parenting

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder: Answering a parent’s question

Dear Julie,

My child has all the signs of ADHD and is driving us crazy. He is like a tornado, can’t finish any project, has trouble with his peers, and is failing in school. What are your ideas for us, his parent?

Dear Parents,

ADHD has been around for a long time. Many decades ago, it was look at disapprovingly, like some mental defect. The children adapted by being the class clowns or dropping out. They felt dumb and were treated as having a disability. In the early 60′ drugs became available on the market, mainly Ritalin, but the side effects could be severe.

“My child has turned into a zombie,” was the most frequent complaint.

Parents often opted out of medical interventions with no other recourse. Nowadays, there are at least 10 drugs that are effective to one degree or another, Adderall, being the one I’m most familiar with. They have less side effects depending on how they are dosed and monitored.

The good news is that medicine isn’t the end of the story, or even the main character. Just like your child is not just his brain, his “disorder” is interconnected to other parts of his body that can be helping or hurting his condition. Treating the other parts can pull all his body organs together into a well-functioning organism.

Body Systems

I can get you started on a journey to find resources to approach ADHD (or ADD) from many angles. Depending on the severity and origins, it may require your child’s lifestyle be examined and altered. Similar to having a child diagnosed with asthma, parents look holistically at diet, air quality, dyes and perfumes, pets and inhalers.

The same holistic approach should be taken with a child with ADHD. I believe a medical examination (or two) by trained professionals is the first step. Start with pediatrician and then consider an integrative medicine doctor, nutritionist, and other specialists as necessary. In that process, parents should always be in charge and weigh all the information they get to try what they feel is best. If something isn’t working, they keep trying.

Working with your son’s classroom educators is critical. If the teacher does not appreciate or understand ADHD or know how to structure the learning environment, it can become a frustrating, demoralizing place for that child. He/she may become ridiculed and felt to be stupid. Get an IEP if necessary and follow through that accommodations are appropriate and successful.

If your child’s educator needs a little coaching, start with structuring your son’s desk or table with “nesting.” Nesting means to set up your child’s workstation so it surrounds them. Sometimes children will struggle if they can’t find something that helps them to stay on task. For an example, having all the writing implements they need at their grasp is important. If they get up to find something, they may not sit down and refocus for a very long time. Having everything surround them, helps them to remain in place.

Depending on the severity, many young children can be trained with biofeedback and CBT/DBT, or other behavioral modifications from a trained coach.

Here are a few some websites.

https://www.adhdcoaches.org/find-your-coach

https://psychcentral.com/blog/when-you-cant-afford-adhd-coaching/

In the city where I live we have a well-respected business called Brain Balance that is found nation wide: https://www.brainbalancecenters.com/

There are also plenty of books and podcasts to listen to on this subject. Get educated as parents! Talk to others with children with similar needs and find out what they recommend. Get on Facebooks groups. However, be cautioned that one miracle cure for one child does not necessarily do the same in others.

Central to behavioral therapy involves learning organization tricks, establishing routines and schedules, taking frequent breaks with grounding (sensory grounding, not the punishment kind) and vigorous exercise, mindfulness, as well as examining the diet. If tested, many find that certain processed food, most sugars, dyes, and food common to allergies will spike the ADHD.

No Sugar Challenge - Posts | Facebook

Video gaming and device use must also be examined. I find that children, particularly those with mental/cognitive deficits, can help their brains to rewire by working closely in nature and with animals daily.

New Study Shows Having A Dog As A Child Makes You Less Likely To Suffer  From Anxiety

Sleep also needs to be examined because the brain needs to go into REM to restore and regenerative cells each night. So if the child is not getting deep and adequate sleep, that is another angle to address.

3 Tips to Help Your Tween Get to Sleep Before 10 p.m. | Parents

If the child is older and responsive to medicine, it takes time, practice, and patience to see what works. One medicine may do loopy things to the child so that means you just need to give that feedback to the doctor and try again. There are many safe and effective medicines, but everybody responds differently so it’s a trial and error to find the right one at the right dose.

