This Month's Questions & Answers | Previous Newsletters | Upcoming Events
Lessons for Everyday Parenting
The Connective Parenting Newsletter
Lesson: Creating Relationship
Isn't it interesting that the busier our lives get, the more focus and worry we put on our children and the more we are fraught with fears that we must be teaching them or enriching their lives every minute. If they are "behind" their peers, we scramble to get them caught up. If they are behaving in ways that frustrate us, we battle them in efforts to make them change… or make them different. And always we find ourselves at the failure end of the stick if our children don't measure up.
Are we trying to raise children who will make us happy? Show others how great we are? A recent New York magazine's attention grabbing cover says, I Love My Children. I Hate My Life. The inside story is titled, All Joy and No Fun: Why parents hate parenting. It sites many studies that find parents are less happy than non-parents. Why is this? What are we looking for? Do we really think our children are going to make us happy? Probably, because we certainly think it's our job to make our children happy.
In bygone eras, parents didn't have luxury time to think so much about their children and what they were doing. Mostly children were working alongside their parents-not being told what they needed to learn, but simply learning in the doing. Now we think we must teach, making sure at every step of development our children are doing what the charts and books and evaluators say they should. The message to parents is: It's your job to bring them up to speed and make sure they succeed. The message to our children is: If you don't measure up, you can't succeed. What happens to the relationship? No wonder we hate parenting. We're exhausted.
The irony is that all this effort is what creates the problems we're trying to solve. We are engulfed in so much pressure and fear that we are losing out on the most important aspects of our relationships and missing out on happiness. We lose the relationship when we focus on behavior, milestones, information-the doing of everyday life. We gain immense satisfaction when we interact, exchange, converse, relate-the being of everyday life. Finding the souls of our children, no matter what the outside shows, is where true nurturing lies.
In one of the loveliest books I've read recently, Katrina Kenison in her book, "The Gift of an Ordinary Day: A Mother's Memoir" strives to find the being in her everyday life with her children. She says of her mothering:
So it comes back, as it so often does these days, to my own fear and anxiety as opposed to my son's increasingly self-aware perceptions about who he is and what he should be doing. If I can give up my agenda, if I can remember that my own hopes and dreams do not belong on his shoulders, then perhaps I really can offer him the kind of support he needs. And if I can let go of my own idea of what success might look like for him, then I can encourage him, instead, to discover and treasure in himself what is unique and internal and truly valuable… As soon as I stop wishing for things to be different, I am met by the beauty of what is…I need to become a different kind of mother. A mother who knows how to back off. A mother whose gaze is not quite so intensely focused on her two endlessly absorbing children, but who is engaged instead in a rich, full life of her own… A mother who, though her protective, maternal instincts run as fierce and deep as ever, manages, in all but extreme moments to keep those instincts in check. A mother who trusts in who her children are, even if they aren't exactly who she thinks they ought to be. Who keeps faith in their futures, even when the things they do, and the words they say, give her pause in the present.
Faith in their futures. That gets lost when we focus on what children are doing wrong or what we need to make sure they learn or what they're not up to speed on. In order for our children to have faith in themselves, we need to have faith in them. And faith in ourselves. To relate in the moment without the pressure of past or future, to be more and teach less, to understand that there are so many more aspects to who a child is than their diagnosis or delay or current behavior. Don't worry about how it's all going to turn out. It's a waste of time. You can't possibly know that.
- Spend a day simply being with your child.
- Find out what your child thinks about something.
- Tell your child what you think about something.
- Share who you are with your child, not just what you say.
- Refer to yourself as I rather than mommy or daddy.
- Focus on what is going on right now. Try to set any fear aside.
Questions and Answers
I want your questions. Here's how it works: You email me a question to email@example.com, and I answer pretty quickly. I put it in a newsletter at a later date. Please try to keep them brief without leaving out critical details.
Validating a non-verbal child
Q. My 3 year old has a stubborn, spirited nature as well as speech/communication delays which makes everything challenging (and frustrating!!) for both of us. He has been receiving speech therapy since April and has improved dramatically, but still is significantly delayed. Our big issues now are his EXTREME separation anxiety, sleep and eating issues. For the last 3 months, I cannot leave the room without him crying/panicking, he cannot fall asleep or stay asleep unless someone is with him, and he has become very challenging at meal times (and has regressed to eating with his hands instead of utensils when he does eat). I think the biggest contributing factor to his behavior was his uneasiness about the arrival of his brother, but because of his speech issues I cannot verify this with him. I constantly reassure him with words and affection of how special he is. However, I cannot have any type of meaningful dialogue with him, or effectively validate his fears/feelings because he is unable to respond and communicate at that level. It is all such a big guessing game!! He gets himself so upset that he makes himself throw up.
