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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.

Short answer: Show affection as much as you can. 

Often, we use the words “affection” and “love” interchangeably. While understandable, and they can certainly overlap, I’m going to make a distinction between love and affection. Affection is adoration, fondness, liking someone. So our question would change to: 

How much should I show my child that I adore them, I am fond of them and that I like them? 

See the difference that makes?

Or let me put it this way—a baby doesn’t understand the self-sacrificial love that you have for them deep in your heart, but just holding them and cuddling demonstrates affection. And they pick up on it. And it has long-term developmental consequences.

Or how about this? How would a teen receive an “I love you” if there was never any affection shown toward them? Those words would be meaningless.

Showing your child affection communicates security, belonging, acceptance, and that they are liked.

Sometimes as parents we stumble over the simplicity and the importance of showing affection. I hope my kids know and trust that I love them, but I also hope they know that I really like and enjoy them, too.

I have five kids. As babies, they were all held, snuggled, and rocked. There is no better feeling in the world than having one of my little babies asleep on my chest. My youngest is now 14. He was my only “snuggly” little one. 

Wow. Things are a lot different now. Showing affection evolves at different ages and stages as our kids grow up. My 14-year-old son doesn’t want to be “snuggled” and he definitely isn’t going to fall asleep on my chest. (Even hugs, if his friends are around, are kinda iffy.) But he appreciates a pat on the back after he mowed the yard or a hand on his shoulder if we are waiting in line. He really loves hearing that I noticed the heel-kick he did in a soccer game.

Each of my five children is a unique individual. Even when they were little, each had their own personality. One of the first parenting lessons I learned was that what one child needed in terms of affection from me was different from another child. I also learned that the ways I showed affection to them that seemed meaningful to me and came naturally to me did not necessarily translate into affection from my kids’ point of view, so I had to learn what they needed.

I had to spend time with each of them and learn about their individual hearts.

Some of the things I learned over time that have helped me figure out the best ways to express affection to my kids are:

Pay close attention to what they ask of you.

This can provide insights into how they receive affection. Do they ask:

  • You to come and play with them? Quality Time.
  • If you think the picture they drew is pretty? Affirmation.
  • If you can help with their hair? Touch.

Pay close attention to how they express affection to you.

This also provides insight into their heart and what means affection to them. Do they:

  • Want to sit in your lap and give you hugs?
  • Like to make things for you like drawing you a picture or bring you things like a dandelion? 
  • Tell you they like hanging out with you while you work on the car? 

★  Spend Time With Them.

  • Learn their “affection language.” When my daughter was about 5, I took her to a movie and put my arm on the back of her seat. She immediately asked me to move my arm. Point noted!
  • Let them set the agenda for what you do together. Get on the floor and play with their toys together. Watch them play video games. If you are present and engaged, you are saying you like them and like spending time with them. (Put your phone away.)
  • Take them with you to run errands or hang out with you while you’re working on stuff. Show that you just enjoy their company. Lots of bonding happens organically just being together.
  • Notice and express gratitude for the little things they do. Don’t reserve praise for big things. “Thanks for telling me a little about your day.” “I appreciate you helping bring the groceries in.” This communicates that you notice and like them.

Spend time with your child and become a student of their heart. Tell them that you love them but also tell them that you like them, you enjoy spending time with them, how proud you are of them, and that you believe in them. This all translates to affection to your child.

Many kids today don’t think their parents even like them, let alone love them. You are communicating how you feel about your kids all the time. And they are watching.

Staying calm in the face of a screaming or irrational child having a tantrum is no easy task. (Especially if it is in public or around friends & family. You feel like everyone is watching and judging. And they probably are. You just gotta get over that. It’s hard.) Let’s start with you.

We often find it hard to handle our emotions when our children have meltdowns. That often gives them power over us.

★ I’m gonna say one kinda harsh but true thing, give you a parenting principle that kept us sane, and then list a bunch of practical tips to help you hold on to your sanity.

