Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Dear Dad: The One With The "Me Time" Question

Dear Dad,

My wife suggested we put our three kids in after school care to free up time for us through the week. Our kids are in 1st, 2nd, and 7th grade and their schools are far enough away where I have to leave work early to pick them up and then work from home for a couple of hours at night, and where my wife has to cut short her afternoons to make sure she is home with them when we get home.  We only have one vehicle, so timing all of this really sucks.  The younger kids take the bus, but the bus stop is a hike away, as is the middle school where our son is a walker, and we live in an unpredictable climate. 

Here is my dilemma:  I don’t really want to spend the money.  It is going to cost a lot out of pocket for this, and I don’t know that I want to spend that much. We have the money to spare, but is it worth it? I also worry about taking away family time through the week, as the weekends are hectic with our kids all enrolled in a ton of activities. 

I also have a small business I would like to get off the ground, and never have any time to do it.  My wife rides her bike everywhere, and often has to leave things she is in the middle of to make sure she is home in time for the kids so I can finish my work day. 

I’m stumped.  Advice appreciated.

Dear ‘Stumped’,

Have you ever heard of “me-time?” ‘Me-time’ is this unicorn-esque, urban-legend-like amount of time where both members of a partnership step away from their parental/spousal/adult roles and responsibilities to revisit themselves and spend time working on whatever that means to each individual. 

For some it means relaxing – taking a nap, or catching up on a favorite show, or maybe even a prolonged soaker-spa bath.  For others, it means reading up on a hobby, or investing time into creating the business that has been on their to-do list for years (perhaps even dusting off an old guitar?).  In other words, “me time” is paramount to every.single.person.ever!

If I had received this question when I first started this column, I know my answer would be different.  I would have talked about the importance of structure, stability, and centeredness of your children and how paramount that must be in how you build your schedule.  Hogwash! 

My children are getting older (the twins are 7 and our oldest is 11), and I have found that the need for “planned-to-the-minute-through-the-week-schedules” are nonsensical.  They are not productive for anyone.  I used to feel guilty if I let a 20 minute time slot fall unplanned – only to realize, I was drowning at the surface of the water levels I created. I was feeling like a failure in the jaws of victory, simply because I felt I should always be doing more. 

My advice, ‘Stumped’, is to try this new free time for both yourself and your wife.  Keep in mind that you will be eligible for some type of tax write off (though, don’t get me started – it is not what it should be).  Try giving yourselves a life line and see where it leads.  What if allowing yourself this extra time frees up enough “me time” to get that business off the ground?  What if allowing your wife this extra time allows her to find a way to revisit her own dreams, and/or gives her a sense of balance she would not have otherwise?

I am a firm believer that “me time” replenishes individuals to be more involved, more motivated, and more present during family time.  My wife and I have always had ‘me time’ in place, and a give and take to make sure we each have it every week. As our children are getting older, we are both daring to do more with it – and I have embarked on new journeys I could not have otherwise, and she has finally gone back to get a degree that her job has necessitated for years.  When our “me” time is over, we engage with our children who also had “me time” and share the stories of our days.

You don’t ever want to look back and say “what if.”  Try the afterschool care for a bit and see how it works.  If you find yourself not being productive, and not accomplishing anything reconsider it.  If the children are miserable and missing you and your wife, pull the plug.  The worst case scenario in trying is realizing it wasn’t a good fit for you and your family.  The best case scenario is unlocking this great opportunity for your entire family to all give yourselves the “me time” needed to be able to fully give to the “us time” that makes a family function well.

Good luck!

We are all busy and over extended, trying to keep above water with family, career, and self-obligations.  How many people have “me time” incorporated into their weekly schedules?


Thursday, August 27, 2015

Yes, Dad's a Man - But We CAN Talk About That

"Daddy!" I heard my daughter scream from behind the bathroom door.  In a sheer panic, I dropped my kitchen knife that was chopping onions for dinner that strewn about the floor as I rushed to the bathroom door to make sure my daughter was OK.

My heart was pounding out of my chest and I frantically yelped, "What? Honey, what is it? Are you ok?"

"No.  I need Mom."

"Mom's at work."


I quickly realized she did not, in fact, trip and split her head open on the tub, nor did so sever a finger on one of my razors (though the urgency in her muffled scream promised otherwise).  She needed her mom because she had a "girl question," and since my wife would not be home for another hour, I was her only available option for advice.

"We've talked about this before, hon. I have never gotten my period, and I don't know what it feels like - but I know all the ups and downs and ins and outs and we can discuss this." 


Earlier this year, I had a brush with my daughter getting her first period on my watch.  I truly believed she had gotten her period, and panicked a bit (though held myself together as much as I could to act like I wasn't phased).  I wrote an article that tried to take a humorous perspective on the event (which did not actually happen that day), and had it published a few months later.  In a fascinating timing of destiny, my eleven year old daughter got her period the day the article was published.  She had read (and approved) the article before I submitted it for publication, so we had already begun a dialogue (and shared some laughs - link to the piece is below).  I knew 'silence' should not be accepted at face value.

"Remember how you thought it was funny when you read how 'brave' I was being when that incident happened with the popsicle, and you told me you saw right through it?"

"Um, yeah."

"I think we've come a long way since then and I truly am brave and am someone you can talk to if you need to, or ask questions if you have any."


