Monday, April 22, 2019

It’s not about the toothbrush

The time came to change the toothbrushes, and my son was not having it.

It would have been easy to brush off his objections, and just toss the toothbrush and tell him to stop crying.

It would have been easy to tell him he could keep the toothbrush, to avoid the crying.

Instead, I sat with him while he cried. I acknowledged that he was very sad about giving up his toothbrush, while holding the limit that it was time to change the toothbrush and that he couldn’t keep the toothbrush, even if he didn’t use it anymore.

In the end, when the crying slowed, he asked me if I was going to live forever.

It’s not about the toothbrush.

He wanted to take some pictures of his toothbrush so he could remember it. We found some really cool toothbrushes that light up and he was happy with that. But more importantly, he got to learn that not only do things change, but that things can change and he will still be ok, that he can say goodbye to the things that he loves, even if it hurts, that he can be sad and it won’t last forever.

Saturday, February 17, 2018


I keep thinking about how your relationship with your child is fundamental to your parenting. I keep thinking I'd like to stop parenting with power, and instead from a relationship perspective. And then I keep thinking that in general, people suck at relationships.

There's this expectation out there that being in a relationship means that someone will not only know your every need but be able to meet them. It fuels our romantic fantasies, spurs us to think that our parents were bad at their job because they were not able to do this, and sets the bar really high for us as parents as we struggle to know our child's needs and to meet them even when we really would rather not. Anyone who's ever held a crying baby and freaked out because you didn't know what it was they needed after trying a plethora of things knows what I'm talking about.

Being in a relationship (and this includes being in a relationship with one's self) doesn't always mean knowing what someone needs. We're not mind readers. Even with lots of experience being around someone, needs change, people change, what was needed 10 years ago is not what is needed now.

And further, even if we could know exactly what someone needs, it's not always possible to meet that need. Sometimes it's too expensive or not safe. Sometimes we're too busy, or too tired or we just don't feel up to it. And that's OK too. Saying no to meeting someone's need for whatever reason is just good boundaries. It helps us know that we are a separate person from them, that we don't exist just to meet their needs.

Being in a relationship is about responsiveness. It's about, instead of invalidating a person's need when you can't meet it, acknowledging that they have a need. It's about when they zig and you zag, you acknowledge that there was something out of sync. It's about apologizing for when you hurt the other person, even if it was inadvertent. It's a back and forth thing.

I think there's a lot to be learned about how relationship theory as it applies to couples can be applied to parenting. But I also think that if we are to look at our relationships we need to acknowledge the ways in which our thinking about that is deficient as well.

Monday, September 18, 2017

Connection-based Parenting

Much of what I read in the Positive Parenting world is about connecting with our kids. Rather than give advice about how to "get" our kids to do things, advocates of this parenting style are trying to ask a better question: how can I do a better job of connecting with my kids? They realize, of course, that while short-term they can punish and/or reward their kids to manipulate them into doing what they want, but they also know that in the long term the cost to the relationship is too high (not to mention that nobody wants to raise a child to be an adult who is obedient and easily manipulated).

I just started reading Brené Brown's book "Braving the Wilderness." The entire premise of the book is that we are a connection-driven species. According to her research, loneliness increases our odds of dying by 45 percent. One passage stuck out at me as I was reading:
"When we feel isolated, disconnected and lonely, we try to protect ourselves. In that mode, we want to connect, but our brain is attempting to override connection with self-protection. That means less empathy and more defensiveness..."
Oftentimes, in my hurry to get things done (because it's getting late and we have to get to school or get to bed or get somewhere) I try to control and manipulate my kids to get what I want. I'm often surprised when it all blows up in my face, although I shouldn't be. If my children become disconnected from me, they have no choice but to go into self-protection mode. The only thing that matters in self-protection mode is them, not getting somewhere on time. Clearly, if I started with connection first, I would have a much greater chance of gaining their cooperation.

Connecting with my kids to gain their cooperation requires a whole new mindset. As Nathan McTague points out on his blog:
"We’ve got to quit our addiction to Behaviorism.
It should be pointed out, for those of you who’ve never heard the story, that Behaviorism — a pseudoscience based on the notion that human behavior is a malleable commodity to be controlled and harvested for economic advantage — was designed to make subjects do whatever they were told. Not simply to do what was preferable, or intelligent, or kind, but anything that was commanded and associated with reward and/or punishment."
It would be all too easy to tout connection as the latest parenting trick to "get" your child to do what you want. The bigger picture, however, is that as a connection-driven species, we need to work harder to make sure that the most vulnerable among us does not lack connection. I think Nathan McTague says it best:
"When it comes to raising our children — we want them to know, and understand, and feel it in their bones, that we love, and value, and cherish them for no other reason than that they are."

