Parenting Answers

How to talk to my toddler to get her to understand?

Dear Catey, I am so glad that you are reaching out for support and help with your daughter.  When we don't know how to handle something in life, it is important but also humbling to ask for help. And this is a great place to land with questions about parenting.   It seems like you are frustrated with your daughter's actions and have also tried everything you know to help her to stop hurting others with hitting and yelling. I can understand how you want to help her and do what is wise to guide her to a different action.   If we were sitting together, we would chat about what you have done to help her with this action and we would dialogue about how you are feeling towards your daughter as well.  Because I am just answering your question, we miss out on that opportunity for you to explain more about what has helped, even for a little bit of time, as well as what your emotional state is like in this reality with your daughter.  Those are important factors in moving towards a solution for your daughter.   So, because we're conversing in this kind of format, know that I am going to be writing things that you may already know and hopefully will also give you some guidance that you don't know so that things can shift and change.   I also encourage you to keep working closely with the daycare facility to help your daughter in that setting.  Have you asked them what they recommend as a change agent for her in that environment?   Let's chat about what your daughter needs to change.   Because your daughter is three, it will not work to talk with her about her behavior and then expect change.  Three year olds, can not change just because we talk to them about their behavior.  She will need to have some behavior changes in her life in order for her to know in action, that she needs to change.  We will talk about what that means.   Of course, you can still talk with your daughter about her actions and how they have affected others and ways she has hurt others.  And we can never expect a three year old to change because we tell them that they need to change.   When a child is acting out, we get to help them learn how to respond to life by how we then respond to them.  What is the daycare facility doing in response to her hitting and yelling at the other kids and the teachers?  Their response is going to be a very important part of the equation.  Three year olds learn the best when the reactions to negative behaviors happen right away.  So when she is hitting, what are they doing in response to her hitting?  If they are doing nothing, that is telling your daughter that it is OK to continue with that behavior.  If they are saying don't do that and there is no other change, again, that is going to communicate with your daughter that it is OK to do that action.  Three year olds learn best by having a reaction in the moment after a bad decision, such as yelling or hitting.  This would look like, the teacher noticing her hitting another kid and then saying, "Sweetie, you have to go inside because you can't be outside when you hit friends."  And then taking her inside while everyone else is outside.  This could also look like, "Honey, because you hit your friend, you have to stop playing right now and have some time sitting on this bean bag chair."  The immediate reaction to the hitting or yelling will teach your daughter that that action is not appropriate.   I also wonder, what do you do when you are at home with your daughter and she is yelling at you or anyone else in the family?  If yelling and or hitting is something your daughter is seeing by you or anyone else in the home, without negative consequences, she will see and believe that that behavior is appropriate for other people and other settings.   It is important that any kind of yelling or hitting be addressed at home. If your daughter is yelling at home, stop what you are doing, go to your daughter's level and then say with strength and kindness, "Honey you can't yell at the dog.  Now you have to sit on the stairs for three minutes."  Or "Sweetie, you can't hit your brother.  Now you have to be done with your snack for three minutes."  This reaction on your part or the part of any of the other care givers in the home, is important for your daugther to know, in the moment, that she can not do those behaviors.   It is VERY important that that response is happening consistently when your daughter is yelling and hitting.  If she is given a consequence for only half or even two thirds of the times of yelling or hitting, she will learn that she can still get away with it.  If we want a child's behavior to go away, we have to be diligent to address it every time it is happening.  This may disrupt the family, because you might have to stop a grocery trip, or you may have to stop dinner or a movie, in order to give consequences AND there is a very positive long term gain for the short term pain of follow through.  If you want some good resources for parenting, I would recommend several very good resources that will help with this as well as many other issues with parenting. Good Inside by Dr Becky Kennedy. Dr Becky also has a parenting website that you can learn from as well. How to Have a New Kid by Friday By Kevin Leman This is a Christian resource within the parent realm, if that is something you would like.  I wish you the best of luck!Paula
Answered on 02/07/2023

What would be the best thing to do?

Hi Leyley, That sounds like it is a lot going on. There are a couple things that need to be explored here. In the end you are going to have the answer in what you need to do in this situation. You are considered an adult at this point in time, are you in school? Do you have a job? Have you had a sit down conversation with them about how you are feeling about all of these things without it turning into a fight?  I understand that it is hard to address things with our parents and have these kind of conversations but in this situation it does sound necessary. You are no longer a child and your relationship is shifting over to an adult relationship with them. You guys have to figure out what that looks like. There is nothing wrong with setting boundaries with your parents. It actally is important to set and learn your boundaries with them.  Maybe approaching the conversation in a non confrontational manner and a way where you are also open to what they have to say as well. Explain to them it is important to talk to them about all of this because they are important to you and you do not want to feel like you are in a toxic relationship. When you do have this conversation with them you have to understand that you can not control what they do or say. The only thing you can control is your response and your reaction. Be careful not to go into the conversation with expectations because when we have these expectations or how we think things should go is when we can fall into disappointment and that brings more negative feelings. Let them know this conversation is not to start an argument but to come to solutions together.  Starting out writing down exactly what you want to say and address would be important to start this overall process. If you write down main points then you are able to focus and accomplish some goals and have a beneficial conversation. This is hard but you are doing the right thing by having a talk with them as an adult. 
Answered on 01/29/2023

My husband and I have different parenting styles and can't come to an agreement. How can we fix this?