"OK, if you change your mind, I am going to finish making dinner," I assured her.

As I turned back towards the kitchen, I heard the lock on the handle click as my daughter emerged from the bathroom looking absolutely miserable.  "Daddy, why do I feel like this?"  

I gave her a hug and then guided her towards the kitchen where I prepared a cup of chamomille tea and warmed a damp dishtowel in the microwave.  

"Here put this on your belly under your belly button," I advised, as I handed her the dishtowel.  I cleared my throat and gave my daughter that little 'we're about to get real' look I sometimes give her, as I added honey and lemon to her tea.  I continued,  "Your body is going through a lot of changes, as you know, and you are going to start experiencing your period every single month soon. You are lucky because as a female you are able to have kids, but with that gift comes this responsibility that can often feel like a curse or a burden."

"Why do we have to go through this every month?  I get so upset and emotional and I don't know why and then I hurt.  It makes we want to rip my hair out of my head."  

I chuckled to myself at the thought that I will soon have three daughters going through this and a wife in menopause.  I scrambled to find next words and offered, "I don't know why it has to be every month, and I don't know that it is fair that it has to be every month (in my head: for ANYONE!). The key is for you to recognize when you need some extra "me" time and take a step back from whatever you are doing.  Have a cup of tea.  Put a hot compress on your belly to help with the pain, and sit in a quiet room for a few minutes to regroup.  If you have symptoms that get worse, there are pills you can take, but I want you to try to follow these steps so you will learn now that your period doesn't have to be a bad thing.  It will be more like an inconvenience.  Don't allow all the feelings to take over your mood or ruin your day, and get ahead of the physical symptoms to make sure you feel well."

My daughter gave me the most beautiful and reassuring smile as though a lightbulb clicked on for her.  She cracked the half grin which means 'you're great dad' that she does every so often. I put my hand under her chin and winked and smiled, and returned to chopping onions. I motioned to her to join me in preparing dinner and she started peeling potatoes.

"So you basically have no idea or clue what you are talking about, but I can still go to you when I am scared?"  she asked in a slyly sarcastic undertone.

Without skipping a beat, I said, "You catch on quick, push-push (her nickname). I do my best, but I don't have all the answers. I imagine if I were faced with what women have to endure, that is what I would do." My daughter rolled her eyes and mouthed a dramatic "WOW" and smiled.

We both chuckled and prepared dinner while talking about school and work. My wife came home from work and had a conversation with our daughter and all was well in the world. 

I checked my email later that night, and push-push had sent me an email from the account we created for her to email her friends from her old school after we relocated.  I opened it up and found: "Dad, thank you for today and for actually being brave this time.  I don't think you were right, and that towel didn't do anything but make my shirt damp. I feel like I can talk to you about anything. I love you." 

I sighed and smiled at the same time, wishing I knew everything, but glad I handled the situation as well as I could.  I wrote back and told her that I am a parent and an adult, but I do not have all the answers (no one told me that as a kid).  I promised to always be there for her and that she could turn to me with EVERY question she ever has - I am strong enough and brave enough to handle anything." 

The next day I received another email asking me how she can tell if a boy likes her.  She is eleven. THAT is a lot to process, but I have seen her and a boy in the neighborhood interact several times where it is obvious "that" time is not far off.  I wrote back and advised her that I knew she liked (name redacted), and since I have seen how he regards her, and have witnessed how he will walk away from the other boys to walk with her, and listens to her and asks her questions, that most likely he likes her and that he is a good boy.

Later that night, she responded, "(name redacted)???  EW, gross Dad!  I meant (name redacted of two years older hockey playing boy who I am not particularly fond of)!!"

I have this sense of being on a precipice, and know that free-falling is not an option.  My daughter and I have since continued these email conversations on a daily basis.  Sometimes she just says "hi" (like back when she was to and would just randomly say 'hi'), and sometimes I get hard hitting questions.  I am not google and I am not female, but I am a father who loves and adores his kids.  I may not have all the answers, but I hope we maintain this connection and openness so that at least my empathy and understanding come through in the whirlwind that is about to guide the next years.  

