On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

Feb 14, 2018

Meghan Leahy, a parenting coach with Positively Parenting, joined On Parenting editor Amy Joyce to talk about parenting children of all ages.

Morning all! Happy Valentine's Day. Do you have glitter stuck to your clothes today too? Just asking. 

We have a good piece today about teens and dating (they don't really do it, and here's why we should encourage them to). Meghan has an important column today about a deployed dad returning to his baby who won't really know him. How can they make the transition? And this wonderful piece about boys and how they have feelings and want deep friendships, too. Here's how we parents can help encourage them.

Alrighty then, let's get started, shall we? 

I'm a single mother of a 16 year old son, and he's been talking to the same girl for a while now, and he was wanting to bring her over for dinner. Is there a way to ask if he's dating this girl without embarrassing him?

Errrr, uhhhh, no?

I mean, here's the deal...I think asking a 16 year old ANYTHING embarrasses them. Literally.

So listen. Be cool. Have her over for dinner and WATCH THEM.

You will know if they are romantically involved, and if you aren't sure, after she leaves say, "Your girlfriend is really lovely." If he says, "thanks," great. If he's like, "Mom, she's just a friend," then take that.

I think it is awesome he wants to bring her to dinner. Just keep being the mom who has that kind of household (and make sure he knows about safe sex).


Our eight-year-old daughter is quite interested in a classmate, much to her peer group's tittering delight. My wife suggested she simply hang out with the boy to see if he's as interesting as she thinks, in an early effort to demystify relationships and promote her objectivity and independence. While I strongly agree with these goals, I fear that at this stage she is vulnerable to peer pressure and teen-sitcom cultural models; engaging in a relationship without more guidance could have the opposite effect on her self-esteem. How might we now best approach this as supportive parents so her first big crush can be a positive social experience?


Stop all this.


I love you and I love you wrote in here, but holy smokes. Do not set up a mock-date to demystify anything, least of all how interesting an 8 year old boy is. No.

Turn off the sitcoms, listen to her gush about the boy, ask thoughtful questions, and get her on an all girls sports team to promote independence. 

How can her first big crush be a positive experience?! IT CAN'T.

They are not going to get married. He is going to think she is gross (or vice versa) and then poof, it goes away.

This is NOT NOT NOT romantic. You are parenting a child. A CHILD.

Please do not treat this seriously. Please don't do this to her as she gets older. I am cringing for her already.

All of this will play out the way it should, your ONLY JOB is to keep the junk off the TV and get her in activities where she grows and laughs and plays and learns.

Literally, stop thinking the way you are thinking. It is completely and utterly developmentally inappropriate.

BTW: I was just hard on you, Happy Valentine's Day, thank you for writing...

Hi there. I have a little girl who is 4 and will be going to kindergarten in the fall. At home, my husband and I speak Spanish with her, because that's how our Venezuelan parents raised us and it's our mother tongue. We sent her to Spanish preschool but were planning on sending her to the English-speaking public school when she starts kindergarten. She has had very little exposure to English so far and cannot speak or understand it. Because my husband as I were able to jump into kindergarten with no English skills, we thought it would be fine for her after she gets over the first hump of learning. But, now I'm starting to worry that it might be traumatic. She will learn the language fast, but she still won't understand anything for the first part of the year. What are your thoughts? I don't want to terrify or isolate her, but I also don't want to have to start speaking English at home now to prepare her for school, when I know from experience that she'll just end up not wanting to keep up her Spanish as she grows (which happens in so many bilingual families). Also, my husband and I really do prefer Spanish. I could put her in Spanish immersion school, but that's expensive and I don't know how I feel about her English being underdeveloped either.

I would be surprised if your daughter can not understand ANY English, being that she lives in this country. But I suppose that could happen...

In any case, make a decision. Either send her to the immersion school and shell out some money, or start reading and speaking to her a little bit in English.

