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“Why am I so bad at this?” 

“I don’t know if I can do this.” 

“Why don’t I feel that overwhelming loving feeling toward her? Is there something wrong with me?”

These are the thoughts that raced through my mind as I was sobbing at 2 a.m., trying to rock my 4-week-old baby girl back to sleep.

I’ve always wanted to be a mom. As a kid, if you had asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up, I would have answered, “a mom.” In friend groups, I’ve always been the “mom” to everyone. When I thought about motherhood, I felt totally confident and prepared to become a mother. 

But the day she was born, all those things I thought would come naturally never came. And even now, 3 months into it, I’m still struggling with those late-night thoughts.

Let me clarify something before you get any further — I’m not here to give you any advice. I can’t share a list of steps to help you out of these feelings because I’m still in it myself. And I don’t have it figured out (not even close), but I can offer you this: You’re not alone. I see you. 

And I see you questioning yourself and your baby, wondering if you’ll make it through this in one piece, struggling to understand how different motherhood is than how you thought it would be. And I’ve realized, for me at least, that these feelings aren’t just rooted in sadness or sleep deprivation, but grief.

Grieving What Used to Be and Accepting the New

After my husband, my daughter, and I survived those first 3 weeks of postpartum and the fog *somewhat* lifted, I had this unshakeable feeling that the Caroline I had known 3 weeks earlier was gone. The super type-A, confident, reliable person I had been was just upheaved, and a new life — a new person — had just begun. And while I was told to enjoy it, to celebrate having “mother” as my number one descriptor, and to lean into this person I was becoming, I couldn’t do it. I liked the person I used to be and the life I had before motherhood. I didn’t want anything to change. But it had to.

I’ve grieved things as they used to be. I can no longer be on-call for everyone’s every need. I can’t go out with friends at the drop of a hat. No more snuggling on the couch every night with my husband and our dog. Heck, even the clothes I wore no longer fit, and they probably never will. Now, everything revolves around a feeding and sleeping schedule. I have to look for childcare, turn down calls and visits, and set firm boundaries with friends and family. 

Maybe you’ve changed careers, or maybe you’ve given up your job to stay home with your baby. And maybe you’ve felt ostracized by family and friends because of this transition into motherhood. Regardless of what your life as a mom looks like, we all have to mourn the life we had before our little ones came into our lives. For good and not so good, things will never be the same.

Grieving Who I Thought I Would Be

There is this second aspect of grief that has taken me nearly 3 months to understand. It’s this feeling that I’m not the kind of mom I always thought I would be. My whole life, I envisioned this fun, adventurous mom dancing in the kitchen with her kids. But when my daughter was born and struggled to eat and refused to sleep, I thought I would lose my mind. That vision of the energetic mom quickly disappeared, and what felt like a shell of a person took her place.

For over two months, there was rarely a day without a breakdown from me, my husband, and our baby. It has been hard to bond with and love on my daughter and nearly impossible to feel close to my husband. At times I’ve felt like I just can’t do it anymore.

*I want to take a second here to say something that needs to be said. Since the very beginning, I’ve been in conversations with my doctor to monitor Postpartum Depression and Postpartum Anxiety symptoms. Since 1 in 7 women experience PPD, I was very aware that this was a possibility for me. It is always a good idea to talk to your doctor if you’re experiencing symptoms or have any concerns. For more resources on Postpartum Mental Health, check out: Postpartum Support International. You can also call the PSI Helpline at 1-800-944-4773 (#1 En Español or #2 English) or TEXT: 503-894-9453 (English) or 971-420-0294 (Español).*

I’ve felt stuck in a never-ending cycle of trying to force myself into who I am “supposed to be,” then breaking down when that pressure is too much for me to handle. After the first 10 weeks of this, I gave up. I stopped trying to force that image on myself and started trying to accept the mother I am right now. This doesn’t mean I can’t learn and grow as my baby girl learns and grows — that will always be my goal. 

