Almost every Dear Family Whisperer question I answer hits close to home, because I live and deal with many of the same issues. However, this week’s, “Overcoming Four Difficult Truths About Your Grandchild’s Parents,” was one of my most challenging to answer. In varying degrees–many less blatant–I’ve heard similar stories from other grandparents. More importantly, I’ve experienced the generational divide myself. I have and continue to inhabit many family roles: daughter, sister, niece, wife, mother, aunt, partner–and, most recently, grandmother, which might be the most challenging of all! Continue reading article
This week’s Dear Family Whisperer column, “How To Not Be the “Bad Guy,” hit home. Times have changed–men are more involved in childcare today. To his credit, my husband loved kids and was more hands-on than many fathers in the 1970s. He took our children to the playground on Saturday mornings and, once, even held down the fort for nearly three weeks when I went to India. But for the most part I was “the heavy”–the bad cop– who decided what was good for the kids. Not surprisingly, when we became a “family apart,” still co-parenting but in separate households, our different standards and problem-solving approaches magnified.
I’ve since peeked into many other families’ lives and have come to understand that the push-me-pull-you between parents–married or divorced–can be better understood with “family think.” Continue reading article →
Dear Family Whisperer,
After reading a recent article in the New York Times, “Learning Young the Gift of Helping Others,” I felt like I should be doing more to make my child “charitable.” But I can’t even get him to part with old toys. How can I teach him to be generous?”
I read the same article [click here]! To be sure, not every kid jumps at the chance to have a birthday party with no gifts or to send money earned raking leaves to some village in Africa. And yet, giving seems to be on the upswing according to reporter Paul Sullivan, who wrote the piece. Of those polled by Fidelity Charitable, which manages donor-advised funds, 94% said they “had taught or were teaching their children to give to charity.”
Although Sullivan is quick to admit that the sample is “skewed toward charitably inclined,” it’s no surprise that giving is on the upswing. Parents know — and researchers confirm — that generosity benefits the giver as much as the recipient. We want our kids to be good citizens. Also, we’re in the midst of a backlash to the ethos of the “priceless child,” moving (hopefully) towards the era of the “competent” child. How do we nudge that along?
The short answer: Giving is not something you “teach” children; it’s a value you adopt as a family. Continue reading article →
Dear Family Whisperer,
After being a stay-at-home mum for three years, I would like to go back to work. My partner is well-educated, talented and self-employed, but does not earn enough to support our family. I have higher earning potential, but returning full-time to my previous career would involve relocating, which he is unwilling to discuss due to his anxiety about change. For example, one of our son’s toddler classes was moved to a day my partner usually spends with us. He was stunned. Finally, I decided on my own and told him how HIS week would now be, HIS time table, and he was fine with it. We have a good balance in our relationship, in part because I have a high EQ [empathy quotient] and understand his difficulties. He strives to do and be the best he can be and gives everything he has to give to our son and me. But he doesn’t want to discuss my career options and how they will impact our family, and I don’t want to make this big decision without him. I’m stuck — how do we move forward with a matter that effects the whole family and which needs discussing? This is something of a burden because I’m not a dictator.
In every relationship, there’s a “deal” — often unspoken, and sometimes unconscious. It seems that you carry much of the emotional weight of your relationship in return for your partner’s love and generosity. You make decisions and arrangements, and he adapts. Until now, you’ve accepted his unwillingness to participate in family decisions. But your question suggests that it also might be time to reevaluate the deal. Is it still working for you? Continue reading article →
Dear Family Whisperer,
My husband farms part time with his family. He is gone virtually all of May and June for seeding and mid-August to late October for harvest, basically leaving me a single parent. I dread these times of year, and I get very resentful of all of the “extra” work I have to do when he’s gone. I’m a teacher and, unfortunately, my busiest times coincide with seeding and harvest. A lot of other women in my situation feel this way, and the men don’t seem to understand. Mine tells me that “lots of other people manage.” How can I get him to understand the burden his part-time occupation places on me (and that our daughter who is now 21-months really misses him)? How can I get past the resentment? Is there anything we could do to work towards overall balance of responsibilities throughout the year so his absences feel less like a burden? (Technically that’s more than one question, sorry 😉
Dear Resentful Wife,
When you make a life with someone, the two of you are never in the “same boat.” Rather, you have decided to travel down the same river. And if, at times, life takes you to different rivers, you need to believe that both of you are at least heading towards the same place.
Whether your husband will give up part-time farming remains to be seen, especially if he’s been part of his family’s planting and harvesting rituals since childhood. In the meantime, as partners and parents you need to figure out how to run your family together–each steering your boat–despite your separations, despite whatever else the world throws at you in years to come. Continue reading article →
I’m a child of divorce. My husband and I have 3 year old twins. This will be our fifth Father’s Day together, and I’m dreading it…once again. Between us we have three “fathers” – two biological fathers and my step-dad. My father left when I was twelve, and lived far away from our family until last year. He is getting older, apparently has some regrets, and says he wants to be closer to the boys. I’m trying to trust him, because I’d like him in my life, but I’m skeptical and still angry at him. My step-dad has been more like a real father to me, and since my mother’s death last year, he’s alone. My husband isn’t particularly close to his parents, who live an hour away, but he feels he “owes” it to his dad to spend Father’s Day with him. How do we make everyone happy?
