On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Aug 28, 2019

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

Morning all. Thanks for joining us. Here's Meghan's latest column about parents who disagree about boundaries and whether to even hold them. We've had a lot of great parenting stories at On Parenting recently about resetting your parenting life. It's also out in print today.  And if you're like me and have a middle schooler, this is a must read. So is this

Ready to chat? Let's go. 

Dear Meghan - I have a 5, 3, and 2 yo and work full time. I've been trying to make sure their "love cups" are full by spending 1:1 time with each on the weekends. The problem is the other kids, especially the 5yo, get super jealous when I leave the house with one kid. And half the time the kid getting the special time wants his/her siblings to join. I wouldn't mind it if it was just the 10 or so minutes before we leave, but the 5yo will talk for (literally) days or weeks about how Sibling got to go to the library with mama and she didn't. Reminders that she also got special time fall on deaf ears. I tried to switch to giving the kids all special time with me as a group, but it's pretty much impossible. For example, we go to the library and inevitable they're fighting because one wants to do a craft, one wants to read this book, one wants to read a different book. Do I push forward with 1:1 time or just throw in the towel since we are in the thick of things with three small kids? Or do I try to let the 1:1 time evolve more naturally and trust it will come (for example, reading to one kids bc the other two are absorbed in a game)?

Hmmmm. Firstly, let me say WELL DONE on this effort. Working full time, three little kids, spending 1:1 time with each child on the weekends? That's a lot. 

To begin with that five year old....

Eldest children can be notoriously bossy and controlling of their parents' time, and this doesn't come from a bad place....it is that the birth order can be powerful. She is the most verbal, the most in control of her body, and feeling the most crowded by all her little sibs (who are noisy and needy and cute). And while eldest children can be excellent leaders and thinkers, they can also be bossy and controlling, jealous and a little mean.

Not all the time, but here and there...

So, I will put it plainly: the worst thing you can do is tie yourself into an emotional pretzel and let this child yank you around. You are being 1) fair and 2) kind and most importantly 3) boundaried with your time. If you begin to make exceptions and respond to her demands and whining with more time, you will have quite a little nightmare of your hands in no time.

That being said, as the mother to 3 kids myself, there have been times when one of my children has needed more attention than the others, and I am happy to give it. I find teeny tiny ways to increase proximity, full eye contact, jokes, playing a card game, taking a walk, cuddling, anything! Just more time in the same space with that child, even if that means that she helps me cook. Time is time.

So, YOU decide what the 5 yo needs and YOU act. Do not give in to her in the moment of whining (unless you want a bratty kid) but instead, make a plan that will give you both what you need.

And please, your life is full, take it easy on yourself. It is not only needed that your child experience frustration, it is GOOD. She is learning, right now, that all of her wishes cannot be granted when and how she wants! That is what humans NEED to grow up into mature adults. As long her connection with you is solid and loving, this frustration is GOOD.

Good luck.

My son, who just turned 4, appears to have anxiety. This includes separation anxiety (daycare drop offs are tough when I do them, including lots of crying and screaming, and due to work schedules I almost always have to) and anxiety (manifesting into temper tantrums) when things change in his routine. I had a baby this year, so a lot has changed in his life, but we're trying to settle into a routine. In the past week, we've been telling him very clearly about how his day is going to go - who is doing drop off/pick up, what day I'm traveling for work (I travel one day a week), etc. That seemed to help a little. Is there anything else we could/should be doing? This just started about 3 months after the baby was born.

Take a peek at what what daycare and schools do! It is visual, visual, visual, visual.

They have charts and suns and clouds, etc.

Visuals are good for four year old's because their young brains simply cannot hold onto all of the information you are giving them, it is too future. Too abstract. four year old's need HERE and NOW....

I also love to give four year old's lovies and pictures, something to hold on to, here are some ideas:

1) a tiny photo book of him with his family

2) a special keychain

3) a stuffed animal or little blank that smells like you

4) a special rock or pebble (seriously, if you hold it and tell the 4 year old that all of your love is it in, they believe you. And you know what? Who's to say that all of your love ISN'T in it?)

5) a favorite super hero or figurine

Get it? We are looking for physical anchors to remind him, all day, of his connection to you.

