On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Jul 03, 2019

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

Thanks for joining us, everyone! Just a little catch up, here are Meghan's latest columns. Check them out when you have some time. (Summer's a bit chaotic sometimes, isn't it?) ... You all have been busy sending questions, so let's get started, shall we? 

I am a dad of two. One is 3 and the other is 5 months. Being a parent has brought a level of anger and exasperation to the surface that I didn't know existed. I feel a bit more anger with the 2nd. I don't know how to deal with it - even my awareness of it and revelation to others isn't ending it even though that has helped. Can you provide tips, or maybe resources (books, videos, support groups) about Dads that experience anger? (It could be a mid-life thing, too. I'm 39).

Oh man....you are not alone. Not as a father...not as a parent. This exasperation and anger is often part of parenting...and kudos to you for seeing it clearly.

You can google father groups (there are tons), FB groups (even more) and I would recommend STARTING a meet-up or local FB group that brings fathers together. There is so much healing and goodness in being with other men who GET you....sometimes that is enough.

Or it is not.

If parenting is bringing out deeper issues in you, you owe it to your family and yourself to seek more help. I know there are still social taboos around therapy and men, but you can save yourself so much time, money, and misery by simply sitting across from someone who can help you (professionally speaking). Anger- not expressed in a healthy way, has a tendency to turn to violence, depression, anxiety, overwork, and addiction. Anger is a sign, and it is saying, "YO! You feel out of control and scared! Please pay attention to this emotion!" It is easy to dull this feeling with work, internet, and substances, but it will always be there...waiting.

So, TALK TO YOUR SPOUSE or PARTNER. Be vulnerable and get help. It is the healthiest, strongest, and best thing you can do. Do it NOW.

How do you help 13 year old boy feel good about himself when he quits when things get hard and assumes all failures are because he just sucks.

Okay, why is he really quitting?

My wife and I are struggling to find a good way to approach our older son’s (totally normal) anxieties and clinginess. He’ll be 5 in September, and his new brother is coming up on 6 weeks old. Outwardly, he’s super enthusiastic, but he’s also developed some serious night fears about monsters, and is extra clingy. We’ve been setting aside special time with him to feel connected, but it’s still tough - last night he woke up at 330 AM and demanded to be snuggled for an hour while we were trying to get the baby back down (and catch some sleep ourselves). Any strategies we can us to help change the narrative with the older kid to something more positive? It’s hard to strike a balance between wanting to snuggle and care for him without encouraging this super needy behavior. Or do we just wait it out?

Night fears are normal and also made worse by the new sibling. Why? Even though the new sib is AWESOME, he is a BIG transition for big bro who has been ruling the roost for almost five years. So, transition plus the age equals a jumpier nervous system.

Keep filling his connection cup IN THE DAY. Be sure to up special time with him, strong eye contact, smiling, cuddling (whatever his love language is). As best as you can (given the situation), keep some boundaries at night, like him staying in his bed. Also try to limit the "scary" stuff during the day (like monsters stories or shows).

This WILL pass...just hang in there.

For anger dad? Support groups are all very well but he needs a professional one-on-one to unpack his feelings and experiences and re-train his emotional impulses. That's paramount.

(To be clear, she *did* suggest therapy: "If parenting is bringing out deeper issues in you, you owe it to your family and yourself to seek more help. I know there are still social taboos around therapy and men, but you can save yourself so much time, money, and misery by simply sitting across from someone who can help you (professionally speaking).")

OP8336 is your Post Points code today

In your 6/19 discussion you said: "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." It seems odd to give advice heavily stressing that your spouse shouldn't be your best friend. Care to elaborate?

It's just my personal opinion (after being with the same guy for almost 25 years, married 18) that being best friends is simply too much of a burden for a spouse to carry.

Sexual chemistry, co-parenting, running a house, working, etc. etc. etc., THAT'S A LOT. And then to expect my husband to shoulder every worry and thought I have too, oy. Too much on the mental desktop. 

Anything that borders on something that weighs on my heart or mind gets discussed with him. I want his counsel and insight (and sometimes brutal honesty), and in that way, he is my best friend...

