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I have good news and bad news if you disagree about parenting. First, the bad news. Marriage researcher, therapist, and author, Dr. John Gottman has found that there are several issues couples will NEVER 100% agree on. Parenting is one of them. One of you is probably all about tough love while the other is more permissive. Maybe one of you is all about the bedtime while the other is a little more lax in that area. Or perhaps one of you makes them eat everything on their plate while the other gives them more options on what they eat. 

It’s been that way since you’ve had kids and it’s probably not going to change.

Now, for the good news. Your child needs both of you—differences and all. When a couple learns how to work together through their differences, the marriage is stronger. Just as importantly, your children are better off for it. Kids need stable, loving parents—not perfect ones that agree on everything.

I know that sounds good and all. But how does that work? Let me say that I understand your challenges. My wife and I are the proud parents of seven kids and we couldn’t be more different in our approach to parenting. She’s more black and white when it comes to discipline. Actions lead to consequences. I’m the, “Let’s talk this through and understand it better” parent. She’s the parent who wants the four oldest kids to clean the kitchen together so they learn how to work with each other. I’m the divide and conquer. Two of you clean today and two of you clean tomorrow because I don’t want to hear fussing and arguing.

When my oldest daughter doesn’t tell the truth about something (I’m sure that’s a surprise that a 13-year-old doesn’t always tell the truth), often our instinctive approach is very different from one another. 

Why is it so important that you recognize the differences?

  • Marital Tension: Your different approaches, at times, cause dissension within your marriage. You can feel like your spouse is either too hard, too lenient, too strict, too passive, too trusting, or too controlling. Tension also may grow when you feel like your spouse is not supportive of your parenting efforts.
  • Leads to children manipulating parents: Children can pick up on division. And they will feed off of it to get their way. (We’ve seen that happen a few times.)
  • Division: Families are meant to be a unit. When couples do not learn how to work together as parents, it can lead to division within the family—and that is unhealthy for everyone.
  • Poor Training of Children and Confusion: Kids don’t know boundaries, expectations, or structure. It becomes more difficult for them to learn right from wrong.

How do couples manage parenting when they disagree?

Discuss differences behind closed doors: Children don’t need to hear you disagree about parenting, how to discipline, what activities to participate in, where to allow the kids to go, etc. Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, says that 95% of issues don’t have to be solved on the spot. Don’t feel pressured to solve everything immediately. Become adept at saying, “Your (mother) and I will discuss this and let you know.

Don’t throw the other parent under the bus: Avoid statements like, “I think that’s a good idea. Let me check with your mother.” Now she’s the bad guy if in fact you decide it’s not a good idea. “We would, but your father doesn’t like that kind of thing.” Or, “You know your mom wouldn’t go for that.

Sincerely talk with one another from a team perspective: Figuring out how to work together is powerful. Listen and understand one another. Often you can meet in the middle. Sometimes you may lean more toward one spouse’s perspective or the other. Sometimes you can end up doing both. My wife and I have learned that I can generally get my children to acknowledge where they’ve gone wrong and how to correct it. And I’ve learned that without the consequences that she’s encouraging us to enforce, they are more likely to repeat the same behavior. We’ve often gotten the best of both worlds.

Present a united front: Once the two of you can agree on a parenting choice about an issue, then be on board with the plan, even if it wasn’t exactly the one you wanted. Make it your goal that the kids never know whose idea it was in the first place. I love it when my kids think a consequence was their mom’s idea, but really it was mine, not because I want them to think she’s the bad guy. Our goal is to show them we’re a team, not a team against the kids, but a parenting team working in the best interest of our family.

Don’t be afraid of making a “wrong” decision: It happens. There’ve been times we’ve come down too hard and times we were too lenient. There were times where we allowed them to participate in something that in hindsight was not the best decision. And what’s worse is that my wife and I disagreed on the front end and we chose the wrong path. Our children were not ruined for life because of our bad decision. Don’t forget, the best gift we can give them is a stable, committed relationship. Perfection is not part of the definition

Seek input from parents you trust: Find couples with similar values whose children are in the next phase your children are moving toward and pick their brain. Ask them about their parenting differences and how they’ve made it work. 

Support your spouse in their absence: Michele Weiner-Davis, best selling author and marriage therapist tells a story of undermining her husband’s parenting authority by disciplining and parenting her children over the phone when their father was home with them and she did not think he was doing what she thought was right. She learned that this was not healthy for her children, their father, or their marriage. She realized that it was healthier for her to truly trust and leave the parenting to her husband when she was out of town and to support his decisions. When she came to that realization, the next time a child called her for parenting when dad was home with them, she let them know that she supported whatever decision dad chose

➤➤There are parenting decisions that your spouse will have to make that are different than what you’d do. 🔎 Before criticizing your spouse’s decision, ask yourself this question: “Do I believe he wants what is best for our children?” More times than not, the answer is yes. Show your spouse you believe in them as a parent.

✰ Conclusion: Different is not deficient.