Children are amazing and her English skills will be fine after she starts school, but the KIND thing to do is expose her and help her to feel not like a complete outsider. Would you want your parents to send you to school without the language, only to find out they knew it?! It is kind of rude, right?

Your love of Spanish and your culture will always shine through...it is her base and her true home. But short of moving back to Venezuela, you are going to have allow English to come in. 

My son is 3 years and 10 months. He goes to preschool. After some tough time at the daycare in terms of difficulties with putting on snow pants, taking turns, speech and language abilities which to me seems pretty normal for a 3.5-year-old kid, and interventionist arrived to monitor and provide recommendations. The interventionist wants to take it further and insist to go through ASD [autism spectrum disorder] assessment. We, parents, don't believe the severity of the case (he is great with social interactions, listen, learn, cooperate and play imaginary games) and more importantly, don't want to put a label on our son. I wonder if we are doing the right thing or should we go for the assessment. He will start school next September (We live in Canada). I don't want to miss a chance to help my son but also don't want him to be seen as a kid with ASD lable. He probably only need more support here or there but not more than that.

I am sorry, this is tough.

On one hand, you never want to ignore your parenting intuition. On the other hand, you don't want fear of labels to interfere with powerful early interventions that can help a great deal.

Could you talk to different psychologists for a second opinion?

It seems most "should I have kids or not" discussions center on deciding whether the couple *wants* them or not- is willing to give up their amazing, party-filled freedom lifestyle or whatever. But what do you do if you know that you want kids (your life is pretty lousy and blah, and the joy of a child would put spice and meaning into it) but you aren’t sure that you would be good enough for them? I read your column and other parenting advice all of the time. My husband and I both want kids and in my opinion are good with our kindergarten-aged niece when we spend time with her- I love playing pretend, and he recently patiently and adorably coaxed her out of pouting post-tantrum by passing her notes- but we both have our flaws. I have issues with emotional resiliency and am conflict adverse to a fault. He, while generally loving and sweet, occasionally has anger-management issues (possibly due to being mildly, high-functioning on the Autism spectrum)- would never hurt anyone but has thrown things a couple times since getting married 2 years ago. We just got off of birth control, but a recent fight has spooked me. He pointed out that we couldn’t fight like that in front of kids and I wholeheartedly agree.


Well, on one hand, you are more self-aware that 99% of the humans in world who become parents because of how much you are thinking about this. But on the other hand, parenting demands emotional resiliency and the ability to handle conflict.

But that can be "learn on the job" kind of work, if you stay conscious and aware.

But I see a red flag waving with the husband and the anger. Yes, he is aware of it (and that is awesome), but being great with a niece is not proof of his ability to keep it together with a child. If he thinks a fight with you is infuriating, wait until he has a child. It is frustration layered on frustration with an added dollop of frustration. Throwing objects in not okay, and being spooked by a fight is a sign that you need to step back from this and take the time needed to decide what is best for the two of you. Are you both aware and you both sound loving, but yes, proceed with caution.

Your PostPoints code today: OP2072

Love your chats. My only grandchild is a 5 year old girl whom I adore. She’s my stepdaughter’s child, though, so not related biologically. My husband and I are the only grandparents in town and we see her regularly - often at least weekly. Within the past few months she has started to understand relationships “grandpa is mommy’s daddy;”. “Grandma M and Grandpa P are daddy’s mommy and daddy” etc. Her bio-maternal grandmother is also living but, as I say, none of the others are in town, so she sees them maybe 4X a year or so. I’m sort of holding my breath for the day when she decides I’m not “really” grandma. Also when I see traits that remind me of myself, I’m so aware that she didn’t inherit them. And I’m sort of sad that, presumably, nothing about my family history would interest her. Do you have any insights?

Oh Grandma! 

First of all, what a lucky little girl.

Second of all, biology is important and lovely, but as every human on earth can attest, family is who you love. So, get out of this narrow definition of family STAT. You are every bit of a grandma to this girl, and this takes nothing away from her other grandparents.