For Further Thought:

1) Have you noticed your own feelings of connection/disconnection?

2) Have you noticed patterns of connection/disconnection in your family?

3) What gets in the way of establishing connection in your family?

For Further Reading:

1) Alfie Kohn at NYT:  When a Parent’s ‘I Love You’ Means ‘Do as I Say’

2) Visible Child: Finding the Right Question

3) Creative Child: Connection-Based Discipline

Tuesday, September 12, 2017

Always Learning

While reading this article on handinhandparenting about the illusion of control I came across an idea that I had never really considered before. The gist of the article is that there is so much we don't have control over in our lives, that we should set goals that are more reasonable, namely, that we should treat ourselves and our children as learners.

Often time I will give my children the benefit of the doubt - I know that there is so much that they don't know about the world, about what's socially acceptable, about what's expected of them. Instead of getting angry with them for not knowing the things that they don't know, I try take the time to gently teach them. 

I don't give myself the same benefit, though.

I'm the mom, I'm supposed to be in charge, in control, I'm supposed to know things. So much is at stake so I have to have the right answers at all times.

But I'm also new at this. I've never parented this child on this day in this situation before. So maybe it's ok if I don't have all the answers. Maybe it's ok to say, "I'm going to try this and see what happens," instead of second-guessing myself. It works out? Great! I'll try to do it more. It doesn't work out? Great! Now I know what doesn't work. 

It doesn't matter how long you have been a parent for, or if you have parented a child of this age before, because every child is different. Sometimes even the same child is different on different days. If you can give your child the space to figure out what works and what doesn't work because you realize they are still learning, maybe you can begin to give yourself the same space too?

For Further Thought:

1) What does being a learner mean to you?

2) What resources do you have to support yourself as a learner?

3) How can you best support yourself when you're in a learning situation?

For Further Reading:

1) HuffPo: The Art of Parenting: Learning To Live at the Edge of the Unknown

2) Love, Joy Feminism: How I've Learned (and Unlearned) Parenting

3)  AhaParenting: Ten Steps to Unconditional Love

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Why Not?

Ever since my son threw a tantrum because he didn't like where I parked, I've been thinking a lot about the balancing act between needs and wants. It isn't always obvious when you start going down a road you don't want to be on, but the only thing to do when you find yourself on that road is to head back and decide which way you want to go.

Your toddler wants the blue cup instead of the green one. Why not?

Your toddler wants the other cereal for breakfast. Why not?

Your toddler wants popcorn for a snack. Why not?

There are so many instances in our day where we are being asked to pick our battles, and since many of them are not a big deal, we say "why not?" and give them what they want. But sometimes, choosing your battles is not a very effective parenting strategy.

I'm not saying that we should never give our child their choice, especially when it really doesn't matter. What I am saying is that all of these little interactions add up, and pretty soon we're parking in a different spot because our child has suddenly developed a preference as to where we park.

I wish there was a hard and fast rule that could help us decide when we should say no and when we should say yes. Or maybe a counter that counts how many times they've had their way? Unfortunately, as with everything in parenting, there are no strict guidelines, and regardless of how well we consider everything, we still might not be happy with our choices after we've made them. It's still important, however, to try to find some balance, so with that in mind, I'd like to talk about boundaries.

When we are trying to decide whether or not to allow our child to have the cup they want, to jump on the couch, to jump on us, or any other parenting decision, we are making the decision based on our values. The decision we come to is a boundary. Yes, you may have the cup you want, because I value your independence. No, you may not jump on the couch because I value my couch and I don't want it to get broken (or I value you and don't want you to get hurt). No, you may not jump on me because I value myself and I don't like to get hurt.

Janet Lansbury talks about boundaries in this article and the thing I appreciate the most about it is that she gives permission for parents to set any boundaries they want. Don't want to get your child the blue cup instead of the green one? No problem. Your reasons may not be reasonable, but "I don't like that" is an acceptable reason not to want to allow something. Feel free also to use "I don't feel like that today" or "I'm too tired." Again, you don't always have to say no, but for me, the big problem isn't always saying no, it's always saying yes. If this is your problem as well, give yourself permission to say no more often, even if you don't feel like you have a good enough reason to say no.

It can be difficult to get into the habit of opening up the space between their request and your response, but it will be well worth it. If you're often feeling unappreciated, or like your children have become a little too demanding or even (*gasp*) spoiled, give yourself time to answer your children's requests. Ask yourself, "Will I feel annoyed or resentful if I do this?" If your answer is honestly and truly that you don't mind, by all means, go ahead. Sometimes it can just seem easier in the short run to give in to the request. We've all been there, and there's nothing wrong with doing so occasionally. If it happens more than occasionally, however, you probably just need to bite the bullet and put your foot down.

