First Things First

If we want our children to experience their full potential as unique people, I believe that they need to feel connected to us, their parents, so that they can develop a deep connection to themselves.A loving mother holding and smiling at her child

When I was a young mother I sometimes wanted to disconnect from them, especially when my child would “push my buttons”. I began to realize that if I was to be the mother that I wanted to be, I had to deal with “my buttons”. They were mine, after all.

I began therapy and realized my issues were rooted in my childhood. My mother was the dominant figure in my childhood and domineering she was. She demanded obedience at any cost. Her message was that she was in control of me and that I, her child, must meet her needs, including her need  to never be embarrassed in public. I learned that my needs were not important and that I was too demanding. When she was very reactive, she showed no self-control. I felt so afraid of her when she was angry. When things were not going her way she blamed me and was determined to make me suffer.

By the time I was  five years old  I had learned to be a “good” girl — to repress my needs in order to meet the needs of others, to always please others, to be very careful not to make mistakes, never to ask for help, never to question authority, and never, never to say “no”.

At first, I felt angry, but now I don’t blame my parents in any way. Now I know, in my heart, that they did the best they could. And I will always be grateful to my children. Because of them I began my journey of recovery from my childhood.

I also began to study. When my children were in bed, and later in school, I immersed myself in  books like Alice Miller’s “For Your Own Good, the Hidden Cruelty in Child-rearing and the Roots of Violence”, and Dr. Susan Forward’s ”Toxic Parents, Overcoming Their Hurtful Legacy and Reclaiming Your Life”.

I began to understand what I needed to change. It became clear why, as a young mother, I was feeling so much pain and confusion and was doing what I didn’t want to do, like seeking the approval of people I didn’t even know — onlookers in parking lots or neighbours, or whoever might show disapproval. If my child had a temper tantrum in public, I felt shame. It was as if people were shouting at me, “Can’t you control your kid?” I was determined not to repeat my mother’s behaviour, but it was becoming like a painful tug of war inside me.

I wanted my children to grow up in a world where they could feel unconditional love, where they would always feel safe, no matter what. I wanted my beautiful, innocent children to flourish. I wanted them to know that they were OK at every age — 1 yr., 2 yr., 4 yr., 14 yr.  I didn’t want to be reactive when “my buttons” were pushed. I wanted them to learn — from my role-modelling — the skills of self-control, self-composure, and empathy. I wanted them to experience the value of treating all with dignity and respect, no matter what. I wanted my children to feel free to be themselves, not who I wanted them to be. I wanted a heart to heart connection with them.

But first I had to clear out my baggage because my issues — not taking care of my own needs, my drive to please, and the pressure to control my children — were stopping me from being the mother that I wanted to be.

Share on the web

A grandparenting class? Why?

You raised your kids and they turned out fine. What could you possibly learn that you don’t know already? The truth is that a lot has changed since you gave birth. The baby gear alone is incredible. My newest grand daughter has a high chair that looks more comfy than my favorite lazy boy chair – and has more positions. Her stroller is so high tech you practically need an engineer to operate it.

You will be learning all the information that the parents of your grandchildren are learning — perhaps more. You will learn the new theories about feeding, sleeping, crying, lying, and handling meltdowns. This is no time to assert that the old ways are best.You can even learn some family rules that will keep you out of trouble.

Questions will be answered, like what happened to punishing, and even spanking kids who are rude and misbehave? Are kids today spoiled? Are some kids discipline-proofed? Are they growing up too fast? Are you too permissive or too strict? What can you teach your grand children that their parents don’t? When should you speak up and when should you bite your tongue?

Getting together with other grandparents can be very reassuring. You will become more clear about your role as in laws as well as grandparents; when it is important to respect the wishes of the parents and when it is okay to bend the rules a little. You will find out that no matter how hard you try to please the parents conflict is inevitable but most conflicts can be resolved if you have some effective conflict resolution skills.

The classes will do one more important thing: they will remind you of the good news about being a grandparent  that you’re really not the one in charge here and nothing is your fault, either. As Roxana Robinson writes in Eye of my Heart

It’s like being told you no longer have to eat vegetables, only dessert — and really only the icing. —

So take a back seat, learn the new ways and enjoy the ride.

So take a deep breath,smile and sign up for a grandparenting class. You will learn a lot and you won’t regret it.

Share on the web

Let the Countdown Begin!

The countdown begins for my weekend seminars that will reveal the “10 Truths Parents Learn Too Late”. My heart is bubbling with joy and anticipation. I look forward to meeting everyone, new faces and old. Even more so, I look forward to sharing the latest information that will help parents to manage, calmly, the most difficult situations and will help parents to avoid mistakes of unhealthy control or permissiveness. The primary difference between healthier families and controlling or permissive families is that parents in healthier families allow children to grow up as persons in their own right.

