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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 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 

Now the fabric of society is leaning more toward “the way things used to be.” However, many are 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 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?

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. 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 

Dear Dad,

Can I ask you a question? When you found out you were going to be a dad, were there parts of you that thought, “I’m gonna crush this. Everything my dad wasn’t around to do, I’m gonna do, because I’m not gonna be like my dad…”? Or did you say to yourself, “I don’t know how to be anyone’s dad. I had no one to show me how to be a good dad…”?

It seems like being a good dad would be a lot easier if you had someone who showed you all the things you’re supposed to do. There’s a part of us that believes we can figure out everything on our own. Every once in a while, you may get a reality check when someone else notices there’s something you didn’t know. 

Without a dad to tell you what you’re supposed to do, it’s normal to make mistakes. 

And it’s ok to not know how to do something. How would you know the right time to just give a good, strong hug if you weren’t shown by your father? Are you a bad dad? Probably not. Could you be better? Couldn’t we all? Is it a bit of a disadvantage to not having someone show you the way? Quite possibly. Is all hope lost? Far from the truth.

Shaunti Feldhahn’s research shows that men often worry that they don’t have what it takes. We fear that one day the people closest to us will find out. When I heard that, it hit my heart. I thought to myself, “When my kid finds out that I don’t know how to do the dad stuff, then they won’t respect me or even like me.” 

So what do you do?

You keep faking it and you keep being there. Keep being present, and keep listening to your kids’ stories. You keep telling them the little bit you do know. You keep making mistakes with them. Keep taking them places with you and keep hanging out. You keep hugging them when they hurt, challenging them when they say something that doesn’t seem right. And next thing you know, they start looking for you because they want to talk. They want to share their success and get encouragement after their failures.

One of the biggest things you can learn from your dad is to never run away. 

Because if your dad did, you know how it feels. And that’s what hurts the most. Instead, lean into your children. Running away could mean leaving the family. It could also mean running away from talking, from dealing with issues, from being open and vulnerable, or running away from what you don’t know.

It seems like every good action movie has an amazing running scene where the hero is running into a dangerous situation. (Will Smith got famous from his Bad Boys running scene.) Fellow dad, run into the situation. Run to your kids. Run to the hard stuff in their lives. That’s how the heroes are made. Not just in the movies, but also in the heart of your child.

Other helpful blogs:

How to Be an Emotionally Safe Parent

4 Ways To Be A More Present Parent

How to Be a Supportive Parent

5 Things I Wish I’d Known Before I Became A Dad

How to Feel Confident as a New Mom

It may take some time, but you will find your way.

JUMP TO:

• Is It Even Possible to Be Confident as a First-Time Mom?
• How to Shift Your Mindset And Become What You Believe
• It’s Possible to Balance Trusting Your Intuition & Searching for Information
• How to Stop Comparing Everything
• Why Leaning on Another Supportive Mama Who Gets You is Crucial
• The Bottom Line To Cultivating Confidence
• Other helpful resources

Is It Even Possible to Be Confident as a First-Time Mom?

“I can’t believe it…. We have a baby!” I half laughed-half cried in the moments right after giving birth to my daughter. I was exhausted and barely able to register how my life had just been forever changed in that instant. The next 24 hours were a blur of diapers, latching, crying, swaddling, belly massages (ugh), and constant check-ups. And even though the hospital room was cold, the bed was uncomfortable, and we really just wanted to be at home with our new little love, a slight wave of panic washed over both my husband and me when they announced that we could be discharged. We caught each other’s eyes, wide and questioning, silently asking, “Wait, what do we do now?”

Fast forward 5 years and 2 more daughters, and life is still a whirlwind of diapers, latching, crying, swaddling, belly massages (“Mom, your belly is so squishy!”), and constant check-ups. (Those boo-boo’s ain’t gonna kiss themselves!) Although I suppose having three kids makes me a veteran when it comes to motherhood, I still vividly remember how it felt to be a first-time mom. The uncertainty, the sleep deprivation (still struggling with that one, unfortunately), the unsolicited advice from everyone (thanks random stranger in the grocery store), the fear of failure, the mom guilt, and most of all, the lack of confidence in myself.