It's easy to get into a rut and parent on auto-pilot. But every now and again something will happen that lets you know it's time for things to change. Change isn't easy for anyone, and it will definitely ruffle some feathers when you start saying no more than you used to, but eventually it will become the new normal. Your needs and wants matter, so don't be afraid to say no.

For Further Thought:

1) In what ways do you find yourself "choosing your battles" throughout your day?

2) What are your reasons for saying "yes?" What are your reasons for saying "no?" Are these reasons consistent with your values?

3) How can you help your responses be more consistent with your values?

For Further Reading:

Not Just Cute: Setting Boundaries Helps Kids...and Also Your Sanity

Peaceful Parent: The importance of healthy boundaries in the family

Positive Parenting Connection: Boundaries: Building Block #9 for Positive Parenting

Respectful Parenting: Parents' Needs MATTER!- The Art of Self-Care and Respectful Parenting

Saturday, February 4, 2017


There is probably no other issue as contentious in parenting as breastfeeding. If you manage to have a successful breastfeeding experience, the time will eventually come when you will have to decide to wean. The optimal time for weaning will depend on who you talk to.Sure, the WHO recommends breastfeeding up to two years and beyond, but they are also making their decisions based on what's best for people around the world, including third world countries where they may not have access to clean drinking water. Obviously, breast milk is preferable to cholera, so if you happen to live in a place where you don't have access to safe drinking water (say, Flint, Michigan), it would make sense to breastfeed for an extended period of time.

The correct time to wean is a very personal decision which means that you will face criticism if your decision does not resemble someone else's.

Parent 1: I breastfeed until my child entered college. It was really difficult and required a lot of sacrifice on my part, but I felt it was important to do what was best for my child
Parent 2: [feels bad for only breastfeeding for a year]

Parent 1: [breastfed child for 6 months]
Parent 2: [is still breastfeeding at a year]
Parent 1: What, are you planning on breastfeeding them until college?

Deciding when to wean (or even to breastfeed at all, but that's a post for another day) falls under the category of decisions a parent has to make by weighing their own needs against their child's. I have read in more than one place that children will self-wean naturally at a certain age, and have thereby concluded that since children are only young for such a little time and it goes so fast, etc., etc., then parents should put aside their own needs and make whatever sacrifices necessary to continue to breastfeed until that point. I have rarely read that it is totally acceptable (and even encouraged!) that a parent put their needs ahead of their child's. (The Horror!) However, parenting is a balancing act of making sure that our needs and our child's needs are met. I don't have the right answer for you, but I will say that you do have the right to take your needs and even your wants into consideration in this question. 

Are you ready to stop breastfeeding? What kinds of "shoulds" are coming up for you when you ask yourself this question? "I *should* breastfeed my child longer." "I *should* wean my child by x age otherwise it's weird." If you were making your decision in a total vacuum, away from the judging eyes of others, what would your decision be? 

When I had decided to wean, there was a little bit of uneasiness. I could have chalked it up to the fact that I (or my daughter) wasn't ready, and have continued past my decided weaning date. At the same time, I realized that this was a big transition for both of us, and that it was ok to not be 100% ready for it. It's possible that at a later date I might have felt 100% ready (I guess we'll never know) but at the same time, I can look fondly both upon my breastfeeding days as well as on when and how I weaned. 

Is your child ready to stop breastfeeding? Especially if your child is older, and has more of an awareness of what's going on, it can be a really difficult thing to go through. Does this mean you shouldn't stop until they're ready? Well, this week my son cried because he didn't like where I parked, should I have parked elsewhere? At a certain point, our kids are not going to be happy with our decisions and you would think parking in the "wrong" spot was equivalent to telling him I was no longer going to be feeding him the way he carried on. And honestly, I almost considered parking somewhere else -our brains are wired to respond to our child's needs, and so we have to really think about what's a need and what's a want. Your child NEEDS food. I'm not convinced that they NEED breast milk. If you are concerned about weaning because of your child's response, there are many ways you can approach this that respect their loss without overriding the boundaries you have decided upon. Obviously, it's much harder to do if you're feeling that you're depriving your child of something they are entitled to.

For both of you, the transition into not breastfeeding anymore will mean a loss of connection. I remember when my daughter would get sick and just want to cuddle with me, and I realized that we didn't do that as much anymore. This may be a valid reason for not weaning. However, if weaning is something you want to do, it will just require a little consideration on your part to figure out how to make that connection with your child. 