If you bungle raising your children, nothing else matters much in life

—Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis

I enjoy giving parents up-to-date tools that work. I relish parents’ comments afterwards, like “I did that, Win, and I was amazed — it really worked.” These simple tools do work, and perhaps more importantly, they leave your child’s self-esteem intact too. I love to use the analogy that you never use a typewriter again once you have a computer. You will never use outdated parenting tools again either, once you learn about these effective, time-efficient tools.

It’s just amazing how — if you make what seem to be small changes — you can change your relationship with your child forever. It’s calmer and your child will trust you more.

To learn more, I welcome everyone to attend and participate in my first parenting event in 2013!

Share on the web

When your child cries because you are leaving, can you show empathy?

I received this email from a mother looking for guidance about how to handle her 4-year old’s behaviour when she has to leave the child to go to work, attend doctor’s appointments, etc. (The content of the email has been modified to protect the identities and privacy of the individuals.)

I have two children: a 4-yr old daughter and an 11-mon.-old son. From the day my daughter started talking she has been very dominant over me. For example, she cries everyday when I leave for work, she tells me that I can’t go to work, I can’t go to  appointments  etc. She wants me to stay home all the time. My husband and I both work outside the home. He works long hours with lots of overtime. I work shift work. She has a pretty routine life. Whenever I leave she begs me not to, and cries, and says how much she loves me, that she wants to come, that she will be a good girl. She will get very mad when I tell her no. She will repeat things to me that I have told her, regarding her behaviour. Also, bed time is another chore. She refuses, sometimes, to go to bed and wants us to lay with her every night and that has put a strain on our marriage.

I have major mom guilt for everything I do. I feel like I need to be with my kids all the time. Our youngest is also now crying when I leave for work and doesn’t want me out of his sight.

Looking for some guidance…

I wish that I could hug you and your children.

You have a very busy life. You and your husband work full-time and you have two young children. Stress is added because your husband sometimes works overtime and you work shift work. For your daughter, this is anything but a routine. It is confusing and stressful for her because she can’t figure out when her mom and dad will be home and when they won’t.

It’s important to see what is happening from your daughter’s perspective.

There are things that you can do to make it better.

First, ask yourself “Are you running on empty?” If your cup is empty, how can you nurture and take care of children? You can’t. If you have ever flown, you will remember that at the beginning of the flight, the attendant stands in front of you and gives instructions on what to do should an emergency occur: “When the oxygen mask drops down, if you have children with you, put the mask on yourself first.” You cannot nurture your children if you don’t nurture yourself. Or as an old lady I knew put it, “You can’t get water from a dry well.”

Parenting is energy-consuming. Assess your energy level. You need a high energy diet, small meals and snacks with protein in each one. Are you getting as much sleep as you can? Exercise is important. You don’t have to go to a gym. As few as 15 minutes a day walking or playing outside with your children can make a big difference.

One of the red flags that tells me that you probably feel overwhelmed and powerless over the situation, is that you seem to blame the child for the situation and for how you are feeling. “She has been dominant over me”, “wants me to stay home all the time,” “wants us lay with her every night and that has put a strain on our marriage.” This situation is not the child’s fault, nor is it your fault. No one is to blame. However, it is your responsibility to change how you are responding to your daughter. She is a preschooler who is dependant on you.

“Be kind whenever possible. It is always possible.” – Dalai Lama

Change yourself first. Become a mindful parent. This requires being aware of what is going on inside of you. Do you have a clenched jaw, a churning stomach? If so, deep breathe. Only when you are calm will you be able to help your child to become calm.

Your 4-yr. old is suffering from separation anxiety. She feels afraid because she knows you are leaving. She is not trying to manipulate you, but she can’t manage her anxiety alone. The anxiety that she is feeling can be as intense as the anxiety you would feel if you lost her at the mall.

Don’t punish her. Don’t make her suffer more than she  is already. Like all children, she needs to feel connected to you, her mother. This is an opportunity for deep closeness. Please don’t miss this opportunity. The child needs reassurance that she will be safe until you return. I’m sure that you don’t want her to feel like she is a burden just because she needs you. No one can take your place. This is not misbehaviour. This is a 4-year-old who feels scared and needs your kindness and empathy. You don’t want to make her feel bad for having human feelings.