Most importantly, it’s important to learn that the best perspective you can have as parents is that your son isn’t weak-minded, stupid, wrong, broken, or doing this to make everyone’s lives miserable. To be sure, the child knows that he is missing something and like having dyslexia, needs adaptive and coping mechanisms. These children are some of the brightest, most creative, and compassionate. People with ADHD can be extremely focused when they find something they are passionate about and worth diving into.

To that end, when raising a child with any “disorder” it should be framed or stated a positive way so there are no negative perceptions with which to burden a child and distort their self-concept. They have a special way of thinking, processing, and doing things that make them super. I believe fictional geniuses like Tony Stark as Iron Man

Iron Man Mark 3 - Armor Suit Up Scene | Iron Man (2008) Movie CLIP HD -  YouTube

and real people like Robin Williams

The Death Of Robin Williams: Two Psychiatrists' Perspectives | MGH Clay  Center for Young Healthy Minds

embraced their creative ADD minds to become marvelous inventors and entertainers. Kids needs to see that they are super like that, too.

Empty Nesters Now

I said goodbye to my 5th, and last, child this fall. He left for college. Some parents find this a heart-wrenching time and cry for days with the covers pulled over their head.

I get it.

My mom said when my last sibling left home, she closed the door on the house and the “click” sounded like an echo chamber in a tomb—

hollow, claustrophobic, and terrifying.

It’s a huge life transition to change from a parent fulltime to a parent… hardly ever. I mean, of course I’m still a parent forever, but not hands-on, blood, sweat, and tears rolling down my face anymore. I won’t know if he’s eating or sleeping enough, washing behind his ears, turning in his homework, and being kind to people or not.

It’s funny that you’ve only become successful at the job of parenting when you’ve been fired from it. You want to eventually get “out” of the job, the same one you’ve immersed yourself in 24/7 for decades, to see that your young adult is adulting now. Even though we’d like them to be under our protective wings forever, that isn’t the way it’s supposed to be. They’re meant to grow up and make their own decisions; they’re meant to distance themselves from us to become capable, independent people who don’t need to call home to ask if Skippy or Jiff is the better peanut butter.

So here was my little boy, around 2 years old. He was my world.
And here he is on the day he headed off to college in his red car.

I felt a weight lifted off my shoulders when I shut the door. An invisible weight I hadn’t known was there for the past 33+ years. I’m not done parenting yet, but launching my last was a huge relief.

He’s a good person. He works hard. He serves others. He is responsible, just like his older siblings. There is no dossier about a parent who does the magnificent and improbable task: to raise an infant to adulthood in this wild, wild world. There needs to be more bands and parades. There needs to be confetti (or money) showering from the sky. There needs to be an Olympics Gold Medal for every parent who makes it this far.

Since he’s been gone, it’s been quiet around the house, for sure. The house stays clean. I can wake up and do whatever I want. My husband and I feel like we are back in the honeymoon years with just ourselves again (but with more money).

I highly recommend this stage to everyone.

My hat goes off to any parent who raises a responsible adult. I know just how hard it is and there are no guarantees that after all the good parenting, the child will grow up to be a good person. I guess the more accurate thing to say is my hat goes off to any parent who loves their child, and loves some more, who knows when to say “no,” and who never gives up.

Now…if you want to find me, I’ve gone to Disneyland.

Freedom!

Helping Children Achieve Their Goals

It’s a good time to visualize a better future. Having so many restrictions in our lives during the coronavirus stay-at-home quarantine helps us appreciate what we can do when we’re able to again.

For one, I can’t WAIT to go back to the fitness center and swim again. It’s a small wish, but oh, how I’ve missed doing it.

We were going to take our son our our traditional family “senior trip,” the one where we let our high school senior child dream, plan, and do with us. We’d been dreaming and planning on a trip to Iceland for the past year. We were supposed to be there this week. It would be our last senior trip with our last child.

Ya. That isn’t happening. Rather than seeing waterfalls and Blue Lagoon geothermal mineral spa, we’re visiting the family room, bathroom and, for some new scenery, the kitchen sink.

