So how do the kids of a psychotherapist and trained parenting educator act? Well, if you were at my house today, you’d see a raging three-year-old kicking me, calling me “stupid” and you’d be pouring me some tea and providing a shoulder for me to cry on.
My day today consisted of many crying spells. I’m not too sure why but every time my son threw something, I broke into tears. Maybe there is a threshold for how much aggressiveness and back-talking a parent can take, and I’ve just tipped over that.
Perhaps the hardest thing for me is that I have read the books, can teach the techniques, know the words, facilitate the workshops, but some days cannot be strong enough to withstand the periodic pure hardness of raising kids. My children are just like yours: they have good days and not so good days. Every child has a unique personality and a growing brain, and my career choice doesn't influence that.
I spend my days with my two young sons, one of whom goes to public school every other day. My husband is with them a day and a half a week, which is when I do my parenting gig, and I have them the rest of the week. We tend to spend most weekends all together. I admit there have been days I wanted to curse the smiling mom who told me she loves coming home to a clean house, tired kids, and supper on the table all thanks to her nanny. I don't regret being home with my kids but I guess there are times I am envious. I know this feeling is emotional flooding which tells me I need more rest.
So on this day in the life of a "parenting expert," I’ve done what you all know to do without my advice—“get by with a little help from my friends”—actually my sister to be specific. I have dragged my droopy, mascara streaked face over to her house, and feel better already.
My quick-to-anger son is happily playing with his cousin and, if you saw him now, you would think he is the loveliest, most polite, beautiful boy. I’m doing what my instincts (not advice from a book) are telling me to do—write. And my sister just gave me the best suggestion, “Maybe you two are just spending too much time together. Why don’t I take him a half day a week?” Amen, sister.
There is a reason my number one piece of advice to any parent is the more rested you are, the more able you will be to parent from your heart. Patience is the ticket to getting through tantrums, back-talking, and other kiddie challenges. In order to be patient, we need to be rested.
So, to help myself recover from being tipped over the tantrum-edge, this "parenting expert" is going to pour a glass of wine, chat with my sister, and completely ignore my children. Then I will find people to hang out with my beautiful sons so I can regroup.
—This photo is of me doing my favourite yoga pose which reduces fight or flight and helps calm the body. The pose is called, "feet up the wall." My little guy just couldn't help but stop and give me a big hug.
Having taught high school for many years, I have seen how brutal kids can be. I also experienced bullying myself as a gangly, braces-wearing, awkward fourteen-year-old. As my sons entered school this year, I had my bully-dar on high alert for the signs of feeling that pain.
To prepare myself for this stage, I sought help through a book called The Essential Guide to Bullying Prevention and Intervention by Cindy Miller and Cynthia Lowen. I also had the privilege of interviewing one of the authors, Cindy Miller.
This book accomplishes what its title intends: it is a comprehensive guide on dealing with bullies, how to know if your child is being bullied, and how to grow a bully. There is a good focus on how relationship break-downs contribute to bullying behaviour. As I've said, "bullies don't know how to stop their mad from turning into mean."
As a parenting educator, I wanted to explore with Miller what it was about the relationship between a parent and child that might increase a child's chance of hurting another. Our conversation headed immediately to the topic of frustration tolerance. Miller found that bullies often do not have the ability to tolerate the anxiety of waiting or disappointment. She said, "the bully has a problem—this is how they seek to solve it." The child feels anger because something didn't go well or they have been let down, and don't have the skills to "use their words."
Miller said it was very important to consider how, as parents, we speak to people who are unkind, and how we treat other people in front of our children. Long before a child gets on Facebook, a family needs to teach children how to handle tough conversations and communicate that to their children. In the end, "Facebook is really just an extension of how we communicate socially."
I was curious if today's bullying is more relentless than the sticks and stones type of assault that happened in our youth. Author Cindy Miller felt it could have a more severe impact as bullying of today is a "360 degree assault on a human being." Because of this, Miller says parents are feeling powerless because they can't stop everything—the cyber posts, texts, school comments. Miller encourages parents to help the child resist looking at any on-line posts. She also advises parents to not to give up because they can make a bigger impact than they realize—the steps to helping a child are clearly outlined in the book.