Tuesday, August 4, 2015

The one that did not stump me

Dear Dad,
I have one that is going to stump you. I was raised to respect my elders, and to grin and bear anything for the sake of keeping others comfortable, especially when they are guests in my home. My husband and I are both liberal Democrats and politics are important to us, but aside from voting and following the news and elections it ends there. My in laws, however, are die hard conservative Republicans and have something to say on everything from abortion, to gay rights, to illegals, to any type of entitlement "lazy bums" think they are entitled to!
My father in law is the worst. He arrives at my home and starts spewing off news stories like he was a ticker on fox news and does this in front of my young children. My husband knows it bothers me, but what he doesn't know is that I am about to go off on them! They came to dinner last week and started talking about the next presidential run and going off on what a moron Hilary Clinton is and how "only a woman would have 30,000 personal emails to delete as the secretary of state."
I don't want to rock the boat, but what do I do? I don't think I can sit through one more minute, never mind this Sunday's dinner with these people!! I love them, but what do I do?
Dear 'Did Not Stump Me',
I, too, have in laws and outspoken family and friends, and assure you, 'Did Not Stump Me', that you did not stump me, and I hope I can help you. I also frequently host dinner parties which are both work and friend oriented, and know that the first rule of thumb as a host: NEVER allow political, religious, or money talk. I have mastered the art of changing subjects when something controversial comes up, and pat myself on the back with my ability to keep the evening flowing in a peaceful and enjoyable way. When it comes to family, however, it is a whole different beast.
I, too, was raised to make sure those around me are comfortable while hosting a party, even if it is just dinner with my mom. I also have outspoken family members in my own and in my wife's family. My way of dealing with outspoken opinions is to cordially respect what someone is saying, and revert to my "change the subject super powers" as needed. When one crosses the line into 'newsfeed banter', however, I approach my wife and we discuss how to put the kibosh on things immediately.
We, too, have a family member or four who say things they should not be saying in front of six year old children and that crosses the line into inappropriate. We have confronted these family members - GENTLY - and advised them that current events are not part of the curriculum for our children, and that while we respect his/her opinions, we would like to reserve these types of discussions for when the children are sleeping, or when our hearing has completely failed. HA! OK, so maybe not that last part, but the point is we are direct, even when sometimes it feels uncomfortable.
My advice is for you and your husband to confront your in laws about this subject and communicate how you are feeling. I think setting boundaries is especially important when these conversations are taking place in your own home. Yes, they are your elders, but that is YOUR home and it is YOUR rules. You should never, even as host, be made to feel uncomfortable in your own home. You also have a right to communicate these feelings in their home because you are being a good parent. Why should anyone be discussing current events around small children? They should not be, it is inappropriate.
I send you good thoughts and energy, as you are going to go through something uncomfortable. I want you to ask yourself, 'Did Not Stump Me', at the end of the day: do you want to have one uncomfortable dinner with your in laws, or a lifetime of what you have been enduring?
We all have that outspoken friend or family member who takes things too far during normal conversation, or even on their social media accounts. How do you deal with the outspoken in your life?

The One With The Mom Who "Feels Wrong"

Dear Dad,
Please post this anonymously. My ex husband and I have been separated for 6 years and divorced for 1 year. We have both moved on as he is with another girl and I'm getting remarried in May.
My oldest son with my ex husband now has a cell phone. I look through my son's phone, as he is only 10, and discovered a text message sent to his dad's girlfriend that said: "I love you mom and dad". Now, mind you this lady has only been in his life for a year, and his dad has only been around for two. I get very upset hearing my son call her 'mom'. Am I wrong in feeling this is wrong?
Dear 'Feeling Wrong',
My answer, here, supersedes any prior advice I have given on this subject. I answered a similar question not long ago, and the feedback and discussion which followed my advice made me re-think my perspective.
One year hardly constitutes a girlfriend/boyfriend qualifying as a parent, step parent, or even parental figure. I believe it is inappropriate for your son to refer to your ex husband's girlfriend as "Mom." What if they break up? What if they never marry? I think even for a ten-year-old, calling two people 'Mom' is confusing (heck, I'm 40 and I won't call my mother-in-law 'Mom' as I already have a 'Mom' - but I also don't want to disrespect her, so I often just refer to my mother-in-law as: "Will you please pass the gravy?" or "Hey, do you know what time it is?" grin emoticon ).
I have several questions the information in your question does not provide answers to, but at the end of the day I am going to go with the consensus and with what I learned on this topic: it is NOT OK for your son to call his father's girlfriend of one year 'Mom', and you should immediately put the kibosh on him doing so.
My wife comes from a blended family, and we have Grandma, Nana, and Mee-Maw. My advice is to have your son and ex and ex's girlfriend come up with a title which is more respectful than calling her by name, but more appropriate to her role (and, while I don't know your feelings on the subject, I will assert here that: "Daddy's ho" or anything of that nature will probably not fly - in fact, probably you should not vote on her title). wink emoticon
I do have to add that once you are married in May, so long as your spouse is acting as a parent to your son, I find it completely appropriate for your son to refer to your new husband as "pop" or "Dad (whatever your last initial is)". If one is in a committed long term relationship and their spouse/partner is acting as a parental figure, they have earned the right to the appropriate parent-implying title. Please keep us updated and let us know what happens.
I believe a name is just a name, except when it comes to a situation like this. I once advised someone that if someone acts as a parent, they deserve to be called as such, without taking into consideration that duration and longevity play a crucial role in what a child calls a parent's current flame where there is no long term commitment nor deserved role for such a title. Do any of you have any experience with what to call a step-someone-my-parent-is-dating who is not married, nor engaged/planned to be married nor in a long term committed relationship anytime soon?

