Parenting Advice: How to Maintain a Positive Mental Attitude

“If momma aint happy, ain’t nobody happy. It’s an old saying with timeless wisdom. It’s the theme of many song lyrics, the driving force behind successful memoirs, and a truism of life. When the mom isn’t happy (or even the dad), it affects the mood and rhythm of the home and family.

Most everyone can agree that life has its trials. Parenting is stressful and unpredictable. Marriage and other significant relationships are hard and take work. Being an adult isn’t as fun as kids portray it to be. There’s way more work than time; more expenses than money, and more emotional demands and expectations than you can possibly address. And someone is always unhappy. Or so it seems.

What makes the journey better or worse is attitude. A negative mental attitude sets you up for failure. It spreads like a poison and affects everyone around you, and not for the best. It’s frequently intertwined with perfectionism, the need to get everyone done, to be good at everything, to be everything to everyone. And it’s impossible to be perfect. It’s unrealistic and it sets us up for failure before we’ve begun.

So what is the secret to a positive mental attitude and how does one achieve it? According to the Dalai Lama, one must achieve a calmness in mind to develop a positive mental attitude. For those of faith, prayers can achieve that inner state of calm. For nonbelievers, calm can be achieved through introspection and lived experiences. But here’s the kicker, lived experiences means living a full life, one with risk, learning, and introspection.

Another key to happiness and a positive mental attitude is a drive to develop our own sense of compassion toward others by helping others develop themselves. It’s a bit of a pay-it-forward mentality and it reaps return benefits to the recipient and to the giver. Think about the time you volunteered at the homeless shelter, served meals on Thanksgiving Day. Didn’t it boost your day?

A positive mental attitude requires work, discomfort, and constant effort. It also means we have to continuously feed our minds and hearts with messages that foster the positive.

Does that mean we ignore the negative, live under a rock, or listen to Anthony Robbins tapes on repeat? (Note: Just in case you don’t know him, Anthony Robbins is an international speaker, an affirmation guru, and life coach who has purportedly helped millions of executives, entrepreneurs, and regular folk reach phenomenal financial success and personal satisfaction). No. But it does mean that we should nourish our minds and souls the way we nourish our bodies.

I knew this message from the Dalai Lama, the need for introspection, compassionate service to others, and inner calm. But I must admit that I occasionally struggle with that positive mental attitude. I’m Type A personality to the max, listed as an ox (a work animal) on the Chinese Astrological chart, and turbo-charged as a person. I love work. I love goals, the rush of having just a little too much to do. I also know that having a positive mental attitude isn’t merely good for me. It’s good for my family and unless I live certain practices, I can’t expect my children to learn them either.

I decided to survey others, about a hundred of my closest friends to find out how they maintained a positive mental attitude. Okay, I’m lying but I did survey at least a hundred people at work and on social media. The following is a compiled list of responses from people who use methods that help them maintain a positive mental attitude.

1. Take care of your own needs. A wise mother in my community shared this story. On one family trip, she got to the hotel and realized that she had packed for everyone but herself. No clothing. No toiletries. Nothing. She realized that it was time to take care of herself and how often as parents we put ourselves last. Even if you go to the gym three times a week, or schedule an annual physical, you are taking care of yourself. You are putting yourself on a list along with the dry cleaning and grocery shopping. You have merit and value.

2. Stay in the moment. Also known mindfulness, its seeds sprouted in Silicon Valley, where technology and stress coexist in equal measures.  Based on transcendental meditation, its focus is to teach the mind better focus and inner calm. It uses visualization, teaches the meditator how to isolate the stress and essentially excise it from the psyche. Being mindful also means to stay in the moment. It’s the awareness  that arises through paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally,” Instead of harboring on all the unfinished chores, focus on the moments you’re spending with the kids. Enjoy and laugh through that movie. Savor the salty deliciousness of popcorn. Enjoy that book, the sensation of chocolate melting on your tongue. Get it?

3. Write in a journal. Journaling about deeply emotional events can be a transformative activity. That’s the analysis of Dr. James Pennebaker, a professor in the Department of Psychology at The University of Texas at Austin and author of several books, including Opening Up and Writing to Heal. “When people are given the opportunity to write about emotional upheavals, they often experience improved health.” They go to the doctor less. They have changes in immune function. If they are first-year college students, their grades tend to go up. People will tell us months afterward that it’s been a very beneficial experience for them.”

 

Journaling for just 15 minutes a day is found to improve outlook, mood fluctuations, and outlook.
Journaling for just 15 minutes a day is found to improve outlook, mood fluctuations, anxiety, and school performance.

4. Tell yourself affirmations. I used to think this was totally hokey. But here’s the funny thing. The brain is the most impressionable organ in the body. You can convince your brain to change it’s thinking. Ever heard the expression, “Fake it till you make it?” Here is the premise. By surrounding yourself with positive messages or by using self talk to interrupt a negative tape recording you have going in your head, you can effectively train your brain to think more positively. Try it. The next time you’re beating yourself up. The dinner burned. The kids were upset with you. Your boss reprimanded you for missing the point of a meeting, interrupt any negatives thoughts by saying, “Stop!” Look in the mirror and say, “You stop! Now!” Sounds ridiculous. But one of two things will happen if you do it. First, you’ll be totally embarrassed and you’ll giggle. Or, you’ll realize that you’re no longer ruminating over the same issues.

 

Positive affirmations are a type a self talk. Self talk can help us interrupt negative thoughts patterns.
Positive affirmations are a type a self talk. Self talk can help us interrupt negative thoughts patterns.

