Tag Archives: question

Single mom seeks help

Every now and then a reader emails me a question that I could not possibly give an unbiased answer to. And so, with her permission, I am passing her email off to all of you – hoping that you may have some advice for a single mom in quite a predicament.

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Hi Crissi,

I have been divorced from my sons’ father for 8 years. They are now 14 and 9. During our marriage, he was physically abusive to me and addicted to drugs and alcohol. After our divorce, he continued using drugs and abusing alcohol. The courts still mandated that we share legal and physical custody. It finally came to a head 4 years ago when he got drunk with the kids in his care, the police were involved, and he brandished a weapon on the cops. Needless to say, he was arrested. I was awarded full legal and physical custody, and he was not allowed visitation for 2 years. After that time was up, the kids were reintroduced to a relationship with their father through court-ordered supervised visitation, eventually turning back into unsupervised visitation. While I had my suspicions that he was still using, I had no proof. And it seemed like the kids were doing well in his care. It has been two years now since he re-entered the kids lives. Just two weeks ago, he got drunk again and attacked his own mother. He was arrested and is now in a yearlong rehab program. It was admitted that he never stopped using. And it’s apparent that he hasn’t changed, either.

My question is, what do I do? My personal feelings are that I want him out of our lives forever. I’m angry that he lied over and over, and that he has never taken responsibility for his addictions. I’m angry that we all worked so hard for this reunification to work, and now my kids may have to go through it all over again. And I have no faith that the rehab will do him any good this time. He tried several different programs the last time around, and lied about his progress. And I’m afraid he’ll do it again But I understand that I need to separate my personal feelings from what is best for our kids. My 14 year old son wants nothing to do with him. My 9 year old son cries and misses his dad. I just want my kids to have a predictable life they can depend on without the rollercoaster their father keeps putting them through. But I’m having a hard time seeing past my own resentments to come up with a solution towards future visitation. He’s been in rehab for 2 weeks now, and is already calling to talk to the kids. And I haven’t been able to answer the phone because I don’t know what to say.

Help!

-Confused Single Mom

Giving your kid the Latch-Key

Is your child ready to become a Latchkey Kid?

When I was still in school, there were some days that my mom wasn’t there when I got home. I would have to use my key to get in, make myself a snack, and then do my homework before I could watch TV or play outside. I would make sure that I would get everything done as told. And I would ensure that my younger sister was watching TV or otherwise occupied. And then I would go down the hall to my parents’ room, close the door behind me, and search the room for anything interesting I could find. Eating from my mom’s secret stash of chocolate, snoop for the hidden Christmas presents, thumb through my dad’s vintage Playboy magazines (for the articles, of course), try on all my mom’s jewelry, and watch TV from the comfort of their huge bed .

I flippin’ loved those days.

Oh, don’t look at me that way. You know that you were just as rotten as me when I was a kid. Honestly, it’s not like there was anything that interesting in my parents’ rooms. It’s just that when a room is otherwise off-limits in the light of day, it is incredibly intriguing. And now that my son has finally graduated into “latchkey kid” status, he is probably doing the same thing. The clue?

“Did you know mom has a sink in her room???” Taz exclaimed to his sister a full week and a half after we had moved in.

Dear God. I haven’t let the kids into my room enough. It is surely the Pandora’s Box of our house, waiting to be opened in times when I’m not around. Don’t laugh. Your kids are currently searching for any incriminating evidence that you are human while you are reading this at work. And that brings up a very important question.

When are kids old enough to be left home alone?

Both of my kids got their own key to the house when they were 9. It wasn’t a set rule in our family, that 9 equals being old enough to be left alone. It was more about gauging when they were ready for such a responsibility. Were they self-sufficient enough to make something to eat when they were hungry? Could they finish their homework on their own? Can they entertain themselves without my help? Will they make smart choices when I’m not on top of them? I started testing the theory by allowing them to stay home alone for short periods of time, like when I went for a walk. Then I’d make it a little longer by going to the store without them, or taking a little time to run errands while they stayed home. I drilled them on what to do in an emergency, had them memorize my cell phone number and their grandparent’s number, and had them practice using their keys in the door lock. And eventually, I felt comfortable enough to let them stay in the house on their own.

Of course, I think it was me that needed the most prepping for this major change. I don’t care how ready your children are, the moment that you give your child a key is also the moment that you wonder when CPS is going to catch up with you for abandoning your child. I felt like someone would surely turn me in once they found out my child was home and I wasn’t.

But besides some snooping the kids may or may not be doing, the kids are doing fine. They call me every day as soon as they walk in the door, letting me know they made it home ok. They follow the normal rules that apply to their after school routine. And they are even a huge help in taking care of a couple chores before I get home 2 hours later.  I think the added trust I have placed on them makes them feel important, and they take that responsibility to heart.

