On Parenting: Meghan Leahy took your questions about parenting

(by Katie Jett Walls)
Dec 18, 2019

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

Hi to you all and happy Wednesday! We're here with Meghan, ready to discuss all things parenting. 

Here's the latest from On Parenting. Don't forget we have a newsletter you can sign up for, so you don't miss a thing. 

Okay! Let's chat. 

 

I keep hearing Jason Robards' line from Parenthood (the movie, get off my lawn) about how the worry with children never ends. I am really experiencing that lately, though my kids are still young-ish. I have three kids, and there is always something to worry about with at least one of them. Like this week, the youngest got over a virus and the middle was doing okay in school, when I get a call from the school counselor about my eldest. It's just a constant stream of worry; the saying "you're only as happy as your unhappiest child" is really true for me. Not really a question, just wanted to put that out there. Of course there is joy and love and fun too, but boy, you really sign up for a lot when you become a parent.

First of all, I love that movie. It is so good.

If you swap out worry for concern...then yeah...it never ends.

There is always another thing happening and sometimes it is stuff we can solve, but mostly parenting is an endurance test.

I forget who said it, but there is a saying of how a parent grows a child, and the child grows the parent, too.

No matter your therapy or self knowledge or book learning or confidence, you are still the first time parent of that child, that day.

Sure, you hope t0 live, learn, and grow from your parenting experiences, but if you have more than one child? Welp, they bring new challenges (and gifts) to the family.

I can tell you this: there is a clear correlation between parenting worry and control. The more control the parent *thinks* they have, the more worries and heartache they have. The parents who are more focused on relationship and staying focused on TODAY? They seem to have a slightly easier time of it.

Yes, there is suffering and worry and concern, but there are parents who don't drown in it...they have a sense of a larger picture while also staying present.

I have a mantra, every single morning: "I can handle it." And this means that, whatever happens, I am not letting go. Of my family, of hope, of being there, of showing up.

And when I cannot handle it? I take a nap.

So, you've had the kids, you are in the deep end of the ocean. Be like the buoy, just keep head above water, and take good care of yourself.

hi meghan! my 6 year old and 3 year old are usually super cute with each other, but of course, they have their moments and they love to provoke each other. pinching, hitting, etc. i ask them to stop and talk to each other about what is bothering them, but you know... then it happens again behind my back. how do i stay chill and not accuse anyone of starting, but get them to stop hurting each other? help!

Oh man. I don't know how you can stay still and not accuse and get them to not hurt each other...

That's a tall order.

But.

What think you can stop doing is expecting them to talk out their feelings when the feelings are running hot.

The 6 yo may be there, but that 3 yo is not about to bust out some deep talk about her interior emotional world.

For all humans, but especially little ones, the ability to step back and communicate their feelings WHEN THEY ARE ANGRY is a tall order. Their prefrontal cortex, already barely up and running due to immaturity, is also comprised by the hormones flooding it.

SO.

1. IF you can get to them before it gets physical, you may be able to model back and forth.

2. BUT if the aggression is full-tilt, you need to separate the children to different spots and allow a cool down.

3. When everyone has calmed down (minutes, hours, days later), you can revisit the problem IF it needs it. A lot of sibling stuff is just, well, living together. It doesn't always need to be talked out...it is just hard.

4. If you lose it and shout at them, say sorry (after you have cooled down). 

5) And when you have a moment to yourself, notice patterns. Are they ALWAYS fighting at a certain time or over a certain thing? How can you help with that?

 

 

Hi. I'm a single mom to a lively, rambunctious, sweet, and not-great-at-sleeping toddler. I live in Philly and I'm lucky enough to have family nearby to help. My parents recently offered to have my son come there and go to school out in the suburbs during the week, and then stay with me in the city on the weekends. The commute from their house to my job is pretty lengthy (1.5 hours by train!) so while I can do it (and have), staying in the city most of the week makes the most sense in terms of time and well-being, though they'd certainly welcome me being there if I chose, including one or two days a week. Sleeping has been brutal for the last two years, and I know it's impacting both of us because I am so utterly worn down. I do believe having him stay out there would be good for him, good for me in that I could get some rest, focus, and be a better mom for him, but the idea of it is killing me. I feel terribly guilty, as if I'm abandoning him (I know I'm not, but it's hard to swallow) and that he'll forget me. That I know isn't logical or true, but I do feel it sometimes. I found a great school that has an opening in January, but I am struggling. As tough as weeknights are--not helped by a job that is awful--I also cherish the fact we can take walks, go to the library after school, and share those small moments that make the day better. How do I wrap my head around this decision? If I do decide to have him be out there during the week, how do I talk to him about it? He loves Grandma and Grandpa, but I know he will always want to be at mommy's house. Crying, yet again, as I write this. [edited slightly for length]

Oh man, this is hard and I feel your anguish.

Okay, let's take a look at this. There is a ton of fear (normal), but not a lot of plans...so I would break this into short term, middle, and long term plans.

Short term = You have a job (that you hate) and an awful sleep situation. Sleep affects overall mental and physical health, so I am for anything that gets you sleep and maybe a needed break. You cannot (I imagine) up and quit your job, so a sort term solution for you may be the son going out to your parents while you visit every weekend (and more, if you can). This will go until June, right?

Middle Term Plans: While you take the spring to work and rest, you are going to figure out how to refigure your life to make it more livable. Can you get a job near your parents and live with them for a while? Is there another school near you, in the city? The spring will be used for the summer plans, and getting your financial/work life together. Get a mentor, a coach, whatever you need to make your plans.

