Parenting Partnerships: What happens when you’re not in love?

I sat in a recent meeting with staff who were worried about the welfare of the children they work with due to family issues. We have been around long enough to know all understand that many relationships will not last a lifetime. The one relationship that will affect you for your lifetime is the one you have with your children. My staff turned to me to ask me to write about the difficulties of a split family and how that split can affect children. I admit- I have never been more apprehensive to write about a topic. This topic causes me a great deal of pain.

I have a son who is a father of a wonderful little boy. Our son lives 7 hours away from his dad and me. He transferred colleges to be nearer to his son and his (at the time) girlfriend. His relationship with his girlfriend has ended which has been a heartbreak for him to deal with. On top of the ending of the romantic relationship, my grandson’s mom believes in controlling and limiting time for her child with his father. I am unable to speculate the reasoning for this. Obviously, my perspective is likely flawed as my son feels the result of her actions the most and I will always support him. All I know is my son chose to move away from his family and friends to a different country to be a dad to his son. I wish he could be a dad all of the time.

I can speak as to how that relationship affects him and our family as a whole. When promoted to grandparent, most people have an overwhelming sense of joy. I felt fear. I realized that my son’s heart now lived outside of his body in the body of his son. Being a mom, I understood the vulnerability of the parenting relationship. I have watched my son be denied the opportunity to see his son over and over and over. Many times, he isn’t allowed to speak to or FaceTime with his son for weeks. Watching his despair and longing to see his little boy can be crushing. As an educator, I often think how this will affect this beautiful, bright little boy over his lifetime.

I imagine he has no understanding of why his daddy disappears for long periods of time. I wonder if he will replace his daddy in his heart? Will he ever be allowed to have the security of attachment to his father? Will he feel he has been discarded? What is he hearing about daddy at home?

In preschool, we see all too often how children are affected by broken homes or homes that are in the process of breaking. When we walk into a classroom, it’s easy for us to spot kids that are losing stability in their homes. We hear it in how they interact with teachers and their classmates. We see it when they encounter scary situations like storms or fire drills. We see the struggle in children who have not had an opportunity to establish routines in their own home as their routine changes daily. We work hard to help all kids feel safe, cared for, and important. The task is much more difficult to accomplish with children going through a family break up.

As a parent, what can you do? First priority always-Keep your kids safe. Safe from the emotional baggage you carry in a relationship. Kids don’t need to know about your marriage and its’ challenges. Love your child enough to respect their feelings for their parents (both of them). Take advantage of mental health services if needed for you and your children. If you come to the conclusion that you need to end a relationship, be confident that you have done everything in your power to make it work before you let go. Be friends with your co parent. When you value parenting, your children will feel safe in their love of both of their parents. Make decisions about your children from love. Teachers, counselors, and friends are in your life to support you. Reach out for help when you need it.

From the perspective of mom and grandma, I want to remind you that decisions you make affect not only your children but all of the people who love and care for them. There is a definite ripple affect. As a grandma, when I come across something cute in a store, I would love to grab it and buy it without wondering if I will ever see my grand baby use it. My heart breaks a piece every time I want to buy a toy and choose not to because he may outgrow the toy before I see him again. In the complicated world we live in, allow your children to fill their lives with love from everyone especially when you no longer love your co parent.

Why especially? Because when the world your children know is breaking, they need more love and support than you will be capable of giving to them. The fact is when you made the decision to become a parent, you committed to putting the needs of another human being ahead of your own needs. Your child’s first need is security and that is established by love in many different relationships. Allow your child the opportunity for love and happiness by teaching them the value of relationships and realize those relationships may include people that you no longer love. This can be challenging- but face it…..Challenging sums up parenting perfectly!

How safe are we? How to feel secure about your children’s safety.

There is nothing more precious to a parent than a child, and nothing more important to our future than the safety of our children.

William J. Clinton

The beginning of a school year holds many “drills” to practice for safety situations. We have fire drills, tornado drills, and lock down drills. Our society has come to accept and understand the fire and tornado drills. I imagine people are more accepting of these as they seem like uncontrollable situations for us to solve. Talk about a lock down drill with a parent and you are likely to get a very passionate and emotional response.

Being an administrator of an early childhood program, I understand the need for the practice. Practice is what can make us proficient in a real life situation. On the flip side, I have sat in a dark room with a three year old child who asks,”Is this how we hide from the bad guys?” As a mom, my heart broke. I was sad to realize that a three year old child understood the purpose of a lock down.

The world has become a complicated place to raise children. In the school setting, teachers and staff always have safety at the front of their minds as they should. It requires those of us in decision making positions to be constantly evaluating the safety plan. People in the world of education take the safety of children seriously and work diligently to provide a safe environment to our students.

The unfortunate reality for parents is that there are many places that are now experiencing violence where safety plans are not a priority. How do we deal with daily life? Trips to Walmart, festivals, and places we’ve felt safe no longer hold the same level of comfort as we have felt in the past. The challenge before us is to raise our children so they are not fearful of everything. How can we do that?