We’re not letting that get us down (not too much). As my friend said, our dreams right now are not cancelled, just postponed.

You might have heard of Dream Boards. Some call them “Vision Boards” because they help us envision, or tangibly see what we want. They can help us visualize goals. It would be a great activity to do as a family while stuck at home. Help our children see what are the possibilities of a post-coronavirus life. A dream depends on hope; a hope is a lifeline to a brighter tomorrow. What do you miss and want to see yourself doing again in the near future?

Here are some pictures I could post on my board:

Swimming.

Hugging people, shaking hands, and being close again.

Dressing up to go to a nice event (I’ve forgotten how to put on mascara).

Travel. Anywhere.

Eating at a restaurant.

Going to a sporting event and cheering loudly with thousands of others, all crammed together with reckless abandon.

Going back to a classroom with a real, live teacher who is being paid a billion dollars.

Attending church.

Buying food and supplies and finding them well stocked on shelves.

But what do we do beyond just staring at those pictures of the physically fit person we want to be or the vacation we want to take?

Here’s a interview I did on the Matt Townsend show on BYU radio. After the first interview (about 1 hour) I follow on the topic of on Doing Not Dreaming. Matt and I talk about helping our children achieve their goals.

Listen now. http://www.byuradio.org/episode/73c676d7-0f84-4985-a6cf-ff863abc763a/the-matt-townsend-show-doing-not-dreaming

What you water grows: Part 1

You can find plenty of parents out there on social media who gripe about being parents. Sure, being a mom or dad is hard. If you’re a stay-at-home parent who has these little critters 27/4, the messy days, lack of sleep, and wearing down of nerves is a real thing. I’ve been there. I get it.

However, as a social scientist and family studies expert, I also believe in the power of “what you water grows.” It’s a scientifically proven principal, and as a lover of gardening, it’s a law of nature I can count on as well. What this means is:

  • Every interaction or relationship has an 80/20 ratio.
  • About 80% of that person is what you love and, in the case of your spouse, the reason why you married them. Then there’s the 20% of what you don’t love so much, perhaps is even a bit annoying, and is a reminder that no none’s perfect (including the 20% in ourselves, mind you!).
  • What you focus on gets more of your attention. I can see the roses or the thorns…it’s my choice.
  • What gets more of your attention is reinforced in your mind, as well as in the other person or thing.
  • If I see the rose, I find beauty and am filled with gratitude, love, and appreciation.
  • If I look for and find the best in the other person, I will find it. If I look for and find the weaker parts, or thorns, in the other person, I will find that too.
  • If I continue to look for and reinforce the weaknesses in another person, the 20% in them inflates to eventually becoming the 80% and I feel completely justified in hating them, being dissatisfied, disgusted, or feeling justified in my removal of love (water) and acceptance of them.

Children and their parents have about an 80/20 relationship principle as well.  I can tell you from raising five babies to teenagers, that they stink, are moody, or contrary at least 20% of the time. But if you can look beyond the crazy hairstyles, acne, and sullenness, you’l find pretty remarkable, talented, loving, funny, smart, social, delightful human beings. I’ve enjoyed every stage of life with them. Each is my favorite.

Click on this image and say aloud what is the first thing you see.

Because of the darker images, usually our eyes are drawn to the bats or demons, as the artist Escher wanted. But look at it again, and stare for a while at the white spaces. Coming into focus, when we really concentrate, are angels.

In every person, there is both, good and bad, light and dark. It’s our choice to look past the things that are of no lasting consequence in our children and spouses and quiet down that voice that wants to criticize. Instead, sit still. Be calm. Focus on the light and the white spaces between. See what angels are brilliantly waiting to emerge and for us to embrace them.

And then water, water, water.

 

 

 

Keep ‘Em Safe Out There!

 

A few years ago, I wrote for WalletHub magazine when they came calling for experts to comment on an issue. I am no expert in finance by any stretch of the imagination, so why in the world did a money management business magazine request something from me? I’ll never know. Maybe it had to do with the fact that the topic was about Halloween and kids and well…that’s something I know a little about.

