On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Jun 19, 2019

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

Morning everyone! Thanks for joining us. Did you have to sign in today to chat with us? That's a new thing. I'm posting a Q&A from our folks here. Hope it answers your questions. 

Speaking of questions, Meghan's here and ready to answer your MANY questions today. Here's her latest column, about introducing a boyfriend/girlfriend to your children

Let's chat, shall we? 

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What's a good guideline for how many minutes a 12 year old should read each day during the summer? I'm thinking at least an hour, maybe even more than that, if it's broken up throughout the day. What are your thoughts?

It depends on the kid.

An hour for child is completely stretching it, while for another kid, it is a drop in the bucket.

What feels right for your child, schedule, life?

My husband had an abusive and neglected childhood. He has no contact with either of his parents. He has made a conscious effort to parent our children differently. And he does. But he cycles through this headspace where he can’t connect with them and is just going through the motions. At times he discredites their emotions and chooses not to engage with them “because they don’t care.” I am struggling with having him see he is laying the foundation for their relationship especially since they are still so young. Thank you for any advice.

Your husband needs to see a counselor who specializes in trauma.

The fact that he is consciously trying to parent differently is huge and he should be commended, but your children will continue to provoke and trigger him as they develop. He deserves to have a person sort through his unconscious reactions.


I grew up in a very physically abusive home. I wasn't sure I wanted to have kids until I was. I took many classes in early childhood development. I read every book. And the first two or three years were magic if rough (those years also happened to include a major illness, 10 surgeries, etc.). But now. Now things can be really hard. I get so mad. So unreasonably mad. At a child. We've a well-trained older pet, added an untrained young pet, and a four-year-old, plus work madness (I'm back after being off for some time). It's all too much. I'm afraid. I'm detached. I'm trying. I'm sinking. Tips for finding ways to deal with the frustration that don't mirror my bio family? I'm so afraid of repeating that, I almost feel like my family would be better off if I left because I just don't know what to do.

Whoa whoa whoa. If nothing else, know this: you are deeply and desperately needed by your child, fur babies, and partner (?!)

Sometimes, when we are in the midst of deep change, it feels like our world is bottoming out. You had settled into a life that worked, and now you have added change on top of top of change, and your brain is trying to catch up. Because you were abused, you may resort to "fight or flight" and cycle between them rapidly. It is normal, how you are feeling.

You REALLY need and deserve a good therapist who specializes in trauma. I would do some somatic work (look into it), and I would see therapy as something you will dip in and out of for the rest of your life. PLEASE, seek help today.

And, you may not know this, but ALL parents get really mad at their kids. Parents who were never abused are UNREASONABLY mad every day. This is because parenting an immature human is maddening. It is confusing and confounding and frustrating as all heck. So, you are not damaged goods over there. You are normal. Get help and report back, please.

I am the granny to 3 beautiful grandchildren. 3 years old and a set of 1 year old twins. I find myself giving in a lot to the 3 year old: when she says "No, Granny!" I acquiesce. Let me state clearly, this is about play, who gets which toy (I always seem to get the brown food like the cracker and the cookie when we play tea party while she gets the orange and the strawberry). It has never become a safety issue, but who knows? I NEVER would have allowed this behavior in my own children...what gives?

I dunno, you tell me.

If you wouldn't have let your children boss you around and give you the crappy food at tea, why are you allowing your grandchild to do it?

Maybe it is because you are a grandma, and different rules get to apply, and you don't have to hold all the boundaries, and you happily eat the cracker and not sweat it?

You tell me...

Your Post Points code: OP8542

I have a 2.5 year old. Almost every evening we battle over teeth brushing. Parenting books I have read include unhelpful advice such as let them know it isn't optional but don't force it. Any suggestions for getting this done. On top of the hygiene concerns it also delays bedtime. We try brushing our teeth with her, pointing it out in books, having friends text pictures of their kids brushing teeth (bigger kids she admires), singing songs. But short of pinching her nose to open the mouth I don't know how to get this done.

You may bristle at this advice, but lay off.


When you are at "pinch her nose to open her mouth" level, you have lost this power struggle. Epically. And there is nothing to do but collect your losing weapons and trudge home.

So, let this go for a while. I would concentrate on REALLY enjoying my own teeth. Like, sing your own song, check out your teeth, really enjoy how clean they are...be demonstrative about it. Two year old's are known for wanting to be the same as those to whom they are attached, so after some time, she may come around and want to be like you.

Until then, don't coerce, beg, threaten, punish, or whine. It just isn't worth it, it isn't working, and it is hurting your relationship with your child. Most of these teeth will fall out anyway...

In the meantime, up the apples (good teeth cleaners).