Friday, July 10, 2015

Dear Dad: The One With the 'New Big Sister'

Dear Dad,
I found out about six months ago that I have a half sister my mother had given up for adoption before I was born. The adoption agency contacted my mom (who had not told any of us we had a sister), and advised that she wanted to get in touch with us. We talked a bit and are friends on Facebook and finally we all met recently.
It is hard on my end because my mom is weird about it and doesn't really want to talk about the situation. When my sister came to visit, it fell to me to entertain her. My younger brother - who can do no wrong in my mom's eyes - is no help and I don't think cares about the situation as much as I do.
My sister and I now talk a few times a week on Facebook and just had a serious conversation where she confessed to me she does not feel like she belongs. I do not want her to feel that way, and I started a letter to her explaining how my mother is and how I sometimes feel like I don't belong, too (my brother is very much favored by my mother).
It has been a long road and I feel like I've completely changed since finding out I have a big sister. Do you have any advice?
Dear 'New Little Sister',
My mother discovered about ten years ago that her father was not her biological parent and had adopted her. We searched for years to find her biological family, and finally tracked them down using Facebook a few years back.
Last week my mother, sister, and I traveled to New Orleans, LA and finally got to meet her brothers and sister and their families. It was a life changing experience for all of us. I look like my uncle and my mom has the same hands as her sister! Everyone looked a bit like my brother (who my sister always joked looked like the milkman as he never looked like anyone in our family) and have the same laid back, loving demeanor as my mom! Meeting everyone was a little nerve wracking at first, but by the time we left, I was taken aback by how quickly these strangers felt like family - I felt connected to them and related to them and had a sense of family I had never before experienced.
I confess that during the visit a political subject or two came up that led me to believe we may not see eye to eye on everything. I felt a bit uncomfortable and worried that these differences in opinion would mean we could never truly fit in with each other, or be able to have conversations about certain things. I realized the feeling of kinship and intrinsic love I felt for these people was so much stronger than difference in perspective that none of that mattered. They are my blood, my kin, my family, and I would give the shirt off my back for any one of them and that is after only meeting once.
I understand the sense of not fitting in, and certainly the shock and amazement of discovering these roots, as you must have with your sister. Had my mother's father (my GRANDFATHER) been alive for this reunion, I imagine he would have experienced this gathering a bit differently than we all did as it would conjure up a lot of hard feelings from his past.
I would assume, based on the information in your question, that your mother may be a little embarrassed and have a lot of emotional baggage regarding an impossible decision she made years ago. I can only imagine that this carefully shrouded secret coming to light must have been a mixed bag of emotions. I know it is easier said than done, but try to look at this from her perspective and the difference between learning something amazing (albeit shocking) as you experienced, versus a secret coming to light that probably brings feelings of shame and guilt and devastation, as this situation must have for your mother.
My advice would be to approach your mother and let her know that you are not judging her or the decision she made many years ago (I'm assuming from your question you are not), and that you are just happy to know the truth and want to work as a family at building a relationship with your sister.
I think you should absolutely finish that letter to your sister, and describe and explain your family and specifically your relationship with your mom to your sister. Let her know that there are preexisting dynamics within your family that are not about her, even if she is made to feel uncomfortable or feels responsible for the tension she is sensing. I would explain that neither the past, nor any member of your family/their experience should ever have anything to do with your connection as sisters. Tell your sister you are glad she is in your life and how much it means to you and how much you have changed after learning of her existence.
In time, the two of you can become a united front when your "perfect" brother says or does something amiss and the two of you can put him in his place as all good big sisters do!
I wish you and your newly extended family all the best! Keep us updated!
Facebook and social media is such an invaluable tool for communication, and I know firsthand how it can literally change your life. Do any of you have any stories about reconnecting with or finding family and friends thanks to Facebook?

Sunday, June 21, 2015

The One With the Surfing Metaphor

Dear Dad,
What do you do when you feel like your world is falling to pieces?
Dear 'Pieces',
I think everyone at one time or another feels like their world is falling apart - whether it be due to work, school, relationships, health issues, and so on. Sometimes life feels like everything is going wrong, and that is typically when one gets that extra kick when they are down.
I am going to share with you the advice I give my children when they are going through a period where they feel like their world is falling apart - and yes, even 11 year old and 7 year old children feel like this from time to time. I try to follow this advice when I'm going through something myself, but sometimes one forgets: Life is a lot like surfing; sometimes, the waters will be calm with not a lot of action to be had, while other times the waters will be rough and try to push you down. The key to a balanced and healthy life is to learn to balance and stay up on that board and to remember that the rough waters will eventually calm. The more skilled one becomes, the more one can soar during the rockiest of tides. Those who stay on the board during all conditions and remember this advice can accomplish anything and weather any storm. Now that it is in writing, I'll be sure to take my own advice the next time I'm in a situation that makes me feel like my world is falling to pieces.
I don't know what is specifically going on in your life, 'pieces', but take a deep breath and remember this, too, shall pass.
Readers: what do you do when your world feels like it is falling to pieces?

Monday, June 15, 2015

The One With the Diary and the 'Seriously Angry Dad'

Dear Dad,

My wife's cousin is staying with us for a few weeks. She is the type of woman who is very know-it-all and judgmental, even though she is single, has no responsibilities in the world, and doesn't have a clue what it is to be a parent.

She told me this morning that she went into my 12-year-old daughter's diary to see why she is acting so "sad" during this visit, and read about a lot of problems going on at school. I told her I couldn't believe she broke my daughter's trust (she is staying in my daughter's room). She told me I should be grateful that she took the time to learn about the problems (normal 12 year old stuff) so I can help my daughter fix them. I was really pissed about this, so I confronted my wife.  My wife said that is just who her cousin is and to grin and bear it through the rest of her visit. People joke that my wife wears the pants in the family because I am a stay at home parent. Grin and bear it?

So, my question is: when is it ever acceptable to invade a child's privacy, and do you think I should just "grin and bear it?" 