As adults, we do this too! We have picture of loved ones all over the house to remind us of our love for them....

Finally, always focus on when you will see him again and what you will do. "I will see you in six hours and then we eat spaghetti!" It will help point his mind toward the next meeting...our brains like that!

Hi Meghan - we have an almost 3-year-old son at home, and lately he has been in a big 'Mom-only' phase. He only wants me to get him up in the morning, take him out of his car seat, etc. We're not at all worried about the relationship he has with his father, it's more that we're just wondering the best way to handle these when we try to hold our boundary and he melts down when his dad helps him with any number of tasks throughout the day. Thanks!

When his dad has to help him and your 3 yo melts down, just endure it.

Don't punish him, don't talk about it too much, don't lecture, don't ask him questions...just do what you need to do.

As for you, take deep breaths, resist the urge to talk too much, and resist the urge to allow your son to run the show (although some days are like that).

Everyone will adapt.

Any tips on adjusting? Just back after having my first child 3 months ago. When will I stop crying on the train every morning? I know she is safe and in good hands, and I didn't love every minute of leave (she likes to be held and slept on me most of the time, limiting productivity, and wet her diaper and screamed bloody murder every 5 minutes), but the combination of lack of sleep and hormones is doing a number on me. I don't love my job, but it's ok and pays the bills, but the commute is not great (unfortunately telework is not an option at this time in this particular job). Trying to not make rash decisions about my future employment/becoming a stay at home mom, etc. Thanks for any advice you can provide.

Hi friend. I am sending you a big virtual hug right now, because well, we all need more hugs.

The first thing I want you to do is make sure you don't have PPD. The first couple of months (YEARS) after a baby can be rocky, both hormonally and physically, but it is important to track HOW much you are crying and HOW badly you feel, every day. Don't judge it, just talk to someone about it. It is hard, because if you are depressed after birth, everyone chalks it up to hormones and lack of sleep, and while that's not wrong, it isn't the whole picture.

SO PLEASE, get thee to a doctor and really talk about this.

Secondly, here is what you are going to find....there is a continuum of parents out there, all doing their thing. On one end are the parents who work and work and LOVE LIFE. They experience very little guilt and seem to be killing it everywhere. They are unicorns. Not the other end are the parents who instantly stay at home and LOVE LIFE. They are never bored and are killing it everywhere. They are also unicorns. Both of these extremes are completely valid ways to parent. Then there's the rest of us, in the messy middle. We have to work, we want to work, we work part time, we work from home, we go back to work, we take breaks from work, we really like work, we kind of hate work, we really like parenting, we think parenting is kind of boring...and on and on it goes. We move up and down the continuum as we and our children and family grow and change...but we are all in the messy middle. Unsure. Happy. Miserable. Ambivalent. Resentful. Grateful. And endlessly waiting. Waiting for a sign of "what to do next." 

So, I don't know what to tell you. If you have a partner, just sit down with this person and put it all out on the table. Not to panic them or quit jobs or freak out...but just to dump the inside out, because oftentimes, there are all kind of solutions you never thought of and they are right under your nose.

And find some working-mom-friends. STAT. They are everywhere...and it is important to find your tribe. You need other women to GET you, see you, and hear you. Simply knowing others are in the same boat is quite healing.

Go see your doc, talk to your partner, find your friends, and start to dream up what you would like in life. No rash decisions, but you are allowed to dream up how you would like to feel. I like Danielle LaPorte's approach to decision-making. Check her out.

Good luck.

When I went back to work, a friend of mine said "Give yourself permission to feel all the feels. And know that it took me 6 months to feel like I was doing either thing well - mothering or working."

Hi. I have a middle schooler and I'm finding myself worrying about her (probably) too much. From hearing what friends she's sitting with (or not) at lunch, to seeing kids going to school without her, to stressing because she's not living up to her full potential at school. I need to let her live her own life, and I find I'm picturing one life for her, but she's got to live her own. How do I step back and stop hovering? I know I should, but any small issue she's dealing with that I hear about, my heart takes it on as if it were my own, even if I do act like I'm stepping back, asking her how she'll handle it, etc. I want to fix it all for her. So how do I (how does any parent) start to step back and let kids do their thing, bruises and all?