A. You absolutely can effectively validate your son's fears and feelings. The beauty of connective communication is that you do not need response from your child. If you are wrong about something he feels, I'm sure he has ways of telling you that you are wrong! You can be quite confident that the approach and arrival of the baby has had a great effect on him--as well as his frustration over not being able to make himself heard. Instead of focusing your attention on how special he is, put attention on his frustration. Try things like, "It's really hard having another baby in the family when you wish you could have me all to yourself. It's hard for me, too, so I understand. Of course you're upset when I leave you. You won't always be." etc. etc. And, "It's so hard when you know what you want to say and you can't say it. It's really frustrating now but soon you will be able to. It will change." Normalize all of his fears and worries. If you are worried about them, he will get more upset. Don't be afraid to acknowledge what you fear he might be thinking — "I bet sometimes you wish the baby would go away and things would be back to normal. It's ok to wish for that. We are going to keep him with us, and I completely understand why sometimes you wish he wasn't here." Do you see my point? You do not need him to respond in order for you to help him feel okay about what he is going through. Also give him outlets like drawing, playdough, banging on a drum, running fast up and down the stairs. When you see him particularly frustrated, say, "Show me how you feel" and put paper and crayons in front of him. If angry scribbles come out, encourage him to rip up the paper in as many pieces as he can and throw them in the trash. Give lots of outlets for his lack of speech skills. There are so many ways he can communicate. Let him eat with his hands for a while. It's not a battle worth fighting when other more important things need addressing. And many children this age need a warm body to help them get to sleep. If the separation anxiety is new, it's probably because of something he has perceived about you, losing you, you being different, etc. It's also developmentally appropriate. Assure him that you are different now only because of not getting enough sleep and of having to take care of another baby. Tell him about your real feelings too and tell him you'll be back to his old mommy soon. Make sure you take care of yourself first and foremost. You have a lot on your plate but your own refueling is essential. I hope you have babysitters on hand and can get out alone. Also try to make fun and relaxing alone time with him so he sees you as he used to. Courage—this all will pass. Set your expectations appropriately for now—for all of you. You all need lots of help and support.
Teen sleep habits
Q. My 16 year old boy has difficulty getting himself to bed at a reasonable hour. We have given him a bedtime of 10:30, but he consistently misses the mark by an hour or more. He has to be at school in the morning at 7:10am, and I feel this consistent lack of sleep is hurting his ability to cope with school and sports commitments. He has good grades and is a very responsible, loving, sensitive kid with some problems with focus. The focus issue may be making it difficult for him to settle down and go to bed and the lack of sleep may be contributing to the focus issue. His father and older sister also are in the habit of staying up later than is healthy for either of them. My daughter is away at college most of the time but when she comes home she stays up until the early morning hours. My husband has always stayed up until 11:30 or midnight and sometimes later. Consistent fatigue is not healthy or productive for anyone. I'm loosing the battle. I am the only one in the family who goes to bed at a reasonable hour. I have mentored this to both children but they look to their father and follow his example. I feel that both of my children would be more successful and happy if they could discipline themselves to get a healthy amount of sleep. Any suggestions?
A. Your son and 20 gazillion other teenagers! The problem is that teenagers don't release melatonin (the sleep hormone) for a couple hours after it is released in adults, and it is still releasing through the morning hours when they are expected to be alert in school. Our educational system does not comply with a teen's body clock. Some schools are changing their start time to 8:00 or 8:30 and are seeing major improvements in grades and SAT scores. It's a very hard age to convince your son that he needs more sleep or to dictate a bedtime. There are morning doves and night owls. It sounds like you are the only morning dove in your family. I don't think mentoring has anything to do with it. Is your son aware of and concerned about his lack of focus? If he is, you may have some leverage, but instead of, "You have a focus problem and if you got more sleep you'd do better in school," etc., try, "I'm wondering if you think there is any correlation between amount of sleep and ability to focus. You know I'd like you to get more sleep but I don't know what it's like to be you. You know your body and what you need." Then drop it. The only way you're going to get a change at all is by giving him authority over himself. You can say that you are concerned that his work might be suffering from too little sleep, but state it as your problem, your concern. He can hear you better when you own it so he won't feel nagged. Letting him know that you trust him to do what is best is the surest way to get cooperation at this age. His grades are good and he is responsible—don't create a relationship problem over sleep.
