It all began when I knit my 14 year old daughter a sweater. She’d accompanied me to the store to choose a soft, washable yarn in a neutral color she’d actually wear. During Covid I’ve picked up knitting again and found a healthy distraction in searching for patterns and scrumptious yarns. Because my grandmother taught me to knit when I was young, knitting sent a gentle signal to my brain, “Everything’s okay.”
A couple of weeks ago when I completed the sweater, I laid it on her bed so she’d see it when she got home. I imagined she’d try it on and show me how it fit. Over the past month I’d measured the length of her arms, inquired about how cropped she’d like it as that’s the current fashion and worked to tailor it just for her.
Because she never mentioned the sweater, I checked in with her in the afternoon, “Did you see the sweater? Please try it on — I’d love to see how it fits.”
She answered, “Not right now.”
Later I asked her again and she explained that she’d already changed into her pj’s but that she’d do it the next time she got dressed. The next day I decided to mention it one last time. My heart felt heavy. I didn’t want to get entangled in a power struggle with her over the sweater I’d made for her because I adore her. Needless to say, I never saw it on her.
Part II – The Pile
My daughter had recently cleaned out her room, placing all outgrown and unwanted items into a huge bag in the hall. Beside the bag was a loose pile of papers with a blue glue gun resting on top.
After a few days of watching the pile collect dust, I took a closer look and saw under the glue gun a photo storybook I’d created and given to her for her birthday some years ago.
This project, with a closeup of her soft two year old face on the cover looked to have seen better days. I picked it up and brought it into her room asking, “What’s happened to this?” She confirmed that she’d found it spoiled, likely because last fall she’d placed a little pumpkin from our garden on top of it, in a drawer. The pumpkin decomposed over the course of months.
I felt an anger rise in me and said, ‘You clearly don’t care about it.”
She answered, “I do care.”
I said, “If you cared you’d have come to me when you found it and asked what we could do.” I swore, “Just f***ing get rid of it then, but don’t leave it on the floor for me to take care of.”
Heart pounding, I retreated to my bedroom across the hall where I stood motionless, a little shocked that I’d spoken to her so harshly. Being the youngest child she was adept at avoiding conflict.
For a split second I thought, I’m going to ignore her, give her the cold shoulder. A memory flashed from the recesses of my mind of my dad ignoring me for two weeks after his feelings had been hurt because I’d been spending weekends at my friend Sharon’s house. I can remember him scolding me as we stood inside our front door, “You care more about her family than you do your own!” I was in 5th grade at the time and it was two weeks before he looked at or spoke to me again.
I decided I wasn’t going to ignore her, even though to hurt her back felt like the “natural” response.
Returning to her room, disintegrating storybook in hand I said, “I realize the reason I’m so upset is that my feelings are hurt. It’s becoming clear to me that you don’t care about things I’ve made for you.”
I was of course thinking about the unadorned sweater.
I repeated myself, “It’s becoming clear to me, and I’m speaking to myself now, that I need to focus less on you and more on myself.”
I felt my voice catch and tears well in my eyes.
Unlike 8 years ago, this time she said nothing. Through the uncared for storybook and forgotten sweater I was getting a message loud and clear, “Mom, get a life. While I need you to be there for me, I don’t need you the same way I used to and I’m not going to act in ways to please you. You haven’t trained me to take care of you and I’m not going to start now. My main concern right now is my friends and all the changes I’m going through. You can’t use me to feel good about yourself.”
I felt grounded when I turned to leave her room, closing the door quietly behind me.
I haven’t figured it all out yet.
It felt valuable to write about and share with you because it’s not spit spat all settled in me and tied up with a bow and maybe you’re having your own messy parenting moments. I’m sitting with a real life collision between my daughter’s age appropriate growth and what I’m gently naming my age appropriate stuckness, a slice of difficult wisdom.
It’s not only children who grow. Parents do too. As much as we watch to see what our children do with their lives, they are watching us to see what we do with ours. I can’t tell my children to reach for the sun. All I can do is reach for it, myself.
Mother’s Day is a sweet time to recognize all the good.
I feel so lucky because I’ll be able to celebrate this year with my own dear mother. She’s a quirky, creative, generous woman and an absolute treasure to me.
At the same time, life is not all happiness and joy right now for me as a mother.
One of my children is suffering. And as you know, when your child isn’t well, it can feel impossible to let that pain go.