It’s just different. What I hope you both do agree about is that you both love your children and want the best for them. The relationship skills your child learns from watching the two of you parent in the midst of disagreements may just be more powerful than if you agreed on every single thing. 

Yes, your kids will pick up on the parental differences regardless of how united a front you present. The strength in the marriage is that the differences do not divide you. The security for your children that you provide by parenting them through the differences will serve them well years after they are grown and gone, living out the principles you’ve taught them.

**Please note that this article is NOT about an abusive or neglectful parent. The physical and emotional safety of a child is not a difference in parenting styles. Anyone who knows of child abuse happening should call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).**

If you see a difference in your parenting styles (and you will), let’s go ahead and throw out the “bad parent” moniker. This would be an inaccurate appraisal, and it’s much easier to work through parenting differences than it is to make a “bad” parent “good.” 

To helmet or not to helmet?

My wife wants our kids to wear helmets no matter when they bike. I, on the other hand, don’t feel strongly about helmets. Does that make me a bad parent?

Let me explain. This had been an ongoing dilemma in my family when it came to bicycling around the neighborhood. My wonderful wife, who is an equally wonderful mom, comes from the camp of parenting that prepares for the worst. She can just picture one of our daughters sailing like a dart over her handlebars and crashing into something much harder than the human head. Obviously, helmets are a thing for her

I, on the other hand, come from a different philosophy of safety all around. I grew up trying to take my bike over and through things where it wasn’t exactly designed to go—and I don’t remember a kid in the neighborhood who had a helmet. Heck, I still have the scars on my knees from road rash. And so, I tend to think, if they aren’t jumping over ditches or trying to break the sound barrier, why wear a helmet? 

This was an obvious disagreement in our parenting. And it would have been very easy for one of us to think, I can’t BELIEVE she makes them/he doesn’t make them wear a helmet! I’ve never seen such bad parenting!

Maybe this is where you’re at—about helmets, discipline, what your child eats, how late they’re allowed to stay up, who they can hang out with, how long they can play video games, how they are allowed to speak to you, what “good” grades are or a “clean” room, or you-name-it. 

So what do you do if you suspect that your spouse is a bad parent? 

**Please note that this article is NOT about an abusive or neglectful parent. The physical and emotional safety of a child is not a difference in parenting styles. Anyone who knows of child abuse happening should call the National Child Abuse Hotline at 1-800-4-A-CHILD (1-800-422-4453).**

🔎  The first question you need to ask is, “What is it that makes me think they are a bad parent?” Is the reason truly something that warrants the label “bad?” 

Or, is it a matter of their parenting style being different from yours?

I’ve worked with youth and parents for many years, and one thing I have come to understand is this: the vast majority of parents out there aren’t bad parents; they are simply doing the best they can with what they’ve been given. 

We all parent through the filters of our past experiences: the way we were raised, what we’ve observed in other parents, what we’ve read, and learned. This means that there are inevitably going to be at least some differences between how you and your spouse parent

Amy McCready, the founder of Positive Parenting Solutions, offers some very helpful steps in working through what to do when you disagree on disciplining your child. And I believe these translate well to all disagreements on parenting. Here are a few: 

1. Find (Any) Common Ground.

What aspects of parenting do you agree on? Look for parenting strategies your spouse uses that you appreciate. Are they good listeners with your children? Do they devote quality time to them? Are they calm in the face of parenting chaos? 

Even if all you can say is that you appreciate how much your spouse loves your children, that’s a positive you can recognize and work from. Identify these common parenting values and build on your commonalities. 

2. Explore the Underlying Reasons Why You Disagree.

Talk together about your disagreements and try to understand where each of your parenting styles come from. Understanding the origins of our parenting styles helps us to better appreciate these differences. Ask: 

  • What were the parenting styles used in each of our homes?
  • Which patterns do we want to change from how each of us was raised?
  • Which healthy patterns do we want to be sure to repeat? 
  • What parenting information have we each learned that affects how we parent our kids? 

3. Select a Signal.

Establish a non-verbal signal between the two of you that says, “We clearly don’t agree on this and should talk it out away from the kids.” This helps you to avoid disagreeing in front of the kids about your parenting decisions. McCready says that 95% of issues don’t have to be solved on the spot, and the signal gives parents a chance to take a breather and figure out a course of action a little later.

4. Avoid Good Cop, Bad Cop.

It’s important for your kids to understand that you and your spouse are a united front when it comes to parenting. Even if you disagree on how to parent in some respects, you never want to undermine your spouse’s parenting decisions in front of the kids. 

Don’t set your spouse up to be the “bad guy” by saying things like, “Well, your mother wouldn’t like that very much” or “When your dad gets home, he’s going to be very mad that you…” These phrases communicate to your kids that you each think differently about the situation and therefore you don’t support each other. Children need the security of knowing that both of their parents are a team in their parenting decisions. 