Are you thinking of letting your child stay home alone? There are a couple things you need to think of. First, their age. Sure, California has no law set for when a child can stay home alone. But logic tells us that a child younger than age 7 (sometimes older) isn’t capable of knowing what to do in situations should they go wrong. Some kids ages 8-12 are fully capable of staying home alone in a familiar environment, like their own home for a short period of time (like after school, for example). Older than age 12 allows for a little more freedom, but still isn’t old enough to stay home alone overnight. Only you know if your child can handle the responsibility of staying home alone. Second, there should be clear cut rules set up for when they get home, the same routine they should adhere to every day (homework before fun). They should also know the things they are NOT allowed to do, and the consequences should they decide to ignore these rules. Third, they should know your phone number by heart so that they can call you as soon as they get home, and if they have any questions. There should also be a list of phone numbers to neighbors and family member available to them should they need anything. Fourth, and most important, they should be trained on what to do in case of an emergency. Discuss different kinds of emergencies and the actions they should take, including when it is appropriate to call 911.

And finally, a good way to ensure they stay out of trouble is to occupy their time with a small chore. It not only helps lighten your load once you get home, it keeps them from doing something naughty, like say, snooping in your room. Of course, a good lock does that too.

Do you have a child that is nearing latchkey kid status?  Or maybe you already have one.  What are your thoughts on kids staying home alone?

Feeling Clingy

Over the summertime, my son started becoming extra clingy.  I would be in the next room, and he would call out to make sure that I was still there.  He wouldn’t go to his dad’s house without a fight because he didn’t want to leave me.  He was constantly worried that I was going to abandon him, or that I might die.  So I wrote an article about it, and got a lot of feedback from other parents that were going through the same thing.  And it appeared that it was going on with kids around the same age as my son. 

Here’s one comment in particular:

My 8 year old daughter seems to be going through this. There was no event that seemed to have caused it aside from turning 8. She refuses to go to her dad’s house, and hasn’t been able to have a sleep over. She has tantrums about going to her father’s a week in advance. She constantly asks to sleep in my bed. She can’t be on the second floor of the house without someone else being there unless she is somehow preoccupied. It’s hard to help her cope because I feel suffocated. I’d love to hear some advice.
by Kim

It appears that this really is just an age thing.  Maybe this is the age that they suddenly become more aware of the world around them and realize that things aren’t always safe.  That can be a scary thing for a kid to become aware of.  It seems like they magnify the negative parts of the world that they are not only worried about their own safety, they are worried about the safety of their parents.  For kids of a single parent, they worry about what will happen to their main parent if they leave them.  My son has actually said this to me, that he is afraid that I might die while he’s not with me.  So it makes him nervous to go to his dad’s house.  And he is also afraid that I might have left him if I’m not right around him.  He’s 9 now, and he still does the periodic check ins to make sure I’m still in the house.  But it has definitely decreased since I wrote this blog.  And while he will call me about 5 times on average when he’s at his dad’s house, he now feels comfortable going.

My advice for Kim?  Humor your daughter and let her do her check-ins.  If visits with her dad are too much for her, maybe decrease some of the overnights, or stick around (if you and your ex get along) for a little while before leaving.  Let her call you as much as she wants at first, and then start setting appointments for when she can call you so that you are sure to be available for her when she calls, and are still able to enjoy your kid-free time.  For nighttime, maybe set up one night a week that she can sleep with you so she has something to look forward to.  Give her a night light if she doesn’t have one, and maybe a “lovey” – a special stuffed animal to keep her safe.  Reward her when she has slept in her own bed at night.  I know it’s suffocating, but this really is just a phase.  And the safer she feels, the faster she will move through this phase…and then move onto another phase that is equally frustrating. 

Thoughts?

Boys Raised by Moms

When I got to work this morning, Mr. W had left a book on my desk called “Assertive Discipline for Parents”. He had been reading it, and I expressed interest in it and asked to borrow it when he was done. It was still on my desk when one of my co-workers came over and saw it. At first my co-worker joked about it, but then he mentioned that it’s actually a good subject to read up on. He brought up a lady friend of his that had to cancel their lunch date because she needed to come home and fix her son lunch. Her son’s age? Oh, he’s 18.

Single parent households are much more prominent in this day and age. And in many cases, a boy is raised by a single mom. Single moms are tough. They are the ones that wear “the pants and the skirt”, as Mr. W’s single mother says often. They are the breadwinner and the homemaker. They are the ones who are stretching a penny to make a nickel, and making a full dinner out of what’s left in a bare cabinet.

But then there is the difference between mom’s and dad’s. I have heard often that single mom’s just can’t raise a man like a father can. And as my son tunes me out after I’ve repeated instructions to him 5 times, yet jumps the first time his grandfather barks an order, I wonder if it’s true. This was why I was borrowing the book from Mr. W. I wanted to learn more effective ways to guide my son without getting into a battle of wills, or giving up altogether. And when I hear of moms coddling their perfectly capable sons, and knowing there have been many times I’ve been guilty of such myself, I wonder how differently things would be if my son had been raised by a man rather than by a woman.

What do you think? Are boys raised by single mothers bound to be less of a man than a boy raised by his father? Should boys only be raised by their fathers, and girls by their mothers? What’s the answer for single parent families?

