When Mom and Dad are the Problem + Labeled Kids + Surviving Deployment

[amazon asin=1937134180&template=thumbnail1&chan=default]Guest: 1: Vicki Hoefle, author of Duct Tape Parenting.
Topic: A less-is-more approach to raising respectful, responsible, resilient kids.
Issues: Why helicopter mothers and fathers are bad for kids; why it’s important for moms and dads to sit on their hands and stay on the sidelines so that children can step up, solve their own problems, and develop life-long confidence.

[amazon asin=030739543X&template=thumbnail1&chan=default]Guest 2: Barbara Probst, author of When the Labels Don’t Fit/
Topic: A new approach to raising a challenging child.
Issues: Discovering your child’s essential nature and temperament; respecting your child’s inner world; changing the way you think, talk, and respond; knowing when and how to help; taking care of yourself.

[amazon asin=0965748375&template=thumbnail1&chan=default]Guest 3: Karen Pavlicin, author of Life After Deployment.
Topic: How military families prepare for, cope with, and survive deployment.
Issues: Types of deployment; emotional and psychological stages of deployment; ways to keep in touch across time and distance; the effects of deployment on the soldier, spouse, and children; keeping reasonable expectations when coming home.

How single fathers navigate the delicate balance between their kids and their love lives

Nice Chicago Tribune article on the ins and outs of dating for single dads, featuring some quotes from me:

… Single fathers have a tendency, more than single moms, to “feel incomplete” without a partner in the house, so they risk rushing into a new relationship that may not be right, said single dad Armin Brott, author of several books on fatherhood including “The Single Father: A Dad’s Guide to Parenting Without a Partner” (Abbeville)…

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Balancing Being a Step Mom and a New Mom

I’m a new mom—and the step-mother of a 6-year old from my husband’s previous marriage. I try to pay as much attention to my step-daughter as I can, but the minute I turn to my newborn son, she runs off in a fit.  I don’t want to hurt my step-daughter’s feelings, but I want to feel free to enjoy my baby as well. What can I do?

Dealing with a stepchild’s jealousy may seem like it should be the same as dealing with any jealous older sibling, but there are other issues–particularly if the child doesn’t live in your house all the time. In cases like that, the stepchild may feel very upset that the new baby gets to be with you and daddy all the time while she can see her dad only part of the time. She may also be worried that her dad won’t love her as much as the new baby. After all, people are always fussing and cooing over infants and tend to ignore bigger kids.
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Ruining Childhood—Before It Even Begins

Dear Mr. Dad. My 9-month old daughter is happy and healthy in every respect (her pediatrician concurs). But all our friends are talking about the things they do to help their children grow, develop, learn, and so on. Is any of that really necessary? Will our daughter be okay if we just let her develop on her own?

A: I have no idea how it started, but somewhere along the line, a lot of parents got the idea that happy, healthy babies weren’t enough and that normal intellectual and physical development were happening too slowly. Babies, it seems, had to be constantly entertained and educated. Low-tech toys were replaced by electronic ones that light up, make funny noises, count, say the names of letters, colors and shapes, or conjugate irregular Latin verbs. And instead of learning to crawl, walk, and run on their own, babies needed personal trainers. What ever happened to letting kids be kids?

The short answer to your question is that, assuming your daughter’s pediatrician is right and your baby is, indeed, healthy, she’ll achieve her developmental milestones, gasp, without outside intervention.

That said, physically playing with your baby is wonderful for her—and for you. At the very least, you’ll feel more confident and competent as a parent, and your daughter will learn that she can count on you to always be there for her. A strong relationship with mom and dad is, hands down, the best gift you can give your child.

So here are a few ideas for fun ways of interacting with your baby. They’ll also stimulate her brain and body—but that’s not the primary goal.

For major muscle groups:

  • Put some toys near her feet and encourage her to kick them.
  • Roll a ball far enough out of her reach so she has to crawl to get it.
  • Supervised stair climbing is great. But stay nearby and be extremely careful. This is a good time to start teaching your baby to come down stairs backward. But be prepared to demonstrate yourself and to physically turn your baby around a few dozen times a day.
  • Chasing games: you chase her; she chases you. Reward her with a big hug and—if she doesn’t protest—a little wrestling. Besides being fun, these kinds of games teach your baby a valuable lesson: when you go away, you always come back. Plus, kids who wrestle with dad grow up with more highly developed social skills than kids who don’t get as much physical play.

Hand-eye coordination:

  • Puzzles. The best for this age wooden, have a separate hole for each piece, and a peg for easy lifting.
  • Nesting, stacking, measuring, and pouring toys. Also things to crush, tear, or crinkle—the noisier the better.
  • Weave some string between baby’s fingers or tape two of her fingers together. Can she “free” herself?
  • Hand-clapping games.

Consequences. The idea that different actions produce different effects can’t be reinforced often enough.

  • Jack-in-the-boxes—especially the kind with four or five doors, each opened by a push, twist, poke, or some other action. Be cautious the first few times, though; some babies may be frightened.
  • Pots, pans, xylophones, or anything else the baby can bang on. She’ll learn that different things make different noises when smacked and that hitting something hard sounds different from hitting something soft.
  • Doors (and anything else with a hinge, including books)—provided you’re there to make sure no one gets pinched.

But remember: Your only agenda is to have fun.