I’d like to give you some free unsolicited advice. (No, I’m not going to say “Sleep when the baby sleeps,” although if you can, go for it!) But let me first preface these insights with a pill that might be hard to swallow: You won’t feel confident as a new mom. I know that’s not what you want to hear, but hear me out. You CAN absolutely fake it ’til you make it. It’s gonna take time… but you WILL make it. You WILL find your confidence. Here’s how.

How to Shift Your Mindset and Become What You Believe

Our minds are more powerful than we give them credit for. When you hit a major transition in life, like creating a tiny human, your mind is doing some pretty heavy lifting trying to navigate all the newness. You’re in the trenches, as I like to call it. It’s do-or-die survival mode. And that puts tremendous stress on your brain. It’s easy for negative, intrusive thoughts to slide into your mental DMs. Especially when the learning curve is so high, you are so tired, and the baby is soooo fussy. It’s easy to feel like you have no clue what you’re doing, which, as we know, is pretty much a confidence-killer.

But there’s this really cool little thing called experience-dependent neuroplasticity, which is just a fancy way to say we can change our brain through our experiences. Our brains are designed to be malleable and constantly rewire themselves. Basically, everything you experience WILL alter the physical nature of your brain. 

So, take those pesky negative thoughts: If you constantly focus on your worry, mom guilt, fear, self-criticism… your brain will reshape itself to make you more vulnerable to worry, anxiety, and depression. You’ll find yourself only seeing the negatives of a situation and become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

On the other hand, if you focus your thoughts on giving yourself grace, believing you are a good mom, and knowing it will get easier in time, your brain strengthens those neural connections. You’ll become more resilient, optimistic and have higher self-esteem in the long run. In the wise words of Oprah, “You don’t become what you want; you become what you believe.”

Try this right now: 

  1. Think about something you did well as a mom today. But don’t just notice it; really feel it too. 
  2. Take that thought and dwell on all the goodness in it for at least 20 seconds. (No fleeting thoughts here! And absolutely NO BUTS, unless, of course, your happy thought is that you cleaned a poopy butt really well…) This gives your brain time to fire those neurons and hardwire that belief into your brain. 
  3. Let the confidence boost commence.

It’s Possible to Balance Trusting Your Intuition & Searching for Information

Have you ever googled some seemingly harmless symptoms (albeit worrisome enough to google) and ended up convinced you were dying of cancer? With all the conflicting parenting advice/opinions/facts/hullabaloo out there, it’s no wonder we parents think we are ruining our children for life if we don’t do the RIGHT thing at ALL TIMES. Confidence goes out the window when your best friend says one thing, your mother says another, the internet, best-selling authors, pediatricians, or statistics all say yet another. And then, there’s your gut feeling. It’s so easy to second guess what we feel deeply in our gut because a trusted friend or family member disagrees. So my advice to cultivate confidence as a new mama? Dig into the latest research AND trust your mama instincts at the same time. 

When my oldest daughter was going into her terrible terrific twos, I had no idea how to handle her meltdowns. I didn’t feel comfortable punishing her for having big emotions. Yet, I watched others around me telling their kids to “stop crying” or sending them to timeout when they acted out or wouldn’t calm down quickly enough. I wondered if I was being too permissive by not following suit. I frantically searched the internet for information on whether I was screwing up my child by lack of discipline. Did I need to toughen up? Implement consequences? Or maybe, just maybe… was my gut telling me something that other parents weren’t aware of? 

Enter: Positive Parenting, a parenting style I had never heard of that I immediately embraced wholeheartedly. It presented exactly what I felt on a deeper level, and it had the research and neuroscience of child development to back it up! It taught me things I hadn’t even considered, and I’ve been a better parent for it. 

Try this right now:

  1. Think of an aspect of parenting that you’re second-guessing yourself in.
  2. Take some time to really look into what research says.
  3. Take into account what works for YOUR unique situation. It may not feel right or align with your values, or it could add more stress to your family dynamic. That’s why considering what your intuition says is crucial. 
  4. Find a balance between the two and choose the best solution for YOU. (Not your mom, or friend, or pediatrician, or… you get my point.) 

** Not sure where to start? I highly recommend reading Parenting Right From the Start by Dr. Vanessa LaPointe or Cribsheet by Emily Oster. 

How to Stop Comparing Everything

The more we worry, the less we get to enjoy motherhood. Falling into the comparison trap is hands-down the easiest way to lose confidence in yourself. Her baby is already crawling! Why isn’t mine? She pureés her own organic baby food. She must be a better parent than I am. Her Instagram photos are picture-perfect. My life feels like a hot mess right now. Why can’t I lose the baby weight like she did? You get it. Listen, we’ve all been there. 

