Wednesday, January 28, 2015

The one with the 'Former co-sleeper wannabe'

Dear Dad,

Needing some advice on how to get my 4 year old to sleep in his own bedroom. In our previous house, the rooms were way too spaced out, so for his first 2 1/2 years, he shared a room with us. Now that we bought a new house, his bedroom is super close but I can't get him to stop sneaking into our room late at night. 

Santa brought him an awesome bed for Christmas, slide on it and all. Yet Santa didn't know what to do with the old bed so put it in our room, and of course our son prefers to sleep in the old bed. Even if I took apart the old one I'm afraid he'd still just come in and sleep on the floor. I'm at a loss.  I suggested to my husband doing a star chart for sleeping in his room, but he did not think it was a good idea. 

What are your thoughts/advice? Oh and the challenging part is my job, I work from home but have clients with special needs stay the night some times, when they do stay the night our son sleeps in our room just out of precaution.

Dear 'Former co-sleeper wannabe',

I had a perfect answer for your question based on my experience - until I read the last line of your question.  

The key to getting your children to stay in their own beds is to be consistent and ironclad about the routine of going to (and staying in) bed on their own.  There can never be an exception - otherwise, your children will figure out ways to manipulate their way back into your bed or bedroom.  

My advice is to override Santa's decision to put the old (more familiar and more comfortable and soothing) bed in your room, and get rid of it immediately.  I would explain to your son that he is getting to be a 'big boy', and make a big deal about how brave and strong he is going to be now that his "job" is to sleep in his own room.  I think your idea of doing a star chart is brilliant, and I would suggest kicking it up a notch and put a reward system in place. Perhaps when he gets seven stars (one per night totally in his own room) he gets some type of treat or privilege?

Now, the tricky part regarding the overnight guests: you are 100% correct that you must protect your children when having any stranger or client sleeping in your home.  The problem is, if you don't go 100% in with him sleeping in his own room, you could potentially face this problem for years (a prior 'Dear Dad' question regarding this found a teenage boy still sleeping in his parents' bed).  

I suggest the nights you have clients sleep at your home, you put your son to bed the way you would any other night.  Once he is asleep, I think you should sleep in his room (and not in his bed).  I would also get a lock for his door and lock it on those nights to ensure both your safety.  Best of luck to you, and please keep us updated!

We allowed co-sleeping with our oldest, despite protests on my part.  Once my wife experienced the years-long struggle getting our oldest to sleep on her own, she had no question about not co-sleeping with our twins.  We were consistent from day one with the twins sleeping in their own beds, and they slept on their own a lot quicker than our oldest (years quicker). What do you all think?  Is co-sleeping a good idea, and if so, at what age do you hang the 'do not disturb' sign on your bedroom door?

Sunday, January 25, 2015

The one with the 'good question'

Dear Dad,

How do I get my kids to not compare themselves to each other? My girls are so competitive and they are only 7 and 4!

Dear 'Good Question',

I have a feeling that if I had a definitive, universal answer to your question, I would be writing this advice column while sipping the finest of scotches, in an evening jacket from the ocean front terrace of a winter home on Waikiki.

I think as parents we have to accept that self comparison is human nature for us all - especially children who are making their way in an unknown world. When you add the concept of sibling rivalry to said comparisons we make even as adults with neighbors/strangers? You've just summed up my life as the father of twin six-year-old girls!

My advice is to highlight each of your children's strengths and applaud accomplishments and make criticisms with your children individually. Parenting can be a juggling act, and I believe having a lot of balls in the air is necessary to ensure each of your children are given the opportunity and attention for their individual selves to develop to their utmost potential.

My twins seem to reach milestones at different times, and with each accomplishment, the other becomes envious and down on herself if the same task is not mastered. My wife and I have known that an important task as parents involves the above advice - an easy feat for the first several years. Now that the girls are getting older, nature is taking its course and the girls are developing differently.  My daughters are seeing their sibling's accomplishments as "not being as good as" if one is not physically or psychologically ready for something the other has achieved.