5. Build routines to eliminate chaos in your life. Yes, chaos breeds chaos. If you’re running from one crisis after another, if your house is always in shambles, if you’re constantly missing appointments, you’re living without a routine. When you’re productive, when you feel like you’re organized, it’s builds confidence and that contributes to a positive mental attitude. In 2003, during my husband’s one-year combat tour of duty in Iraq, I was a wreck. I had seven teenagers at home and a four-month-old infant. I was in graduate school, working, and totally distraught. I discovered this bizarrely effective organizer website called FlyLady.net. The mission of the site is to teach its followers how to organize, accomplish, declutter, and think positively through the act of routine and organization. It’s based on the premise that everyone can be productive for 15 minutes. And 15 minutes at a time moves mountains. It helps us feel good, like we’re on top of life, like we’re in control.

6. Eat small regular nutritious meals.  Eating small, regular, nutritious meals maintains and stabilizes fluctuations in blood sugar and can stave off moodiness, headaches, and fuzzy thinking. Include low-fat protein sources with each meal, lots of fresh vegetables, and some complex carbohydrates. Fresh fruit in the afternoon is a better pick-me-up than a candy bar; water or diluted juices hydrate better than coffee or soda.

7. Move. Movement of any kind is good for the body and the mind. In children, short movement breaks can improve concentration. Also, regular exercise a few days a week, a brisk morning or afternoon walk, aerobic or low-impact exercise is shown to reduce stress, improved sleeping, improves flexibility, and releases endorphins.

8. Take an adult education class. Learning is a transformative experience. It engages the mind. It builds confidence. It pushes boundaries and constitutes living a rich life. Many community colleges offer reasonably prices classes in just about anything–bowling, cooking, knitting, snorkeling, motorcycle riding and maintenance. Learning is fun.

There are so many other great suggestions offered by people on social media and I apologize if I didn’t include them. Just remember that a positive mental attitude is achievable but it’s something you have to work at, consistently and diligently. Unlike a brownie, it’s effect on your mental health has long-lasting benefits.

National Preparedness Month: Raising a Child With Grit

September marks the beginning of the harvest, apple-picking season, the Fall equinox, and a changing of leaves. Historically, farmers prepared food stores for the long winter months, squirrels and burrowing animals collected and buried food stores, and adult fowl taught their young to fly in preparation for the migration to warmer climates.

It’s also the most active month for hurricanes, especially in the Atlantic Ocean. Over the past century, more than two-thirds of the most catastrophic hurricane variety have taken shape in September or in a two-week window before or after.

For that reason, the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) has designated September as National Preparedness Month and encourages Americans to become educated and better prepared for natural or man-made disaster. As a parent, it’s an opportunity to protect your family more effectively by following FEMA’s recommendations.

Be aware of the risks and dangers. If you live along a fault in California, in Portland within line of vision to Mount Hood, in to the Midwest during tornado season, or along the Atlantic coast between June and December, you are probably aware of potential natural disasters that could occur. If however you’re a recent transplant, FEMA recommends you do your homework and learn the potential dangers associated with your geographic location.

Take action. At the least, each family living in a natural disaster zone should have a 72-hour kit (one for each family member) packed with non-perishable foodstuffs and enough drinking water to last for three days, a three-day supply of non-perishable food and drinking water for each person in a household. The kit should be stored in a dry, safe yet accessible location. In addition, FEMA recommends a family plan. Parents with children should map out safe zones where children should go in the case of a disaster, especially if they’re away from home. It’s especially important for your child to understand that you can’t always protect them but you can teach them how to protect themselves.

Be active in the community. As a parent, you can be a mentor to your child by being involved in your community’s emergency rescue plan with organization such as the American Red Cross, with the volunteer fire/paramedic corp, or with MARS. Known as military auxiliary radio system, this Department of Defense sponsored program consists primarily of licensed amateur radio operators who are interested in assisting the military with communications on a local, national, and international basis. MARS operators are trained to coordinate emergency communication within a community.

But, preparedness is more than the tangible packing of an emergency kit. As a parent, National Preparedness Month should be your call to action, a time when you teach your child “grit.”

What is this grit? An term now in vogue, it’s the opposite of helicopter parenting. Rather than hovering and overprotecting a child, parents who teach grit reinforce values associated with character building.

In educational terms, it’s a toughness and resiliency to rebuild after failure, to persevere, to never give up. On a personal level, it means to face insecurities and fears and to push through anyway. It requires restraint, delayed gratification, and failure. And it’s essential to building character, to surviving personal crises; and it can be taught during a disaster, in preparation for other hurdles.

Take this example. In February 2010, a narrow swath of snow passing north and west of New York City blanketed our area with nearly 55 inches of snow over a 36-hour period of time. Just an hour south, Manhattan received a few inches of slush. I thought I was prepared. My oil tank had been filled the week before. I had drinking water, a propane stove, a cell phone with a car charger, and a car filled with gas. The refrigerator was full. Cabinets were filled with non-perishables. And we had lots of movies.

Height of the snowfall from our front door.
Height of the snowfall from our front door.

Six hours into the storm, the power went out. We listened to the devastation on a battery-powered radio and made candles from olive oil and wicks. To keep the house above the 50 degree mark, I boiled water. To warm chilled bones, we bathed in tubs filled with boiled water. While the kids and dog huddled in my bed, I told stories. We cooked. I created arts and crafts projects. And whatever emotional reserves I had, I threw into keeping the troops upbeat. For five days, we remained in that stasis for five days until the municipal plow dug us out. Then we packed up whatever belongings we could carry to the car over the snow drifts and drove to friends beyond the snow line.

