Archives for March 2015

The Daddy Date, and Other Sacred Spaces

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As our kids get older, a lot of things may start to place themselves between them and their family. Their social circle extends ever further beyond their home and their siblings. They want to participate in new activities, take on new experiences, explore ever-widening territory, identify and hone their skills, talents and interests. All of these things are good and healthy and help our kids to establish their own identities. But this can make it harder for us as parents to maintain that connection that used to seem more natural. Just as we discover about making and keeping adult friends, it becomes work.

Often parents find that it’s harder to bridge the distance between themselves and their children as they grow into teenagers and young adults. Part of this is due to a phenomenon which is largely beyond our control, but important for to keep in mind: in today’s culture, our kids are finding themselves more and more among their peers. It starts to happen from an early age and only intensifies as they get older. In the book Hold On to Your Kids: Why Parents Need to Matter More Than Peers, authors Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Maté suggest that this phenomenon is a relatively new one, and that it makes staying connected to our tween or teen children that much more challenging. In fact, it renders any connection between children and adults—even trusted, nurturing and mentoring adults such as teachers and coaches, more difficult. They write:

“For the first time in history young people are turning for instruction, modeling, and guidance not to mothers, fathers, teachers, and other responsible adults but to people whom nature never intended to place in a parenting role—their own peers. They are not manageable, teachable, or maturing because they no longer take their cues from adults. Instead, children are being brought up by immature persons who cannot possibly guide them to maturity. They are being brought up by each other.”

This phenomenon is termed by the authors peer orientation. We want our kids, in the common parlance, to be socialized, to have experiences with a variety of people and to accept and honor differences among them. But we place them in a variety of situations—otherwise valuable and necessary settings such as public school, extracurricular activities, sports teams, camps—in which they are more likely to be influenced by people their own age, and as a result they may not be getting the adult guidance they need in order to grow and extend their skills and knowledge. And of course, parents are feeling this disconnect most strongly.

What can we do about this? We are busy as well, and often find that to be in the same place in the same time with our kids is a rare and precious commodity.

One answer is something to which we keep coming back around: routines. Establishing times in which to be together with our kids that is protected, even sacred, can never happen too early. When they are young it comes easily, in things like bathtimes, bedtimes, reading and play. But it is just as important to keep these times sacred and continue them as our kids get older.

  • Eating together, if at all possible, is one of the most basic and powerful ways that families can maintain that bond. For many families, in which parents work or go to school at different times, and kids are busy with their own activities, this is not always manageable. But even to set aside one night a week in which the whole family gathers together for a meal can forge a connection that runs through whatever changes may occur.
  • Family meetings are another valuable way to set aside time that strengthens family bonds. This can be accomplished in any number of ways, and can work according to each family’s needs; daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly, even yearly. They can be as structured or as informal as you like, and incorporate Powerpoint, a whiteboard, a piece of notebook paper, or…not. The Nurturing Parenting program has some good resources on how to start and manage family meetings.
  • A few years ago I instituted the Daddy Date, in which I, with one of my four daughters, leave the house and spend some deliberate time together. We might go to a coffee shop and read books, run errands or shop for groceries, go for a walk or a bike ride. The important thing is that this time is for us, and that my focus remains on the child. Daddy Dates are not always consistent or regular, and sometimes I find to my dismay that months go by before we can reestablish them. But my girls will take the opportunity whenever it is offered, and often make their own plans for one. The best part is that there will never be any reason to discontinue them; there is no growing out of this sacred shared time.
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The Talk

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Not to alarm you or anything, but it has become increasingly common for girls to enter puberty at an earlier age. There is a great deal of speculation about why this might be, but few definitive answers. It may be related to diet, or to the chemical makeup of contemporary foods. It may be influenced by environmental factors, and triggered by stress, trauma, major life events, birth order, or any combination thereof. The fact is that girls’ bodies are often no longer waiting for the teenage years to start those hormonal engines.

My oldest daughter, aged nine, unceremoniously entered puberty a couple of months ago. This should not have been a big surprise, as both her mother and mine were also notably early bloomers. Both of us had talked to her about what was likely to happen, and from her reaction it seemed that she was better prepared than I was.

Case in point: when it happened I was volunteered to go shopping for her first tampons. Armed with specific instructions regarding the number, size and thickness of feminine hygiene products I was to seek out, I found that the industry had beaten me to it: there was in fact a “tween” brand prominently displayed on the shelf. It was as if they had confused consumer dads in mind.