To begin, we live our lives without fear. We still hold hands when crossing the street. We still teach our children to look both ways while crossing the street and to wear a helmet while biking. We teach them about their inner radar and stranger danger. We teach them about the many dangers in life (HELLO-driving a car!!). At the same time, we teach them about the wonderful experiences of life. Meeting a new friend at the park. The magic of live music under the stars. The thrill of Disney World. What we focus on is what grows in our lives. Focus on the good. Teach about the bad. Like every other parenting situation, do the best you can. Your best is enough.

Children are your Emotional Mirror

Parents are the ultimate role models for children. Every word, movement and action has an effect. No other person or outside force has a greater influence on a child than the parent.

Bob Keeshan

One of the interesting parts of being a grandparent is watching your child raise their own child. You learn pretty fast some of the bad habits you had as a parent because you are seeing those traits passed along to your grandchild.

My son and his son were recently visiting us. They live out of the country, so when they visit, it is an in-your-face, long term commitment with your child and grandchild. I often wonder how I might feel if I could play with my grandson for a few hours and send him home to his house. (SIGH) No matter! It’s not going to happen! So, back to the visit, my son was feeding dinner to my grand baby and the exercise was escalating into a battle of wills in a hurry. Raising competitive kids can backfire in this situation. My son really wanted to WIN this battle of wills at the dinner table.

I will admit- I had this same exact battle with my children when they were little. I like schedules and consistency, therefore, dinner needed to be taken care of at the same time each day. My husband saved my kids from this battle on more than one occasion.

While watching my son re-create this experience that I had lived many times in my young parenting life, I witnessed something I had never before taken the time to see. The more irritated and stubborn my son became, the more irritated and stubborn became the baby. The reaction was directly proportional to the initial action of the parent.

What a light bulb moment! Children really do take their cues from parents on how to act in any situation. When we show them our less desirable actions, we are teaching them those very actions. You’ve probably seen a stressed out mother with a crying child. Which came first? Maybe you have noticed parents yelling at children and seen those kids scream or yell back. Isn’t that what they should do? How about those happy-go-lucky parents who never seem to worry about a thing? Their kids are usually exactly the same way.

The next time you are seeing behaviors in your child that are making you unhappy, take a step back and examine your role in the situation. Did you bring home stress form your job? Did you just get a bill in the mail you weren’t expecting? Your kids can sense your feelings. Do your best to give them positive emotions and behavior to give back to you. It’s like the old saying goes- You get from the world what you put into the world.

Helping Little People with Big Emotions

Thinking of your child as behaving badly disposes you to think of punishment. Thinking of your child as struggling to handle something difficult encourages you to help them through their distress.

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Working in early childhood education, our staff often talks about the behavior of kids. We work with 3 and 4 year old children, so these kids still have lots to learn regarding behavior in a school setting.

I read an interesting article recently that put a new light on how we handle the behavior of the children in our school readiness programs. It stated, when children don’t know how to read, we teach them. When children don’t know how to write, we teach them. When children don’t know how to compute math problems, we show them how to handle the problem. When children don’t know how to behave……. we need to teach them.

So often, adults can throw their hands in the air and exclaim, “What are we going to do with this child?” Here is what you are going to do. You are going to remain calm and help your children learn to identify feelings. Ask if are they frustrated because they are unable to do something they want to do? Are they sad because they had to leave somewhere fun? Are they tired, happy, irritated, or what? By teaching kids to name their feelings, they learn to identify them and we adults can help them deal with their issues. Yelling at a child “Why are you crying?” is not going to help them understand their emotions and feelings.

You may have heard of the educational emphasis on social emotional skills. These are the skills that employers say they are looking for in employees. Can the person, cooperate and communicate? Is the person self motivated, self regulated, and able to work under stress? These are the skills we are beginning to work on in the preschool environment.

Remember when your little person is showing big emotions, it is our job to remain calm. If parents join into the emotion, situations escalate quickly. Keep in mind dealing with emotions is a life long issue, and the more we help our children handle emotions in their early years, the easier puberty will be for all of us!

Battling Screen Time


Sometimes you have to disconnect to stay connected. Remember the old days when you had eye contact during a conversation? When everyone wasn’t looking down at a device in their hands? We’ve become so focused on that tiny screen that we forget the big picture, the people right in front of us.

Regina Brett

If you have been a parent for awhile, you have probably already found that one friend your child has that is addicted to screens. I have had several experiences with battling screen time throughout my parenting career.

One time, on a beautiful summer day, my youngest son had several friends over to play. They were running around the yard, using squirt guns, and making up a very strange squirt gun baseball game that I didn’t quite understand. I was in my usual spot watching them through the kitchen window. I suddenly realized one of the boys was missing from the game. I turned to walk outside, and came upon the missing boy sitting in the family room playing video games. “WOW!” I thought. How could this be more fun than a beautiful day outside with your friends? I sent him outside to play. A few months later, my youngest, at age 8, had a new friend stay overnight. I woke up at 1:00 AM to see the light on in the hallway. I opened my bedroom door and found this little boy sitting in the hallway playing on a portable gaming system. I sent him to bed.