I guess they kept my name on file because they emailed me for another contribution to their upcoming Halloween issue. Here is the final product with my mug in it. If you want to skip reading the article, here is what I wrote plus a little more (no extra charge!)

  • What measures should parents take to ensure their kids are safe when trick-or-treating?

If children Trick or Treat in groups, there should be at least one responsible adult or older sibling who knows how to keep young children safe when crossing streets, approaching doorways, and knowing a familiar walking route. One of the primary dangers of Halloween is being hit by a car. Kids should never run ahead of the group or their parent, but instead, stay together. Use designated sidewalks and cross walks, obey pedestrian lights, and be sure the driver makes eye contact with you before crossing in front of a car.

Attach a piece of reflective tape somewhere on their costume or bag. Children also love to wear glow sticks and this doubles for being seen better at night. The leader of the group should also carry a flashlight. It’s always a safe practice when your child is out in public to write your phone number on their palm or inner arm with a permanent marker, or pin it to their costume.

Although many costumes include masks, it’s much more safe to paint on your child’s face so their eyesight is not limited by two tiny eye holes. Many schools prohibit masks anyway, so avoid buying or making masks and opt in for decorative non-toxic face painting instead. Speaking of costumes, check the fabric to see if it’s flame resistant and that accessories (like a knife or sword) have a soft or blunt end.

Go through your child’s candy (not to eat the good stuff!) to make sure all pieces are individually wrapped. No hard candy should be given to a child who might choke and be sure to check for food allergies.

Check out where registered sex offenders live before sending older kids out to Trick or Treat on their own so they do not go near those houses. Older children should each carry a cell phone and discuss a plan for “what ifs” and a reasonable time to be off the streets.

  • What are some healthy treats or nontraditional goodies that kids might actually enjoy?

It’s hard to compete with good, old fashioned candy as a Trick or Treat reward. Kids don’t usually drool over apples and carrots and this healthy switcheroo will definitely not get you nominated for Best Parent in the Neighborhood. But surprisingly, here are eight sure-fire rewards that kids won’t throw immediately into the trash when they get home. They may even enjoy them long after the candy is devoured (and stomachache ensues).

“Super” or Bouncy balls. Who doesn’t love them? They are popular at any age and they even come in “glow in the dark” which is cool for Halloween.

Natural Fruit Leather. A healthy, naturally sweet alternative to candy.

Stickers, especially if they are high quality. Have a variety so the kids can choose their favorites.

Mini flashlights. They can be ordered in bulk to bring the cost down and they are a bonus for keeping kids safe while they Trick or Treat at night.

Fake Mustaches. What a fun and silly way to celebrate dressing up.

Glow Sticks. Here’s another “treat” that doubles for a wearable item to keep kids more visible and safe while they safely Trick of Treat.

Individual-Sized Popcorn or Pretzel Bags.

Mini Playdough. I’ve never seen a child turn this down. You’ll get “oohs” and “aahs” for sure with this one. Maybe ever Parent of the Year.

No More Monkeys

Does bed time with your kids look more like a crime scene than a sweet dream? Unlike adults, little units seem to get more wound up as the sun goes down. They save all their energy and mischief for the night time, like gnomes or witches.

Comedian Jim Gaffigan once said that kids act like they’ve never been put to bed… EVERY day. “Bed? What’s that? I don’t want to go to bed.” It’s like the movie “Groundhog Day” but every night.

Speaking of movies, there was a fabulous FB post by exhausted parents who suffer this routine every night. They all posted a movie title that best describes putting their kids to bed. And it doesn’t end well or look like this:

sleeping-1311784_640-640x360

The Series of Unfortunate Events

The Long Kiss Goodnight

The Remains of the Day

Catch Me If You Can

Girl, Interrupted

Awakenings

Never Let Me Go.

The Negotiator

Most nights? Much Ado About Nothing. (With a generous amount of drama that Shakespeare would have been proud of) The especially bad night? 10 Things I Hate About You.

Insomnia (she is currently belting out show tunes and jumping on her bed).