But I want you to hear this: It’s ok to rest in who you are right now. Take the pressure off yourself to be the mom you feel like you’re supposed to be. Ignore the people who tell you to enjoy every moment, because not every moment is enjoyable. If no one else has, I want to tell you that it’s ok to need a break, to ask for help before you get desperate, and to be honest when people ask, “Don’t you just love being a mom??”

I know it gets better. But until it does, I don’t want to pretend that I’m loving this stage. People give new moms an unrealistic expectation to immediately bond with their baby, to be joyful about the many challenges of motherhood, and to appreciate all the fleeting stages their child will go through. 

But what happens when none of that feels possible? Most new moms are left to wonder if there’s something wrong with them. But I firmly believe that these feelings of grief are ok to process through. I’m content with where I am right now. But I’m also looking forward to growing into the mother I know I can be. And I’m ready to take this journey one baby step at a time.

Other Resources:

What They Don’t Tell You About Postpartum Depression

6 Ways A Husband Can Support His Wife Through Postpartum Depression

How To Feel Confident As A New Mom

Teens experienced a lot of stress during the first round of the COVID-19 pandemic. They switched to virtual learning. They were isolated from friends. Sports got canceled. Celebrations were delayed or just didn’t happen. All these things had a significant impact.1 We thought it would all be over by now. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again. And it looks like it is all on the verge of happening again.

After COVID seemed to come to an end, many teens started experiencing symptoms of what scientists and doctors are calling “post-pandemic anxiety syndrome.” Yep, it’s a thing.

This syndrome is marked by an overwhelming sense of worry during this post-pandemic/repeat period. For some, the anxiety may stem from a lingering uncertainty about safety. Is the virus still a threat? Are we sure I can take this mask off? Am I still in danger? Should I put the mask back on?

For others, the cause of anxiety seems to be a product of flip-flop thinking. We know that our brains can train themselves to think in a certain way.2 Your teen has had over a year to adjust to new and sudden precautions, rules of social distancing, and risk management during extreme uncertainty. 

As if that’s not stressful enough, now we’re experiencing an almost equally instantaneous shift back to pre-pandemic life while there’s so much uncertainty about the variants. Take off the masks, go back to the ball fields, get ready for school. Some teens are celebrating. But for many, the anxiety increases.3

If your teen is showing some signs of post-pandemic anxiety, you can help them. Try these strategies to help them deal with what they may be experiencing. 

1. Keep the dialogue open.

Be open to your teen voicing their worries, fears, and stress to you. Let them know you’re a safe place for them to express their thoughts and feelings without judgment. Avoid pushing the issue if they don’t want to share, but keep that open door in their sights. If they know you are in their corner, it makes a difference. 

2. Normalize their feelings.

Your teen may feel weird or abnormal because of their anxiety. They might think that no one could possibly understand what they’re feeling. Reassure them that our whole world has been through a lot, and those anxious feelings are normal. There’s nothing wrong with them; they’re not “less than” because of their worry. Remind them that it’s how we go about coping with anxiety that is important. 

3. Coach them to get plenty of sleep.

In general, teens typically get less sleep than they need for proper health and development. But a healthy amount of rest is vital for coping with anxiety. Evidence is strong that sleep deprivation negatively affects mental health.4 The CDC recommends 13 to 18-year-olds should get 8-10 hours of sleep a night for optimal health.5 Encourage your teen to hit the hay at a decent hour so they can take care of themselves.

4. Avoid making your own diagnosis.

You’re worried about your kid, and that’s completely understandable. You can see signs and symptoms of anxiety or stress. But professionals are trained to translate these signs into what precisely the problem is — not us. You want to be careful not to jump to “anxiety disorders,” “depression,” or other conditions in a knee-jerk reaction, especially to your teen. They can easily feel labeled. They may also interpret the label as an identity that can’t be fixed (e.g., I have an anxiety disorder; it’s who I am). This is obviously detrimental to how they feel about themselves, and it can magnify the troublesome feelings they are having. 

5. Consider getting help from a professional counselor.

If the signs you see are persistent or worsen, it might indicate that you need to seek a therapist for your teen. Keep in mind that it might not be a popular choice in your teen’s eyes. But often, intense feelings of anxiety and worry are so much that we need more advanced tools to cope with them. That’s where a counselor is beneficial.