But my other best friend's are...different. They are women (because women are born and bred and I think, biologically-speaking, meant to stick together), they can listen to the most frivolous or serious issues, they hold secrets, they know when to let me complain and when to offer solutions, and they aren't afraid of big feelings.

It is hard to cry to your spouse about business or family or parenting fears, and then turn around and pay bills and plan dinner. It is a lot of weight for one relationship raft to bear.

So, yeah.

Each person is better off having a bestie or two to shoulder the load.

Also, we get sick of our spouses and escape hatches (in the forms of friends, not another lover) are desperately needed. They let out steam without hurting our spouses...and so much does NOT need to be discussed with our spouses.

Finally, the "best friend" thing is a bad poetry, romantic comedy, sappy-song, BS trope that has been sold to young people for time eternal, only for EVERY MARRIED COUPLE to wake up one morning and say, THAT IS NOT MY LIFE.

And it was never going to be your life. People are too hard.

There you have it.

I have a 10 year old who still begs what feels like incessantly. I've said no to playing Fortnite almost daily for the entire duration of 4th grade. I've never budged; through tears and fits and yelling, my answer hasn't changed. We've talked in length about why and read together online about it's downfalls... and yet he pleaded again yesterday. It's not the only thing he begs about, it seems to be in many areas of life. Taking away privileges doesn't seem to work. When I look for advice online it all seems to be tailored to preschoolers or younger age kids, he is going into 5th grade. What do I do?

I don't know, but it sounds like the child needs some latitude. 

What's wrong with Fortnite? Will it require boundaries? Of course, but why can't the kid do something he wants to do?

Hi Amy, I saw your newsletter about kids not watching scary movies or movies involving death, with an anecdote about the Lion King. An unfortunate perspective we have is when our then 5-year-old son's best friend's father died of a stroke a few years ago. His friend told his mom the evening his father died that it was just like in the Lion King. Having that reference point was helpful to everyone, including our family, to have an anchor for the circle of life. Following advice we read, received and following the family's lead, my son went to his friend's dad funeral and we spoke about his father's death openly with his friend and his mom. And many years later, when death happens to come into our conversation or our environment, our kids can still speak openly about it. Growing up, my worst paralyzing fear was my parents dying. One of my earliest memories ever is crying and deep sadness while watching Bambi in the arms of a loving caregiver during a preschool outing to the movie theater. I am an only child. That fear has evolved and I am unusually cautious and risk-averse because of the fear of my children losing me (ie. I take the back roads instead of the freeway whenever possible). But if/when it ever happens, I want my kids to feel as grounded as possible in knowing that they will be okay and life goes on because they have seen other examples of it happening and spoken about it openly with their loved ones in everyday conversation. Sorry to get all morbid. Reading Amy's note just made me realize how my own fear of death had developed, in part because of real-life and real-movie experience. And thankfully, our friend's son is thriving with the loving guidance of his super mom.

I love the idea of story lines, like the one in Lion King, being so helpful. Those scenes (like the awful Bambi one) really stay with us, don't they? Here's the story this writer is referencing that I highlighted in our On Parenting newsletter

I cannot thank you enough for your reply to my fears from the last chat. I’ve read all of the books it seems and because I have no grounding in what’s normal feel like such a failure when I don’t hit the mark. Your response opened me up to the reason there are so many books—parenting is hard for everyone not just people without proper role models or experience. Sometimes I am only treading water but I’m bringing in a pet trainer, reaching out to a therapist and other help to get us through. And mostly I’m trying to grab the joy when I see it. Thank you.

THANKS FOR WRITING BACK (sorry for type-yelling, but I am truly grateful).

Parenting IS hard for everyone...if you aren't being challenged, you aren't parenting. That being said, I love what my teacher has said to me over the years, "I have problems, they just don't bother me."

The trick isn't to suffer or not suffer.

It is to find equanimity.