Parenting Hack Many parenting books recommend an approach to parenting that is empathetic yet direct. It's easy to read these approaches or hear about them and then decide what sort of parents you will be like. It's a whole other story when we try to live it out, however, and you two are discovering why.  There are many ways in which this situation could be tackled. The focus here is to identify what sort of person you want to raise and agree on it. It seems best that you two come together, do the aspects of parenting that you can decide on and focus less on how to get there? The sort of child, a future adult you both want can often be agreed on more easily. For example, you want an empathetic adult, who cares for others, takes care of his future wife and children, has hobbies, and is willing to sacrifice the lesser things for the greater. You want an adult who will positively contribute to society, be slow to react, and be able to tolerate difficult emotions rather than run and try to fix or escape all the time.  These are the desired characteristics I hear from people who are struggling in life. People, maybe even you two, may have been raised in homes that did not model the above behaviors, and therefore these ways of life were not fathomable to the child. So, as the parents of this future adult, you want to be able to model these traits, not just speak on them. This tiny brain in your midst is watching every move and isn't able to justify behaviors through stress or circumstance as adults do. So, the first thing for you two is to talk about how you think the child sees things. What do you think the child is noticing? You can play this game with the child while in the car to and from somewhere. You can look in the rearview mirror and ask the child, "If I were you and you were me, what would you see." In the car, the child might answer something like the windshield is what they would see, and you, through their eyes, would see the car's back seat. It's an exercise that draws kids out of their own heads.  Another approach to parenting, especially to a child who talks back, is to ask them, "what do you think I am going to say right now?" But, you have to ask them with genuine curiosity. Ask the child reflective questions to get them to think outside themselves and put them in the headspace of what they see from you. One time my child started painting the table instead of the paper (almost anytime we paint, she does this actually), and rather than say, "we don't paint the table," she runs away laughing, which then elevated me to a command, I asked her, "what do you think I am supposed to do right now?" She looked at me and said, "don't do that." I then asked her why she would I say that, "Because it makes a mess that you have to clean up." Which then she conceded. Now, don't for a second think that was the way of things after that because they are children, exploring their boundaries, who they are how far they are going to go to discover that, so she constantly pushes (she is seven now), but she has modeled something critical.  Here's the rub, you have to find value in instilling values and model behaviors you would want to see in someone you trust as an adult. There are a million recommendations of what to do in every finite situation. The reality is you and your husband have to come together at the points you can agree and also agree to model support for the other. You are modeling what it is like to be on a team and how to work with people. If it turns into your justification for parenting versus his, and you are convinced that because yours is fitting that he is wrong, that's errored thinking and, quite honestly, egocentric (selfish).  I will say to sit down and come up with the main things you want all discussions to settle on. He is a four-year-old boy who is exploring his territory and seeing what is his and where his little kingdom stops. You two are showing him boundaries. You can start appreciating the battle because he will not lie down and give up; he fights. He wants what he sees and is willing to fight you two for it; it's commendable. However, you must show him where he stops, and you start, and he cannot infringe on that. Respect the child's behaviors (you don't have to agree, but respect), and you can approach the situation calmly and with the attitude; this is precisely what it takes to form a human these days.  Focus on a few main things each day and every interaction, and you and your spouse NEED to come together on this. Respect each other's decisions; if you cannot, you need to understand why that is and how you CAN come together. You two providing a safe environment means more than all the other things. A safe and consistent environment is critical for the child to feel safe and learn who they are. You are to provide that first and foremost. 
Answered on 01/15/2023

How can I improve my relationship food? How can I improve my feelings of being inadequate?

Hello Lily,  It is very nice to meet you. Thank you for taking the time to write and send in your question. You ask a wonderful, insightful question! It is wonderful that you are concerned with and want to make sure that your children are healthy and eating properly. I would first encourage you to speak with your children's pediatrician regarding specific questions about the proper foods and the amount of foods. They can also recommend books or other resources to you. As parents, we set the foundation for our child(ren)'s relationship with food. I would encourage you to offer a wide variety of foods, flavors, tastes, etc. For specifics, refer back to your doctor's recommendations for foods, based on the ages of your children. Make eating meals together a positive experience. Enlist their help with basic cooking and meal preparation, such as mixing ingredients together or setting the table, etc. Some other things to consider - food should not forced on children, such as telling a child that they must eat all their dinner or they can not leave the table, think of the expression that we must clean our plates before getting up. This behavior can set the stage for a very unhealthy relationship with food for them. Encourage foods that are considered healthy, such as fruits and vegetables.  Self confidence has to come from within yourself. When you are feeling insecure or inadequate, remind yourself why you are a good parent and you are good enough. Focus on the positive things that you do for yourself and your children. Count every positive thing that you do as a win! You might find it beneficial to speak with a therapist or counselor about your history of picky, fussy eating. It sounds like you struggle with this sometimes. How have you managed to deal with this (being a fussy eater) in your life? What strategies have you found helpful to ensure that you get the proper nutrition for yourself? I hope that you have found this information helpful and I wish you all the best moving forward on your journey.
Answered on 01/14/2023

How to manage anger and outbursts when your kids are not behaving. How to not yell at your kids?