5. Seek Support.

Disagreements are going to happen because your and your spouse’s parenting styles originate from different places. So, finding common ground in your parenting will be an ongoing process. Seek encouragement from more seasoned parents who you respect and that have had obvious success with their own children. Consider taking a parenting course or share books or articles on parenting with each other. And if disagreements persist and become worse, consider seeking the advice of a therapist that specializes in parenting and family

Just in case you were wondering, our kids wear helmets when they bike. I still don’t know if it’s completely necessary (you may disagree—that’s okay). But it’s important to my wife, and so I support her feelings for that. And as much as it goes against my nature, I still remind my kids to wear their helmets when they go biking (without, of course, saying “because your mom wants you to”). 😉 

It is possible to come together and be on the same page with your parenting. But it does take work, some compromise, and plenty of discussions. Commit yourselves to constant communication regarding your parenting decisions, and understand that working out disagreements doesn’t happen overnight. But the process is worth it for both your kids and your marriage.

Is anyone else having issues with their kids and getting them on schedule or getting them to do the things around the house the first time you ask? I knew the COVID-19 pandemic would change our lives for a few weeks, but  I never considered that it would stretch into the summer. As a result of the “new normal,” I have noticed changes in the behavior of my children as well. Some of those changes include:

Backtalk From My Kids

Arguments About Bedtimes, Chores, Hygiene 

Too Much Screen Time (Games, Netflix, Disney+, etc.)

What is really going on? How am I contributing via my stress, anxiety, or mood? In essence, how do I stop fighting with my kids? What are the things that I can do?

1. Remember That You Are The Parent

I recognize that my responsibility to my children is to be their parent. Even though I want to develop a close relationship with my child, being the parent means that I will have to do things that are not popular. In fact, because I love my child and want a close relationship with them, as a parent, I have to make unpopular decisions. The first time that my youngest son said to me, “Mommy, you are not my friend,” I took a deep breath and replied, “You are right. I am not your friend, I AM your MOM.” I want my kids to know that they are loved, accepted, and can always come to me, but I can’t always be their “buddy.” I can’t make decisions based on a popularity contest—I have to do what’s best for them knowing that they won’t always understand that this is real love.

In that particular situation, I chose to respond versus react. Reactions are automatic, without thought and usually driven by emotions. When I respond, according to the author and licensed marriage and family therapist Hal Runkel, “I take a pause before I do something.” In other words, I think, control my emotions, and move forward as the parent.

2. Become A Student Of Your Child

Learn what your child likes and what interests them. Talk with and listen to them, find out what shows they watch, what music they like, what are they feeling (e.g., fear, concern, anger, sadness). Creating a healthy relationship with them gives you insight into their world. Remember that the pandemic and all that is going on has had an impact on your child as well. Take your child’s emotional temperature by asking questions to find out how are they are feeling and what is on their minds. They may be acting out because they feel insecure, afraid, or anxious. They may be trying to get your attention

3. Create Structure And Boundaries And Consistently Enforce Them

It is important that our children feel a sense of routine, structure, and boundaries in the midst of all the chaos and confusion going on in the world. Structure and boundaries provide safety for children. They see and hear news about COVID-19 and racial unrest. They may feel afraid and concerned as a result. You can create structure and boundaries by: Making one-on-one time with each child to talk, Having dinner together as a family, or Family Game Night. These family interactions can develop connectedness between the members which hopefully can decrease the argumentative interactions.

Your children should have routines in the morning and evening and bedtime that place structure around their day. Give them a daily to-do list like: Brush Teeth, Eat Breakfast, Read For 20 Minutes, Exercise/Play For 1 Hour, Eat Dinner, Screen Time (as prescribed by parents), Bedtime Routine, Lights Out. Put the schedule somewhere at their eye-level. Even kids that can’t read yet can follow a list using pictures to know how to get ready for bed. These routines provide expectations for what the day will look like and there will be less to fight with your kids about.

Power struggles and arguments seem like they will always be a normal part of parenting. However, you don’t have to normalize fighting with your kids. When you recognize your role and responsibilities as a parent, it gives you a focus point. Creating a healthy parent-child relationship helps your children learn and respect boundaries. Make sure you are taking care of yourself so you can be your best self and respond, not react. One of the best lessons that I have learned on my parenting journey is, “Rules (structure) without relationship leads to rebellion.

We pull up to the little league baseball field where I’m about to have three different kids with three different practices on three different fields. There are only two parents. But before I can barely shift the van into park, my 11-year-old son darts out of the van, grabs his baseball equipment and sprints to his field. 

Why does this make me as a father smile every time it happens? It’s not because he’s a future major leaguer or that he is so happy to get away from us. It’s because he used to be an insecure kid, insecure about his baseball skills.  He was unsure of himself, his ability to make friends on the team, and didn’t always handle the disappointment of striking out or misplaying a ball very well.

A child that feels secure feels loved and free to make decisions, form relationships, and solve problems. They also react well to emotional stress. How do you help your child to feel secure?