Maybe your child is the one who is addicted to screen time. I have a nephew whose parents worked very hard to limit his time in front of a television screen as he seemed a obsessed with any show he could watch. When he was invited to the homes of his friend’s, he would spend all of his time watching television and would ignore his friends.

How do we as parents compete with screen time? Let’s face it! Screen time has most of us engaged more than we would like. Social media, streaming television shows, news venues, and lots of video games are at arms length waiting for us to join. Can we tell our children to limit their screen time if we are unwilling to do the same? You know the old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Unfortunately, kids pay attention to what we show them. It’s time we limit our own screen time.

Children from birth to age 18 months are recommended to have NO screen time. Zero. Zip. Nada. Got it? None! At 18 months, parents can choose high quality programming and watch shows with their children to make sure they understand what they are seeing. From age two to age 5, children can have one hour of screen time per day, but, again, the programming should be high quality and parents should participate in the screen time. For children six and older, parents need to place consistent limits on screen time and must make sure screen time does not get in the way of sleep or physical activity.

Children playing video games are physically altering their bodies. The heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, dopamine is released, and quite often, the fight or flight response begins. Blood flows away from the gut, kidneys, liver, bladder, and toward the limbs and heart. Adrenaline is flowing throughout the body. The transition that must occur when you ask your child to stop playing is overwhelming. Children have a difficult time calming down and releasing the pent up adrenaline. Does this sound fun?

The rise of use and popularity of one to one tech devices for children provided by school districts adds another difficult dimension to the battle parents are facing. How do we limit screen time if our kids are saying they need to do homework?

The answer is to begin. How do you eat an elephant?….one bite at a time. With younger children who have not entered school, teach them all the ways children used to fill time. Play outside. Read them a book. Paint a picture. PLAY! Once your children are school age, be in communication with teachers as to how many minutes of homework has been assigned each day. Limit your children to the number of minutes required by the teacher. In addition, NEVER allow the technology to go into their bedrooms. Provide homework space in a common area of your home. This helps in several ways….. you will be available for help to them and you will be able to monitor what is happening on the device. Finally, all technology stays in the kitchen, family room, entry way, or somewhere other than the bedroom at night. Buy a $5.99 alarm clock and stick to no technology in the bedroom- ever.

Will it be easy? NO WAY! Not only do you have to help your children learn to develop limits on screens- you need to develop limits for yourself. We parents didn’t need to learn about self control with technology growing up, so it will definitely challenge us. I am confident we can win this battle. I believe we care enough about our children’s development and their future that we will battle until we win!

References: 1. “Screen Time may Harm Toddlers”. Michelle Roberts. BBC News. January 28, 2019. 2. “This is Your Child’s Brain on Video Games”. Victoria L. Dunckley M.D. Mental Wealth. September 25, 2016.

Be a Good Parent….ok?

The thing about parenting rules is there aren’t any. That’s what makes it so difficult.

Ewan McGregor

You have done it. Just admit it. You have heard it happen all over the place. It happens in doctor’s offices, stores, schools, airports, and at home. It happens EVERYWHERE! Parents set out a guideline for their children and follow it with….. OK? Honey, pick up your toys ok? Johnny, it’s time to get ready for school ok? Macie, stop hitting the dog ok?

Do we really mean to ask this question? Why do we ask a question at the end of a directive? What is happening to the parent/child dynamic when we ask this seemingly harmless question?

By asking a question at the end of a direction for children, parents are giving away their power completely. Parents give direction to their child to do something they want done which is expected of parents and fits the parent/child dynamic. Yet, all of a sudden, the parent inserts an ok? at the end of the direction and now the direction is a question. Do you want to do this or not? I think parents develop a habit of inserting ok? because they are trying to sound nice to whomever may be around at the time. Stop caring what others think of you parenting your child! It’s perfectly acceptable for you to tell your child to do something. “Johnny, don’t walk out in the street…ok?” Sounds ridiculous right?

Children come away from the experience of a direction followed by ok? confused about what they should do. Did mom just tell me to clean my room or not? Is she asking me if I think it’s ok? Seriously, I don’t WANT to clean my room , so I guess I will pass on that. “No. mom. It’s not ok.”

Think how funny it would be if your boss starting using this tactic with you at work. “George, I am going to need that information on my desk by Monday morning…. ok?” Wait….What?! Do you need to get the information to him or not?

Communication is hard in every relationship. We take items that should be simple and complicate them because we don’t want to sound harsh, demanding or rude. I believe communication is worse for everyone when we are wishy- washy. Don’t add confusion to a conversation by adding ok to your sentences. It’s a bad habit and you can break it!

OK” (spelling variations include “okay”, “O.K.“, and “ok“) is an American English word denoting approval, acceptance, agreement, assent, acknowledgment, or a sign of indifference (Wikipedia)