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Parenting stress

Bad Parenting Day: 10 Tips for Making Tomorrow Better

Yesterday was one of my worst parenting days.  You ever have one of those?

Coming off a night of tossing and turning I just shouldn’t have gotten out of bed.  But with a 3 and a 4 year old, you really don’t have that option.  So groggy with a bit of cotton-head I got up at 6:45 when my daughter called for me.  Both of my kids always love to get up deliciously early.

My daughter got up on the wrong side of the bed.  Everything from her dreams to her outfit were wrong.  She didn’t even want to wear the underwear I had put out for her.  Really?  “It’s freakin’ underwear,” I could hear myself repeating in my head.

My son had just gotten up with my husband and was playing one of his new birthday games, Hungry Hungry Hippos.  As my kids are allowed to open 2 gifts per day in the days following their special day to control the indulgence avalanche, he was ready to open his second gift.

It was a remote control car.  Harmless enough—but a source of great argument when you have two children who are raised in a home where there is no such thing as a “girl toy” or a “boy toy.”  They both wanted to play with it.

Two extremely “Type A” children, one car, one remote. You see where this is going?  If they weren’t arguing with each other about whose turn it was, they Read more

Oklahoma hurricane

Parents; How to Talk to Your Children about The Oklahoma Tornado

“Hi Robyn; We’re fine. It missed us by 2 street blocks.  We’re fine, our houses are fine. So sorry we weren’t able to call or text during the storm.  We love you guys.”

In the recent past, I’ve written articles about how to talk to children about horrifying events such as the SandyHook, Connecticut shooting and The Boston Marathon bombing.  In both articles, while incredibly concerned, I was not touched personally by the tragedies.  I had lived in Boston for many years (I received my PhD from Tufts University near Boston) and made many friends there—but nobody I knew had attended the marathon and all were perfectly safe during the tragedy.

Yesterday, a massive tornado hit Moore, OK.  I couldn’t believe it when I saw the name in the news.  Moore?  I have a deep personal tie to Moore.  Both my children were born there.  Both of their adoptions took place in Moore.  And most significantly, the birth family of both my children still live in Moore.  Their birth mother, their birth father and their birth grandmother.

Many of you who are constant, devoted readers of my parenting site know that we have an open adoption plan with my children’s birth family.  This is not just on paper.  We are extremely close with the birth family—so much so that none of us regard each other as “birth family” and “adoptive family” (I only use those names here to avoid confusion)—we just call each other family.

I am so happy to report that our family members in Moore are all safe.  The message on the top of this article was left by our children’s birth grandmother.  We have been in contact over the last 2 days and while our whole family had quite a scare, they got out of the storm unscathed.  The tornado passed 2 miles away from my kids’ birth father’s house and a ¼ mile from his girlfriend’s place of work.  He was holed up in a bank vault for safety while my kids’ birth mother took refuge in a Walmart with a hundred other people.  The kids’ birth grandmother literally drove herself away from the oncoming storm.  The whole thing is beyond scary.

The experience has given me a more nuanced perspective of how to talk to children about frightening events such as this tornado in Oklahoma.  Since my children (especially my 4 year old) know about the storm and how it affected our family, it is from this perspective that I write my tips today.

(1) Ensure your children know that this tornado is not a threat to their safety: “Is the tornado coming here” my daughter wondered?  Sometimes just saying; “no, it’s all done” is enough.  Other times, for the very curious child, this may be a good  for a little weather lesson.  You can say; “Just Read more

Martin Richard; boston marathon

Mom & Dad; Are we safe? Talking to your children about scary things presented in the news

As we now all know, yesterday’s tragic bombing at the Boston Marathon resulted in at least 176 people injured.  Nine of them are children—at least 8 of whom are being treated in hospitals.  One child, 8-year-old Martin Richard, was killed during the Boston Marathon explosion while enjoying ice cream with his family. His 6 year old sister lost her leg and their mother underwent brain surgery due to her critical injuries.