Be the Parent

As a parent, you are in charge—you are the authority. You set the structure and the rules in your home. You also demonstrate what love and relationship look like, but you don’t look for your child to validate you as a person or as a parent. Children feel more secure when they and the people in their lives have clear roles. When their parent is acting out the responsibilities of a parent, there’s clarity and order in your child’s life. 

Set Limits and Boundaries

I have seven kids and they all seem to read from the same book that tells them to test the limits. Children are hard-wired to find out how far their parents will allow them to go. When a child doesn’t have any limits or boundaries, it may seem as though they are getting what they want. The opposite is the case. 

Family experts agree that children feel safer when limits and boundaries are established and knowing that there are consequences for going beyond the boundaries. Your child learns what behavior is expected of them. A child who knows what to expect is better able to enter in and out of relationships with non-family members because they’ve learned to recognize what is appropriate.

Routines and Consistency

Predictability is great for children. This may come in the form of regular morning, evening, and bedtime routines. This also may be through family mealtime or family rituals. Your children will experience lots of change in the world they live in. Being able to look to the home for consistency provides security in what can be a chaotic world. Click here for great information on establishing routines and structure in the home.

Time and Affection

Laughing, playing, being silly, hugging, saying “I love you,” and just hanging out are key to helping your child feel secure. This helps your child know that they belong and have a place in this world because they have a place in their family. It reinforces that they are loved, that they have value, and that they are worth spending time with. Click here for ways to show your child affection.

Availability

My son has experienced a range of emotions playing baseball. There are times where he and a teammate didn’t get along and other times he has been frustrated because he was not hitting the ball well. We’ve talked. Sometimes, I’ve just listened. We’ve discussed solutions. But more importantly, as parents, we have learned to be available to help and support, not necessarily solve the problem. One of my favorite questions is, “What do you think is best and why?” The freedom to solve his own problems builds self-confidence. 

We always aim to be available to help him think through the issues he encounters. And sometimes he makes the wrong decision—which gives us the opportunity to help him learn and grow. Your children will experience failure, stress, and a host of other emotions. You want them to feel safe to experience life and have the confidence to respond in a positive and healthy way. 

Give Children Responsibilities

Children who contribute to the daily life of the family learn that they have something to give. The Center for Parenting Education says that children who have family responsibilities gain a sense of pride from knowing that they are capable of contributing to their environment. My 4-year-old has the responsibility of making sure everyone has silverware for each meal. It doesn’t have to be much and it can grow over time. My 11 and 13-year-olds are responsible for washing the dishes. They know that without silverware or clean dishes, the family doesn’t eat. They are contributing to the life of our family. 

Know When to Seek Professional Help

If your child continually expresses an inability to feel safe and it is impacting their ability to cope,  then it may be time to seek professional help. As a parent, sometimes we need the assistance of an objective professional to help us tweak our parenting to meet the individual needs of our children. It certainly is not a sign of failure to ask for help. Parenting to your child’s uniqueness can be challenging for sure. 

As a parent, you can provide your child with a safe and stable environment to help them feel secure. Your child picks up on the cues you send based on how you respond to the stress of a pandemic like COVID-19 or the anger you may feel when someone you love is mistreated. Working to feel secure as a parent will only help you as you aim to help your child feel secure.

For many of us parents, this time of social distancing and self-quarantine caught us off guard.

Before, we might have had small chunks of time spent at home, like when a child was sick. However, quarantine has more than doubled and even tripled the amount of time that I spend with my children. Back in the good old days in March, my sons would spend over seven hours at school. Once they came home, it would be dinner, homework, chores and some video gaming time. Then it would be off to bed. In reality, we didn’t spend lots of time together. 

Now with concentrated togetherness, work from home and virtual school, I am starting to see parts of them that I didn’t know existed. (Some of those traits remind me of me.) I am starting to have all these doubts and questions creeping in:

  • Am I doing this right?
  • What am I doing wrong?
  • Do we have enough (time, money, energy) to do this?
  • Do I have what it takes to parent my child?
  • Is this really how my child behaves at school?
  • Am I ruining their life, education and future?
  • In my heart of hearts, I am asking myself:  Am I A Bad Parent?

Questioning yourself as a parent can be a GOOD thing! (But be careful!)

When we became parents, we dreamed of our child’s future—what type of schools they would attend, the activities that they would participate in, and the friends they would have. Never in that dream did we consider a “global pandemicand how it would affect school, interaction with friends, and our family.

I have chosen to view this time as a Reset Button for myself and my family. I haven’t camped out with fear and guilt, but I have been introspective:

  • As a family, what are our priorities?
  • What can I control and what can I not control?
  • When it comes to my children, what type of relationship do I want?
  • What does my child need from me as their parent?

Accept that you did the best that you could.

Most of us were not taught how to be teachers. We don’t have medical training. We have never experienced a pandemic that mandated shelter-in-place. This is uncharted territory, so don’t be too hard on yourself. Instead, make it a learning opportunity. Have a family meeting and have a conversation with your children to see how they are doing. Take the emotional temperature of your family. Learn, then let yourself off the hook.