Being a stay-at-home mom is a noble profession. Your children have much to be thankful for in having you there to guide and care for them. But of course, being a mom is also a challenge. Thank you for doing what is perhaps one of the most demanding jobs that exists. Kids require so much love, so much care, so much – and you get little to no reprieve throughout it all. The work of a mom is fulfilling, yet it certainly does take a physical, mental as well as an emotional toll. It’s truly little wonder at all that you’re feeling overwhelmed and struggling. Being a mom is hard work! To begin with, every parent gets angered and upset with their child at some point. We are all human and this is entirely normal. And when pressures start to mount, when the stress overcomes us – well, even the best among us can feel like we just can’t help but snap. In hindsight, when we’re calm and things are quieter, we know we could have handled angry moments differently. But when that storm hits us and we are in the heat of the moment, in the blink of an eye we lash out. When we’re overwhelmed by emotions it’s sometimes difficult to think clearly and formulate an exemplary response worthy of landing us the parent-of-the-year award. We get flooded. Hormones and neurotransmitters start flowing in our bodies as if we’re under attack. Our muscles tense and our brain decides its time to get in flight-or-fight mode. We react. But it’s clear - you know there has to be a better way. That instead of angrily reacting, it would be better to productively respond. So, what to do? When it comes to anger, the very best thing to do when you notice you’re becoming angry is to NOT act. Your brain and body will want to react. It will feel urgent. That’s the anger speaking to you. The anger will make you feel like this is an important life or death emergency you must take action on. But the majority of the time – it’s not. Your kids are not going anywhere. If there’s a lesson which needs to be taught, you know exactly where they live, and you will get to teach it. Later. While you’re sitting here now, calm and collected and open to change, commit to no screaming and no yelling. If you really need to scream, then let’s plan right now what that will look like. If you feel flooded and you need to shout it out, you’re going to go do it away from the kids. Go in the garage and sit in the car with the windows rolled up. Don’t speak words – just scream. Let it out. Then take some breaths. Shake yourself out, shake out the tension. Remind yourself there is no emergency. If you can, try to laugh. Force a half a smile if that’s all you can do. This tells your nervous system that things are okay and will help calm you down. Also, try to hum or do a little dance. You might feel silly, but it’s all in the name of discharging some tension and getting your brain and body to cool down. Just like you might do for your kids, put yourself in a brief time out. Move away from the kids. Say out loud that “I’m taking a timeout.” Go to the bathroom and splash some water on your face. Or go outside and breath some fresh air for a couple of minutes. Plan ahead for what your timeout will look like so that when the angry emotions hit you, you don’t need to think about what you’re going to do. You will have a plan. It might not work perfect the first time – keep at it. Keep trying. Anger is simply part of being a human. But we do get to choose what we’re going to do when it rears its head. And it will. It’s inevitable that at some point all of us will feel angry. But reacting in anger is usually never productive. And we end up making choices we’d never otherwise make. Expressing anger typically is not helpful. It’s better to calm ourselves first. A part of the solution here could entail figuring out ways to prevent the situations which are making you angry from occurring to begin with. You mention having too much on your plate. Is there any way at all to change that? Can you recruit some help? Even if just for a bit, it would give you a much needed break. When we can get some rest, and care for ourselves, we can be much better caretakers. Additionally, it could be valuable to explore some other things. Are there possibly any rules you could put in place which might help before things escalate – perhaps an earlier bedtime needs to be enforced? Think about anything which might help – this might require seeking out some outside help to brainstorm and come up with some ideas. Maybe, too, consider if you hold some resentment toward your partner if you feel they aren’t helping you enough to parent – this could definitely cause you to carry some anger. Sometimes it helps to sit and think about whether there is some other deeper stuff contributing to our anger. If this is continuing to be a struggle, then it’s a great idea to seek out some help and support. Seek counseling as both a means to work on your anger and to perhaps develop some new skills and habits that will help you interact with your kids in a more productive way.
Answered on 01/12/2023

How do you handle divorce with your kids? How do you explain it to them?

Hello Sam! Thank you for your message.  You asked a great question about how to help kids adjust to a divorce. Divorce is a painful, difficult decision for adults and children alike. Let me say that navigating the emotions and decisions may require you having good support for yourself as you help support your kids. That being said, you asked about specific tips to help your child(ren) cope with divorce. These tips are helpful for your young daughter as well as for older children.  Discuss calmly together, as parents, how you will tell your children about the divorce. Include in this discussion that the divorce is not their fault, reassure them you both still love them, and listen to their thoughts and questions. Answer their questions to the point that they are able to understand at their current age/maturity level. Keep the door of communication open to discuss more as they grow and mature. As your spouse moves to a new home, and visitations begin, work out a pattern of custody that you are both comfortable with and stick with it. Stay involved in your kid's life. You may want to set up video calls with your kids when they're at the other parents house potentially. That's something that you could talk through together and make a decision that feels best for the children. Commit to working hard to coparent, make decisions regarding care for the kids together and be supportive of the time your child spends with the other parent.  In the same vein, try your best to limit negative things said about the other parent. Keep adult conversations among the adults and do not involve the kids. Communicate honestly and help your child express their feelings. Your daughter being so young may need help with communicating how she feels about the divorce. You may consider looking into some books about divorce written for her age level. Sometimes a preschool teacher, school counselor, or librarian may be able to help you with book ideas for your child. Consider counseling for the kids if and when it seems they may need extra support. Sometimes kids need to hear the truth from more than one source. Reassure your children that they will always have both of their parents love and attention and work hard to make that true. Consistency is very important for kids, so while the two of you will live in different houses now somehow your kids need to see that they still have your attention of both of you parents in a consistent way. 
Answered on 01/06/2023

How do I forgive my father for leaving even though that was the best decision for him?