One of my twins grew just tall enough to be able to use the water slide at our community pool just before it closed in October. My twins were equally terrified and enthralled by the water slide since we moved to Florida in August. When one of them was finally able to take the plunge, the moment was intense for her - a definitive marker event in her experience of growing up. She jumped up and down and screeched with excitement of her huge achievement. Her shorter (but two minutes older) twin sister was crushed. The same younger and taller sister has lost not one, but three teeth. My daughter has said more than once that she feels like "a big baby" because she is "so far behind" her sister. She has expressed a sense of defeat and of not being 'as good as' her little sister.

When we went to our last dental appointment, the twins advised their very precocious and smart 20-something dental hygienist of these facts, accomplishments, and pitfalls. The hygienist looked at my shorter, has-all-her-teeth twin and whispered, with a wink: "you are older by 2 minutes? That is something that you will always have - you are a big sister! It is great that your little sister is accomplishing these things that you will soon accomplish and master, but she will never be older than you. Don't say anything to her, because that would make her feel bad; but, don't feel bad because you are always a step ahead." 

The beaming, prideful look on my daughter's face was priceless and taught me something: it is sometimes OK to point out advantages one child has over another, so long as it is co-taught that flaunting said advantages would make others feel bad and be in poor form.

My wife and I waited until we had a moment alone with 'big sister' to discuss the situation. She was full grinned and boasting about the responsibilities of being a 'big sister'. We agreed with her about those responsibilities, but focused on her artwork, her grasp of technology, and her creativity and how amazing she was in those areas and how she should focus on her many accomplishments. She focused, rather vocally, on being two minutes older than her little sister and what a big deal it was that she
 is, was, and always will be a big sister!

I guess there are no definitive rules, and am now very aware of our next project/life lesson - tact and humility. Thank you for submitting your question which allowed me to focus on this subject - this has given me food for thought.  Please keep us updated, and best of luck to you!

How do you deal with your children comparing themselves to each other and with sibling rivalry? Do you take an active role to try to influence/referee your children, or allow them to figure it out for themselves?

The one with the email and the quagmire

Dear Dad,

I am a single Mommy of twin boys that are 8 years old. I’d like your take on something:  my ex-husband and I have been divorced for 7 years now. I try to communicate important dates, information, and anything that I feel needs to be addressed via email. I spent too much of my life having my words twisted around and played back incorrectly to me and our friends. When I send an email I copy his mother as well, so that there are another set of eyes on my words so that he can’t mix them up and spew off what he wants and because Nana and I are still good friends (oddly enough, though she is part of my kid's family so I feel she should be in the loop). 

My ex remarried in October of 2013. I don’t have an issue with his wife. Overall she’s great to my boys. Earlier this week I sent a ‘very important’ email to my ex and copied Nana. I had to address my ex leaving our two 8 year old boys home alone (even if it was for just a few minutes) not once, but twice last week while he ran up to his wife’s work. He responded immediately and promised it won’t happen again.

I would like nothing more than for our boys not to go to his home anymore. He is very much an 'Uncle Dad'/'Disneyland Dad'. Our boys are beginning to catch on to that a little. He also accused me of grilling our boys for information about him and his wife. I couldn’t care less about their lives as long as our children are well taken care of. 

My ex told me he would never leave the kids alone again, but does not want me to ask questions about him and his wife and also asked me to stop copying his mom on emails I send to him. He also told me to copy his wife instead of his mom. I informed him that he cannot control who I send communications to and that it was not my job to ensure his wife knows what I have said. I told him that if I was remarried it would be my responsibility to discuss things with my husband, not his. I would love to have your opinion of all of this along with any tips, warnings, anything you’d like to say.