Recognize that there will be a transition out of quarantine.

As we prepare to “re-enter” the world, take some time to process how you have changed as a parent and what you may want to change going forward.

From Guilt to Action

Asking yourself these questions can move you from feeling guilty to taking action:

  • Am I confusing being a good parent with being a perfect parent?
  • Am I taking care of me to be the best version of myself?
  • Is the issue really exhaustion from work, virtual schooling and parenting?
  • What are the lessons that I can teach my children during this time?
  • Am I the parent that my child needs me to be during this time?

Asking yourself these questions can help you learn from this quarantine time:

  • What have I learned from and about my kids?
  • How has my family benefitted from this time together?
  • What has been a struggle for us?
  • How will we as a family be different after the quarantine ends?
  • How will I parent differently after quarantine?

It’s always good to be trying to improve as a parent, but it is easy to fall into the perfection trap and end up sitting in feelings of fear and guilt. This doesn’t benefit you or your kids.

Although we’re in a time of quarantine, there are just certain jobs that can’t be done from home. While it seems everyone else is working remotely, dressed comfortably in their pajamas, curled up on their couch, and eating their oatmeal, some people still have to “go to work,” like we all used to back in the day. 

First of all, to the folks on the front lines dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak head-on, medical professionals, postal workers, truck drivers, grocery store workers, bus drivers, those working IT so Google Meet and Zoom and other remote-work apps don’t crash, first responders, and everyone else who keeps things running out there on the outside so we are all safe and functional – THANK YOU!

Some of you may find yourselves in a situation where you have to leave your children home alone without adult supervision. So how do you handle them being home alone? (Cue little Kevin McCallister, hands to cheeks, mouth gaping open… )

Of course, leaving a 12-year-old home alone and leaving a 17-year-old home alone are two different things. You’ll need to make determinations based on your children’s ages. (Keep in mind that some states have laws concerning at what age and how long kids can be left home alone.) But no matter how old they are, you’ll want to think of two things: safety and boundaries. And you’ll want to have a good, thorough conversation with them about your expectations before they go solo for your peace of mind and for theirs. Some children are hesitant about staying home alone. This conversation can help them be more confident in their ability to stay home alone

Safety 

When thinking about how to keep your kids safe at home when you’re at work, a good mantra to live by is, expect the best but prepare for the worst. This means you need to prepare your kids for the “what ifs” that probably won’t, but could happen. Here are some tips:

  • Be sure to leave your kids with at least one way of contacting you or another adult if you cannot be contacted during your shift. Hopefully, they are able to call you, but if that’s not possible, make sure they know who to call in the event of an emergency. If you don’t have a landline, hopefully, your child has a cell phone. If not, it might be a good idea to purchase a cheap call-and-text-only cell phone with prepaid minutes. You can grab these at pretty much any store, WalMart, Walgreens, some grocery stores even have them. 
  • Make a list of helpful phone numbers including: 911, phone numbers of trusted adults who can help your kids if something comes up and post it in an accessible place. Include your personal phone number and your work number, even if your kids have them memorized – sometimes memory goes out the window if your kids are anxious or scared. Program them into your child’s phone if they are not already and program them into your “house phone.” 
  • If your children will be home for extended periods, you may want to let one or more of your trusted adults or even trusted neighbors know your children will be home alone and ask them to check in periodically. 
  • Establish some regular check-in times. For example, you’ll call them at designated times to check in and make sure everything is okay. Make it a rule that they must answer calls and that an unanswered call would signify an emergency situation. Let them know what the consequences will be for not responding in a timely fashion. Besides your regular, scheduled calls, make some random calls if possible. This is also where neighbors and trusted adults can help out. Explain that check-ins are not because of a lack of trust, but because you love them and care about their safety.  
  • Instruct your kids on what to do in the case of unexpected situations: 
    • There is a fire or the alarm goes off.
    • A delivery person or someone comes to the door.
    • It sounds like someone is trying to get in.
    • The power goes out.
    • A major storm sweeps through.
    • Toilet clogs, water leaks, and other common household problems.
    • Friends know you’re not home and want to come over.
  • Discuss how and when to use 911. What situations warrant a call to you? What situations warrant an immediate call to 911?
  • As you have the in-depth conversation with your child – ask if they have any questions, anything they are afraid of or unsure about. Are there any situations or scenarios that they want clarity on? They might have different concerns than the ones you thought about.
  • Make sure there is enough food in the house that your kids can eat without a lot of preparation. It is also helpful to give them limits on how much they can eat of what. For example – eat all the snack food in this drawer that you want – this is what I have set aside for your lunch or dinner. Please do not touch things on these two shelves in the refrigerator or in the pantry. Set boundaries on appliances they are allowed to use, such as the microwave is permitted, the stove or oven is not. 
  • Take necessary precautions with any medications (prescription or over-the-counter), alcohol, firearms, tobacco, car keys, lighters or matches. Do not assume your teen will make wise choices if they are accessible. Think of “childproofing” your house, but you’re “teen-proofing.” Take items to work with you that you do not want your teen to access, or lock them up.