The Crying Game

Something’s Gotta Give

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly (I have 3 😉 )

Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (me trying to sneak out after she is asleep)

The Fast and The Furious.

The Never Ending Story

The Sound and the Fury

She’s Not That into You

It Comes at Night

Hellraiser

In and out (of bed numerous times)

The Perfect Storm

The Greatest Showman

Never Back Down

The Hunger Games (mainly because they are all suddenly starving)

Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close

Sleepless in Seattle.   🤣

Fight Club

The Big Sleep (mine are teenagers)

Scream. And Scream 2

Superman (my husband runs the routine. My hero.)

Good Night and Good Luck

The Parent Trap

Infinity War

Up

Mission Impossible

PS I Love You

There Will Be Blood

True Lies

Night of the Living Dead

Boss Baby

The Zookeeper’s Wife

Kill Me Now

Get Out

Return of the Mummy (every freaking 30 seconds!!!!)

From Dusk till Dawn

The Great Escape

Throw Mamma From the Train

Where the Wild Things Are

Lost In Space

Morning sequel: The Walking Dead.

Dances with Wolves

Eyes Wide Shut

Silence of the Lambs

Darkest Hour

Nightmare on Elm Street.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest

Zombieland

The Final Showdown

Dazed and Confused

From Dusk Till Dawn

Oh….if I weren’t laughing so hard I would be crying in pity. Have you seen this time lapse video of a mom of three kids sleeping in bed? Warning: it’s painful to watch and earns the movie title, “Sleeping With the Enemy.” You know, one of the ways they tortured prisoners of war was to deprive them of sleep AND play high pitched noises. Hmmm. No wonder we become babbling idiots, willing to hand over the nuclear missile launch codes or at least give in to whatever demands our children make. One more cookie? Sure. Have three. Another glass of water? I’ll be your waiter for the evening.

 

 

 

Want Smart Kids? Play some “rough and tumble”

There’s more and more research proving that “rough and tumble play” or “roughhousing” is beneficial to your kids. Dads do this intuitively. If I’m in a room with male and female adults and a baby appears on the scene, it takes only minutes before that baby turns into pigskin and the men are tossing it around like they are the quarterback and wide receivers on the 49ers. Moms stand aghast, their eyes and mouths wide open.

When-A-Kid-In-Thrown-In-The-Air-How-The-Father-Sees-It-Vs-How-The-Mother-Sees-It

What’s going on here? Why are we evolutionarily wired to play differently with kids? This is a photo of a friend whose husband loves to manhandle their chubby baby. She made a disclaimer: no babies were harmed in the taking of this photo. In fact, she promised he is a kind, loving father (who just happens to love to squish the bejebbies out of this cute face).

squishy face

The book  The Art of Roughhousing: Good Old-Fashioned Horseplay and Why Every Kid Needs It is a great resource for parents who want these benefits from wrestling and physical play with kids. Here’s their claim: “Play—especially active physical play, like roughhousing—makes kids smart, emotionally intelligent, lovable and likable, ethical, physically fit, and joyful.” Let’s look at each benefit more carefully.

1. Roughhousing makes kid smart.

This is fascinating: Roughhousing fertilizes our brain. For real. This kind of physical play releases a chemical called brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) which really is like fertilizer for our brains. Roughhousing stimulates neuron growth within the cortex and hippocampus regions of the brain, responsible for memory, learning, language, and logic. Animal behaviorists have found that the youngsters of the smarter species engage in physical play, so it isn’t surprising that roughhousing actually boosts school performance. Who knows? If your kid wrestles everyday, he might win a scholarship to Yale!

2. Roughhousing builds emotional intelligence.

Because roughhousing helps children develop skills in reading the emotions of others—Is he going for my gut? Or is he going to grab me over the head?—as well as manage their own emotions—I am not going to hit him in the gut or grab him over the head—they are well prepared to navigate successfully through the emotional adult world: reading a boss’s mood, knowing how to challenge a co-worker, being able to hang with the family during the holidays. Moreover kids learn how to regain self-control, which makes them more confident in their emotional lives.