The Kinda Harsh Thing

Your kids aren’t driving you crazy, you are. Don’t take offense. Someone had to tell me that same thing and it was a game changer for my wife and I. At one point we had 4 kids 5 and under. I get it. But kids are just busy being kids with their little kids’ brains. We have to be the adults. Sometimes kids act out to get our attention or affection, but sometimes they are feeling things they aren’t equipped to process. Sometimes they are just tired. You “lose it” or are driven “crazy” only as much as you allow. Let that sink in.

Here’s a little something about your (fully developed) parent brain. When you are stressed to the max, totally about to lose it, and highly emotionally triggered, your prefrontal cortex, the part of your brain that does all the higher-order important brain stuff– like logic, predicting outcomes of words and actions, decision-making, impulse control, focusing your attention, processing feelings of empathy, compassion, shame, and guilt –that part of the brain gets “flooded” with the same stress hormones that put us into “fight or flight” mode. 

At this point, your nervous system has kicked in and you are no longer the “normal” you. To your body, it’s the same as being charged by a bear. You will not think, act, or speak, like the “normal” you. It’s not your best self, it’s your biology. This is the “driving me crazy” feeling that you feel. Under stress, we regress. We either shut down or lash out. (Sometimes at our kids, sadly.) You will accomplish little to no parenting good in this state and you may do harm.

Parents need to recognize when they are being “flooded” and call a “Time-Out.” This might mean asking your partner to step in. This might mean getting the kids into the car and just going home. This might mean asking your kids to go sit on their beds. It takes about 20 minutes for our brain to recover from flooding. During this time, do what soothes you and calms you down.

Now think of a 4-year-old brain. They are not even close to fully developed. They can be flooded just by saying “no” to a piece of candy in the check-out line or simply being tired. When they are flooded, they throw tantrums, melt down, and act out. They need time for the floodwaters to recede from their little brains, too. Sometimes they can’t calm themselves down or soothe themselves. You might have to take an active part in that. That doesn’t mean condoning misbehavior. You can address it later after they have calmed down. It means they are not going to learn any “lesson” while flooded.

We have to be the adult, the grown-up, the parent, the one with a fully-developed brain.

The One Parenting Principle That Helped Us Keep Our Sanity

Kids need routines, rituals, structure, and boundaries.  This makes their young lives predictable, secure, and safe but it also provides them with the freedom to be kids. Oh, and these things can also help mom and dad to stay sane. It might take a little work upfront, but it will save you from so many tantrums, meltdowns, plus lots of time in the long run. You need a morning routine and a bedtime routine for sure, minimum. Post them at your kids’ eye-level. Use pictures if they can’t read yet. A structured day is a less stressful day.

Practical Tips! 

(Whether these are helpful may depend on you and your kids’ ages & maturity levels.)