Be very matter of fact of how you came to this family, the constellation of family and people. Children can handle all of this. Be matter of fact here other grandparents, where they live, etc. Be matter of fact about how many people love her.

And exhale on the not "really" grandma bit. It's not how children are.

And why don't you think your family history would interest her? Do you find your own family interesting, complicated, and funny? Yes? Well, so would she...

The beautiful thing about humans is that we LOVE a family story. We love to hear about how we are all connected, through blood or circumstance, and see the larger picture in it all. Before tech and writing and books, humans sat together and told stories of ancestors, community and family.

So, when your granddaughter does something funny, you can say, "You just reminded me of my dad. His name was Joe and he used to do the funnest thing...."

She will love that.

Step into your role with confidence. You are grandma. So is the other grandma. There is room for all of us. There is never too much love.


I am really struggling with a decision. I divorced my husband recently—long story short, he was controlling, it was all about him all the time, and he didn’t spend any time with my son and me as a family—I did agonize for a few years, but once it really hit me that things would not get better, I moved forward and truly feel it is the best decision that could have been made. However, he is livid that I divorced him. My son and I moved out of the house about a year and a half ago, have been in an apartment since then, and we are now getting ready to buy a home. The school district he has been in since kindergarten (he’s in 2nd now) is wonderful. It is also the district where my ex grew up in. When I envisioned getting divorced, I anticipated staying in the same district, thinking we would be co-parenting okay, but I did not count on him being so resentful and bitter. He knows a lot of people in the district, and has, since the separation, made a point of renewing friendships with families here who he hasn’t talked to since they were kids. I have seen a definite difference in how I’m treated since we separated. I can’t help but feel like the other parents, teachers and administration have a different, and negative, view of me now, and I’m not really welcome at school functions anymore. The places we are looking to move-a couple towns over-have excellent school districts but are larger. I am torn between the opportunities that would provide for my son to make new friends, and for me to meet new people, versus the loss of the small-district feel. My instinct is to make a change, but I’m trying to be conscious of not “running away” just because I’m being treated badly—after all, it’s not about me, it’s about him, right? I’m just not sure if this is a case of putting on your own oxygen mask first. P.S. My ex has also told me that, even though we are planning to move only about 15 minutes away, he wants us to stay here, that it is unfair to him to take my son “that far away”.

[edited for space]

I am going to keep this simple: listen to your intuition.

And btw, your husband is still trying to control you. See that.

I would reconsider the advice given on bilingualism. Having been in this field for over 10 years, I would maintain strict Spanish only at home. Do not start reading in English at home to ease the transition. Kids living in this country will pick up English quickly. Use other methods to ease the transition and avoid isolation (playdates, etc.)


Good idea. Whatever works with helping the child not feel like a complete outsider when she begins school.

Does the school system have a kinder-camp? Where I live, certain students who may struggle with the transition from home/pre-school to kindergarten are invited to participate in a 2-3 week kinder-camp in the summer. They ride the bus to school, participate in brief lessons, then ride the bus home. It's usually a half day but school systems may vary.

Also, stay in touch with the lawyer who negotiated your custody agreement, if you have any feeling that your ex might start trouble in that department (people do incredible things out of spite).

Hi Meghan! Thank you for taking my question. We are working against a quickly approaching (read: this week) deadline to put a deposit on a "preschool" for our 1 year old. She would start next January, soon after her 2nd birthday. She is currently home with a sitter she (and we) love during the day. The sitter speaks to my daughter in her native language. The decision is whether to start her in a play-based program right at age 2 or wait until the following fall when she will be closer to 3. I am having a terrible time with the decision; we hope to have another child sometime in that year she will turn 2, and I feel like with all the transitions that would bring, it would be easier for her to be used to "school," and then later move her to a new bedroom, out of crib, and everything else being age 2-3 entails, versus sending her after the new baby might come and she sees the baby gets to stay home with Mom or her BFF sitter without her and maybe feels "dumped off" someplace unfamiliar. If she starts earlier, it would give me some extra time alone at home once every other week or so to get things done as needed, esp if I might be pregnant and not as energetic. On the other hand, the transitions might not be a big deal and I'm TERRIFIED of losing our sitter in the in-between period and having to scramble to find another solution, as we had so much trouble and multiple infant care options fall through the first time around. I realize none of us can tell the future, but perhaps you have some suggestions about transitions, and what it's like to bring a new baby home to a 2.5 year old for example? Thanks! [edited for length]