Forgive, Not for Him, But For Yourself A father's life is no longer about himself but rather about how he fulfills the most crucial role in his life, raising kids. When a father becomes addicted, a disease for the sake of conversation, and the behaviors accompanying this, he fails at his job. The ways in which he fails are significant, and often the worst results of are hidden deep down in the children. Forgiveness is the act that breaks the trend of resentment and emotions running our lives. Forgiveness allows us to heal this wounded child inside of us that says if we stay angry, he stays hurt, and we can stay safe by never getting hurt again.  The only one to suffer is you. If you stay angry, or whatever the opposite of forgiving is, you must dedicate energy to that. Forgiveness, however, is letting it go. You don't have to agree or do anything once you find a way to forgive; you get peace. As long as you don't let your "righteous" mind that wants things to be "fair" speak up and control your actions, much like he probably did, you will be at peace when you learn to forgive and practice it in your thoughts.  Resentment will kill you if you don't get a handle on it. Alcoholism is often treated through a spiritual transformation. One of the most significant changes in dependence is discovering more about yourself, your view of life, and what you are connected/attached to. Without a higher power or some moral compass, people who struggle with addiction justify their behaviors on their feelings and then will always fail. It's why relapse is so prevalent. The work that needs to be done to be able to live life on life's terms is profound, and many aren't ready or expect to have to do that much.  This is all downright unfair. You have been wronged, ripped out of a childhood and now dealing with the consequences of a choice/disease your father had/chose. Even if addiction is strictly a brain disease, just like any disease, there are choices to be made that exasperate or improve our conditions. You have every right to allow your inner child who was mistreated to be angry and grieve. You do not have the right to be a victim and stay angry. You do not have the right to not participate in life because of what has happened. No matter what has happened to us as children, our life is ours; let's own it and work with what we have been given.  You will work on forgiving because it benefits your children/current or future/spouse/friends etc. You forgive because that is how you transcend addiction and find your bulletproof vest to live on life's terms and maintain despite the pains of real life. You forgive because you aren't going to let this wounded ego control you and tell you what to do. You will acknowledge your anger, but you will not act on it. You will acknowledge the pain, experience it, and not run from it. You will not abuse your life by trying to remedy or avoid the inevitable pain, and sadness like an alcoholic does. You will learn to be grateful for the bad parts because it teaches you things. You are going to do the things your mind, formed from the material of your father, tells you not to do. This situation will involve forgiveness.   If you haven't noticed by now, your emotions pass, your thoughts pass, but your deep, embittered view of yourself and others initiated by the disdain of your father is a habitual response that leads you to where you don't want to go. Stop the formation of a habit that will bring you down. When you start to notice resentments or "poor me" thinking, stop them and find something to be grateful for at that moment. Please do not indulge in the habit of being angry; it will be hard to break.  Utilize all of this information to change how you see the activity of forgiveness. You aren't going to, 'forgive," but you are going to love. Forgiveness is too abstract. You focus on how you can give yourself what you needed growing up, love, support, and acceptance. Forgiveness will come with this. You will learn to forgive, not to forgive, but because you love yourself. By maintaining peace for myself, I get to be empathetic, understanding, loving, and kind to others. I know that when I don't do these things, I am not doing well and feel angry and resentful.  You are worth the work. You are advocating for that child, giving yourself what you never did growing up. Love. 
Answered on 12/29/2022

In a relationship with a person who has kids but his ex is a covert narcissist.

Hi Gneema,  Dealing with narcissist can be very challenging as it sounds like you are well aware.  It can be very exhausting and can take an emotional toll on all who they are involved with. I am so sorry that this has been so challenging for you and has impacted your relationship with your partner so negatively at times.  If your partner is not interested in having the court/legal system involved with some of the coparenting issues that you have there are some strategies that you can utilize when dealing with their ex.    Some of these strategies include: not allowing them to engage you or your partner in conflict (this can be easier said then done, but makes a huge impact when you are able to do this), keeping communication between yourself and the narcissist simple, succinct and almost business like, establish a clear parenting plan (including schedules, discipline, bedtimes and personal responsibilities) if possible so that everyone knows what is expected of them, not allowing yourself to be pulled into their battles (choose which battles are worth fighting), create clear boundaries and maintain those boundaries with the narcissist and document issues as they come up (in case this information is needed in future legal action).    According to Bill Eddy LCSW, a good way to interact with individuals who individuals who are hostile is to follow the BIFF rule.  The BIFF rule includes making your communication BRIEF (keep it short and simple), making your communication INFORMATIVE (keep to the facts and take emotion out of it), making your communication FRIENDLY (remain calm and do not engage in the negative behavior) and lastly it is important that you are making your communication FIRM (maintain your boundaries).  By responding to a narcissist in these ways you are sometimes able to de escalate a situation before it becomes a conflict.    There are also some tools that some co parents utilize to interact with their narcissist ex include a parenting app such as Family Wizard, Coparently, 2Houses and Cozi to communicate with the ex (this can serve as a buffer and decrease miscommunication between the two parents).    I hope some of this information is helpful to you as you navigate the difficult journey of coparenting with a narcissist.  We here at BetterHelp, are here to support you if you are interested in talking with someone about what you are going through.  
Answered on 12/11/2022

How do you cope with hating pregnancy?

Oh how this question resonated with me. I think firstly, I just wanted to let you know, that it is ok to hate being pregnant, society seems to think we should love everything to do with having children, and so few people actually admit that being pregnant isn't idyllic.  You say you hate everything at the moment, I'm wondering what you hate about it? Maybe dig in to this. Or is it a generalized hate of the world just now. Planning a second child is a big transition, maybe look a bit further in to what about that is triggering you. (eg is it pregnancy, the birth, having another child, or something completely different) and then look further in to what about this is specifically triggering you. What emotions are coming up for you? Hate is sometimes an easy emotion to feel, and may be masking something else.  I'm wondering what your support system is like, do you have many people around you to provide support, I'm also wondering if you're isolating yourself due to these feelings of hate that you're experiencing. If so, this may lead to you feeling worse, try and push through the drive to isolate and reach out, make connections and communicate your pain.  Pregnancy is a hard time, with a lot of hormones impacting, as well as changes to your body, changes to your family structure etc, I'm wondering if part of what you're experiencing is grief for your current life, and that's totally ok to feel, as a second baby is going to be a big change, there's a lot going on for you just now and it's totally normal to feel unsettled.  It sounds in some ways like you're experiencing depression, the struggle with getting out of bed in the morning, the paralysis are hallmarks of depression, I'm wondering if you're eating properly, exercising etc, getting outside enough, connecting with people and all those things that can help us when we're feeling down. Have a think about if there is anything else you could be doing self-care wise to help you to feel better. 
Answered on 12/07/2022

How can I encourage my stubborn daughter to treat me with respect?