Signed, Angry Dad

Dear 'Angry Dad',

I have to admit I find myself a bit upset (and my skin is crawling) from just reading your question. Your wife's cousin did not just blatantly disrespect your daughter, but she sent you a very direct message that she has no respect for you. How dare her enter your home and try to tell you anything other than 'thank you' for sparing her from paying the cost of a motel/hotel? Unfathomable.

My advice is to have a discussion with your wife immediately and make it clear that you can grin and bear through know-it-all statements and judgmental actions if you have to (and are willing to), but you are putting your foot down when it comes to boundaries being crossed and being disrespected in your own home. Please don't ever let anyone tell you that because you are a stay-at-home father, you are not entitled to half the decision making in your home, and to basic respect from anyone who enters your home.

I would make it very clear to your wife that you are appalled and are not going to back down because what her cousin did is reprehensible. I would politely advise this cousin (as a united front with your wife after your discussion) that if she does anything like this again, you will be more than happy to help transport her things to the aforementioned motel. If your wife does not agree with you, or continues to dismiss this, I think a session or more of couple's therapy may be in order.

I believe that our children are due their fair share of privacy. I do not believe acting a little sad or showing some moodiness is justification to snoop into their personal belongings. As parents, we need for our children to have a sense of trust and for our children to have their own sense of boundaries and selves. If you snoop through a diary completely unwarranted - something I can not process your wife did not get upset about - what message is that sending your preteen daughter?

I do believe that text messages and anything involving social media is fair game when it comes to privacy - if you are going to allow your children to use those platforms (and I must say, I think 12 is still far too young), you have the right to snoop any time. The difference is that you make it clear that it is fair game and you aren't betraying her by checking in on her. I believe if you suspect any type of drug use or if your child starts to exhibit extreme warning signs (acting depressed, extreme mood changes, getting in trouble a lot, etc.), only then would reading a diary be appropriate.

I wish you luck in resolving this, as I believe there is more than one issue at hand here. If your family has agreed that having you stay at home works best, the position better be respected for what it is. If your wife is going to allow her cousin to blatantly disrespect and undermine you even after you advise her of your thoughts/feelings on the situation then a good therapist may be the step to untangle this knot in your nest. Sending you good thoughts and energy. Please keep us updated!

There is a fine line as parents when it comes to respecting privacy and knowing when to get to the bottom of what is going on with our children. When do you think it is acceptable to snoop into their personal space to gauge what is going on in their too often private lives?

Monday, June 8, 2015

The one with the girlfriend called 'Mom'

Dear Dad,

My ex husband and I have been separated for 6 years and divorced for 1 year. We have both moved on as he is with another girl and I'm getting remarried in July. 

My oldest son now has a cell phone. I look through my son's phone, as he is only 10, and recently discovered a text message sent to his dad's girlfriend that said: "I love you mom and dad." Now, mind you, this lady has only been in his life for a year, and his dad has only been back in my son's life for two years. I get very upset hearing my son call her 'mom'. I don't want to start a boxing match, but I am really upset.  Am I wrong in feeling this is wrong?

Dear 'Feeling Wrong',

My answer here supersedes any prior advice I have given on this subject.  I answered a similar question not long ago on the blog, and the feedback which followed my advice made me re-think the subject. 

One year hardly constitutes a girlfriend/boyfriend qualifying as a parent, step parent, or even parental figure. I believe it is inappropriate for your son to refer to your ex husband's girlfriend of one year as 'Mom'.  What if they break up?  I think for a ten-year-old, calling two people 'Mom' is confusing (heck, I'm 40 and I won't call my mother-in-law 'Mom' as I already have a Mom - but I also don't want to disrespect her, so I often just refer to my mother-in-law as: "Will you please pass the gravy?", or "Hey, can I help you with that bag?" ).  

I wish I had more information about your specific situation to most appropriately give you advice (what does he refer to your fiance as?).  Based on the details you provided and my experience answering questions of this nature -  it is not acceptable for your son to call his father's girlfriend of one year 'Mom', and you should immediately put the kibosh on him doing so.  

My advice is to have your son and ex and ex's girlfriend come up with a title which is more respectful than calling her by name, but more appropriate to her role (and, while I don't know your specific feelings about your ex's girlfriend, I suggest that you should probably not vote on her new title). I would bridge this subject with a sense of camaraderie and in the least combative way possible. This is an opportune time for you all to act as the partners you will be in raising your children in your new blended family.  

I would like to add that once you are married in July, so long as your spouse is acting as a parent to your son, I find it completely appropriate for your son to refer to your new husband as 'Pop', or "Dad (whatever your last initial is)." If one is in a committed long term relationship and their spouse/partner is acting as a parental figure, they have earned the right to the appropriate parent-implying title.  

I believe a name is just a name, except when it comes to a situation like this.  I once advised someone that if someone acts as a parent, they deserve to be called as such, without taking into consideration that duration and longevity play a crucial role in what a child calls a parent's current flame where there is no long term commitment to warrant such a title.  Do any of you have any experience with what to call a someone-a-parent-is-dating, who is not married, nor engaged/planned to be married, nor in a long term committed relationship anytime soon?       

