fact of life for every family. Skirmishes among siblings – over having the best toys, a parent’s favor or yadda-yadda – is a natural sibling dynamic that’s actually developmentally appropriate.

If you’re one of those parents who can tune it out while your kids work it out, consider yourself lucky. But for some of us, that level of disruption and disquiet is uncomfortable at best and unnerving at worst.

What to do? My MO was to give my kids one “Knock it off!” in hopes they’d do just that. When they didn’t, the rule in our house was that they each went into separate rooms until they were able to co-exist.

Kids naturally want to draw us into understanding why they did what they did to their brother or blame their sister. But resolving the issue is not your job; it’s theirs. Kids want you to label one the victim and the other the villain. As long as you continue to do that, the frequency of squabbling only escalates.

How long must they be apart before the time out is over, you ask?  As long as it takes. I always tell my clients that a “time out” isn’t about time, per se. It’s about “out.” How long “out” lasts depends on our kids’ willingness to peacefully co-exist.

 

QUESTION #3 – Why won’t my husband get with the program?

Let’s start with the positive.

According to a Pew Research Center report on American fathers, generally speaking they are more ”with the program” than not.

In another Pew report on the division of labor in households with two working parents, things appear generally, if not exactly, equitable. 

Then there are the outliers.

I often hear from women – like the one who asked this question – who say they do everything related to child care and domestic duties; their partners are simply not engaged. When talking about a male and female partnership, it’s safe to say the sexes function differently. In my experience, unengaged Dads fall into several categories:

1.    They want to be the “fun” dad, leaving everything else to Mom.

2.    They want to engage, but struggle to participate.

3.    They engage, but feel as if their efforts aren’t appreciated or aren’t good enough.

4.    They don’t want to do the work of family life, but are willing to pay for outside help (housecleaners, nannies, etc.).

5.    They don’t want to engage and they don’t care how it makes their partner feel.

With the first three categories, the opportunity for success is great. If your partner is a #4 and you’re okay with such an arrangement, then a happy home life can be yours as well. A #5 partner is a situation beyond the limits of my coaching expertise – so definitely engage a therapist (or divorce lawyer).

Certainly, as women, we need to hold our partners accountable – not by keeping a tally of infractions and blowing up when we can’t take it anymore – but by speaking up in the moment and objectively communicating how we feel without judging or blaming. If you’re unable to communicate effectively – or if you can yet your partner still doesn’t understand -- then by all means bring in a third party like a therapist or parenting coach to help.

Here’s the hugely important thing, women with partners like #3 must do: Let their efforts be good enough.

Perhaps the dishwasher doesn’t get loaded exactly as you would like or no one in the family has matching socks when he does laundry or your daughter’s luscious locks look gnarly no matter how many styling lessons you’ve proffered.

Let it go, let it go, let it go.

Conversely, if there’s something you absolutely positively need to be done a certain way, then take it off your partner’s list and swap it for something you don’t care about. What’s important is that the two of you are more or less equally engaged in making sure the kids are safe, healthy and (relatively) happy. The rest pales in comparison.

 

QUESTION #4 – Why is my kid lying on the floor instead of doing his homework?

Great question. Why is your kid lying on the floor instead of doing his homework?

In this particular situation, school had just started. Her otherwise compliant 9-year-old son refused to answer the list of questions his teacher had posed to all her students in an attempt to get to know them. Instead, he flopped down on the floor, flapping about, refusing to do the work.

And Mom? She mimicked his flapping to prove to him how ridiculous he looked.

It hardly made the boy want to jump up and get to work.

My response to any child who is avoiding responsibility is to engage with her or him to get to the crux of the resistance. After all, a child who feels confident and competent about her abilities isn’t going to avoid an opportunity to let her teacher know just how smart she is.

So what exactly was going on? I coached my client through the following scenarios:

•      Was her son having a difficult transition from summertime to school?

•      Is he over scheduled?

•      Does he need a snack and some downtime after school before hitting the books?

•      Was he overwhelmed by the sheer number of questions in the assignment?

•      Did he know the answers, but was embarrassed by his handwriting?

•      Was his behavior part of a pattern of avoidance?

•      Could there be a learning disability?

•      What about an emotional block?