So my advice? Figure out the things that trigger feelings of comparison, a “compare-snare,” if you will. (Social media, anyone?) Once you’re aware of what’s happening and how it makes you feel, try to minimize your exposure to it. And if that’s not possible because you’re addicted to the dopamine hit of a new like, when you do get triggered, remember that everybody has insecurities. (Even Beyoncé! Or Kate Middleton! Or Michelle Obama!) No one is perfect. Even the “perfect mom” has bad days. So stop believing the highlight reel of people’s lives. (Psst… Their highlight reel is not real life.) It’s only 1% (…maybe 2%) of their life. It’s not fair to compare the worst of yourself to the best of another. Even if it’s really easy to do.

Try this right now: 

  1. Create a mama-mantra that will help you overcome those moments when you’re being held captive by comparison. Something like, “I am enough,” or “A bad day does not make me a bad mom,” or “I’m still learning, and that’s okay.” Something short and easy to remember on the fly. 
  2. Write it down on a Post-it note and stick it on your bathroom mirror for a daily reminder to repeat it often, in good and bad times. 
  3. In moments of stress, simply repeat your mama-mantra and you’ll feel your heart rate slowing, your breathing becoming steady, and your confidence building up.

Why Leaning on Another Supportive Mama Who Gets You is Crucial

Chances are, the people you already surround yourself with probably look similar to you, have a similar upbringing or lifestyle, and have a similar belief system. That’s because we tend to like being around people who are similar to us. However, there may be people in your life who only diminish your self-confidence by questioning your decisions or flat-out disagreeing with them. When it’s a stranger, it’s easier to brush it off. When it’s your own family member, it’s a wee bit harder. 

So, for my last but certainly not least piece of advice, I highly suggest that you confide in another supportive and like-minded mama who shares your attitude toward motherhood and all the decisions surrounding it. This is what psych-nerds call consensual validation, and it will absolutely boost your confidence in your own attitude and the decisions you’re making! 

Having just any ol’ mama friend/sister or literally your own mother is sometimes not enough. Even though they get motherhood because they are indeed mothers, they’re contributing to your lack of confidence in a big way if they’re opposing rather than supporting your decisions. 

Find the mama who has been there and also totally listens to you, encourages you, supports you, builds you up, and pushes you to be the best version of yourself. That doesn’t mean you’ll always agree on everything, but it does mean that she won’t hurt your confidence in the process if she doesn’t agree. Plus, you’ll likely agree on way more than you disagree on anyway (remember that consensual validation)!

Try this right now:

  1. Think about a mama who just gets you and accepts you for who you are.
  2. Go ahead and send her a quick text thanking her for being so supportive. If she doesn’t already know, tell her how you’ve been struggling with a lack of self-confidence in this season of life.
  3. Ask if she has any tried and true suggestions for your specific situation.
  4. Lean on her.
  5. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. If she’s a true friend, she’ll be honored to guide you through the trenches.  

The Bottom Line To Cultivating Confidence

It is completely normal to have a lack of confidence in something you’ve never done before. Even if you’ve babysat or worked with kids, motherhood is a whole new ballgame. It’s the difference between sitting in the stands, maybe catching a fly ball every once in a while, and being up to bat in a sport you barely know the rules to. 

So, give yourself permission to:

  • Believe in yourself.
  • Trust your intuition.
  • Ask for help or support.
  • Know that you’re the best mama for the job.

Confidence will come when your decisions yield positive outcomes. You won’t always choose the right thing. Remember, there’s a big learning curve. When you feel like you’re failing, acknowledge and validate your own feelings. Repeat that mama-mantra until you believe it, and confide in your supportive mama friend for a little extra encouragement. You got this.

Other helpful resources:

3 Things I Wish I Had Done Differently After Having a Baby

Help! We Just Had a Baby and Now We Can’t Stop Fighting

5 Reasons Why Marriage Can Be Harder After Having A Baby

Dear Wife, This is What You Should Know About Your Husband After Having a Baby

OH, Baby! Online

How to Talk to Your Teen About Drinking

Conversations around alcohol can impact life or death situations.