Your situation is not just because of divorce. It’s familiar to most married couples who have at least two dads to consider on Father’s Day. However, you’re also dealing with past hurts that obviously cause you pain. Still, this Father’s Day doesn’t have to be a disaster.
First, stop thinking of yourself as a “child of divorce.” You’re an adult. Focus first on what’s best for the family you created. What does Fathers Day mean to you and your husband? Is it a time to honor your fathers or your husband’s new role? Is it also an opportunity for your twins to know their grandfathers? Continue reading article →
Screen time is a hot-button family issue. Whole books are written on the subject; I devoted four pages to it in the chapter on self-control. (Read the excerpt here). From your answers, it’s clear that you’re certainly thinking about screen time. But setting “rules”–some do, and some don’t–isn’t your greatest concern. You’re aware that technology marches on and that it affects all families, even if you try to avoid it.
For us, we just believe that screen time is addictive, and that ours is the first generation that will be plugged in from cradle to grave. So, we just don’t have it. We will, in due time, as she grows. But for right now (all our ideas are flexible, which is why we always say “for now”) we love the life we have here. We focus on creativity, nature, reading, talking, writing. (That is not to say that other people who have screen time don’t do those things! Not at all!) It is important to us in this season of parenting to have minimal technology. When we do have it, it will come with flexible boundaries and lots of discussion.
Dear Family Whisperer
I cannot seem to navigate the bumpy landscape of parenting differences between my brother’s and my family. We LOVED the idea of our kids growing up together as cousins and spent a lot of time during the baby years. Our differences were obvious then and have become even more so. They allow a lot of technology in their home, they eat differently and their discipline is very different. That’s their choice, but I don’t want to be called out because of what I do or don’t do — for example, let my 4-year-old wear lip gloss. My niece and nephew run amok in my home, and nobody corrects them. Worse still, my brother and sister-in-law get angry if my husband or I say something (“We don’t use language like that here, darling”). If we ask the kids not to pick up the dog (which we repeatedly have to do) or bring popsicles into the living room, the parents roll their eyes. If they don’t correct their children, what choice do we have? They seem angry at us for our (by today’s standards) more conservative lifestyle, and it has driven a wedge between us. I don’t see why we can’t just respect each other’s boundaries and house rules, and support each other.
-Stressed Out Sister/Sister-in-law
The “wedge” you describe is a matter of family “style.” You perceive the world differently from your brother and sister-in-law. When you see lip gloss on a young child you think inappropriate; they think cute. You have different levels of tolerance for chaos and disarray. No wonder spending time in each other’s homes has become increasingly challenging!
The best way to “navigate” your differences is to acknowledge that you can’t change them. You can’t control anyone’s beliefs or behavior except your own. But if you start to act more accepting and respectful, your brother and sister-in-law might, too. Continue reading article →
In Secrets of the Baby Whisperer, Tracy and I provided a short quiz to determine your Wing It/Plan It Quotient–your “WPQ.” The idea was to help new parents gauge their household’s readiness to create a structured routine. Now we apply the concept to the whole family to help you understand your family’s “style,” which runs the gamut between what we call “wingers” and “planners.” Your style is defined by many factors, including how you make decisions, your rules and standards, your tolerance for disarray and chaos.
“Winger” families tend to organize their households on the fly–no two days are the same.
“Planner” families are more likely to carefully orchestrate family life–at the extreme, by religiously sticking to their routines no matter what.
Take the quiz below to get a rough idea of where your family stands.
For each question, circle the number that best describes your family during typical times, not holidays or special occasions. The word “we” refers to all the members of your family. Of course, each of you is different–and sometimes only one person (often, the planner) does a particular job! Still, try to answer for the whole group.
5 = always 4 = usually yes 3 = sometimes 2 = usually no 1 = never
We eat meals at roughly the same time every day. _____
When we walk in, we put items such as coats, keys, and backpacks in a designated place. _____
We live by a predictable schedule. _____
We plan ahead. _____
We prioritize what’s most important and tackle that first. _____
When we go shopping, we immediately put things away. _____
We use a family calendar to help us see what’s coming. _____
We are known for arriving on time. _____
Before we start a project, we lay out everything we need. _____
We do regular clean-up projects to cut down on the clutter. _____
When the laundry is done, we immediately put the clean clothes away _____
When life gets chaotic, we try to figure out what we can do differently to make it less so. _____
Total = _____
To see what it all means… Continue reading article →
We do everything we can for our kids — a girl, now 5, and a boy, 3. They are our number one priority. But we have let slip time as a couple, and I am unsure how to balance it out so we all get what we need. Is it even possible with two kids and a busy mum and dad? Our son possibly has ADHD (not diagnosed and not sure we will even go down the assessment route yet), but that at times makes it even harder to keep the focus on all of us, not just one member. Any tips would be great!
Dear Lonely Wife,
Your relationship is the foundation on which your family rests. Of course, you need to take care of your kids. But of the most effective child-rearing strategies, “stress management” (taking care of yourself) and “having a good relationship with the other parent” (taking care of your marriage) are second only to love and affection.
Being parents is challenging, especially when a child has a problem. One study found that couples whose children had ADHD were twice as likely to divorce. That doesn’t mean your marriage is doomed. But it’s reason to consciously allot some of your family “resources” — time, attention, and energy- – to your relationship. You need each other to sort through the confusion and make good choices. Continue reading article →