I asked my wife when she had first had “the talk” with our daughter, and she told me that it had been coming up in conversation since she was a toddler. Rather than a single instructive talk, the preparation for puberty has been an ongoing dialogue. After all, when four girls and a mom are sharing a bathroom, certain things are noticeable. Nor was this dialogue connected necessarily to the larger—and often dreaded—”birds and bees” talk (does anyone call it that anymore?). There was no need to get into the mechanics of baby-making.

So, talking to our girls about puberty was part of a larger conversation about getting older, bigger and taller. This is an occasion for pride and excitement. I had been approaching it from my own experience with puberty, particularly around the acne that plagued me with some regularity into my early twenties, and which prompted, by advice from my dermatologist, my inaugural attempt at a beard (it was…inconsistent). I figured it was important for my daughters to know about the hair that would be growing in new places; the sweat; the kaleidoscopic surfeit of thoughts and feelings; the sudden variety of odors and bodily substances that are part of the package of growing up. Our eldest was already a veteran applier of deodorant, a fact which has been a source of curiosity, even admiration, for her sisters.

It was a natural progression. In order to mark this event as a cause for celebration rather than fear or trepidation, we have since allowed our eldest to get her ears pierced. Thus we have instituted a tradition particular to our own family culture. No doubt your family will have its own.

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Spanking: The Debate, Sadly, Continues

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According to a recent article in the Washington Post (thanks to Cyrel Gable at Parenting Success Network for bringing it to my attention), “Millennials – the most recent generation to have been children – aren’t leading any attitudes change [sic] on the issue of spanking… If anything, they are slightly more supportive than their elders.” The article goes on to explain that the age of parents does not seem to have a strong influence on this attitude, but the fact remains that spanking continues to be seen as an effective form of discipline in spite of well-known and widespread research that indicates otherwise.

Because of the continued prevalence of spanking as a practice—and especially the fact that the younger generation of parents is even more likely to find it acceptable than their parents did—I would like to briefly address it here.

There are several generalized reasons given for the effectiveness of spanking children.

  • Some of them are based on personal rationalization, along the lines of “I was spanked as a child, and I turned out okay.” It is difficult to respond to this justification other than to point out that a major effect of being spanked as a child is that it leads to a likelihood of spanking one’s own children. One could argue that this counts as having “turned out okay.” It is okay, if spanking is a good practice, and, well, not so much if it is not.
  • According to the study cited above, religious beliefs play a part in the acceptance of spanking as well, in particular the Biblical passage regarding “Spare the rod, spoil the child.” As a practicing Christian I do not find this to hold water; neither do I wish to get into it here. Suffice it to say that spanking is a prevalent cultural practice among certain religious communities.
  • What is left, then, is the attitude that spanking is, in itself, an effective tool of discipline. And this has been discounted by decades of parenting research. We could apply any of a variety of models to question this attitude. I go to the “4 Questions” formulated by the organization Parenting Now!, because they’re easy to remember and apply to a variety of situations:
  1. What do I want my child to learn?
  2. Is what I’m doing teaching that?
  3. Are there any negative results from it?
  4. If so, what can I do differently?

I think you will agree that the answers are pretty clear. If we are wanting our child to learn any number of things—whether it be a skill, respect for authority, self-control, decision-making, what have you—then spanking does not lead to acquisition of the skill. As adults, do we learn better when faced with the threat of physical pain? Do we respect those we fear, or who hurt us and violate our personal boundaries? Does causing pain teach a skill? Other than that force is an acceptable way to exercise our power?

As for the negative results: are they not obvious?

That leaves the question of what our other options may be. And that is why organizations like Parenting Success Network are here. There are numerous blog entries, articles and resources dedicated to providing positive, nurturing and non-violent tools for disciplining our children. A quick online search for “positive parenting” or “positive discipline” will bring up a wealth of information, most of which is more likely to be useful than not.

I want to add that all parents, and I must include myself, have done things they regret because they feel they have run out of options. This is not the same as working from the assumption that physical discipline is a desirable or effective practice. But knowing the options can help in either case.

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When All Else Fails

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Let me start by saying that I am not a fan of Daylight Savings Time.

Bedtime routines are a cornerstone of parenting in our house. We have worked out, over the years and with a lot of experimentation, how to give our children what they need to have a calm, predictable and nurturing routine in the evenings. And when things change—for example, the clocks Fall Back—it can throw everything into disarray. Suddenly bedtime no longer looks like bedtime. It’s not even dark yet! And it feels like starting all over again. Tonight my four-and six-year old had an exceedingly difficult time going to sleep.