So if your heart also aches because of an issue with your child, I want to remind you (and myself): we’re not alone.
My Mother’s Day message this year is simple: Take care of yourself.
Make a mindful choice to do the following:
Expand your tunnel vision*
*Devote time and energy to other relationships in your life. When you’re in a crisis with one child you can understandably suffer from tunnel vision. Consciously decide to continue to focus on your other children, spouse, and friends (who are supportive). This is important for your own health and ability to gain perspective AND for maintaining those important connections with people who love you and in the case of your other children, need your continued connection.
It’s easy to forget these basics and fall into destructive patterns when we’re filled with worry.
When you make self-care a central part of your life, you’ll find that the kindness you show yourself infuses your own life, and the life of your family with positivity. It provides a model for your child and makes the path to reach your goals and those of your family so much smoother. (source: 8 Self-Care Tips for Parents Who Have No Time for Self Care.)
Shortly after Eric finished up my 7- week parenting series, he sent me this story which beautifully illustrates the power of asking for a hug.
Last week on my way home from work, my wife Stephanie sent me a text that our daughter Grace (5) was being a handful, was in a horrible mood and that she had had it with her.
When I got home, I walked into the house and went straight to Grace and asked her for a hug. At first she turned her back and crossed her arms, and said no.
I then decided to ask her one more time and after a 5-second pause, she turned and gave me a big hug.
Steph said it was like someone flipped a switch on Grace. She went from being in the worst mood to acting as if she was having the best day ever.
It’s amazing to see the kind of impact and dynamics that something as simple as asking for a hug can have on a 5 year old.
Honestly, before taking your class, I probably would have come home and punished Grace for misbehaving and the entire afternoon would have been ruined for the whole family.
Asking for a hug sounds almost too easy, right? Too simple to be true?
However, while it’s simple… there’s a subtle tweak that’s key to the effectiveness of this parenting strategy.
“I could use a hug” vs. “Can I give YOU a hug?”
The first taps into your child’s deep need for significance and belonging. When you ask for a hug fromyour child, you acknowledge that they make a difference to you and in fact have a positive influence on your life.
In the later, you are reinforcing what your child hears and perhaps feels frequently: That children need help from grownups to feel better.
The parenting tool of asking for a hug (for YOU) is simple, easy, and effective if done from the perspective of genuine connection, genuine desire for your child to assist you! (Plus, who doesn’t love hugs? I love it!)
Try it out.
Ask a friend to be your parent and say these two phrases to you:
Could you give me a hug?
You look like you could use a hug.
Do you notice a difference in how you feel after each?
This week look for an opportunity to ask your child for a hug.
I’d love to hear how it goes in the comments below!
If you’re like me, you’re struggling right now to wrap your head around all that’s been going on in the world.
I don’t pretend to have the answers, but from my perspective it seems like disconnection is at the root of so much of the insanity and violence.
I believe that deepening and strengthening our connections — to each other, to the planet, to our families — is our path to healing.
It might seem simplistic, but I’m convinced that our collective well being and health begins with the health of our families.
And where better to start than with the holidays?
We all crave warm, loving connections with our family and children, this time of year more than ever. Bring on the dark storm so that we can be snug together, play a game, listen to music, and share a meal.
And while there may be heated moments of competition or disagreement, it’s all good because we’re together, making time for each other.
The following gift ideas may help you with this goal.
The list is organized into four categories:
Dinner Bell. This is so simple yet almost daily I’m reminded of the power of our dinner bell. Whether I make breakfast, a snack, lunch on the weekends, or dinner, I often notice a wee bit of tension building when my child isn’t eagerly awaiting my labor of love. Then I see the bell and it dawns on me: “Just ring the bell.” I can feel my expectations melting away with that simple action. Message delivered. I can breath and move on.
Mobilhome. Our devices get in the way of real connection. The Mobilhome is a super cool way to — without making a stink — let your friends and family know that when socializing in your home, you encourage a device free zone. By establishing a place for everyone’s phones, you’re acknowledging the value of spending undistracted time together. The Mobilhome is an original artisan project created by Yvonne O’Hare (we met at a writing workshop). When ordering one, use the code “holiday2015” until December 15 for an extra 10% discount with free shipping. If it’s out of your price range simply find a basket for phones to call home.