Drinking is one of “those topics” that parents need to talk about with their teens. Here’s some help navigating this potentially difficult conversation.

What’s potentially difficult? There are state laws and your house rules. Other parents (and therefore your teen’s friends) may have different rules about alcohol. Drinking is an activity where there is often intense peer pressure on teens. Also, teen drinking is usually paired with other behaviors like drug use, sex, and violence. (Your conversation might go in some unexpected directions.)

  1. State laws are a great place to start. They’re black and white. Make sure you know your state’s laws regarding alcohol, especially the laws regarding purchase, possession, and internal possession. (“Internal possession” means your teen may not have been found with alcohol on his or her person, but they had alcohol in them based on a breathalyzer or field sobriety test.) Laws can vary by state, especially when it comes to parents allowing a minor child to drink at their home or private property.
  • Make sure your teen knows the legal consequences of their actions, especially driving under the influence.
  • The Federal Trade Commission says the following: No state has an exception that permits anyone other than a family member to provide alcohol to a minor on private property. Translation: Party at a friend’s house whose parents provide or allow alcohol is always illegal.
  1. This is a good place to transition from your state’s laws to your house rules. Explain that there are many different opinions about alcohol. Your teen’s friends may have parents with different beliefs about drinking. That’s okay. What matters is the position you take as their parent and the actions you model regarding alcohol.

Parental postures vary regarding drinking for a variety of legitimate reasons

Some parents:

  • Have strong religious convictions against it. 
  • Were raised by an alcoholic parent. 
  • Struggled with alcohol when they were younger.
  • Have a friend or family member who is destroying their life with alcohol.
  • May be responsible, moderate drinkers. 

You aren’t judging the family down the street. This is a time for you to talk to your teen about some important life principles. Personal responsibility. Self-control. Moderation and balance. Choosing, not just between right and wrong, but between better and best. 

  1. To complete your due diligence as a parent, you have to address some typical teen behaviors with alcohol. Your goal isn’t to scare your teen but to definitely keep it real, give them facts, and leave an opening for further questions and future conversations.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) periodically release a Youth Risk and Behavior Survey (YRBS). Their latest is for 2019, and every parent should become familiar with it.

The 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Survey found that among high school students, during the past 30 days:

  • 29% drank alcohol.
  • 14% binge drank.
  • 5% of drivers drove after drinking alcohol.
  • 17% rode with a driver who had been drinking alcohol.
  • In 2019, female high school students were more likely to drink alcohol and binge drink than male students.

Youth who drink alcohol are more likely to experience:

  • School problems, such as higher rates of absences or lower grades.
  • Social problems. 
  • Unwanted, unplanned, and unprotected sexual activity.
  • Physical and sexual violence.
  • Increased risk of suicide and homicide.
  • Alcohol-related motor vehicle crashes and other unintentional injuries.
  • Misuse of other substances.
  • Changes in brain development that may have life-long effects.
  1. If it isn’t already, plan on this being an ongoing conversation. Ask your teen questions (but don’t interrogate them) about alcohol use among their peers, and try not to freak out about the answers. Ask them about their opinions and experiences with alcohol. Listen, don’t lecture. 

When you think of conversations with your teen, please view communication as a two-way street. Give them conversationally what you would like from them. What do you hope for when you talk with your teen about drinking… or drugs, or sex? You’re hoping for honesty, transparency, authenticity, and quality listening. Give that to your teen so they can return it.

Appropriately share things like:

  • When I was your age, alcohol was a big/small part of my home…
  • Kids at my school used to…
  • My friends and I…

This might sound risky and counter-intuitive, but teens operate a little differently. They often meet you at your level of “realness.” They clam up when they feel you’re “fishing” to pull info from them. When they say, “Things are so different now from when you were my age,” agree with them. Your teen is right. (Two words: Social Media.) But you still have much wisdom and life experience to offer. Your “missteps” don’t give your teen “license,” but they do give you credibility. Your teen will probably offer information if you sincerely offer it yourself.

    ★ Cultivate a relationship with your teen where they know they are loved and can talk to you about anything, anytime. This means investing time outside of “big talks” like this one.

BONUS THOUGHT:

I’ve actually had these conversations with my kids. Realistically, I knew my teens wouldn’t always make the right decisions. I told each of them that if they were in a situation where they would be driving impaired or had to ride with someone who was impaired, they could call me at ANY TIME. I would get them wherever they were. No questions asked. The number one priority was their safety. 