There are many other stories of families affected and many of us have been touched either directly or indirectly by this senseless act.  One of my good friends just reported that her son’s friend may lose his hearing because pellets were sprayed from the bomb and got lodged in his head. He was there to cheer his dad on who was running the marathon. The juxtaposition of happy joyous cheering, eating ice cream and enjoying a special outing with the family with the horror of a senseless bombing is hard to fathom.  It’s even harder to explain.

As we talked about during the Newtown Connecticut shootings and other stories of senseless child murder, these are unimaginable acts that are likely to bring about questions.  Some are easy to answer.  Others feel nearly impossible.  Still, we can’t put our heads in the sand, as we want our children to hear the truth in an age-appropriate way from someone who knows them best—and that likely means you. Remember, if you aren’t talking about it and they want to hear an answer, they will go to another source.  It is our job to be the source.

So how do you talk to your children about ugly, scary things that are talked about in the media?  What can we do?

(1) Media exposure should be limited:  Information is best coming from a trusted source who is sensitive to the way your child can best receive it—at a time when is best for your child. You can limit details based on age and maturity—and seeing gruesome photos and frightening video is inappropriate for most children. Information on the news is aimed at adults—not at children.

(2) Let them know that responsible adults are working to keep us safe and healthy: When situations seem unsure, children need to know that Read more

Superheroes

Boy Toys, Girl Toys and What Kids Learn When We Allow Them To Choose

As a parent, I often wonder about how the toys and role models in my children’s lives translate to behavior.  I tend to be the kind of mother who encourages a wide range of toys, games and books.  I am less about banning (unless it is truly counter to our family’s core character-based values) and more about providing a continuum of options so that my children gain experience, choice and understanding.

That means that we have everything from princess dress up and dolls to blocks, science kits, dump trucks and dinosaurs.  And both of my children play with whatever they choose to that day.  Yes, my son has put on a tutu while bouncing and laughing in our basement bounce house and my daughter has crashed Batman and Wonder Woman action figures into a tower of blocks, saving the “little people” trapped inside from disaster.  I’ve played race cars with my son while crawling around on the kitchen floor and my husband has played dolls with my daughter while cuddling in the den. To me, it’s all good.

But I sometimes see that a range is not provided or accepted in households around America and elsewhere.  Boys play with “boy things” and girls play with Read more

Pregnancy By Proxy: The Out Of Body Experience of Open Adoption

In honor of our daughter’s 4th birthday, I am republishing some of my adoption articles. This is the third article in the series. Happy Birthday to our sweet baby girl.

Believe me.  This was not what I had envisioned when I thought about pregnancy for myself.  I was more of a traditional gal—thinking that the whole baby- boarding process would actually be taking place in my own body. You know—baby bump, bloated feet, morning sickness–the whole enchilada. I certainly hadn’t considered the possibility of pregnancy being an out-of-body experience.

But when we decided on adoption, and ultimately, open adoption, that’s what it became. I can say now that I couldn’t be more grateful.  It was one of the most beautiful experiences of my life. But at the start, I thought I might just throw up my lunch.

Look; the 1st trimester is never a sure thing. It’s unpredictable, tenuous, and scary.  I should know; I had lost 4 pregnancies during those 1st 12 weeks.  And yet, here I was willingly and excitedly matched with a birth mother whose baby—no, fetus—was only the size of a pin head and looked more like a baby seahorse than anything human.

What was I doing to myself?  How would I survive the next 35 weeks just watching and hearing updates from the sidelines? The last time I checked, pregnancy was not Read more

The Infertility Club: Shifting My Goal from Pregnancy to Adoption

In honor of my daughter’s 4th birthday, I’m republishing my adoption series.

As you can probably imagine, I felt like the shoemaker’s daughter. I didn’t just work with children and families, I provided parenting tips and tactics to moms and dads around the world…all the while housing a secret that taunted and tortured me every day. I couldn’t get pregnant. Well, that’s not exactly true. I was pretty good at getting pregnant. I just couldn’t seem to stay that way.