“Passing the Squeeze,” a ritual shared by my friend Catherine, will help you slow down and mindfully connect before meal time. You begin each family lunch or dinner with “passing the squeeze.” Everyone holds hands (people may choose to close their eyes if they wish). The person who cooked starts a hand squeeze in one direction and it gets passed around. When the squeeze gets back to the person who started it, she squeezes hands in both directions and then everyone squeezes hands. For extra credit meditation kudos, the person who cooked rings a meditation chime. Everyone listens for as long as possible before picking up cutlery and chowing down (I’ll let you know how that goes over at our house:).
Build closeness by creating a sense of significance and belonging for all.
Give children and their parents a place and time to practice leadership, responsibility, problem solving, empathy and love.
Establish a forum for communication that becomes increasingly significant as children mature.
Once you begin to hold family meetings you’ll experience even more tangible and intangible benefits for your family!
Join my list to download: Unlock the Power of Family Meetings: Your Free 7-Step Guide.
Qwirkle. I love this game! Using six unique colors and shapes your mind is challenged to find configurations that conform to the rules (no repeating) and give you the most points. It takes 30 – 60 minutes to play depending on how much conversation and silliness you enjoy. Recommended for ages 6 and up.
Sorry. Be sure to get the original version. What can I say? This is simple and fun. My son warned me against recommending Sorry because he said it gets people too riled up 🙂 That said, it’s most fun when everyone gets invested, regardless if you’re 7 or 70! It’s equal parts skill and luck… maybe more luck. Old school fun!
Hunt the Thimble. My friend Anna loves to play this one on Sunday evenings after their family dinner at her mother in-law’s house. Try it when you’ve got friends over or with the extended family. All ages! Here’re the steps to play:
Find a thimble
Choose someone to be “it”
Tell that person to leave the room
Choose another person to be the hider
Call in the seeker to start looking (it should be hidden within eyesight, not under or in anything)
The whole group can yell out “colder!”…”warmer…” Until the thimble is discovered.
Let the last hider now become the seeker, and so forth until someone rings the dinner bell 😉
Side note to parents of teens… it’s more important than ever to make the time to play games and simply find ways to be together. Don’t rely on your kids to come to you and ask for this time — if they do, consider yourself lucky! When your teen resists family time, I suggest persistence. Let them know that being with them is important to you. Here are general tips from Aha! Parenting for keeping connected to your teen.
My grandfather used to read stories aloud and even when I was too young to understand the content, I have warm memories of sitting on the floor next to him as he read while the entire family listened. The tone of his voice and response of those listening was enough for me. Here are some of my favorites to read to my children.
All About Alfie by Shirley Hughes. I received this as a gift when my second son was born (thanks Mark and Kelly). I love these old school stories, set in London, about Alfie and his little sister Annie Rose. For ages 3+.
Belinda lived in a little white house, with a little black kitten and a little gray mouse, and a little yellow dog and a little red wagon, and a realio, trulio little pet dragon…. Custard the dragon had big sharp teeth, and spikes on top of him and scales underneath, mouth like a fireplace, chimney for a nose, and realio, trulio daggers on his toes.
Sarah’s Unicorn by Bruce Coville. While this is great for early readers, I read it over and over to my children when they were 4 to 8 years old. We’re talking pages falling out. It was the hands down favorite for my son who struggled most with reading and finding interest in books. It’s out of print but you can find it used.
Charlotte’s Web, Stuart Little, and Trumpet and the Swanby E.B. White. What I love about E.B. White is his spaciousness – these stories are told at a human pace and scale. And what could be better than a mouse and a pig for main characters. The Trumpet and the Swan was harder for my daughter to relate to… maybe because she’d been immersed in the Harry Potter series and the change of pace was too dramatic? For ages 6+.
The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brené Brown. This one is for YOU to bolster your connection with yourself!! I come back to this book again and again as I find its message continually challenging and interesting. There are 10 guideposts for living our most excellent imperfect life. Take this a step further by gathering your most curious friends, and meet monthly to explore each guidepost.
Cultivate those activities that feed your connection to self and others.
Relax and be present. That’s what your kids want from you more than anything.
To increase the likelihood that you can relax and slow down, focus on activities like these:
Take a bath
Exercise, take walks
Cook or take out foods that make you feel good
Make time to read a good book
Go to bed early
Do something creative
In general, try to keep it simple, focus on the inside, notice the hilarity and joy of spending time with kids… generally BE KIND TO YOURSELF. That’s it.