First Kiss

Over the weekend, while my texting tween was hunched over her cell phone, she paused long enough to ask me if she could go over to the house of this new “friend” to hang out. I agreed, thinking that it was no different than when she went over to one of her other guy friend’s house. Her first guy friend had been friends with her since 1st grade, and for several years had even considered themselves best friends. I had gotten to know this kid well, as well as his family. And there had never been any reason to not let them hang out. But after I agreed to let my daughter hang out with this new “friend”, I immediately regretted the words. Why? My daughter was a tomboy, naturally drawn to being one of the guys at school, and chatting with her guy pals on Facebook. So what was causing me to bristle at the thought of her hanging out with one of the guys?

For one, it was the way they had been texting back and forth consistently for the past several days. Two, it was the way she lit up, eager to talk up his good points every time I asked a few innocent questions about who he was, what he liked, his intentions for my daughter, plans for the future, and what his parents did for a living. You know, innocent. Three, she was getting to the age when male-female friendships developed into something more than just hanging out, and I wasn’t sure that I had counseled her enough on matters of the heart and the art of being chaste.

Most of all, it was that I didn’t even know this kid or his parents.

I retracted later in the day and told her that before she could go over to this friend’s house, I needed to meet him. That meant that they would not be picking her up from school as originally planned, I would. And I would be driving her to his house so that I could meet him AND his parents, plus find out exactly where she would be staying. Plus, I needed to talk to his mom on the phone first. She immediately fought me on this.

“But Mom, you said!” she cried.

“I know I said. But I don’t even know this kid. I don’t think it’s too much to ask that I get to know whose house my daughter is going to.”

“Great. You say I can go, and then you change all the rules. Totally fair,” she said to me in her attempt to manipulate the situation back into her court. Little did she know that I was the master of manipulation.

“Let’s put it this way, DQ, either I meet him and his parents, or you don’t go.”

She hunched back over her phone, and a few minutes later she had an address for me, and had given my phone number to her friend so that he could pass it on to his mom.

The mom called me later that day. We both laughed over this ruse our kids were pulling over our eyes, thinking we were none the wiser.

“She keeps telling me that they’re just friends,” I told the mom. “But I’m fairly certain that there is more going on.” She agreed, mentioning that her son was doing the same thing and that she wasn’t fooled. She assured me that she would be keeping a watchful eye on them, and I couldn’t help but mention that I’d love it if his bedroom door remained open while my daughter was there.

“I do want you to know that my son is a good kid,” she said. “I know I’m biased, but he’s really great.”

“I have no doubt about that,” I reassured her. “I just know my daughter, and I remember what I was like at her age.” Truth be told, however, that yes, I was worried about her son possibly stealing my daughter’s first kiss and then breaking her heart.

I was 13 when I received my first kiss. Almost overnight, this particular boy had become the crush of every single girl at school. He was exotic, of Persian descent. And he had a smile that could win millions. So it was my luck that he happened to be on the schoolyard the same day as Open House when my parents were stuck in a stuffy classroom, learning about what their daughter would be doing that year in school. He was with a bunch of mutual friends, so I joined the group. And we all came up with the brilliant idea that we would play Truth or Dare. It was my turn, and the dare given to me both elated and terrified me.

I was to kiss this beautiful Persian boy.

I entered the center of this circle, and so did he. He got really close to me and wrapped his arms around my waist. He dropped his head down close to mine, and then his lips touched my lips. What happened next shocked the hell out of me.

He shoved his tongue in my mouth.

I had never in my life experienced something so gross, so slimy, so absolutely horrendous. This was kissing? This was disgusting! Sure, the idea that we were actually FRENCH KISSING was awesome. I was experiencing my very first REAL kiss, and everyone got to see. And I knew what a French kiss was before I had actually experienced one. But I hadn’t anticipated the slick, wet feeling of what a French kiss actually felt like. Ick ick ick ick ick!!!!

When the crowd had dispersed, we were left alone to sit and talk. Or rather, not talk. We didn’t really know each other, and we had nothing to say. He finally turned to me.

“Will you be my girlfriend?”

What could I say? True, I hardly knew him. True, he didn’t even know I existed until this evening. But we had kissed, so now we were in love forever.

“Yes!” I said. We sealed it with another kiss just in the nick of time. My parents came out of the classroom only moments later.

For three glorious days, we were the couple on campus. This meant that we never talked at school, and only glanced at each other with shy smiles until one of us turned away. We may have even talked on the phone at least once. But on the third day, he walked up to me and told me that he liked another girl and wanted to break up. I was crushed, of course, but smiled and told him that was ok. As I remember, he cycled through that girl just as fast as the relationship he had with me, dumping her for two girls who agreed to be his girlfriends simultaneously. I’d love to say that this was my first and last experience of dating a player. I’d love to. But some guys have become way too adept at using their prettiness as a power, and let’s just say it has been my kryptonite more than once.

And being that my daughter was raised by me, and has proven to be very much like me, I knew that she might face the same problem. This was especially evident when her “friend” walked out of his room to greet us. He was tall and slender. He wore the standard skater clothes with long dark hair that fell perfectly in place. And he gave us a shy smile when I said hello to him, flipping his hair ever so slightly.