One last thought from one parent of a teen to another:

There is always hope in conquering mental health challenges. Anxiety is manageable. And your teen stands the greatest chance of overcoming post-pandemic anxiety when they know you’re cheering them on. 

Sources:

1Freed GL, Singer DC, Gebremariam A, Schultz SL, Clark SJ. How the pandemic has impacted teen mental health. C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health, University of Michigan. Vol 38, Issue 2, March 2021. Available at: https://mottpoll.org/reports/how-pandemic-has-impacted-teen-mental-health.

2Berg, S. (2021, June 11). What doctors wish patients knew about post-COVID anxiety. American Medical Association. https://www.ama-assn.org/delivering-care/public-health/what-doctors-wish-patients-knew-about-post-covid-anxiety 

3Hunter, R. G., & McEwen, B. S. (2013). Stress and anxiety across the lifespan: structural plasticity and epigenetic regulation. Epigenomics, 5(2), 177–194. https://doi.org/10.2217/epi.13.8

4Talbot, L. S., McGlinchey, E. L., Kaplan, K. A., Dahl, R. E., & Harvey, A. G. (2010). Sleep Deprivation in Adolescents and Adults: Changes in Affect. Emotion (Washington, D.C.), 10(6), 831–841. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0020138 

5Sleep in middle and high school students. (2020, September 10). Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved from https://www.cdc.gov/healthyschools/features/students-sleep.htm 

Seven Things Your Toddler Wishes You Knew (Plus a Bonus)

Knowing these things can make a HUGE difference in your parenting.

Parenting toddlers* can test your courage as a parent, adult, and otherwise mannerly person. As the parent of 5 retired toddlers, a current toddler, and an aspiring toddler, I’ve been tested quite a bit, and I’ve struggled. But, as billions of parents and I have learned, toddlers somehow make it to preschool age, sometimes despite their parents, which is comforting to know. In order to make it past that toddler stage, current and future parents of toddlers might want to know a few things.

Here are seven things your toddler wishes you knew:

1. I like screens, but I like you more. 

Screens are colorful and lively. They move and make funny noises. What’s not to like? Programmers are good at designing screens to make me happy, but they can’t make me happy like you can. I’d prefer you and the screens together. In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says it’s best to look at screens with me so you can help me understand what I’m seeing. Believe it or not, I’d pick you over the screens any day. 

2. I like being with you, but one day I’ll wish you had given me unstructured playtime without you and the screens. 

The AAP says that toddlers need unstructured time alone. Entertaining myself with blocks, dollhouses, and funny gadgets helps me grow and develop. Sometimes I need you to show me how and then step back. I’ll be better for it.

3. Emotionally and mentally, I’m a toddler. 

I may talk a lot and say clever things, but I don’t know the language or possess wisdom like you do. When I yell “No!” 40 times, throw a tantrum, or act jealous when you hold another kid, remember, I’m a toddler. I may even spew out hurtful phrases like, “I hate you.” “I wish you weren’t my parent.” “You’re ugly.” 

Hear me. I’m frustrated. I’m experiencing these crazy emotions. I have no idea how to get what I want. As a baby, all I had to do was cry. Now I have words, but I don’t know how to use the millions of words out there to express myself. So it’s “by any means necessary” until you teach me and hold me accountable. Even then, it may take some time. 

It’s not OK for me to say hurtful things, but it’s a normal part of my development. Please help me to learn the right boundaries and show me some empathy. When you try to help me understand instead of getting equally frustrated, it teaches me how to express my emotions. You may not be able to stop the tantrums, but I need you to teach me through them. 

4. I know I’m cute. I’ll use it to my advantage if you let me. 

Please don’t let me use that to control the house. Boundaries are necessary for me. It isn’t cute when I hit someone, talk disrespectfully, and abuse my siblings or their things. I may not be able to speak well, but I can understand what you’re saying. Please don’t let me get in the habit of using my cuteness to be mean. 