This summer’s been a doozy. What once felt like a series of mini health crises has come to feel like the norm with appendicitis, stress fractures, depression, drug addiction, cancer and even death becoming a more common part of life.
Last summer, I started writing a post about how to parent when you feel distracted or distraught by a loved one’s suffering.
It’s a hard topic. So hard, that I never completed the post. I couldn’t bring myself to put a bow on it and send it to you. My thoughts never felt right or complete or enough.
Now, it’s back around as I’m dealing with my own health struggles. This week I had two areas of infiltrating basal cell carcinoma surgically removed from my face. With the surgery behind me and plenty of ice packs, I feel a sense of deep gratitude. My doctor described the tumors as nasty and aggressive and I’m lucky that they could be removed.
So I ask for myself and maybe you too – how do you parent when you’re struggling with your own or a dear one’s illness?
This is what I’ve gleaned talking with some of you and pondering the question these last 12 months:
Keep it simple. When your child’s needs feel draining of the little resources you have serve macaroni and cheese or Cheerios and let them watch TV. It’s okay.
Prioritize. Allow what’s most important to rise to the top. Family, food, sleep, and exercise (if possible) make up my essential list.
Say no mostly and yes only if that YES will enhance your life. Time and energy are limited. Use yours wisely.
Reach out intentionally. Ask for help — as my friend Liz says, “you may need to get over yourself” to do this. Remember that close friends want to lend a hand, particularly when a bigger situation leaves them feeling helpless.
I “got over myself” this past week when my friend Carolyn came bearing flowers the day before my surgery. Having had a similar experience, Carolyn warned me that the hardest part for her had been after the procedure, when she had to remove and replace the bandages. I immediately asked if she would be willing to come over and help me do that. She said yes, and little did I know just how important it was to have her for moral and physical support. With 22 stitches across my hairline — and as the doctor put it, “too many to count” in my nose — I was weak and close to fainting. It took us an hour and a half to remove and replace all of the dressings that first time. I can’t imagine what it would have felt like to do this alone.
Stick with the facts. Depending on the age of your child, share relevant factual information, but only the surface story. They don’t need to know the details and certainly not your “what if” fears. While your fears may be in the realm of possibility, they’re not the facts.
Be childlike. As much as you can, allow your child’s aliveness and awe of life to touch you and lift you into the present.
Dare greatly by saying no to guilt. Instead, accept that you may be more foggy and distracted than you’d like to be with your kids. It’s okay. Don’t add parent guilt to the list of your full bucket of worries. In Daring Greatly Brené Brown writes, “To set down those lists of what we’re supposed to be is brave. To love ourselves and support each other in the process of becoming real is perhaps the greatest single act of daring greatly” (Page 110).
Lower your expectations. Finally, be realistic about how much your kids, depending on age, will be able to empathize with you or the situation. In my experience that’s NOT MUCH. They don’t get it, nor should they.
A few years ago, my brother’s best friend and brother in-law, Steve, died unexpectedly during a surgery. Because Steve was beloved by his community as a volunteer firefighter during the Eastern Long Island pine barren wildfires, acting as Chief of the fire department at the time of his death, founder of the junior volunteer firefighter training program and a village civil servant, the community put on a huge uniformed procession for the funeral. Being family and a close friend, my brother delivered the eulogy. In the midst of the long funeral procession through town, his 8 year-old son Aidan turned to him and asked in a tired voice, “when is this going to be over?” My brother was both heart-broken and relieved by the question. How could Aidan, who’d loved Uncle Steve deeply, be ready to move on? Be so oblivious to the gravity of the situation? Be so cold as to be DONE with Steve? At the same time – in Aidan’s question my brother heard hope and the possibility that life could go on – that tomorrow would eventually arrive and maybe it was sooner than my brother thought possible. In his son’s words were the innocence and gravity of the truth that we do go on, even when we lose the unloseable friend, even when we suffer unimaginable pain.
I’ve decided that it’s okay that I don’t have a bow on this one. Its a question that doesn’t have a neat answer.
Please chime in with your thoughts and questions in the comment section. How do you parent when you feel overwhelmed by your own or a loved ones health challenges or a death?
Recently I received an email (with this photo) from Eric, a dad in my parenting class.
Thank you for taking classes to be nice. I heart YOU
There have been so many changes for the better that have come up over the last 8 weeks since we started taking your class.