Frankly, he was a 12 year old babe.

Part of me wanted to say, way to go DQ! But mostly, remembering all the pretty faces that I had given many of my firsts to, I realized that I am in so much trouble. And I’m not sure I’m ready for this.

Parents of tweens, how are you dealing with these coming of age years?  And do you remember your own first kiss?

Education – Who's in charge here?

Over the past several months, I have written several articles on kids in school, mainly because of the troubles I’ve been having with the Taz – a bright kid who has a hard time not being a distraction in class or staying focused on the lessons he is being taught.

Mark Alton, a teacher at Rancho Cotate, wrote to me after I wrote “When Teachers are Great”, an article on the lengths my son’s teacher has gone to ensure that my son was working to his fullest potential, and to tackle the problems he was having in school. He wrote:

“Is it necessary for teachers to work harder and spend more of their own personal time in order to “prove” they truly care about their students? I wonder if this is an unspoken assumption by the public. Would this teacher be an “uncaring” teacher if he had not necessarily been able or willing to meet each and every week outside of class to help this child, but simply did his very professional best in class to meet the needs of his students? I think not.”

“Ultimately, the primary person who needs to care is the student — care enough to get a good night’s sleep prior to a school day, care enough to come every day to school, care enough that he/she values an education for what it will do for his/her future, care enough to behave respectfully and responsibly in class, care enough to pay careful attention to instruction, and care enough to actually do the schoolwork assigned (because education is an active process requiring the actual involvement of each student).”

(Read the rest of the article he wrote called “Teachers Can’t be Alone in the Learning Process”.)

I confess, I had to re-read his article twice to get what he was saying without jumping to the defensive for the teacher who has changed my son’s life.  And I had to admit, he brought up a lot of good points that were not mentioned in the first article. As a follow-up, I wrote the article “Parents, the First Line of Defense”, an article about the fact that while a teacher is there to teach, it is the student’s responsibility to want to be present and learn what is being taught to him. And because that passion may not come naturally, it is our job, as parents, to help instill the importance of learning and being a productive part of the class, and to not let our job end as soon as our child enters the classroom door.

This last article inspired Kate Sholl to write this letter to the editor:

“Tenth paragraph, first sentence: “Students need to want to be present.”
Children are born with a deep and abiding curiosity; a love of learning. During the collective total of 33 years my children spent in school, they had a total of six teachers who inspired them to be present and learn. During the other years, my children hated school. A teacher’s job is to make learning a fascinating experience. I learned this by homeschooling my youngest two for a collective total of nineteen years. Those two children not only love learning still, but reached the age of 18 with their self-esteem in tact, something the older two did not. Crissi Dillon should look broadly for answers to the issue of her son’s easy distractibility; possibly he is too smart of the teacher he has and is, well, bored to distraction.”

Obviously, these are very different views on the same subject, which leads me to believe that there are many worthy ideas as to what makes a successful student.  So these are my questions for you:

Where does the responsibility lie in keeping a student working to his full potential: the parent, the student, or the teacher?
As a parent, what are some ways to ensure that your child understands the importance of school?
As a teacher, how do you keep your students motivated to stay present in the classroom?
What kind of steps need to be taken to encourage a flailing student to pull himself up from potential failure?

The difference between moms and dads

Growing up, I was fortunate to have both my parents in the home. My dad is a real estate appraiser, and though he worked a lot, we were often able to accompany him on local road trips when he went to look at houses. Sometimes we’d ride along with him, fascinated by the beauty of some areas that we never would have seen otherwise. Other times he would drop my mom and us three girls off at the park so we could have a picnic. He’d join us when his appointment was done.

Dad was the one who had the ideas for fun places to go and things to see. Who knew that sitting in the lobby of a fancy hotel, as if we were guests, enjoying hot chocolate by the fire could be so much fun. But with Dad, it was his way of instilling make-believe in us. It wasn’t because we were poor, mind you. But because my dad was so busy all the time, he was sharing with us his way of coping – a one hour vacation from reality. Our favorite place to go was to the Sonoma Mission Inn (now the Fairmont) in Sonoma. The waitresses knew him by name, he visited so often. “Go wash your hands in the bathroom,” he’d whisper to us. “The soap is amazing!” And we would. (note: he’d offer us vacations in a bottle every year for Christmas by presenting us with our very own Sonoma Mission Inn Soap to use in our bathroom. It was one of our favorite gifts) Without fail, we’d all order hot chocolate and Crème Brule, taking the smallest bites possible after breaking through the caramelized crust of the pudding, mulling it over our tongues as we tried to make it last as long as possible.

In the winter we’d take weekend trips up to the Sierras. The 4 hour drive was broken up in two parts, always a stop in Lodi. We were creatures of habit. We had our favorite Carl’s Jr. that we stopped at in the evening. And whenever we hit the town in the morning, we had our favorite little diner, ordering our breakfasts by the number. And thanks to my dad, I can’t even think of the town of Lodi without humming a few bars from “Stuck in Lodi Again”. The drive was also peppered with us girls taking turns singing our favorite songs in the backseat as if no one were listening, then making each other giggle uncontrollably, and my dad yelling to keep it down – every 5 minutes. We’d argue with him, thinking that he was being ridiculous since we were having a good time and not fighting. Now with my own kids giggling in the backseat of a small vehicle, I think I understand. Once up on the mountain, it was dad who went skiing with us, putting us in a ski class while he ventured out to the more experienced slopes, and then joining us later to take a few easy runs with us. When we graduated to snowboarding, he stayed with his skis. But he took pictures with us and our snowboards just to be a part of the fad.