Despite being perpetually cold and bored, the kids treated it as an adventure and added it to family lore they could share with others. Between between August of 2011 and October 2012, we rode out other natural disasters: Hurricane Irene, an earthquake, a freak-of-nature Halloween snowstorm, and Hurricane Sandy. By the end of 2012, the kids had become weathered and had stories of waiting in line for dry ice to prove it. Slowly, my nine year old, normally a mini-series of emotional explosions had built up tolerance to the unexpected. And whenever anyone in conversation complained about an impending snow storm, my two would pull out the pictures of the 55-inch snowfall they had weathered.

Little by little, my kids were learning grit.

But, grit is more than surviving disaster. It’s about learning how to overcome adversity, how to rebuild after failure.

When a child has grit, he learns how to rebuild after personal tragedy or failure.
When a child has grit, he learns how to rebuild after personal tragedy or failure.

“Grit” is the toughness that develops when a child stares down a challenge, persists through adversity, or refuses to quit after failing countless times.  While it doesn’t come naturally, it can be cultivated through by mentoring a positive role model, by forcing kids to face their fears, and by helping them through emotionally challenging times.

According to Stanford psychologist, Carol Dweck, believing that you can succeed even after suffering repeated setbacks (what Dweck calls a “growth mindset”) can actually re-wire your brains. Students who show grit don’t stay still. They’re scrappy. They push through one road block after another until they’ve reached the finish line. It is this type of grit that can create a lifetime of success.

Over a period of years, the progress of KIPP alumni were tracked. KIPP is a network of free, open-enrollment college-preparatory schools that prepares students in under-served schools with skills they need to succeed in college and the professional world. Graduates who persisted and succeeded in college were not necessarily the ones who had excelled academically in a charter high school; they were the ones with exceptional character strengths, like optimism and persistence and social intelligence. They were the ones who were able to recover from a bad grade and resolve to do better next time; to bounce back from a fight with their parents; to resist the urge to go out to the movies and stay home and study instead; to persuade professors to give them extra help after class.

Why do the KIPP results matter? Because those students who continue to succeed in college and beyond are the ones who will routinely rebuild after crisis. They will be the ones with enough character values who won’t collapse with failure.

Failure is a part of life. Crisis is part of life. And “change is as much a part of life as death and taxes,” as the saying goes. Those children who develop grit, who fall, scrape their knees, and are taught how to recover and try again, will develop into adults who can better weather the highs and lows of life. While natural and man-made disasters happen may affect each of us just occasionally (at least I pray that’s true), highs and lows, disappointments, and setbacks are part of the normal terrain of life. By teaching your child grit, you can raise a healthier, more resilient human being.

What The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy Can Teach Us About Internet Safety?

In the spirit of Douglas Adams, here are the answers to the questions.

The answer is not “42.”

However,

–the internet is a type of universe.
–surfing the internet is a more efficient, economical type of travel.
–“It is known that there are an infinite number of worlds, simply because there is an infinite amount of space for them to be in.
–“Before any trip, a traveler must be prepared. In particular, bring a towel. “A towel is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitch hiker can have.”

When Douglas Adams penned the The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, he never intended on the novel to be a cautionary tale. Set in Islington, UK, The Earth and The Universe, the novel was a sci-fi comedy about two unlikely friends, Arthur Dent and Ford Prefect who were forced to navigate through the Universe after Earth was destroyed by aliens in order to make way for an intergalactic highway bypass. To aid their travel, the two rely upon The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. Similar to a tablet, the dictionary-like guide has entries and definitions for any and every person, place, or thing a traveler might come across in the Universe.

The similarities between the seemingly random, absurd travels the two friends make and the process of surfing the internet are hard to miss. Surfing the internet is a type of journey, a serendipitous experience where search engines can catapult the user to a multitude of people, places, and an absurdity of thing.

Any trip or journey requires planning and preparation. Adults usually have the experience to assess costs, route, risks, and potential outcomes of the trip as well as the final destination. A child doesn’t have that expertise. A child surfing the internet without a plan, guidance, and rules is a child at risk.

Before your child embarks on a journey on the internet, talk with him about the goals.
Before your child embarks on a journey on the internet, talk with him about the goals.

 

A parent must prepare a child for each journey on the internet. A parent must prime a child.

To prime something is to prepare or make ready for a particular operation. Soldiers are primed before operations. Athletes are primed before competitions. Actors are primed with dress rehearsals before performances. As a parent, you can prime your child before, during, and after a trip on the internet.

How can you prime your child? Remember the following mnemonic: Plan, Restrict, Integrate, Monitor, and Engage.

Plan: When my children were young, I was guilty of using the television as a parenting tool. Sometimes, at least once a day, I craved the 30 to 60 minute break I could get from sitting my toddlers in front of Sesame Street. Would I do the same with the internet? Nope. The time a child spends on the internet should be planned. A parent should decide what games, activities, and websites or video-chatting friends are permitted.

Restrict:  Surfing the internet is like flipping through thousands of cable channels on the television. A few will be appropriate for your child’s age group. Most should be restricted to a more mature age group. Even more should be limited to a pay per view. For a child with unrestricted internet service, there are unlimited websites a child can visit. While operating systems typically provide some filtering under internet security, there are more sophisticated filtering systems that discriminate between adult content, academic fraud, social media, and games. According to PC World Magazine, OpenDNS is a flexible program that allows parents to block content completely based on criteria.

Integrate: The internet can be an effective tool when used for self-directed learning, and has been shown to improve concentration, problem-solving skills, cognitive integration, cooperation, and self regulation. These observations were made in The Hole in the Wall Project, a study conducted in 1999. In the study, impoverished children given technological access became motivated and self directed to not only master the operation of the computer. They also collaborated with others and passed on whatever knowledge they had gained to others. Today, the wealth of web quests, digital libraries, simulations, and educational games that build metacognitive skills make the internet a powerful tool for learning. Parents can utilize key programs and websites to enhance a child’s school learning or everyday problem solving.