If you have decided that you are ready to wean, there are a few different ways to do it. Some advocate "don't offer, don't refuse." This is a good option if you're not in a hurry to wean. If your child asks to nurse, you nurse them. If they don't ask, even if it's a time when you would usually nurse, you don't nurse them. You can also just drop one nursing session at a time, or decide that you will only nurse at home, or only before bed. If you have decided to drop a feeding, but your child still wants to nurse, you can tell them you will nurse later, or offer them a snack, or find another way to connect with them that doesn't involved nursing (including listening to them cry because you won't nurse them).

When I weaned (both times, and my children were a year old each time I weaned), I cut out one feeding every day until I was done. I started with feedings which could be replaced with snacks. The last feeding I eliminated was the night-time one, and it took a few nights with a little crying before they stopped waking up to nurse at night. I distinctly remember bringing a sippy cup with water to my daughtetr's room, but of course she didn't want it. We would sit in the rocking chair but when she realized that breastfeeding wasn't happening I put her back in her crib and she went back to sleep. 

Expect fullness and discomfort for a few days once you've completely weaned. The slower you go (dropping a feeding every week rather than every day, for example), the easier it will be for your body to adjust. If you have to express milk, try to express as little as possible, since the milk that is expressed will always be replaced with more milk.

Again, this is a hugely personal decision that is fraught with all of the worries that parenthood brings about making the "right" decision. Not only do you have to face the judgement of other people, you have to deal with the feelings of the child involved in this decision. You are living in a world which constantly tells you that your needs and wants don't matter, so to make a decision based on your needs and wants in all of this is a recipe for doubt. At the same time, this is big transition and change is hard. So have compassion for yourself and your child as you go through this together.

For Further Thought:

1) Are you ready to wean? 

2) Is your child ready to wean? 

3) What "shoulds" do you have about breastfeeding and weaning?

4) If you are prepared to wean, what is your plan, and does it take into consideration the needs both you and your child have that used to be met by breastfeeding?

For Further Reading:

Ask Moxie: Weaning, or Not Weaning (this is a website where it's safe to read the comments)

Monday, April 4, 2016

The Problem is Not the Problem. The Problem is Your Attitude About The Problem.

I'd like to go into more depth into some of the ideas I mentioned in my article on what your toddler needs. These ideas apply no matter how old your children are, so even if you are long past the toddler stage keep reading. The first thing I did in the article was talk about how your toddler's behaviour was communication, and not to take it personally. I'm sure a lot of people find this hard to swallow. However, our attitudes about our child's behaviours determine our response to them.


It's really important to take a step back before reacting to our child's behaviour and think about what it means to us. If we see the behaviour as a cry for help, we are going to respond much differently than if we see it as a need for discipline. We might not always be correct when we assess why a child is misbehaving, but taking the time to consider it will help us avoid automatic reactions. Then we can ask ourselves about the evidence for our assessment. Is it true? How do you know it's true?

I can't tell you the "correct" way of seeing your child's behaviour; it's possible that your child really is doing what they're doing to make you mad. However, it is important to consider where your attitude may land you. If you see your child's behaviour as something that needs to be punished, as them versus you, you will almost certainly get caught in a power struggle and a cycle of punishment and misbehaviour. If you see your child's behaviour as communication, it will be much easier to problem solve with your child to figure out what the difficulty is and how it can be fixed.

If you are interested in trying to see your child and their behaviour in a different way, the first thing to consider is that it's not about you. Everyone on the planet has one goal: to get their needs met. The most basic of those needs are hunger and sleep, but humans also have the need for empathy, belonging, autonomy and connection. We all struggle to find the best way to communicate our needs, but our children do most of all, especially when they are unable to verbalize them. As Thomas Gordon says, "The "badness'' of the behavior actually resides in the adult's mind, not the child's; the child in fact is doing what he or she chooses or needs to do to satisfy some need." This is not to say that you shouldn't teach your child a better way to meet their needs, but that instead of  trying to "teach them a lesson" you will be trying to teach them a lesson.

For Further Thought:

1) Do you believe that your child's behaviour is communication? What do you believe it is trying communicate?

2) Have you considered the long term outcomes of your attitude towards behaviour? Where do you want to end up, and where do you think you'll end up as a result?

3) Are you able to step back from the behaviour and try to see the need behind it? How can you make this easier for yourself?

For Further Reading:

Abundant Life Children: Through Their Eyes: Keeping Our Expectations Developmentally Appropriate

Janet Lansbury: Stop Feeling Threatened By Your Child’s Behavior

Not Just Cute: Behavior or Communication?

Dan Gartrell: Guidance Matters