Long Term: If the plans are 9 weeks, 9 months, 9 years, I want you to begin to look on the horizon. This doesn't mean that everything will come to fruition...but let's say, you really want to get another degree or go back to school. You can begin making plans for that (that may involve the help of your parents or not). But you owe it yourself to your self to do this.

Finally, if your toddler goes to his grandparents, there are plenty of ways to keep the attachment strong, such as send him with undershirts and pillow cases that smell like you, make picture books full of you and him, record stories on the recording app on your phone, and FaceTime, while confusing, is still a great way to connect. As long as you are committed to going every weekend, it is absolutely fine that your attachment village steps in. Just use this time to rest AND PLAN.

I grew up Jewish in a small East Coast city, so while there were more Jewish people around than most places, I was still in the strong minority. December for me, growing up, was when I felt very alienated from my friends and the culture at large. There is a lot to the build up to Christmas, between the decorating, movies, etc. and I resented feeling so left out. My husband had a similar experience. Now I have a toddler, and all of our (Christian) friends are beginning to have kids too. They are all so excited for their babies' first Christmas. I can already see a future where my kid feels excluded year after year, particularly with the rise of social media that I didn't grow up with. I also feel like in today's political climate, everyone who isn't Christian is apparently not a true American, and it's acceptable to believe and say that. My question is, is there anything I can do as a parent to give my daughter a different experience than we did growing up? I don't want to rain on other peoples' parades. What can we do or say that our parents didn't think to do?

You need to get some community, STAT. 

You will not begrudge other's joy and expectations if you have some going for yourselves. 

If you are Jewish, find some other Jewish families and start hanging with them! Celebrate Shabbat, celebrate Hanukkah with these families, revisit the traditions and rituals with your children, and invite your Christian friends! 

The exclusion you feel is your own, and while I know our country feels divided and unfriendly, people are hungry for connection and learning. Take baby steps and start your own traditions!

This is true - yet hard for the six year old, who often hears 'she can't help it'. There's an expectation of understanding that puts a lot of onus and maturity on someone who is only six and ... is still being hit. How do you navigate that so that the 6 year old doesn't get resentful that if feels like no-one understands and they have to suck it up.

As much as you can, put them in the same boat (consequences, etc.) but the truth? The 6 yo is going to have to accept that life isn't fair. She has an immature little sister, and them's the facts.

So, let your 6 yo vent about how sucky that is...

If she wants to whine and complain about what a brat her little sister is, let her (but not in front of the little one). Allowing her vent to you is a safe way to let out the rightful anger and frustration...without hurting her little sister.

 

Question for you, since I don’t have kids of my own, I don’t quite understand. Not too long ago I volunteered to coach youth lacrosse. Half my team could only practice 30 mins at a time, because they also had to go to soccer practice for 30 mins, then baseball practice at 30 mins. Since they’re not getting the quality time and reinforcement, they didn’t make any progress. Some of them, sensing the vacuum, adopted the persona of a goof off, I’m guessing so they didn’t feel totally useless? My particular question is what motivates a parent to have their kid play 2 or 3 sports at the same time. Is it showing off their purchasing power to the other parents or do they really believe they are raising a future all star?

Ummm, neither?

There are definitely some parents who pressure and make their children into show ponies...

But the majority of parents have children who are good at many sports, and the CHILDREN want to do these sports.

We also have an untenable club athletic system in our culture right now...

When I was growing up, you play soccer in the fall, basketball in the winter, baseball in the spring (for example).

Now, if you show a smidgen of talent, you have to play those sports ALL YEAR. You train indoors and outdoors and everywhere between, and this begins as young as nine.

Children are expected to specialize in a sport from jump.

Are the parents pushing? Is it the club teams?

I don't know, but it is unhealthy for a child to play one sport and one sport only. They get hurt, they burnout, and they lose the joy...

But here is where we are.

I don't see an end to it, but you saw the consequences.

As a non-Jew who lived in Israel for a long time, I feel you! What helped me was seeing the majority holiday as a cultural experience rather than a religious one. After all, that's what these holidays are to many people these days. My family is historically Christian, I'm an atheist (as is most of my family now), and Christmas to me is about family and love, not about Jesus and God. Similarly, to many Jews, Shabbat, Yom Kippur, Sukkot, and other holidays have come to be about culture and family and tradition rather than specific religious beliefs. And I was welcomed into families to partake in that lovely tradition. While yes, I was the only one who was not familiar with the tradition, what was being "forced" on me was love and acceptance, not a specific religious belief. Perhaps reframing this in your mind as something cultural rather than religious will help you and your daughter. Go to some Christmas parties, invite her friends over to experience Hanukkah and eat sufganiyot. Make this something of a cultural exchange, rather than cultural exclusion?

I'm the poster who asked for tips for flying with our ~2 year old in January and I just wanted to say thanks to you and the other posters for the tips. They were super helpful. I'll definitely get lots of small trinkets, post-it notes, etc. and also and divide snacks in little boxes (she loves opening things, so I suspect this will be a big hit). Thanks again!

Great!

And remember: the other people on the plane are adults and can handle it.

I once sat next to a drunk woman who had an adopted island cat under her seat who wouldn't stop having retching and having diarrhea (the cat, not the woman). 

If I made it through that, everyone can handle a two year old on a plane.

Just remember: NO SEAT KICKING.

:)

Thank you all for joining us today. Due to the holidays, our next chat will be Jan. 8. You and start posting your questions now. Enjoy your break if you have one. Here's to some quiet, good family time that replenishes you all. Interested in what we have to offer? Sign up for our newsletter and check out On Parenting right here

Take care, 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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