After repeatedly bashing myself and feeling every emotion from maudlin inadequacy to stark raving anger, I decided to donate my body to science. Yes, I became a card carrying member of the ever-popular but rarely discussed “infertility club” which allows millions of women to play the role of “the willing pin cushion” in the quest to become a parent. Not that I wasn’t grateful for the possibility—it’s just challenging to keep up your enthusiasm when your hormones are fluctuating between those of a moody adolescent to those of an over-heated menopausal woman. And this was normal. Or so they said.

When you join the “infertility club” you start out thinking that there are certain things Read more

Should I lie? 10 Gut-Checking Questions Parents Must Teach Their Children

The first time your child lies to you can be a shock to any parent.  And while lying is part of growing up, we don’t want to encourage the behavior.  Our children need to learn right from wrong, reality from fantasy and truth from untruth.

The Powerful Word of the Month this month is Self Control– and part of self control is taking a moment to think to oneself; Is this safe? Is this fair? Will it work?  When it comes to lying, taking the time to think through both good and bad solutions can make the difference between right and wrong.

As parents, we always want our children to choose the safest, most fair and best decisions. When we are with them, we can ensure that it usually happens that way. When we aren’t, we leave it in their hands. This is why so many parents can’t sleep at nights even though we’re all so tired, right?

We must arm our children with some Powerful Questions that can help them to choose right over wrong.

(1) Is it safe? Or, perhaps for some we can teach, “If I lie, is someone likely to get hurt?” Some children will lie to protect someone– whether it’s a sibling or themselves. Sometimes when they are “sworn to secrecy” it’s not a big deal– someone is planning a special birthday party or a big surprise and they need to pretend they know nothing about it.  But other times lying about something can be unsafe. Think of the child who was told “not to tell” that a friend was planning to run away, an older sibling was throwing up after each meal or a younger sibling was climbing over a fence near a lake.  That’s when this question becomes crucial.

(2) Is it fair? This question certainly requires perspective-taking.  Clearly they are going to be more inclined to say something if it’s not fair to them.  But what about others?  Think of the child who knows that a friend is cheating off another student’s paper in class and both children involved get in trouble.  What’s fair?  Think of the child who knows that her sports team is doing something underhanded in order to get into the finals.  Is this fair?  The perspective-taking question that pairs well with this one is; if the tables were turned, would it seem fair to you?

(3) What is my gut telling me to do? When we teach our children to listen to their gut, we are providing them with a very important skill. Our bodies Read more

Walking Your Talk: Showing Your Values Even When Your Kids Aren’t Looking

“Remember, people will judge you by your actions, not your intentions. You may have a heart of gold — but so does a hard-boiled egg.” ~Author Unknown

As parents and teachers we often zone out when we get a moment alone.  It’s normal– I do it too.  I am far from perfect, lose my temper sometimes, say the wrong thing, and sometimes hover outside of myself with folded arms and ask myself, “is that REALLY the best you can do?”  That ever happen to you?  I’m working on it– just like everyone else.

The other day I was sitting in a café working during lunch time.  A few tables away, a black woman in her 40s, sat with 7 elderly men and woman which she was clearly taking on a much anticipated outing.  She was taking care of them.  She wiped their mouths, wheeled them in their wheelchairs, asked them questions about their lives and facilitated conversation between the group.

It struck me.  We often talk about those in care-taking positions (that may not appeal to a wide audience) as being underpaid and under-appreciated.  That always bothered me.  Teachers, nurses, aides—they work very hard and do such an important job.  I know we’ve all said this before– but it’s still true as true can be.

I watched her now and again show such patience, concern and, perhaps most importantly, curiosity to these people in her care.  And I was moved to do something.  Does that sound ridiculous?  That’s OK with me.

Someone once urged me, “imagine your child by your side, holding your hand Read more

Heavy choices: Would you put your 7 year old on a diet?

This morning I was on the set up for a segment on Dara-Lynn Weiss- the mother who was made famous for publicly putting her daughter, age 7, on a diet. Her daughter’s doctor had told Dara-Lynn that her daughter was obese and was immediately put on a strict diet of limited foods and counting calories.