Hi Meghan, thanks for taking my question. I'm currently pregnant and thinking about breastfeeding. I know all of the research about the benefits of breastfeeding and I'm planning to breastfeed. But I work full time and will have to go back to work after 2-3 months. Is there any research or wisdom about combining breastfeeding and formula? If I breastfeed everyday as I am able, is it reasonable to supplement with formula? It seems like baby will still get all of the benefits of breastfeeding that way, or am I missing something? Thanks!

Oh boy.

Listen, breastfeeding is awesome (if it is) and recommended (free and sometimes easy and nutritious), but a lot of the time? Your baby will come and turn all of your hopes upside down.

And it is OKAY.

Breast, formula, a combo...it ALL works.

So, find a flexible breastfeeding group, get your lessons down (getting that nipple in can be an art form), and be ready to simply STAY flexible. We don't know what will happen, so it is more important to stay open than committed to one way.

Healthy mom, healthy baby. It is all we want.

Check out this group for supportive and kind working parents: https://www.facebook.com/groups/onparenting/

Hello Meghan, love your chats. My husband and I have 7-year-old fraternal twin boys, and (as one might expect) they have very different personalities. One concern we have about "Twin A" is that he lacks motivation about anything except arts & crafts, electronic devices, and playing with friends. Although he is bright (reading and doing math above grade level), he doesn't work hard at school; he even got a "Needs Improvement" grade in class participation! (He has been tested for giftedness and tested slightly above average but nowhere near gifted level.) He also shows no interest in pursuing any other activities outside school. We are not helicopter parents. We allow and encourage our sons a few hours of free time most days to play with their friends in our neighborhood -- mostly without direct adult supervision -- but there is a definite imbalance between Twin A's activities and his brother ("Twin B")'s activities. Twin B plays both basketball and football; has taken after-school STEM, zoology and karate classes; and is asking to take Spanish and learn to play the guitar. No matter what activity we suggest to Twin A, he says no. He also says that school is "boring." It is also worth noting that Twin B is compliant and likes to please adults, while Twin A is very independent and unlikely to do anything simply because adults have told him to do them. Should we be concerned, or just leave Twin A alone?

Option B.



No, seriously, leave him alone.

Without knowing it, you are valuing Twin B over A, and I can guarantee A knows and feels that.

Let them both live and don't sweat school.

Everyone is fine here.

I hope you can settle a low stakes dispute between parents. We have a 3.5yo and a 6 month old. The 3.5yo treats her teether like a lovie. (Not a problem!) This week we got the same teether in another color for the baby. Toddler was super happy to see baby with it! Then after a bit toddler decided that SHE wanted the new color. I agreed as long as she understood that one is only for the baby (and no sharing germs!). She was agreeable and has since only asked for the new teether. Fast forward to my partner becoming aware of this and partner is suddenly livid that I let her 'take' something from the baby. Overall kiddo is really sweet to the baby so I don't feel I'm setting a precedent that toddler gets 'right of first refusal' of every new thing we bring into the house, but my partner disagrees. Can I just punt this argument with my partner until the baby actually cares? Help?

Unless there is something I don't know here, this is a low stakes dispute that is fairly ridiculous.

So, what is up the livid partner?

You have to look into that...

Is your partner extra sensitive to issues of justice and power?

I could care less about teethers, I am interested in what sparked your partner to be livid about them...go there.

Is there any harm in letting our babysitter bend the rules while we aren't around? I don't really see a problem with our once/week sitter letting our kids have some chips and soda and watch a movie when she's there, even though we normally don't do that kind of thing. But my husband is worried a bit about setting precedent. He thinks that our kids will start asking for soda and chips and TV every night if we let them get used to it with the sitter. What are your thoughts?

Nah, it's not a big deal. I, personally, really don't like soda and kids...but if that is the worst of it, it doesn't register as a problem.

Children learn VERY early that different rules belong to different people (school, grandparent, babysitter, parent A, parent B), and so while they may ask for chips and soda, you can say, "NO" and move on with it. No bigs.

If she is an awesome, loving, and good babysitter, she is worth the chips and soda sacrifice.


Ms. Leahy, half of your last Form A class are now married or engaged. Any words of wisdom to offer us?

Whoaaaaaa, way to make a lady feel old....


Don't get married! I kid, I kid.

I mean, just own your stuff. A marriage is a commitment to growth and humility, knowing when to speak up and (more importantly) when to shut up.

Be kind to your in-laws, don't get lazy, and don't think your spouse needs to be your best friend. That's why we have BEST FRIENDS.

Find out your spouse's love language (gifts, flowers, gestures, acts of service, etc.) and be sure to use that language.

Make time for sex and be sure that both of you are enjoying it.

Do your part in the cleaning and upkeep of house.

Keep up hobbies and interests, apart and together. 

And just be kind...BE KIND.