The screaming and yelling in our house is now filled with laughter and smiles. Everyday I tell my wife how proud I am of the way she handled a specific situation and I compare it to how we would have handled it before attending your class.
We have a new story every day and find ourselves constantly turning things into games or putting our children in the same boat.
I never realized how firm my discipline style was and the potential negative results that can come of that parenting style.
The fact that my daughter has noticed a difference and that she’s happier to be around me is really a life-changing event for me.
Thank you again!
My heart jumped for joy when I got this for two reasons:
This sort of transformation is WHY I do what I do(!!!);
I know exactly how he feels.
I, too, had been unaware of how my style impacted my son until the day he brought it to my attention.
I thought I’d made a simple request that day, many years ago. My 7-year old, Sunny, came in from playing outside and I told him to go wash his hands.
After I’d said the words and he’d gone into the bathroom, I was aware of a shift in energy — it felt like something dark and heavy came in the room.
When he came out, I could see hurt in his eyes, tears squeezing out of them as he said, “Why do you have to talk to me in that mean voice?”
My heart hit the floor. This bright, cooperative, sunny child never complained.
I took a breath. The look on his face along with his words woke me to the harshness of my tone that while unconscious, was undoubtedly powerful. I’d been oblivious.
I can’t quite remember what happened next.
Likely I asked him a question or two, put my arm around him, said “I’m sorry” and proceeded to feel “I am a horrible mother.”
My tone could have been caused by not knowing what to cook for dinner, exhaustion, an annoyance I felt about who knows what. What matters is I am clear it wasn’t about him.
His hurt shone a spotlight on my lack of awareness. Like the brave dad in my class, I never realized how my style negatively impacted my son until that day when he directly told me.
I felt shocked and grateful at the same time. Sunny directly told me that my words hurt him. This I considered a mini victory — a sign that maybe I wasn’t such a bad mom after all.
My young son trusted me. In our relationship he could be vulnerable and tell me how he really felt.
Children are sensitive.
Alfred Adler, whose work lays the foundation for Positive Discipline said that children are tremendous perceivers. Children soak up the energy and feelings around them. He went on to explain that children make meaning of their perceptions and not always in ways that make sense to parents.
For example, children can make very different meaning from the same event. Siblings can perceive the same event in very different way.
Here are some examples ….
Parent Action → Child perception and meaning making
Mommy’s voice is mean → Mommy doesn’t like me/I’m bad
Mommy’s voice is mean → This hurts and I’m going to tell her her voice is mean
Mom & Dad are fighting → I must have been really bad
Mom & Dad are fighting → They had a hard day, I’m going to leave the room
Mom & Dad are moving to Maine → I wonder where I will go?
We’re all moving to Maine → I’m excited
Baby sister cries and gets noticed → I need to cry to get noticed
Baby sister cries and gets noticed → I’m going to be a big helper
[tweetthis hidden_hashtags=”#parenting”]For better or worse what your child perceives is their reality![/tweetthis]
You may not be able to control how your child perceives reality (especially as it applies to you and your interactions with them). You CAN influence it by consciously softening your tone, acting with care, and choosing more positive words.
When my son came in that day, I could have said, “Sunny, let’s take a look at those paws of yours. They could use a good scrub before dinner.”
A helpful catchphrase to bring kind and firm to life is CONNECT BEFORE CORRECT!
I didn’t connect with him before sending him off. As a result my son woke me up to the power of my tone and energy.
I continue to be imperfect — at times unwittingly putting unwarranted anger on my kids. However, I do this far less than I used to.
The wake up call my son gave me is one of many I’ve received since becoming a parent. They all work together to move me in the direction I want to go as a human being:
Being more conscious of my energy and tone;
Connecting before I correct (kind and firm);
And when all else fails, separating myself from my kids when I know I’m on the edge.
Eric got this same wake up call by attending my Parenting with Positive Discipline series. Once he starting being kind AND firm he realized his former style had a negative impact on his relationship with his daughter. He’s been amazed that such simple changes like asking for a hug or making a problem into a game, can be so life altering.
In what circumstances have you been surprised by your child’s interpretation of your behavior?
Does being conscious of your impact help you? If so, how?
By sharing your experiences in the comments below, you add to this conversation and support many parents by showing them they’re not alone.
If you haven’t already done so, join me on this journey!