Hi Marty.  Thanks for posting your question here on BetterHelp.  This description demonstrates that your daughter may be stubborn, as you've described, or, she may be argumentative, opinionated, or a number of other things.  However, I'd like to frame this from your point of reference Marty.  That's what you are feeling.  Have you ever communicated this to your daughter?  Being that you are two therapists, I imagine this has been discussed.  So, I am going to skip past this rather quickly.  What I'd like to see is if the two of you might be able to discuss your perceptions of what is happening with each other.  Earlier I said that your point of reference was that your daughter is stubborn.  I am not using these words to make you feel you are wrong and she is right...but to explain that this is the way you she things.  She may see things differently.  In fact, I almost guarantee she does based on what you told me.  If you can allow yourself to hear the way she sees things, then you might be able to do the next step I am going to suggest.  Ask yourself before meeting with your daughter what you want to change.  Of course you want her to treat you with respect, but what does this look like?  Does this mean when you have an opinion to express she considers it before ignoring it?  Does this mean that she doesn't interrupt you when you're talking to say the opposite of what you are trying to say?  Knowing what you want and then discussing this with her, in a specific manner, makes it more likely you can get what you really want.  Now, here's the part that may make things a bit more difficult.  You have to be willing to listen to what she wants.  And, after hearing her wants, be willing to negotiate.  The main goal here is relationship preservation, right?  I know you care about your daughter...and, believe it or not...I think the two of you might be more alike than different.   If you find that these tactics don't work between just the two of you, consider inviting a third party, like a family therapist into the conversation.  If you'd like resources or would like to speak to a therapist, please reach out to BetterHelp.  Thanks for asking your question here Marty.
Answered on 11/21/2022

What should I do when I have toxic parents?

Hi there, I am sorry that you are in this difficult time of your life. I cannot imagine how hard it must be to constantly feel at odds with your parents. As human beings we want our parents to be proud of us and to support us in our life. It sounds like your parents have a very black and white view of what they hoped you would be in your adult years. It also sounds like they expected you to act and look a certain way from a very young age. This could be why you feel shadowed as a child. You were not allowed to be who you wanted and that in turn dimmed your light. As we get older it is natural, and appropriate for us to be able to make decisions without our parents input. At this point in your life it is not acceptable for them to be so rigid and demanding of what you should or shouldn't do. The hard part is going to be setting boundaries with them going forward. This will be difficult because it appears that is not something that they would like, or that you are accustomed to doing. Setting boundaries is important in our lives with all people we allow close to us. Boundaries are simply "what's ok, and what's not ok." For you. In your life. There is a good book by Brene' Brown titled "atlas of the heart" that may be a good read for you. Going forward I would suggest that you tell your parents very clearly how you wish to live. What you wish to do to for a career. How you wish to look. And let them know you love and respect their opinion, but that at this age in your life you are asking for them to love, respect, and support your decisions. Not to constantly put you down, or cast negative judgement on you. Let them know that you will have to limit contact with them if they continue to choose not to respect you. Each time they cross a boundary it will be important for you to remind them of your wishes.  I wish you all the best,
Answered on 11/21/2022

Why does it upset me when my fiance does something unplanned with his son?

I see that there are some concerns with personal values as well as views on parenting. This can be common to see in blended families, meaning that they come from different backgrounds, upbringings, religious beliefs, or economic statuses. I would start by asking yourself some questions to see where the frustrations are coming from. Is there a value in cleanliness/chores, routines, or how about parent/child interactions? Perhaps there is a concern with the amount of time you see your partner spending with his child. There are some personal values or traditions in which you both may have experienced differently. Do you feel left out when they spend time together without you? Or is it excessive, where you are not feeling prioritized? In either of the two situations, you would benefit from openly expressing your concerns. Perhaps your partner may not fully understand where your concerns are coming from. Now to address some questions on parenting. Without knowing how much involvement you have with parenting your fiancé’s son, I can only assume that you are not part of the discussion about parenting. How involved do you want to be? Can you express what you think your role should be? Has your partner expressed how involved they would like for you to be? Perhaps this on its own can help not make you feel left out or frustrated when they do something last minute. I would encourage you to have a conversation with your partner about your role in raising his son. You are now a parental figure in his life and will be involved with him. This can also help bring you all together and learn how to express concerns openly. This conversation can center around caregiving tasks, setting up and enforcing household rules, and even bigger parenting decisions like how to handle challenging behavior. There may be some relationship dynamics that you both may not be aware of but can only provide assumptions until you both sit down and get on the same page.  Some goals for this conversation with your partner are meant to set up boundaries and expectations. In relationships at times, we forget that our partners aren’t able to read our minds or truly know what we are thinking or feeling unless we express them. If you feel that this is too uncomfortable or there is no clear resolution after an open conversation, going to couples counseling would be the next step in order to help resolve this.
Answered on 11/20/2022

What are some strategies for new empty nesters dealing with the longing for how things used to be?