But there was more to Dad than just offering us a fun time. He was also the heavy hand in the family. If we got in trouble, sooner or later we were going to have to face Dad. And there is nothing worse than being the brunt of Dad’s anger. And let me tell you, as the oldest, I was there quite often. If I stepped out of line, my Dad was right there to pull me back in. “We didn’t raise you this way,” he’d glower, as I suffered the repercussions of sneaking out at night, or being caught with a cigarette, or when I’d “borrow” the car and not return until the wee hours of the morning. Wash my mouth out with soap? Time outs in the corner? Bah! Dad wouldn’t bother with that. In my younger years, every infraction was met with a couple hard swats on the bottom. And it was worse to be spanked by my dad than by my mom because Dad made sure we remembered it. “Wait till your father gets home,” is all my mom would have to say for us girls to stop in our tracks. And even though our infractions were committed hours earlier, Dad would stop by our rooms and let us know that our misbehavior was not going to be ignored. As I got older, there were times when he’d be so angry that he’d offer up the silent treatment. There was nothing worse than knowing I had stepped out of my dad’s graces, that he was so disappointed in me that he couldn’t even speak to me. Every morning we had a ritual of waking up early and reading the paper over coffee while everyone else still slept. During the silent treatment, he’d be in his office, avoiding me at all costs. But inevitably, one morning he’d just be there. We’d sit for an eternity of minutes in silence, both mulling over what we want to say in our minds, but afraid to speak first. At least I was. But the silence would eventually be too much to bear, and I was most likely the one who would offer up my apology first for being such an ass. And he’d accept my apology graciously, and would then talk about why it was so upsetting when I acted a certain way. There would be tears and frustration on my part and a level emotion on his as we worked it out. And then he’d invite me over for a big hug that he knew I needed more than anything. Once again I was Dad’s girl.

I had a different relationship with my mom than I had with my dad. With Dad, I was able to share things at face value – favorite songs on the radio, places I’d like to go one day, how much fun we had doing something or other, how I was doing with my studies, needing $20 for the movies with my friends… With my mom, I was able to confess the contents of my heart. A boy at school likes me, and I’m nervous about going to the school dance with him. A different boy, who I had liked for 3 years, kissed another girl in front of me and I am heartbroken. My friend just had to go through something really traumatic, and I don’t know how to be there for her. All the kids are wearing this certain kind of style, and I don’t think I’ll look good in it. There’s something wrong with my body and I don’t know what’s going on. It was mom who talked to us about the birds and the bees, and who told us that we could come to her if we became sexually active so that she could get us on some birth control. And when we did, she kept our confidences, much to my father’s disappointment in later years, never telling him what was going on. With her, the things that we couldn’t speak out loud to many people could be told to her. And she made it safe to do so, even bringing up certain things that might be too embarrassing for us to talk about first. If we just couldn’t talk about it, Mom always knew the right book we could look through to answer our questions, and maybe spur some dialogue once we became more comfortable. When I experienced the first dealings of mortality after a childhood friend died of brain cancer in 7th grade, it was Mom who held me when I could finally cry three days later. And she was the one who went with me to the wake so I could say my goodbyes. When my own infant son died of a stillbirth, my mom held my other hand as I gave birth, not leaving my side once even as scary as the situation was. And it was my mom who taught me how to attack the ground and make 6 inch holes in rock hard dirt so I could plant a daffodil garden in his honor. She knew I needed to get the aggression out on a life that is so full of things that aren’t fair. She knew I needed to do something for him since to everyone else he never even existed. And she knew that I needed to get some sunshine and fresh air instead of laying on the couch day in and day out, as I would have rather done. She got me to open up to grieving, and to eventually be able to see the day as something new, rather than just life after my baby died.

Growing up, it was a lot easier to get into fights with my mom. My mom was a yeller. That was her main punishment. And we’d yell back. It would be World War 3 in our house as we fought back and forth at the top of our lungs. To this day, I wonder what the neighbors were thinking. Getting our mouth washed out with soap was her favorite way to discipline. And secretly, it was ours too. It tasted awful, but it was over in a moment. And it was nothing that a little toothpaste couldn’t fix. But sometimes she’d get so angry that she’d bring out the wooden spoon and paddle our behinds. We learned not to put our hands in the way to cushion the blow. A wooden spoon coming down hard hurts a lot more on the knuckles than it does on the soft cushion of our derrieres. But the thing with Mom, if she had to resort to a spanking she would feel awful about it later. A screaming and yelling match happened because Mom was so angry she could think of nothing else to do. If she got so angry that she had to take out the wooden spoon, the incident would be followed up an hour later with an apology.