After careful analysis, my client realized her son was dealing with an execution issue. After a summer off, he was simply overwhelmed by the task of sitting down to write out all of the responses. Mom agreed to be his scribe so he could answer fulsomely without having to face the onerous task of writing. In this case, it was a great solution. The teacher was trying to get a sense of her new students, it wasn’t a handwriting exercise. And as it turned out, the boy was happy to to share his thoughts when he wasn’t constrained by the writing. 

As parents, our most important job is to pay the right kind of attention to our kids so we can understand what makes them tick – and to see where they need extra sensitivity and empathy.

My take away from my clients this week is that all parents would be well served if we regularly shared our parenting trials and tribulations with each other.  So much of what parents go through – especially the tough times – aren’t unique.  Finding out you are not alone eases the burden considerably, alleviates anxiety and offers you multiple ways to deal with challenging moments.  So let’s keep sharing.

There you have it. 1 week. 4 questions. 4 answers. Now I’d love to hear about your concerns!

Ask a parenting question

 

“Dear Stress, Let’s Break up!”

That’s how I began the presentation I gave at the EPWNG (Exclusive Professional Women’s Networking Group) annual luncheon that featured four presentations on the topic, “Unstress for Success: Tools for Shifting Stress into Power.”  

Think about it: Who among us wouldn’t like to break up with stress once and for all? Certainly nobody – and for sure no parent – I know.

But given what a pipe dream that is, I quickly followed up my opening line with the reality:“Stress is Here to Stay.” 

But don’t despair. In my view, stress often results from good intentions. Here’s what I told my audience:

So, if stress is here to stay…what tools can we parents use to manage the inevitable and be more successful and happy in our lives?  I’ve got four such tools I’d like to share with you. Here they are:

 

De-Stress Tool #1 – Make choices to avoid stressful situations.

There is a certain amount of what I call “optional” stress in everyone’s life. In these situations, we have the opportunity to be thoughtful about the decisions we’re making.

I can tell you first-hand that volunteering to give a presentation at a professional meeting definitely qualifies as “optional” stress! Clearly, I could have completely avoided the angst of preparing for and delivering the presentation at EPWNG, but obviously I believed the benefits of doing so far outweighed the stress it caused. (p.s. It totally did!)

I often help parents see how they usher optional stress into their lives with open arms. The classic example, of course, is bringing young children to a nice restaurant.

Granted, the $$ you save on babysitting by bringing your child to your neighborhood’s newest farm-to-table spot virtually covers the cost of at least one fabulously prepared meal. But it’s a Faustian bargain at best. Eliminate such unnecessary stress by not putting young children in environments where they can’t possibly perform well. Sadly, there’s no guarantee your toddler won’t have a meltdown in a family-friendly restaurant, but you’re much more likely to garner empathy from co-diners versus the death stares you’ll likely get in a 5-star establishment.

Parents can also eliminate a good measure of weekday morning stress by differentiating decision-making and execution from time of departure. By making decisions – what you’ll pack for lunch; what you and the kids will wear in the morning; confirming everything that needs to go in the backpack or briefcase in advance – then executing those tasks each evening, you’ll eliminate morning stress for you and your kids. As you well know, they don’t like starting their day with yelling anymore than you do!

 

De-Stress Tool #2 – Acknowledge when you’re in a stressful situation.

Traffic jams.

Performance reviews.

A sick child.

Travel.

Public speaking. :) 

Who among us has ever had a day go precisely as planned?  No one. That’s why before I dig in to help clients unpack a stressful situation and plan how to deal with it, I make sure they vent – and I acknowledge – the stress that is happening in their lives.

Just as important as not denying our stress?  Not adding guilt to the mix. This, sadly, seems to be a super power we women have. Men? Not so much.

 

De-Stress Tool #3 – Don’t own anyone else’s stress.

Kids are master stress dumpers, given their exaggerated sense of urgency and their lack of perspective about what is and is not your responsibility. Frankly, it’s not always up to us to solve their problems – as much as they may want us to!  Our job is to teach our children the same de-stressing tools we’re trying to implement. Here’s how I put it in my talk: 

 

Secondhand stress just doesn’t come from our kids, of course. Co-workers, bosses, family and friends can all be instigators, intentionally or not. While our instinct may be to intervene or rescue, let’s all vow to consciously remind ourselves that someone else’s bad planning is their emergency, not mine.