3. Roughhousing makes kids more likable.

This is true for four reasons. First, physical play builds friendships and other relationships, and this is especially true for boys, who don’t gush all over each other, much less say “I like you.” Roughhousing can be a declaration of friendship or affection not only for elementary school boys, but for young men, as well. Second, kids who roughhouse are able to distinguish between innocent play and aggression; therefore, it helps children develop social and problem-solving skills. Third, youngsters who physically play learn how to take turns. If they are playing right, each person will get a chance to chase, and to be chased. No one person should be “it” the entire time. Finally, roughhousing teaches kids the concept of leadership and negotiation. Think about the rules that go into physical games. Everyone needs to agree, which is wonderful preparation for professional success as well as committed relationships.

4. Roughhousing makes children ethical and moral.

Interestingly enough, the animals with the highest level of moral development also engage in the most play, especially physical play. One way we can measure moral behavior in animal play is by observing “self-handicapping,” when the stronger animal holds back his strength when playing with a weaker or smaller opponent. Humans do this too, and especially parents, when physically engaging with their children.

Write DeBenedet and Cohen:

When we roughhouse with our kids, we model for them how someone bigger and stronger holds back. We teach them self-control, fairness, and empathy. We let them win, which gives them confidence and demonstrates that winning isn’t everything. We show them how much can be accomplished by cooperation and how to constructively channel competitive energy so that it doesn’t take over.

5. Roughhousing makes kids physically fit.

This one is obvious. But physical fitness isn’t just about body strength, say the authors. It involves complex motor learning, concentration, coordination, body control, cardiovascular fitness, and flexibility. So free play is going to offer different benefits than, say, gym class.

6. Roughhousing brings joy.

As a species, humans are hard-wired for roughhousing, so the body and mind are happy when we let it happen. According to studies in neuroscience, when the play circuits in the brains of mammals are activated, they feel joy.

Source: https://psychcentral.com/lib/6-benefits-of-roughhousing-for-kids/

 

 

Keeping Balance in Military Families

When I was newly married and my husband was exploring career options, he asked what I thought about him entering the military. You see, he grew up an Air force “brat” and that seemed a natural career path for him.

I, on the other hand, grew up with a university professor dad providing the most stable childhood you could possibly imagine. I was raised in the same home in the same town. So naturally, I answered my husband with, “No way. Not on your life!”

Although I eschewed anything military for a personal family lifestyle, I support the military 100%. It’s just that as a social researcher and family scientist, I have studied the disequilibrium that upsets the balance of family life when one or more parent is serving full time in the military. Normal family life and parenting is hard enough without throwing in extended duty, deployment, and stressors of life-and-death job assignments.

As fate would have it, my oldest son decided (on his own) and announced out of the blue that he was going to follow his uncle and grandfather’s honorable careers and enter the Air Force. He’s on his 4th year of service and I’m super proud of him even as I hold my breath and say a little prayer each day.

My in-laws volunteered for one year after retirement as special military relations chaplains at Ft. Stewart and did a LOT of marriage and parental counseling. This family type special challenges that I’d like to address through these tips to help keep the “balance” of normal family processes.

(I’d like to credit the source, but I don’t remember where I read this originally)

  1. Establish and continue family routines. Children in any family situation thrive on routine. They feel secure with predictability (don’t we all!). Routines and schedules are special anchors in a child’s life who is feeling a few storms like separation from a parent due to death, divorce or military service. Bedtime routines, frequent mealtimes, chores and playing together give a child reassurance. No matter what else is happening, he can count on other certainties in life. Can you write down your daily and weekly routines? If not, begin today.
  2. Keep open communication. The military has improved dramatically in providing a family-friendly venues for communication. No doubt technology is the vehicle for keeping families talking. Real-time conversations are real life savers. Some children may find these awkward and distant, but it is certainly a way for couples to continue talking over significant parenting issues. If a child prefers phone calls, emails or letters in the mail, do what works for him. Write individual messages or letters, not a general one to the family.