Monitor: Discuss internet safety with your child and specific dangers. Teach them how to stay safe, how to avoid spam and viruses, how not to ever give out personal information on the internet. Discuss current trends with your child. If necessary, set up a contract that outlines rules and guidelines clearly to your child. Do allow your child to explore once the guidelines are clearly

Engage: Discuss with your child what they learn from the internet. Maintain an open forum of communication and do participate with your child when they feel exuberant about something new they’ve learned or a skill they’ve mastered thanks to the internet.

Most of all, like Ford Prefect in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, discuss each journey your child takes on the internet. Ask him questions about the experience? Address concepts he might not understand. If he discovered something disturbing, encourage him to talk about it and help him to integrate the experience. If the experience is absurd, find a way to connect it to something meaningful in their learning. Most of all, prime your child for learning, for a journey on the internet before, during, and after.

 

Predicting Coparenting Ability and Why it Doesn’t Matter One Bit

Predicting coparenting ability shouldn’t be rocket science. And it isn’t. Yet someone found a way to make it so.

Coparenting is the way in which parents relate to each other in their roles as functioning parents. For instance, let’s say you, as the mother of your children, go out to see a movie with a girlfriend. You leave instructions for your family that under no circumstances are the kids to have ANY candy before dinner, which is currently warming in the oven, courtesy of your hard work and devotion.

The minute you walk out the door, your husband winks at the kids and pulls out a giant open bag of candy from behind his back, puts a finger in front of his lips and says, “Shhhhhhhh. Don’t tell Mom.”

Predicting Coparenting Ability and Why it Doesn’t Matter One Bit

Dad’s coparenting behavior pattern is, without a doubt, one of undermining Mom. Not an especially effective coparenting method, right? That should be clear to anyone with half a brain.

Yet somewhere, somebody decided that we need to find a way to TEST people before they become parents so we can see if their behavior as parents is predictable.

Like DUH.

The scientists gave expectant parents dolls to play with. That’s right. Dolls.

So at first the study participants felt kinda stupid, playing with Barbie and Ken or whatever anatomically correct facsimile thereof they were equipped with for this purpose. But soon enough, they got into it, the playing-with-dollies thing. And it seems that, WONDER OF WONDERS, the way they played with the dolls turned out to be exactly the way they would coparent, 9 months postpartum and again at one year on.
Predicting Coparenting Ability and Why it Doesn’t Matter One Bit

They really needed a study for that? Come on. I knew at age 3 that my sister was bossy and that when we played house, she got to be whatever she wanted and told me what to do. She’d still be telling me what to do 5 decades later. And guess what? I didn’t need scientists to tell me that. I observed it on my lonesome. At THREE.

Similarly, when my husband and I were dating, I recall with excruciating clarity a discussion we had while walking to a park to sit and take in the nice fresh air. We were talking about coparenting. But we didn’t call it that in those days. In fact as it turns out, we didn’t even have a name for it. But we knew what it was all the same.

So, there we were, my husband-to-be and I, walking along and I say, “It’s really important that when you say ‘no’ to your kids, you meant it. Otherwise, ‘no’ becomes meaningless and you have no power as a parent and your kids will suffer because no one is in control and it’ll all feel random and kind of insecure for them.”

(Forgive the run-on sentence. I was 18, full of opinions, and of myself, but yeah. That’s probably how I sounded.)
Predicting Coparenting Ability and Why it Doesn’t Matter One Bit

So my husband-to-be—now my husband these past 35 years—says to me, “I don’t agree. Sometimes you need to bend and kids have to see that you can bend and be flexible.”

Let’s say you ground a kid,” he continued, “And then you see he’s contrite. You totally should let him off the hook. Especially if there’s something important he’ll miss as a result of being grounded.”

“Wow,” I said. “I so don’t agree with you there. All you’ll be doing is showing that you can be manipulated so that a no becomes a yes, with a bit of cajoling.”

“And I don’t agree with YOU,” said my then husband-to-be. “Showing children you can be merciful, teaches them to extend MERCY to OTHERS.”

We had reached a standoff. Clearly we were not meant to, um, coparent. Our styles were at variance (to sound all scientific and so forth). One of us, ME, would say no. And the other one would give in. Every. Single. Time.

(Or most of the time, anyway.)

And guess what? Neither of us decided to call off the romance. Nor did we decide we’d get married but never have children.

SPOILER ALERT

In fact, we not only got married, but had 12 children together.

We did that 35 years ago. We didn’t play with dolls together under the watchful eyes of scientists either then or 9 months or even a year after our children were born. And somehow we’re still making it as a couple and as, um, coparents.

Do we have disagreements? Of course we do. But we get past them. Do we have the same disagreements over and over again on a regular basis?

Yup. And we get past that, too.

And you know what? Our bond is stronger than ever and our kids aren’t damaged. That’s the main message I want to share here, and one you wouldn’t get from playing with dolls with quasi scientists looking on.

People aren’t perfect. Not separately and not together. And neither is life. We’re dealt a hand and we, um, DEAL with it.

Nothing more, nothing less.

My point?

We all get upset from time to time with our coparenting partners because of fundamental differences of style. That’s because, as my fave movie scene puts it, “Yes. We are all individuals!”

I just figured I’d put this out there, having seen that study with the dolls written up. Not to mention we’re nearing the end of summer vacation, it’s hot, and parental nerves can get a bit frayed. Be strong and of good cheer.

There will be clashes between you and your parenting partner and that’s bound to be for the simple reason that you are two different people. But you can get past the differences to move on and stay together.

It’s not a reason to split up.

And that’s a good lesson for your children to witness, with or without a side order of science.