5. I know I just said I’m a toddler. I’m also a person, and I have something to give. 

The quicker you give me things I can do to help the family, the less likely I’ll feel entitled. I can help you take spoons out of the dishwasher, pick up toys, and take clothes out of dryers. All this stuff has to be done, and I can do it. That way, you can do the stuff that only adults can do. Everybody wins. I don’t want you to do everything for me, only what you have to do. I can understand more than most adults think I can. Harvard researchers say that having responsibilities will help me be a more caring person

6. Stability and consistency help me settle into this world. 

I’m seeing so many new things, and I don’t know how to act sometimes. Predictability at home helps me not be anxious all the time. You may not realize it, but the routines of eating dinner together and talking about the good and bad in my life, reading a book to me at night, or just knowing you’ll hug me when I’m hurt helps build trust and security.

7. I don’t need a perfect parent. I need a present parent. 

You’re gonna make some mistakes with me. Who wouldn’t? I’m a lot to handle. Just because I yell out a cuss word at church that I heard you say when you were upset doesn’t mean I’ll grow up and be unruly. Not everything I do is about you. And even if it were, who cares what everyone else thinks? I’m not worried about what other parents say about their kids on social media. That’s their life. They aren’t telling the whole story anyway. 

I think the world of you. Even when I test the limits and yell something crazy, you’re the one I want to roll with, mistakes and all. Please don’t be scared — it’s harder to ruin my life than you think. 

Bonus: I love you. 

You don’t have to prove that you love me; I know you do. That’s why I keep looking back to see if you’re there when I’m testing my independence.

Your presence, consistency, and care mean more to me than your perfection, knowledge, and skill as a parent. If I say you’re mean, remember, I’m 3. What do I know? My world centers around me. I’m closer to being an infant than I am to having a fully developed mind. The tests we go through together will make us stronger. Just stick with me, and don’t stop showing me the right way. I’ll grow, develop, and mature in due time. 

*The CDC considers toddlers to be ages 1-3. Ages 4 & 5 are considered preschoolers.

Note: This message is veteran-tested and toddler approved.

Other helpful blogs:

How a Parent’s Emotions Can Affect Their Child

How to Help Children Handle Their Emotions

6 Fun Ways to Strengthen Your Relationship with Your Toddler

How To Handle Public Toddler Temper Tantrums

5 Ways Kids Can Affect Your Marriage (& What to Do About It)

Reduce the stress and increase your connection with these tips.

Me: “Ok, what’s on the calendar this week?” 

My wife: “We have two baseball games. I have to work late Tuesday. You have a PTA meeting Wednesday morning. Our friends invited us to dinner on Friday.”

Me: “Ok, I have four runs scheduled. I forgot I have a dentist’s appointment on Tuesday afternoon. I’ll move that so I can pick up the kids. Oh yeah, don’t forget we have a tournament this weekend.”

We look at each other. “Do you remember life before kids? What happened?”

Does this conversation sound familiar?

Being a parent is amazing, but it’s tough. Life changes with kids, and each stage of parenting brings new challenges. There’s a lot to balance. 

Let’s be real: kids affect your marriage. Here are a few common ways and what to do about it:

1. Self-care often takes a backseat for parents.

Self-care, what’s that? Both of my elementary-age kids have schedules, activities, homework, projects, and social lives. (Wait, when did their social lives replace mine?) It can be hard to carve out alone time, but you need it, and so does your marriage. 

So, what can I do about it? Schedule self-care just like you schedule everything else. Don’t just wait for time to run, go to the gym, do yoga, or whatever activity you prefer. Make sure your partner schedules it, too. You’re a team, and team members need to be healthy (mentally, physically, and emotionally) for the relationship to be healthy. 

2. You may disagree about parenting styles.

My wife doesn’t parent as I do, and it’s frustrating at times. Ever been there? It happens. We all enter marriage with a belief system about how to parent, and it’s often based on how we were parented. Couples talk about if they want to have kids, how many, and when. But they don’t talk about how to parent. And that can lead to frustration.