Additionally, keep listening and talking with your child over their feelings and thoughts. Acknowledge fears and uncertainties and validate them. “I don’t like that mommy is away for so long either. Sometimes I am sad and feel lonely.” These words let a child know he is not alone and should not be ashamed of his feelings.

  1. Provide a security blanket. When a parent is absent, the child feels ambiguous loss, meaning that the parent is gone but not permanently. It is a different kind of grieving and loss than felt through a death. In lieu of a parent’s physical presence, the child can feel a connection through a physical object, or “security blanket.” Preferably, the child will want something that once belonged to the absentee parent, such as a hat or shirt or some other significant belonging.

Tangibles are powerful. A TV commercial picked up this theme when a child gave her father a teddy bear and he took pictures of the bear in different locations on his business trip. He sent them to her via a phone. This is a great idea for a military parent! Sending postcards are also tangibles…something I hold that you once held.

  1. Share responsibility (but not too much). When one parent is gone, help fill the void by everyone stepping up to the plate. Discuss as a family who will do what now that dad or mom is gone for a while. By filling in, the child can feel like she is walking in her parent’s shoes. As a child takes out the trash, she thinks, “This is what dad does when he’s here, but I’m helping him now” which helps her feel connected through a shared activity.

Doing a little more is a personal sacrifice that unifies the family. It empowers a child to know she makes significant contributions to family life. However, don’t pile on too many chores or the child might resent her parent’s absence. And don’t give a child a harder job than she is able to do.

  1. Stop parentification. Another way we can pile on too much is emotionally dumping on our children. “Parentification” is an unhealthy overreliance on a child to meet your emotional needs. When you are alone and lonely, it’s easy to turn to a family member to sympathize. We have a natural need to vent and share our feelings. Just don’t choose a child! They are not equipped to handle the emotional baggage nor is it appropriate for you to put them in the role of therapist, parent or adult.
  2. Find other military families. for support–kids can relate. I was delighted to hear about a group of military wives who organized a choir (put a link here).
  3. Use other support systems. Living in the military system is tough because it often stations you away from friends and family. No matter where you live, you can find a new “family.” There are organizations nationwide that offer great support for all families. Look them up and join whatever fits your family life. Boys and Girls Scout program are excellent for children and give the child other adult role models; organized religion can also be a great social community and spiritual strength. My mother-in-law chose to move to live with her parents for the year her husband was on tour in Vietnam. That stability of extended family was an enormous help to her.
  4. Be on the same parenting page. Let’s face it: the military is a dictatorship. The sergeant says jump and you say how high. The leadership style is not one conducive to parenting or a marriage. You are not the Sergeant of your home and the kids are not your Privates. Children shouldn’t salute or “hup two” when their parent give an order. But too often, a parent who is immersed in authoritarianism 24/7 will return home with that in-your-face approach. Yelling and punitive measures might work in boot camp, but not at home.

So leave behind your soldier stance and bring home the nurturing, compassionate mom or dad. Work on learning new strategies that consider the needs and sensitivities of a child. Both parents should learn the best parenting style, a balanced approach of love, boundaries and self discipline.

  1. Restore the military parent at home. My mother-in-law’s observations from many years living among military families as well as her work at Ft. Stewart: the coming back is harder than the leaving. The wife has assumed so much responsibility (or husband, if that’s the case) in his absence and has become pretty darned good at it! Once he returns, it’s difficult to give that back. It’s crucial that the wife steps back and let her husband return to his role. If she took over the finances, let him assume that again. He needs to feel important rather than marginalized. It she edges him out because she has been so competent, he will likely opt out of family life, not being the husband and father he needs to be.
  2. Take care of yourself. Don’t allow yourself to be miserable. It’s hard, yes. Harder than most people appreciate and harder than you probably imagined when you signed up for this family arrangement. The trouble with dwelling on the bad parts of separation is it gets you into far worse places. Those who stay home feeling sorry for themselves often turn to the computer to complain and vent their frustrations. They will find virtual friends who can easily turn into online romantic partners. Run. Away. Fast. This can lead to the ruin of your family. Remember the commitment you made to one another and the children who deserve the loving parents who brought them into this union.