Dads and moms are very different when it comes to raising kids. In general terms, dads are the ones who initiate all the fun things. They are the ones who come down hard, and teach us to mind our steps if we don’t want to suffer the consequences. And they are the ones who will be there if you need help. Moms are the ones who nurture us by making sure we are fed and bathed. They make sure we have the skills to take care of ourselves when we are older – teaching us the right way to wash a dish and load it in the dish rack so it dries, how to create buttermilk using only milk and vinegar, and how to fold the towels correctly so that they all fit in the cabinet. They get to our hearts by talking about the things we hold close to us. They are a lot gentler in their approach, and not as intimidating when they are screaming at us than our dads are when they throw down the gauntlet. Kids growing up in two parent homes get the benefit of both parents’ personalities. And where each parent is lacking, the other is able to pick up and be the strong suit.

So what does that mean for single parents who only have one side or the other?

I got an email today from a man who is in his own single parent household, raising an 11 year old boy. And because I have been having so much focus on my son lately as I deal with his behavioral issues, he offered to supply me with his own wisdom about raising boys from a male perspective. He hasn’t been the first male to offer such wisdom.  And it got me thinking about my role as a mother, and my lacking role as a father.

I have two kids – my almost 12 year old daughter, and my almost 9 year old son. If you’ve been reading along, you’ll notice that not much is written about my daughter. Partly that is due to the fact that as a pre-teen, any mention about her would embarrass the living daylights out of her. But also it’s because I get her. A long time ago (no, not that long…), I WAS her. So when she gets mouth and sullen, or when she had a hard time saying anything without a heavy dose of attitude, I get it. And we give it back and forth to each other until we reach a “White Flag” moment, hug, and move on. But my son? I don’t get him. I am not a boy. I didn’t have brothers. The things and feelings he’s going through, I just don’t understand them. When he looks me in the eye and tells me that I obviously don’t care for him because he isn’t getting his way, and he tells me this after I’ve just spent the whole day working, doing errands on my lunch, grocery shopping, making sure his homework is done, fixing him his favorite food, making sure that his pajamas are clean by throwing in a quick wash, balancing my checkbook to find that I have nothing left after paying all of the bills and signing him up for baseball…. When he claims that I don’t care about him, after everything I do, because I’ve told him that it’s bedtime and he can’t play video games, I see RED. When he tells me that I’ve ruined his day, or that he wishes he had another family, or something else that he knows will go straight to my heart and leave a black hole, I am at a loss. And the way I deal with it when my emotion is on my sleeve does not strike fear in his heart. It only leaves him with more of a reason to insist that I don’t care about him. And being a single mom, it makes me wonder how I can do things differently so that he is raised up to be an extraordinary man – as if he had both parents in the house.

This last week, things came to a head between my son and me. And I want to get to that soon. But for now, I have several questions for you:

Were you raised in a single parent home, or a home with two parents?
What does your own family look like now?
Do you see differences in the way moms and dads raise their kids?
Is it possible for a single parent to be both the mom and the dad?

Is it ok to discipline other people's children?

It’s important for our kids to have friends. At a technical level, having friends teaches our kids their first lessons of interaction and socializing. But mainly, it feels good to have friends. Their first friends are usually their parents’ friends’ babies – and dubbed their first boyfriend or girlfriend. They are friends with their brothers and sisters, their cousins, and whichever small child is brought along for a playdate so that the adults can get in some coffee and chat time. But it isn’t until they hit preschool that they get to choose their own friends. And this is when your child will be drawn to other children without someone else telling them they have to be friends and play nicely with each other. For the first time in their life, they get to like someone because, well, they like them.

We want our kids to have friends. Many of us will go out of our way to open up our home for playdates, or to organize birthday parties for our children’s friends to attend. We will learn the names of our children’s friends’ parents, and suddenly the shoe is on the other foot – our children are choosing our friends for us. But it’s welcomed, an easy way to meet new people and also stay involved in our children’s lives as they near that road of independence.

But sometimes friends aren’t welcome. Little Timmy comes over to play with your son, and lets himself into your home as soon as you open the door. And even though he came over to play with your son, suddenly your child is playing by himself in the living room while Timmy rifles through his things upstairs. He invites himself on your family outings. He opens your refrigerator to see what you have to eat. Maybe he lies repeatedly. Maybe he makes a mess of your home and then leaves before cleaning it up. He might use language that doesn’t fly in your home. He might be a hitter, or a biter, or use some other form of brutality to get his way. He might even steal your child’s belongings, maybe even yours. Whatever he’s doing wrong, the kid gets under your skin. Little Timmy has no sense of boundaries whatsoever, fails to follow the house rules even though you have reminded him of them repeatedly, and you have noticed that your child’s behavior has gone downhill dramatically ever since Timmy made his first appearance. And yet your child insists he wants to be friends with him.

So what do you do?