Boundaries

Taking safety precautions like these helps protect kids from dangerous situations and outside threats when home alone. But what about protecting your kids from themselves? Even older teens still lack that fully-developed prefrontal cortex in the brain that drives good decision-making. This is a biological developmental reality that parents of teens often forget. Their still-developing brains need the parental guardrails of routines, rituals, and consistency. In a word – boundaries.

Keep in mind, during this unique time, your kids are probably nervous, bored, stir-crazy, cabin-fevered, and hurting for some social time with friends. They might be a little “different” during this time than the teen you are used to. 

Some things to consider when forming boundaries for kids at home:

  • Consider how you’ll handle the issue of your kids’ friends coming over to your house. Besides it being a health risk (why we are quarantining in the first place), kids are generally less apt to respect your rules when their friends are there and you’re not. Whatever you decide, be firm. You are the parent.
  • Establish some boundaries with technology while you’re away. 
    • Internet/Gaming/TV Rules: This is a great time to revisit the parental controls on gaming consoles, televisions, cellphones, and other electronic devices. There are some great ideas here. You might need to consider using monitoring or parental control software to help curb temptations for your kids.
  • One of the best things you can do to keep your child safe is to keep them busy – I mean productive! Make sure before you leave for work, they know what school work needs to be completed, what chores need to be done, how many pages they need to have read in a book, any fun or creative activities that you would like them to do. Then keep them accountable when you get home. Try your best to establish schedules, checklists, and routines for their day. This is what your “check-in” phone calls will be checking in on.

 Keep in mind that rules without relationship lead to rebellion. 

You have to have some dos to go with all the don’ts. If you continue to build your relationship with your kids in healthy ways when you are home – quality time, conversation, meaningful connection – it greatly increases the chances that they’ll respect your rules and stay safe when you aren’t home

*For more parenting resources, including COVID-19 specific resources, go to Firstthings.org.

I’M BORED, MOM! These are words that most adults despise hearing from the kids in their lives. That statement is usually met with, “How can you be bored?” Kids have games, books, iPods, gaming systems. You can’t be bored

Cue speech: “One of the things wrong with today’s generation is that they have No Imagination…”

Guess what? Now, I’M BORED. I have a lot more empathy and understanding for today’s generation. I’m feeling it, too.  Since being quarantined, I have cleaned, organized, read, crafted, DIYed, Netflixed, and Hulu-ed. I can’t think of anything else to do. I’m so bored. Now what?

1 . Get Creative

It may not be easy to come up with ideas. There is a plethora of classes to take online and new things to learn to do. Once you have looked around the Web, sit down and write a list of things you may want to learn how to do. Your list may look like this –

 I want to:

  • Learn Italian.
  • Learn to bake a Cheesecake.
  • Learn how to dance Salsa.
  • Learn to Draw/Paint.
  • Learn how to make a container garden.

2. Connect With Others

Whether you are a person who is dying because of social distancing or you are a person who has enjoyed the time to slow down, staying in touch with those you do life with can be a key to keeping boredom away. There are many ways to reach out and/or stay connected with people.

Some ways include:

  • Writing a letter to a friend — tell them what you like about them, why you miss being around them, what fun things you can do together once this is over.
  • Have a Virtual Brunch or a Virtual Happy Hour on video chat. 
  • Make a homemade card and mail to those you care about.
  • Have a Virtual Dance Party.

3. Practice Gratitude

Seeking gratitude and thankfulness will help you appreciate what you have. I love the memes that remind me: “I’m not STUCK at HOME, but I AM SAFE AT HOME.” That statement reinforces to me that I have options and opportunities where others may not. Make a list of everything that you are thankful for or list five things at the end of each day.

I can now see why kids say, “I’m Bored!” But I’ve learned that boredom is neither a fact or fiction, but rather, a choice of my perspective

I chose NOT to be bored.

I see you, mama, sitting in a messy house, filled with dishes from last night’s dinner and laundry piled high. You are trapped in a house during a quarantine and it’s taking everything to not go stir crazy. I see the exhaustion and the exasperation that comes with toddlers running around. Demanding snacks, begging for attention, needing to have what they want, when they want it. I see you trying, trying to juggle their needs and your work’s needs, and maybe, sometimes, even your own needs. I know that feeling of being stretched so thin that you’re barely keeping it together. The seams beginning to unravel, slowly then all of a sudden… you’re hanging on by one tiny thread. 

I see the frustration of an interrupted Zoom meeting, the agitation from a plea for yet another snack, the expectation to be completely focused on that work project and completely focused on caring for your kids. It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s unrealistic to think that anyone could handle the balancing act that all of a sudden we are called to perform. 