When those feel-sorry-for-yourself imps whisper in your ear, brush them aside and get up and get going. Get out and find some interests. Nurture healthy friendships, and military wives have a great sisterhood to share. They will save your sanity! Your husband is doing highly stimulating professional work: physically, emotionally, socially and intellectually. What are you doing to advance yourself in these areas so he returns to an equal partner?

 

 

A Supreme Court Justice’s wish to his son’s 9th grade graduating class

We tend to think of Supreme Court Justices as austere (and a bit wizened) men and women staring down in long dark robes to deliver law and order from hallowed halls. Turns out at least one of them is a parent (who knew!) of a 9th grader.

Justice John Roberts shed his robes and spoke as a dad at his son’s commencement. Not only does he deliver wisdom to our courts, but timeless wisdom to our homes. The internet is picking it up because it offers some rare advice in a rather startling way. Time.com posted this headline to summarize his speech: “I wish you bad luck.”

I totally agree with his advice. Do you?  (read it first before responding…you may be surprised).

Here’s an excerpt:

From time to time in the years to come, I hope you will be treated unfairly, so that you will come to know the value of justice.

I hope that you will suffer betrayal because that will teach you the importance of loyalty.

Sorry to say, but I hope you will be lonely from time to time so that you don’t take friends for granted.

I wish you bad luck, again, from time to time so that you will be conscious of the role of chance in life and understand that your success is not completely deserved and that the failure of others is not completely deserved either.

And when you lose, as you will from time to time, I hope every now and then, your opponent will gloat over your failure. It is a way for you to understand the importance of sportsmanship.

I hope you’ll be ignored so you know the importance of listening to others, and I hope you will have just enough pain to learn compassion.

Whether I wish these things or not, they’re going to happen. And whether you benefit from them or not will depend upon your ability to see the message in your misfortunes.

That final line is the zinger: to see the message in our misfortunes. Parenting isn’t about shielding our children from pain, stumbling, or misfortune. I know my primal instinct is to protect. And protect we should, from infancy on for a few years. But there is a gradual letting go, even before Kindergarten starts, to prepare them for the world of disappointment.

They won’t be first in line.

They won’t get A’s on everything.

They won’t get picked first to play on teams.

They won’t get the first job they apply for.

So Justice Roberts gives us a little window into the hard knocks of life, especially for these privileged boys who probably had some helicopter parents in the crowd. And read between the lines: he’s telling us how to step back, let go, and help our kids become resilient and strong because of the opportunities that challenge give us/them.

As I read his dichotomous lines, I realize how opposition in all things can teach the greatest truth. I, for one, have suffered all these things at some points in my life: betrayal, loneliness, bad luck, being ignored, and losing. And many other hard things. I am grateful for each time these happened because these pointy lessons sent barbs into my heart to soften it up a bit. To bleed a little to feel the humanity of others and of my own.

Think of the compassion kids could learn if we could take to heart what Justice Roberts is saying here. Think of the wisdom, the integrity, the strength of character.

Agree or not? Now that you’ve read it, I hope you felt a little discomfort, as I did, to coach not rescue, to teach not save. It’s usually not our first instinct, but I am glad of the reminder to be more conscious of how to respond better.

Things a parent should never trust

A toddler playing quietly in the other room

Any leftovers in the frig you want saved if you have a teenager

A teenager who says they’ll be home “by midnight”

Filtering devices on the computer

Spreads of fashion magazines models

A child who says, “Everyone else’s mom lets them do it.”

Photos on Facebook or Instagram of everyone on vacation but me, all having the time of their lives

Movie ratings

A teenager with a new driver’s license

“Pinkie” promises

A recipe or picture of a beautiful dessert that looks easy to make

A weight loss program

Instructions to assemble [fill in the blank] in 4 different languages

A nurse who says to your toddler, “This shot won’t hurt a bit.”

A child who says, “Sure, I cleaned my room.”

Pictures of mothers with young children, both wearing white