"he lacks motivation about anything except arts & crafts, electronic devices, and playing with friends" WHY oh why is the LW treating interest in arts and crafts as a waste of time? Let the poor kid do the things he actually enjoys, not everyone needs to focus on STEM and sports.

I agree...the LW's biases are coming through...but to their credit...we all have them!

So stop suggesting. You are making it really obvious that you want Twin A to be like Twin B -- and even if you don't, that's what Twin A is seeing. Stop it now.

Chiming in to share what my mother-in-law told me: fed is best. I exclusively breastfed my daughter until I returned to work, at which point my supply dropped and I combination fed (some breast/some bottle) until my supply dropped so much that I weaned her. My sister wasn't able to breastfeed her first two at all. My sister-in-law exclusively nursed for the first year. My friend exclusively nursed for the first year and is still partially nursing at 2.5 years. All of our children are thriving. Plan to breastfeed, but know that it may not work as long as you want it to or at all - either because of supply issues, latching/tongue tie issues, or just because of what is best for your family (which includes your physical and mental health!). And that's okay! Breastfeeding is a slog and can be difficult - and it is perfectly reasonable to choose to formula feed (partially or fully) so that you can be the best parent to your child in other ways. I totally understand that if things don't work as you plan, that can be tough. Very tough. Especially as hormones are high and sleep is low - lord knows I cried a LOT over breastfeeding, especially in the first few weeks. But do remember that if your plan doesn't work, you are still a wonderful mother and your child will thrive.

All of this.

Thank you so much! I REALLY needed to hear that.


For many reasons I ended up breastfeeding and using formula with my first. There were many lactation consultants involved. All of them agreed that whatever amount of breastfeeding possible was great. “Every drop counts” you don’t negate anything by using formula too!


Can you rehome this one? It sounds like you've added to your chaos.

This is an interesting thought...

And to flesh it out, it is always useful to look at the proverbial straw...and we all have one. Sometimes, when life is chaotic and stressful, it is hard to sort out what became the stressor that made it too much, but parsing it out can lead to clarity. And rehoming!

I have a 21 month old daughter who still LOVES nursing. Tapering down is not working (sh's been at the same frequency for 9+ months). It's been suggested to me to go cold turkey and have a rough few days and then she'll be ok. She's otherwise a great eater, drinks milk, etc. I love nursing but honestly I am ready to be done and get my body back (it's been 4 years of being pregnant and/or nursing her and my son). I feel like a cruel mom to cut her off? My son stopped on his own at 14 months (when I was 3 mo pregnant).

Hi Meghan and chatters - We're expecting our first child in October, and don't want to go overboard with "stuff." I'm curious what things other parents thought they would really need, but didn't end up using. Conversely, what did they expect to use but find unnecessary? (And I do realize every baby is different.) Thanks!

Start with basic needs and work out from there:

Sleeping, safety, eating, bathing, warmth, diapers, putting the baby down in another room or on another floor, possible binkies, and spit-up needs.

As the baby ages, the needs will become apparent.

Any guidelines on determining when you're letting your toddler walk all over you/not setting clear boundaries versus trying to pick your battles? Of course things like hitting or running off are never allowed, but what about giving the extra cookie? Or needing to have milk in the blue cup, not the green cup? Where's the line between laid-back and pushover?

Who knows? 

I think if parents zoomed in on their intuition, they would recognize the feelings of frustration associated with having their boundaries pushed around.

It isn't about having one set of rules all of the time...it is about power. Who has it? Who doesn't? Who should? Who shouldn't? Those answers change....

Meghan, I don't have kids, but I read your column every week. I enjoy your insight, compassion, and practical approach to parents' challenges. I imagine it must be very reassuring for parents to hear that their kids are going thru a normal developmental phase. And even if something is off, I imagine those parents, too, appreciate the feedback and doable suggestions for addressing the challenge.

Hey, thank you, this is really nice. I try to be as practical as I can...most of our parenting hardships (mine included) are just part of "this is life," but there are always ways to help. I just want parents to care about the right things...

Thanks for reading.

I would recommend borrowing or buying used as much as possible. Sometimes it's nice to have it on hand, but you find out your kid isn't interested. If you know your kid loves it and you want to upgrade, you can!

Thanks for joining us, all. It was a busy day and there are a lot of questions Meghan couldn't get to. Keep your eyes open for her columns, which run online every Wednesday and are in print on Thursdays. Her next chat is July 3. In the meantime, visit On Parenting for all your parenting needs. And here are Meghan's columns. Chat with you all soon. 

In This Chat
Meghan Leahy
Meghan Leahy is a D.C.-based parent coach. She holds a master’s degree in school counseling from Johns Hopkins, taught high school English, and was a Parent Educator with PEP. She is the mom of three girls.
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 On Parenting. When not at work, she can be seen unsuccessfully dodging wiffle balls in her front yard.
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