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

The one with the ice cream

Dear Dad,
I need some advice, especially since I don't want to end up in an insane asylum. I have 2 daughters, age 13 and six, and of course they do not get along. My husband just started a job that leaves me alone with them in the evening. I'm very pregnant and have no energy to deal with their bickering. I don't want to complain to my husband, because it just stresses him out more while he's at work. I just spent the past 10 minutes screaming at them to stop fighting and now I have a headache, which makes me even crankier. The kids don't dare act out to this extent when my husband is home. I wouldn't say I'm a pushover, but they seem to think I am. Honestly, I rarely give in. Part of it is because my oldest had behavior issues and was always the one getting in trouble. My youngest grew up seeing this and eventually learned how to keep getting her in trouble. Even though this is no longer the case, the youngest keeps trying her hardest to get the oldest in trouble, but it just gets her in trouble. I don't want to dread him going to work. I need this to change NOW, before the new baby comes in July.
Dear 'Very Pregnant',
The good news is by the time your new addition is six and temperamental, your oldest will be 19. Silver linings are always a good thing. 
My wife and I were just discussing our children's meltdowns, and how they seem to all take turns being out of control, and how our "middle child" (by 2 minutes) has mastered the art of getting her sisters in trouble. She also has a tendency of trying to get everyone to do everything for her (her new thing is getting her sisters to put on her socks). We get frustrated and I can certainly relate to your headache. Parenting can be an extremely tough job at times.
My advice is to have a discussion with your husband and advise him of what is going on while he is away at work. I believe it is important for the two of you to be on the same page and for him to be aware of what is going on. I wouldn't turn to him asking him to fix it, but have him read this post so he can be part of the solution. I think you should sit down as a united front and have a family meeting where you advise your children that this behavior will not be tolerated and that good behavior must be consistent whether dad is around or not. I think you may need to physically separate the children when they act up. I would give them books to read and disallow any other activities (no playing, no television, no computer, etc.). This is the latest method of discipline we have come to, and it seems to be working.
In our family, we have a "R-E-S-P-E-C-T system" in place (that I'm proud to say our oldest daughter developed from our old 'point system'). Each day, the girls have to earn a letter via good behavior and they have "three strikes" before they lose that day's letter. Sunday they earn the 'R' the following Saturday they earn the 'T', etc. If they earn at least five letters of the word 'respect' during the week, they are rewarded with ice cream for dessert the following Sunday. If they earn the entire word 'respect', they get to put toppings on the sundae and receive a double scoop. This not only serves as positive reinforcement for the girls, but also helps us curb their asking for dessert every night. If they do something like hit each other, or perform a blatant act of disrespect, it is automatic "three strikes you are out," and they are sent to their rooms with only a book, no letter for the day (please note: reading is certainly not punishment, but this is a great way to help your child redirect, regroup and calm down).
Give it a whirl for a month and see if you can get your girls to change/improve their behavior. I would also ask them if something is going on at school or with their friends. Sometimes kids act out as a way of communicating to us that all is not well in their often stressful and hectic worlds (and we often forget as parents how stressful and hectic childhood can actually be). Good luck and keep us updated!
Every family has a different means of discipline as their go-to for dealing with children when they are defiant. What method of discipline works for your family? 

Saturday, May 23, 2015

The one with the sleepwalker

Dear Dad,
My six year old son has been a stress case lately. He whines continuously from the minute he wakes up until he is asleep. He is now waking up at night. When he wakes up he immediately hops out of bed and starts yelling for me, but I can tell he isn't fully awake. When I go to see what's the matter he mumbles and acts all confused while wandering the house and looking in cupboards and going in and out of rooms and such while whining and crying. When he is fully awake, he just sits and cries and tells me he just wants to sleep and "can't deal with this any more." This happened multiple times every night for about 2 weeks now. I am going in and talking to his teacher tomorrow to see if anything is going on at school that could be causing his stress. I will also make an appointment with his doctor. I just wanted to ask you what you think as I have had many sleepless nights.

Dear 'Sleepless',
I can say, with fair probability, that your son whines all day because he is sleep deprived. Aside from that, it is difficult for me to answer your question with a definitive answer. I have a B.A. in Psychology, which in no way qualifies me to make any type of medical or psychological opinion as to what is going on. I think your plan to meet with your son's teacher and your son's doctor is spot-on. They will be a wealth of knowledge in helping you decipher exactly what is going on with him.
In the meantime, as a parent of an occasional sleepwalker, I will advise you I strongly suspect your son is also a sleepwalker and may have a mild form of "night terrors" (though I also suspect this is caused by the exhaustion based on the pattern you described). One of our twins wakes up from time to time in a similar fashion, and will hold entire conversations that she will not remember the next day. I have more than once found my daughter sitting in awkward positions in random rooms in our house (and once when my wife and I were watching a horror film about ghost-kids emerging from television sets with their bodies creepily contorted). I admit it was very scary before we knew what was going on (and also a little funny when my wife tells the story of how I screamed at the top of my lungs when I found my daughter, assuming she was an embodiment from the horror film).
My advice is to treat your son as though he is asleep no matter what he is saying or doing (because I suspect he may be). Gently guide him back to his bed and do not make eye contact with him, nor should you engage in conversations with him. Gently repeat: "shh, shh, shh" to him and lay him back in bed and re-tuck him in. Rub his back for a couple of minutes repeating "shh, shh, shh," and then say: "you are safe, goodnight, I love you." You should then, with ninja-like mobility, contort your body as needed to back out of the room without creaking a floor board or so much as making a sound, and return to the haven of your warm and cozy bed, even if only for another hour or two.
I would take extra measures to ensure his safety: make sure all windows and doors are locked, all child proof locks are enabled, and double check to make sure nothing is left out that could lead to harm in any way (are the dishwasher and pantry doors locked?). He is not aware, but is mobile, and that is a frightening concept while you are sleeping - even if he knows the rules of your home, they will not apply to him in this physical state.
Follow up with his teacher and doctor to see if there are any underlying causes for this behavior. Once you get over the shock and the fear of what may seem like odd behavior, you will be able to deal with these late night occurrences like they are part of the bed time ritual.
Please be advised, 'Sleepless', this, too, shall pass. We haven't had an "episode" in a long while, and our daughter is now six years old as well. I am sending good thoughts and energy to you and your family. Please keep us updated.