The next time your daughter expresses anxiety and fear that you are going to leave her, I encourage you to:

  1. Role-model how to manage intense feelings by managing your own. Control yourself first. Take a moment to breathe deeply. Don’t judge what’s happening and don’t judge your child. Say to yourself, “This moment is what it is.”
  2. Engage with your child. Hold her close to you. Acknowledge her feelings and needs. You can say, “It looks like you are feeling scared that mommy is leaving. You wish that I could stay home and be with you.” Kids will do almost anything we request when we make the request with a loving heart.
  3. Then, when you are both calm, you can begin problem-solving. (Caution: Don’t rush to problem-solving until you are both calm.) You can ask her to think about what you both can do when you get home. You can give her something that will help her feel connected to you until you return. You can give her an all-day kiss. Put on some bright red lipstick and kiss the back of her hand. Give her your scarf, or a picture of you.

Kids will do almost anything we request when we make the request with a loving heart.

Sometimes you can prevent separation anxiety events when you recognize and meet her needs. She is a preschooler who needs: structure, enough sleep, substantial time with her parents, and to be heard. She needs to feel safe. Much of what we call a child’s misbehaviour is really about needs not met.

Finally, create departure and bedtime routines that are held sacred. Routines help children to feel safe.

Best wishes!

Share on the web

Bus Driver Bullies Mother and Children

The headline read, “Tearful tot, mom tossed off the bus.” A 23 year mother said she was humiliated when a city bus driver “kicked” her off the bus because her son was crying, leaving her and her sick children an hour-long walk home on a cold winter morning. “It was horrible. Having to walk home, being embarrassed by all those people. I was trying my hardest to get my son to stop crying.”

In January, 2012, a front page story in our local newspaper the Windsor Star told the disturbing story of Tori Tracey, a mother with two sick children – a two-year old son and a four-year old daughter – on a Transit Windsor bus, returning home from a doctor’s appointment. Her son was crying and she tried to calm him, but her efforts were not enough for the bus driver. He stopped the bus and the mother reports that, “He made a complete scene on the bus, saying I needed to calm down my son or we needed to remove ourselves off the bus and he couldn’t drive like this.” Then the bus driver got off the bus for a short time, and when he returned he ordered  them to get off.  None of the other passengers said a word. The mother began the long walk home in the cold with room for only one child in the stroller. She said she gave her jacket to her daughter and walked most of the way home wearing only a sweater.

The mother called Transit Windsor to complain. A day and a half later, a representative called to apologize. Later in the week an employee came to her house and dropped off 20 bus tickets.

There are many lessons to learn from this story and many questions: Why did the bus driver treat a mother with 2 sick children like this? What did he think the mother should do – that she wasn’t already doing – to stop her sick boy from crying? Why didn’t he show empathy? Why didn’t the other passengers say or do something to help?

For Tori Tracey and her young children this was a horrible event. They were bullied by the bus driver and no one stood up for them. Bullying is everywhere – even on city buses – and bullying is wrong. People get hurt and it is up to everyone in the community to stop it.

… bullying is an act of aggression where there is a discrepancy of power between the bully and the victim.

To clarify, bullying is an act of aggression where there is a discrepancy of power between the bully and the victim. The bus driver was the bully who misused his status and power to treat this family as inferior and undeserving of respect. Reading this story, many of us feel outrage that he showed no empathy or compassion for this mother and her two small, sick children. He seemed to blame the mother for his stress, because she couldn’t stop her sick two-year old son from crying. (I can almost hear someone saying, “Why can’t that mother control her child?”  Mothers tend to get blamed when their children are sick and crying.) He forced this family, with few resources, out into the street. (They had a stroller with room for only one child and didn’t even have the warm clothing needed to walk for an hour in the cold.) This is man’s inhumanity to man. Tori Tracey and her children deserved better.

What part did the witnesses play? Bullies do not bully without support.

By their silence the passengers became the bystanders, giving tacit consent to how the bus driver treated this family.

Their fellow passengers needed to stand up, not stand by. By their silence the passengers became the bystanders, giving tacit consent to how the bus driver treated this family. Research on this kind of behaviour suggests that they did not intervene because of fear, or that they believed that others would act. It is possible – and likely – that they blamed the mother, too. Things could have played out much differently if even one of the passengers had stood up to say, “Stop. You can’t treat another human being this way. It is wrong.” Or alternatively, they could have offered support to the mother and children – the support that they deserved. When bystanders – the witnesses in this case – intervene, in 57% of cases bullying stops within 10 seconds (Peplar & Craig 1999).

By not intervening, the bystanders failed this family. Is this the kind of society we want to live in – where apathy and fear allow others to be hurt? Is this the society we want for our children, who are so vulnerable?

This is how children learn to be bullies. They learn  by the way they are treated by the bigger, more powerful people in their lives.

I fear that this incident could have a lasting effect on the children. What happened was a hurtful and aggressive act that could have lasting consequences for these children. Ithink that this is how children learn to be bullies. They learn  by the way they are treated by the bigger, more powerful people in their lives.

Share on the web