So, what can I do about it? It starts with communication. If you aren’t on the same page about parenting, talk about it and try to come to a resolution. Express what you both believe and why. Don’t accuse; instead, work toward compromise. If you both want what’s best for your child, you’ll find a solution together.

3. Date night can get put on the back burner.

Dating is crucial to a healthy marriage, and kids can affect your ability to do that. Before kids, there may have been elaborate date nights, expensive dinners, flowers, and gifts. Now, you don’t feel like there’s time to think about dating. And what do you do with the kids? You don’t have the time to not have a date night, because they keep you connected and pursuing each other. Date nights just may look different. 

So, what can I do about it? Set realistic expectations. Date nights may not be what they once were, but they can be memorable. Prioritize date nights and put them on the calendar. Try once a month and then progress to once every other week. Dream big: Make your goal once a week. Your marriage (and your kids) will thank you.

4. Your sex life may change.

Early on in parenting, your sex life often takes a backseat because babies make life interesting. But you’d expect it to bounce back once you’re past the toddler years. For many, it does, but it isn’t always consistent. And kids always find a way to interrupt. Sex can become just another item on the to-do list, and that’s no fun. Being intimate with your partner is a worthwhile priority for your marriage. 

So, what can I do about it? If you don’t want to sacrifice physical intimacy due to exhaustion, busyness, or stress, schedule sex. Yep, have an honest conversation about your sex life. Agree on how often and when. Plan how to handle potential interruptions. Scheduled sex may seem boring, but it creates anticipation and excitement.

5. Marriage satisfaction may decrease…

Kids and all the issues I mentioned above can affect your marriage by adding stress to your marriage. When stress mounts in your relationship, satisfaction decreases. You’re not alone in feeling this way. Research published in the Journal of Marriage and Family found that many parents with kids experience reduced satisfaction, too. 

So, what can I do about it? Here are a few ideas:

  • Have social support—parents, friends, family, and neighbors. Get help when you need it.
  • Practice self-care. Make sure you’re getting sleep, eating well, exercising, and pursuing hobbies.
  • Find and maintain balance. Balance work with play, your needs with your kids’ and partner’s needs, and time.
  • Focus on your mindset—practice gratitude and positivity. Have fun and be patient.

Yes, being a parent is challenging, but it’s so rewarding. Enjoy it, make memories, and don’t sweat the small stuff. Be intentional about having a healthy marriage, because it’s the best thing for you and your kids. 

Other helpful blogs and resources: 

Are You Setting a Good Example of Self-Care for Your Family?

My Spouse and I Disagree About Parenting

How to Have More Sex in Marriage

DOWNLOAD: 30 Days of Gratitude and Love

How to Parent a Strong-Willed Child

Help your strong-willed child grow into the natural-born leader that they are.

My wife and I are blessed with two strong-willed children. I don’t say blessed lightly or sarcastically. While parenting strong-willed kids is challenging (Parenting, in general, is challenging, am I right?), I’m excited for what the future holds.

So, what makes a child strong-willed anyway?

Don’t all kids strive for independence and push boundaries? Don’t all kids test how far they can push their parents to get what they want? Yes, this is a normal part of childhood. All kids test boundaries to see how far they can go. It’s how they discover safety and security. Strong-willed kids just exhibit these traits more consistently. This doesn’t mean they are “bad kids.” They’re just determined to do things their way. 

Strong-willed kids are passionate and courageous. They’re natural-born leaders. They desire to learn on their own terms, questioning what they’re told. They test limits, want to be in charge, prize independence, and live life with the gas pedal to the floor. 

As parents of strong-willed children, we have to balance parenting without breaking their will. I want my children to be successful, independent adults who care about and positively influence others. My job is to help prepare them for that future and to give them the environment to grow into who they’re meant to be.

Here are 5 ways to strengthen your relationship with your strong-willed child:

1. Help them learn through experience.

Strong-willed kids want to learn on their own terms, not just from our experiences. They want to experience it for themselves. Let your child explore what they like. Let them push beyond what they think they can do. Encourage them along the way. With two strong-willed kids, I’ve learned that failure isn’t the end. It’s just a stepping stone to understanding what works.