School Anxiety: Fear of Failure

To many, I present as a calm, composed individual. There are times when I can be a bundle of nerves. I’ve been through child birth six times and two combat deployments as an army wife. Yet, there are two things that send me into a full-blown panic attack–the sound of the dentist’s drill and heights. So when one of our daughter’s convinced me to jump attached to a tandem instructor out of an airplane with her, I panicked. I did it anyway and held my breath for the first 5,000 feet of the free fall. It’s the unknown that makes me anxious. Will it hurt THIS time? Will the parachute fail?

Not everyone reacts to stress-inducing situations the way I do. Not everyone reacts to the same triggers.

For many kids, school can be an anxiety-producing trigger.  In preschool and early elementary, separation anxiety can create stress and worry for kids. For older kids, it’s the fear of not making friends and fear of failure that can induce worry and anxiety.

A little anxiety isn’t a bad thing. Adrenalin, the hormone our body produces during a “fight/flight” situation can be quite helpful. It helps with focus and sustained concentration during exams, athletic events, or school performances. With too much adrenalin, physical symptoms such as stomachaches, headaches, heart palpitations, and sleeplessness can result. If your child has back-to-school anxiety caused by separation anxiety or fear of failure, there are things a parent can do, according to psychologist and professor at UConn, Golda Ginsburg.

Create some familiarity. If your child is switching schools, take her to orientations where she can meet her teachers. If you can, walk her around the new school. Show her the classrooms, the lunchrooms, bathrooms, and any other places she might use as a student.

Set up social networks. If your child has friends attending the new school, set up dates with the friends so your child will know someone on the first day. Ask your child’s friends to talk about the school, their likes, about the teachers, even the mundane and annoying.

Prepare early and buy school supplies. A few weeks before school, make a list with your child’s needs and wants for school. Have her choose one comfort item that helps her feel more at ease when she’s away from home. If the new school has a uniform, order it early and buy school shoes your child LOVES. But, remind her the shoes are for school and she can only wear them on the first day.

Show her the list of school activities. Talk about the clubs and activities available at the new school. Take her to the baton twirling competition and introduce her to the coach. Take her to a theatre production and show her all the special things she can do as a student.

Practice trial run-throughs. At least a week before the first day, do a run-through. Get your child used to the school routine. During the run-through, have her lay out an outfit and pack her NEW backpack for the next day. In the morning, wake her up as you would on a normal school day. If she “brown bags” it, post a special lunchbox menu on the refrigerator.

Create a homework environment. If you child has a fear of failure, create a designated area and time where you want your child to do her homework. Some children with executive functioning issues do better if they with homework cues such as a set time and place.Be sure to stock your home with supplies–markers, construction paper, tri-fold boards, rulers, index cards, etc. so your child has what she needs to complete homework and projects.

What happens if the anxiety doesn’t pass months into the school year? If the anxiety persists or if your child refuses to go to school, it might be wise to seek a professional opinion. An endless sense of dread or worry not linked to a specific event could be symptomatic of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). According to Boston Childrens’ Hospital, a licensed therapist can teach your child effective coping mechanisms in anxiety-producing settings such as school.

With a little planning, you can do much to avoid anxiety-producing pitfalls and you can create an environment of consistency and support.

 

http://today.uconn.edu/blog/2014/08/coping-with-back-to-school-anxiety/
http://www.childrenshospital.org/health-topics/conditions/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad

 

Parenting With a Chronically Ill Spouse

You and your spouse have plans, big plans for your retirement, for your children, and for your family. You have expectations. Suddenly, everything changes. Your spouse develops some mysterious symptoms that evolve into full-blown illness. It’s a persistent, chronic illness that leaves him weak and in pain, irritable, and emotionally unavailable. While his doctors play with different medications and suggest different courses of treatment, you are responsible for his palliative care and for keeping him comfortable.

The burden of care is on your shoulders.
The burden of care is on your shoulders.

At first you remain hopeful and vigilant. The doctors WILL come up with a treatment plan, because you WANT it to be so. You’re positive with the kids, despite their concerns that you’re not telling them something. You rally them the way a commander rallies his troops before going into battle. While your spouse sleeps, you bake cookies with them, take them to the park, and snuggle with them extra time. As the days turn to weeks, nothing changes. His mood worsens. You become despondent and wonder how long you can sustain this?

Months into the illness, you lose your cool, and yell at him. It wasn’t his fault. His moaning and kicking kept you awake and you didn’t sleep. In fact, you haven’t really slept in weeks. Then your oldest daughter’s teacher calls. Your daughter hasn’t been turning in assignments. Then your mother calls and wants to talk.

“How could you talk about nonsense when I’m dealing with something important!” you say.

“You don’t need to be sharp with me,” she says. “I’m only trying to help. Perhaps you should find someone to talk to.”

All you want to do is scream, “why can’t everyone do what they’re supposed to do?’

That’s when it hits you. This is your “new normal.” You are co-parenting those children that you both made and you’re doing it alone. And you’re the caregiver for your spouse too.

At this point, you consider options. You could run away. You could ignore the problems. Or, you could accept this new normal and find ways to make life better for you, your spouse, and the kids.

Before you can make lots of changes, you must grieve. In fact, both of you must grieve the loss of life you had hoped for. Perhaps, because of the illness, your spouse had to give up his livelihood. You’ve possibly lost the freedom to come and go. Perhaps you’ve had to take a leave of absence from your job to care for him. Whatever the changes, acknowledge that both of you must work through the loss.

Next, make up a master calendar, one that the entire family can see. No doubt, your spouse will have additional doctors appointments. You will have more responsibilities relating to his care. Have your children add their afterschool activities and social activities to the calendar. Involving your children in the calendar will empower and involve them.