  • Separate the child and the behavior. Be careful how you say things.
  • Sometimes kids need to go outside and burn off energy.
  • The Art of Redirection: “Instead of jumpin’ off the deck, why don’t you see who can run around the house the fastest?” (Notice: You didn’t say, “Don’t jump off the deck!”)
  • Sometimes we had to pretend we were watching other people’s kids. Seriously.
  • Enforce Quiet Time—Even if they’ve outgrown naps. Kids can sit on their bed and read or play for 30 minutes quietly (maybe longer) while you catch a breather.
  • Include them in what you are doing—cleaning, cooking, etc. Give them a little job to do.
  • Rotate toys. We would pack up some of their toys and put them in the attic. Less clutter, and when you bring those toys back, it’s like Christmas. Rotate out some other toys.
  • Read to them. Seriously, this should be a top priority at any age.
  • Try to do something new every week or so—puppet show, art exhibition, dance-off.
  • Have one of their friends over. (Take turns with another parent.) 1 Kid + 1 Friend = 0 Kids. I don’t know how that math works, but it does.
  • Take advantage of reading days at the library or bookstores or a “Parent’s Night Out” at your church or YMCA. [When things open back up.]
  • Get up before they do and you are ahead of the game. Don’t play “catch-up” all day. Have your own morning and bedtime routines. Take care of yourself.
  • Structured playtime— “It’s 1:30! That’s Lego Time!” Unstructured playtime—“It’s 1:30! Time to play whatever you want in your room!” (Or outside, if that is a safe option.)
  • Teach kids not to tattle-tale on each other and learn to work out their own differences. (Tattle-tales got in trouble at our house unless there was blood involved.)
  • Have some “special things” they don’t always have access to. Then when you break it out, it is an INCENTIVE & EVENT. “Play-Doh! Just after we clean up lunch!
  • Break bigger tasks down into smaller tasks—“Clean your room” = “Put the books back on the bookshelf, then report back!” “Okay, now put your stuffed animals up.” And so on.
  • We learned that each of our kids had what we called “Pressure Points.” Learn them. One child hated standing in the corner for “Time-Out.” Another kid loved it, but hated being sent to his room. Yet another child loved being sent to their room, but hated chores. They are all unique individuals. What gets one’s attention may not get another’s.
  • Use a hula-hoop for cleaning their room—“Clean up the part of the floor in the hula-hoop!” Then move the hoop to the next area.
  • Time chores—make them a race, game-ify things. “Let’s see if you can get ready for bed before the timer goes off!” See if they can top their best time.
  • Don’t just say, “Time to get out of PJs. Get dressed!” Give them choices: “You can choose between this outfit or this one.” Trust me, this solves a bunch of problems before they become problems.
  • Charts on the fridge are your friend (but only if you are consistent with it).
  • If any behavior gets a “big reaction” from you, you will see it again. And again. And again. Choose wisely what you react to…
  • Have older kids help with younger kids. (But be careful not to put adult responsibilities on them. That can breed resentment.)
  • Sometimes you just have to put a kids’ movie on and chill for 90 minutes. It’s okay.
  • If you have more than one child, try to get some one-on-one time with each of them doing what they like to do. It can be 10-15 minutes twice a day.
  • SNACK TIME!” Diffuses many chaotic situations. Ah, the power of some fruit, cheese and crackers!
  • Do some exercises with your kids. It lets you blow off some steam and gets them moving and sets a good example. Plus, it’s just fun.
  • Try to see situations through their eyes. Cultivate empathy.
  • Know your triggers. Be prepared for them and prepare your children for them.“We are going grocery shopping. Please do not ask for any candy. The answer is already ‘no’ so remember not to ask.
  • Love your child unconditionally. Let them know that you like and enjoy them too.

What is that saying about parenting? “The days are long, but the years fly by.” It’s so true. My kids are basically grown up now. Somewhere, deep down inside of me, I miss the insanity.

I was thinking about this question as I drove to pick my 14-year-old up from football practice. Without any context, when he got in the car, I asked, “Do we ever fight?” He said no, and I followed up with, “Why not?” [His insights surprised me and definitely made me look like a better parent than I am. More on that later.] Here’s what he said:

“You’re understanding. You don’t yell or instigate. And you don’t nag. You listen. A lot of it is personality—We’re both pretty chill. We don’t press each other.” [He’s not wrong. We’re both laid back. Also, I don’t know what “press” means.] “Like, yesterday, I guess you can call that a ‘fight.’ You wanted me to mow the lawn right after football practice and I didn’t want to. You listened to my reasons why and said why it needed to be done. I still asked a couple more times, and you said, ‘Sorry, dude. Do it now.'”

For the record, he is the youngest of five children. I’m 50. What he calls “chill” might just be parental fatigue. I have most definitely fought with my other kids. But he has also benefited from what I’ve learned from parenting his four much-older siblings.

He did touch on some things that might be labeled, “New School Parenting.” Listening to where your teen is coming from. Trying to understand their perspective. Letting them feel “heard.” Explaining your reasons. Not yelling or escalating. This was definitely not “Old School Parenting.” My father didn’t say, “Sorry, dude.” He just went straight to, “Do it now.” and probably threw in a “Because I said so!”