Oh my heavens. You are tortured.

1) what is best for you financially?

2) what is best for you emotionally and physically?

After you answer that, I will say that generally speaking, the longer the child can stay at home with fewer caretaker and a calm routine, the better. This is not to say that she will not thrive and be happy at a daycare or school, but development tends to lean toward fewer and deeper attachments. 

Please, please, do what is easiest for you. NONE of it will last forever, but trust me, you will make the right decision when you need to make it. Just follow your intuition right now. Don't make a decision based on a baby you don't have. Decide for right now and move on.

I have been feeling like I'm fighting my intuition, so thanks for that. And re: the lawyer, I am prepared if it comes to that *sigh* Thank you all!

Good luck!

My son is two and is generally pretty awesome, but has been having these tantrums lately over inexplicable things. I know... he is 2, but I find myself getting so frustrated. He wants to do something like get dressed, so I let him, but then he doesn't do it, he will just stare at me and if I try to help the tantrum begins. I don't want to be that parents that loses their cool, but I also feel like I can only ask nicely so many times and in so many ways. Do you have any tips?


1) giving too many choices

2) asking him too many questions

3) assuming he understand what you are needing/wanting

4) thinking that he can take more than two demands in a row



1) saying what is going to happen instead of asking him what he wants

2) clean up or do FOR him rather than keep expecting it from him

3) apologize when (not if) you lose your cool

4) practice staying quiet when you feel your frustration rising and get busy with something (anything) else.

5) seeing the tantrums as inevitable and healthy

6) calling around for some childcare if you need a break. don't judge yourself. just do it.

Disclaimer: I'm not in the education field. If you want to raise a Spanish speaking kid don't forget the reading and writing part. I work in science - that field has people from all over. I've seen parents whose kids can speak Chinese/Spanish/etc but lack the ability to read and write. We had a Chinese scientist who chose to move back to China so her daughter would learn to write Chinese characters. Keep Spanish books in your house and encourage your little one to write in Spanish.

EXCELLENT point and another way to keep the Spanish going while allowing English in, too. The kid can handle it all, young brains are amazing.

Thank you for your answer. I don't understand why so many people think it's so cute for children to experience dating rituals long before they hit high school. If they start dating at 8 how long till the start having sex?

I think parents are responding to our mess of a culture and are afraid. They mean well, but oy.

THANK YOU. And just to clarify, we all definitely embrace the fact that she’s has three grandmas, all of whom are special to her in their own way. When her paternal grands visited, I suggested she sit between the two grandmas “Here’s “sue” between two grandmas” and she thought that was so cool. (She also had one great grandma until she was 4 and found that fun too).

Thanks all for joining us. Come again in two weeks, where we'll have more. If your question wasn't answered, keep an eye out for Meghan's columns, it may land there. Go have a nice Valentine's Day -- and go love up those kids of yours. Everyone benefits. 

In This Chat
Meghan Leahy
Meghan Leahy is a D.C.-based parent coach.
Amy Joyce
Amy Joyce has been at The Post, well, for a long time. Her first foray in to online chats were related to work. Now she's happy to chat about fun (but would like to believe the two can be one). She has been a Business reporter, editor for Weekend and the Going Out guide, and is now editing and writing for OnParenting. When not at work, she can be seen unsuccessfully dodging wiffle balls in her front yard.
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