What would you do in the same situation? It’s a difficult choice. Clearly the doctor was concerned about the child’s health and we are all too familiar with the psychological repercussions of children, dieting and weight stereotyping.

Every parent wants their children to grow up healthy and happy. So it’s not surprising that when a parent hears their children’s weight is compromising their health, that they jump into action . But parents need to tread lightly here. Whatever you say to your children about weight and diet will provide the template for how those children will regard weight and diet for the rest of their lives. Will they see food as a delicious way to gain energy and health or will they view food as the enemy?

There are so many messages that tell children that they are not good enough the way that they are— we don’t want to convey a value judgment when it comes to food and weight, but rather, teach our children that when we eat in healthy ways, we gain the energy we need to live our best life. I believe we can change a child’s relationship with food without putting a child on a “diet” – do you?

Take a look at the segment. What do YOU think? If you were this mother, would you choose the same path or would you do something different?

Parents; How to Talk to Children about the Connecticut School Shooting

We have all heard the horrific news by now. At 9:40 this morning, a masked gunman named Adam Lanza entered Sandy Hook elementary school and fired a gun around 100 times. He killed 26 people, 6 adults and 20 children under the age of 8 before killing himself.

Since then it’s been hard to concentrate on anything else but this story.  As a parent of young children, it’s the unimaginable. You send your children off to school hoping that they will be happy but knowing that they will be safe.  Typical worries of a friend not being so friendly or a teacher giving a bad grade may cross our minds.  But not this.

There is no making sense of this tragedy but we do need to be ready for questions.  What do we do for and say to our children about this senseless shooting?

(1) Limit media exposure:  Conversation and information about this tragedy should come from you, not the TV.  You know your children best and can limit details as necessary.  Information on the news is for you and is not age-appropriate for a child.

(2) Underscore safety:  Ensure your children that the authorities and people in charge at their schools are doing everything possible to keep everyone safe.  Help them to understand that a school shooting in one location does not mean that there will be another one in a different location.  These incidents are thankfully very rare and your children and their friends are not at risk because this has happened. In this case, as the gunman is also dead, there is a finality to this devastating rampage.

(3) Remain calm and levelheaded: While it is natural to be upset and infuriated about the shooting, it’s important that we don’t overwhelm children with our emotions.  They need to know that we are strong and reliable if they have questions—and that we are there for them if they need to talk.  If YOU need to talk about it, call a friend or speak to a loved one.

(4) Expect some unusual behavior or feelings: Sometimes news of this sort can make the children act in different ways.  Some will become withdrawn and quiet while others may become hyper or clingy.  Ask them how they are feeling and if they would like to talk. Assure your child that they are OK and give them space to feel anyway that they do—validating their feelings as normal and natural.  Help them to expend nervous energy in productive ways without pushing them.

(5) Discuss fears: Whether you sit with them and have a conversation or use art, role playing or dolls, allow children to express their fears.  What will help them feel safer and more secure?  Fears are nothing to be embarrassed about– today or any day. Sometimes just listening and being their can assuage their fears.

(6) Do not dismiss or avoid: It’s a tough topic.  But if your children are asking about it, talk to them in an age-appropriate way.  You don’t need to go into details and if you don’t know an answer, just say you don’t know! Assure them each time that they are OK and the people in charge are working hard to keep everyone safe.  Remember, if you aren’t talking about it and they want to hear an answer, they will go to another source.  YOU need to be the source.

(7) Hug them tight:  Nothing says safety and security like being tucked into your parents’ arms.  Tell them that you love them and that you and everyone who loves and cares for them are doing everything you can to ensure their safety.

The hug, of course, is also for you.  At times, having children can feel like a really big, tough and even frustrating job.  Everyone has their moments.  But today, take time to hold your children and tell them how grateful you are to have them.  That your life is enriched by them.  That they fill your heart with the most delicious happiness and you thank goodness everyday that they are yours.

Do it.  Again and again. You’ll be glad you did.