Here are some probing questions to ask yourself that could answer, “How do I stop fighting with my teen?” Bear with me, I’m gonna start at the foundation…

1. Does your teen know that you love them?

Don’t be quick to say, “Of course!” I talk to a lot of teens who don’t think their parents even like them. How well do you know your teen’s heart? Do you know what speaks love to them? Do you show interest in the things that interest them? How much time do you spend time with them? Do you know their friends? Do you take a little time to welcome them into your home and get to know them a bit? When is the last time you told your teen that you love them? How about: I’m proud of you. I believe in you. I was wrong. I’m sorry. Please forgive me?

2. Do you have clear boundaries, routines, and structure in place?

At any age, boundaries and routines provide clarity and predictability and security. But they also provide freedom and communicate, “I care about your well-being.” They are just another way to say, “I love you.” ★ Have you made these boundaries clear to your teen and the benefits and consequences that are associated with them? ★ 

Both of these things form a relationship foundation that can stop a lot of fights before they start. An environment of love and good communication, as well as clear expectations and consistent consequences, will help you avoid many fights.

If you include your teen in making a cellphone contract or family technology plan or car-use contract, (or at least have a conversation that covers boundaries, expectations,  and consequences) everything is all laid out. You don’t have to think of a punishment on the spot or get angry, and you don’t have to raise your voice. You can just say, “Look, we talked about this. If you came in past curfew, you lost social driving privileges for ___.” (If you choose to go the contract route, remember, they aren’t carved in stone. They get adjusted as your child matures and builds trust. Plus, sometimes stuff happens—flat tires, extenuating circumstances, and sometimes some grace is in order.)

Stop fights before they start. There’s no “negotiating” which often escalates into a full-blown fight.

3. Still, no matter what, you are gonna have some fights with your teenager. 

  • Remember you are engaged with a teen whose brain is not fully developed. It won’t be until they are in their 20s. Just understand that the parts of the brain that regulate emotions, predict consequences for actions, and do other “higher-order” things like logic aren’t fully formed. If they are upset, it’s even worse. Don’t be shocked by an “I hate you!” or something similar.
  • Speaking of brains, when we (you and your teen) have hot and heavy emotions, our prefrontal cortex gets “flooded” with “fight or flight” chemicals that can make us say and do things that we will regret later. Learn to recognize when this is happening in you and your teen. This is when you need to call a “time-out.” Nothing productive is going to happen if one or both of you is flooded.
  • It takes two to tango. It takes two to fight. You are the adult—you can do things like de-escalating, not letting your emotions push you around, choosing the best time to address an issue, recognizing “flooding,” and knowing when you are out of line and need to apologize or calmly hold your ground. 
  • If you recognize there are specific issues or areas that tend to be the catalyst for fighting, take time (NOT in the middle of a fight) to have a conversation about them. Note: I said, “conversation,” that’s a two-way street that involves speaking and listening. I’ve found that even if a boundary didn’t change, but I took the time to explain the rationale behind it and listened to my teen’s point of view and made them feel “heard,” they had a completely different posture toward it. Sometimes even a tiny bit of “give and take” goes a long way.

Fighting with your teen is no fun at all, but it is part of parenting. Do your best to stop fights before they start. Sometimes we expect our teens to act and respond like adults, and biologically they literally are not there yet. We have to be the adults in the situation. Remember: You are fighting FOR your teen, not WITH them. They will see the difference.

Routines and consistency are vital to the growth of our children. Research tells us this and experience confirms it. But you know what? A global pandemic tends to be a routine-buster! Nothing rocks our daily flow more than the sudden closing of schools and businesses. 

So what did we do? Families had to make adjustments to meet a new temporary normal. Bedtimes shifted. Morning routines looked radically different. Navigating a “normal” day became a balance of school, work, video conferencing, and the ever-continuing struggle of screen time. 