 

De-Stress Tool #4 – Use stress to motivate change.

Once we recognize and acknowledge stress, we begin to see what an amazing opportunity we have to control what we can control – and that’s our own reaction to stressful situations.

I remember early on when my ex-husband would bring his girlfriend to kids or family events, I let their presence contaminate my experience. But after realizing that if I were to feel 100% of the joy I wanted to feel at my child’s graduation or piano recital, it was up to me to find a way to manage my reaction. Once I did, those experiences were better for all of us.

Stress can also function as a positive motivator, such as when we take on a challenging work assignment. Or when we work with a therapist or support group to learn how to better regulate our emotions and reactivity.

The more we practice these four tools to de-stress, the more effective we will be at handling the inevitable stressed faced by humans around the globe.

I’d like to end this post with a final positive reminder…

 

SELF-CARE TIPS FOR PARENTS – Part 2

 

Before we get to Part II of this post, here’s a quick recap of Part 1:

TIP #1 - Get Out Of Your Head.

·      Your body needs just as much TLC as your kids’ bodies do

o   Make exercise, healthy eating, and sleep a priority!

TIP #2 - Back to Your Head (and Heart)

·      There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all self-care

o   Figure out what you need, then collaborate with your co-parent about how you can each get your needs met

TIP #3 - Stand by your Man (or Woman) (or Partner)

·      Date night is a must-do (‘nuff said)

TIP #4 – Find Your Tribe.

·      Build community with other parents via schools; religious organizations; park and recreation classes; babysitting, meal-sharing and housecleaning cooperatives; etc.

 

Read on for my last 4 self-care tips for parents:

 

TIP #5 - Pat Yourself on the Back.

One of my most important roles as a parenting coach is to give my clients positive feedback. Why? Because like most parents, when one problem is solved or developmental stage mastered, they worry about what’s coming next.

Make a pact to acknowledge what you, your co-parent, and your parent-friends are doing right! For every struggle you share, share a positive parenting moment, too.

Just as important, be mindful of your self-talk. What we say to ourselves can be powerful indeed, so make sure your internal chatter is positive and compassionate.

 

TIP # 6 - Banish Guilt

If I had a magic wand, guilt is the one thing I would get rid of wholesale.

Especially the guilt that says “good” parents protect their kids from disappointment and pain.

You may think you’re caring for your children by shielding them from painful experiences, but in fact, you’re handicapping them. Infants need to learn how to self-soothe. Little ones need to be able play by and amuse themselves. School-aged kids must struggle over difficult homework assignments. And teens need to know their actions have consequences. Children can’t master these important developmental milestones if mom and/or dad are always front and center.

You may also feel guilty about visiting your own unresolved family issues on your kids. Every parent experiences transference. Often you can deal with it on your own. If not, get the professional support you need.

 

TIP # 7 - Refuse to Compare.

Smart phone in hand, you are bombarded with images of family perfection. There’s that chill yoga mom on Instagram, knitting a baby sweater with hand-pulled yarn from her pack of llamas. Your friend’s Facebook post of their “perfect” family vacation. And the parade of stars promoting parenting tips online.

Hold the phone! Posts on social media… ads promoting must-have products essential for happy kids… and the latest celebrity blogs simply reflect a moment in (often air-brushed) time.

Decide what parenting needs to look like to you; establish what is meaningful and relevant to you. Then remind yourself what that looks like the next time you’re tempted to compare your parenting to anybody else’s.

 

One final word on self-care tips for parents (well, three words, actually):

TIP #8 -  Just. Do. It.

You – and your kids – will be glad you did.

 

Would you like to ask me a parenting question?

 

SELF-CARE TIPS FOR PARENTS - Part 1

I’m Parenting Coach Dana Hirt. I’ve always been the go-to mom – the one everyone called when they had a parenting question or concern. I’ve coupled my practical expertise with my professional background and am now coaching parents in private practice – and sharing helpful information with all parents through my blog.

 

At any time, feel free to ask a parenting question you’re concerned about!