Snips and Snails vs. Sugar and Spice

Dear Mr. Dad: As a woman who grew up in the 1970s, I’ve always supported feminism, which did a great job of getting people to pay attention to women’s issues. But now, as the mother of three boys, I think we might have gone too far. Girl power is everywhere these days, and it has become perfectly acceptable to make fun of boys and cut them down. I see how this affects my sons and I’m really worried. What is going on here?

A: This may set off a firestorm, but here goes. First, you’re right—what feminsm accomplished in improving the quality of life for women and girls has been nothing short of spectacular. And I’d never want to take any of that back. Unfortunately, while females were advancing, boys and men have been losing ground. A lot of ground. Here are just a few examples.

  • Women live five years longer than men and have lower death rates of nine of the top ten causes of death. Females 12 and older are twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression, but four times more men than women commit suicide.
  • Seventy-eight percent of the jobs lost in the current recession had been held by men. In our society, where we tend to rate men by their paychecks, the “He-cession” has already led to increases in male depression and suicide.
  • Boys are bombarded with messages about how bad/dangerous/stupid males are. Girls as young as four believe they’re smarter, work harder, behave better than boys, according to a 2010 study. By age eight, boys also believe that girls are superior in these areas. The fault apparently lies with primary school teachers (about 90 percent are female) who demand that boys conform to a more feminine (AKA quieter) style of behavior, and reinforce the idea that boys are academically inferior. Teachers’ positive expectations for girls—and negative ones for boys—become self-fulfilling prophecies, say the researchers. No surprise, then, that in 8th grade, girls are twice as likely as boys to be proficient in writing, and 50 percent more likely to be proficient in reading? Or that throughout school, boys get worse grades, are expelled three times more often, and are more likely to repeat a grade or drop out entirely? Given that, it’s easy to understand why men account for only 43 percent of college students and receive only 40 percent of advanced degrees.

There’s a major crisis brewing in this country and we need to do something about it. Now. In 2009, President Obama created the White House Council on Women and Girls. For the past six months, I’ve been part of a group of men and women whose goal has been to create a similar council for men and boys, hoping to achieve for males what the women’s movement so brilliantly did for women. Sadly, the Administration has been reluctant to even look at the proposal.

I know that some people will say that it’s only fair that girls are doing better than boys. After all, the logic goes, men have historically done better than women. Whether that has ever been true is debatable—we’ll talk more about this in future columns. But as the father of three girls, I don’t want my daughters growing up seeing themselves as victims anymore than you want your sons to see themselves as victimizers—or hopeless cases. As a country, we can’t allow ourselves to focus so much on past perceived injustices that we ignore what’s happening right in front of our faces.

Of Course I Love You, Honey—I Just Don’t Like You

Dear Mr. Dad: Outside of the home, I’m a fairly calm, patient, level-headed person. At home, I’m impatient, angry, and yell a lot at my kids. I’m actively involved in their activities, but rarely find anything that they do very interesting. And efforts that I make to expose them to things I enjoy (tennis, baseball) always seem to backfire to the point that I regret making the effort. My problem is that I love my kids, but don’t necessarily like them. I know they’ll only be young for a short time and I should try to enjoy them while I can. But, honestly, I think I enjoy them less than five percent of the time. So my question is this: What can I do to enjoy my family more?

A: Wow. That can’t have been an easy email to write. But you very eloquently captured a feeling just about every parent has had (or will have). Very few people have the courage to admit it, though, so thanks for that. You didn’t say how old your children are, but there are several factors that may be contributing to your I-love-you-but-don’t-like-you feeling.
First, there’s their behavior. Dealing with rude, surly, uncooperative, disrespectful children on a regular basis can definitely make you question whether you should have had children in the first place.

Second, as children get older, they naturally push for more independence. If you aren’t able to gradually let go, you may feel useless, unloved, and angry that you’re being pushed away. This is especially true if you’re dealing with pre-teens and teens, who seem to feel that the best way to assert their independence is to inflict emotional damage on their parents.

Third, the expectations you have for your children—for example, their ability to play tennis and baseball—may be out of whack with what they’re actually physically or mentally able to do.

What to do?

  • Think hard. There’s a big difference between not liking your children and not liking their behavior. Sometimes it’s hard to separate the two, but it’s important to try.
  • Read up on temperament. Some kids are naturally easier to get along with than others. In addition, certain parent-child personality combinations are more explosive than others. Understanding your child’s—and your—temperament can really help.
  • Read up on child development. Understanding what’s normal and what’s not for children your kids’ age, should increase your patience and enjoyment levels.
  • To be blunt, grow up a little. If you feel that you’ve made major sacrifices for your children (giving up hobbies or interests, spending ungodly amounts of money on private schools, etc), you may resent them. Yelling and seeing them as disappointing or irritating could be your way of getting back at them. But this is your life. Start learning to accept the things you can’t change, and focus instead on changing the things you can (your attitude, for example, or the need to transition from “daddy who knows everything” to “daddy the mentor who gives advice when it’s asked for”). There’s a good chance that your kids will eventually grow out of their behavior issues, and grow into being able to perform the way you think they should. But if you stay on the track you’re on, you’ll have destroyed any hope for a good relationship with them long before that happens. That said, the fact that you care enough about them and being a good dad to write, makes me think you’ll never let things get that far.