Some parents feel this gives implied permission to break the rules. I believe it’s an understanding that failure exists on a continuum. Your teen can’t learn life lessons if they lose their life. This is a serious topic and a tough one. You get to guide them. Good luck!

Sources:

Underage Drinking | APIS – Alcohol Policy Information System

Possession/Consumption/Internal Possession of Alcohol: About This Policy | APIS – Alcohol Policy Information System

Alcohol Laws by State | FTC Consumer Information

Youth Risk Behavior Survey Data Summary & Trends Report: 2009-2019

CDC Underage Drinking

How to Teach Your Son About the Importance of Consent

Talking about consent can help your son navigate the waters.

It’s hard to miss the headlines about people taking advantage of others, sex trafficking and lives being changed forever because someone made a decision without asking for or giving consent. In today’s world, parents feel the need to understand and explain consent to their children, but how should you even start that conversation? Is it a different conversation for boys than it is for girls? Is it possible to take the need for consent too far, like when you’re changing your newborn’s diaper? SO. MANY. QUESTIONS. Here are a few answers to guide your way.

I’m the mother of 3 sons. I’ve had several conversations with them about what consent is and how to incorporate it into all parts of their lives. (If you have a daughter, check out this blog on How to Teach Your Daughters About Consent.) 

For our purposes, consent is “permission for something to happen or agreement to do something.” So, at its foundation, consent is about respecting the boundaries of the people you interact with. Especially when it comes to sex.

It’s essential for parents to not have just one conversation about sex and consent. You’ve got to have ongoing discussions. 

More. Than. One. Many conversations. 

Your son’s future, his reputation, and his relationships could be at stake.

Those conversations change as your son continues to change, grow, and have different experiences. The consent conversation I have with my 14-year-old is totally different from the one I have with my 18-year-old. When you have these conversations with your son(s), the key is to affirm, not shame them.

Why is consent such a big deal now? 

Why does it matter that I talk to my sons about consent?

How do I even begin this conversation?

Having a healthy relationship with your son can set you up for great conversations, and it can help you teach him about the importance of consent. Here’s how to get the conversation started.

Be approachable. Let him see how approachable you are.

As the mother of 3 sons, I’ve learned that they enjoy “body humor.” There was nothing better than talking about who let loose a “silent but deadly” fart or who in their class could burp the theme song to their favorite cartoon without vomiting. Despite being grossed out, I was open to them sharing. From that openness, they felt comfortable coming to me about any subject as they got older. Maybe your sons enjoy animé or sports. Whatever they like, show interest in it. Your interest is the fertilizer for the garden of communication that grows as they grow. Talk to them often about things that matter to them.

Times have changed.

It may be hard to understand why you need to talk about consent to your sons. There have been several cultural shifts regarding specific behaviors, which in the past some people may have seen as “boys being boys.” One example is “pantsing,” where someone pulls down another person’s pants as a practical joke. This behavior is now seen as problematic and can be considered “assault.” 

It’s also helpful to talk about how to talk respectfully to or about other people. Sexual innuendo and objectification are topics you can bring up in everyday life (just look at the news for a springboard). Make sure they know what’s acceptable and what can be perceived as offensive to another person.

Talking about behaviors like these helps your son navigate the waters. It can also give them the courage to take a stand when someone is in danger, on the verge of making a terrible, life-altering choice, or making poor decisions. 

Respect is essential.

Teaching your son to respect the people in his sphere of influence is paramount. Respect begets respect. Even as parents, we can demonstrate respect to and for our children. I’ve taught my sons to knock on my bedroom door and wait until I say come in before they enter my room. I also knock on their doors before I go in. 

I also taught my sons to understand words like “NO” and “stop” from an early age. For example: When they were little, we played the “tickle game.” They knew when they said the password (Queen Mommy), I would immediately stop. This demonstrated to them that their words matter, and they can say “no” as well. 

Reiterate that no means no. And make sure they know how alcohol and drugs can impair a person’s decision-making abilities.

It’s essential to ask permission and get a clear verbal response.

I remember that old saying about what happens when you “assume.” Assuming can be downright dangerous. Instead, ASK. If asking yields a nonverbal response such as a head nod or a shoulder shrug, ASK AGAIN. Asking and getting a clear verbal response helps both parties understand what’s ok and what isn’t. No matter the situation, even if consent has been given, I’ve told my sons, “If you have a doubt, DON’T.” 