Dear 'Single Mommy',

I think it is wonderful that you have retained a connection with your ex mother-in-law, and that you have a support system in place. I do, however, disagree with your copying her in on emails between you and your ex husband. It seems inappropriate on more than one level: you are making her a forced moderator, which while nice to have, is not her place; and secondly, you are sending an ongoing message to your ex husband that he is incompetent and needs his 'mommy' to keep a watchful eye on everything you communicate about (more on that in a bit). 

I think email is the best way to communicate with your ex, as keeping things in writing will minimize conflict; moreover, emails act almost as a contract with a time/date stamp on exactly what you each present and agree to. Keep every single email to and from your ex in a dedicated folder so that no words, dates, or information can ever get twisted or played back incorrectly to you or your friends. If they ever are, you have proof and don't need Nana's input. 

The good news is that sword is double edged and it would be completely inappropriate for you to be expected to copy in his new wife on an email you are writing to him. Your ex certainly knows how to forward an email, and it should be his sole responsibility if he wants to copy in his wife on your correspondence regarding your children. 

Now on to the real root of your question - he admittedly left two eight year old boys alone and has the audacity to scoff at the notion of you "grilling" your children for information? I don't think so. I would make it clear to him that you are not asking questions to determine what he and his new wife have for dinner or what movies they watch together. You are trying to determine if either of them are suitable parents who can make appropriate parenting decisions. I am glad he acknowledged that leaving 8 year old twins alone was wrong. Twice? In one week? Where else are these people dropping the ball with your children who you are entrusting in their care? 

My advice is to send an email to him and advise him you will no longer copy in his mother, and advise him that his request to copy in his wife is inappropriate. Make it clear to him that you are keeping all email correspondence, so the function that your mother in law played is still in effect, but in a more appropriate means of communication between just the two of you. If he twists your words, or messes up on a date, you will have proof. I would also send an email to Nana and let her know you still consider her a wonderful resource and relative, but you are honoring her son's wish to remove her from future communication.  Advise Nana that you will always communicate with her via a private communication between the two of you, and value your relationship. 

I would have a very direct discussion with my children and give them an opportunity to advise you of any other details you may not know about, but should know about. You need to be vigilant in making sure they are safe when they are with their dad and step mom. It is my very strong opinion, 'Single Mommy', that you have every right to ask any and every question you ever have involving the safety and well being of your children.  I believe if your ex dropped the ball in judgment to leave your children alone twice in one visit - you are completely justified to make sure the environment is safe.

You are in a quagmire, 'Single Mommy', as you are now co raising your children with a 'village' in more than one home.  This may not be the situation you idealized, but is a reality that many families face.  I think you need to document everything to maintain a clear directive about dates and events and happenings, and be reasonable when it comes to requests such as your ex's to not copy in his mother (and expect the same in return). Above all else, trust your instincts!  If you think something is amiss, send an email, talk to your children, and follow your gut feeling!  Best of luck to you and your family!

Raising children is difficult enough with a partner on the same page and in the same household, and I have a great deal of respect for those who raise their children alone, or in concert with others.  This question got me to thinking:  in the case of divorce or separation, is it really every member of the children-raising-village's place to be privy to every single day-to-day detail?  

The one with the single mom

Dear Dad,

I need the male perspective. I am a single mom of twins (boy and girl) who are now 3. I receive nothing from the dad and neither do the twins. They have only met their father once, at a park (after many attempts) for a few hours. They asked about him afterwards daily. He was "too busy" to see them again. Eventually, thankfully they just stopped asking. I don't want to poison them against him regardless of him being a deadbeat. But am unsure how to answer the "where's my dad" questions that come up after seeing another child with their dad. We have been staying with my father, while I get back on my feet and I had been hoping that he would step up a little but considering that he was never around or a positive influence in my childhood, I'm not surprised that he hasn't. What do you think?