Communicate any challenges you’re having, either with his illness or with family problems. You are still a partnership and while you’re the caregiver and he the patient, treating your marriage like a partnership will help maintain an emotional intimacy. Also, don’t be afraid to express challenges to other family members. You don’t have to be a superhero in the caregiving business. You’re human. You have emotions. And, you have limitations too. A dear friend and former army wife gave me sage advice during my husband’s first year-long deployment. Make a list of 100 friends and acquaintances who’ve offered “let me know if I can do anything.” Hold them to it. When you have a hard night, if you need a cup of coffee, or someone to vent to, move down the list. It’s good to know you have people to talk to, you don’t have to over-burden best friends, and you show those on the list that you value them.

By adapting to a new normal, you can become an effective parent for your children.
By adapting to a new normal, you can become an effective parent for your children.

If you can, ask friends to solicit help from your community either in the form of car-pool or meals. In 2007, I had knee surgery and couldn’t get off the couch. We had seven children at home, some of whom had jobs and needed rides. While I’m not great at asking for help, I did follow this advice. I called anyone I knew, told them the situation, and asked for a helping hand. While not everyone could offer rides, some did. Others paid me visits or called to send wishes. A few ran errands or did my shopping. CareCalendar.org is a great organizational tool that helps members of a community to organize meals and other services to people in need.

Take care of your own health. According to Linda Carroll of Today.com, it’s not uncommon for the spouse/caregiver of an ill spouse to die suddenly. Caregivers tend to neglect their own health and place the needs of the ill spouse first. You can’t be an effective parent for your children if you die suddenly. That also means taking care of your emotional health. Don’t forget about friendships. Carve out time for yourself, talk on the phone, socialize, and maintain hobbies.

Let your kids be kids. They should know when you’re having a hard day; but they don’t need to know the intricacies of the struggles you face (unless they’re adults and are emotionally capable of participating in the care).  Despite the illness, you should communicate firm boundaries, what you and your spouse expect of them, and take an authoritative parenting approach. According to Psychology Today, an authoritative parent is firm but warm. An authoritative parent knows how to parent from a distance and knows when to step in and let go.

One important note. It’s scary for a child when a parent is ill and while some kids are naturally empathetic, some children might be afraid to go near the ill parent. While your spouse cannot be the same person, it’s important for both your children and your spouse to embrace the time together. If your child seems reticent, have an open and honest conversation with him and guide him back.

Finally, despite the change in roles, treat your marriage like a marriage. Schedule time for a date, even if it’s a movie in the living room. You and your spouse need to fortify hard times with moments of intimacy.

 

 

What Every Parent Should Know About Teenage Drinking at Home

Teenage drinking at home: are you under the impression that within reason, this is a good thing?

I know my parents thought so. They felt that if given sips of good liquor, we would relate to alcohol as something delicious to be had in moderation. That’s as opposed to tippling large quantities of drink for the sake of getting wasted.

Not that my parents were into drinking. They totally weren’t. In fact, I don’t even think their friends were into drinking, except for one woman they murmured about in low voices punctuated by the occasional tsk.

But my parents prided themselves on being good and generous hosts, so when there was a party, the liquor cabinet would be unlocked and there, revealed in all its glory, would be the four-tiered built-in, pull-out well-lit bar, with all the different sorts of glasses, swizzle sticks, and soda dispensers a tippler could desire.

Back then, there was none of this single malt scotch snobbery. Chivas Regal was considered top of the line. Ditto Bristol Cream Sherry, deemed  shutterstock_169020203elegant and therefore more appropriate to the ladies. Both these classics were present in my parents’ liquor cabinet, but there between them were such oddities as the tall-necked bottle of Galliano liqueur with its distinctive yellow color, and a wonderful chocolate liqueur from Switzerland with yummy cocoa nibs, to be drunk in small glasses as an aperitif. Whenever there was a party in our home, my siblings and I were given a choice of what we would like to drink and we could each have a modest portion of whatever we chose.

The liquor cabinet had a lock but we always had access to the key, because we also stored treats in the liquor cabinet; the kind of treats you eat while watching TV. It was understood that our parents trusted us not to abuse the privilege of access to liquor. For the most part, we never did.

Except once.

I was the youngest child at 11. My sister Margery was meant to mind me. She was 14.

Margery decided that my cultural education would remain incomplete until such time as I tasted a Harvey Wallbanger, which is basically vodka, Galliano, and orange juice. She mixed up two tall ones then and there. The next memory I have is of being passed out on the floor only to have my left index finger impaled by the spikes of my mother’s golf shoes. My sister had decided it was a necessary skill to learn how to walk in golf shoes, indoors on my mother’s new linoleum flooring. And since I was so rudely unaware of the importance of her learning experience, she decided to pretend I was simply part of the floor.

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I have the scar on my finger to this day.

Interestingly enough, my mother came home right at that moment and found me crying and bleeding on the floor. Naturally, I wanted to lay the blame on my sister who was, after all, supposed to be taking care of me. “Margy made me drink Harvey Wallbangers and walked on my hand in your golf shoes,” I sobbed.teenage drinking at home

My sister did get in trouble, but not in as much trouble as one might have imagined. It was deemed that we had learned our lesson about drinking and could now be trusted to never become crapulous again.

Now I won’t say we never got tipsy after that, but certainly not at home, and certainly not until we were grown-ups. We enjoyed the taste of liquor and yes, the pleasant glow of having a buzz on. I won’t deny that this is true.

All this occurred to me as I tried to formulate a policy vis-à-vis how I would handle the subject of alcohol with my own children. On the one hand, genetics were on my side. I didn’t come from drinkers, nor did my wife. So that eliminated one risk factor for my children. Happily so.

On the other hand, I wondered about the parenting theory my parents subscribed to: allowing children to drink in moderation in the home. Did this serve to foster “a healthy attitude about alcohol?” And what does that mean, anyway, a healthy attitude about alcohol? Is there such a thing?