In other words, make sure they know that being invited into someone’s room or apartment is not an offer for sex. Taking someone on a date (or on a third date) doesn’t mean they owe you ANYTHING physical.

Consent is demonstrating respect for and listening to the people around you. Whether your son is 11 or 18, talk to him about consent, self-control, respect, and the potential consequences when those things are missing. Consequences could be legal, social, physical or financial. It could involve expulsion from school, losing a job, being arrested or being ostracized. Not getting consent is putting your life in someone else’s hands. 

Additionally, your son has a right to voice his permission, too. 

As I was talking to my college-bound son, he said, “Young men have the burden of doing the right thing in any given situation because consent is not just about dating. It’s about respecting people.” 

I think he’s right.

Other helpful blogs:

When Should I Let My Child Date

How to Have the Porn Talk With Your Kids

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents

Teaching Consent to Elementary Students (George Lucas Educational Foundation)

How to Have the Porn Talk With Your Kids

You can lay the groundwork for bigger talks in the future.

Our children are exposed to more screens than ever, beginning at a very young age. They are bombarded with digital content and exposure to ads, friends, and family members sharing who knows what. Not to mention the sneaky ways tech experts entice viewers to look at inappropriate images. (Check out PARENTING COURSE | Parenting In The Brave New Digital World here!)

The sexual curiosity of many 6 and 7-year-olds is getting awakened earlier than you ever imagined. So whether porn pops up on their screen or a friend or family member shares something, you want to be ready to have the “porn talk” with your kids.

Talking with your young child about pornography doesn’t have to be terrifying. In fact, before the teen years, you have some advantages. 

1. At this age, the parent/child relationship is often still the most important influence for your child. 

2. Young school-aged children are probably more open about what they’ve seen, done, heard, or said, especially when they feel supported by their parents. Yes, some kids lie. However, a 15-year-old’s efforts to hide something are very different from a 7-year-old’s. 

3. Parents have more control over where they go, who they spend time with, and what they do. (When kids split time between parents, this can be challenging. But, if parents work together, they can both be more aware.)

Keep these things in mind as you consider how to talk to and protect your child. Perhaps they’ve already been exposed to porn. Or maybe you have a reason to think you should talk about what porn is with them. If you find out your child has seen stuff you don’t want them to see, try not to show them you’re overwhelmed.

Remember, they’re still young. Still forming right and wrong mentally. Learning the world outside of their bubble. Your child’s life isn’t ruined. 

What Not To Do:

  1. Don’t fly off the deep end. It’s disappointing when your young child has been robbed of a certain innocence. But if they’ve seen it, they can’t “unsee” it. If you’re overly emotional, it will make it harder for them to talk to you in the future. 
  2. Don’t dive super deep into the details. The goal is to help your child do the right thing if they see inappropriate content. 
  3. Don’t solely rely on parental controls on devices. Your parent-child relationship plays the biggest role in dealing with this issue and reducing the risk of exposure. 

Language

Don’t assume your child knows what the word pornography means. It may not mean what they think it means. How does your child identify inappropriate content? 

Try asking:

  • “Have you seen pictures or videos that you don’t feel comfortable looking at with me?” 
  • “Are there sometimes pictures on your screen of people without their clothes on?” 
  • “Has anyone shown you pics of things that made you feel weird or uncomfortable?” 
  • “Have you looked at stuff you don’t think we’d want you to see?” 

The word porn may not trigger the type of awareness for kids that it would for you. They will, however, know when they’ve seen something that’s not OK to you. 

Find out what they’ve seen and where.

Look at the internet browser, YouTube history, and some of the video games they play. Gently ask questions to gather info. Ask to see what they look at with friends. 

Set the standard of what’s OK and what’s not.

A 15 or 16-year-old clearly knows what they’re doing when looking at porn. A 5 or 6-year-old is learning about the outside world. You have to set the standard for appropriate and responsible technology use. You may say, “It’s not OK for you to look at anything online that we can’t look at together. That includes people who aren’t wearing clothes or who are doing things that only adults should be doing.” 

Try, “Anytime we go to someone’s house, doesn’t everyone have their clothes on? It should be the same way when you’re looking at a screen. Everyone should be dressed.”