For us, our kids’ bedtime shifted later in hopes that they might sleep a little later in the morning (that was a fail). The morning rush and commute was gone. Screen times increased for our kids, partially due to school, but mostly to help us get work done. Spring baseball was just a memory. Our biggest adjustments really were figuring out how to both work remotely and help our second grader with school. 

But here we are, eight weeks in and businesses and restaurants are reopening, childcare centers that may have been closed or limited to essential personnel are taking steps to welcome all of their kids back. Not only that, but the school year has ended, and for many of us, summer camps are now nonexistent. Virtual learning at least provided some sort of structure for our kids. My son knew he had assignments to do daily and when his video calls were… and he reminded us often. 

Now it’s time to shift routines again and get back on track. In just a few short weeks, my wife returns to work at a childcare center. My 4-year-old will also return to her childcare center sometime in the month of June. My son needs some structure for the summer as I still work remotely. So, what do we change? How do we return to some sense of the routines that we had before? 

Questions to Ask to Help You Get Back on Track

As we discussed this as a family, we asked ourselves some questions.

  • What do we begin to shift now to prepare our kids to return to a new schedule?  Bedtimes, for instance, need to adjust. Take gradual steps to resume a pre-quarantine bedtime. The same could be said for morning routines. We can make small steps to reclaim some of our routines in this area starting with what time we all get up. Abrupt changes are difficult for everyone—but especially for kids.
  • What have we started doing during this quarantine that we want to keep? Our kids have had tremendously more free, creative play. We have spent more evenings around the fire pit. More time has been spent in the hammock. How do we protect these things that have brought so much joy? 
  • What do we want to learn over the summer? As I look for ways to fill my son’s days, I’ll start by asking him what he wants to learn more about. What can we explore as a family that will continue their learning? Just because summer is over doesn’t mean learning has to end, but it can be fun learning experiences.

Prepare for Transition to Get Back on Track

As your family begins to discuss this next transition, here are 3 recommendations I have:

  1. Get your mindset right. Mentally prepare for transitions in your routines. Get ready for the battles that you may have to fight.
  2. Get your plan together. Have a family meeting to discuss this time of transition. (Check out this blog for some great ideas.) What does your specific situation require? This is a great opportunity to reinforce with kids why routines are important and why we have to also be flexible and make changes sometimes. 
  3. Get tough skin. (If you don’t already have it.) Let’s face it—kids don’t like change. Many of us adults don’t either. You may have had weeks with much less structure, but now we have to make more changes. Not everyone will be happy, but that’s okay. 

★ Nothing says that we have to return to the same routine as we had before the quarantine. Take this opportunity to evaluate what you as a family really want to do and what you value. You don’t have to make life as busy as it was before. ★

Let’s Cut Right To It, Because:

  1. You are probably working from home.
  2. It is good for your kids. They live here, too.
  3. Now more than ever, you need to take care of yourself.

You’re probably less interested in the “why” of getting help around the house, and more interested in the “how” of it. I get it, but you need to understand the “why” first and believe it

Taking care of yourself—physically and mentally—is incredibly important, especially right now. Stress, anxiety, fear, and plain old fatigue will all take their toll on you. That toll will impact you and the people that you care about. I see it in myself and in my own home. I feel fragile, a lot.

COVID-19 has me working in quarantine with five kids. My wife works in the medical field and is keeping “normal” long hours. My at-risk mother-in-law lives with us. Sooooooo…

You know the deal. I’m at home, trying to put in a full day’s work and finish my projects, making sure school work gets done, keeping an eye on my at-risk mother-in-law, and generally holding down the fort—including keeping it clean and organized. Oh, and when my wife gets home, I try to have dinner ready and we try to do Family Movie Night or Game Night and keep all the sequestered happy. It is a daunting task, and I’ve never felt so exhausted. You feeling it too? It often feels like a lose-lose situation.