Sleep is a major issue in our household.  I have been a night owl since I was a preteen and have difficulty falling asleep, while my wife has been diagnosed with narcolepsy and sleep apnea. Two of our daughters seem to be taking after me having difficulty falling asleep, while my sleepwalker can fall asleep sitting up, mid-sentence.  This makes me wonder:  how many other families have sleep issues, and what do you do to help keep things running like a smooth sailing ship?

Sunday, April 12, 2015

The one with the big lie and the fried brain (with a side of bacon and hashbrowns)

Dear Dad,
My partner and I have 2 boys, ages 14 and 8, and we have been together since college. We have been watching (a current show about drug addiction and crime), and it got us to thinking about how to address the subject of drugs with our kids. We both smoked pot in college (he still does on occasion, but I don't now because I just overeat junk and fall asleep). My partner tried mushrooms a couple of times in college, and I think he dropped acid once or twice, but I mostly stayed out of anything beyond drinking and pot. Drugs are something we experimented with, but neither of us ever developed a problem.
I honestly don't know what to tell my boys about drugs, especially my 14 year old who has always rebelled against most things. I worry he is at that age, and with his personality where he may have gone or could go next. Should we confront him about drugs and ask if he has tried them, and how should we tell him that they could destroy his life? Should he watch (the show) with us? Help!

Dear 'Smoked Pot In College',
This salutation is addressing you based on your question, and is not in any way announcing anything about myself, nor anyone I know. I was a Nirvana-loving-phish-show-attending-birk-patchouli-wearing-long-haired-goateed-admirer-of-the-hippy-generation type of gen x-er. I don't have anything more to say on that - I was simply addressing you, 'Smoked Pot In College', and was in no way making a personal statement or announcement.
When I first read your question, I thought since I have young kids (ages 10 and 6), I don't have enough experience to answer this question. I realized after I thought about the subject for a bit, that my kids are exactly the age to talk about drugs, as are your children. I have warned my children about "Strawberry Quick" and Flakka when I learned about them (google the terms if you are not familiar - terrifying), but I haven't really gotten into specifics about drugs.
I was raised to "just say no" and with knowledge of "the big lie" and the image of a brain on drugs (with a side of bacon and hashbrowns - shows how seriously that was taken by my generation). I think based on your (and my) experience in college, it suffices to say that approach to curb drug use was ineffective. How can one who has experimented with drugs tell their children to just say no, especially when the odds are the conversation will most likely not help?
My advice, 'Smoked Pot in College', is to tell your children the truth about drugs, and from a young age, so long as the information you are sharing is age appropriate. Let your children know that a lot of their peers are going to experiment with drugs, and are going to try to pressure them into using drugs. I think it is imperative to empower our children with the truth about what drugs can physically and psychologically do to a person. We need to help our children understand that there are other ways to conform and fit in that don't involve risking their lives and their health.
I don't know that I'm going to tell my children to "just say no," but I am certainly going to tell them that if they try heroin once they have set themselves up for certain disaster, and that if they try quick or flakka (as younger and younger kids are), they could die the very first time they try it. I will advise my children that mixing alcohol with pills can kill them, and that addiction will end every dream they ever had for themselves. I will warn that every person is at risk for addiction and ask my girls if they think it is worth the gamble to "fit in" for a time in their lives that will only last a few years.
When we were in college, a lot of people smoked pot. The main issue for our children is the "first time/gateway drug" marijuana is being replaced with frightening hard drugs like heroin, meth, and designer street drugs. We need something more effective than just saying no because the world our children are growing up in is far scarier and dangerous than the one we grew up in.

The truth (with images and examples) of how horrific and destructive drugs and addiction can be is the only source powerful enough to teach our children to make smart choices when we are not there to help them make these decisions for themselves.  The only time we are going to be powerful enough to combat the incredible force of peer pressure and sense of curiosity is when they are still young enough to truly listen to us.  We need to talk to our children as soon as possible about drugs.