And for you? To go a little easier on yourself. ;)

Help! Our daughter turns four next week. I was excited to leave age 3.5 behind, but 4 seems like it might be... worse? Each day feels like one long, exhausting negotiation. Suddenly she's defiant, inflexible, and far more autonomous (the last one is a good thing). We suddenly feel like we have no idea how to parent our child. Any advice about the mental/emotional development of 4-year-olds, to help us put this in perspective?

LORDY, as my mother says (a former Montessori teacher and parent extraordinaire), "only a mother (or father) can keep loving a four year old." This means that it takes that special love to stick with a four year old because THEY ARE SO TIRING.

But your daughter is right on track. And not knowing what the heck to do means that YOU are right on track! You are being called to hold boundaries you aren't used to holding, she is going to PUSH back, and you are going to have to figure out which boundaries are reasonable and when more autonomy is needed.  Check out this site and you will see HOW normal this all is!

If you begin to lose it, hire someone like me to help you get you through this tough stage.

I have a friend who calls her grandson (age 13) a "little jerk" to his face. She will say "I have to take the little jerk to the dentist." She has always been that kind of person who says things like that. I think it is appalling. I want to say something to her about it but she would be very upset with me. What are your thoughts? Thanks.

Ugh, I hate that.

This is how some people show their affection...I don't get it, but I get it.

Is the grandson upset about it?

Our son turns two in August and his preschool (which he will start in September) doesn’t allow any pacifier use. Currently he only uses his pacifier for sleeping, along with a lovey. We are struggling with what to do, he really doesn’t seem ready to give it up. Would it be a bad idea to keep using it at home and just send him to preschool without it, hoping he will adjust? I was thinking since everything at school will be new he might just learn the “no pacifier at school” rule and learn to nap without it. But at the same time it seems a bit cruel to do this to him since he’ll already have a big transition and I know it will be very upsetting not to have the pacifier at naptime. Help!

Hmmm, yes, I would do a no pacifier at school but okay for home and see how it goes.

Be ready for some major separation issues around this time as he loses this major lovey. You can expect some fussiness and sleep issues...maybe not, but I wouldn't be surprised to see them.

If it helps we just went through this last year. The new preschool wouldn't allow any use at all and we panicked because our son used it all the time. 9 months later he doesn't even miss it when in the fall it would have been unthinkable. It was a battle for sure at first but you'll get through it.

My six year old daughter is only interested in playing with boys, mainly older boys, at summer camp and afterschool care and in the neighborhood. She’s always been like this, and while it was cute as a toddler, it worries me now. She’s a true tomboy and I see the appeal - she likes the things they do and the big-kid games they play - but I’m worried. I’m worried for the present (what if they harm her or take advantage of her immaturity and eagerness to be around them) and the future (as a teen, is she going to be chasing a faster lifestyle, or attracted to older men). She’s a sweet, happy kid, and we are a close family. I don’t know how to handle this with her. She’s too young to truly understand my concerns, and the only time I’ve brought it up, clearly I botched it because she took it as me trying to take her friends away. Ugh. Obviously I try to support and encourage her friendships with girls and boys her own age, and she has them as acquaintances, but she is like magnetically attracted to the older boys. I really want to keep the lines of communication open with her and not push her away over this. It’s just so foreign to me...I was scared of the big boys as a kid! Help?

Okay, i want you to read back the letter you wrote me and clearly articulate the stories you are telling yourself about your six year old.

I want you to identify to whom these stories these belong.

I want you to articulate what you are REALLY afraid of.. And it isn't just chasing a faster lifestyle...what does that really mean?

I want you to get as clear as you can on what you are afraid of so you don't pass your fears on to your child.

If you are completely stuck, get a couple of therapy sessions...it will help.

What kind of daycare would disallow a pacifier for a two-year old baby's naptime, though? This seems like a major red flag to me. At the very least, they should ask the daycare to reconsider this rather cruel and strange rule.

Sooooo, I thought this, too.

I don't think two year old's should have their pacifiers taken away....

And that's a wrap! Thanks for joining us today, as always. Interested in more parenting content? Check out washingtonpost.com/onparenting, Meghan's columns here, our Parenting and Work Facebook discussion page and our newsletter

Have a great holiday, everyone. 

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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