If I focus time on my kids and mother-in-law, I feel like a bad employee.

If I focus time on my work, I feel like a bad dad and son-in-law.

I can’t possibly do it all. I just feel stressed out and guilty.

When in the world am I supposed to take care of myself?

Start with the basics.

The house needs to be kept up and your kids need stuff to do.

Those dots connect themselves, but how do you do this without having another thing to do?

  • I got the ball rolling by laying out expectations in a family meeting.
  • I also sent out this text message in our family group text after days of exhaustion:

Hey Family! I know everyone is taking care of their own living areas but we need to work together on shared spaces like the kitchen, dining area, and living room. We are trying to stay afloat during this – Mom is working full time, I’m working full time from home, and Grandmom isn’t our maid. (Thanks for all you do, Grandmom!)

Some Stuff That Needs Doing:

  • Kitchen needs to be swept and mopped.
  • Dining room & front door area swept and mopped.
  • Living room vacuumed.
  • Lawn mowed when it dries.
  • General sanitizing wipe down.
  • Help with cooking dinners.
  • General cleaning up after yourself, especially in the kitchen.

There’s enough for everyone to do a little. Thanks in advance. Hope this isn’t received as snarky. Totally sending with a heart full of love for all of you. Just need help. You guys are my favorite part of being quarantined! ❤

That was the text. I didn’t have high hopes. I figured a couple of kids (maybe) in drips and drabs would hopefully mark a few things off the list in the upcoming week. Maybe there would be a little less work for Grandmom and me.

Then something incredible happened.

My son, who is without a doubt the “lone wolf” of the whole crew and was in quarantine before it was cool, immediately came down and started sweeping the kitchen. What? Soon, everyone started popping out of their rooms and joined in. They cranked out a very thorough cleaning of everything. We even game-ified the cleaning by adding some rounds of Nintendo Wii in-between cleaning jobs. In a couple of hours, the house was spic & span – and get this – we all had time freed up to do our stuff. Even me!

I can’t call it a Christmas Miracle; maybe it was a COVID-19 Miracle? It was like something out of some wholesome unrealistic sitcom or Disney Channel show. It worked. But let me be clear, I was fortunate this time. It usually doesn’t play out like that. But I learned some valuable info that day…

There is no way I can keep up with housework, school work, and work work AND have time and energy left for self-care plus some gas left in the tank to have a little quality time with my wife when she gets home from work. You can’t give what you don’t have. 

And my kids can and will and need to help.

Let’s Break It Down

So how do I keep this ball rolling? If you break down my text, you might find some reasons why it was effective that might help you get your kids helping more around the house, have some structure in their day, and burn off some energy. Hopefully, this will lower your stress levels by freeing you up for working on work and remember, working on yourself.

Here’s what I did in my text to get my kids to help around the house:

  1. Started positively.
  2. Acknowledged what they were already doing.
  3. Was realistic and honest about our new situation.
  4. Listed very specific things that needed to get done.
  5. Gave them a choice of what they wanted to do.
  6. Thanked them in advance.
  7. Tried to preclude any misinterpretations.
  8. Affirmed my love for them and that family is the most important thing.
  9. And here is the kicker – I TOLD THEM I NEEDED HELP.  (I didn’t suggest it. I didn’t imply it. And I didn’t say, “It would be nice.”)

I probably should have added a timeframe for the work to be done by. Missed that one. 

We made it a challenge and made it fun. We worked together and multiplied our efforts.

Apply these principles in a way that works for your kids at their ages. 

Don’t be bashful with the We Are In A Global Pandemic And I Need Your Help Around the House card. Just don’t try to do it all yourself. And don’t sweat it if it all doesn’t get done. It isn’t going anywhere, and neither are we. Take care of yourself.

Can we take a moment and just let out a big sigh? This COVID-19 pandemic has been and still is a time of palpable stress and uncertainty. Despite not knowing what is to come, we can rest and lean into what we know to be helpful in overwhelming times like this: take it one day at a time

And who says one day can’t be a spa day?