Q. My 5 year old won't eat what is put in front of her at dinner. I don't want to turn into a short order cook who cooks 5 different meals for the different tastes of my children (and husband). We gave her the option of going to bed or eating dinner…well that wasn't successful. I am trying to figure out the best way to approach this… She didn't want to go to bed so she sat there and ate as much as she could (about 5 bites in over an hour's time). Then she had the flu the next day, which told me that maybe she didn't want to eat because she wasn't feeling well. I read the section in Confident Parents on this and it sounds like I should 1) serve food family style to allow children to control what they take and how much 2) provide something I know they will eat in addition to the other things 3) not stress if they eat nothing???? Am I getting this right? This is so completely different that my mother did it.
A. The answer is yes to the 3 points about eating. Think about your goal. Dinner time should be the warm hearth of the family—a time to connect and share the day. No one enjoys it when they know it will be fraught with tension. Put one meal on the table, let the children help themselves and do not talk about food—at all. Play games, be silly, tell jokes, discuss subjects the children want to talk about. Your goal is to make it a time everyone looks forward to. Giving a choice between eating and going to bed feels like a punishment for not eating. We want our kids to listen to their own bodies to tell them whether or not they are hungry. Clearly she was not hungry when her body was fighting the flu. Her cues need to be trusted. How many of us know and trust our bodies! Eating problems and disorders come from bad messages about food—I do not approve of you if you don't eat when and what I tell you to eat or if you do not appreciate what I cook for you. If you love me, you'll eat my food. What messages did you get about eating? What was dinnertime like for you as a child? Are you compensating for something? Are you going on automatic about eating and passing on the same messages? Your job is to provide nutritious food, theirs is to eat what they want of it. A lot of letting go and trust is required. If you have When Your Kids Push Your Buttons look through the first section of the book. I tell an eating story that runs for several chapters covering old eating patterns. I ate like a bird when I was little. Nothing could touch anything on my plate or I wouldn't eat it. I didn't like much. I am eternally grateful to my mother for never calling attention to it, never nagging me about it even though I know she was worried. I felt bad enough in restaurants when waitresses always said something about how little I ate. Believe me, I grew out of it and now I love food and can't leave anything on my plate. Your daughter is not a big eater. Let that be okay and don't make her feel bad about it.
When I told you that my son was trying to eat like a dog at the dinner table, you suggested I serve him his food as if he were a dog. After much patient waiting on my part, he finally ate like a dog at the table again, and so I asked him if I should put his food in a bowl on the floor for fun and he could show me what kind of dog he could be. He did it and we had a good laugh, but he then said the food got all over him too much and he wanted to stop. He never did it again.
Bonnie Harris, Connective Parenting
To send a question: Email me your question, and I will respond with my answer within a couple of days. Then I post it in the newsletter at another time. I never use names.
Phone Coaching available from anywhere in the world. Skype, too. Email me and set up a time for one on one concentrated time to discuss your personal situation, get advice and practical solutions.
RSS Feed - My website now offers an RSS feed to deliver updates to your RSS "reader". A reader can be web-based, desktop-based, or mobile-device-based. A popular web reader can be found here.
TeleClass Recordings can be downloaded for $10 each. Login to PayPal.com, click on the send money tab, enter firstname.lastname@example.org and $10 for services. Please write in the message box which you would like:
#1 - Understanding Your Child's Behavior — principles 1,2
#2 - Acceptance and Expectations — principles 3,4
#3 - Connective Communication — principle 5
You can also pay by check.
Click here to read previous newsletters.
Email Bonnie with questions or comments at email@example.com.
© Bonnie Harris, LLC | 603.924.6639 | firstname.lastname@example.org
"I just wanted to say I love your newsletter! I enjoy receiving it and reading your thoughts and the experiences of others. I have read many books on raising children, and truthfully, yours is the one that speaks to me the most. Thank you for your efforts and dedication."
—mother of three in NH
"Bonnie, I love your insight and advice and your piece in this newsletter EXACTLY describes my situation with my oldest child."
— mother of a twelve yr. old
"I've been subscribing to your online newsletter for awhile and really enjoy the letters and your responses."
— parent of a fifteen yr. old
"I read your e-newsletter every month and just from reading these, I've gained a lot of insight."
— mother of 5-½ & 3 yr. olds
"I just want you to know how much I enjoy reading your newsletter. It really keeps me reminding myself of what is important."
— parent of 7, 10, & 11 yr old boys