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?