Trying to alleviate my panic at the thought of one of my children experiencing the type of bullying we have seen in the media, I asked Miller what we really need to know about the signs that bullying is happening. She was quick to say that it is critical to know what to look for in general like changes in mood and behaviour, but it is more important to know what our own child's distress signals are. As parents, we need to be acutely attuned to our children so that we can pick up the slightest change from their normal baseline.
Miller went on to explain that once we suspect bullying is happening, it is important to take time to digest this news. There is very helpful information in the book to help parents sit down, breathe, and think about their next steps. Many children try to avoid showing signs of trouble because they are afraid of what the bully will do to them if the situation is discovered or if their parents/teachers intervene. This book can help parents ensure they do not make the situation worse.
My favourite paragraph of the book is "Encouraging Courage" within the Prevention section. To conclude, I will leave you with this, "Fear isn't only necessary for survival; it's a gift that can be utilized to develop courage as well as self-confidence and competence. Learning to harness, face and conquer fears will enable your child to have a more exciting, enjoyable, and rewarding life." (Pg 80)
*Note; Co-author Cynthia Lowen is also the producer for the film BULLY which I highly recommend seeing.
Would you rather have sex or sleep?
For a long time, I would pick sleep. I considered our marriage to be satisfying when one day my husband, with a big smile, handed me a hard-cover copy of the book WHAT MAKES LOVE LAST? How to Build Trust and Avoid Betrayal by Gottman & Silver. I grinned weakly thinking, who the hell does he think he is giving me, a psychotherapist, a book about relationships? Well, it turns out he was pretty wise. We were doing okay, but not great.
The thought of working on my marriage while managing raging tantrums (my three-year-old, not me), a loud boy who asks four-hundred questions a day, a medical clinic and my parenting education gig, made me roll my eyes. My relationship needs felt pretty low on my to-do list. BUT I realized my mistake. After both reading this book, we started really opening up, talking about all the things that felt challenging, the things we loved and didn't really love about each other, and yes, how satisfied we were with our sex lives. My husband and I made a plan to grow in our love for each other while our busy life ticks along.
After polling other couples, asking sexologist Dr. Carlen Costa, and harassing parents at the local indoor play hang-out, these are things people have found really increased their love for their partners:
1) Do what it takes to be rested.
In order to get more rested time for myself, I spent a ton of time making a schedule that fit time for work, house jobs (we don't have a house-cleaner/nanny lawn-care), hanging out with friends, doing something I really LOVE, exercise, regular time with my husband and REST. I also let a lot go, realizing I would have time to work more or play more once the boys get older.
2) Make connection time together a priority.
Most couples I asked said they schedule one night a week as date night. Some suggestions for that night are: chatting, doing a hobby you both enjoy, playing a game, having a glass of your favourite drink, and sex for those who feel into it.
3) Flirt like you did in the beginning.
Sending sexy texts, planting notes in your partner's coat or lunch bag, throwing all granny underwear out, and replacing grey sweat-pants with those that fit nicely all help. I mentioned using "attachment bridges" with children in a previous post, these bridges are important with partners too.
4) Learn how to talk about the tough stuff.
I recommend reading the book I mentioned above. It does a great job of explaining the different ways people react to challenges and how that affects their ability to communicate. After reading this book, my husband and I are using the time we do have way more efficiently because we are clearing any crap that stops us from liking the other much faster. We aren't letting things fester (well, most of the time).
5) Be open with your partner about your sex life.
How satisfied you are with your sexual life? If you would like to improve it but aren't sure how to, read the above book or enlist the help of a sexologist. Try not to always leave sex time for night when everyone is exhausted. Morning showers are great when the kids are old enough to be unsupervised for even just ten minutes. I've heard of couples stealing away during the afternoon while unknowing children are watching a show.
*It is important to consider co-sleeping here. Make sure both partners are okay with sharing the bed with children. An important boundary around co-sleeping is: parents may not have sex in the same bed as sleeping children. Co-sleeping parents have reported creating intimate time in other areas such as a spare bedroom or sofa.
Photo: Flickr CC: Lizard10979