Dear 'Single Mom':

I was raised by a single mom who not only helped mold me into the father that I am, not only inspired me to create this column, but who I wish a happy father's day to each June because she was, quite frankly, not just the best mom in the world, but the best dad in the world as well.

I realized in my mid 20's that I have a sense of a "collective father" - an internal image and sense of different male influences in my life that have helped to mold, shape, and inspire me as a man and ultimately as a father- but surprisingly at the core of that construct is my mother.

My mother selflessly sacrificed her self for the sake of her children - and while I may not agree to the degree to which she sacrificed, I honor and respect everything she did for us. My mother did not just cook our meals, keep our house clean, run the PTO, mend our wounds, or act as a shoulder to cry on - she did so much more. My mother was my cub scout leader, even though she had no idea what she was doing; she realized that men were few and far between in the part of town I grew up in, so she stepped up. My mother taught me about the birds and the bees, even though it was clear to me even at the age of ten how nervous she was talking about things, and how little she knew on the subject from a male's perspective, even then. My mother taught me how to play sports (not very well, I might add, but the point is she made sure to include that). My mother taught me to stand up and fight for myself, and to never succumb to bullies. Any- and everything that a dad should "typically" teach their son, my mother at least tried to teach me, and from that I learned and became.   Click here to read a post I wrote about my mother

My advice, 'Single mom', is to own that you are in a situation where you are both mother and father to your children. I would advise your children, in an age appropriate way, that some people are not meant to be parents, and their biological father, though not meant to be a parent, gave you the greatest gift in the world: twins and the ability to be both mother and father to them. I am not saying to make him a hero, but paint the good things he actually did: give you your babies and give them life.

I am sorry that your father was not a positive influence in your life while growing up, and can certainly relate; however, I am glad that he is there for you now as you get back on your feet. Perhaps show him your question and my answer, hug him and say: "Dad, I love you and am grateful you are here for me, but I want more from and for you, and your grandchildren need more from you." I suspect if you are living in his home, he has a sense of his failures and may be open to more successes.

My hat is off to you, 'Single mom', and to ALL the single parents out there. I don't know how you do it. Twins? Seriously - I do NOT know how you do it, as I went through the experience of twins with a support system and much of the first few years is still a haze.

Now, after that is done: go to court as soon as possible! Your ex has a legal responsibility to his children and MUST pay to help support them and you. Why have you not already done this? There were extenuating circumstances with my mother, who did not go the legal route until we were much older (and trust me, my biological father talked about his resentment of paying that debt on his deathbed, deadbeat that he was to the core). Your ex is legally responsible to take care of his offspring, and the law is there to make sure he fulfills that responsibility! If he is "too busy" to know his children, so be it. You can take care of that, Single mom. If your ex foolishly chooses not to support his children, he can go to JAIL. Please contact an attorney ASAP and have it ironclad that your children are in YOUR custody, but your ex still has to pay his fair share to raise his children.

I am sending you good thoughts and energy, 'Single mom'.

I have been running this advice column for over two years now, and am still flabbergasted by the number of mothers who are angry at their ex partner's refusal to see their children, but take no legal action to make sure they pay for their legal responsibility. Why is this? Are single moms afraid they will come across in a negative light, or do they not realize under law they are entitled to child support?

As part of this advice column, I encourage readers to use the comment section to have a conversation on the subjects that are presented for 'Dear Dad.' I will be around all day to be part of the conversation. What are everyone's thoughts?

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The one with the 'Mean Girls' group

Dear Dad,

I am in a mother's group on facebook that I really enjoy and has really helped me. The problem is a lot of the mom's talk about a lot that I don't understand like politics. Some of them can be snotty and even a little mean to the other mom's who don't know anything on the subject. I have been googling the things they are talking about so I can be part of the conversations and have more than once been kind of bitchy to people who don't know things "like we do." I feel bad about it, but also love the group and talking about things. What do you think I should do? I'm an at home mom and 19 and don't know a lot of people here (I moved to my boyfriend's when I got pregnant). TIA

Dear 'Mean Girl Groupie':

I realize you are very young and may not understand that life is not like high school. You will encounter people who are snotty and know-it-all and unpleasant catty buffoons. Do you want to associate with unpleasant catty buffoons and have people think you are one?