Clearly say what you expect.

Ask your child to tell you (and the adult in charge) if someone shows them something inappropriate. Tell them it’s important to be honest with you, even if someone asks them to keep secrets or threatens them concerning what they are doing or showing him. 

Be a safe person he or she can come to without fear of getting in trouble, and don’t be shocked by what they show you. You want to encourage them and make it easy for them to talk to you. On the other hand, let them know they will get in trouble if they see something wrong and hide it. Make sure they understand the difference.

Standards and expectations don’t work without consequences.

If your child continues to view inappropriate content and fails to meet the standards and expectations you’ve set (see above), be consistent with consequences. Maybe they lose screen time. It may mean no sweets or an earlier bedtime for several days.

If the consequences don’t work, consulting a professional may help. If your child insists on looking at porn, something else may be going on.

Often the key to steering your child is the approach. Your kids need you to be gentle and supportive. Look for ways to appreciate and reward their good decisions. This will lay the groundwork for being an ally as they move into the teen years and beyond.

Other helpful blogs: 

When to Talk to Your Kids About Sex

Conversation Starters for Kids and Parents

How To Talk To Your Teen About Pornography

Boys and Porn

How to Teach Your Daughters The Importance of Consent

These 5 things can help her protect, assert, and defend herself.

I’m a dad of daughters. And like other parents, I would do anything to protect my girls. Anything. From harm and from bullies. From being taken advantage of. And from pubescent boys with only one thing on their mind (and I’m not talking about video games…). 

But I also know I can give my girls greater gifts: the skills and confidence to protect themselves. A big part of this is teaching them the importance of consent. I call it having consent conversations

Now, I know the term consent is often a buzzword, especially when sexual harassment, date rape, molestation, and other horrible abuses are in the news. And, good heavens, we need to teach our daughters to guard themselves. 

I’d like to suggest that consent conversations are more than protection from these sorts of sexual abuses, although they certainly include them.

At its core, talking to your daughter about consent is helping her identify, establish, verbalize, and guard her boundaries. What will she allow to go on around her in a given situation? At what point does she take a stand? And how does she go about taking that stand? 

Even further, consent conversations help your daughter recognize and respect others’ boundaries. As a friend’s son said very well, “Consent isn’t just about dating; it’s about respecting people.” 

Consent conversations help your daughter develop self-respect and assertiveness as well as respect for others. It keeps her safe emotionally, physically, and sexually. It gives her a vocabulary to use for upholding boundaries. And it lays the groundwork for having healthier relationships in the future. 

So, consent conversations are kind of a big deal. 

1. In a given situation with another person, what are you OK with?

And what are you not OK with? Help your daughter think through different scenarios — with friends at school, around other adults, at a friend’s house, with someone they are dating. Ask, what could happen that would be OK or not OK with you? 

2. When someone wants to do something with or around you that’s not OK, how will you respond?

Talk about when to be polite, when to be firm, and when to be forceful with her no. What are situations she needs to walk away from? And if someone keeps doing or saying something despite her objection, let her know she needs to separate herself, go somewhere safe, and call a trusted adult

3. How do you read the situation for danger signs?

Teaching your daughter how to be aware of what’s going on around is a critical skill. How are people acting around you? Can you trust those you’re with to have your back? Be sure to discuss the role alcohol and drugs play in certain situations and how they can break down awareness and inhibitions.  

4. If there’s a situation you feel you can’t escape, what’s the plan?

You don’t want to frighten your daughter, but you do want to prepare her. Teach your daughter to always have the means to get out of a situation. Know where the door and a phone are. Where’s the nearest place with other people? What’s the quickest way to get in touch with someone you trust? It might also be worth enrolling her in a self-defense course or a martial arts class (or better yet, do that together). It can boost her confidence and give her some good skills.

5. How can you tell if someone is OK or not OK with your actions? What do you do if they are not?

Consent conversations are important. We as parents are responsible for teaching our children how to protect, assert, and stand up for themselves (and others) when someone pushes the boundaries. I encourage you to start age-appropriate consent conversations this week! 

Other helpful resources:

Dad, Here Are 5 Things Your Middle School Daughter Needs from You

How Do I Get My Teen To Talk To Me?

What All Daughters Need to Hear From Their Dad

PARENTING COURSE | Ultimate Girl Dad Toolkit