How do you stop worrying? Well, shoot! If I knew that, I would be a billionaire on an island, iced tea in hand, watching the waves roll in.

As long as we humans have been upright, we've been worrying. Because we have the capacity to remember the past (and drag it forward) and project into the future (and drag it into today), we have a very hard time with focusing on the reality of life right in front of us.

Your brain is clearly trying to help you stay safe from pain, which means keeping your daughter away from pain...so thank your brain. It is quite kind that your brain is working this hard, so let's offer her some compassion for all of the overtime work.

After you continuously offer yourself compassion (ERRRYDAY), you can now take a look at what the heck is wrong with you (lol).


Is it your childhood? Undiagnosed anxiety? Both?

Get yourself to a therapist, because you know that you are not being rational...so you have to fix this with the right language. EMOTIONAL language.

Whatever comes to pass, find someone you trust to help you sort it out. You may not know this now, but getting a small grip on your worrying is the biggest gift you can give to your daughter. Children yearn to be trusted and make mistakes and grow and know that their parents are there, yes, but not hovering and snowplowing. Helping yourself is truly the way through, that way when you DO need to step in and when you DO need to hover, you will more confident in your own intuition.

And I love this book, pick it up.

Good luck.

What are the ways you dealt with stress before becoming a mom? Even if it means time away from your child, make taking care of yourself a priority. Eat well, exercise, maintain your social ties. Read a book, go on a walk. I had to force myself to leave the house (besides going to work). Even though it felt terrible in a lot of ways, I was better for it when I got home. When I give myself time to recharge- I find I'm a much better mother, wife, friend, etc.

Since I submitted my question to the chat, imagine my surprise when my question became a column. After reading your response and the comments on Facebook and the column, I felt the urge to clarify so much as it's clear that so many people don't understand Domestic Violence and its affect on survivors and children. There are a few points to clarify. I have a restraining order on my behalf and my son's until my son is 18. The judge very specifically took his age into account. We have a Guardian ad Litem who has unfortunately not done his job, never doing a home study, or even meeting my son. The divorce has been going on over 2 years, since before his 2nd birthday. As I think back, the change really took affect when my son started overnights at his dad's. He was initially supervised for a year, then unsupervised for 6 months before he was allowed to be overnight. My son was only twice present in the room for physical violence, but heard many things so he was definitely exposed. Unfortunately, in my state, courts are not required to take Domestic Violence into consideration during divorce and custody and many judges, GAL's and other court officials seem to think a 6 month batterer's intervention course will cure all. My son's play therapist and Trauma therapist have done a marvelous job as his current teachers at his new preschool comment how wonderful he is. The only major changes are acting out after returning from his dad's and the desire to not want to talk when he was formerly very chatty. My attorney is aware of the situation and I do document everything, but that won't help my son right now if there is a problem. I will continue to focus on love, cuddling, reading, playtime and more. Tonight we actually spent the hour between dinner and bedtime playing in a giant refrigerator box given to us by a friend. I will continue to work with the Trauma therapist, and reach back out to the play therapist. She had originally said his therapy was finished as the anxiety we went to see her for among other issues appeared resolved. She taught him (and I) a number of skills to use when feeling anxious, angry, etc. Luckily, I have the ultimate decision on anything medical so can ensure he goes to therapy if needed. I receive many comments on how intelligent and eager to learn he is, so it makes sense that he is picking up on far more than I realize so I will also increase my efforts to avoid negative talk around my son regarding his father. I do enforce the different house, different rules idea. I.e. things his dad let's him do don't fly at my house but he may be allowed to do things at my house his dad doesn't let him do. I guess my biggest concern is he no longer tells me what is going on at his dad's when he used to when supervised and before overnights. Based on the abuse I suffered, there is a major possibility something could happen to my son. Those without experience of domestic violence just assume abusers only hurt one type of person (i.e. partner only but not children).

Here's the column about the formerly chatty kiddo

Thank you for writing in! Domestic violence is a family issue, always, even if it *only* happened to one person.

I wish you all the love in the world; your son sounds lucky to have you.

Thank you all for joining us today. Come again the week after next (though you can start asking your questions for the next chat in advance, shortly after this chat closes up). 

Happy Wednesday!

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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