This post is not about bedtime. It’s about what happens when this job that we do, surely one of the most difficult jobs around, suddenly seems too much to bear.

I am employed as a “Parenting Expert.” When I tell this to people, particularly the families with whom I’m working, I can’t help but put it in air quotes. After all, I am equipped with every tool available: the latest research, the best strategies, the right language; all the tricks of the trade. I spent much of last week attending a Nurturing Parenting Facilitator’s Training, where I was surrounded by experts and picked up more information than I know what to do with. And tonight, it just got to be too much. Those kids were not going to sleep. They were going to cry and scream. They needed help, and at some point I simply forgot everything I had learned.

I failed, people. Parenting fail, big time. So I reached for the last tool I could find. I gave myself a time out.

When all else fails, and a parent feels that it is no longer effective or even safe to remain in what looks to be an impossible situation with a child, it is the parent that needs a time out. Walk away, find a quiet place, take some breaths. When I did this I felt like I was giving up; as a “Parenting Expert,” I was ready to turn in my proverbial badge.

Ten minutes later, when I returned to the bedroom, The Situation was more or less the way I had left it. The screaming was in full effect. Nothing had changed except that I had done the only thing left for me to do. And I had just enough charge left in my parenting battery to try it again. To be the calm presence, to assure them that they were safe. To apologize for the words I had used and to offer better, kinder ones. To hold a toddler’s hand.

They’re sleeping, for what it’s worth. And tomorrow is a new day.

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Why Can’t We Be Friends?

This week’s guest post is by featured contributor Esther Schiedel. We hope that you find it useful and look forward to future posts from Esther.

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In many parenting books and articles, I’ve come across the statement “you are not your child’s friend.” It always makes me wonder what the author’s definition of “friend” is. Because I do consider—and have considered almost from the moment they were born—my children as my friends. Why? Here is how I define friendship:

A friend is someone who I know and who knows me

A friend is someone I’ve experienced events or activities with

A friend is someone I can have fun with

A friend is someone I have common interests with

A friend is someone who I help and who helps me

A friend is someone I can share joys and sorrows with

A friend is someone I can trust

Here are some of the definitions of “friend” in the dictionary:

  1. a person attached to another by feelings of affection or personal regard.
  2. a person who gives assistance; supporter
  3. a person who is on good terms with another; a person who is not hostile:
  4. a member of the same nation, party, etc.

So why would some parenting experts advise against friendship? I assume it is because some friendships are unhealthy; and because friends often play a role (such as a confidant) that would be inappropriate in a parent-child relationship.

Examples of unhealthy “friendships” include:

  • “Friendships” in which the fear of losing affection overrides concern for the safety or well-being of the other person or for yourself.
  • Inappropriately exclusive and/or controlling “friendships.”
  • “Friendships” where the needs of one person dominate, to the detriment of the other person.

These “friendships” are familiar; most of us have been involved in one or more of them, particularly as we were growing up and experimenting with how to be in a relationship with another person. These mistakes helped us learn what not to do as a friend. Sometimes relationships survived these mistakes and became healthy friendships; other times we were able to form healthy friendships with new people.

What helped us to learn what to do as a friend? It’s not enough to learn what not to do. Parents who have healthy friendships with other adults provide a model for their children. I believe that having a healthy friendship with your child also helps him or her to learn about friendship.

So what is a healthy parent-child friendship?

  1. There are appropriate boundaries—the parent is still the parent and provides protection and guidance.
  2. The child is allowed to be a child, not forced into an adult role.
  3. The parent has adult friends and healthy relationships with them.
  4. The parent encourages and facilitates the child’s contact with and friendship with other children (and with other adults when appropriate).

My friendship with my children evolved as they grew into adults. There are still boundaries I’ve set, and additional boundaries they have set. I still have the urge to provide protection and guidance to them– they usually tolerate this, sometimes gently reprimand me about it, and occasionally request it. Our friendship will evolve still further as I age. I have good memories of times of fun and friendship with my own parents before their deaths. I hope one day my children will have similar memories of our friendship.

Esther Schiedel is parent to three adults, grandparent to two boys, and a Certified Family Life Educator. She provides parenting education through classes and workshops through LBCC and through her business, Sharing Strengths. She became interested in parenting education when she became a parent and had a need for more information and support.

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