2. Offer explanations as to why.

My daughter’s teacher looked at us the other day and said, “I’ve realized I can’t just tell your daughter not to go beyond the playground fence. I have to tell her the fence is there to keep her from getting hit by a car.” Saying “Because I said so” doesn’t suffice for a strong-willed child. They want answers and reasons. Knowing this, you can offer an explanation before they ever ask why. Slowing down and explaining the why behind decisions can help you avoid power struggles.

3. Stick to your word.

It’s crucial to do what you say you’ll do. My son may forget much of what we tell him, but he never forgets what we say we’ll do. To be honest, we’ve become wise with our choice of words. We don’t offer too many specifics because we aren’t the type of people who stick to specifics. We are more free-spirited when it comes to plans. He’s not. He wants the details, and he will hold you to those details. And if I don’t do what I said I would do, he’s crushed. To help your strong-willed child, be sure to follow through on what you say. If something derails your plans, explain what happened and how you can handle it together.

4. Offer choices.

Remember, strong-willed kids desire to be in control. This means when we want something done, and we only offer one choice, they’ll push back. It’s their nature. They aren’t necessarily being defiant. So, the best thing to do is present two choices. If cleaning their room feels like a power struggle, present some options. You can clean your room now, or you can play for 30 minutes and then clean your room. Either way, the room must be cleaned. They can choose the timeframe. When possible, offer your child choices so they have a say in the decision-making process.

5. Listen to them.

Strong-willed kids have desires, thoughts, and knowledge they want to share. You, as the parent, may well know best, but they have opinions and beliefs they feel strongly about. Ask your child for their input. Get their views on a family decision. Including their ideas and opinions in family discussions makes them feel valued and heard.

Parenting a strong-willed child may require constant adjustment. Take the time to learn about your child’s needs. You have the opportunity to help your strong-willed child grow into the natural-born leader that they are. 

Other helpful blogs:

I Feel Like I’m In A Constant Power Struggle With My Child!

6 Ways Your Child Will Know You Love Them

My Kids Are Driving Me Crazy: 30 Tips to Stay Sane

How To Identify Your Child’s Strengths

How To Encourage Your Child’s Strengths

“NO!” Do you remember how you felt the first time your child dead-eyed defied you? As a parent of very strong-willed sons, I remember the first time my oldest said, “NO!” when I asked him to pick up his toys in the living room. I was so taken aback I said to myself, “I must have misheard him.” I repeated, “Please pick up your toys.” He matter-of-factly repeated, “NO.” 

As a parent, I had just entered the Wild West. Gone was my compliant, sweet child. He was replaced with this toddler-gunslinger who shot down everything I said. 

How do I make sure I keep my sheriff’s badge during a power struggle with my child?

Remember, you are in charge.

As a parent, you have the authority in your home. You wear the badge. Remember, you also have the life experience and emotional control that your child doesn’t have. Engaging in a “power struggle” with a child gives the power to the one who can least handle it. To remain in charge, you have to keep your cool. Take a few deep breaths and relax that trigger finger. 

No one knows how to push your buttons like your child. It may feel like they are trying to wrestle control from you. (And they are.) But they are also trying to become their own little person. This is an ongoing and sometimes painfully frustrating process, but keep in mind, you are laying the foundation for those tween and teen years when the stakes are much higher. 

Choose your battles wisely.

Everything is not a big deal. Stop. Say that with me. Everything is not a big deal. Keeping your child safe and healthy as they grow is the priority. Worrying that their clothes are not color-coordinated is just wasted worry. A friend of mine created stickers that said, “She dressed herself.” She placed them on her child’s back so she wouldn’t feel judged as a terrible parent whose child didn’t have on a matching outfit. (But why are we even worrying about what other parents think about us?) Ask yourself, “Is my child safe, healthy, and happy? Then, is this the hill I want to die on?

Give your child choices.