So why do you feel like a failure? You know it’s impossible. You know you’re only human. But what about them? What about society? And employers? And family and friends? Yeah… what about them? Everyone needs to adjust their expectations. Including yourself. You are doing the best you can. You are facing the unknown and taking on more than anyone should be expected to. Give yourself grace. 

In fact, give yourself permission to let the dishes sit in the sink a little longer. Make friends with the dust bunnies who have joined your space. Let your kids jump in the piles of clean laundry that still need to be folded. Go outside and take a second to breathe. Feel the fresh air fill your lungs and be grateful for all the things that are going right in your world. And for anything that’s got you stressed or worried or on edge, add “but” onto the end. 

“We’re stuck at home… BUT… we’re SAFE.”

“The house is a mess… BUT… I have a roof over my head.”

“The kids are driving me nuts… BUT… I get to be their mom.”

“Working from home with kids is so hard… BUT… I’m grateful for the flexibility and that I STILL have a job.” 

So, take it one day at a time, mama. This is just a season that you WILL get through. Be mindful. Tell yourself a different story. One of resilience and patience and overcoming obstacles against all odds. You are NOT a failure. You are capable. You are strong. You are amazing, in PJs and all.

Most mornings, we wake up with little time to spare. Get dressed, shower, wake up the kids, get them dressed, tell them to make up their beds, brush their teeth, comb their hair, brush my hair, grab their things, grab my things, fix a cup of coffee, get ready to leave, oops, I forgot to brush my own teeth, brush my teeth, hop in the car five minutes later than I needed to! Drop the kids off at school or the bus stop, stop by Starbucks, head to the office hoping I didn’t forget that I have an 8:00 appointment. Sound familiar?

Guess what, while we’re practicing social-distancing, here’s the chance to create a new family norm that is less focused on punctuality and more focused on starting the day the way you want to start it as a family. As our lives have changed due to the pandemic, we can intentionally do some things differently that set the whole family in the same direction for the day.

Here’s one change that can make a HUGE difference.

Family Breakfast Time . Don’t let food be a hindrance, but let’s address food first. Breakfast can be anything from sitting together to drink a beverage, to toast with jelly, all the way up to to the big time – pancakes, eggs, fruit, and OJ.  Focus on the words “Family” and “Time.” Think of the word breakfast as the important time of the day. It’s before you launch into your “daily work/school” time.

Why is this so beneficial? Studies show the benefits of having regular family meals together. Benefits, particularly for children, include better eating habits, feeling more connected, increased communication skills, and better self-esteem. They also include being less likely to develop eating disorders, engage in risky behaviors such as smoking or drinking habits, or to become depressed. Eating together helps you develop the lifelong bonds that strengthen your family and help you make it through tough times.

Set the tone for the day. This is the perfect time to set expectations for the day. Everyone can know what is expected of them and what to expect from you. We tend to receive information better when we’re eating. It does not necessarily have to be a minute-by-minute schedule but just having a set time to explain the intended flow of the day while we are eating and all together can provide some predictability for everyone. The kids will know that there will be some downtime, playtime, work time, quiet time, eating time, etc.

Family Temperature Check. I go into further detail about this in another blog. Ultimately, this is a good time to find out if anyone just plain and simple woke up on the wrong side of the bed that morning or is having a very difficult time emotionally dealing with the fact that we are all stuck in the house together all day every day for the foreseeable future.

Give everyone a common starting point. Just like every football team huddles before running the next play and then proceeds to their position to start the play, the family huddles at breakfast and then starts the next play. As a parent, we have the power to send the family to their next play with enthusiasm or with dread. Even if you’re the only one with the positive energy, that’s OK, be that parent who the kids roll their eyes at and say, “Dad, you’re just over the top.” They’re going to say it with a smile on their face and move on after breakfast thinking not about the dread of being home all day yet again, but how silly their parents are. 

Tips: If you decide to have a family breakfast on a regular basis, here are some tips.

  1. Enlist your children to help with breakfast. Set the table with dishes, cups, silverware, condiments, whatever is age-appropriate. After all, they are eating as well. Do not become their servant. If age-appropriate, let them prepare some, if not all of the food.
  2. Keep it simple, but only if you want to. Don’t feel stressed that you have to pull out the pots and pans. Cereal and juice are fine. Pop-tarts and water are fine. An apple is fine. However…
  3. Go all out some mornings just because! Waffles, pancakes, omelets, biscuits. You have the time now. If your work and schooling get started a little later, since everyone is quarantined, it’s OK. That’s the opportunity here. Now, you don’t have to leave by 7:45 to miss the traffic and miss sitting in the long drop offline. (Teach your children how to make some of these items. Before long, they may do it for you.)
  4. Get started. When you get up, just because you are working from home, don’t spend hours procrastinating about getting your day started. Breakfast becomes the high point of the morning. Get into a rhythm and when everyone wakes up, announce that we will have breakfast in ___ minutes so that everyone is moving toward breakfast. That becomes our first destination for the day. For some people, simply having a set time for breakfast may be the way to go.
  5. Enlist children to help clean up following breakfast. Wash dishes, load dishwasher, clean table, sweep the floor, put away any extra food, be done
  6. Be real. This does not mean your day will go perfectly or even smoothly. This helps you to maintain a healthy relationship when things do get rocky.