 

EIGHT SELF-CARE TIPS FOR PARENTS – Part 1

As a parenting coach, I get some version of the following question a lot:

As a working mother of three, “mommy care” is usually the last thing on my to-do list. More often than not, I don’t get to it!  What are some self-care tips for busy moms?  

 

Here’s what I tell every mom and dad who ask me how to cope with the stress and strain of parenting: “You cannot take care of your children at the expense of yourself.”

OK… I’m the first to admit that for the short-term, it feels doable. And in a crisis, you do what you have to do. But for the long term? Denying your physical, mental and emotional needs is simply unsustainable. And contrary to what you may think, ignoring your own needs to cater to your children isn’t good for their development, either.

More than just about anything else, children need consistency. You can’t say one thing (“No devices at the dinner table”) and do another (plop their dinner in front of the TV). But when you’re exhausted and spent, you’re much more likely to do whatever is easiest, right? To avoid getting in that spot as much as possible (we all get there sometimes!), here are some self-care tips for parents that can help you meet your good-parenting goals.

 

TIP #1 - Get Out Of Your Head.

Look down. See that?  It’s your body – and it needs some serious attention.

·      Schedule exercise into your week. If you can, engage a buddy to exercise with – and to hold you accountable. Many of my coaching clients tell me that exercise is the first thing they cross off the list if something has to go. Don’t. Exercise pays dividends in spades. BONUS: Most gyms have built-in childcare services.

·      Your kids aren’t the only ones who need to eat a healthy diet. Creating a beautiful organic meal for your children… then eating the scraps off their plates and calling it “lunch” is not self-care. It’s composting! Model healthy eating as best you can – it’s good for the whole family.

·      Sleep. Granted, it’s one of the rarest commodities at your disposal, but do what you can to maximize the time you spend horizontal.

 

TIP #2 - Back to Your Head (and Heart)

There’s no such thing as one-size-fits-all self-care. My clients use all sorts of tools, including journaling; meditation; joining a mom’s or self-help group; getting counseling when needed; and/or engaging a parenting coach.

When it comes to self-care for parents, identifying and advocating for your needs is Job #1. That’s where open and supportive communication with your co-parent is key. Help one another identify self-care priorities – and collaborate on how to fit them into busy lives. One working mom I know maintains that having a clear division of labor at home around domestic and childcare duties is essential. When it’s her husband’s turn to supervise bath time, she knows she can count on 20 glorious minutes to play online scrabble or catch up with a friend on the phone. And vice versa.

By making time to care for yourself, you actually may uncover issues you didn’t realize you were avoiding. Take me, for instance. I was very intuitive as a parent, and quite confident I was doing the right thing by my three children. But after a good deal of reflection, I realized I was sublimating the need to end my difficult marriage by throwing myself into being an über-mom. Today, my ex-husband and I are great co-parents – and our children are capable, independent and resilient young people.  

           

TIP #3 - Stand by your Man (or Woman) (or Partner).

Here’s some advice for you married or partnered folks: You were a couple before you had kids. If all goes according to plan, you’ll be a couple when they’re gone.

            In between those goalposts, tending to your partner is just as important as caring for your kids. Some therapists say it’s even more important. So make time to be alone sans brood. However you define them, “date nights” are vital.

            In fact, your children need to see the primacy of your relationship with your spouse or partner. Kids pay very close attention to what we do – and they learn a lot by what we model. Show them what a healthy partnership looks like by making time for each other.

If you’re still not convinced, try this: Picture your child all grown up with a spouse or partner of his or her own. Imagine what you would want for their relationship. Do you deserve anything less?

 

TIP #4 - Find Your Tribe.

I know many women who believe they’re more effective parents because they have a career. Some dads prefer being the primary caregiver. Tons of single and/or divorced co-parents have extremely fulfilling lives. But no matter your status, every parent needs support.

Building community allows you to connect with an array of human and other resources. Day care, school, kid-sports leagues, and religious and communication organizations offer a natural opportunity to network with other parents.

Remember, carpooling isn’t the only sharing opportunity. Get your family active in your local community garden. Create a cooking co-op with like-palated parents and swap up to a week’s worth of meals. Participate in a trade-based babysitting or housecleaning coop.

 

Stayed tunedMore “Self-Care Tips for Parents” coming to you soon! In the meantime, feel free to ask a parenting question.