Do you do nothing, since this isn’t your child and have no place telling him what to do? Do you hope that maybe the positive energy of your home will have some effect on this troubled child? Do you discipline the child, coming down harsher than the gentle reminders about how the household works? If spanking is a part of your own family’s discipline, do you spank your child’s friend if they cross the limits?  Or would you give them a time-out, or any other form of punishment?  Do you go to his parents and talk to them about Timmy’s behavior? Do you forbid your child from playing with Timmy?  How far is acceptable when it comes to other people’s children?

The good kid vs the, um, not-so-good kid

The Taz called me yesterday after school to let me know the good news.

“Guess what!” he exclaimed. “I made the Student Council!” I couldn’t contain my excitement for him as I told him how proud I was of him. This was an achievement that he had been striving for all year long. He had tried unsuccessfully at the beginning of the year, but his behavior and classroom habits weren’t good enough to be able to run. His teacher let him down gently as he explained all the duties of being on the student council, and how my son hadn’t exhibited the kind of behavior that warranted such responsibility. Needless to say, my son was crushed. But the teacher also told my son that if he worked hard and proved that he could be responsible, he might be able to run again later on. So the fact that my son was able to run this time was a big deal. Being voted in by his classmates was the icing on the cake.

To celebrate, I told him we’d pick out something for dessert that night, and that I would let him pick out dinner. I was trying to think of ways to make this an even bigger deal. I even mulled over singing him “Congratulations to you” to the tune of Happy Birthday. Don’t worry, that idea never manifested. But I was just beaming with pride. I immediately let Mr. Wonderful know, and then let the rest of the world know by posting the news as my Facebook status.

I picked the kids up after work, and we were on our way to the store. (Sidenote: I think this is the first time that the Taz had no problem going grocery shopping since it was for his special celebration dinner. Note to self: let the Taz be in charge more over deciding dinner options.) I asked the Taz what he wanted to eat, and he rattled off idea after idea until a decision was finally made. And that’s when another voice piped up in the back seat.

“You never made this big of a deal when I made Student Council…..”

Sometimes having two kids is like a shaky balancing act.

It’s true, even though I argued the point with the Drama Queen. The stone cold truth was I really didn’t make this big of a deal about her achievement. I had been proud of her, for sure. I had congratulated her. But I did not have visions of singing her any songs to the tune of “Happy Birthday”.

Does this make me fail as a parent?

The thing about good kids is that their good deeds can go unnoticed. My daughter has always been the “good kid”. Teachers have raved about her whenever we get together for conferences, telling me how incredibly helpful she is and how she always manages to get her work in on time. And they rave about the amount of care and effort she puts into her work. I have never had to stand over her and prompt her to finish her homework, or even to remind her about dates for projects. She keeps tabs on it and just does it herself, and every once in awhile she will hand me a paper or two that need my signature. If I need help in the housework – such as clearing the dishrack before I wash the dishes – I only have to ask her once. When I am making dinner, she will even take it upon herself to just start clearing the table so we can eat that night. Even though she and her brother fight nonstop, at times when he needs some extra help she is right there to guide him. In essence, she is the kid that doesn’t need to be worried about because she is dependable.

Her brother, on the other hand….. Well, you’ve read all the stories about him. He’s the one who comes home missing half of his clothes and seriously has no idea where they went. You can give him very clear instructions, repeating them three times, and he will forget them immediately. He forgets his lunch at home, does half his homework and forgets about the rest, cries if we have to do something that infringes on his free time, does somersaults in the middle of a crowded room because he is bored….. I could go on and on. If you really want to know more, just read a couple of my past blogs.

When I was young, my parents’ favorite story they told me was how good of a baby I was. And they were thankful for this. When I was one year old they had my younger sister and she required all of their attention. So thank goodness I was a happy baby. They would prop me up on a pillow, stick a bottle in my mouth, and then tend to my sister. They were proud of this story.

Me? I think this story sucks.

How nice that I got to sit staring at a wall sucking on my bottle that was propped up in my mouth while the baby was consoled and cooed at. How nice that I was a happy baby that needed no attention so that they could give it to my sister.

How nice that my daughter has exceeded all expectations of a normal 11 year old so that it has become the norm for her to be great, and I am crowing about my son because he was able to stop standing on his head in class long enough to be voted into Student Council.

It’s a hard balance. In the black and white, it is totally unfair that a “good” kid is overlooked when they continuously do well, and the “not-so-good” kid is applauded whenever they make a step in the right direction. But in the grayscale of the situation, some kids need a little more prompting to continue on the right path because if their efforts aren’t noticed they’ll just stop doing well. I’d like to think that I give my daughter the proper attention and praise as she continues to excel in everything she does. But perhaps I have some work to do in that department.

Do you have more than one child with very different personalities?
How do you cater to their needs while making things fair?
Do you ever feel like your parenting might be off balance in favor of one child over the other?

How Rebellion is Born

“Did you eat your breakfast?” I asked my son this morning as he turned on his video games before school.

“Uh, yeah,” he said.

“Alright, what did you eat?” I asked my little Tasmanian Devil.

“Oh yeah, I didn’t. But I’m not hungry,” he told me.

“Turn off the game. You’re not allowed to play until you have finished getting ready, and that includes eating breakfast and brushing your teeth,” I reminded him.