The non-negotiable might be getting dressed, but you can say, “Would you like to wear this outfit or this one?” You just shifted the issue from “getting dressed vs. staying in jammies” to “this outfit vs. this outfit.” Your child gets to exert their little will, but only within the options you gave them. 

As your child grows, they are trying to figure out who they are. Allow them to make age-appropriate choices and decisions. You end up with a win-win situation. Your child feels empowered, and the job gets done with little to no conflict. You’re running this town, but the on-the-job stress is manageable.

Be specific and make it fun!

You have to be specific when giving your child a task. They might not be ready to process, “Clean your room.” Break the job down into smaller tasks. Pick up all your books and place them on your bookshelf and report back to me when you’re done. Make chores a game when you can. Use a hula-hoop and place it on their floor; then grab a kitchen timer. Let’s see how fast you can put away everything in the hoop! Then move the hoop to another section of their floor. Can you beat your last time? You no longer have a power struggle with your child. Instead, you have created a fun game!

Don’t be afraid to deputize the universe.

You read that right. Use natural and logical consequences with your child. Let the universe do the heavy lifting. Consider the following:

Parent: Hey, it’s chilly out. You might want to put a hat on.

Child: No, it’ll mess up my hair. I don’t want to.

Parent: Okay, that’s your choice.

✦ Now, one of two things is gonna happen, but neither involves a power struggle with your child. Either your child will be chilly and will want a hat next time, or your child will be completely comfortable without a cap. Either way, you get to sit back and watch your child interact with the universe and learn a life lesson. You avoided conflict with your child. You were the guide to the side, letting your child learn about choices and consequences while the stakes were small.

This “growing-up” process for your child may feel like a roller coaster for you. The ups, downs, and loopty-loops can take your breath away and stress you out. That badge is a privilege and a responsibility. If you are upset and yelling—you’re losing. As the parent, you are the law in these here parts.

Adults are working from home. Students are learning from home. We’re Zooming and following IG stories to keep up with our friends and family. We have become more reliant on technology to earn a living, get an education, and stay connected to loved ones than ever before. 

Even in the midst of our dependence on WiFi, apps, smartphones, and social media, we look around at our family from time to time and say, “We’re texting each other from the next room. If we don’t get control of all this screen time, our family isn’t going to know each other.”

There are studies linking technology to mental health problems like loneliness, anxiety, and depression. People are suffering from issues such as video game addictions. Divorce filings are citing inappropriate online behavior as factors leading to marital collapse. 

Technology is often dictating how we spend our time instead of the other way around. As parents, part of wrestling control away from the screens working on releasing as many dopamine squirts in your brain to get you hooked means setting boundaries with your family.

Here are eight tips for setting boundaries in your family so technology can increase family togetherness and not cause a disconnect.

Set boundaries so technology serves a positive purpose in your family.

Technology can educate, connect, and entertain us in healthy ways. Boundaries help ensure that technology doesn’t take away from any of those positive things. Make sure a screen is never the only source for educating, connecting, and entertaining.

Be a good role model.

Boundaries can’t be one-sided. “Do as I say and not as I do” doesn’t work. Yes, there are some perks to being an adult; being a technology-distracted parent isn’t one of them. Telling your kids not to bring phones to the dinner table while you sit at the dinner table and text is not a good plan. As a leader in your home, you must first lead by example

Protect your family.

Setting technology boundaries helps protect your family’s connection, safety, and both mental and physical health. Whether it’s cyberbullying or anxiety, establishing boundaries can work to safeguard your family’s wellbeing.

Make a plan.

Create a family technology plan which includes the purpose, boundaries, and consequences. Enforce consequences unapologetically. This can be as simple as taking away their game controllers or reducing their allotted tech-time.

Incentivize technological responsibility.

Encourage your family to make good decisions through rewards that are meaningful. Trips to the ice cream shop, extra tech-time on the weekend, choosing the movie on family movie night—anything that brings attention to good decision-making regarding technology usage reinforces the behavior you want to see. 

Designate tech-free time.