I love that you are googling things to keep up with the conversation - education does not just happen in college and universities. Anyone can learn anything by researching and reading. Bravo!

For you to then be snooty to others for not knowing something? For shame.

My advice is to consider if this group of 'Mean Girls' is really for you. If you think the pros outweigh the cons, continue googling, and be nice! Keep in mind there are a lot of other groups on Facebook!

Good luck!

I have found, on many Facebook parenting pages, as well as comment sections of online articles, that some women can be very non supportive and judgmental towards other women. Why is this?  Why can't we all just get along? 

As part of this advice column, I encourage readers to use the comment section to have a conversation on the subjects that are presented for 'Dear Dad.'  I will be around all day to be part of the conversation.  What are everyone's thoughts? 

The one with the circumcision

Dear Dad,

I am a single mother to a 2 year old girl, and am 8 months pregnant with my son.  My boyfriend left when he found out I was pregnant, and I grew up without a father, so there is no man in the picture.  

My question is, should I circumcise my son?  I have been reading things about it, but it seems there are as many people for it as there are against it.  I don't know what to do.  Please help, I need a man's input, and I feel like I'm cutting it too close to the due date!

Dear 'Cutting':

When I first started this column, and tackled a circumcision question, I had to literally walk away from my computer over the unbelievable debate the topic sparked. I contemplated throwing in the towel on 'Dear Dad'.  After the dust settled on the post, I decided not to answer any more questions on the subject, but carry on with the advice column. I am willing to make an exception in light of your situation, and I hope I can help from a now more experienced and neutral perspective.  

As a circumcised male and father of three daughters I had never given the matter of circumcision much thought.  In researching for the initial circumcision question, I, too, found many pros and cons regarding the subject.  I was discussing the circumcision debate with my family, and much to my shock (and my wife's), my mother advised me I was never circumcised.  

It turns out some men are born with little to no foreskin, while others have a significant amount.  There are many arguments that circumcising your son may have health benefits, including std prevention, and there are articles written about preference for the look of a circumcised penis.  

When I was in college, I had gone on a camping trip for 3 days with friends.  When we returned, we learned that I had won tickets to Woodstock '94, but would have to immediately leave for Saugerties, NY - allowing no time for even a quick shower.  I returned three days later (and six days shower free) to what can only be described as the most putrid odor and burning/itching I had ever experienced.  I went to the doctor and learned that I had an infection (not an std) that was easily treated with an antibiotic cream, and was caused by poor hygiene.  Looking back, I must have enough foreskin where infections like these can happen.  If you decide to not circumcise your son, be sure to teach him the importance of meticulous hygiene.  The event was a bit traumatizing, even to this day.  

I think fate played its hand well in giving me three daughters because even in spite of the trauma from that one infection I had in 40 years, I would still not circumcise my son if we had one.  My wife, on the other hand, has strong feelings on the subject and advised me she would insist on circumcision, simply because of cosmetic reasons.  I am glad circumcision is not something my wife and I have to make a decision on, as we both feel pretty strong on opposite ends of the choice.  You are in the position where you can make the final decision on your own.  

My advice, Cutting, is to discuss this with your pediatrician.  Your doctor is a wealth of information, and it is part of his/her job to help educate you on subjects like this.  Do some research on the subject on your own as well, and in concert with your pediatrician's advice, decide for your son what you think is best for him.  There is no right or wrong answer, except for the one you decide is best for your son.  

Good luck to you!

As part of this advice column, I encourage readers to use the comment section to have a conversation on the subjects that are presented for 'Dear Dad.'  I will be around all day to be part of the conversation.  What are everyone's thoughts?