So I looked into the issue and found that there is a preponderance of evidence against the practice of allowing children to drink in moderation in the home under supervision.

Studies On Teenage Drinking At Home

For example, one study of children in the 6th, 7th, and 8th grades whose parents let them drink at home had the steepest rise in drinking compared to their peers. See: Komro, K.A.; Maldonado-Molina, M.M.; Tobler, A.L.; et al. Effects of home access and availability of alcohol on young adolescents’ alcohol use. Addiction 102(10):1597–1608, 2007.

A second study found that teens allowed to drink at home will drink more than their peers when outside the home. See: van der Vorst; H., Engels, R.C.M.E; and Burk, W.J. Do parents and best friends Influence the normative increase in adolescents’ alcohol use at home and outside the home? Journal of Studies on Alcohol and Drugs 71(1):105–114, 2010.

A further study, showed that teens will drink less outside the home if their parents forbid drinking from an early age and who take care not to overindulge in drink themselves. See: van der Vorst, H.; Engels, R.C.M.E; Meeus, W; and Dekovic, M. The impact of alcohol-specific rules, parental norms about early drinking and parental alcohol use on adolescents’ drinking behavior. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry 47(12):1299–1306, 2006.

Lower Drinking Risk?

I came across only a single study that suggested that teens allowed a sip of a drink at a family gathering may have a lower risk factor for heavy drinking. See: Foley, K.L.; Altman, D.; Durant, R.H.; and Wolfson, M. Adults’ approval and adolescents’ alcohol use. Journal of Adolescent Health 35(4):7–26, 2004.

Taken as a whole, the literature on the subject is persuasive: teenage drinking at home is something that is best forbidden by their parents. Mom and Dad did a good job raising me. But the evidence suggests that my kids might not be as lucky as me and my siblings were in relation to drinking habits. The key to the liquor cabinet is therefore going into hiding.

I’d rather not take the chance.

 

 

Two Men Go Through Simulated Labor As Their Wives High Five

The pain of childbirth carries with it certain implications. There’s the biblical idea that women experience the pangs of childbirth due to Eve’s sin in tempting Adam to eat from the Tree of Knowledge. There’s the idea that women are somehow superior or tougher than men and that in their place, men just wouldn’t make it through labor and delivery. Finally, there’s the idea that men should feel guilty forever more for selfishly making their women go through childbirth.

As for that business with Eve, talk about collective punishment! Women going through all that pain for thousands of years for something that was done before they were even born? More likely, God knew that women would make their men feel guilty about their womenfolk suffering so much so He gave them something handy to say, “Well, hey! It was a WOMAN who gave Adam that apple in the first place. It’s not MY fault your great great great great great whatever grandmother made Adam sin. “

A kindness that, having an excuse at the ready. Yeah. Throw that guilt right back at ya, Babe. Thanks, God.

Who’s Weaker?

So that takes care of the unfairness of collective punishment for the women and it takes care of the guilt that men feel for getting off scot-free. That leaves the argument about the superiority and toughness of women relative to men. Who is the weaker of the sexes?

Happily for us, two men volunteered to go through a simulated birth experience to answer the question for us once and for all. Well, kinda sorta. They only go through a single hour of simulated labor. Not to mention that they don’t have to actually push a baby out, or an afterbirth, or have stitches, or deal with the postpartum aftermath while caring for a newborn who wants to be fed every couple of hours or so 24/7.

But their wives seemed please to watch them suffer. Isn’t that the main thing? Oh, and yeah. They survived. So maybe men are as tough as women after all. What do you think?


I think I totally would have aced the simulated labor experience. Piece of cake. Now excuse me while I duck, because if you’re anything like my wife Carey, you want to throw a shoe at me right around now. 

Does a Child Really Need a Father?

As anthropologist Margaret Mead famously said, “A father is a biological necessity, but a social accident.” Does a child really need a father or is the father merely an accessory before the fact? Handy for the genetic material he provides, but completely irrelevant in a child’s life? What can a father give a child that a mother cannot?

Once upon a time, the father’s role, at least in the Western world, was clear-cut. He was the breadwinner. He gave manly advice, pitched baseballs, and dispensed punishment at mom’s behest. But things were different in those Leave it to Beaver days of yesteryear.

Fathers Do Childcare, Moms Work

Today, the idea that gender influences who will earn and who will manage childcare is less clear. There is no reason that fathers can’t change a diaper, cook a meal, or do a load of laundry. There is no reason that mothers can’t work fulltime.

So other than the obvious biological contribution of a father to a child, do dads bring something to the table that is unique, compared to moms? Or is he just kind of there or perhaps in the way, after he does his initial part?

Note that these are rhetorical questions. They’re rhetorical because all you have to do is watch a dad with his kids and you can see there’s a different dynamic in play. It’s something you’ve always known without having put much thought into the subject.

Unless you’re a researcher with an interest in parenting styles, that is.

Have I piqued your interest yet? Okay. I’ll stop being coy and I’ll out with it: researchers have found more similarities than differences between moms and dads when it comes to parenting. At the same time, the differences that are apparent are important. Children that have a combination of both types of parenting, i.e. are raised in a two-parent home in which there is both a father and a mother, have an edge over those children who do not. It is the combination of both styles of parenting—mothering and fathering—that offers children the richest parenting experience.

Let’s take a look at four parenting patterns that have been identified as displaying the distinct differences between mothers and fathers:

1) Type of Interactionshutterstock_150591431

The Difference: Moms do more care-giving. They dress children, wipe their noses, feed them, and make sure they do their homework. Dads engage in more playful activities. In particular, dads throw kids up in the air, roll on the floor, and play sports with their kids.