Take advantage of this opportunity. I love to eat. Lots of us do. I love my wife and my kids (all 7 of them). Doing what I love to do with the people I love should be the formula for connection and peace in the midst of this chaos.

Based on hundreds of peer-reviewed studies, Dr. Warren Farrell, co-author of The Boy Crisis, says that “Dad’s time trumps Dad’s dime.” 

“More than 100 psychologists and researchers got together. They wrote in unanimous consent that the children need their father about equally to their mother in the case of divorce,” says Farrell. 

Farrell explained that for years researchers believed that children did better with an involved father because intact families had more money and lived in better neighborhoods. However, researchers controlled for virtually every variable and found that father involvement plays a vital role in the health of a child. It’s not just about the money he may provide, although that is very important. It is the combination of presence and provision.

“The degree of difference between the health of a child who has both father and mother involvement, who has four things after divorce is so different from the health of the child that doesn’t,” Farrell says. 

Farrell goes on to say that whether babies are born prematurely or full-term, the importance of the father being involved is enormous. 

“Prematurely-born children are more likely to develop their brains better and get out of the hospital sooner and have more psychomotor functioning when the father is visiting the hospital as much as possible, according to research from Yale University,” he says.

“The father breathing on the child when it’s first born helps the bonding process to occur and changes the dad’s brain,” Farrell says “The sooner the father gets involved with the child, a whole nest of neurons in the male brain begins to develop and connect with each other that mimics the mother instinct – overlapping with mother instinct. Oxytocin levels go up, testosterone levels go down. Dads connect emotionally with their children.”

According to Farrell, in the event of an unavoidable divorce, here are four must-dos for your child to have a reasonable chance of doing well.

The first one is ensuring an equal amount of time with mother and father. Being in checks and balance mode with each other never means the father going away and working 80 hours a week and coming back when he is exhausted and the children are in bed. Farrell asserts that children need more than a Disneyland Dad or just a visitor on the weekends. They need time, and plenty of it.

The second must-do is for the mother and father to live within a 20-minute drive time from each other. This gives children greater stability and creates less resentment, because if parents live further away, the kids may have to give up activities or friends in order to see the other parent. 

It’s also important that children are not able to hear or detect bad-mouthing or negativity from one parent about the other. If one parent responds negatively about something concerning the other one, it can affect the child’s intimacy with one or both parents. Bad-mouthing isn’t just by words, it’s also via body language and tone of voice. Farrell says that many parents will swear that their kids did not overhear them saying something negative about the other parent while on the phone, but the child could detect the difference in the tone of voice, even from another room.

Finally, it’s beneficial for the kids if parents spend significant time doing consistent relationship counseling, even if it only happens every few weeks. If parents only seek counsel in an emergency, the chances are you need to solve the problem sooner, and you are more likely to make the other parent wrong and you only see the other parent when you are emergency mode. Therefore, you don’t have the chance to think and feel through with compassion the other parent’s best intent to solve the problem and make decisions.

“Before you make a decision to have a child, do the research on why children need a significant amount of father involvement so that you don’t raise a child on your own and think it is just fine to do so and think that having a stepfather or you doing the father-type of role is going to be enough,” Farrell says. “If you believe your new husband is going to be a better stepfather than the biological father is a father, know that almost always the stepfather perceives himself to be an advisor, and the dynamic between a biological mother and stepfather is one where the biological mother does make the final decision. All of the dad-style parenting that a stepfather could potentially bring to a child’s life, like roughhousing, is likely to be inhibited by a biological mother with a lot more power and potency than she will use with the biological father. There’s a tendency for the stepfather to back out of equal parent engagement and just become a breadwinner.”

Since research consistently shows that both parents are the best parents, Farrell expresses concern for unmarried biological moms who are living with the father. Farrell wants these moms to understand that when Mom is the primary parent, it often leads to the father being uninvolved and feeling that he is not valued. In situations like this, many fathers leave the child’s life within the first three to four years. 

A word of caution here: While there is no question that some parents are unfit when it comes to filling the parent role, careful evaluation may be necessary to discern whether an ex is truly not fit to parent, or if it would “just be easier not to have to deal with them.” If your thought process is more along the lines of, “I made a mistake marrying them. I want to start life over again without them. I don’t like them. I don’t like dealing with them,” it might be wise for you to reconsider your stance.

There’s a big difference between safety and abuse issues and misunderstanding the other parent’s reasoning, thought processes or parenting style. If the goal is for children of divorce to be healthy in adulthood, it is important to follow these 4 must-dos after a divorce when it is possible and safe to do so.

This article was originally published in the Chattanooga Times Free Press on June 7, 2019.