Here is an invitation to slow down, dirty some more dishes and have some sweet, intentional time with your daughter. 

Since most, if not all, places are closed, I want to help you set up a spa in your home and make it feel like a special mother-daughter date!

Here’s what you’ll need to do:

  • Invite your daughter to this spa day– write her an invitation.
  • Put on some cute PJs or let her wear your robe if you have one.
  • Ponytails or headbands to hold your hair back.
  • Play some of your daughter’s favorite tunes to relax or dance to!
  • Ingredients for face mask/scrub (options listed below)
  • A cucumber for your eyes while wearing the masks if you’re feeling fancy!
  • List of questions to ask your girly while you’re making the scrub or mask! (found below).

Some Conversation Starters:

  • What’s your favorite thing to do?
  • Why do you like doing that?
  • What makes you happy?
  • Do you know how much I love you? (Give her some reasons why!)
  • Is there someone you look up to?
  • What do you want to be when you grow up?
  • Is there anything you’re afraid of? (Figure out why and ways to face it together!)
  • What do you like to talk about?
  • What makes someone a good mom?
  • What does it mean to be beautiful?
  • What do you want to do for our next mother-daughter time?

Don’t be afraid to make a little mess– I’m sure you’re used to it by now, but encourage your girly to help with the process and mix the ingredients. I would even suggest putting the face masks on each other if you choose to make a mask.

If you want to make a scrub here are two options:

Coffee Body Scrub

  • 1 cup ground coffee (organic or regular will work)
  • 1 cup sugar or salt
  • ½  cup coconut oil
  • ½  tablespoon cinnamon (optional)
  • 1 tablespoon vanilla extract (optional)

Instructions: 

  1. Melt coconut oil and allow it to cool but not solidify.
  2. Mix all ingredients together and store in an airtight container or mason jar.
  3. Use 1-2 times a week (or every day if you like).

Coconut Oil Sugar Scrub

  • ½ cup of granulated sugar (just plain white sugar, the kind you have in your pantry) if you have cane or brown sugar, it will also do the trick!
  • ¼ cup pure unrefined coconut oil
  • Optional: add in the essential oil of your choice

Instructions:

  • In a bowl, mix the two together completely.
  • Put into a container for use; you will feel so soft!

If you want to make a face mask, here are two options:

Oatmeal Mask with Coconut Oil

  • ¼ cup warm water
  • 1  tablespoon coconut oil 
  • 3 tablespoons of oatmeal.

Instructions: 

  1. Measure ¼ cup warm water into a mixing bowl.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon coconut oil and stir until completely melted.
  3. Sprinkle in 3 tablespoons of oatmeal.
  4. Stir until the ingredients have formed a paste.
  5. Apply to face and let it set for 15 minutes and then massage it into your face in circular motions and it sit for another 5 minutes
  6. Rinse with luke-warm water

Oatmeal and Yogurt Mask

  • Cooked (not dry) oatmeal (½ cup boiling water, ⅓ cup oatmeal)
  • 2 tablespoons plain yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons of honey
  • 1 egg white

Instructions:

  1. In a mixing bowl, combine water and oatmeal and stir it together
  2. Let the mixture sit for two minutes.
  3. Mix the remaining ingredients until the yogurt, honey, and egg white are completely dissolved.
  4. Let the mixture cool if it’s still hot to the touch.
  5. Apply to face and let it set for 15 minutes then rinse with lukewarm water and end with a splash of cold water to close the pores

*The oatmeal may clog the drain, so putting down a strainer could be helpful with clean-up!

I know this time at home balancing being a parent, employee, teacher, and gatekeeper is exhausting. However, I think we’d all be sad if we didn’t take some of this extra time we have been gifted and spend it intentionally with our loved ones.

We have the opportunity to make the mundane memorable. So let’s do it! We’d love to see pictures of you and your girly hanging out, please tag us @firstthingsfamily if you post <3