When possible, replace tech-time with family time. Make space for family movies, game nights, and family meals. Setting aside time before bedtime, when devices are off, will help the family connect and increase everyone’s chances of getting a good night’s sleep.

Don’t compare.

Focus on what’s best for your family. Don’t compare yourself to other families. No two homes are alike. It’s one thing to seek advice from other families, but keep your family values front and center.

Educate your family.

Invite your children to learn what you’re learning about the pros and cons of technology. Our family has watched documentaries, television specials and read information together. Being informed has helped our family understand the potential effects of technology on our mental health, relationships, and even our brains. This helps us hold each other accountable and helps us stay focused on the most important thing—our relationships.

Boundaries don’t have to be restrictive. Good boundaries will help your family enjoy relationships with each other by protecting you from potential distractions. Setting boundaries in your family is your way of putting technology in its place. Gadgets are not more important than your relationships with the people you love. Messing with those relationships is a boundary that you can’t give technology the freedom to cross.

I woke up late because I forgot to set my alarm, so I hurried to the shower and got dressed. Then I rushed to my son’s room to get him up and ready for the day. On my way to the room, I’m  greeted by a BIG smile and my son saying, “MOMMY, look! I helped you. I got dressed and ‘made’ my breakfast.” He was dressed like a bag of skittles. He had on a purple shirt, lime green shorts, red socks and his blue shoes. Breakfast consisted of a peanut butter and jelly sandwich with a glass of milk. Actually, only half of the peanut butter and jelly made it to the bread. The other was spread on the table, and none of the milk made the glass. It was in a puddle in the middle of the kitchen. 

I was experiencing a variety of emotions including feeling stressed, bothered, frustrated and angry.

My son watched what was going on on my face and waited for my response. What could I say or do? I could yell out of frustration and anger. Or say, “YOU made such a MESS! I don’t have time to clean this up. We are GONNA be late! What are you WEARING?” Or,  I could laugh, open my arms, and say, “OMG! Thank you for helping Mommy this morning. I was running behind. I appreciate you dressing yourself and eating your breakfast.”

No matter the response I chose, one thing is for sure: my response will have an impact on my child.

Here’s 3 ways your emotions can affect your child:

1. The way you behave when you experience an emotion teaches your child about that emotion and how to respond to it.

Emotions are not good or bad; it’s what you do with the emotion that will be either positive or negative. Your child needs to see you express a variety of emotions from anger, sadness, stress, anxiety, joy, elation, frustration, disappointment, pride, boredom, tired, scared, and nervous.  

2. Your child is watching to see what you do or how you react to a given situation.

There may be times when you struggle with a work assignment, and you feel frustrated and annoyed. Saying to your child, “Mommy had a HARD DAY at work and I need you to complete your homework or chores the first time that I ask you.” You are modeling for your child that having a bad part of the day doesn’t have to ruin the whole day. 

3. Children recognize fake and faux emotions.

If you’re actually sad, but try to fake happiness for the sake of your child, you’re doing them a disservice. Because your child can see that you’re sad, they may actually believe that it is because of them you are SAD. As you experience emotions, have an age-appropriate conversation with them. You are teaching them how to deal with emotions which is a skill that has long-lasting effects.

If you have younger children, they are not immune to the effect of your emotions. They are often unable to verbalize their negative feelings so they display them by acting out. They may revert to a younger stage like sucking their thumb or having bathroom accidents. You may also notice them not wanting you out of their sight or being extremely weepy. 

As a child, you may have learned lessons from Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood.

These are a few poignant words he has to say about feelings. “There’s no ‘should’ or ‘should not’ when it comes to having feelings. They’re part of who we are and their origins are beyond our control. When we can believe that, we may find it easier to make constructive choices about what to do with those feelings.” 

As a parent, you have the opportunity to teach your children that having a variety of emotions is normal and natural. How you either react or respond is the lesson they learn. Because your child has been watching you over time, it may be a shock how accurate they are in interpreting your emotions. Whether you are happy, excited, angry, or frustrated, your child is aware.  Your increased awareness of that fact helps to create a calm, peaceful and stress free environment for them to grow and develop.

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