I think 14 is old enough to allow your son to watch the show with you (it is on network TV). Perhaps the images depicted in the show will be powerful enough to curb him from trying something down the road because he will be informed of the real repercussions of what can happen if he says yes to whatever is presented to him. I would advise him that he is in a safe place during this discussion, and encourage him to advise you of any exposure he has had to drug use (whether it be his own use or friend's use). Promise him (and stick to it) that there will not be any consequence to his honesty so you can start a dialogue about a critical subject.
I think my children are a tad too young to be exposed to the images presented in (that show), but I definitely think a defined and structured talk with them about drugs is in order immediately. Thank you for submitting this question and getting me to focus on a critical subject that requires action today.
There was a stigma when I was growing up that the drug crisis our country faced (and continues to face) was linked to socioeconomic status, or was only a problem in big cities. Four years at a private New England college (where NOT experimenting with drugs was deviant in my experience), I have learned firsthand people from all walks of life and different backgrounds experiment with, dabble in, or regularly use drugs. 

Why do you think we continue to make the issue of drugs about class or race? What methods are you going to use to inform and arm your children in the world of drugs that will undoubtedly surround them when you are not there to protect them?

On my way to Woodstock '94 - proud to say 100% drug and alcohol free (that weekend) 

Monday, March 2, 2015

The one with the mom who is 'stuck', but wants more kids

Dear Dad,

How do I make my husband realize that he is a great dad? We were high school sweethearts and got married shortly after graduating. He had told me that he didn't want to be a dad. His dad and his much older brother had both abandoned their families after divorce and have nothing to do with the kids from their previous marriages. He thinks that he will be the same, I think. I told him before we got married that I was going to be a mother and he needed to know that before he married me. I waited over 6 yrs and then told him that I was going off my birth control. It took 18 months but I finally got pregnant with our daughter. She is now 4. My husband is a great Dad. He is very active with her and he helps me out with dinner or her bath or whatever I ask for. They ride bikes together and play video games together and he is teaching her how to shoot. The problem is that they are exactly alike and both stubborn. She knows just what buttons to push and he gets frustrated with her. He is a little more strict than I am, so he gets her stubborn side a little more than I do, and she is very much a mommy's girl. She always wants to hold my hand and sit in my lap instead of his. He thinks that this makes him a bad dad. 

The biggest issue is that he refuses to agree to a second child because of his normal reactions to this child. He hates that he gets so angry with her. He always handles it well and does his best to teach her even when he is angry but sometimes he has to yell and then walk away. I've tried to tell him that this is part of being a parent and reassure him that he is great but it just doesn't stick. There are very few things that I want more than another child. My marriage is one. We are in a bit of a lose/lose situation right now and I am stuck. If he says OK and we have another child and he is stressed out more, I think he will end up resenting me for it, but if I give up and say never mind, am I going to resent him? I love him more than anything else and I hate that this is coming between us. Is there a good solution to this that I'm not seeing right now? I could use an outside opinion.

Dear 'Stuck',

I love synchronicity.  I just finished editing a chapter of the manuscript I've been working on in which I describe my first days as a stay-at-home dad with my oldest daughter literally moments before I read your question.  

In the chapter, I flash back to when my wife and I met at age 19, and how we both swore we were very anti-traditional and would never marry (not just each other, but anyone), and certainly would never have children. We are both the products of broken homes with marriages that did not end well, and found the concept of parenthood "limiting."  I recall within the chapter the extraordinary terror I felt taking care of a fragile and delicate human being, while completely clueless to what I was doing and endlessly searching for the "instructions on how to parent."  I remember the unimaginable self-critic I was regarding every single thing I did "wrong," or at less than 100%.  Your question made me re-conjure those images in my mind in my attempt to empathize and relate to where your husband is coming from.  

I realize, 'Stuck', that your husband is not in any position I've ever been in.  If you waited 6 years before having children, you are not a "young" couple as my wife and I were when we proclaimed our disdain for a traditional life.  If your child is four years old, your husband is a seasoned enough parent to not be wet behind the ears, and simply lacking confidence. My guess is that your husband feels he already compromised six years into your marriage, and in his opinion there is 'no room at the inn' for another child.  

My advice, 'Stuck', is to seek out marriage counseling.  The solution here is not to figure out a way to convince your husband to have another child, nor is it to just figure out how to get him to understand he is a good father.  I think he has made it clear where he stands.  I know more than one family that was in your situation, and the addition of another child did not fix anything, but led to the complete and utter destruction of the marriage and family.  

Your husband does need to understand that he is a good father and truly process that he is not his father nor his brother in order for him to truly enjoy his relationship with your daughter and not be endlessly worrying about failing her or letting her down.  Perhaps once he addresses this in a therapeutic setting he will, much down the road, change his mind about wanting another child.  I think you will benefit as well, because if having another child is of critical importance to you, you have a lot to explore for yourself regarding the issue of having more children and your husband's current stance. 

In a perfect world, my wife would not have had heart failure, we would not be in our early 40's already, and we would not be prone to multiple births.  I would love to have one more child.  Every time I talk about wanting one more child, my wife gives me the "no room at the inn" look.  Deep down, I know my wife is correct and that we are done having kids; but, the stay-at-home dad part of me wants this time in my life to keep going.  My children are aging me out of my chosen profession!  I can relate to how you feel, 'Stuck', and am sending you good thoughts and energy.  Please keep us updated.  

I know a lot of couples who planned exactly how many children they were going to have and were in agreement 100%.  I also know an equal number of couples who were blessed with multiples, who were barren, and who did not see eye to eye when it came to the issue of how many kids to have.  Do you think the issue of one wanting more children than his/her spouse is a deal breaker?