Dad’s Added Benefit: The father’s more physical interaction with his children can add to a greater sense of self (proprioception) which can in turn contribute to spatial awareness, physical grace and fitness. Physical interaction and activity also generate endorphins, the feel-good brain chemical. In other words, spending time with their fathers makes children happy.

2) Verbal Interactionshutterstock_140979544

The Difference: Moms talk more and repeat themselves. They ask a lot of questions and they explain things to their children. Dads talk less and do more with their kids. When they speak to children, it’s more about giving directions and making demands. Mothers work at anticipating needs, but with fathers a child may have to work harder at getting across wants and needs.

Dad’s Added Benefit: Fathers expect more from their kids and this may contribute toward readying children for the outside world, such as at school and in the workplace, where they may be challenged to find a more effective manner of presenting and articulating themselves.

3. Tolerance and Patienceshutterstock_167007815

The Difference: Fathers are impatient when it comes to children whining or crying for help with tasks they well know how to perform. This is particularly true in the case of sons.

Dad’s Added Benefit: As long as the impatience isn’t expressed in an abusive or demeaning way, the father’s lack of patience with dependent behavior may lead to greater independence and ready a child for separating from his parents.

4. General Behavior

The Difference: Fathers tend to behave in an unpredictable manner. Children tend to know what their mothers will say and do. With fathers, the sky’s the limit. A mom, for instance, will always pick up her child the same way. A dad, on the other hand, may pick up a toddler by his feet or by the side of his shirt.

Dad’s Added Benefit:  Kids express their excitement at a dad’s approach from a young age. Dad surprises them and that’s fun. They also know to be prepared for anything when it comes to dad. Once again, this is good practice for the outside world, where the unpredictable is the norm.

By now, there is a wealth of information relating to the benefits of a father’s contribution to his child’s life. Children with fathers do better in social situations, have an improved self-image, and do better in school. That’s just the tip of the iceberg as more advantages to having a father are revealed each day. Children with both fathers and mothers have a wider interactive experience and learn that there is more than one way to handle every situation. That means that children with fathers and mothers are more willing to hear about alternative solutions, are more flexible. They have larger skill-sets, too.

In other words, just maybe, Margaret Mead was wrong. Fathers are no social accident but are instead, an excellent addition to a child’s life, bringing vibrant physicality, unpredictability, greater independence, and exciting challenges to the formative years of children.

Vive la difference!

Birth Moms Can Lie In Utah and Dads May Never Know

Did you know that birth moms can lie in Utah with impunity?

Until now, if a woman wanted to have a baby and keep this news from the baby’s dad, all she had to do was go to Utah. There, she could give birth and put the baby up for adoption, and daddy would be none the wiser. If that happened to me, and I found out, I’d be furious, and feel extreme frustration at being kept out of the loop, with the law complicit.

Imagine! Taking a father’s rights away from him. We may not carry children, but those same children would not be here without us dads. Isn’t it only fair that we should have our legal rights as fathers’ addressed?

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Utah state senator Todd Weiler thought so. That’s why he sponsored a bill called the Adoption Act Amendments. The governor of Utah, Gary Herbert, appears to agree with Weiler, which is why he signed off on the bill. But not everyone is happy.

Wes Hutchins, an attorney for a group of 30 plus fathers that made a federal suit over the civil rights matter suggested the new bill only serves as a cosmetic fix since women can still cheat the system.

Here’s the deal: a woman gets pregnant and decides to carry the baby to term and then give it up for adoption, but she doesn’t want the father to know. She gives birth in Utah and can then put the baby up for adoption without needing to inform the baby’s biological father or obtain his consent.

The bill changes things in that the biological mother must live in Utah for at least 90 days. Alternatively, she can file forms with the court that volunteer information about the birth father. The court can then decide whether or not to compel the mother to inform the father prior to putting the baby up for adoption.

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Hutchins, who also serves as president of the Utah Council for Ethical Adoption Practices (UCEAP), says a pregnant woman can lie and there would be no legal ramifications. All she has to do is sign an affidavit stating that she’s been in Utah for 90 days and no one will force her to inform the biological father. Even if it is later discovered that she lied on the affidavit, there’s a Utah statute called “fraud immunity” which makes it impossible to reverse the adoption process.

The most a father would be able to do in such a case is sue for financial damages. But the father can never recoup the loss of the child.

For this reason, there were other recent attempts to change the state legislature to redress these issues. For instance, there was an attempt to remove the fraud immunity statute, as well as an attempt at creating a pact between states. Both efforts failed.

Unequal Burden?

As a father, I read about the goings on and the truth is, I am annoyed to no end. First women accuse fathers of not putting in the time or effort into raising children compared to women. They talk about the unequal burden. Then you read about sperm donation in which fathers are just biological repositories to be used for a single purpose and then cut out of the picture. Now you have this business of adoption.

I can’t imagine not being a part of my children’s lives. I would be horrified to find out I had offspring being raised by a stranger when I am right here: not so hard to find and certainly ready to shoulder my responsibilities as a dad. It’s just not fair. Not to dads and not to those children.

Happily, it appears that very few women are actually abusing this Utah loophole for any but the best reasons, such as an abusive father, who would not be a positive factor in raising a child. Still, should women get to make these decisions on their own when the child has a second parent? Is it right that just because her body nurtures the baby for nine months, she has carte blanche to make all the important decisions about the child, when it could impact on that child (not to mention the father), forever?

It’s SNEAKY

And is it right that women can hide a child from a father by lying and never have to pay any price for this? It seems sneaky to this dad. Sneaky and LOW.

Under what circumstances do you think it would be right for a woman to keep a pregnancy and subsequent adoption a secret from the baby’s biological father? What do you think should be done to protect fathers’ rights?

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