Dear, Phoebe: I understand what seems to be a [possibly] joyful combination of nostalgic remembrances, and prideful relief, that you have achieved what many of us, wish for!  Not only do you understand the extent of your ‘duty of service’, by launching much needed human beings into a world that desperately needs their sort, and genre, as you no doubt can describe, but also, you apparently took great care, and delight, in having an enriched life, thus far, given such a wonderful ability, and such great endeavors.  You also seem to have major elements, that will continue to prove successful, beyond and on to the next life chapters, that await, and no doubt, your preparation of your children, now adults, will help you constitute amazing, and exciting adventures, and overcome challenges that will also be deployed in your life span. This is what I can see from your description of the nostalgic note, and the empty nest sort of grief, and loss, that you may be undergoing, presently.  This provisional sense of loss, and possibly with more acute symptoms grief, in some cases, is usually associated with the new demands that a change in status, or self-defined roles, may bring, once the possibly more than two decades-long change in filial-parental relationship changes, because those children, can now benefit from all that you have done, to help them ‘take off’, with effective means, and valuable resources for repeated soft landings, and more than multiple take-offs.   Your role as a parent, and mother, as a leader, and caretaker of your clan, will now change, as will be your decades-long routine, and accommodations, and as members of the socializing Human species, any significant change in our social role, takes time, and effort to digest, and finally acclimate.  This is your period of transition, Phoebe.  You will be in a position now, to not only experience the emptiness of the nest, but also the fullness of all spaces, and the fuller meaning of all things outside the nest.  You can also determine with greater autonomy, what new course of flight you may wish to take, and expand, and the itinerary is fully self-guided, and without restraints, as experienced before, because you are independent of the bonds, and obligations that also kept you close to home, with a great deal dependent on you, and the effort of others helping you, as the most significant resource to so many ‘mouths to feed’, and minds to nurture, and those bodies, and those characters to keep safe, and shape.  However, it is also noteworthy to understand that the essence of the love, the tenderness of the elasticity of the bonds that you and your husband have developed with your children, will remain intact, and ready to deepen, as they become their own full human beings, and their reflective sense of you, will cast a resplendence worthy of your hard work, ready for all to see.  According to Erickson, and other similar writers dedicated to documenting our developmental stages, as adults, with growing maturity, this resplendence, is part of what may become an integral aspect of your legacy, in what then constitutes Generativity, or a source of deepest pleasure, and achievement, because you are passing on the torch, for many generations to come, and that will survive your individual effort.  In an anthropological sense this is what we all seek, to live beyond the limits of our lives, and to extend beyond our years, that which we spent so much effort cultivating, and making just right, with such great devotion, and even blood, sweat, tears, and when luckiest: Joy, and reciprocal Gratitude. Of course, it is also during these transitional stages in our lives, when all that was lacking before, and all that may have been symptomatic of greater distress, and possible maladjustments, will result in greater degrees of suffering, and perhaps even the emergence of what could be break-ups, disillusionment, and ruptures of cascading dimensions.    If this is the case, then of course, diagnostically, we could trace the pathological development to pre-exist, independently of the nest, or the fullness of the nest, or the emptying of the nest.  Hence, the here-and-now could present a fine opportunity to deal with those issues, should they be of significant enough dimensions to have you seek treatment. I hope this is helpful, and if you wish to explore these possibilities further, I can offer you that, as well. Please take good care, and be well!
(M.S.W., L.C.S.W.)
Answered on 11/18/2022

How can I be a better step mum ?

Hi Poppy!  Thank you for reaching out. I can tell that on some level, you do care about your step children and your relationship with them just because you asked this question.  Everyone raises their kids so differently and it can be really difficult to adapt to those differences. I know you are seeing a lot of the negative sides of this, and that's completely normal! The challenge is trying to see it as not the right or wrong way to raise a child, but just a different way.  Easier said than done, It know! This is going to take some practice, Poppy! You have to start talking to yourself differently. Instead of your thought being something like, "well my kids had to do chores and these kids don't! That makes me angry!", try to transition to something more like "This is not how I raised my kids, but there is more than one okay way to raise a kid." A lot of how we feel and how we see things is based on how we talk to ourselves.  Another technique to try is considering what you can do to help. That word, "help", is VERY important for your thought process. Thinking of it as changing the kids or your husband is not helpful because we cannot change other people, but we can help them. Remind yourself what it means to you to be a part of a family. Ask your husband what you can do to make things easier. Get involved with the kids, spend time with them and find some good things about them. If you can see a few positives about them, that might help you to have more positive feelings towards them.  A good way to start is by writing these things down, and then transitioning into telling the kids the positive things you see in them. This can help them to see you as a friend, and in turn after time, can lead to them having more respect for you.  As far as the jealousy goes, keep in mind that they are children and cannot help how they are being raised. I understand that feeling and it can be so overwhelming if we don't take control of it! Don't be afraid of your oldest stepdaughter. If you feel like she is mocking you, don't take it personally. Remind yourself that they are kids and you are the adult. Are there consequences for her mocking you? If not, is that something you can set up? Even you personally without your husband being involved. For example; providing a reward if the children are kind and respectful for the day. This can be as simple as a sticker chart that leads up to a small prize, or it can be an activity that you do with them or whatever reward you see as appropriate. This needs to be something you have control over and that your husband is not involved with. The kids need to see you as someone who is an authority figure and that will help to teach them that!  I hope some of this is helpful to you, Poppy! Stay strong and remember that you are in control of your thoughts and feelings! 
Answered on 11/17/2022

How do I let go of all the hurt my ex brought to my life?