“Oh my gosh, Mom! You don’t care about me?” My son likes to go into dramatics when he isn’t getting his way, especially when it’s getting in the middle of his game playing time. “I told you I’m not hungry, and now you’re making me eat!”

“Turn off the game,” I told “the Taz” again. “Go eat your breakfast.” And grudgingly he did so. He ate as fast as he could, put his bowl in the sink, then went back to the games.

“Did you brush your teeth?” I asked him. He loudly groaned, then stomped upstairs to do a poor job of brushing the gunk off. 7:45, and he went back to the game. “We don’t have time for you to play. It’s time for us to leave for school,” I told him, totally aware of his reaction just as I was aware of the time.

“What?!? You mean I ate breakfast for nothing?!? You wasted all my time!” he yelled.

“No, you have to eat breakfast before school. You wasted your own time when it took you 20 minutes just to get out of bed this morning,” I pointed out to him. “You’re just going to have to play video games later when you have more time.” And while we all got ready to leave the house, he lay on the floor and sulked until we left.

I think my biggest pet peeve is the arguing that goes on over things that we have to do. Once a week I have to go grocery shopping. It never changes. If we want to eat, we have to have food. But tell that to my son and he moans and groans like I am extracting one of his teeth, and even produces a bit of tears. I have taken to scheduling my grocery shopping at times that aren’t that convenient for me (during lunch breaks or right before I pick them up after work) just because dealing with the inevitable tantrum is much more stressful. The house has to be clean. If I want peace of mind, the table needs to be cleared, the toys need to be put away, and their pigsty of a room needs to have a little bit of order so that I can get to their drawers and put their clean clothes away without killing myself on a Lego landmine. But it takes twice as long to get them to clean as I have to urge them both to keep going and not murder each other in the process. After breaking up fight after fight between them as they attempt a task they really don’t want to do, it’s hard not to succumb to just telling them they’re done and just finishing it myself. Or, more often than not, just living with the mess.

“Bedtime is at 9 pm.”

“Wash your hands after you eat.”

“For Pete’s sake, will you please tie your shoe?!”

“Homework is to be done BEFORE you play with your friends. Yes, all of it!”

“Do not eat your snack in the living room.”

“Your school lunch needs to have something more than a granola bar and a Capri-Sun.”

“You need to wear underwear if you are going to school.”

“Will you please stop doing somersaults in the grocery store aisle?”

“Stop sitting on your brother.”

“Can you please stop changing every word to the song on the radio to ‘poop’ or ‘butt’?”

“It’s after 11 am. Can you please wear something around the house besides your underwear and a blanket?”

“Why? Because I said so.”

Those are the words that used to make me cringe the most in my childhood days. “Because I said so.”

“Crissi, clean your room right now!” my mother would order as she surveyed clothes and books over what might have been a floor had it been visible.

“But why?” I would ask. “It’s my room! I’m the one who has to live in it!”

“Because I said so.”

And after that, I would take my sweet time cleaning, grumbling the whole time, doing a halfhearted job of it so that it looked like I had made a little progress, but also so it was clear that I wasn’t going to do a great job just because my mom wanted me to.

Arguing is ingrained in us. It’s part of our nature. Tell anyone to do something, and their immediate reaction is to rebel, to argue the point, to harbor resentment that someone is even trying to control our movements. Once a kid gets to the wonderful age of the terrible twos (or its even worse cousin – the tumultuous threes), they learn that they have an opinion, and it is usually opposite of yours. For the very short window of time before that, these precious little beings went along with everything their parent told them. As far as they are concerned, you hung the moon. They will follow you to the ends of the earth. After that, however, they come to the realization that they don’t have to go along with everything you say.

It all goes downhill from there.

At ages 2 & 3, kids are so into their newfound independence that they will say NO to anything you say just so that they can assert themselves. By age 4, they understand that they can make a choice based on what they want. Sometimes that goes inline with what you want. Sometimes it doesn’t. But the idea behind their decisions isn’t based on just defying your wishes, it’s an actual calculated decision that they are even willing to discuss with you. It’s a heavenly age for a child, and it continues for a couple of years. But right around age 8, they revert back in time and start questioning anything that gets in the way of their own freedom – the freedom to have scummy teeth, dirty hands, and time to play with their friends or their toys. And once they hit their teenage years, they are age 2 all over again, fighting anything that you say just because you said it. Except this time you’re an idiot and couldn’t possibly be wise enough to know what they are thinking about or doing or what goes on with them and their friends. And when the apple of your eye starts questioning your authority over and over and over again, sometimes the only thing your exasperated mind can think of to say is, “because I said so.”

(In case you missed it, a repeat of a classic example of “the Taz” arguing with me:

So how do you get through the constant arguing that occurs between a parent and a kid? I know for me, I am so exhausted from having to put up a fight to get anything done around here. It’s draining. Things would go so much easier if the kids didn’t fight me on every single task I lay in front of them, especially since it’s not like these required tasks have changed. And yet, I fully understand what it feels like to not want to do something just because it was ordered to me. Any other parents have ideas on how to change the arguing to actual agreement, or can even relate to the constant power struggles between adults and kids?