Hello Tricia, Thank you for submitting your concerns. This is a good question. Dealing with multiple feelings at once can be complicated. The brain often shuts down when it feels overwhelmed. It's hard to think clearly and make decisions when you are overpowered by emotions.  Anger is a secondary emotion meaning it usually comes after something else. When sadness or hurt feelings are not fully processed or dealt with, they get stored deep inside you. These feelings build up over time. Think of a Coke bottle full of fizz. When it is shaken up, the pressure builds until it comes out of the top. This is how anger works. All of the other feelings accumulate until they eventually have to have an outlet. Anger is the result. People act out in anger because it's a release. It can even be a physical release, such as yelling, snapping at someone, throwing something, punching a pillow, etc. No one likes to feel out of control with their emotions. The anger gives a sense of power or control. It's a way to release the hurt and gain back control. The only problem is it can be destructive.  A good way to deal with anger is not let other feelings build up. Manage each feeling separately and work on letting each one go. This way there is no accumulation of mixed feelings to trigger the anger. Here is a simple acronym that may help you remember this method: RAIN.  R - Recognize the emotion A - Accept the emotion I - Investigate the feeling N - Nurture yourself  Step 1 - (Recognize) What emotion are you feeling? Be specific as the brain does not do well with vagueness. Try to use descriptive feelings words. Some examples could be: discouraged, lonely, heartbroken, rejective, furious, defeated, depressed, insecure, etc. Step 2 - (Accept) Make a statement of acceptance. There are no right or wrong to feelings. All feelings are ok. Accept that you are having a feeling and allow yourself to process it without judgement. Be kind and patient with yourself. You have a right to your feelings. An example of acceptance is, "It's ok for me to feel disappointed about my ex cheating on me."  Step 3 - (Investigate) Why do you feel this way? Get to the root of the emotion and what triggered it. Understanding your specific triggers can help you be proactive in the future. What led up to the feeling? Has it happened before? Are there certain things that your ex is doing that might be contributing to your anger?  Step 4 - (Nurture) How can you cope? What are tangible things you can do to feel better? What are some appropriate outlets? Here are some examples: writing your feelings, talking to someone, taking a break, getting some fresh air, spending time with a pet or loved one, taking deep breaths, counting to 10, or listening to music.  When you think about co-parenting, think of your goal to raise your children to the best of your ability. Think of their needs. Think about how much you love and adore them. They are worth it. When you manage each of your emotions it will be easier to face your former partner. You may have to work on accepting what has happened and the pain that he has caused you. Acceptance means you have acknowledged what happened, but are choosing to move forward. You must make a conscious decision to put the hurt down and leave it where it lays. You get to decide how you move forward. This decision will give you the power to move away from the hurt and into your future. Anytime your brain dwells on the past, correct it, and move your thoughts to something else. There is a reason car windshields are so large. The front windshield is much bigger than the rearview mirror because it's much more important to see what is ahead of you versus what is behind you.  You want to practice establishing boundaries with your former partner. Limit contact and communication to only include what is necessary for the children. I recommend these five healthy co-parenting boundaries you should maintain for a successful co-parenting relationship and happy kids: Having a plan for managing the interactions with your ex, may help you turn your anger in to a healthy working relationship. Be sure to lean on your support system when you do have feelings that pop up. Spending time with friends and loved ones will help you feel encouraged and supported. Include self-care in your daily routine to increase your self-worth and value. Love yourself enough to be kind and patient with yourself. Staying healthy emotionally and physically will help you recover from your loss. Do at least one nice thing for yourself every day. 
(M.Ed, L.P.C.)
Answered on 11/11/2022

How to deal with my narcissist father and help lessen my mom's pain for being with such a person?

It sounds like you are feeling stuck in this situation.  It seems that there are things that are happening that are beyond your control and you really are struggling with how to manage that.    I think one of the first steps is really examining what is in your control versus what is beyond your control.  I think often times we spend a lot of energy on focusing things that are beyond our control versus what is in our control.  So in a situation with your dad,  it is important to acknowledge that you have no control over his behavior and that you can only manage how you react to it.   So I think instead of focusing on him, it is important to focus on you.  This is often looking at how you react as well as interact with him.  It also can be helpful to understand sometimes why people behave in the manner that they do.  Understanding does not mean that you are saying it is ok or accepting it, it just can help you view it sometimes in a different light.  Often times people who are narcissist have over inflated sense of self to over compensate for something.  Often times it is based out of insecurities that they have.  I think also with the control piece it may be linked to a fear that if you go to work or study that means you will leave.  Controlling people so much is often rooted in fear of loosing control, which seems counter intuitive.  I think he also may be fearful of what would happen should you leave the house and see that there are better things out there, this will lessen his ability to control you because your perspectives will/would have changed.  It sounds like he may not understand that you do not have to leave in order to know that his behavior is not ok, however I think standing up to him and telling him his behavior is not ok is a waste of time and energy because often times true narcissists really lack the ability to be introspective and reflect on their own behavior.   It is also good to remember that you are never responsible for someone else's behavior.  When it feels like no one is good enough for him, try to remember that says way more about him and his struggles than any of you.  It sounds like he may try to put you and your family down to feel better about himself, which unfortunately presents itself in people who struggle with self esteem but do not seek out the tools to address it or fix it, like therapy. As far as your mom, that is a tough one, I think I would give her the same advice I gave you.  Just to focus on the things that you can control versus the things you cannot.  There is a quote that I refer to when clients are in similar situations "Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference."  I wish you all the best, I am sorry you are having to manage this but am glad you reached out for help.  I hope what I said was helpful and that there may be a time in the future where it gets better. 
Answered on 11/10/2022

How can growing up with an ill parent impact my mental health?

Hello, It sounds like you went through, and continue to go through, some challenges experiences associated with your mother. It's impossible for me to say to what extent, if at all, your upbringing impacts your mental health today. Two people could go through some of the same trauma or neglect and be affected differently.  To look at how your mental health is impacted, it can be helpful to look at what protective factors and risk factors that you've had. Protective factors can reduce the effect on your mental health. These are things like having strong, healthy support from others (feeling loved even though you didn't feel that love from your home), being involved in activities that you enjoy, taking medication and participating in therapy if you need them, setting and accomplishing your goals, etc. There are also risk factors that could impact your mental health, such as having a genetic predisposition to certain mental health disorders, have limited support from other family or close friends, etc. So while your mom may not make changes in her life, you can absolutely make changes in yours, and I don't think you'd be reaching out for help right now if you didn't suspect that you have been affected by your relationship with your mother. It could be affecting your relationships with others--maybe you feel that others will abandon you or maybe it's difficult to open up to others and believe that they truly care about you. Maybe you have difficulty expressing your emotions, feeling heard by others, or maybe you have difficulty being there for others when they are going through a difficult time. Maybe you blame yourself a lot for circumstances or feel a low level of control over your life or have difficulty recognizing your strengths, having low self-esteem. The good news is that all of these things you can work on. I encourage you to reach out for help if you do feel like you have been affected by your childhood experiences. Therapy can be a great way to explore how your mother's relationship with you continues to impact your life.  If you have any additional questions or need help, please just let me know. Take care, Nicholas DeFazio, MRC, LPCC-S, LICDC
Answered on 11/10/2022

How do I navigate this?

First, I want to validate that what you are going through is incredibly difficult due to the complexities of the families we marry into. The family is correct in saying that they have all known each other before you. Even though you come in with a role that is significant to theirs. They are correct in wanting to help and be there for the daughter at all costs. They are not correct in how they are going about it, however.  In these situations, we ask ourselves, "what is my role here?" We always have a part in how we play in any family dispute. We cannot overlook this, even when their moods are erratic and reactive and their perspectives are misguided. One thought I have when I read this was, "what happened between you and your daughter to the point where she doesn't want to go to the wedding?" You guys have been around each other for years, and now she decides to take a stand? Is there anything that can be discussed about this situation to help the individual resolve her situation on her own?  So, you are stuck in the family with people on your husband's side who have turned against you. They have revealed their hand in that they will not have your back. It is for these reasons you have to navigate with an awareness of yourself, your emotions, and thoughts, and an awareness of what in life gets your attention causing you to react in a way that could harm your chances of getting what you want.  I am not sure where your husband stands on this, but is he torn between family, between his child's mom, and also managing your relationship? I am not sure what the people in the girl's life feel about things and if they believe they are actually helping or if they are doing something to be defiant or to try to find a cause in life to justify behaviors? I am leaving you with more questions than answers, but the questions are to "navigate" what's next.   Navigation starts when we are aware of what we are navigating, practice the use of skills to cope and practice tolerance in understanding how to meet people where they are at. It's not how we navigate it but how we deal with the emotions triggered at work, school, or anywhere. Many specifics are probably not being met as expected here, but there is still a problem that you notice and then there is another way to visit this problem to be more effective.  I want you to write down what you think the problem is, really is, though. If you start to say you are angry or mad or other people made you upset, that is not the problem. The problem is what interferes with what you want in life or what interferes with things you hold very deeply. The problem is often very much in our minds and our inability to accept our role in situations. We can only control ourselves, so it is critical that we work in the one area we can work on, in us. Look at how you contributed then you can see others in this mess and ask yourself what you can do about them in your life. This isn't easy and is often not a solution to make you feel better, but you will learn to be more effective at getting what you want. 
Answered on 11/04/2022

How to deal with life?

Hi Renee, Thank you for reaching out during this difficult time.  It sounds like you are feeling overwhelmed with several things which is not uncommon.  You are not the only parent to feel this way. I am glad you are advocating for both yourself and your children.  I am hopeful the doctor appointment after the holiday brings some answers to you along with some other supporting information.  If your eight year old is diagnosed with autism, there are a ton of resources out there for both you and your child.  There are support groups as well that if needed, could be a great benefit to you. Your message was vague so I am unsure what you are referring to when you talk about your teen not listening--if it is everyday tasks like clean your room or bigger life things like complete your college applications.  Regardless, teens do not listen to parents, their friends are far more influential in their life at this time than we as parents are.  Keep in mind their brains do not stop developing until the age 25-27 years old so they have a long way to go. Ask open ended questions, be inquisitive in a gentle way.  This is just an example, inquire why they do not want to clean their rooms and not only listen to their answer but hear them as well and decide if that is a battle you want to choose to fight.  You may want to consider instead of asking questions, framing things in sentences.  For example, say you are curious why they do not want to clean their room or say you are wondering what they are thinking when you ask them to do a certain task. Teens want to be heard and all behavior (for anyone) has meaning.  It is important to try and find out what need they are meeting with their behavior.  If they are not cleaning their room is it because they want to be in control with something or is it because it is not a priority to them like it is to you? You are not failing even though it may feel that way.  Parenting is hard, perhaps one of the hardest jobs we have as adults.  Think about what you can control and what you cannot control.  You can control your thoughts, your feelings, your behaviors/actions.  You cannot control other people's thoughts, feelings and behaviors.  You can control how you parent, how you approach your children.  You can control how you view yourself.  The more you think to yourself that you are failing, the more you will believe it.  Every time we think a thought, we connect neurons in our brain and dig a path and the more we think it the deeper the path gets.  As a result, we think the thought without realizing it and then the path continues to get deeper creating a vicious cycle. Look at the facts.  Do you have evidence to support your belief that you are failing?  My guess is probably not.  Look at the evidence to support where you are not failing and where you are succeeding.  I can already put two in that column--you are advocating for yourself by reaching out on this platform and you are advocating for your children by making the doctor appointment and trying to figure out how to reach your teen. I am hoping this feedback for you was helpful and I wish you the best on your journey moving forward. Best, Erica
Answered on 10/31/2022

I have anger issues with my siblings and husband and kids.

Hello Nicky, Thank you for reaching out with your concern. I hope I can provide you with some explanations and a direction for your problem.  There was little information provided, but I will try and do my best to help you navigate this situation.In trying to understand your family systems, it seems like it was not the most functional environment.  Parents are supposed to help resolve issues amongst their children and if they show favoritism, it can naturally create a lot of hostility in the family.  Some children in the home may grow up feeling unheard, unloved, and may continue feelings of anger and resentment.  If favoritism was shown in the home, you possibly could have some deep rooted unresolved childhood issues or resentment and anger toward your siblings.   From a family dynamic point-of-view, it appears that you could have possibly learned that fighting is also a common behavior from your home life and upbringing.  If you grew up in a home environment where fighting was a normal part of life and there wasn't a way to resolve or deal with these arguments in an amicable way, then it is going to be normal for your to continue to fight with your siblings/with your family members.   I would recommend that you possibly work with a Marriage and Family Therapist who understands family dynamics to help you with these issues.  If your siblings are willing, it might be good for them to also attend sessions with you to help you all sort out any feelings of possible hatred, animosity, and contention towards one another.   If your family members do not wish to participate with you, it still may be good for you to attend by yourself to help you process these deep rooted issues of anger that stem from your family system.  Sometimes, family can be very toxic and when we are around them, we are triggered easily and those feelings that are not resolved are resurfaced.I hope my answers have helped to validate your feelings and my suggestions will be something for you to consider.  Above all, I hope you are one day able to feel better about your family and can resolve things on a happy note.
Answered on 10/29/2022